Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Monday, February 04, 2013

Davidoff: Baseball statistics aren’t as pure as you think

John Thorn...“Every number has a virtual asterisk alongside it.”

In 2006, Jerome Holtzman, a legendary Chicago baseball writer who became MLB’s official historian in 1999, told Selig that he thought the reaction to the “Steroid Era” had been overblown. That the game had been filled with this sort of stuff from its inception. Selig responded with an assignment: Put something on paper for me. Give me some context to what we’re seeing now.

Holtzman responded with a document that went back to the start of the 20th century. It mentioned gamblers and segregation, corked bats and scuffed balls, amphetamines and steroids. Selig still has it in his office today.

Holtzman died in 2008. His successor as MLB historian, the great John Thorn, said this to me on Friday: “No number is pure, and no number can be given a rich understanding absent context. Every number has a virtual asterisk alongside it.”

He added this: “I believe that the average fan looks at numbers like 511 (Cy Young’s wins) or 714 (Ruth’s homers) or 755 (Aaron’s homers) or 762 (Bonds’ homers) as a royal road to understanding. There is no royal road. There is no short cut. They are imperishable remains of events that are vanished. This is all we have. That’s why we venerate them.

“We look at the numbers differently than other sports in part because baseball is a stop-action game. The memories adhere. That’s one of the reasons that baseball is the great game of memory and conversation.

“Statistics help, but sometimes they get in the way of understanding.”

Repoz Posted: February 04, 2013 at 12:34 PM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 04, 2013 at 01:48 PM (#4362381)
You got that right. "Put outs?" I think that speaks for itself.
   2. Bob Tufts Posted: February 04, 2013 at 01:50 PM (#4362387)
Ken is an underappreciated sportswriter and deserves more national credit for taking contrarian and (usually) accurate views on the game.
   3. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 04, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4362401)
Fans who understand the full context in which records have been set derive a much deeper enjoyment of the game's history than fans who don't, even if the fans who don't understand that context fail to realize what they're missing. It's also what separates the good sportswriters from the hacks.
   4. vivaelpujols Posted: February 04, 2013 at 02:22 PM (#4362435)
Fans who understand the full context in which records have been set derive a much deeper enjoyment of the game's history than fans who don't, even if the fans who don't understand that context fail to realize what they're missing.


Not sure this is always true. I know this guy who stopped watching baseball when he found out about PED's. Some of the simplicity of unadjusted numbers is nice. But really once you older than like 14 it should be obvious that the environment is a huge factor.
   5. Shredder Posted: February 04, 2013 at 02:45 PM (#4362468)
Maybe he was on a word limit, but I felt like he could have explained his point a lot better. He doesn't need to do that for us, obviously, but BTFers aren't really the audience here. He started to do it with the "hitters park" vs. "pitchers park" argument, but that's maybe one of the weakest of the context adjustment arguments.

I'm not from New York, so I don't know the average intelligence of your everyday NY Post reader (though I'd suppose it's not great), but just leaving it "segregation, gambling, etc." probably isn't that helpful.
   6. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 04, 2013 at 02:51 PM (#4362474)
“Statistics help, but sometimes they get in the way of understanding.”


If only we had an opportunity for education and dialogue.
   7. villageidiom Posted: February 04, 2013 at 03:15 PM (#4362501)
derive a much deeper enjoyment of the game's history
This is useless without a rigorous formula to quantify the depth of enjoyment.
   8. villageidiom Posted: February 04, 2013 at 03:15 PM (#4362504)
If anyone has turned their sarcasm detector off, turn it back on and reread #7.
   9. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: February 04, 2013 at 03:58 PM (#4362542)
This is useless without a rigorous formula to quantify the depth of enjoyment.


I experience life at replacement-level enjoyment.
   10. depletion Posted: February 04, 2013 at 04:01 PM (#4362549)
I'm afraid we're both in danger of being designated for assignment, EverybodyLoves.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Phil Birnbaum
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogOT - Politics January 2015 - Mario Cuomo, New York Governor and Minor League Ballplayer, Dies at 82
(4328 - 11:48am, Feb 01)
Last: Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip

NewsblogOT: NBC.news: Valve isn’t making one gaming console, but multiple ‘Steam machines’
(1514 - 11:38am, Feb 01)
Last: DJS and the Infinite Sadness

NewsblogPuig says Cardinals are Dodgers' biggest adversary
(30 - 11:18am, Feb 01)
Last: Greg K

NewsblogWhere does the Mets' future lay? A look at the farm system and prospects | NJ.com
(4 - 11:17am, Feb 01)
Last: Russlan is fond of Dillon Gee

NewsblogJohn D'Acquisto Remembers the Late Charlie Williams
(12 - 11:11am, Feb 01)
Last: Batman

NewsblogPitchfork: Jack White Gets His Own Baseball Card
(263 - 11:03am, Feb 01)
Last: jyjjy

NewsblogMiLB.com: Mariners Prospect Arrested After ABL Brawl
(7 - 11:01am, Feb 01)
Last: Greg K

NewsblogOT: NFL/NHL thread
(11756 - 10:51am, Feb 01)
Last: Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB)

NewsblogA platoon in right field could render Alex Rodriguez unnecessary - Pinstripe Alley
(6 - 10:48am, Feb 01)
Last: bobm

Hall of MeritMost Meritorious Player: 1902 Discussion
(12 - 10:10am, Feb 01)
Last: MrC.

NewsblogOT: Soccer January 2015
(426 - 9:20am, Feb 01)
Last: ursus arctos

NewsblogMinor League Legend Rocky Bridges Dies at 87
(15 - 8:38am, Feb 01)
Last: What's the realistic upside, RMc?

NewsblogA cut above: Best tools of Top 100 Prospects list | MLB.com
(3 - 2:04am, Feb 01)
Last: Dog on the sidewalk

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - January 2015
(1723 - 1:34am, Feb 01)
Last: vagab0nd (no longer an outl13r)

NewsblogIs old school Pat Gillick the right man for his new job?
(43 - 10:24pm, Jan 31)
Last: bbmck

Page rendered in 0.1894 seconds
48 querie(s) executed