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. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick 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
robneyer
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogOTP 2016 Sep 26: A single for Donald Trump - He doesn’t have to hit a home run to send Hillary to the showers
(1824 - 7:51am, Oct 01)
Last: ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick

NewsblogFox Sports: Ken Rosenthal's 2016 MLB awards
(14 - 5:09am, Oct 01)
Last: OsunaSakata

NewsblogDavid Ortiz’s few remaining critics are needling killjoys who don’t deserve him | For The Win
(55 - 4:06am, Oct 01)
Last: Scott Ross

NewsblogOT - September 2016 College Football thread
(380 - 2:08am, Oct 01)
Last: Lance Reddick! Lance him!

NewsblogThe View is Much Better When You're the Lead Dog: Mike Trout Closes in on Another Second-Place MVP Finish
(4 - 1:39am, Oct 01)
Last: The Yankee Clapper

NewsblogWhat's going on inside the Blue Jays clubhouse?
(8 - 1:31am, Oct 01)
Last: Bote Man makes baseball fun again

NewsblogOMNICHATTER 9-30-16
(128 - 1:20am, Oct 01)
Last: Bote Man makes baseball fun again

NewsblogHeyman: Twins’ hiring of Falvey raising eyebrows
(31 - 12:24am, Oct 01)
Last: Spahn Insane, stimulus-funded BurlyMan™

NewsblogOT: NBA 2016-17 Preseason Thread
(48 - 12:09am, Oct 01)
Last: Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play

NewsblogJesus Montero suspended 50 games for use of a stimulant
(10 - 11:25pm, Sep 30)
Last: Dock Ellis on Acid

NewsblogOT: August 2016 Soccer Thread
(639 - 11:20pm, Sep 30)
Last: Baldrick

Hall of Merit2017 Hall of Merit Ballot Discussion
(109 - 11:14pm, Sep 30)
Last: theorioleway

Sox TherapyA Fan Picks Papi's Ten Best (Red Sox) Moments
(16 - 10:25pm, Sep 30)
Last: Jose Remains The Most Absurd Thing on the Site

NewsblogWhy Bo Jackson chose baseball
(2 - 10:20pm, Sep 30)
Last: The Yankee Clapper

Gonfalon CubsFear, Worry, and Overthinking
(15 - 7:40pm, Sep 30)
Last: Walt Davis

Page rendered in 0.1496 seconds
47 querie(s) executed