The Measure of the Game
“In baseball,” as New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra succinctly put it, “you don’t know nothin’.” But it has not been for a lack of trying. Managers and scouts have charted, plotted, logged, and recorded player performance and minutiae looking for patterns, tendencies, trends, and quirks that might give them a competitive edge. Scouting reports from the 1950s indicate an emphasis on experienced observation and intuitive assessment rather than objective measurements, thus Branch Rickey could describe a young Don Drysdale as having an “intelligent face and manner, shows good breeding” but only offer an estimate on his fastball as “way above average.” Converting factors such as observations, theories, luck, and numbers into a useful formula was bound to be an uncertain science. Over time, though, computer-driven number crunching, radar guns, statistical analysis, frame-by-frame video evaluation, and bats equipped with motion sensors became essential tools of measurement in the ongoing effort to know more than “nothin’” about baseball.
Scouting Report: Hank Aaron, 1963
The Art of Winning
Ever since journalist and ardent baseball promoter Henry Chadwick popularized the box score in the 1850s, fans have studied the tiny figures daily and memorized iconic numbers. Obsession with player statistics was evident in the nineteenth century, and team owners worried that players would put achieving personal numbers above teamwork. Fans’ enthusiasm for stats continues to manifest itself in fantasy baseball, in which some fourteen million players try to create winning imaginary teams based on actual major league performances. Numbers, though, are just a part of victory. The art of winning also encompasses intangibles—leadership, team chemistry, catching breaks, and finding an edge. As Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher once said of small but scrappy second baseman Eddie Stanky, “He can’t hit, he can’t run, he can’t throw—all he can do is beat you.”