Oh, it’s just Bill James. In 1984. Writing about how people shouldn’t get upset about teams hiring computer specialists to analyze baseball because it doesn’t change a thing about what people who are working in or thinking about baseball are trying to do, and that’s to understand baseball and make baseball teams better:
There is, you see, no such thing as “computer knowledge” or “computer information” or “computer data.” Within a few years, everyone will understand that. The essential characteristics of information are that it is true or it is false, it is significant or it is trivial, it is relevant or it is irrelevant. In the early days of the automobile, people would say that they were going to take an “automobile trip.” That lasted about ten years; after that, people went back to taking trips as they had before. They were vacation trips, or they were business trips, or they were trips on personal matters, or they were trips to the coast or they were trips to the mountains. After the novelty wore off people still traveled in automobiles, but they ceased to identify the trip with the machine and returned to identify it with its purpose. People stopped driving to Cleveland just to have some place to drive. That’s what we’re going through now with the computer; twenty years from now, the term “computer information” will sound quaint and silly … I am engaged in a search for understanding. That is my profession. It has nothing to do with computers. Computers are going to have an impact on my life that is similar to the impact that the coming of the automobile age must have had on the professional traveler or adventurer. The car made it easier to get from place to place; the computer will make it easier to deal with information. But knowing how to drive an automobile does not make you an adventurer, and knowing how to run a computer does not make you an analytical student of the game.
People who bemoan “sabertmetrics” are like the people who used the term “automobile trips” back in the day. They are mistaking the means of transport for the purpose of the trip. They believe that, say, calculating some complex statistic is the purpose as opposed to trying to figure out which baseball player is better and thus which player is worth trading for or starting or platooning or what have you. They’re hating on the tool and believing it’s the job.
And they’re doing it because they have made some silly caricature out of Bill James and the people who have followed in his footsteps. The man himself was saying nearly 30 years ago that it’s not about the computers or the calculations. It’s not about the means. It’s the end. Understanding baseball. That’s what matters. Who cares how it’s accomplished?
(Thanks to Baseball Crank, who reminded me of this one a few minutes ago)
You’ll recall the little controversy last month when Ichiro Suzuki passed Pete Rose’s hit total. Specifically, when Ichiro’s Japanese and American hit total reached Rose’s American total of 4,256 and a lot of people talked about Ichiro being the new “Hit King.” You’ll also recall that Rose himself got snippy about it, wondering if people would now think of him as “the Hit Queen,” which he took to be disrespect.
There’s a profile of Ichiro over at ESPN the Magazine and reporter Marly Rivera asked Ichiro about that. Ichiro’s comments were interesting and quite insightful about how ego and public perception work in the United States:
I was actually happy to see the Hit King get defensive. I kind of felt I was accepted. I heard that about five years ago Pete Rose did an interview, and he said that he wished that I could break that record. Obviously, this time around it was a different vibe. In the 16 years that I have been here, what I’ve noticed is that in America, when people feel like a person is below them, not just in numbers but in general, they will kind of talk you up. But then when you get up to the same level or maybe even higher, they get in attack mode; they are maybe not as supportive. I kind of felt that this time.
There’s a hell of a lot of truth to that. Whatever professional environment you’re in, you’ll see this play out. If you want to know how you’re doing, look at who your enemies and critics are. If they’re senior to you or better-established in your field, you’re probably doing something right. And they’re probably pretty insecure and maybe even a little afraid of you.
The rest of the article is well worth your time. Ichiro seems like a fascinating, insightful and intelligent dude.
In 2012 Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, delivered the fantasy role-playing game it had spent millions of dollars and countless man hours trying to deliver. And then the company folded, leaving both its employees and Rhode Island taxpayers, who underwrote much of the company’s operations via $75 million in loans, holding the bag.
The fallout to 38 Studios’ demise was more than what you see in your average business debacle. Rhode Island accused Schilling and his company of acts tantamount to fraud, claiming that it accepted tax dollars while withholding information about the true state of the company’s finances. Former employees, meanwhile, claimed — quite credibly, according to reports of the matter — that they too were lured to Rhode Island believing that their jobs were far more secure than they were. Many found themselves in extreme states of crisis when Schilling abruptly closed the company’s doors. For his part, Schilling has assailed Rhode Island politicians for using him as a scapegoat and a political punching bag in order to distract the public from their own misdeeds. There seems to be truth to everyone’s claims to some degree.
As a result of all of this, there have been several investigations and lawsuits into 38 Studios’ collapse. In 2012 the feds investigated the company and declined to bring charges. There is currently a civil lawsuit afoot and, alongside it, the State of Rhode Island has investigated for four years to see if anyone could be charged with a crime. Today there was an unexpected press conference in which it was revealed that, no, no one associated with 38 Studios will be charged with anything:
An eight-page explanation of the decision concluded by saying that “the quantity and qualify of the evidence of any criminal activity fell short of what would be necessary to prove any allegation beyond a reasonable doubt and as such the Rules of Professional Conduct precluded even offering a criminal charge for grand jury consideration.”
Schilling will likely crow about this on his various social media platforms, claiming it totally vindicates him. But, as he is a close watcher of any and all events related to Hillary Clinton, he no doubt knows that a long investigation resulting in a declination to file charges due to lack of evidence is not the same thing as a vindication. Bad judgment and poor management are still bad things, even if they’re not criminal matters.
Someone let me know if Schilling’s head explodes if and when someone points that out to him.