Bob Ryan penned the latest edition of an article in which a sportswriter complains about all these new-fangled stats everybody’s using nowadays. He writes that back in his day, managers only got stats on little index cards and went with their guts. Ryan says he feels compelled to keep up with the stats junkies lest he be viewed as a Luddite, then asks if the average fan truly cares about the stats.
The answer to that is an easy yes. Many fans are involved in fantasy baseball in some way, shape, or form and fantasy baseball is the most applicable use of Sabermetrics for the average fan. They may not understand the advanced stats themselves, but they visit websites that display and interpret them and they follow the writers on Twitter and participate in those writers’ live chats.
But the practical answer is that while the fans may not desire an intimate knowledge of the stats themselves, they do care if their favorite teams are abreast of the latest trends. As a Phillies fan, I’ve long been reading the criticism of GM Ruben Amaro for the organization’s slowness to adapt to the statistical zeitgeist. Generally speaking, teams that have adopted statistical analysis have experienced more success in recent years and it’s readily apparent. Fans don’t like watching their team lose, and a failure to utilize important, available information is one of several factors that goes into failing to reach the playoffs. Thus, fans like stats if it helps their team win.
Where Ryan really loses the argument is when he, like every other sportswriter to have made the case, says that numbers junkies can’t appreciate a baseball game. Ryan writes that they get angry at every decision a manager makes, be it lineup construction or bullpen usage. Would that every fan cared as much about the game that deeply — baseball might one day close the popularity gap between itself and the National Football League. And, by the way, casual fans are just as guilty of second-guessing. Everybody has that uncle who yells at the TV. If they don’t, it’s their dad.
Ultimately, Major League Baseball should hope that more and more fans care about the game enough to delve deep into the numbers. That kind of engagement creates a long-lasting relationship with the sport. How many kids grew to love and appreciate baseball by gawking at the numbers — even if they were batting average, home runs, and RBI — on the backs of baseball cards even as recently as 20 years ago? Instead of questioning whether fans really care to engage that deeply, we should be encouraging them specifically to engage that deeply.
David Ortiz had a whale of a final season with the Red Sox. It was so good that he was asked, many, many times, if he was thinking of reversing his retirement decision and coming back for 2017. Ortiz always said no, he was still retiring, occasionally making mention of his aching feet and the physical grind his 40-year-old body was undergoing.
We now know just how much of a grind it was. Indeed, it was extreme. We know this because Dan Dyrek, the Red Sox’ coordinator of sports medicine services, tells it to Rob Bradford of WEEI. Dyrek says that the injuries to Ortiz’s feet, which were often referred to as achilles tendon problems, were way, way more complicated than that, affecting every muscle, bone and tendon in his feet in chain reaction fashion. Dyrek:
“He was essentially playing on stumps. Instead of having this nice, flexible, foot, ankle, calf mechanism to act as a shock absorber, he was playing on stumps. And you can do that for only so long. He was in warrior mode trying to play through this. Once we diagnosed him and saw what was going on and started explaining things to him, there was actually a sense of relief because now he had an explanation of what he was in such excruciating pain.”
That Ortiz was able to even walk through what Dyrek describes is pretty amazing. That he was able to put up a near-MVP season with all of that pain is incredible.
For all of the ups and downs of his personal and professional life, Charlie Sheen is and always has been a passionate baseball fan. Sheen once bought out an entire section of bleachers for an Angels game so he could catch a home run ball (he didn’t catch a home run ball). He starred in “Eight Men Out” and, more notably, “Major League.” That latter film earned him the love and admiration of Indians fans which lasts to this day.
Indeed, the love continues to be so great that, right after the Indians clinched the American League pennant, they began lobbying for Sheen to throw out the first pitch of a World Series game in Cleveland. Yesterday afternoon Sheen took to Twitter, posted a pic of his baseball alter ego, and said that, if called upon, he would serve:
While it’s a big broad comedy, the scene in “Major League” in which Sheen comes out of the bullpen to “Wild Thing” blaring and the fans going nuts is legitimately chill-inducing. The fans at Progressive Field are already going to be amped up for the World Series as it is, but imagine how nuts the place would be if they recreated that scene.
Do it, Indians!
UPDATE: Wait, on reflection, don’t do it, Indians. Sheen is sort of a Trumpian figure in that his high profile craziness often causes us to momentarily forget his legitimate badness. We don’t need a guy like that tossing out the first pitch at the World Series.