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)