“Put me in coach. I’m ready to play today. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today. Look at me. I can be centerfield.” — John Fogerty
A few of you may know that this used to be a baseball blog. After all, one can’t hardly look at The Hall of Fame Index as a web handle and immediately think politics and culture. For much of my adult life and kid life, baseball and politics have been two of my biggest passions outside of work and family.
Today marks a special day in American lore. It’s Opening Day. Opening day represents so many things for so many people. For some it is a signal of the beginning of spring. For others it is the renewal of hope that this year will be the year that everything goes right. Still others consider the routine of seeing box scores in the newspaper (or online) and a game on the tube (or radio) every single night. For many of us it is all of those things.
I’ve written four books about baseball and half of those have been related to the Hall of Fame. Independent of my love for the Astros or any other specific player there is the love for the game. Opening day should be a national holiday. When done right, nearly every team is opening their season on the same day. Fans can go into a collective coma with copious amounts of beer, peanuts, and other tasty treats seated in front of the television watching a triple header on ESPN.
I’ve spent all of those books talking about the history of the game and settling arguments within it, but I’ve rarely talked about why I love the game so much. For me, it brings order to disorder. There is a symbiotic relationship between cold, hard facts and the thrill of not quite knowing what will happen on any given day.
My cousin (an avid gambler) once asked me how you handicap baseball. I told him you don’t. You can look at pitching matchups, hitting lineups, career averages, and all kinds of numbers and lose every time. Yet, over a long enough timeline the numbers begin to level out and everything begins to make sense. That’s the paradox that brings you back every time.
Numbers fluctuate in every sport and yet the numbers in baseball have a magic all their own. The .300 batting average always means something. 100 runs and RBI always mean something. 20 wins, a 3.00 ERA, and 200 strikeouts always means something. Of course, those meanings become magnified when they turn into career sums. Then it becomes 3000 hits, 300 wins, 500 home runs, and so forth.
In no other sport are the numbers that magical. Running backs and receivers may gain 1000 yards and quarterbacks may throw for 4000 yards, but those numbers have waned in their importance over time. Offenses change and evolve. A yard just isn’t a yard anymore.
Similarly, in basketball scoring has changed dramatically as offenses have changed. The irony is that all three sports have embraced advanced analytics and the analytics have driven the strategy. Where did analytics get its start? You guessed it. Baseball.
I suppose it would be natural for a history buff to love baseball. The game goes back to the American Civil War. Football and basketball can’t possibly compete with that. No one really cares about soccer in the United States and few south of the Mason-Dixon line care about hockey. So, baseball was the best opportunity to marry a love of statistics, history, and symmetry.
Today is a day to take a break from Matt Gaetz, Joe Biden, voter suppression, gun violence and anything else we might care about just about every day around here. It is a day to feverishly check the scores to see how my fantasy teams did. It is a day to marvel at individual performances that might or might not be a predictor of things to come. It is a day to hope that my team will be perfect for at least one day. It is a day to allow all of that other stuff to go far far away. It will all be here when we get back.