"Baseball fans are junkies, and
their heroin is the statistic." - Robert S. Weider
Early in your career as a baseball fan,
you realize the importance of baseball statistics (“stats”). Most certainly, to defend your “favoriteplayer” among the kids in the neighborhood, you must at least quote his batting average. Thus, your addiction begins to pull you into
the depths of the statistical caverns created by experts like Bill James whose
Baseball abstract is the bible for many a baseball fanatic. Your addiction to stats grows because defending your “favorite player” requires even more research to keep his status high as the argument as to who is best (“your guy or my guy”) requires a little more than just the batting average. Rbi’, hits, and runs are important, too. Soon you are buying The Sporting News where game by game box scores are printed on a weekly basis.
The art of studying a baseball box score and running the flow of the game through the imaginary baseball diamond in your head consumes hours of time. Once you are caught in the statistical web it does not stop. Even the line score of thegame seems magical. The inning by inning run totals tell a story in themselves. Boring down deeply into the box score shows how the Red Sox scored four runs in the 3rd inning. Who relieved who on the mound?
As a twelve year old, I was fascinated with
the huge board behind the counter in the “pool hall” along Ft. Wayne Avenue in
Indianapolis. Scores were posted inning by inning. I was in this atmosphere because my mother’s third husband would enter the hall with me in tow and buy these funny little tickets that somehow bet onthe games. I really never understood the betting. (Still don’t today!) There was even a “punch
board” that was a way of winning or losing money on the game.
I don’t think I was supposed to be in the “hall”. The sign on the window said “Must be 18.” Herb, my mother’s husband, didn’t pay attention to the sign. We did not stay long…just enough time to buy a few tickets and a couple of punches on the board and lose a few bucks. But to me that was where the action took
place. Imagine tracking the scores of all 16 major league teams in one place. Eight games at once in one place. Boy! Would I ever be the envy of the neighborhood kids with that information at my finger tips!
Today the stat junkies are “fantasy” baseball players. Their teams’ individual stats determine how their teams do. You really have to know your DICE, GIDP… to say nothing about IP, RBI and HR.
The practice of keeping records of players’achievements was started in the 19th century by Henry Chadwick. Based on his experience with cricket, Chadwick
devised the predecessors to modern day statistics including batting average, runs scored, and runs allowed.
Chadwick’s few categories have grown to 106 categories that can be used to measure a ball player’s performance today. Henry Chadwick’s goal was to provide numerical evidence to prove what players helped or hurt a team to win. Statistics applied to baseball work equally well with softball. While the base/softball fan is smitten with the importance of statistics in measuring player performance, it is no less important to the player. At the major league level it translates into money and big contracts. At any level at which the game is played stats determine a player’s value.
The Half-Century Softball Club of St.Petersburg is just as much into the importance of the “stats” as any majorleague organization. The 80 year-old club
can trace player performance with great precision. The club’s 75th anniversary publication is 88 pages of players’ accomplishments reported statistically. The publication is available on the club’s web site www.stpetehalfcentury.com. It will
take some time to download, but there you can explore a plethora of statistical
information about the league’s players as well as a history of the league. Tom Glenn, long time member of the league, and Mike Robertson, the current statistical guru, put together this excellent publication.
Today the club’s website carries complete, up-to-the-game statistics. The
league’s top players’ statistics are listed along with the season’s game by
game scores. This year’s 80th anniversary brochure conveys last season’s statistical leaders as well as updated career records and stats recorded since the 75th anniversary publication five years ago.
While it appears that the club is awash in statistics, there is purpose to it all. Balanced team competition is a cornerstone of the league’s existence. The sixty game season is a long one when compared with most adult softball leagues throughout the country. Vital to that balance is the work of the competition committee which uses this statistical information to form the teams
at the start of the season.
However, the work of the committee is not over after teams are formed. Injuries and personal situations often bring
a need to rebalance teams. If a key player goes down with an injury, it can destroy the competitive level of the team. This can happen more than once throughout the long season to more than one team . During the current year the committee has balanced teams on four occasions due to injury and other issues causing players to leave their respective team.
Leonard Koppett in A Thinking Man’s Guide to Baseball (1967) probably summed it up best when he stated:“Statistics are the lifeblood of baseball. In no other sport are so manyavailable and studied so assiduously by participants and fans. Much of the game's appeal, as a conversation piece, lies in the opportunity the fan gets to back up opinions and arguments with convincing figures, and it is entirely possible that more American boys have mastered long division by dealing with batting averages than in any other way."
And so it is at North Shore Park on any M/W/F morning, late October through the first week of April the statistic is king. Hits, runs, rbi and home runs measure a club member’s worth. Team captains set line ups place fielders and
play the percentages based on the statistical performance of players career and season “stats”.