Sports and the Unimportant: The Sports Statistics

Glenn CardSenior Analyst IMay 28, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 29:  A volunteer changes numbers on a leaderboard during the weather-delayed  final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge on March 29, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

I understand statistics and I also understand how they are used to qualify and quantify the achievements of our favorite sports, teams, players or drivers.

There's sports statistics for everything. For race car drivers there's the lap lead statistics as well as average starting pole position statistics. There's ERA statistics for the baseball pitcher. For the boxer, he is defined not only by his win-loss numbers but also by the rounds he’s boxed and punches he throws as well as his KO wins. These numbers and statistics are then accumulated and used to judge how these athletes compare to their peers.

Athletes either gain admission to the sport's respective 'Hall of Fame' based on the hard numbers, or are omitted from it.

The accomplishments of some athletes, such as like Billy Jean King, Richard Petty, Arthur Ashe, Dr. J, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nadia Comaneci, are incredible and shouldn't be underrated. Invariably, the numbers of the aforementioned are the most impressive in their field.

But, what if we didn’t keep count?

There are many of us that follow an athlete based solely on persona. We care not what the numbers say.

I’ve heard my wife say “I like so-and-so because of his nice smile.” Or she’ll follow a team only because she "likes the uniforms."

It doesn’t make her any less of a fan. In many cases, she is more die hard than I am.

I might argue: “How can you possibly root for the Bengals? You’ve never lived in Ohio. You don’t know the names of any of the players. Besides, they have one of the worst rated defenses."

But her reply would simply be: “The orange and black uniforms are hot, that’s why.”

It would do me little or no good to whip out my American Football Statistics Encyclopedia. You can't debate against deaf ears.

There are fans that only love the winners, and they'll follow the winners by keeping count. There are other fans that follow perennial losers, not particularly by choice but because of loyalty.

There are fans that cannot fathom a game without the numbers, and others that only watch because of the personalities.

Me, I watched basketball for a couple of reasons: Larry Bird and his dogged determination, and Michael Jordan for his grace in how he made scoring points look so easy.

I watched baseball to see Roger Clemens pitch his way out of a jam, the way he always seemed to give up the early home-run only to settle in and eventually win the game.

I’ve enjoyed watching hockey with wonder to see how those guys stay up on two thin strips of steel as they zoom across the ice, using their skills to make shots on goal, or to see the goalie let very few pucks past him.

How about a finely-finessed head shot for a goal in soccer? Do we care what the statistical odds are against it being made?

When I’m jumping up and down on my chair yelling “GOAL!!!”, the only math I’m doing is figuring out the new score.

The truth is, sometimes when we are truly involved and fixated on our sports, statistic don't really matter that much.