John Thorn, official historian for Major League Baseball, wrote a three-part article titled "Farewell to Stats" last week. Stats happens to be a close friend of mine, so she asked me to publish this rebuttal on her behalf—MT
No one wants to be dumped publicly, especially after a 30-year relationship. So I was shocked when John Thorn aired the dirty laundry of our relationship in his Bleacher Report columns last week. Hell hath no fury like a set of abstract mathematical principles scorned, and I believe it’s important for sports fans to know both sides of the story. John can’t break up with me, because I broke up with him first.
When I met John in the mid 1980s, I had not yet blossomed. I was still awkward and unsure of myself, unaccepted by the sports community. Those were heady days, when John and Pete Palmer and Bill James realized my full potential, turning a guttersnipe into a full-fledged citizen of the sports world. I became a subject of fascination, even obsession.
Boys growing up in the 1980s had two passions: Madonna and me. Runs Created, Total Average, The Hidden Game of Baseball...I get a thrill just thinking of all the wild things we did. We were revolutionaries! We changed the world!
Now John wants to cast me off as just a jilted lover, tossed aside so he can chase floozies like Folklore and Tall Tales. John wrote that he thinks of my charms “not as indices of merit but as artifacts of play to which story adheres.” In other words, he loves me, but he’s not in love with me. Fine. The fact is that I outgrew him long ago.
Over the years, the good times got away from us. I get sad when I see a player’s pinch-hitting OPS against lefties with runners in scoring position flash on the screen. “That’s not what I am all about!” I gasp. But part of growing up is accepting your flaws.
I have so much to offer, like VORP and BABIP in baseball and DVOA in football. You just have to overlook the excesses, like real-time fantasy results for middle relievers and goofballs who think they can measure an offensive lineman’s performance to three decimal places by watching television tape.
Despite a few missteps, I matured and grew over the decades. While I still have the utmost affection for John, he was just a darling little fellow toiling away with his encyclopedias while I conquered television, the Internet and the world.
I guess John grew too focused on my faults and lost sight of my beauty. A lot of long-term relationships end that way. But I was hoping for a quiet separation, not a Bleacher Report divorce. I don’t appreciate being called “something of a fetish,” especially by someone who knows me as intimately as he does.
For the record, no one coveted my OPS or Range Factor until John and the boys polished them up and displayed them to the world.
And the “shrunken head” remark was a low blow. We all get a little wrinkly with age. To express our relationship in terms John can understand (unnecessarily complicated literary references), Pygmalion has grown to resent his statue, Higgins to feel contempt for Eliza and the Dreamgirls have outgrown the guy Eddie Murphy played in that movie Dreamgirls.
Here’s what saddens me most, John. I understand your need to see other people or pursue other research styles. We always had an open relationship. No one way of looking at sports—or the world—can fulfill anyone. I always worked well with stories and folklore: I helped to tell the tales, explain the setting, fill in the gaps and, most importantly, separate fact from fiction from fantasy.
I play an important role, but nobody believes I should play the only role. You know darn well it doesn’t have to be an either-or. You can have all of us. Stats, legendary tales, word etymologies, weird literary references...we make very happy sister wives. If you don’t want me involved, it will ultimately hurt you much more than it does me.
Soon, you will come crawling back. Your job demands it. It’s easy to say “good riddance” and wax philosophical in the first carefree days after you get over a relationship, but soon life intervenes. You are an official historian, and a historian cannot afford to ignore solid evidence from the past. I am as solid as you can get.
You will be chasing down information about Wee Davy Force or some other 1870s ballplayer, looking to place a particular player into a precise location and a specific date, and you will come face to face with me in my simplest form: the newspaper box score.
You’ll struggle to explain the significance of some player or event to a wider audience, and when Spencer and Joyce fail you, I will be there to tell a story your audience can understand: 1,029 games, a .402 batting average, a 252-65 record. You will realize that I have always been a dutiful companion: helpful, trustworthy, flexible, relatable, relatively low-maintenance, yet surprisingly deep and nuanced.
Do not worry about me. I will be fine until you come to your senses. The sports world is full of people who love me and treat me well. I will get over this public betrayal. If you need to talk, you know where to find me: Nate Silver’s house.
Michael Tanier is a senior writer for Football Outsiders, a regular contributor at The New York Times and NBCSports.com and the author of The Philly Fan Code, due in stores and downloads this summer.
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