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Positively The Last Word On Baseball
Forget football, basketball, and all the other sports that are artificially regulated by the clock. Only baseball can truly reveal our national character. Only baseball can light our path to the future.
August/September 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 5
The achievement of baseball—what makes it the prototype for future organizations—is that while accepting all this ineptitude and untidiness, it provides a scheme where men at work can, with satisfaction to their selves, produce results that are almost always interesting and more often than not exhilarating. The beauty of this scheme derives from the way the precision of the structure, the logic of the rules, and the claims of the human potential are brought into invigorating consonance. I would cite the three determining principles on which this scheme is built: First, the fundamental dimensions of the composition are keyed to the known and measurable quantities in human potential—how fast a man can run, the speed of the ball he throws, how far he can hit a ball and all that. Second, since it is known that the human best is not very good—or at least very predictable—carefully calculated routine opportunities for a man to show the stuff that is in him are ingeniously created within the settled total composition. For a single simplified instance, the controlling context of three strikes and four balls is found to give a batter a reasonable amount of room to prove his truth by his endeavor (getting a hit), especially since the context is enlarged by the fact that a foul ball is never counted as a third strike unless it is a foul tip caught by the catcher. That such arrangements to give appropriate accommodation to the needs of the human potential have been worked out so firmly, so clearly, and in such detail is one of the primary sources of strength in the total composition.
And finally, in that composition a place is made for those things in the human condition that no one can figure out. There is the two-week slump that sets in when a man unconsciously changes his batting stance or when there is trouble at home. There is the shining moment, the little miracle of Coogan’s Bluff, when Bobby Thomson’s homer turns a whole season around. And there is the demonstration every day that those “intangibles” Stinky Stanky had can be used by anyone to upend the controlling influence of the percentages.
Now what, in the fewest possible words, does all this prove? Briefly, it appears that all our students will be going out to shape a society that will be increasingly organized by the skilled manipulation of the numbers, by the enlarging capacity of the brain for quantitative thinking, and probably, in time, by the sharpness of artificial intelligence. The record shows (and as Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up”) that baseball has had more experience and success with ordering a society such as ours than any other agency. And the record further indicates that the way to make the programs fit and the statistical probabilities appropriately apply and the numbers fall into the right place is to start with what the players are like- insofar as you can tell. As Casey Stengel also almost certainly said, “You hafta know your players and what they can’t do before you start your thinkin’.” If you can get that point across in an introductory course to enough students, it is even possible that we might have a whole new ball game.