Essays January 2011

Steven Lewis on Baseball

Steven Lewis

 

I’ve always hankered to be a baseball writer. It’s like health services research, only the data are better, the outcomes are clearer and players pay attention to the findings. A lot of the time nothing important seems to be happening, but drama is just around the corner. The moments of tension are unsurpassed. The field is beautiful, with perfect dimensions. There is no clock, and there are no tie games.
 
Unlike healthcare, baseball has walked the talk of evidence based decision-making. Player evaluations are now much more science than art. Salary negotiations typically involve detailed statistical analyses, adjusted to take into account park effects (grass or artificial turf, batter or pitcher friendly), era effects (the offence-oriented 30s, the run-starved 60s) and changes in how the game was played (e.g., a premium on power versus speed). You can tell when a great season is probably a fluke (e.g., pitchers who begin with great win-loss records but few strikeouts are not great bets for long and successful careers). And talk about a culture of disclosure: the line score has runs, hits and errors. Because it is cerebral does not mean that it is predictable.
 
In baseball, the best teams win 60% of the time and the worst 40% (occasionally there are exceptions). No other sport has such uncertainty of outcome. On any given day, there is hope. Compared to other sports, baseball has less testosterone and more wit and personality, not least because even the best players fail much of the time. Can you imagine a football trash-talker matching the quip of Steve Hovely, a ballplayer of no distinction: “Baseball is a lot like religion. Great game, bad owners”? If your workday involves watching Vladimir Guerrero throw, you’ve got one helluva job.

About the Author

Steven Lewis is a health policy and research consultant based in Saskatoon and not unlike Tommy Douglas he likes to orate and does so with wit, good humour, and integrity. These comments were first published by Longwoods in 2004 and are reprinted here without his permission.

 


Comments

Anton Hart wrote:

Posted 2012/05/23 at 07:18 PM EDT

I hope you are a Blue Jays fan. Not only is there hope but they are entertaining.

 

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