Here's one thing I think we can all agree on: At least in our current understanding of what makes sportswriting great, sabermetrics doesn't fit into
the picture. With that in mind, I think we're all a bit biased here. Moneyball is an incredible book, but it's the tension between the new school,
who's obsessed with numbers, and the old order, who's still hung up on whether or not a young man really "looks like" a ballplayer, that makes the writing so
In the essay Jake references, Posnanski writes that it's the "stark argument about statistics" that interests him "as a writer." It's not the
statistics or the complex theories and equations themselves that intrigue him, or us, but the delicate balance between the two sides. Posnanski goes
on, of course, to explain the ways in which he thinks numbers can help us tell better stories, but the only reason he's making the argument in the
first place is because Moneyball set up such a captivating dichotomy. We might not know yet how great sportswriting can be fused with sabermetrics over
time, but the writing the very debate has inspired has been wonderful so far.
I'll admit to sharing one antiquated bias with our friend Joe Morgan. I played college basketball, and I still play pick-up games at least once a week.
It can be hard for me to take seriously any writing or talking from people who have never played the game before. It's illogical and unfair and it's a
boring critique to make, but my basic feeling is that someone who's never felt or contributed to the rhythm of the game isn't as capable of
authentically communicating what it's like to shoot a turn-around jumper or to come off of a screen. I'm not proud to say it—but I recognize that the
feeling probably has a lot to do with the fact that the numbers side of, say, baseball often leaves me feeling clueless and left out. My experience
playing basketball all those years is my particular expertise; it's my version of sabermatrics. That's gotta be why Morgan clings to it.
What about you, Patrick? We're 0 for 3. Have you converted?
Have I converted to the church of Sabremetrics? Conversion isn't necessary. Numbers don't negate stories. Numbers are stories, a narrative way to process and describe reality. Two plus two equals four: beginning, middle, end. Telling stories is what we do, not only as writers, but also as humans; it's our shared way of understanding existence, our collective campfire in the deep, dark woods of an indifferent universe. In sports, the Redemption of Mike Vick—note: ending not yet written—is a story, almost an archetypal hero's journey. Then again, so is his fluctuating quarterback rating.
The danger, I think, comes when we forget that numbers are simply stories—when we convince ourselves that they're something more. Something akin to Gospel. Jake, you mentioned the stock market, that cresting, crashing, wave-like thing, Matthew Arnold's sea of faith as populated by Krakens. What is the Dow, really? A number. A number that tells the story of a bunch of other smaller numbers; each, in turn, telling stories of human confidence. Or lately, a quivering lack of it. Likewise, what is shooting percentage? A number that tells a story of makes and misses. A number that tells a story about Emma coming off a screen, catching, shooting, without thought, the ball seemingly though the net before it leaves her fingertips ... or bouncing off the rim, a byproduct of fatigue, doubt, a bad day at the office.