Monday, February 23, 2009

Heart vs. Head

Welcome back to Seattle, Junior.

One of the underlying storylines in sports in recent years has been the building movement of statistical analysis. Ever since Moneyball was released in 2003, the argument has come to the forefront and divided some lines - especially in baseball, where traditional thinkers like to judge with their eyes only. It's been gaining steam in basketball, too, in recent years, but the stronghold of "sabrmatricians" (the term for such stat-heads) is on the diamond.

Statistics say that Ken Griffey, Jr. is going to be a very, very average player for the Mariners this year, and that he should avoid seeing the field as much as possible. If you were being even more cynical, you'd say he should only ever face right-handed pitchers, too. That's what parsing through the numbers and statistics available to fans and analysts say, at least.

The romantic, the fan, the one seeking out a story, that person thinks Junior returning - quite possibly for his final season - is going to be awesome, regardless how he does this year. "He's coming home!" It's like being transported back to 1998 again, to see Griffey in teal and blue smashing home runs out of shiny, new Safeco Field and patrolling center field, pulling a Spiderman impression and leaping up against the wall to steal a home run.

That bat twitch. The effortless swing. The casual trot out of the batter's box as another home run is crushed. Sure, the memories are just that - memories, sugar-coated, and so very sweet - but if we don't have those sweet dreams as fans of sports, all we have are box scores.

I fully admit to wanting Griffey to come home to Seattle for purely selfish reasons. It's like wanting to go back and re-live the best childhood memories. I want that Ken Griffey, Jr. who was on the poster in my bedroom to walk back out on to the field when Opening Day comes, but that's a fantasy. You can't go back home in the same way again, but the nostalgia trip will be great for all involved.

Sure, statistical analysis is great - incredibly useful. But without nostalgia - great play-by-play calls, amazing images, wonderful memories - sports are almost meaningless. There's room for romanticism alongside the science.

1 comment:

Nick Cummings said...

I remember the Griffey days. I still have my Ken Griffey Super Nintendo game. And I don't even like baseball -- but I was still thrilled to hear he's coming back to the Mariners. It's a little ridiculous at best, but something about it is reassuring in a strange way.