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An Appreciation of Knowledge-Seeking and the National Pastime

This post originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the Baseball Research Journal as my editor’s note/introduction. (The BRJ is the semi-annual research publication of the Society for American Baseball Research.) I’m reposting it here as part of #BlogMarch2017.

I would like to take this space to express how grateful I am for SABR’s existence. I grew up in a baseball-loving household, with a shrine to Thurman Munson on my wall (I was at summer camp when his plane crashed). But there were occasional judgmental people who felt it necessary to belittle the game or people’s devotion to it. It’s “just a game,” they would say. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we spent our time and energy being devoted to something “more important?”

In a word, no. Baseball makes the world a better place, and SABR has given me myriad ways to appreciate that fact. Among SABR members I never have to try to prove that baseball is an important part of the cultural fabric of the United States. They know. They’ve written the articles and dissertations and books on the subject. The history of the country and the sociological underpinnings of our culture are reflected in baseball, and are intertwined with it. Pick an important thread in American history since the Civil War and you’ll probably find a baseball angle in it: waves of immigration, segregation, westward expansion, urban decay, urban renewal, capitalism, labor disputes…. Need I go on?

Among SABR members I also never have to argue the importance of data—collecting it, correcting it, preserving it, and interpreting it with an open mind. SABR members understand that no matter how passionate we are about a team or the game itself, that passion is misplaced if we aren’t looking at the game with open eyes. Science gives us the flexibility to re-evaluate in the face of new information rather than being trapped by outdated dogmas. The proof is in the way every major league team has adopted some form of a sabermetric approach in order to remain competitive. Data analysis and decision science works. I find it not at all incongruous that one of the country’s top political analysts, Nate Silver, cut his teeth at Baseball Prospectus.

Another thing I’ve learned from baseball: both teams matter. The teams don’t just compete with each other, they also have to cooperate within the rules in order for their mutual goal of a win-loss outcome to be reached. For the people to accord it the importance it has, baseball had to prove it was not corrupt, that the feelings of the fans were respected by true competition and not an outcome manipulated by gamblers (or even crooked owners) to improve the bottom line. The rules of the game and the integrity of what takes place on the field are crucial to fan participation. If the fans abandoned the game, it would no longer have the sway in our culture that it does. I admit I’m a little leery of some of the proposed changes (eliminating the four pitches from the intentional walk?) but at least I have general faith that the commissioner and owners understand not to strangle the golden goose.

So I have faith that baseball will endure, even in the current fractured political climate. It has endured through World Wars, race riots, and natural disasters, after all. Then there’s my other favorite American institution: our democracy. I must also have faith that our democratic institutions will endure because I am an optimist, but if the people lose faith, could democracy fade, as well? SABR and baseball have taught me to respect history, respect science, respect the rules, and respect your opponent. Those, to me, are American values, not political ones. They are the torch I carry while editing the BRJ. You will find them reflected again and again in the search for knowledge and understanding in each article in the Journal. I am grateful to SABR members for never giving up the quest to know more and better than before.

Cecilia M. Tan
Spring 2017

(Thanks for joining us on Blog March 2017! Every day a new entry progresses the march forward, “Raising Voices for Freedom of Expression, Knowledge, and Information.” Tomorrow’s entry will be on march organizer Robin Renee’s blog! Check it out!)

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