Bock’s Score: An Unforced Error By Bill James

Today’s question, boys and girls, is how did baseball ever survive all those years without the help of Bill James, former night watchman at a food cannery, where he revolutionized the game.

There, in the serenity of the dark and quiet building, armed with a flashlight and a fertile imagination, he came up with modern theories of analytics and Sabermetrics.

He sold it as a brand new way to look at the grand old game and baseball, always searching for the next big thing, bought in. And so, now we have all kinds of fancy numbers to replace good, old fashioned ones that served the game perfectly well for 150 years.

Now, James is offering a dandy new idea. If we eliminate all the current players, he said, the game will go on, undisturbed by the turnover, just as popular as ever.

This latest bit of business from the former night watchman was a  statement of how great baseball truly is, so great, in fact, that it stands on its own, the players notwithstanding. This did not sit well with the players who produce the memorable performances that make it so great.

Call it an unforced error.

That position predictably was not embraced with nearly the enthusiasm some of his previous theories like wins above replacement, range factor, exit velocity and all the other spiffy new statistics. Presented in a Twitter tweet, it was quickly deleted after ruffling the feathers of the players, some of them already suspicious of New Age baseball.

Now understand that the proprietors of baseball occasionally have toyed with the idea of replacements for the people on the field. They tried it in 1979 when the umpires went on strike, deciding anybody could call balls and strikes. It was disastrous and hastened the end of the walkout. And after they canceled the 1994 World Series during another labor dispute, the owners tried it again in spring training with replacement players who the bosses said would be just as good as the ones who were on the streets. They were not.

James’ twitter declaration concluded that “the players are not the game, any more than the beer vendors are.’’ There are some beer vendors delighted to be lumped in with the athletes, even though they earn considerably less in salary and benefits.

If anybody could play this game, then the minimum salary wouldn’t be over a half million dollars a year. The point is, that even though anybody can play it, those anybodies can’t play it nearly as well as the current community of Major Leaguers can. That’s why we watch.

 The analytics community, wrapped up in New Age theories, has changed baseball dramatically. The emphasis now is on home runs and strikeouts, power hitting and power pitching. We just had a season when there were more strikeouts than hits for the first time ever.

 This is not a good thing for the health and welfare of the game. Want proof? Attendance fell below 70 million for the first time since 2003.

Not to worry. The old night watchman and his cronies will solve the problem. All we need to do is get rid of all the players and replace them

Maybe with beer vendors.


About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

Get connected with us on Social Media