Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In and Out of Love With Baseball

It all starts when you're a kid. With me, it started with the Washington Senators in 1969. For three seasons, I listened to them on the radio and thrilled to Shelby Whitfield's cry of "Kiss it goodbye!" when Frank Howard bashed one into the seats at RFK. Unfortunately, after the 1971 season the Senators decamped to Texas and became the Rangers*. This killed my interest in baseball for the next two decades; the only time I looked at the standings was to assure myself that the Rangers were still in the second division where they belonged. I didn't even pay attention to the 1987 World Series and the Twins' surprising win over the Cardinals.

In place of baseball, I became fascinated with military history, historical wargaming, and eventually the statistical models underlying those games. So I suppose it was inevitable that eventually my interest in baseball would be restored by an article in Smithsonian about Rotisserie baseball. (It didn't hurt that my wife at the time was a Twins fan.) I started reading more about Rotisserie and other forms of fantasy baseball, started reading everything I could get my hands on about baseball and this strange new science of sabermetrics, and in the fullness of time came across Bill James. After that, there was no turning back. I got involved in a Pursue the Pennant league that went on for some years, began scoring Twins games for STATS in the horrible 1990 season, picked up DirecTV so I could score more games, and in 1994 started publishing the Rebel Baseball Review, a newsletter about the independent minor leagues.

As I mentioned in the last post, life got in the way of the RBR, and from 2002 to 2009 I drifted away from baseball, eventually not even bothering to take part in online fantasy leagues. When I did start following the Nationals actively last year after a couple of years of sloth & indolence, I was shocked at the large number of strange names and unfamiliar players. It's taken a little while to get up to speed again (to say nothing of a lot of time spent curled up with Baseball Prospectus ) but at least I can tell the players without a program again.

Along the way, I've acquired some biases you probably ought to be aware of. For historical reasons, I generally regard the Cardinals, Dodgers and Yankees as inherently evil. Family and personal grudges are responsible for my dislike of the Braves, Orioles and Rangers, while I consider myself a fan of the Twins, Phillies and (now) the Nationals. Special mention goes to the St. Paul Saints, who were very supportive of my efforts for the Rebel Baseball Review and USA TODAY's Baseball Weekly. I've already mentioned my distaste for the farm teams as an institution.

I'm also of two minds about the state of sabermetrics these days, but that deserves its own post. For now, let's just say the exploding wavefront of numbers Bill James complained about back in 1988 still seems to be racing along, leaving a fair amount of confusion and anger in its wake behind the trailing edge of smug. There's numbers I find useful and others that I don't; more about that later.

*Much as the Braves had left Boston for Milwaukee in 1952, an event that terminated my father's interest in baseball in the same way.

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