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This article was published in the Spring 2016 Baseball Research Journal
Read a note from the editor of the BRJ.Are we all on a quest to glean meaning from life around us? Well, maybe not all people are, but I am, and I strongly suspect that many SABR members funnel that urge into their study of baseball. It doesn’t matter what creed you ascribe to — you’ll find ample parables in baseball. This is because, fractal-like, the game itself is part of the fabric of life, and every part contains microcosms of the whole.
Team versus team — league versus league! — can represent nation striving against nation or faith against faith. The batter versus pitcher brings the conflict down to a personal level. Or does the batter-pitcher matchup represent the battle of wills in a partnership? It could be all that and more. I look at the stories and the analysis presented in this issue of the Baseball Research Journal and I see tales of hubris, growth, the overcoming of obstacles, the lessons of failure. There’s a lot going on.
You can see the Kansas City Royals’ triumph in 2015 as a storybook sequel to their 2014 heartbreak, or you can see it as a not-unlikely outcome of a team that did well doing well again in similar circumstances. Both are “true.” It’s fairly rare for the BRJ to feature such recent history as “last year” but in this issue we have two articles spawned in the wake of the 2014 World Series. Jeffrey Howard takes a deep dive on what may or may not have been happening in the minds of the men on the field during the fateful penultimate play of the Series, and Wade Kapszukiewicz presents a startling way of conceptualizing the kind of climax that Series had. At least, I found it startling that I had never thought of it that way before. Which just goes to show no matter how much life you’ve lived, epiphanies can still happen.
Sometimes we look back, sometimes we look forward, and — as is very often the case — we look back so that we can look forward with sharper eyes. We’re still examining the notorious Black Sox, as Bruce Allardice does in his article on the team’s activities in 1920, and we’re still examining the way baseball, the press, and society reacted to the Black Sox Scandal, as Jacob Pomrenke demonstrates in his piece about a particular myth that persists despite facts to the contrary. Richard Hershberger’s and Brian Marshall’s inquiries into Paul Hines’s 1878 triple play gives us another prime example of people’s feelings coloring their perception of an event that was witnessed in broad daylight on a baseball field and yet there’s doubt about what happened.
When all avenues of inquiry have been exhausted and a question remains unanswered, what’s left? Belief. There are many such debates in baseball: Was the triple play unassisted? Did Ruth call his shot? And in life: Was Oswald working alone? I do not think the urge to pick a side is a flaw in humans, nor is the need to believe. We draw conclusions. That’s how our brains work. What would be a flaw is not to be able to change one’s belief in the face of new evidence.
History, whether made on the baseball field or not, gives us heroes and goats, parables, fables, and cautionary tales, because of the way we interpret it. The hottest musical on Broadway right now is about Alexander Hamilton. The subject matter in the past is inexhaustible and the lessons we can glean are only made finite by the span of our lives.
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CECILIA M. TAN is SABR’s Publications Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.