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This article was published in the Spring 2019 Baseball Research Journal
A note from the editor of the Baseball Research Journal.Every spring, the preparation of the year’s first issue of the BRJ gets me ready for the baseball season. The anticipation of the drama and action that will captivate the nation (or at least parts of it) only builds as I read about the game’s past, present, and future. And I am continually captivated by watching the events of my lifetime run downstream to become “history.”
I recently was a guest on a podcast called “Movie vs Expert.” The concept of the podcast is the hosts, Mike and Kyle, watch a Hollywood movie and discuss it with a person who knows the subject. For example, they watched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop with an actual schoolteacher to thought-provoking and occasionally hilarious effect. The episode I recorded was me versus the movie Moneyball. To prep for the show, I re-read Michael Lewis’s book for the first time since it was published.
I remember well the avid attention I gave the book the first time around in 2003. I was a baseball blogger at the time, a newly minted member of SABR in the middle of a two-year reading jag in which I devoured around 150 books on baseball. Yes, I went down a rabbit hole. I read most of the “canon” (Roger Angell, Ed Linn, Jules Tygiel, Roger Kahn, et. al.), built myself a reference library (Total Baseball, Baseball Prospectus, Neft & Cohen), and picked up most of the new baseball books coming out, Moneyball included. The book (and movie) suffer the reductive flaw that they don’t actually tell the whole story. You can’t tell the story of the 2002 A’s success with barely a mention that their starting rotation had three of the best pitchers in baseball. But perhaps that’s the point. The book (and movie) aren’t about the A’s so much as they are about a way of thinking —and about a sea change that was taking place in baseball’s way of thinking.
It being 2019, when I re-read the book I read it digitally on my phone. The ebook edition has an afterword that I had not previously seen, in which Lewis chronicles major league baseball’s intense negative public reaction to the book and to the sabermetric concepts in it. From here in 2019 I’ll confess I had almost forgotten things didn’t change overnight, because they certainly did change rapidly after that. Boston adopting a sabermetric approach — and even hiring Bill James — and then winning the World Series in 2004 certainly helped silence the critics, though. And here we are not even 20 years later and every major league team has sabermetricians in the front office — whole departments of them sometimes. The revolution is total and complete. The book Moneyball itself ended up being part of the story of how things changed.
Of course SABR itself is a large part of that story, too, and the generations of SABRen, old and new, who have been threads in that tapestry. In this issue of the BRJ we celebrate the current winners of the Chadwick Award. One of them, Allan Roth, can be said to have been the first sabermetrician hired by a major league team, though he came several decades before the coining of that term. Another, Rob Neyer, comes out of my generation of pioneering Internet bloggers! This is what I mean about the events of my life becoming history. And we mavericks, whether named James or Neyer or Beane or any number of the names that have graced SABR publications, have become the institutions. In the words of Dizzy Dean (and Mortimer Snerd): who’da thunk it?
It all gives me hope that backward or outdated ways of thinking in other reaches of life aside from baseball can also be overcome by science and truth. Hopefully within my lifetime.
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CECILIA M. TAN is SABR’s Publications Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.