This article was published in the Spring 2013 Baseball Research Journal.
I am writing these words in Florida, where I am making my annual pilgrimage to spring training, renewing my spirit after a long winter. By the time you read this, the 2013 baseball season will have begun, but at this moment I get to contemplate it as a mere philosophical concept. A new pope has recently been selected for the Catholic Church and it’s hard to resist making a baseball analogy. Major League Baseball as an institution is something like the Church. Although the institution itself is made up of specific people—clergy, nuns, cardinals, players, managers, owners—the institution can’t exist without the people in the pews/seats.
And like the church, baseball has its lay folk, too, those of us who aren’t employees of the corporation itself, but who are privileged to be something other than simply fans. And make no mistake, it is a privilege to be involved with the game, whether as writer, scholar, analyst, or historian. As a SABR member, I feel I am part of something that is a part of something, if you see what I mean.
Of course, like the scholars and philosophers of religion, we have our fundamental yet divergent beliefs (DH or no DH?) and we have our philosophical exercises (what would have happened if Babe Ruth had faced Sandy Koufax?). Our intellects and our passions can be equally engaged when we pursue these questions. We search for answers, or as John Cronin’s article title states, we even search for truth.
This issue of the Baseball Research Journal has a number of articles that tackle “what if?” questions, allowing us to revisit moments in history and analyze what happened by investigating alternatives. Lyle Spatz asks what if Burt Shotton had not been manager of the Dodgers in 1947? Paul Hensler asks what would have happened if during Nolan Ryan’s incredible 1973 season he had been able to face not the newly-created designated hitters, but his fellow pitchers? Robert Shaefer wonders how the record books might have been different if a home-run-prevention screen had not been installed in Sportsman’s Park.
Of course then there are the record books themselves. I feel sometimes what we do in SABR is write new gospel, and recover lost gospels, too. Todd Peterson brings to light a chapter of baseball history that should by all rights be a significant part of the lore and record books of the Negro Leagues, except that those record books are only being written now, as we uncover and compile the stories and facts of events like the east-west championships that were not as well documented as those in Major League Baseball. Of course there is also the fact that sometimes even MLB wasn’t as meticulously recorded as we would have liked it to be! In this issue Herm Krabbenhoft continues his painstaking correction of incorrect RBI records, Ron Selter sets a clerical mystery straight, and Frank Vaccaro details why pitcher win-loss records are perhaps not as comparable across eras as they might appear to a casual fan.
And there is much more. I will end my homily here with a practical note, which is a reminder that the Baseball Research Journal publishes the work of SABR members. You might note several new names in this issue’s table of contents; I encourage more of you who have never published in the journal to give it a try. The BRJ is open to all disciplines of research: statistical, historical, physical, psychological, economic, sociological, mathematical, biographical, architectural, biological, et cetera. Query with your topic and I will send you the guidelines on how to prepare a paper or article to our specifications. Come out and play.
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CECILIA M. TAN is SABR's Publications Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.