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March 4, 2008 12:00 am
The retirement of a minor league catcher incites the revisiting of a now-infamous book.
The news that Jeremy Brown was hanging up his spikes due to "personal issues" made more of a stir last week than you'd expect from the retirement of a 28-year-old catcher who's spent the last two years in Triple-A. Our prospects expert, Kevin Goldstein, gave Brown an extremely evenhanded send-off over on Unfiltered; others have been less charitable, invoking imaginary choruses of scouts cheering the end of Brown's career. At least, I hope the cheering is imaginary: it'd take a Grinch-sized heart to rejoice in the end of someone's big-league dreams, unless their name is, say, Ben Christensen. The reason that Brown is the focus of such attention and schadenfreude is because the A's drafted him in the first round of the 2002 draft-an overdraft which, by itself, wouldn't be that noteworthy-and because Michael Lewis wrote a best-selling book which hailed Brown's selection as the bellwether of a new way of doing business, which the author dubbed "Moneyball" in the book of the same name. Apparently, those celebrating Brown's retirement are marking the occasion as the death of Moneyball acumen-a festive wake, with dancing and ironic toasts.
Statistics are a tool, not unlike a microscope. Statistics are a hammer, a speculum, a thermometer. A statistics-based approach to understanding of baseball is one of many paths to knowledge of the game. Calling those who take that path "freaks" or "Nazis" makes as much sense as calling a Ph.D. chemist a wimp because he tests the qualities of his cyanide compound by means of Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy rather than just drinking the thing.
In 1937, George and Ira Gershwin wrote a song for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers picture Shall We Dance that was an instant classic satire of the human need to scoff at the merest hint of progress:
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