June 15, 2006

For baseball fans, the battle between the sabermetric world view and the traditionalist view has always been analogous to the "debate" between evolution and creationism. One view utilizes facts and reason to formulate an hypothesis over, lets say, how a team can best create runs, while the other uses magical thinking, and stresses "clutch ability" and "character". Basketball, which has displaced baseball as the number two sport in America, is a much newer sport; if baseball became a distinct pastime in the 1850's and became a modern game in the 1920's, basketball has had a more protracted evolution, invented in 1887, but not becoming the game we know now until Bird and Magic entered the NBA in 1979. As such, literary analysis of the sport has been much more spotty, and "sabermetric" (or to use the correct term, "objective") analysis of the sport has developed more slowly, and those who do write about the sport tend to be more enamored with flash and hype, rather than who can do what to help his team win.

That's why the publication of The Wages of Wins will no doubt do to traditionalists in the Realm of Hoops what The Bill James Baseball Abstract did to dinosaurs like Dick Young: begin the process of their extinction. I don't think it's any coincidence that this book was published in the aftermath of the U.S. bronze medal debacle at the 2004 Summer Olympics, when a team of superstars went to Athens and got beaten badly by less-talented players from Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina. For the first time, Americans saw that the evolution of the game in this country weakened the sport, making our players helpless against foreign teams that still emphasized teamwork, innovation, and unselfish play. It was inevitable that someone would try to figure out why that happened, and what type of player can help his team best accomplish what is supposed to be the object of the game, namely, win.

No comments: