By The Numbers
Everyone knows there are certain things that simply do not go together: oil and water, fire and ice, nerds and jocks. However, an interesting trend is developing in cross-cultural enjoyment. More jocks than ever have been working Sudoku puzzles as a way of empowering and perfecting their critical thinking skills. While it seems unusual to see a mathematic puzzle in a baseball dugout something even more unusual is in the stands. Scores of nerds (engineers, accountants, computer geeks) now fill baseball’s box seats. The reason for the attraction to poindexters everywhere may be that baseball, more than any other sport, celebrates and glorifies numbers.
One of the things that keeps baseball fans coming back, tuning in and going to the stadium is to watch records be made and broken. It’s interesting to know the top record holders in each category and watch their achievement pursued. Look up a baseball record sheet on the Web and you may be spending a long time running down list of everything from most hits by a left-hander in a single-season to the highest number of steals from a pitcher. Watching somebody approach and take a record is an exciting visceral experience, as we hold out hope to see a record challenged. Currently, baseball fans are fixated on whether or not Barry bonds can beat Hank Aaron’s 755 homerun mark. Nerds, who love memorizing and categorizing numbers, find themselves right at home watching records stand and predicting their fall.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for a major record to be broken to get excited about numbers in baseball. Every single game, every single player, and every single pitch has been placed in categories for you. Listening to the baseball announcer is a lot like listening to a very excited math professor most of the time. They tell you batting percentages, pitching averages, field lengths and times at bat. Many baseball parks offer free scorecards to fans so that they can track the pitches and hits themselves. Statistics are attractive in baseball, because they help remind us that beyond the sport there is a science. Baseball is made of angles and force, physics and math. Now who wouldn’t want to go out on a sunny afternoon and watch all that?
Unfortunately, the things that make you can also be the things that break you. Another set of numbers has become prominent in baseball that doesn’t add so much to the joy of the game. That would be salaries, trade-offs, endorsements and other things involved with money. While sports are fun to watch, somebody must pay the athletes to do it. And when money changes hands in amount that it does in baseball it’s bound to have an effect on what goes on the field. When a batter is averaging .125 and he is getting paid .8 million to do it suddenly every missed pitch seems like a stab to the wallet as well as the heart.
Overall, baseball has been America’s pastime for a long time and that it will probably continue long into the future. However, when you look around at the crowds of folks who attend the games don’t be surprised to see people with laptops, glasses and polo shirts. The nerds are drawn to numbers and they are here to stay.