In a previous career, I was a real journalist. I don’t talk about it much because of the several careers I’ve had before turning 26, it was one of the more boring ones. But I worked at a technology magazine, writing features and editing the industry news section, the latter task consisting mostly of turning press releases into something that resembles English. Anyway, I was writing up a couple sentences on some company whose name escapes me when I realized that they were referring to themselves by the initialism for the company’s three-word name: ODB.
I laughed for what had to be several minutes at the idea of a company that produced (if memory serves) library software referring to itself, without a trace of irony, as ODB, but when I tried to explain to my co-workers (who were mostly white women in their 40s) why that was so funny, I got nothing but a miasma of bemused awkwardness rivaled only by the time when I showed up with a horseshoe mustache and declared it to be Fu Manchu February.
ODB is the most unfortunate acronym I’ve ever had to encounter as a writer. The second-most unfortunate is WAR. Mostly because it invites wordplay from people who (wrongly) mock the rationale behind advanced stats and (rightly) take the opportunity to mock a stupid acronym. The problem is that if you’re not smart enough to realize that sports aren’t only a test of willpower and you’re not smart enough to realize opening day starts aren’t the best way to quantify a player’s value, you’re probably also not smart enough to be good at wordplay. Which is how we’ve preserved the public memory of a certain Edwin Starr song that’s so facile and glibly idiotic it makes “MacArthur Park” look like “Gimme Shelter.”
When I’m dictator of the world, anyone who makes a WAR pun will have his (it’s invariably “his”) BBWAA membership revoked, irrevocably, on the spot. And I’ll also have the Ministry of Education’s Secret Police burst into his home in the middle of the night, throw a bag over his head and cast him down into Xibalba.
This intro is already way too long for what it adds to the point I’m trying to make, but I’m already pot-committed so I’m going for broke. Here’s why that’s relevant.
I let a recent issue of ESPN: The Magazine sit on my coffee table for a couple weeks because I was so pissed off at the WAR pun on the cover that I failed to notice that the story to which that human rights atrocity of a WAR pun referred was written by Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus, who, if he’s not my favorite baseball writer currently working, is certainly in the top five.
Miller’s article couches the debate (If you can call it that anymore. The evolving mainstream acceptance of analytics in all sports put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver’s seat years ago) in what I think are the correct terms: as the battle between knowledge and hokum. Continue reading…