Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jefferson on baseball

Reading this piece in the New Yorker, I was struck by something Thomas Jefferson in response to the oft-used query, "What would the Founders do?"

In 1816, when he was seventy-three and many of his revolutionary generation had already died, he offered this answer: “This they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. . . . Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.” The Founders believed that to defer without examination to what your forefathers believed was to become a slave to the tyranny of the past. Jefferson put it this way: “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human.”

Naturally, my thoughts turned to the anti-Jamesian sect and their near religious fervor to protect popular baseball statistics of days gone by. Believing, it seems, that the introduction of new statistical concepts strips the game of all its history and charm, and viewing those who propagate treacherous ideas like secondary average as a threat. Bah!

I possess no more mathematical wizardry than a 40-year-old sports columnist who drives a Lincoln Town Car, eats at Applebee's three nights a week, tells his little league charges to "go up there swignin," and takes George Will's Men At Work with him wherever he goes. And yet, I appreciate progress of the human mind. I like Ideas. I can't make heads or tails of most of the numbers, but I'm trying, dammit.

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