My life (I am an American male) does not revolve around sports. I do follow the Boston Bruins, but they are never must-see TV for me – even when they are in the playoffs. Sorry, I prefer reading, making sure my house is in order, and spending time with family and friends.
My interest in sports run along mathematical lines; I am more interested in statistical analysis and model building than in the games (and especially for baseball.) That and drinking beer while watching games.
So it is strange that I read just about everything Joe Posnanski writes. He writes about baseball, and without exception I read his pieces about living and long-dead ball players whom I have (mostly) never seen.
This piece is particularly good. The way I would approach describe Posnanski is that he is about nuance. Nick Hornby isn’t the first to notice that males tend to love ranking things. Bill Simmons and Chuck Klostermann have also made similar points, in their own entertaining ways. Posnanski, in addition to offering his own rankings, a number of observations that tempers the ranking. In other words, the separation between 2 players may not be as large as the gulf implied by, for example, a “first” and “second” ranking. This is interesting and somewhat in contrast to the approach of most sports columnists.
At any rate, here’s the nuance: Ryan and Suzuki are the best at what they do, but they don’t rank among the best baseball players ever. I won’t repeat Posnanski’s arguments here, but he’s not out to trash either guy. He’s simply trying to work through and present an informed opinion and analysis. The pair, Ryan and Suzuki, can be considered exceptional players along one-dimension. Ryan threw more strikeouts than anyone; Suzuki is a hit machine. But because of other inefficiencies in their game, they actually do not help their teams as much as one might think (in terms of preventing runs for Ryan and driving the offense for Suzuki.)
The greater point is this: I think Posnanski is among the best writers in explaining numbers to an audience. In all seriousness, I want that talent in describing science to non-scientists. When Posnanski gets rolling on presenting statistical arguments for baseball excellence, I applaud the effort because he is able to note all the ways in which these “binary answers” have many shades of gray. When Posnanski talks numbers, I don’t see a difference between him and a scientist who is trying to explain ideas to laymen. And of course his writing talent makes you want more. Or at least it makes me want to read more.