The Moneyball movie is coming out next week, which means a stats comet is about to pass through our orbit. Every few years, something happens to make the public very aware that statistics are used in baseball. And when I write "the public," I mean, "your dad." You're the baseball know-it-all in your family, and you'll be called upon to defend statistics as something other than nerdery, or sorcery.
The first step? Make it clear that statistics have been used in baseball for a long, long time. There are steps that follow this one -- pie charts, detailed explanations of OPS+, threats of physical violence, et cetera. You're on your own there. This article is only supposed to help you with the first part.
You could explain the entire history, point him to Wikipedia pages, or give them books. Not going to work. Takes too much time. You need something quick, punchy. Here, then, is the seven-step guide to pointing out how long stats have been used in baseball.
Sit him down in front of a computer and tell them about Branch Rickey as you're booting your computer and opening your browser. Old-timey guy with the Cardinals and Dodgers. Best known for his role in bringing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Old-timey. That's important.
When your browser is up, mention that Rickey wrote an article about statistics for Life Magazine in the 1950s. August 2, 1954, to be exact. There's a complete copy online. Show it to him.
Don't make him read it! Turns out it's all about stats, and they'll hate that. Rickey explains how he uses a stat that combines on-base percentage with a power metric -- a proto-OPS. He won't care. Instead, just point at the picture that opens the article -- old-timey Branch Rickey pointing to an equation on a chalkboard.
Draw attention to the gentleman in front of Rickey in that picture.
Note that he is operating what looks to be some sort of Space Shuttle machine. Explain that this was a calculator. When teams were interested in on-base percentage, that's what calculators looked like. They were the size and shape of Slave I.
Point out that when Life Magazine was running an in-depth article about statistics in baseball, these were some of the ads in the magazine.
It was a different world. An innocent world. And stats were already there.
Note that while smart, respected baseball people were using stats, there were people who still hung their toilet paper overhand. This has been forbidden for decades, and the people who do this today are freaks, ostracized by normal society.
Explain that in this issue of Life Magazine, there were advertisements promoting another, not-yet-released magazine.
The magazine was Sports Ilustrated. It turns out that nerds toiling in front of adding machines -- punching in at-bats, hits, walks, et cetera, to get a competitive advantage -- have been around since before the days of Sports Illustrated.
Really, that might be the only step you need. But then you wouldn't get the chance to show off your constipation ad.
Baseball statistics aren't new and scary. They've been around for decades and decades. Baseball statistics were around when Marlon Brando was an object of desire. Baseball statistics crouched under radiation-proof desks during A-bomb drills. Baseball statistics always thought Paul McCartney should just cut his damned hair. They've been around for a long, long time. Here's hoping this helps you explain the long-established value of statistics to someone whose mind was previously closed to the idea.