A Little League loser finally finds baseball

By Scott Green

The World Series begins next Wednesday with two teams I do not root for, and for the first time in my life, I sort of care.

I was never into baseball as a youngster, though I played the game regularly. I had my own strategy in Little League that consisted of never swinging. Sure, this may not fit in with how baseball “traditionalists” play, but they would feel differently if, like me, they had the athletic ability of lasagna.

I would shuffle over to the batters’ box, hunch over, choke up on the bat, tap the plate, kick up some dirt, frown menacingly at the pitcher, then raise the bat and watch the ball whiz by me without so much as a twitch. As a result, I never had to deal with the crippling emotional strain of grounding out.

I also never had to deal with the emotional strain of catching the ball. This is because my defensive strategy was also non-traditional, as right fielders rarely reach the pros by dropping fly balls and throwing wide left of the cutoff man, which again saved me the strain of ever hitting anyone full-force in the glove and possibly breaking his hand. This is the sort of fear that probably gives major-leaguers blood-curdling nightmares.

So I was basically the worst player in the history of the Buffalo Grove Recreation Association (motto: “No one tell Scott Green where we’re hiding”), and my experiences didn’t exactly make me want to “root, root, root for the home team,” in the words of that classic baseball song, “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” I wound up quitting when I was 12, telling off my jerk manager and receiving a standing ovation from the other players’ parents as I stormed off the field. It was like Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man in the World” speech, if Gehrig’s lifetime batting average had been .000.

But I’m finally getting into baseball, and for much the same reason I joined a fraternity: I get to drink beer and yell at people. I’m learning a lot from a book by The New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey called “Baseball,” which impressed me at the store by claiming to encompass the entirety of the sport while only being half an inch thick.

Other books I saw for sale, with titles like “Third Base Fielding Strategies In Negro League Night Games During July Wednesdays In Even-Numbered Years,” were about 50 times as massive. But “Baseball,” which covered everything, was only 200 or so pages, meaning I would have plenty of time left for beer and yelling.

It gave me a lot of perspective on the sport’s history, but I cannot get into all that because this column is only one third “Baseball”‘s length. Amongst the most interesting facts are that Jackie Robinson was black, and that you can get paid cash money for writing a 3,000-word book.

What the book doesn’t address is sabermetrics, the relatively new breed of baseball statistical theory that proves, through complicated mathematical analysis, that George Vecsey’s book consists of nine paragraphs.

Also it rips apart the logic of baseball traditionalists, who value stats like RBIs (runs batted in), ERA (earned run average) and batting average (batting average). The sabermetricians instead preach the importance of stats like “VORP,” which attempts to quantify the value of any major leaguer over a random replacement player. This has the upside of giving baseball insiders a truer picture of a player’s utility, but the downside of keeping the sabermetricians from dating girls.

One of the sabermetricians’ favorite stats is on-base percentage, which, unlike batting average, takes walks into account. In other words, my Little League strategy of never swinging, which resulted in a lot of walks, could have gotten me into the Hall of Fame if I’d simply kept at it and bribed the voters.

So I like baseball, a sport that, as it turns out, is so much more than my experiences of not swinging and dropping fly balls and telling off the manager of my team and embarrassing my parents. Little did I know, back in those days, about the greatness of baseball. Or how easy it is to get a book contract.

Scott is a third-year law student. He did not make fun of the Cubs in this column out of respect for Cubs fans, and also because there are no jokes left.