Speaking of baseball, I have my own spring training ritual every year. Up first is a viewing of Bull Durham—the best baseball movie ever—followed by reading a new baseball book. Together the two get me in the mood for the season. I can report checking off both of those training regimens this year well before Opening Day.
I actually read two baseball books recently, although one may not count because it is entitled The Is Not Baseball Book. You have to love a book which begins with a first chapter of “Sports Is Not a Metaphor. It’s a Symbol.” Afterwards it jumps into all matter of things, including pataphysical management systems leading to “self-learning” teams. That’s for another time.
It is the second book, Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats that are Ruining the Game, The New Ones that are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball by Keith Law, that took me into thoughts about change. Baseball, that most tradition-bound and statistically-drenched of sports, has undergone a fundamental change over the past two decades in how the game is understood, played, and coached. That happened because a few people had the insight to challenge the conventional wisdom about the game. Baseball has so many statistics going back over a hundred years that it is possible to model what happens in thousands of situations (such as when a runner tries to steal a base) and know the (statistical) outcome. The insights turned basic baseball knowledge on its head. Part One of the book takes on some of the sacred statistics of baseball and shows why they are firmly rooted in “baseball’s irrational adherence to tradition.” Law begins with that old standby, the batting average*, and uses a close-to-home example to demonstrate why the holder of the league’s highest batting average in 2015 (the Marlins’ Dee Gordon) was not the “batting champion” as these players are generally identified. Looking at performance through all manner of new metrics, Gordon—even though his average was three points higher—didn’t come close to being as effective with the bat that year as then-Nationals player Bryce Harper. Baseball got it partially right in that Gordon was dubbed the “batting champion” but Harper was the unanimous choice for Most Valuable Player.
Baseball is only one area where change is afoot. Change in any situation can be difficult to handle, but I believe in the old axiom that “change is the only constant.” We all have to adapt to change. As I leave my position at the National Trust at the end of this month, change will occur for many of you as well as for me. Other transitions are underway in the organization and in the preservation field as well. But as I noted in a recent presentation to our board of trustees,
“For a movement that appears resistance to change, the way we save places keeps changing—and that’s a good thing. The Main Street program began in the 1970s as a push against both modern mall development AND traditional preservation practice. As an example of the latter, Main Street buildings like the Franklin Theatre in my parents’ hometown weren’t the crown jewels of American architecture—but they were places that mattered to the local community in ways that went well beyond their architectural style.”
To help focus my mind on change, I’ve had the following quote from management guru Peter F. Drucker as my computer screen saver for years:
“People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete – the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.”
We need the past to ground us in memory, continuity, and identity. We need to accept change as a constant in our lives. And yes, that’s a paradox. But as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “There is nothing like paradox to take the scum off your mind.”
Have a good week, and more to come…
*Batting average in baseball is derived by taking a player’s hits, dividing them by that player’s at bats, and rounding it to three digits. In the modern era, batting averages have typically fallen in the .200 to .400 range