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Exhibition Baseball Americana

The Art and Science of Baseball

Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide. Chicago: A. G. Spalding & Bros, 1881. General Collections, Library of Congress (067.00.00)

“I never wanted them to forget Babe Ruth. I just wanted them to remember Aaron.” — Hank Aaron, upon election to the Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball requires both skill and luck, and players and coaches have spent decades learning to master the first and take advantage of the second. The mysterious alchemy of skill and luck, in which even the best major league teams seldom win two-thirds of their games, has led notable baseball figures to reach varying conclusions. Branch Rickey, a pioneering executive whose many innovations included statistical analysis, modern training, and player development, determined that “Luck is the residue of design,” while New York Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez, a Hall of Famer, said simply, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”

From the moment Henry Chadwick popularized baseball’s box score—the distilled result of art, science, skill, and luck at work—millions have studied and processed the tiny printed figures daily. Resourceful number crunchers moved on to sabermetrics, and the extensive interactive online box score continues to feed some fans’ insatiable quest for data.
The Measure of the Game
The Art of Winning

The Measure of the Game

“In baseball,” as New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra succinctly put it, “you don’t know nothin’.” But it has not been for a lack of trying. Managers and scouts have charted, plotted, logged, and recorded player performance and minutiae looking for patterns, tendencies, trends, and quirks that might give them a competitive edge. Scouting reports from the 1950s indicate an emphasis on experienced observation and intuitive assessment rather than objective measurements, thus Branch Rickey could describe a young Don Drysdale as having an “intelligent face and manner, shows good breeding” but only offer an estimate on his fastball as “way above average.” Converting factors such as observations, theories, luck, and numbers into a useful formula was bound to be an uncertain science. Over time, though, computer-driven number crunching, radar guns, statistical analysis, frame-by-frame video evaluation, and bats equipped with motion sensors became essential tools of measurement in the ongoing effort to know more than “nothin’” about baseball.

Scouting Report: Hank Aaron, 1963

Branch Rickey. Scouting report on Hank Aaron (b. 1934), May 2, 1963. Carbon copy. Branch Rickey Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (070.00.00)

The Art of Winning

Ever since journalist and ardent baseball promoter Henry Chadwick popularized the box score in the 1850s, fans have studied the tiny figures daily and memorized iconic numbers. Obsession with player statistics was evident in the nineteenth century, and team owners worried that players would put achieving personal numbers above teamwork. Fans’ enthusiasm for stats continues to manifest itself in fantasy baseball, in which some fourteen million players try to create winning imaginary teams based on actual major league performances. Numbers, though, are just a part of victory. The art of winning also encompasses intangibles—leadership, team chemistry, catching breaks, and finding an edge. As Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher once said of small but scrappy second baseman Eddie Stanky, “He can’t hit, he can’t run, he can’t throw—all he can do is beat you.”

All-Stars

Harris & Ewing. Plenty of Base Hits in These Bats, July 7, 1937. Left to right: Lou Gehrig (Yankees), Joe Cronin (Red Sox), Bill Dickey (Yankees), Joe DiMaggio (Yankees), Charlie Gehringer (Tigers), Jimmie Foxx (Red Sox), and Hank Greenberg (Tigers) at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (104.00.00)

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