War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’! –Edward Starr, 1969
Let’s face it: baseball just ain’t the national pastime anymore. What with player strikes, steroids, expansion, league-shuffling, stratospheric ticket prices ($272 a pop for seats in Yankee Stadium that we used to get for $15), and no more games on free TV, it’s become just another thing not to care about.
And so baseball’s answer to public indifference is… war.
No, not the real kind, like in the Edwin Starr oldie. This is a new statistic, WAR, short for “Wins Above Replacement Player.” It’s supposed to be a formula showing how many wins a player is worth to his team by comparing him to a “replacement player”–to wit, a bum.
You’ve gotta see the formula for calculating WAR (see http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Wins_above_replacement ). It looks like the mess Sam Jaffee had on his blackboard in The Day the Earth Stood Still. But, heck, you have to expect some complications when you’re wondering how much better the Yankees do with Derek Jeter at shortstop than Perez Hilton.
But the WAR statistic enables us, or so we’re told, to compare players from all eras. So you can find all-time rankings of players according to their WAR. And what do these rankings tell us?
That Rickey Henderson (#19) was a little better than Mickey Mantle (#21) and a whole lot better than Joe DiMaggio (#67).
Presto! A completely useless statistic! A quintessential product of our current age! What could possibly be more representative of today’s state of civilization than this? Not only blatantly wrong–but arrived at only after tremendous trouble and toil.
Remember, way back, when you’d get a word problem in arithmetic that went like this? Johnny came to bat 10 times and got 3 hits. What is his batting average? So now you can’t appreciate baseball unless you’ve got a Ph.D. in statistics and a hand-held computer? If Willie Mays is replaced in center field by Michael Moore and the Giants never, ever win another game forever, calculate Willie Mays’ WAR?
Lemme outta here!