The so-called Sabermetrics revolution in baseball that began in the 1970s, popularized by the book—and later Hollywood film—Moneyball, was supposed to represent a triumph of observation over intuition. Cash-strapped clubs need not compete for hyped-up prospects when undervalued players provide better price per run scored. Q.E.D., right?
In Scouting and Scoring: How We Know What We Know About Baseball
(Princeton University Press, 2019), historian of science Christopher J. Phillips
rejects his titular dualism. He shows us that baseball can be, in the words of seminal anthropologist and noted Tampa Bay Rays fan* Claude Lévi-Strauss, “good to think with.” Both traditional amateur scouts and statistically-savvy scorers rely on metrics and bureaucracy to make their judgments count, as it were. Some like to say that baseball is quantitative at its core, but by tracing the co-evolution of the sport’s competing data sciences—with episodes that bear witness to the development of the modern press and digital computers—Phillips crafts a compelling narrative sure to delight baseball fans and historians of the human sciences alike.
Mikey McGovern is a PhD candidate in Princeton University’s Program in the History of Science. He is writing a dissertation on how people used discrimination statistics to argue about rights in 1970s America, and what this means for histories of bureaucracy, quantification, law, politics, and race.