I don’t know about you, but I’m an aged local sports fan who enjoys watching Boston’s
professional sports teams on television. I’m not overly rabid, but I do get more excited when the local boys are
doing well and are in the playoff races. This year has been exceptionally enjoyable, with both the Bruins and
Celtics making the playoffs and the Red Sox leading the league at the start of June.
In general, I like our Boston sportscasters and the color commentators, particularly, Jerry
Remy, who does an outstanding job with the Red Sox TV broadcasts. But there is one facet of the TV sports
broadcasting that has gotten more and more intrusive – the spouting of what I consider to be highly uninteresting
and unnecessary facts and statistics. I assume that this is a result of the advances in computing power and an
overabundance of digitized databases on just about every aspect of human history, coupled with the exploding
capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that make searching of databases both exceedingly fast and
comprehensive. Technology can be a two-edged sword. Now, video processing allows us to be told the angle of a
baseball leaving the bat of a hitter. Who is interested in that information?
As a result, we are inundated with various meaningless statistics on sports radio broadcast
and telecasts. Baseball is the worst. We are told so many useless facts that “it's getting harder for the statistics
freaks in all sports to dream up anything original. . .”
“A record should be one simple, outstanding thing, i.e., Wilt Chamberlain scored the most
points in one game: 100. Thank you, QED, next.
“But these new idiotic records combine two or more disparate numbers to make what only
sounds like a very important point. Here are some actual examples . . .
“He's the first teenager in the last 33 years with three triples and two
intentional walks in one season.”
“He was the second quarterback since 1970 to complete less than 30 percent of his passes
and throw four interceptions in a victory.”
“He's the first player since 1912 with 50 doubles and 50 stolen bases in one
“He's the first catcher over the age of 35 to hit .330 with 20 homers and 85 runs batted
“He is only the third player to hit .300 with at least 15 triples, 10 home runs, 20
doubles and 50 stolen bases.” (Ref. 1)
I think by now you get the message. Not only do sportscasters and color announcers spout
these meaningless facts, but we also have to put up with banal acronyms for recently invented statistics that
contribute absolutely nothing to the enjoyment of the sport we are listening to or watching. For example, where
in the world did OPS come from? According to Wikipedia, OPS somehow stands for “On-base Plus Slugging” and is a
“sabermetric baseball statistic” calculated as the sum of a player's on-base percentage and slugging average. What
the hell does sabermetric mean? Supposedly, an OPS of .900 or higher in Major League Baseball puts the player in
the upper echelon of hitters. Typically, the league leader in OPS will score near, and sometimes above the 1.000
mark. OPS did not exist before the mid-1980’s.
Now I grew up with a few statistics related to hitting: Batting Average – the number of
hits divided by the number of times at bat (less walks and sacrifices); Slugging Percentage – the number of total
bases divided by the number of times at bat (less walks and sacrifices); and On Base Percentage - the number of
times getting on base, (hits, walks, errors) divided by the number of times at bat. But, OPS, this sabermetric
baseball statistic, was certainly not a statistic that existed in my youth.
A related and equally obscure statistic is the Adjusted OPS (OPS+) which is “closely
related to OPS”. Again, according to Wikipedia, OPS+ is “OPS adjusted for the park and the league in which the
player played, but not for fielding position. An OPS+ of 100 is defined to be the league average. An OPS+ of 150 or
more is excellent and 125 very good, while an OPS+ of 75 or below is poor.” Please, just give me the good
old days, and tell me a player’s Batting Average, On-Base-Percentage, and Slugging Average and the hell with
OPS and OPS+!
And what does sabermetric means? I certainly had no idea
until I went online and found this definition in Wikipedia: Sabermetrics is the empirical
analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. Sabermetricians collect and
summarize the relevant data from this in-game activity to answer specific questions. The term is derived from the
acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research, founded in 1971. No wonder, I
didn’t know what sabermetric meant. It’s a stupid made-up word to describe the stupid statistics
with which we are being inundated!
One event that significantly contributed to the flood of useless sports facts and statistics
was the publication of the book Moneyball in 2003. “The book is about Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland
A’s, and his revolutionary way of using un-traditional baseball statistics (like on-base percentage) to find
cheaper, under-the-radar players… who could help him compete with the big-market teams.
“Moneyball ended up being the battle line that was drawn between old-school baseball types
and new-school ones. The old school people couldn’t believe that anything was more valuable than batting average or
RBIs or ERA — not to mention things like leadership, grit or scrappiness. The new school people couldn’t believe
how long people had been slavishly devoted to those seemingly antiquated standards of evaluation.”
(Ref. 2) It seems that ever since, there has been an unending rush to come up with
more and more facts, statistics and other useless trivia.
Two of those useless sports statistics are: (1) the Quarterback (QB) Rating in Football -
The QB rating statistic is so convoluted and peculiar that it’s calculation is incomprehensible; and (2) Individual
Runs Scored in baseball - Looking at how many runs an individual player scores is basically meaningless. Outside of
his home runs, it’s entirely up to his teammates whether he crosses the plate or not. This statistic has little
relation to the player’s performance.
And how about commentators bringing up ancient history. They'll say something like "The New
York Jets are 0-4 against the Patriots since they moved to Foxboro.” Who cares? I tend to be interested in what’s
currently happening, not in what happened a quarter century ago.
Take me back to those good old days of yesteryear when Boston radio and television had
sports announcers like: Jim Britt, Curt Gowdy, Johnny Most, Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti, Fred Cusick, Ned Martin,
and Ken Coleman. Take me back to when sports statistics were few, simple and had real meaning.
So, to all those sportscasters and sports commentators of today, I beseech you, please
describe what’s going on and keep the commentary to comments about the game and the people playing the sport.
Limit the numbers you quote to simple and meaningful statistics that everyone understands. I don’t want to be
told that some player is only the third one since 1927 to reach the age of 40 without losing a single strand of
hair on his head.
- The Stupidest Statistics In The Modern Era, Frank Deford, NPR,
10 December 2008.
- 11 Most Useless Sports Statistics, Sam Greenspan, http://11points.com,
23 February 2018.