Why didn’t anyone tell me when I was hired that we can pass off cheesy pop culture stuff as baseball analysis? It would have saved me a lot of scrounging. I guess you can do this kind of stuff if you post under an obviously made up name like “Bill Parker.” Yeah, right, like that’s a real name. What other choices made the final cut? “John Smith?” “Scott Baker?” Don’t be ashamed of your heritage, “Bill,” we’re in the New Millennium and whatnot! But on to the matter at hand.
Let’s face it: the demographic of those who write and read baseball blogs is pretty nerd-o-rific. If you are wondering whether I have the qualifications to understand what that means, this should suffice: I got braces during my freshman year of high school and got them off the day before I left for university (a small liberal arts college, actually, but up here in Canada “college” means “trade school”).
We are not talking about parallels between two worlds when we compare icons of nerd culture to icons of sabermetric culture. It is more like comparing one subset of entities in a world with other objects from the same world that are not in the same subset. This is a hint that the parallels are not going to be perfect (crystal clear!). How is that for an admission of humility and uncertainty? Cherish it, it will be the last one you read in this post. And, yes, this is just a partial listing that could stand for further extension at a later date. You know, assuming I’m not either a) fired or b) tracked down and killed by a Marvel Comics-t-shirt wearing mob.
Before we start: remember, this is the internet, and this is very serious business. This is definitely meant to be personal, so please be utterly pedantic and humorless in your public and private responses.
Gary Gygax is Bill James
It started inauspiciously enough in a late night game with the kids, or was it a pork-and-beans plant? But it grew into something that changed… well, not the world, or not “everything,” but a lot of stuff. It definitely changed the mindsets of how we think about two different kinds of games.
Gygax’s cultural impact goes beyond how he was perhaps the main actor in a new conception of gaming through Dungeons and Dragons (and that impact continues on his the prevalence of role-playing video games). I would argue that Gygax’s world changed the way we think of what a “nerd” looks like. Before Gygax’s ascension to the Nerd Pantheon, nerds were basically pocket-protector wearing math geniuses. Now, “nerd” encompasses far more than that — Comic Book Guy is impossible to conceive without the Gygaxian Revolution in nerd hobbies. Indeed, Gygax and Dungeons and Dragons formed the sun around which Nerd Economy orbited, with comic books and Rush albums doing the circling.
If you are reading this, I do not need to tell you how this is parallel with Bill James. Well, I guess if you have made it this far, you probably do not need any details about Gary Gygax, either. You know that James changed the way baseball is thought about both by fans and front offices. Others were involved in such changes, even prior to Gygax and James, but both figures are rightly the “figureheads” of the associated movements. Both had tempered mathematical and logical skill (yes, that is present in even role-playing games. Check the brief discussion of probability at the beginning of the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Uh, not that I’ve ever read it…) with under-recognized literary gifts.
Yes, each had his less-than-brilliant moments. James can be stubborn, hanging on to outdated metrics, e.g., Runs Created, long since their “past due” date. Perhaps James’ most infamous howler was championing Paul Johnson’s Estimated Runs Produced as a better run estimator than linear weights… except that ERP itself is a linear weights formula. While Gygax’s best modules (e.g., The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun) were evocative, his novels are sub-Moorcockian silliness right down the existentialist-nihilist twist. Moreover, after all these years of waiting for the “real”
Castle Greyhawk, I mean Castle Zagyg, one starts to wonder if the “original” ever really existed or was all that great, or if Gygax’s own characters like Mordenkainen “really” advanced in a fair manner.
One could also note that each faced bizarre opposition: Gygax and D&D getting the ridiculous “Satanism” label is matched by the opposition to the Sabermetric Revolution fomented by work such as James’, like the ugly hyperbole of Dan Shaughnessy’s “Bill James Youth” comment.
(Again, this is all just stuff I’ve gathered from other people. I was way too cool to get into D&D myself.)
In any case, both men had a huge impact in small fields that had wider impacts, not only on nerds devoted to gaming and baseball, but the larger culture, as well. For better or worse.
(Bonus points on anyone who wants to draw out a parallel between Dave Arneson and Pete Palmer. Don’t make me do this again.)
Zooey Deschanel is Brian Bannister
There may be a more current figure I could take from baseball than Brian Bannister, whose last season in the majors was 2010 (he was supposed to play in Japan in 2011, but left after the nuclear disaster). Still, Bannister works here. He was a likable, interesting, and at times even useful player whose stock in the Nerdosphere skyrocketed when he regularly mentioned FIP, xFIP, and even Pitch F/X in interviews. America’s Sweetheart Joe Posnanski was so entranced by Bannister during 2007 that he started a “Banny Log” during the 2008 season… um, yeah, that did not end well.
I’ve discussed the saber-affair with Bannister in the past, so I will not belabor that point. But yeah, Zooey Deschanel fits here. The attitude towards Zooey among the Mom’s Basement cogniscenti is expressed well in a tweet from Adam Biessener: “Where there are nerds, there’s skeezy Zooey D nerdlust.” Look, Zooey seems cute and maybe even likable (I use the word “seems” deliberately, since we have only a vague idea of what Famous People really look like, and basically zero idea of what they are really like on a personal level). However, I just do not see what the big deal is. Was her performance in Elf really that much of a landmark? Are there people who still think anything in Almost Famous was good? Maybe people are subconsciously comparing her to sister Emily. Brian Bannister was better than Sean O’Sullivan, but does that mean Bannister is awesome? “That’s Banny.”
I am not an expert on, well, anything, but especially not the career of Zooey Deschanel. But I just do not get it. I guess maybe she seems “relatable” or something like that, sort of like Bannister seemed like one of us. Maybe so, but the performance of both seemed to be to be overrated by the nerds, for reasons I find either fathomable (in the case of Banny) or unfathomable (in the case of Zooey).
Remember how I mentioned Zooey’s sister Emily just a bit above? Speaking of people who have worked with David “I Can’t Believe This Guy Is Still On TV” Boreanaz…
Joss Whedon is Billy Beane
This is too easy: each had his “moment” about 10-15 years ago, and have been mostly living off of their reputations since that time. Each has a relatively sizeable following of roughly “cult” proportions. Each has made moves since his respective prime that has not worked out, but is defended and/or excused by Nerdly True Believers anyway (“They had to go for it with Holliday!” “Those evil FOX executives!”). Each has the ability to give good quotes to (mostly worshipful) interviewers that sound vaguely progressive, with a sense of a “larger purpose” that build up the mythology.
Yes, I know that this is going to upset some people (see the title of this post). Fanboys and fangirls can be irrational even by their own standards. To a lesser extent, that is also true of sports fans.
Don’t get me wrong: I was a big fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV Series, at least the first two or three seasons. Indeed, I actually watched it from the first season as it unfolded, not on a DVD ten years later while acting like I was in it from the start. Like Billy Beane’s time in Oakland, it began with a bang, but petered out after a few seasons, although people still insist it was great long after it had begun petering out. (Few will admit it, but Angel was better than Buffy during Buffy’s endless and decreasingly watchable “college years” decline.) I really cannot believe I just said that about a TV show starring David “Erstad” Boreanaz.
Maybe Beane will get the opportunity to show he still has is when and if his team moves to San Jose. Maybe Whedon can still create a TV Show that gets plaudits from nerds for reasons other than getting quickly canceled. I used to think both would eventually happen. At this point, I am not holding my breath.
Prepare the torches and pitchforks.