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Must-click link: Derrick Goold on Bill James

Feb 28, 2011, 12:19 PM EDT

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch is one of my favorite beat reporters and he’s even better when he stretches his writing legs a bit for a story like this one on Bill James:

Goold: Stats don’t tell the whole story of who Bill James is

James’ legend has grown to the point that his name alone has come to mean all kinds of different things to all kinds of different people, but Goold does a really nice job getting to know the man behind some of the best, most influential baseball writing of all time.

  1. spudchukar - Feb 28, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    The Stephen J Gould reference has particular resonance for me. The day I became aware of his addiction to the game was quite a thrill. As a Punc Equ’er (that is Punctuated Equilibrium) for the non-paleontogical, and Darwin devotee, knowing that my hero of Evolutionary Theory was also a rabid fan was exhilarating. Someday a list will be created of all the brilliant minds that also find room in their noggins for yesterday’s box scores. Goold on Gould, Thanks.

    • paperlions - Feb 28, 2011 at 1:21 PM

      He will definitely be on any list of people most impressed with themselves. Each time I saw him speak in public, it was unbearable and painful. Punctuated equilibrium, as a formalized idea, was only a small step from the great work done by Mayr, Simpson, and the rest. Many paleontologists are as brilliant or more so, just not as interested in self promotion. Saying he is one of the great thinkers (or brilliant minds) is like saying Merlin Tuttle is one of the great bat biologists.

    • spudchukar - Feb 28, 2011 at 2:12 PM

      Never was fortunate to hear Gould speak live, video a few times, especially during Burns’ Doc, but as an essayist he was nonpareil. Do I detect a Dawkins’ Disciple? Always maintained they were arguing apples and oranges anyway. While he may well indeed have stood on other shoulders, his Neo-Darwinian advancements particularly in the areas of genetic drift, especially Bottleneck and Founder Effects, and his deconstruction of Haeckle’s “Ontology Recapitulates Phylogeny”, and the replacement with Heterochrony and Neotany all serve him well. Mayr called him “a pioneer” and his essay on batting average declines, may well have been a well spring in sabermetric reasoning.

      • paperlions - Feb 28, 2011 at 4:49 PM

        Nope, not a disciple of anyone in particular. I follow the data, not the ego. In my experience as a scientist, egos like that of Gould get in the way of understanding and scientific advancement because they lose all sense of objectivity. As Simpson pointed out repeatedly, there are 100s of examples of gradual evolution (and if there are 100s of documented examples, considering the spotty nature of the fossil record, then such processes likely are not rare at all), which Eldridge and Gould (Eldridge actually being the better scientist) claimed were rare, but Gould couldn’t be bothered with things like facts when promoting his ideas. In the end, he followed the spot light and adulation (that is why one writes popular science literature and other non-pier reviewed content) rather than continue to do science.

      • spudchukar - Feb 28, 2011 at 6:37 PM

        I thought this argument had been beaten to death by the proverbial Eohippus. Of course there are 100s of documented examples of gradual evolution. Gould probably named or explained 1000. It was never an argument against gradual evolution, and as much as I champion the works of Dawkins this is one place he refused to see the trees for the forest. All Gould ever pointed out is there can be on special occasions, a cascade effect, created by particular evolutionary occurrences.

        Perhaps there are better pure scientists than Gould. But what there are not are better analogous essayists. And considering that about 50% of the population in the U.S., doesn’t believe in Evolution, those who write so the lay can comprehend an increasingly complex theory, may be far more valuable to the advancement of science than those who write peer reviewed didactic pedantry.

      • paperlions - Feb 28, 2011 at 7:21 PM

        Few people believe in evolution because of Gould’s books, they may have thought it was cooler, but no one that didn’t already believe in the theory (which has not increased in complexity in decades, the mechanistic understanding has improved, but the foundational concepts that are still thought to be true were hammered out over a century ago) would buy one of his books. Most people simply believe what their religion tells them to believe, and no talk by a scientist or expert (no matter how well crafted) will sway the view of those that are not interested in being swayed (which accurately describes the entire 50% of the population to which you refer).
        Feel free to ask all your friends how Gould’s books, essays, interviews, and such swayed their thoughts on evolution. I’d be shocked if any response didn’t start with “Who?” or “What?”

      • cur68 - Feb 28, 2011 at 7:36 PM

        Knowing who Steven J. Gould was, and what he talked about, got me laid. I can say that about no other evolutionary theorist, paleontologist, archeologist, or, hell, other scientist of any discipline at all. The end.

      • paperlions - Feb 28, 2011 at 8:54 PM

        Spud, I don’t want to kill one of your childhood heros, so if you aren’t interested in a general perspective from the scientific community don’t bother reading the link below. Suffice it to say that Gould’s primary concern was his own fame and notoriety and when you start fabricate arguments with untruths you lose all credibility. I hadn’t thought about Gould in a long time, he is pretty much irrelevant, but a quick search found a decent (if simplified run down of a few things).

  2. cur68 - Feb 28, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    Spudchukar; Thanks for mentioning Gould. He’s a hero of mine as well. I know this is a piece on James but the Gould reference and your take on it reminds me of why I always like SJG (besides that we we were both nuts for baseball). I owe SJG a tip a the hat for introducing me to the argument that Eohippus deserves to be the name for the ancient horse because it means ‘dawn horse’ and is thus prettier than Hyracotherium (hyrax-like). I once used this argument to get a pretty little paleo nerd to pay me some mind (even paleo nerds like some romance. Granted, paleo-nerd type romance, but romance nonetheless). Always had a deep affection for SJG because of that. As for James, I had no idea who this guy was but I bet he can help me with my non-parametric stats.

  3. Chris Fiorentino - Feb 28, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    An entire(rather long-winded) article on Bill James and not a single find of “Pete Rose” in it. Wonder why?

    Until he writes an apology to John Dowd or the late, great Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, he’ll always be a jerk in my eyes.

  4. mgflolox - Feb 28, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    Well, as long as we’re going to dig up and beat the 20 year old rotting carcass of a dead horse, I might as well point out that James never claimed to know whether Rose was innocent or guilty of betting on baseball. His whole point of the article in “The Baseball Book 1990” was that the Dowd report had very little to no actual evidence in it to support the actual assertion of guilt. I think that’s an important distinction.

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