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Scott Ostler

Why Don't We Just Forget the Stats and Stick to the Facts?

January 12, 1988|Scott Ostler

After verbally digging himself into a hole with his teammates recently, Philadelphia 76ers forward Charles Barkley begged off from answering any more questions.

"Just write down the stats," the Round Mound of Profound Sound advised the press. "That should be good enough."

Sure, Chuck. Forget about the human side of sports, give the fans more statistics. Just what they need. That would be like giving Gary Hart more boat rides.

The truth, if I may speak for the sporting public, is that we've got quite enough stats already. Way too many, in fact.

We're drowning in decimal points, and going down for the 3.27th time.

People in just about every athletic activity love to describe their sport as a ballet. Well, I've been to the ballet, and they don't keep stats.

Each of us have only so many brain cells (don't ask how many), and if we use them all up for storage of numbers, there's no room for important facts, like where a player was born or what his favorite junk food is, or for reasoning.

It's time for reform. Off the very top of my head, which is the only area not filled with sports stats, I offer the following suggestions:

--In basketball, the decimal must die. Do we really need to know that the Lakers shot 56.4% from the floor? If we know they shot 56%, isn't that good enough? We're not splitting atoms here.

Likewise on shooting percentages and scoring averages. If I know a player averages 26 points, I don't think my knowledge or insight is markedly increased if I'm told his average is actually 26.3.

--In baseball, where to start? How about here: Throw out fielding averages entirely. Name me one fielding average, of anyone, in any era. What did Babe Ruth field? Willie Mays? Brooks Robinson? Who cares?

We're not losing much baseball magic here. Did any old-time scout ever look at a slick-fielding rookie and say, "Some day this kid, mark my words, will be a .997 or .998 fielder"? Case closed.

Next, lop off the last digit in ERA. If a pitcher's ERA is 3.76, what does the 6 represent? About one run every decade. This is like someone asking you your weight, and you answering in pounds and ounces.

Same with batting average, and here I'm getting into a gray area of sacrilege. Instead of saying a guy hit .324, why not say he hit .32?

The problem with this shortening is that the three-place numbers have a certain poetic rhythm when spoken. It would sound all wrong to say, "I remember the year Williams hit forty-one (.406, rounded off)."

Lopping off that end number would be as jarring as cutting off the last syllable of a player's name.

OK, then, how about a compromise? A batter gets three digits if his or her batting average is .300 or above. Otherwise, he or she gets just two digits.

Hey, our time is important. Should we sports fans and philosophers really be burdened with pondering the difference between a .191 hitter and a .193 hitter?

--Football isn't bad, but it could stand a little cleaning up. For instance, what's a tenth of a yard? There's no such thing.

When Bo Jackson averages 6.2 yards, that's a weird number. Why not give the yardage in thirds, like 6 yards. Better yet, kill the decimals and fractions and give a guy's average yardage in a nice, universal (within the United States anyway), understandable measurement--feet.

Instead of 6.2 yards, let's list Bo's yardage at 19 feet per carry. That's easier to comprehend and sounds more impressive.

--Track and field needs some housecleaning. Let's do away with the fractions of inches in the high jump and pole vault. I'm no more impressed with a 19-11 pole vault than I would be with a simple 19-11.

Besides, why kid ourselves? Can a 70-year-old official, standing atop a rickety stepladder 20-feet above ground, in a suit and tie, swaying in the wind, holding a flexible tape measure, really read the thing accurately down to sixteenths of inches?

Besides, this isn't brain surgery, it's running and jumping.

Just about every sport could use stat reform. In downhill skiing, they should use a stopwatch with nothing smaller than tenths of a second.

If skier Bill beats skier Fred by two one-millionths of a second in the giant slalom, has Bill really kicked Fred's butt? I think not.

Clock them in tenths. Then if there are ties, let the medal winners be decided the proper way--in a side-by-side ski-off.

One more thing. The NFL must immediately drop the Roman Numeral after the Super Bowl. I'm begging. I'm down on II knees.

It is pompous and pretentious and confusing. I always wind up having to phone a friend in Italy to figure out exactly which Super Bowl this is.

Does baseball trumpet the coming of World Series CXVII, or whatever? Do I announce grandly that this is My Column CXXXVIII?

Can't we refer to this upcoming Colossus of Rozelle as "The 1988 Super Bowl"?

This is a new year. Let's trim the fat.

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