Good timing. Well, if Sabermetrics was JUST coming out and Fire Joe Morgan hadn’t already been shut down for three years. But we’re in the heat of the playoffs, the exact time that arguments of clutch and grit come up, in the face of successful teams that got to where they are because they’re built around very good players.
The Simpsons tonight came out with an episode that addresses Sabermetrics and the divide between the Saber followers and the heart and grit fans of the game. It was good. There were a lot of inside jokes and some very good satire. The humor was self-depricating. The best part was the episode summarized the narrative of the Saber revolution in about 22 minutes.
Lisa starts out looking for extra-curriculars and finds Bart’s Little League team needs a manager. She looks around for someone that knows baseball and when dad is too drunk and people at the bar know nothing, Moe points her to some geeks in the corner who know all about Sabermetrics (featuring a quick soundbite from Bill James: “I make baseball as fun as doing your taxes”).
From there, Lisa starts acting like she knows everything and Bart resents it. However, the team is winning. When Bart ignores her and swings for a home run when she says don’t swing, she kicks him off the team. The players resent it. But the team keeps winning.
Bart eventually learns a lesson that playing for a team means listening to your managers, even if Lisa’s being a jerk about it (thanks to a certain Mike Scioscia, who’s no longer suffering from a tragic illness).
Bart returns for the big game, putting his ego aside to pinch run in the bottom of the 9th inning, but steals bases despite Lisa telling him not to. Lisa gets caught in the contagion of the stolen bases and screams about how exciting it is until … Bart is caught stealing home and they lose the game. After that, everyone hates him and even Homer tells him he sucks.
I loved how both sides were represented and sympathetic. Yeah, sure, sabermetrics is right, but being complete dicks about it doesn’t help spread the gospel. And vice versa; being pig-headed and egotistical doesn’t lead to enlightenment. That’s the heart of the argument and the episode very well showed that battle. Scioscia put it a clever way to bring Bart back into the fold. Then there was an inside joke about developing players and being a teacher to young talent.
But the overwhelming consensus of the episode is this: risks are freaking awesome when they pay off and suck terribly when they don’t, but winning rules all. (Wish that was true for the Rays). That’s what baseball is and probably always will be about.
The little hints that the writers dropped in were perfect. There’s jokes about spreadsheets and VORP-like stats. Lisa looks at spray charts–like, actual images of spray charts and not some made-up-looking graphs–and moves fielders around. She talks about OBP and the laws of probability. When Bart steals a couple of bases, everyone loves it. When he’s caught home, he’s booed and ditched at the stadium. There’s jokes about statistical anomalies, Pete Rose dislocating Ray Fosse’s shoulder in the All-Star Game (at Rose’s expense), and players in the announcing booth.
And my favorite line: “It’s a triumph of number-crunching over the human spirit, and it’s about time.”
There’s so much this single episode explained, understood and made fun of in only 22 minutes. It was really, really good.
This was a funny episode, delightful even, and the writers absolutely nailed it. This is the best writing from the Simpsons I’ve seen in years, I think I’m gonna start tuning in this year.