Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Talkin' 'bout Walkin'


Joe Posnanski has been writing about the base on balls quite a bit of late, first on his blog, and more recently in a combined effort with Bill James on Between the two articles, Posnanski and James make numerous claims, some anecdotal and some statistical, concerning the benefits of the "free pass" (as well as, indirectly, why calling a base on balls a "free pass" is a misnomer), all while correctly assuming that the walk is and always has been underappreciated.

But it's worth noting that, even during the early days of the game, there were proponents of the base on balls. Posnanski and James tell some wonderful stories about players and managers who fall into this category, but their only examples of off-field opinions on the walk are negative: the lack of a BB column on baseball cards back in the day, the ridiculous (for those of us who, like James and Posnanski, dig OBP) caveat issued in the first MLB statistical guide to include walk totals for hitters, and so on. Yet as early as 1917, F.C. Lane, then editor of Baseball Magazine, wrote this article, in which he extolls the benefits of the walk and claims that "ignoring the base on balls puts a decided premium on sheer blind slugging and discourages brainy inside baseball." It was 1917, and Lane was already attempting to quantify the benefits of each method of reaching base and, in doing so, was seeing past a hopelessly incomplete (and frustratingly elevated, then as now) batting average statistic that elided walks entirely. It's a wonderful piece, and is made all the better for its syntactical similarities to a certain late night television host's take on old time baseball.

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