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McCarthy Had No Fastball
2004-06-15 09:33
by Jon Weisman

In his debut column on Insider, Rob Neyer relates an extended quote from Bill James (co-author of The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers), that captures why I have liked James' writing so much for so long:

... in response to my argument (in another venue that might eventually be published in this neighborhood) that Frank Tanana's fastball was better than Nolan Ryan's (at least for a few years in the 1970s), Bill wrote this:

Let me see if I can explain this in such a way that Rob can't possibly take offense ...

In the Soviet Union of the 1950s and 1960s, the process of making movies was controlled by the state. The government's definition of "a good movie" was "a movie which accomplishes social good." Thus, the efforts of communist movie-makers were directed not so much at entertaining the public or providing a moving emotional experience as they were at encouraging people to work hard, stay on the farm, and show respect for the government. When everybody else uses the term "a good movie", the "good" modifies the "movie". When the Kremlin used the term "a good movie", the "good" meant "a movie which can accomplish a greater good." The result was a long series of Boy-Meets-Tractor type movies which seemed, to everyone but the government which was producing them, to be a waste of time and money.

What we have here is really the same problem. When everybody else uses the term "a good fastball", the "good" modifies the "fast". What everybody else means by the term "a good fastball" is "a ball thrown really, really fast." Rob, however, has overthought the problem, and is using the term to mean something else. What Rob means, I think, is "a fastball which can be used to good effect in winning the game" -- in other words, a fastball which accomplishes a greater good. The best fastball, in his mind, is the fastball which has the maximum impact on the pitcher's chance of winning the game.

There is nothing irrational about this; it just looks stupid because he's using the term "a good fastball" to mean something different from what everybody else uses it to mean. So what I am saying is, Rob really isn't stupid; it's just that he's a communist.

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