Of balls "borne darkly, fearfully afar"
(I had thought I could keep this rant in check, but eh.)
Before the Red Sox signed Edgar Renteria, I’m sure they ran an obscene variety of numbers: OBP vs. left-handers in innings one, two, and six; Zone Rating in day games following night games with pitchers sporting a GB/FB ratio of 1.68 or better; and so forth.
I’d be willing to bet they ran a bunch of numbers on David Wells before they signed him, too: DIPS on nights after all-you-can-eat lunch specials by restaurants within a three-mile radius of his home park; rates of decline by lefties over forty years old throughout history; and so forth.
So why can’t we get a freaking tale of the tape on home runs hit at Fenway Park? Are Theo and company the only people on Earth who aren’t interested?
There are two likely answers to this question. The first is that, no, they’re really not interested, and, from a sabermetric point of view, I can get why they wouldn’t be. Length of home runs simply isn’t useful information when it comes to making hard decisions with respect to personnel. I’m a little curious about the fact that so many of Manny’s extravagant forays beyond the 475 foot mark seem to come on breaking balls, because it runs counter to the old truism that a fastball turned around goes farther than a breaking ball sitting there asking to be walloped. Intriguing as this might be, though, I doubt very much that it would be make-or-break data in contract negotiations or free agent acquisitions.
The rest of us are interested in this information, though, because we're baseball fans, and baseball fans get to have animated conversations about useless things that fall outside a general manager's purview. Who threw harder, Walter Johnson or Nolan Ryan? Who was slower from first to third, Piano Legs Hickman or Kevin Millar? These kinds of generation-spanning head scratchers (as Bob Ryan has often observed) represent one of the most unique satisfactions baseball gives to its fans. Not having measurements on home runs like the one Manny hit Tuesday night hinders the pursuit of these conversations.
This brings me to the second likely answer to the absence of tales of the tape at Fenway, one that has also occurred to Big Papi (scroll a little): The Legend of the Red Seat must be preserved at all costs.
To which I say, no it does not.
Ted Williams was a lot of things, many admirable, some considerably less so. But of all the things that he was and continues to be in the minds of baseball fans, two things seem beyond dispute. He was no worse than the second greatest hitter who ever lived, and he was relentlessly candid. Because he was relentlessly candid he, more than anyone else, would want to know just how far Manny thumped that Roy Halladay pitch the other night. Because he was no worse than the second greatest hitter who ever lived, we won’t forget him, even if Manny or Papi hits one 602 feet. Ted Williams wanted to be part of the conversation. He wanted to compete. It is no service to his memory to stifle the conversation, or enshrine his pre-eminence unchallenged.