Monday, March 16, 2009

Quotations From F.C. Lane’s "Batting"

A few years ago, one of the publications included with SABR membership was a reprint of a 1925 book entitled Batting by F.C. Lane, an editor for Baseball Magazine. The book is essentially a compilation of comments on various facets of batting from the many interviews Lane and the magazine did with baseball figures of the time.

I finally got around to reading the book a few months ago it was a fairly interesting read. The comments of Cobb, Hornsby, Wagner, etc. are interesting enough, as they discuss place hitting, bunting, patience, thought processes, and other components of batting. As the modern introductory material observes, Lane reveals himself as an admirer of Ty Cobb, and as an agnostic at best on the new Ruthian style through his selection of quotes about and from those two men. In fairness, Cobb was nearing the end of his career in 1925 and had firmly established his career value, while Ruth still had a decade of value in front of him. So treating Cobb as the greatest hitter that ever lived was hardly egregious (which is not to say that it would necessarily be egregious today).

My biggest complaint about the book is that Lane goes off onto tangents near the end, discussing the impact of managers, fan support, and a number of other factors. I don’t mean to suggest that those things are completely irrelevant to questions of batting, but they are not as focused on the main topic as the rest of the material.

As an aside, Lane was something of a proto-sabermetrician, challenging the value of batting average and proposing a system that weighted hits based on their run producing value. Here is a link (PDF) to some discussion of Lane’s work in that area.

Anywhere, there were several quotes that I felt were interesting for one reason or another, and I wanted to share them here, perhaps with a brief comment. All quotations and page marks are from Batting by F.C. Lane, reprinted by SABR and the University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

On how a pitcher can be effective for several innings, then surrender a string of hits without warning:

But not infrequently it is merely an example of the mathematics of baseball. According to the laws of probability, the average batter will hit safely about once in four times. This will give him an average of .250, which isn’t from the mean, including pitchers and other weak hitters. Now it stands to reason that some times hits will appear about once in four times at bats, sometimes there will be a much longer stretch of no hits, and sometimes several hits will follow one another. On such occasions a pitcher is said to have a poor inning, whereas he may have been at his very best in that unlucky frame. But the accumulated chances were precipitated on him all at once.--Christy Mathewson

Bill James related that when Mathewson was injured in World War I, he used some of the ensuing recovery time to devise an APBA-like game. Given the recognition of random variation and chance displayed here, that is no surprise.

To me the particular thing which baseball suggests is the base on balls. It is the corner stone of the game. The very name baseball is almost the same as base on balls.--Burt Shotton

Given the title of this blog, there was no way I could pass that one up.

It’s getting pretty tough these days in baseball. I was fired out of so many games on my ear last summer by these human walruses in umpire’s suits that I think my ears must have callouses on them.--Johnny Evers

Just because the description is hilarious.

[Branch] Rickey knows too much to be a good manager. He is smart, but he isn’t a good manager.--Bill Doak

Interesting in light of the fact that this quote is from no later than 1925. Obviously Rickey was always a bright guy, but he was not yet the Mahatma, the semi-inventor of the farm system, the signer of Jackie Robinson, and the pioneer sabermetric executive.

Players are often accused of being selfish. I suppose they are. This is a selfish world. Players are just as selfish as fish peddlers and undertakers. Everybody, so far as I can observe, seems to have one eye open for his own interests.--Edd Roush

One purpose of reprinting Roush’s quote is that it illustrates how the book deviates a bit from discussing batting and batting alone. The other is that it is a good one to file under the “nothing ever changes in baseball” file. Of course players were selfish in the 1910s and in the 1990s and in the 1860s (and, as Ayn Rand might say if she watched Seinfeld, NTTAWT). The only difference is that each previous generation attempts to enshrine itself as the paragon of virtue and moral superiority.

One reason for my successful hitting is the fact that I always keep in good condition. I live in one of the greatest game countries in the world, Western Oregon. But I seldom go hunting or fishing. I’d rather drive a car. I went all the way home in my car last fall...Driving a car trains your eyes and hands and keeps you in the open air. That’s the main thing, to keep in batting trim.--Ken Williams

What a wonderful anachronism, driving being a better way to stay in the open air and in batting shape than hunting or fishing. If we can be sure that Williams wasn’t having a bit of fun when he said this.

The American League is superior to the National in just one important respect. They are the best press agents in the United States. Every time you pick up a paper in the summer months to find out who is trying to overthrow the government of Mexico, you see instead, in two inch type that stares at you, how Babe Ruth made another home run...The Old National League can play the American on the field, but not in the newspapers.--Fred Mitchell

Another one for the "nothing ever changes" file--the Neanderthal League, insecure and jealous. They started it in 1876 and have yet to display any signs of ceasing.

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