In a follow-up piece to our discussion on whether soccer to have more statistics to thrive in the States, Josh Crockett looks at the history of American sports culture and concludes it’s the stories behind the numbers that matter.
[America has] had, after all, a century of the most extraordinary and compelling sporting stories to savor and reflect upon. [And] America possesses a literary culture that has, like no other, risen to the challenge of expressing them — a dual heritage I found condensed in Red Smith’s homage to the “Shot Heard Round the World”…
— David Goldblatt, from the foreword to the American edition of The Ball Is Round
Ask a baseball fan about the numbers 714 and 60. It’s unlikely that the respondent will simply state that they represent the third-most total home runs hit in a career, or just the eighth-most home runs hit in a single season. He or she will describe them as records, despite that they were surpassed thirty-five and nearly fifty years ago respectively. Credit that to the legend of the man who hit them. The numbers are important, but only as pointers to a story. What’s the response to 61? Ambivalence*. 755? Respect for not just skill, but perseverance. 70 and 68, followed soon after by 73 and 762? Perhaps not even recognizable outside the cities in which they were achieved, because many dislike the story behind them. If numbers were central to the value of the sport, that wouldn’t be the case.