Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now in tonight's game, commentator Frank Deford, beard or not, will be rooting for one particular kind of player; the kind that can help deliver us from the tyranny of baseball statisticians.

FRANK DEFORD: As a child, your heart is broken when you learn that your grandfather really can't pull real quarters out of your ear. And if you're a baseball fan that disillusionment happens once more to you in life, when you first hear the numbers mavens tell you that there is no such thing as a clutch hitter - none, no such thing. Oh my.

But if you have any romance in your soul, you do so want to believe that there are people in all walks of life whom we can count on to rise to the occasion. Don't you want that?

But at least since 1977, when a statistics scholar named Dick Cramer came up with figures which showed that no batter in baseball did consistently better in a pressure situation than he did in his everyday at-bats, no other study has disputed that conclusion. So, if you don't go along with the raw figures you're left with: faith, Benjamin Disraeli, and Derek Jeter.

Faith says: I still believe that some of us are more valiant than the rest.

Benjamin Disraeli once said, There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

Derek Jeter said: You can take those stats guys and throw them out the window.

But stats guys are hard-hearted brutes, they are. And especially now at World Series time, far from going out the window, they come out of the woodwork to make sure that we silly dreamers understand that numbers don't lie, that the clutch is all a random crap shoot. You can't count on nobody no how.

OK, I'm a wide-eyed sucker. The trouble with the numbers is that they tell us is that all baseball players and - therefore, by extension - all human beings, respond exactly the same to pressure. And we know that's not true. There was never a basketball team I was close to that the coach or players didn't tell me that certain teammates didn't want the ball at the end of a close game and others craved it.

Numbers? These were guys who knew the heart and soul of their fellows. They knew there was a difference in the desire that nurtured success. Are we to believe that baseball players are any different? Granted, wanting to get up to the plate in the clutch and succeeding thereupon are two different things. But do we really believe that everybody will respond the same in the crucible? Does everybody also try the same? Care the same? Love the same?

It's always hard to refute the numbers, especially when those zealots who swear by them are so dismissive of the old stick-in-the-muds, who can't see that numerical equations are sacraments. But I'm sorry. I want to believe in old-fashioned human nature, too.

It's revealing that when somebody gets a big hit, we invariably say: He delivered. Fool that I am, I still think some of us can deliver better than ever when the chips are down, the count is full, and the game is on the line.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Frank Deford puts himself on the line every Wednesday, right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford