The regular season

The 2005 baseball season got underway last night; this is cause for celebration, as it means the return of the great glory that is the regular season of organized baseball. Baseball itself is, I think, a compelling sport on a game-to-game basis, featuring moments of drama and tension that are the equal of anything that football (either type) or basketball or golf or tennis or whatever have to offer. But where baseball beats out the others, in my opinion, is in the regular season: six months, 162 games per team, multiple games between opponents over that stretch, ample opportunity for teams and players to make adjustments for the next time around.

The regular season of professional baseball is almost perfectly designed (setting aside for the moment the question of whether or not this is/was deliberate) to produce that rarest of situations in which random fluctuations cancel out over time and the only thing that remains is a player's actual abilities. Baseball statistics mean something, because players perform the same basic actions in a relatively stable social setting sufficient times that the results aren't purely accidental. The same cannot be said of most other areas of social and political life, which further underscores the rare and precious object that is the regular season.

Academia, for example, does not work like regular-season baseball. There are too few "at-bats" in the classroom setting for statistics to be meaningful, and the standards for success are not governed by the same level of intersubjective consensus and don't have the same kind of bureaucracy (umpires, the Rules Committee, etc.) enforcing them. Student evaluations of teaching aren't the same kind of instrument as a box score; neither are "objective" in the strong sense, of course, but box scores are less arbitrary than end-of-semester surveys of students who haven't received their final semester grades yet and in many cases who haven't even written their final papers or exams yet. We know, for instance, that instructors of early-morning classes do less well on those evaluations than those who teach later in the day; we also know that certain kinds of courses tend to produce lower scores even for instructors who do very well in other courses. Imagine if box scores came back differently for afternoon games than they did for night games, or for American League games vs. National League games; we'd junk the instrument and look for something more consistent.

The solution here, I think, is to appreciate each kind of performance in ways that are appropriate to it. Baseball should be appreciated statistically (or "sabremetrically," as the neologism goes), and teaching should be appreciated more in terms of the lingering effects of particular course experiences on general worldviews or ways of thinking -- effects that can't be captured by on-the-spot surveys, since they depend on the subsequent narratives that students use to make sense of their experiences. Teaching isn't regular-season baseball, and we should not try to evaluate it as though it were.

In other baseball news, the Yankees returned to their usual form of beating up on the Red Sox last night, led by the bat (3-for-5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, and a 1.8 OPS) and the glove (stole a two-run home run from Kevin Millar in the second inning with a perfectly-timed jump at the left-field wall) of Hideki Matsui, behind a typically impressive outing (6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6K) by Randy Johnson. God's in her Heaven and all's right with the world :-)

[Posted with ecto]

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