Sorry for the lack of posting. This has proven to be a busy quarter and as always, I’ve not gotten as much work done as I want to. Personal/health/financial issues have taken their toll. But it’s not all bad news. I had a great interview on Monday with a statistician who does work for a Major League Team and I have an interview tomorrow with an actual front office person at an MLB team. I’ve also made a few more connections about how the professionalization process of the sabermetrician ties into the way institutions incorporate new forms of knowledge. In any case I promise to write more next week after this interviews. I’m almost done with these things thank god.
One more thing actually, someone I interviewed last year contacted me to see how the research was going. Here is the text of the email that I sent him.
I can’t believe it’s been a year also. The dissertation is coming along, albeit slower than I had hoped. There are a lot of reasons, but the two main ones are funding for my project and scheduling interviews for the second phase of my research.
Funding is a precarious thing in grad school, and one of my sources unexpectedly pulled out. That meant I had to go back to work for a little while to save up money to pay for my fees. My funding has been restored partially and it is helping, but again, this summer, I am having to take a full time job to pay for my tuition for next year. It’s really a common thing, and all part of the grad school game, so it hasn’t discouraged me too much.
The other issue has been getting interviews for the second part of my research. For the second part of my research, I have been trying to interview baseball insiders such as journalists and baseball front office people. While I have been able to get a few really good interviews, something that I have learned is that baseball executives are extremely busy. So busy that they can’t spare a single hour out of their day to talk to me. Like I’ve said, I’ve talked to some great people, including Alan Schwarz and other journalists and baseball people you have probably heard of, but I can’t tell you their names because of confidentiality issues. But I need to talk to more. This of course is all ramping up to my interview with the man himself, Bill James. I want him to be my last interview as his opinion of the movement is key to my final analysis.
Other than that, I’ve interviewed over 30 people like you, just fans of the game, who like to spend their own leisure time on this. This has been most rewarding as I’ve found everyone to be open, candid and very interesting. I haven’t been able to write up a formal paper on this part yet, but I can key you into some of my major findings that I will be writing about. First I’ve found that sabermetrics is a complex social phenomenon driven by several factors, some expected and others unexpected. Not surprisingly, advanced levels of higher education is nearly universal. With the exception of four people, one of them being in high school, everyone that I’ve talked to has at least a masters degree. The fields vary widely, but my guess is that the formal education system instills the value of rationality and scientific inquiry. In terms of why they pursue sabermetrics there are two main things that I will be talking about. The first is the desire to establish some kind of authority within their own social circle. Most people talked about how most of their casual acquaintences did not necessarily engage in talk about sabermetrics, but whenever they had a question about baseball, they would go to the sabermetrician for answers. Some call it the white coat effect as numbers and science are used to establish expertise, authority, and knowledge. In sociological terms, this is what we call “cultural capital”, which is the use of cultural practices instead of money to establish your social position.
The second thing that people seem to do with sabermetrics is very interesting and I will probably spend a good amount of time discussing this. When it comes to sports, it is impossible to not confront the spectre of masculinity. Sports, in a very real way, is a vehicle for demonstrating and negotiating one’s masculinity. Sabermetricians are actively challenging the accepted notion of masculinity in sports that usually ties masculinity with physical ability and moral quality. That is not to say that sabermetricians are progressive thinkers when it comes to gender issues. Not that they’re sexists or anything, but I am going to argue that they are promoting a different kind of masculinity, one based on science, which is also a very masculine field. Not that sabermetricians are actively keeping women out, but many of their behaviors are based on our society’s ideals on masculinity. They maintain the same “cool pose” that athletes have embodied in the past, they are competitive, and they assert themselves within their own circle of sabermetric friends as being more knowledgeable or more masculine than other fans. That is, they distinguish themselves from other classes of fans, which they juvenilize.
At the same time, they are loathe to give up the widely shared definition of masculinity in sports. They belittle themselves as nerds and outsiders who other people don’t like. Especially, when it comes to their spouses, they relegate their work to “harmless” and “distraction”, which actually reinforces the existing definition of masculinity.
Anyways, the development of these ideas are in the very preliminary stages. So I haven’t quite fleshed out everything, in terms of detail and social theory, and I may change how I feel about some of my assertions. But right now, this is where I’m at. I ask that you not circulate this email or share this information with anyone until I finish my writing. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be until sometime next year. I won’t be able to go to Cleveland as planned and present at the SABR conference, but I am looking forward to presenting my work to sabermetricians to get their feedback.
Anyways, I hope you are well. Thanks again for talking to me, and feel free to make any comments or ask me any questions.
I’ll probably be sending out a mass email to all of my interviewees sooner or later. Whatever the case, my advisor has strongly cautioned me about posting this kind of stuff online as I suppose academic poaching is a possible problem. But I’ve decided that the whole point of this is to make my knowledge creation project as transparent as possible, as I think in the long run, this is a good thing for academia. In any case, please feel free to comment on any of my observations.