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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Great Pennant Race Abstract


Yes, it's a little early to get all excited about the coming pennant races but this is a topic I've meaning to visit ever since the Baseball Prospectus book, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book, came out in paperback a few months ago. In any case, I contributed to that book in the appendix titled "The Great Pennant Race Abstract" by creating a series of graphs that highlighted each of the thirteen pennant races that were discussed in the chapters of the book.

The original vision for the abstract was a little more grand and included a series of mini-essays highlighting aspects of other pennant races not discussed in detail in the book. While I did in fact pen that longer version of the abstract that stretched to over 12,000 words, it couldn't be acccomdated in the book. So for the next few days I'll publish those mini-essays here beginning today with the introduction to the abstract. These are as they were originally written with the exception of updating them to include the 2007 season. Hopefully, you'll find them entertaining and it will spur you to check out the book if you haven't already. As is the case with the other books published by BP, this one combines good baseball writing with the kind of analysis you typically read in the work of Nate Silver, Joe Sheehan, Christina Kahrl et. al. over on the web site.

As for myself, I'm a little biased to his turn of mind I suppose but Silver's chapter on the 1944 American League race featuring the St. Louis Browns ("The Home Front") is probably my favorite as it combines the narrative of the Brown's first and only AL pennant with the effect of the war on baseball and ending with a counterfactural 1944 race based on an estimate of how much talent each team lost and how it was replaced (hint: the Brown got off relatively scot-free enabling them to take the crown).

So without further ado, here's the introduction of the Great Pennant Race Abstract...



Historian Jules Tygiel has argued that the men who shaped baseball in the 1850s and 1860s fashioned it in their own image through the embrace of the "modern, rational, scientific, worldview that had grown prevalent in mid-nineteenth century America."* Consistent with that world view the chaos of various versions of "town ball" were replaced by the fixed boundaries of field, team size, and game length as baseball exploded in popularity immediately before and after the Civil War.

Embedded in that desire for rationalization was the felt need to faithfully record the events of the game, hence the first box score, then termed an "abstract", appearing in the New York Morning News on October 22, 1845. From those humble beginnings quantification took root and with the pioneering Henry Chadwick leading the way, baseball and numbers were forever intertwined.

Such is our legacy as baseball fans.

That legacy has been exercised, some would say with a vengeance, again and again throughout this book. Our authors have taken you on a journey through the ins and outs of thirteen of the greatest pennant races in the history of baseball. These were selected using Clay Davenport's methodology described in the introduction. But the mind of the baseball fan, obsessed as it is with quantification, probably won't rest there. Is there an alternate way to rank the races? What about all the races that didn't make the list of thirteen? How do they stack up? What do the distribution of great races look like over time? What are their numeric oddities and highlights?

Look no further for in this abstract I'll present a series of topics brimming with analysis and information nuggets to satiate you the reader and fan. Each mini-essay touches on a theme embedded in one or more pennant races, which for our purposes here are defined as the American, National, and Federal League regular season races (including tie-breakers) beginning in 1901 and extending through the divisional races (thereby also termed pennant races) of 2007 and excluding 1994 where no post season teams were named and hence where there could be said to have been no race. Enjoy.


* Past Time: Baseball As History by Jules Tygiel. Oxford University Press, New York Date Published: 2000 ISBN: 0195089588

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