Consider the Eckstein

David Eckstein is retired, and wasn't a star when he was playing. So why does he still stand for so much?
Share |

There was a time, really just a handful of years ago, when sabermetricians and crusting, old-guard journalist-types unsheathed their lightsabers and dueled for the soul of baseball. It was weapons of mass narrative against weapons of mass statistics. Scrappy-gritty-heart-grit-scrap scrappily going to war on WAR. There was a new way to consume baseball, which wanted only to exist without the old way of consuming baseball, which in turn wanted nothing to do with the new. Basement-trapped dweebs, so it was said, were dedicated to turning a beautiful and unpredictable game into advanced calculus. Both narratives are not quite right; but the fact that both exist, and are still clung to as they are, suggests that this is not nearly over.

But it has been fun, mostly, getting to this inconclusive point. There was a website -- bless their hearts -- dedicated to not-so-nuanced satirizing of the proudly ill-informed. But the other side wouldn’t bow out, and still hasn’t; they believe they are defending something important, and the fact that no one is really attacking that thing doesn’t mean they won’t fight to the last grumpy man. There has been a lot of yelling, and there will be more.

Things quieted down for a while, the saturation of numbers and logic and sanity taking significant hold of things. And then Mitch Albom incited a riot by railing against Mike Trout’s MVP candidacy and pumping up Miguel Cabrera’s and generally throwing cliched feces at “made-for-Microsoft categories.”  So there we were, again, lines drawn in the sand. Rob Parker took a side. So did Nate Silver. (These are maybe not the least-biased names to choose, but this hasn’t been a conflict defined by fair play, really.)

Even if both sides have over-indulged in the divide, it’s not impossible to understand. People felt legitimately threatened and mother-beared their cubs and what should have been a mildly contentious and definitely abstracted discussion of the term “value” instead turned into a long, loud conflict of escalating character assassination. The caps lock button was jammed everywhere; people turned into their worst and least generous selves. You know about all this.

What’s so frustrating, and even saddening, about it all is that this whole dumb thing springs so clearly from an inability (on both sides, if on one more notably than the other) to realize that none of this necessarily needs to be mutually exclusive. Instead, both sides dug in as dumbly as possible. You couldn’t feel and know baseball; it was impossible to both comprehend the magnitude of late-game pressure and see value in David Ortiz’s OPS+. Overpriced hot dogs and the smell of the infield grass and the seventh-inning stretch not only didn’t jibe with Baseball-Reference, but were in opposition, a flagrant and cruel piss on poor old Walter Johnson’s grave or something. It couldn’t be a therapeutic getaway for some or a statistically fascinating gold mine for others or just a thing to watch sometimes. It had to be war. There was only one way to see David Eckstein.

***

The whole time, we were always talking about David Eckstein. The Idea of David Eckstein, in a sense, but in a more literal sense the tiny and not-Jewish Caucasian shortstop who gritted his way from Anaheim to St. Louis to Arizona to San Diego to World Series MVP to a career OPS+ of 87 and 20.8 WAR in ten seasons.

In this whole ridiculous argument, Eckstein’s primacy might be most ridiculous. He was never anything other than himself, which was: extremely good at baseball relative to the at-large population, much better than most players at his position for less than a third of his big league career, and inarguably someone who made a shade under $20 million as a Major League baseball player. Eckstein’s story, baseball-wise, isn’t much different from that of many others.

In some ways it was better: Eckstein made an All-Star team and won two World Series. In some ways it was worse. Mostly, though, it was about aesthetics. Eckstein  choked up on the bat and didn’t hit for power and didn’t throw the ball very hard and generally looked kind of out of place and so articulated the unkillable notion that athletic careers can be carved out of will. You know this, too: a spot in the Yankees’ batting order is only a few extra swings in the cage, a few more tape sessions and a handful of fungo bat groundballs away. One hearty kick will knock down Major League Baseball’s locked door. Just make sure you mean it. Or something.

Bits of truth certainly do exist here: there are players whose extra effort pushes them over the edge, and players who lazy their way out of the game. If talent opens doors, some elbow grease surely helps them open more smoothly. But twisting David Eckstein’s career into some referendum on virtue and hard work undermines a simpler and less satisfying truth: he was talented. Workaday and average and sometimes extraordinary, but grounded in ability.

***

Eckstein didn’t get to the Majors by being short; baseball teams don’t narrative their way to World Series. Managers at various levels of baseball understood him in baseball terms and utilized him on the baseball field in those terms. Eckstein the player was and always has been, first and only, a tool wielded for baseball victories. In high school, he was a two-time All-State selection. At Florida, he was All-SEC twice and All-American once. He was drafted in the 19th round of the 1997 draft and waived three years later and still played 10 MLB seasons. This is not nothing, not at all.

But what’s interesting about Eckstein in particular isn’t just that he’s an oft-manipulated metaphor or focal point for baseball turbulence. David Eckstein, as a symbol, is far more weighty and talked about than his career would suggest. Do you know his career numbers, even roughly, offhand? He is his adjectives more than any other particular thing.

When people say they hate David Eckstein, they don’t really mean David Eckstein, the player that Baseball Reference’s similarity scores compares to Rick Burleson and Scott Fletcher. Hating Eckstein is hating a preachy narrowness that relies on words impervious to calculable measure. It’s hating the whole strident gospel that springs from that overdetermined faith. Intangibles. Heart. Grit. Will. Scrap. Toughness. Desire. Words that -- in a game that employs both A-Rod-like godsculptures and Prince Fielder-like, well, non-sculptures -- lay waste to critical thinking of any kind. A reasonable enough thing to hate, but nothing that Eckstein himself ever really asked for.

But he was, for whatever reason and for all his limitations as a player, a pretty great lightning rod. More than anything he ever did on the field, Eckstein-inspired venom accidentally chaperoned the analytics culture towards the mainstream. Bill James was pumping out his Baseball Abstract well before he became Bill James. Even in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, there are chapters devoted to the movement before the movement. Things were chugging along fairly quietly for a while; Sabermetrics was only sucking in the diehards and natural stat-poring obsessives. The internet had not yet come into its own, which seems especially crucial, here.

What David Eckstein did -- not that he, in particular, did much of anything other than exist as an undersized baseball player wrapped in various sportswriting bearhugs -- was to encourage a sort of hate-learning among those who rejected his columnist-powered applause. Though Sabermetrics, at its heart, was about understanding baseball in precise and seminal ways, it naturally fueled counter-arguments. You could read something, think it was stupid, and then prove it was stupid. Heart was no longer sufficient to bridge the collective knowledge gap; it couldn’t be quantified, as the columnists yowled, but so much else could be. Parsing out what David Eckstein actually was worth, under all the grit-bluster, was in many ways Sabermetrics’ great gateway drug.

***

And only a short time after the first virtual punches bruised egos, sabermetrics earned a majority. It was no longer jailed by the weak-kneed paranoia that the game was losing its charm; it was simply a new and equally beautiful intellectual brushstroke. It was out there on the field, too. GMs were getting smarter, or at least the good ones were, and spending more wisely, evaluating more precisely. The teams that didn’t do this would fall behind. It is working itself out.

Not that the war’s entirely over, of course, or that David Eckstein isn’t still the undersized field of battle. Home runs still matter. So do RBI. Batting average still leads off the box score. Pitchers’ wins are still tabulated, and so are losses. All of these numbers still carry a suggestive and even subversive value that’s so fundamentally couched in the game as history that it’s hard to see them ever fully disappearing.

A .300 batting average will always matter, and so will a Triple Crown and various numbers attached to the names of Hank Aaron and Roger Maris and Barry Bonds and others. These are more than just numbers. They’re markers to cull meaning from thousands of players and endless numbers. It’s easy to get lost in a 162-game season, and it’s part of what turns many people off from baseball. Numbers, or at least their pursuit, help give meaning and purpose to the giant abyss of a single-sport summer humming along.

Yet that’s exactly what has made this entire thing, by and large, a giant pissing contest. Part of what’s so disturbing about the analytics-facing trend, if you’re inclined to be disturbed by it, is that it’s tearing down these statues. Or maybe not quite tearing them down, but adding detail to them, making them look different than what we’d gotten used to. It isn’t so much the idea that OBP is the new batting average; it’s the fear that trending this way will eventually phase the meaning out of Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs. A century’s worth of knowledge, and for many a lifetime’s worth, is trashed simply by being recalculated. There are feelings at stake. The whole thing is sentiment.

The conflict, maybe, is owed to the fact that both sides of the argument can now hear each other so clearly. There is blowback on blowback now that sportswriters and fans are significantly more available to each other, whether by email or in comments sections or, more recently, on Twitter. There are so many places and ways to yell or praise, and the perverting effects of being able to do so anonymously, and so in full embrace of the most ridiculous asshattery.

In the middle of this, getting chewed up in the no-man’s land between the two trenches, is Eckstein. He’s emblematic of how sports sometimes stretch too far into metaphor, when they should probably operate on more practical terms. A World Series MVP didn’t cure his family’s kidney problems. And he’s the forum, the inspiration even, for much of analytics’ charge into something predominant.

But he’s also this: a baseball player that doesn’t look like other baseball players. He’s interesting and admirable because he didn’t play like other baseball players. One side tried to repackage him with hackneyed descriptors; the other bludgeoned his uniqueness by reducing him to his mostly unremarkable statistics. (Mostly but not entirely: he was, per B-R’s WAR, the ninth-most valuable player in the AL in 2002.) What was lost, on both sides, was David Eckstein: the fun of watching him play, the fun of trying to figure his success out. And he was fun, even if he wasn’t spectacular, because of how improbable he was and how it felt to puzzle over all that. It can be hard to remember that.


Share |

Comments

Hey what a brilliant post I have come across and believe me I have been searching out for this similar kind of post for past a week and hardly came across this. Thank you very much and will look for more postings from you. same day delivery courier

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.
PLR Directory

Guys you did great work. I’m very pleased to say that these are wonderful articles and blogs. Thanks for this.
Chris Walker - SEO agency Denver

I’m trampled by your contents carry on the wonderful work.
college essay writing services

Your contents are more then sufficient for me. poker texas holdem

I truly get pleasure from while I read your blogs and its content.

canada merchant account

I don’t have the time at the moment to fully read your site but I have bookmarked it and also add your RSS feeds. I will be back in a day or two. thanks for a great site.
Social bookmarking

Quickly this site will indisputably be famous among all blogging people, because of its fastidious articles or reviews.
online paper writing service

Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbour were preparing to do some research about that. We got a good book on that matter from our local library and most books where not as influensive as your information sklep zoologiczny

I don’t have the time at the moment to fully read your site but I have bookmarked it and also add your RSS feeds. I will be back in a day or two. thanks for a great site. zabawki kreatywne

You're in point of fact a just right webmaster. The website loading speed is amazing. It kind of feels that you're doing any distinctive trick. Moreover, The contents are masterpiece. you have done a fantastic activity on this subject!kawy smakowe

I was getting bore since morning but as soon as I got this link & reached at this blog, I turned into fresh and also joyful too.
cheap flights

Hi to all! I would love to say something here that this is overall truly splendid blog.
essay writing

This article gives the light in which we can watch the truth. This is exceptionally pleasant one and gives indepth data. A debt of gratitude is in order for this pleasant article. werbeartikel bedrucken lassen

Your articles are more than wow! And also the best way to make understand the things mentioned in it.
HMO insurance quotes

I was getting bore since morning but as soon as I got this link & reached at this blog, I turned into fresh and also joyful too.
NBA LIVE Mobile Glitch

Viagra si usa per il trattamento della disfunzione erettile maschile. Cialis viene prescritto pr il trattamento della disfunzione erettile. Cialis funziona più velocemente rispetto ad altri medicinali e dura per un periodo più lungo.
viagra femminile

Awesome post I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this intriguing and educated article. new casino

It was wondering if I could use this write-up on my other website. I will link it back to your website though.Great Thanks.
photo mugs online india

Cool blog! Because of the way you explained, the things you defined, I have been adorer of your site…
Chris Walker - top SEO expert Denver

This is genuinely an awesome read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am anticipating perusing new articles. Keep doing awesome!. Ladenbau Düsseldorf

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.
Gestion de redes sociales

I would also motivate just about every person to save this web page for any favorite assistance to assist posted the appearance. fitness trainers online

It was very useful for me. I'm happy I found this blog. Thank you for sharing with us,I too always learn something new from your post.
Essex Mag

This substance is composed extremely well. Your utilization of organizing when mentioning your focuses makes your objective facts clear and straightforward. Much obliged to you. mikrowelle tests

seo I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. Unlike other blogs I have read which are really not that good. visit this site hurry up waiting your order low obl unique domain Thanks alot! dofollow blog comments

I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article. I am trusting the same best work from you later on also. Much appreciated... buy safe YouTube views

Many thanks for the exciting blog posting! Simply put your blog post to my favorite blog list and will look forward for additional updates. Simply wanted to write down a word in order to say thanks to you for those wonderful tips. SMS Text Psychic

I just like the valuable info you provide for your articles. hack til gta 5

Incredible posting this is from you. I am really and truly thrilled to read this marvelous post. You've really impressed me today. I hope you'll continue to do so
more information

i read a considerable measure of stuff and i found that the method for composing to clearifing that precisely need to say was great so i am inspired and ilike to come back again in future.. car cover

A good blog always comes-up with new and exciting information and while reading I have feel that this blog is really have all those quality that qualify a blog to be a one.I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wishing you the best of luck for all your blogging efforts. handbags

Much obliged for offering pleasant data to us. i like your post and all you impart to us is uptodate and very instructive, i might want to bookmark the page so i can come here again to peruse you, as you have made a great showing. tarot

Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know
read this

Comprar Seguidores Linkedin al menor precio a partir de 7,99€.Aumentar vos rango en Linkedin con la ayuda de nuestros Seguidores. comprar seguidores linkedin barato

Awesome and interesting article. Great things you’ve always shared with us. Thanks.Just continue composing such informative posts.
car cover

Buy now Linkedin Followers at the Lowest Price starting from $8.99. Increase sustainable your Linkedin range with the help of our Linkedin Followers. buy linkedin connections cheap

Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!cccam

Twitter Favoriten kaufen zu einem unschlagbar günstigen Preis ab 99 Cent. Steigern Sie nachhaltig ihre Reichweite bei Twitter mit unseren High Quality Favoriten. twitter favoriten günstig kaufen

Acheter des favoris de qualitè sur twitter à partir de 99 cents.Augmenter votre portèe sur Twitter avec nos favoris pas chers et de qualitè. acheter favoris twitter gratuit

I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject
citicholine dosage

Buy Twitter Favorites at an unbeatable Price starting from 99 cents only.With our high quality favorites you can increase your tweets range immediately. buy twitter favorites cheap

I enjoy what you guys are up too Usually. This sort of clever work and coverage! Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll
link

I'm happy I discovered this site, I couldn't discover any learning on this matter former to.Also work a website and on the off chance that you are ever inspired by doing some guest composing for me if conceivable don't hesitate to tell me, im dependably search for individuals to look at my site. make an office more relaxed

Buy backlinks I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post Dofollow Blog Comments

Echte Followers kaufen und Likes kaufen - Warum Fake Follower kaufen ? Wenn es bei uns Echte Aktive Follower zu einem konkurrenzlosen Bestpreis gibt likes kaufen

I continuously continue coming to your website once more simply in case you have posted new contents.
Email Tools

Wow, What a Excellent post. I really found this to much informatics. It is what i was searching for.I would like to suggest you that please keep sharing such type of info.Thanks
علاج المخدرات

Awesome and interesting article. Great things you’ve always shared with us. Thanks.Just continue composing such informative posts.
شركة كشف تسربات المياه

Thanks guys, for sharing this conductive accumulation. casino