Monday, July 12, 2010

Striking Out In The Information Age

In baseball-dom we have witnessed four no-hitters, two of them, (really three) perfect games in half a season. This is as statistically improbable as Obama getting re-elected unanimously or receiving an invitation to a Bar Mitzvah in the Gaza Strip. What’s going on here?

One quick answer might be the abrupt end of steroidal hitters. Anabolic arms are getting flabby and barrel chests, caving in. But juiced pitchers are also yesterday’s news so the playing field is level. Perhaps the expansion of major league teams almost twenty years ago has brought some truly minor leaguers into the big time.

I propose a more sociological answer. Armed with a plethora of information batters are going up to the plate thinking too much. Call it paralysis from analysis. If they face the pitcher thinking that he usually throws a curve ball when he gets two strikes or a low-outside slider on the first pitch…they are doomed. To be successful the hitter must focus on the nanosecond of the ball’s spin, not try to out-think what the stats say he will be throwing.

Analytical thinking is bread and butter for the announcer up in the booth but for the athlete on the field it’s a curse. It’s also the difference between an artist and a critic. If he is to be successful a writer becomes his own best critic. He may connect or he may fall on his face but he is sure to strike out through self-censure or by listening to self-appointed arbiters of good taste. Imagine relying on a manual on how to tie your shoes. In such cases information is devoutly to be ignored.

Here we are, stuck in the Information Age. There’s a glut of it. Wikipedia has seen to it that we've all been deputized as experts. Facts and stats are coming out of our ears. Both the athlete and the creative individual may be feeling the weight of it. Ballplayers need to rely on their muscle memory and artists on the muscle of their imagination.

I notice a hitter walking up to the batter’s box with a ritual. He circles the plate, fingers his bling, crosses himself, plays with his Velcro and then knocks the dirt from his cleats (that isn’t there) ………all this to quiet his brain and relocate everything he knows into his kinesthesiology.

So, too, a writer needs to quiet those interjected voices of a censorious parent or the teacher who rapped his knuckles for transgressing before he can recover his own voice and take its dictation.

There is a place for analysis……in the laboratory or academia. And of course, there are batting coaches to remedy a hitter’s funk. I only question the art critic who would argue the merit of a particular Pollock drip or the literary maven who delights in tearing apart an author’s sentence, often out of context. This is like boiling a watch to see what makes it tick. The critic does best when he illuminates the creator’s work or articulates it in ways that the artist has chosen not to.

I know we are more likely to be fans than players and art appreciators more than working artists however we need to think like them. Otherwise we become passive consumers with our critical faculty overwhelming our creative one. Analysts assume the role of screeners of public taste. In a sense we are all artists in our being, struggling to express ourselves. We all intrepret the Zeitgeist and feel the press of convention keeping us in line, resisting change. We are more than consumers; we keep art alive.

I've allowed myself to wander in this piece and I'm now far afield from the baseball diamond. I'm not sure how I got here but I suppose my point is that I (we) are makers of our own lives and it wouldn;t hurt to close the distance between us and what we read, hear or witness.

I don’t mean to dismiss the value of learning the craft, be it sports or creativity. In the former case one may recognize his endowments early on and work hard to hone the skills. The same may be true for any artist. Study the material, practice draftsmanship or take in the rules of grammar and such……but at some point get it out the head into the hand and let it fly.


  1. Ah, Norm, you and I have been around long enough to know that things happen in cycles. There have been seasons when pitching dominated the game and seasons when hitting won the day. It has nothing to do with information or steroids.

    The information age is an illusion. Yes, we have access to lots of data and often false data, but we are nowhere closer to the truth. We are not wiser or more intelligent. We still make dumb decisions like investing our money with crooks.

    And yes, we are all artists, finding creative ways to express our hopes and dreams.

    Keep on blogging.

  2. Quite so. With scouting reports and inside info I still couldn't hit a curve ball. Ah, but that was then....