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Friday Baseball Blogging: Sometimes You Have to Let Go

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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What has baseball lost that makes you sad? I'm not thinking in terms of nostalgia (missing Candlestick Park or Shea Stadium because of the good times I had there even though they weren't the best places to see a game). I'm asking about the things we lost as side effects for really good reasons.

When I was a baseball-obsessed kid, I almost memorized every 20th-century National League, American League and World Series winner. It wasn't anything unusual; normal baseball fans did that .

At some point in the 1980s, I realized, to my horror, that I couldn't remember all the division winners of the 1970s and 1980s. Somehow, that meant I must no longer be a real fan. That was somewhat true. I had gone through that teenage-years phase of not really paying attention to the game, though I never consciously lost interest. Some of this is just a peculiarity of memory, but I've found that no matter how much of the postseason I watch, if I don't adjust my mental file every few years I'll lose track. For me, it's easier to memorize the entire list than to add to it an item at a time.

I assume that no one has even tried to memorize all the divisional and wild-card winners from 1994 through 2012. Memorization would be even more difficult with baseball's current two wild card arrangement. It's just too much. And, all in all, I think that's for the best. The old arrangement wasn't going to work with more than 20 teams -- it didn't really work well with more than the "original" 16. I think it's a good thing that people in Texas, Florida, Colorado and Arizona have major league baseball. But, at least for me, there's something lost.

The other thing I have is that when my dad was a kid, he knew every player on every one of the 16 teams. When I was a kid, I may have been able to name every starting player on all 24 teams -- and pretty much every player in the National League West. Now, I can't even keep up with the players in the American League (and I play in a pretty deep American League-only fantasy-baseball league). Major League Baseball's expansions have been good, but it was fun knowing all the players. Now I don't.

Are there other things like that out there? I know some people feel that way about advanced statistics. They understand why it's better to judge players with more advanced methods, but they miss being able to evaluate players using the simpler ones like RBIs or a pitcher's wins. I can't say I share that feeling, but if you miss something, you miss it.

What else goes on the list?

  1. There's even a Charlie Brown gag where Linus has memorized all of the second-place teams. The joke worked because it was just on the edge of being implausible

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net