Although baseball is certainly nowhere near leaving the public eye in the recent future, it can be interesting to think about what will happen to the sport in the distant future. Can a sport like baseball actually survive in the fast-moving world of tomorrow?
Gene Roddenberry and the writers of Star Trek didn’t seem to think so. Baseball comes up relatively often in the series — more often than any current sport, although less often than the awesome-sounding Parrises Squares. In the Star Trek universe, baseball’s popularity declined rather swiftly in the 21st situation, such that the last World Series was played in 2042. The sport lived on in the minds of humans, but was no longer recognized as a major professional sport.
Dr. Paul Stubbs, portrayed by Ken Jenkins (the actor behind Scrubs‘s Dr. Bob Kelso) remained a baseball fan despite the sport’s status as a relic. In explaining to young Ensign Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) how broken, how downtrodden Stubbs would be should he miss his one chance to perform his experiment on a stellar phenomenon which only occurs once every 196 years, he refers to his love of baseball, in a way that I think many of us who put our noses to the spreadsheets can understand:
STUBBS: I could live with failure… Well, maybe not. But nevereven to try. To miss your one chance at bat. Do you know baseball?
WESLEY: My dad taught it to me when I was little.
STUBBS: Once, centuries ago, it was the beloved national pastime of the Americas, Wesley. Abandoned by a society that prized fast food and faster games. Lost to impatience. But I have seen the great players make the great plays.
WESLEY: Do you recreate them on a Holodeck?
STUBBS: No, in here… (his mind)… With the knowledge of statistics… runs, hits and errors… times at bat… box scores. Men like us do not need Holodecks, Wesley. I have played seasons in my mind. It was my reward to myself. For patience. Knowing my turn would come. Call your shot. Point to a star. One great blast and the crowd rises. A brand new era in astro-physics. Postponed one hundred and ninety-six years on account of rain.
It’s a bit simplistic, but I think Stubbs’s speech gives a pretty good account of how people like “us” — those fans who take a great joy in the statistical side of the game — use those statistics to give us a greater understand of the game. Seeing Jose Bautista’s 216 wRC+ at the top of the leaderboards doesn’t end with the number. We can see the dominance play out in our heads as well, just like Future Bob Kelso suggests.