Sherlock Holmes, Proto-Sabermetrician


The present author, for the first time in his already forgotten life, has recently begun reading the work of very dead author Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle, as anyone who attended an important college will know, is responsible for the creation of fictional menace to the criminal classes, Sherlock Holmes.

Beyond the pleasure attendant to the stories found in Doyle’s collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the author’s presiding emotion whilst reading Doyle’s work has been one of Unfettered Indignation. “Why has no one demanded I read this before?” the author has possibly been heard shouting. “What strange grudge does the world bear against me?” he’s also maybe ejaculated after three or seven drinks.

Apart from those theatrics, what Doyle’s stories have revealed is a mind (in Holmes) sensitive to those concepts which today inform the principles central to the thing called sabermetrics.

One finds the following exchange, for example — between Watson (in the first person) and Holmes — in “A Scandal in Bohemia”, in which Holmes aptly distills the best practices of baseball analysis to three sentences:

“This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked. “What do you imagine that it means?”

“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

One also gathers clues, perhaps, as to the modern sabermetrician’s motivation for applying the scientific process to so trivial an endeavor as baseball — such as Holmes summarizes in this other exchange, from “The Red-Headed League”:

“You reasoned it out beautifully,” I exclaimed in unfeigned admiration. “It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true.”

“It saved me from ennui,” he answered, yawning. “Alas! I already feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so.”

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

15 Responses to “Sherlock Holmes, Proto-Sabermetrician”

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  1. GilaMonster says:

    If only he said sample size, It would be perfect.

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  2. GilaMonster says:

    If only he said sample size, It would be perfect.

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  3. James says:

    From the Copper Beeches: “Data! data! data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

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  4. Pirates Hurdles says:

    Sherlock Holmes mocks the scientific method. This guy wants all the data first before a hypothesis is generated to be tested, that’s called a fishing expedition in basic science.

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    • triple-A city says:

      True! But that’s only because crime-solving is rather the inverse of scientific research. In Science, one posits a theory, conducts experiments, and charts the results whether they agree with you or not. In sleuthing, one begins with a very specific result and works backwards to discover process and motive.

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    • The notion that there is a One Scientific Method is intellectually as aromatic as Newton’s droppings.

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  5. Embiggens Papiamentu says:

    So THAT explains how the Astros zeroed in and fleeced the Red Sox of Jeff Bagwell.

    Mr. Watson, who learnt much under Holmes’ wing, was better known as Mr. Bob Watson.

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  6. Doyle says:

    Doyle rules!

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  7. AC of DC says:

    If only those hard-partying baseballing lads of the ’80s and ’90s had thought to employ a seven-percent solution!

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  8. rubesandbabes says:

    Yeah, that whole “ejaculated’ thing with Doyle.

    Just wait till you get to that case of the Pilt-Down man….

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  9. dl80 says:

    “he’s also maybe ejaculated after three or seven drinks.”

    Ah, what a different a capitalized “H” would have made there!

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  10. NCL75 says:

    Carson, I’d suggest you read Julian Barnes’ “Arthur and George” if you enjoy good writing, mysteries, and some back story into Doyle’s life.

    Also, you should know, Julian Barnes is France’s favorite English son. That is a fact, son.

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  11. NCL75 says:

    (the “son” was intended as hip-hop slang, and not a patronizing “now see here son” sort of way.)

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  12. Packbob says:

    Completing the stories, moving on to other things, then reading the stories again, brings a different kind of delight. The stories aren’t perfect, the mysteries aren’t deep, but Holmes is as much Holmes as he could possibly be.

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