Sabermetric Blogging and the Oinoanda Inscription

Note: Oinoanda is pronounced oy-NAN-da. Or, at least, it's probably pronounced that way.

In my darker moments -- that is, chiefly, between my last cup of coffee and first glass of the good stuff -- I sometimes find myself asking the most ridiculous questions. Questions like: "What does it all mean?" or "What's the point of life?" and other sorts of open-ended queries that are probably best left to the Russians of our species.

It's not something about which I'm proud, but I mention it here because (a) it's true, and (b) I'm not so special as to have something even remotely like original thoughts or experiences. Translation: The chance that you and/or you and/or you have had similar pangs of existential angst is pretty high.

Like just last week, I stopped while reading something at FanGraphs -- Cameron's piece about Casey Kotchman, I think it was -- I stopped and wondered, "Why? Why read about this journeyman first baseman? Is this the most important thing I could be doing? Isn't there some sort of cancer I could be curing?"

The questions had nothing to do with the merit of Cameron's article itself -- Dave Cameron, as everyone knows, is a sabermetric cyborg with no flaws -- but rather the nature of the exercise. In other words, Why should I think about baseball in a time like this?

My guess is, if you asked a reader of FanGraphs or Hardball Times or Beyond the Box Score or any of those places why he reads them, he'd probably say something like, "Because it helps with my fantasy team," or, "To read analysis about my team and my team's rivals," or even just, "Beats working."

Those are fine reasons, but I don't think they hold up to closer scrutiny. For me, personally, were I stripped of my fantasy teams, were I to possess nothing in the way of team allegiance, were I, in fact, to wake up in a roadside ditch, I would very probably wake up thinking about baseball. And depending on exactly how long I'd been in said ditch -- that, and the extent of my injuries (had I any) -- I'd most likely try to find a decent wireless signal so's I could see what the Dave Camerons and Rob Neyers of the world were writing about baseball. In short, thinking about baseball is something I do with great frequency and urgency. And understanding the sabermetric implications of baseballing current events is important to me.

But why?

My guess is it has a lot to do with the Oinoanda Inscription. Not familiar? Neither was I till like a week ago, so don't sweat it.

The Oinoanda Inscription, according to Epicurus Wiki, was

an inscribed limestone wall conspicuously located in an open marketplace... in the ancient city of Oinoanda. The inscription, commissioned by Diogenes of Oinoanda, proclaimed the wisdom of Epicurus, then deceased for five centuries.

Basically, it was a wall erected by this wealthy guy named Diogenes. Diogenes was a great follower of Epicurus's doctrine of happiness, and it was owing to this love of Epiciurus that he erected this wall, onto which was inscribed the entirety of the latter's ethical philosophy.

About the wall and its purpose, philosopher Alain de Botton says in the second of these videos:

In order to live wisely, it isn't enough just to read a philosophical argument once or twice. We need constant reminders of it, or we'll forget... We have to counteract the influence of advertising by creating advertisements that say we we really do want. And that's why Diogenes put up his wall.

Of course, de Botton is using the term "advertisement" quite broadly here. Really an advertisement can be anything that takes your eyes off the figurative prize. For Epicurus, that prize was happiness, and the means by which you attained it was through friendship, freedom, and contemplation.

But, as you might agree, it's sometimes hard to think about friendship and freedom and contemplation when Beyonce is shaking it and asking you to upgrade. So it's important to have other "advertisements" that promote right thinking.

I submit that sabermetric blogging represents one such version of these advertisements. No, there are no walls set up in our city centers warning us against the baleful effects of excessive consumption or the pursuit of vain pleasures, but there are blogs -- like FanGraphs, like a lot of others -- designed constantly to remind us of the merits of reason, of the scientific method. The baseballing world provides lots of material to be analyzed and we are able -- by virtue of sabermetrics and an army of dedicated, if poorly compensated, authors -- to examine how a particular trade or free agent signing or breakout performance ought to be regarded in light of what we know about statistics. And it's by virtue of these constant reminders that we are, essentially, philosophizing every frigging day.

Cross-posted at FanGraphs.