Msnowe's Blog

Breaks in Record Breaking

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on August 6, 2007

Breaking Records. This country feeds on numbers, and it’s slightly startling that a nation obsessed with numbers sees such low math scores in its national education estimates. But that’s a story better “left behind” for another day. We are obsessed not with the way numbers work- but with what they symbolize, and how we can metamorphose them. And once we figure out how to play with numbers, they no longer fit into the perfect right angles of Pythagorean theorems.

A certain San Francisco Giants player knows all about the instability of numbers that have been fiddled with. After tying Hank Aaron’s record 755 home runs the other day, the conversations have varied in air from respectful awe to downright accusations of malfeasance. The question of steroid use is at the engorged, pumping heart of the issue. Whether or not Bonds took steroids earlier in his career, (and most have a pretty shrewd notion that he did) most also believe that steroids or no, Bonds is a powerful hitter and would have high home run digits regardless.But numbers are important, and they make people face, in concrete ways, evanescent issues.

Politics are obsessed with numbers in similar ways to baseball (and many other sports for that matter). And the numbers are as controversial and contested as in the great American pastime. Many subscribe to the idea that numbers “never lie.” And that’s a heartening notion in a world where politicans, and increasingly, sports stars often do. But unfortunately that saying is losing validity as the seconds tick by.Sportscasters the world over have always noted, when looking at the “hard” numbers, that in every era, the numbers are skewed in comparison to another era, because no player competes in a vaccuum. It’s impossible to aptly compare one generation’s greatest player to an other’s. How do you compare the Babe with the Bonds? You can’t, really. But numbers seem like the only logical way, because the players played in such different times. The rules have changed, the dynamics, the training, and especially the salaries. Numbers are all you have left. Candidates for president feel the same pinch – how do you compare campaigns? But numbers are a deception. They ignore the personal quirks, the social conditions, the national temperaments. Can you really compare an FDR to any of the candidates out there now? Only by the numbers. And the rules have changed here too – the dynamics, the training, and especially the salaries and campaign funding.People will argue, and they will continue to compare. And really all we can do is look to historical records, and compare them with the current national feeling. And both sides will have their say. Some will discount numbers on the basis of a “juiced” complication – both sporting events and political campaigns have been taking steroids – they’re enhanced beyond recognition, with lobbyists, cork bats, hush money, and greased fingertips.

But it would be unfair to discount our own numbers completely, and turn to the past as a competitive utopia. Ever since the beginning of sports and politics – it has always been viewed as a game. And no matter what tint of rose colored glasses we wish to wear, there has always, and will always be someone who wants to fiddle with the statistics. We always have a Pete Rose or a Richard Nixon thrown in the mix, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Because once we realize that numbers are by definition not the precise Aristotleian forms we wish them to be, then we can understand that every number, statistic, poll, or equation that deals with human records will be a bit distorted – across the (score) board.