Taking My Hacks

The Impact of an Icon – More than Just Numbers

Joe Orlando


Too often, fans and collectors get caught up in raw statistics. I will be the first one to admit that, for years, I was one of those people. Early on, I would focus almost solely on offensive statistics when comparing one player to another, from the current generation to past generations. Then, as I came to appreciate other aspects of the game, I factored in defense and intangibles when evaluating players. It was a process.

Today, some people have taken statistics to an entirely new level. The hope is, with these new measures, we can better evaluate the performance and impact of baseball players. While there is no doubt that more information is better, a hyper-focus on statistics does not - by itself - properly measure the impact of a player. This is especially true when trying to measure impact in context, since every era is different.

There are so many variables to consider: different ballparks; different period-specific strategies; different mixes of players; different levels of athleticism, training methods and nutrition; and different equipment. It goes on and on. Sometimes the differences are subtle and, other times, they are not. No matter what the differences are, it is almost impossible to compare players from different eras in a completely accurate way. It is never quite apples to apples.

So how does this issue impact the hobby?

Well, statistics have always played a big role in the way people collect, the way they establish collecting themes. Many of baseball's exclusive clubs are based solely on statistical milestones like the 300-win, 500-home run and 3,000-hit clubs. That said, the so-called steroid era and the way voters have treated those who played during that time period have changed the collector course a bit.

It now seems that at least some portion of fans and collectors are putting a little less importance on statistics. The conversation is turning more towards factors such as dominance within the era and overall impact. If you look at players like Joe DiMaggio, it is important to look at the whole picture to fully appreciate his impact. His raw numbers are excellent, but without context, DiMaggio's value cannot be fully understood.

That brings us to the man of the month - Jackie Robinson. Robinson was a fantastic athlete and far more athletic than most players of the 1940s and 1950s. He also put up some terrific numbers in a short span. Just take a good look at his overall performance in 1949, when he led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases to go along with 124 RBI. Keep in mind that he was a second baseman, a position not known for great offensive output.

The bottom line with Robinson is that no matter what numbers he put up, great or mediocre, his impact on the game and society simply cannot be measured in home runs, runs scored or hits. Robinson had to bear a burden that is hard to imagine. He had to endure an intolerant society and all the hate that came with it, paving the way for so many great players of the future... players of color, both domestic and foreign alike.

As a result, while his very good numbers do not technically measure up to many of his Hall of Fame brethren, Robinson's name rests comfortably amongst the elite in the game's history – and it should. There are only a select few that are recognized in that way, simply by saying their first name. There are the likes of Babe, Mickey, Willie and a few more, but that includes Jackie and it always will.

Someday, it would be nice if all people were measured by their character and what they stand for, instead of what they call themselves, what group they belong to or what they own. We may not be there yet, but Jackie did his part to help put us on the right course.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief