Like many others today (but later than most, because I’ve been running around this morning doing some family busines, and just now logged on to the computer), I was gut-punched by this blog post from USS Mariner’s Dave Cameron.
Dave has leukemia. He’s bracing for the fight of his life, as he writes:
Last week, I was informed that I have Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a particularly nasty member of the cancer family. History has given my doctors all kinds of data about cure rates and life expectancy, and statistical analysis is helping them decide just what kind of chemotherapy I’ll be taking in a few hours, which I’m really thankful for.
But really, those numbers do nothing for me. I’m not going to be making very many decisions over the next few months. I’m just going to be rooting like crazy for the drugs to work. I need reasons for hope, and I won’t find much of that in the harshness of raw data.
Data isn’t always what is needed. If you’re a Pirates fan right now, does it help you at all to know that your team probably won’t keep this up? You’re not going to be making any decisions that will change the outcome anyway, so why not root for the outcome you want, even if it isn’t statistically probable?
Thats what I’m going to spend the next few months (and years, in reality) doing. Save the odds for the doctors; I’m planning on living a long time. I’m planning on beating this thing. I’m planning on watching the Mariners win a game, and at this rate, that might take years. I want to be around to see it, though, and I just don’t care what the odds say is likely.
As Geoff and Ryan Divish have already aptly written in blog posts, real-life news like this puts a little perspective on the relative insignicance of a struggling baseball team. Or even, if it were the case, a surging baseball team. The Mariners have been his focus, on our focus, but when you get down to it, it’s just a bunch of guys playing a game. A great game, but a game nevertheless. This is about real life — the most real part of life.
Dave and I have gotten to be friends over the years, and he’s one of the most down-to-earth, friendly, funny and reasonable guys I know. He has always been unbelievable supportive of my work (and when he calls me out on something I’ve written, he does it in a very gentle manner, while making convincing arguments about how I was dead wrong). Back when I just had rudimentary knowledge of a site called USS Mariner, and it wasn’t part of my daily surfing (back when daily surfing of the web wasn’t something I did), I kept hearing from friends about these guys — Dave and USS Mariner partner Derek Zumsteg — who had a habit of praising my work.
After awhile, of course, I realized I had to see what this was all about. What I found was a site that often flew way over my head in the complexity of its statistical analysis, but was a revelation in the quality of its work. And it became for me, as it has for so many, a must-read site on a daily basis. There are a wealth of websites that follow the Mariners, but the reason that USS Mariner stands out (along with Jeff Sullivan at Lookout Landing) is the pure writing talent. You can get statistical analysis in a lot of places; there are not many places you get analysis presented by first-class writers. There’s wit behind the decimal points, and that’s what brings you back. Dave’s writing is definitive and persuasive — I’m always floored by the conviction he brings to his work — but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. And he has made me a better baseball writer by forcing me to learn what the heck was he was talking about with all those exotic statistics he kept throwing out. I’m not afraid to admit that I had some backward notions about evaluating players and teams; I’ve tried to be open-minded about embracing new analytical tools, and I credit Dave with being the ring-leader in dragging me into the 21sth century.
We need his baseball mind and his writerly prose. But even that’s secondary. Dave deserves to live the long life he wrote about. He says he’s going to beat this, and I believe him. With all my heart. I’ve written before about how sportswriting knocks the fan out of you. You are told constantly that you aren’t allowed to root. But that flies out the window today. I’m rooting hard for Dave Cameron.