Math 013: Baseball's Highest Honor, Winter 1999

Baseball's Highest Honor is election to the Hall of Fame. The history of the election process, however, has been fraught with controversy, confusion, and accusations of favoritism. A sticking point is that there is no clear definition of what a Hall of Famer should be, other than a player of the caliber usually elected to the Hall of Fame. But with diverse standards applied by a myriad of committees, the Hall of Fame is a self-defining institution that has failed to define itself, to paraphrase author Bill James. What should the criteria be, and what, in fact, have the criteria been? How should one define "greatness"?

In this course, we will discuss the history of the Hall of Fame, methods of rating players, and election criteria. Two focuses of the course will be (1) to review modern statistical methods for evaluating players (sometimes referred to as "sabermetrics"), including models for run production and comparisons across eras, and (2) to contrast systematic, "scientific" methods for player evaluation with the ad hoc campaigning typical of Hall of Fame arguments seen today. We may also discuss related issues, such as the improvement or decline in quality of play over time, the relative importance of pitching and hitting, etc.

Evaluation will be based on participation, class presentations, and a final project. Class will meet for two hours a day, three days a week. Schedule permitting, there may be a field trip to Cooperstown. No prerequisites. Enrollment limited to 30. Cost to student: approximately $50 for books, plus field trip expenses. Meeting time: afternoons. Texts: Bill James: Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? and Neft and Cohen's Baseball Encyclopedia.


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