Spring 2022, CMAC/ISS/VMS 290-S

Baseball-reference.com : Critically made?

I chose to explore the website baseball-reference.com, an archive of professional baseball statistics. I chose to link Barry Bonds’ page specifically, as he has been a topic of discussion recently in the public sphere/baseball world because his final year of eligibility for being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame just passed. Also, his page is one of the most interesting/extreme in terms of leadership in certain statistical categories. When I took screenshots of the page they were blurry and difficult to see, so I encourage those unfamiliar with the website to explore the linked page and the home page.


In terms of whether this site can be considered “old” or New Media, I would firmly say it can be considered New. As discussed by Mark Hansen, one function of New Media can be “to mediate for human experience the non- (or proto-) phenomenological, fine-scale temporal computational processes.” I think this site certainly does that. Despite its relatively simple presentation, the tabulation of massive amounts of actions over more than 100 years and the use of them to calculate a wide collection of “advanced” statistics opens up a whole new way for viewers to perceive and judge what is going on in the game.


When considering if this website could be considered a product of critical making, my initial reaction was a hard no. I had previously interacted with it thinking of it as an archive of factual events that was/is produced with no real mediation/critical purpose (a neutral technology). However, I decided to look at the website’s stated purposes and it said this: the “purpose” of the site is to “…be the trusted source of information and tools that inspire and empower our users to enjoy, understand, and share the sports they love” and the “mission” of those working on it is to “…strive to work with respect, reliability with oomph, and craftsmanship, and also to promote the democratization of sports data.” 


This democratization point was interesting to me. I think a function of the site being “New Media” as well as being mostly open access is that it accomplishes this goal. For “advanced” statistics, as well as historical information about the game, to become more accessible to the general public (rather than just team execs) makes people appreciate the deep roots and complexities of what is going on in front of them. In certain cases, particularly with Bond’s page, it can show just how impressive a particular person’s performance was in relation to their peers through all the bolded, italicized, and gold values on their charts, and possibly give the viewer a new appreciation for these athletic feats.


However, I still do not think the site qualifies as an act of critical making because it contributes to a kind of mental dissonance between the tabulator/viewer and those working as part of the game because every aspect of their work is distilled into numbers. 


The only details about who these people are outside of the game/their work that the viewer gets are a little picture of them and some basic biographical info. Other than that, it is all totals, rankings, and percentages. How does this interact with/demonstrate what we value about professional sports and the people that play them? If someone had some kind of egregious injury in the middle of a season, for example, that is represented only in subpar metrics for that year, a deficiency, rather than a scary instance of physical pain. It fails to reckon with the context these people lived/are living through, and with a sport like baseball with such a long history with eras characterized by wildly different social and political norms, this can be extremely influential. It also fails to reckon with how advanced stats are not just neutral numbers, and are becoming more and more utilized in the management and business sides of the sport despite being nowhere near a perfect science. 


If the goal of critical making is to, as Hertz states, “to un-sanitize, un-smooth and re-politicize” the making of things, I think this site and its layout kind of do the opposite. It smooths, sanitizes, and depoliticizes a very complicated business and apparatus of modern culture.


“Message IS the BOTtle”: NFTs are not Critical Making


Seven Grams – An Example of Critical Making


  1. Isabella Wang

    Hi Molly! I thought your piece was really interesting because you walked us through your entire thought process for considering if sports statistics archives can be considered critical making. I do agree with your main argument and I think it brings up an important issue, because when the sports business very much revolves around statistics and analytics, it must heavily influence how we view athletes and their purpose. I do think that an investigation on how sports organizations leverage these data and analytics to optimize fan engagement, athletic performance, and other metrics while designing their products could potentially be a form of critical making. I’ll have to do more research on this! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Quran Karriem

    I agree with Isabella that is was good to follow your train of thought here. I’d be really interested in a kind of alternate / speculative version of sports metrics that did have a critical orientation, from your perspective. Is there a way, through a data-based or visual media experiment, to connect the statistics of individual players or teams to the role of sport in society? Or, as you say, to account for a player’s health in the tabulation of performance (either in the case of injury, or, in Bonds’ case, the controversy surrounding performance enhancing drugs). I’m also reminded of Sosa and McGwire’s 1998 home-run race, which is said to have revitalized the interest in, and economic viability of the sport. For example, there might be interesting links between “the steroid era”, viewership and revenue. There is a critical narrative in there somewhere, but I agree with you that this site doesn’t meet the bar for criticality (or attempt to).

  3. Cynthia France

    Hey Molly! I really enjoyed your piece. I think this brings up a more general point about attempting to assign values unquantifiable things, especially in sports. Perhaps it’s because I just got done watching figure skating, but it’s always seemed a bit odd that pretty much every sport gives numerical values for performance (ie artistry, perfection, etc). To me, these are aspects that shouldn’t and aren’t quantifiable, and any attempt to do so merely “smooths over” the athlete’s efforts, neatly tying hours upon hours of practice into one single package/score. I know it’s necessary for judging’s sake, but I wonder if there’d be a different way to judge artistry?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén