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The sacrifice bunt should never be used
Relief pitchers should start
Players should hit strictly in order of their ability
The baseball is lopsided anyway
Earnshaw Cook's formal association with baseball ended years ago when he played his last college game. Though he was a .300 hitter, Cook never became a household name among baseball fans. Right now, however, Earnshaw Cook knows more about baseball than anyone else in the world. He is completing the fourth year of a comprehensive study, applying probability theory to a mathematical analysis of baseball, examining and dissecting the game to a degree never even approached before.
Baseball has long been heckled by screwballs with nutty theories, but Cook is not one of them. He has had a long and distinguished career as a metallurgist, part of it as a consultant to the Manhattan (atom bomb) Project. Nevertheless, baseball officials hesitate to consider his findings, and for a very good reason: if he is right, they have been playing the game all wrong for years. The revolutionary fact Cook has discovered is that nobody has ever played percentage baseball, because nobody has ever known the true percentages. If anyone did, says Cook, he could manage any .500 team into a pennant winner.
Cook devotes his full working time to his project, and his opus—Percentage Baseball—will be published this summer (Waverly Press, Inc., 428 East Preston Street, Baltimore, $10.50). He is constantly updating the data and has just completed a study of the 1963 season, during which he analyzed the considerable effect of the change in the size of the strike zone. (The new zone affected statistics up to 15%—an amazing shift in a game that prides itself on stability.) Unfortunately, says Cook, the one thing the new zone did not change at all was the home run ratio, which it was supposed to cut down.
There is very little about baseball that has escaped the study. One whole chapter, for example, is devoted to the foul-fly option, something that occurs probably no more than a dozen times a major league season. Cook's office is in his Baltimore home, and it is a cataloged clutter of issues of The Sporting News and Baseball Register, piles of statistics and encyclopedias. Cook sits amidst this, between a typewriter and an electric calculating machine (he outdistanced a slide rule early in the study). He does most of the work himself but is assisted by Wendell Garner, chairman of the Department of Psychology at Johns Hopkins University, who has specialized in a mathematical approach to his profession. Both men are astute baseball fans and their knowledge and enthusiasm for the game have led them into areas that might well have been overlooked by less interested observers.
That baseball lends itself to description by numbers has always been evident from the welter of statistics that surround it. But what has never been fully recognized—or at least utilized—is the fact that, because it is basically a repetitive situation of batter vs. pitcher, baseball alone of all athletic contests is extremely susceptible to mathematical analysis. (There are more possibilities to consider in a single football play than in a whole baseball game.)
Some baseball officials who have learned of Cook's work try to humor him. The home-town Orioles, for example, supply him with statistics but not with encouragement. Lee Allen of the Hall of Fame and James T. Gallagher, Commissioner Ford Frick's first assistant, have inspected Cook's figures Bob Carpenter, the owner of the Phillies, expressed some curiosity, and before the start of last season Cook computed the likely performance of the then seventh-place Phillies. He said they would finish with a winning percentage of .525. The Phils finished .537.