Between The Lines

The stories behind this issue’s stories.

Baseball by the Numbers

The Oakland A’s love statistics, which is why stat-loving fans love the A’s. Sabermetricians, as they call themselves (after the acronym for the numbers-heavy Society for American Baseball Research), have adopted A’s general manager Billy Beane, subject of “How to Play Beane Ball” (page 80), as their patron saint of diamond data.


But the biggest news in stats has been produced by the guy who turned sabermetrics into a cottage industry, a former security guard in Lawrence, Kansas named Bill James. Last November, the Boston Red Sox hired James as the club’s senior adviser on personnel matters. Just as thrilling was James’s unveiling of “win shares,” a new stat that was five years in the making. The idea isn’t easily condensed, but basically, it assigns players fractions of their team’s wins based on individual hitting, pitching, and fielding performance.

Baseball fans may wonder, Which key metrics does Beane load into his own models? He’s not saying — which is one reason why the A’s keep winning. – Keith H. Hammonds

Rob Burnett’s Other Top Lists

I interviewed Rob Burnett (“Who Ever Said Comedy Had to Be Fun?” page 92) during his first time directing an episode of Ed, the NBC show that he cocreated on behalf of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants. He came prepared for the downtime associated with TV — the frequent lulls that take place as the lights, camera, props, extras, stand-ins, and, finally, the actors are readied for the next shot — with a memory game that he had practiced during his 40-minute commute to the New Jersey set from Connecticut.

“Give me 16 random words — 16 things — and I’ll repeat the list back to you,” he tells me and two cast members, Justin Long and Nicki Aycox. We take turns: “1. Lug nut. 2. Clock. 3. Potato. 4. Defibrillator. . . .”

“Okay,” Burnett says after each item. After we complete the list (“16. Cavity”), he pauses as if recalling an old phone number, and then repeats it back to us verbatim.

Needless to say, we are impressed.


A week later, I return to the set and pull out the 16-item list. Uh-oh. In the last week, Burnett says, he has memorized even more lists. Still, he gets about two-thirds right.

“Let’s start a new one,” he suggests. This time, he memorizes 50 words on the spot.

“You’re a freak of nature,” one crew member comments.

Although Burnett doubts the practicality of this new skill — beyond being a great party trick — his assistant, Nellie Stevens, says that it will definitely come in handy on the job. “Rob is always juggling several things at once,” says Stevens. “Some days, he can’t even remember where he put his keys or wallet.” – Chuck Salter

When is a Car Like a Computer?

According to Tim Benner, codesigner of the Honda Element and a Fast Talk participant (see “Hard Drive,” page 55), it’s when a new car evokes the same kind of passion as a new Apple product. “People who buy Macs are different,” says Benner, who spent time with surfers, mountain bikers, and extreme-sports enthusiasts as part of the creative process behind the Element. Mac loyalists “don’t want to buy into the mainstream. The Element exudes that.”

The car’s appeal, Benner likes to think, is psychographic rather than demographic. “[Codesigner] Eric Schumaker met an older person the other day who bought an Element. He’s an artist, kinda funky. He just has a certain mind-set that likes the concept. That’s a good feeling.” – Ryan Underwood