In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
, Robert M Pirsig dwells on a topic about which we often argue at Twins Daily: Truth. (*1) Given a finite amount of data – and there is always only a finite amount of data – the human imagination is capable of creating an infinite number of explanations for what that data shows. But ultimately, one strikes us as The Truth. It can feel like an epiphany, an absolute. But it’s really just the prettiest of the explanations of which we can conceive.
This is true even for scientific facts, like gravity (*2). It's even more true when there is less observable data, like say, watching the moves of your favorite baseball team's front office. We can speculate from the outside, but odds are the truths we think we've found are the truths that appeal to us and are likely to change.
My experience is that even when the people involved tell you The Truth, it's of limited value. They likely don't want to tell you the whole truth. It may even be that they don't understand it themselves.
At the press conference where the Twins introduced Ricky Nolasco, Terry Ryan was asked about whether the Twins philosophy is changing towards free agency. He replied that he didn't think so (*3), that they had always said that they would utilize free agency when it was appropriate, and this was certainly appropriate. He implied the difference was that they now had the resources.
That's a fine explanation, one that certainly can pass as The Truth for a limited set of facts. But there are other facts it doesn't explain. And the top one is that the Twins were in the exact same situation last year, and risked just $15 million on two pitchers, instead of the $73 million (and maybe more, soon) that they have already spent this year. In fact, last year, they under-spent their budget by $20 million.
This additional data point can also be explained an infinite number of ways. For instance,
1) Maybe an extra year of losing added more urgency.
2) Maybe last year the increase in prices surprised the Twins.
3) Maybe Ryan just wasn't accustomed to having money to spend.
4) Maybe they just like Nolasco and Phil Hughes more than any pitchers last year.
5) Maybe someone new in the front office gained influence and convinced the organization to spend the money.
6) Maybe someone above Terry Ryan in the Twins hierarchy convinced him to spend the money.
Or maybe the philosophy changed. Whichever truth you choose depends on which additional events you choose to include, and which explanation you find most appealing.
(*1)Actually, Robert M. Persig dwells on a lot of things, and they’re all wrapped inside an intriguing and somewhat gut-wrenching story that I should really re-read. And which you should too. It’s the offseason. Trust me on this one.
(*2)You might have trouble, even in the Twins Daily forums, arguing against gravity. But before Isaac Newton, people noticed that stuff tended to fall to earth. The accepted Truth was that objects had an “earthly nature” that made them return to earth. It wasn’t until Newton came along and started talking about the other heavenly bodies and how they were holding other objects in orbit, and creating formulas for how quickly things fell to earth, that the idea of gravity sunk in.
For the record, those previous “nature” ideas weren’t proposed by some dummy. This was Aristotlian (as in Aristotle) Physics. It was the truth for nearly two thousand years because it made sense to everyone. We accept gravity because it made even more sense once we started realizing the earth wasn’t the center of the universe.
And we might well throw it aside – and Albert Einstein already did as part of general relativity. Which, by the way, has been modified several times by various theories. Einstein doesn't have all matter attracting other matter. Rather, matter curves spacetime, bending objects in motion towards itself. And with that insufficient teaser, I and my one trimester of physics are disentangling ourselves from this explanation.
Instead, I choose to focus on this: we are talking about something that most would consider scientific fact, and yet every few hundred years, it’s modified as we recognize a different explanation as "truth" for why that apple falls on your head. They all explain the apple. But the one we accept at different times extends from additional facts and observations and is eventually adopted as the cleanest explanation. If scientific fact is that malleable, how absolute is any truth?
(*3) The question was asked by Wally Langfellow of Minnesota Score
magazine. Here was Ryan's entire reply:
“No, I don’t think so Wally. This isn’t a change in philosophy. We’ve always said, if we need to do something. Now we have the resources to do it; there’s no doubt. If we were still in the Metrodome, this probably wouldn’t happen. But we’re in Target Field. We’ve got more revenue and resources, certainly. This is a nice opportunity. We need pitching. We went out and got it.
As people recall, we tried to retain [Johan] Santana or retain Torii Hunter. To some extent, we just didn’t have the wherewithal. We would not hesitate to jump into free agency. I don’t think it’s the greatest path, because it is risky. We all know that. Free agency is not the answer. It’s a help and a supplement to a roster. But if you’re relying on free agency year-in and year-out, it’s not gonna work.
Now we’re in a situation where we need help. We need immediate help. And this is the reason Ricky is sitting here. But I don’t see this as a big change. Yeah, this is a nice contract for any player. But we’ve given out contracts of sizable worth and that lad over there on that poster [Ryan points to a picture of Joe Mauer] is a good example. He’s making a lot of money. We’re not afraid to do it, provided we get the right fit.”