|Stephen Jay Gould
Salon has a nice piece about Stephen Jay Gould.
A scientist for the rest of us
Whether infuriating sociobiologists or enchanting readers, Stephen Jay Gould liked messes and knew how to make hard thought look like fun.
Stephen Jay Gould, who died on Monday, belonged to no particular scientific sect and founded none. Almost all his battles were fought on his own. But the happy elegance of his style and the bewildering range of his interests allowed him to recruit the sympathies of every benevolent, well-read humanist to his various causes. No wonder he was hated so. He was the scientist for the rest of us.
Here is a great piece of his from The New York Review of Books.
The Streak of Streaks
My father was a court stenographer. At his less than princely salary, we watched Yankee games from the bleachers or high in the third deck. But one of the judges had season tickets, so we occasionally sat in the lower boxes when hizzoner couldn't attend. One afternoon, while DiMaggio was going 0 for 4 against, of all people, the lowly St. Louis Browns (now the even lowlier Baltimore Orioles), the great man fouled one in our direction. "Catch it, Dad," I screamed. "You never get them," he replied, but stuck up his hand like the Statue of Liberty — and the ball fell right in. I mailed it to DiMaggio, and, bless him, he actually sent the ball back, signed and in a box marked "insured." Insured, that is, to make me the envy of the neighborhood, and DiMaggio the model and hero of my life.
I met DiMaggio a few years ago on a small playing field at the Presidio of San Francisco. My son, wearing DiMaggio's old number 5 on his Little League jersey, accompanied me, exactly one generation after my father caught that ball. DiMaggio gave him a pointer or two on batting and then signed a ball for him. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.
My son, uncoached by Dad, and given the chance that comes but once in a lifetime, asked DiMaggio as his only query about life and career: "Suppose you had walked every time up during one game of your fifty-six–game hitting streak? Would the streak have been over?" DiMaggio replied that, under 1941 rules, the streak would have ended, but that this unfair statute has since been revised, and such a game would not count today.
My son's choice for a single question tells us something vital about the nature of legend. A man may labor for a professional lifetime, especially in sport or in battle, but posterity needs a single transcendant event to fix him in permanent memory. Every hero must be a Wellington on the right side of his personal Waterloo; generality of excellence is too diffuse. The unambiguous factuality of a single achievement is adamantine. Detractors can argue forever about the general tenor of your life and works, but they can never erase a great event.
In 1941, as I gestated in my mother's womb, Joe DiMaggio got at least one hit in each of fifty-six successive games. Most records are only incrementally superior to runners-up; Roger Maris hit sixty-one homers in 1961, but Babe Ruth hit sixty in 1927 and fifty-nine in 1921, while Hank Greenberg (1938) and Jimmy Foxx (1932) both hit fifty-eight. But DiMaggio's fifty-six–game hitting streak is ridiculously and almost unreachably far from all challengers (Wee Willie Keeler and Peter Rose, both with forty-four, come second). Among sabremetricians — a contentious lot not known for agreement about anything—we find virtual consensus that DiMaggio's fifty-six–game hitting streak is the greatest accomplishment in the history of baseball, if not all modern sport.