I have faith in numbers and look intently for the stories that they are trying to tell. If you are patient, they reveal themselves. Sometimes subtle, sometimes as plain as a biscuit and sausage on a breakfast menu. A good numbers story just lays it all out there for you to digest.
That is what I learned from the beginning of my romance with the storytelling capabilities of numbers, especially stats, which I trace to winter nights at the farm kitchen breakfast table, long ago, when Mom and I listened over a small, red transistor radio to Jim “Zippermouth” Zabel as he called the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball games.
We liked hoops – had one in the farm driveway and another in the haymow for when the weather turned snowy and cold. My mom was good at the game in her high school years – or at least those were the stories we heard. Like my dad, I was good with numbers and just OK with the ball in my hands. In math, I had always tested at the top of my class – from ITEDs (Iowa Test for Educational Development) right up through ACTs. I was the nerd who liked being called to solve the algebra equation on the blackboard in front of the rest of the class. In hoops, I made varsity, a starter my senior year. But our teams were middling and our school tiny. So, yeah, not much competition for a uniform and a spot, really.
But math? I could dunk it one-handed.
I enjoyed scoring Iowa on those game nights, using my own crude method, tabulating it all after the end of the game, double checking with Zabel, who gave a stat recap before signing off, and then coming back to it after school the following day, checking my work against the sports reporters at the Des Moines Register. That was the capital city morning paper that would be delivered in the afternoon way out in the rural recesses of west central Iowa.
Not certain exactly what season I first started charting the Hawks, but I am guessing it would have been in sixth grade or so, having warmed to the task from watching older brothers play their junior high and high school games and knowing what stats were important to keep – beyond points scored. That was back in the days of John Johnson, “Downtown” Freddy Brown and Glenn “The Stick” Vidnovic, Coach Frank Miller’s “Six Pack,” an Iowa team that went 14-0 in conference play and averaged a Big Ten record 102.9 points per league game – a record that stands. The boys scored more than 100 points in a game nine times. And that was before the era of the three-point goal.
Well, this is a pretty long intro, unintended, to some stats that I have run into of late that, I think, are just trying to tell a story or two – or are begging for further explanation.
Maybe we just need to be patient to see where these numbers take us.
For instance, Del. Mick Bates, who switched his political party affiliation on Wednesday, from Democrat to Republican, said he wanted to have more of a voice in the Legislature and felt he had to be a part of the supermajority to do that.
The numbers I am thinking of? 78 and 23. Bates was one of 23 Democrats in the House, and was in a leadership position. His voice, one of 23, carried weight in his caucus. Now, his is one of 78 – and he is the last one in. Dead last. Behind, you know, all of those other politicians who went out and won elections – as Republicans. So, I wonder how many of those Republicans are going to listen to a Johnny-come-lately – as No. 78. The GOP certainly doesn’t need his vote.
Here’s another: 150. That’s the number of Republicans – former governors, members of Congress, Cabinet officials and the like – who issued a statement, threatening the GOP with a mass exodus if it does not abandon the subservience to former president Donald Trump.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post, five of them wrote, “The Republican Party made a grievous error this week in ousting Rep. Liz Cheney from the House leadership for telling the truth about Donald Trump’s ‘big lie.’”
And that was preceded by this: In internal polling by the National Republican Congressional Committee, Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in core battleground districts.
If you are a Republican in Congress, those are not the kind of coattails you are looking to ride.
There is also this: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, an analysis of voting records by The New York Times found that nearly 140,000 Republicans had quit the party across 25 states that had readily available data. Voting experts, according to a story in the Times, said the data indicated a stronger-than-usual flight from a political party after a presidential election.
And one more: In that banner season, in the last game of the regular season with the conference title on the line, Iowa overcame a 61-point scoring explosion by Purdue’s Rick Mount to clinch the Big Ten title, 108-107.
The story? Team ball matters and can overcome a performance by any individual.
— J. Damon Cain is editor of The Register-Herald. To reach him, email email@example.com.