What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
In the throes of the “Cold War,” the “how we could accidentally blow the shit out of the entire planet” movie became quite popular. They were so popular that two of the best known of the genre were actually made at the same time and released within weeks of each other. The more famous of the two is “Dr. Strangelove;” one of the classic dark comedies of all time. But it is “Fail-Safe” that takes the straight approach to the “Doomsday” scenario.
In any event, they are both commentaries on how the bloated military-industrial complex was so geared for nuclear annihilation that it could only take the simplest of glitches to send us all twirling over the edge into a nuclear holocaust.
During a VIP visit to the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), at Offutt AFB in Omaha, Nebraska, an alert is initiated by USAF’s early warning radar that an unidentified flying object is making an unauthorized intrusion into American airspace. Defense protocols dictate that SAC must keep several bomber groups airborne 24 hours a day in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. Following the alert, bombers are ordered to proceed to predetermined aerial “fail-safe points” to await the final go-ahead before proceeding towards Soviet targets.
Shortly after they reach those points, the alert is canceled. The intruder is identified as an off-course civilian airliner. However, a computer error results in a “go code” being sent to one bomber group, ordering them to attack their predetermined target, Moscow. SAC headquarters begins trying to rescind the order. It fails because a new Soviet countermeasure has begun radio jamming communications between the bomber group and SAC. With his orders apparently confirmed, the US bomber group’s commander Colonel Jack Grady (Edward Binns), directs the group to continue to their target.
With pressure mounting, the President of the United States (Henry Fonda) and his advisers attempt to recall the group or shoot them down. Communications are initiated with the Soviet Chairman in which mistakes on both sides (the American accidental launch of the mission and the Soviet jamming) are acknowledged. The jamming ceases, but the crew follows their training and protocols and dismisses the counter-orders as a Soviet ruse.
The President struggles to find a resolution that will stop the Soviet Union from launching a counter-attack; if he fails, an all-out nuclear holocaust will be unavoidable. He offers to sacrifice an American target to appease the Soviets, and he orders an American bomber towards New York City. The President’s advisers in the Pentagon discover that the President has sacrificed the First Lady, who is visiting New York City.
The lone surviving American bomber destroys Moscow. The President orders General Black (Dan O’Herlihy), whose wife and children live in New York, to drop the same nuclear payload on that city, using the Empire State Building as ground zero. After releasing the bombs, Black, who is flying the bomber, commits suicide. The last scenes of the film show images of people in New York going about their daily lives, unaware that they are all about to be vaporized.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The soul of this analogy hits you in the opening scene and continues throughout the movie. The character of Professor Groeteschele (Walter Matthau) is one of those “number-cruncher” guys who everybody thinks is some sort of expert. In this case, he’s a military strategist who never wore a uniform extolling the virtues of “winning” a nuclear war based on the difference in numbers of lives lost in the tens of millions.
In that sense, Groeteschele is the prototypical “statistics” guy . For some reason, you can get people to swallow just about anything if you hook some impressive-sounding numbers to it. “Junk Science” and “Fake News” are the classic examples, and I reference the phenomenon of “Fake Statistics” in the most recent installment of “Ask J-Dub.”
If Professor Groeteschele were a baseball guy, he’d most certainly be one of those SABRmetrics jerks. These are the people who try to tell that RBIs don’t matter, rather the way to tell who is a more productive player than another is in their conjured numbers.
Here’s what I know. Baseball is a sport in which the team which scores the most runs in a game is the winner. That means a guy who produces a lot of runs is valuable. No witch’s brew of egg-head numbers is going to change that.
The Moral of the Story:
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to sports, there’s only two types of people who rely on statistics to drive a discussion. There’s the guy who doesn’t even watch the game, and there’s the guy who doesn’t understand the game. There is no other option. In other words, if somebody ever tries to tell you RBIs don’t matter, drop a 100-megaton thermonuclear warhead on them.