Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
- George Santaya
You’ve probably heard this historical quote before, but the truth is that Santaya never said it, or at least that is not what he wrote. What he actually wrote was “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santaya wasn’t even talking about history – he was talking about change and retention.
Which means that the quote most often used to justify studying history isn’t itself accurate. Apparently, we’re open to learning from history, so long as we can mold it to say what we want it to say.
I’ve felt the same way over the last month reading the various requiems by bloggers, sportswriters and talk show hosts about the Twins disappointing season. They differ on the importance of various mistakes, but they seem united in one point – that the Twins should have been able to foresee this stuff. And that the Twins need to learn from their mistakes so they don’t make them again.
I’m not so sure. As I look at the performances of many of the players and compare them to my own expectations, I see a lot of gambles that didn’t work out, and very few that did. In short, I see a fair amount of bad luck, and not something that can necessarily be learned from.
Rather than go through the various criticisms, try doing the following: name all the Twins who disappointed you this season and compare them to all the ones who outperformed your expectations. Go ahead, try it.
My list of those who clearly performed worse than expectations (because of injuries or otherwise) includes Nick Punto, Rondell White, Jeff Cirillo, Jason Bartlett, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Denys Reyes, Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon, Glen Perkins and Boof Bonser.
And here are the ones who have exceeded expectations: Torii Hunter, Scott Baker, Carlos Silva and Matt Garza.
It doesn’t have anything to do with signing mediocrity or over-emphasizing speed or trusting veterans too much. It has to do with too many bad years by too many players. About the only thing we might be able to learn is that expectations for some of these guys may need to be altered. But for most of them, I’m not even sure that’s appropriate.
So I’d urge readers to be careful when reading or listening to these orations. Ask yourself if what they’re proposing is really the lesson we should learn. Or whether we should instead listen to a different quote attributed to Santaya:
History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there.