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ESPN baseball columnist/feature writer
Former editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus
Co-author of “The Only Rule Is It Has To Work”
The writer Kurt Vonnegut once took to a chalkboard to lecture on the simple shapes that most popular stories follow. In his first example — “Man in Hole” — a protagonist starts around the middle of the X-axis. As time passes on the Y-axis, he falls into a terrible hole — a line curves down to near the bottom — but then he gets out of it and ends up better off than he started. “People love that story!” Vonnegut said. “They never get sick of it.”
Vonnegut “didn’t care or know squat about sports,” except when he was writing cranky letters to the local newspaper about how “Little League baseball has wrecked the American supper hour.” The story shapes he drew in that lecture, though, could be seen as a precursor to a now-common visual in professional sports: the win expectancy graph, with its X-axis measuring a team’s fortunes across the Y-axis of time.
In a 2005 essay, Vonnegut ultimately suggested five story shapes, but postseason baseball shows