Baseball Archives

October 17, 2003



Re: Argh

Woo hoo!

(Hey, we long-suffering New York fans haven't had a World Series appearance in nearly three years! )

(Two being nearly three.)

October 25, 2003


2-0 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

November 18, 2003

Wrong question

In discussing the recent book Moneyball, in which author Michael Lewis profiles Oakland As General Manager Billy Beane, Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution observed:

An obvious question: if it is so hard to measure the performance of first basemen, when there is a slew of publicly available statistics, how about the rest of the economy?
It's an important insight -- and one about which I'll have more to say in the near future -- but it's not the most troubling one which one can take away from the book.

In fact, it isn't that hard to measure the performance of first basemen. Oh, I don't mean to imply that sabermetrics (the study of baseball) is as well understood as physics or as well documented as chemistry, but the field is no longer in its primitive stages, either, and there are well-established theories and methods. The real problem with baseball isn't the difficulty of measurement, but the difficulty of overcoming entrenched interests who are threatened by new ideas.

It's the equivalent of the difference between understanding the benefits of free trade and convincing politicians that they should support free trade. You're not going to find many mainstream economists who thought that George Bush's steel tariffs were a good idea, but that didn't seem to have much of an impact on the people imposing them -- perhaps because they had an interest in doing so. Similarly with baseball: it's not that you can't measure a first baseman's performance with all the statistics that are collected, but that if you can, people currently in positions of power within the industry, who are comfortable with existing techniques but not the new ones, will face losing their jobs to those who are skilled with both. So they have an incentive to denigrate the idea that these new methods work. (Perhaps a better analogy than steel tariffs is school vouchers. Certainly there are unresolved issues about measuring how well they work, but the real problem is that the people who would be directly affected -- the school bureaucrats and teachers -- have no interest in even trying.)

The primary question one has after reading this book is not "How can we possibly hope to measure the economy, given the statistics we have?" but "How can we possibly hope to get people to try new ideas when they got where they were using old ideas?"

By the way, Moneyball is wonderful; and I recommend it to anybody who has even a tiny bit of interest in baseball. Lewis is an excellent writer (I also recommend his fascinating, though somewhat dated, Liar's Poker), and he makes a topic which could be dry into a page-turner. Those with a more intimate knowledge of the subject matter will see that Lewis's understanding of the topic is somewhat superficial, but the book is still a great read, and it provides a window into the behind-the-scenes operations of a baseball team that you can't get from the sports pages.

December 1, 2003

Worldly wise

Some legends just can't be stopped from spreading, and even smart people fall prey to them. Case in point: Eugene Volokh writes about chutzpah:

It's almost as bad as some people naming a championship contest a "World Series" when the only eligible teams come from two countries, and all but two of the teams come from one country.

UPDATE: Yes, I had heard that the name "the World Series" came from the name of the newspaper that sponsored it. I lack the inclination to check this out in detail, but even if it's true, that's not quite how it's actually understood these days by 99.44% of baseball fans, no?

In fact, Eugene's initial comment was more-or-less correct, and his update was wrong.

As Doug Pappas, who heads the Society for American Baseball Research's Business of Baseball Committee, wrote:

In fact, the postseason series between the AL and NL champs was originally known as the "Championship of the World" or "World's Championship Series." That was shortened through usage to "World's Series" and finally to "World Series."

This usage can be traced through the annual baseball guides. Spalding's Base Ball Guide for 1887 reported the results of the 1886 postseason series between Chicago, champions of the National League, and St. Louis, champions of the American Association, under the heading "The World's Championship." As the editor noted, the two leagues "both entitle their championship contests each season as those for the base ball championship of the United States," so a more grandiose name was required to describe the postseason showdown between the two "champions of the United States."


Moreover, the New York World never claimed any connection with postseason baseball. The World was a tabloid much given to flamboyant self-promotion. If it had been involved in any way with sponsoring a championship series, the fact would have been emblazoned across its sports pages for months. I reviewed every issue of the World for the months leading up to the 1903 and 1905 World's Championship Series -- there's not a word suggesting any link between the paper and the series.

I suspect this myth sprang into being because, while seeming plausible, it enabled those spreading it to sound slightly more sophisticated than the average person, who leaps to the conclusion that World Series is to be taken literally. But sometimes first guesses are correct, and this is one of those times.

(Note further that the charge of "arrogance" is not entirely fair; when the series originated, American baseball was world baseball. Also note that while the involved teams themselves are based in only two countries, the participating players come from around the world.)

January 27, 2004

Prohibitive Acts

In case you were wondering, here's why you've never seen Roger Clemens play jai alai.

March 27, 2004

I only read it for the pictures

In the midst of the back-and-forth about responsibility for 9/11, we might wonder whether it could have been prevented, whether the government devoted enough attention to the problem of terrorism. Then we might wonder why, given the massive federal budget, they couldn't do more. With millions of federal employees, what was the problem?

Well, to get an idea, read this obscene story of government misallocation of resources. (Warning: not office-safe.) For months, an undercover federal agent was paid... to work out at a gym. And it wasn't because members of Al Qaeda trained there.

Ronnie can barely think about tomorrow. The week's workouts have taken their toll -- on his way out he grabs at a twinge deep inside his shoulder that feels like a torn muscle. But there's no stopping now, because Ronnie G. is on a mission. He is actually Iran White, a top undercover cop sure that he's about to crack the biggest case of his career. He has worn a wire and kept a Glock stuffed in his waistband for two months, all in a daring attempt to get close to Anderson and, ultimately, to Bonds himself. White is armed because he's looking for juice: He's on a hunt for steroids.
Yes, steroids. At a time when national security was, and is, of paramount importance, the federal government was, and is, investigating steroid use. What prompted this investigation? Was it a rumor that Islamic terrorists were dealing steroids to fund their operations? Nope; it was just a personal vendetta:
To White, [IRS agent] Novitzky -- who did not participate in this article -- seemed to have an unusual interest in the ballplayer. He mentioned Bonds frequently after a sighting or a Giants game. One day at court Novitzky struck up a conversation with White that went beyond the usual talk-radio banter.

"That Bonds. He's a great athlete," White says Novitzky told him. "You think he's on steroids?"

White took a moment before replying, in his bourbon-and-cotton voice, "I think they're all on steroids. All of our top major leaguers."

Novitzky seemed to care only about Bonds. "He's such an asshole to the press," he said. "I'd sure like to prove it."

Yes, the major investigation was prompted by a guy who wanted to prove that Barry Bonds was using steroids because he wasn't friendly to sports reporters. What this has to do with the federal government isn't exactly clear; what this has to do with the IRS's mission is even less obvious.

Surely, though, other law enforcement officials would inject some sanity into the mix, right? Nope. They were just as eager to go after the steroids. Why?

A few weeks after the April 17 meeting, White, Novitzky and a handful of other agents meet at the San Jose Federal building. According to White, Novitzky names Bonds, Jason Giambi and other major leaguers as targets of the investigation. Cracking down on BALCO just for money laundering would never merit such energy from law enforcement, but a connection to Bonds would launch it into headlines around the country. Prosecutor Nedrow sets the tone. "Gentlemen, this case is going to have to be done by the numbers," he says. "With all of the attorneys and the athletes, everything and everybody will be under scrutiny."
(Emphasis added.) Well, there you go. Headlines. Always an important consideration for law enforcement.

Yes, this is what government is wasting your money on, while claiming they need more money for "first responders" in the event of terrorism.

(The punch line to this joke of a story, incidentally, is that after all this work, Barry Bonds and other athletes were given immunity to testify against BALCO et al. before a grand jury. In other words, the feds couldn't get enough evidence to prosecute Bonds for anything, and indeed couldn't get enough evidence to prosecute the BALCO people without the help of the athletes.)

October 20, 2004


Three words:


(Yes, DSL is back. But this is why I haven't been blogging much lately. Some things are more important than presidential elections and bad reporting.)

June 28, 2005

Slimy politician of the daymonth

Republican Congressman Tom Davis, last known for holding Congressional hearings on the key national security issue of the private lives of major league baseball players, is at it again. With all major national problems resolved, he has come up with a new issue to focus Congressional attention on: who should own a major league baseball team.

One might think that would be an issue for a private business to work out -- but as the Supreme Court showed just last week, in the modern world of Washington DC, there's no such thing as private business.

The hearings chaired by Davis a couple of months ago, as outrageous as they were, at least theoretically bore some distant relationship to federal policy. One may question -- and so I do -- why the federal government would have a policy on steroid use, but it does, so there's some logic in holding hearings on the subject.

But now? Now Davis is threatening partisan retaliation against Major League Baseball if they allow someone he doesn't like to own a team:

Republicans in Congress threatened Major League Baseball on Monday with repeal of its antitrust exemption if billionaire financier George Soros is involved in buying the Washington Nationals.

Soros, who contributed more than $20 million to groups in an attempt to unseat President Bush last year, recently joined an ownership group led by entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky.


"I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes," House Government Reform chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., told Roll Call.

"I don't think they want to get involved in the political fights."

Davis, who convened the recent congressional hearings on steroids, added, "I don't think it's the Nats that get hurt. I think it's Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions from antitrust laws."

No misprint there. Davis is threatening to impose special federal regulations on MLB if they allow a staunch Democrat to become a minority owner of a baseball team.

Predictably, Democrats show that they Just Don't Get It:

Said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee, in a statement: "Tom Davis should be charged with an error for this abusive political power play.

"It should be offensive not just to Democrats, but to all voting Americans that Republicans might manipulate the legislative process for partisan purposes in response to the potential purchase of a baseball team by someone who does not support the current Republican agenda."

Miller's right: it is offensive. But Tom Davis is merely a symptom of the problem. And ultimately, George Miller is just as guilty as Davis is. After all, Miller was gung-ho about participating in Davis's earlier steroids hearings. Miller's complaint isn't abuse of government power; Miller's complaint is just that the victim of that abuse is now on his side of the aisle.

What Miller will never acknowledge -- being a Big (or is it Huge?) Government Democrat -- is that Tom Davis can make such threats because people like George Miller empowered him to do so.

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