Monday, July 27, 2009

Hall and Rose 

Funny that, while I'm finishing a post-conference re-write of my old paper on Hall of Fame voting in Major League Baseball (when we get it to the editors, we'll post a link on my research page), I find out Pete Rose might get reinstated and thus could be considered for the Hall. My ex-producer Matt Reynolds called and was livid about this.

I think Buster Olney has it about right (link for Insider subscribers):
When I first saw the story, I was surprised to feel this: total ambivalence.

Rose was an extraordinary player whose passion for success is reflected in his remarkable records: ... He was a great player who holds a unique place in the game's history. This is inarguable.

And so is this: During the past two decades, his behavior has been appalling. He has been nothing less than a lowlife. ...

If he's reinstated, that really doesn't ensure that the Veterans Committee would vote him into the Hall Fame. Undoubtedly, some members of that committee will argue that Rose always has considered himself to be above the rules, and given that, some won't want him in the club.

But quite frankly, Rose's legacy won't be affected one way or another by his inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

If he's honored at Cooperstown, he'll always be a dishonored former star. And he'll sell the moment.

And the rules for HOF voting are quite clear -- it would be the Veterans Committee who would vote on him, as he's been out of baseball more than 20 years (last played in 1986.) At the bottom of this press release (when Joe Gordon was elected by the VC) is a list of all the players who are on that committee. The Committee includes several former teammates of Rose: Bench, Carlton, Morgan, Perez, Schmidt, to name five. Hank Aaron says Rose belongs in the Hall. So it's not inconceivable that he could be put in.

As I remind people during our presentations on HOF voting, the Hall of Fame is a museum with an educational mission. It is ultimately up to its board of directors (which, by the way, includes Joe Morgan) to decide not only if Rose should be enshrined but how. It would be consistent with an educational mission to admit Rose but provide a full context of his career, including his journey into ignominy. Olney's ambivalence could be captured in a good museum display, and people could consider why baseball has rules on betting. It could create a display on the Black Sox perhaps next to Rose's.

I rather hope it does. It would be good practice for the coming storm over Barry Bonds.

Agree or disagree? You could comment to me, or you could write to the Veterans Committee yourself here, or by regular mail to Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008


On October 25, 1986, the Red Sox stood at the doorstep of championship. In St. Cloud, a young man stood at the bar of the Americana Inn and, as the bottom of the 10th inning started, leaned over to the bartender, who he knew from the local university, and said "we're about to witness something special." Calvin Schiraldi got the first two outs and the young man said "let's make sure everyone in the bar has something to drink to salute the Sox if they win." Almost immediately the man, young but first steeped as a lad in the Red Sox during the Impossible Dream season of 1967, knew he had done something wrong, as Schiraldi gave up two hits.

The rest of the story you know. Bob Stanley came in, dueled Mookie Wilson for ten pitches, and then got a ground ball that looked like an out. Except it wasn't. It went through Bill Buckner's legs.

The scorn heaped on Buckner by bitter Red Sox fans is of course legendary. (My favorite story is the person who tied a baseball to a string and the string to his back belt loop and wearing a Sox jersey went to a costume party. When asked who he was he bent over and looked between his legs and announced he was Buckner.) Buckner apologists insist that the fault laid at the feet of manager John McNamara for not pulling the injured Buckner -- he had had a horrific post-season due to his bad ankles, and Dave Stapleton was on the bench specifically for replacing Buckner in the field and was available -- but few will note that the Red Sox still had a Game Seven, where Schiraldi gave up a bomb to Ray Knight that broke a tie in the seventh inning.

But it wasn't Buckner's fault. He didn't buy the drinks in the bar in St. Cloud. (A few years ago Michael Keaton was in a movie called Game 6 as a playwright missing his opening night to watch that game. I ruined it for him too.) And he didn't hang a slider to Ray Knight.

Buckner has had real difficulty coming to grips with the angst of Red Sox fans over that night, As most will know, he went to Idaho and didn't talk about the event for years. Even when he started signing photographs on tour with Wilson, he would not discuss the night, or the reaction of the fans.

Until Tuesday, when after the World Championship rings were handed out, the first pitch belonged to Billy Buck:

After all the ceremony, the handing out of rings and hoisting of the championship banner and introducing of Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics legends, there was Buckner walking out from left field to the mound. He walked slowly, perhaps a remnant of those aching ankles and knees that marred his career. And as he walked, the fans cheered.

They stood, their ovation carrying him from the outfield through the infield to the mound, where he acknowledged them and clapped. They stood after that, still cheering, as he looked around, as he readied himself, as he threw a strike to Evans at home plate.

"Just seeing him walk out, I couldn't have been happier for him," Evans said. "This guy had tremendous numbers, total stats, and I don't even know if he got a couple votes for the Hall of Fame, which I really think is a shame.

"No one played harder than Bill. No one prepared themselves as well as Bill Buckner did, and no one wanted to win as much as Bill Buckner.

I saw him at the Metrodome once after 1986. He was with the Royals then, and as he walked to the plate I felt myself first getting a little angry, the frustration of the '86 Series still right there below the surface. Glad I was in Minnesota, where you don't boo players much. That probably kept it in check.

He grounded out, laboring up the line, running it out even though at his age and in his hobbled state it would have been fine for him to trot 50 feet and turn right to the dugout. But no, that wasn't the right way to play. He played the right way. He always had played the right way.

And one young guy from St. Cloud stood up and clapped.

And silently apologized for buying those drinks.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No excuses 

As sure as it is warming up outside (or getting to the busy season of an academic schedule, which is the period between the end of 'spring' break and commencement), it's time for baseball again. I keep reading how it's harmful for Boston and Oakland to be required to play meaningful games in Japan and then travel back to the States. I have two answers for this. First, it's silly to have them stay in the country this long for two nights' work. If I go overseas for three or four days, my answer is simply to keep myself on US time as much as I can. Even if I time-shift, it doesn't take me a week to shift back when I get home. There are other adjustments you can make, such as using a scrub player for your Japan game and then send him to the minors, or play your next exhibition games in L.A. to take off three hours from the shift.

But I'm sorry, there's no reason for bellyaching about the Red Sox being penalized by the schedule. If the Sox don't win the pennant, nobody is going to go back and say they lost it somewhere over the Pacific. Besides, ownership has to be happy selling all that swag.

We went on the road, we're 1-1. If they get back to Boston a game over .500, it's all good.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Parity even there 

Frank Stephenson questions a comment by Allen Sanderson on why NFL teams don't invest more in their player personnel. Regarding Mitch's Bears' choice of quarterback,
...what if a better quarterback (which means almost anyone since the imcumbent is Rex Grossman) allowed the Bears to charge higher ticket prices while selling out Soldier Field? This source indicates that stadium "gate" revenue is spilt 60-40 between the home and visiting teams, respectively. Thus, even a team could reap a large, though not complete, share of revenue generated by a QB upgrade.
I had thought about playoff revenue as a motivator. The players only get $18,000 per game in the playoffs, and thought team revenues would help with that. True, the teams only get $500k-$600k from the league for playoff games (less than a million for the conference championship, and about $3.5 million for the conference winner), but I am wondering who gets the concession revenue? Concession and parking prices can be adjusted upwards for playoff games. If it's the home team (or, possibly, its subsidiary that runs the stadium) that, along with player cost control, might provide some serious incentives.

What we know from baseball -- where the home team bags a much bigger share of the revenue both during the season and post-season -- is that a player has the highest value to a team that is in a big market and to a team that is on the edge between making and not making the playoffs. The steep price increase for players of above average major league talent is an indicator of that. If Stephenson is right, a Lorenz curve of player values versus salaries should show much more evenness for football than for baseball.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

About this Clemens thing 

My Patriot producer (sometimes known as Antoine) thinks Rocket came out the better of the hearings, though he says criminal charges might still proceed.
Overall, it was a terrible day for McNamee, a bad day for the Mitchell Report and an OK day for Clemens. McNamee looked like a villain, The Mitchell Report an unknowing accomplice and Clemens came off looking like he was the most trustworthy of the shady bunch.


1 The Rocket will end up in the Hall of Fame, mostly likely on the second ballot, and he'll probably go as a Yankee. ...

2 McNamee and Clemens will both be charged with perjury. McNamee on the steroid lies and Clemens for his comments about the Mitchell Report not trying very hard to contact him.
I'm still confounded by the faith people seem to have in the Pettitte statement, included in this complete set of affadavits, depositions and testimony. The man has admitted to cheating, and then in his affadavit says only at one point had Clemens said anything about using HGH, only that he had heard the stuff worked. But at least we are left to think everyone believes Pettitte's statement is truthful. It just doesn't help me decide anything about which of these men are lying. And meanwhile Mike Mussina's right: Pettitte is in for a difficult spring, and not just because he's behind in his training.

Still, there's something more than a bit grating about Clemens' repeated use of the word "misremembered", a word that just doesn't sound like something a good ol' boy uses. It sounds like a lawyer word, acted out by a guy used to bright cameras and pressure. That McNamee looked bad in comparison to Roger should come as no surprise to anyone: There are about 500 pitchers who have suffered that same fate on a mound pitching against him. I didn't watch, and am glad I didn't; those who did I suspect are victims of a oral version of a curveball.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

When I became a stathead 

My father's side of the family didn't have many children -- my own family includes a brother and sister, making ours the largest. Dad's two brothers never married. So my cousins from his oldest sister were often around as big brothers for me, the oldest, even though they lived 40 miles away. I looked up to Gary, the younger one, in particular.

This became harder as Gary went through high school and experimented with drugs. I have never known what happened exactly, but apparently something he took triggered a psychological reaction from which he never really recovered. He lived with my aunt all his life, unable to hold regular work, and eventually died several years ago.

Still, whenever I was in town (the town of my parents' origin, not my own Manchester) I would try to stop by and see Gary, and share the passion of the Red Sox. Around 1980 or 1981, when I was in graduate school, I flew back to see family and stopped in on him. He had a book that looked homemade, and in it were a bunch of numbers and some writing. It was opened to a page titled "Boston Red Sox". It was a copy of the 1980 (or 1981 -- I really think it was 1980, but I can't be sure) Baseball Abstract by Bill James. As I read, I started to see numbers that I didn't associate with baseball before, like runs created or isolated power.

"Oh King," Gary said, "have you seen this book before?"


"You should read it. There are a lot more statistics in baseball than you see on TV."

Now, like some other guys who go into quantitative fields (which was why I first went into econ), I had been brought up on calculating batting and slugging averages. (I had kind of heard of on-base percentage, but not really.) As Gary and I talked after that, he revealed some intricate knowledge of the process of creating runs, breaking down getting on base, advancing runners, scoring runners, preventing runs, etc. We both admitted that while we first and foremost hate the Yankees, the guy that we didn't want to play an important game against was Earl Weaver, because that guy was smart. And Gary read things James had written about the Orioles and Yankees as well as the Red Sox. The conversation lasted the rest of the game.

I went back to Claremont a couple of days later. I found a copy of the Abstract, and bought it that year and every year thereafter. I still have nearly all of them (a second set, as my first set was water-damaged in storage years ago. I'm still missing a couple of issues.)

At that moment, my understanding of baseball changed. A shift in how one looked at the world of baseball. And in passing, a realization that the statistics we focus on sometimes in other areas, like economics, do not say what we think they say. It's motivated much of my work, including some writing I'm doing this summer. (As they say, watch this space.)

As years passed, any time I visited Gary's house we would talk baseball and Bill James. While Gary's gone, Bill James has gone on to help our Red Sox win the World Series a few years ago and become one of the 100 most influential persons, according to an interview with him this morning in the Wall Street Journal. One of the great things about James is that he is not a stathead; he's a writer who can talk and analyze baseball as it is, and understands the limits of his own insights.
People think they understand how to win in baseball much more than they really do ... The scouts see a lot of things that I can't see. And some of the things they see I have learned to see. But some of the things they see I can't see at all. And I'm not suggesting it's not real, it's just that I can't see it. There is no reason for there to be a conflict. The conflict exists only when people think they know more than they do.
Some years ago I quoted James saying this:
I thought that if I proved convincingly that X was a stupid thing to do, that people would stop doing X. I was wrong. People would just keep saying X.
For a writer, an analyst, or a professor, those are valuable lessons to learn. I give thanks to Gary for introducing me to that world.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Life is good 

Baseball begins, and even on the Commissioner's blog I can learn that Curt Schilling has a blog. Dean Barnett has thrown out the first CHB. Now the question is, does he read SoSH?

(Not lived in New England for nearly thirty years, but I still love the Boston sports media fights, which even have a blog of their own too.)

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