Archives for Baseball



Why Masahiro Tanaka’s Yankees Contract Is Good for Baseball

A few days ago, the New York Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a $155 million contract. As Bryan Hoch of MLB.com notes, this is the fifth-highest salary for a pitcher in Major League history.  But the Tanaka contract is different from the top four on the list.  The top four contracts went to pitchers who were already playing Major League Baseball.  Tanaka played last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league.  And while his 24-0 record – and 1.27 ERA – helped the Golden Eagles win the Japan Series title, we do not know how he will fare against MLB hitters. Despite this uncertainty, there is still a sense that this signing illustrates that the Yankees have an unfair advantage. Read More »



More Predictions, From Bad to Worse

Our “Folly of Prediction” podcast made these basic points:

Fact: Human beings love to predict the future.

Fact: Human beings are not very good at predicting the future.

Fact: Because the incentives to predict are quite imperfect — bad predictions are rarely punished — this situation is unlikely to change.

A couple of recent cases in point:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a particularly bad Atlantic hurricane season this year but, thankfully, were wrong, as noted by Dan Amira in New York magazine. It is hard to imagine that many people are unhappy about that. 

Here, as noted by Ira Stoll in the New York Sun, are the picks by ESPN experts at the start of the 2013 baseball season. How bad were their picks? Read More »



Those Brutal Ballplayers

Too much cheating, substance abuse, and violence among baseball players? Absolutely — 100 years ago. A great read from Tobias Seamon* in The Morning News:

Ty Cobb had a nervous breakdown in his rookie season; Pittsburgh’s Ed Doheny was committed to an asylum in 1903, with a local paper declaring “His Mind Is Thought To Be Deranged”; in 1907, Chick Stahl borrowed from the fiendish Bowery dive McGurk’s Suicide Hall and ingested carbolic acid; Patsy Tebeau, player-manager for the hard-drinking Cleveland Spiders in the 1890s, later shot himself; in 1900 Boston’s Marty Bergen slit his throat after killing his wife and two children with an axe; Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn, who had half of his face blown off in a hunting accident, became demented from syphilis; the notorious drunk Bugs Raymond of the New York Giants once illustrated his curve by hurling a mug through a restaurant’s plate-glass window; Mike “King” Kelly drank himself into an early grave but not before creating the devil-may-care jock stereotype in America.

*He is also married to my niece.



Why Doesn’t the Government Fix Sporting Events?

This blog has clever readers. One of them, Corey Forbes, writes in to say:

We know that point shaving, game throwing, match fixing and referee scandals have existed in professional and college sports since as long ago as the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Knowing this, why doesn’t the U.S. Government just fix a sporting event(s) to pay off its debts … or are they doing this already?

I love the “or are they doing this already?”

Anyway: why not indeed (other than the potential p.r. and financial disasters)?



More on Ty Cobb From His Biographer’s Son

Our “Legacy of a Jerk” podcast covered the notorious legacy of baseball great Ty Cobb, whom history has recorded as an ungracious and vicious human being. But the writer Charlie Leerhsen, who is working on a new biography of Cobb, says this reputation is undeserved — and, moreover, is largely the product of one man’s assessment, that man being an earlier Cobb biographer named Al Stump.

We recently heard from Stump’s son John, and his note is well worth a read:

It was with interest that I read the exchange on Ty Cobb. I’ll disclose that I’m Al Stump’s son and that Charlie Leerhsen and I have communicated earlier in this year, once by phone call and a number of emails. One thought is that while I do agree about human projection on things that are negative, by Vohs’s point of view it also seems that we can never objectively say anything negative about Cobb, for ex. w/o it being this shadow projection. How can we get to the objective truth then?

Read More »



The Man Who Changed Professional Sports

Marvin Miller passed away last week.  When this happened I immediately began work on a post detailing the important impact Miller’s work — as the first leader of the Major League Baseball Players Association — had on sports.  And then I noticed that many other people had the same idea (see Jayson Stark, Jon Wertheim, Lester Munson, and Richard Justice – among many others).  Given all the wonderful writing on Miller’s life and career, I decided to focus on how Miller impacted our understanding of both sports and economics. 

Such a post… well, I could write more than a few thousand words on just that topic.   Since few people want to read that many words at a blog, I am going to focus on Miller’s work to end baseball’s reserve clause (and what that has meant for baseball, sports, and economics).

Our story begins back in the 19th century. As noted in a wonderful article by E. Woodrow Eckard in the Journal of Sports Economics, the National League began in 1876 with a labor market quite similar to the markets we tend to observe outside of sports.  Read More »



Does the “Best” Team Win the World Series?

It’s been a few days. And although I ain’t over it yet, I think I can write about the Detroit Tigers losing the World Series.

When the playoff in baseball began, 10 teams – and their fans – were very happy.  But the playoffs being what they are, we knew that only one team – and its fans – would actually be happy when the whole thing was over.

After the best-of-five series, the Tigers – and this fan – were quite happy.  When the Tigers swept the Yankees, I was very happy.  And then when the Giants swept the Tigers… okay, I wasn’t happy anymore.

So what did the Tigers and all the other “losers” (and yes, that includes the Yankees) learn from the playoffs? Read More »



The All-Star Game Incentive?

The Tigers (bravo!) and Giants are in the World Series, with possibly 4 of 7 games to be played in San Francisco. The majority of games will be played there because the extra game (if necessary) goes to the team representing the league that won the All-Star Game. The purpose of the rule (adopted in 2003) is to offer players and managers an incentive to provide more effort in the All-Star Game. I’m doubtful that this incentive matters much. First, with large teams each player is to some extent a free-rider — why risk injury, why strain yourself, if your efforts have little effect? That is especially true if by July you realize that your team has no chance of making it into the Series. Second, and even more important, I doubt that any player or manager’s effort is very responsive to this kind of incentive.