Thursday, June 24, 2004

Thursday Night Miscellany

A few things I've been meaning to mention:

It takes a lot for me to root for the Yankees. If they were playing a team of Soviet supermen who had just killed Apollo Creed, they'd have my support. Tonight's game comes close to that kind of moral contrast.

It's Jose Contreras vs. Sidney Ponson. I have nothing against Ponson and I even like the Orioles, but there's more to it. Contreras is a Cuban defector who was just reunited with his wife and two daughters, who had been held on the island until they bolted in speedboat with 18 other refugees.
Ponson's boss is a man who thinks MLB teams shouldn't sign defectors for fear that they be encouraged to defect. Heavens forbid!
So, tonight I say Go Yankees.

UPDATE Man, am I an idiot. Contreras didn't even pitch this game, and I don't know why I thought he was going to. I guess I'll be rooting for him on Saturday.

I listened to the Expos today on MLB Audio (a fine service). The Expos' announcers, in case you're interested, have thicker Canadian accents than the Blue Jays'. It was a good game. Tony Armas pitched well, Nick Johnson got on base four times, and the Expos won. Nick Johnson's moustache is so ugly, by the way, that I swear I could hear it.

The site I insist on calling Baseball Primer has two articles of interest to DC baseball afficionadi. There's a review of a book entitled Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, which concerns Buck Leonard, the Homestead Grays, and black baseball in DC generally. There's also an interview with the author, Brad Snyder, and it's interesting in its own right.
. . . there is a group of people who would like to call Washington’s next major league team the Washington Grays. This group will be establishing a website at washingtongrays.com
The site's not there yet, but I'll keep you posted. Snyder's next project is a book about free-agency martyr Curt Flood, a worthy topic indeed.

I promise I'm almost done with this, but Off Wing Opinion had another post about the stadium controversy. I shall address two points and lay it to rest.

Eric says in response to my bit about taking that economics professor on a date around Camden Yards:
But what Ryan won't talk about is what Baltimore looks like only a few blocks West of Max's down past the Baltimore Arena. What he'll see there is a depressed neighborhood that fans work hard to avoid on their way to the stadium.
Why would I? I never claimed that baseball stadia eradicate poverty and violence. Some improvement is better than none, and the contrast between the areas affected and unaffected by all this commerce reinforces my point.

Then there's this:
That's why we call in the wonks -- the people who can do a serious cost/benefit analysis of a project, and tell us what the truth is beyond what we can plainly see with our own eyes. In this case, does the ancillary economic activity generated by a ballpark justfiy the additional public expenditures required to build it?

And the wonks, time and again, have said no. In a way, we need to be sure we're analyzing and measuring the right stats in order to get to the truth -- which sounds a lot like the idea behind baseball's own incredible wonkfest, Sabermetrics.
I'm all for listening to the experts. They are, by definition, more qualified than your average fellow. But what happens when the expert says something you know isn't right? The sabermetric example is perfect. I believe in the importance of OBP, drafting college players, mocking Tim McCarver, and all those other sabermetric commandments. But I believe in them because they make sense.

Some years ago, Total Baseball came up with Total Player Rating, a precursor to Bill James' Win Shares in that it attempted to sum up the totality of a player's contribution in one handy number. Pete Palmer is certainly an expert in the matter, and his conclusions included the stat that Nap Lajoie is the sixth-best player of all time. It's perfectly obvious to anyone with any knowledge of baseball history that Lajoie is NOT the sixth-best player of all time, no matter what the numbers say. People knew it wrong even before the sifted through the data, and now TPR is not much used.

Similarly, I'm inclined to listen to an economist until he says something like "you can't have a sports bar by a ballpark." It doesn't take a PhD to notice that downtown ballparks are practically encased in thriving sports bars, and such a statement would of course make me skeptical of the rest of the guy's findings. Experts should be heard, but they should not be unquestioned.

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