Category Archives: Sports

He Said; He Said

 

Related imageWith the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs taking center stage in the sports world last night, I was reminded of my first recollections of the national pastime.  As a young child, my parents would take us to Parker Field on family night to watch the Triple A Richmond Virginians, a New York Yankees farm team, compete against one of their International League opponents.  To give you some idea how long ago this was, the International League was actually international.  Of the eight teams, three–Montreal Royals, Toronto Maple Leafs (or Leaves for the grammatically picky) and (pre-Castro) Havana Sugar Kings–were based outside the United States although “North American League” might have been a more accurate moniker.

As with any baseball stadium, one’s first encounter upon passing through the ticket gates was a man or woman, behind what looked like a podium, shouting, “Get your program!  Right here!  You can’t tell the players without a program!”  And back in 1958, 50 cents would buy all you needed to know about the players and coaches on the home and visiting teams.  Position.  Career performance, e.g. batting average for hitters and earned run average for pitchers.  Vital statistics such as height, weight.

Skip forward six decades and the importance of understanding baseball statistics is no longer art, it is a science called “sabermetrics.”  The discipline, as defined in Wikipedia, is “the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.”  (NOTE: “Saber” refers to the Society of American Baseball Research or SABR.)  Michael Lewis’ book Money Ball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game chronicles how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, relying largely on sabermetrics, turned his team of bargain basement players into a legitimate contender against opposing squads with payrolls several multiples higher.

Sabermetrics plays an equally important role as teams make mid-course corrections as MLB’s July 1 trading deadline approaches.  For example, if during the first half of season, your team consistently leads games in the late innings but still loses, it is a signal for you to pick up a quality relief pitcher or two.  If batters, swinging for home runs, strike out with men on base, you focus on players with higher on-base percentages rather than power hitters, players whose skill is measured by a combination of dexterity AND personal strength.

While the answer may seem complicated, the question is simple, “Where are the gaps on my team?”  Or lacking the talent you need at every position, how do you compensate for these weaknesses.  In last night’s National League wild card game, both managers faced that question.  Knowing he lacked the starting pitchers he needed, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell assembled a parade of his trustworthy relievers to face the Washington Nationals. In contrast, Nats manager Dave Martinez had little faith in his second-to-worst bullpen during the regular season.  When it became clear starter Max Scherzer, former Cy Young award winner, did not have his best stuff, he went to another starter Stephen Strasberg for three no-run innings.

Dr. ESP, are you kidding us?  With everything happening in Washington you decided to talk sports.  We want to know what you think about Mike Pompeo traveling the globe to solicit foreign assistance in debunking the Mueller report.  Or the transformation of Rudy Giulliani from “America’s Mayor” to his audition to replace the current “O! A Fool” at Renaissance Festivals.

Patience dear reader.  As Shakespeare tells us in Act 2, Scene 1 of The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.”  Remember, I said the question is simple, not just in baseball, but in understanding the dilemma in which Donald Trump and his minions now find themselves.  In fact, the question is exactly the same.  “What are the gaps on my team?”  For this analysis, I will rely on “supermetrics,” named for my newly created Society for the Unraveling of Political Rubbish (SUPR).  The study requires a benchmark, in this case the Nixon administration, which represents the ultimate bad season, when a president not only came in last, but did not make it to the final game.  To understand the difference between a winning and losing season, I will focus on the last three administrations.

Starting with Nixon, of the 42 individuals who held a cabinet level position during his six and a half years in office, all were white men.  And when it came to senior advisors such as chief of staff, chair of the council of economic advisors and legal council, you guessed it.  More white men.  There was no Condoleezza Rice at the State Department as in the George W. Bush or a Loretta Lynch at Justice or Hillary Clinton at State during the Obama years.  Which brings us to Donald J. Trump.  His current staffing of the White House and major cabinet positions more resembles Nixon’s than either of his immediate predecessors.

In other words, “Make America Great Again” includes a return to governance by the good old boys club, or in this case, the Keystone Kops.  What’s missing is a woman who might admonish Trump’s inner circle to stop acting like frat boys and grow up.  One has to wonder whether the Trump/Zelensky call would have occurred if Trump had picked Nikki Haley to succeed Rex Tillerson at State and Joanne Young, co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association to replace Jeff Sessions at Justice.  Unfortunately, the trading deadline passed while the owner ignored the supermetrics.  And the current situation is what you get when the internal debate is solely a matter of “he said then he said then the other he said.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Augusta Caesar

Image result for cbs tiger has never come back to win a majorAt approximately 2:30 p.m. EDT yesterday, everyone stopped talking about Trump or the 3,000 announced candidates for the Democratic nomination.  It was all about Tiger.  After what many, including Tiger, believed were career ending back surgeries less than two years ago, Woods restarted his quest to match or surpass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors (now at 15) and Sam Snead’s 82 PGA victories (81 for Tiger).

With the live coverage and post-tournament recaps, one would think the media had said everything there was to say about this event.  Except for one.  CBS, earlier in the day, flashed a chryon noting Tiger had never won a major tournament when he did not lead at the end of day three.  The fact he did this for the first time in his 22 year pro career got lost in the hoopla about his comeback from personal and medical issues which had derailed his quest for major championships for almost 11 years.

It brings to mind Yogi Berra’s infamous assessment of his sport, “Baseball is 90 percent mental.  The other half is physical.”  No doubt, Tiger’s victory is a miracle of modern medicine.  Kudos to his doctors and trainers for finding a path to recovery.  But more than baseball, golf is an exercise in mental acuity.  There was something equally important going on in his head.  And without that cerebral component, it would have been just one more April at Augusta National.

So let me play amateur psychologist for a moment.  Until Tiger’s ex-wife Elin introduced the rear window of his SUV to a five iron, Woods was on top of the world.  He did not know what it meant to have to come from behind to win a major golf tournament.  On those rare occasions when he was in striking distance going into the final round, it was alien to him.  If he expected his challengers to fold as they often did when he was in charge, he was mistaken.  Even when  it looked like he might make his move, he did not.  It was not in his DNA.

Until January 2018.  His return to the PGA tour was a disaster.  Some of his most avid fans such as ESPN’s Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser questioned whether the comeback attempt was a mistake.  Tiger was no longer on top, and more importantly the intimidation factor which spooked his opponents for over a decade was gone.  Not only did he need to get his health back.  He needed a new mindset.

For 65 holes this past week, nothing seemed to have changed.  Francesco Molinari beat back Tiger’s every attempt to catch him.  Announcers Jim Nance and Nick Faldo marveled at Molinari’s composure.  And then came  #12, the short par three which has swallowed up more than its share of championship hopes.  The Italian’s double bogey gave Tiger a share of the lead.  How did the four-time Masters winner respond?  Birdies on #13, #15 and #16 which game him an insurmountable two-stroke lead.

As it turned out when Tiger bogeyed the final hole, several players could have still forced a playoff with their own birdies on #17 or #18.  But Tiger was once again in their heads.  They now believed, even if they had come within reach, Woods would respond.  This was not the old Tiger who grabbed a lead early and held off any comers.  This was a new Tiger who now understands he does not always have to be on top to win in the end.

In other words, he saw; he came back, he conquered.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Repeal and RePLATE

 

Related imageForget the vernal equinox.  At approximately 1:05 pm, today was supposed to be the official beginning of spring.  That was when someone other than the current occupant of the White House  would have thrown out the first pitch when the Washington Nationals were scheduled to host the New York Mets on opening day of the 2019 baseball season.  Sadly, there will be no national pastime this year.

Mick Mulvaney, who Donald Trump appointed as commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB) by declaring the Official Baseball Rules/2019 Edition which governs the sport does not apply to a sitting president, announced there would be no games until the Supreme Court determined whether the lack of consensus on a designated hitter was grounds for abolishing the sport in its entirety.  [NOTE: During oral arguments, Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked attorneys representing the commissioner if, despite the fact there were no games, the beer concessions would still be open for business.]

When asked how he could explain his decision to the 70 million people who attended MLB games in 2018, Mulvaney responded, “Just because some people have a pre-existing affinity for professional baseball, they are not entitled to games for the rest of their lives.  There are other cheaper options.  College.  High school.  Intramural.  Sandlot.  And if you still want to watch top quality baseball, you can hire your own players and build your own field like that farmer in Dyersville, Iowa.”

Trump immediately backed Mulvaney’s decision and promised he and the GOP would bring baseball back.  “The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of baseball.  If the Supreme Court rules traditional baseball is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than the MLB.”  In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump promised, “We’re going to have baseball for everybody.  There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it.  That’s not going to happen.”  However, an analysis by the non-partisan CBO (Credible Baseball Office) of the GOP’s draft of the Baseball Care Act of 2019 stated 14 million fans would immediately lose access to professional baseball.

Public opinion polling, immediately following Mulvaney’s announcement, suggests the commissioner’s actions have had the opposite of their intended effect.  In recent years, there had been a precipitous decline in the sport’s popularity.  Forbes reported 2018 attendance at games had dropped four percent over the previous year.  Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned the political wisdom of shutting down ballparks, especially when it was revealed the most impacted cities include Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  One Phillies fan was completely distraught.  “We finally get a superstar like Bryce Harper and I won’t get to see him.  My family can’t afford to go see the Eagles, Sixers or Flyers.  This was the only sports option we could afford.”

EPILOGUE

On January 21, 2021, President Not-Trump signed into law HR1, amendments to the Affordable Baseball Act.  Both leagues now have designated hitters.  Four cities in the South and Midwest were awarded expansion teams, a provision in the bill championed by the newly elected Democratic senators from Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and Mississippi.  And the CBO estimates that more people will have access to professional baseball than ever before.

Oh, and President Not-Trump ordered the release of the un-redacted Mueller Report.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Bowled Over

I’m sure you are familiar with the “butterfly effect,” which in chaos theory refers to “the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.” (Dictionary.com)  No system has become more complex than the college bowl season.  What began as four football games on New Year’s Day, now consists of 39 contests beginning in mid-December and ending in early January.

No one would call Hurricane Florence “a minute localized change.”  It devastated the Carolinas and parts of Virginia.  As a result, East Carolina University decided not to travel to Blacksburg, Virginia for its scheduled September 15 football game against the Virginia Tech Hokies.  Likewise Marshall University’s game the same day against the University of South Carolina was cancelled.  Knowing it might need that 12th regular season game to qualify for a bowl, Tech athletic director Whit Babcock proposed a make-up game between his squad and Marshall.  A 41-20 victory on December 1 ensured Tech of a post-season engagement.

The Tech win over Marshall was a continuation of the chaos which began at 1:51 of the fourth quarter of the Virginia/Virginia Tech game on November 23rd.  At that point, the ESPN win probability meter gave Virginia an 82.9 percent chance of victory.  The Hokies tied the game at 31 points apiece and won in the first overtime when the Cavaliers fumbled following a Tech field goal.  Final score: 34-31 Tech.  The Hokies now had five wins and were still short of a sixth to make them bowl eligible for the 23rd year in a row.  The last minute scheduling of the Tech/Marshall game would give the Hokies one last chance to secure a bowl bid.  Yesterday, Tech accepted an invitation to play the Cincinnati Bearcats  in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland on December 31.

Which set off the following domino effect when you have 82 bowl eligible teams and only 78 bowl opportunities.

  • A week earlier, Cincinnati was projected to play either Duke or Georgia Tech in the Military Bowl.
  • Once Virginia Tech filled the ACC slot, Duke was invited to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana and Georgia Tech accepted a bid to the Quick Lane (can anyone sponsor a bowl game now?) Bowl in Detroit.
  • The Yellow Jackets bumped Northern Illinois, the Mid-American Conference Champions, taking Buffalo’s projected spot in the Ceribundi Tart Cherry (??) Boca Raton Bowl.
  • There was only one slot left for two MAC Conference bowl eligible teams: Miami and Toledo. With Toledo’s 7-5 season record compared to the Redhawks 6-6, the Makers Wanted (???) Bahamas Bowl committee made the only logical decision, inviting the Rockets.

Related imageThus, any Redhawks’ hopes of basking on Bahamian beaches over winter break vanished in an Oxford minute.

I know.  You’re probably asking yourself, with everything going on in the world, why is Dr. ESP so obsessed with this story.  Simple.  There is a personal connection to two academic institutions involved in this melodrama.  My undergraduate degree is from UVA.  And I was a member of the Miami University faculty for nine years before retiring to Florida.  My wife and I were looking forward to attending the Bahamas Bowl to cheer on the Redhawks, and reconnecting with some former colleagues.  Did some cosmic force emanate from the my minor role in this drama?  Perhaps.  Maybe I should start signing my blog “Dr. Butterfly!”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Two Bitcoin Whores

As bitcoin continued its downward slide Tuesday, U.S. regulators are reportedly looking into whether its record-breaking rally last year was the result of market manipulation.

~Kate Rooney, CNBC.COM

What a difference a year makes.  On December 17, 2017, Fortune Magazine writer David Morris reported:

The price of one bitcoin (BTC) reached a new all-time high of $19,783.06 early Sunday before dropping back below $19,500, according to Coindesk’s price index.

As of this writing, bitcoin’s price has risen more than 5% in 24 hours, and is up 1,824% since Jan. 1 of this year, when a single Bitcoin could be had for just under $1,000.

Funny how this precipitous increase in the value of a digital currency which operates independent of any central bank and is not backed up by any material asset such as gold or silver did not catch the attention of regulators on its way up.  Imagine, the same individuals who celebrate the virtues of a free market when they are making millions, if not billions of dollars, on pure speculation now are hopeful government regulators will step him and save their inflated earnings.  The message?  While business is great in the financial prostitution business, leave us alone.  But once the shine comes off of this substitute for real earnings, “HELP!”

Sound familiar?  Was it not 10 short years ago when  banks and hedge funds made a similar bet on mortgage backed securities and Wall Street brokers supposedly spread the risk across global markets with unsecured financial instruments like derivatives and insurance schemes like credit default swaps?  And how did the crisis get resolved?  With a $700 billion bailout of the secondary mortgage market funded by U.S. taxpayers, many of whom lost their homes when the housing bubble burst.  And how many perpetrators of these schemes forfeited the assets they accrued while gaming the system or went to jail for fraud and malpractice?  ZERO.

Related imagePerhaps its time former Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Bud Selig becomes chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  Selig oversaw what can only be described as the sports equivalent of a looming financial disaster with the increased use of performance enhancing drugs by MLB players.

Much as the value of derivatives and bitcoins were unnaturally inflated, the number of players breaking records for home runs and power hitting was artificially high.  In 2006, there was an equally worrisome increase in PED use among pitchers.  MLB banned the use of performance enhancing drugs in 1991, but relied on an honor system without mandated testing.  In other words, when it came to steroids in baseball, “self-regulaton” was the order of the day.  However, as more and more players achieved unprecedented “success,” the guardians of the game realized something was not kosher.

Therefore, in 2003, the league introduced mandatory testing with a minimum 10 game suspension.  Between 2003 and 2014, 49 players were suspended ranging from the minimum to 162 games (the entire 2014 season) for Yankee shortstop Alex Rodriguez.  In March 2014, MLB adopted mandatory suspensions–80 games for the first offense, a full season for the second and a lifetime ban for the third.  To date, Mets pitcher Jenrry Meija is the only player to receive the lifetime ban though he is eligible to apply for reinstatement two years after the ban was imposed.

Is the steroid era for bitcoins over?  This morning the price of bitcoins opened at 4,253 U.S. dollars, a loss of more than 78 percent of their December 2017 value.  As with the Baseball Hall of Fame, maybe anyone who made the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest American based on subprime loan manipulation or by virtue of investments in bitcoins should have an asterisk next to their names. Or legalize their activity and relocate them to isolated facilities in rural Nevada counties.  Managers will still need college degrees.  Perhaps university departments of finance should start offering specialty MFBAs (Masters of Financial Brothel Administration).

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP