Tag: baseball (Page 1 of 2)

Tweets of the week #4

This was another busy week in global politics and I’m going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.

I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team — and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.

None of those victories featured  the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:

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The Birth of a Sports Rivalry

cute fighting ducksHow do we communicate ideas to our audience?  What steps can we take to introduce advanced concepts to our students or the general public? Scholars work for decades on the content of their arguments but spend very little time thinking about how to translate their ideas for specific consumers of information.

In Phil Arena’s review of Braumoeller’s new excellent book, he makes a baseball reference, later noting that he does not even like sports.  This is a typical tactic in Political Science, if not all of academia.  We often make sports metaphors and analogies in order to push our point across.  No matter if you have never played an inning of ball in your life, most American academics are apt to make at least one baseball reference in class.  Most British academics are apt to make at least one reference to football, even if they hate the sport.

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Baseball and American Foreign Policy

Not long ago, Robert Elias, a Professor of Politics at University of San Francisco (and editor of Peace Review), published The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy & Promoted the American Way Abroad (The New Press, 2010). Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to obtain a copy of the book — or read it. However, thanks to my SABR membership, I learned this week of his related article “Baseball and American Foreign Policy,” which came out in Transatlantica in 2011 (but was just published on-line this month).

As both a baseball fan and an academic who has taught a course on “Globalization (And Baseball),” I am certainly interested in the thesis Elias develops:

In America’s efforts to expand its frontiers, it soon looked overseas. Baseball was enlisted in America’s imperial quests and it helped colonize other lands, from the Caribbean to Asia to the Pacific. The game was regularly part of U.S. “civilizing missions” launched abroad, either militarily or economically, and sometimes bolstered by the forces of “muscular Christianity.” Baseball was used to sell and export the American way. It took its place in the globalization of the world, even if Americanization was more so the objective. In America’s foreign diplomacy, baseball was often regarded as the nation’s “moral equivalent of war.” And at home, baseball was used to promote patriotism and nationalism.

In the article, for example, Elias reviews the role baseball has played in America’s various wars and military interventions. Generally, in fact, Elias argues that baseball has long “promoted nationalism and patriotism, and closely associated itself with American militarism.”
Specifically, he argues that organized baseball played an important role in overcoming the Vietnam syndrome by helping to promote jingoism during the first Persian Gulf War. This fall 2001 video may help explain the author’s point in the context of September 11:

Elias claims that Bush “later reported the pitch as the highlight of his presidency.” In the text, of course, Elias makes a much richer argument about the interplay between baseball and post-9/11 America:

After the terrorist attacks, [Baseball Commissioner Bud] Selig ordered all baseball games postponed. Yet he also invoked [Franklin] Roosevelt’s “green light” for baseball, claiming the sport was too central to the national fabric to stop the games completely. Instead, MLB embraced the flag and led the call to “support the troops.” Having the games soon proceed indicated, symbolically, that America was functioning and would be fighting back…

Virtually every major league ballpark was awash with patriotic gestures. Moments of silence were religiously observed, and patriotic music punctuated games. Fields and stands were blanketed with red, white and blue. Silent auctions were held and benefit games were played for the Red Cross. Players wore caps honoring New York’s police, firefighters and emergency crews, and visited shelters and fire houses. Fans held candles, prayed and sang, and chanted “USA! USA!” Yankee Stadium held a memorial service, Mets players raised money for the Twin Towers Relief Fund, and Diamondback players visited “ground zero.” The terrorist attacks immediately politicized baseball. President Bush “used baseball as a major patriotic statement” at the World Series and elsewhere. Maverick Media, the President’s image maker, later repackaged footage from Bush’s baseball appearances, playing them repeatedly during his reelection campaign.

Much of the rest of the article discusses the role baseball played in other dimensions of American foreign policy — espionage, diplomacy, globalization, etc. He also devotes some attention to the way baseball has dealt with dissent.

Référence électronique
Robert Elias, « Baseball and American Foreign Policy », Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2011, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2012, Consulté le 16 juin 2012. URL : https://transatlantica.revues.org/5478.


Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging Early: When Sports and International Relations Meet, the Dumbest Things Happen

I am headed out to Coachella this Thursday for three days of music in the desert. Well, two days. I am too old to make it all the way through, and I have to teach on Monday. In any case, I thought I would offer this Friday anti-nerd blogging column a little early in the week. For those of you teaching or taking classes on the semester system, it is that time of year that you are very, very tired. You need the break a bit in advance.

The MLB team, the Marlins, just suspended their manager, Ozzie Guillen, for complimentary comments he made about Fidel Castro. The Marlins play in Miami where they have this little minority constituency that seems to gets its way from time to time. Or every time.

Please do not look to this man for foreign policy insight. This should be self-evident

I am going to go out on a limb and say that anything that a professional baseball player, or even coach, says about politics does not matter whatsoever. Ozzie Guillen is clearly something of an idiot, but this is something that we should expect of our athletes. Even cherish. Let’s apply that same rule to every sport. In general there should be no penalty for what people who know nothing about politics say about politics, even if they are in the public eye. So we can forgive the Dixie Chicks, Kanye West, and even Ted Nugent. We can make fun of them, call them ignorant. Indeed we should. But for them to lose their job over it, even if just for a few days, is very, very dumb. The guy should not even have to apologize. If everyone had to say sorry for being an idiot, there would not be much time left over. I have now just satisfied my lifelong ambition to mention Ted Nugent in a blog.

Guillen isn’t a leftist, communist revolutionary, or an apologist for dictatorial regimes. He simply admires, he says, Castro for his amazing staying power. Despite being an international and domestic pariah he has held on to power for decades (Castro, not Guillen). In other words, Guillen appreciates that Castro is a tough and stubborn son-of-a-bitch. I think we can all agree that, even if we not quite call it a merit, Castro is indeed a tough and stubborn son-of-a-bitch. I find this whole event somewhat funny in that it has transpired at a moment in American politics in which the greatest asset for a political figure, at least voters claim, is principled conviction and an unwillingness to back down.

In general, I think that the American public needs to take a really big collective breath and chill the f*ck out about what people say. It is far more important what people do. Does Ozzie Guillen diddle little boys? Not that we know of? Then let’s all just shut the f*ck up.

The same goes for politics. If Rick Santorum calls Mitt Romney “the worst possible candidate,” it should not be news because it does not matter. It does not tell us anything about either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney except that they probably don’t like each other. Duh. It just seems to me that we all are all on the constant look-out for something that offends us. We want to be outraged. What does that say about us? What’s with the axe to grind? I say let the offense come to us. And let’s wait for something really offensive.We can blame it on the news media, but my guess is the first thing we all tweet, facebook, etc., is dumb shit like this. They only do it because we watch it.

In other words, the public needs to be more like IR scholars, who don’t give two shits about rhetoric and talk. I think this is actually a big, big problem, and it is something that some are trying to correct like Ron Krebs, Stacie Goddard, Jennifer Mitzen, Jarrod Hayes and Patrick T. Jackson. But for our own domestic politics, we would do well to heed the lesson that so much of this is unimportant fluff.

OK, off to hang out with the hipster doofi. Lates.


“Castro is Our Hitler”

Ozzie Guillen
Photo credit = Dirk Hansen.

Last Friday, April 6, Time magazine published controversial excerpts from an interview with Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen:

“I love Fidel Castro,” Blurts Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins, in his Jupiter, Fla., spring-training office before an early-March team workout….After a second of reflection, the most unfiltered figure in baseball, if not sports, wants a do-over. “I respect Fidel Castro,” says Guillen, a Venezuela native who also says he respects Hugo Chavez. “You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother—— is still here.”

Those remarks set off something of a firestorm in Miami, where a very large Cuban-American community resides. Cubans may love baseball, and Ozzie Guillen may have been hired to appeal to the local Latino community, but expressing admiration for Castro is the dangerous third rail of Florida politics. And because Florida is important in national politics, American politicians frequently bow to the Cuban American community’s concerns.

Then again, Guillen is somewhat used to controversy. He famously apologized in 2006 for making a gay slur about a Chicago sportswriter — but he apologized only to the gay community, not to the journalist. He commonly describes players, umpires, and others using profanity. His twitter feed is popular precisely because of his off-the-cuff nature.

Moreover, this is not even the first time Guillen has openly expressed admiration for Castro’s endurance in power. In 2008, Men’s Journal asked Guillen, “Who’s the toughest man you know?” His answer:

Fidel Castro. He’s a bullshit dictator and every-body’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him. Everywhere he goes they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy. I admire him.

Yet, the latest remarks have essentially forced Guillen to offer multiple apologies — and caused his team to suspend him for five days.

Obviously, context is everything. In 2008, Guillen worked in Chicago. Now, he works in Miami, home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.

To me, the most interesting dimension of the story is the comparison some Cuban Americans are making between Fidel Castro and Adolph Hitler.

Dan Le Batard, a Cuban-American writer for the Miami Herald, who also hosts a radio show in Miami and a show on ESPN with his father, a Cuban exile, went on SportsCenter yesterday to explain why Ozzie Guillen’s recent comments were so hurtful to the Cuban-American population in Miami.

Le Batard calls Guillen’s comments “the worst possible thing that [he] could have said.” Le Batard also explains just what Castro means to the local population…

“For Cuban-Americans, he’s our Hitler. Without getting into a comparison shopping on atrocities, let that marinate for a second. For Cuban-Americans, Fidel Castro is our Hitler.”

R.J. Rummel estimated years ago that the Castro regime was responsible for between 35,000 and 141,000 deaths through 1987. The median figure was 73,000. In 2008, Genocide Watch, the Coordinator of the International Campaign to End Genocide, put the total to-date Cuban death toll in the thousands and Cuba Verdad’s careful effort to document each death established the figure at just under 8,000 dead — plus nearly 78,000 Balseros victims through 2007. I cannot readily determine if Rummel’s figure includes the death toll from Cubans lost at sea fleeing the regime.

These numbers reflect the acts of an autocratic regime, to be sure, but the comparison to Hitler seems like a huge stretch. In a much shorter period of time, Germany under Hitler’s rule managed to kill over 11 million noncombatants and launch a world war that killed tens of millions of people. Hitler is generally rivaled only by Stalin in these sorts of debates. In 2005, when Fidel Castro was still in power, he didn’t even crack a top 10 list of the world’s worst dictators.

Perhaps Cuban Americans are not familiar with Godwin’s law: “if you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.” Or, as one US News political columnist wrote, there is “an unwritten rule in public speaking: comparisons to Hitler and Nazi Germany never work.” One oft-mentioned corollary to Godwin’s law suggests that “whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.”

I say, tell that to whoever it was that compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler.


Friday Nerd Blogging: Baseball Edition

Yesterday, long-time Duck of Minerva contributor Bill Petti taped an on-field segment for “Clubhouse Confidential” on the MLB Network! For the non-baseball nerds, MLB = major league baseball.

It’s great to see Bill using his methodological and analytical skills in this way. This is not his first appearance on the program to provide sabermetrical analysis.

Most of the time, Bill uses his talents in his “work with senior executives at various pharmaceutical, financial, and consumer packaged goods companies to help them align their human capital and processes with their overall strategy to drive top and bottom line results.”

I quoted that from Bill’s website only because this baseball fan is jealous and envious (path not taken and all that). Good work Bill.

One style question: should viewers be worried that Bill finds everything “interesting”?


New Year, New Writing Gig

Just wanted to let everyone know that starting January 4th I will be writing a weekly baseball column (sometimes twice weekly if I am feeling especially opinionated) at Beyond the Box Score.

Beyond the Box Score is a fantastic site, examining baseball from an analytical perspective.  The authors definitely embrace sabermetrics, but they don’t beat readers over the head with complex statistics.  As with most things that I do, the subject of my columns will vary quite a bit.

Generally speaking I’ll likely focus on team performance, player valuation, and lots of exploratory questions about the game.  Oh, and you can be sure there will be lots of pretty visuals and laments about the NY Mets.

Be sure to stop by if you are interested.  You can read and subscribe to my entries here, but I encourage you to subscribe to the site as a whole (RSS feed here).


PoliSci-unrelated post of the day: Visualizing Major League Baseball, 2001-2010

This post originally appeared at Beyond the Box Score.  If you are a baseball analysis fan and don’t already read BTBS I highly recommend it.

2010 marks the end of the “ought” decade for Major League Baseball.  I thought I would take the opportunity to analyze the last 10 years by visualizing team data.  I used Tableau Public to create the visualization and pulled team data from ESPN.com (on-field statistics) and USA Today (team payroll).

The data is visualized through three dashboards.  The first visualizes the relationship between run differential (RunDiff) and OPS differential (OPSDiff) as well as the cost per win for teams.  The second visualization looks at expected wins and actual wins through a scatter plot.  The size of each team’s bubble represents the absolute difference between their actual and expected wins.  Teams lying above the trend line were less lucky than their counterparts below the trend line.The final tab in the visualization presents relevant data in table form and can be sorted and filtered along a number of dimensions.

The first visualization lists all 30 teams and provides their RunDiff, OPSDiff, wins, and cost per win for 2001-2010.  The default view lists the averages per team over the past 10 years, but you can select a single year or range of years to examine averages over that time frame.  The visualization also allows users to filter by whether teams made the playoffs, were division winners or wild card qualifiers, won a championship, or were in the AL or NL.  The height of the bars corresponds to a team’s wins (or average wins a range of years).  The color of the bars corresponds to a team’s cost per win–the darker green the bar the more costly a win was for a team.  Total wins (or average for a range of years) is listed at the end of each bar.  In order to create the bar graph I normalized the run and OPS differentials data (added the absolute value of each score + 20) to make sure there were no negative values.  For the decade, run differential explained about 88% of the variation in wins and OPS differential explained about 89% of the variation in run differential.

The visualization illustrates the tight correlation between RunDiff and OPSDiff, as the respective bars for each team are generally equidistant from the center line creating an inverted V shape when sorted by RunDiff.  In terms of average wins over the decade, there are few surprises as the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels, and Braves round out the top 5.  However, St. Louis did a much better job at winning efficiently, as they paid less per win than the other winningest teams (<$1M per win).

(click for larger image)

The viz also illustrates the success of small market teams such as Oakland and Minnesota who both averaged roughly 88 wins while spending the 3rd and 4th least respectively per win.  If you filter the visualization for teams that averaged over 85 wins during the decade, it really drives home how impressive those two teams’ front offices have been at assembling winning ball clubs with lower payrolls.  No other team that averaged >85 wins paid less than $975K per win.  Oakland looks even more impressive when you isolate the data for years that teams qualified for the playoffs.  Oakland averaged 98.5 wins during seasons they made it to playoffs, and did so spending only $478K per win.

(click for larger image)
What about the big spenders?  The five biggest spenders included the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, and Cubs.  The Yankees spent an astounding $1.8M per win during the decade, but they also averaged the most wins with 97.  Some will say this provides evidence that the Yankees–and other big market teams–simply buy wins and championships.  However, only 17% of the variation in wins was explained by payroll during the decade.  Moreover, while the Yankees occupied 6 of the top 10 spots in terms of cost per win they were the only team to earn a positive run differential.  The Cubs, Mets, Mariners and Tigers all finished under .500 and missed the playoffs while those Yankee teams qualified for the playoffs 5 out of 6 years and won one World Series.  Yes, the Yankees spend significantly more per win, but they spend more wisely than many other deep pocket teams.
Teams that made the playoffs averaged a little over $1M per win in those years they qualified, with Wild Card teams ($1.030M) spending a tad bit more than Division winners ($1.006M)–about $14K per win on average.  World Series winners spent $1.08M per win in their winning years compared to $1.002M for other playoff teams.  Teams that failed to make the playoffs averaged $923K per win.
The best team of the decade in terms of run differential?  The 2001 Seattle Mariners, who amassed an incredible +300 RunDiff.  Even with that total they were only expected to win 111 games–they would go on to win 116.  The Mariners had only the 11th highest payroll that year and so paid a measly $644K per win.  The absolute worst team of the decade?  The 2003 Detroit Tigers, who earned a RunDiff of -337 and actually won less games than expected (43 vs. 47).  Given their ineptitude on the field, the Tigers paid $1.14M per win even though their total payroll for the year was only $49M.
Luckiest team?  The 2005 Diamondbacks who won 77 games despite a RunDiff of -160 (only 64 expected wins).  Hardest luck team?  The 2006 Indians, who only won 78 games with a +88 RunDiff that should have translated into 90 wins.
(click for larger image)

There are tons of ways to manipulate the visualizations and cut the data.  Hopefully viewing the data in this way is helpful and illuminates some things we didn’t know and drives home other things we had a hunch about. This is my first attempt to visualize this data, so please feel free to send along any and all comments so I can improve it.

Author’s Note: Due to a very helpful comment by Joshua Maciel, I have updated the visualization.  Here is a link to the original version for those that are interested.


And the AL Cy Young Award Should Go To…

Time for a little baseball blogging.

There is quite a lot of buzz surrounding the AL Cy Young award this year. While there are a number of pitchers that possess a high number of wins (17, 18, 19, and even 20 games), there are many who believe the award should go to Seattle’s Felix Hernandex.  Despite only winning 13 games and losing 12, Hernandez’s performance this year has been nothing short of amazing.  His problem is that he played on one of the worst teams in the league.  He was 8th in the league amongst starters in terms of runs support (86 runs over 34 starts) and was actually dead last in terms of runs support per nine innings (3.1).  If you look beyond wins to the other two orthodox statistics that make up the pitching triple crown, Hernandez finished first in ERA (2.27) and second in strikeouts (233).  It is his performance in these other two categories that have many arguing for Hernandez to win the award, since he shouldn’t be penalized for his team’s lack of ability to score runs to support his dominance.

If someone like Hernandez wins this year it would truly represent a paradigm shift in the way baseball writers evaluate player performance.  In the history of the AL Cy Award, no starting pitcher has ever won with less than 16 victories (Zach Greinke won last year).  In the NL, only Fernando Valenzuela managed to win the award with as few as 13 wins, and that was in 1981, and no winner from either league had a record as close to .500 as Hernandez does.

That being said, I would actually argue that Hernandez is not the only “non-orthodox” contender.

There is only so much control a pitcher has over the outcome of a game.  And while starting pitchers have more control than most, they still must rely on their defense to play well and on their offense to score runs.  So rather than focus on statistics such as wins (which are heavily dependent on a team’s offense), we should evaluate starting pitchers on their performance independent of their offense and–to the extent possible–their defense. Doing this means focusing on how often hitters deny batters the chance to put the ball in play (strikeouts), how often they give a batter a free pass (walks), how many base runners they allow (WHIP), and how deep into a game they pitch, which gives their bullpen rest and allows their manager to use only the team’s best relievers (thereby, giving the team the best chance to win).

So let’s look at a few statistics:

K/9 – Strikeouts per 9 innings: The more batters a pitcher strikes out, the better.
K/BB – Strikeouts to Walk Ratio: The more strikeouts relative to walks, the better.
WHIP – Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched: The fewer baserunners a pitcher allows to reach base, the better.
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: Measures a pitchers performance independent of the quality of their defense.  Lower the better.
RS/9 – Run Support per 9 innings: How many runs a pitcher’s offense scores for them per nine innings.
IP/GS – Innings Pitched per Game Started: The more innings pitched per start, the better.

I’ve created a table with non-counting statistics for the top 10 pitchers in the AL this year, but I have not included their names or their traditional statistics (Wins, ERA, or K’s).  Take a look and think about who jumps out as the best pitcher:

Now, all of these guys are good, but there is one whose performance really jumps out.

First, it’s hard to miss the obvious gap between Pitcher A and their K/BB ration of 10.28 and the rest of the field.  For every 1 batter Pitcher A walks he also strikes out 10.  That is more than double the next closest pitcher (Pitcher B at 4.31).  That ratio of 10.28 is the second highest in the history of baseball and only the third time we’ve seen a double-digit ratio (the other other two times-1994 and 1884).  Pitcher A also had the lowest WHIP, the lowest FIP, and the highest IP/GS.  The only two areas he didn’t finish first is K/9 (10th) and RS/9 (4th fewest).

So who is Pitcher A?  Felix Hernandez?  Nope.  It’s Cliff Lee.

Here’s the chart with the names included:

In terms of the traditional statistics, Lee only went 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA (6th in the AL) and 185 strikeouts (10th in the AL) in 28 starts.  At first blush, his body of work doesn’t look that impressive.  But if you go beyond mere “counting” stats, Lee’s dominance becomes more evident and Hernandez-esque.  His higher ERA (still 6th best) can be explained by an unusually high .302 batting aver for balls in play (BABIP), meaning when batters actually managed to put the ball in play they reached based 1/3 of the time.  BABIP is strongly correlated to ERA.  My guess is that Lee’s high BABIP can be explained by the fact that the defense behind him wasn’t the greatest, reflected in the fact that he had the best fielding independent pitching in the AL amongst starters.

Hernandez had less run support (3.10 to 4.45) and more strikeouts per nine innings (8.36 to 7.84), but otherwise Lee was better than Hernandez in every non-counting category (and he was better than every other contender).

Will Lee win the AL Cy Young?  I doubt it.  My guess is it will either go to Hernandez or CC Sabathia (since he had 21 wins and played for the Yankees in the AL East), but it is hard to argue with how dominant he was over the course of the regular season.

[Cross-posted at Signal/Noise]


Hegemony, the Economy, and Baseball’s Winter Meetings

Baseball’s winter meetings start today in Vegas, which means loads of hot-stove league excitement for baseball fans like myself. However, I don’t expect my team to make one of the marquee deals, those big money contracts are usually the province of the big market, big money teams like the Yankees, Mets, Sawks, and Angles.

The art of rooting for a small market team is to understand how to do more with less, and, most importantly, how to minimize risk in the land of free-agent mega-contracts. If you’re the Yankees, you can sign a Carl Pavano, say, to a 4-year, $40 million contract, and when misses 2 full seasons and large portions of two more, you grouse about it and then go sign another pitcher to replace him and continue about your merry way. If you’re a small market GM, however, such contracts aren’t even an option. You can’t afford to put so much of your scarce revenue into a non-performing player. So, small market teams must look for diamonds in the rough, offering low risk, in terms of guaranteed money, contracts to a number of players, hoping one works out because they can’t afford to be wrong on a guaranteed, multi-year, mega-million dollar deal that would cripple the franchise.

In short, the key difference between the big money teams and small market teams is their capacity to absorb a mistake.

Which brings us to tonight’s word: weathering the global recession.

In grading a series of papers for my Hegemony class, an interesting theme emerged. While many contemporary commentators are lamenting the fact that the current global economic meltdown has put a damper on US global leadership, I think that there is an under-appreciated aspect to the economic crisis. Namely, the US is in a position to weather the storm, absorb the hit, and recover. Yes, there is certainly more economic pain to come and, for certain, it will hurt. But, if you haven’t noticed, this economic crisis is global, and its going to hurt the rest of the world a lot more than it will hurt the USA.

With the price of oil now down to $43/barrel, oil producing nations are in dire straits. The promises they made at $140 are ludicrous, and much of their basic economic models are simply unsustainable at prices this low. Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia–they are all in serious trouble.

Even China, the supposed great rival to US hegemony, is in dire economic straits. They have proposed a $500 billion stimulus package, but depend on the health of global export markets to keep factories humming and producing the 9-11% annual economic growth they need to maintain domestic political stability. This puts the CCP in a real political bind.

All of which is to say, the US standing in the world might not be as drastically reduced as a result of the global economic crisis as one might initially think. Everyone will take a hit, but the Yankees / Yanquis are in a much stronger position to be able to absorb the hit and remain competitive. We are strong enough to recover from our own mistakes. Others are not so bit or so fortunate.


The really important things in life

My second-favorite baseball team is whoever is playing against the Red Sox. Tonight, it’s the Rays, on the verge of eliminating the Sox, and already up 2-0 in the second inning.

It may be The End Of The World As We Know It — and the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series is one of the lesser-known signs of the apocalypse, in point of fact — but as long as the Red Sox are losing, I feel fine.


Cuba: El Tiante’s pitch

Let me followup Peter’s post on Cuba. Legendary and colorful retired pitcher Luis Tiant had this to say about the Cuban embargo:

“I think it’s crazy,” Tiant said. “Everybody does business with Cuba – Latin America, China, everybody – and what is the difference? We are 90 miles from Cuba. We don’t have a relationship with them. That’s crazy. It makes no sense to me.

“The people have suffered enough. They’ve gone through a hard life. Forty-six years I’ve been out. I hope it changes.”

As for Peter’s question about the choice between domestic politics and the national interest? While neither of the two remaining Democratic candidates for president have called for lifting the economic embargo, it seems pretty clear that Barack Obama’s position is less hawkish.

Indeed, Obama wrote an op-ed about Cuba last summer for a Miami paper suggesting that the US should reduce some restraints on travel and remittances.

Clinton’s response was not promising.

Hillary Clinton continued her recent attacks on his perceived foreign policy naivete, insisting that “until it is clear what type of policies might come with a new [Cuban] government, we cannot talk about changes in the U.S. policies toward Cuba.”

It’s too bad the Democrats didn’t have a real primary in Florida this year so that these issues could have been debated more publicly.


The Mitchell Report and Global Governance

Obviously, the Mitchell Report is all the big news in the world of sports, culture, and politics this morning, and is receiving saturation coverage. Rather than try to add my 2 cents as a baseball fan, I thought I might try to tease out an interesting IR angle to the whole thing.

As I was driving home yesterday, I heard Selig in his press conference assert that Baseball had one of the most stringent testing drug policies (now) of any major sport. The radio commentators were discussing this and said, well, if by major sport you mean NFL, NBA, and MLB, then yes. But, compared to the testing at the Olympic level, it has a long way to go.

Earlier this morning, on my way into work, I heard Sen. McCain on ESPN, and they were asking him what, if anything, the government could do about this (and recall that most of the good stuff in the Mitchell Report is the result of government work–the hearing and several drug busts and plea agreements). McCain said (paraphrasing): Not much, except to fund the USADA to improve testing practices and perhaps work more with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

From an IR perspective, I think this raises a rather interesting question–given that there is a robust international organization with a well developed regime of anti-doping rules and norms that apply to international sport, why is it that the major US sports feel that they are somehow exempt or above or beyond these global norms? Past attempts to apply Olympic-level testing to US pro athletes (NHL hockey and NBA basketball players) by the USOC met with resistance from the leagues and players associations of those sports.

So, why is it that the US and US-based organizations place themselves above this global anti-doping norm? Many major international sports have an Olympic-caliber anti-doping regime, which requires tough random testing, and a number of their most significant events have been hit by drug scandals (Tour de France…). As US pro sports go global in an ever increasing way (particularly baseball and basketball), how can they make global inroads and yet flout a global norm on drug testing?


Link roundup

If the US is going to win hearts and minds in Iraq, then it needs to avoid killing innocent civilians. So why are air bombings up fourfold in Iraq this year? Max Bergmann of Democracy Arsenal explores this question.

Eric Martin of American Footprints has a strong post on the (un)likelihood of Iran passing nuclear weapons along to terrorists. Moreover, if terrorists were serious about acquiring a bomb, wouldn’t they try harder to get them from former Soviet sources?

Despite new revelations about Syria’s “cleanup job,” Jeffrey Lewis over at Arms Control Wonk remains skeptical that Syria had a worrisome nuclear facility.

And finally, a baseball link. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post explains why brains counted more than bucks in 2007.


Playoff time is here

Its a great day here at the Duck, as the playoffs begin and my team, the Cleveland Indians, are front and center, tied for the best record in all of baseball, as the home team hosting the Evil Empire, better known as the Yankees.

Hope springs eternal in Cleveland. Our team, ranked second in the ESPN misery index of suffering baseball fans, is now a very likable, exciting, group of players, led by Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Pronk, perhaps the best nickname in all of baseball. I’m here to give the baseball loving IR world a little dose of Cleveland Rocks.


Jacksonian baseball

Do you remember Walter Russell Mead’s Jacksonians? A few years ago, Mead wrote a very good book, Special Providence, which described four major visions of American foreign policy. Of the four, the Jacksonian tradition is perhaps the most interesting and important — but also the most obscure to the chattering classes.

Jacksonian tradition is populist, principled, and often quick-tempered. As Mead explained:

Those who like to cast American foreign policy as an unhealthy mix of ignorance, isolationism and trigger-happy cowboy diplomacy are often thinking about the Jacksonian populist tradition.

As Mead explains, Jacksonians populate the armed services partly because they are ready to defend the dignity and honor of America. It is an honor culture.

Professor Thomas Timmerman of Tennessee Tech recently found that Jacksonian honor culture also permeates major league baseball:

Timmerman looked at MLB data on the 27,667 hit-by-pitch events that took place from 1960 to 2004. He found that pitchers were most likely to hit batters when the batter had hit a home run during their last at-bat, when the previous batter had hit a home run and when a pitch in the previous half-inning hit the pitcher’s teammate.

Yet, at the regional level,Timmerman also found that, in all three of these situations, white pitchers born in states typically defined as Southern by the U.S. Census were 40 percent more likely to hit a batter than non-Southerners. This trend may be due to a Southern inclination to act aggressively when their honor is challenged, he says.

I guess this explains why Senator Jim Bunning is #8 in career hit batsmen, even though he’s 53rd in career innings pitched.


The Politics of the DH

Today, I read an interesting article linking baseball and political science — “The Etiology of Public Support for the Designated Hitter Rule,” (warning: pdf) by Christopher Zorn and Jeff Gill, published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science. Despite the jargon, the piece is quite readable.

Zorn and Gill report evidence that baseball fans are far more likely to embrace the designated hitter (DH) if they are Democrats:

Most important, and consistent with our expectations, we find that self-identified Democratic Party members are more likely to support the DH rule than are either independents or Republicans; the odds ratio of 1.90 suggests that, on average, Democrats are 90 percent more likely to support the rule than are independents. This implies (we think) that the values that draw the respondents to the Democrats are linked to those associated with supporting the rule. At the same time, the reverse is not true: Republicans are no more or less likely to support the DH rule than are political independents.

Their explanation for this finding makes intuitive sense.

As Zorn and Gill explain, the DH is arguably the greatest rules change in the history of baseball — and Democrats are more accepting of “socio-political” changes.

Younger fans like the DH a bit more — each year of age decreases support for the DH by 1.3%.

The also find a gender gap. Women are three times as likely to support the DH as men. All respondents were self-identified baseball fans, included in a larger CBS News survey taken in 1997.

Interleague play did not engender the same sort of socio-political division.

I know that Peter (Indians), Patrick (Yankees) and I (Royals) all grew up as fans of American League teams, which the authors hypothesize makes us more accepting of the DH. They could not fully test this relationship because of limits in the data (i.e., the pollsters didn’t ask the right questions).

Note to Zorn and Gill in regard to footnote 18: There may not be data showing an increased Japanese-American fan base, but there is evidence of increased interest in American baseball in Japan — thanks to the U.S. success of Nomo, Ichiro, Matsui, et al.

Hat tip: I learned about Zorn and Gill from my colleague who works with quantitative data about American public opinion and political behavior, Jason Gainous.


Beisbol has been very very good to me

— Sammy Sosa

The fun thing about this blog is that we’re IR scholars and baseball fans, and sometimes those two issues overlap in very interesting ways. The globalization of Major League Baseball has been all the rage in the past few years. A wealth of international players–now a full 29% of MLB opening day rosters in 2007–has brought an influx of tremendous talent into the game. MLB is actively promoting the game globally, paying games outside the USA and helping to set up baseball leagues in other countries (most recently in Israel– notice how the Israel Baseball League website looks alot like the main MLB.com page–you can even play fantasy Israel Baseball…). And, lets not forget the World Baseball Classic, won by Japan (indeed, featuring an entirely non-US semifinal round).

Unfortunately, there has been an ugly underbelly to growth of baseball’s quest for global talent. While US players coming out of high school and college are regulated by strict eligibility rules and must go through the draft, all non-US players are free agents and can be signed very young– as early as 16.5 years old. All MLB teams now operate academies in Latin America, particularly the Dominican Republic the number one source for Major League talent outside the USA. There has been criticism of these academies exploiting young kids hoping to realize the Sammy Sosa dream only to fail and be condemned to a life of poverty.

Now that might be changing. Slowly, somewhat, but in a positive direction. Sports Illustrated has a fascinating story about how the Cleveland Indians are leading the way adding an educational component to their Dominican Academy.

When the Cleveland Indians signed Dominican prospect Angel Franco, he knew he’d been given the opportunity of a lifetime. He just didn’t know that that opportunity would have nothing to do with baseball.

Franco, under a revolutionary program pioneered by the Cleveland Indians, graduated from high school. Yes, a Dominican baseball prospect graduating from high school is revolutionary, and no, I’m not exaggerating. In the Dominican Republic, where $7,000 is the per capita yearly income, eighth grade is when free and compulsory education ends and the chase for a fraction of the $50 million in signing bonuses invested annually begins — with much of that money doled out to 16 1/2 year-olds, the earliest age a prospect can sign. For a 14-year old boy with even a whiff of arm strength or a hint of foot speed, the idea of continuing his education almost seems economically unwise.

So Major League academies throughout the Dominican Republic fill up with players whose average educational levels fall somewhere between the sixth and ninth grades. The players know full well that only odds smaller than them making the big leagues are the odds that they’ll make a sustainable living away from the field. Once cut from a team, they become moped drivers, cement workers or sugar cane cutters. Sometimes they are fruit peddlers and occasionally drug pushers. But under new educational initiatives introduced by the Indians and replicated by the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox, pursing baseball no longer means abandoning school.

In the spring of 2004, the Cleveland Indians started requiring their Dominican prospects to attend Prepara, an adult education program that teaches players core subjects such as math, geography, and history. Depending on the time of the year and the intensity of the playing schedule, players become students anywhere from three to five times per week with classes lasting 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, with at least a half-dozen completing their high school educations.

But before you start thinking that the Indians are going all Amnesty International on us, make no mistake that the estimated $40,000-$50,000 the team spends annually educating its players is a business decision.

“It heightened our ability to understand and know the players we were evaluating, signing and developing,” says Cleveland’s Director of Player Development Ross Atkins, who helped implement the team’s educational programming. “We wanted them to think analytically. Increasing aptitude is a competitive advantage.”

Underscoring his team’s emphasis on aptitude rather than altruism is the fact that Atkins can’t tell you quite how many players have received high school diplomas as part of Prepara. “The actual graduation is not something were focused on,” he says. “It’s a nice bonus.”

What is interesting here, and, potentially, a model for other globalizing businesses, is that overall education (or what some might call, gasp, liberal arts education) that increases a worker’s overall aptitude is a very sound investment. Critical thinking skills are valuable, even to a baseball player.

There are no statistics or studies to show if education translates to winning, but Perez says the Mets have noticed more focused, better behaved baseball players. The benefit of educating young recruits has been one of the central arguments of authors Arturo J. Marcano Guevara and David P. Fidler in their book, Stealing Lives: The Globalization of Baseball and the Tragic Story of Alexis Quiroz. Both compliment the Indians’, Mets’ and Red Sox’s efforts to educate their workforce but question why all 30 Major League Baseball clubs aren’t required to offer a core curriculum to their players.

“The fact that a couple of teams are now experimenting with something that has long been policy in North America is not impressive,” says Fidler, a law professor at Indiana University.

The main problem in this case stems from what Fidler and Marcano argue is a disparity in the way Major League rules treat players born in Latin countries versus U.S. or Canadian prospects. Major League rules prohibit teams from signing U.S. and Canadian high school players during the years in which they are eligible to play scholastic baseball. Dominican and Venezuelan players need only be 16 years, six months. While the NBA last year enacted an age minimum requiring its players to be at least 19 after mounting concerns about the physical and emotional readiness of its athletes, Major League Baseball has signed the U.S.-equivalent of high school juniors routinely and consistently.

Marcano, a Venezuelan native and sports lawyer in Toronto, has seen hordes of kids cut from the Major League programs with no backup plans and no education. “They are sending this message that baseball is a way out of poverty,” he says, “but if they don’t make it there’s no future for these kids because they are not prepared to reincorporate into society.”

Because of the Indians’ Prepara program, Franco is not one of them. Educated and later released by the team, he is now enrolled in law school. Perez, too, has seen the changes. One player, he recalls, loved learning so much that he asked to continue his education even though he’s shown promise as a major-league prospect. “And,” Perez says, “he did it in English.”

Now, will this have a major impact that turns around the entire Dominican economy? Probably not, lets not be naive. The lesson, rather, is that these academies are trying to become somewhat less exploitative and leave the people who are their core product better able to handle life after baseball. Not every kid will become a Pedro Martinez or Sammy Sossa, but if they get a decent education for trying, well, that’s good for them, good for the Dominican, and good for baseball.

(and yes, I am a Cleveland Indians fan, so yes, I’m very glad to see that they are a leader in this field)

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