Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Mathematical Illiteracy Leads to Bad Decisions

Back-to-back contestants on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" have just demonstrated the truth of the above premise. The first was a woman who said up-front that she and her husband had a slogan, "If it's not 100%, you gotta pay the rent", meaning they had decided she shouldn't guess if she wasn't 100% sure. I have demonstrated in a previous post here that this is a completely wrong approach. The right approach balances the potential risk vs. the potential reward, and if the reward is greater, then you go for it. The rubber hit the road with this contestant when she was going for $100K, had it down to 2 choices, and still walked instead of guessing. She would have been risking $25K to win $50K, an obvious spot to guess, but contestants just can't seem to understand this risk vs. reward concept.

To make me even more discouraged about the innumeracy of the populace, the very next contestant came in with a saying written on his hand; it was "don't guess". He showed he was following this ridiculous slogan by asking the audience on a $2K question, where the answer was obvious, and then on the $4K question, which gave a name (which I didn't right down), and said this name "which reads the same forwards and backwards, is a fear of what"? It obviously was palindrome, yet he called a friend, who put the word into his computer and still had no answer, then he used his 50-50, and then he walked!! Perhaps he didn't know what a palindrome was, but that seems rather far-fetched. I think he was just stupidly following his silly slogan.

Just consider, how many great achievements in history would never have happened if the people had the attitude of not trying unless 100% sure of success? Life is uncertain, it is a matter of taking risks, and if you are never willing to take a risk, you will never accomplish anything worthwhile.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Are the Dodgers Thinking?

Have the Dodgers completely lost their way, or what? Let's "review the bidding" for the past two years.

After the 2006 season, the Dodgers signed free agent Juan Pierre, for a 5-year contract worth $44 million. I like Pierre a lot. My favorite Pierre story is how he went out into Yankee Stadium many hours before the first game of the 2003 World Series, before anybody else was in the stadium, and started rolling balls down the third base line. Satisfied that the Yankee groundskeepers had not "stacked the deck" against him (i.e., bunts down the line would have a chance of staying fair), Pierre proceeded to bunt for a base hit on the very first pitch of the World Series! The Marlins never looked back after that, beating the Yankees in 6 games.

The down side to Pierre is that he is not the prototypical centerfielder, in that he does not hit home runs. His forte is speed, bunt hits, stealing bases, running down balls in the outfield, etc. Also, he is not the prototypical leadoff hitter in that he doesn't walk much.

Pierre responded by having a very typical year in 2007. He played in all 162 games (for the 5th straight year), hit no home runs, walked only 33 times, struck out only 37 times, hit .293, slugged .353, and had an on-base percentage of .331. The latter 3 figures were slightly below his career averages, but essentially, the Dodgers got what they had expected from Pierre.

So what did the Dodgers do in the offseason? They went and signed Andruw Jones for $36 million for 2 years! This was wrong on 2 counts: first, they already had a good centerfielder; and second, Jones had just had a horrible year in 2007, and anybody who watched him could see his skills and motivation had declined considerably. He hit only .222, a horrendous figure for someone playing a position where hitting is important (i.e., not a middle infielder), and worse yet, he slugged only .413, which was down .118 from the year before.

Jones got off to a horrendous start with the Dodgers, hitting under .200, and then getting hurt. Torre put him hitting 8th in the lineup, and on July 28th Torre benched him and said he would only be a spot starter for the rest of the season.

So, one would think, this puts Pierre back in center, right? No, not quite. The Dodgers have some yo-yo named Matt Kemp playing center instead. All you need to know about this bum is this story from an LA paper yesterday:

"Playing in a ballpark the Dodgers visit only once a year and at a strange, shadowy time of day mandated by the Fox network, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp responded to a fifth-inning fly ball hit in his general direction on Saturday by throwing up his hands, the universal sign for a ballplayer who has lost a ball in the sky. "I think we all thought he was trying to deke the baserunners when he did it," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "But obviously, when it fell behind him, that wasn't the case."

The ball landed approximately 30 feet behind Kemp, allowing Philadelphia left fielder Pat Burrell to pull into second with a gift double, Jimmy Rollins to score and Ryan Howard to drive in two runs with his subsequent single, putting the Dodgers in a 6-2 hole in a game they eventually would lose 9-2.

After the game, Kemp dutifully fielded questions from reporters about the gaffe. But to say he answered them would be a bit of a stretch. Did you lose it in the sun? "I guess," he said. How long did you see it before losing it? "That's a great question," he said, sarcastically. "I would have caught it if I saw it.""
When he's played at all, Pierre has been playing in left. So, what did the Dodges do recently? They traded for Manny Ramirez, who has a huge contract and obviously has to be played, and his position is left.

The Dodgers' loss yesterday to the Phillies is typical of their whole season. In the first inning Andre Ethier drew a 5-ball walk when the umpire lost track of the count! The thing about this is, that nobody on the Dodger team noticed this at the time, or if they did, nobody said anything at the time to the umpire. In the 9th inning, the Dodger closer could not protect the lead, and the game goes into extra innings. Then in the top of the 10th, the Dodgers load the bases but cannot score the go-ahead run, and they end up losing in the 11th. Pierre's only appearance was to pinch-hit for the pitcher in the 7th. Jones is in the minors on a rehab assignment.

Some of that money the Dodgers have spent on all those outfielders could have been spent on getting a reliable closer, and a better hitting coach. Even a better pitching coach would seem appropriate, since the closer says he knows what he's doing wrong ("flying open"), but can't seem to correct it. Any good pitching coach should be able to correct a mechanical flaw like that.

In the weakest division in baseball, the Dodgers stand at only .500, 3 games back. This is pathetic and unacceptable.

3/18/16 update.  Pierre played three seasons for the Dodgers and then was traded to the White Sox. Andruw Jones was released after hitting .158 for the Dodgers in 2008, which meant the Dodgers had to eat the second year of his absurd $36M contract. Jones played four more years, never hitting higher than .247.

The Dodgers stuck with Matt Kemp, even signing him to an 8-year, $160M contract extension after the 2011 season. They finally got fed up with his lackluster play and his negative clubhouse influence, and traded him to the Padres after the 2014 season, sending $32M to the Padres to soften the financial hit for the Padres in assuming such a bloated contract.

Manny Ramirez stuck with the Dodgers till August of 2010, when he was claimed on waivers by the White Sox, He retired 5 games into the 2011 season, facing a 100-game suspension for a second failed drug test.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Synchronized Swimming

I must confess I am a big skeptic when it comes to some of these new so-called "sports", like synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized diving, and others, because they seem more like show business than real sports. Besides that, the scoring is so subjective.

However, I have to say that anyone who was not totally enchanted upon seeing the Russian team's perfect -10, gold medal performance at the Beijing Olympics in synchronized swimming better go see a cardiologist, because your heart is no longer beating. It was awesome!

I'm sure the Russian team's rhythmic gymnastics performance was equally awesome. I didn't happen to see it, but I saw 3 other performances, and if Russia's was better than these, as it must have been since it won the gold, then it must have been fantastic.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Three Cheers for the Dutch

The Dutch women's water polo team defeated the heavily-favored USA team 9-8, with a goal in the last minute breaking the 8-8 tie. Since the USA was ranked #1 and was the defending world champion, and the Dutch ranked only #9, this was a huge upset.

Stories like this are what make the Olympics so great. You just never know what's going to happen. As Yogi said, "It's never over till it's over".

Friday, August 15, 2008

The NBC Wraps Up

The NBC championship game was tonight at 6:00, the early start time due to the possibility that 2 games might be needed. I went out to watch the undefeated Santa Barbara Foresters beat the once-beaten Seattle Studs 2-0 in a fast game, taking less than 2 hours. Both sides featured effective pitching, and all pitchers used mostly slow curves all night.

Veteran umpire Bob Homolka was behind the plate. He is the most respected umpire around, but his strike zone was ridiculous all night, as he would call inside and outside pitches strikes. It seemed to be the same for both sides, but still, it seems a shame that every time the Studs threatened to score the rally would get snuffed out by Homolka's generous strike zone. Probably time for him to retire.

Baseball is said to be the only game you can go to and have a reasonable expectation of seeing something you've never seen before. Tonight, it was 4 pitchers warming up at the same time in the Foresters bullpen.

I stayed for the awards ceremony this time. The highlight was the MVP going to Foresters DH Kevin Keyes, a University of Texas Sophomore. Keyes had a monster tournament, batting over .500, an amazing accomplishment considering the wooden bats being used now. I expect to see him in the Majors in the future.

I see from the roster that all the Foresters players are college players, the oldest being only 23. The Studs, by contrast, have 6 players older than 23, their ages being 30, 27, 26, 25, 24, and 24.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Celebrating the Bulwer-Lytton Contest

The Bulwer-Lytton Contest has been taking place annually since 1982, and honors the worst first line of a novel. The line the award is named after is:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Recent winners are:

"Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.'" (2008 winner)

"Gerald began -- but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash -- to pee." (2007 winner)

"Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean." (2006 winner)

"As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual." (2005 winner)

She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon. (2004 winner)

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently. (2003 winner)

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained. (2002 winner)

The 2003 winner is Mariann Sims, who writes the "Blogged Down at the Moment" blog.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Afternoon at the NBC

This afternoon I watched one of the most entertaining games I've ever seen at the NBC tournament. The Liberal BeeJays played the Crestwood Panthers in an elimination game. Crestwood scored 3 in the top of the first, but Liberal hung tough after that and took a 4-3 lead after 6. Crestwood got a 2-out rally going in the top of the 7th, and their manager showed a bit of nervousness as he pinch-hit for one of his regulars. It paid off with the tieing run scoring, but then when the next batter also singled the runner fell down rounding third base, and got caught in a rundown for the third out.

It stayed tied through the bottom of the 7th, and then a really strange play happened in the top of the 8th. A Panther runner was on 1st, and the next batter mistakenly thought he had walked and went to 1st, with the runner on 1st going to 2nd. The Liberal catcher went out onto the field and told his infielders to tag the lead runner, but by this time he had reached 2nd so it went as a stolen base! In reality there were only 3 balls on the batter, and he eventually made the 3rd to to keep the score tied.

But then the roof fell in for Crestwood in the bottom of the 8th. Liberal scored 4 runs, breaking the game open to 8-4. I have to wonder if it was wise for Crestwood to remove its regular catcher and put in a substitute at that point. To the extent the maneuvers constituted a "chess game", Liberal manager Mike Hargrove clearly won the battle. Hargrove is an interesting story in and of himself. He was a successful Major Leaguer for many years, and became known as "the human rain delay" for his delaying tactics at bat. He later became a successful Major League manager, then quit suddenly in the middle of last season, saying the passion was no longer there. He is thought to be the first manager ever to quit with his team sporting a 7-game winning streak. So it wasn't that his team was doing poorly, it's just he didn't have the passion. But then he agreed to manage the Liberal BeeJays this year, a team he had played for in 1972.

It looked to be an easy road to victory for the BeeJays as the 9th started. However, Crestwood managed an incredibly gutsy 2-out rally, and got to 8-6 with the bases loaded. A single to short center scored the guy on 3rd, but the slow-footed runner on 2nd got thrown out at home, the ball and the runner arriving pretty much simultaneously, which usually results in an out being called if the catcher holds onto the ball. So, the BeeJays remain in the tourney with the 8-7 win, and Crestwood goes home. Crestwood used 7 pitchers in a desperate attempt to avoid elimination, while Liberal ended up using 4.

At this point teams still alive include Havasu, last year's champion, the '06 champ Santa Barbara Foresters, the Anchorage Glacial Pilots, 5-time champ but none since '01, the Kenai Peninsula Oilers, 3-time champs but none since '94, and of course the BeeJays, 4-time champs but none since '00.

Sunday at the NBC

The sun finally came out yesterday around 6:00 P.M., and I went out to watch the game between the Vienna (VA) Senators and the Santa Barbara Foresters. The Senators struck for 5 runs in the first, but the Foresters answered back with 4 of their own in the bottom of the first. The amazing thing about this game was the performance of Foresters relief pitcher Mike Ford. He came in with no outs in the first inning, after the Foresters starter could not get anybody out, and pitched a full 8 innings, only allowing 1 run! The Foresters pecked away and ended up winning 11-6, and looked very impressive in the process. The Senators used 6 pitchers in a desperate attempt to avoid falling into the loser's bracket, but it was not meant to be.

The rain has pushed 4 loser's bracket games into today, which were scheduled to be played yesterday. The 4 remaining undefeated teams include Santa Barbara, Springfield, Beatrice, and Seattle. The loser's bracket had 12 teams in it at the start of today's play. 4 loser's bracket games will be played today staring at 8:00 A.M., and then the 4 remaining undefeated teams play at 7:30 and 10:00 tonight.

The Year of the Spaniard

Despite Sergio Garcia's letting the PGA slip from his grasp in the last few holes yesterday, this remains the year of the Spaniard in sports. Spain won the European Cup, then Nadal won at Wimbledon in what many are calling the greatest tennis match ever, and then a Spaniard won the Tour de France.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The 2008 Olympics

Some early reactions and observations on the Beijing Olympics and NBC's coverage.

1. Spectacular opening ceremonies Friday, and Bob Costas provided his usual excellent commentary. Unfortunately, the next day when the competition started we got stuck with that no-talent-bum Jim Lampley as the host.

2. Women's volleyball game between Japan and the US. The announcer said the Japan team was "a joy to watch", which gave me some hope that the coverage would be less US-centric than in past years. The same announcer later stubbed his toe when he ungrammatically said that the venue, which was the site of the "ping-pong diplomacy" games in the early '70's, "looked a lot differently now than it did back then".

3. Some fencing was shown, apparently only because the US won all 3 medals, as fencing proved to be impossible to watch.

4. Cycling events are interesting, in that they start in Beijing and go to the Great Wall, one of the most intriguing routes ever I would think.

5. I have found the rowing events interesting. Seeing the way the rowers turn their oars sideways when in the air brings back memories of Boy Scout camp, when the canoeing/rowing instructor would constantly yell, "Feather them oars!". I've never seen anybody "feathering" in real life until this weekend.

6. The swimming events are always interesting. The way records are constantly being broken is a neverending source of wonder to me. Training techniques must be constantly improving. In one event a new Olympic record was set in one heat, only to be immediately broken again in the next heat!

7. Water polo. No doubt a very hard and strenuous sport, but not very interesting to watch.

8. Beach volleyball. Pretty interesting to watch, especially when the competitors are women!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Baseball Round the Clock

This is a feature in the middle weekend of the 15-day NBC World Series, in which you watch 17 games in 56 hours. It is remarkable how popular this has become since being introduced 20 or so years ago. I have toyed with the idea of doing it in the past, when it was truly around the clock, because I could have taken a sleeping bag and napped at the park. Now, they clear the park out after the 1:00 A.M. game, and you have to leave and come back for the 7:00 or 8:00 A.M. one. There is no way I could sleep at home for 3 hours and then get up and go somewhere. But it does seem better for the players not to have to deal with a 3:00 A.M. game! I was surprised the other day to hear folks behind me, who were about my age, talk about plans to participate in the Round the Clock marathon.

At any rate, the current rain will play havoc with the schedule, as at 10:15 A.M. the field is still covered and the 8:00 game has not yet started. At the moment there are 8 undefeated teams left, all of which are scheduled to play tomorrow. These include the 2 Alaska teams, and the perennial favorite Seattle Studs. No Jayhawk League teams remain in the winner's bracket. However, the losers bracket, with 16 teams still alive, has 4 Jayhawk League teams left, which include the Hays Larks, the Liberal BeeJays, the Clarinda A's, and the Nevada Griffons. All 16 of these teams are scheduled to play today.

The Wichita Open

Yesterday I got out to Crestview Country Club to watch the second round of the Wichita Open, a golf tournament part of the Nationwide Tour. This year I had free admission, based on being 62 or older.

I watched a group hole out at the 18th green, then wandered down to the 17th, where I watched another group hole out. Then I went to the nearby 13th green where I watched a threesome hole out, and I decied to follow this group around the rest of the way as that was aobut how far I wanted to walk and how much sun I wanted to get. The group consisted of Ewan Porter, from Sydney, Australia; Ben Bates, from Havana, Florida; and Bryce Molder, from Conway, Arkansas, and they were an interesting study in contrasts.

Porter did something on the 13th green that I've never seen. He obviously had given up on the tournament, and carelessly 4-putted on his way to a triple bogey. He just knocked the ball back and forth without studying any of the putts at all. One shot was a backhand, using the wrong side of the putter. After figuring out what was going on, I realized that he had come into the hole 3 over par, while the expected score needed to make the cut was 4 under. So, he would have had to go 7 under in the last 6 holes to make the cut, and obviously he felt like not even trying, at least on the 13th hole. The irony is that he birdied each of the last 5 holes, to go back to only 1 over!

Molder was a real sourpuss, complaining constantly abut the quality of the greens, and throwing his clubs around several times, once barely missing his caddy who shot a dirty look in his direction. He reminded me of a guy from my hometown, Dick Mast, who has a history of tensing up in the final round and falling apart. I hate to think of how irritable Molder will get during these last 2 rounds, as he did make the cut.

Bates was just the opposite of Molder. He was congenial, laughing at his good shots and at his bad ones. He reminded me of Rocco Mediate, the 45-year-old journeyman who won all of our hearts recently at the U.S. Open when he almost became the oldest first-time winner of a major championship. Instead, Tiger Woods holed a 12-foot-putt on the final hole, forcing a playoff, and Rocco then lost the playoff to Tiger. But Rocco's good humor and joviality certainly made an impression on everybody, and the world surely could use more folks like Rocco and like Bates.

Seeing a couple of Australians in the list printed in the paper, I decided to count up the foreign-born players at the Wichita Open. The count is 13 for Australia, 3 for Canada, 2 for New Zealand, and 1 each from Argentina, Mexico, Sweden, and South Africa. Given that 60% of the field was eliminated yesterday, it is truly amazing that all of these foreign-born players made the cut except for the Mexican, the South African, and one of the Kiwis.

As I write this, at 8:30 Saturday morning, it is raining, so it will be interesting to see how they manage to get in the last 2 rounds. The rain entered into an interesting human interest story involving a guy named Tyler Aldridge, who found out during a 3-hour rain delay Thursday that his wife had given birth back in Idaho. I see from today's paper that Aldridge did decide to stay and play yesterday, but he shot an 80 and finished with the highest score of those who played both rounds. Having your first kid can be pretty distracting!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The 2008 NBC World Series

The wonderful 74-year-old Wichita tradition of the National Baseball Congress World Series began the other day. I got out last night to the 4th day of the event, watching the last half of the 5:00 game between the San Diego Waves and the Maxim Yankees. The Waves held onto their 5-2 lead for the last few innings and won with that score. The score reminded me of how much more like real baseball the games are since they replaced aluminum bats with wooden bats. With aluminum bats, the usual score was more like 11-10.

The next game was between Gunnison (Colorado) and Park City (Kansas). Each team scratched out a run during the first 5 innings, and then in the 6th Gunnison broke the tie, and during a Park City pitching change I went on home. I found out later that Gunnison held on to win 4-3, sending Park City to the loser's bracket.

The temperature when I got to the stadium was 99, but there was a slight breeze, and sitting behind third base, near the top of the grandstand so that the sun was blocked out, I was surprisingly comfortable. I noticed that there was a new structure in the Wichita skyline which is in view from the stadium, and I can only assume that it was the new arena which is being built just south of downtown.

Down below in the store I ran into some players from the Seattle Studs team, and I asked if the Studs were going to be selling T-shirts this year. They said they would be, but only during their games, and the game that nite wasn't until 1:00. They said if they won they'd play next on Thursday, and they sounded like they expected to win (which they did).

The guy in front of me in the grandstand had this interesting T-shirt on, which said "Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Kola, HI". Based on that, and the apparent ages of himself and his son, I concocted this whole life scenario for him, which is that he joined the military at 18, did his 20 years and ended up in Wichita where he met a woman and had this son who was with him at the park.

The announcer mentioned that Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was the 7th-oldest professional ballpark in use in the US. I know Fenway Park and Wrigley Stadium are older in the majors, but don't know which are the other 4 minor league parks which are also older. Lawrence-Dumont has a notable history, starting with the first NBC tournament in 1935 when it welcomed Satchell Paige and his Bismarck team (which won that first tournament), and striking a strong blow against racism by welcoming Blacks a full 12 years before the color barrier in the majors was finally broken.