Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sneaking into the Series

For 60-some years, the World Series meant the team with the best record in the NL faced the team with the best record in the AL. That all changed in 1969, though, with the advent of the playoffs.

Now, the playoffs made a ton of sense. Whatever sport you’re talking about, they certainly are engaging. And with 12 teams in each league in 1969, that was certainly going to be a pretty boring second half for those teams at the bottom.

That said, you do have to wonder how well the playoff format treated those teams that – traditionally speaking – should have been the ones in the Series. So, let’s check out the record and see how they did.

Single Playoff

From 1969 through 1993, there was only one round of playoffs, with the winner of the Eastern Division playing the winner of the Western Division.

Overall, the AL did okay, with the team with the better record winning two-thirds of the time. The NL, though, was a crapshoot, with the team with the better record winning only 54% of the time.

Some of the, er, lowlights of this era included:
  • 1972 – first team that shouldn’t have made it (CIN instead of PGH)
  • 1973 – first time both teams shouldn’t have made it (OAK/NYM vs. BAL/CIN)
  • 1970-74 – BAL should have won 4 of these, replacing OAK for 2 (and as the dominant team of the early ‘70s as well)
  • 1975 – OAK should have made it instead of BOS. Goodbye Fisk’s dramatic home run. Goodbye best World Series ever.
  • 1980 – HOU would have gotten in their first Series (facing the Yankees)
  • 1983 – White Sox would have made it (but would they have beat the Dodgers?)
  • 1984 – Cubs would have made it
  • 1989 – Cubs again
  • 1990-1991 – Pirates would have made both of these

Not gonna happen

Overall, the Phillies made out like bandits, getting in 3 Series they really shouldn’t have been in. They should have at least, though, gotten in the ’77 Series. So, who knows, maybe that was the year they would have erased their particular curse, instead of in 1980.

On the losing side, the Pirates should have arguably been in 5 World Series, instead of just the two in ’71 and ’79. Who knows, maybe Barry Bonds might actually have shone in one of those.
I don’t think so

Multiple Playoffs and Wild Card

Starting in 1995, MLB went to two rounds of playoffs – three division winners and one wild card. With 14 teams in each league, this made a ton of sense. Plus, I love that some team who may have happened to have had a better record than everyone except the leader of their own division finally got their chance too. That is, however, gonna make the chances of the team with the best record overall take a major hit, right?

Sure enough, this new format drops the winning percentage in the AL under .500, to 40%. And that in the NL would be even worse, with teams with the best winning percentage making the Series only a quarter of the time. In fact, that number would be even worse than the wild card teams, who would make it one-third of the time.

Further lowlights of that era include:
  • 1992-99 – ATL should have been in 7 straight Series, instead of just 4!
  • 2000 – no subway Series, with the White Sox facing the Giants instead
  • 2001 – SEA should have made it, and would have played HOU!
  • 2002 – the first all-wild-card Series would never have happened, with NYY or OAK playing ATL (instead of ANA vs. SF)
  • 2004 – NYY would have replaced BOS. So, no comeback from 0-3, no pennant, no bloody sock, no curse lifted, no ‘Now I can die in peace” …
  • 2006 – the real subway series, with NYY and NYM instead of DET and STL
  • 2010-11 – TEX would get in neither of these, losing out to TB and NYY

Not so fast!

Winners? It’s a tie. SF gets the boobie prize by getting in legitimately once, and through the back door 3 times. DET, FLA, and TEX all got in twice illegitimately (and never legitimately).

Losers? ATL takes the cake. They got in legitimately 3 times, but should have gotten in 4 more. In fact, they should have been in the Series 8 times over a span of 11 years (1992-2003). Not quite the 1921 to 1964 Yankees, but still …


Play-In Game

Don’t even get me started with this one.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How Purple Was My Country

Everyone talks about how polarized we are as a country these days. But just how polarized are we?

Also, how does that shake out geographically? We all have a pretty general idea that some parts of the country are more red or blue than others. But what does that look like exactly?

Now, there are plenty of ways to answer these questions, but one I thought might have some real value is simply to add the voting numbers up per state, from top to bottom, as follows:

  • How a state voted in the last presidential election (red or blue)
  • The state’s US senate delegation (red, blue, or even)
  • The state’s US representatives (majority red, blue, or even)
  • The state’s governor (red or blue)
  • The state senate (majority red, blue, or even)
  • The state house of representatives (majority red, blue, or even)

That gives us a scale of 6 on the far red side and 6 on the far blue side, with everyone else somewhere else on the spectrum.

So, how did the country shake out?

2014, Pre-Midterm Election

Well, let’s first take a look at all of the states at once:

Yup, that’s pretty polarized. 

I’ll bet you’re wondering, though, where those extreme blues and reds actually are (as well as who those two totally neutral states might be). Well, here you go:

A couple of notes:

  • Red means Republican
  • Blue means Democratic
  • The darker the color, the stronger the tendency

So, here’s what I’m seeing:

  • The South and the Northeast are the most partisan areas of the country. The colors are the exact opposites, but the polarization is exactly the same as back in the Civil War
  • The Left Coast is pretty darn blue.
  • The rest of the country is rather Republican, but with some real holdouts (Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico).
  • If you want to go to someplace that is truly non-partisan, try Virginia or Iowa.

When I have some time, I’ll try some other years – as well as what it looks like after the mid-term election.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Accessible State Capitals

Washington, DC wasn’t always so misplaced. Back at the beginning of our country, it actually made a lot of sense. At that time, we were a seaboard country, with Washington pretty smack dab right in the middle.

Needless to say, we did not remain a seaboard country. In fact, only fifty years later, the U.S. stretched from sea to shining sea. And that meant that some of its citizens were now about 2,500 miles away from the seat of power.

So, we definitely failed to place our national capital in a convenient location. But how about our states? Were they able to learn from our big mistake at the national level?


For this little study, I looked at how far away each state capital was from that state’s geographic center.  

Because the states are such different sizes, however, I took this distance as a percentage of the state’s longest dimension. For example, I hear that Texas is slightly larger than Connecticut. So, though Hartford is only 15 miles away from E. Berlin (CT’s geographic center), that’s 11% of the state’s longest dimension. And that’s pretty comparable to the same numbers for Texas. Austin, though 128 miles away from Brady (TX’s geo center), comes in at only 14% when you look at that way.

By the way, I also thought about looking at population centers as well. Unfortunately, that’s something that changes over time. And since some of these states are now 225 years old …

Those poor people

The Winners

It’s actually a little hard to believe, but there are eight states where the capital is pretty much dead in the center of the state:
  • Arkansas (Little Rock)
  • Delaware (Dover)
  • Missouri (Jefferson City)
  • New Jersey (Trenton)
  • Ohio (Columbia)
  • Oklahoma (Oklahoma City)
  • South Carolina (Columbia)
  • South Dakota (Pierre)

Welcome to beautiful Trenton, NJ!

AR, OH, OK, and SC get extra points because their capitals also happen to be their largest cities. In other words, I consider them the perfect capital cities. The other states with their capital also being their largest city (though not in the center of the state) include AZ, CO, GA, HI, IA, ID, IN, MA, MS, RI, UT, and WV. That’s 16 in total, or about a third of them overall.

That said, I also like the way Jefferson City perfectly balances the two huge metropolises – St. Louis and Kansas City – at both ends of its state. Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, does something very similar with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

By the way, of those eight central capitals, Jeff City and Columbus were the only cities that were founded on purpose. Dover, Columbia, and Pierre all existed prior to their becoming the capital (i.e., the capital was moved there from somewhere else). Sorry – don’t have anything definitive on the other three.

The Also Rans

So, yes, this is like horseshoes. Here are the states that – if not perfect – at least came pretty close (or at least were within my arbitrary requirement of being in single digits).

State Capital Geo Center Miles Away Ratio
Illinois Springfield Rochester 8 2%
Maryland Annapolis Davidsonville 10 3%
Indiana Indianapolis Avon 13 4%
Tennessee Nashville Murfreesboro 36 4%
Iowa Des Moines Ames 35 8%
NC Raleigh Sanford 43 8%
Vermont Montpelier Roxbury 20 9%

By the way, Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the country, at under 8,000. The biggest is Phoenix, at almost a million and a half.

Yup, that’s pretty much it

The Losers

This is pretty subjective, but I found five state capitals that are more than 30% away from the geographic center of the state. I am using that totally arbitrary number to define them here and ever after as total, complete losers (at least when it comes to accessibility).

State Capital Geo Center Miles Away Ratio
Nebraska Lincoln Broken Bow 176 31%
Wisconsin Madison Marshfield 135 44%
Kansas Topeka Great Bend 187 35%
Washington Olympia Wenatchee 189 36%
Alaska Juneau Fairbanks 733 49%

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say Alaska gets the booby prize as “Least Accessible City.”

Yes, you read that correctly.  
It does indeed say 18 hours 

All the Rest

So, those categories take care of less than half the states (20, or 40%, to be exact). How about all the rest?

Well, these are the ones ranking from 10% to 24%. And they include the rather wide range of mileage from 13 (Rhode Island) to 195 (Florida).

Some interesting facts about them include:
  • The geographic centers of New York, Georgia, Arizona, and Colorado are the fairly populous cities of – respectively – Utica, Macon, Prescott, and Colorado Springs
  • Those for Utah (Manti), West Virginia (Sutton), Michigan (Cadillac), Wyoming (Lander), Nevada (Lander), Idaho (Challis), and Montana (Lewiston) are pretty much smack dab in the middle of nowhere
  • The geographic center of North Dakota, McClusky, has only 380 people
  • That of Pennsylvania, State College, is where the state decided to site their flagship university
  • The geographic center of Mississippi, Carthage, features the largest chicken processing plant in the whole world.

Rush hour, Challis ID

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Football Vs. Football

I have two main inspirations for this post. The first is George Bernard Shaw’s observation that “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” 

Two Irishmen

The second is George Carlin’s classic skit in which he compares football and baseball. You know, the one where he observes:

In football you wear a helmet. In baseball you wear a cap…

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog... In baseball, if it rains, we don't go out to play…

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! I hope I'll be safe at home!

I’m sure you’ll agree that there are some major differences between football and soccer as well, and with plenty of opportunities to mess things up language-wise to boot. Here, let me show you …

Football: football 
Soccer: American football
The confusion starts with the very most basic concepts. The two sides can’t even agree on what to call the games themselves.

Football: soccer
Soccer: football
Interestingly, even the Brits called soccer “soccer” into the 60s. The name comes from “association football,” a name given to football played under rules developed in the mid-19th Century (and to distinguish it from other, more primitive forms of foot-and-ball games).

Football: field 
Soccer: pitch
“Pitch” is typically something you do. You might, for example, pitch a tent, or pitch a baseball. Noun-wise, you’ve got a tarry substance and a musical quality. Only across the pond is a pitch something you would ever think of playing a game on.

Two movies, no relation

Football: sidelines
Soccer: touchlines
Both of these make sense, especially when you consider that in soccer a ball that goes past these lines has to be thrown in – the only time a non-goalie can, in fact, touch the ball.

Football: team 
Soccer: club
I don’t know. “Club” sounds awfully friendly and amateurish and even non-athletic to my ears. I mean, no one ever refers to the chess team or the photography team, now do they? 

Football: coach 
Soccer: manager
Here’s another one I can live with. Heck, baseball’s got a manager as well.

Football: uniform 
Soccer: kit
A kit? Now, I can believe a mess kit, or a model airplane kit, but a kit as something you wear? Makes no sense whatsoever.

This is a kit

Football: shoes 
Soccer: boots
On this side of the Atlantic, a boot usually refers to something long and/or clunky – i.e., not something you’d expect to run 11 kilometers in (that’s about seven miles in ‘Murcan), let alone be able to control a soccer ball with with any accuracy.

Football: cleats 
Soccer: studs
This one’s not too objectionable, but what I really think of when I think of “studs” is wall board, male horses, and all those women who get all interested in soccer every four years just because the guys are so “cute.”

Football: game 
Soccer: match
Sporting events are typically called one of three things: a game, a match, or a race. God forbid you should mix them up. There’s nothing like referring to a “NASCAR match,” a “tennis race,” or a “wrestling game” to let folks know you’re “not from around these parts.”

Football: tie 
Soccer: draw
Once again, I can live with this. I’m not so sure, though, when this turns into a verb. I don’t think any red-blooded American would ever say that the Stillers and da Bears “drew.”

Football: zero 
Soccer: nil
Would you believe “nil” is Latin? Yup, it’s a shortened form of nihil, which means “nothing.” Now, ask yourself … Should sports lingo really involve Latin abbreviations?

Football: preseason 
Soccer: friendly
Once again, soccer is way too chummy in this regard. There shouldn’t be anything friendly about sports, now should there?

Football: rivalry
Soccer: derby
No, this has nothing to do with hats. Also, it’s pronounced “dahr-bee,” not “duhr-bee.”

The term may actually come from an ancient game of soccer that was played between parishes in the English town of Derby, in the Midlands (read more right here). By the way, that also so happens to be where I was born!

This is a derby

Football: shutout 
Soccer: clean sheet
It sounds like this term may have come from scorekeeping, when the only real stats that were recorded were scores. A scoreless match would then result in a blank piece of paper – a “clean sheet.” All I can think of, though, is the laundry.

These are clean sheets

Football: final 
Soccer: full time
Actually, I’m going to have to reward the Brits with the points on this one. I mean, both games have a half time, right? Only soccer, though, is consistent in using the same idea for the end of the game as well.

Football: standings 
Soccer: table
I sort of see where they’re going with this one, but I really associate tables with how data might be shown in a textbook, not with where Manchester United happens to be situated on that particular Sunday.

Football: trophy 
Soccer: cup
So, this is a Venn diagram sort of thing. In particular, I see the word “trophy” including “cups,” but also many other things as well. In soccer, though, everything’s a “cup,” whether it’s actually a cup or not. Just think of the World Cup award itself – it’s a bulky little statue!

This looks like a turkey leg

Football: trade 
Soccer: transfer
There might be some real accuracy in these two terms. In football, the movement of players tends to go two ways. You give me Jim John and I’ll give you Bob Mike. In soccer, though, there really aren’t trades so much as signings. And those signings involve the transfer of money to the original club. Let’s leave these two alone. 

Football: fan 
Soccer: supporter
So, if I root, root, root for the home team in the UK, I guess that would make me an “athletic supporter,” right? Hmm, I wonder what those crazy Brits call what we ‘Murcans use to protect our yarbles? Why, a “jock,” of course.

This is an athletic supporter

Football: program
Soccer: programme
No biggee here. Those guys just don’t know how to spell.

Football: offsides
Soccer: no equivalent

Football: no equivalent
Soccer: offsides

Football: tackle
Soccer: foul
Actually, this wouldn’t just be a foul, but a red card, and a possible suspension. 

Football: penalty 
Soccer: tackle
The particular penalty here would be kicking the ball. And the penalty for that would be to have the clock reset. Wait a minute – wrong sport …

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What's in a (Presidential) Name?

Names have meanings. A friend of my son, for example, is named Amy Vachon. And, yes, that does indeed mean “beloved cow” in French.

The tall hater

Names also have origins. Take Smith, for example. Every little village in the Middle Ages (when surnames first became common) had a smith, and that person’s job was pretty important to that little village. It’s why Smith is one of the most common names in English-speaking countries. There are equivalents, however, in pretty much every European tongue:
  • German – Schmidt
  • Dutch – Smit, Smits
  • French – Lefebvre
  • Spanish – Herrera
  • Italian – Ferraro
  • Ireland/Scotland – McGowan, MacGowan
  • Polish – Kowalski
  • Russian – Kuznetsov
  • Slovak – Kovacs

Theoretically, you can take any name and come up with a meaning for it. “Thomas Edison,” for example, means “one of the twin sons of Edward.” And “Edward” means “protector of wealth.” So “Thomas Edison” ultimately means “one of the twin sons of the protector of wealth.” 

So, let’s take a look at the meanings of the names of our chief executives. Maybe we can even come up with hidden, fortuitous insights into their actual character (but, then again, probably not). Anyway, here goes …

God favors the red one

  • George Washington – The farmer from the town of the victor of the hunt
  • John Adams – God favors the red one
  • Thomas Jefferson – The twin, son of Peace of God
  • James Madison – He who seizes by the heel, the son of the one from the tower
  • James Monroe – He who seizes by the heel, from the hill
  • John Quincy Adams – God favors the fifth-born red one
  • Andrew Jackson – The manly one, son of the one God favors
  • Martin Van Buren – The martial one, from the house
  • William H. Harrison – Helmet of the will, the home ruler, son of the home ruler
  • John Tyler – God favors the tile maker

God favors the fifth-born red one

  • James K. Polk – He who seizes by the heel, of great glory
  • Zachary Taylor – God remembers the tailor
  • Millard Fillmore – The very famous, good, and brave one
  • Franklin Pierce – The free man, son of The Rock
  • James Buchanan – He who seizes by the heel, from the house of the monk
  • Abraham Lincoln – Father of nations, from the colony by the lake
  • Andrew Johnson – The manly one, son of the one God favors
  • Ulysses S. Grant – The tall hater
  • Rutherford B. Hayes – Son of fire, from the cattle ford
  • James A. Garfield – He who seizes by the heel, from the corner of the field

Son of the one God favors, 
from the hill with the lime tree on it

  • Chester A. Arthur – Camp bear
  • Grover Cleveland – The grove dweller, from the land of the cliffs
  • Benjamin Harrison – Son of the home ruler’s sorrow
  • William McKinley – Helmet of the will, son of the fair warrior
  • Theodore Roosevelt – Gift of God, from the field of roses
  • William H. Taft – Helmet of the will, from the homestead
  • Woodrow Wilson – Son of the Helmet of the Will, from the row of cottages by the woods
  • Warren G. Harding – The park warden, son of the hard one
  • Calvin Coolidge – The bald one, from the college
  • Herbert Hoover – Bright as the army, a landowner

The powerful ruler, son of the ruler of the people

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt – The free man, from the field of roses
  • Harry S. Truman – The trustworthy home ruler
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower – The iron maker, from the clearing
  • John F. Kennedy – God favors ol’ ugly head
  • Lyndon B. Johnson – Son of the one God favors, from the hill with the lime tree on it
  • Richard M. Nixon – The powerful ruler, son of the ruler of the people
  • Gerald R. Ford – Brave spear, from the river crossing
  • Jimmy Carter – He who seizes by the heel, the wagon driver
  • Ronald Reagan – Furious but wise counsel
  • George H. W. Bush – The farmer who lives by the shrub
  • Bill Clinton – Helmet of the will, from the town on the bright stream
  • George W. Bush – The farmer who lives by the shrub
  • Barack Obama – The blessed, bent one

God favors ol’ ugly head


The most common origin for first name is Hebrew. The most common for last names is English. Combining the two, we get:
  • Hebrew – 18
  • English – 18
  • German – 15
  • Greek – 8
  • Dutch, Irish, Latin – 4
  • African – 2
  • Aramaic, Celtic, Norse, Scottish, Welsh, Slav (Polk, believe it or not) – 1

Camp bear

The most popular first name is James, with six instances. The most popular name where the two presidents are not related is Johnson. So, I’m thinking if your name is James Johnson, you really ought to consider running.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

We Need Some New Money

As a non-numismatic American, you may not realize it, but our country has one of the most boring currencies out there. Here are some of the problems:

  • Age – All of our basic coin designs are at least 50 years old: penny (1909), nickel (1939), dime (1946), quarter (1931), half dollar (1964). Same goes for the dollar bill (1923). Our other bills look much better with their recent updates, but their basic designs are just as old.
  • Busyness – By law, each coin must include “liberty,” “in God we trust,” “e pluribus unum,” and “United States of America.” In addition, the value is typically spelled out – “one cent,” “five cents,” “one dime,” “quarter dollar,” “half dollar.” All added up, each coin has at least 14 words on it. C’mon folks! It’s a coin, not a novel. Bills add some more verbiage – “Federal reserve note,” “this note is legal tender for all debts public and private,” and much, much more.
  • Abstractness – Though I do salute the recent commemorative nickels and quarters, most of our coins have some very basic adornment on them – essentially, presidents and symbols. Of the latter, we’ve got two buildings, two eagles, and the motley collection of crap on the  back of the dime (oak branch, olive branch, torch). Bills aren’t much better – an eagle, four buildings, and that weirdo Masonic thingee with the big eyeball on the back of the one-dollar bill.
  • Repetition – I’ve already mentioned how we’ve repeated the eagle no less than three times. We’ve also done something similar with Washington and Lincoln, who are both shown twice.
  • Color – Though it’s hard to get very colorful with coins, our bills are unrelievedly green. Green, green, green.

Face it, our currency is just damn ugly. 

Don’t believe me? Next time you’re outside the US, take a look at the stuff that’s in your pockets. It’s attractive! It’s modern looking! It’s colorful.  It’s simple! It’s elegant! 

Dutch 50 Guilder Note

A Modest Proposal

So, how can we improve this dire situation? Well, if I was dictator of the United States, I would propose something along the lines of the following …

First, we need to simplify, to clean things up. All that’s really needed on a coin is the name of the country, a date, and a value. Note that none of this needs to be spelled out. So, a quarter, for example, could simply include “USA,” “2014,” and “25¢.” I’m sure bills could be boiled down to include just a few more essentials as well.

Second, we need to add some slightly more interesting images. On the people side, surely there are other famous Americans who did something other than be president? Surely, there must have been some American who has accomplished something in the arts, or science, business, the military …? Heck, some of them might even reflect some of the diversity that our country is so famous for – women, immigrants, Native Americans, African Americans …

On the non-people side, I’m thinking there might also be some other sites out there than those situated in one square mile in Washington, DC. Yellowstone? The Grand Canyon? The Golden Gate Bridge? Maybe we could even add some events to these as well. The lunar landing, anyone? Raising the flag at Iwo Jima? The signing of the Declaration?

Looking at people first, let me propose the following:

Field Person Diversity
Architecture Wright
Art O'Keefe Woman
Business Carnegie Immigrant
Civil rights MLK African-American
Exploration Lewis & Clark
Invention Edison
Literature Twain
Music Ellington African-American
Science Einstein Jewish, immigrant

And these could be in addition to our two greatest presidents, Lincoln and Washington.

As to what we could put on the back, let me propose the following sites, symbols, and events (listed in order of importance – and possible visual impact):

  • Flag
  • Eagle
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Liberty Bell
  • Iwo Jima
  • Lunar landing
  • First flight (Wright brothers)
  • Mt. Rushmore
  • Capitol
  • White House
  • Signing of the Declaration
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Grand Canyon
  • Yellowstone
  • Empire State Building / Manhattan skyline
  • St. Louis Arch

Put them all together, and you might get something like the following:

Value Obverse Reverse Color
1 cent Lincoln Flag
5 cents Jefferson Statue of Liberty
10 cents MLK Liberty Bell
25 cents Washington Eagle
50 cents Frank Lloyd Wright Capitol
$1 (coin) Lewis & Clark Golden Gate Bridge
$1 (bill) Edison First Flight Green
$5 Carnegie Manhattan skyline Blue
$10 Twain Signing of the Declaration Grey
$20 Einstein Lunar Landing Purple
$50 O'Keefe Grand Canyon Scarlet

By the way, I also like how these selections cover the different regions of the country as well:

  • North East – Edison, Einstein, Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyline
  • Mid-Atlantic – Jefferson, Washington, Carnegie, Liberty Bell, Signing of the Declaration
  • South – MLK, Twain, first flight
  • Midwest – Lincoln, Wright
  • West – Lewis & Clark, O’Keefe, Grand Canyon
  • West Coast – Golden Gate Bridge
  • Outer space (?!?!) – lunar landing

So, c’mon Jacob Lew (current, and 76th, Secretary of the Treasury)! Let’s get on the ball!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Best World Series Ever!

What makes a great World Series? Well, it’s pretty subjective, isn’t it? 

I do know it’s got to be more than individual plays (Bill Mazeroski’s homer to win the ’60 Series against the Yankees, say), or individual performances (Don Larsen’s perfect game in ‘76), or individual games (the 12-inning Game 6 of the ‘75 Series between the Red Sox and Reds). It’s also probably more than a contest between arch rivals (Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers anyone?) or between David and Goliath (Mets over Orioles in ‘69). 

Maz and friends

So, what is it? Is there a more objective way to measure something like this? 

Well, the first thing we probably want to do is to limit it to just seven-game series. I mean, that’s as close and drawn-out as you’re gonna  get pretty much by definition, right? No use including shutouts, 4-1’s, or even 4-2’s. I mean, how competitive were those really if the challenger couldn’t even bring it down to the last game?

Beyond that, though, what else could we use? Well, I happened to have thought about that quite a bit, and here are my suggested criteria:
  • Run differential – The lower the run differential, the closer the games. (Make sure, though, that’s a total of the run differential for every game, not the total for the whole series.)
  • Lead changes – The more of these, the more drama and the more it seems like either team could win.
  • Extra innings – Every extra inning only ups the tension.
  • Walk-off victories – What could be more dramatic than those? 

So, here’s what I did:
  1. Take the 36 seven-game series
  2. Rank each one by the criteria above
  3. Give the number one team 1 point, the number two 2, and so on
  4. Add up those values for all of the rankings
  5. Lowest total wins

So, let me give you an example …  Let’s take the last seven-game series, the 2011 one between Texas and St. Louis.
  1. The run differential was 22. That comes in at number 14, so there’s 14 points.
  2. There were 6 lead changes, which also happens to rank 6th overall. So that’s 6 points.
  3. There was only one extra game, which went into the 10th. So that’s 2 extra innings, which just so happens to rank 9th (17 of the series didn’t have any extra innings). So that’s 9 more points.
  4. Finally, there was one walk-off victory, in that extra-inning game. Once again, there were 17 series without any walk-offs, so this number is pretty high – 6 in our case.
  5. Add ‘em all together, and you’ve got 35 points.

After doing the same for all the other seven-game series, the 2011 Series actually comes in sixth.  Who would have thunk it?

David Freese walk-off homer in Game 6

Here are the overall top 10:
Year Winner Loser Points
1975 Cinn Bos AL 13
1924 Wash NYG 22
1912 Bos AL NYG 33
1997 Fla Clev 34
2011 StL Tex 35
1991 Minn StL 37
2001 Ariz NYY 39
1964 StL NYY 39
1947 NYY Brkln 41
1952 NYY Brkln 41

You may not be surprised that the ’75 Series is the best. In fact, it ranked no lower than fourth in every category. Carlton Fisk’s homer in the bottom of the twelth in Game 6 is just gravy.

That ’24 Series might be something of a surprise however. Yes, it was a very long time ago (and who knew the Senators were ever even in a World Series). But this series was tops for run differential (13) and extra innings (6). What’s holding it back was lead changes – a mere three. 
Walter Johnson’s dramatic four-inning save in the 12-inning 
Game 7 may have made this one of the best WS games ever

I guess some other surprises would be the number of series from recent years and, consequently, the limited number of those from the “golden age” of baseball. It is good to see some Yankee versus Dodger classics made it though.

Some other highlights:
  • The 1991 Series had the most walk-offs, with 4
  • That series also tied for the most extra innings with the ’24 Series
  • Lead changes – a mere 2 – kept the ‘91 Series from finishing much higher
  • The 1958 Series, with Milwaukee beating the Yankees, had the most lead changes, with 8 (it came in 11th overall, just missing the top 10)

By the way, the least competitive 7-game series was in 1965, when the Dodgers beat the Twins. Somehow, they managed to do that without an extra-inning game or walk-off, and with a differential of 33 runs and only 1 lead change!

The Worst World Series Ever!

So, what was the most non-competitive series? Well, reverse-engineering this a little (and only looking at 4-0 series), it looks like it would be the 1989 Series, where the A’s pounded the Giants. No walk-offs, no extra innings, no lead changes (!?!?), and a differential of 18 runs.

Probably more memorable for the earthquake

A close second was 2007, where the Red Sox trounced the Cards. Once again, no walk-offs, no extra innings, just 1 lead change, and a differential of 19 runs.

Interestingly, the most competitive four-game series was in 2005, when the Chisox whomped the Astros. That one had 1 walk-off, 5 extra innings, 4 lead changes, and a run differential of only 6.

Monday, May 5, 2014

How Preppy Were the Presidents?

There’s a lot of talk these days about “elites.” It’s a favorite trope of the Republicans, who typically cite academics, and actors, and policy wonks, and anyone else they can come up with who seem to be “out of touch” with the average Joe. Now, I’ve always assumed that’s just pure projection, as I can’t imagine who could possibly be more elite than the super rich and the politicians who serve them. 

I was wondering, though … Is there a way we can measure “eliteness”? Hmm …  Ever read The Official Preppy Handbook? I can’t imagine a better place to start than that. But how to quantify all the things that that book covers? Square footage of madras in closet? Use of dorky nicknames, like Trip or Tipper or Poppy? 

Well, heck, why not just cut to the chase and measure whether a politician went to prep school or not? Or an Ivy (the college equivalent)? Yup, I think we’ve got a winner. So, here’s how it’ll work:
  • 1 point for attending prep school
  • 1 point for an Ivy bachelors
  • 1 point for an Ivy postgraduate degree

And what I’ll be looking at is presidential elections from 1868 to 2012. I think that defines the modern political scene pretty well, in addition to giving plenty of opportunity for our candidates to turn up the collars of their polo shirts as well.

Who’s the Preppiest of Them All?

Well, overall, would you believe it’s the Democrats? Yup, 39 to 32. My guess, though, is most of that can be attributed to a single person, one Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That fine Groton and Harvard grad (2 points) was on the ticket no less than four times (8 points). Take him out of the picture, and things are pretty even.

The preppiest ticket? Well, only one ticket garnered 4 points. And that one was Gore / Lieberman. That’s St. Albans and Harvard for the first guy, and Yale and Yale Law for the second one. More Dems. Hmm …

Gore / Lieberman
(+1 point for button-down collar,
-1 point for pit stain)

I’ve also got several with 3 points each:

Year Party Prez Points Veep Points
1912 Rep Taft 1 Butler 2
1956 Dem Stevenson 2 Kefauver 1
1972 Dem McGovern 0 Shriver 3
1992 Dem Clinton 1 Gore 2
1996 Dem Clinton 1 Gore 2
2000 Rep Bush 3 Cheney 0
2004 Rep Bush 3 Cheney 0

The preppiest candidate

Well, as you can probably tell from the graph above, we’ve got two. On the Democratic side, we’ve got Sargent Shriver. That’s Canterbury, Yale, and Yale Law. Extra points for the surname as first name and for marrying a Kennedy. 

R. Sargent Shriver Weds Eunice Kennedy
May 23, 1953, St. Patricks Cathedral, New York, NY

One the Republican side, we’ve got “Dubya,” the regular guy with the Texas drawl who everyone wanted to share a beer with. For him, it’s Phillips Andover, Yale, and Harvard Biz School. 

George W. Bush
Phillips Andover cheerleader

Are We Getting Preppier?

Well, if it wasn’t obvious from the table above, we are indeed getting preppier. Here’s graphical proof:

If you need a little help interpreting this:
  • The X axis is presidential elections (1 = 1868, 38 = 2012)
  • The Y axis is total points (all prez and veep candidates combined)

By the way, those elections with 0 points? They were:

Year Dem Prez Dem VP Rep Prez Rep VP
1880 Hancock English Garfield Arthur
1884 Cleveland Hendricks Blaine Logan
1888 Cleveland Thurman Harrison Morton
1892 Cleveland Stevenson Harrison Reid
1924 Davis Bryan Coolidge Dawes
1928 Smith Robinson Hoover Curtis

What Does It All Mean?

Well, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that Republicans are preppy. Like I said before, the party is basically for the super rich, the politicians who serve them, and any chumps from the other 99% they can get to vote for them.

But why would Democrats be preppy? I mean, they’re the party of the people, right? Now, Republicans would like us to think that Democrats are all pointy-headed intellectuals who are totally out of touch and think they know best for all of us.

An alternative explanation, though, would relate to something called noblesse oblige. Perhaps you need to have gone to a prep school or Ivy to know what that means, but basically it’s the same as the biblical saying “to whom much is given, much is expected in return.”

In other words, if I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, is it really necessary for me to take bread out of other the mouths of others? Shouldn’t I feel secure enough that I don’t need to do that sort of thing? Perhaps I should even occasionally help out at the soup kitchen. I don’t know ...