It’s hard to believe someone isn’t scripting this stuff.  Tonight, the very last of the season, both wildcard slots were in play in four games. St. Louis blew off  .346 Houston early.  Boston was up against the worst team in its division, while Atlanta and Tampa Bay were facing the best teams in baseball.  Obviously, Boston wins, the Rays and Braves lose.

Oooops; the Braves hang on for 13 innings, remarkable! Still, they lose as one would expect, but the other two games, that determined the AL WC slot, were not only incredible cliffhangers but longshot wins.  In each, the winners came from behind, and the games were tied up late, in two-out, two-strike situations. Boston lost when its closer gave up not one but two runs after being one strike away from a win. And who flubs the catch that would have sent the game into extra innings? The expensive guy Boston bought from, yes, Tampa Bay, and who’s been a dud from the moment he put on red socks.  I’m sad their season is over, but the outcome is just and fair.  The team collapsed a month ago and the collapse was evident not only in their pathetic W-L record for September but just watching their body language: it was a bunch of guys (with two exceptions) who faxed in every baseball execution; slumped shoulders, flaccid swings, no hustle.  The exceptions, in my view, are Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, who are a joy to watch every minute of every game, win or lose, dragging their deadweight teammates along or playing with support.  All the other Sox  should be in the stocks on Boston Common for a week, with lots of free fruit put out to throw at them.

Tampa Bay’s performance has been amazing, and I wish them World Series rings, especially because of this: the Rays’ payroll is a fifth of the Yankees’ and a quarter of Boston’s!  And their fans don’t come out: home games are full of empty seats, whole sections where you could chase deer.  Baseball is not an “any given team on any given Sunday” sport, and it’s not soccer, where scoring is so rare that it is poorly correlated with performance. With 162 games in a season, lucky streaks and random variation don’t drive outcomes: the central limit theorem applies.  We wuzn’t robbed, we didn’t have bad luck, we aren’t seeing a curse reinstated: we pooched the beginning of the season by bad play and the end of the season by dogging it, and we are properly skulking off into the winter with our tails between our legs.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

13 thoughts on “Baseball”

  1. Yep. I’m a Boston fan, but we deserved to lose; the Rays deserved this. However, Tampa Bay does not deserve a team this good. I don’t know what city does–maybe Montreal deserves a 2nd shot?–but for the love of god, 20k “fans” in the seats tonight? Ridiculous.

  2. But let’s be fair here: the Boston collapse is 100% on the starting rotation. “Slumped shoulders, flaccid swings, no hustle”–if you say so; they’ve still hit a ton of runs in. Aceves has been nothing short of amazing; the rest of the bullpen has been solid, too. If Bard has imploded in the last few weeks; if Papelbon sucked tonight; well, when your starters are the worst in the majors, you end up taxing the bullpen more than you ought, and pitchers give up runs they wouldn’t if they were on a normal schedule.

  3. As a non-Red Sox fan, I enjoyed watching the collapse, but I think Jonah Keri has it right here when he says that it’s not easy or obvious how to assess blame in these situations:

    nuance and analysis are hard, and scapegoating is easy.

  4. And per trapnel re: pitching, here’s a statistic from Keri, as of a few days ago:

    The Sox have gone 6-19 in September. They’re 2-19 this month when scoring fewer than 12 runs.

  5. Monumental collapse, yes. But is the talk of dumping Francona serious or just writers who need to write? He’s not the one who signed all the wrong pitchers.

  6. “but for the love of god, 20k “fans” in the (TB) seats tonight? ”

    Still better than Florida. After a fan was nearly hit by a foul ball on Monday night, one of the Washington announcers looked at the acres of empty seats (21K announced, but a fraction of that visible) and said getting hit there was about as likely as getting hit by satellite debris.

  7. the Rays’ payroll is a fifth of the Yankees’ and a quarter of Boston’s!

    Well, yes. That’s partly due to the fact that they’ve had early draft picks for several years, and the luxury of letting young players develop. That doesn’t mean they haven’t done an excellent job under severe financial constraints, but they have had a few advantages of their own.

    Still, they are worth a salute, especially for yesterday’s victory.

    There’s a bit of poetic justice here that’s been overlooked. Longoria’s winning extra-inning HR came off Scott Proctor. This is the same lousy pitcher who lost an extra-inning game to the Red Sox last Sunday night.

  8. The whole series in Baltimore showed, like September in microcosm, that the Red Sox didn’t belong in the playoffs, and wouldn’t have been able to stay long even if the Yanks had won all 3 at the Trop. Can’t root for either the Rays or, of course, the Yanks, and so, for various sentimental reasons, I’m going over the wall, and rooting for the Phillies.

  9. I’m as sorry as any decent thinking person, also, that I won’t see Ellsbury and Pedroia play until next year.

  10. CharleyCarp,

    Can’t root for either the Rays or, of course, the Yanks, and so, for various sentimental reasons, I’m going over the wall, and rooting for the Phillies.

    Because, unlike the Yankees, who coasted in with established aces like Colon and Garcia and Nova, the Phillies are gritty underdogs who played way over their heads? 🙂

  11. Both of the Boston teams had legendary, for-the-history-books collapses in September. The Braves were up 8+ games in the Wild Card race before they went 7-20 for September. Sure, they weren’t as good as the Phillies, but the agony of last night was that the Cardinals shouldn’t even have been in the *running* for the NL Wild Card.

    The Red Sox didn’t have as wide a lead over Tampa Bay, but their side-by-side collapse was, as you imply, the stuff of movie scripts.

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