Posts tagged ‘Red Sox’

Believe it or Not, Steroids Have an Actual Medical Use

The other day I was listening to a national sports-talk radio show and they were discussing an prominent athelete's recent injury.  They were expressing concern that the doctor who was treating the athlete (succesfully, it seemed) had treated other non-ahtlete patients with HGH and steroids.

Well, duh.  This is what has driven me crazy about the whole steroid craze.  Steroids were not invented to as sports performance enhancing drugs.  They were invented because they had a variety of medical uses, including aiding recovery from certain injuries.   Is the sports world really better off if we deny, say, Tiger Woods the injury-recovery tools that any non-athlete would have access to?

I will add here, just to tick people off and highlight yet another area where I am grossly out of step from the rest of America, that I have no particular problem with PED's in sports.  It's fine if governing bodies for whatever reason want to ban them, but its not a straight forward case to me.  These drugs have dangers, but getting our panties in a knot about people's informed choices on these dangers seems hypocritical to me as we routinely attend sports that have been demonstrated to cause, for example, major brain damage in athletes (e.g. football, hockey, boxing).

I suppose I get the comparability issue (people like records from 1900 to be comparable to those today) but to some extent this is outright hypocrisy as well.  Don't modern training techniques, like altitude sleeping chambers, equally make a mockery of comparability?  Baseball cries the most about steroids messing up the record books, then it does stuff like lower the pitching mound to help hitters and add the DH.

On the plus side, isn't there value to seeing our athletes play longer?  Wouldn't it be nice (if you are not a Red Sox fan) to see Derek Jeter play a little longer?  To see Tiger Woods return quicker from injuries?

And don't even get me started on the government's campaign to throw steroid users like Barry Bonds in jail.  As I said earlier, I don't have a particular problem if private governing bodies choose, for competitive or marketing reasons, to ban PED's and enforce that ban within their community.  But throwing Barry Bonds in jail for choice he made with his own body?

Things I Have Learned As A Libertarian

People often use terrible, specious logic when arguing things political.  I have particularly seen this over the last 6 months.  The argument typically goes like this:

  1. I make a critique of a policy in the Obama administration, say on health care
  2. Sometimes as an opening response, or sometimes when other person is unable to specifically counter what I have said, they respond instead, "well, your guys  fill in the blank ." The latter part might be "got us into Iraq" or possibly "are pushing this birther nonsense."
  3. I respond that  fill in the blank was not something I support(ed) and that if  by "my guys" they mean Republicans, that I was not a Republican, that I do not think the Republicans have an internally consistent position, and that I disagree with many programs and policies typically advocated by Republicans.  And besides, how did this have anything to do with the original conversation?
  4. They respond to me now as if I am somehow cheating.  Confusion reigns.

I am not a student of logic, so I don't know what this technique or fallacy is called, though I have learned that such common behaviors generally do have academic sounding names.  I think of it as the sports-team-argument approach.  When my son (Yankees fan, much to the embarrassment of the whole family) argues with his Red Sox cousins, he might say "Kevin Youkilis has to be the creepiest looking guy in the league," and his cousins might respond "Yeah, well how many steroids has A-Rod done this week?"

Strictly speaking, bringing up A-Rod does not answer the Youkilis barb.  But it is understood to be in the broader context of my team vs. your team, and in that context the exchange makes logical sense, and the A-Rod comeback is a perfectly appropriate rejoinder to the Youkilis insult.  You point out a blemish in my team, I respond with a blemish on your team.

But what if you don' t have a team?

I am starting to understand better that this is how most people approach political discourse.  For someone looking for a quality discussion on key public policy questions, arguments seldom make sense.  Why does something Rush Limbaugh is saying have any bearing on the point I just made on health care or cap-and-trade?  The answer is that it does not, unless the whole point is a red team-blue team one-upmanship between the Coke and Pepsi parties.

Postscript / Disclosure: I am actually an agnostic in the Yankees / Red Sox battles, but I am a big fan of Kevin Youkilis.  The story of how Oakland's Billy Bean tried to pry Youkilis out of the Red Sox farm system in Moneyball is priceless.  According to the story, Bean knew before the Red Sox what talent they had lurking in the Minors.

Income Inequality and Game Theory

Consider this situation:  You are a member of a four-person rock band.  Each member of the band has contributed somewhat equally over time, and band revenues have always been split evenly, 25% to each member, though its total earnings on an absolute basis have been small  However, the band has suddenly become the next U2.  It is likely the band will make tens of millions of dollars over the coming years.  Just as this is happening, the other three band members come to you and threaten to make you Pete Best.  They will allow you to stay with the band, but only if you accept a reduction in your share of the earnings to 10%.  You perceive this move as unfair given your equal contribution to the band to date.  However, even 10% of the band's new fortunes would be a LOT of money (and fame) and you honestly believe that even a 10% share is better than you could do with any other band or occupation.  What do you do -- take 10% or quit?  (assume you want to be famous and you have no legal recourse against the other members)

In an analytical vacuum, one might predict that any rational person would take the deal -- while it is less than might be hoped, it is certainly a better deal than one could get any place else.  A pure profit maximizing decision would be to stay with the band (and watch you back at night for more knives).

However, numerous studies and surveys have shown that in fact, a  large number of people would choose to give up the money rather than feel cheated.  Just look at the number of professional football players who have held out for a whole season to try to get a better contract.  In every case, the present value of the salary lost for that season is far greater than any increase in salary in the future from taking the tough stand.  But these players would rather be paid nothing than feel underpaid.

TJIC had a pointer to an interesting article on game theory.  In it, the author talks about this behavior in the context of a game that divides up pies, and summarizes:

Apparently, making money is not the players' only concern; participants have a sense of pride and care about how they are treated by others, economists have concluded. Thus, offers perceived to be "unfair" are rejected out of a desire for revenge.

In fact, revenge and/or envy has been tested in a number of games, where scientists gave players trailing in the game the ability to spend money solely to take away money from the leading players  (e.g. you can spend your last $10 to make $10 of your opponents money disappear).  There is something in human behavior that wants to bring down the winners, even when doing so makes one worse off himself.  (Question to Red Sox fans:  would you accept a lifetime bad of the Sox from the World Series if you were guaranteed the Yankees would never make the World Series either?)

I guess I don't really have a problem with such behavior in consensual transactions (though I personally work pretty hard to purge my ego from business decisions).  My problem comes when people motivated in this way vote in our society that has proven to have inadequate protections of the minority, at least when we refer to the minority of rich and successful

In Closing of the American Mind,  Allan Bloom tells the story of a question he used to ask his classes vis a vis income inequality.  He would ask something like "Would you vote for a law that reduced income inequality but at the same time reduced total wealth, such that the poor might get a larger slice of a smaller pie, and might even be worse off on an absolute basis afterwards."  Apparently, he would get solid majorities for "yes" and in fact I have been in classes where this same question was asked and at least 40% said "yes."  This is a situation a bit similar to the one above, but without it being personal.  In other words, no one has explicitly hosed you, they have just done better.

I hope you can see the parallel.  Large numbers of people are willing to pay (or equivalently make less money) to reduce the earnings of people who are wealthy and/or successful. They are even  more willing to do so if they think that they have been treated unfairly.  Which is why you see so many politicians and media outlets working so hard right now to convince the middle class that current income distribution patterns are somehow "unfair."  Politicians are pandering to this base human emotion, the desire to spitefully bring someone else down (in the case of income equality laws, someone the person has likely never even met or transacted with) even if it makes oneself worse off.   

I can understand why Pete Best might harbor a grudge against the Beatles.  But why do so many Americans harbor a grudge against people they have never met, just because they make more money?

I Love Hearing This From An Athlete

Apparently the media tried to make a controversy out of Curt Schilling's announcement he would enter free agency at the end of the year.  This is part of his response, from his blog (emphasis added):

Now we fast forward a bit and we have what appears to be
"˜controversy' because the Red Sox do not extend my contract when alls
said and done, and I am going to file for free agency at years end.
Again contrary to "˜expert' opinions and views this was never a "˜gun to
the head' situation, the Sox knew this and I knew it. It really was
very simple for both sides. We spoke at length, Theo, Mr. Henry, Mr
Werner and I all spoke at some point and at no time, and let me
reiterate that, at NO time, were there ever any hard feelings, ill
will, or loud exchanges.

The Red Sox owe me nothing. They've paid me over 40 million dollars
for what amounts to two seasons worth of starts. They didn't ask for a
refund in "˜05 when I couldn't get my mother out, and on top of that
they've been respectful of my family at every turn.

I wanted to remain in Boston to finish my career, I made that clear
to them. They made it clear to me that if it wasn't for the money this
would be a done deal. I get that, it's not hard to understand. If I was
to sign a 4 million dollar deal I'd be signed already. The 13 million
we had talked about was money they were looking at as "˜available', so
this had changed their plans if they were to sign me.

Interview with Bill James

If you were to make a list of 10 people in the 20th Century who had the ability to rethink whole industries, you might come up with names like Sam Walton or Herb Kelleher.  One guy you might not think of, but who should make the list, is Bill James.  James has helped to single-handedly rethink the game of baseball, one of the great bastions of not-invented-here thinking.  Here is an interview of James that is pretty interesting.  Hat Tip to Cafe Hayek, who also has some thoughts on James the economist.

James sounds a lot like Hayek, and more recent authors like Virginia Postrel, when he says things like this:

If I were in politics and presented myself as a Republican, I would be
admired by Democrats by despised by my fellow Republicans. If I
presented myself as a Democrat, I would popular with Republicans but
jeered and hooted by the Democrats.
        I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to
really understand. Each of us has an organized way of thinking about
the world"”a paradigm, if you will"”and we need those, of course; you
can't get through the day unless you have some organized way of
thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is
vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in
our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by
our theories"”no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are.
        As in politics we have left and right"”neither of which explains
the world or explains how to live successfully in the world"”in baseball
we have the analytical camp and the traditional camp, or the
sabermetricians against the scouts, however you want to characterize
it. I created a good part of the analytical paradigm that the
statistical analysts advocate, and certainly I believe in that paradigm
and I advocate it within the Red Sox front office. But at the same
time, the real world is too complicated to be explained by that
paradigm.

Or this, closer to the sports world:

Honestly, major league baseball"”and all sports"”would be far better off
if they would permit teams to do more to make one park distinctive from
another"”even so far as making the bases 85 feet apart in one park and
95 in another. Standardization is an evil idea. Let's pound everybody
flat, so that nobody has any unfair advantage. Diversity enriches us,
almost without exception. Who would want to live in a world in which
all women looked the same, or all restaurants were the same, or all TV
shows used the same format?
        People forget that into the 1960s, NBA basketball courts were
not all the same size--and the NBA would be a far better game today if
they had never standardized the courts. What has happened to the NBA
is, the players have gotten too large for the court. If they hadn't
standardized the courts, they would have eventually noticed that a
larger court makes a better game"”a more open, active game. And the same
in baseball. We would have a better game, ultimately, if the teams were
more free to experiment with different options.
        The only reason baseball didn't standardize its park
dimensions, honestly, is that at the time that standardization was a
dominant idea, they just couldn't. Because of Fenway and a few other
parks, baseball couldn't standardize its field dimensions in the
1960s"”and thus dodged a mistake that they would otherwise quite
certainly have made.
         Standardization destroys the ability to adapt. Take the high
mounds of the 1960s. We "standardized" that by enforcing the rules, and
I'm in favor of enforcing the rules, but suppose that the rules allowed
some reasonable variation in the height of the pitching mound? What
would have happened then would have been that, in the mid-1990s, when
the hitting numbers began to explode, teams would have begun to push
their pitching mounds up higher in order to offset the hitting
explosion. The game would have adapted naturally to prevent the home
run hitters from entirely having their own way. Standardization leads
to rigidity, and rigidity causes things to break.

I love it.  Maybe those guys who want to use baseball as a paradigm for life had something after all.