Book Review: “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports”

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Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball reached a landmark in their fight against performance enhancing drugs. For the first time, 13 players were suspended for PED use without a single positive test.

Read that again — 13 players were suspended without a single positive test.

“Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports”, by San Francisco Chronicle investigative journalists Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, was released just prior to the 2006 baseball season. Barry Bonds hadn’t yet passed Hank Aaron in the all-time home run total. The following known PED users hadn’t been outed: Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz. George Michell’s famous report was still a year and a half away from publication. In 2006, the “Steroid Era” was still very much in its infancy.

But “Game of Shadows” couldn’t be more relevant today.

In many ways, Barry Bonds is the star of “Game of Shadows”. But the real star is Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO).

Continue reading “Book Review: “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports””

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“Scorecasting”: Are the Nationals hot or cold?

 

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“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  –Mark Twain

This quote sets the tone for one of my favorite chapters of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim.

Scorecasting is sold as a “Freakanomics” of sports, using statistics and common sense to dubunk some of sports biggest myths and misconceptions.  The above noted chapter is titled “Damned Statistics” and subtitled “Why ‘four out his last five’ almost surely means four of six.”  In it, the authors make the simple argument that people selectively choose numbers to support their point.  To quote:

We are bombarded by stats when we watch games, but the data are chosen selectively and often focus on small samples and short-term numbers.  When we’re told that a player has reached base in “four of his last five at-bats,” we should assume right away that it’s four of his last six.  Otherwise, rest assured, we’d have been told that streak was five out of six.  Clearly, a team that “has lost three in a row” has dropped only three of its last four–and possibly three of five or three of six or…otherwise it would have been reported as a four-game losing streak.

To apply this principle to the current Nationals, realize that going into Friday night’s game against the Pirates:

  • The Nationals have won 2 games in a row
  • The Nationals have lost 3 of their last 5
  • The Nationals have won 5 of their last 8
  • The Nationals have lost 7 of their last 12

All of the above statistics are correct, but people can pick and choose whatever numbers they want to support their position.  Are the Nats hot?  Sure.  Are the Nats cold?  Yeah, look at the “numbers”.

Beware small sample sizes.  To get an accurate picture, you need to take a step back.

In any event, the statistic you’re looking at is probably a lie.  Or a damned lie.

 

Revisiting the 1986 Mets — “The Bad Guys Won” Review

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After clinching the National League pennant in an epic Game 6 in Houston, the victorious 1986 Mets engaged in an even more epic celebration on the plane ride back to New York.  Beer, champagne, and cake all turned into projectiles resulting in over $50,000 in damage to the charter aircraft rented by team’s owner.

An embarrassed Mets management turned to the one man tasked with taming this rowdy and disrespectful crew: manager Davey Johnson.

With the team assembled the next morning, Johnson imposed his unique form of discipline. With the damage bill in his hand, he began to address his ballclub. “Do you know what I think?” he said.  “I think in the next four games you’ll probably put enough money in these guys pockets to cover this.  So fuck this bullshit!” He then dramatically tore the bill in half, soliciting raucous cheers from the players.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the leader of the 2013 Washington Nationals.

In 2004, Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman revisited Continue reading “Revisiting the 1986 Mets — “The Bad Guys Won” Review”

“Branch Rickey” Review

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Today, April 15, is Jackie Robinson Day around Major League Baseball.  Every player, not just Mariano Rivera, will be wearing Jackie Robinson’s retired number 42.

But Jackie Robinson wouldn’t be Jackie Robinson without Branch Rickey, the man who for years privately labored to break baseball’s color barrier.  Rickey is the subject of Jimmy Breslin’s 2011 book Branch Rickey, a short and enjoyable read of only 146 pages.  Two years later, Breslin’s work acts as a good companion to 42, released nationwide last weekend.

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