Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Every 10 years or so, the people who administer IQ tests recalibrate them to keep the average IQ score at 100. When they do this, they have people take both the previous and new tests, and the test-takers generally do worse on the new test. In other words, people have been getting smarter over the years. If you look at the underlying scores, “the annual gain from 1947 through 1972 was 0.31 IQ point, but by the ’90s it had crept up to 0.36.” So people are not only getting smarter, but they’re getting smarter at a faster rate.

Now, I’m not claiming that this column is TOTALLY responsible for this trend, but I’ve got to believe it’s helped. Here are 10 more things I learned last week, just in case you’re about to take an IQ test:

Bobby Abreu is hot!

Not Paris Hilton hot, but Joe DiMaggio hot. Here’s a list of the top 15 batters in OPS over the last 30 days, courtesy of www.mlb.com:

Player            OPS
Abreu            1.285
A. Rodriguez     1.258
Cabrera          1.200
T. Martinez      1.146
A. Jones         1.129
Sweeney          1.102
Roberts          1.083
Lee              1.051
Wright           1.045
Choi             1.036
Delgado          1.033
Pujols           1.033
Varitek          1.029
Bay              1.017
N. Johnson       1.008

Okay, so you knew Abreu was hot. But did you know that Abreu holds his bat like a golf club? Or that seven of the batters on this list are first basemen? Or that New York is going to be known as the “City of Third Base” (as in A-Rod and Wright) for the next five to ten years?

I’m also surprised that Brian Roberts is maintaining a relatively strong pace, as you can tell by his OPS sparkline . In contrast, Abreu has had some extreme highs and lows. As one more example, Derrek Lee’s bat has cooled down lately.

I’m glad I’m not in the baseball manufacturing business.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 120 baseballs are used during every Major League game. During the course of a full year, MLB teams spend $5.5 million to use more than 900,000 baseballs.

There is a lot of interesting information in this article. But I particularly found the price Major League teams pay for a baseball—$6.00—pretty interesting. According to an article in 1912’s Baseball Magazine, which is kept on electronic file by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, the average cost of a baseball in 1912 was $1.50. So the cost of a baseball has gone up 300% over 93 years.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s only 1.5% a year, compounded annually. In the same timespan, general prices have risen 3.2% a year, twice as fast as MLB’s cost per baseball. Just something else to remember the next time MLB owners plead poverty.

That Coors humidor isn’t on high.

According the the Denver Post, the humidor at Coors Field, which is supposed to keep baseballs from getting too dry and/or small, isn’t having the impact it could have (though it seems to have had some impact since being installed in 2002). That’s because the MLB office refuses to let the Rockies turn it up as much as they would like. I’m really not sure what Major League Baseball is afraid of. That Aaron Miles might not win the National League batting title?

Dan Agonistes has his own take on the humidor controversy, as well as a general study of batted balls at Coors. You see, Dan recently moved to Colorado, so he’s found lots to write about.

The Physics of Throwing A Baseball, in detail.

There have been many articles and books written about the physics of baseball over the years, and I don’t know how this article in American Scientist compares to them. But its review of how pitchers throw and how batters pick up the spin on the ball is very detailed. And very intimidating.

As you brace for the pitch, you must evaluate it quickly—extremely quickly.
You must determine its speed and spin in about one-seventh of a second.
In the next one-seventh of a second, you decide whether to swing and
—if you decide yes—where and when to swing. That leaves just one-seventh
of a second—if the pitch is a fastball—to swing the bat.

I’m always amazed that anyone is quick enough and coordinated enough to hit a Major League fastball at all.

Babe Ruth was plenty quick and plenty coordinated.

Those of us lucky enough to read the SABR-L mailing list were alerted to a 1921 Popular Science magazine article that described a battery of tests psychologists gave to Babe Ruth.

The scientists discovered exactly how quickly Ruth’s eye functions by placing him in a dark cabinet, setting into operation a series of rapidly flashing bulbs and listening to the tick of an electric key by which he acknowledged the flashes.

The average man responds to the stimulus of the light in 180 one thousandths of a second. Babe Ruth needs only 160 one thousandths of a second. There is the same significance in the fact that Babe’s response to the stimulus of sound comes 140 one thousandths of a second as against the averages man’s 150 thousandths.

Human beings differ very slightly in these sight and sound tests, or rather the fractions are so small that they seem inexpressive; yet a difference of 20 or 10 one thousandths of a second indicates a superiority of the highest importance.

Translate the findings of the sight test into baseball if you want to see what they mean in Babe Ruth’s case. They mean that a pitcher must throw a ball 20 one thousandths of a second faster to “fool” Babe than to “fool” the average person.

For some reason, the article is no longer posted, but I found a cached version of it during a Google search.

And just to show how far science has come since 1921, here’s a graphic that shows how the average human brain processes sarcasm (click on the graphic to view the full article):

Dusty Baker tells it like it is.

See, now I’m just testing you. If you thought I was serious with that headline, please review the sarcasm graphic again.

During the recent Cubs/White Sox series, there was a classic moment in which Juan Uribe fooled Derrek Lee into thinking a double down the line had gone foul. Lee stopped at second before realizing his mistake and subsequently failed to score. You may have seen this sort of thing dozens of times, but according to Dusty Baker it just isn’t proper etiquette:

‘We’re not taught to play that way,” Baker grumbled. ”You don’t tell a guy, ‘Foul ball, foul ball.’ He actually stood in front of the base and told Lee, ‘Foul ball.’ That’s not proper etiquette, if there is such a thing.”

If there is such a thing, indeed.

The Chicago Tribune, which owns the Cubs of course, followed up with an article that compared Uribe’s act to breaking up no-hitters with a bunt or stealing second base with a big lead. These are ridiculous comparisons.

Uribe wasn’t rubbing it in or trying to break up anyone else’s shot at glory. He was trying to win a game. His fake was no worse than a fielder pretending that a ball is being thrown to a base, which happens regularly. Or the hidden ball trick, which has been executed 231 times, according to Retrosheet. I guess Dusty felt he had to back up his player in public, but I think he sounded petty as a result.

Blackie Schwamb was friends with Billy Martin.

Speaking of a certain lack of etiquette, I just finished Wrong Side of the Wall: The Life of Blackie Schwamb, the Greatest Prison Baseball Player of All Time by Eric Stone, and I have to say that it is a tremendous read.

Wrong Side of the Wall chronicles the life of a man who had great talent—he could throw a baseball like Ewell Blackwell (or so the scouts said)—but wasted it due to self-destructive behavior. Stone examines a colorful, albeit tragic, figure and a colorful time and place (Los Angeles in the aftermath of two World Wars). His book is a reminder of a time when gangsters were as famous as movie stars, and baseball players were glorified for their hard-drinking, reckless attitudes. Blackie Schwamb seemed to embody all of that and more. Here’s how Blackie described himself:

I had a hair-trigger temper. I didn’t get into any [legal] trouble up there,
but there were those kind of things where you walk into a beer joint and
have a beer, a guy comes in, sits next to you and has a beer and sets
his can down a little too loud for you or something, so whack.

Blackie was evidently a charmer when he wanted to be, but I’m sure glad I never went drinking with him.

Interleague play has affected ten pennant races.

I don’t completely hate interleague baseball. I mean, it was great fun here in Chicago to see the White Sox and Cubs play each other. And interleague play may be great fun in a few other places too. It seems to have sparked some interest in the game of baseball, which is always good.

But the baseball purist in me loathes the concept. I’ve complained twice before about the uneven impact the interleague schedule has on division races. (Are you listening, Bud?) And now a fellow ranting baseball purist has found that interleague play may have impacted as many as ten different pennant races in the past nine years.

One good example: in 1999, the Astros won the Central division title by one game over the Cincinnati Reds. But the Astros were 12-3 in interleague competition that year, while the Reds were 7-8. If you remove those games, the Reds were 3.5 games better than the Astros.

How to build a Win Shares Treemap

Following is a “treemap” of each team’s 2005 Win Shares. The size of each box is equal to the number of times each team has won a game. The size of each inner box is equal to the number of Win Shares contributed by that team’s offense, pitching and fielding. Hopefully, this graphic allows you to easily see each team’s strengths and weaknesses.


If you’re interested in other uses of treemaps, check out this newsmap.

How Jack did it.

Do you watch 24? Every year Jack Bauer beats some impossible odds to save the world. The fun is seeing how he does it and what radical personal repercussions the events have for all those involved.

This year’s season was just a tad controversial, due to the show’s relatively heavy-handed portrayal of Muslim terrorists (whatever happened to the son anyway?), as well as the extreme torture techniques Jack used in his quest to save the world. But maybe he was just warming up for dealing with all of those illegal tailgate partyers up in Milwaukee. I mean, talk about a national security threat.

And having just watched Shaun of the Dead on DVD, I’m having fun playing DeAnimator when I’m not playing Batgirl’s Match Game.

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Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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