Archive for May, 2006

Bonds Hits 644 Not 715

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Since its rules have undergone only marginal change over parts of three centuries, much is made of the continuity and stability of the game of baseball. Part of the charm of baseball is the conceit or illusion that players from different eras can be fairly compared. How does Babe Ruth, for example, compare to Hank Aaron?

By definition all-time records — the most homeruns in a single season, the longest consecutive hitting streak, the most career hits — are statistics that form the basis of judging players of different eras. In swimming or running records fall like clockwork as players grow bigger and faster because of improved training methods, better nutrition, faster tracks and pools, and sometimes chemical aides. In baseball, players play directly against one another. As hitters grow bigger and faster, so too do pitchers and defensive players. Balance is generally maintained. Longtime records fall sporadically as rare players raise their game above the level of their contemporaries.

However, baseball too has it discontinuities that provide the grist of arguments when comparing players. The meaning of hitting records changed when livelier balls with a cork center were introduced in 1926. Cumulative records must certainly be affected by the introduction of night games since it is more difficult to hit the ball under the lights.

The facts that

  • stadiums have been redesigned and new ones constructed,
  • the size of the pitcher’s mound has changed,
  • the designated hitter was introduced into the American League,
  • relief pitching is used now more than in the past,
  • leagues have expanded,
  • the season has grown from 154 to 162 games, and
  • the strike zone has shrunken and grown at the collective whims of baseball umpires

have all changed the game.

Of course the most profound transformation in baseball came when black Americans were finally allowed to play major league baseball. In what sense can any record before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 be considered legitimate without the pool of black players to compete against? Though we can speak as if the game has remained the same, it is really profoundly different as it has changed to accommodate to new American sensibilities and sometimes American sins.

If you believe the evidence offered in Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the late 1990s will be known as the era of the “juiced” player, where the introduction of steroids and growth hormones made players stronger, enabled them to train harder, and to play with less fatigue. Hitting records washed away in a deluge of chemical enhancement.

Babe Ruth’s single-season homerun record of 60 in 1927 stood for 34 years until Roger Maris’s bested it by one run in 1961. That record held up for 37 years. Then from 1998 to 2001 Mark McGwire, Sammy Sousa, and Barry Bonds broke the 61 homerun mark six times, with Barry Bonds besting them all with 73 homeruns in 2001. The single-season homerun record was not broken in a single extraordinary performance by a single player, but six times by three different players. Something dramatic had happened and steroid use is a chief suspect.

As of this writing, Barry Bonds has just surpassed Babe Ruth’s career mark of 715 homeruns, though at Bonds’s reduced production rate, Hank Aaron’s 754 mark still seems along way off. Nonetheless, the question arises, how would Barry Bonds have faired has his training not been pharmaceutically augmented.

Of course, this is a question that cannot ever be definitively answered, but on can make reasoned estimates. Patrick Hruby of ESPN used an at-bat-by-at-bat approach to estimate Bonds’s hypothetical performance. Using empirical formulas relating player weight to bat speed and bat speed to distance traveled, Hruby estimates that Bonds’s hits traveled about nine feet further as a consequence of 20 lbs of steroid-induced muscle mass. Taking the distance all of Bonds’s homeruns from 1999 to 2004, Hruby computes how many would have fallen harmlessly on the warning track rather than landing in the stands. Assuming that fatigue would have reduced homerun production late in the season, Hruby then makes an adjustment for increased energy steroids might have provided to arrive at a total of 616 homeruns, nearly a hundred short of Bonds’s present total. We must now add one to Hruby’s total to 617 given Bonds’s 715th homerun.

Hruby’s computations are intriguing but they are focused too narrowly. While it is possible to go back and adjust all of Bonds’s hits for distance, doing so ignores the fact that if Bonds were hitting fewer homeruns, pitchers would have pitched differently to him. During Bonds’ most productive seasons, he was intentionally walked an extraordinary number of times. In 2004, he garnered over 232 walks of which 120 were obviously intentional. An unknown number of walks were just the result pitchers giving nothing for Bonds to hit. If Bonds were not such a dangerous hitter, he would have had far more at-bats. This increased number of at-bats would have given Bonds more opportunity to hit homeruns in a way unaccounted for by Hruby’s analysis.

Here we offer an alternative estimate. Many people have examined the trajectory in player careers, with player performance increasing at the beginning of a career and then gradually ebbing as a player ages. Though there are exceptions, the trajectories can be modeled as quadratic functions which usually peak about 27 years of age. Using a simple curve fit, we estimate Bonds’ homerun trajectory.

The attached graph shows Bonds’s actual homerun production. The solid black line shows a quadratic curve fit for Bonds’s homerun production, only using homerun data from 1986 to 1998. The standard deviation about the curve fit to 1998 is 4.8 runs per season. We assume that the homeruns from 1999 to 2004 were tainted.


From the beginning of his career through 1998 Bonds accumulated 411 homeruns. If we add the curve-fit-predicted homeruns from 1999 to 2004, when we assume steroid enhancement, and then add the small number of homeruns from 2005 and 2006, we arrive at an estimate of 644 homeruns. Given the assumptions that the curve fit reasonably estimates homerun production, then the 95% confidence limits on the estimate of homeruns, would bound this value to between 640 to 648 homeruns. These numbers would have Bonds fourth on the on-time list just behind Willie Mays’s 660 mark. Although here we challenge Hruby’s overly pessimistic estimate of Bonds’s likely homerun total without drug enhancement, we echo Hruby’s conclusion: “Without steroids, Bonds was a damn good player. With steroids, he’s a good player damned.”

Assault on Religious Liberty

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

`The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.” — Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1819.

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.” — Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Miller, 1808.

The US Constitution is revered so much today that it is often forgotten that its passage was far from certain. For many, the increased government powers granted in the Constitution posed the danger of tyranny. After having spent so much effort escaping the political power of Great Britain, the Founders were reluctant to cede too much authority to the central government. To alleviate this deficiency, the first ten amendments to the Constitution which passed soon after the Constitution itself explicitly enumerated rights. Collectively these first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.

The Founders were well-read and precise in their use of language. They did not write cavalierly. They wrote with thoughtful and deliberate purpose. It can be reasonably assumed that the importance they accorded to specific liberties is reflected in the order of the amendments. In terms of avoiding tyranny, the First Amendment is the most important, and the first two clauses of that amendment read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The Founders understood that religion is a countervailing source of authority in human affairs. Robust and free religious communities represent a bulwark to tyranny, even before freedom of speech, of the press, and of association. It is, therefore, disturbing when some are trying to use the gay rights movement to undermine religious liberty.

Consider, for example, Massachusetts. In the Goodridge case, the state Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision, ruled that the State of Massachusetts is compelled to recognize same-sex marriages. Now, we have an interesting situation because Massachusetts state law prohibits discrimination on sexual “orientation.” Catholic Charities of Boston has long been providing adoption services and has a particularly good reputation for finding homes for hard-to-place children. However, in accordance with church teaching, they are not providing adoption services for same-sex couples. Adoption agencies are licensed by the state and now it seems that Catholic Charities will not be allowed to provide such services.

Now one may make a libertarian case for gay marriages or even for allowing gay couples to adopt children. That debate we will leave for later. However, what ever public purpose is served this must be weighed against the circumscription of deeply held religious beliefs.

The First Amendment right of freedom of the press can only be limited in the case of immediate public safety or a clear and present danger. Given the ordering of the First Amendment, it would seem that an even higher standard should be required to prevail over the free exercise of religion.

This is not the opinion of some scholars who argue for gay rights, Chai Feldblum of Georgetown Law School argues that even though religious liberty is an explicitly enumerated liberty, “There can be conflict between religious and sexual liberty, but in almost all case the sexual liberty should win because that is the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.” However, it is not clear that this arises organically out of Constitutional law. It appears to be Feldblum’s personal preference.

Consider some other potential threats to religious liberty:

  • Can a private school expel gay or lesbian students who openly violate a religious stricture? Must the religious institutions be compelled to accommodate behavior that conflicts with their religious beliefs?
  • Could a church-supported homeless shelter forbid a gay or lesbian couple the use of quarters reserved for married couples?
  • Could a cleric who offers marriage counseling be compelled to offer such counseling to a same-sex couple?
  • Can a Catholic hospital be required to offer contraception or abortions?

In general, commercial enterprises who offer public accommodations must serve everyone, but should non-profit church-affiliated organization be compelled to accommodate activities they find sinful? Can the tax-exempt status of churches be used as a lever to force such compliance? Those on the Left should not be so quick to follow that route. One can conceive of a university affiliated with a pacifist church being compelled to allow military recruiters on campus. The Federal statute known as the Solomon Amendment, after its author, mandates equal access to military recruiters. It currently contains an explicit exemption for such schools and uses federal funding, and does not use tax exempt status as leverage.

The religious liberty clause of the First Amendment is not the only liberty threatened. Particularly on college campus, the reflexive totalitarianism of the Left is apparent. At William Patterson University a state school in New Jersey, a faculty member sent out to many members on campus an invitation to view movies with a pro-gay theme. A strictly religious Muslim student-employee, Jihad Daniel, replied in a private e-mail that he wished to be removed from the e-mail list, but went on to refer to gay and lesbian activity as a “perversions.” Daniel received a letter of reprimand for using “derogatory and demeaning” language. Under the threat of a law suit by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), cooler heads prevailed and the reprimand was withdrawn, but not before New Jersey State Attorney General ominously asserted that “speech which violates a non-discrimination policy is not protected.”

An Ohio State University Librarian recommended the book It Takes a Family by Senator Rick Santorum and The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian as part of a freshman reading list. Several faculty members claimed that the books recommended by the librarian made them feel unsafe and a sexual harassment charge was issued. The charges were ultimately dropped, but the clear message from these events is that expression of anti-gay opinions on campus is dangerous.

So while we argue about the civil liberties issues around tracking phone numbers, long-term systemic threats are ignored.

A Long Ago Summer

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

It was very fortunate for the friends and family of John Kenneth Galbraith that he lived 97 years, dying last week on April 29. However, from a public relations standpoint, Galbraith lived long enough that support for liberal economic policies and his personal prominence have both atrophied. Had the renowned and prolific Harvard professor of economics died in the 1960s, the story would have probably not have been relegated to page A7 in the Washington Post . News of his death might have appeared on the front page. From World War II to the 1960s, Galbraith was a leading spokesman for liberal economics and progressivism. Galbraith occupied many positions from leading the government’s effort to control prices during World War II, to advising Democratic presidents, and serving as Ambassador to India for President John Kennedy. Frankly, the fact that no one has seriously proposed price controls during the current bout of high gas prices is one measure of the decline of the economic school of thought Galbraith once championed.

After the Great Depression, the conventional wisdom (a phrase originally coined by Galbraith) was that free markets have failed and governments should manage the economy. This conclusion has since been disputed and the failure during the Depression attributed to the government’s excessive tightening of the money supply in the 1930s. Galbraith would have enjoyed a vigorous argument about the causes of the Depression, but it is only necessary to know that in the post-war years the belief in the efficacy of government in directing the economy was accepted with little dissent. It was in this context the Galbraith led liberal economists in laying the intellectual foundation for aggressive government management of the economy. This liberal hubris was weakened during the stagnation of the 1970’s and crushed during the high inflation and high unemployment of the Carter Administration. High inflation and high unemployment at the same time was not supposed to be possible Galbraith lived long enough to see his policies spectacularly fail, or at least the implementation of his policies by the feckless Carter Administration.

Memory begins to fail, but somewhere in the early 1970’s while still in high school I was educated one summer by two of the day’s best teachers, John Kenneth Galbraith and William F. Buckley. The education was exemplary, but freely available to anyone. That was the summer I read Galbraith’s The Affluent Society and the New Industrial State , and Up From Liberalism by Buckley. Buckley was Galbraith perpetual and friendly intellectual arrival. They often debated publicly and civilly.

Galbraith’s essential case was that the government, especially a government run by progressives like himself, was better at allocating and organizing resources than independent individuals acting freely. Individuals are under the illusion that they are free, but the masses are too easily seduced and controlled by coporate advertising. This advertising creates demand for items that are not needed. His classic example is the tail fins on cars popular in the 1950s. The appendages do nothing for the aerodynamics of cars, but the styling was popular for a while. Given the intervening decades since then, Galbraith’s argument looses force. Despite their best advertising efforts, American car manufactures have lost market share. Even the failure of the infamous Ford Edsel that disappeared after only a few of years despite an aggressive ad campaign provides evidence of the difficulty of controlling demand using advertising.

Nonetheless, it is impossible to defend all personal choices. They are so varied from person to person. Certainly, effective marketing can affect consumer demand, though generally it is not to create new demand but switch demand from one producer to another. Beer advertising does not so much affect total demand but the allocation of that demand from one brand to another. But even if we concede that people are influenced to make what others might find indefensible personal consumer decisions, does that mean government should make the decisions for them?  In the 1950s and 1960s people had confidence that governments could make wise decisions on their behalf. Vietnam and the economy of the 1970s disabused most of that notion. However, if we were to concede that governments could be more efficient, is not the government exercise of that power an infringement of personal freedom?  Certainly, we would all concede that the government should not control the ideas people have even if they are demonstrably wrong.

As Buckley explained:

“Professor Galbraith is horrified by the number of Americans who have bought cars with tail fins on them, and I am horrified by the number of Americans who take seriously the proposals of Mr. Galbraith. But whereas he would, by preempting the people’s money, take the power from them to put tail fins on their cars, I should be hesitant (though I would prefer the society with lots of tail fins to the society with Dr. Galbraith’s proposals running around dangerously) to preempt the people’s money, even though part of it is due to be spent on purchasing books by Dr. Galbraith — which, by the way, have been prodigiously advertised.”

Galbraith once said, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” To this the appropriate reply is that modern liberalism is yet another exercise in moral philosophy in search for a superior moral justification for government control over the individual.

What I came to appreciate that summer long ago was the conservative intuition that thought taxation is sometimes necessary; it is an infringement of freedom. Government taxation should not only be weighed on the balance of economic efficiency but on the scale of freedom. Economic freedom is no longer part of the modern liberal vocabulary.  These lessons were better learned because they emerged out of the robust debate of the kind that is rarely today. For this I owe Professor Galbraith.