12:28 PM, Apr 9, 2014 • By ADAM J. WHITE
As the Boston Red Sox collected their World Series rings last Friday, Boston faithful had much to be thankful for. And among those to whom they owed more than a little thanks was Bill James, the team's official analytical guru, who enjoyed an increased role in team decision-making after the team fell to pieces in 2012.
But James has helped far more than just Red Sox fans. A quarter-century before the team hired him in 2002, he revolutionized the study of baseball statistics, shining lights on long-understudied aspects of the game (such as the value of fielding), and challenging deep-seated dogma.
James deserves (and reliably gets) credit for starting the "sabermetrics" (i.e., baseball statistics) revolution that inspired publications like Baseball Prospectus, the book Moneyball, and a whole generation of forward-thinking baseball executives.
The most famous of his intellectual heirs is Nate Silver, of course. Long before Silver turned the world of political prognostication on its ear with his rigorous analysis of polls, Silver analyzed baseball stats for Baseball Prospectus. Nearly a decade before Silver was publishing a bestselling book on the art and science of forecasting, he was writing much-less-heralded blog posts on the subject: "My name is Nate, and I'm a forecaster ..."
For a long time, Silver was thought of as the new Bill James. But today, Silver is so famous that Bill James has to settle for being "the original Nate Silver." Which is what The New Republic called him in a new interview marking the opening of baseball season.
But James, like Silver, is interested in a lot more than just baseball, as he has made increasingly clear in recent years. And when James's discussion veered beyond baseball, he unfortunately highlighted why Silver himself has become such a polarizing figure in recent weeks.
His interviewer asks what he thinks of the controversy surrounding Silver's criticism of political pundits. And James eagerly launches his own attack not just on pundits, but on the public writ large:
The public’s thinking about politics and the general analytical thinking about politics is probably more backward than sportswriting was 30 years ago. ... Because people think they know things. The greatest barrier to understanding things is the conviction that you already understand them. People are so convinced that they understand politics. It creates huge barriers to understanding.
James could have made a straightforward, moderate point about issues of "political ignorance" (rational or otherwise). He could have grappled with studies of "the wisdom of crowds," which sometimes indicate that the general public is more expert than the nominal experts themselves. But instead, he called everyone morons and moved on.
Of course, James's own analysis revealed that he's hardly immune to self-imposed "barriers to understanding." Take, for example, his discussion of innovation in politics:
In politics, you have a couple elections. [In baseball all the games] act as a self-correcting method. In baseball, if you’re a great team, you lose 65 games a year. It teaches you constantly that you don’t understand things and you’re still working on it. In politics, you have great infrequency of elections, allowing extremely sloppy analysis to flourish, because the correction cycle is so slow.
8:35 AM, Jan 25, 2014 • By IKE BRANNON
Unlike you, I will be watching the Pro Bowl this weekend, albeit grudgingly.
6:46 PM, Jan 19, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On the one hand, Barack Obama, speaking as a dad, says he "would not let my son play pro football." It's a reasonable judgment, one other parents have made and one they're entitled to make (though enforcing it on recalcitrant sons is another matter!).
6:34 AM, Dec 22, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Temperatures in the high 40s, with some rain. That’s the forecast for Buffalo on Sunday when the Bills and the Dolphins kick it off. Balmy, then. So much so that the team from Miami can’t, should they lose, use the weather for an alibi. Likewise, the fans who choose not to pay sit in the stadium and watch. The Bills have been disappointing but not surprising. They seem always to be disappointing. And it’s almost Christmas. So, even if you follow the team and have since the Jim Kelly days, it might seem more appealing to stay at home and wrap presents. With the game on the television. In the background, of course.
8:31 AM, Dec 12, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Last night, this 30-second advertisement ran to encourage folks to sign up in the "Health Insurance Marketplace," otherwise known as Obamacare:
"Now, for the first time, you can be covered -- with a quality health plan from the new health insurance marketplace, part of the health care law," says the male announcer.
3:31 PM, Nov 4, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Stepping into the controversy over the team name for the Washington Redskins in early October, President Obama said in an interview with the AP:
10:55 AM, Aug 19, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The NCAA might just as well become another department of the government and build a lavish headquarters building in Washington. Its bureaucratic culture would make it a perfect fit. The complexity of its rules would make for a seamless merger. And the high-handed, arrogant management style would make the transition almost frictionless.
2:47 PM, Jun 28, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The two top Republican senators, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas, have written letters to six professional sports organizations, warning them not to work with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to promote Obamacare. The letters were addressed to the top executives at the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Professional Golf Association, and NASCAR.
8:01 AM, Jun 25, 2013 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
College football fans may soon have another thing to lord over the NFL. The Hill writes, “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday she is in talks with the NFL to help promote new insurance options under ObamaCare.” The report continues, “Sebelius said the football league has been ‘very actively and enthusiastically engaged’ in discussions about a partnership to encourage people to enroll in newly available insurance plans.”
Chicago is bereft of celebrity fans.
Jun 24, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 39 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
I was watching the Chicago Blackhawks play the Los Angeles Kings in the western Stanley Cup final round when, in the second period, the television camera panned to Tom Cruise, sitting alone in a rink-side seat. “Tom Cruise is a big Kings fan,” the announcer said.
11:26 AM, Mar 23, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Mighty Georgetown, a number two seed, fell to Florida Gulf Coast, a number fifteen seed, last night. Florida Gulf Coast has only been eligible to play in the tournament for two years.
9:15 AM, Mar 22, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On March 21, 2013, history was made. Ivy League champion and 14th seed Harvard men's basketball team busted brackets everywhere as it upset 3rd seed New Mexico, winning its first NCAA playoff game ever and notching its first victory over a top-ten team. Read all about it here and here.