Category Archives: Baseball


Pennant Races Yield Better Champions

More playoff opportunities certainly give career post-season stats less luster. Consider: Babe Ruth, 11th all-time with 15 home runs in 167 at bats vs. Derek Jeter, 3rd with 20 home runs in 734 at bats. You could say playoff stat opportunities have ballooned over the past twenty years. Derek Jeter played more than the equivalent of one full regular season in the post season.

While playing for a great team during a great run, roughly twenty of Jeter’s post-season games came as a result of the wild-card. The remainder came from an extra layer of playoff games to accommodate the 1994 realignment’s introduction of the wild-card. Baseball’s stats have always fluctuated, but again, why do these need to be post-season stats?

I truly appreciate the wild card. My team, the Marlins, have benefited hugely by finagling two World Series championships via that route, winning no pennants in their history. And, understandably, a wild card is necessary with the three division league structure, but are superfluous additional wild-card slots and playoff games really worth it?

The bloated MLB postseason only seems to serve as an extension of the regular season, negating the magic of a pennant race, which “is the only way to determine which teams are the best and deserve the chance to play for all the marbles. That’s it. You figure out who’s the best, and then they play each other.”

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Baseball: A Game of Statistics

baseball-and-stats2Being a slow-paced game that lends itself to easy record keeping, statistics have been kept since the beginning of professional baseball. Baseball’s first record-keeper, Harry Chadwick, created The Beadle Baseball Guide in 1861. It was the first modern sports journal.

Chadwick listed totals of games played, outs, runs, home runs, and strikeouts for hitters on important clubs. Because of his efforts, records existed in baseball before the turn of the 20th century.

Chadwick’s goal was to come up with numerical evidence that would prove what players helped or hurt a team to win. In a sense, modern baseball statistics are interpretations of data.

Baseball Card Stats


G  –  AB  –  R  –  H  –  2B  –  3B  –  HR  –  RBI  – BB  –  SO  –  SB  –   CS  –  AVG


W  –  L  –  ERA  –  G  –  GS  –  CG  –  ShO  –  SV  –  IP  –   HA  –  ER  –  R  –  BB  –  SO

Hitting Formulas

  • AVG—Batting average: hits divided by at bats.        (H/AB)
  • OBP—On base percentage: times reached base divided by at-bats plus walks plus hit by pitch plus sacrifice flies    (H+BB+HBP/AB+BB+HBP+SF).
  • SLG—Slugging average: total bases divided by at-bats     (TB/AB)
  • OPS—On-base plus slugging: on-base percentage plus slugging average ([H+BB+HBP/AB+BB+HBP+SF]+[TB/AB]).

Pitching Formulas

  • ERA—Earned run average: earned runs, multiplied by 9, divided by innings pitched    (ER*9/IP)
  • H/9—Hits per nine innings: hits allowed times nine divided by innings pitched     (H/9)
  • K/BB—Strikeout-to-walk ratio: number of strikeouts divided by number of base on balls  (SO/BB)
  • WHIP—Walks and hits per inning pitched: average number of walks and hits allowed per inning pitched    (BB+HA/IP)

Modern baseball statistical analysis is often referred to as Sabermetrics, and draws from a breadth of player performance measures and playing field variables. For example, hitters who hit left-handed pitchers well may receive more opportunity to face left-handed pitchers; or, some hitters or pitchers might play better against certain other players or in certain ballparks.

This ability, is measurable through statistics, and using stats to make managerial decisions is referred to as “playing the percentages.”

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Barry Bonds & The Smoking Ballcap

“Mike Murphy, the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse manager, testified Monday in the home-run champion’s perjury trial that Bonds’ cap size increased for the 2002 season. It went from 7 1/4 to 7 3/8, Murphy said.

This, despite the fact Bonds had begun shaving his head.”

via Barry Bonds and the smoking ballcap – Mike Berardino – Sun-Sentinel.

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A Baseball Card Bubble











Not the stale gum: speculative bubbles.  The term “bubble” may be familiar from the news, in regards to the housing and banking crises.  I am going to discuss how a bubble can happen with any consumer good (commodity), specifically, baseball cards.  I will start with a quote from writer Dave Jamieson, who shares his experience in trying to unload a box of baseball cards that he had found tucked away in his closet from childhood.

“First, I got a couple of disconnected numbers for now-defunct card shops. Not a good sign. Then I finally reached a human. “Those cards aren’t worth anything,” he told me, declining to look at them.  If I had to guess, I’d say that I spent a couple thousand bucks and a couple thousand hours compiling my baseball card collection. Now, it appears to have a street value of approximately zero dollars. What happened?”

It is necessary to tell some of the history of baseball cards…

  1. Birth in advertising
  2. A marketing tool for tobacco companies in the 1870s.
  3. Included in a pack of cigarettes.
  4. They became popular as collectibles amongst baseball fans.
  5. There was no value associated with them.
  6. Commodification
  7. After WWII, Topps became the first company to issue a set of trading cards with bubble gum.
  8. Baseball cards became a commodity. Something to be bought by a consumer.
  9. At first it was a child-collector industry.
  10. Traded, or in bike spokes; sound.
  • Deregulation
  1. Topps had a monopoly on the market.
  2. They defeated an anti-trust type lawsuit from competitor Fleer in the 1960s.
  3. Fleer would re-emerge on the scene in 1981, along with another company called Donruss.
  4. They would then provide competition to Topps.

And thus began the baseball card bubble

  1. Speculation
  2. Rookie cards (define) started to become highly valuable.
  3. 1st year player cards.
  4. Also including unheralded stars and Olympic team players.
  5. Minor league players who were considered major league prospects.
  6. Some of the rookie cards would become quite valuable.
  7. Older collectors entered the market.
  8. Baseball cards became an investment. (Scarcity)
  9. Unopened packs from the seventies, originally costing a quarter were being sold for $100.
  10. The odds were fairly good that you could get a good rookie card in the pack.
  11. Cottage Industries
  12. To service the market, cottage industries were borne (much like cell phone accessory market).
  13. Nearly every weekend across the country, “baseball card shows” would be held hotels and convention centers.
  14. Beckett’s Baseball Card Monthly became the collectors “bible.”
  15. Pricing
  16. Rankings
  17. Baseball card shops opened to capitalize on the growing market.
  18. Overproduction
  19. In the early 1990s, higher quality cards hit the market with new brands like Upper Deck.
  20. This caused a shift by all card companies to produce higher quality cards.
  21. The industry started to cater almost exclusively to what Beckett’s associate publisher described to me as “the hard-core collector.”
  22. Prices increased, and the market was further flooded with new sets, offering “scarce” autographs, gold foil, and game used memorabilia.
  23. Like the earlier rookie card mania,
  24. These cards would include stars
  25. Also many “no-names.”
  26. More brands would enter the market.

The International Herald Tribune reported: “It’s a recession-proof business,” says John Brigandi, co-owner of a New York specialty shop where card prices range from $8 to $40,000. “Our sales last year were $2 million, double the previous year.””

  • Market Saturation
  1. Too many sets, too many cards.
  2. Sets that featured only 132 cards in the past, now featured over 800.
  3. People began to purchase the complete sets, as opposed to the packs.
  4. The cards were no longer scarce.
  5. The increase in prices would push the child collector away from baseball cards.
  6. The cards lost value.
  7. The card “shows” died down, and collectors left the industry.
  • The burst bubble
  1. There are now over thirty different sets in the hard to follow market
  2. Fewer consumers.
  3. Continued rising prices.
  4. Little demand considering the amount on the market.
  5. Baseball card shops, once roughly 10,000 strong in the United States, have dwindled to about 1,700.
  6. A lot of dealers lost money. (Those that didn’t get out)
  7. “They all put product in their basement and thought it was gonna turn into gold,” said “Mr. Mint,” a famous baseball card trader/dealer.

That is a common story, not only tied to baseball cards. There are other consumer commodities that experienced bubbles, and oftentimes, they follow a similar pattern.  Every commodity has a “boom” cycle:  From bank lending to beanie babies, and baseball cards.  The industry will appear to be healthy and rapidly growing, causing many to jump on board. Eventually, this participation creates a level of speculation that isn’t sustainable.

The bubble is usually only noticed in hindsight, when a sudden drop in prices appears. By then, goods have become over produced, and the market for the item contracts or disappears. Ultimately, the “bust” or crash which usually follows an economic bubble can destroy a large amount of wealth, and the industry is left scrambling to recoup losses while still trying to maintain the business.  On that note, I would like to add that “the bubble” is an example of how “all good things must come to an end.”

Thank you for your time.



Jamieson, Dave.  “Requiem for a Rookie Card” July 25th, 2006. (accessed May 10th, 2009)

Ryniec, Tracey. “Anatomy of a Burst Bubble: Part 1: Baseball Cards” September 20th, 2006. (accessed May 10th, 2009)