Steve Stricker and the Dmitrii Donskoi a Tale of Two Scams

Stricker

I recently read a pair of articles one involving Steve Stricker and the other a Russian ship named the Dmitrii Donskoi I think illustrate the difference between a fool and a victim. Both stories involve scam artists taking money from people but there is a fundamental difference in my opinion of those who fell for the tricks.

Stricker is a notable golfer who is captain of this year’s Ryder Cup team. A con-artists contacted a charity hosting a golf tournament and promised them that Stricker, his cousin, would be happy to attend and support the organization. The golf course and the charity accepted the story and promoted the event. People paid $7,500 to support the charity and spend time with Stricker. Unfortunately, Stricker knew nothing of the event and the con-artist skipped town with the money.

Back in 1905 a Russian fleet was sent to the Pacific in order to support Russian activity in the region and the Dmitrii Donskoi, an armored cruiser built in the 1880s, was part of that armada. She was sunk near an island in what is now South Korea. Back in 1999 a South Korean construction company in financial trouble claimed they had found the wreck and that it had on it 200 tons of gold coins. The share price of the company went up briefly but the claim was found to be false.

Recently another South Korean company, this a treasure hunting business, made the same claim about the Dmitrii Donskoi. They collected millions of dollars from investors and their stock price rose precipitously. As like the first claim, nothing came of it and investors were out large sums of money.

What do these two scam incidents have in common? Victims. People paid money to the charity in order to play with Stricker. People paid money for stocks and invested money in the hopes of recouping their cash and more. In both cases people lost their money.

Here is the difference. The charity event and the golf course promoting Stricker’s appearance made claims that were not unreasonable. I’m certain Stricker does attend such events over the course of the year. Fans expectation of seeing Stricker were reasonable. Certainly, the charity and the golf course should have done more diligence in ensuring Stricker was going to attend but the individuals who paid to see Stricker, and were scammed, behaved reasonable. I feel bad for them.

Meanwhile the Dmitrii Donskoi was never purported to have any gold on it and there was absolutely no reason to suspect it might. It was an older ship, slow and vulnerable, being sent into a war zone. The Russian government, if they needed to transfer gold, could have done it by rail with significantly greater ease. The amount of gold claimed to be aboard the Dmitrii Donskoi was equivalent to ten percent of all the gold mined in the history of the planet. The idea that there was, or is, gold aboard the wreck is patently ridiculous and anyone who spends ten minutes researching the project can learn this fact quite easily. I have no sympathy for any fool that fell for this scam.

The sad part is both scams will most certainly be used again. I suspect unwise, gold mad, morons will be pumping money into the pockets of con-artists mentioning the Dmitrii Donskoi. I also imagine that charities and their donators will be duped.

Not that it much matters, but idiots need not apply for my sympathy. For all others, I’m sorry some asshole used your good intentions to steal your money.

Tom Liberman

Lakers Superfan Happy to See Team Lose Misleading Headline

Lakers Superfan Misleading Headline

I just read a fascinating article about a fellow named Jimmy Goldstein who is identified as a Lakers Superfan in a Misleading Headline about the Los Angeles Lakers missing the playoffs for the sixth season in a row. The problem is that Goldstein is not a Lakers fan at all, although he loves NBA basketball, claiming to spend nearly half a million dollars a year traveling around the country to see various games.

The implication of the Misleading Headline is that Goldstein wants to see the Lakers miss the playoffs perhaps because he doesn’t like the current coach, because he thinks LeBron James was not a good acquisition, or is unhappy with the direction ownership is taking the team. At least that’s what I thought when I was baited into clicking on the article and perusing it.

It turns out Goldstein, who has had courtside season tickets to the Lakers since 1962, doesn’t like the team and enjoys watching them lose. He hasn’t had much to be cheerful about since the Lakers moved to the City of Angels all those years ago as they’ve been arguably the most successful franchise in the league. So, he’s enjoying the current losing streak immensely and pointedly says that: Lakers fans deserve it.

Now, I certainly question Goldstein going to all those games if he doesn’t like the Lakers. Even if they were a horrible team it seems like an odd way to spend your time. I certainly wouldn’t want to watch games at Wrigley Field for the rest of my life whilst rooting against the Cubs, even if they lost most of the time, a practice I hope they resume again soon. Still, he’s a big NBA fan who lives in Los Angeles and so attends the games. That’s his business. Odd as it seems to me.

In the end, the Misleading Headline should not have called Goldstein a Lakers superfan.

Tom Liberman

Why Did a Man Like Robert Kraft Solicit a Prostitute?

Robert Kraft

A fellow by the name of Robert Kraft who has a few billion dollars to his name and owns the 2018 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots was taped by police in a brothel with a prostitute. Out and about at my gym and in the general public the question on everyone’s lips seems to be: Why would such a man pay for an $80 sex act from a prostitute?

The conversations I’ve overheard generally follow a similar line. Kraft is a billionaire in a high-profile position in life and probably has his pick and choice of willing women, besides his wife, who would be happy to give him sexual satisfaction. What possible motivation could he have for seeking gratification at such a place? Then those having the conversation proceed to speculate on any number of reasons why it happened. Perhaps he likes taking risks. Perhaps he likes Asian women. Perhaps he wanted to be caught. The possibilities go on and on but I have a simple answer.

Kraft did it because he wanted to do it. It’s his business and none of mine and none of yours. This is not coming from some Patriots fan-boi, believe me. This is coming from a Libertarian perspective that understands the problems with laws against prostitution as a whole.

The reason Kraft was caught by the police is the establishment in question is accused of bringing women from Asian countries to the United States under false pretenses and forcing them to work in the sex trade. This is a problem but it’s an issue largely created by making prostitution illegal in the first place.

If prostitution was not against the law, women who were so treated would likely go to the police as quickly as they could. If the sex trade was established like Starbucks then it would be regulated and managed by our judicial branch and their law enforcement arm. Personally, I think Kraft desiring sexual gratification for $80 makes more sense than his spending $8.00 for a cup of coffee but if he wants to do either it’s just not my business.

It’s important to understand that legalizing prostitution will not stop people from being exploited. There is no single solution to the world’s ills. The best strategy is to implement a pragmatic and realistic solution that will create as good a situation as possible. In this particular case, the Libertarian issue with Kraft soliciting prostitutes is that the women were potentially doing something against their will. If they were happy to take Kraft’s money and provide him with sexual gratification then it is not my business, it’s not your business, and it certainly should not be the business of the state.

Why did a man like Kraft solicit prostitutes? Stop caring and you’ll make the world a better place.

Tom Liberman

Ian Poulter and the Misleading Putting Headline

Ian Poulter

Thanks to TaxibikeRob and Ian Poulter, this week’s Misleading Headline is also informative! The aforementioned Twitter user was confused when he was Poulter putting from on the green with the flagstick still in the hole during the Dubai Desert Classic and made mention of it on his twitter feed. The misleading Headline blared “Fan tries to narc on Ian Poulter putting with flagstick, in predictably gets mocked by Poulter and others.”

Ok, Golf Digest, to begin with you need to shorten up the headline and give it more punch. Furthermore, if you actually spent the time and effort to read the tweet in question, TaxibikeRob was more asking a question than actually trying to narc anyone. Hence the hashtag #confused and the fact that he literally (see this to learn how to properly use that word) actually asked if the rules had changed.

Yes, the rules have changed which is something I didn’t know myself. Had I seen a golfer putting with the flag in the stick I would also have been taken aback. I might have even been stronger in my objections that TaxibikeRob was about Poulter. In addition, TaxibikeRob was totally cool when several people, including Poulter, mentioned the rules had changed.

In fact, most of the so-called mocking was good natured ribbing aimed at Poulter as much as TaxibikeRob. Good on both of them for seeing the humor in the situation. Bad on you Golf Digest for making it appear as if something egregious happened.

Tom Liberman

DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship Mayhem

DraftKings

During the recent DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship held in New Jersey an interesting situation involving computer technology is causing a bit of a fuss and I find the whole thing very interesting from a legal, sports, and Libertarian perspective.

Recently the Supreme Court ruled the prohibition against sports betting was unconstitutional and the various states immediately went to work to allow it. I wrote a blog about this not long ago. In any case, New Jersey was early on the bandwagon and DraftKings hosted the event in which the winning prize consisted a cash payment of one million dollars. The entry fee was $10,000 and two-hundred gamblers paid the fee to enter.

The rules of the event are relatively unimportant for consideration here but basically each of the players wagered money on various NFL playoff games that weekend. Whoever accumulated the largest winnings during this time would receive the prize. The problem happened because the morning game ended only fifteen minutes before the afternoon game started. Betting was only allowed before a game began.

Some of the players were able to take their winnings from the early Sunday game and apply them to the bets on the afternoon game. However, because of a computer glitch, others were not able to make wagers on the second game. This severely impacted their ability to win the tournament. One player in particular, Rufus Peabody, would have won the first prize if he had correctly wagered an all or nothing bet on the second game. He was prevented from doing so because his winnings from the first game didn’t register until after the second game began.

This, in my opinion, created an unfair playing field. It will be interesting to see what the courts have to say and I wouldn’t be surprised if DraftKings didn’t offer a refund to those who were locked out of betting.

That’s the important thing. The courts can make a determination. Before the gambling prohibition was lifted such events were run as illegal operations and if anything went wrong there was no lawful recourse. The group running the event could move on their merry way. Now that we have legalized gambling, we also have legal remedies.

This simple fact proves the benefit of allowing adults, of their own volition, to engage in activities that might cause them harm. Laws against gambling didn’t stop people from making wagers or ruining their lives. The gambling went on as before but under the auspices of illegal operators. Because the activity is now legal, we are in a much better situation. Yes, people still ruin their lives gambling but society is better able to address the wrongs associated with the activity.

This is a lesson that should be applied to other areas of our legal code. In trying to prevent people from doing harm to themselves we only make the situation worse.

Tom Liberman

Was the Firing of Five NFL Black Coaches Bad?

Black Coaches

I just read an article written by Doug Farrar in USA Today lamenting the firing of five black coaches in the NFL. There were eight coaches let go by their various teams this year and those included Hue Jackson, Marvin Lewis, Steve Wilks, Vance Joseph, and Todd Bowles who are black. Farrar thinks this represents a backward step for the NFL in their attempt to improve minority hiring practices. I strongly disagree. I think it’s a beautiful and amazing step forward.

Back in 2002 a situation arose in which evidence-based metrics showed that black coaches with better records than white coaches were more likely to be fired and less likely to be hired for another job. This resulted in the Rooney Rule. This rule was designed to ensure NFL teams in the future would more fully consider minority candidates for the position of head coach. At the time of the Rooney Rule there had been a total of six minority head coaches in the entire history of the NFL. Since then a further eighteen have been so hired.

The fact that five black coaches were fired is, to me, a tremendously strong indication that the Rooney Rule has had the desired effect and that black coaches are being hired and fired on the merits of their record rather than the color of their skin. That’s a great thing. Everyone should be hired and fired on their merits rather than external factors like race. There is nothing in the color of a person’s skin that will make her or him a better or worse coach.

Let’s take a look at the events of this season in context. As I said, prior to 2002 and the Rooney Rule there were a total of six head coaches of color in the entire history of the league, one of whom was Hispanic rather than black. The fact is, this season an equal number of black head coaches were fired from their jobs as existed as head coaches in totality prior to 2002. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

It’s fairly easy to look at events through the lenses of our choice and come to conclusions that conform to our biases. I’m of the opinion that’s what is happening here. People who see racism in the NFL, and I have no doubt that it still exists in some small corners of the league, want to find reasons to point it out. This is not one of those times. I think the coaches that were fired lost their jobs for performance and personnel issues that have nothing to do with race.

I feel confident that black coaches will be hired to fill at least some of those positions and also those of the white coaches that were fired. Sports is a great leader in this sort of thing. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947, long before segregation ended. The Texas Western Miners defeated Kentucky in the NCAA Basketball Championship in 1966 which led to integration in the south as a whole.

Winning is the thing in sport and if a player or coach can help a team do so, race should not be a factor. I certainly don’t deny a long history of racism in sport but I’m of the opinion the firing of five black coaches in a single season is a testament to the death of such thinking, not its perpetuation.

Tom Liberman

Sports Leagues Draft Systems are Libertarian Hell

Draft

With the conclusion of the NFL regular season we are once again talking about the draft. The draft exists for all professional sports leagues in the United States and it is a horrific affront to my Libertarian sensibilities on a number of fronts. I figured I’d spend the last day of 2018 tilting against that indestructible monstrosity that is the draft.

The very idea that a young professional exiting their schooling is drafted by one company and they are only allowed to negotiate and sign with that company should bother anyone who believes in freedom. The courts somehow decided because collective bargaining agreements were made between unions and the various sports leagues this means entry drafts are not subject to anti-trust and restraint of trade laws. Poppycock! If someone writes up a contract that gives me permission to kill, roast, and eat them, that doesn’t exempt me from murder laws.

Many people will argue that sports leagues could not survive without the draft. At the risk of repeating myself, poppycock! This sort of draft system largely only exists in North America. Everywhere else in the world the teams sign players from development leagues according to their financial capabilities. Even here in the United States, college athletics works on this type of system. Every top high school athlete is recruited by a number of colleges and the player decides freely where to play. It seems to work well enough everywhere else so the idea it can’t work in the United States is nonsense.

Then there is the very nature of the vile atrocity itself. The team that finishes in last place gets the first pick! What sort of horrible system is this? We reward failure and punish success? Where else would such a system be tolerated? At your work place? In your home? Hardly.

The solution is ridiculously simple. Get rid of the draft altogether. Each young player can negotiate with whatever team they want for a spot on the roster. If they don’t get a good offer, they can go to another team and try again. Eventually the market will find equilibrium. This is how life works everywhere else except in sports.

Tom Liberman

Mike Gundy and Kids Today Nonsense

TMike Gundyhe head coach of the Oklahoma State football team, Mike Gundy, is not happy the young football players under his charge are allowed to transfer from his school to another without his permission. Gundy made his displeasure known by claiming, among other nonsense, that kids today don’t have the toughness to stick with difficult things.

Hey, I can just do what I want and I don’t have to really be tough and fight through it.’ You see that with young people because it’s an option they’re given. We weren’t given that option when we were growing up. We were told what to do, we did it the right way, or you go figure it out on your own.

This is not the first time I’ve heard an older person wax poetically about their youth. How they all paid attention to their elders, how they all knew right from wrong, how all kids today are spoiled and soft. How it was my way or the highway world. It turns my stomach every time I hear it. First off, Gundy is a liar. He knows darn well he, and lots of young people he knew, did not always do what they were told or do things the right way. That coaches often cut them slack. It’s utter crap and everyone knows it. You know it, I know it, and Gundy knows it.

Young football players work harder and longer at their craft than kids did when Gundy was at school. The National Championship team of thirty years ago would be blown off the field by a good team today. The players are stronger, faster, and most importantly, far more educated in their craft. I say this not as a knock against former players, who were great kids also, but they didn’t have access to the training resources available today.

Young players today spend countless hours studying film. When you explain to a football player why this technique in this situation is better and then show them on film, you get better players than if you just say, do it this way. Not only do the kids work harder but having an understanding of why they are doing something makes them better players and better humans. Kids today have lots of stick to it, just as much as kids from bygone years.

As for the underlying reason for Gundy’s moronic statements; the fact a football player can’t simply decide to go to another school without the permission of the first school is antithetical to all my Libertarian thoughts. Coaches can, and frequently do, transfer schools without permission in chase of higher paychecks. The young football players just want a chance to play. Most transfers occur because the player in question is not getting playing time in his or her current situation.

Can you switch jobs without getting your current employer’s permission? Answer me that and then explain what about your personal life philosophy wants to take that freedom away from others.

Kids today, they’re great. Adults with bad memories and a chip on their shoulder, not so much.

Tom Liberman

Carlsen versus Caruana and the Slow Death of Nationalism

nationalismThe death of nationalism is on display for the next few weeks at the World Chess Championship being held in London at the College in Holburn between reigning champion Magnus Carlsen from Norway and challenger Fabiano Caruana from the United States, by way of Italy. In past eras I, and most other people from the United States, would certainly be rooting for Caruana because of his nationality. In today’s world, the nation someone is from is becoming less and less important, thanks to globalization brought by the internet.

Let’s put this in perspective. The last time someone from the United States played for the World Chess Championship was in 1972 when Bobby Fischer challenged Boris Spassky. The pride of the United States was at stake and nationalism was running rampant. Everyone I knew was rooting for Fischer, this despite the readily apparent evidence that he was a complete and total jerk. Spassky, on the other hand, was a man to be admired for many reasons.

Nationalism is a big topic these days but many young people just don’t pay attention to that sort of thing anymore. They know Carlsen because of his internet presence. They are fans of his because of this. His nation of origin is still of some importance to a number of people but that bias is slowly fading.

Certainly, many people in the United States are hoping Caruana wins just as many in Norway are rooting for Carlsen to retain his crown. However, because we’ve gotten to know the two through their internet presence, the circumstance of their birth is of diminished importance. We will continue to see this trend until there are no more nations at all, just people doing things they enjoy with others who enjoy the same thing, chess for example.

I happen to live in the fashionable Central West End of St. Louis where the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is located. I’ve actually run into Caruana on several occasions while out and about. He seems quite a decent sort. Many people are cheering him on because of his genial nature. Others prefer Carlsen for the fighting spirit he has exhibited throughout his entire chess career. He is prudent but goes for the win rather than taking the easy draw. Carlsen has set a precedent many of the upcoming chess players eagerly follow which makes chess a better sport.

Nationalism isn’t going away tomorrow or next week but it’s going away. That frightens a particular group of people who identify their self with the country in which they happen to live. That’s a shame. The good news is; more and more people don’t really care where you were born or live, just that you play a style of chess they enjoy watching.

As for me? I won’t be disappointed if Caruana wins but I’d like to see Carlsen continue on as champion for as long as possible. He’s been a tremendous standard bearer for the new era of the game. Carlsen’s time will come eventually, maybe even in the next couple of weeks.

Tom Liberman

Cut Soccer Player Sues to be Put on Team

Ladue SoccerIs it legal when a coach decides to cut a high school junior soccer player from the Varsity team and the Junior Varsity team is generally reserved for freshman and sophomores who have more years to play, leaving the soccer player without a team? The parents don’t think so and are suing the school district for age discrimination. This is all happening right here in my hometown of St. Louis, MO at a Ladue Horton Watkins High School and thus catches my attention. There is a lot going on here worth discussing.

I have a long history of playing sports and I’ve had good coaches and bad coaches. I’ve had coaches who showed favoritism and coaches who simply wanted the best players at each position. There’s no doubt in my mind the coach might have unfairly or unjustly cut the player. It’s also clear that the age of the player is absolutely a factor in not being placed on the Junior Varsity team. The coach admits as much in a letter written explaining why the player was cut in the first place. If the youngster was on the bubble, as the letter says, then it is highly likely he has the skill necessary to help the Junior Varsity team.

Here’s the problem with all of that. It’s the soccer coach’s decision and the best player isn’t always the one that helps the team the most. There are all sorts of possibilities in play. Maybe the player in question is the fourth best forward and tenth best player on the team but there is only room for the top three forwards. So, despite being clearly one of the ten best players on the team, there is no room for him at his position. This happens all the time. At the college level a player in such a situation transfers to another school. At the professional level they are traded. At a private high school, they might move to a different school but a public school, such a Ladue, they are largely bound by the district in which their family lives.

The same rule applies to Junior Varsity. A player with three more years of eligibility has more to offer to the team in the long run than one with but a single year remaining even if they don’t currently have the skills of the older player.

It could be the player just has a bad attitude in the locker room and contributes to disharmony on the team. As I said, there are plenty of good reasons why the player was cut but there are also plenty of bad ones. Maybe the coach is friends with the family of another player who was kept on the team. We just don’t know. Maybe the coach is making a bad decision. Again, there is really little way to know.

In the sports world the thing that ends up mattering is results. If the Ladue soccer team fails to succeed in the coming years the coach will eventually be fired. If the coach makes a bunch of poor personnel decisions then failure is likely.

Life is filled with injustice but the final arbiter is generally success. This is nowhere more evident than in sport. I certainly feel badly for the player in question, particularly if the coach’s decision was based on anything other than merit, a possibility I not only admit exist but readily understand happens all too frequently. That being said, such personnel decisions must be left to the coach, not the state.

Tom Liberman

Is the Vandal Bonfire burning in Effigy a Racist Attack?

Vandal BonfireVan High School in Texas conducts an annual homecoming ceremony, the Vandal Bonfire, in which a straw figure wearing the jersey number of the star player from their rival school is burned in effigy atop it. This year photos and videos of the Vandal Bonfire showed a figure wearing jersey number 8. This happens to be a black athlete from rival Brownsboro High. Outrage ensued.

A statement from the district explained the ritual has been going on since the 1940s with a brief pause after some students were injured a few years back. The tradition of the Vandal Bonfire is to have the best player from the opposing team atop it in effigy. The district statement promised in the future it would no longer have such a figure at the top of the bonfire.

It’s an interesting situation in that, if anything, the Vandal Bonfire is actually honoring the opposing player rather than denigrating him. However, burning in effigy is an act often associated with anger at the person being so represented. This combined with a racist history in this nation of lynching and burning crosses stirs strong emotions in many.

It’s my opinion the school district can do whatever it wants in this case. I don’t think the display was racist in any way although I’d like to hear the opinion of the player burned in effigy at the Vandal Bonfire. The very act of burning someone atop a bonfire does strike a nasty chord and I’m glad the district has found a way to move forward with the tradition while eliminating what is something a reasonable person might find distasteful.

Another solution might be to invite the opposing player to the event and allow him or her to set the bonfire ablaze. In many ways it seems we are intent upon finding ways to divide people when, in my opinion, we should be striving for the opposite. We have far more in common with one another than we imagine and getting people together in social settings to learn about these things is something to be encouraged.

It is clear the football players and fans for both teams have many common interests but happen to go to, or root for, different schools. If they were to get to know one another they could play the game and, when finished, possibly enjoy a lifetime of friendship they might not otherwise have enjoyed.

Tom Liberman

JR Smith, a Tattoo, and the NBA

JR Smith TattooA fascinating story involving basketball player JR Smith, his new tattoo, and the National Basketball Association is making the rounds on various news sites this morning. Smith got a tattoo on his leg depicting the company logo for an apparel company in New York called Supreme. The league has a rule against players displaying company logos on their body or shaved into their hair.

I have several problems with this rule. In the first place I think a player should be able to put whatever they want on their body and the league should have no say in the matter. I go as far as saying if an athlete wanted a swastika, a racist term, a misogynistic image, or anything else offensive on their body, that’s their business. Now, a particular team has every right not to sign such a player, that’s the team’s freedom to decide.

My second problem is the rank hypocrisy of the rule. The NBA makes an enormous amount of money through its various endorsement contracts. The Nike logo currently appears on the jerseys of the teams and all sports leagues have similar financially lucrative deals. For them to be pulling in money hand over fist and deny individual players the same right when it comes to a tattoo strikes this Libertarian as grossly biased although certainly legal. The players have all sorts of their own apparel contracts in which they support various companies and are financially remunerated for doing so. Why shouldn’t this apply their own body, the mostly uniquely individual and privately-owned thing of all?

My third issue is that the NBA has allowed several players with tattoos to play without fines for the last few years. This means they are engaged in selective enforcement of their rules. I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact the tattoo is of an apparel company as opposed to a television show but one has one’s suspicions.

In the end, the league is free to make their own rules and that’s a good thing. I just wish people and organizations would realize the freedom they enjoy to do as they please should extend to everyone else as well. JR Smith’s freedom is my freedom.

Tom Liberman

Battle of the Sexes for Science

Battle of the SexesI was just a boy of nine when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in Houston on September 20, 1973 and remember the hype of Battle of the Sexes quite well. It was actually the second match for Riggs after he defeated Margaret Court earlier that year but the first Battle of the Sexes hardly had the media frenzy of the second. There have actually been a number of such events over the years with a variety of rules enforced to attempt to create an even match.

What I’d like to find out is exactly how good are the best women players of various sports in the world compared to their male counterparts. It goes without saying that Serena Williams could crush me in tennis. The only points I’d win would be her double-faults, if she had any. It likewise seems obvious Williams would not win many points against Novak Djokovic. Any attempt to handicap a match so that the obviously inferior player has a chance is of little interest to me.

I’d like to see Serena play a real match against the three hundredth ranked male player in the world. If she wins then play the two hundredth or if she loses try the four hundredth. I’d like to throw the WNBA Champion Seattle Storm against a good men’s college team and see what happens. No handicaps, no special rules, just men and women playing together and see who wins.

The reason I find this interesting is not to somehow prove male superiority to women, which is sadly why I think these sorts of matches are often proposed. It’s clear that in general men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. Not to say there aren’t plenty of women bigger, stronger, and faster than me; just that the best male tennis player in the world through the undeniable differences in genetics is a better player than the best woman.

But how much better? Let’s say we find the level in tennis is at five hundred. That means there are four hundred and ninety-nine men in the world better than Williams and all the rest of us are worse. That’s pretty damned impressive considering the physical differences inherent in gender.

I’m certain that determining this information won’t result in anything particularly useful nor will it make the world a better place. It’s just something I’d find interesting. It also gives us a benchmark with which to compare gender differences in the future. Let’s say fifty years from now the best woman tennis player in the world can now defeat the four hundredth best male player or only the six hundredth. We can now start to make valid comparisons to players over the generations.

It also could make mixed gender leagues, or Battle of the Sexes, a common reality and that might provide excellent entertainment. Perhaps top high school boy’s teams could regular play women’s college teams. I think there might be public interest in such matches. Money to be made.

In any case, just me thinking aloud.

Tom Liberman

Fortnite Pits Pros against Casual Players in Enormous Mismatches

Fortnite NinjaIn the widely popular video game Fortnite the best professional players pit their skills against rank amateurs some of whom are brand new to the game. Can you imagine a similar situation in any other sporting or gaming endeavor? The situation was brought to my attention by a commenter on my story about Stream Sniping in Fortnite and I think it bears some consideration.

The complaint centered around the idea casual players have no chance against incredibly skilled professionals like Ninja. Ninja and others like him make large amounts of money playing Fortnite and do it for a living. They are essentially like a top-level professional athlete in tennis, golf, or any other sport. Meanwhile they are pitted against casual players repeatedly, hour after hour, day after day. These other players have no chance to win and can grow frustrated.

I certainly understand their pain. I played sports from a young age and, like virtually everyone else, quickly came up against players with more natural athletic ability who put in more hours of practice than me. I stood no chance against them. Unlike in Fortnite, I didn’t continue to play against such competition as I grew older. They went onto higher levels than I could visit. I still played sports but against lesser competition and eventually I stopped playing competitively. A Fortnite player has little choice but to attempt to compete against the very best in the world.

Here’s the issue. The best players deserve the rewards. They work hard at their craft and have become skilled from both practice and natural ability. They deserve to win the game. They should defeat lesser players and gain the prizes. This is the very nature of competition. What is the alternative? Should we punish good players by giving them a handicap? Should we refuse to allow them to play? Do we allow the local high school baseball team to compete against the pro teams but handicap the pros by allowing them fewer players on the field? Do we force the best tennis player in the world to use a smaller racquet and compete against lesser players? The answer is, and should be, no.

This is an excellent illustration of the inherent nature of life. Some people are going to be better at things than you. Don’t be like the commenter who thinks it’s an unfair system. Work harder, get better.

Certainly, the makers of the game could create instances in which players of certain skills were forbidden. This is merely a virtual reflection of what happens in real life. Not only do lesser teams not get to play the best teams but the professional players are not allowed to enter tournaments against lesser players. I think it would be a great idea although implementation might not be easy.

Nevertheless, my point stands. Just because someone is better at something than you, doesn’t mean they should be denied the rewards of their efforts.

Tom Liberman

Harrison Bader and the Easy Five Star Catch

RFive Star Catchecently a St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Harrison Bader, made a game ending catch that was rated as a Five Star catch although it didn’t appear, to the eye, to be particularly difficult. It gives me good reason to discuss the difference between a metric based analysis and the eye test. The eye test says: If it looks like a difficult catch, it must be one. If it looks easy, then it probably was. The eye test has merit but statistical analysis should always triumph.

First a quick look at how Statcast derives their rating system. They look at four factors. How far the outfielder has to travel to get to the ball. How much time that outfielder has. The direction the outfielder must run. The proximity to a wall in which the catch is made. Basically, Statcast feeds every ball hit into the outfield into a database and applies a calculation to see what percentage of the time the outfielder at that position would make the catch. Anytime the number drops to 25% or less, it is considered a Five Star catch.

When Bader made his catch the other night it certainly didn’t pass the eye test. It looked like a good play at best. This is where metric based analysis is decidedly better than most subjective opinions. Bader is extremely fast and seems to have an excellent feel for the flight of the baseball immediately off the bat of the hitter. This means he gets started in the correct direction very quickly and arrives at the intersection point with the ball rapidly. It’s true that Bader certainly makes that play more than 25% of the time. I’d hazard a guess that he makes it more like 80% of the time. That doesn’t change the fact that 75% of the time a ball hit with a similar trajectory goes for a base hit. That’s the power of metric based analysis.

Remember, Bader’s own catches are part of that mix. Because he catches a lot of balls of this nature that drives down the difficulty rating of the catch. If you take Bader’s catches out of the equation the catch becomes even less likely.

Statcast and its outfield defensive ratings is a relatively new statistic. There will certainly be some adjustments going forward and the larger the data set, the more accurate the percentages. That being said, it was a Five Star catch by the best measurable rating currently available. I’ll take that over the eye test any day of the week.

You’d be wise to the do the same and that applies to other aspects of life as well. It’s easy to be fooled when doing the eye test. Look at the numbers, trust the numbers. Do you know in the United States, violent crime is at its lowest point in over fifty years? Can’t argue with the math.

Tom Liberman

Punishing by Playing Antonio Callaway and Hue Jackson

Antonio CallawayThere’s an interesting story making the rounds about a Cleveland Browns player named Antonio Callaway and his coach, Hue Jackson. Callaway was stopped for a traffic violation and marijuana was found in his car. Jackson decided that Callaway’s punishment should be to play almost every offensive snap in the preseason game against the New York Giants. Many people are questioning this method of punishment.

I won’t keep you in suspense as to my opinion on the subject, it’s Jackson’s team to run as he sees fit. If he thinks it’s an appropriate punishment then it’s his call to make. That won’t stop me from suggesting it seems like a very bad idea from a misguided coach.

Callaway ended up playing 57 of the 63 offensive plays Cleveland ran in the game and was exhausted and asking to be removed at several points. He was refused. This seems to me to put Callaway in physical danger. A player who is tired is not running plays properly which is clearly demonstrated in this age of specialization. Players are rotated in and out at a far greater rate than in previous decades.

It also seems very unusual to punish a rookie player by giving him more repetition at his position. There are certainly other wideouts on the Browns hoping to make the team and each of them was denied chances to impress because Callaway stayed in the game.

All this is certainly true but my original assessment stands. It’s Jackson’s team to run as he sees fit. What’s important to consider is if his methods are working. His record as head coach of the Browns is an astonishing 1-29 over the course of two seasons. He accumulated an 8-8 record in one season as head coach of the Oakland Raiders before he was fired there.

Perhaps his methods are wise and will be part of a turnaround for the Browns and they will become a playoff team. Perhaps this punishment is indicative of a coach flailing away for solutions, a coach who doesn’t know what he is doing or why and his abysmal record will continue.

We just don’t know but we’ll certainly find out. I think Jackson was wrong in his methods and so do some other people. It’s quite possible I’ll be incorrect in this judgment, because that’s all it is, an opinion based on the evidence.

I won’t be personally insulted if the Browns start winning games and Jackson turns out to be an excellent head coach. I won’t defend my position to the death. I’ll shrug my shoulders and say I judged the evidence that was available to me and came to a conclusion which turned out to be wrong. Best of luck.

Tom Liberman

Are Super Nerds Ruining Baseball?

Jayson Werth Super NerdsFormer Major League Baseball Jayson Werth claims baseball is being ruined by hard-core statisticians he calls Super Nerds. The basic idea behind Werth’s claim is that advanced statistical analysis, Sabermetrics, have changed the way the game is played with home runs becoming more valuable and thus increasing strike outs. Certainly, it’s more complicated than this quick explanation but what I’d like to examine is the general idea that statistical analysis is causing harm to the game of baseball.

Sabermetrics came to the forefront of baseball decision making when Billy Beane incorporated the ideas of Paul DePodesta into the day to day operations of the Oakland Athletics. The movie Moneyball was based on these events. The Athletics were very successful with these techniques and soon the Boston Red Sox incorporated them and won the World Series. Not long after this most teams embraced the ideas of the so-called Super Nerds.

The idea is that men and women with advanced understanding of statistics make better baseball decisions than the people who have played the game for their entire lives. It’s no wonder people like Werth and Goose Gossage have come out with scathing comments about the change in baseball and the generation of largely Ivy League educated men who brought about those new methods.

The proof is in the pudding. The methods employed by the Super Nerds work. Sport is a result orientated business and if ideas are failing they are generally discarded. That doesn’t really address the claims Werth is making. He isn’t saying the Super Nerds are making bad decisions that hurt teams, he’s saying they are making the game boring, something no one wants to watch.

I suspect he’s making that claim because attendance is down this year by about 6% although major weather factors early in the season account for much of this. Over the last twenty years attendance statistics are relatively flat with about as many people, 72-73 million, attending games each season. It’s neither up or down. This seems to put Werth’s statements to question.

I strongly suspect great athletes like Werth feel their territory is being usurped by statistically minded men and women with advanced degrees and no experience with the game of baseball. I can understand that attitude. It seems fairly normal to resent newcomers telling you how to do your job.

The evidence suggests the new methods are superior in producing winning teams and have not had any effect on attendance as a whole.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that nothing stays the same. If baseball has changed to focus more on home runs, that will alter the underlying statistical base and a new metric will eventually be adopted to counter the trend.

The lesson, if there is one, is that change is inevitable, like it or not.

Tom Liberman

Terrell Owens and the Football Hall of Fame

Terrell OwensTerrell Owens was recently elected into the National Football League Hall of Fame and, in an unprecedented move, has decided to skip the induction ceremony where he would normally give a speech. He is the first living NFL player to do so. The best thing about this story is the reaction of Hall of Fame President, David Baker. That’s what I’d like to discuss.

First a little background information. Owens is clearly worthy of selection with statistics that stand up with the best wide receivers in the history of the game. He had a cantankerous relationship with the press during his career, some undoubtedly his own fault, and it is those writers who vote on candidates to the hall. They did not choose Owens in his first or second year of eligibility and that is what rankles him. He is of the opinion they did not respect him during his career and then used their position and their dislike to delay what was certainly a deserved honor.

People can, and certainly are, taking Owens to task for his pettiness in refusing to attend the ceremony. Many people don’t like Owens and are not shy about making nasty comments. Others support him and his decision and they do not hesitate to make their opinion of the various writers involved known.

But it is what Mr. Baker is saying and doing that tickles this Libertarian’s fancy: He’s got a mind of his own, he’s a grown man and we need to respect his right to make that decision. Baker goes on to say: If he doesn’t come to the enshrinement, he’s welcome here every day for the rest of his life. Our job is to honor the heroes of the game.

Mr. Baker, if you are not already a Libertarian I hereby formally extend an invitation to our little group. His attitude is, to some degree, the embodiment of what I think it means to be a Libertarian. Every person has a right to make their own decisions, even if these are childish, petty, and ultimately self-destructive. This stands in stark contrast to what I see everywhere in the United States these days. In almost every article I read it seems people from the President of the United States on down think they know best what others should do and that laws, rules, social pressure, and who knows what else should be brought to bear to make everyone else stand in line.

This is wrong. When it is choice between personal liberty and an action that does not directly harm others, we should almost universally choose freedom. No one is being harmed by the fact Owens will not be attending the Hall of Fame ceremony. We should respect his decision even if we disagree with it. Certainly, we can suggest another course, we can ask why he is doing so, we can point out the potential problems, but in the end, it is his life to lead, not yours.

Mr. Baker might have sought to punish Owens by refusing to put his banner up at the ceremony, not having images of Owens at the stadium, cutting video of him in television promotions, and who knows what other method of coercion. A lesser person might well have done all those things. Mr. Baker chose otherwise.

Well done, Mr. Baker. Well done, indeed.

Tom Liberman

Is it Wrong to Point out Mike Matheny is a Handsome Man?

Mike MathenyI noticed an interesting trend on the Facebook posts of some of my women friends in the aftermath of the firing of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Many of the women commented on what a good-looking fellow is Matheny and that they’d miss him for that aspect at least. Male friends immediately responded that if men made such a comment about an attractive woman coach or manager they’d be subject to attack from Social Justice Warriors.

It’s an interesting point because it’s true. Men who make such comments about attractive female athletes are often attacked as misogynistic. The conclusion that men seem to be drawing from this truth is, on the other hand, completely incorrect. They should be able to make such observations and so should women.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out the attractiveness of another person and women have every right to make such observations, as do men about good-looking women. Our looks are simply a trait, like any other.

Certainly, Matheny’s record as a manager and ability to lead the team is a far more important factor in his being fired than his relative attractiveness. The issue is we can’t get angry at someone for pointing out what they perceive to be the truth. We can certainly suggest his appearance shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not he keeps his job although the women posting made no such claims. What we should not do is pretend he isn’t viewed as attractive by women.

I wrote an article about a golfer named Paige Spiranac and how she used her looks to get an invitation to a golf tournament for which she would otherwise not be qualified. That’s all well and good. A person should use all their assets in an attempt to succeed in their chosen profession and life as a whole. There is nothing wrong with noting such things.

It’s important to make decisions based on pertinent factors. For Matheny, his looks have little impact on his managerial abilities. For a model, her or his strategic baseball knowledge is of little consequence to success. The person doing the hiring and firing is the one who makes these decisions and if they decide poorly, they too will suffer the consequences.

If one of my female friends were in charge of the Cardinals and hired Matheny because of his appearance rather than his skills as a manager, she would eventually lose her job as well. That being said, what’s wrong with pointing out a physical feature that doesn’t necessarily correlate to job performance? To my way of thinking, nothing.

A final point as to Matheny himself. He suffered numerous concussions during his career as a catcher and his mannerisms have always struck me as somewhat dulled. I hope he is consulting medical professionals and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Tom Liberman

Del Potro and the not so Bad Life of being Not the Best

Juan Martin del PotroI was watching the Rafael Nadal versus Juan Martin del Potro tennis match in the Wimbledon Quarterfinals when it occurred to be just how good is del Potro, this despite the fact he is not the best. I started to consider the life of the people who are exceptionally good at their chosen profession but are not the best. It’s not so bad.

Del Potro has never been ranked higher than fourth in the world of professional tennis. He won the 2009 U.S. Open but that is his only victory in what are considered the Major events of tennis. He has defeated all the best players in the world from time to time but has a losing record against the three men considered the finest of his generation: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal (listed in alphabetic order to avoid anyone chastising me).

Del Potro is better at tennis than I will be at anything in my life. He is better at tennis than the vast majority of people will be at anything they attempt. He works harder at his craft than I have ever worked at anything in my life. He works harder than most people. For all his efforts he is not even a consideration when ranking the best tennis players of all-time or even of this generation.

Despite not being able to attain the pinnacle of his profession he has managed to earn over $21 million in prize money and certainly a substantial amount in endorsements.

What separates del Potro from those who are considered the greatest? It’s impossible to say. His mental toughness, not quite enough accuracy, his physical conditioning, his strength? There are no answers here. The difference between del Potro and those considered the greatest is so small as to be undetectable, but it is there nonetheless. This means he will never be spoken of in the same terms as those others. This is reality.

Throughout the history of sport people like del Potro have always existed. Players of such tremendous skill and ability that bench warmers like myself can never truly understand exactly how good they are at their chosen profession. Even if they are not the best.

This is where I delve into philosophy. Is that so bad for del Potro? Maybe not being under the same microscope the greatest must face is in some sense its own reward. He has achieved great and wonderful things for which he should be immensely proud.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. I want to be the best writer in the world. It’s virtually certain I will never be so. That’s ok, I’m of the opinion the attempt is of vital importance to happiness. Success is wonderful. Failure is painful. Happiness is the goal.

I’m willing to guess in many, if not all, ways del Potro is just as happy as the other, better, tennis players. Good for him. In the end no one keeps score. You’re dead. How much did you enjoy yourself whilst alive?

Tom Liberman