Mildly embarrassing confession: I never got around to seeing “Moneyball” when it was out at the theater. I don’t know why. It just never happened. Finally got to see it last night. And for the life of me, I can’t really say anything intelligent about it.
The biggest reason: I watched it with two people who were not baseball fans. Like, at all. And not just not baseball fans: one of them is a guy from Hungary who is not even familiar with baseball. He likes Brad Pitt movies, though, and he knows that I write about baseball, so I think he thought it would be cool to put us all together. It was rather sweet, actually. But I found myself, the entire time I was watching the movie, wondering how on Earth anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about the game could get anything out of it.
But they surprisingly did. Sure, I had to explain a lot of the things happening, but they quickly grokked the whole stats vs. scouts thing. The idea that young Ivy League kids with computers represented something different in sports. They picked up on the friction between Art Howe and Billy Beane. They understood the notion — based on the stuff near the end with the Boston Red Sox — that Beane’s advances would quickly be co-opted by the rich teams and then the A’s would soon be back to square one, playing the same game as the big boys and not having the money to compete. And, heck, based on some NPR report or something, the Hungarian guy said “this Bill James; he wrote the serial killer book, yes?” Yes, yes he did.
Anyway, I was rather pleased by all of that. I talk to people steeped in baseball all day and I’ve come to expect that people who aren’t so steeped think of the really inside parts of baseball like front office moves and sabermetrics and stuff as something close to impenetrable. Guess not. Very cool.
Oh, and as the father of a little girl, I’m not too tough to admit that Beane’s daughter playing that song on the guitar to her dad didn’t make it a little misty in the room.
The New York Times has a blistering report on the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund. The Fund is the charity the Yankees created in 2006 as a means of making up for the negative impact the construction New Yankee Stadium had on the surrounding community, primarily via its taking over 25 acres of parkland.
The idea of the Fund was a good one: to distribute $40 million in cash grants and sports equipment, and 600,000 free baseball tickets to community organizations in the Bronx over four decades. And it has been distributing funds and tickets. As the Times reports, however, the manner in which it has done so raises some red flags. Such as:
- Charitable donations have, in an amazing coincidence, often gone to other charities which share common board members with the New Yankee Stadium Fund;
- Funds have gone to many wealthy groups in affluent parts of the Bronx far away from the Stadium while the area around the stadium remains one of the most impoverished in the nation. For example, a private school in a wealthy part of the borough and a rec center in a gated community have gotten a lot money that, one would think anyway, could be and should be devoted to organizations closer to the ballpark that are in greater need; and
- There has been almost no transparency or oversight of the Fund. Reports which were supposed to have been submitted have not been. And no one, apart from the Times anyway, seems to care. The Yankees certainly don’t seem to. Indeed, as the article notes, the team has worked hard to keep the Fund’s operations out of its hands. They just got their new ballpark and write the checks and hand out the tickets. Everything else is someone else’s problem.
Cronyism in private philanthropy is not uncommon. As is a lack of oversight. Often it’s the best connected people who receive the benefit of such funds, not the people most in need. This is especially true in charities whose creation was not born of a philanthropic impulse as much as it was born of a need to put a good face on some not-so-good business dealings.
If the Times’ report is correct — and the lack of anyone coming forward to dispute it on the record despite the Times’ requests that they do suggests it is — it appears as if the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund is one of those sorts of charities.
We’re not talking the 100 meters here. We’re talking practical baseball sprinting. That’s defined by the StatCast folks at MLB as “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window,” while sprinting for the purposes of, you know, winning a baseball game.
StatCast ranked all players who have at least 10 “max effort” runs this year. I won’t give away who is at the top of this list, but given that baseball’s speedsters tend to get a lot of press you will not be at all surprised. As for the bottom of the list, well, the Angels don’t pay Albert Pujols to run even when he’s not suffering from late career chronic foot problems, so they’ll probably let that one go. I will say, however, that I am amused that the third slowest dude in baseball is named “Jett,” however.
Lately people have noticed some odd things about home run distances on StatCast, suggesting that maybe their metrics are wacko. And, of course, their means of gauging this stuff is proprietary and opaque, so we have no way of knowing if their numbers are off the reservation or not. As such, take all of the StatCast stuff you see with a grain of salt.
That said, even if the feet-per-second stuff is wrong here, knowing that Smith is faster than Jones by a factor of X is still interesting.