Archive for the ‘ Just Sports ’ Category

Mickey Mantle: The Man, the Myth, and the Writers

The great Yankee icon, Mickey Mantle. A man who was both very real and truly mythical.

Through the first half of the twentieth century, America’s sportswriters played the roles of Thucydides and Homer by inking the history of baseball under bold headlines on the morning papers and celebrating athletes’ warrior-like exploits for all to enjoy early in the day.  Since antiquity, Greece has followed Odysseus, one of Western civilization’s greatest heroes.  In a similar tradition, from the 1900s to 1940s, American sportswriters traveled and shared experiences with the baseball giants of yore and created a mythical greatness around our country’s titans of sport.  The 1950s saw a gradual change in how these and other popular columnists, led by Walter Winchell, represented their subjects and the way in which fans learned about the mythical champions who battled with wooden bats and leather armor on fields of clay and windswept grass.  Mickey Mantle’s picture did not bear the bright halo of exemplary behavior that always graced Stan Musial’s iconic portraits both in magazines and popular memory, but it reminds Americans of how baseball was once covered by the media and viewed by the public.  Today’s baseball, laced with the tight sinews of scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs, is not Musial or even Mantle’s game.  Yet, the greater days of “America’s pastime” were chronicled by legions of American sportswriters playing the roles of Thucydides and Homer; though obviously not as celebrated as the great recorders of ancient history and legend, American sportswriters served a similar role in preserving the aura of a world – and sport – that modern society recently lost.

In the 11 October 2010 issue of Sports Illustrated, readers find a sample of Jane Leavy’s new biography, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.  Mickey Mantle’s sort-of deification in 1950s American popular media, as represented in Sports Illustrated, speaks volumes not just of how writers covered athletes and their exploits, but how opponents, teammates, and fans remember individuals (athletes in this case) who evoke emotion like few others ever could.  One anecdote that makes Mickey Mantle more of a man and less of a myth involves a brawl at the Copacabana Club in New York City.  Imbibed spirits encouraged Mantle and a naturally rough-and-tumble pack consisting of Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, and Billy Martin to take a moral stand and thrash a group of patrons who yelled a racial slur at that night’s headlining performer, Sammy Davis Jr.  One of the Yankees’ vanquished foes stumbled into a local emergency room with a broken nose and several other injuries.  The papers were all over the story and Mantle’s involvement demystified his up-to-then clean image.  It must be noted that it was all for a good cause, though, since they defended a friend’s honor.

Sportswriters who followed a specific team often enjoyed certain privileges by association, such as having their tabs paid by the organization.  Doubtless, this certainly helped teams avoid negative coverage in the media.  The article recounts a story of how Babe Ruth, long before the days of Mickey Mantle, ran naked through a train as a woman carrying a knife was chasing him.  According to the article, the sportswriters who witnessed this spectacle – that would shock even today’s more cynical fans – said, “Well, that’s another story we won’t cover!”

The father of sensational journalism and gossip columns, Walter Winchell: the antithesis of Edward R. Murrow.

Nevertheless, Mantle hardly survived that transitional phase in the history of American journalism.  He is remembered as “a guy’s guy who called everyone ‘bud’ or ‘pard’” and “was unafraid to show tears,” according to Sports Illustrated.  He is remembered for bringing his teammates along with a bouquet of flowers to visit an acquaintance’s mother at the hospital.  He is remembered by the public as a “tongue-tied, country-fed and shy” young man regardless of age, but by former team owner George Weiss as someone with a record of transgressions that were bad enough to be sufficient for blackmail.   Weiss once threatened possible disclosure to Mantle’s wife, Merlyn, when negotiating new terms with the ballplayer for a contract extension.  Some of the finest baseball the world has ever known, along with infidelity and booze, were the fact of the matter with Mantle.  He was no Stan Musial, baseball’s very own Odysseus, but Mantle still bears a mystique all his own – boyish charm and good looks that accompanied one of the most effective and graceful swings in baseball history.  The article also reveals that Miss Marjorie Bolding, a lady with whom he was rumored to have an affair, said of Mantle, “He was the most fun.  Nobody could play ball like Mickey, and nobody could play like Mickey.”  Though teammates, opponents, and fans remember him as “The Mick,” his wife recalls, “… [Mickey] was married in a very small geographic area of his mind… [to Mickey, marriage was] a party with added attractions,” according to author Jane Leavy.  We, the public, know the myth and those close to him truly knew the man.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Mickey Mantle swung a bat with an artist's precision.


The Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback vs. Non-Hall of Fame Quarterback Challenge (Part 5: Conclusions)

And now it’s all over.  Who wins?  Is there a true statistical difference (in terms of statistical science, not just “football stats”) between Hall of Fame quarterbacks and non-Hall of Fame quarterbacks?  Click the link below and read the final segment of this five-week investigation of the differences (and even similarities) between quarterbacks enshrined in Canton, Ohio, and those who hope to one day be immortalized in bronze.

Hall of Fame QBs (part 5: Conclusions)

With our 2010-2011 NFL Season countdown complete, we can watch the season’s opening kickoff and wonder which quarterback will rise to the occasion and lead his team to glory and who will fail to reach – and win – the grand prix of football: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thank you all for participating through comments and emails.  This has been one of the most entertaining and fun projects I have worked on throughout the opening years of my career in sports administration/marketing.  Successful completion of this project would not have been possible without assistance and guidance from Dr. Carolyn Nordstrom, Associate Provost for Campuses of Kaplan College and Professor of Statistics at the Northwestern University Master of Sports Administration Program.  This project stands as a tribute to all that I learned from her a couple of semesters ago when I enrolled in her stats class.  Even though this project could mark the beginning of a master’s thesis or dissertation due to the intricacies of statistical analysis, it allows us to examine how the application of statistical principles affects the decision-making process.  Here, the decision is “to induct or not to induct.”  That is the question.


Oh Archie Manning... so many hard years in New Orleans when the Saints were the "Ain'ts." His skill was not enough to move a sub-par team to glory; nevertheless, it was his skill, talent, and grit that earned his peers' and opponents' respect. Jack Youngblood, Hall of Fame defensive end of the Los Angeles Rams, routinely pounded Manning as the quarterback's protection broke down all around him. Still, Youngblood's admiration for Manning defines true sportsmanship, for he was reputed to always help the embattled Manning get up after dealing him a solid, mind-scrambling tackle. In spite of his efforts, Archie Manning is not in the Hall of Fame and remains somewhat of a long shot for induction because of his teams' unsuccessful campaigns year after year.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback vs. Non-Hall of Fame Quarterback Challenge (Part 4)

Week four.  The heavy stats are here.  Now we are in deep and things begin to look a bit hazy at this point; admittedly, as I worked on this project, I was often confused by what I saw!  Just click on the link below and see how statistical models help determine what factors contribute to an NFL quarterback’s Hall of Fame status.  Apparently, some factors are redundant and should not be included in a specific set of metrics used to determine induction.  In other words, a strong and valid argument for – or against – an NFL quarterback’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame should depend on truly independent variables and not those that conveniently fit one side of an argument (i.e. bias should be avoided at all costs).

Hall of Fame QBs (part 4)

So, some of these graphs and tables look even more cryptic than last week’s set.  This is the point of my research, though, that helps us isolate which factors included in my project are worth considering and whether or not they should be used in conjunction with one another in arguments on Hall of Fame induction.


Cam Suarez-Bitar

Thank you all for your participation.  Remember that if you have any questions or comments, you need only post them or send me an email.  Keep them coming.


Phil Simms - here about to get rocked by Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary - led the 1986 New York Giants to a Super Bowl title. Even though the 1986 Giants are one of the greatest teams in NFL history, their defense receives the lion's share of the credit. Simms' performance in Super Bowl XXI earned him MVP status as he completed 22 of 25 passes and set a Super Bowl record for best completion percentage. Consistent - when not hurt - and efficient, Simms' career numbers and Super Bowl champion status make one wonder why he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Perhaps the fact that he did not necessarily help redefine the image or role of the NFL quarterback to some degree has kept Canton, Ohio on his "to do" list.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback vs. Non-Hall of Fame Quarterback Challenge (Part 3)

The 2010 pre-season is becoming all the more dramatic with Brett Favre’s decision to stay one more year (very good) and the New York Giants and Jets counting down the days to their home openers at the new Giants Stadium.  Still, we all know that this is the year that Dallas takes the title (fingers crossed).

So, we have arrived at week three of our Pro Football Hall of Fame challenge.  So far, the Hall of Fame quarterbacks have not demonstrated a “significant statistical difference” between their numbers and those posted by 33 of the greatest quarterbacks who enter the Hall as guests only.  In the previous section, we discovered that league championship winners comprise around 75% of the Pro Football Hall of Fame QB list and that both samples are 1) large enough to conduct a good statistical analysis and 2) normally distributed.

This week, we begin to see more sophisticated statistical models in the analysis.  With descriptive statistics, a couple of hypothesis tests, and the beginnings of a statistical regression, we derive a fairly good body of evidence that will help us arrive at our final conclusions.  This part gets heavy, so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask at any time.  Statistics can get cryptic, especially when you begin to deal with confidence intervals and tests, p-values, and residuals, to name but a few more statistical concepts beyond basic averages and means.

We have good samples and plenty more to cover, so let us press on to part 3 of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback vs. Non-Hall of Fame Quarterback Challenge!

Hall of Fame QBs (part 3)

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

One final note.  On Tuesday 29 June 2010, Randall Cunningham’s 2-year-old son, Christian, drowned in a hot tub and passed away shortly after arriving at the hospital.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Cunningham family and may the Creator guide them with a loving hand through this tragic and terrible ordeal.


Randall Cunningham, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, revolutionized the position by passing, punting, and running the ball like no other QB of the modern era. His elegance and grace along with a steely determination to succeed and keen improvisational skills made him a sheer joy to watch on Sunday (and Monday). Though his career stats underscore the intangibles he brought to the game, somehow he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


The Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback vs. Non-Hall of Fame Quarterback Challenge (Part 2)

We have arrived at part two of our statistical analysis comparing Hall of Fame quarterbacks with 33 of the best who played the game and have yet to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.  Here, we will look at a few graphs that reveal trends in both categories addressed in this investigation.

Please click on the link below to open part two of my project.  This segment, along with all others, will be posted as a .pdf for your convenience.

Hall of Fame QBs (part 2)

So, sit back, relax, and enjoy this week’s installment.  Remember, ask questions and add your point of view any time.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.


Unsung hero of the Miami Dolphins' undefeated season in 1972, Earl "The Pearl" Morrall, is not in the Hall of Fame.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback vs. Non-Hall of Fame Quarterback Challenge (Part 1)

It’s late Tuesday evening and we are that much closer to Kickoff 2010.  To celebrate the beginning of what will prove to be yet another great football season, we will count down the remaining five weeks to the season’s opening kickoff with a five-part series of weekly posts that will explore the reasons why some NFL quarterbacks are enshrined in Canton, Ohio, and others patiently (or impatiently) await induction.  This is not your standard barroom discussion or argument over who is the best quarterback of all-time (<cough> Johnny Unitas! <cough>).  Rather, this five-part series represents weeks of extensive statistical analysis I performed a few months ago that offers explanations as to why, for instance, Joe Namath is in the Hall and Earl Morrall is not.

Furthermore, we will look at exactly how relevant player stats like career passing yards, career touchdowns, career completion percentage, and career Super Bowl victories are to the Hall’s answer to Shakespeare’s great question: to induct, or not to induct.  I am sure you also know by now that “The Bard” himself, yeah old Billy Shakes, was a rabid Dallas Cowboys fan, too.

This week, we begin with an introduction to the problem at hand.  Next week, though, we will view our first descriptive statistics.  Please open the .pdf file by clicking the link below.  For your convenience, I included an appendix with my data set and samples at the end of each weekly installment.

If you have any questions, concerns, or anything else to add, please feel free to post your comments here or send me an email.  If you use any material I present herein for academic purposes, just be mindful to write proper citations and/or contact me directly through this blog or email.

The next few weeks will feature heavy statistical theory and relatively complex models and I would be more than happy to explain anything you may not recognize – it can get a bit cryptic.  Lastly, I paid close attention to detail and did my utmost to provide a quality product; nevertheless, should you catch a mistake, a correction would be much appreciated.


Hall of Fame QBs (Part 1)

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thank you all for reading my blog and for your continued support (by the way, Mr. Bryant, an article on fantasy football will follow our five-week trip through the wonderful world of statistics and the great Pro Football Hall of Fame).


Surprisingly, Ken Stabler has yet to be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.



Should College Athletes Be Paid?

As private enterprises capitalize on their use of student/athletes as marketing symbols, the question of whether or not they should receive royalties lingers.

Public and private universities are non-profit organizations.  Only about 10 athletic departments in the NCAA actually generate revenue for their respective universities and the rest operate at a loss.  The benefits are that university athletic departments attract national and international attention through the media (“increased brand recognition,” in marketing terms), complement a university’s reputation and prestige, and both enhance and reinforce the student experience.  Meanwhile, there are numerous tangible benefits for a company like Electronic Arts (EA Sports) that profits from its creation of exciting and realistic video games, such as “EA Sports NCAA Football.”

Amateurism in American college sports dates back to the early 19th century and keeps a higher degree of romance in sports.  Today, endorsements and co-branding – among other marketing tactics – have changed the way college athletics function and amateurism is no longer as prevalent as it was 200 years ago.  We certainly cannot argue against the old paradigm that holds that “times change.”  Yet, as cultural norms change, so must the systems that unite the interests of those who make them work.  In this case, the current system that allows the NCAA and companies like EA Sports to develop products featuring the likenesses of student athletes that add marketability and thus generate sales must be adjusted to ensure that no stakeholder – least of all college student/athletes who are in the midst of shaping their seemingly uncertain futures – is left at a relative disadvantage.

(see for a long list of examples of how important cover art is to the game’s identity… though some are not official releases, you can see how student/athletes are used to sell games such as EA Sports NCAA Football)

They look exactly like the real players, don't they? (except for the numbers on the jersey nameplates that replace their real names)

The solution – on the surface, at least – is not too complex.  As it stands, the NCAA prohibits student/athletes from receiving consideration of any kind from third parties such as agents, scouts, or others (see the recent Reggie Bush scandal at USC and current investigations of the University of Florida, University of North Carolina, and University of South Carolina by the NCAA for more examples.)  While the student/athlete attends his respective institution, it makes sense for the NCAA and the university to shun a world that has nothing to do either with a formal college education or amateur sports.  A student/athlete’s uncertain future after college, however, is not at all eased by the tiresome job search that follows years of preparation.  Indeed, wallets are usually light after graduation.

Therefore, the NCAA would serve its student/athletes who appear in video games well by allocating a modest percentage of the royalties received from the sale of EA Sports NCAA Football to a trust.  All featured universities would be entitled to an equal share of the trust fund and would disburse their share to former student/athletes who appeared in the game version sold that year and either graduated, or used up their eligibility and are no longer students.  Each athlete would receive an equal amount that they could use as financial support during the job search that follows graduation or separation from the university.  Though final distributions to student/athletes would not be very large, questions regarding the ethicality of use of player likenesses in video games would lead to less controversy since all stakeholders (i.e. the video game distributor, promotional partners, NCAA, universities, and student/athletes) would benefit from the popularity of products like EA Sports NCAA Football.  Even from a marketing standpoint, EA Sports and the NCAA would benefit from aligning the sale of NCAA Football with a greater purpose (an increasingly effective marketing tactic): helping student/athletes who are not offered professional contracts get a head start on life after college.

If such a program existed, it would give me a reason to answer “yes” to the question at hand.  Amateurism ought to

Looks like Tim Tebow, doesn't it?

be respected by sports properties, participants, and brands who contribute to a sport’s existence.  This does not mean that all parties but one involved in a business relationship should profit, though.  The arrangement I propose would not involve giving current or former student/athletes Hummers, houses, or excessive amounts of money; rather, it would grant reasonable and modest financial assistance to the student/athletes who added value to a video game when the time comes to look for a job and make their professional dreams come true.


Number 4 looks like Damien Williams, doesn't he?

Without player likenesses or even random generic characters who resemble the real players in every way but in name, EA Sports NCAA Football would not be nearly as popular nor would it offer the same high quality medium for direct fan engagement that university marketing departments and sponsors/partners like ESPN appreciate.  As lawsuits generate unwanted publicity for the NCAA and developers who create college sports-themed video games, the controversy worsens over a growing crisis in collegiate athletics.

In the August 2-9 2010 issue of Sports Illustrated (p.86-87), former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Ken Ruettgers talked to writer Phil Bencomo about some of the difficulties in transitioning to a post-NFL career.  It may be inferred that student/athletes face similar challenges after they leave the playing field for the last time.  From a marketing, public relations, and altruistic perspective, it makes sense for the NCAA to create a small trust fund for student/athletes featured in video games that would help with the transition from college to professional life.  Without much financial security, a trust fund set up by the NCAA would go a long way toward helping former student/athletes featured in EA Sports NCAA Football adjust to life after classes and games.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

One last note on an unrelated topic.  Just a day ago, a pregnant Florida Panther was struck by an automobile in South Florida and recovered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  She is being nursed back to health, but her three cubs did not survive.  As a species, the Florida Panther is fading fast, with roughly 80 left in the wild.  Please drive carefully and contact your local authorities if you see an injured animal by the side of the road in need of help.

Thank you for your readership.

Former Green Bay Packer Ken Ruettgers, creator of "Game's Over," a non-profit organization that helps athletes transition from life on the field to new careers.

%d bloggers like this: