Pretty shocking, ESPN’s sudden firing of baseball analyst Harold Reynolds Tuesday. Rumors of a sexual harassment complaint by a co-worker flew around throughout the day, and on Wednesday the New York Post reported that a complaint by a female ESPN employee led to the firing.
Reynolds, who had just signed a new six-year contract with the network, told the Post the whole thing was a misunderstanding, a hug that was misinterpreted. He says he’s hoping to get his job back.
Good luck with that, H.R.
Beyond rumors and anonymous sources, we don’t know if Reynolds is a “skirt-chasing cad,” as the blog the Big Lead put it, citing an anonymous source, or the victim of a misunderstanding or worse.
Some have cited the sudden firing of an on-air talent by a network that has traditionally been forgiving of bad behavior by its public faces as evidence that Reynolds must really have been caught dead to rights at something nefarious. But everyone seems to be forgetting the swiftness with which ESPN canned Rush Limbaugh a few years ago over some pretty borderline comments about race.
So let’s let the wheels of justice turn and turn to Reynolds the broadcaster. Will he be missed?
It’s hardly a tragedy, losing a talking head who, at the moment, has been matching, ahem, wits with John Kruk and Steve Phillips. Just two days ago we were talking about this trio’s mind-boggling conversation about Alex Rodriguez, with Reynolds agreeing with Phillips’ bone-headed idea that the Yankees must get rid of A-Rod immediately.
But Reynolds on the air is an amiable, easy-to-watch kind of fellow. He doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to contribute to a format like “Baseball Tonight,” in which the panel of experts is supposed to be kicking around ideas about the game.
Where Reynolds is much better is as a game analyst. In fact, in Monday’s column, I wrote that he’s “a good game analyst whom I wish ESPN would put in the booth more often,” if I may quote myself.
His best quality is his enthusiasm and his clear love of the sport. This has always come across best during his stellar coverage of both the College and the Little League World Series. Here was a guy just having a good old time and talking baseball.
Reynolds’ opinion on what trades this or that team should or shouldn’t make is no more valuable or interesting than mine or yours, though he wears nicer suits than you or I do, and looks better in them. But get him talking about middle-infield defense, say, or base running, and you’ve got something.
Even if Reynolds doesn’t persuade ESPN to reconsider, he won’t be out of work for long.
TBS seems like an obvious place for him to land. Turner has a new share of the national television rights and will be looking for faces and voices. It can do worse than Reynolds as a lead color man.
Fox just reupped its baseball contract. Perhaps Reynolds would be a younger, hipper alternative to Kevin Kennedy — at 45, he’s only seven years younger, but Reynolds could pass for 33, and the old catcher, at 52, could pass for 60 — or a smarter, more authentic alternative to Jeannie Zelasko. Better yet, maybe Fox could find a spot for him as a game analyst.
And another network will be buying the remaining League Championship Series soon. There are also 30 teams with long rosters of radio and TV game analysts, many of whom aren’t as good as Reynolds.
He may need to get his act together off-camera, and he may have some serious explaining to do at home, but he’ll be back on camera by Opening Day, and probably before that.
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A statistical giant dies [PERMALINK]
Here’s something I don’t say very often: I’d like to read that 54-year-old academic paper.
The paper is “The World Series Competition” by Frederick Mosteller, and it was published in the September 1952 Journal of the American Statistical Association.
Mosteller, a giant in the statistics field, the founder of Harvard’s statistics department and a Boston Red Sox fan, wrote the paper, which examined the role of luck in a short baseball series, after the Sox lost the 1946 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. He died Sunday at the age of 89.
Mosteller’s Washington Post obituary, like various other online citations, credits “The World Series Competition” as “the first known academic analysis of baseball.”
It showed that even a very good team relies heavily on luck in winning a short series. “The probability that the better team wins the World Series is estimated as 0.80,” the abstract reads.
I want to read it now because I’ve grown fascinated with the role of luck in baseball, and not just in a short series but in a long season. As I discussed with ESPN’s Rob Neyer at the end of our conversation last week, I think baseball fans and observers vastly underrate the role of luck in the game.
From what I understand — and I have no hope of understanding Mosteller’s paper if I do read it — he was essentially studying the role of luck in either/or, coin-flip situations, not so much whether it’s luck or skill that makes that ground ball go between the shortstop and third baseman rather than to one of them.
I think luck goes beyond whether batted balls fall in or take crazy hops or whatever. There’s luck involved in the schedule. Maybe you play the champs during a week when their two sluggers are on the disabled list, while your division rivals catch them when they’re healthy and hot.
Maybe your ace pitcher keeps getting starts on rainy days and has three or four starts interrupted in the early innings, forcing him to come out.
There’s all kinds of luck involved in who gets injured, when and how, of course. Or when a new technique or procedure becomes available to turn a once-devastating injury into an inconvenience. Bad calls by umpires are luck. Fan interference — right, Cubs fans? Whether there happens to be a general manager in a trading mood who has just the player you need and is willing to take one you don’t.
I could go on. The conventional wisdom in baseball is that while anything can happen in a short series — often expressed since the book “Moneyball” as the Billy Beane aphorism “The postseason is a crapshoot” — luck tends to even out over the course of a season.
I used to be convinced of that. Now I’m not so sure. Why should it even out over 162? How do we know it doesn’t take 200 games to really, truly even out, every time. Or 500?
Yet another area in which I’ve become at least agnostic. If I hadn’t been thrown from the math car when it took the middle-school twist called “Algebra/Trig,” I might know how to answer those questions.
Mosteller’s Post obit reproduces a great quote by him from a book called “More Mathematical People.” He’s talking about being a college student at what’s now Carnegie Mellon University and becoming smitten with the field of statistics when a math professor showed him some high-level problem-solving techniques.
He says, “It used mathematics that, up to that time, in my heart of hearts, I had thought was something that mathematicians just did to create homework problems for innocent students in high school and college.”
Previous column: My platform as NFL despot commissioner
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