King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Numbers -- like politicians -- don't lie: Kerry can't win in November! Plus: Remembering Ruben Gomez, whoever he was.


Salon Staff
July 27, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)

The wonderful thing about junk stats is they aren't confined to sports. You can use them anywhere.

Bloomberg reports that in the city of the Curse of the Bambino, which has kept the Red Sox from winning the World Series since trading Babe Ruth in 1919 (well, that and all those lousy teams they've had), John Kerry could be up against a curse too.

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"Boston has its infamous curses, including one involving the legendary baseball slugger Babe Ruth," the Tuesday story says. "Senator John Kerry may wonder if he'll join the list. No Democrat in the last 136 years has won the presidency when nominated in his home state."

That's right. New Yorker Horatio "The Big Ratio" Seymour won the 1868 nomination in New York, then lost to Ulysses S. "U.S." Grant. Another New Yorker, John W. "The W. Stands for Who?" Davis, was nominated on the 103rd ballot in 1924 in New York, then went out and got smoked by incumbent Calvin "Cool Papa" Coolidge. And in 1952 and 1956, Illinois man Adlai "I Like Ike But Adlai Stevenson" Stevenson got nominated in Chicago, then got beat by Dwight "I Beat Hitler, What've You Been Up To?" Eisenhower.

Boy, they had great nicknames in those days, but that's another item for another slow day.

Anyway, this is a classic junk stat, because it appears to mean something but actually means nothing. You might ask, "Why the last 136 years, specifically?" And you might also ask, "Is there some connection other than coincidence?" Or, "Does getting nominated in your home state somehow cause you to lose?" Or on the other hand, "Does the certainty of a loss in November -- running against Abe Lincoln's general three years after Lincoln's assassination, for example -- somehow cause a party to nominate a home state guy?"

Republican home staters, by the way, are undefeated, with Lincoln, Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes all pulling it off. Well, undefeated with an asterisk. George Bush the elder listed a Houston hotel room as his residence in 1992, when he was nominated there before losing to Bill Clinton in November. But you could argue that his actual residence was Washington, since he was the president at the time. Bud Selig has said he'll rule on this right after he decides the fate of the Montreal Expos, so your great-grandchildren can look forward to that in their old age.

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Since Bloomberg was just having fun with this historical factoid, reporter Jeff Bliss acknowledged that the "curse" is silly and meaningless, nothing more than a goofy coincidence. Poor guy. He has no future in sports.

Remembering what we never knew: A pastime [PERMALINK]

Ruben Gomez died Monday.

Who's Ruben Gomez? If you're a generation older than I am and a baseball fan, you probably remember him as a wild but sometimes effective pitcher in the '50s for the New York Giants. He won 17 games for the world championship team in 1954, and that year became the first Puerto Rican to pitch in the World Series.

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I've never heard of him. I mean, I've probably heard of him, you know? But if you'd said "Ruben Gomez" to me before I read about his passing, I would have drawn a blank.

And if you'd then explained that Gomez pitched for the Giants, Phillies, Indians and Twins from 1953 to 1962, then a brief comeback with Philly in '67, and that he'd won 17 games and been on that '54 Series team, had won 15 games in 1957 and had thrown the first pitch in the first major league game on the West Coast -- an 8-0 Opening Day shutout for San Francisco over Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958 -- I would have said, "Nope. Drawing a blank still."

It's amazing how rich the history of pretty much anything is. You can be reasonably knowledgeable about the history of a subject and still what you don't know would weigh down the moon.

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Gomez, who spent nearly three decades playing winter ball for the Santurce Crabbers, was known in his day for a series of beanball wars. He hit Carl Furillo of the Dodgers with a pitch late in his rookie year. Furillo, leading the league in hitting at the time, stewed for a few minutes, then raced out of the dugout to charge at Giants manager Leo Durocher, who he figured had ordered the hit. In the ensuing fight, Furillo broke his finger.

Gomez also hit red-hot Brave Joe Adcock with a pitch in 1956, then threw a ball at him and beat it for the dugout when Adcock charged the mound, bat in hand. In 1957 Gomez hit Frank Robinson in the head, sending the Reds' star to the hospital.

I knew none of this when I woke up Monday morning.

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I recently participated in a discussion thread about Dick Allen on Baseball Primer, which is part of the Baseball Think Factory Web site, devoted to hardcore baseball study, gossip and talk. Some of the younger people in the conversation, young adults, admitted that they didn't know Allen, the great slugger for the Phillies in the '60s and the White Sox in the '70s, is black.

Since pretty much the primary thing to be known about Allen other than his hitting ability was that he was viewed by the media and baseball establishment of his time as an angry black man, I and some of the others with a few years on us were astonished at the lack of historical knowledge on the part of these whippersnappers. How can you not know Dick Allen is black!

These were, after all, serious enough baseball fans to have found their way to a discussion on a pretty wonky baseball site, one on which statistical terms like EqA and VORP are mentioned without explanation, and jokes that people actually get are made about people like Chris Truby and Neifi Perez. The young pups also variously admitted that they drew a blank on names like Jeff Burroughs and Greg Luzinski, big hitters from the 1970s.

Then I went and looked at the league hitting and pitching leaders from 1953, the top five from that year a decade before my birth, and I found 33 names that I couldn't have told you a single thing about when I was in my early 20s, most of whom I can't say much about now. I did the same thing for 1964, the year after I was born, and while the list was shorter, it was still embarrassingly long.

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I love this about baseball, and really about anything that's been going on for a while. You can know a lot and still not know very much at all. I probably know more about baseball than I know about any other subject, and yet the most notable thing about my baseball knowledge, in my opinion, is my lack of it.

There's another great Web site called Baseball Reference, an online baseball encyclopedia. You can ask it to give you a random page. I just did that and got a list of every transaction the San Diego Padres have ever made, the 1905 Chicago Cubs schedule and the career stats of Red Hayworth, a catcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1944 and '45. Red wasn't what you'd call a big hitter, but he did get to play in a World Series.

This is an occasional pastime of mine. I'll poke around a Web site like that and almost anywhere I go, I can learn something. Did you know that Connie Mack, who was a catcher before he was a manager and team owner, hit only five home runs in an 11-year career, but three of them came in one year, 1888? Me neither.

The wife will look over sometimes as I tap away on the laptop into the night. "What are you doing over there?" she'll say.

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"Working."

Joe Adcock chasing Ruben Gomez around the field with a bat. I'd love to have seen that. I'd love to have known about it.

Ruben Gomez was 77.

Previous column: Ricky Williams retires

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