Research, analysis, evaluation

Sports: The Most Bogus Statistic
(this article was originally published in the spring issue of my newsletter, which is why I refer to spring training in the first sentence)
Spring training has begun, which means we don't have long to wait for the Annual Onslaught of Bogus Baseball Statistics. Among my favourites are the records for post-season play. During the baseball playoffs, a record is broken about every fifteen minutes. As you might expect, most of the post-season records are held by players who have been in the game since 1969, when the number of post-season series was increased from one to three. Now that there are five post-season series, every fall the records tumble like pigs off pogo sticks.

Then there was baseball's contention, which it maintained for 37 years, that 61 is less than 60. Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961, which would appear to be more than the 60 Babe Ruth hit in 1927. Not in baseball, though. Ruth's record remained in the books because he played a season of 154 games, while Maris played a season of 162. That made Ruth's 60 bigger than Maris's 61, apparently. The fact that Maris played against the best players of all races, while Ruth played only against the best players who weren't black, doesn't seem to have counted in Maris's favour.

However, the most bogus statistic of all is the Law of the Fatal First Run. This law is also prominent in hockey, where of course it is known as the Law of the Fatal First Goal. I believe it is against Canadian law for a televised hockey game to be completed without the announcer mentioning, somewhere amid his (sic) endless recitation of players' hometowns, that getting the first goal is all-important, since the team that gets the first goal wins such a high percentage of games.

Well, the winning team scores more goals than the losing team, doesn't it? Since the winning team is more likely to score a goal than the losing team, wouldn't one logically expect that it would be more likely to score the first one, too? Well, yes. Would you consequently describe the first goal as all-important? Well, no.

I propose an alternative to the Law of the Fatal First Goal/Run. I modestly call it FitzGerald's Law: the first team to score the winning goal will win. My law has as much explanatory value as the Law of the Fatal First Goal/Run, but is logically more elegant. It also reminds me of another statistical topic which baffles me: why, in a baseball game which finishes with a score of 11-10, can the player who drove in the first run for the winning team get credit for the game-winning RBI? Hm?

Sports: The Most Bogus Statistic © 1995, John FitzGerald
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