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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

To All,

The following is my last post to sabr-l and gatekeeper Tom Davis' reply. His deletions are in brackets. I shrugged and agreed to the deletions; however, it was never published anyway. Davis doesn't answer my email queries.


----- Original Message -----

From: Tom Davis <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2001 3:23 PM
Subject: Re: 'the stars and the spirit of sabr'

John -

Given the history of this subject matter, I've given your recent post a little more time to digest and also consulted the "senior" moderators for their opinions. I think we are in general agreement that, with a few excisions to keep the content in line with the charter of SABR-L, I can release your post to the list this weekend. I've bracketed and separated out the few words that are problematic below. You will notice that they fall into two areas:

- comment on moderation policy (the province of the SABR-ADMIN list)

- some fairly direct attacks on SABR members, either individuals (granted they are not named, but they are easily identifiable with a little research) or the membership as a whole (acceptable on brsp, but not SABR-L)

I know that you have ongoing concerns about moderation policy. Joining the SABR-ADMIN list is almost as easy as joining SABR-L. You can send an email to LISTSERV@APPLE.EASE.LSOFT.COM with a blank subject line and 'subscribe SABR-ADMIN Firstname M. Lastname' as the message body (with your name and without quotation marks). Once you're subscribed, SABR-ADMIN would be an appropriate place to raise those concerns.


From John B Holway:

A month or so ago I posted a note on Barry Bonds' birthday and the fact that he's an astrological long-shot to break Mac's record. It set off a lively debate, almost all of it con. Some interesting points were made and one interesting question was asked. I responded to them, but my response was not

[permitted to be] posted.

The discussion then shifted to the brsp

[, where there is no censorship,] and resumed in every bit as lively a form as it had on sabr-l. I believe the larger readership of sabr-l deserves to have the same opportunity that the 200 brsp readers had to hear all sides, in the interest of academic freedom and fair play, as well as their own curiosities.

Below are my replies to the last sabr-l posters on the subject.

1. I agree that the stars -- pinpoints of light millions of light years away, do not cause home run champs -- or any other group, of persons - to be born. Some astrologers don't believe it either. They suggest, and I tend to agree, that the stars (except, of course, the sun and moon) don't cause events on earth any more than your alarm clock causes traffic jams at rush hour. In the same way, the cosmos may be a giant clock that marks when things will happen. To me this makes more sense than the causation assumption.

But those like me who deny that the stars cause births, or anything else, beg the question. If the stars don't cause the phenomena, WHAT DOES?

I don't know. Astrologers don't know. Astronomers don't know. And nobody in sabr knows.

2. Are births per sign uniform?

Pretty much. The signs are about as long as months, varying 29 days for Pisces to 32 for Cancer. Different authorities report different numbers of births per month, but the authorities contradict each other. At any rate, the differences are not great, 15% in the most extreme example. Not enough to explain why Libra home run champions outnumber Gemini by 41 to seven, or six-to-one. Or why stolen base titles range from 34 Capricorns to three Cancers, a difference of 12-to-one -- or ten million- to-one that this is a chance occurrence.

3. Should we count total titles or only total champions, eliminating repeaters? This is a fair question, one I alluded to early in the thread. I can see an argument on both sides of the question

[, though the sabr-l and brsp posters see only one side].

Pete Palmer, who did my math for me, also shrugs that he doesn't know the answer. The chi square test is designed to count non-repeaters, such as Nobel Prize winners. I have asked, in vain, how mathematicians figure the odds when there are repeaters. It must come up frequently in statistical analysis. But so far no mathematician has offered a helpful solution.

Pete and I eliminated repeaters and ran the tests again. In general, we found that the order of the signs, from first to last, remained pretty much the same as the order when repeaters were factored in. The percentages also remained roughly the same. But because the size of the sample is greatly reduced, the odds fall. (The odds on throwing 600 heads in 1,000 tosses are astronomical; the odds of throwing six heads in ten tries is not at all uncommon.)

One poster on these pages ran a chi square test on stolen base kings, eliminating Rickey Henderson's 12 individual titles and Max Carey's ten. He reported nine individual Capricorns against three Cancers, which yielded a chi square number of "15." However, he did not tell us what 15 means, and no one asked him. It must be applied to a chi square curve to give us the odds. I figure them at eight-to-one.

Posters on brsp pointed to this as a refutation of astrology. But again it begs the question: WHY do repeat champs come overwhelmingly from the leading signs and not from the lowest? Why are Henderson and Carey both Capricorns? Why does Cancer have no repeaters and only three individual crowns total? Why are McGwire, Mantle, Schmidt, Foxx, Klein, Gonzalez, and Mathews, with 24 crowns, all born under the same sign? Why aren't they distributed more or less equally throughout the zodiac? (Ruth and Aaron are both Aquarians, which are third on the list.) There is indeed one repeater among the last-place Geminis. Anyone know who he is?

To me, it made more sense to use the weighted figures. Babe Ruth, with 12 home run crowns, is clearly not of equal weight with Dwight Evans, with one-quarter of one crown.

As scientists, we should try to select the method that makes the most sense, not the one that comes closest to the solution we have determined, a prior, that we want to find.

Pete and I also measured all big leaguers, 1876 to about 1980. We found batting averages varied by sign from about .259 to .267, about the same as one poster found using more up-to-date data. Considering the tens of thousands (or more) at bats that went into these results, the odds are staggering. However, we found that the total batting averages by sign did not correspond to the list of elite batters (the bat champs). This anomaly deserves study.

One sabr-l poster said insurance companies have studied longevity by signs and found no correlation.

["Trust me," he said. He won't trust me,] but he cited no source for his information. I have a study of many thousands of birth and death dates by an author named Forest Fickling. He reported differences of six or seven years between the high and low signs. It is an obvious subject for insurance companies to study, so I am anxious to have details on the reputed study.

I am always open to new information, whether it confirms my data or contradicts them --especially the latter.

I don't ask anyone to trust me. Just trust the data. Count the home run champs or SB champs yourself. I challenged the brsp readers to do some homework and gave them several categories of persons with no repeat winners but with statistically amazing odds -- astronauts, members of Congress, Nobel winners in each category, heavyweight champs, Indy 500 winners, Oscar winners (which do have a few repeaters but not many) etc. I offered to bet them on what sign the next 20 home run champs, etc will be. I got no takers on either proposal. Nor did I get any takers when I proposed the same bet to some of the 187 scientists who, citing no scientific evidence, had just denounced astrology as bunk.

By the way, the Soviet space program shows an astrological pattern very similar to the U.S. program. Coincidence? As of the 1980s the US space program showed something like 19 out of the first 20 were oldest or only sons. Why do we accept this fact but reject the equally scientific fact that Pisces predominate. Most Nobel Prize winners for science attended California institutions. Why do we accept this but not the equally scientific fact of their birthdays?

Pisces may be the sign for speed. It's the leading sign for astronauts, race drivers, jockeys, and NFL running backs.

I had no preconceived notion of what I would find when 30 years ago I began, as a skeptic, to investigate. I urge all my colleagues in sabr to take the same attitude, not only in this subject but in all your research. You might find something you didn't expect. The astronomer Kepler said the same thing, that he was "forced against his will" to the surprising conclusions that his astrological investigations led him to.

And if you don't go in with an open mind, you probably won't find anything new.

Don't be afraid of searching for the truth. And don't let others call you names and try to intimidate you from your research.

I would not have had to write this a decade ago. Sabr then was made up primarily of researchers. In fact, virtually the whole astrology thread was originally published in the Sabr Research Journal without causing a ripple of protest.

Today our make-up is different, researchers are in the minority

[, and the spirit of discovery has been lost. Conformity is now the spirit of sabr. I am saddened to report that not one of the 200 brsp subscribers raised his voice in favor of free inquiry and the free flow of ideas].

You can't destroy research anyway. It will go on, either inside a congenial sabr or outside it. As I wrote, future voyages of intellectual discovery will still be made, and future researchers will push their ships out onto the sea to discover unknown continents.

[In the present climate of sabr, however, they will not be sailing in sabr ships.]

The world is a fascinating place. ("The universe is not only queerer than we suppose," wrote one Nobel physicist, "it is queerer than we CAN suppose.") Baseball, which is a part of the universe, is an equally fascinating subject for researchers to explore. Don't shrink from exploring it, rush to discover it.


The ball no notice takes of ayes or no's,
But left or right, as strikes the player, goes.
But He who threw thee down upon the field,
He knows about it all, He knows -- HE knows.

Omar Khayyam

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