Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead

Game 40 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 3
Record: 24-16

I just got done reading a terrific piece by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker on the phenomenon of the underdog. In it, the author postulates that, "David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability."

In news that's related, but only tangentially, the Sox' erstwhile Goliath (ironically named David) finally matched effort to ability last night, and in so doing elicited a Nation-wide cathartic exhaling.

David Ortiz drilled a 3-1, 5th inning offering from Brett Cecil deep to left-center, and the Fenway crowd erupted in relieved joy, showering the big man with applause. His teammates gave Papi the mock-silent treatment, and the sheepish slugger gave a mini-curtain call. Ortiz capped his 2-for-5 day with a late double.

I don't think this represents a breakout, nor am I convinced that the Papi of old has walked through that door. I do think, though, that the schneid-breaking longball gives the Sox and Papi a lot of options now in terms of helping him find his stroke. Tito can move Ortiz around in the order if he continues to struggle without humiliating him, and Papi can relax, which may be all the psychological balm he needed.

Lost in the media melee, Jason Varitek hit his 6th and 7th homers of the year, reaching a tally that a great many Sox fans would have accepted as full-season totals for the captain. Mike Lowell ripped his 7th and Jason Bay his 12th (on a ball hit so far that even the taciturn Bay opened his mouth in awe). Hell, it was like Yankee Stadium had up and moved to Boston for the evening, what with all the balls flying out. Finally, Youks celebrated his return to the lineup with a 3-for-5 effort.

All that's left now is for Jon Lester to join the mojo-rejuvenation parade this evening to key a sweep in advance of the mighty Metropolitans' trip to Boston. From my keyboard to the young lefty's arm.


Jerry said...

That article by Gladwell is atrocious. It manages to be non-sensical and unbelievably pompous at the same time.

TJ said...

You killed Marge Schott?


rob said...

someone's new yorker/gladwell hate is clouding his vision. maybe a little pompous, but the underdog point was pretty clear. can't beat goliath by playing his game.

Jerry said...

His underdog point was terrible and demonstrated almost no understanding of basketball. He uses this paragraph to support his thesis that underdogs should press all the time and basically imply that anybody who doesn't is a fool:

"At the University of Kentucky, in the mid-nineteen-nineties, Pitino took his team to the Final Four three times—and won a national championship—with full-court pressure, and then rode the full-court press back to the Final Four in 2005, as the coach at the University of Louisville. This year, his Louisville team entered the N.C.A.A. tournament ranked No. 1 in the land. College coaches of Pitino’s calibre typically have had numerous players who have gone on to be bona-fide all-stars at the professional level. In his many years of coaching, Pitino has had one, Antoine Walker. It doesn’t matter. Every year, he racks up more and more victories."

That 1996 team had NINE players that went on to the NBA, five of whom were contributors at the next level. That's one of the more talented rosters you'll ever see at the college level, but Gladwell tries to mislead readers into thinking that Pitino somehow managed to extract wins from a group of average players by following Gladwell's prescribed strategy. Pitino's Louisville teams are loaded with athletes, most of whom were very highly recruited. It's either incredibly disingenuous or misinformed.

He really couldn't have gotten the central thought of article more wrong. He took an interesting observation about girl's basketball and just ran with a thesis without considering other options (like maybe the players on the team were a lot better than the coach described). Then he supported the idea with a bunch of nonsense by basically lying about the composition of particular college basketball teams.

Plus, if you think about it for even a little bit -- 9 times out of 10, the underdog wants to slow the game down and reduce the # of possessions. Gladwell insists that the exact opposite is the best solution. And he does it in an incredibly arrogant way.

Jerry said...

"Most talented of all time" was a little too far, but certainly there weren't many (any?) teams with more talent in the country.

rob said...

right, but slowing the game down is the conventional wisdom in a david/goliath matchup. gladwell's point is that speeding things up is a better choice, one that worked for lawrence and david, in addition to the girls hoops team.

i take your point about pitino's talent levels, though most of the audience for the piece wouldn't have the first clue of the nuance between all-star and contributor. that's a good observation on your part.

i'll also note that i was reading the piece in a business context - i've been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how my company can effectively compete with the much larger firms we're increasingly bumping up against as we grow. i think there are some lessons in the david/lawrence stories that are more relevant to me than the hoops stuff.

Jerry said...

If the audience doesn't understand basketball, then he's either intentionally misleading them or he doesn't know anything himself.

Clearly his point is that it's better to speed things up, but he doesn't come anywhere remotely close to supporting it. He's got 1) a story about girl's basketball 2) an anecdote about Pitino that doesn't come close to being relevant and 3) a single game played in the 70's.

Given his track record on #2, his credibility when it comes to the details of #1 has to be questioned.

If you want to disprove conventional wisdom, I'm all ears, but you have to make a case for it. He doesn't even come close. He just states a counter-intuitive idea and surrounds it with a bunch of story-telling.

Whitney said...

Jerry does hate contrarians. It's been proven.

Jerry said...

Sometimes I don't even know what's contrarian anymore. I just know that I read that article 2 weeks ago and thought it was one of the worst (professional) things I've ever read.