Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 11, 2003
BASEBALL: Crazy From The Heat
Tung Yin has some pointed observations comparing the flap over Dusty Baker's recent comments on white people and the heat to the brouhaha in Toronto over the relative lack of black players on the Blue Jays (well, other than the team's best-paid players, that is). I haven't commented here yet on the Dusty Baker thing, which has been good for some entertaining synthetic outrage around the media and the net. I mean, seriously, do you think anyone was genuinely hurt or offended by his comments? And I've got a little bit of perverse admiration for Baker for not backing away from comments he obviously believes.
Just the same, the episode is a good reminder of why one shouldn't reach for a racial generalization unless it's absolutely necessary, and I'd agree that Major League Baseball would be wise to reprimand Baker publicly, to preserve the principle that such comments should generally not be made.
What interested me more is this: Baker started talking about white people handling the heat poorly as a way of explaining a bad start by Shawn Estes in early July. But if Baker believes that Estes doesn't handle the heat well, why didn't he say that? He's managed Estes for most of his career, after all, so he should know. And if Estes doesn't have a particular problem with pitching in the heat, why even raise the issue?
Now, I didn't have time to do a larger study of white ballplayers' patterns or track down game-by-game results even for Estes, but one thing we can easily look at: Shawn Estes' record in the hot weather months. How has Estes done?
I checked the 2000-2002 period for a sample, and at first glance the answer is mixed: Estes' ERAs in that period were 4.22 in April, 3.13 in May, 3.76 in June, 4.72 in July, 5.38 in August, and 6.02 in September/October. That could be a pitcher who has trouble with hot weather, but it looks a lot more like a guy who just plain wears down as the season goes on -- how else do you explain a September/October ERA 60% higher than his June ERA, or his 3.64 ERA before July 1 compared to 5.34 for the rest of the year? I'd say the switch that flips on July 1 every year without fail probably has more to do with cumulative fatigue than with heat, no? In fact, I strongly suspect that Estes has one of the most pronounced tendencies to collapse in the second half of any major league player. It's certainly well-known to those who have followed his career.
Which makes you wonder why Dusty instead chose to attribute Estes' struggles to his race instead of his annual pattern. Was Dusty trying to somehow challenge Estes' toughness, or maybe convince him that his problem is with heat rather than fatigue? That assumes that Baker thought in advance about what he was saying. Or, assuming that Baker didn't deliberately set out to plant his foot in his mouth, maybe he was just in denial, trying to avoid the obvious fact that his pitcher's struggles will only get worse as the season wears on.