Tag: Art De Vany: Renaissance man

Local Sports Team in Contest of Interest

Steely McBeam

The pride of the Fox Valley, the Green Bay Packers, will be mixing it up with my former hometown heroes, the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Super Bowl.  The game will take place, weather permitting, this Sunday in balmy Dallas, Texas.

Although the contest itself is predominantly of interest to denizens of northeastern Wisconsin and southwestern Pennsylvania, many from across the nation and around the world will tune in for antics of the mascots (pictured), the often-irreverent commercials, the many wagering opportunities, or simply as an excuse to feast on some tasty snacks (despite some unexpected side effects).  Yum.

This year, we are also treated to some added intrigue by a number of touching personal-interest stories.  Or if you aren’t into Olympics-coverage style tearjerkers, perhaps you’d like to see how some famous movie directors have portrayed the Big Game.

Econ majors might be interested in some of the simple economics of the Super Bowl (summary here), such as secondary-market ticket prices (more than you think) and estimated economic impacts (less than you think).  You might also be interested to know that Green Bay punter Tim Masthay abandoned a lucrative career as an economics tutor at the University of Kentucky, where “he picked up anywhere from three to six hours a day as a tutor, helping student athletes … with economics and finance courses. That paid $10 an hour.”

$10 an hour?  Not bad.

I'll just have the salad

My allegiances here are more with the black-and-gold than the green-and-gold.  Indeed, earlier this year communications director Rick Peterson introduced me as “a big Steelers fan,” so there you have it.  I also made a friendly wager with Professor John Brandenberger on the outcome of the game (even spotting him the three points that the Packers were favored by at the time of the bet).   I have a feeling I’m going to be buying over at Lombardi’s.

Though my heart is with the Steelers, I’m guessing that the general spirit of the community and quality of the celebratory culinary fare will be better with a Packers win.

Juice-y Empirical Analysis

Not terribly long ago we linked to an Art Devany article where he claimed that the steroid era had no statistically discernible effects on home run production. Eric Gould and Todd Kaplan look carefully at the numbers and determine that Jose Canseco had a big influence on his peers’ performance numbers.

From the abstract:

[W]e estimate whether Jose Canseco, one of the best baseball players in the last few decades, affected the performance of his teammates. In his autobiography, Canseco claims that he improved the productivity of his teammates by introducing them to steroids. Using panel data on baseball players, we show that a player’s performance increases significantly after they played with Jose Canseco. After checking 30 comparable players from the same era, we find that no other baseball player produced a similar effect.  Clearly, Jose Canseco had an unusual influence on the productivity of his peers.

If you are a baseball fan, this is a nice research paper to take a look at.  The problem identification is clear, the statistical analysis is straightforward, and the interpretation of the coefficients is central to the analysis. In other words, it isn’t enough to be statistically significant, it also must be “economically” meaningful.


Here, the evidence shows that power hitters substantially boosted their home run production after playing with Canseco, to the tune of almost three dingers per yer.  That’s both statistically significant and has “baseball” meaning. (Similar results did not hold for fielding prowess). The more convincing piece is that there are no other sluggers where this result holds.  That is, if the Canseco result was some statistical fluke, you would expect a similar result in at least one other player.

Still, I am going to talk to Prof. Finkler, because I don’t think the numbers are quite consistent.

Here’s a nice summary at Slate.

And here’s Mr. Canseco’s tell-all, Juiced.  When this came out, it was scandalous and the denials were ubiquitous.  But, as time marches on, several allegations have come to pass, and few have been discarded.  By the way, that’s the famous “ball bouncing off Canseco’s head and over the fence for a home run” picture, run ad nauseum on sports bloopers back in the day.

The Long Ball

So, did Major League Baseball’s steroid craze lead to the decimation of the baseball record book?  The argument is straight forward enough, with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, hitters got bigger and stronger and started knocking the tater out of the park with alarming frequency.   The extra-ordinary seasons from the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds are the proof in the steroid pudding.

But Art De Vany at UC-Irvine says it just isn’t so, and he just published a paper in Economic Inquiry making his case. The paper is appropriately titled “Steroids and Home Runs,” and it has a very direct and confident abstract:

There has been no change in Major League Baseball home run hitting for 45 yr, in spite of the new records. Players hit with no more power now than before. Records are the result of chance variations in at bats, home runs per hit, and other factors. The clustering of records is implied by the intermittency of the law of home runs. Home runs follow a stable Paretian distribution with infinite variance. The shape and scale of the distribution have not changed over the years. The greatest home run hitters are as rare as great scientists, artists, or composers.

Ah, where would we be without the Paretian distribution?   If you don’t feel like plowing through the paper, you can hear him chat with Russ Roberts at EconTalk.

De Vany is quite a character.  In addition to his academic prowess, he is a former professional athlete and a bona fide fitness and diet guru.   He looks pretty good for a 50-year old… and he’s 70.