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Posts Tagged ‘History’

As a Nation Mourns, A Stats Buff Looks on in Wonder

It’s the worst of times to be in the Red Sox Nation and among the best of times for those who relish baseball’s marriage of probability, improbability and dazzling statistical detail.

One week after the premiere of Moneyball, a movie in which baseball stats play an improbable starring role, the Boston Red Sox concluded a late-season swan dive with a similarly improbable last-minute loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

It has Craig Parks’ gears spinning. Of course you’re thinking, hmm, as a WSU psychologist, he must be wondering what went through the Sox players’ minds as they choked so spectacularly. But no, as a fan of both statistical analysis and baseball, he sees several numbers wonders, including those in the race for the National League batting title and another batting title of a century ago.

His thoughts:

The Red Sox are the first team ever to blow a nine-game lead in September but the Braves came close—they were up 8.5 games on the Cardinals when September started.

An even cooler stat thing that almost happened: With two games left to play, the difference between the #1 and #2 batting averages in the NL was .00006. New York Met Jose Reyes broke away from Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun over the last two games and won the batting title outright, but there was serious discussion about what to do if they had maintained that degree of closeness.

Technically one guy would have had a higher average, but it was unclear whether Major League Baseball wanted to go to that degree of fineness to determine the batting champ.  Or whether it was even legitimate to do so, as that difference is pretty much uninterpretable.  Maybe they would have declared a tie, but the situation has never come up in baseball history, so there’s no precedent to appeal to.

Which calls to mind the 1910 batting title.

Statistics do not treat the 1910 batting title of Ty Cobb kindly.

With two games left in the season, Ty Cobb is hitting .385, Nap Lajoie is hitting .377.  League-wide, everyone hates Cobb, including many of his Tigers teammates, and loves Lajoie.  Cobb sits out the last two games, but Lajoie plays his final two, a doubleheader against the Browns (now Orioles).  Browns catcher-manager Jack O’Connor positions his third baseman back on the outfield grass every time Lajoie comes to bat, which means if Lajoie lays down a bunt, there’s no way the third baseman can get to it in time.  Lajoie reaches base eight times across the two games—five times on bunts—though the last bunt is scored as an error, so he officially goes seven for eight.  This raises his average to .384.  So he misses the batting title, but just barely.  Cobb wins it.  (By the way, the O’Connor manager was fired afterwards.)

Cut to 1981.  A baseball researcher discovers that, in 1910, a box score for the Tigers was counted twice in the official calculation of Cobb’s average.  Cobb had gone two for three in that game.  Subtract out that phantom game, and his average falls to .383.  Now Lajoie is the batting champ.

But, if we’re going to start adjusting hit totals, you can argue that Lajoie’s last two games should be thrown out, since it was clear the Browns were giving hits to Lajoie.  In fact, there is some evidence the Browns tried to bribe the official scorer to change that last at-bat from an error to a hit.  Do that, and Lajoie’s average resets to .377, and Cobb is clearly the batting champ.  Also, the 1910 American League president reviewed and certified Cobb’s average, so some people question whether it’s appropriate to retroactively change it, despite the apparent error.  Others wonder whether there would be this much scrutiny if the player in question was someone other than Cobb, who was indeed a nasty, vicious man.


Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama: Inspiring Speaker, Inspiring Woman

Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama

Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama

On a wet, chilly evening in early March (Women’s History month), a small and attentive group gathers in Todd Hall to hear Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama give an intriguing and powerful talk.  Margarita is the third woman to speak in WSU’s Week of Women Speakers, presented by the Coalition for Women Students.  After listening to her speak, it is evident that this woman is quite remarkable—and her passion to promote justice and equality is inspired by the time she spent as a student at WSU.  Even back then, she knew her future career needed to incorporate her campus activities.   “You can have jobs where you live out your passions,” she insists.  Her words encourage students who have chosen a field of study based on their interests, rather than practicality.

Margarita was born in Yakima and grew up in a large family of farm workers.  Though her parents placed an emphasis on education, being a farm worker kid also meant there was less of a chance that Margarita and her siblings would graduate from high school. She views the situation differently, however, and argues that farm worker children use their Mexican heritage to their advantage—it helps them to succeed.

To describe Margarita as being involved is an understatement—during her college years she was a Chicano student leader, participated in the national Chicano Movement, and was one of two MeChA founders and the only student in a committee proposing a Chicano Studies Program.  She was also the former chair of the Racial Justice Training Committee, which promoted racial injustice awareness and provided racial justice training in dorms, fraternities, and sororities.  Since the time when Margarita was a student at WSU, racial diversity has come a long way. When she came to Pullman, there were only six Mexican students. She saw this as a problem, and by working to fix it she was able to banish stereotypes and build trust among Chicano students. Margarita’s involvement in various activities on campus was not without criticism from the WSU administration; in fact she says that they couldn’t wait for her to graduate!  Later, when Margarita began working at WSU, the ratio of colored faculty members increased from 12% to 25% and a corresponding increase in students of color soon followed.

Margarita has spent 37 years as a civil and human rights professional, has held a position with the Washington State Department of Transportation (as diversity programs administrator), and has worked as a staff member for governors, an attorney general, a college president and agency directors.  Throughout all of her professional experience, Margarita has been tenacious in holding people accountable for their job responsibilities. Yet, despite all she’s been through, this ambitious woman describes life as a joyful struggle, something worth struggling for.  She has also maintained a positive attitude, viewing every person she meets as a way to learn more.

Despite her recent retirement, it’s obvious that Margarita still has so much energy and passion for life. “I’m not done.  There’s more to Margarita that is yet to happen,” she concludes.  This is an easy statement to believe when it comes from such an accomplished woman.


With Eyes Wide Open” (profile of Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama in Washington State Magazine, Summer 2003)

A History of Washington State University through Film

Many students use Holland Terrell Library as a resource for papers, research or projects.  Many simply use it as a quiet location to study.  But beneath all of the library’s floors of never-ending bookshelves lies the MASC (Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections), brimming with both university and regional history.

While the old papers and documents of the MASC are undoubtedly fascinating, I descended the steps of the library atrium focused on only one format—video.  In search of this form of media, I took a stroll with Mark O’English to the elevator and down to the basement below, where films and audio cassettes are stored at cool temperatures. To save space, each neatly stacked row of archives rolls on a small track in the floor and rows must be cranked open in order to walk down an aisle.

Footage of a WSU football game vs. Utah, October 15th, 1966

Footage of a WSU football game vs. Utah, October 15th, 1966

Most of the footage stored in the basement of the MASC is VHS videotape, 16mm film, and ¾-inch tapes, though there are from 25 to 30 different formats.  Subjects range from old football games (the oldest football footage known to Mark is from the 1916 Rose Bowl), to WSU promotional videos, KWSU films, and video of campus life.  Basketball and football games were primarily filmed with 16mm film.

With current technology, many of these formats can now be digitized, whether to upload old videos to a website, give out copies of particular footage that individuals have requested, or preserve rare video that might otherwise deteriorate.  Mark adds, “Some of it we do just to get that public interest.”

One collection to be digitized is the J. Elroy McCaw Film Collection, which received money from a grant.  Mark informs me that the digitization of this collection was done by an outside source hired for the job.   According to the library’s website, the collection, obtained by the Media Materials and Reserves in 1982, consists of RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Radio Picture films.

Alex Merrill, Digital Initiatives Librarian & Systems/Operations Manager for WSU Libraries, elaborates on the collection in an email.  The collection includes titles such as “King Kong” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” but these have not been chosen for digitization due to copyrights. He adds that “The McCaw collection contains many movies that you may have seen on [a] Saturday afternoon matinee in the 60’s through the 80’s.”  The collection also includes films from the 1930’s to the 1950’s–less popular westerns (“Pirates of the Prairies,” “Riders from Tucson,” and “Six-gun Gold”) and film noir movies (including “The Saint” and “The Falcon” films).  “Primrose Path,” with Ginger Rogers is also a part of the collection.

Alex says that there are 436 films and 18 military documentaries within the collection, and the majority of these are being digitized (375 RKO feature films and every military documentary).  Some of the documentary titles are “Freedom Comes High,”  “D-Day Minus One,” and “Diary of a Sergeant.”

Elmo TRV-16G, which transfers old film from a projector directly onto a computer

Elmo TRV-16G, which transfers old film from a projector directly onto a computer

Space is always an issue, and saving footage electronically is much more convenient than having boxes and boxes of old tapes and reels.  Digitization is not the quickest of tasks, however, and each hour of footage requires three hours of work.  According to Mark, the MASC also has “an old and fairly rare film-to-video projector (an Elmo TRV-16G), which lets us record 16mm films directly from the projector.  In most cases, if you want to transfer film to video you project it onto a screen and use a video camera to record it from the screen.  If you think about it, the technologies simply don’t overlap – by the time you want to write into a computer or into tapes, 16mm films were no longer being commonly used.”

Old reels of video footage

Old reels of video footage

For example, MASC staff reproduced some film taken by former WSU professor Humphrey Leynse, for a Korean university.  According to MASC, Leynse was a Motion Picture Officer for the United States Information Service in both Indonesia and Korea and created over fifty documentaries.  Mark also informs me that the staff of the MASC has digitized the audio of Gary Larson’s commencement speech from 1990 which he would love to share with the public after he receives Larson’s permission.

Interested in seeing historic WSU footage? Check out the website at go to MASC’s YouTube site to watch selected videos.

It’s in the P-I: WSU Look at Seattle’s Ecotopia

The Seattle P-I’s Strange Bedfellows blog has a fun take on a new book by WSU historian Jeffrey Craig Sanders. Quothe the lede:

“Seattle business interests battling Greens and neighborhood groups over a downtown development project. No, this isn’t a story about the tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In Seattle & the Roots of Urban Sustainability: Inventing Ecotopia, historian Jeffrey Craig Sanders examines the creation of Emerald City fault lines that continue to dominate local political debates.”

Andrew E. Larsen/papalar photo courtesy of Flickr--

Calling the book “a good primer on how our city’s complex politics came to be,” the blog highlights how Sanders sees a recurring cast of characters in many of Seattle’s development disputes.

“Some of the protagonists in the Commons fight are still active in the tunnel controversy. Sanders writes about Frank Chopp, who, prior to becoming the ultra powerful speaker of the state House of Representatives, was a vocal neighborhood activist who once built a geodesic dome in a rented parking space and railed against poor people being pushed out by gentrification. John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition also makes an appearance.”

Read more here.

And kudos to the P-I for soldiering on in its second year of a purely digital life. Kara Swisher’s BoomTown says the “paper”–sorry, old habits die hard–is drawing 4 million unique visitors a month. A spokesman reports profitability is around the corner.