Sometimes in sports, it is possible to over-think.
We saw that in the Super Bowl when the Seahawks coaches decided to “waste” a down by putting the ball in the air at the goal line. Some waste.
New Yorkers are watching an entire basketball season get wasted as the Knicks stumble around the court, consulting copies of a textbook titled “Triangle Offense.”
The flawed reasoning is clear in Harvey Araton’s fascinating luncheon interview with Phil Jackson in Wednesday’s Times – too old New York hands talking hoops.
What I take away from the candid conversation is that even very smart and successful people like Jackson can over-think. I am reminded of that in the computer age,when people belatedly employ statistical analysis to what athletes and coaches did on the field, on the fly.
The 2014 World Series ended with the tying run on third base for Kansas City. Many hours afterward, the great Nate Silver – who aced the 2012 presidential election –wrote that the runner should have been sent home as the ball was kicked around in left field. Silver came up with statistics that the tying run scores from third with two outs only 25-27 percent of the time.
Silver suggested that the Royals were not likely to get another hit off Madison Bumgarner and postulated that a collision at home plate would have favored the Royals because of rule changes since Buster Posey of the Giants had his leg broken in a collision in 2011. I found that specious over-thinking because Posey remains a tough and resourceful catcher.
Having seen the play as it happened, on television, and in many replays, I go along with the decision by the Royals’ third-base coach – Mike Jirschele, a baseball lifer – as he lined up the wayward ball, the butterfingered Giants fielders, and the hitter, Alex Gordon, as he steamed toward third.
This was a decision on the fly that journalists and numbers crunchers will never have to make.
If the coach had tried to remember the statistical probabilities of tying runs on third base, the process would have interfered with his complicated spot decision.
After a lifetime of covering sports, up close, talking to managers and coaches, I have great respect for what they know and do, in real time. Not that mistakes don’t happen. We saw one in the Super Bowl, when the very smart Pete Carroll and his offensive coordinator called a pass from half a yard outside the end zone.
A day later, I read an “analysis” in the Times that said in football, as in life itself, people have to employ a “mixed strategy” or else they become too predictable. I agree, in theory, but I say that second-and-goal, maybe 18 inches away, is not the time to get cute and put the ball in the air, where a defensive back, having the greatest moment of his career, maybe his life, can go get it.
Somewhere in the Football Handbook of Statistical Probability, there is a rule: Give the Ball to the Big Fella.
That’s not statistics, a day later. That is common sense, for playing the game in the moment.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.