Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bill Buckner did it

It’s hard to describe just how epic the Red Sox’ collapse was — something on the order of [Bill] Buckner’s play multiplied by itself two or three times over. ...
  • The Red Sox had just a 0.3 percent chance of failing to make the playoffs on Sept. 3.
  • The Rays had just a 0.3 percent chance of coming back after trailing 7-0 with two innings to play.
  • The Red Sox had only about a 2 percent chance of losing their game against Baltimore, when the Orioles were down to their last strike.
  • The Rays had about a 2 percent chance of winning in the bottom of the 9th, with Johnson also down to his last strike.
  • Multiply those four probabilities together, and you get a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

    When confronted with numbers like these, you have to start to ask a few questions, statistical and existential. ...

    On Sept. 4, the day after the Red Sox’ playoff probability peaked, H.B.O. aired an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The show is the brainchild of Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld.

    In the episode, “Mister Softee”, Mr. Buckner was featured prominently. Jeered by Red Sox fans everywhere he went, he dropped a baseball autographed by Mookie Wilson out a window. But he restored his reputation after catching a baby dropped from a burning building.

    Since the Red Sox’ curse already seemed to have been lifted after 2004, Mr. Buckner’s redemption was superfluous: a case of two 180-degree rotations turning the Red Sox’ karma all the way back around. From the day that the episode aired, the Red Sox went 6-18.
    --Nate Silver, NYT, on improbabilities seeking an explanation