Monday, February 28, 2011

Triumphant return to horse racing

Excuse me while I pat myself on the back. I'm as pleased as punch with myself. I've been working on the horsies for the last few months, testing some ideas, formulating theories. On Saturday I pulled myself from horsie hibernation and entered an online tournament that Equibase ran. Pick a horse for each of eight races. Mythological $2 bets are placed on each horse to win and place. Highest return at the end of the tournament wins.

Out of 2,101 entries I finished 54th. Seven of the eight horses I picked finished first or second. That tied me with seven others for most picks finishing in the top 2. The race I missed, the horse finished third.

Not like I was picking favorites either. I hit a 14-1 horse to place, the longest odds of a horse finishing 1st or second. I also hit a 7-1 to win, the second longest odds of the winning horses.

My ROI on the bets were 88%. Not too shabby.

Sorry to be all full of myself but I cannot tell you how much this boosts my confidence. I am very, very, VERY jazzed.

As I've been working on this, my oldest son, who is 16, has become interested in it as well. I've given him the Dick Mitchell books I have (classics in the field) and he has been learning well.

It is not easy to make money on the horsies. It's why people call it gambling. Take this tournament, for instance. Of the 2,101 people who entered, if all of us had actually made the wagers we had for the tournament where we bet our horse to win and place, how many of those people do you think would have made money by the end of the tournament? Think about it a sec. Your horse had to come in first OR second to win your bet. How hard could that be? So how many do you think? Half? A third? A quarter?

Less than a quarter of the contestants made money. Some considerations with that figure. First, this is a tournament. This isn't a bunch of buddies going to the track and throwing down some bets while having a day out. You have to be into the horsies to know about and enter tournaments. So these should be knowledgeable people.

HOWEVER, there are a percentage of tournament players who will tank the tournament in desperate attempts to win. You can do this by playing longshots. Unless the tournament caps the payouts (which serious tournaments do to prevent this kind of "gambling" nonsense. This one did not.), if you hit a 50-1 longshot, you win the tournament. So you have some folks doing that.

You also have some folks who will play the favorites, thinking that if they hit the majority of the races, they'll win. That's why these tournaments do win and place bets. Take, for example, the third race at Gulfstream on Saturday. The awesomely named Nacho Business (get it, Not yo' business?) placed paying $3.60 on a $2 place bet. If you're betting $2 to win and place, you shelled out $4 on Nacho Business and even though you "won" that pick, you lost forty cents for a -10% ROI.

So, as any successful horseplayer will tell you, it comes down to finding out where the greatest positive expectancy is. In the sixth at Gulfstream (this is where the tournament races were held), I had San Pablo as the biggest sure thing of the day. It pained me to take him as I knew he would be bet down (he was, he went off at 3-5 odds and wired the field to win). But to me it was a crapshoot for second and even though the payoff might be greater for a longshot to place, the expectancy wasn't there. Between the win and place bets, I made $5.60 on my $4 tourney bet. I wasn't going to get better than that on any of the other horses in that race. Sure enough, the horse that came in second paid $5 to place. If you have an 80% chance to make $5.60 and a 5% chance to make $5, which do you take?

Likewise, when I was going over the races with my son, I said to him, "If we were actually betting these races today, we would be loading up on Deal Making in the 7th. He has the best expectation of any horse running today assuming the odds stay close". The morning line on him was 12-1, he went off at 14-1, finished second by a head and paid $14.40 on a $2 place bet. With a quick look at the standings, that head made the difference from me being top 10 and maybe even winning. Had he won, it would have been around a $44 payout between the $4 win and place bets.

And that's why I've been trying to put the time in on this. It's hard to want to bet a 12-1 horse, a horse that hadn't raced since 2009, unless you have the confidence in your methodology to do so. So again, pardon my exuberance, but I hope you enjoyed the primer on wagering.

Why My Monday Morning Was Better Than Yours

For a lot of people, Monday....ugh....another week of school and/or work. It can often be tough for folks to want to get up and face a new week. Especially if you start the week with the soul-crushing beeping or buzzing of a clock alarm.

Three weeks ago, I wrote how my favorite radio station, XPN, started my day right with a nice mellow Marc Cohn song that I enjoy.

Today, though, the folks at the station knew that this was a different Monday. It is pouring down rain here, something I rather enjoy, especially after a winter of cloying snow. However, I have a long work day, one that does let me out until well after dark, followed by a board meeting of an organization for which I am currently president. I'm not going to be outside much in the refreshing rain. I'm going to be stuck inside for a long time. Yes, the folks at XPN knew I needed something upbeat to get me moving today.

The alarm went off to a classic Blondie tune:

I'm there in bed tapping my toes and the song ends and moves into an even better 70's tune song to get you hopping:

Thanks again, XPN.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thorzul's Show Me Your Cups

Thorzul (yes, him again. I seriously need to add a tag for him) is a schoolteacher. The other week, he gave readers a "homework" assignment to showcase their collectible stadium cup collection. Despite my collection of cups being a vast one in size, digging up a camera, taking a picture of said cup, downloading it to the computer, and writing a blog post about it just wasn't making the list of priorities. So I am painfully late in submitting my assignment. Better late than never. Let's just hope the D- I'll be receiving doesn't ruin my GPA enough that I won't get into Thorzul Tech.

Here's my cup:

I got this when I went out to Old Comiskey Park to catch a game for the final season in that stadium in 1989. It commemorates the 1959 American League champion White Sox and has Early Wynn on one side and Nellie Fox on the other. For those of you whippersnappers who are younger than me, back in the day, the White Sox were about as lame as the Cubs when it came to winning. The 1959 pennant was the only thing they had won since the scandal in '19. Of course, the mighty Pale Hose won the World Series a few years ago whereas the Cubs are still lame.

Now this cup sits on my file cabinet where it holds writing implements I don't use (mostly pencils and odd ink pens).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

One of my co-workers gave me a copy of this thinking I would like this and boy, was she on the money. I liked this book a good deal.

The book, non-fiction, is about a man, John Gilkey, with an addiction. The guy loves to steal books. For years, he would acquire rare and expensive books illegally, usually by using stolen credit card numbers. He was usually aided by the police who, by and large, usually couldn't care less about the theft of a book.

Someone who did, though, was Ken Sanders, the security chair of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and a bookseller himself. Sanders took his role as security chair seriously and managed to link several book thefts of Gilkey's together. By communicating with other dealers, he managed to catch Gilkey in a sting operation which sent Gilkey to jail.

Gilkey eventually got out (even though he had been jailed many time before) and went right back to stealing or planning to steal books. Gilkey was obviously a sick individual. He had no interest in reading any of the books, choosing to acquire them because he viewed them as symbolic of something more - wealth, power, intellect. He often talked with his father of leading a better life and creating an empire of sorts for them.

Sanders, however, was a much more interesting fellow. The more I read, the more I wanted to know about him and the less I cared about Gilkey.

In the end, it didn't matter because the book turned out to be more and more about the author, Bartlett. I'm not sure why this was. She spends time trying to get herself interested in collecting books so that she might have a better appreciation of why people collect and what lead Gilkey to steal. Gilkey reveals a lot of things about his thefts to her which create some moral dilemmas for her.

I liked the book even though I didn't care for Gilkey or Bartlett. If not for Sanders, though, I probably wouldn't. It's a nice light true crime book that I think would be a pleasant change of pace for most readers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Gun Seller

Yes, THAT Hugh Laurie. The actor from House. The guy is multi-talented. Not as multi-talented as Steve Martin, but he has writing chops to go with his acting ability.

I really enjoyed this book. It is sort of a spy thriller but yet, not really. The dustjacket calls it a spoof of spy thrillers though I didn't really view it as that either. The main character, Thomas Lang, is a former member of the Scots Guards who now takes on the occasional mercenary type gig to make some money. He is approached by someone wanting him to kill a businessman. Lang turns down the offer and decides it would be best to try and warn the target as well.

All good deeds go punished and Lang finds himself getting more and more entwined in a complex web of bad guys; an arms dealer, renegade government factions, a terrorist group. Why does Lang get caught up in this mess? Love. He falls in love with the daughter of the businessman he was supposed to kill and every time he seems as if he might be able to get out of the mess, thoughts of her drag him right back into it.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the language. It felt a bit like a Leslie Nielsen movie with the characters taking words too literally. Lots of sarcasm.

I didn't like how ridiculously convoluted the plot was. It felt like Laurie was trying too hard to make something special and new in the spy genre field and just went too far. I also didn't get how Lang fell in love so easily with this woman and was willing to risk his life for her when he barely spent any time with her. The ending is a happy, albeit unexpected one.

The Gun Seller is a very fun book. It has flaws but they're not bad enough to ruin the enjoyment of Laurie's writing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Object of Beauty

I've said before how much of a fan I am of Steve Martin. I really enjoyed his first two novels, The Pleasure of My Company and Shopgirl. Since then, though, I have been disappointed with his books Pure Drivel and, now, An Object of Beauty.

An Object of Beauty traces the life of Lacey Yeager as she makes her way through the art world during the 1990's and 2000's. The book is told by her friend who works as an art writer.

The novel starts as being about Lacey but as the book goes on, Martin spends more and more time talking about the conditions of the art world, especially in New York City. It gets to the point where the final third to half of the book almost reads more as non-fiction. In the final chapter, even, the narrator says that he may just make some changes and publish the book as non-fiction.

This is one of the reasons I didn't like it. It could have been a good novel. It could have been a good treatise on the business of art. Combined, it didn't work for me. I also didn't like how Martin portrayed Lacey. If you listed Lacey's interests in life, art would be first, sex would be second and everything else wouldn't make the cut. She could have been made more admirable - woman works her way up through the male-dominated art world through skill, intelligence, charm and perseverance - but Martin's focus on Lacey's relationships with men covers up anything positive and makes her sort of sleazy (along with some other things she does). I didn't find her to be likable at all. I also didn't like the layout of the chapters. They were extremely short and did not flow well into one another in the least.

Martin is knowledgeable about art and it definitely comes through in this book. I almost wonder if he had to make it a novel because no publisher would take him seriously if he tried to do a work of non-fiction on art. It's sort of a shame because there is a lot of good stuff in the book. The book also is nice in that it shows many of the works of art that are mentioned in the story.

For me, the negatives outweighed the positives and I'm disappointed that after such a great beginning as a writer, I feel Martin has tailed off.

Lord of Misrule

Looks like I'm wrapping up the horse racing reading for the time being. Started the trend with fiction and ended it with such. Just like Art of Losing was dark, I almost felt like I had to shower every time I put down Lord of Misrule. The 2010 National Book Award winner for fiction, it takes place at a podunk race track in West Virginia, the absolute bottom rung of thoroughbred horse racing. Every chapter is told from the perspective of one member of a motley crew of characters. The way author Jaimy Gordon writes, though, it often takes a few paragraphs to figure out just who is telling the story this time. The book is divided into four sections, each of them relating to a horse that intertwines all the characters.

The book is about all of the characters and none of them. They range from those struggling to eke out an existence to those trying to maintain their status as a big fish in a teeny-tiny pond. A puddle, if you will. The horses at this level aren't Secretariat. At best, they're Secretariat after he's gone infertile, suffered through injuries and can hardly run anymore.

I've always been fascinated by the lower levels of horse racing where the purses are such that owners almost have to win just to cover their expenses. I often have wondered about the people involved with these races; the track operators, the jockeys, the trainers. Gordon gives one possibility of those types of people. You have people who race at that level because they love racing. There are those do it because they don't know what else to do. Some have had bad luck.

Like The Art of Losing, you never shake that foreboding feeling. There are a number of outright bad guys and their presence, coupled with the conditions at the track, left me feeling dirty. That says a lot about Gordon's writing as much as anything. She doesn't quite use dialects but she captures the rural, uneducated essence of most of the characters.

Much more so than Dixon's book, this book is for readers who appreciate good fiction, regardless of an interest in horse racing. I'm not sure Dixon has the universal appeal. And although Gordon's story has a slightly happier ending, the overall darkness and the difficulties keeping the characters straight make it less than perfect. It's still great and worth reading.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jimmy Wynn, Thorzul making me collect cards again, and a Hall of Fame event I didn't write about yet

This must be the longest title of a blog post for me. But all these things came together in my head so why not combine them in a post?

We'll start with Thorzul. I should probably include a Thorzul tag as much as I have mentioned him here. He's easily had the most influence on my limited return to card collecting (with the 2008 Upper Deck X set (want list here)). The "problem" is that in the few years I've been back into collecting, no other sets have really struck my fancy, Upper Deck has vanished and Topps has turned into the gorilla who couldn't care less about collectors. So I've soured on the product that is available, and I don't enjoy collecting cards enough in general to just be picking up cards willy-nilly (in part because I don't have a favorite team) nor can I really afford to do so.

Despite this, Thorzul had a cheap group break at the end of last year which I took part in. I like to be a part of the community at least a little bit. In the post for the break he highlighted what he thought was the most interesting card for each team. I took the Reds and he highlighted this card:

I took a look at that card and said, "What a great way to get back into collecting. I'm going to try and build a 1967 Topps set starting with Art Shamsky".

This would be a great idea if I wasn't broke. I'm determined, though, and I thought that I could cut some corners to free up five dollars a month to put towards collecting these cards. Found a guy selling a lot of 1967 cards on eBay and I won them while staying in budget. This lot was a no-brainer for me because it had two of the most under-appreciated players of the 1970's, and two of my favorites, Jimmy Wynn and Mack Jones.

I've already written about Jones as part of the stagnant Group of 80 Project. Jimmy Wynn, though, is one of the best players ever. He's one of the reasons why you won't see me getting into Hall of Fame arguments with people. The Hall is so goofed up already with who is in and who isn't that I can't take it seriously. I have a Hall of Fame in my head and Wynn is in it. Andre Dawson and Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter and numerous others who do have plaques in Cooperstown are not.

How much do I like Jimmy Wynn? Last summer at the Hall, we interns had to staff the Hall's All-Star Game event. They sell tickets to the event and people come in after hours and get to watch the All-Star game in the big theatre. There's free food, fun events between innings, just a good time. The Hall has a collection of jerseys (although I don't think we ever got a definitive answer, there was talk that at least some of them were game used and judging from the randomness of some of the names and numbers on the back, some might have been) used for educational purposes and for events such as these. Here's a picture of me from the All-Star gala.

That's right, I'm sporting a Jimmy Wynn rookie season Colt 45's jersey. How do I know it was rookie season? Had the number 18. It obviously was not a game used jersey as I'm almost the size of two Jimmy Wynns and the jersey remained in one piece throughout the evening.

I think the reason Wynn is not appreciated is the low batting average. People see that and think he must have not been much of a hitter. He also played for some bad Astros teams which limited his runs and RBI's. He did walk a ton and had almost three hundred homers despite playing in the Astrodome for most of his career. Factor in that most of his career was also in a low offense era and his accomplishments are even more amazing. Check out baseball-reference's neutralized stats for him. .274/.395/.478, 331 HR, 256 SB. Maybe that still wouldn't have been enough to get inducted (he rarely played full seasons) but when you see how much his park and era deflated his numbers, you can maybe understand why he didn't even get a single vote when he became eligible.

What matters is that I like him, though, and it's really nice to have both him and Mack Jones in my 1967 card set fold.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Going back to Cooperstown

I'm very jazzed. Found out on Monday that my abstract was accepted and I will be presenting a talk at the Baseball Hall of Fame in June. It will be for the 23rd Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture and I will be talking about the integration of the minor leagues.

The Symposium is sort of the kickoff event for the Hall of Fame's "season" and is a big scholarly event. I'm really thrilled and honored to be selected to present.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thieves of Manhattan

I enjoyed and hated this book, pretty much simultaneously. On the one hand, it reads like a decent adventure story. Each chapter ends with a little bit of cliffhanger which makes you want to read more. It also is an interesting piece of metafiction. This is good and bad. On the one hand, it is interesting. On the other....

The book is about a writer by the name of Ian Minot. Young guy, can't catch a break and get anything of his published. He works as a barista in New York City and dates a Romanian girl by the name of Anya who has written a memoir of her life in Romania and her trials as an orphan in the United States. Anya is asked to do a reading at a spot known for finding breakout authors. Sure enough, Anya's reading is a hit and her memoirs are sold to a publisher.

At a publishing party, they run into Blade Markham, a former gang member turned bestselling memoir writer. Blade and Ian get into a fight, Anya falls for Blade and Ian is left more depressed than ever.

A fellow turns up at Ian's coffee shop with a copy of Markham's book. Ian hurls the book down the street which results in him being fired from his job. The man with the book (known up to this point as The Confident Man (a play on confidence man, no doubt), is impressed with Ian's hatred of Markham. Turns out, the fellow, named Jed Roth, was a former editor. Roth's assistant went over his head to get Markham's book published and rather than work on it with the assistant, Roth quit. He has a plan for revenge.

Roth wrote a novel many years before called The Thief of Manhattan. It is about a writer who visits this unique library run by a fellow called "The Hooligan Librarian". Hooligan has been stealing rare books from this library and selling them to a shady appraiser for whom he used to work as a research assistant in grad school when she was part of the school's faculty. The narrator of the book discovers this when an attractive redhead wants to look at a book on display and Hooligan doesn't let her. Roth's narrator breaks into the library and takes the book to give to the redhead. Hooligan finds out, burns down the library, and he and the appraiser try to find Roth's narrator. The narrator buries the book, gets into a shootout with the bad guys and wins. Finds the girl and lives happily ever after.

Roth's novel didn't get published. He wants Ian to try and pass it off as a memoir now in order to get it published. They get the firm who Roth worked for to publish it, it is renamed The Thieves of Manhattan, and Ian becomes popular. The plan is to then expose the memoir as novel to embarrass the publishing firm.

It turns out that the memoir is not a novel but a memoir. The Hooligan and his boss begin to hunt down Ian. As he is being chased, Ian starts to record what's happening to him as a memoir. So we end up with a novel titled Theives of Manhattan, subtitled a novel a memoir, which is about a writer who publishes a book called Theives of Manhattan, passing it off as a memoir instead of a novel when it is really a memoir....sort of.

So it's exciting and sort of clever in its self-referential treatment. What didn't I like? Well, some more of the self-referential stuff. When Roth writes his T of M, he uses made up words that are authors or character names that are connected to the objects whose names he are using to represent said objects. We don't know that, though, and as we're reading Langer's T of M, which is told by Ian, we come across these same references. The first I recall is Ian saying someone has a chabon of hair. Now, when I read it, being a huge fan of Michael Chabon, I immediately pictured someone who had his hair. My reaction, though, was "Huh, I didn't know chabon was an actual word". Then people start drinking fitzgeralds. Not capitalized. How strange. Drinks with names are usually capitalized. You don't see people drinking bloody mary's or long island iced tea. Then folks start wearing gatsbys and golightlys. When someone lit up a vonnegut, I really got irritated. Finally, when we get to Roth's character, we find that Roth likes to do that and that his T of M even has a glossary for these terms. Turns out, so does Langer's T of M. I thought it was a stupid mechanism and could not see the point outside of advertising Langer's literary background.

There's more self-reference. Ian says he will dedicate his real memoir to Joseph, his former boss who ends up helping him out. Langer's book is dedicated "to J. for reasons that should become somewhat clearer sometime after page 195" which of course is the page where Ian declares his dedication intent to Joseph.

At some point it all stopped being clever and just started bothering me. I also really disliked how the book wrapped up. The ending was goofy and far-fetched.

The book also reminded me of a novel I read in 2009 about the publishing industry, How I Became a Famous Novelist. I'd call it a tossup as to which I liked more. I remember Hely's book being funnier but Langer's is more captivating. Neither, though, are something I would particularly recommend.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Music to start the morning

Color me old-fashioned but my morning alarm is a clock-radio set to XPN. One of the reasons I enjoy XPN so much is they play an eclectic mix of music. Early morning they tend to play older songs. I was pleasantly surprised when the alarm went off this morning exactly as this song started:

Been 20 years since this song came out. Yet the video is Cohn performing it just three years ago. I have the CD but it is a rare occasion when I break it out. Just a really nice song with which to start the week.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


The horse racing kick continues. Bought this book after someone donated it at work. Part of the Thoroughbred Legends series that Eclipse Press put out, I have always wanted to get these books. They are really handsome books and I actually feel that the dustjacket detracts from the overall quality of the book. While the dustjacket is understated, the book itself contains the sepia-toned photo shown on the dustjacket on the cover which is a lovely red with a gold-embossed title and spine. Add a built-in ribbon bookmarker and it's a nice book. Sadly, they reissued the series of 24 books in softcover. I miss the days when books could be works of art. While I wouldn't go that far with this, it is mighty nice.

But books are for reading, and this was an OK read. The book has small dimensions and large margins which makes for a small amount of text for a 220+ page book. And it is about a horse so the content isn't dazzling. Secretariat was an amazing horse, one of a handful that transcended the sport. Mention the name and even non-racing fans know something (exposure has recently been increased by the film about Secretariat which I will be reviewing soon, too). But still, what can you write about a horse?

Well, the author begins by talking about the farm on which Secretariat was eventually born and raised. He then goes into a chapter which reads like the beginning of the Book of Matthew ("Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren") only with horses. Then we get into Secretariat's career. This portion is the mot interesting and Capps reports the races very nicely and discusses some of the rival horses that Secretariat faced.

Rival might be a bit strong of a word. The only time Secretariat finished outside of the top three in a race was his first race, where he finished fourth. The only time he was not the favorite in a race, he went off at 3-2 odds.

Of course, nothing demonstrated the lack of a rivalry better than Secretariat's romp at the Belmont Stakes:

Secretariat was retired after his three-year old season. The book talks about his career at stud and the relative lackluster nature of that career and then ends in a really goofy way with a fantasy race call between Secretariat and Man O'War. Lame way to end.

Not a bad book but not good either. It referenced Bill Nack's biography of Secretariat a couple of times, a book I own but have not read. Maybe sometime in the near future.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I just didn't get this book. It was short and quick and entertaining but I'm here, writing this review a few days after reading the book, and I find myself having a tough time remembering anything about it. I read a lot and I'm a fairly quick reader but I also tend to retain what I read. That just didn't happen here.

When the first sentence of the book is, "It was about the same time in my life, a calm life in which ordinarily nothing happened, that two events coincided, events that, taken separately, were of hardly any interest, and that, considered together, were unfortunately not connected in any way.", well, perhaps that explains some of my not getting it. I don't think anything really happened in this book.

The narrator is a man, of an age I could not determine. He's just learning to drive, which doesn't indicate much. He goes to get his permit and finds himself infiltrating the life of the "young woman" who operates the permit office. Some sort of relationship develops, although why and how isn't real clear (which is why I used the word infiltrating). The woman's father appears in the story and makes it seem as if the narrator is about the same age as the woman (which begs the question why the narrator refers to her as "young").

I guess it is supposed to be a bit of an existentialist book (given that the back cover blurb calls Toussaint , "A comic Camus for the twenty-first century", makes sense) but I'd call it self-absorption rather than existentialist. It isn't so much life that the narrator ponders but rather specifically, HIS life. And as he says, nothing happens in his life.

There were some funny points in this and it is really short. I didn't waste a ton of time on it. Maybe it's too highbrow for me but I just didn't get it and so can't recommend it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New music in February

Good googly moogly, am I excited about this month. Two of my favorite groups are releasing new music.

Airborne Toxic Event released the first single off of their new album. The song is called Changes and the album is going to be released in April.

DeVotchKa is releasing their new album on Valentine's Day. The first single is called 100 Other Lovers.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


It's not often that a book leaves me feeling dumb. This book did. Subtitled "The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of it)", it talks about how completely irrational we humans are when it comes to price.

Having a background in statistics, I like to think I understand numbers and can't be duped by pricing schemes. I'll make a purchase sometimes and think I'm getting a great bargain and that it was I that duped the retailer. That's just what they want you to think.

The book is a summary of various psychological and economic studies that show how irrational human beings are.

For example, from page 146:
"Imagine that you are about to purchase a jacket for $125 and a calculator for $15. The calculator salesman informs you that the calculator you wish to buy is on sale for $10 at the other branch of the store, located 20 minutes' drive away. Would you make the trip to the other store?"

Most respondents said yes. In another study, the prices were reversed and the calculator cost $125 but was on sale for $120 at another store. The jacket was $15. Still a total of $140 being spent at Store A, $135 at Store B but this time most respondents would not travel to the other star. Even though five bucks would be saved either way, the respondents felt that it was worth making the trip for a 33% savings but not for a 2.5% savings.

Or how about this one? Students had to choose between two tasks. Either recall and write down a failure in their lives while eating a 15 gram piece of chocolate or recall and write down a success in their lives while eating a 5 gram piece of the same brand of chocolate. Most chose doing the negative task with the big chocolate. After the assignment was completed, the students were asked to rate their experience on a nine-point scale from extremely unhappy to extremely happy. Those who wrote about the success were happier.

As you can probably determine, the experiment was considered "a microcosm of life". We think the bigger piece of chocolate (or more money or more stuff) will bring us happiness when it's really what we do and how we lead our lives that bring true happiness.

Some of these studies I had read about before, either as statistical experiments or in other articles or books (such as Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational or Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics. Even still, I was educated and learned a lot. The downside of the book (outside of glimpsing my own irrationality) was that many of the experiments were glossed over, omitting details I would've thought useful. With 57 chapters over 288 pages, you're only looking at about five pages an experiment. I think some could have been omitted and others expanded.

Definitely a good read, though, and a must read if you like hanging out in the 330 section of the Dewey Decimal system.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

These are a few of my favorite baseball things #1 - Autographed photos

Thorzul wrote a post a couple of weeks ago where he detailed a story of how a co-worker brought in some baseball cards of her husband's for Thorzul to value. He found that most of the cards were worthless, a story well known to those of us still interested in baseball memorabilia and were avid collectors in the era of over-produced cards (late eighties, early nineties).

His story reminded me of my own similar situation which had a happier ending. But I get ahead of myself.

Although my baseball collecting is 95%+ limited to baseball books nowadays, throughout my life, I have picked up items here or there that were of interest to me. I thought it might be fun to share (and maybe encourage others to share their stuff too) some things in my collection that I especially enjoy for one reason or another. My plan is to post one of these at the end of each month (I think I can up with a dozen themes).

As you can tell from the title, this month is my autographed photo collection. I have a huge autographed photo collection of three. Autographed cards, definitely more. Photos, not so much.

I wrote about the nearest and dearest to me, my Dave Righetti photo, in this post. It hangs on the wall on the left-side of a window in my library. On the right-hand side hangs the photo of Mr. Max Manning, the great Negro Leagues pitcher (southpaw pitcher on the left, right-hander on the right. Makes sense, right?):

I acquired this photo from the above-mentioned similar situation. A co-worker asked me if I would look at memorabilia that her ex-husband and deceased son had gathered over the years. I told her I would be happy to do so. She brought in the stuff and it was comprised of two things. One, mass-produced cards from the eighties and nineties, much of it rubber-banded as Thorzul said he found his co-worker's stuff. Absolutely nothing of value. The other thing was a pair of binders filled with autographed photos. Apparently, they would hit card shows frequently and get signed photos. All sports, the majority of them Philadelphia and Pittsburgh players. Lots of big names; Schmidt, Ashburn, Roberts, Franco Harris, Lambert, just too many to even remember. But I was most jazzed about Manning. From what I know of the Negro Leagues, I think he is possibly the most under-appreciated player there was.

When I brought everything back into work, I told my co-worker that I really liked the Manning photo and would love to purchase it from her. She said she'd talk it over with her husband. She came in the next day, said that it was clear I would appreciate it and that they would love to give it to me. So I'm very grateful for that.

The last autographed photo I own does not hang anywhere. It is an old black-and-white photo taken at spring training in Sarasota, Florida in the 1940's or fifties. My ex-wife's father grew up in Sarasota and his Dad owned a sporting goods store. The Red Sox players would come visit and hang out at the store. The ex's Dad would go out to spring training. They'd take photos. My ex and I were just engaged when her Dad gave me two photos, one each of the Red Sox middle infield during that era, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr.

A little later I was in San Diego for a SABR convention where the keynote speaker was none other than Bobby Doerr. I caught up with him and asked him if he would sign the photo. He couldn't get over that a whipper-snapper like me had such a photo, asked about it and I told him the story.

It is a small photo and has become a little warped over the decades. I have kept it in a Total Baseball to keep it flat. I should probably come up with something better. But here's that photo:

So there you have it, my autographed photo collection and the history behind all three.