Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dr. Z

The guy behind Lucchino and Henry (the one who's trying to catch a marshmallow in his mouth) is Andrew Zimbalist, "one of the world's foremost experts on the economics of professional sports". At least that's what he was called on NPR today. My question is: "one of the foremost experts"? Judging from the national media, surely he's the only one. Really, in news reports, have you heard discussions of the economics of sports from anyone else? Anyhow, I don't know how he finds time to teach (he's a professor at Smith College) or write (he's written 14 books), because he seems to give interviews to freakin' everyone. He's quoted in 35 newpaper articles in the last month alone, covering topics like the Olympics, coaches' salaries, stadium funding, and of course Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's been arguing that Matsuzaka's appeal in Japan will bring the Sox maybe $3M/year. Maybe he's right...but where the hell does that number come from? I'm sure it's based on some real data/calculations, but I have no idea what those might be. But of course, when he gives some numbers, they go unquestioned. The media never ask (or aren't interested in reporting) about the source of his numbers, and apparently can't (or won't) find anyone to give a second opinion. So seriously, does nobody else study the economics of sports? Or do those people exist, but just don't give interviews?


  1. They do exist. I read something about them in Fast Company (I was flying). Here is a blog that some of these rare, curious, and shy creatures congregate.

    Let's set back and observe their behavior.

  2. Good point, Earl. I have read a number of his books and he is usually pretty interesting and makes good points. His most recent book (which I though I had done a book review on) was about how baseball has thrived under Selig.

    But the broader point about him being the only guy ever quoted is a good one. However it really shouldn't surprise us that he is a) everywhere and b) the unquestioned expert.

    When the writers cover the business side of the game, I imagine it is not any different than when they cover the actual game. They have a story. they need some quotes or numbers. They find a source willing to talk. And the first one to fill up their notebook or tape recorder is the one that they will go to press with.

    The guy clearly makes himself available - think Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Curt Schilling after a game. Why should Nick Cafardo do any more work to verify the $3MM number, anymore than he would question Schilling when Schilling says he was not tired after throwing 38 pitches in the sixth. So the more he is available, the more he is quoted, the more his books sell, the more of an expert he becomes. I guess it is all in how to get started in that business.

  3. That's funny, because we hate you.

  4. This is the guy trying to catch a marshmellow. Two things. One, I always tell the media that the Sox will reap very little money in Japan from Matsuzaka. Keep in mind that my quotes are often taken out of context. Two, there are many wonderful sports economists out there who also get quoted. If you are really interested, try picking up an issue of the Journal of Sports Economics.
    Cheers, Andy Zimbalist