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Commenter Judah Benjamin Hur writes:
Moreover, even though groups differ from each other, the most you can do is generalize. Let’s put it this way (I believe I got this analogy from someone a long time ago, can’t remember where). The New York Yankees baseball franchise has been vastly more successful than the Chicago Cubs. If you could randomly import 25 Yankees from history to your team you would probably beat 25 random Cubs. But the Cubs have produced many great players and the majority of Yankees are nothing special. Knowing if a player was a Cub or Yankee is of some value, but I’d really need a whole lot more to make any judgments.
Let me take this analogy more literally than it was intended. That’s an interesting question that the Sabermetricians now have the tools to evaluate using 21st Century baseball statistics such as Wins Above Replacement (player): how much of the Yankees’ greater success as a team over the last 100 years versus the Cubs is due to the Yankees’ average player being better and how much is it due to the Yankees having more historic superstars? To put it in Bell Curve terms, has the Yankees’ bell curve been shifted to the right overall or is it just that the Yankees have had a more impressive far right tail?
Most of the time when comparing groups, we see the right tail of probability distributions being related to the mean. But baseball operates under rules that would seem to equalize and randomize results, so the historic record of the Yankees (27 World Series championships compared to number two-ranked St. Louis Cardinals with 11, and only 3 for the Chicago Cubs) calls for analysis.
Baseball Reference ranks four Yankees, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio (names that even nonsports fans, at least in America, have likely heard), as each contributing more value to the Yankees winning regular season games than the biggest contributor in post-Cap Anson Cubs history, Ron Santo (a name that only American sports fans would recognize).
This would be an interesting way to quantitatively test one example of the Great Man theory of history that Tolstoy pooh-poohed in War and Peace.
A narrative popular in Boston is that the pivotal event in 20th Century baseball occurred after the 1919 season, when young Boston Red Sox pitcher/outfielder Babe Ruth smashed the home run record with 29. The Red Sox has been the leading franchise of the 20th Century up to that point, and appeared poised to dominate the next decade with Ruth in his prime. But the owner of the Red Sox needed money to mount a Broadway production of the musical No No Nanette, so he sold Ruth for $100,000 to the cash-rich but undistinguished New York Yankees. The Yankees leveraged Ruth’s revenue generating ability to build giant Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx, which allowed them to dominate baseball for the next 45 years.
The mid-Century Yankees didn’t pay all that well, but the players regularly cashed big World Series checks. That argument persuaded a teenage Mickey Mantle to sign with the Yankees for a smaller bonus than was being offered by a less successful rival team.
But then the Yankees, along with the South Bronx, fell apart in the 1960s. In 1974, Donald Trump’s mentor George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees and decided to Make the Yankees Great Again, which he more or less did, in part by spending lavishly for superstars like Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez in the new free agent market. Steinbrenner violated the then-reigning conventional wisdom popularized by teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers that there was no fast road to success: a franchise needed to invest in a strong farm system and patiently wait for home-grown prospects to mature.
In return, Steinbrenner demanded his employees produce wins now, which led to a lot of Trump-like public feuds that were gleefully reported in the press.