The Colgate Scene
November 2001

Curve Ball: Baseball, Statistics, and the Role of Chance in the Game
By Jim Albert and Jay Bennett '72, Copernicus Books, New York, 2001. 350 pp.

We're surrounded -- one might say inundated -- by baseball statistics. We find them in newspapers and magazines, in books and on the back of baseball cards, and on TV, radio and the Internet. There are stats on teams, players and managers, broken down by year, by month, by on-base situation, by home/away, by turf/grass, by night/day, by lefty/righty. And with the widespread use of computers, we find that we can drill down through layers of statistics to reach the truly arcane (and small) data set: When he's behind in the count facing left-handers in parks with artificial turf . . . The question is, can fans -- or anyone -- make sense of this proliferating data?

In Curve Ball, authors Jim Albert and Jay Bennett believe that just a slightly more sophisticated approach to statistics can greatly increase our understanding of baseball numbers and our appreciation of the game. Whether they are describing situational statistics (a favorite of broadcasters), the phenomenon of "streaks" (can a player actually have a "hot hand"?), or fascinating alternatives to traditional measures like the time-honored batting average, Albert and Bennett help us take a fresh look at the numbers that are an integral part of our national pastime.

Bennett, a huge Phillies fan, is a principal scientist with Telcordia Technologies and editor of Statistics in Sport, as well as former chair of the Sports Section of the American Statistical Association. His views on baseball statistics have appeared in USA Today, Time and Omni.

By Robert M. Levine '62, Palgrave, New York, 2001. 323 pp.

Our story starts in pre-1959 Miami and ends with the 2000 Gore/Bush presidential election. A story of intrigue carried out in Havana and Washington, as well as in Panama, Nassau, Kingston, Cuernavaca, Mexico City, New York and Atlanta, Secret Missions to Cuba is a powerful exposé of the intimidating power the militant exiles have had and its enormous influence upon Cuban Americans.

The key to exploring four decades of exile politics in South Florida is Bernardo Benes. He operated in an atmosphere of intimidation so strong that those not adhering to exile community pressures were branded Castro agents or worse. A Cuban American lawyer who made dozens of trips to Cuba to dialogue with Fidel Castro during the Carter and Reagan administrations, Benes' first mission in 1978 led to the release of 3,600 political prisoners and enabled exiled Cubans to visit their relatives. However, the personal consequences for Benes were severe; he became -- and remains to this day -- an outcast in Miami's Cuban community for having dealt personally with the Cuban leader.

In 2000, anti-Castro rancor in Miami fueled an intense dispute between Cuban Americans and their neighbors over Elian Gonzalez. The result of the anti-Janet Reno backlash was that even more Cuban Americans than usual voted for the Republican party in the remarkably narrow presidential election for that year.

This groundbreaking book reveals the shaping of American foreign policy, Cuban American relations, and the United States' hidden history with Cuba. For the first time ever, hear the real story -- and witness the tensions, volatility and paradoxes inherent to Cuban Miami.

Levine is the director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Miami.
Genes, Categories, and Species: The Evolutionary and Cognitive Causes of the Species Problem
By Jody Hey '80, Oxford University Press, New York, 2001. 217 pp.

Our lives are immersed in biological diversity. We are organisms of one species, and we watch, study, play with, put to work, grow, kill, eat and suffer diseases caused by organisms of other species. Of course, our senses and thoughts are highly tuned to the detection and presence of other organisms, and in various ways we are experts at identifying kinds of organisms. As children, our first words are often names for kinds of organisms, and as adults our occupations are often grounded in a knowledge base of organismal diversity (e.g., gardeners, cooks, health- care specialists). Biologists, too, must have a broad and deep knowledge of kinds of organisms. But in the very profession of the study of biological diversity, we find a great irony. Biologists are frequently uncertain, and often cannot agree on, how to identify species and on how to define the word species. These two uncertainties are closely tied to one another, and together they constitute what is known as the species problem.

The sticking points of the species problem, the frequent uncertainty over identifying species and defining species, do not form a conventional scientific puzzle. Though many biologists are aware of the problem, perhaps even to the point of despair that another book should be written on the topic, they do not address the problem as they do most questions. They do not ask, "What new information do we need to solve the problem?" The absence of this question from species debates is a clue that resolution of the problem is not to be found either in a finer description of biological diversity or in a more finely crafted definition of the word species.

Genes, Categories, and Species describes the pursuit of what is left to inquire of, and that is the idea that biologists are somehow predisposed to poorly understand and poorly communicate about species. That pursuit draws on discoveries that have been made in several different fields where researchers have inquired of the ways that people use language to describe the natural world. It was great fun to find a thread of reasoning that coursed through the diverse fields of biology, philosophy, anthropology and psychology; and that leads to an explanation of our troubles. That explanation is not a species problem solution of the sort that some have hoped for, and it does not simply dispel our uncertainties about species. But if it is correct, then the explanation can be used by biologists to overcome some of the ways that we suffer the species problem.

Top of page
Table of contents
<< Previous: Palladino power Next: Letters >>