who's booed? defining failure
walking through campus yesterday, i noticed a sign at the legendary 400 bar promoting rondell white nights. during said events, one may purchase budweiser longnecks at a price keyed to mr. white's batting average. until recently, this meant one could pick up a bottle of bud for less than two dollars, as mr. white was hitting only .182 on june 30. early in the season, a bottle could be had for 91 cents.
rondell white was the minnesota twins' top free-agent signing this year. the reasonably accomplished veteran is being paid $3.25 million to serve as the team's designated hitter. the beer promotion remains a good deal, i suppose, but it will now cost you $2.33 because mr. white has become a hitting machine this july. he struggled mightily, but twins fans have cheered him all year and offered a standing ovation after his two home runs this wednesday. he ranked it as his biggest baseball thrill after 14 years in the majors:
"It ranks No. 1," White said of how much this game meant to him. "With all the things I've been going through this year and how I've been struggling, it felt really good to come out and help the team and swing the bat well." "It felt great, man," White said. "I've been struggling all season and those fans have been behind me."
yet the affectionate teasing continues. a talk-radio caller came up with this gem: rondell white hit for the cycle: he flew out, grounded out, popped out, and struck out. such love for underperforming veterans isn't that unusual in minnesota. a generation ago, twins catcher tim laudner was affectionately known as "buck-ninety" because he only hit .191 during the strange and wonderful 1987 world series run. we loved timmy loads and identified with his work ethic and frustration.
i couldn't help compare the local affection for mr. white with alex rodriguez's experience in the bronx this year. yankees fans have booed a-rod mercilessly all season. so why is a-rod booed and rondell cheered?
1. performance? nope. here are a few performance indicators for the record:
alex rodriguez: 349 at bats, 21 homers, 71 rbi, .284 batting average, .386 obp, 9 stolen bases
rondell white: 204 at bats, 3 homers, 25 rbi, .221 batting average, .250 obp, 1 stolen base
2. salary? maybe. mr. rodriguez earns $25 million per year to mr. white's $3.25 million. on the other hand, one could argue that mr. white's salary represents a sizable chunk of the twins' meager payroll and the bulk of their discretionary free-agent spending. while the yankees can afford to carry an overpriced underperformer, the twins have little margin for error.
3. player expectations? maybe. at 30, mr. rodriguez is already a sure hall-of-famer and one of the greatest players in the history of the game. mr. white has had a solid but unspectacular career, never driving in more than 82 runs in a season. nevertheless, the gap between 2006 performance and career average is far greater for mr. white than for mr. rodriguez. for example, he is 65 points below his career batting average, relative to a 22 point shortfall for mr. rodriguez.
4. team expectations? maybe. yankees fans and management expect to field a winner, but the twins were also predicted to finish at or near the top of the division.
5. local culture? maybe. twins fans may be less passionate than yankees fans and minnesotans are likely to criticize one another in a passive-aggressive way (hence, rondell white night rather than a cascade of boos). on the other hand, minnesota football fans seem to boo anyone and everyone, so i wouldn't completely attribute mr. white's warm reception to our lake wobegon civic culture.
6. media? mr. white is generally portrayed as a nice guy ("one of us") in the local press. i haven't tracked mr. rodriguez's coverage in nyc, but it is likely less friendly.
so, anything else? if you were estimating a logistic regression model predicting which players were booed, which variables would be most predictive?