Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This upcoming Saturday, September 29 will mark the 20th anniversary of a major article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Science section, on whether there was any evidence of streakiness -- either in wins and losses, or in batting performance -- in the city's beloved baseball club, the Cardinals. The article was written by Charles Franklin, then a relatively new professor at St. Louis's Washington University.

My connection to Dr. Franklin -- including a span of 22 years between any in-person contact -- and how I obtained the images of his article interspersed throughout this write-up make for an interesting story, if I do say so myself. (By the way, you can click on any of the images to enlarge them and be able to read them more easily.)

As with many developments in my life, it all starts with the University of Michigan. During the summer of 1985, after I had completed my first year of social psychology grad school at UM, I took a statistics course (linear models) through the university's ICPSR program.

The instructor of that course was the aforementioned Charles Franklin, who had just completed (or was just completing) his Ph.D. in political science at Michigan and had come back from Wash U to teach the summer class.

After that class, roughly 20 years passed without Charles's and my paths crossing in any way. In 1992, Charles moved to the Univesity of Wisconsin, Madison. Then, in 2005, he founded a blog called Political Arithmetik (yes, it ends with a "k"), which is devoted to quantitative expositions on public-opinion data.

Armed with his palette of graphing software, Charles might track, for example, presidential job-approval ratings over time, or systematic differences between survey firms in whether their polls tend to give higher or lower job-approval readings than other firms (known as "house effects"). Charles now also grinds out his analyses for the website Pollster.com, in collaboration with Mark Blumenthal, himself a Michigan undergraduate alumnus.

I don't remember exactly when I first discovered Charles's blog, but once I did, I e-mailed him about being in his class in 1985, and I've submitted comments on his postings from time to time.

This past summer 2007, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to teach a course at Wisconsin-Madison, as a visitor in human development and family studies (the same department I'm in at Texas Tech for my regular, full-time job). Here are some photos from my time in Madison.

Once I knew that I would be going up to Madison for a summer term, I contacted Charles about getting together, which would be our first visit in 22 years. He was agreeable, so we met in his office, just north of the campus's famous Bascom Hill. Charles told me that he had just returned from teaching in the Michigan summer stats program, and that he was calling it quits after 25 summers in Ann Arbor.

We chatted about Michigan, statistics, polling, and blogging, the latter of which led to my mentioning the Hot Hand page. As if we didn't have enough connections between Michigan and all the statistical stuff, Charles then told me about his 1987 Cardinal streakiness article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, of which I was completely unaware.

He didn't have any copies around. However, compounding our coincidences in a manner worthy of a Seinfeld episode, I was heading to St. Louis over an upcoming weekend to attend the annual SABR conference, and it seemed likely I could find a microfilm of Charles's article at the downtown St. Louis public library.

I, indeed, found the microfilm of Charles' article, and you're now seeing some excerpts of my discovery. The staff members in the microfilm room were extremely helpful, for which I thank them.

As you can glean from the inserted newspaper images, Charles didn't find any evidence of streakiness on the part of the Cardinals.

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