Glanville discusses system structures, baseball in Presidential Lecture
Former major leaguer Doug Glanville analyzes baseball during Thursday's Presidential Lecture.

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10:10 a.m., April 16, 2010----Introduced by University of Delaware President Patrick Harker as an amazing athlete, academic and entrepreneur, Doug Glanville, a former major league baseball player and current baseball commentator and columnist for The New York Times, presented a unique perspective on baseball during the Spring 2010 Presidential Lecture on Thursday, April 15, in the Gore Recital Hall of the Roselle Center for the Arts.

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Glanville, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a degree in systems engineering, and a first round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1991, discussed his two passions -- system structures and baseball -- and how they relate, in his lecture, entitled “A Systems Approach to Baseball: Baseball Engineered.”

Glanville said he considers engineering to be a great way to use critical thinking, by weighing factors into consideration in a given situation and then applying what he knows. For baseball, which he calls a cat-and-mouse game, this is no exception.

“Baseball has so many moving parts to it, that it kind of reminds me of a science experiment in a lot of ways. Just to give you a sense of the preparation for a game, we have meetings every series to figure out what these guys are going to do,” he said, explaining how teams come up with strategies to pitch against hitters, hit against pitchers and position themselves in the field, based on many different factors and statistics. “Certainly, an engineering mind can celebrate that.”

After giving the audience a glimpse of how systems engineering -- the science of coordinating and optimizing the use of multiple components to work as a cohesive unit -- works, he applied systems analysis to life in baseball, specifically regarding three issues: competitive balance, use of technology and performance enhancement.

Glanville said in order to assess baseball's as-is state, it is important to understand how different people can perceive the game in different ways.

“You have to define where you're coming from, that's the most important aspect,” he said, explaining the different roles people have, in terms of baseball, including fans, players, team executives, and city representatives. “Who are you? That perspective shapes what the importance is to the eye of the beholder.”

When talking about competitive balance, or making the game fair, Glanville explained how baseball's competitive balance tax was established. The tax, designed to help smaller market teams generate revenue to spend on improving themselves, is paid when teams spend over a certain amount of money on team payroll. Teams get taxed a certain percentage, based on how many years they have been above the threshold. The money collected via the tax gets dispersed to smaller market teams.

“Baseball is a very localized phenomenon,” Glanville said. “If you go out and hustle, and you market your team, and you're in Seattle and you tap Starbucks and figure out a way to raise money, then that's your pool of money, and you've actually put the resources into reserve. So you can see how certain teams have actually gone about figuring out ways to raise more money.

“In New York, with the YES Network for example, they found ways that they don't want to necessarily share, because they believe they did the work, so why should they give this money to Kansas City? So there's an equity question that comes into play. So they created this competitive balance tax as another way to generate revenue.”

The use of technology in baseball has made a huge impact in not only how fans access the game, but also how players prepare for games, Glanville said. In an age of instant information, players are now able to prepare for their opponents, a technique Glanville called countering, by watching videos of their opponents and observing strategies and tendencies, as well as access statistics that can be organized in many different ways and scenarios.

Glanville told the audience about a situation involving former pitcher Greg Maddux, where technology played a key role in the outcome.

“We used to watch video all the time,” he said. “I said 'OK, Maddux is going to do this; when there's a 2-2 count, he'll throw this pitch.' But you have to remember the other guy is also watching video on you. So I'm studying him and he's studying me.

“Maddux had figured out that whenever I started the game, I'd always get in the batter's box with one foot in, and I had my little ritual to start the game, and he figured out that I was always looking at the ground when I did that, but I was actually in the batter's box.”

“So one day I get in the batter's box, and I looked up, and the ball was halfway there. So he got a strike and got ahead. He had watched video, and had he also paid attention. So then, of course, I would get in the batter's box with one eye on him the whole time, but he took me out of my game, the cat-and-mouse game. So technology played a huge role in that. We had fun with it, but it was also how you get your edge.”

The performance enhancement situation in baseball, or as Glanville called it, the game super-sized, is what he said inspired him to start his writing career. He said that performance enhancement has lots of different angles to it. For some, it may be about greed, the look or the desire to hit 50 home runs.

“It was exciting,” he said about Mark McGwire setting the single-season home run record in 1998. “I was there in 1998, when Mark McGwire hit home runs off the scoreboards. I was a fan; I became a 12-year-old fan, too, it was exciting. But as a professional, you looked at it and you said 'something's not right.' I wasn't a power hitter, but it did seem kind of hard to hit a ball hard off of Saturn at any given time, so something is not right.”

However, Glanville explained that for other players, performance enhancement was more of a means of survival, as it shed light on how players knew how fungible they were in the game of baseball. As new and exciting players get called up to a roster of finite space, another player must be taken off it.

“They're going out the door in rate of attrition that is astronomical in any professional standard,” he said. “So people will do crazy, rash things to hold on and stay, especially when they're high school draft picks and they didn't have other options, or they don't see themselves having other options, or you're 16 years old and you're drafted from the Dominican Republic and you're taking care of your family and you're watching your career flatline in Triple-A. These situations are real, and it doesn't necessarily justify it, but it does give us some understanding, that it's a little bit more than just 'I want to make more money.'”

Glanville then explained how performance enhancement in baseball has existed for generations, and how the solution to solving the issue is not so simple.

“There's always going to be something,” he said. “If we really want to address this, it's a lot more about the paradigm shift. It's bigger than trying to stay with the science, because the science will always evolve, and there will be something else.

“A systems analysis of this is getting ahead of that curve, but you have to define where you're trying to get to. If you're just trying to police it enough, then you can do that; you could always come up with a testing program. But if you actually want to change the curve completely, then you have to be ahead of it, but that's a very difficult proposition.

“I always argue that the game is three hours long, but the life around your teammates is probably about 10 hours a day. You spend an inordinate amount of time interacting with each other and discussing these kinds of issues, and unfortunately, from a steroids side, nobody really knew what to do.”

After the lecture, Michael Chajes, dean of the College of Engineering, moderated a question and answer session with Glanville and the audience. Following that, Harker presented Glanville with a UD baseball jacket and hat as a token of appreciation.

Article by Jon Bleiweis
Photo by Duane Perry

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