Category: Sports

Stay or Hit, The Risk Remains

Few people realize that the success of the Houston Astros was birthed at the Blackjack tables of a Lake Tahoe casino before Billy Beane employed Moneyball to save the Oakland As.

Working as a dealer at the table, an engineering student majoring in statistical analytics noticed a pattern. Whenever blackjack players “hit” when they already had a score of 17 or more, they almost always busted (exceeded 21, thus losing). However, if they hit on 16 or less, they often got close to 21, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.

This student watched as players lost hundreds, if not thousands, by making emotional decisions, hitting on 18, or staying at 16. To consistently perform well, this student concluded that 17 was the magic number. Stay if more than 17, hit if 16 or less.

From this experience, the student learned the value of rational decisions that are data driven. That same student went on to develop the analytics program of the Houston Astros, which was instrumental in the development of the roster that won the 2017 World Series.

That program analyzed prospective players not only by their stats, but also by their experiences and physical characteristics, using patterns identified by analyzing the prior 30 years of MLB draft picks.

The book, Astroball, by Ben Reiter, outlines how the Astros built a perennial winner out of a team that was built and developed, not bought.

Despite the success of the Astros, their trek was not without failures. The Stros often released players who went on to brilliant careers, and retained players who flamed out.

Despite all the data and direction offered by a sound analytics program, the Astros were unable to eliminate risk from the equation when it came to analyzing prospective players.

Which takes us back to the blackjack table. Even if you religiously follow the data-driven wisdom of when to hit, and when to stay, sometimes you bust, sometimes you win, and sometimes the House wins.

Obviously, as The Chaplain’s Corner, this blog is not about how to win at the card table, and I’ve never been successful as a sports writer. Seeing the intersection of cards and baseball, however, I do see some life lessons.

In either of those situations, there is risk. There’s risk in action, and there’s risk in inaction. There are consequences for taking the leap, and there are consequences for staying put.

The Astros took a risk in spending millions to pioneer a new form of analytics for player evaluation. Had it not worked, the team would have wasted a fortune to stay in last place. But it worked, and the evidence is right there on the field.

Had they stayed put, they may have still built a winning team, but they’d likely have overpaid, the way they did in 2005.

In blackjack, taking the hit can win the hand, or it can bust you. Staying will keep you from busting, but it may or may not win the hand.

And in life, you have choices. To change careers. To relocate to accept a promotion. To start a business, invest in the stock market, or to buy bonds.

Maybe the business succeeds, maybe it fails, or if you don’t start the business, maybe you miss an opportunity. The stocks rise, the stocks fall, or maybe you don’t buy and you miss an opportunity. You buy the bonds with a guaranteed yield, but inflation negates your gain.

Risk is inherent in every decision, every opportunity, and every moment in life. Stay or hit, the risk remains.

Fear and avoidance of risk is futile. The reasonable thing to do is to evaluate risk, choose the risk with the maximum upside and minimum downside, and hedge against losses.

But losses will happen. So will successes. The key is to live life, to move forward (even if that means staying) and to glorify God in the process.

So the choice is yours. Stay, or hit?

When Rome falls

You find the most interesting things on Facebook.

Scrolling through my news feed this morning, I came across this gem, comparing the distraction most Americans enjoy via the NFL with the distractions most Romans enjoyed via chariot races, gladiator “games,” and the Olympics.

And while the Roman government deliberately built elaborate stadiums to distract the masses from the crumbling empire and human rights abuses, in America, we distracted ourselves.

Now, I’m not bashing sports, or the NFL. I enjoy watching football, and even have been able to attend a few Big-12 College Football games, and one Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game.  I will probably continue to enjoy watching sports for the foreseeable future.

But for some reason, seeing the above-posted meme on Facebook was kind of an eye-opener for me.

Do you know why the NFL protests were so controversial? And subsequently, why the NFL protests have, at least in part, played a role in the decline of NFL ratings? It’s because, once the players used their platform to advance a socially conscious agenda, they reminded us of the social problems that remain in America.

Whether you agree with Colin Kaepernick or not, seeing he and his followers take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner reminded you that the reconciliation we thought we had accomplished hadn’t advanced us as far as we had thought. Having that bubble burst, watching football became a reminder of the deep-divides that remain in American society. Once that happened, watching football wasn’t as fun as it was before.

And that’s why the NFL protests were so controversial. People don’t like to be reminded of their problems as they try to escape them. So, we had the controversial debate over the past two years, and we quit watching football.

The good news is that we can use our newly raised awareness to make good things happen. True change will not come through legislation, political action, or by socially-conscious NFL players. It will come through the small, daily decisions made by each individual. So, to borrow a phrase, “be the change.” Extend random acts of kindness to others, and let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven.

And Go Bulldogs!

Because America enjoys a good train wreck

Let’s be honest. America loves a good train wreck.

You may have heard of Amy Winehouse, but have you ever listened to her music? Most who read this know of Winehouse, fewer can recite her lyrics.

You never heard of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian before their sex-films were made public. Tommy Lee’s fame extended beyond his days with Motley Crue as his rocky relationship with Pamela Anderson kept his image on the front of tabloid publications everywhere.

While Lindsey Lohan had a good acting career as a child, most of her press coverage came as a result of her meltdown as she transitioned into adulthood.

These, and other celebrities plagued by personal calamities spawned gossip column articles, magazine covers, reality shows and movies of the week. So, it should come as no surprise that a movie detailing the saga of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in the run up to the 1994 Olympics will hit theaters on Dec. 8.

I, Tonya chronicles the life of Tonya Harding leading up to the incident where a hit man hired by her bodyguard struck Nancy Kerrigan above the knee, bruising her thigh and taking her out of the USA National Competition.

The movie chronicles the abuse she endured at the hands of her mother, her dysfunctional relationship with Jeff Gillooly, her struggle to rise to the top of the figure-skating world, the attack on Kerrigan and the fallout thereafter.

Previews of the movie show a jaded Harding character, played by Margot Robbie, struggling through life in the brash fashion that got her labeled as “white trash” back in the 1990s. The depiction of Harding in news reports, TV shows, made-for-TV movies and reality shows in the aftermath of the attack on Kerrigan is one of an unsophisticated white trash girl who somehow stumbled into the talent to make the world figure-skating stage.

The goal of each of these depictions is not necessarily to tell her side of the story, nor is it to tell Nancy’s side, but rather to present another train wreck for America’s entertainment. Judging by the trailers for I, Tonya, this next film promises to be no different.

The saga of Tonya Harding speaks to a blemish on America’s culture at large. The culture is content to thrust a person like Harding into the national spotlight for our amusement, with no regard given for her personal healing and well-being. We laugh at her failure, poke fun at her rural impoverished upbringing, mock her tears, and think of ways we could have done it better.

Such a cultural mentality is not only a shame, but falls into a category of evil described in Romans 1:31-32, “Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

Tonya Harding was a mess. I’d like to see a revived, redeemed and stronger Tonya emerge. But the fact that we are willing to sit back and find amusement in her demise places us in the same category as those who carried out the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. And folks, that’s not where you want to be on Judgment Day.

Castro, Cruz, and Texas Red vs. Blue

In the debut episode of the “Leland Acker Show” podcast, I examine Joaquin Castro’s decision to stay in the House and not challenge Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, and what that means for Texas Democrats.

I also discuss what single event could turn Texas blue, the 10 reasons millennials are leaving Christianity, and Jeb Bush’s prospects in owning the Miami Marlins. Check it out, then tell me what you think.