Mathletics: How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball, and Football

By Wayne Winston | Go to book overview

16
WAS JOE DIMAGGIO'S 56- GAME HITTING
STREAK THE GREATEST SPORTS
RECORD OF ALL TIME?
In a beautifully written article, the late paleontologist and lifelong baseball fan Stephen Jay Gould argues that Joe DiMaggio's 56- game consecutive hitting streak is the greatest sports record of all time.1 In this chapter we will use basic probability and statistics to determine how likely it is that a 56game hitting streak would ever occur.In June 1938 Johnny Vander Meer pitched consecutive no-hitters. This has never been done by anyone else. Is this the greatest sports record of all time? After making some reasonable assumptions, basic probability and statistics can help us determine that the occurrence of a 56- game hitting streak was less likely than the occurrence of consecutive no- hitters.Furthermore, can basic probability and statistics help explain why there have been only seventeen regular season perfect games since 1900? To address these issues we need to study the basic mathematics of rare events.
Calculating the Probabilities of Rare Events:
The Poisson Random Variable
Let's consider random variables that always assume a value of 0, 1, 2, and so forth, and the value of the random variable results from the occurrence of rare events. Some examples follow.
number of accidents a driver has in a year
number of perfect games during a baseball season
number of defects in a cell phone

1 Stephen Jay Gould, “The Streak of Streaks,” review of Streak: Joe DiMaggio and the Sum-
mer of '41
by Michael Seidel, August 18, 1988, New York Review of Books, available at http://
www.nybooks.com/articles/4337.

-116-

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