A Virtual Honor, a Real Job 

Sun-Times sports editor Chris De Luca has extra reason to appreciate our Golden BAT award.

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But I don't speak for De Luca. He asked how life was at the Reader. The checks don't bounce, so no complaints, I said. And you?

"I've been here since '96, and the outlook has never been this good," said De Luca. "I came here from the Contra Costa Times and my editor told me, 'Don't go to the Sun-Times. It'll be dead within a year.' It's always felt here like the blade was going to drop." De Luca vividly remembers last autumn. There is bankruptcy, and then there is bankruptcy, and what De Luca was hearing from management back then was that if Jim Tyree's offer to buy the Sun-Times Media Group fell through, the company would run out of money in three days. Tyree was telling the Newspaper Guild that if it didn't make major concessions he'd walk away from the deal, and the various guild units were taking votes that basically told Tyree to go screw himself. De Luca figured the guild wouldn't back down—so that was pretty much that. "I just didn't see a way out of it," he told me. "And then it changed." The guild made the concessions. Tyree closed the deal.

A couple days later the World Series began, and after a debate inside the Sun-Times over whether to send anyone at all, De Luca got the assignment. When he got to Yankee Stadium, he saw something previously unimaginable in the press box—empty seats. "I'd say half the papers that usually go to the Series didn't go," he told me. Big-league papers like the San Francisco Chronicle and Cleveland's Plain Dealer that had always covered the Series, sometimes sending both a reporter and a columnist, had dropped out. Three months later the same thing would happen at the Super Bowl—a lot of papers didn't show up.

But at the Sun-Times, where De Luca was promoted to sports editor in November, he said, "we're doing all the things we've always done. Covering the Super Bowl. Covering the NFL owners' meetings. We haven't scaled back on anything. When we lost a football writer we went out and got a new one." In these terrible times, simply standing still is virtual progress.

This column traditionally awards a booby prize, the Wiffle BAT to the scribe who finishes rock bottom in the BAT competition. If a giddy writer had predicted the Cubs would snap the Curse of the Goat and cop the 2009 World Series, I'd condemn him to his 15 minutes in the stocks and he'd deserve more. But no one went quite that far. (Ted Cox, the 2009 Golden BAT winner, in his farewell tour as a Reader sports blogger predicted the Cubs would win it all if—a big and unrealized if—Tom Ricketts bought the team in time "to do whatever it takes," specifically, pick up pitcher Jake Peavy from San Diego. The first didn't happen in time; the second didn't happen at all. Peavy's now with the White Sox.)

So this year's Wiffle BAT goes to Baseball Prospectus and its once fearsome computer-driven PECOTA algorithm. Recall 2007, when six of PECOTA's choices reached the playoffs and a seventh missed the postseason by one game. Recall that PECOTA exactly predicted the White Sox' 72-90 won-lost record and overstated the Cubs' division-winning 85-77 by a single win. When the 2007 season came to a close, human reason seemed to have been rendered as subservient in BAT as in chess. But in 2008 PECOTA didn't do as well. And last year it predicted only three of 2009's playoff teams. No human around here named fewer.

Even worse, PECOTA got just as sappy about the Cubs as the sportswriters did. What was that in the water? Is Cubs fever a virus that can spread from humans to computers?   

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