Sports

Smuggling Cubans

by on December 18, 2014 at 7:30 am in Economics, Law, Sports | Permalink

This post isn’t about smuggling Cuban cigars it’s an incredible story about smuggling Cuban baseball players.

The average wage in Cuba is about $20 per month so a typical Cuban might earn 50 times more in the United States but a star Cuban baseball player (who also earns about $20 per month in Cuba) might earn 10,000 times more in the United States. Markets abhor a price differential so there is an active market in smuggled Cubans.

Yasiel Puig, now a star player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was smuggled out of Cuba in 2012. The smuggling operation was paid for by a group of Miami businessmen:

Investigators and court documents say Suarez was one of the Miami-based financiers of the 2012 smuggling venture in which Puig was taken by boat from Cuba to a fishing village near Cancun, Mexico, eventually crossing into the U.S. at Brownsville, Texas, on July 3 of that year. In return, the financiers were getting a percentage of the seven-year, $42 million contract Puig signed with the Dodgers.

The story is not unique

The plea is the second in Miami federal court this year involving the smuggling of a Cuban baseball player into the U.S. Last month, 41-year-old Eliezer Lazo was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle 1,000 Cubans, including baseball players such as Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin.

Puig did in fact pay Suarez $2.5 million. A high price for a relatively simple operation–the going rate to smuggle an ordinary Cuban is about $10,000–but, as we will see, more than smuggling was involved. It took five attempts before Puig reached the shores of Mexico. On one of the earlier attempts Puig was captured by the US Coast guard who sent him back–after some of the crew asked for his autograph!

On the fifth attempt, Puig, along with “a boxer, a pinup girl, and a Santeria priest, the latter of whom blessed their expedition with a splash of rum and a sprinkle of chicken blood” managed to escape Cuba guided by the smugglers and their accomplices—“The Chinaman” and “The Hungarian”. Once in Mexico, however, the operation got messy because Mexico’s Zetas gang were acting as intermediaries and with Puig in hand they demanded a greater share of the proceeds.

“If they didn’t receive the money, they were saying that at any moment they might give him a machetazo”—a whack with a machete—“chop off an arm, a finger, whatever, and he would never play baseball again, not for anyone.” 

The case has lots of interesting asides: Why flee to Mexico first and only then to the United States? It’s all about the money and the weird rules of MLB:

A foreign-born player who immigrates without a contract is treated as an amateur by MLB; he can negotiate only with the team that drafts him. By declaring himself a free agent before arriving, that player can entertain all comers; the difference is worth millions. Federal law, of course, bars Americans from paying money to Cubans—or “trading with the enemy”—so a ballplayer like Puig needs not only to defect but also to establish legal residency in a country that he does not actually intend to live in.

Now back to the Zetas and the hostage negotiations.

As the standoff entered its third week, the smugglers began looking elsewhere to recoup their costs. The idea occurred to them that they could auction Puig off.

Eventually a rescue operation was staged by the Miami businessmen (details are unclear) and Puig escapes to Mexico City where in essence an auction is held in which the Dodgers win with a bid of $42 million over seven years. 

Puig, however, continued to be threatened by the Zetas, hence, it seems, the aforementioned $2.5 million dollar payment to the Miami businessman who in turn paid off the Zetas (a murder also appears to be related).

As if all of this isn’t astounding enough these details have come to light only because of a US civil case against Puig. Puig had been approached a few years earlier when he was just 19 by another would be smuggler. Fearing the state police who monitored him constantly, Puig alerted the sports ministry to the offer and they notified state security. The alleged smuggler was arrested by the Cuban police, jailed, and perhaps tortured. Now here is where it gets really strange. The alleged smuggler, still in jail in Cuba, and his mother are suing Puig in American court for $12 million dollars for turning the smuggler over to the Cuban authorities and thus potentially violating the Torture Victim Protection Act.

There are many lessons here about open(ing) borders, rent seeking, the law, and how making some trades illegal creates black markets often ruled by violence. Thankfully an opening of relations with Cuba may cause this market to wither away. Next up, college athletes.

You can file this one under “Questions that are rarely asked.”  The authors are Bauman, Gale, and Milton and the subtitle is Cross sectional study of political affiliation and physical activity.  It seems, in fact, that the armchair socialists are up out of their chairs:

Objective To examine the validity of the concept of left wing “armchair socialists” and whether they sit more and move less than their right wing and centrist counterparts.

Design Secondary analysis of Eurobarometer data from 32 European countries.

Setting The study emanated from the authors’ sit-stand desks (rather than from their armchairs).

Participants Total of 29 193 European adults, of whom 1985 were left wing, 1902 right wing, 17 657 political centrists, and 7649 politically uncommitted.

Main outcome measures Self-reported political affiliation, physical activity, and total daily sitting time.

Methods Linear models were used to examine the relation between physical activity, sitting time, and reported political affiliation.

Results The findings refute the existence of an “armchair socialist”; people at the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum were more physically active, with the right wing reporting 62.2 more weekly minutes of physical activity (95% confidence interval 23.9 to 100.5), and the left wing 57.8 more minutes (20.6 to 95.1) than those in the political centre. People with right wing political affiliations reported 12.8 minutes less time sitting a day (3.8 to 21.9) than the centrists. It is those sitting in the middle (politically) that are moving less, and possibly sitting more, both on the fence and elsewhere, making them a defined at-risk group.

Conclusions There is little evidence to support the notion of armchair socialists, as they are more active than the mainstream in the political centre. Encouraging centrists to adopt stronger political views may be an innovative approach to increasing their physical activity, potentially benefiting population health.

The full paper is here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

The value of an NFL roster spot

by on December 5, 2014 at 2:03 am in History, Medicine, Sports | Permalink

One of the most self-sacrificing—read: craziest—players from that era, Jack Youngblood, played through the 1979 playoffs and 1980 Pro Bowl with a broken leg. (That’s right: he played through a severe injury in the Pro Bowl). Last year, Youngbloodtold the New York Post that guys who missed time with an injury back then didn’t just have to explain themselves to their untrusting employers—they had to explain themselves to their own teammates. Rather than fake injuries to swindle their way into bogus workers’ compensation claims, it has always been much more common for NFL players to fake health.

In the same New York Post story, Antrel Rolle says he hid not one, but two rotator cuff tears from team doctors. In 1974, the team doctor for the Los Angeles Rams told the Washington Post that he’d learned to check both legs for injuries because limping players liked to trick him by presenting the wrong one. The marginal guys, it is generally understood, are the most likely to fake good health, knowing how tenuous their hold on a roster spot can be.

Most of the rest of the quite interesting article details a case of a player who was administered truth serum in 1986.  The full article, by Andrew Heisel, is here.

There is no great stagnation

by on December 4, 2014 at 5:15 am in Sports, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink

Tekla Perry reports:

To feel the impact of the [hockey] hits at home, TV viewers will need to purchase the $300 ButtKicker (I kid you not), a gadget that attaches to a chair or couch and uses low-frequency audio signals (the company calls it a silent sub-woofer) to shake the furniture in perfect synchrony to the on-screen action.

There is more here, via David Price.

David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee report:

This article investigates the effects of National Football League (NFL) games on crime. Using a panel data set that includes daily crime incidences in eight large cities with NFL teams, we examine how various measurements of criminal activities change on game day compared with nongame days. Our findings from both ordinary least squares and negative binomial regressions indicate that NFL home games are associated with a 2.6% increase in total crimes, while financially motivated crimes such as larceny and motor vehicle theft increase by 4.1% and 6.7%, respectively, on game days. However, we observe that play-off games are associated with a decrease in financially motivated crimes. The effects of game time (afternoon vs. evening) and upset wins and losses on crime are also considered.

Is it that a game works up everyone’s excitement, but the playoff games the criminals actually watch?  That is via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Tivo and Netflix ought to have been made other entertainment more popular and football less popular as a form of entertainment but instead more people are watching football than ever before. Gabriel Rossman asks why?

We can start with a few basic technological shifts, specifically the DVR and broadband internet. Both technologies have the effect that people are watching fewer commercials. From this we can infer that advertisers will have a pronounced preference for “DVR-proof” advertising.

….In practice getting people to watch spot advertising means programming that has to be watched live and in practice that in turn means sports. Thus it is entirely predictable that advertisers will pay a premium for sports. It is also predictable that the cable industry will pay a premium for sports because must-watch ephemera is a good insurance policy against cord-cutting. Moreover, as a straight-forward Ricardian rent type issue, we would predict that this increased demand would accrue to the owners of factor inputs: athletes, team owners, and (in the short-run) the owners of cable channels with contracts to carry sports content. Indeed this has basically all happened….

Here’s something else that is entirely predictable from these premises: we should have declining viewership for sports….If you’re the marginal viewer who ex ante finds sports and scripted equally compelling, it seems like as sports get more expensive and you keep having to watch ads, whereas scripted gets dirt cheap, ad-free, and generally more convenient, the marginal viewer would give up sports, watch last season’s episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix, be blissfully unaware of major advertising campaigns, and pocket the $50 difference between a basic cable package and a $10 Netflix subscription.

…The weird thing is that this latter prediction didn’t happen. During exactly the same period over which sports got more expensive in absolute terms and there was declining direct cost and hassle for close substitutes, viewership for sports increased. From 2003 to 2013, sports viewership was up 27%. Or rather, baseball isn’t doing so great and basketball is holding its own, but holy moly, people love football. If you look at both the top events and top series on tv, it’s basically football, football, some other crap, and more football…. I just can’t understand how when one thing gets more expensive and something else that’s similar gets a lot cheaper and lower hassle, that you see people flocking to the thing that is absolutely more hassle and relatively more money.

It’s a good question. Demographics don’t appear to explain the change. Football skews young, male and black but none of these are undergoing rapid increase. (It’s the aged that are undergoing high growth rates but it’s baseball that appeals more to the old and that isn’t doing great). Fantasy football is big but is it cause or effect?

One possibility is that precisely because there are so few common events to coordinate on, the ones that do coordinate become more important. Why football and not baseball or basketball? Why not? It’s not hard to spin stories but it may also be that random advantages snowballed.

Other theories?

I found this piece by Alex Hutchinson very interesting, here is one excerpt on the issue of incentives:

One reason marathoners are running faster is that road racing is more lucrative. When the Sheikh of Dubai put up $1 million in prize money plus a $1 million world-record bonus in 2008, the Dubai Marathon instantly became one of the world’s fastest, despite its desert temps (average high in January, when the race is held, is 75°F). In fact, prize money for road races more than doubled since 1998, while track racing purses have gotten smaller (see below). As a result, runners are increasingly heading straight to the marathon. But big money can also draw the fastest runners away from the fastest courses, and the standard winner-takes-most prize structure favors cat-and-mouse tactics as runners race each other instead of the clock. When the Amsterdam Marathon switched to time-based prizing in 1999, four different runners immediately smashed the course record by 90 seconds. The sub-two-hour solution? A big pot of money that runners can win no matter where they race, and that is shared equally among all who break 2:00 in that event.

It is not obvious to me why a big first prize is not a good incentive, for instance why does it militate against speed to “race each other instead of the clock”?  Is it that the runners stay on too few courses, thus lowering the variance of performance outcomes?

In any case the hat tip goes to Vic Sarjoo.

I’ve noticed in Hong Kong that exiters are not accorded absolute priority.  That is, those entering the elevator can push their way through before the leavers have left, without being considered impolite, unlike in the United States.  In part, Hong Kongers are in a hurry, but that does not itself explain the difference in customs.  After all, exiters are in a hurry too, so why take away their priority rights?  Perhaps we should look again to Coase.  If some people who wish to enter are in a truly big hurry, they can barge forward.  Furthermore, an exiter who is not in a hurry at all can hold back, knowing that someone will rush to fill the void, rather than ending up in the equilibrium of excessive politeness where each defers to the other and all movements are delayed.  That is not an equilibrium you see often in downtown Hong Kong.

There is another positive effect from the Hong Kong method.  If you will be exiting the elevator, you have to step forward early on and be ready to leave promptly, to avoid being swamped by the new entrants.  That means the process of exit takes place more quickly.  And so the entrants who are in a hurry actually do get on their way earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

#smallstepstowardamuchbetterworld

The pooling equilibrium

by on October 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm in Books, History, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

During the Nazi occupation of Paris:

Germans spent a good deal of their free time in the bathhouses and swimming pools of Paris for the same reason: “In a swimsuit, no one could tell the difference between a German and a Frenchman.”

That is from the new and excellent When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944, by Ronald C. Rosbottom.

Renee B. Adams, Matti Keloharju, and Samuli Knüpfer have a new paper:

This paper analyzes the role three personal traits — cognitive and non-cognitive ability, and height — play in the market for CEOs. We merge data on the traits of more than one million Swedish males, measured at age 18 in a mandatory military enlistment test, with comprehensive data on their income, education, profession, and service as a CEO of any Swedish company. We find that the traits of large-company CEOs are at par or higher than those of other high-caliber professions. For example, large-company CEOs have about the same cognitive ability, and about one-half of a standard deviation higher non-cognitive ability and height than medical doctors. Their traits compare even more favorably with those of lawyers. The traits contribute to pay in two ways. First, higher-caliber CEOs are assigned to larger companies, which tend to pay more. Second, the traits contribute to pay over and above that driven by firm size. We estimate that 27-58% of the effect of traits on pay comes from CEO’s assignment to larger companies. Our results are consistent with models where the labor market allocates higher-caliber CEOs to more productive positions.

In other words, Swedish CEOs are a pretty impressive lot.  Scott Sumner offers some related remarks on American CEOs.

Why not just fire them or cut their pay?  As you may know, ESPN just suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks.

One possibility is that a fined but still active worker may continue to “shoot off his mouth” and thus increase the ongoing collateral damage.  (Simmons called the NFL commissioner a “liar” and I believe he works for one of the network’s revenue sources.)  The suspension is a kind of cooling off period.

Another possibility is that ESPN wishes to shift the long-run bargaining equilibrium.  They wish to signal to Simmons that he isn’t as valuable to them as he may think he is, in the hope of either cutting his pay relative to trend or inducing him to be more careful with his future words.  They wish to show they can go without his output for three weeks, without (perhaps) a major loss of business.  Fining him would not shift the long-run balance of power in the same manner because ESPN is continuing to rely on the traffic which Simmons brings in and thus signaling that they really need him.

I do not know if the suspension is with or without pay, but a version of the above argument can work either way, with some modifications required.

If I were the commissioner, I would be insulted by the suspension of Simmons.  It suggests these are words which cannot be said, perhaps because they will elicit audience assent.  The suspension also signals that ESPN regards the commissioner as quite thin-skinned and presumably — especially if he is indeed thin-skinned! — he could be offended by that too.

In sticky nominal wage models, it remains an interesting question why more workers are not suspended rather than fired outright.  Indeed this used to be closer to the norm in many manufacturing labor markets.

Kabaddi, or the culture that is India

by on September 19, 2014 at 12:13 am in Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

Breath control is the essential skill for success in kabaddi, a game with ancient roots in which teams take turns sending a raider across midcourt who, on a single breath, tries to tag a member of the opposing team and return safely to his team’s half of the court before taking another breath. To prove to officials that he or she is not inhaling, the raider must chant “kabaddi, kabaddi” throughout the attack. The best players can do it for several minutes.

Kabaddi’s rules would seem irredeemably arcane until one learns that 435 million Indian television viewers watched the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League during its inaugural five-week run this year. Or that the league’s final attracted, for however brief a duration, 86 million Indian viewers, surpassing the tallies for the 2014 World Cup and the Wimbledon finals.

There is more here, from The New York Times, the article also explains the Thai sport of sepaktakraw.  Here is Wikipedia.  You can watch (and hear) some kabaddi here.

The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.

There is more here, all of it a bit gruesome.

The demonstration effect

by on September 12, 2014 at 10:31 am in Current Affairs, Sports, Television | Permalink

Or is it herd behavior?:

Since the video of former NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée out in an elevator leaked, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an 84% increase in call volume.

There is more here, from Kottke.

How to stay on the right career path

by on September 3, 2014 at 1:31 am in Economics, Sports | Permalink

Also known as labor market precommitment:

St. Louis Rams rookie defense lineman Ethan Westbrooks made the final 53-man roster on Saturday, beating out Michael Sam for one of the team’s final spots.

Westbrooks has a remarkable story of his own. In 2011 he was working at a Toys “R” Us and playing for Sacramento City College. Three years later, he’s in the NFL. According to Westbrooks, an unlikely motivational tool — a face tattoo — is part of the reason for his success.

Westbrooks told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner that he got a tattoo below his eye in 2011 because he never wanted to get a normal job again. Making it in the NFL would be the only way to prevent him from becoming “a guy that has a tattoo on his face looking for another job.”

The full story is here, with a good photo.

The pointer is from G. Patrick Lynch.