Probabilities Can Mislead in Politics and Baseball

In the period from 1952 to 2002, 24 of the 50 Series (or 48 percent) went the full seven games and the likelihood of this many or more 7-game Series is a small and statistically significant 1 percent. Most of these Series occurred in the period 1952 to 1977. If, however, the analysis is extended back to include all World Series, 35 of the 94 (or 37 percent) went the full seven games, higher than expected, but not statistically significant.

So what is the probability of the Series going seven games? Assuming the teams are equally matched, the probability the Series will go seven games is 31.25 percent. (If you want to know why, see the calculation in the sidebar below.) If the teams aren't equally matched the probability of going seven games is less.

There's not much room for curses and the like in these statistics, merely, it seems, a slight predilection to go a full seven games. Some have conjectured that the team behind after five games is more likely to pull out all stops to win the do-or-die 6th game.

I'll end with one small link between my two topics. If we pitted the American League champion New York Yankees (Bush) against, say, the National League All-Star Team (generic Democrat), the All-Stars might very well be favored against the Yankees, even if the Yankees were favored against every particular NL team.

Professor of mathematics at Temple University and adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, John Allen Paulos is the author of several best-selling books, including Innumeracy, and the just released A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market. His Who’s Counting? column on appears the first weekend of every month.

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