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Bush-League Predictions

September 30, 1986

At the start of every baseball season it is traditional for the savants of the sport to predict which teams will win their divisions six months down the road. Last April we did a terrible thing. We clipped and saved those forecasts to see how they squared with the way things turned out.

The results are in. The four division winners are the California Angels and Boston Red Sox in the American League and the New York Mets and Houston Astros in the National. To make a long story short, every forecaster predicted that the Mets would win the NL East, and none--not one--predicted any of the other three teams.

The forecasters didn't even come close. The Sporting News surveyed 210 members of the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America and came up with the following consensus picks: the Yankees and Kansas City in the American League and the Mets and Dodgers in the National. The writers picked Boston, which won the AL East, for fifth place and California, which won the West, for third. In the NL West the writers thought that Houston, the winner, would finish next to last.

The New York Times turned its forecasting over to a computer, which, it said, "comes up with a set of predictions based on how players did in recent seasons, primarily the last three." Very scientific. The headline on its predictions last April was "Computer Likes Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Royals." This computer picked Houston for fourth, the Red Sox for fifth and the Angels for third in their respective divisions.

Using no computer, our own sports pages thought that Kansas City and Detroit would win in the American League and that the Dodgers and Mets would take the National.

For this we need experts? There's no need to belabor the point. A .250 batting average is OK for a utility infielder, but that's about it. Undaunted, soon the experts will predict who will win the two league championship series and then the World Series. Many people will pay attention.

It just proves what people keep telling us: Predicting is difficult--especially the future.

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