For just the second time since 1995, the New York Yankees fell short of reaching the MLB playoffs. This left Brian Costa and his colleagues at the Wall Street Journal in a bind. With the Yankees out of the picture, which franchise should fans root against during this postseason? To help solve this problem, Costa and his colleagues created the Major League Baseball Hateability Index. He joined Bill Littlefield to explain the math behind the index.
BL: So Brian, first, tell us what factors go into a Hateability Index?
BC: Well, you know, we thought about all the things that make people sort of feel contempt or hate toward a certain team the way some people have toward the Yankees for so many years. And we had a number of things. Part of it is winning because people sort of resent that. So we looked at championships won. We looked at payroll and how many $100 million players they have and how much money they spend. If there’s a player who’s been suspended for performance enhancing drugs on their roster we scored teams a point for that.
And then we took some other things—the style aspects. If you had one of these fat, furry, fuzzy mascots that don’t seem to have anything to do with the team, you got a point for that.
BL: Wait, stop. I thought people were supposed to love those lovable mascots?
BC: Well, I think people do love them in a sort of Barney-the-dinosaur way on children’s shows. But if you watch the Rays and you see this sort of haggard-looking, furry character named Raymond walking around, you know, you don’t really know what he’s doing there or what connection he has to the team.
BL: All right, so after crunching the numbers — and including some sort of factor of furry or unlovable mascots — what did you and your colleagues find?
BC: Well, not a huge surprise, the winner of our hateability index was the team that people think are sort of like the new Yankees now, which is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most of their strong score I would say came from just the sheer volume of their payroll.
BL: Now I was surprised to see that the Pittsburgh Pirates—the underdogs coming off 20-straight losing seasons—received a higher score than the Tampa Bay Rays, the Oakland A’s, and the Cleveland Indians. What is there to hate about the Pirates?
BC: Well, you know, some people may feel that they’ve become too much of a media darling now—that everyone is saying now, “Oh, you have to root for the Pirates.” And one of the ways we score points for media attention is for every Sports Illustrated cover you appeared on you got a demerit for that, so the Pirates scored big on that. The Pirates were on two covers this year so that really hurt them.
BL: I understand that the Oakland A’s were the only team penalized in one particular category. What was all that about?
BC: That’s right. Well we thought about the various things that could cause resentment, and we came up with one: if your general manager has been played by Brad Pitt in a movie, you get a demerit on our scale. So, lo and behold, there was only one: Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.
BL: So you didn’t go back far enough to penalize the Red Sox for having Jimmy Piersall being played by Tony Perkins?
BC: No. Good memory though. We did not go that far back.
BL: Did Tampa lose any points because they play in a ballpark that looks as if it was designed and built by Walt Disney?
BC: See we looked at the ballpark issue, and we talked about that. You’ve got Tampa which plays in that sort of awful ballpark down there and then Oakland which plays in a worse one, where they’ve got sewage problems over there, overflowing sinks and toilets. In the end I think I saw that as more of a reason to pity those teams than to dislike them, so we kind of left those off there.
BL: Now if the Yankees had made the playoffs this year, as they are, of course, accustomed to doing, is it safe to assume they would have scored highest on your hateability index?
BC: Oh, I think the Yankees would still have a sort of record-shattering hateability score. I didn’t take the time to calculate it because they’re not in here but I think it would be like one of those vaunted home run records that no one will touch for a while.
BL: I would think that Alex Rodriguez might single-handedly push them to the top of that charts.
BC: You know, he could probably have a spot of his own on the chart and compare with some teams pretty well. His single hateability is pretty high.
This segment aired on October 5, 2013.