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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Bill James Online: Mr. Pederson’s Legacy

How would a greenie feel, Mr. Pederson? 

Disortes, Nebraska, population 416, although a few years ago we were up close to 500… it is a thriving town, unlike so many around us, and this is Mr. Pederson’s Legacy.  Sterling Pederson came here to teach in 1958…

On the first day of school in the fall of 1965, Mr. Pederson announced to his classes that students who did well in his class would be rewarded with small amounts of cash… It wasn’t much money, but Pederson was surprised at how much impact it had… Pederson decided to increase his bonuses for the second semester…

In the early 1970s there was some grumbling from the other members of the staff about the “payola”.  “Some of the kids don’t do their homework in my class,” said Carolyn Hauser, “because I can’t afford to bribe them.  They’ll just skip writing papers for me so that they can be sure to get their math done.”

By this time, however, Pederson was beginning to come to terms with the scale of his ever-expanding fortune, and he solved this problem by giving money to the other teachers, so that they, too, could pay bonuses for classroom performance…

Newspapers would write stories about us:  What is the magic of Disortes?  Mr. Pederson’s bonuses were never mentioned in these stories.  By now the teachers were paying $100 for an A, and nobody was ashamed of this, nobody was embarrassed by it, but. . .well, they just never saw fit to mention it to the newspaper people. 

Nobody knows for sure when the cheating started; maybe it started right away.

The District Attorney Posted: September 07, 2011 at 06:18 PM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: steroids

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   1. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: September 07, 2011 at 08:08 PM (#3918865)
Why is this tagged with "Steroids"?
   2. Mark S. is bored Posted: September 07, 2011 at 08:25 PM (#3918885)
Mr. Pederson's bribes were causing the students to take steroids.
   3. AndrewJ Posted: September 07, 2011 at 08:37 PM (#3918893)
Mr. Pederson died the same day Mark McGwire broke Maris's record. Symbolism?
   4. FrankM Posted: September 07, 2011 at 08:42 PM (#3918895)
Disortes is an anagram of steroids. And there's Mr. PED-erson.
   5. AndrewJ Posted: September 07, 2011 at 08:57 PM (#3918913)
   6. Famous Original Joe C Posted: September 07, 2011 at 09:14 PM (#3918924)
I really enjoyed this. Reminded me of this, which I loved reading when I was a kid.
   7. danup Posted: September 07, 2011 at 09:20 PM (#3918932)
I enjoyed this piece a lot when it was first on BJO—did it go free? My favorite of his flights of fancy on the site was his attempt to come up with a sport that would be played best by females. He calls it "GymMax," I think; it's kind of like a version of American Gladiators without Gladiators, played ideally by small, agile gymnasts. I always wished it was outside the paywall, so that we could have a BP thread about it.

EDIT: this is a the link, if you're a subscriber.
   8. valuearbitrageur Posted: September 07, 2011 at 10:25 PM (#3918966)
I'm assuming it's all allegory since the town and none of these people exist.
   9. Darren Posted: September 07, 2011 at 10:53 PM (#3918978)
#4--I never would have gotten that in a million years. Of course, I was still trying to figure out if it was fiction.
   10. Srul Itza Posted: September 07, 2011 at 11:29 PM (#3919007)
So the moral is we should not pay ballplayers too much money, so they won't be tempted to cheat or do anything else that would improve their performance.
   11. 185/456(GGC) Posted: September 07, 2011 at 11:34 PM (#3919012)
I was thinking to myself, isn't Bill a Kansan?
   12. Steve Treder Posted: September 07, 2011 at 11:52 PM (#3919022)
I'm not really sure what the moral is.
   13. BDC Posted: September 08, 2011 at 12:05 AM (#3919029)
Thanks, Steve – I had been trying to figure out what the point was, but didn't want to seem like an idiot, which I have been doing all day long at work anyway. That it's an attempt at steroid allegory I understand, but since learning stuff in school is not a game with winners and losers, I wandered off the rails immediately. And actually there's lots of bonus incentive to do well in school, always has been; always has been cheating too. Sounds like Mr Pederson wasn't checking anybody's work. So checking students' work = steroids tests? I sort of get that. But then there's this:

they all went to college, and many of them did well in college, and went on to become leaders in industry

So the cheaters went on to excel at life outside of school, where they were not subject to Mr Pederson's neglectful teaching. But how would they do that? Because you can keep cheating your whole life, and the whole world is totally corrupt and loves a cheater? Which explains why Jose Canseco is president of Pfizer at the moment and Mark McGwire has just been elected Governor of Colorado. Except someday they're riding for a fall, because they're cheaters. Or something. Now I'm very confused.
   14. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: September 08, 2011 at 12:10 AM (#3919039)
It's reassuring to know that I wasn't the only one who couldn't figure out what the hell the point was.
   15. The District Attorney Posted: September 08, 2011 at 01:32 AM (#3919107)
I think a big part of Bill's point here is that baseball reflects what is going on elsewhere in society. I certainly see intimations in the piece of, for instance, the various financial sector scandals of the past couple decades. I'm reminded of this, from the '86 Abstract.
What is rarely mentioned about the Black Sox scandal is that it was merely a part of its time, a time in which corruption was gaining rapidly in American society.

In society at large, we use sports to express and defend our values, as well as to teach them... It is so odd that this is remembered now not as the period when governors took bribes to free criminals, but as the time when a few baseball players threw the big game...

In time, will the 1980s be remembered as the period when baseball had a drug problem? And will it be forgotten that baseball shared this problem with the rest of the nation?

Very likely, yes.
   16. Bob Evans Posted: September 08, 2011 at 02:40 AM (#3919196)
I would say the moral is, if there's money to be had, folks will go to any lengths to get it.

Edit: whether that is good or bad is left for the reader to decide.

Edit edit: James goes off the rails with all those comeuppances.
   17. Steve Treder Posted: September 08, 2011 at 03:11 AM (#3919220)
Yeah, I'm thinking that if I were an English 202 professor, I'd give this one a B. Credible attempt at invoking Twainian tone and perspective, but falling quite a bit short in the "beef" column.

EDIT: I recall as a freshman writing an essay on Twain's "The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg." I think that story is kind of what James is attempting to get at here.
   18. AndrewJ Posted: September 08, 2011 at 03:18 AM (#3919227)
#6>> Thanks for the link. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm calling my travel agent to plan a Nacirema vacation...
   19. Rob_Wood Posted: September 08, 2011 at 03:54 AM (#3919240)
I think the moral is that teachers' salaries should be kept very low.
   20. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: September 08, 2011 at 04:28 AM (#3919249)
Mr. Pederson's legacy is secure, but he was no Elliot Carlin.
   21. Red Voodooin Posted: September 08, 2011 at 05:00 AM (#3919258)
Did anybody else read and enjoy this and then become disgusted when they learned it was a steroids allegory?
   22. Rob_Wood Posted: September 08, 2011 at 05:29 AM (#3919264)
   23. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 08, 2011 at 07:34 AM (#3919284)
#21 - yes, although I only read the excerpt, as James' site won't work for me.
   24. Cooper Nielson Posted: September 08, 2011 at 08:20 AM (#3919285)
Did anybody else read and enjoy this and then become disgusted when they learned it was a steroids allegory?

Yeah. I was totally reading it as a true story. Now I'm afraid I'll never be able to un-remember it, and 10 years from now I'll be telling someone about that town in Nebraska that produced all the bankers.
   25. Downtown Bookie Posted: September 08, 2011 at 11:16 AM (#3919297)
I've got a story, ain't got no moral
Let the bad guy win every once in a while
I've got a story, ain't got no moral
Let the bad guy win every once in a while

Will It Go Round In Circles

   26. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: September 08, 2011 at 01:02 PM (#3919331)
I thought it was about what is going on in Atlantas schools and elsewhere where bonuses and other monies are linked to student test scores

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