Archive for May, 2009

RIP Gerald Scully

A great pioneer of sports economics has passed on.

Jerry was one of the most prolific, innovative and imaginative economists of our age. One of the most fundamental building blocks of economics is the idea of “marginal product.” Jerry was the first economist to ever measure one. He did it in, of all places, baseball.

He pioneered sports economics and went on to make many contributions in other fields. One of his most important contributions was the “Scully Curve.” Jerry showed that the size of government can contribute to economic growth in a nation’s early stages, but at some point, the size of government becomes a burden – reducing the rate of growth and causing national income to be lower than it otherwise would be.

I never met him, but his work greatly influenced my own. RIP Dr. Scully.

Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the pointer.

Addendum: Further thoughts from Skip Sauer.

My colleague Bill Dougan once told me that he regarded “Pay and Performance” as one of the best pieces of economic scholarship in the last quarter-century, something that I repeat to my students in sports economics classes to this day. Note that we are speaking of economic scholarship, and not just scholarship in the economics of sports. Scully’s 1974 paper is evidence that the study of economics in the context of sport can be important, and make a significant contribution to the discipline as a whole.

Sports history had thus subjected Scully’s model to a stern test, which it passed with flying colors. It is not common for economic theory and evidence to produce an estimated effect that is so clear and so large as was Scully’s (for example, we are still arguing about the size of fiscal multipliers seventy-odd years after Keynes). It is even less common for such an estimate to be tested by events so promptly and directly, and in addition to have these events support the author’s work so convincingly.

A few years ago, I recall hearing Skip say something like this, and I was nearly knocked off my feet at how right he was. Skip also pointed out to me that Scully understood the problems of ERA long before sabermetricians began arguing over DIPS. In 1974, he used strikeout-to-walk ratio to proxy pitcher quality instead of ERA, which would have seemed to be the intuitive choice. Scully knew better.