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Media Matters

Many players fly under the media radar, or, at least, only make fleeting appearances despite tremendous achievements. Roy Oswalt is a prime example. A pre-season piece from the Cincinnati Post discusses his relative obscurity and achievement (even finding a feature-length piece on Oswalt was a challenge):

Now 27 and entering his fourth full season in the majors, Oswalt has quietly emerged as one of the best pitchers in the majors with none of the fanfare that accompanied better-known peers ... He's gone 63-27 with a 3.11 ERA since moving up to the majors in May 2001, giving him the second-best winning percentage (.700) in the National League and fourth overall among active pitchers over the same time. That also registers as the best in club history, which is even more impressive considering All-Stars such as Nolan Ryan, Joe Niekro, and J.R. Richard once pitched in Houston.

His 2005 ERA is only 2.54 for a current career ERA right at 3.00. His winning percentage, ERA, and strikeout-to-walk ratio place him eye-to-eye with the best pitchers of the last generation. When one remembers that runs per game have been about half a run higher since the mid 1990s, his numbers appear even stronger. He has finished 3rd, 4th, and 5th in NL Cy Young Voting but hardly gets mentioned outside of games in which he pitches. Probably a number of factors contribute to his obscurity. One is the East Coast or mega-market bias. Another is pitching in the shadow of others such as Wade Miller early in his career and Roger Clemens the last two seasons.

There are many more examples like Oswalt. This past weekend was a prime example. The media has turned Michelle Wie into a household name even though 18 year old pro Paula Creamer and 17 year old Morgan Pressel have accomplished more to date in terms of junior level wins and making a splash on the LPGA circuit.

My broader point here is that media coverage has effects. For a long time, economists treated the media as little more than a wire through which information flowed from events to consumers. Assuming that TV producers or newspaper editors want to maximize profits does not imply a "neutrality" of coverage or effect. Dan Sutter at Oklahoma has devoted considerable attention to media effects in politics, but this kind of serious attention to media coverage and effect is still not widely accepted among economists. In fact, at a professional meeting, one economist's prior beliefs about the neutrality of coverage ran so deep as to even question why someone would investigate the nature and effects of media coverage.