Friday, October 11, 2019

When 100 ≠ 100

Paola Longoria won her 10th Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) US Open Racquetball Championship on Sunday, and in the aftermath she declared it was also her 100th pro victory. People make a big deal out of numbers divisible by 10 and sometimes even 5. We even have words signifying their significance, like decade, century and millennium. So, 100 wins seems like a big deal.

But is 100 really a bigger deal than 99 or 101? No, not really. Our use of a base 10 number system is arbitrary.

In sports, any wins are significant, not arbitrary. Dozens of women have played professional racquetball, but only 27 players have won a professional racquetball tournament, which is fewer players than have won a men’s pro racquetball tournament (40). Only 10 women have won more than 10 tournaments (see how easy it is to assign significance to 10?). No one has won more pro tournaments than Longoria. It’s not even close.

But those wins are Tier 1 or Grand Slam (i.e., main) events. And Longoria hasn’t won 100 of those. She’s won 93. We’re not sure what other events are being counted to get Longoria to 100, but they aren’t main events, so to group them with main events is inappropriate and misleading, in our opinion.

It seems like Longoria is saying she's got 100 apples, when in fact, 7 of those apples are actually oranges. That’s not right. Claiming that it's 100 pro victories is like saying it's 100 fruit, so they are all the same, but the field of players for minor events is significantly fewer than for main events (i.e., Tier 1 / Grand Slam events). That is especially true for women’s events, which generally have smaller fields than men’s events. (e.g., there were 41 women in the LPRT field last week & 94 men in the International Racquetball Tour - IRT - field). If there are fewer players, then there are generally fewer elite players, so the minor events are less competitive; that’s why they are minor events.

That the LPRT has simply gone along with what Longoria says is a total tail wagging the dog situation. The LPRT should have a complete record of its events, although racquetball has not been good at keeping these records. Thus, we’re not sure if the LPRT has a record past what the has been recorded on the Pro Racquetball Stats website, which lists Longoria as having 93 main event wins.

Pro Racquetball Stats has tried to address the discrepancy between the 100 wins Longoria says she has and the 93 main event wins they have on record. But still it seems like a grouping of apples and oranges to us, and we just want to know about them apples.

Best ever?

Longoria’s is a great player. Some will likely argue that she’s the best ever, although we’re not so sure. What makes us hesitate is that she came along at a time when the other elite players were significantly older. When Longoria first appeared in the top 10 (2007-08) the top 4 players were all more than a decade older than her (see what we did there?): Rhonda Rajsich was 11 years older, Cheryl Gudinas 22 years older, Kerri Wachtel 15, and Angela Grisar 16. The only players in the top 10 close to Longoria in age were Kristen Bellows, who was 7 years older, and Adrienne Haynes, 4 years older. Thus, Longoria’s career began with her main competition being players who were significantly older than her, and if anything is true in sport, it’s that Father Time doesn’t lose, and Father Time was on Longoria’s side.

Over the next five seasons (2008-09 to 2012-13), when Longoria finished #1 four times, only two players younger than Longoria were in the top 10: Veronica Sotomayor in 2008-09 and Maria Jose Vargas in 2012-13. It wasn’t until 2013-14 that more than one player younger than Longoria was in the top 10 (Vargas, Sotomayor, Frédérique Lambert & Aubrey Kirch). So Longoria’s main competition wasn’t from players around her age at the start of her career.

None of that is Longoria’s fault, of course. She can only play who’s in front of her. But when you compare players’ careers who they played against has to be taken into account. Trying to compare the eras players competed in makes career comparisons difficult, if not actually impossible, which is why trying to determine “the greatest player ever” is usually one of opinion rather than fact. But it’s fun to speculate about it.

Longoria’s a great racquetball player. She’s won a lot of racquetball tournaments, and she’s going to win many more. Each of her victories counts, but some are a bigger deal than others.

Follow the bouncing ball….

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