S&T student studies white flag trades in baseball

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On October 6, 2009

If the Cardinals had traded Albert Pujols this summer, fans probably would have rioted in the streets of St. Louis. It would have been the ultimate example of a “white flag trade.”

Fortunately for Cardinals fans, the team wasn’t about to trade its superstar. But, in the past, some good teams have basically given up by trading stars for minor league players at mid-season.

Samantha Schussele, a student at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is doing a statistical analysis of the impact white flag trades have on attendance.

Schussele, a nuclear engineering major who likes baseball, is working with Dr. Michael Davis, associate professor of economics. The study is part of an effort to involve undergraduates at Missouri S&T in research projects advised by faculty members.

Two notable examples of white flag trades, according to Schussele, were executed by the Chicago White Sox in 1997 and the Cleveland Indians in 2002. Both teams were in playoff contention at the time of the trades.

“I am looking at attendance and other economic factors during a five-year span,” says Schussele, a junior. “This includes two years before the trade, the actual year of the trade, and the two years following the trade.”

The theory, of course, is that attendance drops after a white flag trade. But Schussele wants to see all of the data in order to determine how much fans of the White Sox and Indians were alienated and what the financial implications were.

Teams in Chicago and Cleveland may have lost fan support by trading popular, high-salaried veterans in the short term, but sometimes the trades work out in the long run. When the Indians traded star pitcher Bartolo Colon in 2002 they got back three minor leaguers. Two of those players have since become big league stars in their own right, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore.

Interestingly, the Indians recently traded Lee — for promising minor leaguers.

Schussele, a Cardinals fan, already knows one thing for sure: St. Louis better get a lot in return if the team ever trades a player like Pujols.

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On October 6, 2009. Posted in Research, Top Headlines