Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
August 25, 2000
BASEBALL: Todd Helton vs. .400

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website

Now that Nomar Garciaparra’s bid to become the first .400 shortstop in 104 years has gone by the wayside, the media monster trains its sights on Todd Helton. Will he be the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams and the first National Leaguer to turn the trick since Bill Terry?

Let’s get to the key fact first: after Wednesday afternoon’s game, the Rockies have 19 home games left and 16 road games. That favors Helton, who is hitting .432 at home but .360 on the road. The tough schedule issues come in the last week. Will the lefthanded Helton, batting almost seventy points lower against lefties, sit out against Randy Johnson? Arizona comes to town for a four-game set before the season’s final series, and Johnson is likely to pitch, particularly if the D-Backs are still in the race. Following that, Colorado ends the season in Atlanta. Will Helton face Maddux, Glavine and Millwood? Will he face lefty-killer John Rocker (AKA the man who lost to Brent Mayne)? Or will he mostly see minor-league relievers as Bobby Cox pulls his starters after five innings, as has been his practice in past season-ending serieses (except in 1998, when the opponent was the Mets and they were fighting for a wild card)?

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:12 PM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
August 16, 2000
POLITICS: LBJ! LBJ! LBJ!

An email I sent in 2000, reformatted for the blog archives. Note the "no great external threat" language from President Clinton.

The Democrats keep telling us that Republicans are the old guard, looking backward, while they are looking forward. But who's looking backward for inspiration? Re-read this, near the very end of the President's speech:

CLINTON: "In February, the American people achieved the longest economic expansion in our history. When that happened, I asked our folks at the White House when the previous longest economic expansion was. You know when it was? It was from 1961 through 1969.

Now, I want the young people especially to listen to this. I remember this well. I graduated from high school in 1964. Our country was still very sad because of President Kennedy's death, but full of hope under the leadership of President Johnson. And I assumed then, like most Americans, that our economy was absolutely on automatic; that nothing could derail it.

I also believed then that our civil rights problems would all be solved in Congress and the courts. And in 1964, when we were enjoying the longest economic expansion in history, we never dreamed that Vietnam would so divide and wound America.

So we took it for granted.

And then, before we knew it, there were riots in the streets, even here. The leaders that I adored as a young man, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, were killed. Lyndon Johnson -- a president from my part of the country I admired so much for all he did for civil rights, for the elderly and the poor -- said he would not run again because our nation was so divided.

And then we had an election in 1968 that took America on a far different and more divisive course. And you know, within months, after that election, the last longest economic expansion in history was itself history.

Why am I telling you this tonight? Not to take you down, but to keep you looking up. I have waited, not as president, but as your fellow citizen, for over 30 years to see my country once again in the position to build the future of our dreams for our children.

We are -- we are a great and good people. And we have an even better chance this time than we did then, with no great internal crisis and no great external threat. Still, I have lived long enough to know that opportunities must be seized or they will be lost."

Is it just me, or is this basically a way of telling the Democratic convention that after lo these many years in retreat and hiding, if we can elect Al Gore the coast will be clear for Great Society Big Government liberalism to come out in the open once again?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:17 PM | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
August 15, 2000
BASEBALL: Offensive Winning Percentages

This is an email I sent to Rob Neyer on August 15, 2000, reformatted for publication.

ESPN.com calculates "offensive winning percentage," which I assume is the
same basic formula used in your book. Here are the Mets/Braves starting
lineups through Sunday, with ranks among guys at the position in the NL
qualifying for the batting title:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:41 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
August 11, 2000
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame: Tony Perez, Jim Rice and Gary Carter

Column on Tony Perez, with comments on Gary Carter and Jim Rice (Originally posted 8/11/00 on the Boston Sports Guy website):

Carlton Fisk is easy, although I plan to return later this year to the tougher question of who was better, Fisk or Gary Carter. For the moment it's enough to say that both should have been obvious first-ballot Hall of Famers. Leaving aside the active guys (Piazza, Rodriguez) and the Negro Leaguers (Josh Gibson, who was almost certainly greater than anyone to play the position in the majors), you would be hard pressed to list the ten best catchers of all time without both Carter and Fisk (the rest of my list: Bench, Berra, Cochrane, Campanella, Dickey, Hartnett, Buck Ewing, and Bill Freehan).

Lots of commentators have taken apart Tony Perez's credentials; let's skip the heavy-duty number crunching here because anyone who takes that angle has to regard Perez as much less than immortal.

Look at the stats: Perez is near the bottom of all Hall of Fame first basemen in batting, on-base, and slugging; the only one lower in both slugging and on-base percentage is the inexplicable selection of George "Highpockets" Kelly, who was sort of a poor man's Cecil Cooper. Three points here:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:12 PM | Baseball Columns | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Bid McPhee, Hall of Famer?

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website

Who was the greatest second baseman of the 19th century? It may seem like a very academic question, but for one of this year's Hall of Fame inductees it was critical.

Taking a break this week from the hubbub of the pennant races, I'm going to take an overdue look at the Hall of Fame Class of 2000. Part 2, later today, will focus on Tony Perez, and I'm skipping over Norman "Turkey" Stearns. I have no more idea than the man in the moon how good Turkey Stearns really was; the Negro League stats (including several consecutive home run titles and a career batting average of .359) are too spotty to be conclusive but they certainly don't contradict his case for the Hall. According to the HOF web page, his contemporaries compared him to Al Simmons.

First, though, let's start with the little-analyzed selection of John "Bid" McPhee.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:09 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
August 4, 2000
BASEBALL: Grading the Deadline Deals (AL)

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website

The trading deadline is past; Peter Gammons can take a breath again, although from appearances he’s still exhaling pent-up rumors. What emerges are a few common themes:

1. Almost every deal that was made was to fill teams’ weak spots with acceptable contributors, rather than to upgrade from contributing players to stars. The order of the day was the Mike Bordicks and B.J. Surhoffs of the world, not the Sammy Sosas and Albert Belles.

2. The contenders mostly held on to their top prospects; nobody sold the crown jewel of their farm system. Most teams, whether their farm system is loaded with talent or just trickling players, have 2 or 3 prospects who are critical to the organization’s future. Nearly none of those prospects were moved, unless you count Ed Yarnall.

3. The players who were dealt by the contenders were mostly high-risk players rather than sure contributors: guys with talent whose stock had fallen sharply. The guys they got in return were mostly low-risk players who are likely to keep doing what they were doing for a few more months.

Let’s look at the deals that were done over the past two months and try to grade the teams (hey, if I didn’t run a column like this they would yank my amateur sportswriter’s license); I’ll take on the AL this week and get to the NL races later, unless something more interesting intervenes.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:41 AM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)
August 1, 2000
POLITICS: Gore For Us

You know, I tend to vote primarily on ideology and party lines. But a lot of voters out there are not so inclined, and tend to ask the question, what are you going to do for me? Politicians spend a lot of time honing their message for particular interest groups, tailoring their strategy for winning them over.

What hit me the other day (maybe this is a sign of too much time in the car) was this: Al Gore does not even want my vote. Think about it broadly: white male voters between the ages of 21 and 60 who work in white-collar private-sector jobs and/or earn at least $40,000 or $50,000 per year (or earn susbstantial taxable capital gains) make up, I suspect, a decent-sized chunk of the electorate. There must be at least as many of us as there are so-called "soccer moms," or unionized blue-collar workers, and the group probably compares somewhat favorably in size to black voters, or college students who vote, or even to elderly voters who take prescription medication. Or maybe I have my numbers wrong, but there must be enough to at least make a dent in a close election.

But what is Al Gore offering us? All his tax breaks, his "Social Security plus" plan, virtually all his economic incentives cap out somewhere around $50,000 per year. He wants to pour huge dollars into schools, but how does that help people like me who want their children raised in schools that are permitted to teach faith and moral virtues? And not only is he neither reaching into the goodie bag for us nor offering to lighten the load of government, but he doesn't talk to us, doesn't speak our language, doesn't even have any apparent strategy to win our votes. When Gore talks about economic growth, he puts on the green eyeshade and talks about balancing the budget, about deficits and debts and surpluses and government "investment." He always zeroes in on government, never talks about lifting regulatory or tax burdens, about the virtues of private investment and private business, about getting out of the way. When Gore talks about individuals, when does he ever mention people like us?

(As a practical matter, Gore isn't offering much to nonwhite male voters in these categories either, but at least he claims to feel their pain).

Bush, of course, does -- he wants to cut my taxes, he wants to help me save for retirement, and he regularly addresses issues of concern to middle- and upper-income voters, the people who pay most of the taxes and work to pay the bills. And when you look at the polls, that's why white male voters as a whole -- including the blue-collar voters that Gore is at least trying to win over -- are flocking to Bush at something like a 2-to-1 margin. How on earth can you overcome a gap like that and be president? How can a candidate win public office by winning only a third of the very demographic group of which he himself (and most of his publicly mentioned likely running mates) are members? And why wouldn't you even try?

Well, of course, Bush had my vote anyway; obviously I believe that Bush's plans are better for the public weal as a whole than Gore's, and while I would like a tax cut I don't necessarily need one. I tend to focus more on what Bush can do systemically for issues like education and Social Security and Medicare. But when you look at this on a purely selfish level, it's hard to see why anyone in our position would give their vote to Gore. Hey, he isn't even asking.

This is an email I sent to friends on August 1, 2000.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:09 PM | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)