"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
September 30, 2003
BASEBALL: 2003 NLDS/ALDS Picks
Late night at the office last night, so no time for real blogging this morning. Just some time to finish up my thoughts to get on record before the first round starts:
Yankees-Twins: You have to assume the Hated Yankees juggernaut will crush the Twinkies, who haven't even won a game against the Yanks since May of 2001. Key to the series will be Johan Santana, the type of nasty young lefty flamethrower who can just dominate a series against the odds. Think the Astros and Marlins regret letting Santana go in the 1999 Rule V draft? Also key to any play for an upset will be Shannon Stewart, who's thus far made the highly questionable Bobby Kielty deal pay off; Stewart's the one guy on the Twins who can really put the ball in play against the porous Yankee defense. Totally pointless stat: Twins starting pitchers batted .286 this season. More important stat: I saw in the paper the other day that Santana, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse had won 25 of their last 30 decisions.
Red Sox-A's: I like both these teams and wish they both had cracks at the Yankees. Oakland roared down the stretch as usual, but without Mark Mulder they don't look as scary in the postseason against a healthy Sox team with - strangely enough - a healthy San Pedro de Fenway.
Marlins-Giants: Echoes of 1997, although this is a stronger Giants team against a weaker Florida team. Jason Schmidt and Sidney Ponson are key here; the Giants' starting pitching has wobbled pretty badly down the stretch. I smell a Florida upset.
Braves-Cubs: I'll be pulling for the Cubbies, and certainly the Braves' pitching makes them vulnerable. But there's too much offense here to favor the Cubs. Could go either way -- of course, so could any short series -- but I'm sensing a Braves return to the NLCS.
September 29, 2003
WAR: But Did They Find Any African Yellowcake?
BASEBALL: Coming Up Short
Another of the stories that needs to be remembered in analyzing a lost opportunity is Mike Sweeney's injury. Sweeney remains the Royals' best player, and he was batting around his usual numbers -- .321/.540/.440 -- when he went down in June. He's more than that, though; for the season, Sweeney batted .363/.579/.459 with men on base, .398/.648/.493 with men in scoring position, .339/.431/.429 in the late innings of a close game. But after returning from the DL, Sweeney (while relegated to DHing) batted just .260/.379/.325 the rest of the way. In a race that was airtight until the last 2-3 weeks, that's a significant blow.
BASEBALL: Don't Cy For Me
Now, long-time readers know that I'm a big fan of San Pedro de Fenway here, but even though he was baseball's most effective starting pitcher this season, and at the risk of contradicting what I just said below about Maddux, I just can't see giving Pedro another Cy Young Award this season:
1. He only won 14 games.
Not only did Pedro not pitch for nearly a month, but in Pedro's 11 no decisions, he threw less than 7 innings five times. He also left after 7 five others. Now, 7 innings should get you a decision in today's baseball, so including those in the case against Pedro may not be fair; let's take a look at those five starts:
March 31 (Opening Day) in Tampa: Martinez leaves with a 4-1 lead after throwing 91 pitches, having allowed a run in the seventh. Hard to fault him here; it was Opening Day, he had a comfortable lead against a rotten team, and Alan Embree and Chad Fox imploded in the ninth inning to lose the game 6-4.
April 27 at Anaheim: Again, Martinez is lifted after allowing a run in the seventh; he leaves with a 4-2 lead after throwing 101 pitches. A lot of pitchers might have been pulled at that point, so it's unfair to give him all the blame for the fact that Brandon Lyon and Chad Fox each allowed runs (in the 8th and 9th) and the Sox had to go 14 innings to reclaim victory.
June 21 at Philadelphia: Martinez throws 92 pitches, leaves with a 2-1 lead. This one really looks like a game where you'd want your ace pitcher to go 8 with a shaky bullpen. Mike Timlin lets Jim Thome go deep in the 8th to tie it; in the absence of a lefthander, you'd rather have seen Pedro pitch to Thome than a famously gopher-prone righthander. Jason Shiell lets Thome go deep in the 12th, and he and Rudy Seanez blow the game in the 13th.
July 7 at Yankee Stadium: The most notorious of the bunch; the Hated Yankees tie the game 1-1 in the sixth, and Martinez leaves after 7 having thrown 115 pitches. Byun-Hyung Kim blows it in the 9th. Verdict: pitching the 8th might not have made a difference, and Martinez had thrown plenty of pitches here.
July 12 at Detroit: Martinez throws 105 pitches, Red Sox take a 2-1 lead in the top of the 8th, the 24-66 Tigers tie it up in the bottom of the 8th off Embree and the game goes 11. This one's really not Martinez' fault so much as the bullpen's.
Interesting that each of these games was on the road, and all were before the All-Star Break. Even if you exonerate Martinez in each of these five games, the team's overall 4-7 record in his no-decisions, combined with his starting only 29 games in the first place, really has to lead you to conclude that Martinez just wasn't a big enough factor to win the award. That leaves the field to Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson and Esteban Loaiza. (Note that the A's were 10-1 in Hudson's no decisions). I think I'd give the award to Hudson, myself; he carried a heavier innings load (240) than Loaiza (219), but had a considerably better ERA (2.70) than the other two (2.96 for Loaiza and 3.25 for Halladay).
Here's an eye-popping novelty stat: 13 major league pitchers struck out at least 178 batters this season. Only one, major league whiff leader Kerry Wood, walked as many as 60 batters. (After that, you get to Nomo). Doesn't that, together with the growing dominance of the game's best closers, say something? Perhaps that the gap between the best and the rest is growing? Or that the best pitchers are now working harder on throwing strikes because they realize the importance of both K and BB to pitching?
Then again, it could just be a fluke. The 2002 list looks quite different.
BASEBALL: Taking His Turn
Lost in the controversy over Greg Maddux's durability and conditioning (addressed by Baseball Musings here, here and here) is the fact that Maddux led the National League in starts, with 35 (Roy Halladay led the majors with 36). Granted, that's just 1 extra start over guys like Millwood and Vazquez and teammate Russ Ortiz, but at Maddux's age there's something to be said for just showing up every fifth day and knowing what it takes to get you there.
That said, the criticism that Maddux might be able to go deeper in games if he was in better shape seems a fair one. Maddux threw 100 pitches in a game just four times this season (the last time on July 22), and averaged just under 82 pitches per start.
Tom of Phillies blog Shallow Center defends the meanness and negativity for which Philadelphia fans are famous:
We should be applauded, not denigrated, for demanding better of our teams. The Red Sox and the Cubs may be lovable losers, but they're still losers. Boston and Chicago deserve better, but they're too wussy to realize it. We in Philadelphia know we deserve better. That's why we boo when Pat Burrell fans, again, on a pitch about six feet outside, or when the Eagles, in their new, publicly financed stadium, look as adept as a peewee football team tripping through its first scrimmage.
September 26, 2003
LAW/WAR: Silverstein Loses
The Second Circuit today affirmed summary judgment against Larry Silverstein and his related real estate companies, holding that the September 11 attacks on One and Two World Trade Center were a single "occurrence" rather than two "occurrences" within the meaning of the insurance policies on the World Trade Center, and thus that Silverstein is entitled to $3.5 billion rather than $7 billion in insurance proceeds. I mostly just skimmed the 62-page opinion (link opens in PDF form), which appears to be rather dusty reading relating to the negotiation of the various insurance policies; probably the most interesting part looks to be the court's decision that the Port Authority is a citizen of both New York and New Jersey for purposes of federal diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction.
Of course, if I'd just won a case saving my client $3.5 billion, I'd find that pretty interesting. Congratulations to the 47 lawyers listed as appearing on the appellees' various briefs, including my Constitutional Law professor, Charles Fried, and my college classmate and fellow Harvard Law grad John C. Demers.
BASEBALL: The Devil's Theory of Joe Morgan
POLITICS: Crazy From the Heat
France revises the death toll from August's heat wave upward to 14,000. The methodology (counting as heat-related any number of deaths beyond the deaths in the same period the prior year) still seems a bit flimsy to me, but a spike of a few hundred over prior periods could be chance; a spike of 14,000 means that probably something over 10,000 is the real number actually caused by the heat.
This is a Bangladesh-size humanitarian disaster. Maybe we can get a benefit concert going to buy air conditioners for elderly Frenchpersons. Call it Cool-Aid.
September 25, 2003
BASEBALL: Living Down To Expectations
Tom Glavine leaves tonight's game without a chance for a decision, which should cap off his season's record at 9-14. Here's what I predicted on December 5, 2002 following the Glavine signing:
Glavine likely has one horrible train wreck of a year coming, with a revival to a battered veteran squeezing out one last good in in 2004 or 2005. At best, he's Kevin Appier all over again . . . This contract will probably do in Glavine's bid for 300 wins: you heard it here first, he's going 7-15 in 2003.
Well, looks like I was a little pessimistic, but not by much. And we've got three more years of Glavine to look forward to.
POLITICS: "[I]ntegrity and character issues"
Yesterday's big news was retired Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Hugh Shelton's statement at a college forum hinting at why he wouldn't support his former colleague Wesley Clark for president:
"I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."
(Emphasis added). Now, this is a little too tantalizing, and while General Shelton may not have expected the Drudge Report to circulate his comments nationally, he should have known this could be newsworthy. He can't stop at this statement, because he's left us with two possibilities:
1. Something in Clark's record of service as Supreme Commander of NATO - beyond what we already know - reflects poorly on his "integrity and character" and resulted in his unceremonious termination from that post. If this is the case, given that Clark now seeks the most powerful job on earth on the basis of a resume that is painfully thin on conduct that has been subjected to public scrutiny and at a time of great danger for the nation, Shelton's got an absolute responsibility to the public to tell us the whole story. (I should add that, if there's something unsavory or just unflattering here, some people who have been falling over themselves to line up behind Clark are going to have some mighty big egg on their faces, especially people from the Clinton Administration who'd be in a position to know such a thing).
2. Shelton's vague reference is just a value judgment on what we already know about Clark's sometimes bristly relationship (typical of many civilian-military relationships) with the political branches or with other generals, in which case Shelton's statement has the effect of unfairly smearing Clark's reputation by implying something darker. I've made this point before about publicly floated rumors about Tom Cruise, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza: don't imply something if you're not willing to come right out and say it, and don't do either if you don't have some evidence to back it up.
On another note, Shelton also related a story that reflects very, very badly on an unnamed (probably Republican, I'm guessing) member of Congress:
Three days after Shelton took office as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his commitment to the integrity of the military was tested. When U.S. planes in the Iraq no-fly zone were attacked, a member of Congress suggested that perhaps "we" could fly a U-2 spy plane so low over Iraq that it could easily get hit. Then we'd have a reason "to kick Saddam out of Iraq." After Shelton responded that he would order that "just as soon as you are qualified to fly (it)," he was not asked again to compromise his office.
"Sometimes people in a position of power lose perspective on right and wrong," Shelton said.
You could say that.
BASEBALL: Falling Short
Well, the Marlins' big victory last night probably seals the NL wild card race; a 3-game lead with 4 to play is a bit much.
With one more game in San Diego and three in San Francisco, the Dodgers bullpen will be pushed to the limit on a pair of milestones. Eric Gagne notched save no. 55 last night; he needs two to tie Bobby Thigpen's single-season record and three to break it, although he's also still (hold your breath) not blown a save this season in a regulation game (as you'll recall, he did blow the All-Star Game). And Paul Quantrill, who made his 86th appearance last night and who's also wrapping up a tremendous year, needs to pitch in all four remaining games to be the first pitcher since Kent Tekulve in 1987 to pitch in 90 games in a season; it's only been done seven times, six of them between Mike Marshall (3) and Tekulve (3) and the other by Wayne Granger.
September 24, 2003
BASEBALL: The Closer
Counting this season, five pitchers in baseball history have had 30 saves and 100 strikeouts in the same season more than once; two have done it in back-to-back years. The five? Bruce Sutter, Rich Gossage, Trevor Hoffman, and now Billy Wagner and Eric Gagne. Only Hoffman and Gagne have done it in consecutive seasons; only Wagner and Gagne (assuming no disaster outings this week) have had sub-2.00 ERAs both times as well (Sutter did it once, as did John Wetteland, John Hiller, Robb Nen, Bryan Harvey, and Willie Hernandez); only Gagne among the five has had fewer than 20 walks in either season (Harvey's the only other one to match that), let alone both, and besides Gagne - with his two 50-save seasons - only Hoffman and Wagner have cleared 40 saves in one of the seasons (also matched by Harvey, Nen, Wetteland, Armando Benitez and Ugueth Urbina). Gagne also now holds the record for most whiffs in a 30-save season, with 135 through last night; Sutter had 129 in 1977.
Verdict: he's got a ways to go to prove himself the best or even the most dominant, but Gagne has already staked a real good claim to be the most overpowering closer in the four decades since closers started becoming something of a steady job.
September 23, 2003
WAR: Just For The Record
It's probably not going to happen. But if the Bush Administration has anything new that could be aired about ties between Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups, or about WMD, today's speech before the U.N. -- just after the end of summer, with guaranteed worldwide attention, just at a time when the Administration is getting jittery about polls again -- would be an awfully good time.
BASEBALL: More Team Defense
David Pinto has an incisive new look at team defense; now, if he can combine this with his metric that counts extra base hits into team defense, he'll really have something special.
POLITICS: Friendly Fire
Josh Marshall has noted the unsavory tendency of Howard Dean backers to tear into fellow Democrats who aren't Clean for Dean, or whatever. Kevin Drum, reviewing Dean's reaction to the Wesley Clark boomlet, picks up the same theme, and frets that Dean himself is showing signs of confusing himself with the greater good of the Democratic Party.
I've been saying this for a while now: Dean's campaign and personality have so much in common with John McCain's, that the real test of whether he's got what it takes to win the nomination will be his ability to avoid McCain's fatal mistake, which was turning his guns away from the opposing party and on to his own party's troops. Dean's followers have been escalating the friendly fire already, but things will unravel for Dean very badly if he responds to the Clark phenomenon by opening a second front against the Clintonites who control the party machinery and who have been none-too-subtly pushing Clark precisely as an alternative to Dean.
POLITICS/BASEBALL: This Means War
The Command Post reports that John Kerry has accused Howard Dean of being - gasp! - a fan of the Hated Yankees. Dean, of course, is a transplanted New Yorker, and that wouldn't go over well in New Hampshire. Dean is denying this scurrilous charge.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:28 AM | Baseball 2002-03 | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I've been baseball-deprived lately, since the radio in my office died; because I'm usually in the office too late to see games on TV, the radio is my lifeline. Gotta get that fixed, pronto.
BASEBALL: You Chose Wrong
As the White Sox fade to grey there's delicious irony for Mets fans in noting that one of the key decisions that did in the Sox was the decision to dump D'Angelo Jimenez and replace him at second base with Roberto Alomar. (Long-time readers of this blog will note that I've been fascinated for some time with Jimenez, the on-again, off-again former Yankees infield prospect, who has shown a recurring tendency to confound his supporters and critics alike.) Check out their numbers since Alomar arrived in Chicago and Jimenez in Cincinnati:
BB+ = BB+HBP
You'll recall that I noted at the time that Jimenez was in a terrible but not very long-term slump when the Sox dumped him; maybe that was a wake-up call, but maybe the Sox just panicked after 59 bad at bats and cost themselves a valuable performer. Oops.
On the other hand, I'll admit that I was more optimistic about Alomar than this here, although I was less so here; the biggest problem is that the Sox forgot to platoon Alomar, as he wound up hitting .191 against lefties.
September 22, 2003
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Just Plain Chicks
The Dixie Chicks have essentially divorced country music. This was an inevitable development; there's no art form quite like country music in terms of the fans' demand for an emotional, one-of-us connection with the artists. The Chicks may have impaired that bond with Natalie Maines' ill-chosen anti-Bush and anti-Texas remarks, but if they'd left it at that, it would have been all. But once the Chicks started portraying themselves as First Amendment martyrs (probably the key moment was the nude magazine cover), they basically set themselves into a melodrama with their own fans cast as the villains. You'll win a lot of new friends in Hollywood that way, but you can never again go back to the country crowd once you've sided with people like Bob Herbert (who called country music fans "flag-waving yahoos").
How long until the "Dixie" is dropped from the band's name?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 PM | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Reagan In His Own Hand - Again
Looks like another collection of Reagan's writings is about to be published, this time his letters.
BASEBALL: Catching Up To The Launch Pattern
If you've been following the Pythagorean projections all year, it's no surprise that the Astros have surged in the NL Central of late -- although their continuing underachievement is rather odd for a team with such a great bullpen.
POLITICS: War of the Rhodes
Now, I've known only two Rhodes Scholars in my time (at least that I can think of offhand), and neither particularly well, but doesn't Andrew Sullivan appear to be overgeneralizing a wee bit, in his haste to attack Wesley Clark, when he says that "[a]lmost to a man and woman, they [Rhodes Scholars] are mega-losers, curriculum-vitae fetishists, with huge ambition and no concept of what to do with it."
HISTORY: Sleepy Bill
The Washington Post notes a recent study that diagnoses William Howard Taft as suffering from sleep apnea; apparently, Taft was known to fall asleep at inopportune moments, including in meetings with the powerful Speaker of the House.
Insert your own joke about the fact that the accounts of Taft's sleeping habits were drawn from the notes of presidential aide Major Butt.
POP CULTURE: Muppet Influence
We rented Chicago over the weekend, and it was pretty much as advertised, a very musical musical; if you like musicals, you'll enjoy it. (Unless I'm missing something, it has to be the first major Hollywood release where two of the top 3 stars' last names started with "Z").
Anyway, considering that the cast mostly broke down between people who hadn't sung and danced in the movies before and people who hadn't sung and danced, period, they pulled it off well. The one part I didn't buy was ubiquitous That Guy John C. Reilly's lead-footed dancing to the song "Mr. Cellophane."
Anyway, as I'm thinking this, I realize that one reason I noticed this is that I remember the incomparable Ben Vereen performing the same song on "The Muppet Show," gliding effortlessly about. Looking back, I realized how many songs and people I was exposed to in those childhood years from watching that show, many of which I might not have heard until years later or not at all otherwise. And it wasn't just show tunes, but pop, rock, country . . . from Sly Stallone singing "Bird in a Gilded Cage," which I believe is a 19th century standard (or sounds like it), to Debbie Harry doing "The Tide is High," which was then near the top of the pop charts, to people like Paul Williams and Leslie Uggams who I would just never have heard of otherwise.
How strange, in a way, that one of the last successful shows to truly present a variety of entertainment was a show aimed at children and starring muppets.
September 20, 2003
BLOG: The Inscrutable Cartoon
By the way, Mark Steyn answered a question I posed in this week's Mark's Mailbox:
Q: OK, I'm sure you've had this question before, but why is the online edition of your Spectator column invariably interrupted by a cartoon that has absolutely nothing to do with the column? Is this some abstruse form of British humor (excuse me, humour) that I don't get? Or is it just an attempt to replicate online the layout of the magazine, regardless of the sometimes jarring contrast between the cartoons and the subject matter?
PS. Of course - keep giving 'em hell.
September 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Bad Media
Proving once again that media groupthink and the thrall of cliched conventional wisdom is not limited to news coverage of politics, Bill Simmons blasts HBO for running a Red Sox documentary that wound up wallowing in "the Curse."
POLITICS: Stryker on Clark
About the only thing worth examining on Wesley Clark's resume -- at least as far as his qualifications for high executive leadership are concerned -- is his leadership of the Kosovo war. For this reason, attention has focused on the charge that Clark risked starting a war with the Russians with aggressive operations at Pristina Airport until cooler heads prevailed. The charge is deeply ironic, since it casts Clark as precisely the hot-headed, unilateral, overly aggressive cowboy that his supporters love to caricature George W. Bush as being.
Sergeant Stryker has taken an enlightening closer look at this incident, and while there remains fair grounds for dispute over Clark's judgment, it's clear that he showed good instincts -- not backing down from aggression just to keep the allies happy -- and that his reaction was one of the reasonable options. Where you ultimately come out on the proper resolution of this particular crisis depends in large part on what you think of the whole murky Kosovo operation, a subject that I admit I paid little attention to at the time and on which I never bothered to form a strong opinion.
Andrew Sullivan, by contrast, has a much more damning take on Clark's 2002 article in the Washington Monthly, in which he lauds the value of running foreign policy by committee.
POLITICS: One Too Many
Ted Kennedy has gone off the deep end with a recent interview in which he bellowed about the Iraq War that
There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud, . . . [Referring to costs of the war, Kennedy added that m]y belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops . . .
Yup, Ted K, he knows his frauds. Hey, wasn't Vietnam made up in Hyannisport? Just asking . . . . the Democrats keep raising the stakes with all this vitriol, and maybe they need to; people don't generally vote out the incumbent if they aren't mad at him. But they seem hell-bent on alienating anybody who isn't steaming mad at the president, and that is how they could wind up with an Alf Landon-sized disaster.
POLITICS: The Outsider
I remember how Reagan almost never used the word “Democrat” when criticizing his opponents. I always assumed that this was because he wanted every possible Democrat to vote for him, and he figured that blasting the party by name would make its members defensive and less likely to support him. So he always said things like “there are those who would undermine our security…” or “my opponents say…”
POLITICS: Scent of Failure
Man, you can just smell the desperation in the comments by Democrats lining up to support Wesley Clark for president:
It's very bad for me as a Democrat to be tagged as somebody who doesn't support the military," said Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind. "He takes that issue back for us." Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a decorated veteran of the Korean War who is backing Clark, said the former NATO supreme commander "is Teflon to the question of being a patriot." Democrats "need someone who'll stand up with Bush and doesn't have to say, 'I'm as patriotic as you are, now let's debate the issues,'" Rangel said.
Translation: "we don't care if he can win, at least he won't make us look like America-hating, stuck-in-the-Sixties, tie-dye and Birkenstock-wearing peacenik wusses in the process." Of course, it's a ridiculous canard that Republicans question the patriotism of anyone with dangerously bad judgment in foreign policy, but then a good chunk of Howard Dean's support comes from people who really are unpatriotic, in the sense that they can't or won't agree with James Lileks' simple mantra about Iraq: I hope we win.
Tennessee Rep. John Tanner, a member of the Blue Dog coalition, said many in the group like Clark's emphasis on fiscal discipline as well as his military background. Tanner said Clark brings a perspective that needs to be heard in the presidential race. When asked if he would support Clark, Tanner said he already pledged to support Gephardt early in the race.
Translation: there's nobody in the race like that now.
South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose support is being sought by several presidential candidates, said Clark called him Tuesday night to let him know he was entering the race. Clyburn said he will consider endorsing Clark.
"I think having Wesley Clark demonstrates very forcefully that we are soldiers, we are patriots, we are lovers of this country," Clyburn said.
Translation: you couldn't get that from the other Democrats in the race. Note that Clyburn all but comes out and says that Clark is really just there to cast a warm protective glow of military experience around a party that has been more than a little cool towards the military.
[Long Island Democrat Steve] Israel said no other candidate in the race can confront Bush so effectively on national security.
"When the president is debating Wesley Clark and has to call him 'General,' it becomes highly problematic for the president," Israel said.
In other words, nobody else even causes a ripple in the president's support on national security. Of course, what's more relevant experience: being a general or being the Commander-in-Chief?
The problem for the Democrats is the down-ticket issue: if Bob Graham and John Breaux don't run for re-election, the Dems could wind up defending open Senate seats in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana, plus an incumbent in Arkansas. Who wants to be a "Howard Dean Democrat" in those races?
Finally, the quote of the week, from Mickey Kaus, on the other celebrated military veteran in the race:
Watching [John] Kerry thrash, flip-flop, and nuance his way to humiliating primary defeat will be one of the few pleasures of the upcoming presidential campaign.
There hasn't been a train wreck that was this much fun to watch since Mark Green.
BLOG: Speaking of Marketing
This is pretty outrageous.
Michele Catalano proves that it is, in fact, possible to be both clever and rude enough to get a telemarketer to hang up on you, and without erupting in a stream of obscenity or vitriol.
WAR: Iraq Page
I'm going to use this page as a reference, a holding place for collecting internal and external links of enduring interest on the Iraq war, its justifications and its critics (for now, I'm still filling in the blanks here; I'll add in more links and categories when I have more time):
Iraq and Terrorism
Hayes again, from the November 3, 2003 issue, on Mahmdouh Mahmud Salim a/k/a Abu Hajer al Iraqi, a close confidant of bin Laden's who may have acted as a critical go-between with Saddam Hussein; this article also rehashes a good deal of the prior article.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
SCIENCE: Monkey Justice
Apparently, monkey don't like unfairness any more than people do.
September 18, 2003
BASEBALL: Teams On Base
Given the positive reaction to my study of the great slugging teams, I thought I'd take a look at the teams with the greatest on base percentages in a single season, relative to the league. This time, I'll just run the "modern" teams rather than the too-old-time-to-be-quite-legitimate teams, drawing the line at 1893, the point at which the pitching conditions (mound distance, number of balls for a walk) and length of the season started more nearly resembling the modern game. Here are the 19 post-1893 teams that finished at least 9% above the league:
A few things jumped off the page here. First, the teams that dominate the OBP category have done so by a far narrower margin than the great slugging teams; we've got just seven teams here, and just three since 1910, that finished more than 10% better than the league, whereas the top slugging teams were in the 15-22% range. Second, as Rob Neyer and others love to point out, slugging and OBP go together like chocolate and peanut butter: 7 of the top 10 modern slugging teams reappear here (including a reprise by the unheralded 1965 Reds). Another of those teams, the 1950 Red Sox, just missed the cut (beating the league OBP by 8.2%), but is tied for the highest team OBP of the 20th century (.382, tied with the 1930 Yankees and 1921 Tigers; you can run the decimal places and tell me who comes out ahead if you like; the 1894 Phillies, with four .400 hitting outfielders, and 1894 Orioles remain the only teams ever to crack the .400 barrier). Third, the name "John McGraw" comes to mind: McGraw played for three of these teams and managed three others (credit should be shared with Hugh Jennings, who got drilled by 40-50 pitches a year for those Orioles teams, and with Roger Bresnahan, the on-base star of the Mathewson-era Giants). Other teams on the list make you think instantly of Babe Ruth, Earl Weaver (Weaver's 1971 O's are known for four 20-game winners, but a .422 OBP from Merv Rettenmund and a .365 OBP from Mark Belanger had more than a little to do with that), Ty Cobb (the 1915 Tigers didn't have the top 3 in the league in RBI for nothing), and Wade Boggs. There are also remarkably few recent teams, which makes the 1976 Reds' dominance that much more impressive. And, of course, there's an awful lot of pennant-winning teams here, as you'd have guessed.
Although one suspects that the repeat presence of McGraw teams suggests that -- as analysts today would argue -- a focus on OBP can be a choice, the fact that the leagues have often been quite compressed (the 1980 National League is one extreme example, with the Cardinals' .329 league-leading figure compared to a league average of .321) would suggest that even without thinking about OBP, managers have mostly stayed within a narrow band in assembling their teams. On the other hand, even a 5-7% advantage in OBP can mean a lot of runs. And it does seem that the spreads are widening in recent seasons, with the 2001 Mariners beating the AL average by 9.4%, the 2002 Yankees by 8.3%, and the 2003 Red Sox by 8.4% through Tuesday, and the 2001 Rockies leading the NL by 8.3% (the biggest margin of the 1990s was actually the 1994 Yankees at 8.4%).
For what it's worth, the top old-time teams were the 1876 Chicago White Stockings, 27.4% above the league at .353 compared to a league average of .277, and the 1875 Boston Red Stockings of the National Association, 24.9% above the league; the top legitimate (non-Union Association) 1880s team was the 1886 Chicago White Stockings, 16% above the league. One reason I included the 1890s teams in the list above rather than lumping them back here was that I had a hard time convincing myself that the game played by the 1897-98 Orioles was really that different from the game played by the 1902 Pirates or the 1905 Giants.
UPDATE (Through 2004 season): The 2003 Red Sox actually wound up 9.4% above the league (.360 compared to .329), and thus should be listed with the 2001 Mariners in 13th place on the chart.
BASEBALL: 110/110 Again
13 Lou Gehrig
With his 44th home run in the first inning Tuesday night, A-Rod made it six in a row.
POLITICS: The Dean Record, Part 2: Spending
Continuing from yesterday:
This is the part of Dean's record that is the subject of the most contested talking points on each side. Dean's backers, eager to show that he is really more fiscally conservative than President Bush (I'll leave the issue of when the Democrats became the green eyeshade party for another day), love to point out that he repeatedly balanced Vermont's budget and even ran surpluses, despite the fact that Vermont (unlike most states) does not have a constitutional requirement of a balanced budget.
At first glance, it's a good record. McClaughry grouses that some of this was smoke and mirrors:
On several occasions during those years he was forced to make some spending cuts. In his earlier years, he favored directing his department heads to reduce their spending. In later years, he became adept at fund raiding and cost shifting. On the former point, Jack Hoffman, the longtime liberal commentator for the Vermont Press Bureau, observed in 2002 that "Dean's proposal to squeeze the education fund looks less like an exercise of fiscal restraint and more like an old fashioned raid on the one account that's still healthy."
This, to me, sounds like par for the course for state governors; Al Gore made essentially the same charge about Bush's budget-balancing record in Texas. Let's accept, for now, the idea that Dean kept a close eye on discretionary spending. There are still two caveats here.
First, of course, there are a variety of reasons why balancing the Vermont budget in the 1990s is a lot easier than balancing the federal budget today. Vermont has just over 600,000 inhabitants, a fact I still find shocking; New York City has a third of that in a single police precinct, and Texas has 21 million people. Like the Scandanavian countries it chooses as a model, Vermont is heavily rural (Dean has never had to contend with the problems of a major city), almost absurdly ethnically homogenous (96.8% white and just a third of the national average speaks a language other than English at home), which reduces a number of the social frictions that create government headaches, and of course, Vermont has no defense budget. You could institute Platonically ideal policies for Vermont that still wouldn't work at the national level. The stock market boom of the 1990s made everyone's job easier. Also, as Kevin Drum noted the other day, it's easier to balance your budget when your state is a net recipient of federal tax payments, as is Vermont (again, unlike, say, Texas).
Second, and far more significantly, while it's true that the GOP has not been diligent about policing spending, the real gripe conservatives have with the Democrats is that their policy proscriptions invariably involve creating big entitlement programs that, once set in motion, can never be cut or eliminated. As Steven Moore notes, that's exactly what Dean seems to have done in Vermont, creating:
a state-funded universal health care system (which as president he would take nationwide), government-subsidized child care (even for the rich), . . . a mega-generous prescription drug benefit for seniors with incomes up to four times the poverty level, . . . and taxpayer-funded campaigns.
The NR piece I noted yesterday contended that Vermont's new Republican governor had found it necessary already to trim the sails of Dean's healthcare plan to keep the budget in balance. And, as with taxes, that is the question voters have to ask themselves about Dean: what does he propose to do? The answer, of course -- as I'm sure we'll discuss in more detail as the campaign goes on -- is still more big entitlement programs.
Dean kept the budget of a tiny state in balance during boom years. That's not nothing, but it bears about as much resemblance to balancing the federal budget as does balancing your checkbook.
September 17, 2003
BASEBALL: The Happy Recap
I was listening to the Mets radio broadcast the other night and Bob Murphy said that the Mets "certainly have no hope of any postseason action this year." Now, I've been realistic about this fact since April, but there's knowing you have no hope, and then there's hearing Bob Murphy say that there's no hope.
If there's been one unflagging constant with Murphy over his 42 seasons as a Mets broadcaster, leading up to his retirement after this season, it's that there was always hope. In 1962, the Mets started with a three-man broadcasting team of professional broadcasters Murphy and Lindsey Nelson and former player Ralph Kiner. Under the arrangement at the time, two of the announcers would do the TV broadcast and one would do the radio broadcast, and they would rotate every few innings. The choices could hardly have been better: the broadcasting team stayed unchanged for 16 seasons (Nelson retired in 1977), and Murphy and Kiner are still here. Murphy and Nelson were inducted in the broadcasters' wing of the Hall of Fame, and Kiner was inducted as a player in 1975. After the late 1970s, Murphy moved to radio full-time, while Kiner became part of the TV team; the past decade or so he has mostly worked either with Gary Thorne or, more recently, Gary Cohen.
Through it all -- including years on end of lousy baseball -- Murphy remained at all times the eternal optimist, the soul of a franchise whose stock in trade is the improbable comeback and the miracle team: "If Bruce Boisclair can get on here, Ron Hodges will come to the plate with the potential tying run on deck . . . " And he rarely had a harsh word for anyone, even the surly and despised Dave Kingman, who Murphy always referred to, most formally, as "David Arthur Kingman." Murphy always played it straight, as well: he's always left the analysis to the color man, preferring to just give you the game and the occasional anecdote to keep things moving. Just the same, you could always tell from the sound of his voice if the Mets were winning or losing, if a deep drive headed out of the ballpark was good news or bad. And if the Mets won, he would always announce the postgame show with, "and now, it's time for the happy recap." Probably Murphy's only regret as a Mets broadcaster, and one he has mentioned often on the air, is that the Mets never did get a no-hitter, despite some very close calls (especially by Tom Seaver).
Murphy is retiring after this season; although he can still call an entertaining game, you can hear him slipping on the air, and I'm sure he's tired of the travel. I'll miss him; he's been the voice of the Mets all my life, and for a variety of reasons I've listened to an awful lot of baseball on the radio over the years. Thanks for giving Mets fans everywhere hope. We'll need it.
POLITICS: Savoir Faire Eez Everywhere
If you turn on CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN right now, you'll see that Wesley Clark is being interviewed on all four at the same time.
POLITICS: The Dean Record, Part 1: Taxes
The Wall Street Journal ran an article some weeks ago by John McClaughry, a conservative former Vermont state senator who twice ran very unsuccessfully for governor against Howard Dean (in 1992 and 1994; the first time, Dean won 202,115 to 62,805), criticizing Dean's record as governor. The National Review ran a big piece a few months back that was largely sourced from McClaughry, and a Google search reveals him as probably the main critic of Dean's Vermont record. There's nothing wrong with that -- McCalughry is obviously the most prominent of the state's few conservatives -- but there's a danger in letting all the anti-Dean memes arise from one man's point of view.
So, what's McClaughry's line? I haven't gone back to Vermont sources myself; I'm just evaluating what McClaughry, the NR piece and some the major pro-Dean articles (including a surprisingly favorable review from supply-side firebrand Stephen Moore) have cited as Dean's major pros and cons. Let's start with:
1. Taxes. Dean apparently never raised income taxes in his years as Vermont governor, and even managed an across-the-board 4% cut in 1999. That's a major plus, one that shows a guy willing to work outside his party's usual rut and who isn't enamored of high progressive tax rates simply for their own sake. (The fact that Dean may have done this with one eye on his political future is not a knock on him; a Democrat who at least thinks that cutting taxes is in his political best interests is halfway there). McClaughry blasts Dean for using the income tax cuts as cover to hike other, less visible taxes:
During his last eight years Mr. Dean signed into law increases in the sales and use, rooms, meals, liquor, cigarette, and electrical energy taxes. In 1997 he raised the corporate, telecommunications, bank franchise, and gasoline taxes. Dwarfing all of these was his approval of a state education finance "reform" built on a new 1.1% state real property tax.
Moore, who pulls no punches even in attacking Bush on tax and spending issues, is less charitable:
This is the second-highest taxing-and-spending state in the country, with collections about $600 per person above the national average . . . At one time or another, Dean raised just about every tax he could get his hands on. During his 12 years as governor, he upped the corporate income tax rate by 1.5 percentage points, the sales tax by 1 percentage point, the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack, and the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon. Sure he balanced the budget every year--by digging deeper into Vermonters' wallets.
This is actually a common gripe raised at tax-cutting Republican governors, but it's a fair criticism. McClaughry doesn't give us perspective on the relative sizes of the various tax hikes and cuts.
In the end, though, none of this really matters, because whatever credit Dean deserves for his state record on taxes, he's made a crystal-clear promise to repeal every jot and tittle of Bush's tax rate cuts, and I take him at his word on that promise. Dean may be hoping that he can use his mixed record on taxes in Vermont to convince the public that because he's a reasonable guy, his belief that we need to jack taxes back up to pre-2001 levels should be taken seriously. But then, Dean's campaign persona comes off as a lot less sober and reasonable than Walter Mondale's, and look where the tax hike pledge got Mondale (I haven't seen polling on the issue lately, but I suspect that the Bush tax cuts mostly remain popular and that most people don't favor repealing the whole thing). Raising taxes isn't just bad policy, it's bad politics as well.
BLOG/POLITICS: Starting Back Up
OK, I've been off the blogging routine a bit lately. Yesterday I finished a gigantic time suck, as we wrapped up refinancing our mortgage, so that's out of the way.
Of course, it's also been a depressing time to write. The Mets have long since been down the crapper, their one exciting young player is done for the season, and the Hated Yankees are leaving the Red Sox in the dust again. And, of course, the Bush Administration went through its usual pre-Labor Day snooze (a trend dating back to the 2000 campaign); while I don't think things are going that badly overall, it's hard to deny that conservatism and the Bush Administration have been playing nothing but defense all summer, with no major initiatives out there -- on the domestic or foreign policy fronts that promise to do anything but consolidate recent gains.
But the fray needs to be rejoined, so I hope to be starting to get back on schedule soon.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:20 AM | Blog 2002-05 | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 13, 2003
POP CULTURE: My G-G-Generation, I-M
Part III of a series (see Part I here and Part II here) looking at athletes, actors/actresses, musicians and others in my generation (including a few bloggers where I knew or could infer their ages), defined generally as people born between October 1969-October 1973. Today, our march through the alphabet reaches from I to M (bearing in mind that some cases require creativity in assigning alphabetical order):
Kazuhisa Ishii, MLB
Notes: Yes, Sam Militello . . . As I've noted before, lotta Red Sox on this list; the future is now . . . I missed LaPhonso Ellis on the last list . . . Man, Alonzo Mourning just seems like he should be a lot older . . . And Muresan and 'Webster'; I can't help but wonder if Muresan, like Andre the Giant before him, labors under the likelihood of a short life expectancy due to the conditions that made him so tall.
September 12, 2003
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: O'Rourke
Interview with the indispensable P.J. O'Rourke over at the Onion, including a classic O'Rourke story that combines Animal House with stock options and some well-earned contempt for Rick Reilly. (Link via The American Scene). On the difference between himself and Hunter Thompson:
His political stuff is just wonderful, but basically nothing happens. It's all about his reaction to a situation. And my stuff is much more externally driven. He brings a lunatic genius to ordinary events, and I bring an ordinary sensibility to lunatic events.
On the plague of lawyers:
I buy a tractor two years ago, and four-fifths of the tractor manual is about not tipping over, not raising the bucket high enough to hit high-tension wire... not killing yourself, basically. The tractor itself is covered with stickers: Don't put your hand in here. Don't put your d___ in there. And in that manual, I found out—and it cost me a thousand dollars—that when the tractor is new, 10 hours into use of the tractor, you have to re-torque the lug nuts. If you don't, you will oval the holes. This is buried between the moron warnings. I never found it. I take the tractor in for its regular servicing, and they say my wheels are gone. A thousand dollars worth of wheels have to be replaced because I didn't re-torque after 10 hours. How am I supposed to know that? "It's in the manual." You f___ing read that manual! You go through 40 pages of how not to tip over!
And some good advice for bloggers and other creatures:
O: Do you ever have a crisis of confidence when you're writing, where you say, "Man, I don't know if I'm right about this?"
PO: If I do, I say so. That's the only way out of that. If there are three words that need to be used more in American journalism, commentary, politics, personal life... it's the magic words "I don't know." I mean, there are certain basic principles... There are certain things that I feel pretty confident about. But when I get in deep water, I prefer to announce that I'm in over my head.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:30 PM | Politics 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Ahscroft 1, Franken 0
Eugene Volokh has an amusing story with links to a groveling apology Al Franken had to issue to John Ashcroft after sending him a bogus survey mocking the idea of waiting for marriage to have sex. Franken's contempt and incomprehension at the concept and anyone who would practice it is, unfortunately, all too typical of the political Left.
POP CULTURE: Opus Returns
Bloom County creator Berke Breathed is bringing back Opus in a new weekly strip! (Thanks to Jackson Murphy for the link).
BASEBALL: Head on over . . .
. . . to Redbird Nation, which has had some great posts this past week, including a look at great baseball names and a proposed system for measuring the drama of particular games.
BASKETBALL: Too Much Vin
WATFO, as Bill Simmons would say (and undoubtedly will say, about this news): Vin Baker admits that he is an alcoholic. (Link via Boston Sports Blog).
UPDATE: A commenter corrects me - Baker went to the University of Hartford. My bad.
BASEBALL: Mets Shortstops
With Jose Reyes out for the season, finishing at a more than respectable (for a 20-year-old shortstop) .307/.434/.334 with 13 steals in 16 attempts and 47 runs scored in 69 games, a pace for 30 steals and 110 runs. Reyes was totally overmatched early on, batting just .209 through July 11, but once he caught on, he hit an impressive .355/.486/.395 the rest of the way.
Reyes' propensity for hamstring injuries, combined with his season-ending ankle injury, are causes for concern. Still, given the history of Mets shortstops, you'd have to believe that he won't have to keep this up for very long at all to be the best the Mets have had at a position that has long been a sore spot for the franchise.
Well, to look at that question objectively, I took a look through Bill James' Win Shares book, as well as at online calculations for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Through September 7, Reyes ranked fourth on the Mets with 12 Win Shares, which projects out to 28 if he could keep this up for a full season's worth of games. How does that stack up against Mets shortstops of the past? I looked at the shorstop with the most Win Shares for the Mets for each season of their history:
Bear in mind, here, that a Win Share is a third of a win, so an everyday player who's worth 10 Win Shares (just over 3 wins) isn't contributing all that much. Some observations:
*Average Win Shares, Mets starting shortstops: 9.83
*Total Win Shares, Mets starting shortstops over 42 seasons: 413. Total Win Shares, Robin Yount: 423.
*The Mets have twice won the National League pennant (1986, 2000) without a shortstop who contributed 3 wins to their bottom line.
*The single-season high is 19 by Bud Harrelson in 1971; Harrelson was a good player in his prime, with a good glove and decent plate discipline in a run-starved environment; you could fairly argue that he's the only good shortstop the Mets have ever had, and certainly over any sustained period of time. Reyes has a ways to go to match Harrelson's whole Mets career. But one more full season anything like this year, though, could well make him the best single-season shortstop in club history in short order.
*Vizcaino, in 1995, is the only shorstop to lead the Mets in Win Shares. Of course, when Jose Vizcaino is your best player, you aren't going anywhere.
*We won't mention Alex Rodriguez here.
September 11, 2003
WAR: Two Years Gone
Two years. . . . if you're looking for a remembrance of the day, you can start with my column written two days later, and Jeff Jarvis' account, and then you can head on over to Michele Catalano's Voices project for more individual narratives.
Two years . . . the good news is, I'm still here, and so are you -- and so are more Americans than we'd dreamed. The visible parts of the war on terror have been a success: no major attacks in the U.S. (the biggest ones being freelance operations like the DC snipers and the LA airport shooter), and really only one large-scale attack (in Bali) outside of what we would think of as 'hotspots' like Israel, Iraq and the Chechen war with Russia. (The hotspots are part of the war too, but they are more expected forms of trouble). Two regimes toppled that were part of the problem, and major efforts underway to remake those countries in a more positive direction. Numerous bad guys killed or captured, including several who are believed to be key figures.
There is yet more to be done, and there are ways in which the hidden part of the war -- the plots against us, the movement of dangerous weapons -- could be going badly and we might not know it for years. But there's more time to plan and to celebrate victory. Today, just remembering where we were, and being thankful for where we have not yet gone, is enough.
September 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Leiting It Up
What's most impressive about Al Leiter's second-half surge isn't his ERA (1.60 compared to 5.57 in the first half) of even his W-L record (although it's pretty impressive to go 6-2 in 10 starts for this aimless Mets team), but the revival of his K/BB and HR numbers, from a dreadful 71/63 (with 11 HR in 97 IP) to 56/26 -- nearly a strikeout per inning -- and just 1 HR allowed in 62 innings. I can't tell from watching him what he's doing differently, but he really hasn't been the same pitcher.
September 9, 2003
BASEBALL: 75 Years Ago Today
This weekend's series between the Yankees and the Red Sox was a classic of the genre in one sense -- high tension, important games, surprising results -- and a dud in others, given that two of the games were entirely lopsided routs by the Sox.
Yankee Stadium has seen high drama before, and 75 years ago today was one of the most dramatic scenes ever set in the Bronx. Let's set the stage:
1. The Yankees
The Yankees, of course, had been a doormat of a franchise before the 1920 arrivals of Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and the lively ball era, with an ignominious defeat by Boston in 1904 as the Yanks' only pennant race exposure. After a wild three-way race in 1920 (involving Ruth breaking his own single-season home run record in June, a deadly beaning by Yankee hurler Carl Mays in August and the September suspension of half the White Sox' lineup for fixing the World Series), the Yanks rose to win consecutive pennants in 1921-22 (losing in the Fall Classic to the rival Giants), and christened their new stadium with a World Championship in 1923. After setbacks in 1924-25, the Yanks won the pennant in 1926 (losing a 7-game series to the Cardinals), and then put on a legendary show of dominance in 1927: 110 wins, first place from Opening Day to the clincher on Labor Day, out-homering their opponents 158-42, a .307 team batting average and a 3.20 team ERA, scoring 6.33 runs/game and allowing 3.89 runs/game. As I've noted previously, the 1927 Yankees were the greatest slugging team in modern (post-1888) baseball history, with the Ruth/Gehrig/Meusel/Lazzeri/Combs "Murderer's Row" blasting opponents into submission. They cemented their place in the firmament with a sweep of the Pirates in the World Series.
1928 . . . the Yankees roared out of the gate at a 39-8 clip, and through a July 1 doubleheader sweep of the A's, they looked every bit as devastating as they'd been in 1927: 52-16, a .765 winning percentage (a pace to finish 8 games ahead of their 110 wins in 1927), and a 13.5 game lead in the American League. The Yanks were scoring 6.49 runs/game while allowing 4.24. George Pipgras, the weak link in the Yankees' pitching staff in 1927 (10-3, 4.11 ERA), had won 14 games already (Pipgras was 8-1 at the end of May), a 32-win pace; Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock had won 10 apiece, rookie Al Shealy had won 7, 22-year-old rookie Hank Johnson 5, and newly acquired veteran Stan Coveleski 5.
The new acquisitions were important because the Yanks couldn't rely on three mainstays of the 1927 staff. 33-year-old Dutch Ruether, a hard-drinking veteran, had been let go before the season, to be replaced by Coveleski. Sidearming swingman Wilcy Moore, who'd won 19 games and saved 13 with a 2.28 ERA as a 30-year-old rookie in 1927, came down with a sore arm (50 games and 213 innings split between starting and releiving will do that); Moore threw just 60.1 innings in 1928 with a 4.18 ERA (the league ERA was 4.04, down slightly from 1927). Worst of all was Urban Shocker, one of the AL's best pitchers in the 1920s (his average record from 1920-27 was 20-12) and 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 1927; Shocker, suffering chest pains so severe he couldn't sleep lying down, had to be released by the Yankees July 6 having made just one appearance, so he could move to the thin air of Denver in hopes of regaining his health.
From July 2 through September 8, though, the Bronx Bombers just weren't the same team, going just 36-31 as they frittered away their lead. As the season wore on, the pitching depth evaporated: Shealy and Coveleski won just 1 more game all season between them. Pipgras also slowed down, highlighted by a 24-6 loss in Cleveland on July 29 and -- amazingly -- a 4-2 loss when Pipgras returned to start against the Indians again the next day. But the real problems were on the offensive side; the pitching was actually better in this period (allowing 4.00 runs/game), but the offense fell off badly, to 4.25 runs/game. I don't have dates for the injury, but Tony Lazzeri, who batted .332 and slugged .535 with a .397 OBP, separated his shoulder and wound up missing 37 games, in which the Yankees went with rookie Leo Durocher at second; Leo's bat couldn't keep up with his glove or his mouth, and he managed to slug just .338 with a .327 OBP, both figures below the league average. Bob Meusel fell off from .337 in 1927 to .297 and missed some games, and Earle Combs and the catchers were off as well. On the other hand, the Babe cracked 24 home runs between May 29 and August 1, and Gehrig batted .374, so neither of them seems to have faded much in the summer sun. Growing worried, the Yankees started to turn over the roster in late summer, bringing in rookie catcher Bill Dickey on August 15 and veteran Senators starter Tom Zachry (who'd surrendered Ruth's 60th homer the year before) on August 23.
2. The A's
If the Yankees had risen to dominance in the 1920s, the A's were still recovering from falling on hard times. One of the dominant franchises from the AL's 1901 founding until Connie Mack's 1914 fire sale, the A's crawled up from 7 straight last place finishes to become a perennial also-ran in the pennant races from 1925-27. 1928 looked the same, as the A's rolled out to a workmanlike 39-30 start, good for a respectable second place to the mighty Yankees. This was one of the strangest teams ever assembled. The young talent was astonishing and already in its prime: Jimmie Foxx was just 20, but Al Simmons was 26, Mickey Cochrane 25, Max Bishop 28, Mule Haas 24, Lefty Grove and George Earnshaw 28. But then there were the super-veterans: Ty Cobb, acquired the previous season (when he'd played regularly and batted .357), was 41; new acquisition Tris Speaker was 40; Eddie Collins, in his second season back in Philly, was 41; ageless pitcher Jack Quinn was 44 (Quinn would pitch until he was 49).
Mack intended to open the season with Simmons in center field and Cobb and Speaker at the corners, but spring training made clear that this would be a defensive disaster; Bill James, in the Historical Abstract, quoted a writer at the time who remarked that Cobb couldn't come in, and Speaker (once the greatest of defensive players) couldn't go back. Simmons was hospitalized with tonsilitis and swollen ankles to start the season, an inauspicious beginning.
Speaker left the lineup for good after a May 21 collision in the outfield with Bing Miller, and Cobb -- hitting .332 at the time and still playing daring baseball on the basepaths -- followed suit after being hit by a pitch on July 27. Meanwhile, Simmons had taken Speaker's place, and Mack worked Foxx into the lineup more as the season progressed, first as essentially a utility player at first, third and even (on 19 occasions) catcher, and ultimately as the everyday third baseman while Jimmy Dykes platooned at first with former minor league slugging legend Joe Hauser.
After the doubleheader sweep on July 1, the A's caught fire in a very big way, going 50-17 heading into their September showdown with the Yankees. While the offense surged from 5.26 to 5.81 runs/game, it was the A's' pitching that really made magic, cutting the team's runs allowed per game from 4.62 to 3.37. Through July 1, the A's were basically leaning on 3 pitchers: Quinn had 9 wins, Grove and Rube Walberg 8 each, with 5 wins for Howard Ehmke, 4 for Ossie Orwoll (who doubled as a part of the first base mix when Hauser and Dykes were injured in late August), and 3 for knuckleballer Eddie Rommel. When the A's got hot, though, Grove was ascendent, winning 14 in a row, including all 13 starts in this stretch. Here's the breakdown of the A's record in each of the pitchers' starts (including Grove's and Rommel's wins in relief):
(I'm leaving out a few spot starts). As you can see, Grove's hot streak wasn't a coincidence; he was the one who really carried the team, along with Quinn and Rommel -- the team was a combined 26-2 and allowed 2.5 runs/game in their starts during the run, while Grove and Rommel won 6 games in relief in this period. The emergence of Earnshaw, who was purchased from the minor league Baltimore Orioles May 28 and didn't win a game before July 1, was also a factor, replacing the ineffective Orwoll in the rotation (Orwoll started just once, in a doubleheader on September 8).
By the morning of Sunday, September 9, the Yankees' lead was gone, and the A's stood at 89-47, a half game ahead of the Yankees at 88-47. The new upstarts had taken the champs by storm, setting the stage for an epic doubleheader at Yankee Stadium to kick off a four-game series.
3. The Scene
As reported in various sources, 85,265 people crammed into Yankee Stadium that afternoon to watch these two titanic teams, loaded to the gills with baseball immortals, grapple for the pennant. Although I'm not sure if the news had reached New York, the drama was underscored by the fact that Shocker died that day in Denver, from what was later revealed to be a severely enlarged heart (he was 38).
The first game, matching Quinn and Pipgras, was something of an anticlimax, as Pipgras tossed a shutout to win 5-0. The second featured a less exciting pitching matchup of Walberg and Fred Heimach, but the two teams took no chances, with Rommel relieving on just one day's rest (he started September 7) for the A's, and Waite Hoyt doing the same for the Yankees. The Yankees took advantage, with Meusel -- on a hot streak by then -- cracking a grand slam in the 8th off Rommel for a stirring 7-3 victory. After a day off on Monday, the teams matched up again on Tuesday, September 11, Grove against Hank Johnson, but the Yankees beat Grove 5-3 on Babe Ruth's 49th home run, a 2-run shot in the 8th (for the season, the Yankees were 6-1 against Grove, who was 24-8 overall, which helps explain why he didn't draw a single MVP vote). The A's beat Hoyt the next day, but the damage was done, the tide turned back, and the Yankees cruised the rest of the way (and went on to sweep the Cardinals in a massively lopsided World Series) while the A's stumbled through the rest of their season-ending 24-game road trip.
The A's would have the last laugh, winning the next 3 pennants and two World Championships while the Yankees' pitching unraveled over the next 3 seasons. But on September 9, 1928, it was the Bronx Bombers who held the day in one of baseball's great pennant race showdowns.
SOURCES: Some of the material here was taken from Retrosheet, baseball-almanac.com, baseball-reference.com, baseball-library.com, the Historical Baseball Abstract, Baseball Dynasties, and Charles Alexander's bio of Ty Cobb.
September 8, 2003
WAR/POLITICS: Hall of Mirrors
The president's speech last night contained few surprises. Bush said what he needed to say:
Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front. Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there -- and there they must be defeated. This will take time and require sacrifice. Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure.
All the key concepts in what has been called the neoconservative battle plan were on full display: the idea that the struggle against terrorism is a single, multi-front war; the idea that the fight in Iraq is part of "a systematic campaign against terrorism" that began after September 11; the idea that "[t]he Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations . . . Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat"; the analogy to the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II; and the repeated references to democracy as the goal of our rebuilding in Iraq.
Then the president finishes up, and (on NBC, where I was watching this), Joe Biden gets on, says he likes the speech but characterizes it as a 180 degree reversal from what "the neoconservatives," who he identifies as "Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz" have been telling Bush. Huh? I mean, Biden does identify some conflicts: he notes that some of the difficulties and troop requirements had been prefigured by hearings held by Richard Lugar and Biden before the war, as opposed to some administration sources. But the core message here is the "neocon" strategy 101.
As for the request for UN help . . . as I noted, I'm not a fan of letting the UN decide anything here, but as more attentive commentators have noted, Bush is just asking for UN auspices to add additional troops from other nations that would remain under US/UK command. Which is what the UN was supposed to be about anyway. This isn't new ground . . . the whole idea of the UN was that it was supposed to be more effective than the League of Nations in stopping aggressive tyrannies, in part because it would abandon the League's pretenses at imposing rules on the great powers (which were a big reason why the US refused to join in 1919) and would instead serve primarily as a vehicle for concerted action. In short, the UN was established with the intent of eliminating barriers to collective action, so long as such action didn't infringe on the interests of any of the permanent members of the Security Council.
Thus, the idea that it is the UN's role to arbitrate the international legitimacy of war with Iraq was always misguided, and remains so now; the only proper question for the UN is whether it is in the interests of enough members of the international community to justify using the UN as a vehicle to organize a division to participate in rebuilding Iraq. Period.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:59 AM | Politics 2002-03 | War 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 7, 2003
POLITICS: Double or Nothing
The GOP's hopes of picking up Senate seats to solidify the majority got brighter today when John Edwards announced that he would not seek re-election so he could focus on his campaign for the presidency, notwithstanding his complete failure to get any traction in polls in the first three primary states (including neighboring South Carolina). Of course, Edwards was far from a sure thing to get re-elected anyway, but the Republicans now have to be favored to pick this one up.
BASEBALL: The Pickoff Face
Ever notice how, when they cut to the pitcher making a pickoff throw, you can see it in his face if he's got the guy dead to rights? It was clear as day on Al Leiter's face tonight when he nailed Marlon Byrd.
POP CULTURE: Old Toys
While we're on the subject of looking at my generation, here's something that should give you some nostalgia for being a kid in the 70s.
SCIENCE: Clone Failure
POP CULTURE: My G-G-Generation, D-H
Part two of a series on people within a year or two of my age (i.e., born late 1969-late 1973); here's part one. Today: D through H:
Omar Daal, MLB
Also, one I missed last time: Netscape founder Marc Andressen. I cheated a little on the young end to get Theo Epstein in there (December 1973), while Jonah Goldberg missed out just a bit at the other end. You'll also note most of Epstein's players here as well as some recent Sox alumni like Daubach, Floyd and Garces. Dave Holmes, the former MTV veejay, was actually a college classmate. Bobby Hurley -- now there's a guy who peaked early. Hurley's car accident was just early enough in his career that we'll never know if he might have made a decent pro player if he hadn't had that setback. I saw a report recently that said Cameron Diaz is now the world's highest-paid actress; look at these lists and you'll see that right around 30 is a real good age for an actress' career; an awful lot of them are right around their primes. Running backs are another matter (ask Terrell Davis). I'm going by reported ages here, so don't ask about El Guapo.
September 5, 2003
POLITICS: Evidence of Bias
Another item from last week that I meant to comment on at the time -- an entry from CalPundit, linking to South Knox Bubba, on the charge that a corporation fought efforts to rename the street its headquarters is on after Martin Luther King. Kevin Drum's sarcastic comment:
STILL SOME WORK TO DO....Racism? A thing of the past. And everybody loves Martin Luther King these days, right?
Apparently not quite everybody.
This is a typical entry in left/liberal bloggers' campaign to keep alive the charge of racism (although in fairness to Kevin Drum, he at least has had a healthy skepticism about racial preferences). But it's one heck of a weak example; if you scan the comments at the two sites, you'll see among other things that this happened in 1981.
But there's a larger point at work: if stuff like this is your Smoking Gun proving the continuing existence of Racism in America -- given that it happened 22 years ago, there are other not-entirely-racist reasons why one might do this, and that nobody was personally affected by this decision -- it might well be that you are grasping at straws. I don't think that anybody really believes that racism is dead and gone; stories like the now-infamous whites-only prom in a small town in rural Georgia are reminders that it is not. But it's a totally false choice to make one side bear the burden of proving that it is. The fact is, it is the Left that makes the argument for governmental and private initiatives, including but not limited to racial preferences, that are designed to fight racism. Nearly everyone agrees that these initiatives would be stupid, unfair or a waste of taxpayer money if there is not a significant amount of racism to combat in the particular case of each such initiative. And yet, the evidence that racism exists in the US today in sufficiently extensive scale and effect to justify the measures being proposed is almost always laughably thin, based on fairly isolated anecdotes, based on bald assertions that it is racist to even question the evidence of racism, or extrapolated from statistical differences in the situation of groups without any consideration of possible alternative factors. But the party proposing a government solution to a problem always has the burden of explaining why the problem is so big that we can't fight it any other way. (The lack of proportion and reliance on faulty statistics and overblown anecdotes to justify government programs is hardly limited to race -- the same tactics are too common in debates about the environment, for example.)
In other words, saying that racism exists is like saying that a disease exists, people have it and people are dying of it. Well, OK: but before you propose to do something about that, it makes sense to question how many people have the disease, and what proportion of them are actually dying of it. Otherwise, you may wind up using a hammer to swat a fly.
September 4, 2003
RELIGION: Cycle of Violence
Mac Thomason has some appropriate words for Paul Hill, who was executed for killing a doctor who performed abortions. I'm ambivalent about the death penalty for ordinary criminals for a variety of religious and other reasons, and of course I'm against abortion, but I'm not about to shed a tear for the Reverend Hill.
But if abortion has killed some 40 million Americans, isn't violent resistance the only moral thing to do? On the surface, that's a tough question. Alan Dershowitz has argued that the answer is yes: Dersh believes a fetus is not a human life, but argues by analogy to the Holocaust that it might be appropriate to use violence against abortion doctors if you believed it was (he makes the point mostly because he thinks it shows hypocrisy on the pro-life side). Bottom line, though: this isn't Nazi Germany. We have democracy and the rule of law, and those things stand as bulwarks against further depradations. We have an obligation, a moral obligation, to work peacefully within that system to end the violence -- not use the sword to overthrow the good with the bad.
POP CULTURE: My G-G-Generation, A-C
I turn 32 next month, and thought it would be fun to take a look around at who else out there is part of my generation (Generation Y, is it? I lose track of these things), roughly defined as people within a year or two of my age (born between late 1969 and late 1973), although I wasn't entirely scientific in every case, and in any event the list is somewhat arbitrary based on who I could locate the ages for and who I had heard of (I left out a lot of musicians where I'd heard of the band but not the individual). Baseball-reference.com and IMdB were invaluable in this process, since both have lists of individuals born in particular years.
LAW: More Estrada
BASEBALL: From the Department of Bitter Ironies
Carlos Baerga is batting .339 for the Diamondbacks.
Rey Sanchez is batting .352 for the Mariners.
Rey Ordonez was hitting .316 for the Devil Rays before he got hurt.
Armando Benitez has a 1.77 ERA and hasn't allowed a home run since going over to the AL.
And Mike Stanton, he of all that Yankee glory, is now 2-6 with a 4.91 ERA.
WAR: Rescue 9/11
From last week's barrage of news on September 11, a story worth remembering: two Port Authority employees who gave their lives to save others at the World Trade Center.
POLITICS: Friends Like These
Liberal Slate writer (as if there's any other kind) Will Saletan is just brutal in his assessment of John Kerry, calling him a political coward who's less animated than a triple amputee. If anything, Saletan hates Kerry even more than Mickey Kaus does.
Hypothesis: liberal writers who lived through the Gore campaign don't want to spend another year with a Democratic candidate who shares essentially all the same faults.
WAR: Real Allies
Polish troops take over administration of southern Iraq, including the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
For the record, count me among those concerned that the U.S. is considering handing over more control to the same U.N. that shamefully rejected U.S. offers of security assistance at the headquarters that was bombed and that continued to employ Baathist sympathizers as guards. I'd have no problem with getting U.N. help if that would make Iraq more secure -- but I see nothing in the U.N.'s record to suggest that it will do so.
September 2, 2003
BASEBALL: Team Defense In Flux
If defense in general and team defensive efficiency in particular is an under-reported phenomenon in baseball (at least, under-accurately reported), then in-season changes in team defensive efficiency is really invisible. Let's see if we can remedy that a little.
On July 7 (about a week before the All-Star break, roughly 86-88 games into the season), I decided to take a look at the Baseball Prospectus numbers for team defensive efficiency (i.e., number of balls in play becoming outs), which update daily. Here's where they stood at that point, leaguewide and by team:
Defensive Efficiency Report -- Updated 07-JUL-03
All stats courtesy of Baseball Prospectus; you can check out the current reports here. Without reprinting those in their entirety, I can see a few major trends:
*The AL as a whole is down from .7102 to .7088 (.7062 for the second half), a rather dramatic falloff in this context.
*Large drops (comparing 1st half to current percentage):
Angels, .7242 to .7147
Orioles .6876 to .6970
I'll admit that I couldn't spot a clear pattern that would tie the shifts to personnel changes in the second half, although obviously some of these teams have changed some starters. It is true that some of the teams showing improvement are out of the pennant race. But the trendlines for a number of teams have shifted, and with them can go their fortunes.
P.S., Hopefully the Prospectus guys will include in-season breakdowns as their premium site brings in more revenue to support the kind of stat sorting that is routine on the bigger sites.