"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
November 30, 2003
POLITICS: Probing Dean
You can tell that Michael Isikoff is going hard on Howard Dean when he leads with this photo:
The underlying story - Dean's decision to keep his records as Vermont governor sealed - isn't something I get hugely exercised over, but Dean won't be able to hold the line on this if he gets the nomination (just ask any candidate who's ever tried to avoid releasing his tax returns; Bill Simon comes prominently to mind). It's also another example of how Dean's own record and biography contains so many of the things liberals love to attack Bush over (in this case, secrecy).
I had the same general reaction to stories about Dean's draft record; it may be fun for his critics to call Dean a "Draft Dodger" or get quotes where even his own mother admits of his medical deferment for a bad back -- that didn't keep him from skiing or working at odd jobs like pouring concrete -- "Yeah, that looks bad." Again, if Dean is the nominee, his vulnerabilities on this point may help immunize Bush against (idiotic) attacks on Bush's military service record, but the fact is that the military has some physical specifications for soldiers that are different from other demands of everyday life. Don't forget that in the 1950s, when Mickey Mantle was the best athlete on earth, he failed his draft physical due to bad knees. Just because Mickey could hit a ball a mile, run 90 feet like the wind and show up ready to play everyday no matter what he'd been out doing the night before didn't mean he had the stamina to march 5 miles with a heavy pack on his back, and so he didn't have to serve.
BASEBALL: A Little Crusader In Him
The Crusader, the Holy Cross campus newspaper, notes that Marlins manager Jack McKeon attended HC for a year in 1952 before moving on to Seton Hall and later Elon College in North Carolina, where he got his degree.
(Link requires registration)
WAR/POLITICS: Trading Places
Peter Beinart (in a column that's now web-accessible only to subscribers of The New Republic) suggested some weeks back that, given the GOP's skepticism about nation-building during the Clinton years and the hesitance of some Republicans to support the Clinton Administration's policy on the war in Kosovo, one might assume that if the Democrats still held the White House, the Republicans would be playing the same role of petulant anti-warriors currently filled by the Democrats. Beinart's a reasonable enough guy, and he understands national security issues well, but he clearly doesn't understand much about Republicans if he thinks we would have been calling for a President Gore to restrain his response after September 11. Did Republicans castigate Harry Truman for being too much of a hard-line anti-Communist? I think it far more likely that if Gore were in the White House on September 11, Republicans would have been calling for a much more belligerent response, full of Old Testament-style smiting and wrath.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:01 PM | Politics 2002-03 | War 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Other Shoes
You know, this is just top-of-my-head speculation here, but shipping Curt Schilling to Boston is a pretty clear indication that the Diamondbacks have finally switched gears from "win now at any cost" to getting rid of at least one aging, high-priced vet who would have helped the team in the short run . . . one sign of a good organization is the ability to recognize when the window of opportunity to win has shut, and the ability to drop the pretense and squeeze maximum future value out of the remaining aging talent on the roster. In Arizona's case, of course, there are some big ones: Randy Johnson is 40, Luis Gonzalez is 36, Steve Finley is 39, and all three still have value. (This is on top of recent departures like Tony Womack, 34, and Mark Grace, 40).
The Arizona Republic has more, although it doesn't sound as if a youth movement is in the offing. The paranoid side of me wonders if pursuing Johnson would be Steinbrenner's next move to counter the Schilling signing; it might actually make some sense, if you think that Johnson could fill Clemens' slot, but I'm not sure the Yanks would want to part with the young talent needed to make the deal if they're still shopping for outfield help.
November 29, 2003
BASEBALL: An Uninvited Guest
CNN reports: Naked, bleeding man seeks help at Cal Ripken's house on Thanksgiving.
November 28, 2003
WAR: Longer Yards
November 27, 2003
WAR: Giving Thanks In The Right Place
Last month, I echoed Frank Gaffney's suggestion on NRO that President Bush should go to Baghdad; I suggested that Thanksgiving would be an appropriate time to go. I was dismayed to see reports that Hillary Clinton would be going (she was in Afghanistan today), not just for the partisan points but because her presence only underlined Bush's absence from what would be an important morale-boosting visit.
News came today, though, that the president did the right thing. Whatever you think of the politics of the event, that's just what it was: the right thing to do, for the sake of our soldiers who don't have the luxury of deciding where they'd like to be for Thanksgiving.
November 26, 2003
BASEBALL: Case Not Closed
David Pinto takes on the Elias Sports Bureau's statistics supporting Buster Olney's argument on ESPN.com that teams that make productive use of outs (generally through the deployment of one-run strategies -- bunts -- and other methods of emphasizing moving baserunners at the expense of hitting away) tend to gain a significant advantage in the postseason. Leaving aside Pinto's account of the institutional politics at play here, let's look at Olney's core statistical argument, in which he leads off by arguing that the Marlins
dominated the Yanks, 9-5, in productive outs -- in keeping with a longstanding post-season trend.
This is the Productive Out, as defined and developed by ESPN The Magazine and the Elias Sports Bureau: when a fly ball, grounder or bunt advances a runner with nobody out; when a pitcher bunts to advance a runner with one out (maximizing the effectiveness of the pitcher's at-bat), or when a grounder or fly ball scores a run with one out.
There have been 142 post-season series since 1969. In 130, one team or another has had an advantage in Productive Outs -- and in 62.3 percent of those 130 series, the team with the advantage in Productive Outs has prevailed. Factor in the 12 series in which opposing teams have tied in Productive Outs, and it can be said that teams with a deficit in POs have won 34.5 percent of post-season series.
* * *
[By contrast, t]he Athletics have failed to advance beyond the Division Series in the last four years, and it's probably not a coincidence that they have never won the battle of Productive Outs. In 19 games over those four series, their opponents have produced 23 PO's, Oakland 15.
Base on balls are a fundamental piece of the Athletics' offensive philosophy, but statistically, they have shown to have slightly less significance than Productive Outs in the post-season. Teams that have had the advantage in walks have won 60 percent of the time. (Teams with an advantage in singles have won 63.8 percent of the series, and teams with an advantage in home runs have won 70.4 percent - which makes sense, as Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau noted, because it is the one offensive result in which a run is assured).
David raises two initial objections to Elias' definition of the Productive Out, which he suspects is "rigged" to generate a favorable result:
[I]f you move a runner into scoring position with two outs, doesn't that count for something? And besides, didn't Pete Palmer show 20 years ago that trading an out for a base always decreases run potential?
Well, yes, and yes, although on the second point I'm at least open to persuasion that the dynamics of regular season baseball are in some way materially altered by the characteristics of postseason play, in which a higher quality of pitching figures disproportionately (such as, as I've noted before, Mariano Rivera averaging over 150 innings pitched in relief per 162 games). But the problems with the definition run quite a bit deeper than David has addressed in his initial post on this issue. If your thesis is that teams should try to make productive outs, shouldn't you be measuring the number of times they try to do this, rather than the number of times they succeed? Otherwise, it's like measuring steals but not caught stealings. (Of course, I realize that such a study might be impossible, but recognizing that you've loaded the question by only looking at successful baserunner movement is the first step to recognizing the flaws in this measurement).
Now, leaving runners stranded on base is unquestionably a bad thing, and more to the point, it runs precisely counter to the whole point of making Productive Outs. But the fact that, at least in a small sampling, the team leaving more runners on base was actually successful more often than not at least suggests that both moving and failing to move baserunners, as an indicator of success, is simply a symptom of having more baserunners in the first place.
If Olney wants to show that the study he relied on wasn't skewed but was really a meaningful measurement, he can always come back with a comparison to the success rate for the team that gets more men on base -- a number that is conspicuous by its absence from his article. Like I said, I really am open to persuasion that moving baserunners takes on added importance in the postseason; absent statistical evidence, my gut tells me it does. But the proof, as of now, just isn't there.
November 25, 2003
POLITICS: No Hobgoblins Here
[I]t has become obvious since he took office that, far from being a "uniter not a divider," George Bush is in fact (a) radically conservative and (b) does everything he can to hide the fact.
I think that both liberals and conservatives have made the mistake of convincing themselves that Bush is a hard right ideologue . . . But if you look a bit more closely you'll see that he's not.
BASEBALL: A Lefty Moves On
Too busy to blog this morning -- I was late at the office last night and never got around to wrapping up my analysis of the Aleto opinion, which will have to wait until after Thanksgiving -- but I couldn't let the day pass without saying a word or two about Warren Spahn, who died yesterday at age 82. You probably know the details, but the key facts about Spahn:
*You can draw the line for "modern" baseball in a number of places, but for pitching records the clearest dividing line is the arrival of the lively ball in 1920, which required pitchers to bear down against every hitter or risk allowing a home run. Since 1920, Steve Carlton is second all time in wins with 329; Spahn is first, 34 wins ahead of him at 363. And unlike the stars of the 1960s-70s, only one season of Spahn's prime (1963) overlapped with a pitcher-dominated era.
*Winningest lefthander in baseball history.
*Served his country with honor and distinction in World War II:
In 1943, Spahn went into the Army. He served in Europe, where he was wounded, decorated for bravery with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart and was awarded a battlefield commission. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and in the battle for the bridge at Remagen, Germany, where many men in his company were lost.
*Spahn's military service had the added result that he didn't win a game until age 25. Perhaps that helped him -- his arm didn't get worked hard until he was old enough to handle it -- but it's just as possible that he would have won 380-390 games if he hadn't served (much like Grover Alexander, who would have won 400 if he hadn't taken a year away at the pinnacle of his career to go to the front in World War I).
*Won 20 games a staggering 13 times.
*Loved the game so much he went back to the minor leagues for a few years after being cut by the Mets and Giants at age 44.
Now, to be fair, Spahn had a few advantages in his major league career; he pitched in pitcher's parks most of his career, and almost always had outstanding offenses behind him, led by Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Baseball-reference.com doesn't list his context-adjusted career ERA in the top hundred. But then, between 1946 and 1963, his "ERA+" rates as better than the league by 10% or more 16 times in 18 years, and in all but two of those years he threw at least 257 innings (and the offseasons were one of 245 and the 1946 season, when he wasn't yet an established starter). He faced 1000 batters in a season 17 years in a row. That kind of consistency in a starting pitcher is one of baseball's rarest gifts in any era.
November 24, 2003
BASEBALL: Making a Schilling
Well, so much for the slow news week . . . one of the problems of writing for a long-running television show, or a series of books or films -- this problem is particularly acute for soap operas -- is what you might call "drama fatigue": the difficulty of getting the audience to emotionally invest itself once again in some crisis of the characters, after the viewers/readers have been through the wringer so many times with the same characters and/or similar plotlines. The TV show ER has had to work incredibly hard to sustain this kind of tension; JK Rowling has excelled at recreating it anew in each of the Harry Potter books, at each stage escalating both Harry's social humiliations and his peril.
After a while, you start to run out of room to stretch out the tension. Madonna, for example, has reached a similar point with regard to being shocking; she's running out of new tricks. Every saga that depends on new and more stunning revelations eventually comes to and end.
Except the Red Sox. Just when Sox fans thought they couldn't come any closer to victory, couldn't taste any bitterer defeat, wouldn't again fall into the trap of hoping and believing, along comes a 3-run lead against the Yankees in a 7-game series, with Pedro in command . . .
And after that, the cries went up anew: we will never believe again. We won't have our hearts broken again. How, you might ask, does one tug at those heartstrings again? How do you shock, again?
Trade for Curt Schilling. There's nothing but good in this move. It's raising the ante, calling Steinbrenner's bluff, and attacking the Sox' perennial weak spot, depth in the starting rotation. (And the early ESPN report on this deal, assuming it pans out, also explains why Peter Gammons gets the big bucks).
And somewhere in this favored land, the Mudville fans are dreaming once again . . .
POLITICS: 'Strong Leader Form of Government'
Speaking of strange news articles, this item from last Wednesday on Albany's reaction to the Massachusetts decision contains this head-scratcher:
In New York, which has a strong leader form of government, it is almost unheard of for legislation to be approved in the Senate without the majority leader’s backing or in the Assembly without the support of the speaker.
(Emphasis added). Now, I suppose the meaning is clear enough -- the state legislature is run by the leaders -- but this conjured up images of downtrodden New Yorkers walking to work under the shadow of massive graven images of George Pataki.
WAR: The Times' War Continues
It took a while, but on Thursday, the NY Times finally addressed the memo from Douglas Feith laying out the evidence of longstanding connections between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda; whatever you think of the credibility or novelty of the memo, it's unquestionably newsworthy to have all the evidence laid out in one place.
So, what does the Times do, but include this line:
"With the disclosure of Mr. Feith's memorandum, some conservative commentators have resurrected claims of a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, even though President Bush said in September that he had seen no such evidence."
Now, for the millionth time, evidence of connections to al Qaeda is not necessarily the same as evidence of connections to September 11; opponents of the Iraq war have repeatedly obscured this distinction to accuse conservatives and the Administration of making the latter charge (which is supported by only very tenuous evidence) when most have made the former, which is supported by a more substantial body of allegations. But what stinks here is the way the Times makes this assertion: it doesn't quote anyone, thus leaving the impression that it's talking about leading commentators (the Sept. 11 point is not really being pushed by any of the leading lights on the Right), and then it just dismisses those arguments without giving the unnamed commentators at least a sentence or two to say what their argument is.
POLITICS: Whose Turf?
Instapundit linked on Thursday to an article about a handful of AARP members burning their membership cards to protest the group's support for the Republican-backed Medicare prescription drug bill, which contains some tepid reform provisions but is objectionable to the Left mostly because it's supported by President Bush and might help him get re-elected.
Now, if you read his blog, you know that Josh Marshall is perennially outraged -- shocked, shocked -- about what he calls "Astroturf" -- events designed by professional political activists and calculated to look like genuine grass-roots uprisings. Now, my first instinct was that the AARP protest by 'ordinary senior citizens' -- coming on the very day that Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton were tearing into the AARP in a coordinated attack -- smelled to me an awful lot like the same thing. Turns out, in fact, that MSNBC reported that "[t]he protest was organized by two liberal advocacy groups." Hmmmm.
Anyway, I checked Marshall's blog just to see if he was suitably shocked, but assuming (given the increasingly partisan tone of his writings lately) that he would just be silent on the issue, and be shocked and outraged only when he sees such tactics used by Republicans. Ah, how naive I was. On Thursday -- the very day of the Democrats' publicity offensive -- Talking Points Memo had this item:
Money talks, and AARP walks.
To find out more about the ugly truth and what you can do to make your voice heard, go to this page at the Campaign for America's Future website.
The page being one that carries a picture of an AARP member burning his membership card, under a blaring headline Attention AARP members, and directs AARP members to take the following actions:
:: Organize your own protests in your community.
It's Josh Marshall's turf. Don't you try to play on it.
Still swamped at work, and in any event it's been a slow news time for baseball. On the legal front, I got to read the Ninth Circuit's gun case this weekend -- I should have my analysis up by tomorrow -- but I haven't had the chance to read through the Massachusetts Supreme Court's gay marriage opinion yet (more on that another day).
November 20, 2003
LAW: Oversupply of Guns - Or Tort Law?
Eugene Volokh has multiple posts tearing into the Ninth Circuit's decision today in Ileto v. Glock, Inc., No. 01-09762 (9th Cir. Nov. 20, 2003), authored by controversial liberal Clinton appointee Richard Paez. Apparently, the decision holds that the "negligent oversupply" of guns by Glock -- including legal sales of guns in states with lax gun laws, allegedly with the knowledge that they would make their way to states with more restrictive gun laws, such as California -- could subject Glock to liability under the common law of negligence in California. Volokh argues, among other things, that the decision severely oversteps the boundaries of state negligence law by imposing restrictive California laws to the legal sales of guns in other states.
I'll have to read the 61-page opinion soon (it's on the list along with the gay marriage decision in Massachusetts, which may similarly threaten to export a single state's judge-made law to the whole nation), and I'll have more to say then. (Unlike Prof. Volokh, I feel pretty confident that I know the dormant Commerce Clause cases in this area quite well, having briefed similar issues fairly exhaustively a few years back and continued to follow developments in the area.). For now, you can read my take here and here on why I think the 'oversupply' theory violates the dormant Commerce Clause; a sample:
The problem with this theory is twofold. First, this directly imposes liability on the very act of interstate commerce - a serious problem under existing Commerce Clause cases. Second, by making legal sales in State A illegal under State B's law because of their impact on State B, State B has effectively overstepped the very boundaries that the Supreme Court's State Farm v. Campbell decision purports to police.
For more on the theory of Federalism's Edge that unites the gun issue, the gay marriage issue and a host of other hot-button issues, see my lengthier essay here.
BASEBALL: Kotsay in Oakland
I try to read Will Carroll's columns at Baseball Prospectus when I can; Carroll does a great job reporting on and analyzing injuries, and there's really nobody else out there who compares to his work in this area. Carroll alone is probably worth the subscription price. Anyway, Carroll's fairly optimistic about Mark Kotsay's ability to recover from the back trouble that ruined his 2003 season. The addition of Kotsay, the poor man's Trot Nixon, suggests to me that the A's are continuing their recent trend of moving towards valuing defense and away from their earlier emphasis on high-OPS players as the likely candidates for bargain shopping. But throwing Ramon Hernandez into the deal does suggest to me that the A's are up to something else and looking to clear roster space.
I'm less enthused about them dealing Ted Lillly for Bobby Kielty, but more on that later.
BASEBALL: Wagner and Millwood Revisited
Tom at Shallow Center took issue with my analysis of the Billy Wagner trade, in which I argued that "Wagner has to help [the Phillies'] bullpen, but the victory will be Pyhrric if they can't re-sign Millwood." His point:
Millwood was exactly the stud we hoped he'd be in the season's first half, even mixing in a no-no to boot, but fell apart in the latter half of the year. Scott Boras, his agent, will shop him hard, and probably will land him somewhere, at a huge cost -- that's what Boras does, after all. Millwood's new team then will cross their fingers and pray that he's a legit No. 1. Millwood never was that kind of guy with the Braves, and he wasn't one with the Phils. He's a good pitcher, but until he shows me a Maddux/Schilling/Clemens level of domination, I don't think he should be paid as such.
That's a fair argument, and I agree completely with Tom's drumbeat in favor of bringing back Curt Schilling instead of Millwood. I still think Millwood's a solid pitcher, assuming he's healthy, and thus a good investment in the abstract, but I can understand the frustration of Phillies fans for his reversal of his usual pattern in falling apart in the second half this season, and the fact that Millwood is useful doesn't mean you bring him back if he's asking for an unreasonable pay raise. My point is a more basic one: if you don't re-sign Millwood and don't replace him with a comparable starter or one who's an upgrade, such as Schilling, then spending the money to shore up the bullpen instead by the addition of the highly-paid Wagner is no substitute, and in fact is a bad idea if it means you passed on keeping that money available to spend on starting pitching.
POLITICS: Burning the Flag
Wesley Clark is drawing some fire from his fans on the left for his support for amending the constitution to prohibit flag-burning. Personally, I'm all in favor of keeping flag burning legal. Why stop the enemy from identifying himself? Every time some nitwit college student burns a flag on camera, that's one less idiot who can ever run for public office.
POLITICS: Pelosi vs. The Old Folks
I've tried to follow the whole prescription drug bill story, honest, but it can be hard to keep score of which way the bill is going. This has to be good news, though: Nancy Pelosi, Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy are vowing to defeat the bill. Assuming they're doing this out of something other than mere partisan pique, this means that (1) the private choice provisions are not just window dressing, but are substantial enough to worry Ted Kennedy, and (2) if they succeed in stopping the bill, Democrats will get the blame for scuttling a popular but expensive and imprudent new entitlement. Win-win!
Seriously, the more interesting tidbit here is this:
In her remarks at the rally, Pelosi also took a swipe at the AARP and its leader, William D. Novelli. The seniors organization endorsed the bill this week and is advertising on television to help secure its passage.
The Californian noted that Novelli wrote the preface to Gingrich's recent book on health care, and she said, "AARP's leadership has been in the pocket not only of the Republican leadership in the House, but they helped write Newt Gingrich's book on how to destroy Medicare."
Now, the AARP is one of Washington's most powerful lobbies, and like the NRA, its power comes not from money or organization but from the simple fact that millions of its members take the organization's guidance seriously in deciding how to vote. And the AARP has led the charge in some past Democratic campaigns to scare the old folks (think back to 1982 or to the catastrophic health insurance debacle). The idea that the organization may be on the GOP's side has to warm the heart of any Republican partisan.
November 19, 2003
POLITICS: The Leno Primary
BLOG: You Know What They Say . . .
Location, location, location. This story reminded me of the old Saturday Night Live sketch: "In New York City, a man is mugged every 11 seconds. This is that man . . . "
BASEBALL: RIP Ken Brett
Ken Brett, George's older brother who was known as a good hitting pitcher (George called him “the best athlete in the family,”), has died; Brett was only 55 and had suffered from a lengthy battle with a brain tumor. Brett is only the latest member of the Royals teams from the George Brett era to pass on at a relatively young age: Dick Howser and Dan Quisenberry also died of brain tumors, Darrell Porter died suddenly last summer, Al Cowens died last April, Tony Solaita was shot to death in 1990, and Vada Pinson died in 1995. (Aurelio Lopez, who pitched briefly for the Royals in 1974, was also killed in a car accident in 1992).
WAR: Atta Guy
I haven't had time to digest this one, but don't miss conspiracy theorist Edward Jay Epstein's piece debunking the debunkers of the reports that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague in the spring of 2001. Epstein's verdict: we still don't really know.
POLITICS: Senate Stuff
I'm overdue to update my seat-by-seat rundowns of the Senate races from last November. One thing that's changed is that rumors of John McCain's retirement haven't panned out, and McCain seems likely to cruise to re-election now that Congressman Jeff Flake has dropped a potential primary challenge. Moreover, as to desultory rumors of McCain challenging Bush in 2004, "McCain . . . answered the question of what he's going to be doing in 2004 pretty decisively when he signed on as co-chair of President Bush's re-election campaign in Arizona. "
Then there's Louisiana, a Democratic lock if moderate John Breaux runs for re-election but another major potential GOP pickup in the South if he doesn't (notwithstanding the Louisiana Democrats' last-minute survival in the 2002 and 2003 elections). Breaux is still mulling whether he wants to spend at least the next four years in the minority, but he's promised to serve out his term rather than let new Democratic governor Kathleen Blanco appoint a successor. The GOP would presumably like to run Bobby Jindal, who ran a respectable race for governor and whose biggest liability may be his youth, but another thought occurs to me: isn't Tommy Thompson leaving office at HHS next year? Maybe Bush will appoint Jindal to succeed him. He's almost certainly the most qualified guy for the job.
WAR: Not About The Money
This Andrew Sullivan item on how Bernard Lewis emphasizes the Islamist terrorists' belief that the US would be an easier foe to defeat than the Soviet Union is interesting on at least two levels (beyond the fact that these nutjobs think they were the sole or primary cause of the USSR's collapse):
1. They, like the Nazis, may be making the mistake of underestimating their enemies by equating ruthlessness with strength;
2. If true -- and Lewis knows this subject far better than I do -- Lewis' point actually underlines how little they have in common with the Western Left, which tends to see all things in economic terms. Anyone who pays attention to economics had to realize, at least in retrospect, that the US would present a far more enduring adversary than did the Sovient Union, with its doddering state-run economic system.
BUSINESS: Delaware Indicator
I found this column a few weeks ago by economist Daniel Gross interesting: he argues that the rate of new business incorporations in Delaware (a state with nearly as many corporations as people, owing to its use as a legal home to many national companies) is a good indicator of the potential for near-term growth in the economy.
BASEBALL: NL MVP
Honestly, I don't have a strong opinion on the NL MVP race, and given my intense dislike for Barry Bonds, it's probably not wise to get in an argument about the issue. My sense is that if you just look at the numbers without context, Pujols should have had the award, because the difference in playing time makes up for Bonds' advantage in productivity (i.e., his astronomical OBP). But Bonds' missed time included a bunch of time following his father's death, and he could afford to take those days off in part because he had contributed so heavily to the Giants having a big lead. I can't really fault the voters for giving Bonds a break on that score.
November 18, 2003
BASEBALL: AL MVP
It should come as no surprise to long-time readers that I'm very happy to see Alex Rodriguez finally win the AL MVP award, for which he's been a serious contender nearly every year since he became an everyday player in 1996, and which he has basically been robbed of on more than one occasion.
To my mind, there were only three serious candidates: Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado. Nobody else was in their league offensively. Look at the AL rankings, starting with Win Shares (which includes defense) and some of the Baseball Prospectus offensive rankings and VORP, BP's overall (defense-included) ranking, as well as Runs Created and per 27 outs and some of the key counting stats:
Bear in mind that the Win Shares and BP stats are park-adjusted, while RC and RC/27 aren't. When you take account of the fact that the numbers race was so close even on the offensive end between A-Rod, a mediocre defensive first baseman on a non-contending team and a poor-fielding left fielder who was benched in the middle of the pennant race, it becomes clear that Rodriguez properly got the benefit of the doubt even before you consider his near-misses in the past.
November 17, 2003
RELIGION/WAR: Men of Zeal
Steven den Beste makes an interesting point about al Qaeda's strategy in the war on terror: it can't be explained in rational, secular terms because "bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel." Moreover, the absence of a rational plan is an essential element in its success:
bin Laden could not create and follow the kind of plan which we'd think was essential. If bin Laden's plan had been based entirely on temporal power and cogent strategy and real resources, and if such a plan did not rely on miracles, it would have demonstrated lack of faith. If there were no place in the plan for God, it would prove that bin Laden didn't truly believe God would help.
And it would therefore prove that bin Laden didn't deserve any help from God, because it would prove that his faith wasn't really pure. For bin Laden to create such a plan would be a heretical act. . . . [A] rationalist post-Enlightenment Christian . . . faces no crisis of faith in a similar situation. He can make rational plans which don't rely on miracles because his faith acknowledges that God doesn't usually work that way. Such a Christian doesn't pray for victory; he prays for the wisdom to create rational plans and the strength to carry them out.
But for bin Laden and other Islamic zealots bent on jihad, even that would be heresy. The only way to truly prove your faith is to rely on miracles, and that's what I think they're doing. I think that was bin Laden's strategy.
If anything, I think den Beste (who has a fairly firm grip on Christian theology for an aethiest) underestimates the gap between fundamentalist Muslim theology and contemporary Christian theology on this point. It's true that Christians regard it as an extraordinary display of faith in some situations to put your trust completely in God, but to many Christians, such an egregiously audacious venture undertaken with no earthly hope of success isn't just overreaching into a belief in more direct divine intervention than we ordinarily believe in; it also trammels awfully close to the Biblical injunction against putting the Lord your God to the test. I'm not sure exactly where that line is, but if I jump off a bridge and ask God to save me, I've almost certainly done something wrong by trying to compel the Lord to take a specific action in a specific situation.
BASKETBALL: Nothing But Nothing
Now, I don't get to watch a whole lot of basketball these days, but I caught a good deal of Saturday night's Knicks-Pacers game, and it seemed to me that the loss pretty well symbolized the Knicks in the post-Ewing era, with the team busting out for a 24-0 run in the third quarter and still managing enough inconsistency to blow the game at the end. The run was largely feuled by some hot shooting by Keith Van Horn (who finished the game 5-14 from the field), some gritty play by Kurt Thomas, and most of all by outstanding play at both ends of the court by Dikembe Mutombo, who promptly had to take a breather to rest a strained groin.
It's no accident that a good stretch by a broken-down big man made such a difference, even fleetingly. Ever since Father Time caught up with Patrick Ewing, the Knicks have been treading water, lacking an identity without a big presence in the middle; the Sprewell-Houston era featured some memorable victories, especially the trip to the finals that was accomplished with minimal assistance from Ewing, but without a dependable point guard or big man, you need something on the order of Jordan and Pippen to win, and instead the Knicks had Sprewell -- always an inconsistent offensive presence -- and Houston, a born second banana and not one of Pippen's quality. And year after year, the team never seems to bring in any new talent. Until the Knicks can get that signature star who takes the team away from being built around a center who hasn't been there for years, they'll keep on playing like an amputee who favors his missing leg.
November 16, 2003
POLITICS: Unfit to be Commander-In-Chief?
Tom Maguire pointed me to this devastating New Yorker profile of Wesley Clark and his Kosovo record. There were a few interesting tidbits in the first half of the piece, which generally paints Clark as an admirable guy: I didn't know that was ethnically Jewish (his stepfather changed his name from Kanne) and had converted to Catholicism (combined with being raised a Southern Baptist, this gives him a real smorgasbord of religious background), or that Clark had first met Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld when he was detailed to the Ford White House. The account of the Kosovo campaign also includes some amusing tidbits:
When [Madeliene] Albright flew to Rambouillet [the site in France where negotiations were held between Milosevic and Albanian Kosovar leaders] in the hope that her presence might help to move things along, the Albanian delegation, working late at night, mistook her for a cleaning woman and told her to go away.
To which I ask: wasn't she traveling with security? The article also strongly suggests that Clark basically ran US policy in the Balkans without supervision while Clinton was distracted by impeachment, which of course reflects badly on Clinton moreso than on Clark.
Anyway, the real importance here is the damning picture painted of Clark's failings as a general:
*Clark in Kosovo did exactly what the Democrats accused Bush and Rumsfeld of: he projected a best-case scenario and went to war without a plan B:
[Prior to negotiations,] Clark had assured the White House that Milosevic would acquiesce, but the Serbian leader did not, and the talks ended in March.
“If you look back at the basics of it,” one Clinton Defense Department official recalls, “Wes’s strongly held view was ‘If we just threaten to bomb, he’ll fold, I know this guy. This won’t last forty-eight hours.’” . . .
President Clinton had publicly ruled out sending ground troops into the Balkans . . . More than once, [Air Force General Michael Short] came close to quitting his command in frustration. Short had complained to Clark about the lack of targets, but Clark assured him, “This will be over in three nights.”
NATO was unprepared for even this restricted version of war. There were no American aircraft carriers nearby when the war began, and only a third of the aircraft that would eventually be required. Milosevic had positioned his forces on the Kosovo border, and when the bombing commenced they swept into the province and dispersed, thus avoiding the long-distance strikes of the nato bombers. As the Serbs moved in, the Albanian Kosovars moved out, nearly emptying the country in an exodus to the hills, and subsequently posing a humanitarian crisis in the neighboring states of Albania and Macedonia.
When Milosevic refused to fold after just a few days of bombing, the NATO bombers quickly ran out of approved targets, and were failing to destroy, or even to seriously erode, the Serb force inside Kosovo. . .
Thus, not only did Clark rely too heavily on an over-optimistic assessment of the chances of a swift victory; he was also wrong.
*Clark was massively insubordinate, constantly looking to work around direct orders by appealing up the chain of command. I know they do this constantly in the movies, but this can't be a good thing in the real Army, and I suspect it's what Gen. Hugh Shelton meant about Clark's "integrity" issues. Consider the vignette where Clark has dinner with Tony Blair to sell him on a ground invasion that the Clinton Administration has already publicly and privately vetoed: a uniformed officer lobbying a foreign head of state to change his own country's policy?
*The Pentagon had to leak Clark's firing to the papers to stop him from appealing outside the chain of command yet again.
*Or consider this horrifying assessment of Clark's plans for a ground invasion:
Clark continued to focus on preparations for a ground war, and the plan he ultimately proposed was greeted in Washington with astonishment. "Gallipoli springs to mind," one defense expert, who made a study of Clark's plan, says. Clark advocated an invasion of Kosovo with a force of two hundred thousand troops, mostly American. The force would move into Kosovo through Albania, because Macedonia had declared that it would not allow its territory to be used for launching an attack. Aside from the most obvious difficulty with Clark's plan-that a major American-led ground invasion in the Balkans could not win the support of Congress, the Pentagon, the White House, or nato-there was a real problem regarding Albania. The country was already in chaos, and had almost no infrastructure. There was only one major road, and it was only partly paved, and there were few bridges that could support the mammoth tanks and fighting vehicles of the American Army. . . Clark outlined the plan to the Joint Chiefs in a video-teleconference, and they were starkly unsupportive. Dennis Reimer, the Army Chief of Staff, made it clear that he considered Clark's plan ludicrous. General Shelton refused to go forward with any real planning for the invasion. A Clinton Defense official recalls, 'Any of those elements of his most expansive plan would have, in our view and in the view of a number of thinking people, derailed what was a fairly fragile situation. And, in the judgment of many, many military professionals, it wouldn't have worked anyway. It called into question the real military judgment being put behind it.'
Fred Kaplan, the resident military analyst in Slate's stable of left-leaning pundits, tries gamely to defend Clark. Kaplan argues that the piece gives only the views of Clark's (numerous) critics in the military, but of course the sheer number of senior officials with an axe to grind against Clark has to be taken seriously when you consider that his long military career is virtually his only credential for public office. Kaplan thinks the New Yorker unfairly attacks Clark for being pig-headedly "certain about the rightness of his views," but then that's also a common complaint by the Clarkniks about Bush&Co.; if Clark's the same way, why should we expect the promised new and improved diplomacy and tact we've been promised?
Kaplan does convince me that the New Yorker piece misrepresents Clark's influence on Clinton Administration policy -- but as I noted above, that implication isn't as damaging to Clark as to his bosses anyway. Kaplan argues that the war on Kosovo was a good idea anyway -- but for a campaign that has argued relentlessly that the problem was how Bush got us into the Iraq war, the "how" of Kosovo is certainly a relevant question.
The bottom line here, and one Kaplan admits to, is that the New Yorker piece shows Clark as a guy who showed poor judgment in assessing an adversary he loudly proclaimed to know and understand:
Clearly, Clark made mistakes. Like many, he thought that merely threatening Milosevic with airstrikes would make him back down; after that didn't work, he thought three nights of bombing would crack his resistance. (The bombing campaign lasted 11 weeks.) But Clark was far from alone in this miscalculation; Clinton and Albright shared it.
Bad, but no worse than Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Some defense.
POLITICS: Jindal Goes Down
Very disappointing to see that Bobby Jindal has lost his bid for governor of Louisiana after recent polls seemed to show him pulling ahead; Jindal, a 32-year-old health care policy wunderkind and an Indian-American, seems like a rising star in the GOP, and would have been a wonderful asset. As with last year's narrow victory for Mary Landrieu, high turnout by the Democratic base for a Saturday election following a series of big national Republican wins seems to have been a factor.
November 15, 2003
BASEBALL: Piazza on the Block?
Rumors and counter-rumours are swirling about Mike Piazza possibly requesting a trade and/or announcing himself willing to accept a trade (not exactly the same thing but with the same likely outcome). Will it happen? Who knows?
Emotionally, I'd be sad to see him go; Piazza's a gutty guy, he's bonded with the fans, he can still hit and he's still fun to watch. Unlike some proponents of dealing Piazza, I don't see the need to run the guy down just to
Of course, trading Piazza makes all sorts of sense in the abstract, and it's fun to theorize that you could deal him to make salary space for Alex Rodriguez, who seems born to play for the Mets. Personally, I'm not adverse to parting with Jose Reyes to get A-Rod; Reyes may be young and on the way up, but if you're looking at contending in 2005-2007, what's the likelihood that Reyes will be better at that point than A-Rod? A rebuilding team generally doesn't trade hot prospects for stars in their primes -- but superstars are another story. Remember, A-Rod still won't be 29 until late July, and he's slugged .600 or better four years in a row. I have high hopes for Reyes, but given his injury history, my bet is that Rodriguez at 35 will still be better than Reyes at 27.
All that said, the only team that seems to have much interest is the Baltimore Imbeciles, who operate under the perpetual delusion that they are a contending team despite the following facts:
*Even in the rebuilding year of 2003, they gave more than 1400 at bats to players 33 or older.
*Of the six players with 12 or more Win Shares on the 2003 O's, two (Jeff Conine and Sidney Ponson) are no longer with the team, and Melvin Mora's 31 and batted .233 the only time he ever got 500 at bats. That leaves Luis Matos, Brian Roberts, and Jay Gibbons -- solid role players all, but hardly the core of the 1993 Indians.
*The Red Sox won 95 games this season and finished second in Baltimore's division. This ain't the AL Central here.
If Lee Mazzilli is worth even a cent of the money he's being paid by his new employers, he'll tell them to let somebody within spitting distance of contention take a flier on Piazza.
But so far, I haven't seen any sign that any such team will. So I'm not getting too exercised yet over the rumors.
November 14, 2003
BASEBALL: Cy Gagne
As I explained last month, my usual suspicion of giving the Cy Young Award to a reliever is ameliorated by the relatively high workload of Eric Gagne (77 games, 82.1 IP -- Gagne appeared in nearly half the Dodgers' games, including 65 of their 85 victories) and by the low workloads of the leading NL starters, Mark Prior (30 starts, 211.1 IP), Jason Schmidt (29 starts, 207.2 IP), and Kevin Brown (32 starts, 211 IP). (Livan Hernandez pitched more but wasn't as effective). And once you put Gagne on the table at all, his performance level was just so dominating in so many high-leverage situations that you have to give him the award. Consider: with the Dodgers locked in a tight wild card race, Gagne allowed a home run to Vladimir Guerrero on August 20 and this was the only run he allowed after the All-Star Break: 37 IP, 14 hits, 9 walks, 61 strikeouts and an 0.24 ERA. If you can't give a man an award for that, when can you?
WAR: The Traitor
Another request by Jonathan Pollard for a modification of his sentence for spying on his own country has been denied by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. While there's an understandable urge to treat Pollard as somehow less culpable for selling us out to our friends (Israel) than those who sell us out to our enemies, the fact is that he betrayed his country, and now is not the time to go easy on those who would be tempted to do so.
WAR: Why Nation-Building?
I really shouldn't read Michael Kinsley anymore; he just gets me mad. . . Kinsley's stock in trade -- in fact, virtually the only column he ever writes -- is the one where he charges Republicans with hypocrisy by looking at what he sees as inconsistencies in rhetoric or inconsistencies between rhetoric and action -- most often, by arguing that Republicans fail to follow some principle to its logical extreme. A Kinsley drinking game would have extra points for every time he said something like "if they really mean this," or "if they were really serious about this," . . .
Jonah Goldberg diagnosed this aspect of Kinsley's work a few years ago. This post by Kevin Drum offers some specific criticisms of one of Kinsley's pieces along these lines, including a major theme: Kinsley's tendency to leave out an obvious explanation for why people make a particular distinction.
Yesterday's column, in which he accused President Bush of not meaning what he says about our commitment to democracy, was a classic of the genre. Basically, Kinsley argued that Bush can't be serious because he campaigned against "nation-building" in 2000:
One way to show your respect for democracy is to state your beliefs when running for office and then apply those same beliefs when you're elected. . . . it can be quite noble for a politician to change his or her mind. It can demonstrate courage, integrity, open-mindedness. Has Bush changed his mind on America's role in the world? Or is it all just words—was there no mind to change?
One simple test of a change of mind is whether it is acknowledged and explained. In his eloquent speech this month, Bush made a gutsy reference to "sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East." . . . there is every reason to suppose that our current Bush also supported this approach for most of those 60 years, including his entire adult life until a few months ago when Iraq started going bad. What caused the scales to fall from his eyes?
A man who sincerely has changed his mind about something important ought to hold his new views with less certainty and express them with a bit of rhetorical humility. There should be room for doubt. How can your current beliefs be so transcendentally correct if you yourself recently believed something very different? How can critics of what you say now be so obviously wrong if you yourself used to be one of them? But Bush is cocksure that active, sometimes military, promotion of American values in the world is a good idea, just as he was, or appeared to be, cocksure of the opposite not long ago.
* * *
The Comintern at the height of its powers, in the 1930s, couldn't have engineered a more impressive U-turn. If places like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page had been as enthusiastic about nation-building back in 2000 as they are now, Al Gore might be president today.
First, Kinsley's been down this road before, and I explained why he was wrong about nation-building then -- the Republican critique wasn't of nation-building per se but of interventions that sought nation-building without a connection to vital U.S. national interests.
Second, one of the dumbest things a columnist can do is to ask a rhetorical question to which there's a blindingly obvious answer. Re-read Kinsley's column and see if there's something missing (hint: an event occurring in the month of September). How can you possibly ask what changed Bush's thinking about the necessity of nation-building and its connection to vital U.S. national interests without mentioning the September 11 attacks as a watershed event? I guess for Kinsley, they weren't.
Third, as I've also pointed out before, the real problem with humanitarian peacekeeping/nation-building adventures has been our unwillingness to take sides. The problem I have isn't with going into a country to remove or eliminate evildoers and support allies; it's with going in with the idea that we're just there to help two warring factions work things out peacefully without caring which one triumphs. If you don't take sides, you've taken victory off the table; and the military should not be used when it has no hope of taking the initiative in seeking an identifiable victory.
November 10, 2003
Will the Saudi newsmagazines run covers that say “Why Do They Hate Us” – or, more accurately, “Why Do We Hate Us”? . . . And it makes me wonder: They stick the shiv in the ribs of their richest and most enthusiastic backers.
What makes them this confident?
POP CULTURE: Natty Like The Wolf
Longmire has some amusing thoughts on the wolfman's clothes.
BASEBALL: Wagner Deal
I've been mostly out of blog here the past week due to an exceptionally busy stretch at work; I'll be busy again this week, but it's not clear yet if things will ease up enough for at least a little blogging. It hasn't been a particularly newsworthy baseball week other than the Billy Wagner deal. While it's always sad to see a guy like Wagner leaving a team he's been through so much with, he has (like most non-Rivera closers) also had enough bad experiences (in Wagner's case, in the Divisional Series) over the years to wear out his welcome with at least some Astros fans.
It's really impossible to evaluate the deal until we see what both teams do the rest of the offseason. If the Astros use the money to shore up their starting rotation (they're rumored in some sources to be hot and heavy after Andy Pettitte, although Peter Gammons says otherwise), it may be a good deal; Dotel and Brad Lidge can clearly take the slack in the bullpen. As for the Phils, Wagner has to help their bullpen, but the victory will be Pyhrric if they can't re-sign Millwood.
November 9, 2003
POLITICS: Democrats in Chaos
So, let's review the past week or so of news for the Democrats:
*Howard Dean couldn't stick to his guns (so to speak) and issued a groveling apology for having said that he wanted guys with Confederate flags in the backs of their pickup trucks to vote for him (but not before issuing a James G. Blaine-style declaration that "We’ve got to stop having our elections in the South based on race, guns, God and gays").
*Terry "Florida Forever" McAuliffe is under fire yet again as the 2003 gubernatorial fiascos in California, Mississippi and Kentucky (with Louisiana possibly to follow) lead to the usual ritual denunciations:
Giving up on the South and taking African-Americans for granted: “Terry McAuliffe is out there on his own agenda, which does not involve the South,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the only black member of his state’s congressional delegation. “It does not involve African Americans to the extent that they need to be."
Putting Beltway-based consultants first and ignoring local issues: A [Democratic Governors Association] spokeswoman said it had been hard raising money to channel into state races. “This is a federally focused town,” the DGA’s Nicole Harburger said.
Fighting to the death for appalling incumbents rather than knowing when to police their own ranks: Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said Democrats in Washington had complicated congressional Democrats’ efforts to hold on to the governorship. National party figures had impeded efforts to rally around Davis and, at the same time, come up with a viable alternative, she said. . . . “We were fought publicly, privately, by Democrats, by Davis’s people, of course, donors, party people, people who believe they are the major structure of the Democratic Party,” Sanchez said. She added that national party leaders had been “dismissive” of California’s 33-member Democratic delegation.
*Kevin Drum noted that the Democrats, mirroring their obessessive preference for all things European and their lingering grudge against the Electoral College, have established a primary system where nearly all the primaries distribute delegates proportionally, rather than winner-take-all, a system that seems likely to make it difficult to winnow the field and settle conclusively on a front-runner.
*Al Sharpton, of all people, breaks ranks to demand a floor vote on the likely-to-be filibustered nomimation of Janice Rogers Brown to the DC Circuit;
*Wesley Clark, who's reminding me more and more of of Jerry Brown every day, even down to the black turtlenecks ("touch my monkey!"), calls for Paul Bremer to be replaced by - well, really anybody, as long as it's not another one of those horrid Americans, and adds the following (note that, in fairness, this is a paraphrase):
"To crimp the flow of terrorists into [Iraq], he said the United States should find ways to work with Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and make safeguarding the borders the highest priority."
So much for the idea that Coalition Man was going to follow Bob Graham's calls to get tough with the Saudis.
A tough week for the Dems. Is there anybody left to offend?
November 7, 2003
WAR/POP CULTURE: Pop Goes Bin Laden
Just ran across this one from some months back: The Guardian reported that Osama bin Laden's 26-year-old niece, Waffa bin Laden, is trying to launch a pop music career in England. This smacks a bit of trading on one's notoriety, but you can't blame her for who her family is. Waffa is apparently an American-educated lawyer who lived near the World Trade Center (ironically enough) in downtown Manhattan until (hmm?) just around or before September 11. You can check out a picture of the very Westernized Ms. bin Laden over at the Iranian magazine Salam Worldwide.
November 5, 2003
LAW: Cop Killing
November 3, 2003
BLOG: Cub Reporter
I'll add my voice to those suggesting you should head on over to the Cub Reporter and hit the PayPal button to lend a hand to a baseball blogger who lost his house in the California wildfires.
POLITICS: No On Question 3
Expect light blogging the rest of the week, as I'm swamped at work. But before the polls open, I wanted to get my two cents in: I intend to vote "no" on Question 3 on the New York City ballot tomorrow morning. Question 3 proposes to change the city's mayoral and city council primary system to eliminate party primaries and have runoff elections among the top two candidates from an open field -- sort of like having the California recall every two years, with a touch of the Chirac/Le Pen race thrown in for good measure.
Seriously, I'm completely opposed to this, and not just because a partisan primary may have saved my life two years ago. As I explained at much greater length in this post, I'm a big believer in the value of political parties in promoting accountability, and specifically in the two-party system's ability to sharpen the two sides of major issues and present them within a mainstream framework.
No on 3.