"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
December 31, 2003
BLOG: Happy New Year!
Happy New Year to you and yours - drive safely out there. I appreciate every one of this blog's readers, and hope to see you back in 2004 (with more baseball goodies on the way, I promise!)
POLITICS: Inspector General
Good to see that Ashcroft has recused himself and put a professional prosecutor at the head of the Valerie Plame leak investigation. I don't personally know Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney for Chicago, but I know him by reputation and know people who know him; he's a career prosecutor who made his name with the first World Trade Center bombing cases (among other things, I believe he was the lead prosecutor on the trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman); I'm sure he'll be thorough and dogged, but unlike outside prosecutors (i.e., Independent Counsels), he has other things to do and won't spin this into an endless investigation if more pressing matters need the resources. A good call.
I still maintain that the best way to handle politically charged investigations would be to create a separate department of an Inspector General. Such a department could be built around the current Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, which has a perenially full caseload with corruption in state and local governments, contracting, police corruption, etc., and thus would not be like an Independent Counsel, tempted to blow one investigation out of proportion. But the head of the department could be someone less political than the Attorney General (whose role in law enforcement, Supreme Court litigation and sometimes judicial selection makes him or her an inevitably controversial figure) and selected specifically for the trait of bipartisan respect. Once selected and nominated, an IG would be nearly impossible to fire over a single investigation in the absence of obvious abuse. And you could also consolidate the civil IG offices of various executive departments, which can be prone to the same problems as IC offices, thus avoiding the usual trap of new departments that duplicate existing ones.
And pay for the savings by abolishing the Commerce Department. Everyone wins!
Punch the Bag shares some thoughts on Pat Tillman, late of the Arizona Cardinals and currently serving as an Army Ranger.
LAW: Recruiting for Wall Street Lawyers
Via Ernie the Attorney, for all my colleagues who are at the office today as I wind down my much-needed vacation: let's just say that recruiting for Wall Street lawyers has changed a lot between this letter (opens as a PDF file) and today.
POLITICS: No Hillary in 2004
You know, Josh Marshall's column on this subject from January 5, 2001 stands up awfully well almost three years later, although it may be less prescient as it applies to 2008.
BLOG: Plastic Corks
A timely thought: MSNBC has a look at those annoying rubberized wine corks. (I find them annoying because it takes me a while to get through a bottle of wine and the corks often won't go back in the bottle).
BASKETBALL: Blocked Out, Part II
Further to my point of yesterday about blocked shots, there's some debate about their value. Doug Turnbull assesses the value of a block at a full 2 points per block - thus, he values a man who scores 10 points per game and blocks 4 shots per game the same as an 18-a-game scorer. John Hollinger, in the Basketball Prospectus, values a block as about the same as the negative value of a missed field goal, which he values at around 0.72 points (the figure varies by certain measurements pegged to league averages).
Who's right? Well, sophisticated analysis of basketball statistics is still in its adolescence, if not its infancy. Wait and see.
POP CULTURE: Celeb of the Day
You know him - I know you know him. Who is Steven Zirnkilton?
Take your best guess and click here to find out.
BLOG: Dave Barry's 2003
As usual, you owe it to yourself to read Dave Barry's year in review.
December 30, 2003
BASKETBALL: Blocked Out
One of my recent interests has been simulated basketball on WhatIfSports.com, a site Bill Simmons got me interested in (on the baseball side) in its infancy some two years ago (my username is crank, for those of you who are denizens of the site). In typically backwards fashion, renewing my interest in basketball's statistical past has revived my interest to some extent in the current game, but that's a topic for another post.
One of the great imponderables in NBA history - with which the "WIS" site has to struggle, since it includes players going back to the Fifties - is the tabulation of blocked shots prior to 1973-74, when the league started counting them. There are few more frustrating unknown statistics in professional sports than Bill Russell's blocked shots; Russell's statistics (despite adequate scoring and assists averages and great rebounding numbers) are otherwise not really impressive enough to equal his reputation, but if we had shot-blocking numbers, there would be something closer to a quantifiable way to measure his defensive greatness. WIS pegs him around 5-6 blocked shots per game; I've heard people who saw him play quote figures as high as 10. That's probably Old Fogeyism talking, but then, there were an awful lot of missed shots in those days, and Russell was on the court for 44-46 minutes a night.
Anyway, one thing I noticed that was unique and repeated in several sources without an explanation of where it came from was the ABA's single season blocked shots record: 422 by Artis Gilmore in his rookie season in Kentucky in 1971-72, an average of just over 5 a game -- one of only two seasons of 400 blocks (the other is the NBA record of 456 by Mark Eaton in 1984-85) in the recorded history of professional basketball and almost 150 above Gilmore's next highest total. What's unusual is that basketball-reference.com has nearly no record for anybody else's blocked shots but Gilmore's for 1971-72. Yet, the NBA's official website cites the figure in Gilmore's bio; so does Gilmore's own personal website; so does ESPN.com.
If anyone knows the true story of how they came up with this figure, I'd love to hear it.
POLITICS/LAW: From The Department of Not Moving On
Another one you might have missed, that I noticed I never got around to blogging: in August, the D.C. Circuit rejected most of Bill and Hillary Clinton's request for reimbursement for their attorneys' fees incurred in the course of the Whitewater and related investigations (although President Clinton did not seek reimbursement for the Lewinsky investigation, as per his agreement with Robert Ray resolving the charges arising from that case). The Clintons argued that they were statutorily entitled to reimbursement on the theory that the fees "would not have been incurred but for the requirements of" the Independent Counsel statute (the Ethics in Goverment Act) -- i.e., that "1) if not for the Act, the case could have been disposed of at an early stage of the investigation; and 2) they were investigated under the Act where private citizens would not have been investigated."
Two years before the appointment of Independent Counsel Starr, a criminal referral was submitted by the Resolution Trust Corporation to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas alleging illegal activities involving Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association, and naming the McDougals as suspects and the Clintons as witnesses. When in early 1994 the Attorney General appointed Robert Fiske as regulatory independent counsel, she gave him broad authority to investigate the Clintons' relationship with, inter alia, Madison Guaranty and the Whitewater Development Corporation. And when we appointed Kenneth Starr as statutory independent counsel in the summer of 1994, at the request of the Attorney General we granted him investigatory authority almost identical to Fiske's. The IC's final report on the Whitewater matter states that "[t]he breadth of the criminality already uncovered by the Fiske investigation in part contributed to the length of time necessary for the statutory Independent Counsel to complete his work." See Robert W. Ray, Final Report of the Independent Counsel, In Re: Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan Association, Vol. I, 21 (2001). Taking all of the above into consideration, we harbor no doubt that in the absence of the independent counsel statute the allegations surrounding the Clintons, Madison Guaranty, and Whitewater would have been similarly investigated and prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
POLITICS/RELIGION: Random Thought
From a friend, who asks: why is there so much overlap between (a) those Americans who criticize our foreign policy for being too "unilateral" and (b) those Americans who feel that American branches of world religions need to ignore, if necessary, criticisms from their overseas branches when pressing for changes in doctrine (e.g., relating to abortion, ordination of women, homosexuality, etc.)?
But then, "unilateral" means "in opposition to Continental Europe," whereas criticism from Third World Christians generally gets discounted; they apparently are supposed to be seen, not heard.
POLITICS: Changing the Subject
The Weekly Standard had an interesting and sympathetic profile of Dick Gephardt some weeks ago, including some good Dean-bashing. I tend to like Gephardt when I'm just reading about him - on paper, you can make him sound like Harry Truman - but every time I see the guy he's just so full to the brim with idiotic cliched soundbites that lack even a semblance of logic or coherent thought that I have to turn off the TV. He probably is a decent guy, but listening to him drives me up the wall. The problem is one that's endemic to many Democratic politicians (Howard Dean is actually a rare exception): he talks down to his audience like he's speaking to a bunch of grade school students.
Barring a catastrophe in the war on terror or a major economic reversal, I still can't see Gephardt going anywhere, or the Democrats winning in November, unless something happens that forces the candidates to change the subject from war and taxes. Dean is Bush's ideal matchup -- and the one the true believers on the Left want -- because they both want to run on war & taxes, and the two are diametrically opposed on both questions. Other than Gephard't's trade-war talk, none of the other Dems have been able to change that definition of the agenda. And as we know, he who sets the agenda usually wins.
One thing I've been kicking around is whether the cultural issues will matter. A friend suggested that culture issues are bigger now than they were in 1992, but I don't really buy it; if anything, the cultural fissures were more pronounced that election year. 1992 saw Buchanan's "culture war" speech - the battles of that era seem tame only because we've gone so much further down the slippery slope. 1992 was "the year of the woman." Dan Quayle v. Murphy Brown. It was 1992 that the Supreme Court upheld Roe v Wade (or, as Scalia pointed out, completely rewrote Roe under the guise of being bound by precedent). The LA riots were in April 1992. And, of course, Bill Clinton was one big walking cultural issue.
Culture is a big subtext, particularly if Dean wins. But the main topics will still be taxes and war.
This NY Times article on programs to keep African-American men enrolled in college has an interesting sidebar on the Times' site: the "Times News Tracker" says you would receive an email about the article if you had chosen one of the following four topics as one of your alerts:
Teachers and School Employees
Now, I'm really no expert on political correctness, so maybe this is just me, but isn't it considered bad form these days to use the term "Blacks" as opposed to "African-Americans" or, failing that, "black people"? Just has a ring of Strom Thurmond about it, as in, "I'd like to get the news about the Blacks."
BLOG: %!^$!^& Comment Spammers
Got hit with a battery of them last night. Add 188.8.131.52 to your banned IP list, if you're keeping score at home.
December 29, 2003
BASEBALL: Calderon Gone
Sad news with the death of Ivan Calderon, who was murdered Saturday in what sounds like a gangland-style killing. Calderon had his ups and downs, but was the best player on his team in 1987 (when he batted .293 and smacked 28 home runs for the White Sox) and 1991 (when he batted .300 and stole 31 bases for the Expos). His career was derailed by injuries at the age of 30 (or so), and he last appeared in the majors at age 31 in 1993.
Calderon, on why he preferred playing in Montreal: "The games go quicker, and you can get back to the clubhouse and eat."
BASEBALL: Split Deck of Cards
Was there a team in baseball with more dramatic platoon splits up and down the lineup in 2003 than Tony LaRussa's Cardinals? I doubt it. You'd be sorely tempted to throw nothing but lefthanders against the Redbirds if you saw these splits:
But then, you'd want to re-consider when you look at the other side of the ledger:
If the Cards think they are 'solving' a problem with lefthanded pitching by dumping Drew and Tino, they may be mistaken; those guys were actually doing a good job of inducing teams to throw lefthanders at the rest of the lineup. It's harder to project what this means going forward, since some of these splits (e.g., Renteria and Matheny) are unlikely to remain as dramatic in the future.
December 27, 2003
BLOG: New Categories
Those of you who prefer to skip to the baseball content, or who want to check the category archives, may have noticed that three of the categories here (Baseball, Politics and War, my three main areas of interest) load very slowly due to the huge number of entries since the blog started in August 2002 (as well as a few oddball archived emails from before that date). To remedy the problem for the new year, I've renamed the old categories ("Baseball 2002-03," etc.) and created a new set of categories ("Baseball 2004," etc.) to hold this year's entries. I've also changed the link at the top of the page so it goes to the Baseball 2004 category, and I'm notifying the few sites that link to my baseball category page rather than the main page to fix their URLs.
If you're looking for baseball entries from 2003 and earlier, click here for the Baseball 2002-03 category.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:52 PM | Baseball 2004 | Blog 2002-05 | Politics 2004 | War 2004 | TrackBack (0)
December 26, 2003
Bathroom fixture company American Standard is holding an "America's Ugliest Bathroom" contest. Check out the seven finalists between now and the end of January for a true parade of horrible decor (A brown mosaic-tiled bathtub! A lime green tub laid in pink plush carpeting!) as well as an object lesson on why the Fifties, the Sixties, and the Seventies should never return.
WAR: Hero Miles
Al Bethke relates a reader email about a soldier returning from Iraq and points us to Operation Hero Miles, a program for donating frequent flyer miles to soldiers flying home on R&R from Iraq and Afghanistan. Check it out.
December 23, 2003
BASEBALL: It's Not Just The Defense
Josh Heit, trying to find a silver lining in Aaron Heilman's disastrous debut season, looks at David Pinto's new defensive metrics and suggests of Heilman:
The conventional wisdom is that he sucks and needs to go back to AAA. However, he did lose 8.6 outs (137 expected) to his defense (Iíd probably blame, in order: Roger Cedeno, Robbie Alomar, and Joe McEwing. The Mets do keep showing up near the bottom of Davidís studies, if you look at some of the other data sets). He may have just suffered a string of bad defense.
I'd like to believe that's the core of the problem too, but . . . well, I don't doubt that Josh is right that Heilman suffered from bad defense (although it's a bit unfair to blame Alomar, given that he was traded on July 1 and Heilman threw most of his innings after that). But Heilman's problems ran a good deal deeper than defense. The real problem is that Heilman allowed 41 walks and 13 home runs in 65.1 innings of work, an unsustainable rate (5.65 walks and 1.8 HR/9 innings, if you're keeping score at home).
On the other hand, Heilman struck out just over 7 men per 9 innings, so he must have been fooling someone. I thought I'd take a look, via Aaron Haspel's search engine, to see how many other pitchers have had a season like Heilman's and see if (1) any of them managed to pitch effectively despite the walks and dingers or (2) any of them ever developed into good pitchers. I ran the search for pitchers who issued 40 or more walks and allowed 10 or more homers in a season of less than 70 innings.
Unsurprisingly, the results were ugly. Only 5 of the 17 pitchers had ERAs below 5.60, and only one (Bill Scherrer at 4.36 in 1985) had an ERA below 4.70. Let's review the list, from best ERA to worst:
1. Bill Scherrer, age 27. 1-3 with a 5.98 ERA the rest of his career, all in relief.
2. Brian Oelkers, age 25. Never pitched in the majors again.
3. Dave Campbell, age 26. Never pitched in the majors again; went into broadcasting.
4. Bob Gibson, age 27. No, not that Bob Gibson. 6-7 with 11 saves and a 3.90 ERA the following year in 92.1 innings, but basically washed out of the majors after that.
5. Jose Mesa, age 33. Mesa got worse the following year (5.36 ERA) before recovering to save 97 games with an ERA of 2.76 his first two years in Philadelphia. Has to be considered a modest success.
6. Mike Mohler, age 24. Had a little success in the majors, with a decent year and a half as a middle reliever at ages 26-27 after being returned to the minors. Career high in wins: 6. Career record: 14-27, 4.99 ERA.
7. Steve Barr, age 24. Never pitched in the majors again.
8. Matt Karchner, age 29. Notched 15 saves and a 2.91 ERA the following year, then regressed and appears to have left the game after three seasons of struggles.
9. Doug Bochtler, age 27. Pitched just 21 more innings in the majors.
11. Dave Boswell, age 25. A 20-game winner the previous year, Boswell threw just 29 more major league innings. I believe he had injuries.
12. Jon Garland, age 20. The youngest of the bunch and still a work in progress; Garland managed a 3.69 ERA in 117 innings the following year and has been just below a league-average starter since then.
13. Heath Murray, age 28. Has pitched just 12 major league innings since.
14. Clint Hartung, age 27. Never pitched again and was converted to an outfielder.
15. Bob Welch, age 37. Retired immediately thereafter.
16. Dick Starr, age 30. Never pitched in the majors again.
17. Roy Halladay, age 23. Had a 10.64 ERA in 2000, arguably the worst season a pitcher ever had in that many innings. Was returned to the low minors but returned a completely reworked pitcher the following year (2001), with a much higher strikeout rate. Won 19 games in 2002 and AL Cy Young in 2003.
This is a fairly grim list, although not completely hopeless. Heilman's 24 and had no prior major league success, so the best comps include some of the most successful ones, like Garland and Halladay, but still includes plenty of disasters. Of course, Halladay's stuff was electric before his blowout in 2000, and Garland also has physical gifts that Heilman lacks. Heilman also struck out more batters than any of these guys but Gibson, although the higher-K members of the group aren't a hopeful bunch.
Heilman was just plain bad in 2003, defense or no defense, and history suggests only an outside chance that he'll ever be an effective major league pitcher.
WAR: An Orange Christmas
So, we took the kids up to the top of the Empire State Building yesterday, Orange Alert or no Orange Alert. Naturally, they were thrilled to be in the tallest building in NY (we still haven't told them about the World Trade Center, and I think by now they've forgotten I worked there).
You know, I'll never carry a rifle in this war, never go to a foreign combat zone, and I don't confuse my part in this with those who do. But there is a role to play for the rest of us back home, particularly New York, the City with the Big Bullseye, and that's just to hold our ground and not let our daily business be affected by threats. It's the least we can do.
December 22, 2003
POP CULTURE: Christmas Songs
OK, in the spirit of list-making, I've drawn up a list of my favorite popular music performances of Christmas songs. Not necessarily favorite songs, as much as favorite recorded performances. Thus, for example, I haven't included "Joy to the World" here, even though it's just about my favorite Christmas hymn, because I have yet to hear any one artist put to record a version of the song that can match a church choir raining down the hymn as you process out of Mass on Christmas morning, an experience that's about as close to God as man gets on this earth. A few others missed the cut as well because I couldn't think of one definitive performance, like "Let it Snow! Let it Snow!," and I left off the songs from one of my favorite Christmas movies, "Scrooge," starring Albert Finney, since on their own they aren't really that Christmasy. I wound up with 17 tunes that made the cut.
Here we go:
17. Bing Crosby - Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful) - Crosby does the Latin version of this, interspersed with the modern hymn in English, in a way that perfectly captures the virtues of the old Catholic Church.
16. Bruce Springsteen - Merry Christmas Baby - An excellent tune, albeit a bit less Christmasy than some of the others on the list. Clarence Clemons' sax carries this one.
15. Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas - Elvis wouldn't seem to go with Christmas, but he gets it right with "Blue Christmas."
14. Various Artists - Do They Know It's Christmas? - Yes, it combines 80s cheesiness with liberal condescension, but the impulse - giving to the less fortunate at the holidays - has its heart in the right place, and this is a fun song.
13. John Lennon/Yoko Ono - Merry Xmas (War is Over) - See #14; Lennon's wacky peacenikery strikes the right note for a Christmas aspiration, even if it was foolish politics at the time (after all, the Vietnam War didn't really end until one side was overrun and enslaved by the other).
12. Burl Ives - Holly Jolly Christmas - I left off the list songs that were truly inseparable from TV specials, like the themes for the Grinch and the Heat Miser, but this tune (always identified with Rudolph) makes the cut. Ives' voice is like a warm fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate all by itself.
11. Johnny Mathis - Winter Wonderland - One of the oddities of Christmas music is that people will listen to artists from genres they wouldn't listen to normally; you wound't catch me listening to Johnny Mathis any other time of year. But at Christmas time, he's one of the ones who makes his annual reappearance.
10. Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song - You know, the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" song, Cole's signature tune.
9. Mariah Carey - All I Want for Christmas is You - I'm not much of a Mariah Carey fan, but there's some decent stuff on her Christmas album, and this old-time Motown-style tune is really good; if she did a whole album like it, she could revive her career in very short order.
8. Bing Crosby - White Christmas - The all-time classic.
7. Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - I first came to know this one through the U2 version, which is quite good, but Love's voice gave this song just a little extra emotion. I'm very partial to "A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector," which remains the greatest Christmas record ever made (in spite of Spector himself being a psychopath); besides the two songs listed here, many others were close runnerups to other versions.
6. Gene Autry - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Autry's gentle, genial version still tops what's come after it.
5. Leon Redbone/Dr. John - Frosty the Snowman - Thumpity thump thump, thumpity thump thump . . . Redbone and Dr. John complement each other perfectly.
4. Harry Connick jr. - (It Mus've Been Ol') Santa Claus - It's very hard to write a new Christmas song that stands up to the classics, but this one, from Connnick's Christmas album from about 10 years ago, is as close as it gets, with just the right mix of humor and Christmas magic.
3. The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride - Another Phil Spector production.
2. Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus is Comin' to Town - Bruce just owns this tune. I saw him perform it live in 1992, complete with a dancing Christmas tree onstage, albeit without Clarence Clemons. Brought the house down.
1. Bing Crosby - I'll Be Home For Christmas - Well, that's what we all want - home for Christmas. Of course, this song had its heydey when millions of Americans could only listen to it on Armed Forces Radio somewhere in the South Pacific, or in Europe or anywhere else but home.
Honorable Mentions: "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You," by Billy Squier; and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," which barely elicits a chuckle today but which I thought was the funniest thing I ever heard when I was about 8 years old.
December 20, 2003
POLITICS: It Gets Late Early Around Here
For a little perspective on the Democratic primaries -- or, perhaps, perspective on how they've changed in 12 short years -- check out at least one national poll for the Democrats in December 1991 (source: Daily Kos), which in theory should be the same point in the process as we're at today:
Mario Cuomo - 33%
Of course, #1 never entered the race, which is much like the current polls would look if they were still listing Hillary! in every poll. It may be harder for anyone today to roar from the back of the pack this late in the game, especially where Howard Dean has already pulled the same trick.
BLOG: Speaking Seuss
We've had my son (age 6) reading to us every night to develop his reading skills, and he often picks Dr. Seuss books. These are good enough for his reading level, but what strikes me in particular is that Dr. Seuss' books are especially good training for public speaking, because their natural rythms and obvious stresses give the reader clear cues to modulate his or her voice. I've been wondering if Dr. Seuss' books might be good training, even for teaching older kids to speak in public, kids as old as 11-15 or so. I've dealt a bit with kids that age in mock trial programs, as well as remembering what they can be like from my own high school days, and you can see that, when called on to speal in public, most of them -- even the smart ones -- give off a dull, mumbling monotone. I would think that a good way to break that habit would be to give them something simple to read that forces them to be more expressive, and perhaps the more advanced Dr. Seuss books - the Horton books, Thidwick, Solla Sollew, etc. -- are just the trick.
December 19, 2003
WAR: Red Dawn
Last entry for today, I promise. After Tim Noah and others complained about the US military naming the operation that captured Saddam Hussein after the cheesy 80s movie "Red Dawn" (about a ragtag band of Americans resisting a Soviet invasion), Eugene Volokh observed that the title probably was just picked by some soldiers who liked the movie without thought for the wider propaganda value, and Eugene and Sasha Volokh marshalled the evidence on the film's popularity with soldiers.
Let me add my own experience. Each summer, the US Military Academy at West Point offers an "Invitational Academic Workshop." You spend a week at the Point, get an overview of what the school has to offer academically and militarily, and generally get to see the life of the cadets up close but without too many of the hard parts. At the time, at least, I believe the main criteria for attending was a high PSAT score, which wasn't really a great predictor of interest in a career in the military, but the workshop was good propaganda for West Point (an important consideration for any public institution, especially with a population of academic high achievers who could go on to other influential positions in life), and it was a good recruiting tool for those who were so inclined. (The program still exists today, although it looks like they've changed the criteria a little).
Anyway, I attended in a brutally hot week in June 1988, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a fun week, we had a little taste of the 'gung ho' with being roused from bed around 6am with a loudspeaker blaring, in succession, the opening monologue from Patton and the song "Danger Zone" from Top Gun. We didn't get to do too many of the outdoor activities - it was 104 degrees out, and they wouldn't even let the cadets exercise - which was fine by me, since I was about 5'9" and 110 pounds at the time and almost as nearsighted as I am today.
Getting at long last to the point here, one highlight of the week was a showing of Red Dawn. Remember, this is 1988, the last summer before the Soviet bloc unraveled, and the cadets were mostly kids who chose a military career during the Reagan years. Let me tell you: you have not seen Red Dawn until you've seen it with an audience of West Point cadets during the Cold War. There was much rejoicing at numerous points in the film when the Rooskies got their comeuppance and the homeland was defended. And who knows? Probably a few of those cadets are officers in Iraq now, probably a good ways up the chain of command by this point.
SCIENCE: Apes and Ebola
This MSNBC report has a disturbingly grim analysis of the future of the great apes, noting specifically that the ape population in Africa has been decimated by ebola epidemics. I'm certainly nobody's idea of an environmentalist, but this is clearly something we need to do something about -- the great apes are our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom, and would represent a particularly egregious loss. Unfortunately, the article suggests that people working to address the issue don't even have a good idea of a solution to implement in the Magical Land of Unlimited Resources, let alone in the world we live in.
POLITICS/WAR: Quotes of the Week
Saddam Hussein, on the American GI: "Why didn't you fight?" one Governing Council member asked Hussein as their meeting ended. Hussein gestured toward the U.S. soldiers guarding him and asked his own question: "Would you fight them?"
A US official, on Saddam's capture: "We can now determine," he said, "if he is the mastermind of everything or not." The official elaborated: "Have we actually cut the head of the snake or is he just an idiot hiding in a hole?"
And two from last week:
Tom Maguire, on Howard Dean: "[W]ill centrists peer in confusion at their television screens and wonder, who is this little man yelling at me, and why is his face so red?"
Tom Burka, with a little humor: "Gore To Claim He Invented Dean, Says GOP"
(Read the whole thing; link via Plum Crazy)
BLOG: Block Head
As you can see, I've discovered a new code for block quotes, and I'm going back and forth between the quote-in-a-box look and just doing italics. I'd still prefer to find a way to indent quotes without the box surrounding them, plus the box appears to interfere with the line breaks inside the block. Useful suggestions are appreciated.
POLITICS/WAR: Dean Doctrine
Howard Dean's major foreign policy address on Monday was probably a mixed bag politically; while Dean's anti-war crusade was yet again upstaged by reality, he once again succeeded in framing the public debate as Dean vs. Bush, and in the primaries, that's what you need.
On the substance? Well, Dean argued that he wouldn't abandon the idea of pre-emption, but (1) would stage a preemptive attack only where an "imminent" threat existed and (2) doesn't think Iraq met that test. It's a politically clever tactic, since it wouldn't necessarily tie down his own freedom of action as President in another case as dramatically as if he rejected preemption entirely, although it does call into question his judgment and does indicate a return to pre-September 11 policy (i.e., Operation Desert Fox vs. Gulf War II as the logical response to Saddam). Of course, I disagree completely with Dean on this.
Read More ¬Ľ
The core of the Bush Doctrine of preemption is the idea that we don't have to wait until a threat is imminent. . . .There's actually now a couple of Bush Doctrines:
Bush Doctrine #1: States that sponsor, harbor, or encourage terrorists are as culpable as the terrorists and will be treated as enemies
Bush Doctrine #2: The United States reserves the right to launch a pre-emptive strike against our enemies when we believe they represent a serious and developing threat to our security, whether or not we have established that the threat is imminent. (As announced, I don't think this doctrine extends to threats to our interests, but more narrowly to direct threats to our physical security).
Bush Doctrine #3: The United States is pursuing a "forward strategy of freedom" by which it seeks to encourage reform and/or directly undermine or overthrow undemocratic regimes and replace them with more democratic regimes.
It's still not entirely clear to me what regimes are necessarily subject to this approach. Options: (1) Regimes that sponsor, harbor, or encourage terrorism? (2) Regimes in the region of the Middle East and/or the Islamic world, from which the terrorist threat arises? (3) Regimes that present a threat of proliferating weapons of mass destruction to terrorists? (Thus, it's not clear whether the strategy extends to North Korea). A corollary to Bush Doctrine #3 is the Administration's position that democratic reform of the Palestinian Authority must be a precondition to recognizing a Palestinian state or conducting negotiations directed towards that goal.
#3 is more a policy or strategy than a doctrine. The strategy is definitely the same as Reagan's - like Reagan, Bush has moved from containment to rollback. Like Reagan, he's realistic about the practical limits of rollback (e.g., neither tried to overthrow China). Of course, the return to an active policy of rollback is premised on the threat posed by the regimes to be rolled back. I sometimes see Left/liberal writers draw a false dichotomy between power politics and a policy of democratization. When the enemy is a group of states and non-state actors who oppose and can be opposed by freedom, then a policy of rollback serves both ends at once. But it's not at all inconsistent to stage a crusade of liberation in the Middle East while living with some useful tyrants elsewhere. My own feeling is this: the US is a permanent friend of democracies, but is and should be a faithless and fair-weather friend to useful dictators, and we should feel no remorse over double-crossing them when they no longer serve our interests.
Via Andrew Sullivan, the Washington Post captures well why Howard Dean is out of even what passes for mainstream among the Democrats these days:
[M]ost Americans understand Saddam Hussein for what he was: a brutal dictator who stockpiled and used weapons of mass destruction, who plotted to seize oil supplies on which the United States depends, who hated the United States and once sought to assassinate a former president; whose continuing hold on power forced thousands of American troops to remain in the Persian Gulf region for a decade; who even in the months before his overthrow signed a deal to buy North Korean missiles he could have aimed at U.S. bases. The argument that this tyrant was not a danger to the United States is not just unfounded but ludicrous.
(Emphasis added). Read the whole thing. I haven't paid enough attention to notice whether the Post has remained as reliably liberal as in the past on other issues, but its editorials have been very solid on the war on terror.
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BASEBALL/WAR: Worse Than We Thought
I'm sure you saw this linked in many places, but if you didn't: this is just beyond the pale.
BASEBALL: Low Status
So, according to Bob Raissman, Brian Cashman's office is set up so people have to walk through it on the way to the men's room?
Real morale-builder, that Steinbrenner. Of course, Page Two reminds us that there are many worse jobs than Cashman's; this job description was particularly unappealing:
In the track-and-field world, there are certain young men who are summoned to perform a peculiar task. Prior to a sprint, the starting blocks must be held in place. The job consists of sitting on the ground, placing a foot behind each block, and gently applying pressure. The hazards may be few, but they are specific. Should one allow the blocks to slip, wobble or (gasp) make a distracting noise, it could lead to a false start, or even disqualification.
WAR: Threat of the Day
Michele has to go and remind me that New York is on a heightened terror watch at the moment. (Scroll up from that entry for more on the story).
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Ruben the Cat
Kevin Drum linked last Friday to a page on the White House site about India, the Bushes' cat. I, too, had been unaware that the Bush family had a cat, but more amusing is this tidbit:
Named for former Texas Ranger baseball player, Ruben Sierra, who was called "El Indio"
Just cracked me up that the President of the United States has a cat named after Ruben Sierra.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:58 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: Quiet Company
Stuart Buck links to an interview with leading Supreme Court advocate Carter Phillips, who observes that Clarence Thomas is hardly unusual, even by the standards of recent history, in rarely asking questions at oral argument:
When I argued in 1981, you could pretty much bet you weren't going to get any questions from Justice [William] Brennan [Jr.], and you might get one question from Justice [Thurgood] Marshall. Justice Blackmun would ask a question that you weren't always sure you were quite ready for because you could never quite understand necessarily what the purpose of the question was, although I think he usually had one. And my old boss, Chief Justice Burger, very rarely asked one. I don't think he ever asked me a question at all in the years that I argued there.
Of course, Thomas' detractors, who use his silences to paint him as a stupid man, are generally huge fans of people like Brennan and Marshall.
As you can tell from the fact that I've been blogging during the business day, I'm home today, and will be off from work with a much-needed vacation until the new year. There will still be some days when I'm too busy to blog with holiday commitments, but I'll try to keep things going around here, plus I've got a few major baseball projects (the first of which was the Alexander vs. Gibson column) in the pipeline that I'll be getting ready behind the scenes.
BASEBALL: Union Don'ts, Part II
Brian Gunn at Redbird Nation points us to this statement by Harvard Law prof Paul Weiler - a labor law expert who teaches a seminar on sports law at HLS and had written a textbook on the subject - on the A-Rod mess:
It's a basic feature of collective bargaining that's to stop the bosses from insisting that one of the workers take less money in order to keep a job, . . . The difference is, he's not a nurse making $22,000 a year, he's making 22 million bucks a year. But it is that basic principle that they want to adhere to.
Professor Weiler either misses several key points or at least is quoted in a way that obscures them; the difference here is a lot more significant than the money:
1. Unlike your typical employee working under a collective bargaining agreement, A-Rod has a guaranteed contract. Thus, the Rangers may threaten his ability to keep his job, but they can't take away his $25 million salary.
2. A-Rod didn't agree to less money to keep his job; he agreed to it to take a better job, with a winning team in a big market.
If accepting less money to play for a winner was good enough for Michael Jordan, why can't Rodriguez be allowed to do the same thing? Frankly, the idea that this will lead teams to screw their players out of contracts isn't persuasive; few teams can afford to just punitively bench a guy who is a good player making millions a year, and if they cut him, he can sign elsewhere and keep the money. The parade of horribles presented by the union just bears no relationship to the real world of Major League Baseball.
The owners have been in the wrong on many occasions in baseball, but this isn't one of them.
POLITICS: Now 81% Pro-Bush!
So I took this online quiz to see who I support for president (duh!), and here's what I got:
1. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%)
(Link via Tung Yin)
No surprise at the top, although I'd have thought it was closer to 90%. Can it really be that I agree with John Kerry more often than not? I mean, I know Kerry's been all over the map on a number of issues, but I've been listening to Kerry for years (particularly when I was in school in Massachusetts for seven years), and I can't ever remember him saying anything I agreed with, whereas I can think of several issues on which I've agreed with Lieberman, from war to capital gains tax cuts. It's also interesting to note that for all his "electability" talk, Clark is even further away from my side of the political spectrum than Dean is, which I take as a sign that unlike Dean, Clark hasn't been thinking seriously about politics long enough to dissent from his party's line on anything.
POP CULTURE: Captain Euro Goes to Mordor
BASEBALL: Union Don'ts
So, the Player's Union has (for now) killed the Red Sox' deal for A-Rod because they refuse to let a player renegotiate his contract for less money than he signed for. There's apparently a rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on this (David Pinto has more; start here and scroll down).
Leaving aside the language of the rule, I think the Players' Union's position is stupid and bad for the players. First, if the goal of the union is to get big contracts for the players, this is an incredibly stupid way to go about it. Look at this from the perspective of the Rangers: one of the biggest fears owners have in signing big contracts is that the team's needs will change and they won't ever be able to get rid of the guy. By telling the Rangers they can't trade A-Rod if the deal is contingent on a restructuring he himself accepts, you are forcing them to keep stewing in their own juices with a player they'd rather trade, and all because Tom Hicks signed A-Rod to a big contract. Think: what effect will this have on Hicks' willingness, or the willingness of other owners, to sign such megabucks deals in the future?
If I'm the union, I want to do everything I can to make teams think of top-of-the-market free agent contracts as the thing to have. Every team wishes they'd signed Barry Bonds or Greg Maddux in 1993, or Reggie in 1977.
A-Rod is -- other than the aging Bonds -- the best player in baseball today. He just won an MVP Award; the year before, he set the all-time single-season home run record for a shortstop. He's stayed healthy, busted his butt for the Rangers and done everything you could ask him to. And yet, as things stand today, most teams are thanking their lucky stars they didn't sign A-Rod; the owners think of his contract as a disaster for the Rangers. The Boston deal could change that, and help show that a player with the game's biggest price tag can be part of a positive story; keeping Rodriguez bolted in place will just underline the folly of the contract, and deepen the resolve of individual owners - even without collusion - never to give anybody that kind of money again. Why on earth would the union want to do that?
Joe Sheehan argues that critics of the union's position are using a double standard:
There's a reason why Tom Hicks and John Henry have the net worths that they do, and I'd imagine that both would laugh you out of the room if you ever suggested that there were touchy-feely reasons for leaving forty million bucks on the table. Why they get to be businessmen, while Alex Rodriguez gets held to a different standard, passes understanding.
Gene Orza from the Players Union makes a similar point in an email to David Pinto:
Why should A-Rod be held to a different standard then the owners with whom he's negotiating? He's being asked to forfeit something like 50 million dollars; you think Tom Hicks and John Henry got to where they are today by walking away from that kind of money? A-Rod shouldn't be allowed to tear up his contract in the same way that Tom Hicks shouldn't be allowed to.
These guys are the ones with a double standard. Isn't Hicks allowed to tear up the contract if A-Rod holds out for more money? Is Orza really saying that if a player wants to renegotiate -- or just wants to sign a long-term deal before his current contract is up -- the owners have to say, "I'm sorry, I can't tear up the contract and give you more money, come back when you've played out the end of the deal"? If that's the rule, it's news to me. In fact, owners do this every day. A-Rod just wants the same rights that Tom Hicks has: the right to put more of his own money on the table if that's what it takes to win. Shame on the union for telling him otherwise.
December 17, 2003
BASEBALL: Gibson and Alexander
This is a column I started three years ago, and just recently wrapped up.
Gibson and Alexander, Alexander and Gibson. Let's hit the books and take a look back . . .
Who was a better pitcher Ė who did more to help his teams win Ė Pack Robert "Bob" Gibson, or Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander? In the popular imagination, the answer is easy. Gibson was voted to the All-Century team. Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson and Alexander were the only three 20th Century pitchers to win 300 games and win more than 64% of their decisions (Roger Clemens has since joined them); in the balloting, Gibson (with 251 career wins and a .591 career winning percentage) drew more votes than all three combined. Itís not just the public at large; when the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) named its top 100 players of the century, Gibson was 17th, Alexander 25th. What got me thinking particularly about the comparison between the two was Sports Illustrated; SIís state-by-state list of the top athletes of the 20th Century placed Gibson directly above Alexander among athletes from Nebraska.
Besides both being from Nebraska, both men were late bloomers; Gibson arrived in the majors at age 23, but struggled with his control and didn't have his first good year until age 26, and didnít really blossom until they expanded the strike zone the following year. Alexander didn't even enter professional baseball until age 22 (in 1909) and had his career set back when he was nearly killed after being struck in the head by a thrown ball while running the bases in July of 1909. When he did arrive in the majors two years later he immediately led the league in wins and set a rookie strikeout record that lasted 73 years.
Stylistically, they were complete opposites. Gibson was a classic power pitcher, with a high leg kick and over-the-top delivery; his favorite pitches were High and Inside, Higher and Further Inside, and Right Down Your Throat. Alexander was a sidearmer who threw so many tailing sinkers that he was known as "Old Low and Away."
Incidentally, it was probably the sidearm delivery that allowed both Alexander and Walter Johnson to throw so many more innings than their contemporaries. Many pitchers, like Christy Mathewson, threw straight overhand by the early 1900s; Alexander and Johnson were among the exceptions. (Johnson once complained that his shoulder hurt just watching Smokey Joe Woodís overhand delivery).
There are more than a few reasons to narrow the statistical gap between the two; but as I discuss below, I can't shake the feeling that Gibson's higher standing is mostly a matter of good press notices. But Alexander was the better pitcher.
Let's look at the record:
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1. THE RAW NUMBERS
Did Gibson leave behind a clearly superior record? Letís look at the numbers as they appear in the books:
Well, Gibson did strike more people out; in fact, he retired as the second man to strike out 3000. But to match Alexanderís record, Gibson would have had to pitch five more seasons and go 24-7 with a 1.52 ERA each of those five years.
What about their prime years? Surely Gibson, remembered today as an overpowering force, was the greater pitcher in his prime? Letís look at Gibsonís best five-year run, from age 30 (1966) to 34 (1970):
Brilliant, by any standard. But compare to Alexander from age 28 (1915) to age 33 (1920); Iím combining his 1918 and 1919 totals because Alexander, right at the zenith of his powers, was drafted and went off to fight World War I in 1918, after appearing in only 3 games:
Wow. Alexanderís numbers read like Sandy Koufax on andro. And in between, unlike some baseball players who went to war, Alexander saw real combat on the front lines as an artillery soldier.
2. THE LEADERBOARDS
Who was more dominant? Gibson won two Cy Young awards; Alexander pitched against Cy Young, but had there been an award then he would have easily won at least four (1915-17 and 1920), and possibly a fifth at age 40 in 1927 (or maybe not; Alexander finished behind six other starting pitchers in the MVP voting). Look at the top five pitching categories, Wins, Winning Percentage, ERA, Innings, and Strikeouts. In his 5-year peak, Gibson racked up just 3 league leads in those categories, the sum total for his career; Alexander, between 1915 and 1920, notched 18. In his career? 25, second only to Walter Johnson. And those werenít close races; Alexander led the league in Wins by margins of 8, 8 and 6 in consecutive years, and in innings by margins of 35, 61, and 46. Five pitchers on the 1915 Phillies threw over 170 innings; the second-lowest ERA was 2.36, but Alexander alone lowered the team ERA to 2.17. Gibsonís calling card, his 1.12 ERA in 1968, doesnít exactly dwarf Alexanderís 1.22 mark in 72 more innings in his best year, and while Alexander had four other full years in the ones, Gibson only once had an ERA less than double the 1968 mark.
Alexander, of course, was the dominant force in major league baseball in 1915-17, topping even Walter Johnson, and easily the best pitcher in the game in 1920. Had it not been for the war, he would likely have matched teammate Hippo Vaughn as the NLís best hurler the two years in between. In the National League between 1962 and 1966, there was Koufax and there was everyone else; from 1971 on, it was Seaver and everyone else. And Seaver was probably better than Gibson in 1969-70. And Gibson was hurt in 1967. That really leaves only the one year when Gibson was the undisputed best pitcher in the National League.
3. THE TRANSLATED RECORDS
There being really no way to twist the numbers themselves to make Gibson look better, it becomes necessary to evaluate those numbers in the context each man pitched in. Iíve run translated records before, and Iíll run them here. (I explain the details here). Itís not the most sophisticated measurement, but in short, the method tells us one thing: when external factors are removed, what was a pitcherís performance relative to others in his league?
Hereís the career numbers I got, after running the translations one season at a time:
As you can see, adjusting for the surroundings hurts both pitchers, Alexander more than Gibson; both men pitched in pitcherís eras, and both alternated between good and bad run support. Both were probably hurt by their parks overall, although Gibson was helped a great deal in his best years. Here, letís run the same peak-seasons comparison as before:
What you see here is that Alexander was a better pitcher, but not by a huge margin in quality; the real difference, even adjusted for the difference in eras, was in their workloads. And he was more consistent. As I discuss in more detail in the link on the method, I used the 1986 NL as the baseline, so these are good approximations of what their performance was equivalent to on an average team in a neutral park in the mid-80s. The fact that Alexander still registers as a 300-320 inning a year guy by mid-80s standards tells you how dominant he was in that category in his era.
The odd thing is Gibsonís 1968 W-L record; although 22-9 is a fine record, common sense tells you that you need some bad luck to lose 9 games with a 1.12 ERA. Gibson threw 13 shutouts that season (second on the all-time list; Alexander threw 16 in 1916), which means that he was 9-9 with an ERA still in the ones when not throwing a shutout. But his team was a pennant winning team in a pitcherís park; the Translated Record system reduces his winning percentage to reflect an above average offense. Hard to say this is anything but arbitrary bad luck Ė which tends to mostly even out over a career but can vary a lot from year to year Ė but itís awfully hard to reconcile a disappointing record in Gibsonís very best season with the popular image of Gibson as the ultimate "gamer," a guy with an almost mystical ability to win close games.
Baseball Prospectus.com just came out with their own translated pitcher records, using a similar methodology to mine (so far as I can tell) but translating into present-day rather than mid-80s numbers. More on that later; the BP analysis gives the following career totals:
and totals for the five-season peaks:
Same general conclusion. Win Shares, you say? Bill James gives Alexander his due in the new Historical Abstract, ranking him 3d to Gibson's 8th (in the original historical book he had Alexander 9th in peak value to Gibson's 11th, and 5th in career value to Gibson's 9th among righthanded starters). The Win Shares method puts Alexander 4th among pitchers at 476 (behind only Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Kid Nichols), and Gibson 28th at 317 (the book has him tied with Greg Maddux, but that was two years ago).
4. WHAT ABOUT THE POSTSEASON?
The heart of Gibsonís case, and it is an impressive one, is his record in the World Series: 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA and eight complete games in nine starts. Gibson started three games in the 1964 World Series, losing Game Two 8-3 (Gibson allowed 4 runs in 8 innings before his bullpen imploded), but rebounding to win Game Five 5-2 in 10 innings (the two runs were unearned, and Gibson struck out 13), and clinging on to win Game Seven 7-5 despite allowing two runs in the ninth. In 1967, returning to action after a broken leg, he was more impressive: 10 K in a 2-1 complete game victory in Game One, a 6-0 shutout in Game 4, and a complete game 7-2 victory with 10 K as Jim Lonborg got pounded on two daysí rest in Game Seven. Yaz, fresh off the Triple Crown and an incredible stretch run, was held to just 3 for 11 against Gibson; the rest of the ďImpossible DreamĒ Sox were 11 for 80. In 1968, Gibson was utterly dominant in his first two starts -- a 5-hit 4-0 complete game shutout in Game 1, and a 10-1 blowout in Game 4 (Gibson had a 6-run lead when he took the mound in the fourth inning). The series, and the season, came down to one game -- and Gibson looked like the same old Gibson for six innings, but allowed 3 key runs in the seventh and lost 4-1. It wasn't all Gibson's fault -- Jim Northrup's 2-run triple broke the game open, and some sources lay most of the blame for that on poor outfield play by Curt Flood. But the game underlined the fact that Gibson, a great pitcher who was usually good in the clutch, was not invincible.
Alexanderís first two Series visits were nearly as impressive. In 1915, Alexander's Phillies faced off against an incredibly deep 101-win Red Sox team at the height of the Sox dynasty: besides the outfield of Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis, the pitching staff included Babe Ruth, Smokey Joe Wood, Carl Mays and Dutch Leonard, the latter a year removed from setting the ERA record. And those weren't even the aces of the staff; the Sox didn't use Ruth, Wood or Mays (except a pinch hit appearance for Ruth, in which Alexander got the Babe to ground out) the whole series. Alexander went the distance in Game One, allowing just a single run on the way to a 3-1 victory when the Phillies scored two in the bottom of the 8th. In Game Three he went the distance again on two days' rest, allowing just 6 hits but losing a 2-1 heartbreaker to Leonard when Lewis singled home Hooper in the bottom of the 9th; Leonard had retired the last 20 in a row.
The Phillies lost the series in five games, and there was some controversy over whether Alexander was unavailable (i.e., hung over) to start Game Five, when Erskine Mayer and Eppa Rixey combined to blow a 4-run first inning lead. Bill James reviewed the controversy in The Baseball Book 1990 and left the answer unclear (he thought it odd that Alexander told the manager that his arm was stiff). Alexander would have been coming back on one day's rest after a complete game, and even if they'd held the lead, he would have most likely been expected to start either Game Six or Game Seven; even by 1915 standards, that's asking a lot. On the whole, he acquitted himself quite well.
In 1926, well past his prime at age 39, Alexander was the hero of the Series with a performance that entered the annals of baseball legend. Facing the Ruth/Gehrig Yankees, Alex threw a complete game 4-hitter in Game Two, allowing just two early runs in a game the Cards blew open in the 7th for a 6-2 win; he got stronger as the afternoon went on, retiring the last 21 batters he faced. Five days later he did it again, staving off elimination on the road with a 10-2 complete game victory in Game Six (again, the game was close until a 5-run seventh). The next day - hung over or not, although his teammates swore he was sober and just tired - Alexander came out of the bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, with a 1-run lead, the bases loaded and two out, and struck out Tony Lazzeri (on a low and away pitch, of course) to squash the Yankee threat. Alexander then retired the side in the 8th and the first two batters in the ninth before walking Ruth, only to have the Babe foolishly try to steal second with Bob Muesel coming up and Gehrig on deck, leading to the most damaging caught stealing in Series history.
Unfortunately for Alexander, like his contemporary Walter Johnson, he didnít get as many shots as Gibson at postseason glory in his prime, and Alexander came back for one more turn in 1928 at the age of 41. If you can imagine Bob Gibson, who was bombed to the tune of a 5.04 ERA at age 39, coming out of retirement at age 40 to face the 1976 Reds in the World Series, you get an idea of how well Alexander pitched against the 1928 Yankees: Ruth and Gehrig ate him alive to the tune of 11 earned runs in 5 innings. Those two by themselves went 16 for 26 with 4 doubles, 7 homers, 7 walks, 14 runs and 13 RBI in 4 games in that Series, and Alexander took his share of the abuse (it was Alexander's misfortune to face Babe Ruth's teams in all three of his postseason excursions; Alex had held the Babe to 0-for-8 with 2 walks in 1915 and 1926). This ruined Alexanderís lifetime Series record, but in this particular comparison, I don't see how that can be unduly held against him.
If you count his first two appearances in the Series, Alexander's postseason record is nearly as impressive as Gibson's: 3-1, a 1.42 ERA, complete games in all four starts, a 27-8 strikeout/walk ratio, and just over 6 hits allowed per 9 innings.
So, Alexander was a real good money pitcher, and Gibson a great one. What does that all mean? There have been an awful lot of statistical studies done in attempts to determine whether there is such a thing as clutch hitting. The usual answer is either (1) ainít no such thing or (2) if there is, thereís no evidence to prove it. The latter is the more sensible answer, since thereís always the chance that we have looked in the wrong place. Bill James did a study in the Baseball Book 1992 (at page 201) in which he determined that veteran players, generally, had just a slight advantage over otherwise similar young players in certain types of clutch situations.
For all the work done in this area, there has been (as far as I've seen) precious little really systematic attention paid to clutch pitching Ė whether the evidence, broadly speaking, supports the idea that some pitchers are better than others at pitching in big games or tough game situations. Intuitively, it seems possible for pitchers to have a greater ability to "turn it up," since pitchers can vary their arsenal and often have to pace themselves if they are in midseason or midgame, although I understand that some studies have suggested that "pitching to the score" (i.e., changing a pitcher's approach based on the game situation) may be a myth.
Where this relates to Bob Gibson is this: how much credit do we give him for raising his level of performance in big games? Because that's the only way to really toss out the numerical advantages for Alexander. Given that Alexander's postseason performances were outstanding, however, I can't give Gibson enough credit to swing the analysis his way.
5. WHAT ABOUT THE COMPETITION? COULD THESE GUYS SURVIVE TODAY?
Some people would write off the exploits of pre-1947 stars like Alexander, reasoning that competition before the color line was broken must have been watered down; if that's your attitude, then this argument isn't even worth having. I donít think you can really prove very well how strong the competition in any given era was, or at least itís nearly impossible to quantify it. The game, in Alexanderís day, drew from a smaller group of potential players due to discrimination, yes Ė but except for 1914-15 there were fewer big league teams, 16 compared to 20 or 24 for most of Gibsonís career. And in those days, baseball was it; even guys like Jim Thorpe, Greasy Neale, and George Halas tried to make a living in the game because you couldnít make decent money playing every other sport. If the conditions were like that in Gibsonís day, he would have been pitching against Jim Brown and Wilt Chamberlain.
In any event, Alexanderís teams were trying to do the same thing that Gibsonís were - win the pennant and the World Series Ė and the big question is how much each guy did to help his team to that goal.
Inter-league levels of competition is another story. Because the available evidence does suggest that Gibson played in the NL at a time when it was the dominant league, featuring many more of the gameís biggest stars, winning the All-Star Game on a regular basis, and winning the World Series 6 times in 9 tries between 1963 and 1971. By contrast, Alexander pitched in the NL at a time when it was decidedly the weak sister of the AL. AL teams won every World Series between 1910 and 1920 but two: the "Miracle" of 1914 and the fix of 1919. (The 1919 Reds, you may remember, had a better regular season record than the White Sox, but the Sox were overwhelming favorites anyway due in large part to the lopsided World Serieses of the previous several years.)
Taking them out of their contexts . . . each pitcher, of course, would face a very different game today. Gibson had the advantage of mammoth ballparks, centerfield bleachers full of white shirts, a high mound, and did his best work in a part of the strike zone that was only just recently resettled after a 30-year occupation by the hitters. As for Alexander, he had his best years before the advent of the lively ball, the breaking of the color line, night baseball, etc. But I have to think that Alexander would be at least as suited to the modern game as Gibson, given that his sinker and pinpoint control would leave him far less vulnerable to today's patience-and-power offenses (think Kevin Brown).
There is, however, the issue of the spitter, which was outlawed after 1920. Alexander was 34 at that point, and maybe he threw it and maybe he didn't; he wasn't one of the veteran pitchers who was allowed to keep throwing it. (Then again, I remember reading that his manager and first baseman Fred Luderus was famous for licking the baseball, such that an opposing team once retaliated by putting a substance on the ball that caused his tongue to swell up). But check out Alexander's strikeout rate, which was first or second in the league six times between 1911 and 1920, and which dropped almost in half immediately thereafter, generally staying below the league average the rest of his career. It's a fair inference that Alexander's devastating sinker was at least partially a phenomenon of the dirty, wet, dinged-up baseballs he used.
6. SO WHY DOES EVERYBODY LIKE GIBSON BETTER?
Well, the postseason is a huge part of it; the whole nation was watching those games on television, and they became a critical part of the gameís lore. The idea that Gibson was unbeatable is big games led people naturally to assume that he was just unbeatable, at least when he needed to be. The fact that he had his best serieses against teams from New York and Boston just underlined that. Then thereís the 1.12 ERA; having a single, impressive "record" or a signature skill does a lot for a player after he retires, and can make the difference between being Hank Aaron or Roger Maris and being Stan Musial or Frank Robinson, who are far less well-remembered than they should be even though Robinson's still managing. That one ERA gives some statistical ammo to the people who use Gibsonís postseason performance as the platform for arguing that he was an absolutely unbeatable pitcher, capable of raising his game as far as the situation demanded.
There's also the fact that Gibson pitched more recently Ė there are scores of fans out there, as well as writers and broadcasters, who saw him pitch; Alexanderís been dead for 50 years, so his image is vague at best even in the minds of people who think about baseball all day. Then thereís Tim McCarver, Gibsonís catcher in his best years, who has a huge megaphone as a New York and national broadcaster. McCarver may have once been identified with Steve Carlton, but he obviously thought of Carlton as his student; Gibson he treats with reverence. If I hear him tell that story about how Johnny Keane wouldnít take Gibson out of the seventh game of the 1964 World Series because he "had a commitment to his heart" one more time, Iím gonna gag.
Gibson also scared people; as my older brother likes to point out, Alexander was like Greg Maddux in that he could shut you out, shut you out again and still leave you feeling like you didn't hit him just because you were having an off day, not because Alex was pitching. Gibson retired as the #2 man all time in strikeouts. Alexander's reputation has also been sullied by his alcoholism, epilepsy and "shell shock" (what's known today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), the combination of which rendered him a pathetic figure by the end of his life.
Finally . . . well, itís partially Ronald Reaganís fault. You may remember that shortly after Alexander died, Hollywood rushed out a movie of his life called "The Winning Team," starring Reagan as Alexander and Doris Day as his wife. It was just awful. The movie had a few dramatic high points, but they made little enough attempt to capture the real Alexander. And Reagan Ė put aside your politics for a minute and just think acting Ė gave what had to be the worst performance of his acting career: adept at playing the genial Everyman and the B-movie hero, Reagan was completely out of his league trying to portray a morose, moody alcoholic. Only Reaganís political career kept the movie from disappearing into complete obscurity, but the butchering of Alexanderís life story left him less well known today than Crash Davis and Moonlight Graham.
CONCLUSION: WHO WAS BETTER?
Well, if youíve read this far, you can tell that Iím partial to Alexander in this debate; I think heís really gotten shafted in the discussion of the all-time great pitchers, not least because his service to his country cost him his shot at 400 wins. Gibson was really a great one, and my in-depth look at his numbers definitely left me more impressed than before. Things like the color line and other factors relating to the strength of competition also speak in Gibsion's favor. But at the end of the day, Alexander was more dominant in his prime, and more durable over the course of his career. Based on the evidence I've laid out above, yes, reasonable people could disagree. But I'd put my money on Old Pete.
¬ę Close It
December 16, 2003
BASEBALL: Um, We Got Him, Too
Aaron Gleeman has the rundown on why Mike Cameron should hit a little better at Shea than he did at Safeco, where he had just horrendous home/road splits. I have mixed feelings about the Cameron move, since I generally believe in the notion that a rebuilding team should focus its energies on rebuilding, and signing a 31-year-old outfielder whose primary asset is his legs seems a little too Vince Coleman-ish to me. Then again, like Matsui (at least by reputation), Cameron is a spectacular defensive player and not terribly overpriced; this is more like the acquisition of Cliff Floyd than like the catastrophic acquisitions of Mo Vaughn and Tom Glavine. He'll definitely help in the short run, and in particular the Cameron/Matsui/Reyes combination up the middle should do wonders for the Mets' pitching staff. On the downside, Cameron's low batting average and high strikeouts will make him a prime target for the boo birds when the team inevitably slides well below .500.
Also of note: Cameron's steals dropped off to 17 last year from 34 and 31 the prior two years, and steals are something that usually doesn't come back. Despite their speed, neither Cameron nor Matsui should be expected to run much. But the team will look far different on the basepaths than in the era of Olerud, Ventura, Zeile, and Vaughn.
Further on the downside is this: Cameron's comps at baseball-reference.com are as follows:
Similar Batters through Age 30 Ruppert Jones (946) Dave Henderson (939) Tom Tresh (938) Tommie Agee (936) Cory Snyder (934) Dwayne Murphy (930) Johnny Briggs (929) Darrell Evans (928) Larry Hisle (926) Ray Lankford (921)
This list is worrisomely similar to the one I noted at the time for Matt Lawton when he arrived in NY; everyone on the list but Evans (who's not really a similar player) and Lankford was washed up or close to it by age 31.
I'm much more opposed to the Mets' rumored interest in Brian Jordan, who's exactly the type of player that got them where they are today, and who would seal off the outfield; I'd much rather start the season with an opening to audition young players alongside Cameron and Floyd than with a set-in-stone veteran lineup.
Or, of course, Vladimir Guerrero; the great ones, when still young, are always worth it. If the Mets signed Guerrero, it would overnight begin to make sense to gear up to win now.
BASEBALL: From The Department of, "They Never Learn"
Hey, Phillies phans: if you liked Jose Mesa and Ricky Bottalico, you'll love Roberto Hernandez! This about says it all:
Hernandez, 39, will serve as a middle innings reliever with the Phillies. With Atlanta last season, Hernandez went 5-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 66 games. He allowed 104 base runners in 60 innings, while striking out 45.
(On the upside, at least they're only giving him a 1-year, $750,000 deal, so maybe Ed Wade has learned a little something).
BASEBALL: Carl Everett?
I mean . . . Carl Everett?
Then again, since Major League Baseball owns the Expos, I guess they figure they can recapture most of his salary in fines . . .
So, Guerrero is gone, to where yet we don't know. Vazquez is gone. Even Michael Barrett is gone, to Oakland . . . the Expos still have a few young guys who can play some ball (Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro), but overall, this team is a disgrace. At least a contraction draft would have assured a fair distribution of the Expos' players.
Last month, MLB.com asked the rhetorical question, "How much does Frank Robinson love managing?" I guess we're going to find out.
BLOG/WAR: Manning The Post
I've signed on as a contributor to The Command Post; you can see my first entry here. Given my already busy schedule, I don't expect to be a regular contributor, least of all during times like this when the more regular contributors are posting breaking news at a frantic pace, but it made sense to get posting privileges over there for those times when I do see something noteworthy that hasn't been posted, especially during the slower periods in what still promises to be a very long war against terrorism and the tyrannies that support it. It's not a big part, but I'll do my bit.
December 15, 2003
RELIGION: Sympathy for the Tyrant
Jason Steffens reminds us to pray for Saddam rather than exulting in his humilaition, which is a more Christian impulse than I've been able to muster . . . it's very good advice, although I'd point out two things:
1. Saddam's abject humiliation may be a good thing even for Saddam, and is certainly a good thing for the rest of us, because it presents the only practical hope for triggering some remorse on his part. Yes, we believe that the Lord can soften the hearts of the worst sinners, but our faith also tells us not to rely too heavily on miraculous intervention. I've always thought that the most important moment in law enforcement -- and this applies as well to international affairs -- is the point at which either (a) the defendant finally admits that he did what he's accused of, it was wrong and he's rightly punished for it, or failing that (b) the point at which society makes him stand and accept that judgment. Saddam needs to be brought to that point and broken of his defiance, and abject humiliation is a good way to do it.
2. This is a different point, since it relates less to Saddam's humiliation than to the appearance of the same, but of course we need to publicly humble Saddam not only as vindication and relief to his former subjects but as an object lesson to other dictators and tyrants. Taking joy in that lesson is, as well, a positive good.
UPDATE: These guys would agree.
WAR: Atta-Nidal-Saddam Link
Looks like that Telegraph report is getting lots of attention in the blogosphere and even some attention in the mainstream media. I'm still skeptical, but this is too important a story to let pass without investigating it thoroughly.
UPDATE 12/18: More on this to come, but Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball have done some digging and think the memo is probably, as suspected, some sort of forgery. Their evidence isn't ironclad, particularly since they haven't seen the document or investigated its provenance, but they cite FBI records showing that Atta's movements are mostly accounted for in the spring and summer of 2001 - making it unlikely, though not impossible, that he could have slipped off to Baghdad for three days - and they note that the Telegraph reporter simply says he got it from "a 'senior' member of the Iraqi Governing Council who insisted it was 'genuine,'" and the Iraqi National Congress thinks the document is bunk.
Good leg work on this by Isikoff and Hosenball; this story needed to be checked out, and it looks like they scooped everyone else in doing so. Stay tuned to see if there's anything else to this story.
BASEBALL: KazMat's Record
This Baseball Prospectus analysis from two years ago is still the only thing I've seen trying to give a systematic review of significant Japanese hitters and how their numbers would translate in the U.S. Clay Davenport estimates Kazuo Matsui's 1997-2001 numbers as averaging out to .283/.543/.374 with 41 homers, 79 walks, and 119 strikeouts (interestingly, KazMat doesn't steal bases despite a reputation for blinding speed).
Davenport's translations seem to overproject Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, specifically their home run power (Tsuyoshi Shinjo comes in closer to his Japanese numbers). I'd expect the same from the new Matsui - maybe a .280 hitter with 20 homers instead of 40, especially at Shea.
POP CULTURE: More on Sir Mick
Looks like Mick Jagger gets his good looks from his father.
BLOG: State of the Blog
Well, I'm starting to come out of my work-related crisis, and hopefully will be back to having a bit of time each day to blog again some time very soon. As you can see below, I did my share of warblogging this weekend. But there's been baseball news galore as well, and I'll be turning my attention to the battery of recent moves soon, as well as some larger baseball-related projects still in the pipeline.
As always, thanks for dropping by.
December 14, 2003
POLITICS: Not Even An Issue?
Atrios and a bunch of other far-out Lefty bloggers accuse John Kerry of "the Willie Horton campaign tactic of linking Howard Dean to Osama Bin Laden" for an ad (follow the link) that does nothing but show bin Laden's picture while (1) stating that America has evil enemies who plot against it (incontestibly true, no?) and (2) questioning Dean's inexperience in foreign affairs (a legitimate issue in any campaign, if a sometimes overstated one).
This is batty. Nothing in the ad accuses Dean of being soft on Al Qaeda, or even mentions any of Dean's policies. This is awfully tame stuff, in fact. By arguing that you shouldn't be able to raise the issue of whether a presidential candidate is equipped to deal with international terrorists like bin Laden, isn't Atrios effectively arguing for taking the issue of terrorism off the table entirely? Leaving aside the tactical insanity here -- the prison furlough issue worked precisely because the Democrats had spent years arguing that crime was a subject beneath discussion -- how can anyone believe that a candidate's ability to deal with the leading national security issue of the day shouldn't be an issue?
Or are Atrios and friends just saying that you can say that argument, but you can't dramatize it by referring directly to bin Laden?
I couldn't even hope to keep up with the barrage of news and commentary today, but Instapundit and The Command Post both had links galore. Just make sure you don't miss the Mohammed Atta memo story I linked to last night, which may have a terribly hard time drawing the scrutiny it deserves in the tidal wave of Saddamarama.
WAR: The Lead-In
Interesting now to look back on this article from Friday's NY Times, which was good news in itself in Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno talking about breaking up the "cycle of financing" for the insurgency in Iraq; Odierno, who's today's man of the hour, added this:
Capturing or killing Mr. Hussein would provide a huge lift toward that goal. "It's psychological," General Odierno said. "I don't think he's really directing any of the operations, but I think he has a psychological effect. They fear him. They absolutely fear him. And there's a fear he might come back and suppress them."
An elite team of Special Operations Forces and Central Intelligence Agency operatives, called Task Force 121, is leading the hunt for Mr. Hussein and other top former Iraqi officials. General Odierno said American forces believe they had at least two close calls with the former Iraqi dictator in recent months. In a raid on a safehouse in the Tikrit area this past summer, American forces said they had learned from Iraqis they detained that Mr. Hussein had been there just eight hours earlier.
"Do I think he's operating in this area? Probably," General Odierno said. "Do I know if he's in this area? I don't. What I do know are his tribal connections here and his family connections here. The tribal and family connections are binding, and it's very tough to get inside them. But one day we will."
"I think he's moving around," General Odierno said. "Look at the quality of his tapes. Any one of my soldiers could make a better tape than he does right now."
WAR: Tomorrow's Headline Today
SOLDIERS FIND ASS IN HOLE IN THE GROUND
WAR: "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him"
He was found, fittingly enough, hiding in a hole in a cellar in Tikrit. Unlike so many of his victims, however, Saddam emerged from the hole alive.
The president will
BASEBALL: The Great Dodger
Since I noted this for Andy Pettitte, let's check in on the record Kevin Brown left behind in LA: not so shabby, for all the griping about his contract. Yes, Brown lost 2002 and half of 2001 to injuries, a risk everyone knew the Dodgers were taking when they signed a 34-year-old pitcher to a 7-year contract. But consider his place on the club's all-time list: Brown leaves LA with a 2.83 ERA, just shy of the top 10 in Dodger history; his .644 winning percentage ranks him 9th in club history. In fewest baserunners/inning, even pitching in a more hitter-friendly Dodger Stadium than in years past and in as great a hitter's era as the National League has seen since the Depression, Brown ranks first at 9.90 (a 1.1 WHIP, for you rotoheads), ahead of Koufax and Drysdale and Sutton and Dazzy Vance and Rube Marquard. Then, go down to ERA+ (ERA adjusted for league and park context), and Brown's first again, by a long shot, at 149 (49% better than the league) to 132 for Ron Perranoski and 131 for Koufax, with Andy Messersmith and Vance close behind.
Yes, it's tough to compare 872.2 innings of Brown to 2324.1 of Koufax, 2757.2 of Vance, 3432 of Drysdale or 3816.1 of Sutton. But that's not the point. The point is, when you even have to explain why a guy wasn't the best pitcher you ever had on a franchise over a century old, it's hard to say he didn't live up to his end of the bargain.
WAR: Smoking Gun - Or Flaming Lie?
The London Telegraph is reporting an improbably damning find -- a memo to Saddam Hussein himself demonstrating that Mohammed Atta was training in Baghdad under Abu Nidal in the summer of 2001, and tossing in claims about uranium from Niger to boot:
Details of Atta's visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
The handwritten memo, a copy of which has been obtained exclusively by the Telegraph, is dated July 1, 2001 and provides a short resume of a three-day "work programme" Atta had undertaken at Abu Nidal's base in Baghdad.
In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta "displayed extraordinary effort" and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy".
The second part of the memo, which is headed "Niger Shipment", contains a report about an unspecified shipment - believed to be uranium - that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria.
Although Iraqi officials refused to disclose how and where they had obtained the document, Dr Ayad Allawi, a member of Iraq's ruling seven-man Presidential Committee, said the document was genuine.
"We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam's involvement with al-Qaeda," he said. "But this is the most compelling piece of evidence that we have found so far. It shows that not only did Saddam have contacts with al-Qaeda, he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks."
(Link via The Corner)
This is a huge story if it has even a grain of truth to it, and a significant story (i.e, big-time fabrication) if it doesn't. Frankly, this almost seems too convenient -- it's entirely possible that all this happened, but finding a memo addressed to the dictator himself and including both the Al Qaeda connection in its strongest form (i.e., contemporaneous support of September 11) and the Niger story in the same breath makes me rather suspicious. I'm sure if there's anything bad to be known about Dr Ayad Allawi, we'll be hearing it very soon from the usual suspects (Josh Marshall, call your office). Certainly, it's not improbable that the Iraqi provisional government includes some people who are desperate to suck up to the Bush Administration and not too subtle about doing so.
The article doesn't say whether Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti is in US custody, and a cursory web search indicates he may still be at large (although I may have missed something; the best list a Google search turned up was this BBC list from October).
Either way, it's a story we need to hear more about.
December 12, 2003
BASEBALL: Thought For The Day #2
The Dodgers better hurry up and finalize the sale of the team. Sure, you can argue some sense for letting Quantrill walk, or cutting loose Kevin Brown, and it undoubtedly made sense to get rid of Brian Jordan and Andy Ashby. But the overall impression is a team desperate to dump salary, afraid to take it on (I still thought they should have jumped at Manny Ramirez, and they may miss a chance to bid on Nomar as well), and generally frozen in place, probably until some time in January or later. Not good news, if you expect this team to contend in what should still be a competitive division next year.
POLITICS: Thought for the Day #1
Watching the Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, Graham and Mosely-Braun campaigns dissolve in various levels of disarray and ignominy, I'm reminded yet again: Senators are the presidential primary equivalents of the guys in red shirts on Star Trek. You know how, when they'd beam Kirk, Spock, McCoy and two unnamed guys in red shirts down to a planet -- you could always tell which ones were there just to get frozen in mid-air or fed to brain-eating plants or whatever. Somebody has to bite the dust to show what peril the named characters were in.
Consider the campaigns by US Senators since the early 70s or so (many of whom flirted with running more than once): besides the five named above, we've got McCain (2000), Hart (1984, 1988), Glenn (1984), Bradley (2000), Dole (1980, 1988, 1996), Muskie (1972), McGovern (1972, 1976, 1984), Gore (1988), Tsongas (1992), Harkin (1992), Kerrey (1992), Hollings (1984), Hatch (2000), Bob Smith (2000), Cranston (1984), Simon (1988), Kennedy (1980), Gramm (1996), Lugar (1996), Biden (1988), Howard Baker (1980), Birch Bayh (1976), Byrd (yes, Robert Byrd ran in 1976), Bentsen (1976), Scoop Jackson (1976), Church (1976), . . . and I'm probably missing a few. Add in sitting or former Senators who'd also been Vice President and you can toss in Quayle (2000) and Humphrey (1972 and 1976).
Lotta red shirts. We'd better be more careful here, Bones.
December 11, 2003
BASEBALL: Yankee Go Home
Unlike Dr. Manhattan and Michele, I'm not a Yankee fan and (for the most part) have no problem discussing Andy Pettitte's departure rationally. Then again, I've been pretty well swamped at work lately, so I don't have the luxury of time to go in depth here . . .
1. This is the first time I can ever really remember the Yankees going through what every other team's fans have suffered through repeatedly, a significant player walking away despite the team's ardent efforts to keep him (they didn't really bust a gut trying to keep Wetteland). Granted, the "going home" aspect makes this more like John Olerud's departure from Queens . . . which I still maintain was the beginning of the end for the Mets.
2. Although baseball-reference.com identifies the most-similar pitcher through age 31 as Mike Mussina, I think the best comps for Pettitte are Chuck Finley and Tom Glavine, both of whom pitched effectively well into their thirties. I suspect that Pettitte might have arm trouble, but that's an irrational superstition on my part that has trouble thinking the Yankees really, truly wanted to keep him. In fact, Pettitte cut his walks dramatically (and apparently permanently) when they expanded the height of the strike zone in 2001, and he set a career high in Ks in 2003, so his numbers show no sign of slowing down.
3. On the other hand, I won't exactly be signing him up for an NL rotisserie team now that he's in Minute Maid Field.
4. Bringing in Kevin Brown, as rumored, is a mixed bag. Brown was actually a good deal better than Pettitte this season -- he even pitched more innings and struck out more batters, besides having a 2.39 ERA -- and has a decent chance to be better next year. But he's a bigger durability question, expensive as sin and not a good investment for that seventh year of his contract in 2005. You get Brown this year, you'll need to be going out for more pitching help next year as well. (On the other hand, I'd rather be the guy who replaces Pettitte with Brown than the guy who replaces Brown with Jeff Weaver).
Greg Maddux is still useful if he's cheap, but he won't be cheap and he's unlikely to get any better than he was this season. If I'm the Yanks, I'd rather try to see if Randy Johnson's available (More on the goings on in Arizona when I've got time to blog again).
5. Pettitte's 149 wins rank him 9th on the Yankees' all-time list, but his .656 winning percentage doesn't make the top 10.
6. This season's outstanding performances in the playoffs give Pettitte a solid career record in the postseason with the Yankees, albeit not an outstanding one:
WAR: These Are Not The Allies You Are Looking For
Rich Lowry was blogging the Democrats' most recent debate, and came up with this, on a statement from Howard Dean:
Dean also seems to have boned up on his Iraq policy, although he is still not making much sense. He calls for foreign troops from Iraq's neighbors to come into the country, apparently not noticing that that is exactly what the Iraqi's don't want. That's why there are no Turkish troops in Iraq now...
I was aghast at this; who are Iraq's neighbors besides Turkey?
I could be wrong, but I suspect that the Kuwaiti armed forces aren't particularly useful. And we sure as hell don't want Saudis, Syrians and Iranians patrolling the country if we're hoping to make it safe for democracy. Besides their other flaws - like the fact that none of them is really on our side in the war on terror, to put it mildly - they all have their own regional agendas. That leaves Jordan, which ain't much of a coalition if your alternative is scoffing at allies like Britian and Australia.
But I thought I'd check out the transcript, and Lowry doesn't seem to have precisely captured Dean's statement:
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KOPPEL: Governor Dean, you no doubt...
... you no doubt heard or heard about Senator Clinton's views that we will, in all probability, have to keep if not the same number, possibly even a greater number of U.S. troops in Iraq for some extended time to come.
Do you share that view?
DEAN: I don't share that view. I think we need to bring in foreign troops. I think Senator Kerry is right.
First of all, here's what has to happen. What the United States did was appoint an governing council for Vermont -- for Vermont, for Iraq.
That was -- they'd like to appoint one for Vermont these days, I'm sure.
You cannot expect the Iraqis to think that they have their own government if we're appointing their people. We need an election.
Oddly enough, one of the mullahs over there who is a conservative Shiite is right. If you don't have an election, then the Iraqis themselves are going to have no investment in their reconstruction.
KOPPEL: And if you do have an election, then the Shiites hold a significant majority.
DEAN: They may, but it doesn't -- the Shiites are not necessarily uniform. Those people -- actually, the model is Afghanistan.
Our military did a great job in Afghanistan. And I supported the war in Afghanistan because 3,000 of our people had been killed, and I thought we had a right to defend ourselves.
But the fact is, since the military did a great job, this president has made a mess of it. He's trying to turn Afghanistan into a democratic country by signing over four-fifths of the country to the warlords.
However, the thing we ought to take out of Afghanistan is their model for how they're writing their constitution. They had an elected group of people who came to meet in Kabul for quite some time. They wrote a constitution which is an Afghan version of democracy. That can work in Iraq, and that's the first prerequisite.
KOPPEL: You're talking about doing a constitution before you have an election?
DEAN: No, we're talking about doing the election first in order to have the people who write the constitution who are not seen by the Iraqi people as stooges of the Americans.
DEAN: That's the only way to get the Iraqis to buy into their own constitution.
Then we need to go to all those countries that the president insulted on his way into Iraq and get them to rethink their policy towards helping us under the auspices of both the United Nations and ourselves.
That means a new president. This president is never going to repair the damage he did to the moral leadership of this country, because he's incapable of it. He personalizes policy difference, and that is a fatal mistake when you're running anything, whether it's a business or a state or a country.
If we do that, we will be able to do what the president's father successfully did, which is bring 100,000 foreign troops into Iraq, preferably from Arabic-speaking and Muslim nations, to internationalize the reconstruction of Iraq.
Now, the reason I agree with Senator Clinton is this. We will be able to withdraw our Guard and Reserves -- who have no business being over there for a 12-month tour of duty -- we will be able to withdraw at least one of the two divisions. But we will not be able to withdraw an American presence.
The tragedy of what we did in Iraq, which I have opposed right from the beginning, is that now we're stuck there, because there was no serious threat to the United States from Saddam Hussein, but there is a threat from an Iraq with Al Qaida in it or with a fundamentalist Shiite regime which is closely allied with the Iranians.
President Bush said a few weeks ago on a Sunday night that Iraq was at the crossroads of the battle against terrorism.
DEAN: That wasn't true before we went in, but he has made it so and he has endangered the security of the United States of America by going into Iraq and that was a mistake.
That doesn't sound quite as bad, but it's still crazy. Most of the Muslim and Arab countries aren't democracies or friends of democracies, and if we complain now about the roughness of tactics sometimes needed by Americans to pacify Iraq, what happens when the Pakistani troops or somebody opens fire on a crowd? (Or the alternative; I recall from the book Black Hawk Down the unwillingness of coalition troops from Pakistan and other places to provide support to our own troops when they got in trouble). I really don't see how other countries' troops are better equipped to get this job done, or how they'd be any less targets for terror (think of the Red Cross bombing). The only benefit they provide is that somebody else does some of our job for us. In a conflict where we need to have a long-term strategy, that's incredibly small-minded short-term thinking. And it's a long, long way from a country whose president promised 40 years ago that we would "bear any burden" for the friends of freedom around the world.
¬ę Close It
December 7, 2003
For Yankee fans wondering what you're getting in your new starting pitcher, consider this comparison for the years 2001-2003:
Answer: if you're not getting Mike Mussina, you're getting as close a facsimile as you could possibly ask for without violating Mussina's copyright, except 8 years younger and -- for now at least -- a whole lot cheaper. In fact, the ERA+ and Innings Pitched figures suggest he may actually have been more valuable the past three years. Like Moose, his main problem is the gopher ball. Will he win in New York? Well . . .
ERA of NL starting pitchers in 2003: 4.41
Vazquez 2003 ERA + 5.67% = 3.42
Clemens/Pettitte/Wells/Mussina 2003 ERA: 3.84
Yeah, I think he can win a few games with the support the Yankees can give him. Vazquez' health is a bit of a question mark -- as with any pitcher, really -- but unless Nick Johnson can put together a full, healthy season some day, he's a steal.
POLITICS: Another Milestone
Way back some years ago -- all right, in August of 2002 -- Lileks predicted that
Once vulgar words are commonplace in the papers and the television, thereís no going back - and public life just gets cruder and cruder. I know itís a losing battle. Fifty years down the road a presidential candidate will say ďMy opponent says Iím soft on the military, and to him and all his advisors, I can honestly say: f**k you.Ē Heíll be celebrated in some corners for connecting with the genuine people, with those not bound by musty conventions. The authentic people! The ones who really f**kiní live!
(Expletives deleted). As with most dire predictions about society going to Hell in a handbasket, this one was inaccurate only because he overestimated how long it would take us to land at the bottom of that slippery slope; we're there now.
December 5, 2003
BLOG: Snowed Under
Apologies for the minimal baseball blogging around here -- I'm still up to my eyeballs in work. Hopefully, I'll get to my rundown on the various moves around the majors some time in the next week or so. For now, I'm just thankful that the Yankees have taken the Braves' best hitter and the Expos' best pitcher out of the NL East.
POLITICS: Self-Parody Watch
I'm sure by now you've seen the "Turkeygate" story (see here for the essentials of the story, and see here for some perspective from someone who was there), but this post from Democrats.org . . . well, the P.S. just says it all about the depth of the obsessions of the president's critics, doesn't it?
BLOG: Neither Snow, Nor . . .
Congratulations to lawblogger Denise Howell, who gave birth to a baby boy over Thanksgiving; fellow bloggers, next time you are considering slacking off, recall that Denise was still blogging after she went into labor.
December 3, 2003
BLOG: Wednesday Night Links
Al Bethke (start here and keep on scrollin') is all over the Richie Sexson trade. Mark Steyn has the must-read list of regimes that must go, but forgets to include Arafatistan. WaPo columnist Courtland Milloy has an uncharacteristically sage column about PCP and the Cincinnati incident. Reason has a bizarrely eclectic but thought-provoking list of its "35 Heroes of Freedom." (Hat tip to Robert Tagorda). Doctor Weevil explains why "if babies are being born with [Jimmy] Carter's initials preprinted on their cheeks, he must be the AntiChrist. " And Gregg Easterbrook gets it precisely right in explaining why The Reagans deserved to be canceled:
[A]ll docudramas should be cancelled. News programs are good and pure fiction is fine; docudramas are the enemy of thought, history, fact, and public understanding. When a viewer sees something in a docudrama, he or she has no way of knowing, not the slightest clue, whether what's being presented is real or fabricated. . . . The networks, whose news divisions are profit centers, of all actors ought to resist anything that inclines viewers not to believe what they see on the tube.
December 2, 2003
LAW: Gunning For Interstate Commerce
As I noted two weeks ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in Ileto v. Glock, Inc., No. 01-09762 (9th Cir. Nov. 20, 2003), an opinion written by Judge Richard Paez with a dissent from Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall, that the alleged "oversupply" of guns by Glock and other gun makers -- 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 the gun manufacturers and distributors to liability under the common law of negligence and public nuisance in California. Now, I'm not a huge gun-rights guy, but this decision strikes me as an obvious affront to the limits of state power laid down by the Commerce Clause.
The case arises from the notorious shootings of several children and the murder of a postal worker in California as part of a shooting rampage by neo-Nazi Buford Furrow; the plaintiffs are the shooting victims and the mother of the postal worker. The plaintiffs allege, among other things, that by selling "more firearms than the legitimate market demands," the gun companies facilitate the creation of a secondary market in guns that enables purchases by people like Furrow, who should not have been able to buy guns due to a pending felony indictment and a prior commitment to a mental hospital. The Ninth Circuit stated that the complaint alleges that
Glock knows that by over-saturating the market with guns, the guns will go to the secondary markets that serve illegal gun purchasers.
(Slip opinion at 16444). Note that it is not alleged that any of Glock's sales are themselves illegal (as Eugene Volokh notes, the ATF "warnings" cited in the opinion refer to gun dealers whose licenses ATF had made no moves to revoke), nor that the secondary markets are illegal (see footnote 9 of the decision, at page 16449); only that the secondary market for guns has fewer safeguards, and that in the absence of those safeguards, sellers in the secondary markets have been known to sell guns to people like Furrow.
Significantly, the guns sold to Furrow had been sold by Glock and the other defendants in Washington state, leading to the most problematic part of the plaintiffs' theory:
Glock allegedly targets states like Washington, where the gun laws are less strict than in California, in order to increase sales to all buyers, including illegal purchasers, who will take their guns into neighboring California.
(Slip opinion, at 16458).
Under these circumstances -- sales of a non-defective product, legal where made, with at least an element of liability premised upon the tendency of the sales to lead to resales in a legal secondary market -- extending state common law liability to Glock's sales made outside California seems to me to transgress as many as three distinct constitutional limitations on state power:
1. The prohibition, arising principally from the Commerce Clause, on states enacting extraterritorial legislation that exports their own domestic public policy to legal commercial activities in other states;
2. The prohibition, also arising under the Commerce Clause, on state regulation on the means and instrumentalities of interstate commerce itself; and, possibly,
3. Washington State's right, under the Second Amendment, to regulate the rights of its citizens to bear arms so as to constitute a well-regulated militia.
Let's examine each of these in a bit of detail:
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The Commerce Clause grants Congress the power "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes." Since Chief Justice John Marshall's 1824 opinion in Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat 1 (1824), the Supreme Court has generally recognized that the regulatory power granted to Congress carries with it implicit restrictions on the power of the states to enact regulations (including, as recognized in subsequent cases, common law causes of action that impose civil liability under state law) that would interfere with Congress' authority to regulate commerce on a uniform basis nationwide. In fact, as Justice Johnson noted in his concurring opinion in that case, the need to federalize regulation of interstate commerce was the immediate cause for the calling of the constitutional convention in 1787. While the idea of a "negative" or "dormant" Commerce Clause limitation on state power is controversial in some quarters -- Justice Thomas, in particular, has generally refused to recognize it, and other Justices have expressed misgivings about its application -- it remains well-settled constitutional law backed by centuries of precedent.
The extraterritoriality principle is one of the necessary corollaries of federalism, and applies specifically to interstate commerce: the Commerce Clause precludes a state from enacting legislation that has the practical effect of exporting that state's domestic policies by enacting legislation that compels companies doing interstate business to comply with a single state's law in all jurisdictions (although there is a generally recognized exception for corporation law that governs the internal governance of a corporation). As the Court held in last term's decision in State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, "A State cannot punish a defendant for conduct that may have been lawful where it occurred." (I discuss this aspect of the State Farm decision at much greater length in my post on the opinion and its relationship to the broader theory of Federalism's Edge).
The history of the extraterritoriality principle in action can be traced back at least to Justice Cardozo's opinion in Baldwin v. G.A.F. Seelig, Inc., 294 U.S. 511 (1935), striking down a New York statute that barred sales in New York of milk purchased from producers in Vermont at prices below those required to be paid to milk producers in New York; Justice Cardozo observed that, as a basic proposition, "New York has no power to project its legislation into Vermont by regulating the price to be paid in that state for milk acquired there." Id. at 521.
The principle was expressly adopted in a series of cases in the 1980s, starting with the plurality in Edgar v. MITE Corp., 457 U.S. 624 (1982), dealing with the application of state anti-takeover statutes to corporations incorporated in other states, and culminating with Healy v. The Beer Institute, 491 U.S. 324 (1989), dealing with a Connecticut statute -- echoing the milk price support statute in Baldwin -- requiring that prices charged for beer in Connecticut be no higher than the prices charged by the same beer shippers in certain neighborning states. (The best description of the various theories of the dormant Commerce Clause cases on this and other points can actually be found in a district court opinion by Judge Loretta Preska, American Libraries Ass'n v. Pataki, 969 F. Supp. 160 (SDNY 1997)).
In recent years, the extraterritoriality principle has been applied to punitive damages as well, in BMW, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), and in State Farm. As the Court held in BMW, regarding an Alabama common law claim for fraud based on nondisclosure that BMW was selling cars that had been repainted:
[W]hile we do not doubt that Congress has ample authority to enact such a policy for the entire Nation, it is clear that no single State could do so, or even impose its own policy choice on neighboring States. . . . one State's power to impose burdens on the interstate market for automobiles is not only subordinate to the federal power over interstate commerce, . . .but is also constrained by the need to respect the interests of other States. . . . We think it follows from these principles of state sovereignty and comity that a State may not impose economic sanctions on violators of its laws with the intent of changing the tortfeasors' lawful conduct in other States. . . by attempting to alter BMW's nationwide policy, Alabama would be infringing on the policy choices of other States. . . . Alabama does not have the power . . . to punish BMW for conduct that was lawful where it occurred and that had no impact on Alabama or its residents.
The Court in State Farm added,
A basic principle of federalism is that each State may make its own reasoned judgment about what conduct is permitted or proscribed within its borders, and each State alone can determine what measure of punishment, if any, to impose on a defendant who acts within its jurisdiction.
(emphasis added). In Ileto, the violation of the extraterritoriality principle is fairly straightforward; California seeks to impose civil liability on companies that make lawful sales of non-defective guns in Washington State, simply because those sales conflict with the public policy of California (as announced by two federal judges). It is apparent that this "oversupply" theory -- in which the effect on the Washington market is not incidental but is the entire point of the suit -- is intended to have, and will have, the effect of exporting California law to govern sales in other states. The Commerce Clause does not permit this.
Unfortunately, the Ileto court gave short shrift to this argument. First, the court disregarded BMW by noting that the plaintiffs in Ileto were not seeking punitive damages. Then, effectively ignoring the entire thrust of the claim, the majority asserted that
[T]he economic "regulation" that defendants allege is most accurately construed as a form of regulation that has only indirect effects on interstate commerce and regulates evenhandedly . . . [Accordingly,] we must examine whether the State's interest is legitimate and whether the burden on interstate commerce clearly exceeds the local benefits.
(Slip op. at 16481) (quotation omitted). This statement of the law is plainly incomplete; it is true that the Commerce Clause cases have often spoken of undue burdens, but Ileto seeks to read out of the cases the prohibition on extraterritorial legislation, which is often treated as a separate, per se violation of the Commerce Clause. Having stacked the deck, the majority then dismisses out of hand the idea that Washington could have any interests worthy of being offset against California's interest in projecting its own policies beyond its borders:
Here, the state's interest in protecting the health and safety of its residents is clearly legitimate, and whatever indirect burden an award of damages might have on defendants, it does not approximate the public's interest in protecting the health and safety of California's citizens.
(Id. at 16482)(emphasis added).
2. Direct Regulation of Interstate Commerce
A second strain of jurisdprudence under the Commerce Clause -- also entirely ignored by the majority in Ileto -- is the longstanding ban on state regulation of the instrumentalities of interstate commerce themselves. This rule has generally been applied to state regulation of such things as railroads, truck lengths, and the Internet. Here, what we have is regulation of an interstate secondary market for guns -- but more than that, because what California seeks to regulate is not simply sales within an interstate market but the interstate movement of firearms itself. Moreover, gun manufacturers would be subject to inconsistent regulation -- the sales at issue occur outside of California, and thus would be subject to the law of the state where the sale is plus the law of any state adopting a theory such as the one adopted. This places companies operating in multiple jurisdictions in the impossible position of having to ascertain their compliance with California law no matter where they be, and possibly with numerous different or conflicting laws regardless of what state they do business in. This is, again, precisely the type of crazy quilt of battling state rules that the Commerce Clause was designed to avoid by placing the authority for national legislation with Congress.
3. The Second Amendment
My third objection to the Ileto decision is somewhat more novel, and as I will freely admit to not being an expert on the Second Amendment or schooled in the caselaw and history of that amendment, I invite comments. But here it goes:
The Second Amendment provides:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The term "Militia," in turn, has a fixed historical meaning, and one that resonates today in an era when the greatest military threats come not from armies but from terrorists against whom the only line of defense may be ordinary citizens:
[T]he Militia comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. 'A body of citizens enrolled for military discipline.' And further, . . . ordinarily when called for service these men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time.
United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 179 (1939). Now, there remains intense controversy over whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear arms, or only a collective right of the individual States to have a well-regulated militia. That debate is mostly irrelevant here (although I will leave aside the question of whether a gun manufacturer would have standing to challenge the Ileto decision on the Second Amendment grounds I propose), because it would seem obvious that, at a minimum, the Second Amendment protects the rights of individual states to ensure that their citizens can bear arms. In other words, if Washington has gun laws that permit legal gun purchases in certain circumstances, that permission isn't just an ordinary part of the state's economic regulations; it's a decision that at least implicitly (and in some states, I am sure, explicitly) touches on the state's policy regarding the role of individual citizens in the common defense. As such, the decision of a California court to render legal sales in Washington unlawful under California law is an infringement on Washington's ability to set its own policy with regard to its own citizens' right to bear arms.
While I'm not aware of any cases that deal with this question, the Supreme Court has recognized a similar argument in reconciling the dormant Commerce Clause with the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed Prohibition but left intact the authority of states to regulate the sale of alcohol within their borders. In Brown-Forman Distillers v. N. Y. Liquor Authority, 476 U.S. 573 (1986), the Court struck down a New York statute that effectively provided that companies selling liquor in New York could not charge higher prices than they charges for the same beverages in other states. The Court first found that this regulation violated the Commerce Clause by violating its extraterritoriality principle (by its effect on prices in other states) as well as by preferring New York consumers over consumers in other states. The Court also rejected the argument that New York's conduct was immunized from Commerce Clause scrutiny by the unique state role in regulating alcohol under the Twenty-First Amendment, but it then went further to find additional support in that Amendment for limits on New York's regulatory power in the area of booze:
New York's affirmation law may interfere with the ability of other States to exercise their own authority under the Twenty-first Amendment. Once a distiller has posted prices in New York, it is not free to lower them in another State, even in response to a regulatory directive by that State, without risking forfeiture of its license in New York. New York law, therefore, may force other States either to abandon regulatory goals or to deprive their citizens of the opportunity to purchase brands of liquor that are sold in New York.
Here, similarly, the Ileto panel majority's rule interferes with other states' ability to exercise their own authority over sales of firearms within their borders, even to their own citizens. That provides additional support for finding the decision to violate the federal Constitution.
Finally, a jurisdictional oddity in the Ileto decision. As any lawyer knows, federal courts have, in general, only two sources of jurisdiction: jurisdiction over cases that arise under federal law (such as claims brought under a federal statute), and jurisdiction premised on the citizenship of the parties (generally between citizens of one state and citizens of other states). Ileto doesn't seem to fit either one: the claims were brought under state law, and several plaintiffs and at least one corporate defendant are citizens of California. So why is this case in federal court? Well, according to the opinion, one of the defendants, China North Industries Group (Norinco), is a state-owned enterprise of the Chinese government, and as such is entitled to have all claims against it (or all claims against anyone else in the same lawsuit) heard in federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Thus, the irony: a radical departure in state law is issued by two federal judges who have the case solely due to a statute designed to protect the interests of America's relations with foreign countries. (Whether Norinco is now expected to comply with California law in all its worldwide operations was left unanswered).
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