"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
November 30, 2005
LAW: A Little Diversity
The New York Observer notes Harvard Law School's tentative steps towards faculty diversity with the hiring of three right-leaning professors among 20 recent hires:
[R]ecent hires have . . . added to the conservatives' ranks. There is John Manning, 44, an expert on the separation of powers and the structure of government, who advocates for a strict reading of the U.S. Constitution, and 43-year-old Jack Goldsmith, an international-law expert known for questioning the efficacy of the International Criminal Court. Both are highly regarded scholars and former Republican administration officials (Bush I for Manning, Bush II for Goldsmith). . .
It's a start. Link via Bashman.
November 29, 2005
WAR: Hawkish Noises
LAW: Dillon Stewart, Hero
Stewart, in his last heroic moments, ignored the bullet that had pierced his heart and continued pursuit of the fleeing suspect yesterday - helping nail his alleged killer.
After Stewart was shot, he still managed to tail Cameron to a garage, where police opened fire. Only then did Stewart realize he had been struck, police said.
BASEBALL: Billy and Tike
I have to like yesterday's moves by the Mets. I've been arguing for a while that they should prefer BJ Ryan over Billy Wagner, but they simply got outbid on Ryan, and Wagner was certainly the best remaining option. His contract - 3 years, $43 million, with an option of a fourth year pushing the deal to $50 million - is pretty overpriced for a 34-year-old closer with an injury history, but that's the market right now, and with the departure of Piazza and Cameron, the Mets have money to spend. As with Pedro, if Wagner's healthy for at least the first two years of the deal he will be worth it.
They also grabbed 29-year-old free agent center fielder Tike Redman, fresh off playing himself out of a regular job with the Pirates. Redman is a weak bat - he should remind Mets fans of Jermaine Allensworth - but he's reputed to be a good glove, and should spell the end of Gerald Williams' Mets career. Minaya has done a very good job of getting guys like this to upgrade the bench. Hopefully, with Redman and Nady, we shouldn't see any middle infielders in the outfield this season.
November 28, 2005
WAR: The Vendetta
When the history of the decision to go to war in Iraq is written, there's one fact that I have to believe will get more attention than it does today: the fact that Saddam Hussein hired terrorists to murder George H.W. Bush.
On one level, it's not hard to see why this hasn't been a larger part of the story. War supporters, focusing on the case for war in our broad national interests, have been loathe to focus on a casus belli of uniquely personal interest to the president. War opponents have two motives: those who ascribe the war to ideological or pro-Israel neocon perfidy or to "blood for oil" can't bear to admit that the wrongdoing of Saddam Hussein played a greater role, and besides, admitting that a terrorist attack by Saddam's regime was one of the causes of the war requires opponents of the war to admit the very thing they have consistently contended was unthinkable: Iraqi planning and initiation of a cross-border terrorist attack.
The Bush Administration has likewise mostly shied away from this storyline, with the notable exception being aSeptember 2002 GOP fundraiser where Bush referred to Saddam as "the guy who tried to kill my dad." Even personality-driven commentators like Maureen Dowd have tended to focus on the connection of the war to Bush's father as being more about unfinished business from the first Gulf War than about revenge for attempted murder. As to the Arab world - well, many parts of Arab society remain traditionally clannish and patriarchal, and in such a society, it's hard to think of a better reason to go to war than an attempt on the life of the patriarch of the family. Thus, to denounce the war on terms agreeable to many Arabs, it's necessary to gloss over this fact.
The basic facts are essentially undisputed, and laid out in detail in Stephen Hayes' masterful book The Connection: in 1993, Saddam's regime sent two assassins, Iraqi nationals, into Kuwait with explosives and orders to set off bombs with the hope of killing Bush (and, presumably, lots of bystanders in the process). One of the men even carried a suicide bomber's belt. President Clinton said at the time - in a nationally televised speech - that there was "compelling evidence" of the plot, that it "was directed and pursued by the Iraqi Intelligence Service," and his Secretary of Defense stated that "[t]he evidence is very conclusive" that the plot "would have had to have been approved by the highest levels of the Iraqi government." Of course, while the men were presumably picked to provide deniability to the Iraqi government - one was a Shiite who had been involved in an anti-Saddam uprising - their subsequent capture and exposure carried the obvious lesson that using domestic Iraqi nationals still made such operations too easy to trace.
Now, the decision to go to war is, and should be, a decision made in the nation's interest, and not for the satisfaction of the president's personal grudges. And, like most supporters of the war, I'm content to justify it on those grounds, and think it unlikely that the many grounds for war were somehow a pretext. (Although some might say that Bush has unique moral authority on the subject of the dangers of the Iraqi dictator as a result of the targeting of his family) But realistically, you would expect the attempt to blow up the president's father to affect the decisionmaking process. Put yourself in Bush's shoes: if you were asked to decide whether Saddam Hussein would ever get involved with terrorism, wouldn't it affect the way you looked at the evidence that Saddam had already attempted a terrorist attack designed to kill a member of your family? And isn't that, in fact, an entirely logical and natural way to approach such a question?
WAR: Closing Bases in Iraq
Kathryn Jean Lopez noted last week the handover of Forward Operating Base Danger in Iraq to Iraqi forces, the 29th such transition so far. Now, first of all, the larger trend ought to be big news. That's a lot of bases, and even if they don't lead immediately to a draw-down of U.S. troop strength, they represent tangible evidence of a growing ability to trust the Iraqi forces with security of particular locations. This is what the exit strategy looks like, and should look like: Iraq for the Iraqis.
Of course, FOB Danger has a special significance because of its location: Saddam's own home town of Tikrit, which has at times been a hotbed of insurgent activity. The base was previously occupied first by the 4th Infantry Division, then the 1st, and then the 42nd Infantry Division of the New York National Guard.
Regular readers of this site will also recognize FOB Danger as the operating base of then-pseudonymous guest blogger "Andy Tollhaus" (who recounted watching the 2004 ALCS there) since identified here and in Dan Shaughnessy's book "Reversing the Curse." During the time the base was controlled by the New York National Guard, it was also the site of the murder, in June, of Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen by one of their own men; Esposito was from near my home town in Rockland County.
November 27, 2005
POLITICS: The Other Novak
Viveca Novak, a reporter in Time's Washington bureau, is cooperating with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity in 2003, the magazine reported in its Dec. 5 issue.
It can't be good news that the special prosecutor is looking at things done and said after the investigation began, although of course there are many explanations for why, any number of which end without anyone else getting indicted.
Is there anybody reporting on this story who isn't part of the story? Next we'll hear that Kaus and Maguire have testified.
BASEBALL: The Ryan Contract
Well, looks like JP Ricciardi is even more bullish on BJ Ryan than I was, giving him a 5-year, $47 million contract to come to Toronto, the largest ever for a relief pitcher. Ken Rosenthal thinks the deal is nuts, and as enthused as I am about Ryan, I'm half inclined to agree with him - that's a lot of money for any closer, especially for a team that's a long way from filling all its other roster holes, and that much money is a lot of pressure on Ryan. I can't blame the Mets for not matching a deal that big, even if it does pan out well. Of course, I assume Wagner will use this contract to squeeze more money out of the Mets, Phillies and other bidders.
November 26, 2005
WAR: Hey, That's Not Diplomatic!
November 25, 2005
WAR: Bravely Calling Retreat
BLOG: Quick Links 11/25/05
*David Pinto notes some ridiculous puffery by Scott Boras about Johnny Damon, including an assertion that Damon is somehow better than Rickey Henderson. Of course, he's just advocating for his client, but there's a difference between honest and dishonest advocacy; any lawyer can tell you that, and dishonest advocacy doesn't help your credibility in the long run (not that Boras needs credibility, with the clients he has). Comparing Damon to Rickey is just stupid; between 1995 and 2002, Damon had a better OBP than Rickey only once. And that's for age 36-43 for Rickey compared to 21-28 for Damon. Also, over that same period Rickey stole 308 bases to Damon's 214.
*Corruption in US efforts in Iraq is a Bad Thing, if predictable given the nature of government contracting and the general principle that in chaos there is opportunity. At least DOJ has caught some people.
*Ralph Peters is more than a little over the top in this column on Democrats' calls for withdrawal from Iraq, but it's not entirely unwarranted. For a more measured take, here's a fine post from Jon Henke on what separates the two sides in the Iraq debate as it exists today.
*Could Novak's source have been Armitage? That would be quite the letdown for the Josh Marshalls of the world who see the Plame story as all about neocon perfidy, if it's true.
*This American Prospect article on Alito and machine guns is notable for its near-complete absence of analysis of the constitutional issues.
*When athletes in the US get in trouble, machetes and gasoline are not usually the weapons of choice.
*This doesn't sound like a meritorious lawsuit, given the plaintiff's concession - why did his lawyer let him speak to the press? - that Home Depot wasn't responsible for gluing him to the toilet.
*LOoking back, a friend wondered about Harriet Miers' financial disclosures why a single woman who spent so many years in private parctice as a law firm partner didn't have more money.
November 24, 2005
KATRINA: There's Bad Ideas, Then There's Really Bad Ideas
And then there's Mike Brown starting a disaster preparedness firm.
Were I Karl Rove, I would send out a memo to Republicans everywhere: this firm should never, ever, ever get a government contract of any kind.
November 23, 2005
WAR: Blowing Smoke
No End But Victory provides a concise summation of the fraud that is the Kos-led Left's claim that white phosphorous used by U.S. troops in Iraq is a chemical weapon. And yes, I do question the patriotism of anyone - especially an Army veteran like Kos, who must know better - who pushes such an obvious falsehood, providing useful propaganda for the enemy, for the purpose of harming a U.S. war effort. Lord Haw-Haw couldn't do more than this.
POP CULTURE: A Glittering End?
By this point in rock history, they're running out of novel ways for rock stars to die. But as far as I know, firing squad hasn't been done yet.
BASEBALL: Resuelva los Metropolitanos!
The Mets get Delgado and $7 million for Mike Jacobs and Yusmiero Petit. Some disjointed thoughts on the deal and on other rumored deals:
1. Hey, if the Yankees had traded Kevin Maas for a big established power hitter after 1990, that would have been a good idea. Jacobs' stock will never be higher. I regard Jacobs as the next Rico Brogna, who came to the Mets at age 24 (same as Jacobs) and batted .351/.626/.380 in 131 at bats, compared to .310/.710/.375 for Jacobs in 100 at bats. Brogna, like Jacobs, could hit for a good average with middling power but had little plate discipline; he had one more good year the following season (.289/.485/.342) but was at best a league-average hittter after that, which is poor for a 1B. (Then again, maybe Jacobs he could pull a Mike Sweeney and take a huge step up with the bat now that he's not catching anymore; he's never had a full season where he wasn't catching).
3. Delgado is worth Petit, although I do think Petit could be a star at Shea. But he's a pitching prospect with only a handful of AAA innings, and those are always risky. And this way they keep Lastings Milledge, as long as they don't go and stupidly trade him for Soriano or something. I think it makes more sense to get a 1B than an OF, given the internal alternatives of Diaz and Milledge (and, yes, Nady, who can step in if Diaz falters).
BASEBALL: Ryan v. Wagner
I just don't understand this, as I've said before. The Orioles are offering BJ Ryan $18 million over three years, $6 million per. The Mets have offered Billy Wagner $30 million over three years, $10 million per. Ryan put it all together in August 2003; since 8/1/03, here are their numbers (via Pinto's database, except for the Blown Saves numbers):
And bear in mind that Ryan is 30, Wagner is 34. Both are lefthanded. Both throw hard. Yes, you can make the argument that Wagner's been the better pitcher, but it's awfully close. Ryan strikes more guys out, he gives up half as many homers - a highly significant fact in big games, as Wagner's been known to get touched by the longball in big situations - and he has age and durability on his side. Yes, the save and save % numbers favor Wagner, but Ryan has certainly proven he can hold a closer job with 36 saves in 2005, and the blown saves figure is always uglier when you're working primarily as a setup man. How can you look at these two guys and think Wagner is worth an extra $4 million per year?
November 21, 2005
BLOG: Temporarily Unavailable
Unfortunately, as happens from time to time, I'm just too swamped at work to blog this week. I should be back by Monday the 28th, or possibly by Friday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
UPDATE: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. If I can get a few work things wrapped up, I'll have to weigh in later today on the Delgado deal.
November 20, 2005
WAR: Proceed With Caution
Rumors of this type are a dime a dozen, but keep your eye on the latest rumor that a U.S. raid killed Zarqawi:
U.S. forces sealed off a house in the northern city of Mosul where eight suspected al-Qaida members died in a gunfight — some by their own hand to avoid capture. A U.S. official said Sunday that efforts were under way to determine if terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was among the dead.
In Washington, a U.S. official said the identities of the terror suspects killed in the Saturday raid was unknown. Asked if they could include al-Zarqawi, the official replied: "There are efforts under way to determine if he was killed."
November 18, 2005
BASEBALL: Cameron for Nada?
You know, I can understand the theory behind trading Mike Cameron to get rid of his salary. With the Mets looking to add salary at other positions, Carlos Beltran holding down center field, and Victor Diaz ready to get a shot playing everyday as an inexpensive right fielder, Cameron at $8 million for 2006 is an expensive luxury item.
But I can't understand the execution - trading him for Xavier Nady - even assuming that some of these scenarios are in the works, unless it's really the case that some other GM (Chuck LaMar?) lusts after Nady and wants him, specifically, in a deal.
It's not that Nady is a terrible player. He's a decent fourth OF who can also play 1B, and he'll be 27 this year so he could take a modest step up. But if he gets regular playing time he's at best a guy who doesn't kill you; he's a lesser player than Benny Agbayani, Darryl Boston, or Danny Heep. I thought maybe at least there was a thought that he'd improve leaving Petco, which is the toughest pitcher's park in baseball, but he batted .258/.408/.314 on the road the past three seasons.
November 17, 2005
OTHER SPORTS: In the Owners' Box
November 16, 2005
WAR: Deny, Deny, Deny
This Matt Yglesias post is an interesting example of WMD revisionism. Yglesias sites, as an "outlandish" example of "some of the things the administration said before the war" the following statement by Dick Cheney in March 2003:
I have argued in the past, and would again, if we had been able to pre-empt the attacks of 9/11 would we have done it? And I think absolutely. We have to be prepared now to take the kind of bold action that's being contemplated with respect to Iraq in order to ensure that we don't get hit with a devastating attack when the terrorists' organization gets married up with a rogue state that's willing to provide it with the kinds of deadly capabilities that Saddam Hussein has developed and used over the years.
(Emphasis mine). First of all, what, precisely, is wrong with this statement? Yes, we expected to find more in the way of WMD when we got into Iraq, and that absence has a variety of troubling implications. But you can't well deny that Saddam had developed chemical and biological weapons in the past, had tried to develop nuclear weapons in the past, had actually used chemical weapons, had hired terrorists and worked with various international terrorist groups in the past, regarded the US as an enemy, and had a tremendous motive and every opportunity to use such groups to carry out attacks against his enemies that could not easily be traced back to him.
Yglesias says only that "[t]here was absolutely no reason to believe that invading Iraq in March 2003 would be a good way to pre-empt a WMD terrorist attack on the American homeland sponsored by Iraq." But why not? First of all, as of March 2003, the possibility of Saddam sponsoring such a WMD attack at some point in the future was not zero, and was even more emphatically not zero based on the best imperfect information that was available then or going to be available any time soon. Saddam had the motive and the opportunity, and even the various postwar reports have indicated that he had a long-term strategy to develop the means once he could finish the nearly completed task of undermining the corrupt and ineffectual sanctions regime.
Today, by contrast, the chance that the Iraqi regime will sponsor such an attack on the US is zero, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
If Yglesias' point is that the degree of the threat was overstated by implication in Cheney's statement - well, fair enough. Reasonable minds can differ on that. But as I read his post, Yglesias is either saying there was zero chance of such an attack or that the odds were not reduced by the invasion. And that's nonsense.
BASEBALL: Pitcher Name Game Trivia
Let's try a quiz that will mostly be easy to the history buffs . . . A surprising number of baseball's great pitchers haven't gone by their given first names, preferring either a nickname or their middle name. See if you can match the pitcher with the first name. First, the pitchers:
1. Bert Blyleven
Now, the first names:
Answers below the fold.
Read More »
1. Rik Aalbert Blyleven
« Close It
POLITICS: Rove on the Courts
A rare speech by Karl Rove, to the Federalist Society on the topic of the courts. Rove notes a familiar refrain in recounting the battle over the Alabama state courts:
It began in 1994, when Republican Perry Hooper challenged sitting chief justice and trial lawyer-favorite Sonny Hornsby. Hooper pulled off a stunning upset. Outspent, outworked, he won by 262 votes out of over 1.2 million votes cast. And then, the day after the election, several thousand absentee ballots mysteriously surfaced, none of them witnessed nor notarized, as required by Alabama law, and Sonny Hornsby tried to have them counted. It took a year of court battles before Hooper was finally seated.
November 15, 2005
LAW: Candid About Diversity (Jurisdiction)
Orrin Hatch, on a conversation at the Supreme Court, presumably during Rehnquist's tenure:
I attended a meeting at the U.S. Supreme Court at which some of the justices said to me, "you have to get rid of diversity jurisdiction." I stared the Chief Justice down, and said, "we’re not going to do that."
Hmmmm. Hat tip: Ann Althouse.
BASEBALL: The Blowout Maker
So, A-Rod wins what should have been his fourth MVP Award, and could easily have been his fifth or sixth; he was robbed of the award in 1996 and 2002, and could easily have won it in 2000 and/or 2001. And yet, you will hear endless cries that he is overrated.
Clearly, on the raw numbers, A-Rod had a better year with the bat, finishing ahead of Ortiz in batting, slugging, OBP, games, runs, total bases, steals, and fewest GIDP. He did this while playing in a much less favorable park, as a better baserunner, and as a good fielding third baseman compared to a DH.
Really, then, the whole case for Ortiz is clutch hitting. Now, there are only three hitters I've ever seen who had such extensive resumes as clutch hitters that you couldn't possibly dismiss them as having a real ability to rise to the occasion - George Brett, Eddie Murray, and David Ortiz. But what is Big Papi's real advantage in clutch situations? Gordon Edes noted that "[a]gainst the other playoff teams, A-Rod hit .325 with 13 home runs and 30 RBIs, Ortiz .273 with 9 home runs and 33 RBIs." (h/t David Pinto). That's one way of looking at it; I looked at how the two hitters' production broke down by the games they appeared in, to examine the charge that A-Rod did all his hitting in meaningless situations:
*A-Rod either drove in or scored at least as many runs as the margin of victory in 21 Yankee wins (including a 12-4 win where he drove in 10 runs, and two 3-run victories over the Red Sox). The comparable number for David Ortiz is 24. By contrast, the Yankees lost 13 games by 1 or 2 runs in which A-Rod neither drove in nor scored a run; for Ortiz, the number was 10. Overall, a slight advantage for Ortiz.
*In the 51 games the Yankees won by 3 runs or less, A-Rod batted .310, slugged .545, had a .430 OBP, scored 35 runs, drove in 36, and hit 13 homers. In other words, he contributed very substantially in games the Yankees won and might otherwise have lost.
*That said, Ortiz did have insane numbers in close games. Overall, in 88 games decided by 3 runs or less, A-Rod hit .278/.506/.379 with 50 Runs and 57 RBI - solid numbers, considering that close games excludes the laughers where people run up big numbers. But Ortiz, in 94 such games, hit .296/.601/.393 with 65 Runs and 80 RBI. In 43 1-run games, A-Rod batted .253/.525/.331 with 26 Runs and 29 RBI, but Ortiz (in 42 games) batted .319/.712/.413 with 33 Runs and 35 RBI.
*So, where did A-Rod make his real mark? Well, besides the 51 victories by 3 runs or less, the Yankees won 44 other games by 4 or more runs. Now, they may not be as dramatic as 1-run wins, but blowouts count just as much in the standings, and they mean an awful lot to a team with a shaky pitching staff.
Was A-Rod just hitting with a big lead in these games? I went through the play by play to see how he had hit in his first and second plate appearances in those 44 games, to see how much he had contributed to putting 44 wins in the bank, a good start for any playoff contender.
In his first plate appearance in those 44 games, A-Rod was 21 for 35 with eight homers, 17 Runs scored, and 14 RBI. In his second plate appearance, he was 11 for 37 with 4 homers, 11 Runs, and 11 RBI. Total batting line: 36 for 72, 6 2B, 12 HR, 28 R, 25 RBI, and a batting line of .500/1.083/.576.
So, A-Rod is a dangerous hitter in close games, if not as dangerous as Ortiz or as he is otherwise. But like the young Mike Tyson, he's very, very good at putting games away early. Who can say the ability to win baseball games with ease isn't valuable?
November 14, 2005
BASEBALL: Now Catching, For The Mets . . .
One of the big question marks for the Mets this offseason is the catching job. Mike Piazza's 7-year contract is up, and all signs point to the Mets looking to go in a new direction.
Now, as long as you don't compare them to the Piazza of old, Mets catchers did OK with the bat: .245/.436/.322 with 36 doubles, 26 HR and 99 RBI. That's about even with the 2005 production of Ben Molina, apparently one of the leading candidates for the job, who batted .295/.446/.336 in a career year with the bat in his walk year at age 30. Molina is a career .273/.397/.309 hitter who hasn't had 450 at bats since he was 25 and would get lapped in a footrace with Piazza. Let's turn to Matt Welch, who's watched Molina on a daily basis:
I'm not sure Bengie's even a good defensive catcher at this point. His throwing has deteriorated -- from 36 of 81 base-stealers (44%) in 2003, to 18/69 (26%) in 2004, to 20/64 (31%) this year; even while his barely younger brother has been improving from 28% to 49% to 53%. And more noticeable on a day-to-day basis is Bengie's increasingly desperate habit of jabbing with his glove at pitches in the dirt, instead of trying to move his fat body in the way.
Other than the batting average, Molina's career numbers are a pretty good match for Ramon Castro, the for-the-moment incumbent (.222/.387/.304). Not that I think Castro is up to the job of catching every day, but unlike Molina he's not just a singles hitter with a sketchy history as far as hitting those singles. (I'm assuming for now that Mike Jacobs can't handle the glovework and/or would blow his arm out if he caught everyday; obviously, if he's up to the job, he'd be ideal).
Then there's Ramon Hernandez, who reportedly is interested in the Mets. Hernandez, unlike Molina, can actually hit a little: .283/.463/.330 the past two seasons in the best pitcher's park in baseball. On the other hand, Hernandez is turning 30 and has missed 114 games over those two seasons.
Honestly, I don't think Hernandez gives me a lot of comfort with the bat. He'd never hit nearly that well until he turned 27. More to the point, I took a look at baseball-reference.com's list of comparable players through age 29, and it was a gruesome list of guys who aged badly, including Jody Davis, Rich Gedman, Terry Kennedy, and Tony Pena.
In fact, that got me wondering: who's a better bet over the next two years, a decent hitter just off his prime like Hernandez, or an old superstar like Piazza? I looked at what those 10 catchers did at age 29, 30 and 31. To do the same for Piazza, I only had 5 catchers to work with, since four of his most-comparables are non-catchers and one (Bill Dickey) either retired or went in the military after batting .351 in 1943. Those five were Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Lance Parrish, Gabby Hartnett, and Carlton Fisk, and I looked at their numbers at 36 (Piazza's age in 2005), 37 and 38.
Let's look at the results. First, Hernandez at 29, followed by his comps at 29, 30 and 31:
Now, Piazza at 36, followed by his comps at 36, 37 and 38:
As you can see, while the Piazza-style old guys are still a better bet with the bat, neither player's comps give much in terms of reason to hope (although Hernandez was ahead of his comps the last two years; several of them had hit the wall by 28). If Piazza at one year is a realistic option, the Mets could do far worse than to re-up him and spot Castro in there.
I guess my real bottom line here is this: Hernandez and Molina have value because catchers are scarce . . . but they're just not that good, and they're at least as likely to depreciate rapidly in value as Piazza is. Scarcity or no, you don't win pennants by throwing tens of millions of dollars at players who just aren't that good. Better to save the money, maybe get Castro a cheap platoon partner or something, and spend elsewhere to upgrade with genuine quality.
Oh, and one more thing I saved for last because it seems so implausible: Tom Verducci claims that the Hated Yankees are looking to move Jorge Posada, or - even more bizarrely - shift him to first base. I understand why the Yanks would be unhappy with Posada's $12 million price tag, but look at alternatives like Hernandez and Molina, far inferior players asking $8-10 million per, and Posada doesn't look so bad. (As far as I know, the Yanks' only other internal option is John Flaherty, who barely his enough to survive as Randy Johnson's personal catcher at this point). Of course, the Mets are the one team that would regard Posada as a younger, cheaper replacement for the outgoing incumbent, and they do have one thing the Yankees could use: a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder to spare. If it weren't the Mets and the Yankees, that deal might make some sense.
November 10, 2005
LAW: Discovery Dispute
This is just too funny (bad language is prominently involved).
WAR: Trust But Verify
Apparently, the Russians will now be responsible for keeping Iran's nuclear program peaceful. Which may be a workable plan in the short run - I can't think Putin wants to see another unstable neighbor with nukes - but it still falls under the heading of "never thought I'd live to see the day."
BASEBALL: Low Leaders
Bartolo Colon's Cy Young Award raises a question I'd been thinking about late in the year, when Kevin Millwood first grabbed the AL ERA lead: whether this was an unusually weak year for pitchers in the AL. One way to look at that is to look on baseball-reference.com at the league leader in ERA+, the league/park adjusted measure of which pitcher stands furthest below the league in ERA (the stat divides the park-adjusted league ERA by the pitcher's ERA, so the higher the ERA+, the better, with a league-average pitcher clocking in at 100).
Colon's ERA+ this year was 120, not in the top 10 in the AL. The league leader was Santana, at 153. Is that one of the lowest league-leading figures ever? Not really, as it turns out.
I went back and looked over the league leaders in this category going back to the dawn of the National Association in 1871 - 256 major league seasons in all. The league leader in ERA+ has been below 150 in 40 of those (15.6%). The lowest league-leading total was 127 by Tommy Bond in 1879, which is unsurprising; the NL was the only major league in 1879, there were only 8 teams, and each team used one pitcher most of the time, so that the league's top 8 pitchers threw 76% of the innings. Hard to stand out in a crowd that small.
So, I put together a list since 1893 (when the mound moved back to its curtrent 60'6" from 50 feet), which gave a list of 13 pitchers who finished below 144 and yet led their league. Here they go:
Interestingly, other than Seaver and Maglie, a number of these guys were fluky leaders anyway (Denny was sort of fluky, but he did win the Cy Young Award legitimately in 1983). Note that the 50s to early 60s were the golden age of pitcher parity . . . Garcia's ERA+ was 139, but the Indians' ERA+ as a team was 132; that had to be one of the most well-balanced staffs ever.
One name that jumps out here is Gene Conley. Did you know that Conley had been the best pitcher in the National League one year - and still found the energy to go play 1,300 minutes for an NBA-winning Celtics team that offseason, including being third on the team in rebounds? Amazing. I'd always thought of Conley as sort of a failed experiment in two-sport play, but for a while there he really made it work.
November 9, 2005
LAW: Judge Graham
I did not know that Lindsey Graham is also an appeals judge (registration req.):
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is also Judge Graham on a federal military court -- an arrangement that has drawn the Republican into a battle over the separation of powers.
The court Graham sits on is a lower appellate court -- the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals at Bolling Air Force Base.
He served on active duty in Germany in the 1980s, then in the South Carolina Air National Guard before transferring to the Reserves in the 1990s. He was elected to the Senate in 2002 after three terms in the House and became a Reserve Appellate Judge in October 2003.
The reservist issue is not a new one.
BASEBALL: Beltre Back?
More from the rumor mill: Jon Weisman speculates on Adrian Beltre poentially returning to the Dodgers. Hey, I traded Beltre and his $33 salary for Joe Nathan in May on my Roto team; I can only imagine how frustrated the Mariners were suffering through the whole season cutting him real paychecks. A Beltre encore makes some sense, although given how eerily similar his 2005 numbers were to 2001, 2002 and 2003, there's a very real risk that those numbers represent his real performance level at this point.
KATRINA: Qui Tam Time
John Derbyshire notes speculation that a very large portion of the absent police force in New Orleans during Katrina was either nonexistent cops or cops with no-show jobs and that New Orleans used the inflated numbers to scam federal dollars. Presumably, if this turns out to be true, someone in the know could file a lawsuit under the False Claims Act to recover the improperly allocated federal funds (I'm assuming without checking here that the FCA covers municipalities).
UPDATE: Lyford writes in to point out that this particular report is satire. I'm pretty sure I've seen reports of there being some genuine concerns about no-show jobs, but not in that scale.
BASEBALL: Best Trade Yet
The Mets will promote Gary Cohen to the lead play-by-play job on their new cable network. Via Repoz, who notes that this spells curtains for Fran Healy. Of course, I get more games on the radio than TV, so I'll be awaiting word on Cohen's replacement.
POLITICS: Status Quo 6, Reform 0
At least among the six campaigns I paid any attention to yesterday - the Governor's races in NJ and Virginia, the Mayor's races in NY City and Detroit, and the referendum packages in California and Ohio - if there's any lesson to be drawn from yesterday's votes, it's one that conflicts with the apparent public mood: the voters chose the status quo and rejected calls for reform:
1. Incumbents and incumbent parties won. Virginia and NJ stayed in the same party hands. Incumbents were re-elected in NYC and Detroit.
2. Packages of reform-minded referenda, anchored by anti-gerrymandering efforts, were defeated in Ohio and California.
3. Longstanding concerns about corruption in the state-level New Jersey and California Democratic parties, the state-level Ohio GOP and the local government in Detroit were brushed aside by the voters. No wake-up calls were sent, except perhaps to the Virginia GOP to offer a choice, not an echo.
BASEBALL: Trivia Question of the Day
Who is the oldest player ever to win a Gold Glove?
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Phil Niekro. Niekro was 44 when he won the NL Gold Glove for pitchers in 1983. Yeah, it was a trick question.
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POLITICS: Ackerman Ducks The Question
You may recall my effort, in connection with the "porkbusters" campaign, to get my Congressman, Gary Ackerman, to commit to give back local pork-barrel transportation spending (including money for parking lots, sidewalks, bike racks and public parks in Queens) to help offset the cost of Hurricane Katrina. Well, yesterday I received his response, which is set forth in full in the extended entry. As you can see, Ackerman fails to even acknowledge the question; his response includes not a word about transportation funding. Instead, he scrolls through the usual hot buttons - Iraq, tax cuts, no-bid contracts, etc. - and appears to oppose any effort to cut any spending of any kind:
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Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns about the federal response to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Like most Americans, I have been appalled by the incompetence and the lack of preparedness that has resulted in so much loss of life and property.
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BASEBALL: Cy Colon
I have to say, I was surprised and disappointed in the AL Cy Young vote for Bartolo Colon, a vote that signals the continued sway of W-L record to the exclusion of all else. Yet again, anti-statistics sportswriters prove themselves to be slavishly devoted to a single statistic. Johan Santana was clearly still the best starting pitcher in the league, but given the absence of a dominant starter, I would have given the award to Mariano Rivera, who had a remarkable year (albeit one that exceeded his usual standards mainly just because 2/3 of the runs he allowed were unearned).
November 8, 2005
According to this AP report (via ConfirmThem), the schedule for the hearings on Judge Alito worked out by Arlen Specter with the Democrats calls for hearings beginning January 9, a committee vote on January 17, and a vote of the full Senate on Friday, January 20.
Which means that the final vote will likely come either that day or the next business day - Monday, January 23. Sunday, January 22, of course, is the 33d anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Coincidence? Even if it's not, you can be sure that the timing will ratchet up the tension over the vote.
November 7, 2005
LAW: Ninth Circuit Roulette
Ace notes another bizarre decision, which would seem ripe for certiorari and reversal, discussed here - the Ninth Circuit struck down a California statute making it a crime to file a false complaint against a police officer:
The Ninth Circuit's rationale . . . is that because the statute is silent on penalizing false statements in support of the police, false allegations of abuse are being discriminated against on viewpoint grounds. . .
The case for certiorari is strengthened by the fact that the Ninth Circuit, in so holding, expressly overruled the California Supreme Court, which had held that the statute was constititional. The Ninth Circuit's opinion is here (in PDF form). Frankly, having just skimmed the opinion, I'm not even sure why the First Amendment is implicated here: the complainant is free to make the false charge of police brutality, but is penalized only for making that false charge in the process of filing a complaint that triggers a legal process. The court's reasoning unintentionally makes this point crystal clear:
An illustration drawn from this case may be helpful. At Chaker's criminal trial, the witness who observed Chaker's arrest testified that she saw no signs of excessive force during Chaker's arrest. However, had the witness made this statement to the investigator charged with investigating Chaker's complaint, knowing the statement to be false, the witness would not have faced criminal sanction under section 148.6. Similarly, had Officer Bradberry made a knowingly false statement to the investigator charged with investigating Chaker's complaint, Officer Bradberry would not have faced criminal sanction under section 148.6. It is only Chaker, who filed a complaint of peace officer misconduct complaining that Officer Bradberry mistreated him in the course of an arrest, who faced criminal liability under section 148.6 for his knowing falsehood.
[S]ection 148.6 regulates an unprotected category of speech, but singles out certain speech within that category for special opprobrium based on the speaker's viewpoint. Only knowingly false speech critical of peace officer conduct is subject to prosecution under section 148.6. Knowingly false speech supportive of peace officer conduct is not similarly subject to prosecution. . .
We note that any impermissible viewpoint-based bias present in the complaint investigation process is easily cured: California can make all parties to an investigation of peace officer misconduct subject to sanction for knowingly making false statements. Otherwise, the selective sanction imposed by section 148.6 is impermissibly viewpoint-based.
As you can see, each of the examples cited by the court involves a participant in a pre-existing investigation, rather than the person whose statements caused the state to initiate the investigation in the first place. Thus, the complainant is simply not similarly situated to the other parties, none of whom has triggered the machinery of the state by speaking.
BASEBALL: Firing Back at Plaschke
Plaschke apparently never bothered to learn the well-documented basics of the philosophies discussed in "Moneyball," so he could write howlers such as this one on Oct. 4: "It's a vision that has yet to result in a playoff series victory in the three places where it is prominently pushed - Oakland, Los Angeles and Toronto." Every baseball beat writer in the country (including the Times' own capable Bill Shaikin) could tell you that "Moneyball" tenets played a big role in the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, who employed the movement's godfather, Bill James.
Read the whole thing.
BLOG: Closing Comments
I've got the MT Closecomments plugin installed on the blog (MT 3.121), so comments to old entries show up as needing approval. But I would like to block them entirely, as well as trackbacks to old entries; I'm getting inundated with hundreds of spam comments & spam trackbacks at a clip, which seriously eats into my blogging time. Anyone have suggestions?
WAR: Bin Laden to U.S.: " "
It's quiet. Too quiet?
November 6, 2005
WAR: Paris Burning
November 4, 2005
BASEBALL: Is He Back?
Roberto Alomar, that is:
Roberto Alomar [was] reinstated from the voluntary retired list Thursday by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and . . . filed for free agency.
Hmmmmm. Via Rob McMillin.
November 3, 2005
BASEBALL: Equal Opportunity
Now that the World Series has concluded with a sixth different champion in six years, it may be time to retire the idea that baseball is suffering from a crisis of lack of competitive teams. That's not to say there aren't imbalances; even rich teams like the Mets, Red Sox and Phillies spent barely half the budget of the Hated Yankees this year, for example. But even if nobody else can be the Yankees, the number of teams that have the chance to be competitive from time to time is much larger than Bud Selig has argued in the past.
I ran a chart four years ago breaking out the last time each team was in the postseason or finished within six games of the postseason (division or wild card). Six may not be a round number but it seemed like as good a line as any - the Indians, for example, finished six games out this year; the Royals finished 7 out in 2003. So, I'll use the same standard again. With that in mind, let's update the chart to show the last time each team was within six games, the last time each team made the postseason, the last World Series appearance and the last championship:
(Chart corrected per reader comment - when I did this in 2001 I must have missed the 1988 Tigers. My bad.)
As you can see, two things are clear from this chart. One is that, much as it still bothers me on a number of levels, the wild card really has opened up a lot of playoff opportunities (without the wild card, even the Red Sox would not have appeared in the postseason since 1995). And second, the number of true have-nots in the game is pretty small. 21 of the 30 teams have been at least seriously competitive for a playoff spot in the past six seasons, and only three of those have failed to make the playoffs in that period, one of whom (the Rangers) had just ended a run of winning three division titles in four years and followed that up by signing the largest free agent contract in the history of sports. Another, the Phillies, plays in the largest one-team market in the nation. The Blue Jays were also coming off a successful run in the early 90s and have generally drawn well, but have suffered partly from poor management and partly from sharing a division with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Of the remaining nine hard-core long-term losers, one has been given a solution to its economic problems, as the Nationals got a new city and are on their way to a new stadium and new ownership. The Rockies have a substantial and growing market to themselves, but have been victimized as much by altitude and bad management as by economics. The Orioles are always big spenders but share Toronto's problem of being in the AL East. Four of the six of the remaining sad sacks (Reds, Pirates, Tigers, and Brewers) play in brand-new ballparks, plus the Devil Rays opened in 1998. Only the Royals combine all the worst problems of baseball's underclass - low payroll, small city, old ballpark, and a track record of poor management.
Now, in a game with winners and losers, someone has to lose, and baseball's always had teams that spent a long stretch in the wilderness (read the history of the Phillies and A's some time). I would, for now, classify four teams as being genuinely handicapped by economic circumstances, not as a complete excuse for failure but as a contributor to long-term stagnantion: the Reds, Pirates, Brewers, and Royals. Three others have serious long-term futility problems, but less economic issues: the Tigers, Devil Rays and Rockies. It is a legitimate concern that even new parks don't seem to do much for the hard-core underclass of the game. But the good news is, the chance to be competitive has rarely been so widespread as it is today.
UPDATE: Another interesting note here, after the last two seasons: there's now no team whose last World Championship came between 1955 and 1978. There's 19 teams that have won the Series in the past 27 seasons, plus 8 expansion teams that have never won it (3 of whom entered the league since 1977), leaving just three teams (the Cubs, Indians and Giants) with a serious long time wait since their last flag. The fourth longest drought is the Rangers.
November 2, 2005
BASEBALL: Baseball Links 11/2/05
*Ryan McConnell has a big roundup of Mets and other news, including the Mets picking up the 2006 option on Steve Trachsel but not on Doug Minky and Braden Looper. Good riddance to the Blooper.
*Kevin Cott on why you see fewer African-American players these days:
Before the MLB Draft was instituted in 1965, teams relied on training academies to find and develop young talent. But with the draft, it was no longer economically efficient to spend money developing players that, upon turning 18, could then be drafted away by other teams. Teams eventually found a loophole to this by turning to Latin American countries, where the players weren't subject to the same draft eligibility (unlike basketball, where the draft is international). That's why there has been such an accelerated growth in Latin ballplayers - early scouting still pays off. The other result is that baseball development in the States is now dictated largely by socioeconomic conditions - it's a more expensive and specialized sport. So you could argue that the onus is on baseball to establish more inner-city clinics and developmental programs, but that's about it.
In other words, there's two tracks: an expensive track for homegrown players, which favors white players from areas with the financial werewithal to have good Little Leagues and the like, and a cheap track for foreign players. The poor, inner-city or rural Americans who used to be baseball's lifeblood are thus less common (they're more apt to turn to basketball in the cities and football in the rural areas), and black players feel the impact of that disproportionately, especially when you take away the black players who go into baseball because their dads played in the big leagues.
*Matt Welch gives what for to Bill Plaschke, the LA Times columnist who spent the past two years trying to run Paul DePodesta out of town for the offense of being a smart young guy who questioned traditional ideas. Welch also links to some other good commentaries on DePodesta's departure, including Jon Weisman. And Will Carroll draws larger lessons from the White Sox' World Championship as a "Moneyball" backlash. Really, There's only one solution that makes sense at this point. Three simple steps:
1. Give Plaschke the GM job.
*Pinto has some thoughts on Derek Jeter's Gold Glove, and also links to a fan ballot for Hall of Fame announcers, where you can - I swear I am not making this up - cast a ballot for Fran Healey.
*Tom G notes that Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito clings to a bizarre, irrational and superstitious faith: that's right, he's a Phillies fan.
*Leo Mazzone's departure for the Orioles is certainly the biggest news to hit the NL East thus far in the offseason. Recall, of course, that while Mazzone deserves enormous credit for his accomplishments in Atlanta, Bobby Cox did have good pitching staffs in Toronto, too. Also, Mazzone has already proven he can't do much for Bruce Chen.
*On a similar theme, Son of Brock Landers looks at Roger Clemens' playoff rap sheet and why he has a bad reputation in the postseason. Actually, the answer is simple: Clemens' reputation stems from his time with the Red Sox - he had just 1 win in 9 postseason starts with them, and a 3.88 ERA in the postseason compared to 3.06 in the regular season. By the time he started a postseason game in another uniform, he'd been in the league 16 years and cemented the reputation.
*Jeff at USS Mariner links to a rundown of possible Japanese imports to Seattle or other major league teams.
*Meant to link to this before the Series: the parallel lives of Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell.
BLOG: Quick Links 11/2/05
*Ricky West has a nice tribute to his 23-year-old nephew. Go see why.
*Proof of a housing bubble - or a good omen for the future? Baghdad's real estate market is booming.
Because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus, many conservatives oppose making it mandatory, citing fears that it could send a subtle message condoning sexual activity before marriage. Several leading groups that promote abstinence are meeting this week to formulate official policies on the vaccine.
Via MBOnline. Sorry fellas, I'm as opposed to teenagers having unmarried sex as you are, but this is where I get off the bus. This is cancer we're talking about here (and who thinks STDs serve a useful purpose anyway?). Look, if you don't want kids to be encouraged to have sex, don't tell them what it's for, or warn them it won't stop them from getting pregnant, etc. But don't stop the vaccine.
*How British are you? A (British) citizenship quiz from the BBC. Via Oxblog. I got six of 14 right, which sounds about right for a semi-informed foreigner who's never been there and hasn't read the pamphlet.
*Also from Oxblog, David Adesnik's one-step plan for Bush to survive Plamegate: "Win the war in Iraq. History will only rememeber Scootergate if America fails in Baghdad."
November 1, 2005
BASEBALL: Franchise Quiz
History buffs will know this: the AL, of course, has been in existence since 1901, the NL since 1876. Name the only two NL teams that have been part of the league continuously since 1876.
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LAW: Alito at Trial
Turns out that Samuel Alito has one thing in common with Harriet Miers that sets him apart from the rest of the current Supreme Court: he's actually tried cases. He spent four years as an Assistant US Attorney, and even tried at least one high-profile terrorism trial during his later tenure as US Attorney:
As U.S. attorney in New Jersey, a job that normally involves sending underlings into the courtroom, Alito personally prosecuted the 1988 terrorism trial of Yu Kikumura, going head to head with the noted defense lawyer, the late William M. Kunstler. Kikumura was convicted of driving with homemade bombs on the New Jersey Turnpike, intending to blow up the Navy recruiting office in Manhattan, and is serving 22 years.
Via Bashman. And William Kunstler was the sort of dogged, unpredictable and media-savvy advocate that it could be a real challenge to try a case against. I'm sure President Bush found it reassuring to have a nominee who has actually locked up a terrorist.
LAW: Smearing Judge Alito
Given the difficulty of persuading the American people that they would be justified in filibustering Samuel Alito based solely on his judicial philosophy, it's not surprising that some on the Left are looking to smear him instead with bogus ethical charges. Witness this latest attempt, from AmericaBlog:
Another ethically challenged Bush appointee according to the Washington Post:Three years ago Alito drew conflict-of-interest accusations after he upheld a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit against the Vanguard Group. Alito had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested with the mutual fund company at the time. He denied doing anything improper but recused himself from further involvement in the case.
Supreme Court nominee Samuel J. Alito and Justice Antonin Scalia share more than just ideology; they also share a resistance to removing themselves from cases where they have a conflict of interest.
Now, my first reaction was that this was a case of economic illiteracy by these critics. After all, a mutual fund isn't like another company; mutual funds are managed by an investment advisor, and so an investor in the fund is more in the position of a client or customer of the advisor. Normally, if the investment advisor gets sued, therefore, it's of no direct concern to the fund investor, who has invested with rather than in the fund company.
I went and did some digging, though, and it turns out that the charge isn't illogical, just silly. The original Philly Inquirer story explains why the unusual nature of the Vanguard funds made this different from the usual claim against a mutual fund company:
Alito said he believed his Vanguard holdings did not constitute a conflict because they were investments in mutual funds. As such, he said, he was merely an investor in Vanguard, not an owner of the company.
Now, it appears that Judge Alito may well have forgotten that fact, as I did. But the notion that the case involved any kind of malfeasance is nonetheless absurd. Even if the plaintiff had won her case, the economic impact on Vanguard would be negligible, and certainly not enough to affect the judgment of a shareholder of one of its many funds; the case involved a dispute over $170,000, compared to hundreds of millions of dollars in the Vanguard funds, barely a blip on Vanguard's radar screen. And even leaving aside the fact that the recusal standard is not as clear-cut as the critics suggest, the case fit the classic profile of a losing battle where a plaintiff with no case on the merits tries to gin up something like an ethical complaint against the judge to keep the case going:
Maharaj contended in her suit that Vanguard had improperly released funds from her late husband's retirement account in 1998 to pay a Massachusetts judgment. Vanguard said it was ordered by a Massachusetts judge to release the money.
Acting as her own lawyer, Maharaj, 48, has spent the last seven years, since her husband's death in 1996, battling unsuccessfully in the courts in Philadelphia and Massachusetts.
The article goes on to note that the litigation initially arose from a business dispute involving Maharaj's husband and a Massachusetts court's conclusion that the husband had fraudulently transferred assets to the couple's Vanguard account to avoid paying a judgment. The lower court decision notes that the Massachusetts court had enjoined Maharaj from further litigation. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit had upheld an order compelling Maharaj to pay attorneys' fees as far back as 1997. After Judge Alito recused himself in an excess of caution, the plaintiff lost again before the new panel. In short, the ethics complaint falls under the heading of "grasping at straws".
Nobody's perfect, and judges do make small oversights. But Alito had no actual conflict of interest - the amount of money involved, in proportion to the size of the Vanguard Funds' holdings generally, meant that the case could not have affected a Vanguard investor, regardless of how large or small the investor's stake in Vanguard Funds was. Nor was it unreasonable for him to act as if Vanguard was covered by the general policy of the federal courts regarding mutual funds, although this assumption turned out to be incorrect. Nor, as it turned out, was there any merit whatsoever to the underlying lawsuit, brought by a litigant who'd spent years trying to avoid paying a legitimate judgment. In short, the critics are all wet.
UPDATE: The Washington Post says Alito had been asked about Vanguard issues 12 years earlier at his hearing, and promised to recuse himself, and that the White House ascribes the non-recusal to a failure to flag the case on the Third Circuit's computerized conflicts system. I still fail to see why this is anything but an honest and very minor mistake, given the fact that this was a routine slam-dunk case with no possibility of affecting Alito's finances.