"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
May 31, 2007
POP CULTURE: Treason
Jonathan Last has been pumping up the Harry Potter 7 speculation with posts discussing the possibility of an early-in-the-book death for Mrs. Weasley and speculation that Professor McGonagall is a double agent. I don't buy the latter at all - I don't think even a fictional character could be convicted in a court of law of treason on such flimsy evidence, most of which consists of (1) sour facial expressions and (2) questionable decisionmaking.
BASEBALL: This Is A New One On Me
To be frank, he wasn't even that good a pitcher except for the talent-diluted 1884 season (more here), but is in the Hall due to his exceptional durability. Galvin died at age 47 from "catarrh of the stomach."
BASEBALL: Trivia Time, Single-Season Record-Holder Edition
Now that HostingMatters has fixed the comments, let's try a little trivia. Hard-core baseball fans know the single-season record holders for a variety of records - but in most cases, there is also a best-ever in the other league. Let's see how many of these you can guess. The ones listed below include some easy and some hard - a few of these formerly held the overall record - but most of these guys are either recently active or in Cooperstown, and none of them is hugely obscure.
Questions: The Single-Season League Records
1. AL, Batting Average
15. NL, ERA (Post-1893, so this doesn't include Tim Keefe in 102 innings in 1880)
1-5: Softballs Only
Answers below the fold
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1. Nap Lajoie, .426
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May 30, 2007
BASEBALL: Scott Boras Wants You To Like Him
Journalists love to write about baseball superagent Scott Boras. First, because fans generally hate him, it's a chance to flex their "let me tell you something you don't believe" muscles. Second, because front office people generally hate him, it's easy to get a steady stream of colorful quotes about what a malignant SOB he is. Third, because Boras talks non-stop, works very hard and is very good at what he does, a profile of him is never short on worshipful detail.
Thus, a lengthy recent profile in LA Weekly. Now, let's start with what is undeniably true about Boras: he is very, very good at squeezing the extra marginal dollar out of teams to pay for the players he represents. That's clearly in the best short-term interests of the player, and as Boras often points out, for many players the short term is most or all of their lifetime earning potential.
Boras' most significant accomplishment is his work in negotiating large deals for players in - and finding loopholes in - the amateur draft. This, too, is in the best short-term interests of his clients, a number of who then pull in the only big contract they will ever get. It also provides one arguable benefit to Major League Baseball - by driving up entry-level salaries, Boras helps make the sport more competitive in reaching young American players who might otherwise go into football or basketball, both of which generally require at least a year or two of unpaid apprenticeship in college but then offer the big bucks. (Then again, guys who have legitimate shots at the NBA or NFL have always had more leverage at draft time, even before Boras). That said, Boras' machinations have clearly undermined the entire purpose of the amateur draft, which is to level the playing field to benefit the poorer and weaker teams. Whatever that does for the players, and however indifferent the owners may be to the effects, it's bad for the fans.
Of course, some agents are content to live with the position that they represent the players' interests and need answer to nobody else. Not Boras: he wants you, the fan, to believe that he is good for baseball ("I look around the room and ask, 'As caretakers of the game, what have we accomplished?' . . . We should look at each other and say, 'We're honoring the game.'"). He wants the owners to believe that cutting deals with his players is good for them ("To offer Maddux less money than he is worth, "Now you've done something that you should never do."). He wants everyone to believe that when a negotiation goes badly, it's because of some foolishness or moral failing of the GM and not because his client wanted more money or could get more money elsewhere ("In response to critics who say it's all about money, Boras says, 'Really? I think it's about respect.'").
It's hard to tell whether Boras' relentless self-justification is driven by a desire to make himself more respectable and respected than the average sports agent, or whether he's just continuing to serve his own economic interests - after all, if GMs start believing that Boras' deals are bad for the buyers, they may think twice before inking the next A-Rod, Barry Zito, or Chan Ho Park.
But then, one thing the LA Weekly profile makes clear about Boras' tactics is that the GMs alone aren't his audience - he makes maximum use of the fact that he is wealthier, more powerful and more secure in his position than the average GM, who after all is a salaried employee with a boss as well as a fan and media base to answer to:
General managers might resent such statements. But one way Boras gets into their heads is to pit them against their owners. "The process is informational," he says. "There are GMs who are information sensitive, and their opinions are in the rear. There's a whole group of GMs who put their opinions out front, and they view me as an obstacle. I tell them, 'Let me help you and your owner make good decisions. Why wouldn't you want good players?'"
It's an effective negotiating tactic, and of course because GMs lack Boras' job security, he's always around to get the last laugh. Nonetheless, you have to think that even aside from the question of how believable his advocacy is, it would be obvious to most GMs that the premium to be paid for a Boras player over and above the cost of a comparable player with a less aggressive agent makes his clients a bad deal. Not that all of them are a bad deal - A-Rod, for example, was and is a unique commodity. But first you sign an A-Rod, and then you go back to Boras and you sign a Chan Ho Park, and the value of the A-Rod contract goes down the tubes, to the detriment most of all of A-Rod, who got blamed for the Rangers' inability to spend wisely to build around him.
Another hardball tactic in evidence here is that when Boras feels spited - as the example of Dodgers GM Ned Coletti's decision to send subordinates to negotiate with him over Maddux, or as in the case of Johnny Damon - his players have a tendency to end up on a direct division rival, sending the message that Boras and his clients will go out of his way to screw you.
Still, I had to laugh at one set of examples here, the two Seattle signings - first, the article notes Dodger fans' angst at losing Adrian Beltre, without mentioning quite how badly that worked out for Seattle. And then, we have Boras' laughable attempt to spin the Cardinals as having made a bad decision to get outbid by the same Mariners for the services of Jeff Weaver:
Last year, another longtime Boras client, Jeff Weaver, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after a poor start with the Angels in Anaheim. Weaver was dominant in the postseason, and the Cardinals won the World Series, but St. Louis offered Weaver only a one-year, $5 million contract - which Boras found insulting. "That's what you'd offer a relief pitcher," he says.
At press time, Jeff Weaver had a 14.32 ERA and had managed to lose all six of his starts while allowing 50 hits in 22 innings. I'm sure the Mariners are just thrilled that Boras talked them into spending $8.3 million on him.
The bottom line: Boras is out for his guys. He's good at getting them their money, and there are certainly far less respectable ways to make a living. But nobody should make the mistake of thinking he's doing anybody else any good.
POLITICS: Kerry Campaign Busted Spending Limit - On Customized Jets
Dignity. Integrity. Duty.
Aw, heck, why not just blow it all on fancy airplanes?
Sen. John Kerry broke spending limits by nearly $1.4 million during his 2004 presidential bid, including some funds spent on customizing his campaign jets, a Federal Election Commission draft audit concludes.
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About $1.3 million was spent to reconfigure two jets before the general election. Kerry's primary campaign committee paid for most of the work.
Kerry denies any impropriety. Interestingly, the Globe notes that "[t]he Kerry-Edwards campaign account has about $4.3 million remaining". I'm sure the campaign's donors are thrilled to hear that.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:26 PM | Politics 2004 | Politics 2007 | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Next Mondale
"It's foolproof, I tell you! What's the downside?"
In 1984, Walter Mondale famously promised to raise taxes. He lost every state but Minnesota, and when he resurfaced to run for office again in 2002, he lost Minnesota as well. Now, Barack Obama is apparently looking to follow in Mondale's footsteps. He's offering a Hillary-style "universal" health care plan that he admits will be enormously costly:
With savings from healthcare efficiency, Obama's campaign estimated it would cost $50 billion to $65 billion a year to cover the uninsured. That sum could be raised by allowing President Bush's tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers to expire, the campaign said.
(Predictably, John Edwards blasted the plan for not going far enough - "Edwards spokesman Mark Kornblau said Edwards' plan, estimated to cost between $90 billion ... and $120 billion ... annually, is "truly universal.""). So where is Obama planning to get that kind of cash? Not by selling motivational books, but by soaking the taxpayers:
The experts [in a memo released by the Obama campaign] also said Obama could pay for his plan mostly through steps that the candidate has already said he would take -- allowing President Bush's tax cuts on dividends and capital gains and on those making more than about $250,000 a year to expire in 2010 instead of acting to make them permanent.
Got that? More taxes on income, capital gains, dividends, and a hike in the estate tax. Assuming that all those tax hikes are enough to come up with $50-65 billion according to Obama's own estimates, which one would assume are probably as lowball as he thinks he can get away with - if they don't raise enough revenue or the program is more expensive, he will keep digging. And that's just to pay for one program - remember that any time he proposes anything else from here on, he has to come up with money from somewhere else besides these tax hikes, having already spent them.
Hey, it worked out well for Mondale, didn't it?
BASEBALL: Davey for Perlozzo?
Soccer Dad says the hot rumor in Baltimore is that Sam Perlozzo may be sacked and replaced by his old boss, Davey Johnson. He doesn't like the move; he's closer to the situation than I am, but in general I don't see Davey as the kind of guy you bring in in the middle of a season, nor as the kind of guy who can squeeze extra performance out of a team with mediocre talent. And either way, you don't want to alienate Leo Mazzone.
May 29, 2007
WAR: Do Your Homework First
Senators who criticize the Bush Administration for misreading the pre-Iraq War intelligence on WMD really should be embarrassed if they didn't read the National Intelligence Estimate themselves.
The full, classified report was 90 pages - maybe a bit lengthy for the average citizen to digest even if access wasn't restricted, but hardly a great burden on the people making the final decision on whether to authorize a war. It's hard to go around saying that the Executive Branch should have taken a more skeptical look if you didn't bother to look yourself.
May 26, 2007
POLITICS: B.O.G.U.S. Hotline Attack on Fred
So Fred Thompson gives a speech, and in that speech he talks about the need to guard the borders better, and in the course of that he says that "We're are now living in a nation that is beset by suicidal maniacs..."
What conclusion does Marc Ambinder of The Hotline draw from this? See if you can guess, then click below the fold:
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Was he referring to Cho Seung-Hui's rampage [at Virginia Tech]?
You can watch the video at The Hotline and judge for yourself, but really, this sounds like a classic example of a reaction that says more about the listener's "all Republicans are racist" mindset than about the speaker. The post has since been updated to reflect the Thompson campaign's response that no, Fred wasn't talking about Korean college students. Perhaps Ambinder has forgotten with whom we are currently at war.
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May 25, 2007
My son and I have been using teams of Hall of Famers in Strat-O-Matic, and the thing about a lineup full of Hall of Fame hitters is, they are apt to get shut out all day and then suddenly blow the doors off a game in a single inning. These Mets are like that, as we saw in the 5-run ninth tonight.
We also had a marvelous performance by El Duque on the way back from an injury, and yet another example of why Billy Wagner can't be trusted with more than a 3-run lead.
WAR/POLITICS: John Edwards' Fantasy World
I hate to waste my time, and yours, beating up on a minor candidate for the presidency. And I am tempted to dismiss John Edwards as just that - the man served but a single wholly undistinguished term in the Senate (which he rarely attended and had to leave because he could not have been re-elected), he has no accomplishments whatsoever in public life, and he is unserious to the point of claiming that he was not personally involved in his own haircut.
That being said, Edwards is currently leading the Democratic field in Iowa polls, and tied for second in New Hampshire, so one must take seriously his recent statement that "[t]he war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics," rather than an actual, live struggle against murderous fanatics. Put simply, Edwards is living in a left-wing fantasy world where the war is just a political "frame" and George Bush's greatest sin is in choosing to fight it.
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Edwards touched off a firestorm of controversy with this speech Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. Let's walk through it:
The core of this presidency has been a political doctrine that George Bush calls the "Global War on Terror." He has used this doctrine like a sledgehammer to justify the worst abuses and biggest mistakes of his administration, from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, to the war in Iraq.
Let's pause a moment and recall that not only did Edwards vote for that war, he co-sponsored the war resolution and was if anything even more emphatic than the Bush Administration - based, one would assume, upon intelligence he reviewed as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee - that, in Edwards' own words:
Almost no one disagrees with these basic facts: that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a menace; that he has weapons of mass destruction and that he is doing everything in his power to get nuclear weapons; that he has supported terrorists; that he is a grave threat to the region, to vital allies like Israel, and to the United States; and that he is thwarting the will of the international community and undermining the United Nations' credibility.
(Edwards has similarly, er, revised his views on Iran). Of course, Edwards calls for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq but says
I believe that once we are out of Iraq, the U.S. must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, deter a regional spillover of the civil war, and prevent an Al Qaeda safe haven.
Prevent a genocide where? Prevent an Al Qaeda safe haven where? I think he means we will need to go right back into a four-letter country starting with "I" and ending with "Q".
But back to that "political doctrine," you know, the one that caused Bush to set off bombs in Bali and London and massacre schoolchildren in Beslan . . . wasn't that Bush? Anyway:
It is now clear that George Bush's misnamed "war on terror" has backfired -- and is now part of the problem.
By framing this as a "war," we have walked right into the trap that terrorists have set -- that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war against Islam.
There you have it: there is no war. It's just a slogan. Note also his use of the term "frame," which if you are a normal person who does not obsess over left-wing websites you may not know, but it's basically a popular concept on the Left about how Republicans "frame" issues . . . it's an idea beloved by people who think that even such issues as war and peace can be glossed over by the careful use of soothing talking points. You will scan the speech in vain for any effort to deal with who the enemy is or what they believe in or what they do - because, after all, naming the enemy or acknowledging the existence of the threat would get us back to those "frames" again.
Predictably, Edwards drew withering fire for this nonsense, which flies in the face of things he said in 2004 - Rudy Giuliani called it dangerous "denial" and added, "In case you missed it -- and I guess this Democratic candidate doesn't remember it -- bin Laden declared war on us." Mitt Romney ripped him for having his "head in the sand," and quoted Burke's line about how "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And President Bush responded that
This notion about how this isn't a war on terror, in my view, is naive. It doesn't -- it doesn't reflect the true nature of the world in which we live.
If you wanted further proof that Edwards has gone off to live in Howard Deanistan, check out this, from the same speech:
[W]e must avoid actions that will give terrorists or even other nations an excuse to abandon international law. As president, I will close Guantanamo Bay, restore habeas corpus, and ban torture.
Yes, terrorists need an excuse to abandon international law. Suuuuuuuure. But then, Edwards has framed the issue - so there's no need to consider the possibility that maybe there really is a war on.
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WAR/POLITICS: The McGovernites
Democrats labored long and hard to frustrate and hamper the war effort in Iraq, a job the troops want to finish, but at the end of the day even the likes of Jack Murtha couldn't pull the trigger on voting "no" on continued funding for the men and women in the field. Continuation of the war effort - at least, for long enough to give Gen. Petraeus and the rest of the military leadership and rank and file the time to make some real headway under the "surge" strategy - ended up garnering broad, bipartisan support, with only a handful of left-wing extremists (and a few Republicans casting votes of protest at pork in the bill) voting no. In the Democrat/Socialist-controlled Senate, for example, the vote to fund the troops was 80-14.
But consider that the few extremists who voted against it and against the mainstream consensus includes the top two Democrat contenders for president, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. John Edwards and Bill Richardson also voiced their support for a "no" vote (Chris Dodd, rumored to be conducting a 2008 campaign, also voted no). In 2004, of course, John Kerry famously tried to get out of a vote of this nature by saying he voted for it before he voted against it. The odds are pretty strong that the next nominee of the Democratic party will once again end up going before the general electorate in search of some mealy-mouthed excuse for taking the McGovernite position. Or maybe by next year, they won't even bother to hide the fact that the far left will be calling the shots if they win the White House next November.
WAR: Yes, The Troops Want to Finish The Job
Via Allahpundit, Spencer Ackerman - as vociferous and intemperate a left-wing war opponent as you could hope to meet - reports from Iraq that yes, the troops want to stay and finish the job:
The truth of the matter, however, is this: many troops in Iraq, perhaps even most of them, want to stay and fight. That doesn't mean that we should stay in Iraq any longer. It does mean, however, that if Democrats want to bridge the divide between themselves and the military - an effort further complicated by their opposition to the war - they're going to have to recognize that arguing in the name of the troops isn't going to work . . .
But, you know, the only people who support the war are "chickenhawks," so Ackerman must be ignored, and so must the views of the people actually fighting the war.
BASEBALL: Smoltz is Cooperstown Bound
John Smoltz's 200th win last night has to ice his credentials for Cooperstown, as it should. While 200 wins is hardly distinguishing on its own (see here, here and here on the Hall's de facto standards for career wins, winning percentage and 20-win seasons), there are a number of reasons why he deserves it. First of all, he doesn't just have 200 wins; he's also 61 games over .500, is closing in on 3000K (Bert Blyleven is the only eligible pitcher with 3000 K who isn't in) and has 154 career saves, 144 of them in a 3-year stretch (he's tied for the NL single-season saves record), and a Cy Young Award. He's the only NL pitcher since Dwight Gooden to win 24 games in a season, and threw as many as 291.2 and 271 innings in 1996 and 1997, counting the postseason. Second, he has had an ERA equal or better to the league, at least by Baseball-Reference.com's park-adjusted measure, every year since 1989, which is really hard. Third, he holds key career records for postseason play - career wins, Ks, third in IP. He's 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA and 4 saves in 207 postseason innings, a far better mark than Maddux, Glavine, Clemens or Randy Johnson and a much longer record than Curt Schilling.
BASEBALL: Milledge and Dontrelle?
I probably don't pay enough attention to trade rumors in general, so excuse me if some of you have discussed this to death already, but Bruce Markusen discusses the revival of the ever-popular deal of prospects, headlined by Lastings Milledge, for Dontrelle Willis. (Joel Sherman of the Post also thinks they may target Willis).
In theory I'm all in favor of a deal like that - Milledge is a serious talent, but guys who are prime quality starting pitchers now are a very rare commodity, and Willis can't become a free agent until after the 2009 season.
The problem is whether Willis really is an elite pitcher. We're talking about a guy who had a 4.02 ERA in 2004, 3.87 last season and 4.80 this year. In 292.2 innings since the beginning of 2006, Willis has allowed 311 hits (9.56 per 9 IP), 30 HR (0.92), 113 BB (3.47), and 212 K (6.52). In Florida. Those aren't terrible numbers by any stretch, but for a 25-year-old in a pitcher's park, who has a complicated pitching motion and has been worked very hard, that kind of regression, especially in his control, is worrisome.
May 24, 2007
BASEBALL: More of the Same, Please
The Yankees are apparently interested in Todd Helton and Rockies closer Brian Fuentes. (h/t). What's interesting is that not only would a deal for Helton and/or Fuentes involve addressing the Yankees' strength (veteran hitters - the team is third in the AL in scoring with only two regulars, one of them the 31-year-old A-Rod, under age 33) and moderate strength (the bullpen - the Yankees have three middlemen pitching solidly, Proctor, Myers and Bruney, plus they have Rivera, although the setup men - Farnsworth and Vizcaino - and Rivera have all struggled) and not their weaknesses in the starting rotation, but they are dealing with a team, the Rockies, that will likely want some of the Yanks' stable of young starters in return.
Not that a deal would be a bad idea - Clemens is on the way to help the rotation, and Helton and Fuentes would certainly be an upgrade on Mientkiewicz and Farnsworth. In fact, a willingness to act opportunistically to add to their strengths, rather than dealing on their weaknesses, has long been a hallmark of Yankee strategy, from signing Howard to go with Berra to adding Gossage to Lyle to adding Abreu to Matsui and Sheffield.
UPDATE: Also, today marks 72 years of night baseball.
LAW/BASEBALL: Everyone Else's Fault
The father of Josh Hancock filed suit Thursday, claiming a restaurant provided drinks to the St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher even though he was intoxicated prior to the crash that killed him.
The lawsuit claimed Tolar was negligent in allowing his vehicle to reach the point where it stalled on the highway, and for failing to move it out of the way of oncoming traffic. A police report said the car became stalled when it spun out after being cut off by another vehicle.
Let's see how many things are wrong with this picture:
1. Isn't Hancock responsible for knowing that drinking for hours and then getting in his car is a bad idea (to say nothing of speeding, talking on a cell phone and not wearing his seatbelt)? The man had pot in his car, the bar didn't put that there. He made bad choices, and there are consequences for those. It's not like this is a lawsuit filed by some innocent bystander injured by Hancock.
2. Hancock made good money, died single as a grown man, left no dependents. Why should his father be entitled to get money on his behalf?
3. He's suing the guy whose car stalled on the highway? Because his car stalled out after he got cut off? And from whom he will presumably seek a share of the lost wages for a major league ballplayer who was driving drunk while yakking on the phone? Gimme a break. The tow truck driver may have been in some ways negligent, but even then, the guy drives a tow truck, and it's not his fault that Hancock was plastered and on the phone.
4. The cell phone manufacturer hasn't been sued. Yet.
May 23, 2007
FOOTBALL: Boys Will Be Boys
BLOG: I Hate Hewlett Packard, Movable Type, HostMatters and Kenmore
Sorry, comments are down right now, because HostMatters sent me an email telling me that they were cutting off the comments until I upgrade to Movable Type 3.2 (which I did months ago - I'm running 3.33 now) and do a bunch of other technical goobledegook that is beyond my free time and technical expertise. What drives me nuts is dealing with people who think that running a blog means you understand how to download plugins and rewrite scripts. I have no way of knowing whether the problem here is that HM is a bad host or MT is a bad platform, or both, and given how little time I ordinarily have to blog in the first place, I don't need to spend a bunch of time trying to find out.
Meanwhile, 13 days after my new PC arrived from Hewlett Packard, I still have no functioning computer other than to keep borrowing my wife's laptop. The service guy who was supposed to come last Friday to replace the motherboard - to provide the expanded warranty service we paid hundreds of extra dollars for and repair a brand new machine that does not work at all - simply never showed up. When my wife called (I've been reminding her to take notes - dealing with computer companies is like litigation, you need to document every conversation), they finally admitted that the part the guy was supposed to bring hadn't come in and won't until the end of this month. So, no computer. The fact that I don't want to go through the hassle is the only reason I have not returned the whole thing yet, but I may.
We also have no functioning washing machine. My wife got the call from Sears asking us to buy the extended warranty/service contract on our Kenmore machine, since the 1-year warranty will soon run out. She said no - and just a day or so later, the machine basically melted down, and won't run at all because all of its fancy electronic parts are dead. (Dare I ask whether this has anything to do with the fact that this is an energy-saving washing machine). Progress on having that fixed is also slow.
(I won't even get into the fact that I can no longer connect my iPod to my wife's Dell laptop without frying the USB ports, which means no more downloading music).
HISTORY: Losing Our Heritage
American Heritage magazine suspends publication after more than 50 years, awaiting a buyer to bankroll the magazine, which still boasts 350,000 subscribers. A sad day for a fine magazine.
May 22, 2007
BASEBALL: Year in Review
As regular readers know, I like to take the 365-day look back through David Pinto's database now and then; let's go there again with the hitters.
1. I would not have tagged Chipper Jones as baseball's most potent slugger over the past year.
2. David Wright: .302/.521/.375. Jose Reyes: .321/.520/.377. Talk about a matched set. Of course, with 60-odd more plate appearances, 50 more steals, half as many GIDP and his defense at short, Reyes has surpassed Wright. It remains to be seen which will give the Mets more value over the next four years, but it's a nice question to be able to ask.
3. Mr. Ausmus? It's the glue factory...
4. Stock up when you slice the numbers this way: Mark Teahen, Greg Norton, Jimmy Rollins (.508 slugging and .338 OBP probably means we've seen the last of him as a leadoff man), Endy Chavez. Stock down: Miguel Tejada (still productive, but where'd his power go?), Jim Edmonds, Craig Biggio, Eric Chavez,Craig Wilson, Sean Casey, Morgan Ensberg, Damian Miller, Scott Thorman, Jonny Gomes.
HISTORY: The Hindenburg
POLITICS: Tax Amnesty For Illegal Immigrants: Paying Taxes is For Suckers
As I have explained at great length before, there are two types of amnesty for violations of the law: complete amnesty, meaning no penalties whatsoever, and partial amnesty, by which people are absolved from consequences for lawbreaking for some penalty less than the full force of the law. It's been obvious for some time that the current immigration bill would provide a partial amnesty for people currently in the U.S. illegally. For people who oppose any type of amnesty, that's reason enough to oppose the bill. For people like me, who are willing to support a 'legalization' process under the right circumstances, the question is the details. But one thing should be absolutely non-negotiable: anybody who wants to stay in the U.S. legally has to pay their taxes.
The bill currently under discussion appears to fail that test. The immigration bill would bestow a massive tax amnesty on illegal immigrants. The supporters of this bill think that you, as an American citizen, should pay taxes - but illegal immigrants can become legal residents without paying their own share. This is scandalous. The bill should be rejected for that reason alone, and its supporters should be made to explain why they didn't want illegal immigrants to pay the taxes they already owe.
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I'm working here off of National Review's PDF copy of the bill, as well as N.Z. Bear's annotated copy. If I read this bill correctly, the sections establishing the "Z visa" that gives lawful status to people currently illegally in the U.S. are Sections 601-02 and 609, at pp. 260-85 and 294-95 of the draft bill.
What do you have to pay to get the Z visa?
What do you have to pay to go from a Z visa to lawful permanent residence?
"They never contribute more than they take out and at retirement they become very costly," Rector said in Capitol Hill press conference on Monday with Sessions, Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) and Rep. Bill Bilbray (R.-Calif.). "Every person that gets the Z visa, and that would be about 12 million people, 9 million of which are adults - is immediately eligible for Social Security. They start to contribute to that system. They start to earn eligibility for Medicare. The White House has claimed they don't get welfare benefits. That is absolutely untrue. For the first 10 years or so they are in the country, the adults would not get welfare benefits, but the children would. They are going to be here for fifty years. For the first 10 years they don’t get means tested welfare, but for the next forty they are going to be eligible for every single type of means tested welfare."
Apparently the Bush Administration feels that collecting back taxes will be too hard to calculate:
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, asked in a telephone interview yesterday to clarify Chertoff's remark, said it referred only to future taxes.
Of course, the bill is very flexible on how you go about proving that applicants have been, and continue to be, employed and resident in the U.S. for a certain period of time. This being a voluntary statutory solution rather than a compulsory court proceeding, there's no reason why a similar process and formula couldn't be adopted for computing an estimated tax liability. As I have noted before, requiring full payment of all back taxes reduces the incentive to exaggerate how long you have been here, since a longer term of residence means more tax liability. A similar amnesty program could be put in place to encourage the employers of illegals to report and pay their back withholding/payroll taxes using the same formulas.
We can have a fair debate about whether it's proper to let people who entered illegally stay here. But if the idea is to legalize people who are supposed to be hardworking, taxpaying Americans, there's no justification whatsoever for not making them pay their taxes like the rest of us.
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POLITICS: Over His Head
As Bill Simmons would say, there's comedy, there's high comedy, and then there is claiming you were not personally involved in your own haircut. (H/t).
BASEBALL: Sad But True
1. Five pitchers have started all of the Devil Rays' games this season.
The sad part is, you have a team that has some exciting young players (Tampa is still 10th in the league in scoring; not great but they've finished a season that high only once in their history, in 2005), Scott Kazmir and James Shields in the rotation (Shields is having a tremendous breakout year, with a 62/13 K/BB ratio and the lowest baserunners/innings ratio of any major league pitcher) and a rejuvenated Al Reyes ringing up a 1.31 ERA in the closer role. But between the back of the rotation and the middle of the bullpen, Tampa is just getting knocked out of the box too often to move up in the fluid (behind Boston) AL East. And that may end up costing them a last chance to bring fans to the Trop before ownership decides to hit the road.
BASEBALL: What Ills L Millz?
I can understand why the Mets would not be thrilled with Lastings Milledge, with such limited big-league success under his belt, recording a rap album, and still less so with him recording one full of all the standard offensive cliches of the genre. But why is the team going after him in the press, a move that is likely to turn the fans against Milledge and make it harder to deal him for value if the team decides to trade him?
It's certainly starting to look like the skids for a deal are being greased, and without much regard for his market value. There are three possibilities for why they are doing this in the press, as opposed to just sitting him down and talking to him:
(A) Fred Wilpon has bad memories of guys with personality problems from the 1991-93 period and is overreacting. This would have to be Wilpon and possibly Jay Horowitz - they've been there long enough. Omar Minaya doesn't seem the type to let a rap album stand between him and a talented player, and Willie Randolph, Joe Torre disciple that he is, would handle something like this privately.
(B) The team is nervous about Milledge doing something fan-unfriendly (especially after the Imus kerfuffle) and is trying to get out front of condemning it to control the PR narrative.
(C) The team knows something non-public that is wrong with Milledge (e.g., drugs) and wants to build a separate, public case for dumping him cheaply (which they may have to do if other teams know it too).
Both (A) and (C) would suggest he is not long for NY. (B) could mean he stays and they are just doing damage control.
May 21, 2007
LAW: Listening Tour
The logical answer to this would seem to be that Justice Scalia is an extremely aggressive questioner, and Chief Justice Roberts has now joined him in that regard - and on a nine-judge Court, there is a diminishing return in having multiple voices from the Right asking the same questions. But as I noted last fall, Thomas' own explanation is rather different, and in fact seems to be almost the opposite conclusion:
Thomas said that as a young state attorney general arguing before the Supreme Court of Missouri, he recalled justices who "actually allowed me to make my argument. They listened to what I had to say. ... Nor did I ever feel I had not been heard or did not have my day in court." . . . "It seems fashionable now for judges to be more aggressive in oral arguments," he said. "I find it unnecessary and distracting. ... I truly think oral arguments would be more useful if the justices would listen rather than debating the lawyers. ... I think the judges need to listen if the arguments are to be effective."
LAW/BASEBALL: Sliding Scale
LAW: More Than Just Notice
In what will almost certainly be the most practically significant case of this term, a major, major win for defendants, especially corporate defendants, today in the Supreme Court, and via a 7-2 decision written by Justice Souter from which only Justices Stevens and Ginsburg dissented.
The Court, in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, No. 05-1126 (May 21, 2007), held that plaintiffs in an antitrust conspiracy case may not survive a motion to dismiss the complaint at the outset under Rule 12(b)(6) by a bare assertion of conspiracy. In so holding, the Court significantly clarified the Rule 8 pleading standards governing motions to dismiss non-fraud-based claims.
To put the matter in non-lawyer-ese, the Court held that plaintiffs' lawyers (in this case class action plaintiffs in an antitrust case, but the ruling will affect all civil lawsuits in federal court) need to have more of a factual basis for filing lawsuits before they can kick-start the expensive and intrusive discovery process.
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The putative class plaintiffs in Bell Atlantic alleged an antitrust conspiracy in which the "Baby Bell" companies, after being permitted to enter each other's local telephone markets by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, failed to do so. The plaintiffs alleged facts showing parallel conduct - the failure to compete in one another's previously-exclusive markets - and conclusorily asserted that this parallel conduct amounted to a conspiracy. The Second Circuit, noting the Supreme Court's plaintiff-friendly enunciation of the notice pleading standards in the Swierkiewicz case (which involved pleading of the nonstatutory "McDonnell Douglas" factors that give rise to an inference of discrimination and shift the burden to the employer in an employment discrimination case), concluded that Rule 8's liberal pleading standards required no more. Subsequent Rule 8 decisions by the Supreme Court regarding the pleading of proximate/loss causation in securities and RICO cases (the Dura and Anza decisions) called that holding into question.
The Court began by reciting the familiar reasons why parallel conduct alone is not a basis for a Sherman Act conspiracy claim without proof that excludes the possibility of independent action:
The inadequacy of showing parallel conduct or interdependence, without more, mirrors the ambiguity of the behavior: consistent with conspiracy, but just as much in line with a wide swath of rational and competitive business strategy unilaterally prompted by common perceptions of the market.
The crux of the case, however, was the holding regarding pleading standards; the Court relied heavily on the writings of Judges Easterbrook and Posner on the potential for abuse in the discovery process as a reason to weed out weak claims early:
[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds" of his "entitle[ment] to relief" requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U. S. 265, 286 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation"). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, see 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004) (hereinafter Wright & Miller) ("[T]he pleading must contain something more ... than ... a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action")
[W]hen the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, "'this basic deficiency should . . . be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.'" 5 Wright & Miller § 1216, at 233-234 . . . see also Dura, supra, at 346; Asahi Glass Co. v. Pentech Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 289 F. Supp. 2d 986, 995 (ND Ill. 2003) (Posner, J., sitting by designation) ("[S]ome threshold of plausibility must be crossed at the outset before a patent antitrust case should be permitted to go into its inevitably costly and protracted discovery phase").
It is no answer to say that a claim just shy of a plausible entitlement to relief can, if groundless, be weeded out early in the discovery process through "careful case management," post at 4, given the common lament that the success of judicial supervision in checking discovery abuse has been on the modest side. See, e.g., Easterbrook, Discovery as Abuse, 69 B. U. L. Rev. 635, 638 (1989) ("Judges can do little about impositional discovery when parties control the legal claims to be presented and conduct the discovery themselves"). And it is self-evident that the problem of discovery abuse cannot be solved by "careful scrutiny of evidence at the summary judgment stage," much less "lucid instructions to juries," post, at 4; the threat of discovery expense will push cost-conscious defendants to settle even anemic cases before reaching those proceedings. Probably, then, it is only by taking care to require allegations that reach the level suggesting conspiracy that we can hope to avoid the potentially enormous expense of discovery in cases with no "'reasonably founded hope that the [discovery] process will reveal relevant evidence'" to support a [Section] 1 claim. Dura, 544 U. S., at 347 (quoting Blue Chip Stamps, supra, at 741; alteration in Dura).
[D]etermining whether some illegal agreement may have taken place between unspecified persons at different ILECs (each a multibillion dollar corporation with legions of management level employees) at some point over seven years is a sprawling, costly, and hugely time-consuming undertaking not easily susceptible to the kind of line drawing and case management that the dissent envisions. . . . Given the system that we have, the hope of effective judicial supervision is slim . . .
(Emphasis added; citations omitted). The Court expressly concluded that Conley v. Gibson's commonly cited "no set of facts" language does not mean that dismissal is proper only if the facts pleaded exclude the possibility of relief, and rejected the argument that Swierkiewicz had anything useful to say about pleading standards in general:
[T]here is no need to pile up further citations to show that Conley's "no set of facts" language has been questioned, criticized, and explained away long enough. . . . The phrase is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.
The Court then laid out the test for pleading an antitrust conspiracy, one that will likely apply as well to other pleadings of conspiracy and other forms of illicit agreement:
[S]tating such a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that an agreement was made. Asking for plausible grounds to infer an agreement does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal agreement.
Applying the pleading standard, the Court found plausible alternative explanations of the defendants' conduct:
In a traditionally unregulated industry with low barriers to entry, sparse competition among large firms dominating separate geographical segments of the market could very well signify illegal agreement, but here we have an obvious alternative explanation. In the decade preceding the 1996 Act and well before that, monopoly was the norm in telecommunications, not the exception. . . . The ILECs were born in that world, doubtless liked the world the way it was, and surely knew the adage about him who lives by the sword. Hence, a natural explanation for the noncompetition alleged is that the former Government-sanctioned monopolists were sitting tight, expecting their neighbors to do the same thing.
The decision is welcome news. Given the broad latitude given to attorneys in discovery and courts' traditional unwillingness to impose sanctions on all but the most obviously frivolous claims, there really is no meaningful substitite for vigilance in reviewing initial pleadings to weed out lawsuits that act as a drag on the American economy.
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POP CULTURE: Two Sopranos To Go
I'm a little bleary-eyed from watching the Sopranos last night after the Mets got shut down by Tyler Clippard on the way to his junior prom....thoughts in the extended entry below, SPOILERS INCLUDED.
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First of all, that beat-down Tony put on the guy who harrassed Meadow climaxed with one of the most shocking acts of violence we have seen on this show, and that's saying quite a lot. I'm still cringing from Tony fracturing the guy's dental plate.
Is this the end of AJ's story arc? It's hard to top a failed suicide attempt (via a typically incompetent effort to make himself sleep with the fishes - I thought Tony would find him dead and assume Phil did it and go bonkers) except with a successful suicide or some other method of AJ killing or dying. It's hard for him to get well in two episodes, too. I have to think it will get worse.
(I will say no more than to observe that Bush-hatred appears to be part of AJ's downward spiral and avoidance of his own reality).
Tony was awful slow to put down that hot dog while running to rescue his son.
It really is all about Tony's mother. His bus metaphor with Melfi shows how thoroughly he has absorbed her Freudianism. I'm guessing we will see more of Melfi, although her scene with her own shrink put a fairly appropriate ending on her storyline.
One of the quiet highlights of the episode was Carmela almost but not quite telling Meadow to avoid getting involved with a man in the mob. She just can't admit that to herself.
The Mayor of Munchkinland is now "Nobody Sees the Wizard," with crazy Butchie as the doorwarden. Of course, Phil tries to elevate himself above Tony by refusing an audience, but then ruins the effect by yelling out his window like a teenage girl in a snit. The man's resentments and grudges make Johnny Sack look like Fred Rogers by comparison. The coming attractions underline the obvious: the gang war David Chase has been tantalizing us with for over a year now will finally erupt into serious blood. I have to believe that one of the pleasures Chase will deny us is seeing Phil get his comeuppance; he's probably more of the device that brings down Tony.
Is this the first time we have seen Little Carmine introduced as "Carmine Lupertazzi" instead of "Little Carmine"? As Little Carmine would say, his statue is adding gravity.
Anybody taking bets on when Tony smashes the picture of Christopher?
Speaking of coming attractions, are we to believe that Silvio's loyalty will be called into question? He's really the only one left Tony can trust. And he really knows where the bodies are buried.
UPDATES: #1, I think someone other than Phil (Rusty?) was the Mayor of Munchkinland, or am I forgetting? And #2, maybe I heard wrong in the previews - was Sil saying he, Silvio, was playing both sides, or that Tony was?
#3 - Even if the Muslims are more of a target than the FBI is letting on, the fact that they showed pictures to Tony confirms what was already obvious: they are not going to ever use Tony as a witness against these guys in court.
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POLITICS: Forget the War, Taxes, and Abortion
John Hawkins, who I usually respect, is joining the caucus that is ready to blow up the Senate GOP over immigration. As I have said, I'm not thrilled with where we seem to be headed on this issue, and I understand the concern of people who think that more immigration will damage the GOP electorally (and help offset the Democrats' natural demographic disadvantage that flows from being the party of people who don't bear or beget children).
But I can't sign on to going bonkers over this issue. There's a war on. There are still fundamental differences between the parties on scores of core issues - taxes and economic liberties, life, the courts, the rule of law. Face it, we have lived with bad immigration policy for decades. We should fix that - but it's not the end of the world if we don't, and electing Democrats, of all people, won't help.
May 19, 2007
BASEBALL: Hank's Rib
Some guys just can't catch a break; just when Hank Blalock was just back in the kind of groove he's been missing the past few years (with teammate Mark Teixeira also blazing hot), Blalock has to be out the next three months to have a rib removed to relieve "thoracic outlet syndrome," which is apparently some sort of nerve or vascular condition. The Rangers, already mired in last place 4 1/2 games behind the Mariners and with the second worst record in the AL, lose one more reason to hope they can get out.
BASEBALL: Subway Spring
Yeah, David Wright is all the way back.
Hated Yankees down 10 games to the Red Sox going into today; I won't feel good until they are more than 14 1/2 down.
Would you rather be a Yankee starting pitcher or the drummer for Spinal Tap?
Mike Myers threw 54 pitches today - wonder when the last time that was? 10 is usually a long outing for him. ESPN's game longs go back to 2002 and he hasn't thrown 50 pitches in a game in that time period.
UPDATE: For a game with a 6-run lead that was waaaaaay too close at the end. What on earth were Cano and Wagner thinking - Cano rushing a throw to first in the bottom of the 8th with Julio Franco trotting up the first base line on his way to the shuffleboard court and tossing it up the right field line, Wagner throwing home with a 4-run lead and one out instead of getting the easy out at first (and catching Paul Lo Duca totally unawares).
May 18, 2007
POLITICS: Why Harry Can't Reid
Regular readers will know that immigration isn't exactly my top issue. The system is broken in many ways, unfair to legal immigrants, impotent in the face of mass illegal immigration and unlawful entry by criminals and terrorists, and lethargic and undermanned even when it takes action, but I remain skeptical that our political system is even capable of dealing seriously with these issues. I'm in favor of comprehensive reform, but only if it contains real enforcement teeth; I'm OK with more legal immigration and fine with allowing present illegals to become citizens, but only if there is a substantial price of entry paid for the privilege of citizenship (I discussed the "amnesty" issue at much greater length here).
All that said, there is no reason whatsoever for the Senate to be rushing a vote on the massively complex immigration bill when there will barely be time for Senators to read the thing and no ability for the public to examine its provisions and peaceably assemble to petition for redress of grievances with the bill.
May 17, 2007
WAR: In a Word
WAR/LAW: Sandy Berger Won't Say
Allahpundit notes that Sandy Berger has surrendered his law license rather than face cross-examination about his destruction of original classified documents to obstruct the investigation of the 9/11 Commission. Allahpundit thinks that Berger would have been able to assert the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering those questions, but I'm not so sure; after all, he has already been sentenced for the conduct in question, and in light of the Double Jeopardy Clause the right against self-incrimination no longer attaches after sentencing.
Unless, of course, there are other crimes he could still be charged with besides the ones he was convicted and sentenced for.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:12 PM | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2007 | War 2007-12 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Eliot Spitzer's Pro-Abortion Zealotry
Most of you should be familiar by now with the Seven Stages of Liberal Legal Activism:
1. It's a free country, X should not be illegal.
We have known since very early on in Eliot Spitzer's tenure in public office that he was a pro-abortion zealot who would stop at nothing to serve the financial interests of the abortion industry. The only question now is whether New York's Governor is at Stage Six or Stage Seven.
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A New York NARAL Political Action Committee brochure reads: "NARAL/NY was central to the narrow yet critical triumph by Eliot Spitzer in the race for Attorney General" in 1998. The brochure also quotes Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, as saying that "NARAL/NY was instrumental in my victory."
Eliot Spitzer, the state attorney general . . . is conducting a civil investigation to determine whether they are practicing medicine without a license, and also whether they are intentionally misleading women into thinking they can obtain abortions at the centers. The attorney general's office subpoenaed the records of nine CPC operations, but withdrew them under protest and legal challenge by CPC lawyers, who are representing the money-strapped centers for free.
Anne Downey, who represents the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Western New York, says, "There certainly seems to be a political motivation" behind the attorney general's investigation: "We have never been given any specifics about this alleged violation at our center. We don't know if there's even a factual basis for this significant intrusion into our activities." Downey also complains that the investigators "keep coming back and narrowing what we are allowed to say"; for example, the attorney general wants CPCs to put up signs on their doors explicitly saying the centers are not abortion clinics.
What do CPCs do that so offends abortion-rights proponents? "The charade is that they provide alternatives, when they don't provide alternatives, they frighten women with horror films about abortion, they lie about the psychological impact of abortion; they have even been known to lie about whether a woman is pregnant," Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt told the Washington Post. Even worse, from the abortion-rights point of view, CPCs are getting savvier about employing ultrasound technology to "trick" pregnant women into having their babies instead of aborting them. An increasing number of CPCs offer sonograms for pregnant women who visit them-and they report that women, once they see their babies moving in their wombs, overwhelmingly choose to carry the pregnancy to term. Fumed one Long Island abortion provider in the New York Times: "The bottom line is no woman is going to want an abortion after she sees a sonogram."
As the NY Sun noted, the investigation was characteristically intrusive and costly:
The subpoenas, which demanded the names of staff members and their credentials, training materials, promotional information, and data on all policies relating to client referrals, created an onerous burden on these centers, which are nonprofit and funded by private donations.
More here. Yet, Spitzer refused to take action against an abortion clinic that did engage in deceptive practices, including "advertising in a section of The Yellow Pages that is solely reserved for organizations that do not provide abortions or references for abortions."
Unsurprisingly, Spitzer got an ethusiastic endorsement in 2006 from NARAL.
Now, in reaction to the Supreme Court upholding the bipartisan ban on partial-birth abortion - a ban so limited and moderate that it was supported by the last two leaders of Spitzer's own party in the Senate as well as numerous reliable Congressional liberals like Patrick Leahy, Joe Biden, John Dingell, Patrick Kennedy, Jack Murtha and David Obey - and the collapse of any further challenges to that ban in New York, Spitzer is rolling out the "Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act," which according to Spitzer will do the following:
*Affirmatively state that a woman has a fundamental right to control her own reproductive health *Establish protections for the rights ensured by Roe: that a pregnant woman has the right to an abortion at any time when her life or health are in danger *Ensure the continuation of public funding for reproductive health services *Decriminalize abortion in New York *Solidify in New York law the existing federal right to contraception and remove the statute that makes it a crime to provide non-prescription contraception to minors.
More here and here; Spitzer's wife stressed that "[a]t a time when the future of Roe is uncertain, states must ensure that their protections of reproductive rights are as robust as they can possibly be."
As if this were not enough, however, the New York State Catholic Conference notes that the bill quietly goes much further:
The Governor’s bill would:
(I'm quoting from a NYSCC email, portions of which are also reprinted here).
It's time for the New York State Senate to stand up against Spitzer's extremism. And it's also time for New York's two leading presidential candidates to weigh in. Hillary Clinton happily took Spitzer's endorsement; is she willing to publicly embrace Spitzer's extremism on this issue? And Rudy Giuliani has struggled to convince pro-lifers that his longstanding support for legal abortion, donations to Planned Parenthood and acceptance of honors from NARAL doesn't amount to the kind of pro-abortion stance that Democrats like Spitzer have taken; now is his chance to put some substance to that effort.
Spitzer is outside the mainstream, even in New York. He must be stopped.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:06 PM | Politics 2007 | Politics 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Meche Godzilla
Gil Meche, who entered 2007 with a career ERA of 4.65 and no seasons with an ERA of less than 4.48 in 100 innings or more, has an ERA this season of 1.91. What gives? Let's break out Meche's numbers for thus far in 2007 compared to his full season numbers for 2006 as well as his good first half in 2006, which ran through July 19 before the wheels came off. Stats courtesy of ESPN, THT and Pinto; the detailed stats aren't available for just a part of 2006:
The immediate fact that jumps out is that Meche is allowing just over one unearned run per 9 innings, a high enough number to suggest that his ERA is misleadingly low. In fact, his overall numbers are much more consistent with a guy with an ERA in the high 2s than below 2.00.
That said, Meche is pitching dramatically better, even though his K/9 ratio is actually down a bit and the percentage of outs on balls in play (DER) is not much changed (even though the number of line drives he surrenders - LD% - has improved). Meche's improvement has come in a large step forward in his control plus a great improvement the proportion of ground balls among balls in play, which has resulted in many fewer doubles and home runs and many more double play balls.
The warning signs are twofold. First, the improvements in control and ground ball percentage are both way out of line with his career (ESPN lists him as having a 1.98 G/F ratio this season compared to 1.01 for his career and 3.89 BB/9); while he has shown real improvement and not just luck, the issue will be how long he can sustain that. Second, of course, is the durability issue. Meche flamed out in the second half last season after passing the 120 inning mark, he's never thrown 200 innings, and of course when younger he missed two full seasons with arm trouble. At his present pace, which puts him just an inning off the league lead, he is on track to throw 242.1 innings. There is a very serious question as to whether he can keep that up.
So far, Meche really has been worth all that money the Royals paid him. Stay tuned.
Patterico responds again to the idea (see here, h/t here) that voter fraud is a non-existent problem simply because it is hard to get criminal convictions for voter fraud. More background in this post, and that's before we even get to some of the voter-turnout figures for cities like Philadelphia and Milwaukee (I've never heard a legitimate explanation as to how a large city can have voter turnout in excess of 100%).
May 16, 2007
BLOG: Random Thoughts From Last Night
I was switching back and forth last night between the GOP debate and the Met game before catching up on last night's "24," so let me give you my observations on what I did catch, plus a few other bits:
*It may almost be time to add Shawn Green to the list of Omar's successes - I'm really amazed that he is hitting .324 and slugging .525, when he looked for all the world like he was headed irreversibly downhill last season. It's a Mike Lowell-style resurgence. Green doesn't look like a power hitter; he's built like a finesse pitcher. The Mets have batboys beefier than Green.
*24 has just gone catastrophically off the rails since the end of the plot with the Arabs. They should probably have ended the season right there. In particular, we have seen no explanation of how Chaing new where and when to call Jack to start this whole thing, and no good reason why the White House should have agreed in the first place to negotiate with a state actor holding a U.S. citizen hostage in Los Angeles. It's gone downhill from there. The Russians seem awfully touchy about nuclear technology that their own consul was basically handing out like Halloween candy, yet blase about threatening war with the U.S. when they know that the U.S. has access to that technology. The simplest explanation is this one.
It looks like Jack is finally leaving Los Angeles after this season. This means we can ask a question that would come up for no other show: will they kill off Los Angeles?
*The account of the White House hospital visit to John Ashcroft, by the way, sounds so much like something from 24... a scene very, very radically different from the caricature of Ashcroft as a jackbooted thug. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for Bush's talk with Comey to know how his concerns were ultimately dealt with or whether Bush just twisted his arm on the importance of the intelligence being collected.
*That set for the debate looked like a bad game show...I missed the rules, were the candidates actually buzzing in for rebuttal time?
*Rudy had the best response of the night when he slammed Ron Paul for essentially saying the U.S. had invited 9/11. I think Paul misread his invite to the Green Party debate. As I have said before, one Ron Paul in Congress is a good thing, but more of them would be a disaster. Any time he opens his mouth on foreign affairs you see why.
*Runner-up line goes to Mike Huckabee: "Congress has been spending money like John Edwards at a beauty shop".
*Of course, both of them have stiff competition from Fred Thompson's brilliant and hilarious response to Michael Moore.
*Having seen only transcripts of the first debate, I had not seen Paul or Tom Tancredo live before, and they were much unlike my image of them from reading their statements for years - Paul seemed like a frail old man, and Tancredo seemed meek and nervous; I was expecting a guy who looked and sounded like Bob Dornan.
*Goldberg and Vodkapundit had basically the same reaction to Romney - of course, Romney's father was a car salesman (well, a CEO of a car company, actually). In positioning himself as a conservative, Romney is basically a smart businessman pursuing an underserved market, not a man seeking higher office out of a firm belief in anything in particular, and it shows.
*There is really, really no purpose to Thommy Thompson and Jim Gilmore being in this race, none.
*Other than his position on trade, I can't think of a single thing I have seen from Duncan Hunter to dislike. Hunter has no realistic chance of getting the nomination, but he might not be a bad running mate - he's a serious guy who looks and sounds like a serious guy.
*From what I saw, compared to some of the last debate's questions, I have to say that the Fox team was just miles better than the MSNBC team in asking questions that GOP primary voters would actually want to see answered (one exception was the justly-booed question to McCain about the Confederate flag) and avoiding speechifying by the moderators. From here on out they should just have Brit Hume & co. do all the GOP debates and Tim Russert do the Democrats.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2008 | Pop Culture | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
RELIGION/POLITICS: Jerry Falwell's Legacy
Like a lot of conservative pundits, I could exhaust my server with examples of things Rev. Jerry Falwell said that I would not want to associate myself with, the short summary of which is that for much of his career, he was not a political asset to the conservative movement. (Go here, though, for one example of me defending Falwell on theological grounds)
But a man's passing has a way of focusing attention on the big things he did with his time on this Earth, rather than the raw, rough edges of his public statements. And an article in the current New Republic inadvertantly gives Rev. Falwell a legacy any man would be proud to leave behind:
The Catholic Church was the first to attack abortion: Even before Roe, the Church hierarchy coordinated a parish-by-parish effort to stop any sort of reform bill, including those for therapeutic abortions. This predominantly Catholic movement didn't broaden into the more ecumenical one we know until the late '70s and early '80s, when Protestant evangelicals first joined in. In 1978, Jerry Falwell preached his first sermon on abortion; a year later, the newly formed Moral Majority put abortion at the top of its list of secular humanist scourges. Two years later, Ronald Reagan was the first presidential candidate in U.S. history to run on a party platform that condemned abortion.
PS - That TNR piece also claims - revealingly, of the dehumanized mindset that sets in on this issue - that partial-birth abortion isn't a big deal because "only" 2,200 of them are performed a year . . . how, I ask, would the writer of that piece respond if a conservative said that "only" 2,200 deaths from the Iraq War per year was too small a number to be of concern to anyone, or that "only" 2,200 executions a year shouldn't be enough for anyone to care about.
I thought so.
May 15, 2007
BASEBALL: Home of the Braves
BLOG: Write First, Think Later
BASEBALL: Enter the Lefties
Tom Glavine, with 294 wins, is on the verge of becoming only the fifth lefthanded pitcher in Major League history to win 300 games (Randy Johnson, if he manages 20 more wins, would be the sixth). Which leads me to an interesting issue: the fact that it took some time for lefthanded pitching to take root in the majors. While this story would make a fascinating article by someone with more time to do the research, I'll lay out here the outlines in statistical terms.
Over the first 11 years of major league ball - the five year run of the National Association from 1871 to 1875, and the first six years of the National League from 1876 to 1881 - lefthanded pitchers were at best a curiosity:
Granted, there were a few hundred innings thrown over those years by pitchers whose handedness was not recorded, but those were rarely guys with significant pitching roles. In both 1874 and 1876 there was no lefthanded pitching at all.
Those 2,586 innings were thrown by just 11 men, three of whom (Charlie Pabor, Ed Pinkham, and Hall of Fame slugger Dan Brouthers) were full-time players who never threw more than 30 innings in a season, and three others of whom (John McMullin, John Cassidy and Curry Foley) also spent the bulk of their careers as everyday players, plus two (Jack Leary and John Greason) who never pitched as many as 70 innings in a season.
If there is a common thread among the earliest southpaws, it's that they were ineffective. McMullin threw 249 innings for Troy in 1871, the first lefty to play a significant pitching role, and was pounded, walking a league-leading 75 batters (an astoundingly high total for the day) and finishing with the worst ERA of any significant pitcher in the league. He spent most of the rest of his career as an outfielder. Next up in 1875 was John Cassidy, who was likewise spectacularly ineffective in 214.2 innings for Brooklyn and who likewise set off on a career in the outfield.
The first semi-significant lefty in the National League, and the first to spend his career primarily as a pitcher, was Bobby Mitchell, who threw 100 innings for Cleveland in 1877, 80 for Cincinnati in 1878, and 194.2 for Cleveland in 1879. Though ERAs were not tracked in those days, Mitchell never did manage a league-average ERA and ended with a losing record, but he at least pitched respectably, and had the highest K/IP rates in the NL in 1877 & 1878. In 1879 he was joined by Foley, an OF-1B who threw 161.2 innings in 1879 and 238 in 1880, both for Boston, with middling results. But most teams in those days used a single starter to handle most of the work, and in 1880-82, the first lefty to take that job emerged, as Lee Richmond threw 590.2, 462.1 and 411 innings for Worcester. Richmond pitched well his first season, but the Worcester Ruby Legs finished last in 1881 and 1882, so he didn't exactly inspire a rush of imitators.
In 1882, however, something new happened: the American Association sprang up as a rival major league. The first ERA champ in the league was 21-year-old lefty Denny Driscoll, who got a full-time rotation gig the following year. And then in 1884, a sea change set in: the rules were liberalized to allow pitchers to throw overhand. I have to believe that the ability to abandon straight underhand was the change that made lefthanders proportionately more effective, and the AA was the early adopter (as startup leagues are often quicker to process innovation): the first lefty to lead a league in IP or K was Ed Morris in the AA in 1885 (his second season as a rotation anchor, at age 22), the first in Wins was Morris in 1886, and lefties led the AA in innings and strikeouts from 1885-87, with young fireballers Matt Kilroy (age 20, 513 K) and Toad Ramsey (age 21, 499 K) posting the two highest strikeout totals of all time. The unfortunately nicknamed Lady Baldwin became the first star lefty in the NL, posting a 1.86 ERA in 1885 and going 42-13 while leading the league in wins and strikeouts in 1886.
Even so, significant lefthanded pitching was still a relative rarity through the end of the 1800s. While multiple righthanded pitchers racked up large career win totals, only six 19th century lefties won as many as 100 games: Morris with 171, followed by Frank Killen (164), Ted Breitenstein (160), Kilroy (141), Ramsey (114), and Duke Esper (101). One can look at the records of lefthanded hitters in this era and see, perhaps, the benefits of the relative dearth of lefthanded quality pitchers.
The end of the 19th century brought on the two men who would set the template for lefthanded pitchers to follow, and they plied their trade once again mainly in an upstart league, the American League. First came Rube Waddell, baseball's second pitcher (after Amos Rusie) to compile a multi-year record as a strikeout pitcher. Waddell, of course, was an eccentric, childlike, unpredictable drunk and - Bill James suggests - possibly mentally disabled, and likely contributed as much as anyone to the stereotype of the flaky lefthander. His teammate Eddie Plank, by contrast, was more like Glavine, a cerebral, college-educated pitcher who set the mold of the crafty lefthander. Together they brought a lot of success to Connie Mack, and Plank became the first lefty to win 300 games - indeed, the first to win 200 games. With 305 of his 326 wins coming in the AL, he holds to this day the career record for wins by an AL lefty.
As we know, the concept of platooning first began to be tried around 1906, though it did not come into heavy vogue until around 1920 - which was around the time that the emergence of Babe Ruth created a much more pressing need for teams to find their own Hub Pruett type lefties who could shut down the Babe. By 1919, the career leaderboard for lefties looked like this (and recall that by this point Walter Johnson was three wins from becoming the ninth righthanded 300-game winner, including five with 340 or more wins; counting wins in the NA, there were by then 14 righties with 250 or more wins, 24 with 225 or more). A few of these guys, as you can see from their career timelines, would win a few more in the 1920s; Marquard would become the second lefty to win 200 games, and two others who would as well (Eppa Rixey and Wilbur Cooper) were already active.
You can see how Plank towered over his contemporaries . . . I haven't crunched the numbers to see how the proportion of lefties increased over time from the 1880s or when it reached modern rates, but by 1920, besides the above, there were a number of other active lefties on their way to decent careers, and in 1925 Mack came up with his third lefty superstar, Lefty Grove, who would go on to become the second lefty to win 300 games, followed by Warren Spahn (now the winningest lefty of all) and Steve Carlton. Today there are 25 lefthanded pitchers who have won 200 games, including 10 who have won 250 or more, compared to 83 righthanded 200-game winners, 34 righthanded 250-game winners, and 18 righthanded 300-game winners. I'll close with the top 10 winningest lefties of all time as of yesterday's action:
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:08 PM | Baseball 2007 | Baseball Studies | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Ferreting Out The Crazies
I'm pretty sure "suffers fools gladly" is not on Rudy's resume.
May 14, 2007
FOOTBALL/POP CULTURE: KSK Classic
Was behind on my KSK but this is hilarious.
POP CULTURE: Just What We Need
More environmental propaganda from Hollywood children's movies. Oh, goody. Quoth Cameron Diaz: "Well, hopefully there'll be a planet in four years." Ya think?
BASEBALL: First Roll of the Dice
Through tonight's game, Daisuke Matsuzaka had an ERA of 3.25 when facing a team for the first time, 6.00 when facing them a second time.
Granted, part of that is that one of the three teams he has faced twice is the Yankees, who have hit him hard both times. Still, a trend that may bear watching.
LAW/POP CULTURE: IMDb Protected
A California appeals court throws out a lawsuit against the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), holding that under California's SLAPP statute (designed to reduce lawsuits targeting public speech), IMDb was entitled to immunity from suit for basing its listing of film credits on the credits used by the studios. The plaintiff claimed an entitlement to be listed as a producer on three films but had had his credits deleted by the studio after he left its employ.
BASEBALL: Score Three For Omar
If you aren't a statistically-analytical type of GM - and it seems that Omar Minaya isn't - you have to really get the other stuff right. Score three more examples of Minaya doing just that.
Exhibit A: Damion Easley, now batting .283/.604/.356. If you thought Minaya couldn't repeat last year's coup of a rejuvenated Jose Valentin, you thought wrong. I don't expect this to keep up, and Easley isn't Valentin defensively, but the point is that for the second straight year an aging middle infielder off the scrap heap (with a history of showing some power and speed but poor recent results) is contributing a surprising amount to the offense, and in both cases there was really no statistical indicator that the guy had much left.
Exhibit B: Oliver Perez. Like a lot of statheads I thought Perez was a worthwhile gamble given his stuff and youth, but give Omar credit for having the creativity to land him in what was otherwise a desperation deal at the deadline to shore up the bullpen at the expense of the team's starting rightfielder. Guys with Xavier Nady's upside are an eminently replaceable commodity. Lefthanded pitchers with Perez' are not.
Exhibit C: Billy Wagner. Yes, Wagner has had his bumps in the road as Mets closer, notably being near the top of the list of responsible parties for the NLCS fiasco. But I and a lot of others thought the Mets got the short end of the stick signing the older and less recently durable and effective Wagner for $43 million instead of BJ Ryan for $47 million. With Ryan undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Mets come out ahead again.
May 13, 2007
POP CULTURE: Three Sopranos To Go
Thoughts on tonight's episode - SPOILERS INCLUDED so don't say you were not warned...but I will warn you that you should watch this one ASAP if you recorded it. There were Things that Happened in this episode.
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Tonight's episode was pretty cleanly focused on two of the major remaining storylines - Tony's real son AJ and his surrogate son, Christopher - and, perhaps tellingly, Tony's reaction to the latter's death while paying minimal attention to the former's downward spiral. About the only distraction was the sudden death of Paulie's Ma. The main question is whether Tony killed Christopher
1. Because he thought he was basically dead anyway
The really interesting one is #1 - we pretty much know from the rest of the episode that #2 and 4 were true and we can guess #3 from long experience with Tony. But we are never really told what Tony thought Christopher's condition was. What is also interesting is the look on Christopher's face - he doesn't look like he is resisting or even disagreeing with Tony when he cuts off his air.
A question: the woman Tony sees in Vegas - have we seen her before, with Christopher? She has obviously been out of touch with him for some time, but she looks enough like enough interchangeable women we've seen on the show that I just couldn't tell.
Tony seems to be getting at least a minor case of what Christopher had in a major way: a desire to spill his guts. I almost felt like the scene in his bedroom Tony was in some sense signalling that Christopher may have died for reasons other than the reported cause, but that Silvio seemed to be the only one picking that up (either that or Little Steven left his other facial expression at home during that scene).
I can't even count the number of episodes where Tony and his crew did something that could get them easily caught - here he was talking openly - even directly with the head of another crime family - about illegal asbestos dumping on a cell phone. I guess it would be ironic if he goes down for pollution, but I almost feel like it's the boy who cried wolf for law enforcement to finally catch up with him over some loose end we have seen on camera.
As for the coming attractions, two unsurprising plotlines are afoot, though they may end in surprising ways: AJ's descent into either suicidal depression or incompetent gangsterhood, and Phil's bottomless desire for revenge.
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May 12, 2007
BLOG: Computers Bad
I am writing this from my wife's laptop. Why, you ask? Well, I finally had to get a new computer, since my old one was 7 years old and wheezing badly (still running Microsoft ME).
Having had quite enough of malfunctions and Dell tech support over the years, I decided to buy a Hewlitt Packard, having heard good things generally and seeing as how the company is doing so well, I assumed the products would be good. My HP Pavillion Slimline with its state-of-the-art LCD monitor arrived early this week, looking sleek and a significant upgrade in every way from the old desktop battleship.
Except it will not work. Just keep getting this "Monitor Going to Sleep" message. Tech support seems convinced that the problem is the computer, not the monitor; in either way the thing is entirely useless. Tonight they tried to get me to take a screwdriver and open the thing up...a brand new computer out of the box! They gotta be kidding. Now they want to send me a box and have me send them the computer back to fix, taking who knows how long, and in the meantime I had essentially dismantled my old PC.
Unbelievable. I just can't seem to buy anything that works on the first try.
UPDATE: So, HP has decided it's the motherboard, and they are sending someone to my house on Friday to replace it. It took some talking to get them to agree to do that even though we have the warranty/home service contract and even though I'd already been through two prior calls to establish that it didn't work, but at least now we hopefully will get a functional machine.
Meanwhile, my iPod is no longer on speaking terms with my wife's laptop, which is supposed to run the iTunes. I can't win...
May 10, 2007
LAW: Blog to the Chief
Chief Justice Roberts reads Howard Bashman's blog? Frankly, it's amazing that anybody associated with the appellate courts doesn't.
As for the substantive issue Ann Althouse raises, I agree that blogging about pending litigation or judicial opinions is no more or less ethical than writing a newspaper op-ed. And anyway, blogging is more often going to be about the law rather than the evidence, and we expect courts to consider outside sources about the law.
(H/t Bill Hobbs)
BASEBALL: End of the Line for Weaver?
It's starting to look even grimmer than in recent years for Jeff Weaver, who dropped to 0-6 today and actually lowered his ERA (to 14.32) by allowing 6 runs on 10 hits in 5 innings. In 22 innings pitched this season, Weaver has allowed 50 hits. Pitching in Seattle he can't blame the New York press anymore; he's just not getting outs.
WAR: Standing Against Evil
Mohammed Fadhil, of Iraq the Model, writes in today's NY Daily News about how the Congressional Democrats look from Iraq:
I wasn't surprised when I saw Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appear on Al Jazeera to announce America's defeat last week, not long after U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did. Zawahiri claims Al Qaeda has won, and Reid claims America has lost.
You know, America went to Iraq for its own national interests; we don't do wars just to benefit somebody else. But once you go in, and your friends on the grounds stick out their necks in reliance on you, and your other enemies pour in to fight you, how can you say you have no obligation to finish the job? And what credibility do you have with the people you will ask for help in the future if you abandon your friends?
It's not like this is a morally ambiguous battle:
Those who prefer to bury their heads in the dirt today, and withdraw from this difficult fight, will be cursed forever for abandoning their duty when they were most capable. I don't understand why someone who has all the tools for victory would refuse to fight an enemy that reminds us every day that it is evil - with all the daily beheadings, torture and violations of all humane laws and values.
Well said. Read the whole thing. RedState's Jeff Emanuel has much more from Iraq in the same vein.
POLITICS: Rudy Gets It On Domestic Spending
One area where the GOP does need a clean break from the past 6 years:
Rudy Giuliani took a rare swipe at his Republican brethren in Congress yesterday, saying they had failed to rein in spending and lost votes in last fall's midterm elections as a result.
May 9, 2007
POP CULTURE: Not Over Yet
This sounds like news, at least incrementally:
Lucas... says he is readying "Clone Wars," an animated series for TV that's derived from "Star Wars." Many "Star Wars" characters appear in "Clone Wars," but voiced by other actors.
I wonder if the Clone Wars show will rehash the stuff in the animated micro-series or be different.
POP CULTURE: A Bing or a Whimper?
So I have been pondering in recent days how The Sopranos will or should end, with 6 or 7 seasons (depending how you count) behind us and 4 episodes to go. There's much speculation that David Chase, the creator of the series, really doesn't want to give us a neatly wrapped, satisfying ending, and of course there is the fact that many long-running serieses leave us with endings that go wrong in one of two opposite directions: either it leaves us hanging or it ties things up with a forced, didn't-see-that-coming ending. (A discussion for another day is the best and worst ways that long-running shows have ended).
More below the fold, for those of you who aren't caught up. If for any reason you have genuine spoilers rather than educated speculation about the last four episodes, TAKE THEM ELSEWHERE.
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The Sopranos has a large cast of characters and a lot of long-running or intermittent plots, loose ends, etc. Nobody expects all of that to be wrapped up in four more episodes.
That said, I do think that Chase owes us a resolution of some sort as to a handful of the central characters and plotlines. Here's where I think we do and don't need to get some answers:
A. No More Needed or Expected
There are a bunch of characters who have had relatively satisfactory resolutions - i.e., we know where they are headed from here on out and they don't need to appear again unless to advance someone else's storylines. Obviously that includes everyone who is dead. It also includes Junior, who is settled in his mental hospital in irreversible decline; Artie Bucco, last seen rediscovering the joy of cooking after pressing his luck fighting mobsters; Rosalie Aprile and the various other widows and children; Hesh; Beansie; Little Carmine; Fr. Intintola; Tony's sister Barbara; Carmela's dad; Paulie's Ma; Finn; Tony's various discarded love interests/sex objects; Sal Vitro the gardener; various of the minor gangsters; and even, to some extent, Dr. Melfi, who really doesn't need a role in the climax of the series.
There's also a number of characters who are certain to appear but who don't really need to do anything but keep going as is: Meadow could yet figure in a more catastrophic ending for the family, but if she leaves off where she is, that's fine. Bobby and Silvio don't really have individual dramatic arcs in need of resolution; Silvio is basically the embodiment of the Soprano crime family, so we should expect him to share its fate.
Then there are loose ends that probably won't be tied up, or don't need to. Many acts of crime and evil will likely remain unavenged, and unprosecuted. We will not, I assume, see again Furio, the Russian from the woods, the bear, the garbage company heir whose kneecaps Paulie broke, Johnny Cakes, or Melfi's rapist.
We may or may not have seen the last of the Muslims.
B. More Required.
What that leaves is a handful of the key characters who seem certain to figure in the wrapup. Two of those also don't really need their own endings, but will probably get them if the ending is something other than "life goes on as always for Tony": Janice and Phil. But of the others, we need to have the following questions answered:
1. Does Tony die, get prosecuted, suffer a great loss in his life, or go into witness protection? These are the only four possibilities that give us a sense that sharing the journey all these years with this sociopath was worth it, and obviously the last is the least plausible, even if it does involve Tony ratting out terrorists or corrupt politicians instead of his fellow mobsters. The "great loss" would have to be Carmela, A.J. or Meadow - I used to think it would be Christopher, but he's far too estranged from Tony now for that to be a real ending for Tony. Of course, the loss of an 'innocent' family member is perhaps too much of a Godfather III ending - Chase may want to go all the way and end his tragedy the old-fashioned way, with the death of the protagonist.
I don't see things deteriorating badly enough in Tony's marriage, despite the mounting tension, for Carmela to leave or murder Tony. I think it's much more likely if he dies that it's at the hands of (1) Christopher, (2) Janice, (3) a heart attack, (4) Phil, (5) some random outsider like the Muslims, or (6) A.J., probably in that order. I can't see Paulie or Bobby taking down their boss, and I don't see a mob boss getting in a shootout with law enforcement.
2. Does A.J. follow his father's footsteps? This has been a crucial question throughout the series and one that absolutely must not be left hanging, especially with this Sunday's episode having reintroduced A.J. to illegal gambling and loan sharking as a cure for depression. The two most likely endings now for A.J. are both dire: either he proves himself an incompetent gangster and gets himself or someone else in the family (or The Family) killed, or he falls apart on his own (perhaps from continuing to mix alcohol and antidepressants).
3. What happens to Christopher's rage, guilt and urge to confess? Like Tony's actual son, his surrogate son is headed for a crash landing. I can't possibly see how this all ends without him killing Tony, getting killed by someone in one of the crime families, or going the Henry Hill route (having him O.D. on drugs would be a cop-out). I actually don't think he will get arrested, for J.T.'s murder or anything else; I think if he goes the witness route he will do it on his own out of spite or to save himself or his family from the mob.
4. Will Carmela ever walk away from the privileges of Tony's money? I can't see it happening... maybe it's me but I don't see Carmela being the center of what's going down. I think she has passed the point where she could or would leave, betray Tony, etc. And I'm not sure I see how this ends with her getting killed.
5. Will somebody please, finally, kill Paulie? I mean, Paulie has been an entertaining character but the man is utterly lacking in redeeming characteristics, he's insubordinate and can't stop feuding with Christopher, he's probably put more hurt on more innocent people than anyone else still living on the show, and he's not even a very effective mobster. By the way, in the episode on the boat, I think Paulie was saved by the fact that he refused to give in to Tony's hectoring about the joke about Johnny Sack's wife, even though Tony obviously believed Paulie was the one who told him. I know some people thought his denials robbed Tony of an excuse (to himself) to kill Paulie, but I think Tony wasn't interested in the truth, he was interested in putting Paulie on the hot seat (while at the same time assuring him that they were just friends swapping stories) and see if Paulie could keep his yap shut for once, resist the urge to tell a yarn and stick to the lie. He survived the trip because he showed he could stick to the lie.
I'm hoping and expecting that Paulie finally gets his, probably from Christopher but maybe from some more random direction.
6. Does The Family survive? The other big question is whether Tony's crime family can go on after he is gone, one way or another. Silvio doesn't want the job, Bobby seems a pitiful excuse for a leader, and the heir apparent, Christopher, is in no way set for the job, while A.J. is wet behind the ears and Meadow too wrapped up in the respectable life. Everybody else of note is dead. The only person left who is strong, savvy and ruthless enough is Janice.
7. Will we finally get a full-on war with New York? I suspect not, but I do think it's almost impossible that we'll get through the last four weeks without Phil killing someone else in Tony's crew or family or getting it himself.
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BASEBALL: Death. Taxes.
May 7, 2007
BASEBALL: In Which I Lose The Very Brief Momentary Sympathy I Had For The Hated Yankees
$28 million dollars for Roger Clemens. The deal made the most sense of his three suitors; the Red Sox aren't as desperate for pitching as the Yanks, and the Astros aren't really in the running for the postseason, plus the Rocket's buddy Andy Pettitte is back in pinstripes. Clemens is nothing if not an accomplished tease...we see here the full market power of a guy who is, even at 44, one of the few dependably elite starters in the game and was willing to at least give the appearance that he'd be just as happy to sit at home if he didn't get his dollar. Much as I dislike Clemens, though, you gotta respect him as a pitcher (not until he retires for good will I entertain seriously the "greatest pitcher ever"/"greatest pitcher of the post-1920 era" questions, but he's got an argument) and it's good for the game for a guy with his talent to keep going.
So, how much money is Clemens making for what he will give the Yanks? I decided to use some assumptions to project him out. If he returns at the beginning of June, the Yankees will have 111 games left; a healthy Clemens taking roughly a fifth of those would start 22 games. But the Yankees aren't paying Clemens just for the regular season; a reasonably optimistic assessment says that he could throw anywhere from 1-5 starts in the postseason; I assume 4, since he has started 4 postseason games three times, 5 twice and 3 twice (he averaged 3.4 postseason starts per year from 1999-2005, plus the relief win in the NLDS clincher in 2005). I assume 6 innings pitched per start. For his wins, I looked at Clemens' wins per start over his years with the Yankees and Astros, including the postseason (126 wins in 265 starts), which projects neatly to 12 wins including October on these assumptions.
Here is the chart showing Clemens' salary per start, per inning and per win over the course of his career, including the postseason (I used baseball-reference.com salary data except for his rookie year, when I assume he made the MLB minimum of $40,000).
There's a fair bit of the financial history of the game in that chart, but you can also see that Clemens' price has risen very sharply the last few years, partly because teams are paying for less than a full season, partly because his credible threat to retire gives him such leverage, and partly because the market for starting pitchers has just gone over the edge.
Something for Johan Santana's agent to ponder.
UPDATE: It is pointed out in the comments that the last two years are inaccurate because those are annualized salaries that are reduced for the portion of the season that Clemens is off the roster. Which proves once again why I avoid business-of-baseball issues...
May 4, 2007
POLITICS: You Get What You Vote For (And You Pay For It Too)
The 2006 elections brought us eight new Democratic governors, plus the re-election of 11 Democratic incumbents. Nobody should be surprised, however, to see that several of those governors are reaching for Democrats' favorite cure for all ills: higher taxes. Let's take a look at some of the Democratic governors who think taxes just aren't high enough, as well as a few who have learned their lesson (and one Republican who hasn't):
The Main Offenders:
Illinois: Rod Blagojevich
Following his re-election, Gov. Blagojevich proposed the largest tax increase in Illinois history, "a tax on businesses at every step in providing services or products," carrying an estimated $7.6 billion price tag and supporting a plan "to boost spending on health insurance, schools and pensions," a plan that has drawn stiff bipartisan opposition in the state House and even led Chicago's Democratic Mayor to blast Blagojevich for jacking up taxes and using anti-business rhetoric.
Michigan: Jennifer Granholm
Michigan voters knew, with the state's economy badly lagging behind the nation as a whole, that they were voting for more of the same by re-electing Gov. Granholm. But apparently deciding that the business climate wasn't bad enough, she is proposing $1.5 billion in new taxes, and threatening cuts to essential services to get the state legislature to play along. "Granholm favors a 2-cent service tax that would tax everything from haircuts to car washes. An across-the-board sales tax increase is also an option," and she insists that a hike in income taxes is the only other alternative. Michigan retailers are crying foul.
Pennsylvania: Ed Rendell
Affable big-city machine politicians like Rendell, handily re-elected after a challenge by Lynn Swann, become a lot less likeable once the tab comes due. Rendell proposed upping the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent, which would put Pennsylvania second only to California in sales taxes, and continue a sharp upward trend in the state's tax burden. Two thirds of the hike was earmarked for new spending, with a third offsetting planned property tax cuts:
About 40 percent of the $1.246 billion in new revenue would go toward expanding the $1 billion a year in property-tax reductions that slot-machine gambling is eventually expected to generate; the rest would be used to finance other state programs.
That proposal looks dead now due to opposition in the legislature, though legislators are split on whether to support other tax increases or to support the hike if the whole thing is earmarked for property tax cuts. Rendell had also proposed other tax increases:
Rendell's $27.3 billion budget includes proposals for . . . increasing waste-disposal fees from $6.25 per ton to $9 per ton to help the state's hazardous site cleanup fund and establishing a new electricity usage tax of $0.0005 on kilowatts of energy used per hour to help fund an energy independence program. It also proposes taxing oil companies 6.17 percent on their total profits and taxing businesses that do not provide health insurance to their employees 3 percent of their annual payroll to fund state health care.
All of this is intended to pay for "a 3.6 percent or $948-million increase in spending growth."
Colorado: Bill Ritter
While he stumbled in recent years, Colorado's former GOP Governor Bill Owens was rightly lionized for the hard line on taxes and spending that had earned him a National Review cover calling him "America's Best Governor". Central to that effort was the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which restricts the ability of Colorado state government to raise taxes.
So of course, Owens' Democratic successor, Bill Ritter, is looking for ways around TABOR, setting up a possible constitutional crisis in Colorado. The proposal Ritter supports - and which passed the state Senate on a largely party-line vote - would strip away built-in protections against property tax hikes driven by increased property values:
Under current law, mill levies, which are used to calculate property taxes, ratchet down as property values rise, because of an interaction between the 1994 School Finance Act and various constitutional provisions, including TABOR.
Call it what you will, but a bill to cause taxes to go up 29.8% when they otherwise would not certainly sounds like a tax hike to me. And it will to Colorado homeowners, too.
Massachusetts: Deval Patrick
Deval Patrick reclaimed the "Taxachusetts" governors' mansion for the Democrats for the first time since Michael Dukakis, and what's on his menu? First, closing "loopholes" to increase business taxes by some $500 million, though he is proposing a commission to nail down the specifics:
The Patrick administration proposes seven changes to corporate tax codes that would:
Patrick's administration "explains that these are not anti-business but a matter of fairness and shared responsibility." He also wants to open up new avenues of local taxation (a plan opposed by the state Senate's leading Republican):
Patrick's plan would allow communities to raise meals taxes from 5 percent to up to 7 percent; lodging taxes could be raised from 9.7 percent and 12.45 percent (for Boston, Cambridge and Springfield) to 10.7 percent and 13.5 percent. Patrick has proposed a separate idea allowing communities to tax telecom companies' properties.
Maine: John Baldacci
Baldacci, re-elected in 2006, wants to raise $131 million with a $1-a-pack hike in the cigarette tax (don't you love when Democrats propose regressive taxes on a product people are addicted to? At least it's a concession that this is one activity that won't go away if you tax it, though it can be evaded if you can drive to another state.) Some fellow Democrats disagree and think the alcohol tax should be raised instead, or want to "put more of the tax burden on visitors to the state." Republicans have been opposing any new taxes, while Democrats play chicken with business taxes:
Sen. Karl Turner, R-Cumberland, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said Republicans on the panel have worked out a list of proposed cuts to bring the budget into balance without raising taxes.
Wisconsin: Jim Doyle
The purplest state in the nation in the 2004 election re-elected Democrat Jim Doyle last year, campaigning on a platform of (among other things) not raising taxes, while the state legislature is split. Now, the bill is coming due, with perhaps as much as $1.75 billion in new taxes. As one state Republican explained:
Suder got down to the brass tacks of Doyle's proposal, $7.6 billion in new spending and borrowing over the biennial period.
[The budget includes] a tax on small business owners who file quarterly business forms by mail . . . and taxes on music downloads, e-mail greeting cards and soda purchases.
Republicans have opposed those new taxes. Doyle wants a staggering $1.25 per pack increase in the cigarette tax. And he proposes a 2.5% gasoline tax that is bound to be passed on to consumers one way or another:
A tax on oil companies proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle could be passed through to consumers at the gas pump, according to an analysis by state tax officials cited in a conservative group's new report.
Oregon: Ted Kulongoski
Oregon has a $1 billion budget surplus, so what does the state's newly re-elected Democrat governor, Ted Kulongoski, want to do? Raise what some estimate as up to $1.6 billion in new taxes. To pay for a vast new healthcare spending plan, he proposed an 84.5 cent hike in, yes, the cigarette tax. But while Democrats control both houses of the state legislature, tax increases require more votes than the Democrats have, and so the cigarette tax hike bit the dust when only one Republican joined all 31 Democrats in the state House in supporting it.
New Hampshire: John Lynch
New Hampshirites may have a longstanding reputation for their flinty opposition to taxes and spending, but with Democrats controlling the legislature for the first time in over 80 years, Democratic Gov. John Lynch, re-elected in 2006, apparently doesn't share that view. Lynch proposed what some called an increase of 15-17% in state spending, and the state House passed a budget that raised spending 11% (compared to a Lynch proposal decribed as a 9% hike), plus tax hikes:
[L]awmakers approved two new tax increases: a 45-cent increase in the cigarette tax, to $1.25 a pack, and a 4 percent increase in the real estate transfer tax, raising the rate for home buyers and sellers from $7.50 to $7.80 each per $1,000 of home value. The House also voted to raise the state portion of the vehicle registration fee by $6.
On the tax side, "Lynch had proposed a 28-cent cigarette tax hike and a larger fee hike on registering large trucks." Republicans have denounced the tax hikes, and only two Republicans voted for the new budget.
Tennessee: Phil Bredesen
Gov. Bredesen rightly won plaudits in his first term for his centrism (he has resisted calls for a state income tax), and times are rich in Tennessee; the governor admitted in a recent address to the General Assembly that "I have never had a year with as much new money as we have before us now." Yet, he is standing by his request to triple the cigarette tax to pay for education spending, a 40-cent-a-pack hike that has drawn stiff opposition from Republicans who say taxes should not need to be increased in good economic times.
The Mixed Bags:
Iowa: Chet Culver
Iowa Democrats in the legislature proposed 20% increases to the state sales and use taxes. Iowa's new Democratic governor, to his credit, opposed the plan, which bit the dust, but ended up signing a $127 million increase in cigarette taxes to pay for new spending:
[One Iowa Republican] said a record wage and benefits increase of $1.8 million to state employees was too much, while Seymour criticized that 625 new state jobs will be created in the year beginning July 1. . . .
New Mexico: Bill Richardson
There are any number of reasons to be alarmed by the thought of Bill Richardson as the Commander-in-Chief, but give the man his due: on taxes, he's as good as a Democrat with national aspirations is likely to get, compiling at worst a checkered record on taxes. He came into office in 2003 promising supply side tax cuts in income and capital gains taxes. After signing an income tax cut that slashed rates from 8.2% to 4.9% over five years, though, he backslid in raising other taxes and fees over the following years, including "tax increases on everything from cigarettes to fuel and a complicated, Dickensian, and later repealed surcharge on nursing home beds--all totaling a net tax increase of roughly $174 million through fiscal year 2006, according to the conservative Americans for Tax Reform." This year, he championed a popularly enacted $49 million sales tax hike to fund the construction of a Virgin Galactic spaceport in southern New Mexico.
New York: Eliot Spitzer
Eliot Spitzer surprised a lot of people when he promised on the campaign trail not to raise taxes after 12 years of Republican management in Albany. His record on the job has been more mixed, though not as bad as some of his Democratic cohorts. In March, Spitzer drew criticism from Mayor Bloomberg for a proposal to raise some $2 billion in taxes on banks (a crucial industry in New York City) through the closing of "loopholes," once again to finance a big-spending budget. The final budget backtracked significantly on those tax hike proposals, and contained a mixed bag for business taxes:
The budget does reduce the corporate tax rate from 7.5 percent to 7.1 percent and cuts the tax on manufacturing income to 6.5 percent from 7.5 percent. It also reduces the corporate alternative minimum tax from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent. The moves will help save New York companies $150 million, according to the governor's office. Other changes, however, will close what Spitzer has described as "loopholes" that allowed companies to shield income from state taxes. The changes will generate about $450 million in new revenue for the state. That means a net tax increase for businesses, Duerr says.
Spitzer is not done hunting for new sources of revenue, including squeezing stores owned by Native Americans in upstate New York to pay more in sales taxes. Spitzer has proposed property tax relief but is opposing a GOP plan to increase tax rebates for senior citizens.
Maryland: Martin O'Malley
Filling Bob Ehrlich's shoes in Maryland isn't easy, and newly elected Governor Martin O'Malley has tried to avoid pulling the trigger on new tax hikes even against the weight of Maryland's left-wing state legislature, opposing a hike in property taxes from 11.2 to 12 cents. But it ain't over yet:
"In the months ahead, I think we need to look at our entire tax structure and make it more modern, inclusive and fair," O'Malley (D) said...The state is required to set the residential tax rate by May 1.
O'Malley has, in fact, drawn criticism for moving slowly in general (some calling him "O'Molasses"); the jury is still out on whether he will follow the lead of his tax-hiking brethren.
Kansas: Kathleen Sebelius
Kansas, as you would expect, has Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature, and has formed a bipartisan consensus (including Governor Sebelius) around low taxes:
On the topic of taxes, it was again a good year to be a business lobbyist in Topeka. The Legislature helped business with an estimated $135 million tax reduction over the next five years with the phase-out of the franchise tax, and an unemployment tax reduction worth $176 million.
Still, Republicans are worried that overspending will erode this policy in the future. And Gov. Sebelius, re-elected in 2006, has announced that she will continue her years-long push for a 50 cent hike in the cigarette tax to pay for new health care spending.
Arizona: Janet Napolitano
After major tax cuts she signed in 2006, albeit after negotiating down Republican proposals for larger cuts, newly rele-ected incumbent Napolitano urged a go-slow approach on Republican legislators looking for further cuts in 2007:
Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, has argued that the state should measure the impact of those cuts before enacting more, but she has not commented recently about where tax cuts figure into budget negotiations.
More recently, the Republican state House passed $62 million in new tax cuts, but Napolitano has endorsed a bipartisan Senate bill that does not include them. In general, Napolitano has acceded to the reality of Arizona's anti-tax mood.
The Good Guys
Not every Democrat is on the wrong side of the tax issue. Here are some who have learned to buck their party's orthodoxy on taxes:
Arkansas: Mike Beebe
Mike Huckabee's successor is off to a good start on taxes, signing into law some $200 million in tax cuts ranging from sales and property taxes to income taxes on low income earners and taxes on manufacturers' energy use.
Oklahoma: Brad Henry
Oklahoma has the nation's lowest tax burden, something the recently re-elected Gov. Henry applauds, and has previously enacted tax cuts still to come online. While Gov. Henry recently vetoed a budget bill passed by the legislature (which is divided among the two parties), tax hikes were not on anyone's radar and further cuts remain possible.
Ohio: Ted Strickland
Losing their way on taxes was a big part of the Ohio GOP's dramatic downfall in 2006, and especially with the GOP still holding the legislature, that lesson has not been lost on new Democratic Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland's new budget won unanimous support in the Ohio House, thanks in no small part to a popular increased property tax exemption for senior citizens, paid for with windfall money from the 1998 tobacco settlement. Strickland is also considering tax breaks for companies that are losing money, although one can debate whether that is really spending disguised as a tax break.
Jodi Rell of Connecticut
Finally, I should add here that at least one newly elected Republican governor has been every bit as bad as any Democrat. Jodi Rell of Connecticut got re-elected in a landslide largely by avoiding the Republican label, but now she runs a serious risk of destroying the GOP's low-tax brand in her state for a generation by proposing a massive 10% increase in the state income tax, while state "Democrats' proposal would raise even more money but would also cut taxes for the middle class . . . [and] increase state spending by 10.4 percent and increase taxes by $1.6 billion" by hiking the top tax rate by 40%. A hardy band of Republicans in the state legislature has proposed a "No Tax Increase Budget" that includes no tax hikes, but with 2-to-1 Democratic majorities in both houses, don't expect much. Connecticut voters have been stuck with an echo, not a choice.
May 3, 2007
BASEBALL: Yankee Go Home
Four words, chilling in combination for any Yankee fan: Carl Pavano. Dr. Andrews. James Andrews should immediately cue the Emperor's March when mentioned.
I know a bunch of teams have been buffeted with injuries this season - the Blue Jays (Ryan, Glaus, Reed Johnson) and A's (Dan Johnson, Swisher, Harden, Bradley, Kielty) probably worst of all, but the Hated Yankees' ill luck with the pitching staff is approaching 1987 Mets territory, especially since (like the 87 Mets) they are still hitting the ball well with a strong, healthy offense yet losing early ground to their arch-rivals.
May 2, 2007
BASEBALL: One of These Things Is Not Like The Others
So Rawlings wants your vote for its "All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team," to consist of the best defensive player at each position since Rawlings initiated the Gold Glove awards in 1957, in commemoration of the award's 50th anniversary. The ballot includes a number of players who I would not regard as defensive stars of historic magnitude - Yaz, Larry Walker, Eric Chavez, JT Snow, Kirby Puckett - but there's no serious dispute that these were all good defensive players (at least for the earlier parts of their careers).
And then: Derek Jeter. Jeter is popular and sells gloves, which is probably why he is on the list, and yes, he is a smart player and a fine athlete. But his fielding percentages have never been consistently good, and pretty much every other defensive stat/metric ever invented - Range Factors, Zone Ratings, David Pinto's probabalistic range models, Baseball Prospectus' defensive stats - shows that Jeter has spent multiple seasons of his prime at or near the bottom of the major leagues in his ability to turn batted balls into outs, which at least in theory is the job of a Gold Glove shortstop. This is like taking votes for an all-time Silver Slugger team and putting Bucky Dent on the ballot. Jeter has shown some signs of improvements in recent years since A-Rod arrived, but try watching a few Yankee games and count the number of balls that go by him that you would expect to be outs; there's usually at least one a game.
Anyway, my votes:
P - Kaat, though I don't have strong feelings on this. Seems like there should have been more choices - based on reputation I might have voted for Bobby Shantz, who won the first 4 Gold Gloves at the position. No-windup guys like Shantz and Kaat have a natural advantage over guys like Bob Gibson who have to drop to fielding position from the conclusion of a huge leg kick.
C - This is a really tough call. I think Pudge Rodriguez has a fearsome arm but is overrated as a handler of pitchers, plus he hasn't had to contend with the havoc on the basepaths that existed in the 70s and 80s. It's close between him, Bench, Boone and Sundberg; I'm voting for Sundberg but catch me another day and I could answer one of the others.
1B - Keith Hernandez, of course. There's some good fielders here but Keith played the position in a way that nobody else did.
2B - Mazeroski, hands down.
SS - Ozzie. Another easy one.
3B - Brooks Robinson. If these aren't the four infielders chosen, something has gone very wrong.
OF - Clemente, Mays, Andruw Jones. Jones is the best I have ever seen, and the other two have reputations that speak for themselves. I'm not sure Mays was any better than Garry Maddox or Devon White, but it's a close call and aside from Yaz there aren't any career leftfielders on the list to justify trying to balance. Dwight Evans would crack the top if it weren't for Clemente.
May 1, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 NL Central EWSL Report
The last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. As always, the largest and probably most obscure division, the NL Central, goes last - my apologies for lagging on this one. Until last year the NL Central, a division whose star had fallen badly since the McGwire/Sosa/Bagwell heyday, was the only division not to claim a World Championship under the post-1994 divisional alignment. In fact, the division features two teams that have never won it all, one that is nearly a century into its drought, and two others that entered last year having waited 24 and 27 years for a flag.
EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here; my AL Central preview is here, AL West is here, NL East here and NL West here.
World Champion St. Louis Cardinals
Raw EWSL: 229 (76 W)
Also on hand: Ryan Franklin, Skip Shumaker, the rehabbing Mark Mulder, and Tyler Johnson. Josh Hancock, of course, was in the bullpen picture until his fatal auto accident Sunday morning; it seems terribly unfair that the Cardinals organization has to go through this again less than a decade after Darryl Kile's death. Keisler is presently in the rotation due to Carpenter's injury following an unprecedented two straight seasons for Carpenter without serious injury.
There isn't really a ton of precedent for whether a World Championship helps offset a 17-game decline in the standings (22 over two years); the closest parallel that comes to mind is the 1998-2001 Yankees. The Yanks dropped 16 games in the standings in 1999, another 11 in 2000, but still won the Series both years. In 2001 they bounced back from 87 to 95 wins and pushed the World Series to a Game 7. Like this team, those Yankees had a lot of guys in their early 30s but their signature star (Jeter) was 27. The Yankees added one high-end starter to their rotation, Mike Mussina, while these Cardinals have overhauled the whole rotation behind Carpenter but with two youngsters, a retread and a converted reliever. Oh, and both teams had Randy Keisler. The other parallel would be the 1908 Cubs, who won the series after a 17-game decline over two years; they bounced back to win 104 games but finish second in 1909 with essentially the same team, and the pennant in 1910, but have never won it all again.
Injury risks with Carpenter and Rolen are a given, but really the big question marks for this team - creating both the upside and downside are (1) that rest of the rotation, including the talented Wainwright and Reyes; (2) whether Edmonds has one last Jim Edmonds year left and (3) whether Chris Duncan, a born DH, can ever play the outfield respectably enough to keep his bat in the lineup (realistically, the Cards would be better off just dealing him to an AL team to whom he would have more value).
Raw EWSL: 236 (79 W)
Jennings and White are presently injured, and Lidge has for the moment at least lost the closer job to Wheeler, though I expect him to reclaim it if he rights himself. Also on hand: Matt Albers (currently in the rotation), Brian Moehler, Dave Borkowski and Hunter Pence, plus the rehabbing Brandon Backe.
The Astros? The Astros. Partly EWSL rates, or overrates, them on depth - the bench is stocked with guys who recently held regular jobs (Loretta, Lane), the pen runs three deep in quality - plus the addition of Carlos Lee. And partly this just isn't that strong a division. Of course, experience tells us that over a long season, depth matters, especially when you have a 41-year-old second baseman and a rookie right fielder.
Jennings is key - he ought to be better in Houston than in Colorado, but the early injury is another sign that pitchers age in dog years in Coors.
Absent a return from Roger Clemens, I can't realistically see this team winning the division, but they should plod along around .500 again.
Raw EWSL: 201 (67 W)
Also on hand: Corey Koskie, Laynce Nix and Greg Aquino (all injured; Koskie's future seems doubtful), Elmer Dessens and Chris Spurling, and, looming at AAA, top pitching prospect Yovanni Gallardo, who has a 42-8 K/BB ratio and just 1 HR allowed in 30 innings this season in the hitter-happy PCL after striking out 188 batters while posting a 1.86 ERA last season.
When asked before the season who should be the favorite in the NL Central, I told people, without conviction, the Brewers. Now that April is behind us, the first place team is, without conviction, the Brewers. Sure, they are tied with the Braves for the NL's best record and with the Red Sox for the majors' largest division lead (3.5 games), but they have outscored their opponents just 117-114, for a "Pythagorean" record of 13-12. In other words, they aren't playing like a team that is gonna take the division out behind the garage and teach it a lesson. That said, the hot start by JJ Hardy, who fizzled and got hurt last season after a promising second half in 2005, is most encouraging, and as they have been doing for a few years now the Crew has scrounged up veterans to plug most of their potential holes. What this team is missing is a really big bat in the outfield; I still don't buy Bill Hall as a consistent 30 HR threat or Mench as a serious corner outfielder outside of Texas. Also, as has been true for several years, Milwaukee lacks a reputable fifth starter, although Vargas has gotten off to a good start. Presumably it won't take long for either Vargas or Bush to falter or Sheets to sustain his usual injury and get Gallardo into the rotation.
Raw EWSL: 207 (69 W)
Also on hand: Daryle Ward, Scott Eyre, Angel Guzman, and of course the oft-injured Kerry Wood and already-out-for-the-season-again Mark Prior.
Eventually, after two years of significantly underperforming their EWSL, it was inevitable that the Cubs' expectations would drift down to meet their performance. That should end now that I'm no longer listing Prior and Wood anywhere on their depth chart (not that Wade Miller is Mr. Durability). They have shored up some of their weaknesses by importing pricey 30-somethings, but while Soriano will help them for some time (aside from his outrageous price tag), the long-term future around the core of Zambrano and Ramirez is with Hill, Pie, Murton, and Theriot. And Pie is still a raw youngster while the latter two have much to prove to show that they are more than just useful role players.
Win Shares aren't out yet, but Rich Hill is probably closing in already on that 5 Win Shares figure. As I have noted several times, Hill just clicked at the start of last August after getting pounded in 2005 and early 2006, and now looks like a coming frontline starter.
Lee is having an odd year that suggests a guy whose wrist is not quite 100% back but compensating well - he's batting .392 with a staggering 14 doubles in 24 games, but has only gone deep once. The homers will doubtless come, and it's good to see him back.
Raw EWSL: 154 (51 W)
I try to avoid the subjective adjustments with pitchers, who are inherently unstable when projected out to higher innings totals, but Gorzelanny, like Rich Hill, should easily surpass that 3 WS total. I did give a 2-WS subjective bump from 6 to 8 to Duffy to reflect increased playing time. I could have listed Jonah Bayliss or John Wasdin instead of Chacon, but Chacon is a little more estaablished than Bayliss and the Pirates already list a lot of unproven young pitchers.
Pittsburgh has little to be excited about beyond Bay on the offensive side, though an optimist would say that the next few years should be solid ones for LaRoche, Sanchez and Paulino. What we will know a lot better after this season is whether the Pirates have any real gems among their young arms - Duke, Snell and Gorzelanny have all given flashes (even Maholm, in late 05), and all four are 24 or 25, plus Capps is 23 - there ought to turn out to be somebody there with more upside than the last few generations of young Pirate hurlers, which gave us only Jason Schmidt and Denny Neagle as front-line starters (the jury is still out on Oliver Perez), and neither of those guys originally came out of their system. You'd like to see someone here better than the Kris Bensons and Kip Wellses of the world. Certainly the Pirates' fans deserve better.
Raw EWSL: 191 (64 W)
Others on hand include Chad Moeller, Rheal Cormier, Bill Bray, Joe Coutlangus, the injured Eddie Guardado and Gary Majewski, and AAA flamethrower Homer Bailey, who like Gallardo is pitching well and likely to arrive this season.
The Reds, as so often has been true in recent years, seem less than the sum of their parts. Some of that is lack of pitching depth (though Harang and Arroyo are the best 1-2 punch they have had since the days of Jose Rijo). Some is that the parts are less than they seem - guys who are no longer the stars they were (Griffey), guys who are stuck in reverse (Dunn) or have never lived up to promise (Milton) or have yet to prove they can do it twice (Phillips, Encarnacion, Ross). They don't look like an awful team, though probably between Cincy, the Cubs, the Astros and the Pirates somebody will run off the rails.
You know, the first time I saw the name "Norris Hopper," before I knew anything else about him - position, skills, track record - I thought "speedy outfielder." Some guys really are exactly who they sound like.