"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
July 31, 2007
BASEBALL: 299, Again
Well, Glavine will have to wait another start for #300, as it takes Guillermo Mota all of one pitch to blow the lead handed off by Glavine and held by Aaron Heilman and (less well) Pedro Feliciano.
BASEBALL: The Lonliest Bomber
Through five innings tonight five Yankees have homered - and Mr. 499, Alex Rodriguez, isn't one of them.
UPDATE: Seven Yankees have now gone deep, including Matsui twice. No A-Rod, though.
BLOG: Prepare To Be Awed
That thing doesn't actually float, does it?
POP CULTURE: This Little Light of Mine
It's the feel-good story of the year:
UPDATE: This is good too.
POLITICS: Two Cheers For The Hypocrites
A few weeks back, Washington DC buzzed with the news that Louisiana Senator David Vitter, a conservative Republican, admitted (a step ahead of public disclosure, possibly by hard-core porn magnate Larry Flynt) that he had frequented a prostitute. The response on the left was numbingly predictable, attacking Vitter not for his immorality but on grounds of hypocrisy because of his socially conservative campaign themes and voting record, such as his opposition to same-sex marriage. A common theme was the idea that Vitter should not be able to argue again for such positions, because his private sins compromised his public positions. Even Glenn Reynolds got into the act, suggesting "How about moving to make prostitution legal in the District instead [of apologizing]? It would be an appropriate penance, and D.C. would be a . . . fitting . . . place to start."
This is wrong, and dangerous. Our politicians and civic leaders have never been saints, but the punishment for their sins should not fall on the rest of us. I would much prefer to see a wicked man be a hypocrite and vote for what is right and good, rather than choose consistency and advocate for wrongdoing.
The left's argument on this front - usually implicit, sometimes made explicitly - is that immoral behavior, especially in matters sexual, proves that moral standards are impossible to satisfy, and thus that the whole project of promoting virtue is a fool's errand. Go and do what feels good, you can't be expected to know better.* But nobody ever said that moral standards are easy, or the history of human behavior and philosophical and religious thought wouldn't be littered with battles over what is right and wrong and how to get people to choose the former.
Moreover, the critics set an impossibly high standard when they claim that a moral failing in one area should cause a man to abandon the advocacy of virtue in others. Thus, we hear that Bill Bennett, because he has had a gambling problem, should not be heard to speak on other issues of public and private morals, ranging from sexual mores to drugs to obstruction of justice. But with rare exceptions, the same logic isn't applied to the champions of vice. The left never argues that figures like Madonna or Hugh Hefner, just to pick two examples of people who have built decades-long careers on championing sexual immorality, are hypocrites because they don't also have gambling problems. Pursuing this asymmetrical line of reasoning can only have the result of unilaterally disarming one side. If only saints can defend right and good and virtue, they will be undefended, while the ranks of the defenders of wrong and sin swell to bursting.
In any event, the left's champions are no less frequently guilty of advocating standards they don't follow or impose on themselves. They call for limits on the use of energy, while galavanting around in private jets and high-powered SUV motorcades. They argue that society benefits from keeping poor kids in public schools without a choice to leave, while sending their own kids to expensive private academies. They hire picketers and leafleters to protest low wages and benefits, and pay them a pittance and no benefits. They press for strict gun controls, then hire armed private bodyguards of their own. The greatest moral controversy in recent memory, the Clinton impeachment, came about when a variety of rules created by moralizing liberals - the independent counsel statute, sexual harrassment litigation, liberal rules of discovery in civil litigation - were turned against one of their own, with predictable howls of outrage.
None of this is to suggest that a man's private immoral or illegal behavior is irrelevant to his fitness for public office. Voters certainly have to judge the totality of a candidate's character - moreso in the case of candidates for executive or judicial positions, who exercise broader individual discretion, but it's not irrelevant for legislators either - and the private and public behavior are all a part of this. The fundamental question Louisiana voters will need to ask about Sen. Vitter is whether this changes their view about his ability to do his job, keep his promises and avoid misusing his office. You don't take the public man in isolation, but neither do you take the private man in isolation; the whole must be examined and judged as one.
But in asking that question, Sen. Vitter's continued willingness to fight for the things he campaigned on should be a plus. If you are a Louisiana voter who thinks prostitution is bad for your community, why should you have to live with it because of a Senator's private sins? If you are a Mississippian who thinks racial preferences are bad policy, why should you have to live with them because of Trent Lott's mouth? In fact, the courage to stand up for the right thing to do even when it exposes you to the hypocrisy charge is one of the most important attributes of a leader, the facet that makes it possible to pursue justice and virtue without constantly checking to trim your positions to fit your own failings. Consider the "chickenhawk" charge, the assertion that Presidents Clinton and Bush should have been hesitant to use military force, not having served in combat themselves. It was apparent, watching Clinton at work, that while he sent the military hither and yon on 'humanitarian' interventions, he was nonetheless hypersensitive to the argument that he should avoid using the military, precisely because of his own personal history; it is equally obvious that Bush does not put stock in such arguments, and makes his calls as he sees them. I much prefer to see Republicans who will stand up against abortion, for example, regardless of the state of their private lives, than those who feel that they have to take a squishily pro-choice position because they fear the scrutiny of the anti-moral scolds.
It takes a truly twisted perspective to see a man who commits private sins while arguing in public for virtue, and choose to take issue with the latter.
So, two cheers for the hypocrites. Even if they don't do right by themselves or their families - even if, at times, they deserve to be punished by the law or defeated at the polls - they should still be proud to have done the right thing in their time in public service.
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* - This is another day's argument, but this attitude is a major reason why so many people drift politically leftward in their teens, when the search for a justification for rejecting prevailing moral standards on sex, drugs, etc. is literally seductive.
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July 30, 2007
FOOTBALL: The Bill Walsh Way
POLITICS: More Links 7/30/07
*Gonzales vindicated. Well, on one count, anyway. He has a gift for trouble, though; I don't know anybody who still has faith in his competence. And anyway, an investigation of top-secret programs involves, you know, top secret information. Unless smoking out that information is the entire point.
BASEBALL: Good News, Bad News
Terrible news on one front, as the Braves appear close to nailing down a deal for Mark Teixeira. The deal isn't coming cheaply, as they are apparently parting with their top 3 prospects, but few prospects turn into a guy as good as Tex, who is 27, a good glove and a career .264/.489/.358 hitter even away from Texas, plus the top guy in the deal is Jarrod Saltalamaccialalaimachalachaia, who was basically expendable with the presence of Brian McCann.
The good news (I think)? The Mets got Luis Castillo, cheap:
Minnesota gets catcher Drew Butera and outfielder Dustin Martin....Butera is batting a combined .231 with six homers and 26 RBIs this year at Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League and Class A St. Lucie of the Florida State League.
Butera seems to be basically a light-hitting catcher like his dad Sal...Castillo's defense isn't what it was, nor his base stealing, and he never had any power, but he can still hit .300 and get on base a decent amount; he's batting .304/.352/.356 this year, .302/.368/.371 over the past six seasons. Acquiring Castillo is clearly a no-confidence vote in Ruben Gotay, at least in the short run, and he's likely an upgrade on Gotay's shaky defense and anybody else's offense.
For what it's worth, Castillo's Zone Rating is near the low end in the AL (and way below Damion Easley), and his Range Factor is well below the league average, supporting the idea that he doesn't cover much ground any longer. It may be worth asking whether Easley would have been a better option, although Castillo's bat is a good deal more reliable at this stage. Castillo is also well-suited to hit second, allowing Lo Duca to bat lower when he returns. Castillo's contract is up at the end of the season, so there's no extra obligation here.
BASEBALL: 7/30 Trivia Time
48 players have appeared in 2,500 or more career games; only six of those have a career OPS+ below 100 (i.e., on base plus slugging lower than a park-adjusted league average). Can you name them? Hint: each of the six are either in the Hall of Fame, played as recently as 1990, or both.
BLOG: Quick Links 7/30/07
*Pedro Feliciano's meltdown on Saturday can probably just be chalked up to nobody being perfect (Wagner, whose ERA is down to 1.39, is almost certainly overdue for one of those games), but with Joe Smith down in the minors, it's also a reminder that guys like Feliciano can go south on you in a hurry if overworked. The Mets don't have the juice for a Mark Teixeira deal at this point, so the deal they need to make is for another arm in the pen.
*Via Bob Sikes: Bill Robinson has died. Robinson always seemed like a classy guy, and as a ballplayer he was (along with Mike Easler) one of the guys rescured off the scrap heap in mid-career to help build the Pirates into a championship team in the late 70s and early 80s: Robinson was a 31-year-old .235/.386/.281 hitter and busted ex-prospect when he came to Pittsburgh, but batted .276/.477/.313 (114 OPS +) over 8 seasons at Three Rivers. RIP.
*David Pinto makes an excellent point about changing sizes of ballplayers: scrappy little Craig Biggio is the same listed height and weight as Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski.
*For all the guff David Wright takes, recall that in 2007, he is batting .295/.516/.423 with runners in scoring position and .333/.611/.400 in the late innings of a close game.
*I banged out a quick column on Spitzergate last week that I never got around to cross-posting here. Mindles Dreck and Prof. Bainbridge both point out that Spitzer would not have cared whether corporate executives claimed, as he does now, not to have known of their subordinates' misconduct.
I'll be honest: I hated when Steve Phillips and the Mets signed Tom Glavine five years ago. I thought it was a stupid, misguided attempt to steal away a rival's player and a complete waste of money. But, while Glavine's never been a personal favorite -- I'm Irish, grudges don't fade as easily for us -- he's far outperformed any reasonable expectations of him while behaving in the most professional, likeable manner possible. He may not be dominant any more, and he seems particularly prone to giving large leads away lately, but I'll always remember the tremendous performance he turned in during last year's playoffs. And I'll be thrilled to see him finally achieve his 300th win.
He also quotes this bizarre statement from Wallace Matthews:
Historically, he may be the best pitcher the Mets have had on their staff since Tom Seaver was run out of town 30 years ago...
How soon they forget. Has Matthews never heard of Pedro Martinez?
*Jaw, meet floor: Byron York notes Obama's pledge in last week's debate "to meet, one-on-one, in his first year as president, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashir Assad, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Kim Jong Il."
They never learn. They never, ever, ever learn.
*There are many reasons to doubt the veracity of TNR's formerly pseudonymous mil-blogger Scott Thomas Beauchamp, but Megan McArdle, as usual, cuts to the root of why the stories set off people's BS meters even beyond the parts (e.g., the Bradley dog-hunting tales) that seemed to clash with physical reality:
It beggars belief that 100 or more people silently watched some pottymouthed privates taunting a cripple who had acquired her injuries in the line of duty. I'm moderately well-versed in the stories about battle-hardened veterans committing atrocities in World War II. I've never come across a single story about making fun of your own side's wounded.
*This study doesn't sound too promising by itself, but it is true that fantasy baseball is a great microcosm of how humans learn and adapt - getting your butt whipped in a fantasy league, and the desire to avoid doing so again, is a great motivator for not just gathering information but also learning how to sift between the useful and the fool's gold (similarly, I have crammed years of lessons about, say, the value of on base percentage into the past year by playing Strat-O-Matic with my son).
*Hanson is back. I actually thought those guys had talent, if not much depth to them (unsurprising, at their age back then). I'll be interested to see if they've done anything useful with it now that they have grown up.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:55 AM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-13 | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2007 | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
July 28, 2007
POP CULTURE: Harry Potter and the Riddle of Death
So, late Thursday night I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment in the series. My review of the book is below the fold.
WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS!
In other words, don't read further unless you have finished the book or don't mind finding out how it goes and ends.
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Now, I have greatly enjoyed each of the Harry Potter books, and this was no different. As a piece of storytelling, I thought this was a tremendous book, in many ways the best of the series and at least the best since Book 3. There wasn't a false note up through the death of Snape (more on which below); the action sequences were great and avoided being repetitive, the book's and series' many mysteries unfolded at regular intervals rather than all tumbling out at the end, and there was excellent pacing, alternating between the action sequences, the plot narration, and the occasional quieter character-development vignettes in a way that let the reader catch his or her breath.
Rowling also didn't fall into some of her tics from earlier books. She didn't abuse adverbs as dialogue modifiers (said Harry fiercely). She didn't end too many paragraphs with ellipses..... Other than Dumbledore's large-scale decision to ration the information given to Harry, which at least was a mainly deliberate strategic decision with some thought behind it, she didn't keep the plot going by having characters constantly and inexplicably failing to share crucial pieces of information (my wife and I have been watching old seasons of "24" lately and the same problem is just as rampant there).
She also mostly didn't keep Voldemort at bay. Like a Batman or Bond villian (or, to be fair, like the real-world evildoer Osama bin Laden), Voldemort has constantly screwed up by preferring long-brewing plots of baroque complexity and melodrama to more regular applications of brute force and savagery. Even when considered in light of the difficulty of penetrating the protective charms around Harry and Hogwarts, his own paranoia about the prophecy and his own vulnerabilities, and his limited personnel, Voldemort's insistence in Books 4-6 on waiting all year to rely on a single plot with multple ways of going wrong was just hard to understand. This time, while he remains personally consumed by the hunt for the Elder Wand, Voldemort at least has his servants and allies on the constant attack, giving Harry and friends no peace and killing, torturing and taking hostages at every turn.
Unlike J.R.R. Tolkein, who never could kill a hobbit and let 8 of the 9 members of the Fellowship survive, Rowling certainly wasn't even remotely squeamish about killing off characters we have gotten to know over the years. Voldemort and Bellatrix, of course, had to die - the series as a whole would have made no sense if Voldemort wasn't done in, andBellatrix was the one of his servants furthest beyond redemption. But the list of the others is impressive, and includes a number of the types of characters who don't usually die en masse in stories of this nature: Fred, Snape, Lupin, Dobby, Moody, Tonks, Hedwig, Crabbe, Pettigrew, Scrimgeour, Collin Creavey. Fred Weasley's death in particular was wrenching, though less so because Rowling really never slowed the action again to focus on it (we never saw George again, for example). She blanched, though, at killing Hagrid, despite leaning in that direction on a couple of occasions.
More broadly, Rowling made sure that nearly no character who had made a significant appearance in the series - other than those already rather permanently dispatched - missed an opportunity to contribute to the plot, even highly obscure characters like Griphook, Dedalus Diggle and the Bloody Baron. I noticed from early on that Rowling was working hard to bring us full circle with her references to people and things that we hadn't seen since the start of Book 1 - Diggle, Sirius' flying motorcycle, the Put-Outer (now renamed the Deluminator).
All that said, the book did have flaws. The Epilogue in particular seemed pointless and cheesy, yet uninformative - I had expected more along the lines of a credits-rolling type epilogue with a list of 2-3 sentence descriptions of where each character went next, not just a vignette showing us that yes, Harry married Ginny and named their kids after his parents, Dumbledore and Snape, Ron married Hermione, and Voldemort is really most sincerely dead (maybe Rowling will eventually put something more expansive on her website). The epilogue told us nothing of the later careers of anybody but Neville, nothing really about what kinds of adults the teen characters became, not even precisely who raised Ted Lupin or whether he was a werewolf. If you are going to bother with an epilogue, make it count for something.
I also thought the chapter of Snape's memories felt awfully rushed and not all that revealing, and the chapters that followed, while critical to the story, were a bit unevenly done, in some places (e.g., Mrs. Weasley's dialogue with Bellatrix) too obviously playing to the crowd. Now, I was reading by that point in haste, and it's hard for the ending of anything this long and this good and built around long-running puzzles to live up to all expectations, plus parts of it simply had to be a real downer (Harry resigning himself to death and discovering that Dumbledore had planned him to die all along for the greater good), so maybe I will feel differently on a second read-through. But other parts simply felt like too-good-to-be true twists: Harry waking up alive to talk with Dumbledore, the reinforcements poring over the Hogwarts walls at the right moment, Harry 's duel with Voldemort being resolved in a single spell simply by who had, er, the bigger wand.
The two major themes of the series as a whole, of course, are (1) the power of love, generosity, tolerance and selflessness over hatred, racism, cruelty and the will to power and (2) the need to accept death as a part of life. Unsurprisingly, Book 7 hammers away at these themes, and places them at the very center of the resolution of the Harry-Voldemort feud.
Harry clearly becomes a man in this book. That fact reaches its conclusion when he willingly lays down his life, but it's never more vividly driven home than when he tells Lupin to stay home from the Quest and take care of his pregnant wife (a scene that must have been more poignant to Rowling, as a former single mom).
We see throughout the story the ways in which Voldemort's followers - tortured, manipulated, intimidated - fail him or turn on him (in the case of Narcissa Malfoy when she lets Harry play dead, explicitly out of love for her son), while help comes again and again to Harry un-looked for due to his generosity to house-elves, goblins, etc. (recall that Harry had saved Malfoy's life at great risk to his own barely two hours earlier). Sometimes that generosity brings him no obvious benefit (as when he breaks up the Ministry's concentration camp-style roundup of Muggle-borns while escaping with the locket), but he does it anyway out of a refusal to accept injustice.
More than a few commentators have speculated as to whether Harry's sole self-sacrifice makes Rowling's work, like Tolkein's and CS Lewis', explicitly Christian in orientation. I haven't seen enough in the stories to go that far, and of course those are writers who are high among her influences anyway, but certainly one couldn't miss the significance when Harry, having laid down his life in sacrifice, waits before returning to life in a chapter entitled "King's Cross."
The hunt for the Horcruxes naturally gave the book a structure that took it out of the pattern of the prior six books, built as they were around the Hogwarts school year. We knew that plot would be supplemented by the final unveiling of Snape's loyalties, what happened in Godric's Hollow, and the last showdown with Voldemort. What was added unexpectedly to this was the interlocking stories of Dumbledore's past and the Deathly Hallows.
One of the real entertainments of the final book, for the adult reader, is in trying not only to figure out where the plot is going and how it holds together, but in trying to deduce after the fact which parts of the plot Rowling came up with years ago and which were added more recently. It's clear that she has done a fair amount of planning ahead, and unlike George Lucas she doesn't paint herself into story corners.
In a way, the simplicity of the chapter on Snape and his enduring love for Lily is further evidence that it was part of Rowling's original story, before the advancing complexity of the books led to an escalation in the complexity of her storylines, whereas I have to assume that the Hallows were a relatively late addition.
I had one uncertainty about the Hallows storyline. Harry defeats Voldemort at the end because Voldemort is not the true master of the Elder Wand - Harry is, by virtue of having defeated Draco who defeated Dumbledore. But was Grindelwald a true master of the wand? If so, unlike Draco, he was a powerful enough wizard that he should never have been defeated by Dumbledore. If not- because Grindelwald stole it, after all - then Dumbledore was never the true master either; the true master was the wizard who killed its prior owner, Gregorovitch. In other words, Voldemort.
Of course, if you have read my extensive post after Book 6, you will recall that I made quite a lot of predictions for this book, with enough of a mixed record that I can feel justified in seeing some things coming without feeling like I had no surprises left to enjoy. Let's walk through them.
1. Dumbledore's really dead: I was right, Rowling wouldn't violate the essence of the lesson about the reality of death by bringing him back, although he does return in Harry's sorta-dream after sacrificing himself to Voldemort. The blue eye in Harry's mirror and the phoenix-looking fire from his wand provided early, tantalizing suggestions that Dumbledore wasn't really dead, but it turns out that the only trickery in his death was the recovery of his wand (I only skimmed so far back over the end of 6 but I can't see where it mentions who did that - Snape wasn't around to sneak it back) and its entombing with him.
2. Dumbledore left memories and the Pensieve behind for Harry: He left clues, but no memories, and Snape provided memories only at the last instant. Harry had to track down witnesses and tap into Voldemort's head to get the truth about his parents' death, the Hallows, Dumbledore's background, etc.
3. Regulus could be alive and be Scrimgeour, and in any event somebody we think is dead is really in hiding. Wrong on all counts.
4. Harry, Ron and Hermione all survive. Yup.
5. Harry will have to trust Snape. I was amazed that we didn't see Snape until the very end, and he essentially played no visible role in the story (the delivery of the sword by the silver doe notwithstanding); Harry never spoke another word with the man until he received his memories.
6. Snape was in love with Lily, working to protect Harry and destroy Voldemort. No zig or zag here, Rowling followed the conventional analysis to a T.
7. The Half-Blood Prince's book was written by Lily, who had a crush on Snape. None of that part panned out.
8. Snape took the Unbreakable Vow with Dumbledore. No, he didn't.
9. Snape somehow contributed to Voldemort's failure the first time. No, it went down just as Dumbledore always said - it was his mother's sacrifice, nothing more.
10. The last Horcrux was the Sorting Hat, and if not that the sword or Harry's cloak. Well, Rowling quashed the Sorting Hat notion before the book was published. The sword and the cloak, though, did play pivotal roles and the cloak did turn out to have a powerful magical history. As for Ravenclaw's tiara, I sort of guessed that a chapter or two before their arrival at Hogwarts - I had assumed all along and predicted that one Horcrux would be at Hogwarts, and once my original guesses were eliminated and other ideas stumped, I went back and looked through the chapter on Harry hiding the book in the Room of Requirement and concluded that it was probably the bust or the tiara...by the way, you missed it if you blinked, but Harry lost two beloved magical objects in battle - the Prince's potion book was presumably consumed by the Fiendfire, and Harry dropped his Firebolt from the sidecar of Hagrid's bike during the dogfight.
11. Regulus got the locket out with Kreacher's help. Yup, sort of.
12. Dumbledore's statements while drinking the potion were echoes of things said when the young Riddle tormented those kids in that cave many years before, and Harry may need to track down the now-elderly Muggles involved to find out what happened. Nope, off base there, it was reliving the fight that killed Dumbledore's own sister.
13. We will see more of Zacharias Smith, in the hunt for the Hufflepuff cup. Nope, not a peep.
14. There are at least four characters (Neville, Snape, Draco, and Pettigrew) and possibly others (Ginny, Hagrid, Aunt Petunia, the house-elves) who JKR has set up to potentially step in and play a surprising role at a key plot point to get Harry through the remaining tasks of destroying Horcruxes and killing Voldemort....I can easily see Pettigrew killing the snake.
Well, I got the details wrong, but Snape, Pettigrew and Dobby all either sacrificed themselves for Harry or, in Pettigrew's case, were undone by a debt to him, and Malfoy's hesitance to kill Dumbledore proved crucial to the plot.
15. Harry returns to Hogwarts as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at the end of the story. The Epilogue clearly indicates that Harry is not on the Hogwarts faculty.
I'd have to agree with several people who have said that this book will - or at least can - make a tremendous movie. Yeah, there's a good bit of backstory explication that will need to get cut, but the action scenes are so inherently theatrical, especially the aerial dogfight at the beginning, the robbery of Gringotts and the escape from Malfoy Manor.
I think the Gringotts breakout was my favorite scene in the book. Having seen a proposed cover with the trio flying a dragon, I knew from the moment we saw the dragon that they were going to use it to break out. In fact, at one point after they lost the sword, I thought that they were going to need either Grawp or a dragon to destroy the Horcruxes.
This is obviously a coincidence, but I can't be the only adult American reader who was reminded powerfully of the last scene in the Sopranos when Harry, Ron and Hermione, fresh from escaping the wedding, sit down in a diner, order coffee and then start wondering about the ominous strangers who enter and pass their table. Of course, unlike David Chase, Rowling didn't leave the scene hanging but lunges directly into the Death Eaters' attack on the trio.
Best line of the book? Viktor Krum's "what's the point of being an internationally famous Quidditch player if all the pretty girls are taken?"
The Battle of Hogwarts was inspiring,with every inch of the castle and its inhabitants rallying to defend the school. I also can't re-read Harry's walk to the forest without choking up.
The taboo on the Unforgiveable Curses broke down, as we see Harry use two of them and McGonagall use the Imperius Curse, although only Mrs. Weasley - justifiably so - is shown, among the good wizards, using the Avada Kedavra curse.
End of the day, does the Potter series stack up against Tolkein's epic? Maybe not quite, although we will need the perspective of time to judge. But I do think the finale amply justifies mentioning it in the same breath.
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July 27, 2007
BLOG: The Spell Is Broken
Finished the Harry Potter book last night, after a week of squeezing it around some very busy work commitments and thus no free time remaining for blogging. Review to follow later, after which regularly scheduled blogging will resume.
July 21, 2007
BASEBALL: Bad Break
I'm guessing we have seen the last of Jose Valentin for the year and probably in a Mets uniform after he broke his tibia tonight fouling a ball off it (it took a while for Jermaine Dye to recover from that, and Dye was a good deal younger).
July 20, 2007
BASEBALL: None Yet
UPDATE: Yeah, I jinxed him. Homer by Mark Ellis ends it.
POP CULTURE: Harry Potter and the Daily Prophet
I'm still appalled that the NY Times broke embargo and published a review of the seventh Harry Potter book yesterday, though given the Times' attitude towards far more serious and dangerous secrets, I can't say I'm surprised. At any rate, I will never forgive anyone who spoils the ending for me, doubly so because I'm swamped with work at the moment and will take longer than usual to get through the final 784 pages of the saga. This isn't like the Sopranos, where we could all watch a single episode the same night. My one consolation is that the media is so fixated on "does Harry die?" that that may be all they report. Either way, I will have to avoid a lot of media for the next week or two.
As for my predictions for Book #7, I can't add much to my lengthy analysis after Book #6. Jonathan Last has more here, including a link to a lengthy analysis of the "evil Snape" theory (i.e., that Snape is actually a Saruman-like figure). I continue to believe that we will find that Snape was never fully loyal either to Dumbledore or Voldemort.
July 18, 2007
BLOG: Next, A Plague of Locusts
I'm way, way too busy to blog right now, so I will just say this: this morning's rush hour we had Bilblical floods, and for the evening rush hour we get fire and brimstone. I hope someone isn't trying to tell us something.
July 17, 2007
BASEBALL: No O
The Mets' season really comes to this: the infield, even with Delgado and Valentin scuffling, is strong. Lo Duca will be OK. The starting rotation is adequate, good at its best. Wagner is great, and the pen as a whole is solid despite Heilman's struggles and Schoenweis' self-immolations...but this team will only go as far as Carlos Beltran will take it. Somehow, I can't imagine the Mets winning the division with Beltran hitting as he did in 2005, or worse - or losing it if he hits as he did in April and most of last season.
It's not just Beltran, but he's the key guy in the outfield. The numbers - in April, the Mets outfielders (Beltran, Green, Alou, Chavez, Newhan and Milledge) batted a combined .343/.546/.400. Since May 1, the outfielders - those same six guys plus Gomez, Johnson and Ledee - have batted .231/.356/.296. As we saw vividly in the 2001-04 period, a major league team cannot win anything with that kind of production from its outfielders.
Beltran's 7-year deal looked lousy in 2005, brilliant in 2006...seven years is a long time, so the jury will remain out for a while yet. But there's no question that he's not earning his keep at this moment.
July 16, 2007
POLITICS: Good Personnel Make Good Policy
400 years ago, in 1607, the first English colony was established in North America. From that time until 1776, there was no law of the British Crown applicable to the colonies, nor any federal law or rule between 1776 and 1973, governing abortion, either permitting it or forbidding it. The matter was recognized simply to be a question of local law, like other subjects of the general police power. And American presidential candidates - including the Presidents who appointed the seven Justices who made up the majority in Roe v. Wade - did not have any need to have a public position on abortion.
In a better world, all of that would still be true, and the man who is in many ways the GOP's strongest candidate for the presidency, Rudy Giuliani, would have a clear lead in the race for the nomination. (I've previously explained here why I am thus far supporting Rudy). While there are certainly other issues people have with Rudy, the single largest obstacle to his candidacy is the fact that many pro-life Republican voters simply cannot pull the lever for a man who will not denounce the moral evil of abortion, and who argues affirmatively for continuing to permit it. Thus are the wages of Roe, the bitter political fruit of a tree that is poisonous to the roots. A corollary of this is that a lot of conservative voters - myself included - are now going to be taking a long, long look at switching to Fred Thompson, a man who has stated and consistently acted on pro-life positions and argued with force and considerable charisma for conservative ideas, even though his record as a legislator is so much thinner than Giuliani's record as an executive that you'd think Fred was running for some lesser job, like the Democratic nomination.
For those of us pro-lifers who are willing to pull the lever for Rudy but are also still thinking about Fred, therefore, there is no priority more pressing than showing that President Giuliani would appoint the sort of judges who would send Roe to the dustbin now occupied by Dred Scott, Lochner and Plessy v. Ferguson and thus restore the federal status quo as it existed entering 1973, with abortion once again a matter for state and local law. Now, Rudy is taking an important step to show that as president he would appoint the right kind of judges. For that, he should be applauded - and skeptical conservatives and pro-lifers should keep the heat on him for more.
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Mayor Giuliani faces three main obstacles in convincing both pro-lifers and principled believers in judicial conservatism (including the many voters who are both) that he would appoint judges who take the Constitution seriously enough that they would not support the continuation of a doctrine created from whole cloth without a shred of evidence that We the People ever consented to its inclusion in our governing charter. The first is a legal problem: other than the Vice President, who is elected by the people in his or her own right, candidates for public office are not permitted to promise jobs to potential office-seekers, and thus can't go around naming who they would pick as judges or Cabinet members. Candidates thus have to make do with dropping broad hints and sending signals about what kinds of people they will surround themselves with.
The second problem is self-inflicted; rather than run as pro-choice but anti-Roe, Rudy has been unwilling to admit that serious "strict constructionist" (as the popular term goes) judges would really have little choice but to reject Roe, saying in the first GOP debate:
Giuliani: It would be OK to repeal. It would be also (OK) if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent and I think a judge has to make that decision.
Now, presidents generally don't quiz nominees on an abortion litmus test - if they did, the Senate would bring that out - but suggesting that he is agnostic on the issue doesn't inspire confidence in Giuliani's ability to get this issue right.
(The third problem, which I won't get into at length here, is Rudy's own record of appointing judges; suffice to say that while he appointed lots of tough-on-crime judges in New York City, his judges were at best a mixed bag on social issues. Hopefully I'll have time to return to this question in more depth at a later date.)
But with his position in the polls still strong yet still vulnerable, Mayor Giuliani clearly recognizes that there is more he can and must still do to shore up his support among those of us who view the judges issue as a non-negotiable price for supporting a pro-choicer at the top of the ticket. And that's why it's such good news - and good news even for pro-lifers who won't vote for Rudy but may get him as our nominee anyway - that he is doing this:
GOP frontrunner Rudy Giuliani will unveil his "Justice Advisory Committee" this week on a two-day swing through heavily Republican western districts of Washington, D.C., home of the first presidential caucuses in 2008.
Now, I assume that's a typo and Fox is referring to his swing through western Iowa (UPDATE: the Giuliani campaign drops us a line to say yes, he's in Iowa). Olson, of course, has been previously announced as endorsing Rudy, so the further membership of this committee will bear watching, but Estrada and Thompson are good additions.
Mayor Giuliani can still win this race, and he can still lose it. As has been true from the beginning, the single factor that will be the greatest difference between the two is whether he can close the sale on the kinds of judges he will appoint. Let's see more, and hope it's more like this.
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POP CULTURE: Harry Potter and the Grumpy Old Dude
It being my son's brithday last Thursday, we took the kids (sans baby) out to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On the whole, it was yet again an enjoyable film, as the first four were. But a good many of the scenes felt rushed - they didn't just trim out scenes to squeeze an 870-page book into a single movie, they also simplified the scenes that were left, taking out many of the delicious ironies, clever plot twists and one-liners that make Rowling's books more than just fun kiddie stories. I swear, if they made a movie version of Gilligan's Island today the first thing the studio would do is tell the director that the plot needed to be simplified and there were too many characters. The film ran something like 2 hours and 20 minutes, and while a 3-hour movie is always a hard sell, especially for kids, you could easily have added 20 minutes to the film and lost nothing in terms of pacing. Remember, the bulk of the kids in the audience have plowed through multiple 700+ page books, they will have the patience.
Of course, the book is always better. And I'm not unsympathetic to the problem of condensing a book of that length. More after the fold - I'm writing for the audience of people who know the books here, so spoilers will follow if you don't.
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One of the problems with movies made from book serieses is that they tend to cut things that are essential to the plot of the series but not of the particular book, and this one is no exception - why did Harry have to hear the prophecy in the Ministry in front of his friends rather than from Dumbledore? You'll recall that the Goblet of Fire movie cut the crucial scene that sets up Order of the Phoenix: Cornelius Fudge's stubborn refusal to believe that Voldemort is back. I always suspected that the decision to cut that scene was partly driven by a refusal to face the contemporary political parallels in a scene where the hawks who warned of the Voldemort threat were obviously right - notwithstanding the fact that JK Rowling wrote the scene before September 11 and all that.
Order of the Phoenix, of course, is the most political of all the Potter books - not political in the sense of an allegory of today's headlines, but political in the sense that it deals with issues of government, and in fact the Ministry of Magic provides a cornucopia of governmental malfeasance and incompetence:
*Mulishly denying the existence of an external, terroristic threat.
*Misusing the judicial process to bring trumped-up criminal charges against its critics (having already staged an attack one of those critics).
*Micromanaging education by decrees of the national government.
*Censoring the press while putting out propaganda.
*Cracking down on individuals' right to defend themselves just when they are most in need.
*Influence peddling (Lucius Malfoy).
*Foolishly entrusting prison security to enemies.
*Excessive surveillance of communications.
*Sanctioning torture of students and abusive interrogation (the use of Veritaserum).
*Appallingly poor security around what ought to be closely guarded secrets.
Something for everyone! In that context, the film doesn't cover everything - we especially miss the revelation that Umbridge set the dementors on Harry, as well as the background of Umbridge's racism - but it does nicely canvass the oppressiveness of the Ministry and its accompanying fecklessness with regard to the Death Eater threat.
The scene I missed the most, of the ones that were cut, was the hospital scene - granted, the return of Gilderoy Lockhart didn't advance the plot and would have required them to bring back Kenneth Branagh, but the scene in the film where Neville talks about his parents is a poor substitute for showing them. I also missed the whole dynamic of the faculty passive-aggressively undermining Umbridge by making her do things they claimed to be unsure of their authority to do (like chasing down stray fireworks).
I actually thought that the most theatrical scenes in the book were the ones that translated least well, like Dumbledore's duel with Voldemort. The scene that probably suffered the most from haste was the scene where Dumbledore leaves Hogwarts - a tremendously skillful tableu in Rowling's hands, with Dumbledore at turns mirthful and shrewd in improvising Harry's acquittal and conspiring with Kingsley, to say nothing of how Hermione's jinx on the "Dumbledore's Army" list played out. But that brings us to the larger flaw that could utterly sink the sixth film if not repaired: Michael Gambon is an awful Dumbledore, taking a vividly drawn character and reducing him to just another grumpy, gruff old guy who can do some magic. All the things that make Dumbledore so impressive on the page - including those aspects that Richard Harris brought so ably to life in the first two films - are missing here: the sense of commanding power, the wry and mischievous humor, the serene confidence, the Fred Rogers level of gentleness. In the books, Dumbledore doesn't struggle like a man in a tug-o-war when fighting Voldemort, he does things with a flick of the wand. The ultimate Dumbledore scene in the series is when he's cornered at the top of the astronomy tower in the sixth book - weakened, disarmed, surrounded by enemies threatening him with death - and is speaking with them pleasantly, and one of them sneers that they have no time for his jokes, to which he replies, "Jokes? No, these are manners." Can you picture Gambon pulling that scene off? I can't. He needs to be replaced.
The rest of the cast does a good job here, though. Among the child actors, Emma Watson has always had the Hermione character nailed, and Daniel Radcliffe has managed to grow as an actor with the increasing demands of what started off as a fairly easy role in the first two films. Rupert Grint is no longer the disaster he was in the second film, having traded in comic mugging for an average-guy slightly sullen teen look (of course, Ron's importance to the series is his normalcy, his Sam Gamgee to Harry's suffering, conflicted Frodo). The other kids have held their roles well. Imelda Staunton did a much better Umbridge than I expected from the previews, and that was critical to the film. With the passage of years and the harsh lighting, most of the adult actors looked rather the worse for wear, but Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane remain perfect for their characters.
One thing I liked in the flying scenes was the emphasis on the modernity of London; in the books you get that this is set today, but most of the scenes of the Muggle world are more rural or suburban rather than juxtaposing broom-flying wizards with an urban skyline at night.
One last odd choice: the movie rather strongly suggested that Harry's real romantic connection should have been with Luna, who is shown as the only one who understands him, rather than Cho, to whom his attraction is unexplained and inexplicable. (The scene at the end with Luna tacking up posters requesting her lost possessions back ran long enough that I don't know why they left out the book's poignant line where she indicates that they do this to her every year).
UPDATE: Forgot to mention this - I don't necessarily agree with Chris Lynch that Grawp looks enough like a left-wing caricature of George W. Bush to suspect intentional dumping of contemporary politics into the film, but I can see where he's coming from; Grawp looks mostly like Alfred E. Newman.
As I said, the story is inherently and unaviodably small-p political, but that kind of politics holds up well for generations of readers; efforts to inject more specific references to today's debates and personalities is exactly what causes things to get dated. For example, the Muggle Prime Minister in the first chapter of Boox Six is certainly at least a little Tony Blair-ish, but the scene works perfectly well if you have no idea who Blair is.
SECOND UPDATE: Gambon in his own words:
Empire: Are you kind of easing into the role a bit more now you have done one film as Dumbledore?
(H/t Jeff Emanuel for the link)
THIRD UPDATE: Here is a provactive idea, though I'm sure there are better choices: Sean Connery as Dumbledore for the sixth film? He wouldn't capture Dumbledore's gentle side but at least he could be twinkly and mischievous, serene and yet powerful. Plus, of course, he's Scottish.
Richard Harris is still a tough act to follow.
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July 13, 2007
BASEBALL: Mr. Rickey-Shea
So the second half launches with a minor shakeup at Shea - Rickey Henderson replaces Rick Down as the batting coach, and Julio Franco is cut to make room on the roster for Lastings Milledge, who takes over for the injured Carlos Gomez replacing the injured Endy Chavez taking the place of the injured Moises Alou (remember him?). More stunningly, Scott Schoenweis is...still here. $10 million contracts will do that.
I have to assume that Down's departure is more of a backstage power struggle or personality clash than a simple scapegoating, but in any event unlike Rick Peterson I've never seen anybody credit him with any great success. Rickey seems like an odd choice for a batting coach - a great guy as a baserunning instructor, and certainly he can impart the value of plate patience, but as John Harper puts it
Hitting coaches put in countless hours these days, breaking down video of their own hitters as well as opposing pitchers, in addition to individual work with each player, and, well, Henderson still carries himself more like a superstar player than a blue-collar coach.
Of course, Rickey's hot dogging attitude as a player always belied his intense work ethic, so it's possible that he will be more of a workhorse than he lets on.
Franco says he's not done, though it's hard to see who will give him a job now. I like the guy and he was a great story, but it was time.
I didn't see last night's game (more on why next), but from the photos, it looks like Milledge has cut his dreadlocks, which is probably a wise choice for a guy trying to clean up his image long enough to get settled in a big league job (one he expects to have "for the next 20 years"). Hopefully, Milledge will give us better glovework than last season, which would make it a lot easier for people to wait out any batting slumps - the contrast with Chavez and Gomez will be a tough one.
Ruben Gotay's presence in the lineup subbing for the injured Jose Valentin suggests to me that the Mets aren't making any deals to upgrade at second - they are clearly going to hobble through with the two veterans while breaking in Gotay. Defense will be even more critical to the second base job - Valentin's unlikely to hit very much this season, so he'll need his glove to keep him in the lineup, while defense is likely to be key to whether Gotay is able to make himself the favorite for the job long term.
July 12, 2007
BASEBALL: Baseball's Most Impressive Records
You often hear discussion of what are baseball's most unbreakable records; it's a hardy perennial of the barroom or talk radio debate (I recently got a marketing email from a company selling a video on the topic).
But "unbreakable" isn't really the yardstick for a great record. Let's use the most glaring example: in 1879, Will White threw 680 innings. By modern standards, that's almost beyond comprehension; pigs will fly before you see a pitcher throw 681 innings in a single season. But is it really that impressive? The previous record was 622, in a 66-game season (by 1879 the schedule was 80 games for White's Reds). Five years later, Old Hoss Radbourn threw 678.2 innings, and Guy Hecker threw 670.2. White deserves a tip of the cap for out-working his contemporaries, but his record was set at the best possible time - the historic high-water mark of starting pitcher innings - and narrowly survived a challenge just 5 years later.
No, what I'm interested in is the baseball's most impressive records. So I bring you this list. First, the parameters. No team records, just individual feats. No single-game records - if the name "Mark Whiten" doesn't remind us that anybody can have a great day, I don't know what will. No postseason records, since the opportunities to set those are very unevenly distributed. No fielding records, for a long list of reasons regarding the nature and availability of fielding stats. No managing records, although Connie Mack's 53-year managing career is impressive under any definition, as is Joe McCarthy managing 24 years with three different franchises without having a losing record once. And no negative records - Nolan Ryan's career walks record is perversely impressive, but not worthy of honor. All I looked at was career and single-season hitting and pitching records, and streaks.
Second, my criteria for choosing and ranking the records. I looked at three factors. One, how far the record stands out from the #2 (and for measurement I compared to the second-best by a different player, rather than, say, compare two Barry Bonds seasons). Two, the level of skill, consistency or exceptional endurance involved - winning games and hitting home runs is more impressive than at bats or hit by pitches. Relatedly, I gave more emphasis for higher-profile stats, and didn't look at really obscure records or metrics (no VORP record here). And three, I gave extra credit to players who - unlike Will White - set their records under less than the ideal conditions for setting that particular record.
Finally, in a few cases I consolidated in a single "record" multiple records a player set in a single season or career that basically flow from the same cause, such as Barry Bonds' walk and intentional walk records.
This doesn't claim to be a scientific list; I have my opinion, you have yours. But my justifications and the facts are provided.
Vander Meer's is more in the nature of a single feat than a streak, but the fact is, Major League Baseball has been around for 131 years, and in all of that time, only one man has pitched back-to-back no-hitters. The rarity of the thing, given that many opportunities, argues for its impressiveness.
Hubbell's win streak is impressive and tops the #2 on the list (Rube Marquard) by 20%. On the other hand, it's somewhat artificial because (1) it overlaps two seasons and (2) during the streak he lost Game 4 of the 1936 World Series. If the streak was longer (see below) I might have listed him, but either way it is still an impressive feat.
Granted, doubleheaders have always been somewhat rare and it's been decades since anybody pitched both ends of one, so Reulbach, unlike Vander Meer, didn't have as much potential competition. Even so, it's a significant accomplishment to be the only one to do it.
D. The Consecutive Complete Games Record
The record for consecutive starts with a complete game is commonly thought to belong to Jack Taylor, variously attributed as 185, 187 or 188 between 1901 and 1906 (the most thorough examinations seem to support the 185 number; when I was younger I recall it being listed as 176). But back before they moved the mound in 1893, Jack Lynch seems to have thrown 198 straight in the American Association in 1883-87 and 1890, although the one in 1890 after a 3-year absence involved him absorbing 18 runs on 22 hits, and I have no idea what he'd been doing in the interim.
Even with the uncertainties and the prevalance of complete games in those days, though, finishing that many in a row over a period of 5-6 years is really hard work. So these guys get the Honorable Mention. Now, for the list - the number in parentheses is the percentage by which the record exceeds the next best total by another player:
20. Tris Speaker, 792 Career Doubles (6.2%)
Speaker's doubles record is a mountain few have approached. #2 on the list is Pete Rose, and he needed 15,000 plate appearances (a good 30% more than Speaker) to get within 50. Craig Biggio hits gobs of doubles, has been incredibly durable and is in his 20th season, and Biggio still needs 131 doubles to catch Speaker. Speaker did play the second half of his career in a good era for doubles, and played nearly his whole career in two great doubles parks - Fenway and League Park in Cleveland, which also had a high, close fence (60 feet high and 290 feet away in right) you could bounce doubles off.
19. Ichiro Suzuki, 225 Singles in 2004 (9.2%)
If you look atop the single season singles record list, you will find it dominated by 1890s hitters Willie Keeler and Jesse Burkett, from an era when league batting averages ranged from the .290s to as high as .309. Yet, in an age of the longball, Ichiro the Throwback left Keeler's record in the dust. Swimming against the modern offensive tide, and in an extreme pitcher's park no less (Ichiro that season hit .338 at home, .405 on the road) makes his accomplishment more impressive.
18. Nolan Ryan, 7 Career No-Hitters (75%)
The no-hitter is something of a flukey one-game achievement, or this record would rank higher, but only two pitchers have thrown 4 no-nos, and Ryan almost doubled the total of #2 man Sandy Koufax, throwing no-hitters in three decades.
17. Billy Hamilton, 192 Runs Scored in 1894 (8.5%).
Hamilton played in the best of circumstances for the scoring of runs - the highest-scoring season ever, a loaded lineup that set the all-time record by hitting .349 as a team and including three other .400 hitters. But then, he still scored 8.5% more runs than anyone else in his era, and his record has never been seriously challenged even though it was set in a 129-game season. And, of course, scoring runs is the whole point of the game, and you get a lot less help from teammates than with RBIs; this is the most prestigious sort of record.
16. Rickey Henderson, 130 Steals in 1982 (10.2%)
Rickey's single-season steals record stands out, but further than it did at the time; Brock had stolen 118 nine years earlier, and Vince Coleman would steal 110 three years later as a rookie, the first of three straight 100+ seasons. I'd rate Rickey higher but for the fact that he was caught a record 42 times; he would have helped his team more if he'd attempted 120-130 steals instead of 172. That said, the 1982 A's were a team that had rapidly collapsed from a contender, so Rickey gave a lot of excitement to fans who had little else.
Either way, the record was partly a matter of choice, and less impressive for being so.
15. Owen "Chief" Wilson, 36 Triples in 1912 (16.1%)
Not only did Wilson set the triples record by a comfortable 36-31 margin, but he finished 10 triples (38%) ahead of the nearest 20th century competitor. It's rare to see anybody reach mid-May anywhere near Wilson's pace. It's just a freakish accomplishment for a guy who played seven seasons as a regular and cracked 20 triples only the once.
14. Walter Johnson, 110 Career Shutouts (22.2%)
And note that Johnson is 39.2% ahead of the #3 guy, Christy Mathewson (Grover Alexander is #2). 110 shutouts is an astonishing figure, a shutout every six starts and more than a quarter of his 417 career wins (he needed them too - Johnson played for good teams and bad, but the latter were sometimes appalling, like the team where the team leader in RBI drove in 44 runs). Johnson did pitch in the best time for shutouts, the era when ERAs were low and unearned runs were rarer than in the 1880s, and when aces finished their starts. He did throw 24 shutouts in 8 years from 1920-27, though.
13. Cal Ripken, 2,632 consecutive games played, May 30, 1982-September 19, 1998 (23.6%).
Ripken's streak is commonly listed at or near the top of lists like this, but it's not by any means unbreakable - you just need to want it badly enough, be healthy and lucky and a good enough player not to get benched. Unlike the pitching workload records, it's not a feat of spectacular physical endurance, nor does it require any particular skill or accomplishment.
All that said, 16 years without missing a game - including several years of not missing an inning - is nonetheless an impressive feat of willpower and durability, and Ripken left Lou Gehrig three seasons in the dust. That deserves some recognition here.
12. Hank Aaron, 6856 Career Total Bases (11.8%)
Aaron's homer record may be under seige, but his career total bases record, held by a margin of some 700 over Stan Musial and nearly a thousand ahead of #4 Barry Bonds, remains safely out of reach. Aaron had 3771 hits, 98 triples and 624 doubles to go with 755 HR. To do that required durability (15 straight seasons of over 600 plate appearances, 19 straight of over 500, and the first year he fell short he still hit 40 homers), consistency, tremendous power and a good batting average, and he did it despite playing more tha half his prime years in a pitchers' park and running his career straight accross the low-scoring 1960s.
11. Old Hoss Radbourn, 59 Wins in 1884 (11.3%)
Unlike the innings record, winning a huge number of games in a season requires more than just showing up for work. Even at the height of the everyday starting pitcher's era, only three pitchers ever won 50 games in a season, and Radbourn beats the next closest (John Clarkson in 1885) by six wins despite having pitched, much unlike Clarkson, for a team that finished fifth in the league in runs scored. The man ended the 1884 season 47 games over .500 in a 112 game season, almost singlehandedly winning his team the pennant, and he did it the hard way, by posting a league-leading 1.38 ERA in a near-the-record 678.2 innings, and topped it off by winning all three games of the first-ever postseason 'world's series' without allowing an earned run.
1884 was the pinnacle of high-inning starting pitching (average innings started falling off sharply within two years), and talent was spread thin that year due to the upstart Union Association at a time when the two leagues barely had enough talent as it was. So, that counts against ranking Radbourn's feat even higher. But it's no exaggeration to say that he did more to help his team win that season than any player ever in any season.
10. Ty Cobb, .366 Career Batting Average (2.2%)
Cobb's margin over Rogers Hornsby is the narrowest of any record on the list, but he well deserves the high ranking. The lifetime batting average record is one of the game's most important and prestigious, and Cobb has held it wholly unchallenged for eight decades. I believe Hornsby and Al Simmons were the last significant players to crack .360 more than a season or two into their careers, and I don't believe anyone has actually been ahead of Cobb at the end of a season at any point since (Joe Jackson was above .370 through age 24, Willie Keeler through age 30). Plus, Cobb did most of his damage before the high-average 1920s arrived; at the end of 1919 he was a 32-year-old lifetime .372 hitter. Plus, unlike other percentage record-holders like Ed Walsh's career ERA record, Cobb held his pace over an extraordinarily long career, 24 seasons and more than 13,000 plate appearances.
9. Eric Gagne, 84 Consecutive Saves, August 28, 2002-July 3, 2004 (39.2%)
Gagne's streak, like Hubbell's, was sort of interrupted, albeit by a blown save in the All-Star Game. And yes, saves are somethingof an artificial stat. But still, Gagne's whole job was to close out wins, and for nearly two years he did that every time he was asked without fail, surpassing the prior record (Tom Gordon with 54) by a margin of 30 saves.
8. Pedro Martinez, 0.737 WHIP in 2000 (4.3%)
Baserunners per inning, or WHIP, is a bit of an obscure stat - or was until the dawn of rotisserie baseball - but it's a real measure of pitching excellence to hold the all-time record for it. Pedro's also third on the career list, surrounded entirely by a top 10 of deadball-era pitchers like Walsh and Addie Joss and Three Finger Brown. His single season record is 4.3% ahead of #2 Guy Hecker in 1882, but Hecker pitched just 104 innings; he's 5.8% ahead of Walter Johnson's 1913 season.
I rate Pedro this highly because, while other players on this list reached their accomplishments under less than ideal conditions, nobody else set one so much in the teeth of hostile conditions. Pedro did this in Fenway Park in 2000, in a hitters' park (Pedro's road WHIP was 0.680) in a league with a 4.91 league ERA; he led the league in ERA by a margin of two runs and Mike Mussina at 1.187 had the only other WHIP in the league below 1.200.
7. Barry Bonds, .609 OBP, 232 Walks, 120 Intentional Walks in 2004 (10.2%, 36.5%, 266.7%)
All three of these records are integrally related, so I rate them as a single accomplishment. Bonds busted Ruth's walk record by 63 and Ted Williams' OBP record (set in his .406 season) by more than 50 points, and he did so in good part because he surpassed the second-highest non-Bonds IBB total (Willie McCovey's record) by a margin of 120-45. (Note that they didn't keep IBB in Ruth's day, he almost assuredly beat that in the years before Gehrig came up).
Yes, steroids. But still, taken on its own merits, those are mind-blowing margins on a couple of records I'd never thought would be broken.
6. Babe Ruth, .690 Career Slugging Percentage (8.8%)
Only 34 times in the game's history has anybody but Ruth slugged above .690 in a season; aside from Albert Pujols, who is still early in his career, only five other players have career figures above .600. Bonds is 82 points behind Ruth. The Babe sustained this pace over a 22-year career, leading the league 13 times in 14 years and only once having enough at bats to qualify and finishing lower than third.
Joe D's streak - unlike Gagne's - would be 57 if you counted the All-Star Game. What makes it even more amazing, as you probably know, is that he started a 17-game streak the day after this one ended. Another player could get hot and break this one, and I don't list it quite as high as the season and career records that follow, but it is nonetheless a sustained accomplishment of consistency, and the margin compared to the next-closest streak (Keeler and Pete Rose at 44 apiece) places it very high on this list.
4. Mike Marshall, 106 Games and 208.1 Relief Innings in 1974 (12.8%, 23.8%)
Unlike White's innings as a starter, Marshall's workload passes the "wow" test - it was recognized as a jaw-dropping accomplishment at the time it happened, and nobody else has tried anything like it since. The innings is the real whopper here (if you are wondering, the #2 non-Marshall total is Bob Stanley; the Steamah threw 168.1 innings in relief in 1978). Some LOOGY may yet challenge the games record a third of an inning at a time, but that relief innings record, though not set really so long ago, will never again be approached.
3. Nolan Ryan, 5714 Career Strikeouts (23.3% and falling)
Ryan's margin is being eaten away by the #2 man, who as of this morning is Roger Clemens, 17 Ks ahead of Randy Johnson. But both are ancient - Clemens is 44, Johnson is 43 - and more than a thousand strikeouts behind Ryan. Ryan maxed out the record in every direction - he started very young (19), set the single-season record at his peak, and pitched until he was 46. He threw heavy workloads at a very high strikeout rate. Yes, Ryan pitched in a great era for power pitchers, but he buried the record far from his most impressive contemporaries and way out of reach of anybody before or since.
2. Rickey Henderson, 1406 Career Steals (49.9%)
Rickey's record is just preposterous - nobody could have imagined when Lou Brock set the career steals record that somebody would not just blow by Brock but get halfway to lapping him. Like Ryan, Rickey started early, peaked above everyone else and stayed ridiculously late, and ended by putting his record so far out of reach that nobody will even talk about it again.
1. Cy Young, 511 Career Wins, 7354.2 Career Innings, 749 Career Complete Games (22.5%, 22.5%, 15.9%)
I'd be disinclined to rate Young at the top for mere durability, but first of all he ran off and hid with the career wins record, and hardly any record is more significant or prestigious; he did that in part by having the ninth-best career ERA relative to the league (by ERA+) of anybody with more than 2500 career innings, sixth-best among anybody with 3,000 innings, and he threw more than twice that. And second, while it's true that plenty of guys carried heavy workloads in Young's day, and while it's true that by the end of his career Young was facing guys who would have long pitching careers, Young and Young alone was able to do both, which is why his records stand so far and away beyond anyone in his era, before or since.
Consider this illustrative chart. Among all the pitchers who threw 400 innings in a season even once, only 12 of them managed to stay in a rotation (100 or more innings or 20 or more starts) for more than ten seasons, and everybody but Cy hit the wall by 14 seasons. I list each pitcher with their number of seasons throwing 400, 200 and 100 innings:
Note: Pud Galvin threw about 100 innings in the National Association; if you discount that, Young's margin for Major League innings expands. The chart includes as well Bobby Mathews' NA experience. Also, Kid Nichols, Young's nearest contemporary, won 20 games twice in the minor league Western Association in mid-career and then returned to be a top major league pitcher without missing a beat, so he would be closer to Young than anyone else, but still far behind.
This is why Young stands alone at the top. Nobody can match his ability to carry those huge 19th century workloads and keep going into his 40s.
July 10, 2007
BLOG: Keeping It Green
70-year-old woman arrested and injured in a struggle with police in Orem, Utah. Her crime? Having a brown lawn.
WAR: Hillary Bugs Out...Or Does She?
Today's NY Daily News carried an op-ed by Hillary Clinton (co-signed by whoever it is that signs stuff for Robert Byrd these days) that seems to say...well, in typical Clinton fashion, its meaning would appear to depend on the reader. Let's walk through and see if we can make sense of the words she pours past our eyes:
On Oct. 11, 2002, the Senate gave President Bush authority to use force against Iraq. Nearly five years later, it is time for Congress to say enough is enough.
OK, so she is calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq? That's the position of many in her party; it's foolish in the extreme, but at least has the virtue of clarity. But if it's clarity you are expecting, you have forgotten what the Clintons are all about.
Today, more than 150,000 members of our armed forces are caught in a civil war. According to the Pentagon, overall levels of violence in Iraq have not decreased since the surge began. The last three months have been the deadliest period for American troops since the start of the war.
Note: if by "the surge" she means the expansion of the number of troops in Iraq to the cited 150,000 figure, that has only barely come on line in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, leading Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) have difficulty grasping a military strategy that requires more than one syllable to describe. The new rules of engagement have been in place since February, but the actual escalation in boots on the ground only became complete in the past month.
It is time for the waiting to end and for our troops to start to come home.
OK, withdrawal then.
That is why we propose to end the authorization for the war in Iraq. The civil war we have on our hands in Iraq is not our fight and it is not the fight Congress authorized. Iraq is at war with itself and American troops are caught in the middle.
Now, the idea that what is going on in Iraq is "civil war" is debatable as a matter of military doctrine as well as popular understanding among Iraqis, given the large areas of the country not engulfed in conflict and the absence of organized factions that are openly seeking to secede from or overturn the government. But leave that aside - there certainly is violence perpetrated by factions looking in general to undermine the government. Leave aside for now the fact that there is also substantial foreign (esp. Iranian) involvement in Iraq, and that we are fighting as well Al Qaeda in Iraq, which one would think of as an important foe to be rid of.
The fact is, while the mission endorsed by the 2002 resolution - the use of force to remove the threat presented by Saddam's regime - has long since been accomplished, a resolution authorizing an invasion always assumes that the U.S. may well stay to do post-war reconstruction, a task which has frequently throughout history involved putting down armed insurrections (ask the Congress that authorized the Spanish-American War).
At a recent Senate hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked if the 2002 authorization still applies to Iraq. His response was surprisingly candid: "I don't know." . . .
Well, that proves yet again why Gates is such a pathetic excuse for a spokesman for an Administration policy he shows no signs of agreeing with, but it also means he's uninformed. Argue if you like that the war is a bad idea, but it's ridiculous to contend that the Administration is proceeding without proper legal authority. In fact, that's precisely why Senator Clinton has to propose changing the law.
The 2008 defense authorization bill is now before the U.S. Senate. This legislation presents a vital opportunity for Congress to step up and force the President to change course in Iraq. Amending the bill to deauthorize the war would do exactly that. We intend to lead that effort.
"Change course"? I thought the point of this op-ed was to, well, "deauthorize the war," which would involve not doing what is no longer authorized.
If the Bush administration believes that the current war, as it is being executed, is critical to America's future, then it should make the case and let the people decide. Explain to the public why our young men and women should be sent into the middle of a fight between religious factions. Explain why we should continue to devote $10 billion each month to this fight.
"[A]s it is being executed" is another dodge here...and if the goal is to stop the war, then say you are for doing that, not merely that you want him to "explain" himself, which Heaven knows the President has done often enough, albeit rarely as well as he might have.
Prior to the vote on the original authorization of force in 2002, we worked to limit that authority to one year. Unfortunately, the amendment failed — a fact rendered all the more distressing in hindsight.
Oh, a 1-year time limit would have been a brilliant way to enter a war. Recall that many critics of the war predicted a protracted Stalingrad-style battle for Baghdad alone, with as many as 3,000 casualties, and others predicted ten times that. Recall also that many of the Democrats who supported the authorization wanted more time to first be spent trying to bluff Saddam. Can any serious person think it would have been a good thing to get into a seige situation with a ticking clock?
Anyway, the defeat of that time limit clearly shows that what Congress did authorize was more open-ended, as wars generally are.
By deauthorizing the original use-of-force resolution this year, we would put a stop to the President's failed strategy and require him to articulate a new policy that takes into account the desires of the American people, the reality in Iraq and the recommendations of military experts. . . .
Leaving entirely unsaid what that should be.
Our men and women in uniform toppled the dictator. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has established a parliament and elected a president and a prime minister. Yet our troops remain in Iraq and our President remains unmoved by any arguments to change course.
Note that we have about reached the end, yet there is no discussion here at all of the regional and global consequences of withdrawal, or indeed of anything at all. It's Iraq in a Vaccuum.
As Bush admitted in his State of the Union address in January, "This is not the fight we entered in Iraq." We could not agree more. This is not the fight Congress authorized, Mr. President. If you want to continue to wage this fight, come to Congress and make your case. Otherwise, bring our troops home.
That's President Bush to you, Senator. So, are we back to bringing the troops home, or not? That depends what you want to believe - whatever it is, Senator Clinton is for it.
LAW: Too Gay To Answer
From the comments, this is just a ludicrous lawsuit:
Stephen Dunne, 30, of Boston, is seeking $9.75 million in the suit against the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He was denied a license to practice law in May after scoring 268.866 on the exam, just shy of the 270 passing grade.
Now, I'll agree that there can be a problem when professors in college or law school ask politcally loaded questions and give better grades to people who agree with them. But let's walk through the absurdities here:
1. The bar is pass-fail.
BASEBALL: Blogger's Dream
POLITICS: Next Week's Wire Story
News flash: not being a party man not the best way to become the party's man
After today's news, I have to look down the road to next week's headline:
WASHINGTON (AP) - John McCain's campaign today announced that Senator McCain has been let go from his role in the campaign. A senior McCain official stated that the Senator's parting was "amicable" but "we needed to tighten our belts, and we were spending a lot of money on his travel and support staff and didn't feel we were getting the best value for our dollar having him on the campaign." A high-level strategy meeting was being held to determine next steps, but the official insisted that the campaign was "still optimistic that we can be as competitive, if not moreso, without Senator McCain."
It's sad, actually. John McCain is a patriot and a true American hero, and for all his flaws, his dogged support of the Iraq War shows that even to this day, he will stand his ground for the men in uniform when everyone else abandons him. He's also a charismatic guy. I voted for him in 2000 and gave serious thought to supporting him again; if we had the McCain of 2000, he might well be the frontrunner today. But the McCain of today is seven years older, crankier and has burned an awful lot of bridges in the intervening years. It's just not happening for him.
POLITICS: How's That Workin' Out For Ya?
I'll have more on the David Vitter saga later, but in the meantime, I just had to laugh at this angle to LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's affair with a newscaster:
The new mayor was actually born Antonio Villar. In 1988, he and his new wife, Connie Raigosa, combined their surnames into the more colorful, but less pronounceable, Villaraigosa.
So, what's his name now?
July 9, 2007
BLOG: Running With The Cows
WAR: Careful Reading
BLOG: Back in Service
If you're wondering, things have been a bit rocky around here the past few weeks, and probably will be for much of July, at least; work in particular is just crazy right now. One thing I finally got accomplished Friday was to get my home desktop back. Regular readers will recall my misadventures with Hewlett Packard; I finally succeeded in returning the defective replacement for my defective original. H-P was schizophrenic to deal with throughout the process; the online purchase system is a dream, the tech people were unfailingly polite, the machine looked really nice, and their marketing folks are very diligent about bombarding new purchasers with helpful emails. At the same time, the computer didn't work, the replacement didn't work, the repair people orginally didn't show up and then just refused to come, and it was a horrendous ordeal to try and get someone on the phone who would admit to having the authority to give me my money back. At one point I talked to eight different people in two days, each of whom assured me that the next person they sent me to (in some cases volleying me back and forth between the same two phone numbers) would be able to authorize a refund.
Meanwhile, I went to Best Buy and bought a Gateway. Buying from an actual human turned out to be a big plus - the guy got me a Gateway with the same processor as a comparable H-P for hundreds of dollars less. They even offered local on-site installation and data transfer from the Geek Squad, a service company that clearly knows they are in the service business. Granted, it took a few weeks even with these guys to schedule an appointment - but when the Geek Squad guy was running late, he called, and he showed up only an hour late rather than weeks or months. And he set the computer up and it works. Granted, Windows Vista takes some adjusting, and with both computers I was surprised to discover that nobody has 3.5" floppy drives anymore. But I'm back in business.
BASEBALL: John Maine and Pray For Rain
After Saturday night's marathon - the players and the ballparks may change, but the extra-long extra-inning games go on for the Mets and Astros - yesterday was pretty much a burnt offering; there was no way to get Dave Williams out of there before the game got out of hand. 5-6 on this road trip wasn't terrible under the circumstances, but it really should have been better - the Colorado series shouldn't have gotten that badly out of hand. The Mets are going to need better starting pitching to get through the second half.
July 6, 2007
BASEBALL: 70 Years Ago
Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the worst All-Star Game in National League history. The NL lost 8-3 to an AL lineup with seven Hall of Famers (Gehrig - who drove in 4 runs - DiMaggio, Gehringer, Averill, Cronin, Dickey and Lefty Gomez), but that's not the issue.
First, there was the famous injury to Dizzy Dean. Dean wasn't just one of the two best pitchers in the game (along with Carl Hubbell), averaging 27 wins and 8 saves a year the prior three seasons; he was also, at 27, 7 years younger than Hubbell and the biggest drawing card and outsize personality in the game with the retirement of Babe Ruth. Dean had his toe broken by an Earl Averill line drive in the third inning, tried to come back too quickly, and hurt his arm. By the following year, the once-flamethrowing Dean was a broken-down finesse pitcher wiling his way to a 7-1 record for the Cubs, and that was the last time he was a useful pitcher.
The game's toll didn't end with Dean, though. The hardest thrower in the NL in those days, and its premier strikeout pitcher in 1935-36, wasn't Dean but the eccentric Van Lingle Mungo. Mungo, 26 years old in 1937, hadn't enjoyed Dean's success, but seemed perennially on the verge of a big breakthrough for the struggling Dodgers, winning 16, 18, 16 and 18 games the prior four years (albeit with high loss totals) and posting ERAs well better than the league, including a 2.91 mark in 1937. He led the league in K/9 in 1935, 1936 and 1937, and his 238 K in 1936 was a very high total for his era. Had Mungo stayed healthy long enough to master his control, he may well have become a big star. Instead, he too suffered an injury in the All-Star Game that year, hurting his arm; Mungo went 4-11 the next year and was also effectively done, except for a brief comeback during the war. (Hubbell also had his last star season in 1937, not due to the All-Star Game, but his decline at age 35 made the loss of Dean and Mungo more of a loss for the Senior Circuit).
Remember 1937, next time you see players, particularly pitchers, beg out of the Midsummer Classic.
BASEBALL: The Block
Jerry Crasnick's list of top free agents to be doesn't include much in terms of pickings for the Mets to play for a deadline deal; Ichiro's not likely to get traded (he means too much to Seattle for the franchise to let him go without a fight), and most of the others are at positions (notably center field) where the Mets are already taken care of. Of course, the Mets were always more likely to pursue pitching help.
One omission I'd wondered about was Ken Griffey, but apparently his contract runs through 2008 with a 2009 option, and only Atlanta, St. Louis, LA and Houston are exempted from his no-trade clause. Even if you could get him at a reasonable price, I'd hate to be on the hook beyond this year for Griffey; he's not even a great bet to be healthier than Moises Alou come September. Adam Dunn is actually more likely to get dealt, although as Baseball Digest notes he's a career .238/.482/.362 hitter away from Cincinnati, so his value should be downgraded accordingly. Given his youth, Dunn is likely to be an expensive option.
The Cubs seem disinclined to deal Carlos Zambrano, though it can't hurt to ask. I'm iffier about Mark Buehrle, who is clearly on the block; Buehrle's low strikeout rates give him a fairly slim margin for error, as we saw in grisly fashion last season. Still, he's been durable and shown good control, and long term the Mets may no longer be in an extreme power pitcher's park.
Actually, the guy who might be a bargain pickup is Brad Lidge; coming to a team that already has Wagner would remove any issues about closing and let him slide back into a setup role, in which he has pitched outstandingly well this season.
July 5, 2007
POLITICS: No Bias Here
“Romney Criticized for Hotel Pornography”
The story? Romney was on the board of directors of a hotel chain, Marriott, and failed to stop the chain's sale of in-room pay-per-view pornographic movies, a lucrative business for the chain.
Now, the story itself is a pretty weak critique; as Romney responds in defending the charge of hypocrisy in his larger critique of porn:
I am not pursuing an effort to try and stop adults from being able to acquire or see things that I find objectionable; that's their right. But I do vehemently oppose practices or business procedures that will allow kids to be exposed to obscenity.
Either way, however, the AP headline makes it sound like he got caught watching dirty movies in his hotel room. Nobody could think that's a fair headline.
LAW: Little Black Book
Federal District Judge Gladys Kessler has lifted a temporary restraining order barring the "DC Madam," Deborah Jane Palfrey, from distributing copies of her list of telephone numbers, over objections by the prosecution. Presumably there will be some unhappy people in DC this afternoon.
POLITICS: The Libby Fallout
Patterico offers up criticisms of the Libby commutation. Now, I should start by saying that I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the decision; I still think there was an arguable case for prosecuting Libby and that he was probably guilty, but the decision to commute his prison sentence nonetheless strikes me as a reasonable call, and maybe the right one. I mostly enjoyed the spectacle of the brain-bending hypocrisy of the people who think anything less than years in prison is too small a price for perjury...but also that being guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice should be no obstacle to staying president and even being returned to the White House in 2008; people who think that this pardon is some horrible abuse of power, yet pardoning fugitive traitors for cash and terrorists for votes is no reason not to vote Clinton again in 2008.
Anyway, for background I'll repeat here what I said in the comments of the last thread:
My two cents, since I was too busy to comment when the verdict came down? First, I think Libby's conviction will be overturned on appeal due to the limitations on his ability to impeach the star witness against him, Tim Russert. Second, I do think Libby was trying to hide the truth, but I also think he suffered from a lousy memory and that Russert was untruthful - I doubt very strongly that he intended to tell a story that much at odds with the chronology, I think he misremembered what happened and tried to shade it further. That's not a defense of Libby, it's just what I think happened. Also, I have never ripped Fitzgerald, and I'm not joining the caucus that says he was horribly abusive, but I do think all things considered he should probably have pulled the plug on his investigation once he knew who the leak had come from. He didn't prosecute Armitage, which strongly suggests that he knew that there was no legal basis for a prosecution based on the leak. Instead, he called Libby and Rove and others repeatedly to the grand jury for no other reason than to investigate their statements to the FBI. Under the circumstances, that strikes me as a waste of resources and poor prosecutorial judgment. And I do think the people in the media he chose not to question strongly suggests there were answers he wasn't interested in hearing.
That said, Patterico - who was in favor of the prosecution - offers three main criticisms of the commutation. One is that Bush didn't work through the usual pardon process (in fact, he seems to have reached the decision while fishing with Vladimir Putin). This strikes me as a minor quibble in this case; the main purpose of the process is to vet the submission that goes to the president to make sure that he gets a fair presentation of the facts rather than the slanted perspectives of one side in a criminal case. Here, Bush was already familiar with the players and the facts (we all are, by now, but Bush knows them personally). Granted, the process also provides another benefit (the professional staff can provide perspective on how similarly situated defendants are sentenced), but fundamentally, this was a judgment call Bush was well-entitled to make himself.
The second criticism, from Orin Kerr, is a little more substantial: that Bush has scarcely used the pardon power at all (no doubt in large part due to the bad odor from the previous Administration), and thus this is more in the nature of special treatment than is usually the case for presidential pardons of associates of the President.
That's a fair argument, but at bottom I think the motive here is Bush's belief - as has been the belief of past presidents, fairly or otherwise - that Libby would never have been prosecuted in the first place were it not for his political position (it was only the political firestorm over the Plame leak that forced the appointment of a Special Prosecutor in the first place). High executive branch appointees do get special treatment the rest of us don't, but they also face a risk of criminalization of their daily activities that ordinary people don't. It cuts both ways. On some level, letting Libby go to jail would have been a legitimazation of the kind of criminalization of foreign policy that the Democrats specialized in during the 1980s, and that is a kind of calculus that makes this decision wholly unlike the situation of ordinary criminal defendants.
Third, Patterico argues that the GOP will pay a terrible political price. Maybe I've grown more cynical after the 1990s, but I doubt it. Bush is unpopular, to be sure, and the Democrats have had great success with the "culture of corruption" mantra in convincing the public that the Republicans are up to their eyeballs in shady land deals and defense contracts and freezers full of cash, plus Democratic candidates are busy working to mislead the public about what Libby was actually prosecuted for. But first of all, this is an instrumental argument - that Bush should have let the electoral impact of the decision govern his judgment. Second, I think political people consistently underestimate the built-in cynicism of the average voter with regard to politicians. Third, this story hasn't had nearly the cache with voters that it has with bloggers, who have obsessed about it endlessly since July 2003 (I've certainly posted about it enough, and I'm far from one of the most obsessed bloggers), and there will be a lot of other water under the bridge by November 2008. Fourth, the Democrats remain highly likely to nominate Hillary.
Bush had a tough decision to make. I think he made a reasonable call, given the nature of the underlying prosecution and the political origins of the entire investigation.
UPDATE: WSJ Law Blog says that some criminal defendants will be asking judges for the same treatment Libby got. But judges are not the president; the pardon power has always been the exception to the rule of law.
BASEBALL: Blown Out
Last night's Mets game reminded me of nothing so much as the fight scene in Anchorman: "Boy, that escalated quickly . . . I mean, that really got out of hand fast." Such is life in Coors Field, even in these post-humidor days. For a team that had picked itself up and started cruising again, the All-Star Break can't come fast enough for this pitching staff.
UPDATE: What humidor? The Rockies as a team are batting .284/.444/.358 at home, .259/.383/.333 on the road. Look at the regular lineup (source):
WAR: God Love The Scots
I mean really, who wouldn't want to do this?
Of course, the guy probably felt it more once he was no longer on fire. More here.
July 2, 2007
POLITICS/LAW: Bush Commutes Libby Sentence
Just hours after the DC Circuit affirmed the order requiring Scooter Libby to face jail time pending the appeal of his conviction, President Bush used the presidential pardon power to commute Libby's sentence, thus sparing him jail time while leaving in place the conviction - in other words, an unsentenced conviction for a victimless crime:
President Bush Monday spared former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby from going to prison for 2 1/2 years for obstructing the CIA leak investigation, a White House official said.
Now, we get to hear what Hillary Clinton thinks about the proper uses of the pardon power and whether losing your high position in federal office is insufficient punishment for perjury.
UPDATE: What do I mean by "victimless crime"? Libby was convicted for misleading an investigation into a whodunit where the investigators already knew whodunit and didn't prosecute. Granted, Libby's false statements to the FBI (unlike his grand jury testimony) preceded Fitzgerald's appointment and Armitage's confession, but even so, the "harm" to the investigation was pretty fleeting and had no real consequence.
I don't underrate the seriousness of perjury, but in sentencing, or using the pardon power, you consider mitigating factors. Unlike the Paula Jones case, no individual litigant was harmed by obstruction of the discovery process. And unlike the Sandy Berger case, there was no successful coverup.
BASEBALL: The Absent Mariner
I'd agree with Jim Caple that the most logical explanation for Mike Hargrove's sudden resignation as Mariners manager while riding an 8-game winning streak is that there's more we don't know - probably something in his life off the field he prefers not to get into publicly (an impression only underlined by his players professing to understand better once they taked to him).
On the other hand, it's easy to feel depressed and unmotivated when the team is losing; when you are on a hot streak and you still don't feel like coming to work, that should tell you something. It's like when the Pirates started winning in the late 80s and early 90s, and they still couldn't sell tickets.
Anyway, while the Mariners may be hot, I'm still skeptical of them. Their record is 45-33, but their Pythagorean record is 40-38. They are more dependent on high batting averages than any team in the majors. They've drawn 199 walks as a team; the Cardinals are second to last in the majors at 225. Only one guy on the roster, Richie Sexson, has more than 10 home runs, and he's batting .211. They are next to last in the league in doubles and triples. Their pitching staff is second only to the Yankees for fewest strikeouts in the AL, and besides the mediocre Jarrod Washburn, their only halfway-reputable starting pitcher is Felix Hernandez, who hasn't been right since his DL stay in April. The team's defensive efficiency is next to last in the AL, ahead of only the Devil Rays. Pitchers who don't strike people out and fielders who don't catch the ball are a bad combination; only an AL-best, Safeco-aided 56 homers allowed has saved them from ignominy.
That's not to say the Mariners have no assets. Hernandez and Sexson could contribute tremendously in the second half, and of course the Safeco caveat applies as well to Beltre and Jose Guillen, who aren't as punchless as their raw numbers suggest. Ichiro's .365 batting average is not exactly a fluke. The team's success is hugely dependent on closer JJ Putz (0.92 ERA) and a corps of setup/middle relievers whose Putz-less names are little-known outside Seattle - George Sherrill (1.48 ERA), Eric O'Flaherty (2.28), Sean Green (2.70), and Brandnon Morrow (3.68) - although you have to wonder how long those guys will be that lights-out, especially since the latter three had thrown a combined 43 major league innings before this season.
Bottom line: the Mariners are already overachieving and I don't see where they have a whole lot to fall back on when the hot parts of the team cool off. Hargrove's successor may end up deciding he got out at just the right time.