"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
August 31, 2007
POLITICS: Compare and Contrast
Rod Dreher offers some pointed exemplars of why it's preferable to raise teenagers in a culture, or subculture, that is supportive of avoiding unmarried teen sex than, well, the culture in which so many teens in this country are saturated. It's another example of why we can't let the periodic failings of individual political or religious leaders convince us to abandon the goal of defending virtue.
August 30, 2007
You may, if you wish, discuss today's Mets game. But you can't make me join you.
POLITICS: Fred Is In
Finally, at 4:30 this afternoon. Fred's an appealing if not terribly accomplished candidate, but he's long past the point where he needs to get out and put some miles on his odometer.
But a Thursday afternoon in the last week of August? Talk about lackluster timing.
Jonathan Martin at the Politico says he's just announcing when he will announce (huh?) and won't be in next week's debate. Fred's not doing a real good job of demonstrating what Bush-weary GOP voters want changed more than anything else: a guy who can stay on offense as far as setting the narrative, who won't just let things happen to him and get walked all over by the press (it doesn't matter much what your message is if you can't get it out).
UPDATE: I'm being unpleasantly reminded of this guy. Which is not a good association in a Republican primary.
BASEBALL: We Likes 'Em Broken Down
Boy, if LaRussa and Dave Duncan can turn Joel Pineiro back into a usable starting pitcher, they really do have the touch with washed-up veterans. Going into today's start, so far, so good.
BASEBALL: Fun Fact of the Day
The NL Central is 56 games under .500 on the road. The Cubs are 33-32 on the road and they are the only team in the division that isn't at least 6 games under.
August 28, 2007
BASEBALL/POLITICS: When The Bronx Was Burning
I recently finished reading Jonathan Mahler's book The Bronx is Burning, the companion piece to ESPN's miniseries of the same name concluding tonight (which I have not had the opportunity to watch). The title comes from the final collision between Yankee mayhem and civic disorder, when Howard Cosell intoned "There it is, ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning," as a massive fire raged in view of the TV cameras during Game Two of the 1977 World Series at Yankee Stadium.
The book is well-done and a brisk read, and successfully weaves together the story of Reggie Jackson's first year with the Yankees with a series of portraits of the political scene and atmosphere in New York City in 1977. Since I was five years old at the time I remember a lot of this stuff only in an impressionistic fashion, but the 1977 Yankees were really the first baseball team I hated - the first baseball team that was really bought on the market in the fashion that is at least partly true of all successful teams since - and the summer of 1977 was about the time I started to understand that there was something seriously wrong with the City of New York. Mahler does a fine job of bringing both to vivid life.
The key storyline, though told in large part from Reggie's point of view (Billy Martin and Thurman Munson are dead, and Steinbrenner's old and not talking), is as much Billy's story as Reggie's, and in some ways is more sympathetic to Martin than to Jackson, who comes off as even more of an insufferable egomaniac than I had remembered, which is saying quite a lot. Reggie hadn't really started to feud with George yet, so the battle lines are Reggie vs Billy, Billy vs George, Reggie vs Thurman, Billy vs himself, and Reggie vs the press and his own big mouth. At the end, Reggie's 3-homer game to win Game Six and the World Series is Reggie's triumph, but merely a respite for Billy, who suffered the same constant threat of being fired the following year until George finally sacked him in July.
If Mahler's treatment of the baseball side can be faulted, it's for an unduly narrow focus; whether out of a desire to avoid re-covering ground previously trod in many other books or due to a drive to produce a quick and compact book, he leaves a lot of famous one-liners on the cutting room floor and focuses so entirely on the Reggie and Billy stories that he either ignores or relegates to a single supporting anecdote many of the colorful characters on that Yankee team - Mickey Rivers, Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella, Mike Torrez. You would never know from reading the book that Nettles led the team in homers and Lyle won the Cy Young Award. (Fran Healy gets more ink in the book than Nettles). He also inexplicably leaves out the single best line of 1977 for tying the action on the field to the city's meltdown, Lenny Randle's crack after the blackout of '77 cancelled a Mets home game a month after the trading deadline: "I can see the headline now: Mets trade Kingman, call game for lack of power."
Since Mahler's subject is the Yankees he skips quickly through the other huge New York baseball story of 1977, the Mets trading Tom Seaver, and it's also where Mahler (who I presume is a liberal) makes his most tin-eared gaffe of the book, referring to Seaver's nemesis Dick Young of the New York Daily News, the Lavrenti Beria of the New York baseball press corps, as "the press box equivalent of a neoconservative," proof if any were needed that Mahler (like many on the left) has no clue what that word means.
As for the political side, I didn't count pages but Mahler actually appears to spend less than half the book on baseball. While he takes in a lot of different threads in the City's horrible summer as well as the cultural ferment beneath (from Studio 54 to punk rock to the development of SoHo), there are two major episodes in the book (the July blackout and the Son of Sam manhunt), one major running theme (the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary) and one minor theme (January 1977 was the beginning of Rupert Murdoch's ownership of the NY Post). On the latter, Mahler is unsparing on the Post's reckless tabloid attitude towards the truth and towards its readers, but seems to recognize that the introduction of a right-wing tabloid into a liberal city with liberal papers was nonetheless a very healthy development. One detail I had forgotten, that Mahler discusses in the course of the transformation of the Post back to its Hamiltonian roots and away from its more recent incarnation as a sleepy liberal paper: its film critic when Murdoch bought the paper was Frank Rich.
The dramatic high point of the book is Mahler's treatment of the chaos that surrounded the slightly more than 24-hour blackout in July, the looting and arsons that did for New York's image (and self-image) what Rodney King did for LA in 1992 and Hurricane Katrina did for New Orleans in 2005. It's all here, concentrated in his account of the blackout from the streets of Bushwick: the wholesale destruction of local business, the cops arresting more people than the system could process and having to resort to just beating guys until their nightsticks broke to keep a poor substitute for order, the collective suicide of whole communities. I was actually amazed, on reading this, that the blackout wasn't longer; we've had longer ones since 1977 but without the same social meltdown. In that sense, as in many other ways, the book is an inadvertant campaign commercial for Rudy Giuliani, just as is Tom Wolfe's novel Bonfire of the Vanities, set a decade later; Mahler's portrait of a city whose social structure and self-confidence were wrecked by liberalism stands in stark contrast to the city as it has been since the mid-1990s.
As for the mayoral race - which was entirely determined by the Democratic primary - Mahler traces the improbable rise of Ed Koch and the self-destruction of Bella Abzug as the city began to rebel against the hapless liberal status quo.* Most notably, Mahler returns again and again to the opportunities handed on a platter to Mario Cuomo - endorsements he could have had, themes he could have pressed, voting blocs he could have wooed - and how Cuomo frittered them away in his pride, arrogance and stubbornness. As in 1994, a major contributor to his downfall was his insistence, even obsession, with martyring his political career over his determination to impose his moral objections to the death penalty on an unwilling populace (a stance ironically at odds with Cuomo's later claim to be morally opposed to abortion but unwilling to impose his own morality).
All in all, not by any stretch a comprehensive history of the period or the Yankees, but a fine attempt to bring together all the elements that created the mood of the city in which Reggie, Billy and George made headlines.
* - New York in 1977 had a Democratic Mayor, City Council, Governor, State Assembly, President, Senate and House, plus a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by liberal Republicans (Brennan, Blackmun, Stevens), a liberal Democrat (Marshall), moderate Republicans (Burger, Powell, Stewart), and a moderate Democrat (White), with only one conservative (Rehnquist). Only the Republican-led State Senate was any sort of counterweight.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Baseball 2007 | Politics 2007 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Hiding the Evidence
I know it's sort of unfair to pick on John Edwards as if he was a serious candidate for president, but this latest cracked me up:
Edwards criticized . . . the 5-year-old [No Child Left Behind] law, calling it a bad measure of how much children are learning. Children don't learn anything from taking tests, like those mandated by the law, he said.
First of all, that's just not true: the fact of studying for and taking tests does make you remember the subject tested, or at least remember it better, for many of the same reasons why you learn, say, basketball better when you stop doing dribbling drills and actually play in games. Anybody who has been through years of school can tell you that.
More to the point: does Edwards also propose to stop measuring the size of the budget deficit? The number of people killed by AIDS, handgun murders, or killed in war? To pick a more provocative example, does he propose to stop measuring the racial makeup of the federal workforce? Of course he doesn't. Any serious adult knows that there are very few things you can accomplish with any confidence if you stop measuring your progress. In fact, I'd wager that not too many farmers would take a hog to a market or slaughterhouse to sell without ever having weighed the thing.
Sure, there are criticisms to be made of having the federal government decide what tests to use, but the idea that testing key yardsticks of basic learning is somehow a bad thing can only be believed by people with a vested interest in not knowing the answers.
August 27, 2007
LAW: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
There's getting screwed by a lawyer, and then there's . . . this.
POLITICS: Gonzales Out
The Attorney General steps down, joining Karl Rove and Tony Snow as August departures from the Bush Administration. Whatever his other merits or faults, Gonzales had to be one of the most politically incompetent people ever to hold such a high position in Washington. It's hard to think of anything he touched in six and a half years in Washington that didn't end up getting President Bush the worst possible press (with the arguable exception of when he advised Bush not to put Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court).
I have to assume that Larry Thompson and/or Michael Chertoff will be the replacement. Both are quality guys, although not without their faults - Chertoff alienated a lot of conservatives during the immigration battle and took some heat for Hurricane Katrina.
UPDATE: Chertoff seems to be the rumored candidate...his record at Homeland Security has been checkered, and I always thought he was more suited for the AG job anyway. But like Gonzales he has a serious political tin ear. Of course, a Chertoff nomination means having to get a new Homeland Security head as well. Apparently Paul Clement will run DOJ for now, although I'm sure he will be more than happpy to get back to his day job as Solicitor General as fast as he can.
August 25, 2007
BASEBALL: Saturday's Mets Quiz
All three Alomars have played for the Mets (none of them especially well). Name the other major league team for which all three have played.
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The White Sox.
« Close It
August 24, 2007
FOOTBALL: Look For The Union Mug Shot
ESPN's Howard Bryant pens an uncommonly silly but revealing column arguing that the NFL Players Union should have put up a major fight to defend Michael Vick precisely because his conduct was, in Bryant's word, "indefensible."
Leaving aside for the moment the question of how serious Vick's conduct was and whether it ought to be a federal crime, Bryant's attitude is precisely what is wrong with many unions:
In the coming years, that will prove to be a colossal mistake. Vick deserves to go to prison, but the union's job is to defend every player's right to work.
The responsibility of a union is to defend its membership -- every time, all the time, if for no other reasons than to send a dissenting vote to management that its membership always will be protected by a strong union and to alert the commissioner that his powers always will be checked by an advocate for the players. The union's message should be that a commissioner cannot simply do whatever he wants.
So the union has an understanding that it won't be blindsided by a runaway commissioner, adopting a position closer to equity shareholder than skeptical watchdog. It has labor peace and can take comfort in not worrying about losing public goodwill during contract years or losing face should its membership crack during pressurized labor negotiations. The union seems comforted that it is treated as an inside player instead of a hostile entity. But what good is maintaining the peace if it is not accompanied by power?
There are many fair arguments to be had for the pros and cons of unionizing for the purpose of better wages, benefits and working conditions. But those are general benefits, obtained by the whole union to benefit the whole union.
By contrast, when a union goes to bat for an accused or proven miscreant, or for that matter for its most incompetent or insubordinate employees or to otherwise block management's efforts to reward the better performers and weed out those who don't do the job, it is using the strength of the many to benefit the few - and indeed, to benefit those few who least deserve it. That's antithetical to the entire idea of unions as a collective effort to benefit everyone, and perversely rewards wrongdoers. And of course, it harms the business from which the union's members derive their livelihoods.
A union may think, as Don Fehr does, that you never give in to management on something management wants unless you get something in return. But that is a misunderstanding born of hubris. In fact, a union, like any other contestant in an ongoing power struggle, has only limited resources: only so much money, only so much time and attention from its leaders, lawyers and members, only so many battles it can fight without triggering an irrational response from management or draining the resources ofthe business as a whole (and thus shrinking the pie), only so many concessions it can extract. A union that prioritizes fighting for the protection of members who are criminals is expending resources that could be used to benefit members who actually stay out of trouble and do their jobs. A union that extracts concessions of that nature is failing to extract others that may be more evenly enjoyed.
Unions, especially private sector unions, have been in trouble for a while in this country, losing footholds in organizing and seeing the industries they dominate weaken. There are many reasons for this, but if there's a single characteristic of unions that is most unattractive and most gratuitously damaging to the businesses that employ them, it is the determination to go to the mat for members of the union who misbehave or don't perform at their jobs.
WAR: Now He Is Our SOB
WAR/LAW: It's A Crime
Former Judge Michael Mukasey has a great summary of why the Jose Padilla case, even after Padilla's conviction, still shows that processing terrorists and potential terrorists through the regular criminal justice system is such a bad idea. Key graf:
First, consider the overall record. Despite the growing threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates--beginning with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and continuing through later plots including inter alia the conspiracy to blow up airliners over the Pacific in 1994, the attack on the American barracks at Khobar Towers in 1996, the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the bombing of the Cole in Aden in 2000, and the attack on Sept. 11, 2001--criminal prosecutions have yielded about three dozen convictions, and even those have strained the financial and security resources of the federal courts near to the limit.
As I have said repeatedly, it's a terrible mistake of the critics on the left to assume that everyone must either be treated as an ordinary criminal defendant or a lawful combatant. The system needs to formally recognize a third category and tailor the rules to the special needs of dealing with them.
BASEBALL: The Big 3-0
Mike Carminati (who I really should link to more often) lists the other occasions before Wednesday night's massacre when a major league team scored 30 or more runs in a game, the most recent being the Cubs in 1897. Not surprisingly, 15 of the other 23 occasions were in the National Association between 1871 and 1874, the dawn of professional organized baseball and before fielders wore gloves, including the lone 40+ game, a preposterous 49-33 affair between Philadelphia and Troy in 1871. Only four of the games came after 1883 and two of those were in weakened leagues in 1890 & 1891.
Still, when you look at the 1893 Reds and 1897 Cubs next to this Rangers lineup, you see the randomness of single-game batting records. The Reds were a relatively weak-hitting team for their era, and the Cubs were fourth in the league in runs scored. Nor was Louisville, the victim on both occasions, an especially bad pitching team, although I would infer that in 1897 the game got out of hand in the hands of Jim Jones, making the first of two Flavor-Aid tasting major league pitching appearances (the second was four years later) and allowing 22 runs in 6.2 innings of relief on the way to finishing the game.
As for the Rangers, you might have expected something like this from Juan Gone, Raffy and Pudge or from Teixeira, Soriano and A-Rod. Instead, the greatest damage was done by four players - three of little note (Ramon Vazquez, David Murphy and Marlon Byrd) and the fourth (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) very young and not yet come into his own. But they were swinging the bats well that day, and ran into a pitching staff in a downward spiral.
Sad fact: the Orioles are still underperforming their Pythagorean record even after losing a single game by 27 runs.
BASEBALL: Heartstoppers Stop
Tonight's Mets game was crisp and well-played and quite a break from the drama of the Padres series, although Wagner's troubles continue. It's rare that you see Wagner and Hoffman both blow a game in the same night, let alone the same game, let alone in the same game twice in one series - and now Wagner got touched up tonight. Better now than October.
For a while now, Wright and Reyes have quietly been having their best seasons and carrying this team (among other things, as of a little earlier in the week they were #2 & 3 in the league in times on base - while that's partly durability as well as performance, it's the durability this team has otherwise lacked), although in Wright's case that's no longer so quiet. A funny thing is the contrast between the two: on the field, Reyes is a flashy player, kinda cocky, very demonstrative in the dugout, while Wright is more buttoned-down; off the field, it's Reyes who is the quiet, soft-spoken family man and Wright the swinging single Mr. Popularity who is always quotable. In each case, they complement each other well.
It's been great to see Beltran back; I have said for some time that this team will go only so far as Beltran can take them, although Alou has also been huge in recent weeks; they said Saturday that the Mets were 24-12 with both Beltran and Alou in the starting lineup, which is, after tonight, 27-14.
It's also encouraging to see the news earlier this week that Pedro Martinez is throwing well in A ball, even if he is topping out at 89 mph. The velocity is what gives him that extra edge, but Pedro without a 90+ fastball is Tom Glavine, and the Mets could do worse. The interesting question, if Pedro can't sustain his velocity over 6+ innings, is whether you would try him in the pen for the postseason (the Mets need more help there), although more likely you would just convert one of the others to relief - Perez, I guess, although Glavine has actually been the least effective.
August 22, 2007
BASEBALL: Mets Quiz
Name the longest-tenured member of the Mets.
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Pedro Feliciano, who has been with the team (albeit with interruptions) since 2002. Three other Mets were on the team in 2003: Tom Glavine, who was the Opening Day starter, and Jose Reyes and Aaron Heilman, both of whom debuted in June.
« Close It
My kids hate Michael Vick. Not, mind you, because of anything he did on or off the field, but simply because on vacation, every time they turned on ESPN to get baseball news, they instead got The Passion of the Vick, repeated endlessly. (Two summers ago it was the same with Terrell Owens).
Vick's deal is no cakewalk - a likely 12-18-month sentence plus possible state charges carrying stiffer fines. In fact, I don't know if I would have let him plead to the federal charges given the state exposure. Although I can't say I see what point there is to the state getting involved once he has plead to a federal felony; is Virginia really that short on crimes to prosecute?
Apparently, Vick is cooperating with an ongoing investigation of other dogfighting rings, so analysts like Roger Cossack were wrong in assuming that he had nothing more to offer once his co-defendants pleaded out. But even if he was the last man standing, Vick had two key chips to play. First, if the investigation really had ended with him, there's the benefit to the prosecutors of being able to close a case and close it successfully - move on to other things, wrap up without a defeat or a messy, labor-intensive trial.
And second, Vick's plea legitimizes his prosecution - not a minor thing when a man has lined up the NAACP and similar groups to charge racism and witch-hunting in the bringing of the investigation. Having the man stand up and accept responsibility goes a long way in that regard.
August 20, 2007
BLOG: Pennsylvania Travelogue
I have returned from my travels to exotic Pennsylvania. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan for filling in (the other planned guest blogger proved to busy to post).
Citizens Bank Park
We kicked off our trip to Pennsylvania by hitting Citizens Bank Park for a Saturday night game against the Braves (which offered a rare reason to root for the Phillies). We had bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon game, on the theory that a night game would be too late in particular for my 17-month-old daughter, but ESPN decreed that the Sunday game had to be moved to 8pm. Fortunately, the Phillies were very accomodating in exchanging our tickets, and we were able to get a row of six seats even though Saturday ended up being sold out.
It's a beautiful ballpark in the Camden Yards style, with large open-air walkways behind and under the seats. We took the kids to a Build-a-Bear in the lower level before the game, in which you could build a stuffed Phillie Phanatic (note: this was somewhat more of a summary process than your typical Build-A-Bear). We sat in Section 414 on the first base side of the upper deck (from the map you can see the view), which despite the height were good seats except that the steep angle of the upper deck puts you at the mercy of the good sense of the people in the front row to sit down and avoid blocking the view of home plate. Of course, the Phillies fans were not exactly shrinking violets about letting people know to sit down. We were sitting behind a rather indecently vocal collection of Braves fans (the guy in front of us was nice, the others were unwisely loud) and as for the Philadelphia fans, well, the reputation of Philly as the toughest park in the big leagues for the home team is well-deserved. The next day's paper didn't headline the game "Drunk on Boos" for nothing. The phans there hate Pat Burrell almost as much as Mets fans do, and they really hate Adam Eaton, the latter with good reason. I shouldn't laugh since the Mets have Brian Lawrence in the rotation and he is basically the same pitcher, but at least the Mets aren't paying Lawrence $8 million a year. Eaton was terrible, put the Phils in a hole they almost but couldn't quite get out of even against Lance Cormier.
Also on the stadium: the food didn't impress me. The Liberty Bell that lights up for hometown homers was OK but no Magic Apple. The out of town scoreboard along the fence takes some getting used to but is tremendously informative. There are too few places to get the count; I didn't love the layout of the big CF scoreboard. There were a preposterous number of moths in the air for the upper deck. The jerseys? Chase Utley jerseys were definitely the dominant theme. I did see one old-school fan wearing a Doug Glanville jersey. That said, the sign of a baseball town is the proportion of fans wearing the hometown colors, especially the female fans, and the Phillies phans don't disappoint (there were a very large number of young women and teens wearing the identical uniform of colored Phillies T-shirts and very short white shorts).
The racial makeup of the phans is a shock: I know in most towns your baseball crowds are largely white, but to get to Citizens Bank Park you drive through miles of all-black neighborhoods (what looked to my eye like working-class neighborhoods with clean, respectable houses, not slums), but in the park and the parking lot the only black people you see are ticket scalpers.
The Phillie Phanatic comes out at the 7th inning stretch, but unlike Mr. Met he fires hot dogs rather than T-Shirts into the seats. And lemme tell ya, Mr. Met is badly outgunned; while he uses a light shoulder launcher to fire shirts into the crowd, the Phanatic uses a hot dog shaped cannon mounted on a jeep.
Also on the game: I have never seen more dropped third strikes in my life. The Mets bullpen may be a mess but at least we don't have Jose Mesa. And Jeff Francouer has a freaking gun in right field; he uncorked one throw that had my jaw dropping before it was more than two feet out of his hand.
On Sunday, we took the "Duck Tour" of Philadelphia, which is cheesy but entertaining (we had always meant to take those tours in Boston and DC but never got around to it). One thing that made me think when we got off: they mentioned that the amphibious DUKW bus/boat you ride around in was manufactured during WWII and that they had sat dormant for years until the idea came to refit them for tourism...it made me wonder: were we riding on a piece of history? I guess that the DUKWs they use for these tours have been extensively refitted from military to civilian uses, but the idea that any part of the vehicle we were riding may have been used in the war gave some additional meaning to a tour that touched on everything from colonial Philadelphia to Rocky.
Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia....sorry, couldn't help myself. On Sunday evening, we went to see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. On the whole, the exhibit was interesting, indeed, riveting, just knowing you are looking at things made - in some cases, of wood - multiple thousands of years ago. We went as well to the IMAX film about the excavation of the bodies of many pharoahs in the 1880s. Unfortunately the staff misinfored us about the starting time so we not only missed the beginning but ended up sitting in the front row. The baby's eyes nearly rolled out of her head trying to comprehend an IMAX screen from the perspective of the front row. The film, narrated either by Saruman or Count Dooku, talked about how the pharoahs believed that they would be immortal as long as their names were said, in which case I suppose thy succeeded, but then it also talked about how they were using the mummified bodies of Ramses the Great and other pharoahs to study disease, like they were hoboes who gave their bodies to science for a few bucks. Somehow, I can't imagine they would have approved.
The exhibit starts with relics from tombs other than Tut and works its way up to his immediate family (interesting note: the Egyptian royals may have been primitive but they found time to remember unborn fetuses of the royal family), and then escalated to Tut's own burial chamber and the things on his body...but I was disappointed when it ended with the diadem that crowned his head - and no sarcophagus, no death mask. I guess it's perhaps a politically difficult time to get that stuff out of Egypt but the whole iconography of the exhibit - including the repainting of the museum's steps - is in the image of the sarcophagus. It was a big letdown when nothing of the sort was there.
Instead, after you leave the Tut exhibit, you enter...the gift shop. Which sold, I kid you not, a Tut tissue dispenser modeled on the head of the sarcophagus (you pull Kleenex out of the nose). I guess being donated to science isn't the worst of it. (My son got a Tut baseball - I was disappointed not to see Cap Anson at the Pyramids).
After the gift shop, the next room has a glass case containing Bobby Abreu's #53 Phillies uniform. Talk about being put on metaphor alert.
By coincidence, I was vacationing the same place Dr. Manhattan was this week - Hershey, PA. And lemme tellya, Milton Hershey could have taught the pharoahs a thing or two. His name is on the town, it's on the candy company, it's on the amusement park, it's on a school he endowed with $60 million in 1918, there's a statue of him at the amusement park and biographical filmstrips, there are even Kiss-shaped streetlamps on Chocolate Avenue (which intersects with Cocoa).
OK, out of time - short takes on some things I may or may not have time to revisit later: we saw more Amish people at Gettysburg than we did in Amish country; we saw Ratatouille in the theater, and it was no Incredibles but still very entertaining; and Jesus must have a good press agent in Central PA because He has one heck of a lot of billboards in the area.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:40 PM | Baseball 2007 | Blog 2006-13 | History | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 17, 2007
BLOG: Programming Note, 2007 Edition
Here's the deal: I'll be away from the blog this week, so I am leaving up this announcement so you will know that I have guest bloggers. Unfortunately, for reasons I have explained, I can neither add nor alter the names of co-authors on this blog, so both of my guest-bloggers will be logging in under the name of last year's guest blogger, Mike Rogers of Mike's Neighborhood. I promise I will fix this as soon as I can, but for now, that'sthe best option we have.
Confused yet? Hopefully not, and I'm asking them to say up front in each post which is which. One of the guest bloggers was once (so long ago I had deleted his account) a co-blogger here under the nom de blog "Kiner's Korner." The other, long absent from the blogosphere, is none other than Dr. Manhattan.
Give them both a big welcome, and apologies for any confusion.
BUSINESS: Ahead of his Time
Posted by Dr. Manhattan
In light of today's surprise reduction in the Federal discount rate, it is worth re-watching (or watching, if you haven't seen it yet) Jim Cramer's famous meltdown on CNBC demanding this action:
Personally, I have always enjoyed watching Cramer on TV. While watching his show for investing guidance is like reading Playboy for the articles, there is something charming about watching someone so unconventionally (read: "not") telegenic succeed on TV by acting like (by all accounts) himself.
BASEBALL: Bonds. Barry Bonds.
Posted by Dr. Manhattan
I guess I need to discuss Barry Bonds, who - as you may have heard - recently broke some record.
I have a few thoughts on why his record-breaking inspires such controversy:
1) Overcompensation amongst the media for not having aggressively reported the growth in steroid use throughout the 1990s.
2) An aesthetic revulsion in the media towards big muscular guys hitting lots of home runs - being so different from the way the game was played when the members of the media were younger, it doesn't fit their idea of the way the game "should be" played (which is part of why they assume the entire impact of steroids on the game is in the increase in home runs);
3) Bonds' long-standing reputation as a lout generally and particularly to the media (with the latter, of course, being far more important);
4) Bonds' career path, plus the incredible detail unearthed by the authors of "Game of Shadows" as to his drug use, provides the most obvious example of "but-for" causation likely to be found outside of a double-blind lab study.
Regarding point #2, it is clear - if only from the number of pitchers who have failed steroid tests - that steroid users are not restricted to cartoonishly built power hitters. In fact, steroid rumors (never proven) have been associated with the baseball player who would probably win a poll as "least likely steroid user." Who is that player? A hint: he recently broke a long-standing seasonal hitting record. Click below:
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Ichiro Suzuki. Yes, the famously small Ichiro who broke George Sisler's record for hits in a season. As Robert Whiting wrote on page 26 of The Meaning of Ichiro (terrible title, good book - retitled The Samurai Way of Baseball for the paperback):
From mid-2000 to the spring of 2001, while no one was really watching, Ichiro had gained nearly 20 pounds on top of his listed weight of 156 pounds through intensive weight training. In fact, when he reported to the Mariners camp in sub-drenched Arizona, the uniform they had readied for him was too tight, thanks to new muscle mass in his arms, shoulders and legs. This raised suspicions in some quarters, although never proven, that he had been taking steroids, suspicions fueled by the fact that he had refused to join other NPB stars and play on Japan's baseball team in the Australian Olympics. Reporters speculated that he was afraid to take the required drug tests. Whatever the reason, Ichiro was stronger than he had ever been. He also insisted that the Mariners' 5'9" height listing was off by nearly two inches.
This certainly is not any form of proof that Ichiro has ever taken steroids. But it does illustrate the extent to which steroid use is associated with players other than power hitters. Yet the common media narrative still draws a straight line from steroid use to the offensive levels of the last 13-14 years.
One additional aspect relating to point #4. Bonds attracts added notoriety in part because of just how insanely great he has been since 2001. Past now-tarnished players such as McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro et al may have broken records, but they did not completely shatter the bounds of what was previously considered possible for a baseball player. McGwire, admittedly, came pretty close, but he still struck out 162 times and had an OBP that was in line with the best efforts of the past decade. By contrast, only Babe Ruth's best seasons could compare to those put up by Bonds in 2001-2004. The story is told by Bonds' intentional walk totals - he shattered the records in that category to a greater extent than Ruth broke the home run records. (I should note that intentional walks were not separately measured in Ruth's time, so we do not know how Ruth's totals compared to Bonds'.) The intentional walks show the extent to which pitchers gave up on the idea of getting Bonds out - shattering the equilibrium between batter and pitcher that exists even with respect to the best hitters. In this respect, I always felt that the appropriate parallel to Bonds was the fictional Sidd Finch, a character (presumably) beloved of Crank's. But it is better when characters like Finch don't really exist.
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BASEBALL/POLITICS: You Must Not Read the Sports Pages Too Often
Posted by Dr. Manhattan
I wrote about some related topics on my own blog a long time ago (a piece much of which, ahem, has been massively overtaken by events). One item that still holds up is the common creation myth of the Bill James revolution and the blogosphere generally - the outsiders rising up against the hidebound (baseball/political/media) establishment and changing the game. This paradigm applies equally to the liberal blogosphere that arose after I wrote my piece and the conservative blogosphere from the heady days of early 2003. There is a reason that Benjamin Wallace-Wells, in profiling Markos Moulitsas for the Washington Monthly, compared Moulitsas to Bill James.
August 16, 2007
BASEBALL: Yankeez Rool
Posted by Dr. Manhattan
Notwithstanding their three-game losing streak culminating (hopefully) in tonight's beat-down by Detroit, I remain confident that the Yankees will win the wild card. I never really lost hope this season, in large part because - as David Pinto pointed out - even at their nadir, the Yankees were never playing as badly as their record indicated. Their blistering streak in July and August was a combination of reversion to the mean and a long stretch against the AL's dregs.
1) I don't believe there is anything wrong with Mariano that a few days off won't cure. Historically, he often has a streak in July or August where he blows a number of games in quick succession, before reverting to normal. (Yankee fans will have a hard time forgetting this one, for example.) I believe it's a software bug.
2) Check out this Hardball Time piece comparing the mechanics of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. I have no capability to judge pitchers' mechanics, but this is a nice argument to be having.
3) For all Met fans or Yankee-hater readers of this blog: Regardless of your pinstripe aversion, make sure to watch Chamberlain's appearances as often as you can. The excitement over each next great fireballer is something that transcends team-specific loyalties. I speak from experience: notwithstanding his role in knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs last year, if you don't like watching Joel Zumaya pitch, you just don't like baseball. Chamberlain may be in the same category.
(Permit me to channel Bill Simmons for a moment: shouldn't the title of baseball's hardest thrower should be a recognized championship, like the heavyweight champion in boxing? Prior to his tendon injury, Zumaya was the unquestioned champion. Shouldn't this be tracked regularly?)
4) I have no patience whatsoever for the constant (thankfully, less so in the last couple of months) "is-he-or-isn't-he" speculation as to A-Rod and his contract. This is a matter for a much longer post, but the way A-Rod has been treated over the last several years by the media is nothing short of shameful.
If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, the season could follow one of two historical tracks. One would be 1979 - an off-year in the midst of a championship-level run. The other would be 1965 - the permanent collapse of a dynasty. There is nothing that could make the Yankees more likely to follow the 1965 pattern than allowing A-Rod to leave after the season. (The Yankees' resurgent farm system has not yet produced any position-player prospects likely to help in the next few years.) I believe the Yankee front office is smart enough to realize that and to calculate the value of the Rangers' money offsetting A-Rod's over the next three years. Absent an early Yankees playoff exit and a media lynch mob, I expect an extension to occur with relatively little fanfare.
August 15, 2007
BLOG: Belated Welcome
Posted by Dr. Manhattan
A belated welcome to all of the Crank's readers from vacation in Hershey, PA, home of chocolate and misbehaving laptops. (Given my intermittent blogging history, it is only too typical.) I ask your forbearance for a little while longer. By tomorrow, all connecton issues should be cleared up and I should have a few posts up that should provide grist for debate.
August 9, 2007
LAW: Captain Kirk, Liar
False advertising cases can be fairly amusing (well, in an amusing-to-lawyers sort of way):
Here, the District Court found that Shatner's assertion [as Captain Kirk in a DIRECTV commercial] that "settling for cable would be illogical," considered in light of the advertisement as a whole, unambiguously made the false claim that cable's HD picture quality is inferior to that of DIRECTV's. We cannot say that this finding was clearly erroneous, especially given that in the immediately preceding line, Shatner praises the "amazing picture clarity of DIRECTV HD." We accordingly affirm the District Court’s conclusion that TWC established a likelihood of success on its claim that the Revised Shatner Commercial is literally false.
I guess Mr. Spock was correct to question this statement. A Jessica Simpson-as-Daisy Duke commercial got the same treatment.
August 8, 2007
BLOG: Movable Type Bleg
I'm currently running Movable Type 3.33. I am trying to create new authors on my blog - I will be going on vacation in the near future and have guest bloggers lined up - and need to figure out how to add new authors. I can find my way to the "Authors" page, which is supposed to allow you to add authors, and can even edit the permissions of the existing authors, but there seems to be nowhere on the page to add new authors or edit the names of the existing ones. Anybody know enough about MT to help me out here? I'd try tech support but I don't even know how to contact MT (their site boots me off every time I try to login), plus I suspect that even if they still support 3.33, it will cost an arm and a leg to get an answer to a simple question, if I can even get one in time.
BASEBALL: More Than His Shares
If you are wondering how the heck the Win Shares formula lists Eric Byrnes as the best player in the National League this season, I'd suggest you look at the fact that the Diamondbacks are playing 10 games ahead of their Pythagorean projections. In other words, when you are handing out credit for 63 wins on a team that's scored and prevented enough runs to win only 53, you wind up having to hand out a lot of extra credit. Arizona's offense has been dreadful, 14th in the league in scoring with only Byrnes and Orlando Hudson with anything like good numbers on a full season (Byrnes has also done the little things well - 28 steals in 34 tries, only 3 GIDP). Even with good pitching, they've been very, very lucky to surge into first place.
UPDATE: I should note that the AL and major league leader in Win Shares is Ichiro, whose team is likewise 6 games above their Pythagorean record.
BLOG: Quick Links 8/8/07
*Did Mike Bascik purposely make it easy for Bonds to go deep? The argument isn't wholly illogical, but I find it very unpersuasive for such a serious charge. Occam's Razor suggests that Bacsik is just a bad pitcher, albeit one who was willing to try to make Bonds hit the ball and not just get a free pass.
*Dennis Martinez was 2-19 in his career against the Yankees. In a similar vein, Larry Jackson has to have been the all-time master of beating up the weak teams; from 1957-68, Jackson was 39-8 with a 2.20 ERA against the expansion Mets and Astros, 20-11, 3.08 ERA against the Cubs (when not pitching for them) but no better than .500 against any other team; against the rest of the league he was 124-148, with a 3.57 ERA.
*Spinlessness from Barack Obama on Bonds. Via Instapundit.
WAR: Yes, There Is Progress In Iraq
Remember in April when Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid said of the war in Iraq that "this war is lost, that the surge is not accomplishing anything"? Remember in June when Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to the president that "[t]he increase in US forces [in Iraq] has had little impact in curbing the violence or fostering political reconciliation" and "has failed to produce the intended results,"?
Well, lo and behold, Democratic Senators Durbin (the #2 ranking Democrat in the Senate) and Casey, after actually visiting Iraq, now admit that the surge is, in fact, making precisely the military progress that Senator Reid declared to be impossible:
The funniest thing is CNN anchor John Roberts' shock at hearing Democrats admit this, and his repeated efforts to get them to say it again. As Allahpundit and Brian Faughnan of the Weekly Standard note, Durbin and Casey try to move the goalposts by talking up the political problems remaining in Iraq, but of course legislative gridlock and paralysis are much more tractable than car bombings. Also, Casey's description of the new military strategy (which he admits he voted against) as "a stay the course policy, no change in direction" is a hilarious illustration of how thoroughly out of his depth Pennsylvania's lightweight junior Senator really is; he's still using last year's talking points.
Seems like General Petraeus may well find himself facing a divided and disorganized enemy when he comes to Capitol Hill in September. In any event, it's a healthy sign for the nation that not everyone in the Democratic Party is willing to personally invest their credibility in the message that we have lost the war.
August 7, 2007
LAW: Bad Policy, But Good Law
The en banc DC Circuit holds that there's no constitutional right for the terminally ill to take experimental but potentially life-saving drugs while they are being tested for safety and effectiveness by the FDA. This decision is bad public policy, but it's good law; it's clear from reading the arguments made for the plaintiffs that there was no way to describe the right that would even remotely resemble a guarantee protected by the Constitution.
In the process, the court discusses but rejects an idea that has long intrigued me - that unenumerated rights protected by the Ninth Amendment are those rights that government has never previously invaded, as opposed to things that were widely prohibited at the time the Ninth Amendment was adopted:
True, a lack of government interference throughout history might be some evidence that a right is deeply rooted. But standing alone, it cannot be enough. If it were, it would be easy to employ such a premise to support sweeping claims of fundamental rights. For example, one might argue that, because Congress did not significantly regulate marijuana until 1937, relatively late in the constitutional day, see Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 11 (2005), there must be a radition of protecting marijuana use. Because Congress did not regulate narcotics until 1866 when it heavily taxed opium, a drug created long before our Nation’s founding, see United States v. Moore, 486 F.2d 1139, 1215-16, 1218 n.50 (D.C. Cir. 1973) (Wright, J., dissenting), it must be that individuals have a right to acquire and use narcotics free from regulation. Or because speed limits are a recent innovation, we have a fundamental right to drive as fast as we deem fit. But this is most certainly not the law. A prior lack of regulation suggests that we must exercise care in evaluating the untested assertion of a constitutional right to be free from new regulation. But the lack of prior governmental regulation of an activity tells us little about whether the activity merits constitutional protection: "The fact that powers long have been unexercised well may call for close scrutiny as to whether they exist; but if granted, they are not lost by being allowed to lie dormant, any more than nonexistent powers can be prescripted by an unchallenged exercise." See United States v. Morton Salt Co., 338 U.S. 632, 647 (1950). Indeed, creating constitutional rights to be free from regulation based solely upon a prior lack of regulation would undermine much of the modern administrative state, which, like drug regulation, has increased in scope as changing conditions have warranted.
Slip op. at 22-23. I'd agree with the court that the mere absence of prior regulation is not by itself enough to create an unenumerated right, but I do think this particular point merited more thoughtful consideration than the Court gave it - the fact that an argument makes "much of the modern administrative state" unconstitutional may be reason to invoke stare decisis and avoid overturning such widespread and settled practices, but it is not a basis for saying that the argument is wrong. Experimental drugs didn't really exist in 1789 in the way we think of them today - but plenty of other things unregulated by the government at the time did, and a serious effort to make sense of the Ninth Amendment requires a better explanation of why it was not meant to restrict new and novel forms of government intrusion.
BASEBALL: Farewell to 300?
On yesterday's topic, Lyford looks back at past predictions of the extinction of the 300 game winner.
With the Yankees 41-21 since May 30, the folks who wrote them off completely look pretty bad right now. They are probably still dead in the AL East race, but it's hard to pick anybody else for the Wild Card.
Looking at their batting and pitching numbers over that stretch, in which they have scored a staggering 6.56 Runs/Game while allowing 4.44 (good, but would be tied for fifth in the AL if they did it all season):
1. Are Johnny Damon's days numbered? I guess with Abreu's contract up after this season and the club option a prohibitive $16 million, maybe not, but Abreu (.333/.550/.412), Matsui and Melky (.343/.510/.389) are all killing the ball while Damon (.249/.359/.344) continues to struggle, yet neither Damon nor Melky - and, some would say, Abreu - has the power for a corner slot or DH. I could see the Yanks souring on Damon and deciding to slot Melky in CF next year.
2. A-Rod is still the MVP - they would have fallen hopelessly out of the race without him.
3. Cano hitting .356 pretty much puts to bed the concern that last season was some sort of fluke.
4. The starting rotation has escaped the reality-show feel of the early season, but it's still soft - only Wang (10-1, 3.15 in this stretch) has pitched like a guy you would want to send out in a big game in October. Man, this staff gives up a lot of hits.
5. Shelly Duncan has taken over for Shane Spencer in the role originated by Kevin Maas.
6. While Mariano has been Mariano again (1.16 ERA, 32/1 K/BB ratio, no HR), it's really Vizcaino who has provided the crucial role with 6 wins and a 1.36 ERA in 33 appearances. The lefties have done well, too, though, Villone and Myers.
WAR: Pants, Fire, etc.
By now you have seen, if you followed the story at all, that Scott Thomas Beauchamp has recanted and admitted to peddling false smears of American troops in The New Republic. Beauchamp himself is small potatoes, but TNR isn't, and given their history with prior fabulists, this is going to be very tough to come back from. The irony, of course, is that under Peter Beinart the magazine originally supported the Iraq War; it wasn't so long ago that Spencer Ackerman's strident attacks on the war's supporters, including the publisher of the magazine, got him canned. But it increasingly looks like new editor Franklin Foer got suckered into publishing Beauchamp due to a confluence of factors all coming together at once: Foer's youth and inexperience as a new editor and unfamiliarity with the military, his desire to pander to anti-war and anti-military factions that TNR had alienated, his willingness, even eagerness, to believe the worst of American troops, and plain old cronyism/nepotism of the Valerie Plame/Joe Isuzu variety (Beauchamp is married to a TNR reporter).
As usual in cases of this nature, the larger question is how many more subtle fabrications make their way under the radar; it takes little imagination to see in what direction they - like the ones that have been uncovered - would push the narrative on the war.
BASEBALL: Apple of My Eye
I'd very much like to see the Magic Apple continue, and of course there is a lot of nostalgia in the old Apple, although I'd agree with Ryan that it would not be a tragedy if they put a shiny new Magic Apple in rather than the dilapidated monument to the 1981 Mets' failed pursuit of Roger Maris that currently sits in right center field.
August 6, 2007
BASEBALL: That's Debatable!
I'll be on BBC World Today radio later tonight debating David Pinto about Barry Bonds. Details to follow.
UPDATE: Pinto has the audio here. They edited it down a bit.
BASEBALL: The Average 300 Game Winner
Following up on this morning's post, here's the year-by-year average wins and career win total, by age, for the twelve 300-game winners to start their careers in the post-1920 era (Spahn, Clemens, Maddux, Carlton, Ryan, Sutton, Niekro, Perry, Seaver, Glavine, Grove and Wynn):
Note that I left off age 20 - Maddux won two games at age 20, and he's the only one, although a couple of these guys made their debuts as teenagers. As with other parts of the chart, those two wins show up only when rounding off the averages.
Among active pitchers, Pedro was ahead of the pace until this season, Mussina and Hudson are about a year behind, Pettitte a little further behind, Santana, Oswalt and Zito should be ahead of the pace by season's end, Buehrle is ahead, Zambrano is a year ahead, Sabathia two years ahead. Of course, history shows that the important thing for 300 is consistency through the thirties and pitching well past 40; these 12 guys combined for eight seasons of double figures in victories between age 43 and age 47 and six seasons of 21 or more wins between age 39 and age 42, with Carlton and Grove the only ones who didn't win at least 12 games in a season in their 40s. By contrast, Maddux and Seaver were the only ones to win 15 games in a season before age 23.
BASEBALL: 300 For Glavine
Well, thankfully the chase for the capper in Tom Glavine's pursuit of 300 wins didn't take too long....I'm not feeling too good about Pedro Feliciano right now, though, let alone Mota...the further Wagner's ERA goes below 1.50, the more overdue he is for a meltdown; just glad it wasn't last night...Hey, was Glavine's family at the game? You could tell his wife knew they were on national TV, they showed a clip of her at the Milwaukee game earlier in the week and she wasn't nearly as glamorously made up...I can't remember the last time I saw the home plate ump knocked out of a game - you could tell he wanted to finish a big historic game like this...Alfonso Soriano's injury looked like a Keith Hernandez or Kirk Gibson hamstring pull, one of those ones where he suddenly looks like a leg has been taken out by a sniper...I know Luis Castillo used to be extremely fast and can still steal some bases (two last night alone including a steal of third), but he looks more like Ramon Castro than Jose Reyes running the bases...Kerry Wood's return doubled the drama - alternating between the high heater and that off-the-table slider, he made Reyes look like a rookie seeing his first big-league breaking ball. Wood coming out of the bullpen is a scary sight. He also looks like he's lost a lot of weight - I don't know that that will help him, but with that slingshot motion of his, it's not likely to detract from his velocity...Rickey Henderson keeps looking like he's about to take a lead from the first base coaching box; one of these days we'll look up after a pitch and he'll be standing next to Alomar...when Lou had them walk the bases loaded the second time to pitch to Green, I think he was telling us something.
As a corrective to the idiocy of Joe Morgan and John Miller (to be fair, Miller's not usually an idiot; Morgan, however, is the Cal Ripken of idiots), it still amazes me to hear people say that Glavine will be the last 300 game winner. Let's review:
1. There are two active pitchers with 340 victories.
2. If you look at the decades when each 300-game winner won the most games, you will see that five decades produced no 300-game winners (1870s, 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, 1980s), and only three decades produced more than two - the 1880s, the 1970s, and the 1990s. 300-game winners have almost always been rare, but the evidence that they are a dying breed is entirely conjectural.
3. Randy Johnson has 284 wins and struck out over 11 men per 9 innings this year. Yes, there's an excellent chance he will never pitch again, but how improbable is it that he could come back and have one more good year next season? I'll run the charts again after the season, but it's still too early to count out a whole bunch of pitchers - Pedro, Mussina, Pettitte, Santana, Zito, Oswalt, Hudson, Halladay, Buehrle, Sabathia...individually the odds are poor for any of them, but 300 has always been an exceptional accomplishment; the odds that one of them will make it isn't that improbable. I'd bet on Santana first - he's behind the pace but he's healthy and gaining ground quickly - and on Pedro, who if he makes a recovery could still have a second act on guile and skill and who needs 94 wins to go. And even if nobody is now active, there's always the next generation of young pitchers, and the next.
August 4, 2007
BASEBALL: Good Day For A Milestone
Congratulations to Alex Rodriguez for hitting a big milestone home run today. A good day to make some history.
August 2, 2007
WAR/POLITICS: Mitt Romney on the "Surge" and its Aftermath
Green Mountain Politics just emailed this short YouTube clip (audio only) of Mitt Romney talking this morning on the radio in New Hampshire about drawing down U.S. troop presence in Iraq if General Petraeus reports in September that the "surge" (and the broader strategy of which it is a part) is working. I'll let you listen and draw your own conclusions.
UPDATE: The Romney campaign emails:
Governor Romney has always maintained that success in Iraq is the best way to bring our troops home safely, just as President Bush has long maintained that as Iraqi troops stand up, our troops will stand down. A couple of relevant instances: