"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
February 27, 2009
POLITICS: Sheriff Lee on Bobby Jindal: "The Day After, Bobby Was In My Office"
Game, set, match:
Olbermann and the lefty blogs: the game is up, we have video of the late Sheriff Lee attesting to then-Congressman Jindal's role during the days following Katrina:
When Hurricane Katrina hit, the day after, Bobby was in my office, saying 'what do you need'...He was hands on...He was there all the time...He got equipment for us...
Time for an apology.
PS - If you read Ben Smith's story earlier, make sure you have caught up with the updates.
PPS - Josh Marshall should consider a little less smug and a few more facts of his own. Marshall now has no leg to stand on; the entire basis of his site's work on this has been eviscerated.
POLITICS: Time For Olbermann To Apologize To Jindal
February 26, 2009
POLITICS: Facts Unchecked
TPM Muckraker, the Washington Monthly, Daily Kos diarists and Keith Olbermann have really gone and stuck their foot in it by falsely accusing Gov. Bobby Jindal of making up his experiences on the ground during Hurricane Katrina without bothering to check with the people who were actually there with Jindal, like the Sheriff of Jefferson Parish. Erick Erickson has the story.
POLITICS: Deficits and Stimulus
Megan McArdle has some thoughts on the issue, and while I don't necessarily buy all her conclusions, she makes a few points that ought to be obvious. On how we got here:
[The switch from surpluses to deficits] was only about half due to tax cuts or spending; the rest was the popping of the stock market bubble, which both hammered GDP and changed the tax base in ways that made it less lucrative to the government. (Tax revenues in America do best when the very rich are making a whole hell of a lot of money in big whacks, like stock-option vests)
It's safe to say that a deficit of 1.2% of GDP is something we will not see again so long as the Democrats are running Congress and the White House. And of course, she makes the basic point that it is not even theoretically possible to favor a stimulus bill and be against budget deficits, given that the entire Keynsian theory behind a stimulus is that it injects more money into the economy, which is literally impossible if the government is paying for the stimulus with tax revenue rather than debt:
Stimulus is not spending; it's deficit. If Bush had delivered a budget in rough balance, Obama would have had to borrow up to the current deficit to get the stimulus he desires. Given that more recent debt is always much more expensive than older debt (that's the magic of inflation, kids!), when taxes are finally raised, they will pay more for spending on Obama's watch than on Bush's.
Of course, the conservative alternative is generally to attack recessions with tax cuts, on the theory that while spending more increases the dollars in circulation, cutting taxes creates ongoing incentives for productive economic activity and thus has effects that go beyond just adding dollars to circulation.
February 25, 2009
WAR: Has Obama's Election Made "Abuses" At GTMO Worse?
Now, there are two ways to read a report like this one:
Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened sharply since President Barack Obama took office as prison guards "get their kicks in" before the camp is closed, according to a lawyer who represents detainees.
"According to my clients, there has been a ramping up in abuse since President Obama was inaugurated," said Ghappour, a British-American lawyer with Reprieve, a legal charity that represents 31 detainees at Guantanamo.
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The irresponsible, partisan-hack way to read it would be to follow how the left has reacted to such stories under Bush: assume that everything bad in an initial report is conclusively proven true simply by the fact that someone makes the allegation, always, always believe the worst of American soldiers and the best of our enemies, and start pointing partisan fingers. It's Obama's fault!
The responsible way would be to take this sort of thing for what it is: the self-interested propaganda of jihadists and their mouthpieces. Which doesn't make it necessarily all untrue, but rather deserving of deep skepticism and requirements for actual proof. Even Reuters seems to recognize, now that Obama is in office, that there could be two sides to such stories, and that even cases defined as "abuse" may not be all they are cracked up to be:
Following a January 22 order from Obama, the U.S. Defense Department conducted a two-week review of conditions at Guantanamo ahead of the planned closure of the prison on Cuba.
Ooooo, gestures of disrespect! That's even worse than cheap unscented soap and underinflated basketballs! (Preemptive use of pepper spray at least constitutes the use of sometimes-unnecessary physical force, but the decision when to use such force is a gray area that is inherent in the management of any prison; sometimes the guards will go too far, but sometimes they don't go far enough and bad things happen to innocent people).
America's military and intelligence professionals have endured an awful lot of slanders the past eight years for the offense of having a Republican Commander-in-Chief. That's not to say they have never been in the wrong; war is a large, messy enterprise, and sometimes people with guns and authority do very bad things. But the absence of perspective and disinterest in accuracy has been appalling. Now that Barack Obama is the President, maybe we can all have a little more skepticism about taking the word of our sworn enemies at face value.
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POLITICS: State of Obama
Ten thoughts on last night's State of the Union speech; I'll stick for now to the domestic-policy parts, as Obama had little enough newsworthy to say about national security and foreign policy (sample of Obama's fresh thinking: "To seek progress towards a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort."):
1. I listened on the radio, tuning in after Obama had already started, and my first thought, honestly, was: hey, that's Rush Limbaugh! Obama's and Limbaugh's voices aren't really that similar, I think it was the cadences, Obama projecting his voice over the room the same way Rush does into the mike, and the tone that brought the counterintuitive parallel to mind.
2. This was a blisteringly partisan speech, more a campaign speech than a SOTU address, making it clear that the archly partisan approach of Obama's first month in office was no accident. The word of the day was "inherited." Of course, all presidents seek to contrast themselves with, and shift blame to, their predecessors, but even so, this was a bit much:
[W]e have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. (Applause.) Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.
Of course, characterizing letting people keep a little more of the money they work to earn as a plot to "transfer wealth to the wealthy" is extremely revealing of Obama's economic mindset; after uttering those words, I think he owes an apology to Joe the Plumber for calling this what it is.
I will predict this now, as I've been saying privately since at least October: by 2012, Obama will still be talking more about Bush than about his own record. Obama's cagey enough to recognize that his economic policies will only drag down any recovery; he's going to keep focusing on rewriting history to shift blame. Then again, that will be easier for him than for Congressional Democrats; Obama can rail about a "trillion-dollar deficit" and "the massive debt we've inherited," but the fact is that the deficit for the last budget passed by a Republican Congress was below $200 billion (1.2% of GDP); Obama has added multiples to that just in the last month. And of course, as I always note, the really important thing is the overall size of government, since that comes out of all of our hides sooner (taxes), later (debt), or usually both. And there's really no mistaking that Obama will greatly expand the size of that. The contest for most baldfaced lie of the night has to be between his assertion that he is pushing the big-government policies he has pushed at every point of his career "Not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't" and his claim about a bill containing vast numbers of district-specific pork-barrel projects that "we passed a recovery plan free of earmarks" (you can call a pig kosher but you can't make it so).
3. Probably the strongest part of the speech was where Obama explained how the credit crisis affects ordinary Americans. Of course, this was nearly the exact same explanation President Bush gave back in September. And this was hilarious:
It's not about helping banks -- it's about helping people. (Applause.) It's not about helping banks; it's about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend. And if they can get a loan, too, maybe they'll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more.
A major concession for Obama to admit that the health of companies actually affects ordinary people, but of course it was swiftly discarded as he went back to talking about jacking up taxes on corporations during a recession.
4. Sacred cow watch: Obama somehow managed to discuss the troubles of the U.S. auto industry without mentioning the unions once. That's like discussing Wall Street's problems without mentioning bad loans.
5. Obama's "nobody messes with Joe" line about Biden was presumably intended - as it was taken - as comic relief. Dick Cheney actually had a hard-earned reputation as a man you messed with at your peril; there's nothing in Biden's four decades in Washington to suggest anyone has ever feared to cross him. Obama's saddled himself with a Vice President who is a punchline.
6. Obama's discussion of higher education was strong, but a plan to send everyone to college is absurdly wasteful, especially when - as he noted - many of the people starting college today with federally subsidized loans don't finish. There are still many jobs that don't require any college education and many people ill-suited to such an education who nonetheless have other skills that can make them a good living. The end-product of overextension of federal credit for college, as with overextension of federal credit for housing, tends to be program fraud by fly-by-night providers.
7. Promise I will believe when I see it: "end direct payments to large agribusiness that don't need them". Obama is as good a friend as the ethanol business, for example, has ever had; he did well in places like Iowa and Indiana by specifically breaking with McCain over farm subsidies, especially ethanol. He supported the horrible farm bill. Converts are welcome, but I'd like to see him back that one up and have the stones to stare down massive Congressional opposition.
8. I'll be here all day if I get into Obama's health care and entitlement talk, but a few things are clear: Obama has basically guaranteed that he'll tackle health care this year, and he didn't spend any time last night laying out a plan to do so, suggesting that his campaign proposals will take a backseat, yet again, to what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy come up with. His focus on controlling costs while extending more coverage, though, inevitably means rationing care and cracking down on the profit motives of doctors and pharmaceutical companies, with inevitable long-term implications for the supply of physicians and life-saving drugs. And this passage suggests that, despite his slam on delaying problems down the road, that's exactly what Obama will do on entitlements, in stark contrast to Bush's effort to deal with Social Security:
Now, to preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.
Begin? We've had a debate about Social Security in every election year I can rememeber, we've had more bipartisan commissions and think-tank reports than I can count.
9. Another amusing yet horrifying passage came when Obama suggested we follow China's energy policy (which of course involves massive consumption of coal), then in the next breath announced he'd be proposing carbon emission caps. I hope irony left a will, the funeral will be held shortly.
10. Obama's reading of American history fits neatly in what Jonah Goldberg has described as the literally fascistic tendency to demand the peacetime permanent military-style mobilization of civilian society, the endless search for moral equivalents of war that has been a unifying theme since the days of Woodrow Wilson:
History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle class in history. (Applause.) And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.
(I'll get some other day into my review of Goldberg's book, which details the history of this sort of thinking in the U.S. and Europe between the rise of Bismarck in Germany and Hillary's "politics of meaning" in much greater detail).
Obama has chosen his course: push a left-wing, big-government, big-spending agenda with little more than rhetorical window-dressing, and then blame Bush when it doesn't work. Last night formalized that plan. We'll see how long he can keep it up.
POLITICS/WAR: Not Even On The Agenda
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano avoids mention of terrorism or 9/11 in remarks prepared for her first congressional testimony since taking office, signaling a sharp change in tone from her predecessors.
Napolitano's prepared remarks also show her using the word "attacks" less than her predecessors. She is the first secretary to use a Capitol Hill debut to talk about hurricanes and disasters, a sign of the department's evolving mission following Hurricane Katrina.
It's all too easy, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, to blame the somnolence of the Clinton Administration for allowing the terror threat to grow unchecked; the failures of the 1990s, after all, were pervasive, systemic and bipartisan, and they continued in the first nine months of the Bush Administration. But today's Democrats have no such excuse for lapsing back into complacency.
February 24, 2009
BASEBALL: Stealing Sutcliffe
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It was 1987, Harry Caray had suffered a stroke, and fellow Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone often invited guest commentators into the booth. Bill Murray decided to make his appearance on a day Sutcliffe was pitching.
In the third inning, Sutcliffe singled in Jody Davis, who scored on a close play at the plate. The pitcher for the Montreal Expos got ejected after arguing the call.
(The box score for April 17, 1987 is here; Sutcliffe's victim was Andy McGaffigan, and Sutcliffe ended that day with 3 RBI and a 4-hit shutout to go with the stolen base. Interesting postscript: Sutcliffe stole three more bases the next two years, and was never once caught).
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POLITICS: It Depends Upon What The Meaning Of The Word "Lobbyist" Is
Jake Tapper notices that Obama's nominee for US Trade Representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, worked as a state and local lobbyist in Dallas; Tapper notes that he's at least the fifth lobbyist picked for a significant position in the Obama Administration (and that's before we consider family members like Joe Biden's son or Tom Daschle's wife). Here's the Administration's defense:
"Ron Kirk has never been a registered federal lobbyist," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told ABC News...."How precisely is it a loophole when we never pledged to bar state lobbyists?" a Democratic official asks.
(Emphasis mine). Hey, isn't that a tune we have heard before?
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As Tapper notes, that's not exactly what Obama on the campaign trail led people to believe:
[T]hough the president at his most precise has railed against former "federally registered lobbyists" running his administration, at other times he has not been so precise, and his language on the matter at times may have given many Americans the impression that state and local lobbyists -- who in many instances bring the same baggage as federal lobbyists -- would be kept from working in his administration as well.
Now, personally, while it's worth taking a long look at the lobbying background of anyone looking to get into government to see who they owe favors to, I don't actually think being a lobbyist is any less honorable a profession than my own (lawyer), and the role of a lobbyist is inherent in the First Amendment right to organize and petition the government for redress of grievances. As I noted during the campaign, Obama himself once worked as essentially a lobbyist - what else is a "community organizer" but someone who lobbies the government on behalf of the interests of particular people? (In fact, John McCain had also worked as a Washington lobbyist for the U.S. Navy near the end of his time in the service - his official title was as a Congressional "liaison," but the job was functionally indistinguishable from that of a lobbyist for private sector interests). If lobbyists have too much influence in Washington - and most of us would agree they do - it's not because of the nefarious influence of lobbyists but for two related reasons: (1) because the federal government has grown to such a scale and insinuated itself in so many aspects of life that it is in position to do enormous favors or inflict enormous damage on private businesses; and (2) because Congress in particular is willing to write special rules favoring or disfavoring particular businesses to benefit its friends. That power, after all, is a valuable thing; should they give it away for free? And companies that don't want to play ball quickly learn they need to; as Jonah Goldberg likes to point out, Bill Gates once boasted that Microsoft's one Washington lobbyist had no work to do and Washington was "not on our radar"; after the Justice Department came after the company with a series of antitrust lawsuits at the behest of its more plugged-in competitors, Microsoft changed its tune and started hiring lobbyists and making campaign contributions like everybody else.
If you want money out of politics, you first need to get politics out of money. It's the only way. And that's absolutely the last thing Barack Obama is going to do; it's not in his background, and it's certainly not in his policy programs, from more regulations to massive pork-barrel "stimulus" bills to buying big banks.
But while I was never naive enough to believe that Obama intended his talk about lobbyists and "new politics" to be anything but window-dressing on an expansion of the role of the federal government's favor factory, and while anyone who paid attention during the campaign had to know that, the amount of stress Obama put on those themes during the campaign means it is entirely fair game to keep pointing out what a false bill of goods he sold the public. Any serious adult had to know that "new politics" was never meant to do anything but get Barack Obama elected. Which only makes it funnier watching him come up with excuses for why he's still doing business as usual.
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February 23, 2009
BUSINESS: Market Perspective
Yes, the Dow is only one measure and yes, we don't know if we're near the bottom yet, but this is still a pretty cool graphical representation of how the current bear market stacks up to the bears of the past. H/T.
BASEBALL: Conclusion to The Yankee Starting Pitcher Study
Due to technical problems, I couldn't post the whole thing as one entry. Here's the conclusion.
As you can see from the top of the list, the Yankees have been far from uniformly unsuccessful with acquiring established veteran starting pitchers, and they've struck gold a bunch of times both with top-of-the-line acquisitions and with reclamation projects. But then, if you have a ton of money and you go in the market every year, you are bound to look like a genius now and then. And despite having, in the main, good baseball people working for them throughout most of this period, the Yankees have had flop after flop throughout every stage of the Steinbrenner years, from Gullett and Messersmith to Burns and Alexander to Hawkins and LaPoint to Mulholland and Rogers to Weaver, Pavano, Wright and Igawa. The collective Yield of the group, excluding the foreign pitchers, is 74.6%. The waste of dollars, of young talent in trade, of innings and run support to struggling starters, is enormous.
There are a variety of causes for this, and we generalize at our peril, as the Yankees have sometimes succeeded with the very same types of pitchers they failed with. Some of it, as with any team, is the unpredictable nature of pitching. Some is that having too much money to burn makes you sloppy. But we can generalize that the Yankees have made the same mistakes repeatedly over the years: they have too often put their faith in pitchers with major injury red flags; they have overpaid for guys coming off one good year; they have brought in too many veteran low-strikeout groundball pitchers, who are less consistent, have less of a margin for error, and are more dependent on their defense; and when they have brought in high-end power pitchers, too often they've been so old Father Time was bound to catch up with them eventually.
What does this mean for this year's crop? Sabathia looks like a good bet; he's up there with Hunter, Mussina, Cone, Clemens and Johnson among the best pitchers they have acquired, he's a power pitcher with a reasonably good health record and much younger than some of those guys. Burnett's also a power pitcher, but riskier, more like some of the failures; he's tended to get healthy only in his walk years. What is certain, it would seem, is that next year we'll be asking the same question about the next crop.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:35 PM | Baseball 2009 | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Yankees and Their New, Veteran Starting Pitchers
Hope springs eternal in baseball, and for the New York Yankees, with an aging offense, a lot of familiar faces gone and a steroid scandal swirling around the team's biggest star, a lot of those hopes ride on the shoulders of the team's two new free agent starting pitchers, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.
Yankee fans have been down this road before.
Few things have been more constant in the Steinbrenner Era (dating back to George Steinbrenner's 1973 purchase of the team and continuing under his sons Hank & Hal) than the importation of established veteran starting pitchers. Since 1975, counting the importation of pitchers from Cuba and Japan, the Hated Yankees have brought in an established starting pitcher in the offseason 52 times in 35 seasons; only in five offseasons have they failed to do so in that period. Here is the list of those pitchers by year, along with their ages in their first season in pinstripes, how many seasons or parts of seasons they played with the Yankees, and how they were acquired:
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Pettitte and Igawa are actually 3 years on if you count 2009. Tiant and El Duque are listed at their official ages.
This, I should stress, is just the guys who were more or less established starters at the time the Yankees got them. There are also the guys who were complete reclamation projects, even moreso than people like Gooden and Lieber - Donovan Osborne in 2004, Scott Erickson in 2006. Then there are the guys who were working as relievers when the Yankees imported them - Shane Rawley, Neal Heaton, Steve Karsay, Bob Shirley, Jason Grimsley, Jim Kaat, Neil Allen. Then there are the midseason acquisitions - Ken Holtzman, Mike Torrez, David Cone, Jeff Weaver, Gaylord Perry, Rick Reuschel, Matt Keough, John Montefusco, Marty Bystrom, Joe Niekro, Bill Gullickson, Steve Trout, Walt Terrell, Mike Witt, Frank Tanana, Ricky Bones, Denny Neagle, Esteban Loaiza, Shawn Chacon, Al Leiter, Cory Lidle, Sidney Ponson (twice).
How has this procession of veteran, mostly older pitchers fared? Well, one thing jumps out from the chart above: the average tenure in pinstripes of the guys listed above is 2.4 years, with only 14 of the 52 lasting more than two seasons in the Bronx. To look at the individual results, I decided to run a study. In addition to the pitchers above, I looked at four of the Yankees' mid-season acquisitions: Ken Holtzman in 1976, Mike Torrez in 1977, David Cone in 1995, and Jeff Weaver in 2002. This was an admittedly subjective decision, but basically those four seemed more to fit the mold of big-ticket acquisitions who were brought in with the intention of being longer-term parts of the plan (Torrez was dealt for in April; Cone was a major star when he arrived) as opposed to being heat-of-the-pennant-race stopgaps as many of the others were.
The Study, In Brief
I ran the numbers for each pitcher for the three years prior to his arrival with the Yankees and the first three beginning with his first season with the Yankees, and I'll explain the method here briefly; it's the usual simple algebra. For the prior three years, I used Established Performance Levels (EPL), as described here. Basically, I wanted a baseline for what the Yankees may reasonably have expected from these guys when they arrived. ERA+, for the unititiated, is park-adjusted league ERA divided by the pitcher's ERA. Quality Innings (QI) is a metric I sometimes use that's a shorthand for a pitcher's productivity combining quality and quantity: ERA+ times Innings, so for example a pitcher who throws 200 innings with an ERA+ of 150 will have 300 Quality Innings.
For the pitcher's production after arriving with the Yankees (YPP), I made two key decisions. One, I measured output over three seasons regardless of whether the guy stayed with the team that long. My goal was to look at whether the Yankees were successful in acquiring pitchers, rather than retaining them. Second, and balancing that to some extent, I used established performance levels in reverse, weighting the first season at 3, the second season at 2, and the third season at 1. I had considered doing a less front-loaded weighting, but given that (1) the Yankees are almost always in win-now mode, (2) so many of these guys were gone after one or two years and (3) the quality of the first season usually determined how long they would last with the team, I'm comfortable with a weighting heavily tilted towards the first year. The final number you see, "Yield," is just the YPP Quality Innings divided by the EPL Quality Innings - in other words, how each guy stacked up against his own baseline performance.
To keep results consistent year to year, I projected 1981, 1994 and 1995 stats to a 162-game schedule. Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa are rated on two years only, and weighted accordingly.
Grading The Pitchers
Let's grade the Yankee pitching acquisitions (I'm clumping them in groups rather than ranking within each cluster):
Probably the most successful of all these acquisitions. The prototypical veteran lefthanded groundball pitcher, TJ got more durable and effective in his late 30s as he got additional distance from the 1975 surgery that bears his name.
Ed Figueroa - 286 QI, Yield 159.7%
Only 27 and coming off his first full year as a rotation starter when he was acquired in a 3-player trade for Bobby Bonds, Figueroa was a rotation mainstay during the championship years of the late 70s.
Jimmy Key - 280 QI, Yield 114.4%
Key got hurt after two years, but was a serious championship-quality pitcher until then.
Melido Perez - 241 QI, Yield 153.2%
Melido, like Figueroa, was a relatively hard-throwing young pitcher just coming into his own when he arrived in the Bronx in a four-player trade, mainly for Steve Sax after Sax's last good year. He pitched during a down time in Yankee history, but his first year in particular was a good one.
Bill Virdon and Billy Martin squeezed 626.2 innings and 51 complete games out of Catfish his first two years with the Yankees, with diminishing returns in his second season and a collapse in the third. He may have broken down by the time the Yankees made it all the way, but Hunter was certainly a successful signing, helping the team to respectability and contributing to a pennant winner in 1976 and eventually a World Champion in 1978.
Mike Mussina - 284 QI, Yield 100.2%
Mussina did basically exactly what he was asked and expected to do, at least as far as the regular season goes. He was never as lights-out in the playoffs as he'd been with the Orioles. Still, 8 years in a Yankee uniform is nothing to sneeze at in this crowd. Note that Mussina averaged nearly 8 K per 9 innings the year before he signed with the Yankees; remember that fact as we get deeper down the list.
An early Steinbrenner acquisition, arrived in a four player trade, principally for Doc Medich, and was later dealt for Mike Torrez.
Rudy May - 212 QI, Yield 137.7%
More a swing man than a full-time rotation starter by that point in his career, May was nonetheless a successful reacquisition, winning an ERA title in 1980.
Dwight Gooden - 144 QI, Yield 289.9%
Gooden's "Yield" ranks first in this group. He was a long way from the old Dr. K with the Yankees, but he was a complete reclamation project when he came to the Bronx. But in 19 starts from April 27 to August 12, 1996, Gooden was 10-2 with a 3.09 ERA, including a no-hitter; with David Cone injured, Kenny Rogers (9-5, 4.16) was the only other Yankee starter in that stretch with an ERA below 4.78, and several spot starters were tried with ERAs over 8.00. Without that stretch, the Yankees may not have won the World Series that year, their first in 18 years. Gooden easily cleared the low bar set on expectations for his tenure as a Yankee.
Jon Lieber - 194 QI, Yield 207.9%
Another scrap heap claim, albeit more of a calculated gamble, given that unlike Gooden, Lieber's only problem was his arm.
Orlando Hernandez (2) - 117 QI, Yield 160.3%
El Duque, in his second go-round, was another reclamation project who exceeded expectations, bailing out the rotation in the 2004 stretch run.
Tommy John (2) - 141 QI, Yield 117.8%
John looked pretty well at the end of his tether when he returned at age 43, but was nonetheless able to contribute to the pitching-poor late-80s team.
David Wells (1) - 244 QI, Yield 102.3%
David Wells (2) - 230 QI, Yield 124.6%
The Boomer was a clear success in each of his two tenures in pinstripes, granting that his postseason flop in Game Five of the 2003 World Series left a sour aftertaste.
Phil Niekro - 234 QI, Yield 106.7%
About the best you could hope for in acquiring a 45-year-old pitcher.
Scott Sanderson - 193 QI, Yield 131.3%
As I discuss below, Sanderson, a 34-year-old control pitcher, is the classic type the Yankees have failed with too often, but he gave them one good year and generally exceeded reasonable expectations.
David Cone - 258 QI, Yield 68.8%
Cone, acquired in a 4-player trade in his walk year for a package headlined by Marty Janzen, rates as high as he does here because he pitched well with the Yankees and contributed to championship teams. But he clearly did not match his Cy Young-caliber established level of performance through age 31.
Orlando Hernandez (1) - 213 QI
As a foreign import, El Duque in his first turn with the team has no real baseline to compare to. He was never that durable, but would rate more highly if you put more weight on his postseason exploits.
Andy Pettitte - 221 QI, Yield 90.9%
Pettitte wasn't going to recapture his 2005 form, but he's been a solid workhorse in his second turn as a Yank.
Mike Torrez - 253 QI, Yield 81.1%
Torrez, of course, is beloved by Yankee fans for what he did in the second season of this sample while pitching for the Red Sox. But focusing on his acquisition, in a 4-player deal for Dock Ellis and two others, the Yankees bought Torrez high coming off two outstanding seasons he wouldn't repeat.
John Candelaria - 122 QI, Yield 100.9%
The Candy Man was with the Yankees what he'd been with the Angels - fragile and erratic, but highly effective for stretches. Certainly the Yankees can't have been disappointed.
Roger Clemens (1) - 229 QI, Yield 51.9%
It's hard to describe Clemens, obtained in a 4-player trade for a package headlined by David Wells, as a failure; he won a Cy Young Award in his third season with the Yankees, as he did for each of the four franchises he pitched for, and he got two World Series rings and contributed in the postseason to at least one of those. But he pitched significantly better going 10-13 with the Red Sox in 1996 than going 20-3 with the Yankees in 2001, and on the whole he was only a distant echo of the pitcher he'd been in Toronto (and would be later in Houston).
Charlie Hudson - 128 QI, Yield 89.1%
Hudson was more effective as a Yankee, mostly the 6-0, 2.02 ERA start to his Yankee career, but less durable. He fell off quickly after that and was finished at 30. Hudson was acquired in a 4-player trade, mainly for a rapidly-declining Mike Easler.
Tom Underwood - 171 QI, Yield 81.0%
26 years old and coming off his first big year on a terrible Blue Jays team, Underwood may have looked to the Yankees like the next Figueroa or Red Ruffing, but he never again approached 227 innings and was shipped out after one year for a package of spare parts (headed by Dave Revering) that didn't come close to the six-player deal that brought him in, with the Yankees sending off veteran first baseman Chris Chambliss and Damaso Garcia, who went on to be a mainstay with the Blue Jays for the next several years.
Jim Abbott - 224 QI, Yield 78.0%
Abbott was a major disappointment, a young pitcher coming off two really good years who didn't develop. He gave the Yankees innings but not a lot of quality pitching. Abbott was obtained in a 4-player deal for a package headed by J.T. Snow, who went on to a long career.
Luis Tiant - 145 QI, Yield 57.5%
At an officially listed age of 38 (recall Tony Perez's joke: "When I was a boy in Cuba, Luis Tiant was a national hero. Now I'm 36 and he's 37"), Tiant was a rapidly depreciating commodity when the Yankees signed him. His first year with the Yankees was pretty similar to his last two with the Red Sox, then he fell apart.
Tim Leary - 139 QI, Yield 68.4%
The Yankees got Leary, the onetime Mets phenom, after the two best seasons of his career in a four-player deal for a package headed by a young Hal Morris. He did not repeat them.
Jose Contreras - 131 QI
The Yankees bailed too soon on Contreras, but his fate was sealed by an awful second season with the team.
Ken Holtzman - 136 QI, Yield 44.3%
Holtzman was acquired to join his old teammate Catfish in a massive 10-player trade that saw the Yankees send away young pitchers Scott MacGregor and Tippy Martinez and veteran Rudy May. He pitched well that season but then hit the wall.
Rick Rhoden - 177 QI, Yield 65.9%
Rhoden was coming off a career year, although he'd also had an excellent season two years earlier; the Yankees got him in a 6-player trade for a package headed by a young Doug Drabek, who would immediately become the staff ace of a team that won 3 straight division titles while Rhoden gradually declined after a solid, workmanlike first season.
Rich Dotson - 112 QI, Yield 64.5%
Already far removed from the young power pitcher who went 22-7 in 1983, Dotson was coming off his first good year post-surgery when the Yankees got him in a 5-player deal in a package headed by Dan Pasqua and Mark Salas; he didn't repeat it.
Jack McDowell - 208 QI, Yield 64.4%
Black Jack McDowell, acquired in a 3-player deal headlined by Lyle Mouton, is remembered as a worse pickup than he was - he went 15-10 with an ERA almost 20% better than the league in the shortened schedule of 1995 - but he flamed out completely after leaving the Yankees after that one season.
Roger Clemens (2) - 53 QI, Yield 17.0%
You can argue they went in with their eyes open, but the fact is that at 44, Roger Clemens fell well short of the bar he'd set with the Astros, and made off with a lot of Yankee dollar in doing so.
Javier Vazquez - 196 QI, Yield 67.6%
Vazquez, acquired in a 4-player deal for a package headed by Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera, was coming off a career year, but as a 27-year-old power pitcher he should have been exactly the kind of guy a team wants; instead, his first season was poor and he was traded for...
Randy Johnson - 197 QI, Yield 59.4%
Johnson may have been an extreme power pitcher but he was also 41 years old when the Yankees got him in a 4-player trade that saw them part with Vazquez, Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro, and his age started to show. He wasn't terrible as a Yankee, just far from the pitcher he'd been.
Don Gullett - 102 QI, Yield 51.8%
Only 26 but with an injury history longer than Steve Howe's rap sheet, Gullett gave the Yankees one semi-Gullett-type season and then broke down for good.
Doyle Alexander - 117 QI, Yield 55.5%
Many teams have stories about their acquisition of Doyle Alexander, but the Yankees' story of his second tenure with the team is not a happy one. Acquired in a 3-player trade headlined by a young Andy McGaffigan on the other side, Alexander was a disaster and shipped out quickly, where he would go on to return to stardom with division rivals in Toronto and Detroit.
Ed Whitson - 115 QI, Yield 70.4%
Once considered the archetypical Yankee pitching bust, but it gets much worse than Whitson. He's one of several pitchers accused of being emotionally unable to withstand the Bronx. Whitson was coming off his best season when the Yankees signed him; it would be a few years after his departure before he returned to that level.
Dave LaPoint - 87 QI, Yield 47.9%
The classic low-K groundball-throwing lefty, LaPoint's failures with the Yankees were doubtless exacerbated by the condition of their middle infield in the Steve Sax era.
Andy Hawkins - 133 QI, Yield 79.0%
A low-K pitcher coming off by far his best year, Hawkins' Yield is only not lower because (1) he'd never been especially good before his one year and (2) the Yankees were so bad they kept pitching him even when he was horrible, which he pretty uniformly was.
Pascual Perez - 47 QI, Yield 22.0%
A similar story to Gullett; Pascual was a better pitcher than his brother Melido, but a worse deal for the Yankees, as he was nearly never available to pitch.
Kenny Rogers - 183 QI, Yield 64.6%
There is probably nothing that unites Mets and Yankees fans like hatred of Kenny Rogers. Stop me if you've heard this one before: a 31-year-old low-strikeout pitcher coming off by far his best year, signs free agent deal with the Yankees, suffers playoff meltdowns and ultimately is unable to handle New York.
Hideki Irabu - 102 QI
The "fat, pussy toad" went 6-2 with a 1.68 ERA in his first 11 starts to help the Yankees blast out of the gate in 1998, but otherwise his Yankee career was a complete bust, as he was nothing like the power pitcher he was reputed to be.
Jeff Juden - 9 QI, Yield 6.5%
A reclamation project with a reputation as a head case who'd never been that good to start with, Juden was still young when he got to the Yankees, but simply didn't pan out.
Bob Ojeda - 0 QI, Yield 0.4%
Bobby O had still been a serviceable pitcher until a year before the Yankees got him, when he suffered the most horrible in a career-long series of bizarre misfortunes, a fatal boating accident that killed his new Cleveland teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews and came within inches of beheading Ojeda. Ojeda was less effective that year when he returned with the Indians, and never did anything to help the Yankees.
Jeff Weaver - 189 QI, Yield 88.0%
The top-line numbers fail to capture the fact that most of Weaver's value was in the portion of his "first" season before the Yankees picked him up in a 6-player, 3-team deal that involved trading away Ted Lilly (also, like Jeremy Bonderman today, Weaver's ERAs were never as good as his reputation and K/BB ratios). Weaver flamed out spectacularly in his first full season with the Yankees, leading him to be traded in for...
Kevin Brown - 84 QI, Yield 40.2%
The Yankees didn't sign Brown to that huge contract, but they traded for it in a 4-player deal that involved trading away Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban. As injury-prone 39-year-olds have been known to do, Brown broke down.
Jaret Wright - 68 QI, Yield 59.8%
Wright's long battles with injury hit bottom before he bounced back with a career year under the tutlage of Leo Mazzone, on the strength of which the Yankees signed him and he turned back into Jaret Wright. You can't really blame the guy, he was the same pitcher he'd always been.
Yes, you thought we'd plumbed the depths. But we're not done!
Carl Pavano - 46 QI, Yield 20.4%
Probably the least popular guy on this list with Yankees fans, which is saying quite a bit. The length and size of Pavano's contract and his apparently poor work ethic have contributed to this. Pavano's a low-K pitcher who got the contract mainly on the strength of a career year in his walk year.
Andy Messersmith - 23 QI, Yield 10.8%
Like Brown, Messersmith was a famous contract acquired after the original signer got buyer's remorse. Messersmith was already hurt with Atlanta, but he never recovered with the Yankees, he just sat on the sidelines with Gullett collecting checks.
Terry Mulholland - 131 QI, Yield 58.6%
Acquired as part of a 5-player deal for a package of mediocrities headed by Kevin Jordan, Mulholland was coming off his best season as a starter with the pennant-winning 1993 Phillies, but was a total flop in his one season in New York, posting a 6.49 ERA, and did not recover his effectiveness for a few years.
Allan Anderson - 0 QI, Yield 0%
Maybe not a fair strike against the Yankees - honestly, I don't even remember him trying to make the team - the former ERA champ was 28 but coming off two bad years, and never pitched in the majors after signing with the Yankees.
Kei Igawa - 29 QI
A Japanese import who has thus far made Irabu look like Sandy Koufax.
Britt Burns - 0 QI, Yield 0%
Perhaps the biggest bust of all, Burns was coming off a career-best 18-11 season when the Yankees got him in a 5-player trade for a package headed by young Joe Cowley and veteran Ron Hassey. A degenerative hip injury prevented him from ever pitching in pinstripes.
Unfortunately, the site isn't cooperating with the length of this post. Concluding paragraphs, which got eaten twice now, are posted here.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Baseball Studies | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
February 22, 2009
BASEBALL: Still The Oakland A's
As recently as November, everything looked full speed ahead for the A's move to Fremont, and I speculated about how that affected their offseason moves. Now, it seems to have fallen through, leaving the A's where they are. Sign of the times.
February 20, 2009
BASEBALL: The Mets Rotation
Here's a good overview writeup at MetsGeek about Oliver Perez (I realize I neglected to write this up when he finally signed). Assuming John Maine is healthy, the Mets rotation now looks something like this:
3 years for Perez, which takes him through age 29, is an ideal contract length; the Mets aren't lashed to him in perpetuity, but they needn't worry for a while, and by the next time he's up, most of the uncertainty around Perez will be gone, as he'll either be consistent and durable the next three years or prove that he never will.
$12 million per year is pretty pricey for a guy with a career road ERA of 4.70 - that's just a hair less than what Pedro averaged the last four years - but it's not my money, the Mets could afford it, and the other options for healthy young starting pitchers were pretty slim. It beats the heck out of having Redding as the fourth starter. The key with Perez, of course, is to value him for what he is, not what he might become. Perez has great stuff, but I put at about zero the chance that he will ever find the mechanical and emotional consistency to improve his command to the point where he can be a year-in-year-out star. That said, in any given year when he's healthy there's maybe a 5-10% chance that he could break out and have a Cy Young caliber season. That may sound like a lot, but if he threw 210 innings of the quality of his 2004 season with the Mets, he'd win 18+ games and be a legit Cy Young candidate. There's also, of course, at least an equal chance of an injury or complete meltdown. But on average, you'd project him forward as a guy who gives you 180-200 innings, with an ERA around 3.30 in the up years and 4.30 in the down ones, and that's a valuable thing in today's game.
I'm not much of a fan of Garcia, Redding or Livan, but look at the numbers for the guys the Mets have used as, essentially, emergency starters the last three years:
2008: 17 starts, 93 IP, 7-6, 5.52 ERA (Nelson Figueroa, Claudio Vargas, Niese, Brandon Knight, Tony Armas and Brian Stokes).
2007: 11 starts, 50.2 IP, 1-5, 9.95 ERA (Brian Lawrence, Jason Vargas, Dave Williams, Phil Humber, Chan Ho Park). If you count Jorge Sosa, it's 25 starts, 131 IP, 8-13, 6.66 ERA.
2006: 24 starts, 125.2 IP, 7-9, 6.37 ERA (Pelfrey, Williams, Alay Soler, Jose Lima, and the late Jeremi Gonzalez). If you count Perez, who was little more than an emergency fill-in and ended up starting Game 7 of the NLCS, the regular season numbers are 31 starts, 162.1 IP, 8-12, 6.38 ERA.
It's a very useful thing to have extra guys around who can keep to a minimum the number of starts given to people who can't post an ERA below 5.50. I think Livan still has enough gas in the tank to pitch in the low fives, and I'm pretty optimistic the other two do (Garcia threw well in his last three starts last season after returning from injury, but we'll see how he holds up if he ends up in the rotation).
On the whole, I think the Mets stack up favorably against the Phillies' projected rotation of Hamels-Myers-Moyer-Blanton-Kendrick/Park (ugh), and are pretty clearly superior to the Braves' rotation, which starts with Lowe and Vazquez and some combination of Jurrjens, Campillo, Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami and Glavine, and the Marlins rotation of Johnson, Sanchez, Nolasco, Volstad and Miller. (The Nationals' "rotation" is not really worth comparing).
February 19, 2009
POP CULTURE: The Jack Bauer Song
Speaking of things Japanese, this is awesome:
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HISTORY: As Told In Baseball Cards
Dinged Corners has a look at a Topps set of American history cards. Some of them are pretty cool.
February 18, 2009
BLOG: Japan is Different
In case you needed further proof:
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POLITICS: Sarah Palin's Taxes
Given the battery of problems President Obama's Cabinet nominees and prominent Democrats have had paying their taxes, Democrats are undoubtedly relieved to see that a review by the State of Alaska has concluded that one very prominent Republican - Governor Sarah Palin - also owes the IRS money (H/T). The facts about Palin's taxes, however, are dramatically different from those of Democrats like Tim Geithner, the man who now oversees enforcement of the tax code. Here's why.
The issue raised back in October was whether Gov. Palin should have reported as income the per diem reimbursements she receives for meals and other expenses on days doing state business at her home in Wasilla instead of the governor's mansion in Juneau; as the AP notes, "Juneau, in the Alaska Panhandle 600 miles from Wasilla, is only accessible by airplane or ship." (We looked at the merits of the per diem reimbursements, which were dramatically lower than those collected by her predecessor, back in September). The McCain-Palin campaign responded by producing a legal opinion from tax counsel noting that the State of Alaska has traditionally not treated these reimbursements as income to state employees and has not included them on Forms W-2. Palin followed up by ordering the state Department of Administration to conduct a review of that policy. Unlike the Democrats, so many of whom seem to be playing entirely by rules of their own, the review affects other state employees besides the Governor:
Some other state employees also owe back income taxes for travel payments and will be getting revised tax forms, Annette Kreitzer, state administration commissioner, said in an e-mail.
As the Anchorage Daily News report (which also details back taxes owed by newly-elected Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich on a car provided to him) notes, Alaska has to deal with a whole separate set of rules for state legislators:
The new determination by administration officials won't affect state lawmakers, said Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs agency.
Have fun keeping all that straight. One of my longstanding beefs with the picayune complexity of the campaign finance laws is applicable to tax law as well: if you wouldn't want a politician you support getting un-elected or indicted for violating the rules, maybe the rules are just too complicated.
Anyway, Palin's situation, in which her tax preparer reported only the income on her W-2, is rather dramatically different from that of, say, Geithner, who was given a manual by his employer explaining the taxability of his benefits and reimbursement for the taxes, and he still didn't pay them, and paid back less than all the back taxes he owed (only enough to avoid an enforcement action). Here, the state had a mistaken policy that appears to have predated her tenure as Governor, and that affected other people besides her. It's embarrassing, to be sure, but efforts to seize on the story are simply a sign of the Democrats' desperation to divert attention away from the beam in their own eye.
BASEBALL: Sources Unfiltered
"I realized right away that this was the first surefire, by his performance, Hall-of-Famer to admit this," Gammons said, "and therefore I thought keeping him talking, and getting as much as I could out there, was very important. I really felt my first duty was to get his words onto my employer's network."
I like Gammons, but this is a point I have made before about him and how he is similar to political journalists like Bob Novak and David Broder, and for that matter like Woodward and Bernstein. We all sometimes want to see reporters get adversarial with their subjects the way we lawyers do, to be fearless seekers of the truth...and there is something to be said for that style of journalism, but it's also worth remembering that lawyers get to be lawyers because we can use subpoenas to force people to talk to us. Journalists can't, and unless they have a Tim Russert type national perch, their targets are rarely at their mercy. Gammons represents a different type of reporter, the source-greaser; when Gammons tells you something, he's not telling you what he believes, he's relaying something one of his sources wants you to believe. The upside of that is that this kind of reporter gets a lot more access to powerful people; the downside, of course, is fluff interviews and a lot of disinformation, especially when the identity of the source isn't disclosed. You always have to bear in mind which kind of reporter you are reading.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2009 | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 2/18/09
*Megan McArdle on whether World War II ended the Great Depression. Francis Cianfrocca responds here.
*The New Republic profiles the Politico's knack for scoops and - what comes with that - penchant for inaccuracy. That said, you can smell the jealousy from the newspapermen quoted here (is Bill Keller really the guy to talk about unsustainable business models?)
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:23 PM | Basketball | Blog 2006-14 | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Known Unknowns
Athletics Nation talks to Will Carroll and comes up with a lot of uncertainty about injured A's. I agree with his view that guys who get hurt a lot tend to keep getting hurt a lot even if the injuries seem small and unrelated.
FOOTBALL: The Greatest Running Backs of All Time
The news that the Jaguars were releasing Fred Taylor started a discussion with some friends about where the oft-injured Taylor would rank among the great running backs, and where he might have ranked if he'd been healthy. As I often do with such discussions, I thought I'd take the broader context to evaluate how the numbers stack up for the all-time great running backs. First I'll offer the data, then a handful of my own thoughts on it.
Now, when you look at baseball statistics, it's critically important to do three things. The first is to understand context. A baseball player's statistics are influenced by many external factors - changes in the game over time, ballpark effects, the influence of teammates, the length of the season. For a variety of reasons, it's much harder to separate football statistics from the context of time and team. The numbers I'm setting out below are not adjusted for the changing offensive contexts these running backs played in, whether they worked in sophisticated passing games (Roger Craig, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James), behind great offensive lines (John Riggins) or great blocking backs (Emmitt Smith), or indoors (Barry Sanders) or wartime (Steve Van Buren), or whether they were just given the ball and told to hope the other 10 guys on the field might run into a defender now and then (Sanders, Eric Dickerson). I have, however, averaged their statistics per 16 scheduled games, as a way of evening out the old-timers who played 12- or 14-game seasons or the more recent players who played during strikes (I counted 1987 as a 12-game season except for Craig, who crossed the picket line). Although the job of the running back has changed less than the jobs of other offensive players over the past seven decades, the latter-day backs, reflecting the higher-octane offenses of modern football, are nonetheless overrepresented. I could have run averages per game played, but I preferred to let the numbers reflect the costs to their teams of injuries to guys who missed a lot of games (like Taylor) or whole seasons (Riggins, Garrison Hearst). Durability matters when you are building a football team. The "G/16" column on the chart shows how many games, on average, each of these guys played per scheduled 16 games over his prime seasons, including entire missed seasons (yes, Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Eddie George and Roger Craig never missed a regular season game in their primes).
Second, and relatedly, you have to figure out what portion of a player's career you are evaluating. My own preference, in having these kinds of debates, is neither to zero in on a player's single best season nor to just lump together career totals (since they may include one guy who hung it up in his prime compared to another guy who was just as good and stuck around a bunch more years as a part-timer - a decision that really has nothing to do with how good they were in their primes). So, I'll set out here the per-16-scheduled-games averages not for these running backs' whole careers but for that section of their careers you would identify as their primes, in general the seasons when they were a team's #1 back. In doing so, I've set aside the years after these guys broke down (in most cases, running backs break down pretty quickly and dramatically, around age 29 for the usual back, 31-33 for the longer-lasting ones) and the lengthy second acts of backs like Marcus Allen and Ottis Anderson. The resulting focus rewards the guys who concentrated their best seasons all together. Consistency matters when you are building a football team.
Third, much as I've done for similar baseball columns, I'm breaking the numbers into two charts, one of guys whose primes were longer (7 years or more), one of the guys who were only on top of their games for 4-6 years. It's apples and oranges to compare a per-seaon average of a guy who starred for 5 seasons to one who starred for 10. Longetivity matters when you are building a football team.
More specific to football, once those preliminaries are out of the way, is what numbers to use to rank the running backs. I don't pretend to have a perfect answer to that, but I chose to organize the data around the most basic figure: rushing yards per team game, listed as Yds(R). I could have used combined rushing and receiving yards from scrimmage (YSCM), and you can re-sort the list if you like by that, as in some sense it's a truer picture of a back's total offensive contribution. But while catching the ball well is a useful skill, it's also true that receiving numbers are much more influenced by the team and the era a guy played in, whereas running the football is the purer, man-with-ball-versus-eleven-defenders task that every running back has faced down through the game's history.
The sample here is the 49 running backs who compiled at least 7,000 career rushing yards through the 2008 season, plus five other notables who popped up on various career leader lists (Van Buren, Marion Motley, Larry Johnson, Billy Sims, and Gale Sayers). I'm hoping the charts here will be more an argument-starter than an argument-finisher, as of course I haven't even touched here on playoff performances or other factors beyond the raw, regular season numbers. But we can at least appreciate those numbers for what they can tell us about the yards these men traveled with a football in their hands.
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RRTD=Combined Rushing/Receiving TDs. (No stats are included here on kick/punt returning, and no commonly used stats exist on blocking). Fmb=Fumbles.
To save you the time of adding it up, the top 10 ranked by yards from scrimmage rather than yards rushing would be Brown, Tomlinson, Barber, Dickerson, Payton, Faulk, Sanders, Martin, Allen and James. No, I didn't expect Tiki to rank that high, either. Next, the shorter primes:
Tomlinson may be getting close, but when you adjust for the length of the schedule, I have to come away convinced that there are three guys who really were the class of the all-time field - Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and Walter Payton - with the next tier consisting of Tomlinson, Erick Dickerson (who had a shorter career, fumbled a bit much and wasn't much of a receiver) and Emmitt Smith (who is a bit down the chart but had the most seasons as a productive workhorse back). I'd probably rank them thus:
Brown is just the guy you can't get around; he was so good and so far ahead of his contemporaries, he tops the list regardless of whether you include receiving yards, he trails only Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander in TDs, and the only two guys with higher yards per carry figures (Motley and Joe Perry) carried the ball a lot less.
Sanders was always a favorite of mine, and aside from Lawrence Taylor (the one and only LT), he's the most spectacular performer I have ever seen on a football field, a guy who could just leave your jaw hanging open. The knock on him - that he wasn't the best goal-line/short-yards back compared to Emmitt Smith - was a little unfair given how little help he often had on his teams, but it's one small strike, and when you consider the overall package of Payton's fantastic duarbility, value as a receiver, and the fact that he won a championship, I'd give him a slight edge over Sanders.
(As an aside, when you look at the ages at which these guys mainly burned out, my guess is that when both Brown and Sanders hung up their spikes, they probably only had another year, maybe two, before the miles caught up with them - and of course, Sanders had played his whole career under the shadow of a high school knee injury that somehow never recurred despite his doing things on nearly every play that would blow out a normal man's knees).
After those six guys, it gets stickier. Once you get past the very top tier, OJ Simpson quickly comes into the picture. But then, there's a reason why the Juice got to be such a big deal in the first place; the man could play some football, and even he can't take that away from himself. I won't even try to untangle the rest of the top ten - Terrell Davis has to be in there somewhere, but his prime was so short, and we are still too close to a lot of the other guys near the top to have perspective on their careers. I will say that while his numbers even here are depressed by including an injury-plagued season before his last 1,000 yard rushing year, Earl Campbell was just an amazing, amazing guy to watch in terms of pure power and speed; the best I have ever seen at just dragging multiple defenders along for those last few yards. (Sadly, if you have seen Campbell in recent years, he looks and moves as if he aged a year for every one of those yards).
And Fred Taylor, who got us into this discussion? Well, as you can see here, Taylor holds his own pretty well given how much time he missed; he's had a heck of a career and put up some big numbers per game actually played. But there's no substitute for being on the field.
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February 17, 2009
POLITICS: Quick Links 2/17/09
*Moe Lane notes a report about Obama looking for still more ways to rely on staffers, a script and prepared softball questions at his press conferences. Obama may have a lovely voice, but he really is not all that good an extemporaneous speaker and he relies very heavily on other people's prepared texts in ways that are really not all that dissimilar to George W. Bush and sometimes even more egregious. Yet, while Bush was pilloiried as being a moron due to his weak public speaking (and recall the outrage over the obscure Jeff Gannon), everybody lauds how articulate Obama is even when they can't remember a single thing he said. Is Obama, on balance, a better communicator than Bush? Sure he is even despite the vapidity of his pronouncements compared to the blunter Bush. But - I have made thisanalogy before in the comments here - comparing Obama's public speaking to Bush's is like comparing Vince Coleman's baserunning to Mike Piazza's; when that's your only skill, you have to be a lot better than a guy for whom public speaking is his biggest weakness.
*The NY GOP may not have suffered its last at the hands of Al D'Amato. But David Paterson has problems. Serious ones. And Kirsten Gillibrand may face a tough primary as well.
*Ted Stevens' conviction looks pretty shaky at this point, not that it really matters politically anymore.
February 16, 2009
POLITICS: Leave Barack Alone!1!1!1!
Mike Lupica had a column this morning weeping bitter tears over his shock and hurt that people are criticizing Barack Obama. Amazing, when you think about it, that the President of the United States should receive criticism. It's such a novel concept.
This was probably the funniest line in the piece:
Once, 100 days was the mythical grace period for a new President. This one doesn't get five minutes. In the process, he finds out that Washington is even lousier and meaner with partisanship than he knew before he got there.
You would almost think, from reading this, that Obama really did just get there. Not that he'd been a United States Senator the last four years (granted, he's been out of town campaigning for half that), doing things like voting against (and voting to filibuster) highly qualified Supreme Court nominees on the basis of ideology. Not that he'd refused to concede even the possibility of good faith on the part of supporters of the Iraq War, giving a speech blaming the war on a cabal of Jews and on political schemes by Karl Rove. To say nothing of the vats of acid spewed by the Angry Left likes of Lupica in recent years. And yet, somehow, they are surprised that politics, as Mr. Dooley remarked more than a century ago, ain't beanbag. Next, someone may even tell them that the world outside our borders is a dangerous place. But when everything in the world is as new to you every year, it is always a surprise.
February 14, 2009
POP CULTURE: Wait, How'd This Happen?
Old college friend Mike Sergott has a new site, "Appetite for Deconstruction." His look back in horror at the 2008 movie season is here. Check it out.
February 13, 2009
POLITICS: Barack Obama's Gift To Conservatives
President Obama, like many presidents before him, would like to have it both ways: get broad bipartisan support for his domestic agenda without compromising it. Of course, in the real world, politics doesn't work that way - you can charm, cajole, browbeat, bribe and blackmail your way to a handful of votes here and there, but unless (like Reagan) you have a substantial faction of the opposition party that is philosophically closer to you than to your critics, or unless (like FDR and LBJ) you have so many votes you don't need the opposition, you're going to have to give something to get bipartisan support.
And thus far, especially on the colossal pork barrel masquerading as a "stimulus" bill, Obama has made his decision, or perhaps just allowed Congressional liberals to make it for him: it's the Democrats' way or the highway:
As the president, he had told Kyl after the Arizonan raised objections to the notion of a tax credit for people who don't pay income taxes, Obama told Cantor this morning that "on some of these issues we're just going to have ideological differences."
The results thus far have been predictable:
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-The House version of the stumulus bill passed with zero Republican votes and got the barest minimum number of Republican supporters (three Senators) to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Yet even the pitiful concessions made have Nancy Pelosi vowing to force filibusters of any legislation that gets passed on party-line votes in the House rather than make compromises acceptable even to the most liberal Senate Republicans. The compromise bill has just passed the House, again with no GOP support.
-Obama's own choice for Commerce Secretary, Republican Senator Judd Gregg, ended up withdrawing his nomination due in part to the Administration's unwillingness to accept that he couldn't support the bill in its current form (and in part because of Obama's plan to remove control of the Census Bureau from his department and hand it over to political operatives in the White House in light of Gregg's opposition during the last census to unconstitutional partisan efforts to skew the count to favor Democrats).
[Oklahoma Democratic Congressman Dan] Boren said Obama "missed an opportunity" for the stimulus bill to be bipartisan.
Now, let's make one thing very clear here. Obama is proceeding on the view that the guy who wins the election gets to enact the policies he wants. Having won a decisive, if not overwhelming, majority of the popular vote and having a large Congressional majority at his back, he certainly has every right to do that. Democrats spent much of the 2001-2006 period moaning about how President Bush and Karl Rove pursued, at home and abroad, a 50-plus-one strategy of making only the minimum necessary concessions to get only as much bipartisan support as they needed to get things passed, and about how Tom DeLay & company ran the House with the goal of maximizing what they could get for the conservative agenda, regardless of the wishes of the minority. Republicans shouldn't whine about these things they way the other side did; they are the prerogative of an elected majority, and they promote accountability, so as to put the American people, in 2010 and 2012, in a position to judge the Democrats' handiwork. As Obama himself put it:
I'm not going to make any excuses...If stuff hasn't worked, if people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction then you'll have a new president.
But we can certainly point out what Obama and the Democrats are doing, as well as how it makes a complete fraud of Obama's claim that he ever intended to be a "post-partisan" president in any real sense, and complete hypocrites of the very people who whined the loudest when Bush took the same approach. What they are doing is giving a golden gift to conservatives who were feeling demoralized just a few short months ago.
A. The Pure Partisan Politics
As a matter of politics, conservatives, having only a small Republican minority to work with and a moderate-to-liberal faction still remaining within that minority, faced the dire threat that Obama would coopt enough Republican support for his initiatives to make it impossible to get out a distinct opposing message and hold him accountable if he fails. Experienced leaders know what Obama doesn't:
If Republicans support the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy gets better, Democrats will get all the credit.
If Republicans oppose the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy gets better, Democrats will get all the credit.
If Republicans support the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy does not get better, the two parties will share the blame.
If Republicans oppose the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy does not get better, Democrats alone will get the blame.
In other words, as a strictly political matter, the only major risk for the Democrats, and the only possible upside for Republicans, is if Republicans can distinguish themselves from what the Democrats are doing. And by taking the "I won" approach, Obama is allowing, even compelling, moderate Republicans to do just that. The result is an opposition that is energized and sees a path to recovery, rather than one that is divided, demoralized and outmaneuvered.
B. The Politics of the Policy
Second, when you look more closely at the policy involved and how it plays politically, the Democrats in general and Obama in particular are doing two unwise things at once: they are ceding critical high ground to Republicans while concentrating their own forces on the site of their own worst prior defeats. Let's consider what the Democrats are giving up:
(1) The Deficit
Democrats have made a lot of hay the last 8 years complaining about budget deficits, an argument they generally use as cover for tax hikes. Now, they are proposing to spend three quarters of a trillion dollars in pure deficit spending. Not a month into Obama's term, Democrats are forfeiting that issue entirely. Sure, a year from now they will use the deficits they doubled as an argument for tax hikes, but who will listen?
The GOP was already in the process of a grassroots-driven movement towards fiscal discipline and away from bailouts and "compassionate conservatism." Just when this internal dynamic is gaining steam, the massive price tag and Christmas list of liberal pet projects and pork cobbled together by the Democrats has surrendered entirely any pretense that the Democrats were going to compete with Republicans on this issue. You may recall, from the nationally televised debates, Obama's own, unambiguous, read-my-lips promise on spending (which he repeated several times):
[W]hat I've proposed, you'll hear Sen. McCain say, well, he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending cut.
Now, lots of people have gotten elected by promising to reduce the deficit - FDR and Reagan being two successful and popular presidents who ran on such promises and got away with doing nothing of the sort - but the deficit is a goal, with three inputs (tax policy, spending policy, and economic performance), and the public tends to discount such promises accordingly. But spending policy alone is a choice. And we all know there will be no $800 billion spending cut bill to offset the 'stimulus.' As Obama himself put it:
You get the argument, well, 'this is not a stimulus bill, it's a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? That's the whole point.... No seriously, that's the point.
Not only spending, in fact, but substantial pork-barrel spending; the vast sums directed to pet causes of powerful Democrats and liberal interest groups having nothing to do with stimulating the economy have laid bare the fraudulence of Obama's claim to be against government by earmark and favor. Big Government is back, baby, and it's so hungry.
Finally, having staked themselves to big government spending and record deficits, Obama and the Democrats appear to be gambling on one thing: results. They are, as I noted, in a position to benefit if the economy improves on their watch. Indeed, Obama got elected in large part by raising expectations that the economy would get better under him, expectations he seems already to recognize he can't meet. The problem is twofold.
Number one, of course, given the natural operation of the business cycle and the size of the losses in the housing crisis that have to work their way through the system, it will be months at least before things get better. And number two, they run the risk of betting on a strategy that is likely to make things even worse than recessions usually are.
Remember: we haven't had liberal management of the economy in so long - three decades - that people have forgotten what it looked like in the 1933-52 and 1965-80 periods. Bill Clinton came to office with a mixed bag of policy initiatives: liberal goals like marginal tax hikes, nationalizing health care and an energy (BTU) tax, and more conservative promises like free trade agreements and welfare reform. Clinton got his tax hikes and a few additional regulatory statutes passed (we'll leave aside for now the ticking time bomb of his housing credit policy), but his health care plan and BTU tax died even in a Democrat-controlled Congress while the free trade agreements (NAFTA and GATT) passed, and once we had a Republican Congress, they teamed up with Clinton to pass welfare reform, a capital gains tax cut, and a number of smaller conservative priorities while restraining spending and ultimately running a budget surplus. In other words, the overall record of the Clinton years was moderate and bipartisan given the deals that got made between the two sides. (Clinton also benefitted from external good fortune that bears no resemblance to the conditions of today - a period of relative world peace and huge growth in democracy and free trade worldwide).
By contrast, Obama and the Democrats have now committed themselves irrevocably to massive growth in government spending, and the odds are that they are not done there, as we are likely to see the ghosts of economic liberalism past and of Eurosocialism present come knocking: more marginal tax hikes, a government takeover of health care, protectionism, massive new regulations, measures to tip the labor-management balance towards unions, restrictions on energy production, you name it. No serious adult can believe that any of this will help the economy; Obama, by always talking about "saving" rather than creating jobs, seems to imply that he, too, recognizes that he can't promise any improvements. Indeed, liberal economic policy has never been about enabling growth so much as assuming it will happen and fighting over how to divide the spoils. Republicans and conservatives can feel secure in their opposition to these economic policies because we know they don't work.
So there you have it: Obama and the Democrats, by ramming the 'stimulus' bill through on a party-line basis and bulldozing Republican opposition, have taken ownership of old-time Big Government liberalism; they have surrendered to Republicans the very issues that divided the GOP and attracted moderate swing voters to the Democratic banner; they have energized and galvanized their opponents; they have discarded the pretense of bipartisanship; and they have, in the end, lashed themselves to the mast of policies that are proven not to work. The only thing the stimulus bill will stimulate is conservatism.
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BUSINESS/POLITICS: Man Up, Wall Street
A hilarious column from Michael Lewis that's too good to excerpt. Lewis has the rare gift of two-sided satire, by which he can simultamneously needle both Wall Street's traditional mindset and the fools on Capitol Hill who want to change it. The serious question underlying his Swiftian proposal is whether the big financial firms can regain their health if they have to willingly submit to political micromanagement of all their decisions.
February 12, 2009
POLITICS: Cutting Off Our Noses
Megan McArdle on the Democrats' latest folly:
New York City's main industry lies in ruins; its finances are in peril; its housing market is falling. What does the city need? That's right, tougher rent controls!
This bill, if it passes the Senate, will represent the third time that New York has reneged on its promises not to control new housing. From what I can tell, it's trying to claw back decontrols of units that were built under laws providing for time-limited stabilization in exchange for tax breaks. Just like the first two times, it's a good bet that New York City will now have a damn hard time getting anyone to build anything except another skybox for rich patrons who do not arouse the sympathy of the New York State legislature. Every time a New Yorker curses their dirty, run-down shoebox of an apartment, they should save an especially juicy oath for Sheldon Silver.
Economics is not their strong suit, to put it mildly.
HISTORY: Happy Birthday, Abe
Lest I let it pass unnoticed: happy 200th birthday to Abraham Lincoln.
RELIGION: Jesuits Accused of Catholicism
BASEBALL: At Least Dunn Will Do Something
.243 batting, .330 OBP, .376 slugging, 16 HR, 65 RBI, 68 Runs scored, 10 stolen bases, 71 walks, 130 strikeouts.
That's the average production the Nationals got from all their three outfield slots last season, when you add up everyone who played there. Nationals first basemen batted .269/.360/.402 with 14 HR, 69 RBI, 73 Runs, 13 steals, 79 walks, 115 K.
Yeah, I think they will like Adam Dunn in Washington.
LAW: You Know Times Are Tough When....
Meanwhile, Judge Reindhardt is calling out incompetent criminal appellate lawyers (you gotta click through to the opinion), illegal aliens are suing a rancher who tried to stop them wrecking his property, and even these guys and this guy apparently got played.
Strange days, indeed.
February 11, 2009
BASEBALL: Dr. K Raps
BASEBALL: Bargain Angel
The Angels get Bobby Abreu for a reported one year and $5 million. I know Abreu is 35 and not the power threat he once was, but that's a steal. The Mets should have nabbed him at that price.
POLITICS: Geaux Bobby Geaux!
The GOP will have its best possible spokesman, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, give the response to President Obama's sort-of State of the Union. This is excellent news. Jindal is the perfect counterpoint to Obama, he's outside DC, and his selection ducks the issue of whether to tab one of the 2012 presidential contenders for the job (I'm sure Jindal's running eventually, but he has to run for re-election in November 2011, which makes a presidential campaign essentially impossible, plus he appears to be committed to staying in Louisiana until he has made a whole lot more progress in reforming the state's famously criminal political culture.
BASEBALL: The Stache is Back
Jose Valentin will be Plan B or C or D (I lose track) in the Mets' collection of unappealing second base options. I assume if he doesn't make the team, he'll be hired as a coach or minor league manager ASAP.
POLITICS: Tell Me What To Think!
HISTORY/POLITICS: American History Idol
Gallup has a poll out asking Americans to pick their greatest president from five choices: George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. (H/T) Now, there are fair arguments to be had in ranking these five. Washington's greatness in establishing and embodying the office (I've been reading Akhil Amar's book about the Constitution's history and he argues - I'm sure he's not the only one - that Article II was basically written with Washington in mind all the way down to the title of "President") and in self-limiting his term, or Lincoln's valiant effort to hold the nation together? Reagan, who got more things right and fewer disastrously wrong than FDR, or FDR, who faced graver challenges and had a more sweeping effect on the nation and the office? Was JFK a good president, or an ultimately inconsequential one who served less than a single term and left most of his work unfinished?
Sadly, the results don't match up with serious answers to those questions. Lincoln ranks #1 overall, which is fine, but Washington is dead last. Among Republicans, Reagan is #1 (even as a big Reagan admirer, I find it a stretch to rate him over Lincoln and Washington), and far more ridiculously, among Democrats, Kennedy ranks first, with 35% of the vote.
Seriously....JFK? I mean, any thinking person who actually believes in what the Democrats profess to stand for has to prefer FDR to JFK. (Note that FDR and Reagan do best among people old enough to remember theier presidencies. Not so for JFK. Meanwhile, I don't know if we should be optimistic that the youngest voters are the only ones with the sense to give some real support to Washington). Kennedy was glamorous, and he's been lionized by a cult of personality ever since (I guarantee you there's an enormous correlation between people who think JFK was our greatest president and people who are big Obama fans), but his actual accomplishments are thin - and not only that, but his actual platform would have him branded a neoconservative today, what with his call for tax cuts, aggressive building of nuclear weapons, confrontation with the Soviet Union, and escalation of the war in Vietnam (Kennedy was still publicly backing the war as late as his prepared remarks in Dallas the day of his death, Oliver Stone to the contrary), and use of the CIA to assassinate foreign leaders. You can certainly find some strains of liberalism in Kennedy, but not really any more than in George W. Bush - the actual policy differences between Kennedy and Bush are pretty minimal. Yet his legacy has almost nothing to do with what Kennedy did or what he stood for.
February 10, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: The Brink
I've explained here, here, here, here, here, and here, among others, why I grudgingly supported the original Paulson Plan that formed the foundation of TARP and why I have been opposed to its expansion and to all the subsequent bailouts. This post gives a pretty good anecdotal glimpse into why the situation in mid-September 2008 was so uniquely dire compared to the more usual workings of even a fairly severe recession.
POLITICS: What If?
BASEBALL: Snoopy Goes Deep
Wezen-ball looks back at Charles Schultz's strips in which Snoopy chased Babe Ruth's home run record while Hank Aaron did. Being a Peanuts fanatic in my youth, I recall reading these strips in one of my many collections of Schultz's work.
Ben wrote largely the point I was going to make on A-Rod: he's probably the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as being able to point fingers at individual steroid users rather than just throw your hands up at the culture of the era. Which is, of course, great news for Bonds and McGwire.
To use a political analogy, it was one thing when Douglas Ginsburg could be bounced from his nomination to the Supreme Court (where Judge Ginsburg would have been a fine Justice, BTW) because he smoked pot; it was a political flap but not fatal when Bill Clinton finally admitted smoking pot, but really by the time of Clinton it was more about whether he'd been honest about it, and by then, Clarence Thomas was already on the Supreme Court having admitted to smoking pot. And then, we found out that Newt Gingrich had smoked pot, and Al Gore had smoked pot, and George W. Bush wouldn't even tell us what he'd done, and by 2008 we elected a President who admitted using cocaine and it wasn't even an issue, and there was even serious talk about hiring a guy to run a federal agency who'd been busted for heroin.
And the same defining-deviancy-down dynamic (in Pat Moynihan's words) is at issue here; we're about at the critical mass of MVPs and Cy Young winners with a steroid asterisk next to their names that we don't even notice the asterisk anymore, just as we have stopped even mentally discounting all the records set since the 162 game schedule's arrival in 1961. The story will get more play for a while, since A-Rod is still active, hugely unpopular, plays in the game's biggest media market and was dishonest about it to boot; but we'll probably look back and see that he was the moment when, behind the noise, we stopped really caring who took steroids and who didn't.
UPDATE: Looks like federal prosecutors are not among those who don't care, as they are charging Miguel Tejada with perjury for lying to Congress about steroids.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:35 PM | Baseball 2009 | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Other Catchers
As you may have noticed - the Guardian did - President Obama used a Teleprompter last night for the prepared remarks he delivered to open his press conference. If memory serves correctly, this is new - at least, I don't believe President Bush ever tried to bring a Teleprompter to a press conference.
This site seems to agree that the arrival of the Teleprompter at press conferences is a new thing. Ann Althouse thinks the placement of the Teleprompters off to the side was distracting; were they trying to hide them?
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Mr. Obama called reporters from a list on the podium, and reporters buzzed afterward about how he didn't seem to know a single reporter he called on - at least in the front row.
The president ticked through all the usual suspects, calling on the three wires and all five networks before hitting The Washington Post and New York Times, both of whom sent black reporters. The only other question from outside the box was from NPR.
Of course, expect this to be a typical Obama press roster: one question from Fox, which Obama and his team prefer to demonize, and otherwise a hit parade of liberals - NPR, CNN, the HuffPo, Reuters, Chuck Todd, and the AP's famously biased Jennifer Loven. You'd think Obama would at least bother to memorize their faces before calling on them, to make it a little less obvious.
SECOND UPDATE: Ed Morrissey notes that Obama managed to misrepresent the Republican proposals and get his Japanese economic history backwards.
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POLITICS: Oh, That Joe!
You know, maybe it is unnecessary to point this out, but had McCain won the election, I'm quite certain he would not have been put constantly in the position of taking this attitude towards the public utterances of his vice president.
February 8, 2009
POLITICS: The Politics of ... Something
February 6, 2009
LAW: 11th Circuit Backs Miami-Dade School's Removal of Book About Cuba From School Library
An opinion that was handed down by a divided panel of the 11th Circuit yesterday in American Civil Liberties Union v. Miami-Dade County is bound to be controversial: the court held, among other things (the opinion plus dissent run 177 pages) that a school board in Miami was justified in removing from the bookshelves of a school library a book that painted an unduly rosy picture of life in Cuba. The interesting part of the opinion, rejecting an ACLU challenge, runs from about page 59-104 of the slip opinion in pdf form, if you want to read it yourself. The core of the court's decision was its conclusion that removing a book that was factually inaccurate in failing to depict the reality of life under Castro was not a forbidden exercise of political opinion but a legitimate exercise of a school board's power to take factually false material off the shelves.
It requires no stretch of the imagination to recognize why this holding is a flashpoint; nearly all disputes over subjects ranging from evolution to global warming to Israel and Palestine involve warring camps both of which assert that the other's position is simply factually false and should not be taught to schoolchildren. As I have long argued in the case of media bias, the biggest single issue is deciding which stories have two legitimate sides and which don't. But to state the problem doesn't answer the question of where courts can allow democratically elected school boards to draw the line, or where those boards should draw the line if left free to do so, since the alternative involves the courts tying the hands of the board in decisions about removing books, while giving free rein to political agendas in the decision to buy the books in the first place.
As the majority opinion noted:
The dissenting opinion argues that if a school board's action in removing a book from its own library shelves does not amount to banning a book, then a school board can never ban a book. See Dissenting Op. at 172. So what? Nowhere is it written that a school board must be empowered to ban books. Because a school board has no power to prohibit people from publishing, selling, distributing, or possessing a book, it has no power to ban books.
Slip op. at 93. My own preference, and I think the reading most consistent with the Constitution, would be to get the courts out of the business entirely, but even that doesn't answer the core policy question of how the school boards should decide these kinds of brouhahas.
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Legally, the interesting point in the opinion was that the court did explicitly what courts often do without saying: it distinguished between the objective facts in the record that were left as they were found by the trial court and the inferences about motivation drawn from those facts, and made clear that the appellate court was applying its own judgment to the latter (appellate courts often do this, though it's a fair question whether they ought to):
[W]e will review for clear error only the district court’s findings of ordinary historical facts. Those are facts about the who, what, where, when, and how of the controversy - what the School Board did, when and how it acted, what various members of the Board said, and so forth. Those facts, already set out earlier in this opinion, are largely undisputed. By contrast, under the assumptions about the law that we have made for purposes of deciding this case, we must determine the "why" facts. Those are the core constitutional facts that involve the reasons the School Board took the challenged action - its intent, or more accurately, its motive for removing copies of the Vamos a Cuba book from the school libraries.
Slip op. at 61. The court made clear that however much controversy is inevitably involved either way, a school board simply can't be stripped of the power to decide that some books are just wrong:
Whatever else it does in the context of school library books, the First Amendment does not require a school board to leave on its library shelves a purportedly nonfiction book that contains false statements of fact. That is no less true if, as here, the falsehoods in the book make a totalitarian regime that is out of favor in this country look better than the true facts would. A preference in favor of factual accuracy is not unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
Facts about the conditions inside a country are not a viewpoint. They are facts. A book that recounts those facts accurately would not, for that reason, be political in nature. And a book that presents a distorted picture of life inside a country - whether through errors of commission or omission - does not, for that reason, become "apolitical."
Slip op. at 96-97. And the court chided the district court for what it saw as a bias against the Cuban-Americans on the school board (as well as the former Cuban political prisoner who originally objected to the book):
There is something of this flavor in the plaintiffs' argument and the district court's opinion: the majority of the School Board members were Cuban Americans; Cuban Americans despise Castro and his regime; therefore, the Board's removal of the book must have been motivated by their disagreement with the book's political viewpoint instead of by its factual inaccuracies....To the extent that is an argument, it confuses interest with motive. Cuban Americans are more interested than others in removing a book that falsely portrays, to the upside, life in Castro's Cuba, but that does not mean their motive for wanting the book removed is anything other than the fact that the book contains falsehoods. If the book accurately discussed life in Cuba, they would have no reason to have it removed.
Slip op. at 102-03. In addressing the merits, the court was unsparing in describing how a book full of anodyne descriptions of how life in Cuba is like life in America is at odds with the reality of the Castro regime:
On page 25 of Vamos a Cuba, the book states: "Cuba's beaches are good for swimming and boating. People like to dive and fish. There are also rowboat and sailboat races." [R:28:A Visit to Cuba:25] The truth, according to the uncontradicted evidence in the record, is that the traditional Cuban rowboat and sailboat races were abolished a half century ago. [R:19:48]
Slip op. at 73-75 (footnotes omitted). And so on. You may be uncomfortable - I am - with a court detailing such politically controversial facts, but facts they are, as established in the trial court in the usual way (the parties each submitted expert witnesses, affidavits, etc.), and if there is to be a judicial resolution, the court has no choice but to conclude whether or not there was a legitimate basis for the school board's finding of factual inaccuracy.
As I said before, when you think seriously about the issue instead of knee-jerking about how banning books is bad, this is at its root a hard question, as disputes about what is a political opinion and what is a fact, or what things courts should decide and what things the people should decide, usually are. Obviously, in this case, I was cheering along as the court recited sometimes unpopular truths about Castro's regime; but it's not hard to see how a liberal court could and might do the same to impose its own view of what the facts are about various controversies. Which is why, as usual, my sympathies lie with letting the mistakes that can be made, be made by elected representatives who at least can be held accountable when they declare that it is simply a fact that two plus two equals five.
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LAW: Get Well Soon, Justice Ginsburg
The nature of the Supreme Court - life tenure, the fact that most Justices tend to live long and step down only when illness or death forces the issue, and the enormous stakes in each new Justice's selection - tends unavoidably to set political commentators into full circling-buzzard mode at the first word that a Justice might be ill enough (or, in Justice Stevens' case, simply old enough) to make a vacancy imminent. Tom Goldstein argues that Justice Ginsburg's surgery for pancreatic cancer shouldn't trigger that reaction, despite her age, her prior history with cancer (which apparently makes chemotherapy impossible) and the fact that pancreatic cancer has a famously high and fast mortality rate (think of Gene Upshaw, who died days after his diagnosis). As Goldstein notes, that mortality rate is largely because the disease is rarely detected early, and Justice Ginsburg caught a break in being diagnosed early (as was the case for Steve Jobs).
Of course, as a Supreme Court practitioner, Goldstein has a vested interest in defending a sitting Justice (that's true of me as well), so take it with a grain of salt; but his point is well-taken as far as not jumping to conclusions. We should all wish Justice Ginsburg good health and the freedom to retire or not on her own terms, politics aside. And yes, I know that given the passions the Court arouses and the life-and-death issues it handles, that can be hard at times to do sincerely, but making the effort is itself good for your mental health if you spend too much time in the arena of political blood sport.
All that said, obviously the Obama Administration and Senate Republicans alike need to be thinking ahead to the possibility that her illness at least increases the odds of a vacancy this year, and political commentators being what they are, we can't help but speculate. Goldstein's own site had a list up last week of four possible names - Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Wood, Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Harvard Law Dean (and Solicitor General nominee) Elena Kagan, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Three things are clear at this early stage. Number one, if Justice Ginsburg's slot ends up being the first one filled, whether this year or later, the departure of the only remaining female Justice would make it politically impossible for Obama not to pick a woman, hence the names on that list. Number two, whoever it is better have their taxes in order. (I think it's safe to say that for partisan purposes, Republicans would salivate at Granholm, a politician with no judicial experience and a disastrous economic record in Michigan; as a lawyer, I'd rather see someone with actual, proven competence/excellence as a judge and/or lawyer, a point I made repeatedly during the Harriet Miers debate). And number three, to the extent that any nominee is at all controversial, Senate Republicans are going to have to decide if their longstanding principled stand in favor of bringing judicial nominees to a vote - there was no opposition at all to Justice Ginsburg, and no effort to filibuster Justice Breyer - will end up getting discarded, given (1) the prevailing sense that Republican disarmament on this issue has been unilateral and specifically that (2) Obama himself voted against Chief Justice Roberts and voted to filibuster Justice Alito, and is therefore uniquely poorly positioned to demand Senatorial deference to his selections. It's premature as well to make that decision (my own longstanding view is that it's legitimate to use the filibuster to slow down a nomination long enough to gather information and muster political opposition, but not to wholly deny a floor vote), but if there's a vacancy during Obama's presidency, it will surely arise.
BASEBALL: Dual Loyalties
February 5, 2009
BASEBALL: Curtains for Sheets?
So Ben Sheets may be having elbow surgery that will knock him out for half the season. Looks like he played chicken with the owners and lost; unless this is the result of genuinely new medical information, Sheets would have been better served having the surgery in October and jumping on a 1-year deal rather than trying to bluff some team into signing him with a bum elbow.
POLITICS: Entrenching Begins
Well, covering items #7 & 9 on our list, George Will reports on unconstitutional Democratic efforts to give a House seat to DC, while Dan Spencer notes that Obama is leaving the door open to use the equally unconstitutional "census sampling" method in the 2010 census by taking control of the Census Bureau away from the Commerce Secretary and having it report directly to the White House, in light of Obama having named as his second pick for Commerce Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who in 1999 passed an amendment that defunded sampling efforts (as I have noted before, running the census is one of the major jobs of Commerce). Meanwhile, #1 on the list, the card check bill, is on its way, and Obama's appointee for Labor Secretary is tied to lobbyists for the bill. And this is before we get into all of the payoffs to liberal interest groups in the inaptly named "stimulus" bill.
Don't say you weren't warned.
UPDATE: On the Gregg thing, as Neil Stevens points, out, of course, the Obama Administration certainly can control an executive agency it wants from the White House; that's the essence of the unitary executive theory, under which all executive power is ultimately wielded by and accountable directly to the president under the plain terms of Article II. And I don't object to Obama treating Cabinet bipartisanship as a transparent sham; I rather prefer he be out in the open about that. What concerns me is the substantive goal of using census sampling.
WAR: The Other Side
It is sometimes useful to be reminded of the true depths of the depravity of our enemies. Americans may have to do ugly, unpleasant and unpopular things at times to defend our nation, but efforts at moral equivalence have to first explain situations like this one. (H/T).
BLOG: Rest in Peace, Mark Kilmer
My RedState colleague Mark Kilmer has died. Erick has a tribute to him here. We only found out - Mark only found out - last week that his cancer had returned; none of us were expecting this to happen so quickly. For those of you who don't read RedState, Mark was best known for his weekly roundup of the Sunday morning talk shows, which he did every Sunday for years and which were widely read in DC. He will be missed.
February 3, 2009
Liberal blog Donkeylicious has some useful background on Bonnie Newman, who is apparently being appointed to replace Judd Gregg, who is leaving the Senate to become Commerce Secretary. The post is funny because the last paragraph demonstrates the blogger's complete inability to process self-deprecating humor. Dude, when Trent Lott's wit sails over your head...
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Name Dropping
Citigroup Inc., eager to quell the controversy over how lenders are using government bailout money, is exploring the possibility of backing out of a nearly $400 million marketing deal with the New York Mets, say people familiar with the matter.
In a statement Monday, Citigroup said that "no TARP capital will be used" for the stadium -- referring to government funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But as it revisits the pact, Citigroup is essentially acknowledging that the volatile political climate could make it untenable for the bank to proceed with the deal.
The Mets deal was attacked last week as an example of misplaced spending by financial institutions that needed bailout funds. Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) and Ted Poe (R., Texas) wrote to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday, asking him to push Citigroup to dissolve the Mets deal.
I can't really get into this story very far, and it's the worst kind of story as far as I'm concerned (I'm not a big fan of business-of-baseball stories and I hate being compelled yet again to mix baseball and politics), but a few quick observations:
1. So much for the brief era in which the Mets appeared to be getting closer to financial parity with the Yankees. I'm not that personally familiar with the state of the naming-rights market but I have to assume that it will be very hard to get an equivalent contract in terms of annual revenue or duration.
2. Sadly, if Citi does exit the deal, it will be tough to get a name that fits as well with the team and the city - I dread some phone company or regional bank that changes its name every three years, or something silly like "Vitamin Water Park." And I swear, if they end up naming it "Obama Field" I'm not going to be responsible for my actions.
3. As you can see if you've seen pictures or been by the park, the colossal Citi signs have been up for a while now.
4. We have not even seen the beginning of how Washington politicians are going to be micromanaging entities that have accepted taxpayer money. More on this another day, but while I supported the original Paulson Plan - which involved the federal government buying bonds in arms-length transactions in the hopes of recovering most if not all of its original outlay - I can't possibly support any of the more expansive bailouts that have been done since, not least because of the galloping corporatism that is unleashed when the government goes from being a mere customer of private business to an investor, donor and business partner.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Baseball 2009 | Business | Politics 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
February 2, 2009
POLITICS: You Should Have Gone To Kentucky, Mr. President
The state of Kentucky has, for the past six days, been under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Steve Beshear last Tuesday in the aftermath of heavy winter storms that knocked out power lines and is being followed by flooding as the snow melts. * On Saturday, the state finally called up the entire Kentucky National Guard, its largest mobilization in its history, and the storms have been blamed for at least 42 deaths across the region. * As many as 700,000 people were without power at one point, including nursing homes and shelters, and hundreds of thousands remain so. Some could be without power for weeks. As of Friday, things were getting worse in some places:
Some local officials are growing angry with what they say is a lack of help from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In Grayson County, about 80 miles southwest of Louisville, an emergency management official said the 25 National Guardsmen who have responded have no chain saws to clear fallen trees brought down by ice.
Marty Hudak, spokesman for Obama FEMA director Nancy Ward, said emergency personnel can't get to the people living (and dying) in these dangerous disaster areas because it's, well, too dangerous to do so.
Where was President Obama? Not in Kentucky, that's for sure; Obama may have ripped DC residents for being wimps about the snow in a city whose Democrat-dominated government is famously unable to clear snow (while he himself cranks up the White House thermostat - hey, as David Axelrod notes, "He's from Hawaii, O.K.?...He likes it warm"), but he's been nowhere to be found in Kentucky. Instead, Sunday night he was having a Super Bowl party to schmooze lawmakers (guest list here). * Of course, Beshear, being a Democrat, has to do what he can to defend Obama, but the best he can come up with in terms of the president's personal involvement is that he made a phone call to Beshear. * As of this morning, Beshear was still pressing for Obama to declare a major disaster to speed up federal aid. Beshear has been visiting the affected areas, but the president is not at his side.
Obama's defenders may argue that the new Administration, having only been put in charge of FEMA ten days ago, can't be expected to renovate the agency overnight. That's a fair point, even though it overlooks those same defenders' focus on Mike Brown's personal performance during Katrina. But the best way to overcome any lassitude on the part of the agency is to get the president publicly out in front of the issue, and the best way to inoculate Obama against political damage is for him to show some personal concern. He doesn't seem to see it that way.
I noted among my ten lessons from the Bush Administration the importance of the president just physically being there in hard times. Bush's physical presence was important to New York in September 2001, when he visited Ground Zero three days after the September 11 attacks; his physical absence was felt in New Orleans in September 2005, when he did a floyover two days after Hurricane Katrina hit but didn't make an appearance on the ground until four days after the hurricane made landfall, by which time his presidency had been permanently damaged.
One of the easiest of all things for Barack Obama to learn from Bush's successes and failures, then, is the importance of just taking some time out of his schedule to deal with disasters. Even if the crisis at hand right out of the chute is not a huge one, a new chief executive can set a tone for his administration early on by showing how he's going to do things differently from his predecessor, as Rudy Giuliani did in New York:
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The immediate task was to handle snowstorms that hit just as he took office. Every New Yorker with a historical memory knows that mishandling snowstorms, failing to sweep the streets of Queens, did in John Lindsay, became the symbol of his lassitude when it came to looking out for the average outer-borough homeowner. Aided by the fine Sanitation commissioner, Emily Lloyd, the new administration dodged that bullet. Then, immediately - something far more totemic.
In fact, Obama himself has made a major issue of attacking the prior Administration on its disaster response, even fabricating disasters to do so on the campaign trail:
When 12 people died in Kansas in May 2007 as a result of tornadoes, then-candidate Obama blamed the Iraq war for depleting the National Guard of needed resources to help the remaining victims.
He even continued the attacks upon taking over the White House, as the new Whitehouse.gov website snidely declares:
"President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He and Vice President Biden will take steps to ensure that the federal government will never again allow such catastrophic failures in emergency planning and response to occur."
The site also points out that Obama "visited thousands of Hurricane survivors in the Houston Convention Center and later took three more trips to the region" and worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to help rebuild in the aftermath of Katrina.
Obama should also remember how a botched response and cavalier attitude damaged his longtime political ally and patron, Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago; when a massive heat wave killed hundreds in Chicago in 1995, not only was the city scandalously unprepared, but Mayor Daley - like Obama in DC - made light of the heat in his public appearances. Obama, who launched his political career in Chicago that fall, should have learned something from Daley's unserious reaction.
One of the great advantages of the presidency, and one of its great responsibilities, is the personal presence of the president. If Obama learned anything from his predecessor, he should have gone to Kentucky.
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FOOTBALL/POLITICS: Mixing The Two, Part Two
I really could have done without Steelers owner Dan Rooney thanking President Obama, who he had endorsed during the fall election, in the immediate postgame interview last night. I swear, an awful lot of Obama supporters seem to have some sort of mental block that prevents them from acknowledging even the possibility of an opposing point of view. It's not that public figures outside politics should never do endorsements and the like; I accept the fact that they have their views, and I have mine. But there's a time and a place for everything, and really, sticking your politics in the face of the audience in the biggest sports telecast of the year is just obnoxious, and a good reason to root against the Steelers as long as the Rooneys have anything to do with them.
As for the game itself, first of all, this had to be the most referee-dominated Super Bowl in memory, and not in a good way. Some of the more intrusive calls were necessary (the holding call in the end zone that gave the Cards a crucial fourth quarter safety), some of them just looked wrong to me (calling back a Steelers TD in the first quarter).
If there's one guy who just impressed the heck out of me in these playoffs, it's Larry Fitzgerald. He didn't have a huge game for much of last night, but the late breakaway touchdown was a thing of beauty when everyone knew he'd be Warner's top target, as he'd been in so many big plays over the past five weeks.