Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
August 31, 2010
POP CULTURE: Just Because

Two videos for your...er, entertainment:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:39 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
August 30, 2010
LAW: The Billable Market

One of the enduringly stupid genres of legal writing is bemoaning the billable hour, which everyone hates but which has endured for a variety of practical reasons I've written about repeatedly in the past. This from the American Lawyer's AmLaw Daily is an extreme example of the genre:

Yet it survives because it has powerful defenders, including the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative five-man majority. Yes, the obstacles facing those seeking better days are that formidable.

The lawyers in Perdue v. Kenny A sued on behalf of children in Georgia's state-run foster care program. After eight years, the trial court awarded attorneys fees under the federal statute permitting winning plaintiffs to recover from the losers in such cases. In its April 2010 ruling, the Supreme Court adopted a rule that, ultimately, will reduce that monetary award by several million dollars.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito took offense at the suggestion that the prevailing civil rights lawyers should "earn as much as the attorneys at some of the richest law firms in the country." He seems to think that's a bad thing.

Importantly, the Court rejected the argument "that departures from hourly billing are becoming more common." It noted that "if hourly billing becomes unusual, an alternative to the lodestar method [hours worked times billing rate] may have to be found. However, neither the respondents nor their amici contend that that day has arrived."

But now how will that day ever arrive? In 1983, the Court first adopted the lodestar calculation as a useful starting point for fee awards. Now, its first significant ruling on the issue in almost 30 years has stripped away almost everything but the lodestar in determining a lawyer's appropriate compensation level.

Where's the room for practitioners to experiment away from hourly billing? Nowhere to be found in the majority opinion. In fact, the Court's analysis extends beyond civil rights cases to "virtually identical language in many of the federal fee-shifting statutes." It will influence any federal court evaluating any kind of fee request--fee-shifting or not, including bankruptcy petitions. State courts will continue to use the lodestar approach in probate, divorce, and other proceedings.

This ignores the fact that - as the Court pointed out - the Court would be open to reconsidering its rule if the market changed, i.e., the market for legal services not subject to court approval but negotiated between willing parties with their own money. The job of the court in approving fee-shifting awards (or in class action or bankruptcy cases) is to attempt to produce a judicial resolution that best approximates what would be negotiated privately. If the private market changes, so will the law.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:19 PM | Law 2009-14 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Hallowed Ground

I didn't watch Saturday's Glenn Beck-run rally in DC and don't have that much to say about it, but the orgy of apoplexy flowing from the rally's critics on the left has been hilarious. The most extreme example is Bill Press claiming that God should not be mentioned on the spot where Rev. Martin Luther King jr. spoke these words:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Perhaps Press was thinking, in looking at the Lincoln Memorial of Lincoln himself, and the words of his celebrated Second Inaugural Address:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Or maybe not.

Dave Weigel, meanwhile, gets it at least half right in the reactions to Beck & co. praising Dr. King's vision of a colorblind America:

Every January and (to a lesser extent) August, conservatives write columns arguing that King believed that we'd reach racial transcendence when we judged "the content of character" over the color of skin. Liberals rebut that by pointing out that King was a man of the left who worked for social justice and racial uplift and opposed the Vietnam War, and was condemned by conservatives for all of this. Liberals have the facts on their side; conservatives have the fact that King has become a secular saint, honored not for all of his politics but for a few specific achievements. Schoolchildren don't learn about the social democratic politics; they learn about him Having a Dream. So when Beck said he identified with MLK more than with the founding fathers, it was ironic; figuratively, he's been carved in marble for decades.

Of course, it's a dicey business to guess what Dr. King, like Lincoln or the elder Kennedy brothers, might have believed had he lived another decade or two, and seen the political realities that led the Great Society and its era to ruin and the nation rightward by 1980. Perhaps he would have drifted leftward, like Jesse Jackson; perhaps rightward, and come to be horrified by the politics of racial preferences and racial grievance. We can't know; we can only know what he did with the time that was given to him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:56 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
August 23, 2010
BASEBALL: That Meddling Catcher

Carl Crawford has reached base 5 times by catchers interference this season, 3 short of tying the single season record set by Roberto Kelly in 1992. A look at the records here.

The suspense is killing me, too.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 20, 2010
BASEBALL: Late Hits

It seems like the past year or two we suddenly have fewer guys having big years with the bat after age 35. How true is that?

Here's one back of the envelope look: players age 35 and up having an OPS+ of 140 or higher (minimum 300 plate appearances, which isn't that much). 140 is a pretty high bar to cover only really outstanding seasons, and of course it's not the same as looking at who improved after age 35, which I did in this post on Barry Bonds' unprecedented improvement after 35. But it's another cut on the data to add to the picture.

Let's look first by decade at the number of players having such seasons:

1870s: 1
1880s: 7
1890s: 4
1900s: 3

1885 is the only season in the first four decades with more than one player qualifying. Not surprising that it starts out low - seasons were shorter before the mid-1880s, life expectancies were much shorter, and since professional baseball only began in 1869, you'd expect there to be few guys in their late 30s in the 1870s but a few of the founding generation hanging on a decade later.

1910s: 8
1920s: 14

Bill James has noted the spike in veterans in the 1920s and early 1930s as a symptom of the game's upswing in prosperity motivating more guys to work harder at staying in the game longer. And so we see 3 in 1911, 2 in 1912, only two more in the 1913-21 period, but then 3 in 1923, 3 in 1924, and 5 in 1925 before guys like Cobb and Speaker got too old.

1930s: 10

2 each in 1930, 1931 & 1932. Babe Ruth turned 35 in 1930.

1940s: 11

The war: 3 in 1944, 2 in 1945, then 2 in 1948.

1950s: 15

A steady 2 a year in 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958. Ted Williams turned 35 in 1954, Stan Musial in 1956.

1960s: 6

You'd expect a bunch more than that with expansion, but the expanded strike zone among other things may have worked against older hitters. Only season with 2 was 1968 (Mays & Mantle).

1970s: 20

Boom. 2 in 1970, 6 in 1971, 2 in 1972, 3 in 1973, 2 each in 1974, 1975 & 1976, then just one between 1977-79. The 6 in 1971 remains the all-time high: Aaron, Mays, Frank Robinson, Clemente, Kaline and Norm Cash. Cash is the only one who looks out of place, but his career OPS+ was 139.

1980s: 16

None in the strike season, but 5 in 1982, 2 each in 1983, 1984, 1987 & 1988.

1990s: 13
2000s: 32

Just one between 1989-92, 5 between 1993 and 1996 (including 2 in 1995), but then we start to see the uptick: 3 in 1998, 4 in 1999, 5 in 2000, 4 in 2001, 3 in 2002, 4 in 2003, 5 in 2004, 1 in 2005, 3 in 2006, 4 in 2007, before petering out to 2 in 2008, 1 in 2009, and just one (Scott Rolen) at last check this year, although the season's not over yet (Jim Thome, who's already counted here for 2006 & 2007, is at a 160 OPS+ in 257 plate appearances and is playing pretty regularly).

Do we attribute all that to steroids? Certainly weight training and sports medicine are helping players age better, plus we had waves of expansion in 1993 and 1998, plus historically we seem to get more veteran hitters taking flight during good offensive times than bad. But the sharp uptick in the 1998-2007 period (35 guys in a decade) followed by the recent dropoff doesn't seem like it can be explained entirely by one or two outlying hitters or those other factors.

I'm not offering this as a systematic study of the issue, just another way of quantifying what we've all observed.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:09 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
August 18, 2010
BASEBALL: You Like Pizza, Don't You?

Matthew Artus at Always Amazin' has a funny-yet-sad-because-it's-true look at a focus group conducted by the Mets to gauge fan perceptions of the park, the organization, etc.:

The consultant asked if the group felt it important to know the team's overall strategy, which induced responses that the fans would really like to just be under the impression that the team has any kind of meaningful strategy to execute.

On the day after the Mets players admitted to struggling with the agony of defeat and a lost season, the consultant successfully brought the frustrations of the Mets fan base to the surface. The group described the Mets as "pathetic," "hopeless," and "embarrassing." They struggled to justify paying the prices asked by the ticket office to see the debacle currently sporting the orange and blue. They worried about raising their kids as Mets fans for fear of introducing them to this kind of heartbreak.

Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Joe Kernan of the Post argues that the Wilpons understand the need for an overhaul and lays out a plan that makes a good deal of sense, including hiring Kevin Towers as GM and - perhaps more significantly - adding a head of baseball operations between the Wilpons and the GM. Given that a lot of the organization's problems are believed to emanate from Jeff Wilpon's involvement, that may well be advisable, but it's always hard for owners to get the message that they and their families are part of the problem.

I don't dislike Jerry Manuel as much as a lot of people do, and even Omar Minaya has his virtues (eg, the scrap heap claim of RA Dickey), but both of them obviously need to go, and the housecleaning equally obviously needs to go further to the dysfunctional nature of the organization, its tendency to get into disputes like the current effort to dock K-Rod's pay or the offseason battle with Carlos Beltran over his surgery. This is a shabbily run organization, and there's no reason it has to be.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:34 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 17, 2010
POLITICS: Does Paul Krugman Understand Finance?

When it comes to the 'framing' of public discourse on entitlements, Paul Krugman is accustomed to writing columns that are more about issuing commands than making arguments; he has railed in the past even against President Obama for admitting that yes, we do have a problem paying for the explosive present and future growth of entitlements. But even for this genre of "there is no crisis" column, his latest is a head-scratcher:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
August 16, 2010
POLITICS: Enter The Death Panels

Ace on the Brave New World of health care.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:07 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: That Man

If you read only one thing this summer, make sure it's Joe Posnanski's feature in the latest Sports Illustrated (the magazine, not on the web as far as I can tell), on Stan Musial, the player, the man, most of all the sportsman in a sense we have too few of, and always have.

Statistically, there are too many amazing Musial numbers to recount; one of my favorites is that he finished in the top 5 in the league in batting average 17 times (top 5 in OPS 15 times, top ten 17 times). Musial was a great singles hitter (lifetime .331 average) and home run hitter (475 career homers left him sixth on the all-time list and second in NL history when he retired), but was even better known for his doubles and triples (Musial's third on the career doubles list with 725, and with 177 triples he's the only player to break in since 1925 to top 140; Lou Gehrig at 163 and Al Simmons at 149 are the only other lively-ball era players to approach that level and both started their careers two decades earlier). Here's Musial's average season over the 14-year period (not counting 1945, when he was in the Navy) from age 22 (1943) to 36 (1957), prorated to 162 team games played: 158 games, 706 plate appearances, 117 Runs, 111 RBI, 208 hits, 43 doubles, 12 triples, 28 homers, 90 walks, 34 K, 356 total bases, 13 GIDP, 5 steals in 7 tries, and a batting line of .341/.428/.585 (169 OPS+). His average season, for a decade and a half.

UPDATE from the comments: here's the web version.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:23 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
August 14, 2010
WAR: Obama Chooses Sides In Favor of the Ground Zero Mosque

Last night, as part of a Ramadan celebration, President Obama waded into the controversy over the Cordoba Initiative mosque within sight of Ground Zero. In so doing, he unambiguously chose sides with those who see this deliberate provocation as a positive good.

It is unsurprising, given what we already know about him, that President Obama would decline to support using government power to block the mosque project, and would decline to support withholding the various government favors needed to build it (although he carefully avoided mention of the State Department's employment of the mosque's Malaysian imam) - but he could have at a minimum used the opportunity to denounce in no uncertain terms what broad majorities of the public in and out of New York recognize: the fact that whatever the law says, the project itself is deeply and intentionally offensive. Especially when the president feels a matter is beyond his formal power, this is what the presidential bully pulpit is for. He has certainly not been shy in the past about speaking forcefully to denounce matters as provincial as a dispute between a professor and local cops in Cambridge. Instead, Obama offered only a tepid nod that failed to suggest he personally saw anything wrong with the selection of the Ground Zero location for a mosque:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:52 PM | Politics 2010 • | Politics 2012 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (55) | TrackBack (0)
August 13, 2010
BASEBALL: High Quality Starts, Part II

Following up on my earlier post on High Quality Starts, here's the rest of the post: a look at HQS as a percentage of starts, as well as a percentage of wins (unsurprisingly, for good pitchers these constitute an outsize component of wins).

Now, read this chart with caution. First of all, guys who spent a lot of years in relief will have relief wins - Kenny Rogers is last on the list with HQS representing just 37.9% of his wins, and while that accurately reflects that Rogers generally needed help to win, it's a little exaggerated by his time as a reliever. Then again, Sandy Koufax tops the list with 73.3% of his wins being HQS, despite having worked heavily in relief for much of the late 1950s.

Second, here is where you really see the differences in era - Koufax and Rogers are pretty much at the far poles here, but there's a very large difference between the Sixties and the 00s, between Dodger Stadium and Arlington.

Third, bear in mind that some guys here - e.g., Pete Alexander - pitched parts of their careers before 1920 (1920 was the last year of Alexander's prime).

That said, I tip my hat to the guy who topped even Koufax for percentage of his starts that were HQS: Jim Palmer, who came the closest to notching a HQS in half his career starts. And the guy who was the first real surprise among the immortals atop the list, Mel Stottlemyre. Maddux rated lower than I'd expected, but he did start a huge number of games, many of them late in his career after he'd stopped really being Greg Maddux.

Note the list of 200-game winners who turned in a High Quality Start in less than a third of their career starts: Jamie Moyer, Jesse Haines, David Wells, Herb Pennock (not counting the 61 starts Pennock made before 1920), Bobo Newsom, Andy Pettitte, Red Ruffing, Mel Harder, Burleigh Grimes, Ted Lyons, Waite Hoyt, Charlie Hough, Charlie Root, Jim Kaat, Chuck Finley, Joe Niekro and Jerry Reuss. Mostly this is a list of bad Hall of Famers, but other than Kaat (who has no business in a Hall discussion despite a high career win total), Niekro and Reuss, they're also all from high-scoring eras. I'll have to revisit later the question of Pettitte as a deserving Hall of Famer.

(Tommy John and Bert Blyleven both come in the 36% area).

Chart below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:03 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: High Quality Starts

We all know the definition of a "quality start": 6 or more innings, 3 earned runs or less. While the run scoring environments and expectations about pitcher workloads have changed over the years, a pitcher who throws a quality start - even the bare minimum 3-in-6 - at least has given his team, in most circumstances, a fighting chance to win.

Baseball-Reference.com now has pitcher-game data going back to 1920, and I thought it would be interesting to raise the bar to high quality starts: games where the starter had earned a win with ordinary offensive and bullpen support. I picked 7 innings, 2 runs (earned or otherwise) or less. Throughout the lively ball era, that's generally been a good day's work for a starter, and we assume that a starter who does that will almost always take home a W, or has been the victim of hard luck if he doesn't.

Through Wednesday's action, 188 pitchers have thrown 100 or more High Quality Starts since 1920; 22 of those have thrown 200 HQS, 10 have thrown 250, and only two have thrown as many as 300 High Quality Starts. A full chart is below the fold. Some of the breakdowns may surprise you. The two pitchers to throw 300 High Quality Starts? #2 is unsurprising, Roger Clemens with 308. #1? Don Sutton, 310 of them. Sure, he was never dominant, he pitched in an ideal pitcher's park in a great time for pitchers, and he had a cheesy perm, but 310 times he went to the hill and earned a win, more than any other modern pitcher. If that doesn't explain for you why he's in the Hall of Fame, I'm not sure what will.

Only three eligible pitchers have thrown 200 or more HQS and are not in the Hall of Fame: Tommy John (257), Bert Blyleven (248) and Frank Tanana (204); Clemens, Maddux, Randy Johnson, Glavine, and Mussina aren't eligible yet. Honestly, I had expected the breakdowns here to feature Blyleven more prominently as a hard-luck guy, but he doesn't especially stick out. Still, 248 HQS is a heckuva credential. I'm marginally more impressed with John's Hall of Fame case from looking at these breakdowns, but still not sold on him. Dizzy Dean, whose career is sort of the mile marker for the shortest career you can have as a Hall of Fame starting pitcher, notched exactly 100 HQS, winning 91 of them out of his 230 career starts and 150 career wins (12 of Dean's career wins were in relief).

The largest number of wins from HQS? Warren Spahn, 249. Spahn is, not coincidentally, the only man in that time period to throw 200 complete games in which he allowed 2 runs or less, a staggering 266 of them, in which he went 242-24. You hang on that long in a well-pitched game, sooner or later either Hank Aaron or Eddie Mathews is going to bail you out.

The pitcher with the largest number of High Quality Starts in which he didn't earn a win? Greg Maddux, with 92, followed by Sutton (89), Nolan Ryan (82), Tom Seaver (78), John (76), and Clemens (74). If you pencil in a W for each of the times Maddux threw a HQS and got jobbed, you get 447 career wins. (Clemens would sit at 428, Sutton at 413, Spahn and Ryan at 406 each. Walter Johnson would have 433 and Grover Alexander 399 just if you added their HQS without a win from 1920 on).

The most losses in HQS? Robin Roberts with 45, followed by Ryan (41), Seaver and Gaylord Perry (40 each).

The pitcher most likely to notch a W when throwing a HQS? Lefty Gomez (93.5%), which makes sense when you have Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and either Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio hitting behind you; most of the top 10 is from the 1930s. Least likely? Slow-working Steve Trachsel (60.8%), followed by Ron Darling. The average pitcher among this sample won 75.4% of his HQS.

Most likely to lose a HQS? Dolf Luque (28.2%; Luque, the pride of Havana and my high school Spanish teacher's favorite pitcher, was 76-31 with an 0.98 ERA in 110 HQS); least likely, Tim Hudson (2.8%). The average was 11.9%. Hudson's record in his HQS? 142 starts, 104 wins, 4 losses, 34 no decisions. Probably the biggest factor for Hudson was just that a lot of his HQS came in the really high scoring early part of the last decade, but also it may help that even at his best, Hudson - when he was surrounded by Zito & Mulder - was rarely a guy that either team would rejigger their rotation around, so I suspect he never faced a disproportionate number of aces the way a Maddux or a Randy Johnson or a Koufax or a Seaver or a Whitey Ford (especially Ford) did. Note that the top 10 least likely to lose a HQS include David Wells, Gomez, Ron Guidry, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, and Eddie Lopat. I think you can see a trend. But #3 is Mike Hampton.

Most likely to get a no decision? Darling (24.8%), who of course was famous for this with the Mets (that's how Roger McDowell won 14 games in 1986 and Jesse Orosco 8). Least likely? Bob Lemon (0.7%), followed by Gomez and his teammate Red Ruffing. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lemon and Ruffing were both excellent hitting pitchers. The average? 12.7%.

The average for the sample is 8.41 IP per HQS, and a complete game in 57.3% of those; the latter in particular has declined sharply over time. Four early pitchers (Bucky Walters, George Uhle, Lefty Grove and Ted Lyons) averaged over 9 innings per HQS, while Johan Santana at 7.49 is the only pitcher below 7.5, and he'd be at 7.5 if you included yesterday. Uhle, a 1920s workhorse, also tops the field by completing 98% of his HQS; Santana at 9% is the only guy below 14%.

The best ERA in his HQS? Juan Marichal, 0.87. Worst? Brad Radke, 1.46. I didn't run an average but it's probably around 1.10.

Seven pitchers have thrown 10 or more HQS in the postseason since 1903: John Smoltz (14), Tom Glavine (14), Curt Schilling (13), Greg Maddux (13), Andy Pettitte (12), Orel Hershiser (10), and Whitey Ford (10). It says something about the modern postseason that Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux each have just one World Series ring to show for all those outstanding postseason starts.

I'll have a followup post looking further at HQS numbers. The full chart is below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 12, 2010
POP CULTURE: Concert Review: Maroon 5 at Jones Beach

My wife and I had an early celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary yesterday, spending the day at Jones Beach capped by seeing Maroon 5 in concert at Jones Beach Theater. My review:

The Band

Maroon 5 is the best pop band that still gets played on the radio today, which says maybe more about the state of pop bands today, but they are a good band. It may not have seemed it at the time, but the 1990s and the very early 2000s were actually a great time for pop bands - among others, the Gin Blossoms, Fastball, the Counting Crows, the Spin Doctors, Matchbox 20, the Foo Fighters (I count them as a pop band), Sugar Ray, 3 Doors Down, even jam bands like Blues Traveler and the Dave Mathews Band that had their pop moments. Few of those bands are still on the pop music scene, although some of them are still recording in one form or another (I got the Gin Blossoms' last album and will probably eventually buy the one they're putting out next month; Dave Mathews is obviously still a big star).

Maroon 5 is basically a 21st century answer to The Cars, a pop music machine that manages to turn out consistently good stuff even if a lot of it sounds alike. Granted, they'd be a better band if frontman Adam Levine sounded more like Ric Ocasik or - better yet - Michael Hutchence of INXS, but Levine's voice does have its own character, and the softness of his vocals undoubtedly helps the band continue to get airplay in today's increasingly feminized pop radio market. Their first two albums, 2003's Songs About Jane and 2007's It Won't Be Soon Before Long, were both about 8-10 deep in quality songs, which is a sign of people who know what they're doing. I also liked Gotten, Levine's song on Slash's new album, although it's not one of the very best songs on that album.

The Venue

Of all the places I've seen concerts (full list here), the Nikon Theater at Jones Beach is unquestionably the best, a gorgeous outdoor waterfront amphitheater with good acoustics (this helped make up for the fact that the tickets cost as much as the last two shows we saw - the Saw Doctors and Kelly Clarkson - combined, but we had seats this time instead of general admission). This was the second show we've seen there, the first being Harry Connick about 15 years ago. The crowd was pretty varied - a lot of girls in their teens and twenties, but also a fair number of gray-haired types (my wife thought this was unusual, but hey, Billy Joel is 60 now and Ringo Starr is 70; there's a whole generation in there) and even, bizarrely, some families with small children. The show appeared to be sold out or very close to it.

I finally gave in this time and joined my wife in wearing earplugs to the concert, which turned out to be a great decision. We knew the show would be really loud when we heard the band doing sound check from the beach parking lot in the afternoon, and while the earplugs were uncomfortable and made conversation difficult, they really didn't interfere with hearing the show (even the banter from the stage) with crystal clarity, yet unlike other recent shows I didn't have ringing in my ears and difficulty hearing for days afterwards. Recommended.

The Opening Acts

While it was still daylight, the show started with an unbilled opening act named VV Brown, a woman with an English accent in a skintight catsuit. She was energetic and had some decent pop-rock songs (she also did a passable cover of Coldplay's Viva La Vida), but it was pretty clear that most of the audience had no idea who she was, an especially serious hazard for an opening act when you don't tell people in advance she'll be performing. I was wondering if maybe she was some sort of house band, playing to a half-empty theater.

Next up was Owl City, which is sort of a one-man recording artist (a guy named Adam Young who started making music in his parents' basement in Minnesota and, well, looks the part) under the name of a band. Owl City has to be the wierdest act I have ever seen live. His band opened with (counting him) three keyboardists, a drummer, a violinist and a cellist, although he and one of the other keyboardists then switched to holding guitars (there was, however, little in the way of audible guitar-playing sounds). Impossibly skinny, with a scraggly beard and dressed like Han Solo from the original Star Wars, Young seemed to be carrying on an extended Emo Phillips imitation with his helium voice, spastic dance moves, precious lyrics and - near as I could tell - performing his entire 10-song set with his eyes closed. (Quote from the stage between songs: "Hey, there are a lot of pretty girls here! I get really nervous around pretty girls.") He did have kind of a cool light show. The crowd roared its approval when he finally got to Fireflies, his big pop-radio hit, which I don't like but at least it was finally something familiar, and to Young's credit he sounded live pretty much like he does on record. I wouldn't rank Owl City with the most excruciating opening acts I've seen (those would be the 1-2 punch of Primus and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy opening for U2 in 1992), but it was definitely the most surreal.

The Main Event

Maroon 5 went on around 9:30 and played a little under 2 hours, cruising through all their singles as well as a number of songs from Songs About Jane as well as a cover of an Alicia Keys song I'd never heard (that was the only cover, although in the middle of Secret, Levine broke into a few verses of What's Love Got To Do With It) and, if I recall correctly, three songs from their upcoming album, including their current single Misery (which they opened the show with) and a song called Stutter that I liked - here's a live version from last week:

(It's a sign of a good live act that they can sell a song the crowd hasn't heard).

My wife and I were happy that they played our favorite song by the band (Won't Go Home Without You, which has an opening and rhythm reminiscent of Fastball's pop classic The Way) but each missed one song from the last album - I'd have liked to hear Little of Your Time, she wanted to hear Goodnight Goodnight. The show closed with a two-song encore of Makes Me Wonder and Sunday Morning. The band was obviously eager to show off their rock chops on a couple of songs (Harder to Breathe, Wake Up Call and The Sun all featured more guitar theatrics and a heavier rhythm section than you might have expected from the record), but balanced with the ballads and the more bouncy pop tunes, for which the band lowered a giant disco ball (the stage setting was otherwise a large curtain painted to look like a street in the band's native Los Angeles).

Levine's voice was mostly as on the records. He's kind of a wiseass and a little full of himself (the ladies love him, and he knows it, basking in the oohs and ahs when he tossed his shirt into the crowd to play the rest of his set in a tank top), but funny at times and not without some self-deprecating humor (after the Alicia Keys cover: "this next song is one of ours, if you can't tell because I sometimes sound like a girl.") He did one routine about handing out Maroon 5 condoms that drew some dirty looks from the crowd, and when he split the audience into a sing-along for She Will Be Loved, had a funny riff about the reaction of men in the crowd to being asked to sing (including the guys who were "like dude, I'm here because my girlfriend likes you, let's just get this show moving along.").

As I've noted before, I've mostly seen really good concerts, so I can't rank these guys with the top tier of shows I've seen, but it was a good concert and well worth seeing if you like Maroon 5's music.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:43 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
August 10, 2010
WAR: The Ground Zero Mosque, Common Decency and the War

The debate over the "Ground Zero Mosque" presents two separate questions:

(1) Whether the mosque is wrong and should be stopped.

(2) Whether some arm of the government should be the ones to stop it.

Tellingly, liberal defenders of the project have talked almost exclusively about the second point, and avoided the first.

While I joined wholeheartedly in the RedState editorial last week condemning the project and calling for a halt to it, I've been a bit agnostic on the second point myself. There are constitutional and statutory restrictions on what the government can or should do to interfere with the building of houses of worship, and those restrictions exist for good reasons, even when in a particular case the house of worship represents a deliberate provocation. Even without the government's involvement, the mosque project itself is indefensible on its merits, and can and should be subject to public criticism and shame and any other lawful private sanction that can be brought to bear against outrageous conduct (a point Ed Morrissey makes here).

But as we are now seeing, the government itself - including the Obama Administration - is more involved with the Cordoba Initiative behind the mosque than we had been led to believe, and its proponents are even more selective in their view of tolerance and dialogue. And one thing is very clear: this is not a strictly local issue in any sense. It is part of a crucial national debate.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:50 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Ted Stevens Killed in Plane Crash

Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has been confirmed killed in a small-plane crash in Alaska this morning. Stevens was 86. It's ironic that Senator Stevens would meet his end in a plane crash; he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross in World War II and survived a 1978 plane crash that killed his first wife.

Stevens was a monumental figure in Alaska politics and the Alaska GOP, and had a long and fascinating life - I'd recommend taking a few minutes to peruse his biography on Wikipedia (for want of a better source, though the Anchorage Daily News will doubtless have a more comprehensive profile shortly) for samples of some of the now-uncontroversial parts of his life story, from delivering newspapers with news of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping to why he didn't become a fighter pilot to his days as a cigar-chomping frontier prosecutor to his Incredible Hulk neckties. (For example - more on which here - Stevens was instrumental in overcoming then-President Eisenhower's concern that Alaska statehood would leave Alaska vulnerable to Soviet invasion given its proximity to Russia). Stevens throughout his career was a proponent of a strong military. During World War II he flew C-46 and C-47 transports behind enemy lines over China, earning him decorations as well from the Nationalist Chinese government.

While at the end of his decades-long Senate career he became something of a poster boy for Senators who'd stayed in DC too long and grown too cozy with its big-spending, favor-dispensing ways - one of RedState's most controversial editorials was when we advocated for him to be voted out of office in 2008, after which it was revealed that he'd been wrongfully convicted of improprieties by Justice Department misconduct - those later years and the various political and policy disagreements that inevitably surround long-serving Senators shouldn't obscure the whole of the man's life.

RIP.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:58 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
August 9, 2010
POLITICS: Um....Oops?

Harry Reid finally reads the health care bill, discovers that it's bad for Nevada and pleads with HHS for relief. This would be hilarious if what the bill visits on the nation wasn't so sad.

There are few people in politics more embarrassing to watch than Harry the Insult Comic Senator, a nasty little man who lashes out at better men, who famously and wrongly declared the Iraq War lost, who had to apologize for touting Barack Obama on the grounds of his lacking a "Negro dialect," who never can see above bitter and petty partisanship. The fact that he's now reduced to begging for exemption from the very legislation he championed is a fitting coda to Reid's career.

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty takes a look at Reid's and Sharron Angle's campaign strategies, and mentions a few more Reid lowlights I had passed over, like his insistence that no illegal immigrants work in the construction industry in Nevada (granted, most of Nevada's construction industry is unemployed these days).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:25 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Reapplying For The Job

Good news: U2 is back on tour following Bono's back surgery (after cancelling a battery of shows that had already permanently messed up the 2010 schedules for a bunch of MLB teams), and debuted two new songs at their return show Friday. This one, Glastonbury, sounds like it might be pretty good with better audio quality, and requires Bono to wail harder than he usually does these days:

The other, North Star, is below the fold:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Frenchy Must Go

OK, this is perhaps the most obvious post I've ever written, but it needs to be said: Jeff Francouer must go. The Mets have sufficiently faded from the division and Wild Card races - they're not out of either race yet, but they're in miracle-comeback territory - that it's no longer worth pretending that they are playing for 2010. Which means it's time to get rid of Jeff Francouer by any available means.

Not that Francouer is an asset in the short run, either. But he's the most visible symbol of the futility of a Mets lineup that, based on today's stats, has yet to field a lineup this season in which everyone in slots 1-8 had a slugging and on base percentage above .300. A .300/.300 line should be the barest minumum competence for any major league "hitter," yet the Mets have given extensive playing time to four batters with sub-.300 OBPs (Francouer, Rod Barajas, the just-released Alex Cora and Ruben Tejada) and three so punchless they can't slug .300 (Luis Castillo, Cora and Tejada). If you're keeping score at home, that's a catcher, three middle infielders...and an everyday right fielder who is slugging .385 and has hit .255/.300/.390 over 1668 plate appearances over the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, with more GIDP than HR over that period. Among players with 1600 or more plate appearances over that stretch, only Kevin Kouzmanoff and Billy Butler have scored fewer runs.

I've been a Francouer skeptic ever since he arrived in the NL in 2005 due to his total lack of plate patience, but early on, his talent was undeniable; he hit .300/.336/.549 in half a season as a 21-year-old, and after stumbling his first full season, batted .293/.338/.444 at age 23, cracking 40 doubles and doubling his walk rate.

How far has Francouer fallen? Here's the 10-most-comparable players' rest-of-career lines for him, from ages 22-25 - note the revival of hope at the end of last season, which undoubtedly will vanish this year:

22 (2006): .273/.350/.461 (120 OPS+)
23 (2007): .279/.357/.452 (116)
24 (2008): .273/.344/.436 (111)
25 (2009): .276/.355/.458 (118)

Even as late as early this season, I held a sliver of hope that, like Jose Guillen, the 26-year-old onetime first round draft pick who batted .311/.338/.498 after leaving Atlanta last season might put together a 1-3 year prime where he had just enough discipline at the plate for his talents to briefly shine through in his physical prime.

Not to be. Francouer has never learned, and still says he's just not comfortable taking pitches early in the count, which means he never sees strikes. Unlike last season and April of this year, he's not even hitting at Citi Field anymore, .222/.267/.375 on the season. He's still dangerous against lefthanders - .318/.379/.471 in 95 plate appearances this season, .300/.344/.485 career - and still has the great throwing arm, but at $4 million a year and eligible for arbitration, he's far too expensive to keep around just in a Tatis-style role. And starting a corner OF who hits .217/.266/.357 against righthanded pitching should be grounds for immediate termination.

I don't expect the Mets can get anything useful for Francouer, and perhaps they would have to eat so much of his salary it would hardly be worth it, but they're stuck paying him as is, so the only benefit to not trading him is the joy of watching him make outs. Yes, it may sound churlish to say that when he's hit three game-winning homers in a week, but sell high if you can, and if not, just cut the cord.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:27 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Stat of the Day

Roy Halladay is leading the league in complete games and shutouts for the third year in a row. Last pitcher to lead the league in both categories three years running? Grover Alexander 1915-17 (Walter Johnson also did it a few years earlier).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:55 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
August 5, 2010
LAW/POLITICS: The Prop 8 Decision: Having It Both Ways

Judge Vaughan Walker, the chief district judge of the US District Court for the Northern District of California, handed down his post-trial decision yesterday in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, holding that Proposition 8 - the referendum approved by California voters in 2008, amending the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman and thus deny recognition to same-sex "marriages" - violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution. In a larger sense, the lawsuit, seeking to overturn judicially a status quo that has existed for essentially all of human history and was only recently reaffirmed by the California electorate, is yet more proof that it's not conservatives who are on the offensive in the 'culture wars'. But even focusing on the judicial process, and setting to one side its reliance on the oxymoronic concept of "substantive due process," Judge Walker's decision is fundamentally flawed in three ways, two of which represent failures of reasoning and the third of which highlights the structural problem with substituting judicial "factfinding" for the collected judgment of a democratic electorate. Specifically:

(1) Judge Walker's decision is internally, logically inconsistent in its treatment of the worth of cultural values, arguing that morality and tradition are not a valid basis for supporting the legal status of marriage, but at the same time finding a Constitutional violation from the fact that the same-sex alternative (domestic partnerships) lacks the social and cultural status that marriage has...and which it derives from its grounding in longstanding moral, cultural and religious traditions;

(2) Judge Walker's decision ignores the compelling state interest in promoting childbearing and childrearing within the context of opposite-sex marriage, and the absence of such an interest in same-sex marriage, specifically ignoring the fact that heterosexual relationships produce many more children than homosexual relationships; and

(3) the whole idea of leaving core judgments about a society's most central and longstanding values to a single judge rather than respect the collective wisdom of a diverse electorate is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Let's review these one at a time.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2010 | Comments (32) | TrackBack (0)
August 3, 2010
POLITICS: The Not-So Popular Party

Much of the behavior of Democratic Senate candidates can be explained by one simple fact: very few of them are going to get 50% of the vote this fall. Even the candidates who have a good chance to win are going to struggle to get to 50%. Let's take a quick look at the RealClearPolitics polling averages for the 22 Senate races that RCP lists as being in play, or where there's no average the last listed (generally Rasmussen) poll, just focusing on the Democratic candidate - as you will see, in only 4 of those 22 races is the Democrat polling 50/50 or better, and in only 7 of the 22 is the Democrat even polling above 43%:

50+%
CT-Blumenthal 53%
OR-Wyden 53%
WV-Manchin 51%
NY-Gillibrand 50%

These are the few popular Democrats. Wyden, Blumenthal and Manchin are all popular figures (an incumbent Senator, AG and Governor, respectively). The first two are solid favorites; Manchin could face a tough race if the GOP can tie him to the Obama Administration, which is deeply unpopular in West Virginia, but for now he's in a good place. Gillibrand has suffered soft approval ratings but for now has little known opposition.

46-47%
WA-Murray 47%
NV-Reid 46%
CA-Boxer 46%

Three incumbents in jeopardy (an incumbent polling below 50 is always considered in danger) and facing vigorous challenges, but all stand a fighting chance. Harry Reid, while he's revived from being down below 40%, simply can't crack 50% - neither can his son, running for governor - which is why his strategy is almost entirely built around the national media battering Sharron Angle and letting third-party candidates siphon off enough votes to let him win below 50 as he did in 1998.

40-43%
CO-Bennet/Romanoff 43%
WI-Feingold 42%
MO-Carnahan 42%
KY-Conway 41%
PA-Sestak 41%
OH-Fisher 40%

Only Feingold and Bennet are incumbents here, and so a number of these races still have a lot of undecideds. (In Colorado, the Senate primary is something of a proxy war, with President Obama actively backing Bennet after failing to bribe Romanoff to drop out of the race, while former President Clinton is backing Romanoff). But again, voters don't seem too enamored of any of them, which is why the Democrats will be running an almost entirely negative fall campaign focused on driving small numbers of voters from the GOP to third parties.

Below 40%
NH-Hodes 39%
IL-Giannoulias 38%
NC-Marshall 37%
IA-Conlin 37%
FL-Crist 37/36%, Meek 16%, Greene 17%
DE-Coons 36%
LA-Melancon 34%
AR-Lincoln 33%
IN-Ellsworth 30%

Not all of these races are uncompetitive - incumbent Richard Burr is listed at a weak 46% in North Carolina, Mark Kirk is even below Giannoulias in Illinois, and of course in Florida the establishment Democrats are abandoning their own candidates to line up behind the incumbent, nominally Republican governor (a man the DNC stood ready to demonize if McCain had chosen him as a running mate in 2008), Charlie Crist. But once again, the divide-and-conquer strategy is basically the only way they can play this hand.

If the Democrats manage to hold onto the Senate, it won't be because the people of more than a tiny number of the states voting this November have actually given their performance a thumbs-up.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:02 PM | Politics 2010 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
August 2, 2010
BASEBALL: Ozzie Guillen Has Half A Point

Ozzie Guillen, known for his penchant for speaking first and maybe thinking later, contends that Japanese players are treated better than Latin players:

Guillen said it's unfair that Japanese players are assigned translators when they come to the U.S. to play pro ball, but Latinos are not. "Very bad. I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don't have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don't?" Guillen said Sunday before Chicago played the Oakland Athletics. "Don't take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid ... go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it's always going to be like that. It's never going to change. But that's the way it is." Guillen, who is from Venezuela, said when he went to see his son, Oney, in class-A, the team had a translator for a Korean prospect who "made more money than the players." "And we had 17 Latinos and you know who the interpreter was? Oney. Why is that? Because we have Latino coaches? Because here he is? Why? I don't have the answer," Guillen said. "We're in the United States, we don't have to bring any coaches that speak Spanish to help anybody. You choose to come to this country and you better speak English."

We can all sympathize with Ozzie's concern over matters of language. Language is a sensitive issue, because people who can't talk to each other can't do much else. It's not somehow irrational or racist to be concerned about that. But this is a classic case of noticing a difference but misunderstanding why it exists. As is often the case, when you see such things, the law is at work behind it.

There are three different systems for developing you players:

(1) American players are, from an early stage, the property of American Major League teams. An exemption from antitrust law allows the teams to collude to assign players to the organization that drafts them, at cost to the players' liberty but benefitting the competitive balance of the league. Players drafted as teens have two choices: sign with one team, or go to college. (The ability to go to college is a more realistic prospect for some players than others, depending on their educational abilities and financial needs, among others.) This system makes American players cheaper to develop than they would be otherwise, plus of course American players have no additional layer of problems adjusting to living in the US, so while it restricts the liberty of the individual, it also benefits American players as a group.

(2) Latin American players are not subject to these rules - Latin players can sign with whatever team they want. They have greater freedom than American players to negotiate their own deals, and the best ones can have multiple teams competing for their services. The flip side is that, coming as many of them do from poor backgrounds, they tend to sign young and few go to college. Signing young keeps them competitive, cost-wise with American players who may be more well-established (less risky) but lack the same ability to negotiate their services on the open market.

(3) Japanese players are subject to a similar system to the U.S. system within Japan - for the first several years of their careers they are owned by a Japanese league team. To come to the U.S., such players must be purchased from their Japanese team, and they arrive in mid-career, as established players. (I believe a similar system is involved in purchasing Korean players, although they generally arrive younger).

What does this all mean? It means that teams invest a lot of money in the top Japanese players, but as you may have noticed, there are a lot less of them than there are Latin players. (Notice Ozzie's example: a team with 17 Latin players and one Korean). Latin players, being cheaper to acquire at an earlier stage of their development, are more numerous but less valued than the cream of the Japanese crop - but if you're a less talented Japanese player, you may simply never get the chance to play in the U.S. The Japanese player who never appears on our shores is invisible in this debate.

I'm not saying there's nothing else to Ozzie's point but the economics - there's also undoubtedly a cultural sense that it's easier to either learn English or get by without it if you come here from a nearby Latin country than from Asia, especially given the critical mass of Latinos already on the roster of almost any team in organized baseball. It's easy to see why Latin players may find it frustrating to not get the same special treatment as the rarer Japanese prospect, but I'd suggest that most of them would far rather play in the U.S., closer to home and with the company of many other Latino players who share some of their cultural background and outlook, than play in Japan, where there may be nobody else in the organization who speaks their language and where the cultural norms may be far more different from, say, Venezuela than playing on a team in Arizona or Florida.

But in any language, money talks.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:45 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)