"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
November 30, 2010
BASEBALL: The Pointed Shot
I'm no fan of the jurisprudence of now-retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, but Stevens was in attendance at the 1932 World Series game where Babe Ruth hit his famous "called shot," and Stevens says Ruth definitely pointed to the stands with his bat before hitting it.
Score one for the legend.
November 24, 2010
BLOG: Happy Thanksgiving To All
Enjoy the holidays and give thanks for family, especially. I'll be trying to get back on something more resembling a regular blogging schedule after the long weekend.
November 23, 2010
BLOG: Getting You There
Interesting look at the plans to remake Penn Station. I agree with the general point that while Penn is an eyesore and confusing to the uninitiated, it's also highly functional, and its multiple entry/exit points are a plus - not just for convenience but safety in the even an evacuation is needed. We should monkey with that for aesthetic purposes at our peril.
November 22, 2010
BASEBALL: Meet The New Boss
I can't say I'm any sort of excited over Terry Collins taking over as Mets manager. Collins' record as manager of the Astros and Angels, and even of the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, was that of a somewhat Buck-Showalter-like high pressure, do-it-my-way manager who helped build a contender out of a talented but scuffling team (in the Angels case, one rebounding from the trauma of 1995), but then suffered clubhouse strife, saw the team decay in his hands, and was replaced by a guy who got them over the hump. His last U.S. managing job, either in the majors or minors, was in 1999 (he's managed in Japan and the Chinese WBC team since then and worked as a minor league organizational guy with the Dodgers and Mets). As ESPN's Mark Simon points out, one of Collins' trademarks as a major league manager was his teams' September pennant race collapses, absolutely the last thing Mets fans want to hear. Collins was thought to be a frontrunner for the job throughout the interview process, and is plugged in with the Alderson/Beane crowd that now runs the organization, having been Paul DePodesta's apparent choice to take over as Dodgers manager until DePodesta - now with the Mets - was fired as GM.
So, let's summarize:
-Not a new guy from outside the organization
What could go wrong?
I trust Sandy Alderson's judgment in building rosters, and when you bring in a big name GM who knows what he's doing in the regard, the manager is less critical and it's important that he be in tune with the program, which Collins apparently is. That said, given the history of Alderson's comments about managers as "middle managers" and the shortcomings of the post-LaRussa A's in the postseason, I do wish that Alderson had learned from his time in the Marine Corps that middle managers still have an important role to play as emotional leaders, especially when managing young men. Marine NCOs are not less vital as teachers and motivators of young men just because the chain of command tells them where to go and what to do.
All that said, the conventional wisdom outlined above assumes that Collins, now 61, has neither matured nor learned from his earlier shortcomings and his decade to ponder what he got wrong. In fact, managers can and do grow over time. There are a number of managers who didn't really get it done until their second or third job - Casey Stengel, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Whitey Herzog, Bobby Valentine...the most recent and perhaps more apt examples would be Terry Francona and Joe Girardi. Francona in particular really seemed like a guy who grasped the job of leading his players better the second time around. Some of those guys were always good managers and just needed the horses, but others really did need to learn and mature into the job. Perhaps the most optimistic parallel would be from the world of football: Bill Belichick was a flop his first go-round with the Browns for reasons somewhat similar to Collins' earlier frustrations, but obviously he was better prepared to be the head coach when he went to New England.
It may also help that Collins knows the Mets' system inside and out and will, I assume, be eager to deploy those youngsters in the system who have impressed him. The Mets are, barring a real stroke of luck, not likely to be significant contenders in 2011, but this is not a complete rebuilding job either assuming the team holds its core of under-30 players and plays its cards right, the franchise may well be a contender again by 2012. Let's hope that by then Collins is able to avoid yet another replay of 2006-08.
November 18, 2010
BLOG: Jerry Tough Loss
On Tuesday, we buried my brother Jerry. He was 43. He'd been fine, as far as anybody could tell; he'd been out to dinner with my dad the middle of last week and seemed perfectly healthy, and they were planning to drive to DC on Friday to visit my younger brother and sister. When he didn't show up, my dad called the cops, and they found him in his apartment, no signs of foul play or any other obvious cause or reason. He'd been in Vegas just a few weeks ago with his fraternity brothers. When we went to start cleaning out his apartment on Saturday night, his computer was still on. We're still all in shock. It's hard enough to explain all this to my kids; the oldest are 13 and 11 and don't understand how a man that age can just drop dead with no warning, the youngest is 4 1/2 and just old enough to begin to grasp the finality of death. But the cruelest blow is to my dad, who is 76. My oldest brother Timmy was killed when he was hit by a car in front of our house while flying a kite in 1972; he was 7, Jerry was 5 and was a step behind him when it happened. Jerry didn't talk much about it, any more than my mom did, but Timmy was always with them, and now both of them are with him and my dad is left behind. No man should have to bury a child, let alone two of them.
Regular readers of this site will recall Jerry as one of the regular commenters here on topics large and small. While we were on the same page baseball-wise, we didn't always agree on things political - he was basically a moderate Democrat, voted against Bush twice but had no illusions about Obama and I believe voted against him twice, too - but he always had something pithy and incisive to say on any topic, and usually cut to the issue faster than I did. I've been stealing his ideas and his one-liners for years.
Jerry was everything you'd want in a big brother. He was funny, he was cool, he was even-keeled, he was the responsible one, and he was always there. He was four years my senior: he was born in 1967, I was born in 1971. We shared a bedroom until I was 8; I thought back this weekend to us crying our eyes out when my grandfather died that year, my first experience with death in the family. He was quick and clever enough that almost nobody in the family could beat him at board games or card games; even as a kid, he was the one who could solve Rubik's Cube without taking it apart. He'd worked as a computer programmer at the same company since graduating college in 1989.
The picture above is us with Tom Seaver at my first baseball game, August 28, 1976 (I was not quite 5 and thus not responsible for those plaid shorts, Jerry was 9); my uncle got us down on the field and we got our pictures taken with a bunch of the Mets and a few Dodgers as well. The Mets won that game on a walkoff single in the 9th, Felix Millan driving in Leo Foster. As fate would have it, our last game - I found the ticket stub in his apartment - was 34 years to the day later, August 28, 2010. We'd gotten some tickets from friends who weren't using them, so I decided to take my son and asked Jerry if he wanted to come; he was always up for a ballgame, and being still single, he was generally free. He didn't complain when my son wanted to get something from the Shake Shack and we ended up waiting on a 25-minute line and missing the first-inning rally that put the Astros ahead of Johan Santana and the Mets for the rest of the game (it was Santana's next to last start of the year). We'd gone to a bunch of games with my son and sometimes my older daughter over the years, in the process seeing most of the best games I've seen. He had his company's box seats and my son was just 2 when we saw the Mets win the playoff-game-forcing last game of the 1999 regular season on a Brad Clontz wild pitch; we went to the Mets' last win at Shea, Santana's masterful performance with the 2008 season still hanging within reach, with my son and older daughter. He was with me when we went to see U2 at Yankee Stadium in 1992, when we got stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge leaving a show that ended after midnight and didn't get home until after 2am. He'd seen a lot more great concerts than I ever did.
Looking back now, I realize quite how many of my interests came from him. When I was 6, he came home talking about this movie he'd seen, "Star Wars." We got the comic books and the action figures and I basically knew the whole story by the time I actually saw it in the theater, but it didn't matter. When I was 10 or 11, my Christmas present from him was a model ice planet Hoth built out of Styrofoam, complete with the Wampa's cave. He got a tabletop baseball game, SHERCO baseball, and we spent endless hours compiling and playing teams that we didn't know much more about at the time than their stat lines in the Macmillan Encyclopedia, teams like the 1894 Orioles and the 1906 Cubs. I could still tell you today what a J8K 11-16 pitcher means or a B(11)*mwmk2 hitter is like. He introduced me to The Hobbit (the first full-length book I read, in the second grade) and the Lord of the Rings. He discovered rock n' roll around 1980 or so (my parents had no use for anything recorded after the mid-1950s), and joined the CBS/Columbia Record Club back when it was records and tapes. A few of his early purchases were embarrassing (REO Speedwagon, Eddie Rabbitt), but he was swifty on to the good stuff, buying the Beatles 1962-66 and 1967-70 compilations, the ones that just hit iTunes this week; we wore those cassettes to death on a little tape deck (for my part, Paul McCartney's Tug of War on vinyl was the first album I bought with my own money). He bought The River on vinyl when it was newly out, and introduced me to Bruce Springsteen. He introduced me to Bloom County. He subscribed religiously to Baseball Digest, and in 1983, he introduced me to another new book he'd bought, his first Bill James Baseball Abstract. Eventually, I followed him across the Jersey border to the high school he chose (my younger brother also followed him to Lafayette College).
Jerry wasn't one to wear nostalgia or emotion on his sleeve the way I do, but he tended to the family traditions. He helped my dad decorate the house every year for holidays after my mom died in 2002; that house is still adorned with the Halloween decorations he put up, some of which date back decades. He'd sit patiently with my kids at my dad's house building Legos and Richard Scarry's Puzzletown and playing Wiffle Ball, the same stuff we played as kids. Going through his apartment, I found in the medicine cabinet the ringmaster from the Fisher-Price Little People Circus Train that we had as kids, a toy set long since scattered to the four winds, a little plastic figure squatting among the aspirin bottles and contact lense solutions in his top hat and his cummerbund. The next day, going through the old photo albums, I found a picture of me (age 3, in an engineer's hat) and Jerry (age 7) playing with the full set, Christmas morning, 1974.
For my part, I can't help but feel not just how much I'll miss him, but in a way the loss of that whole period of my life. My younger brother was born in 1975, my sister in 1979; I love them, but my brother scarcely remembers the first decade of my life, my sister not at all; those were the memories Jerry and I shared alone with my parents. You always expect to bury your parents, even if they die too young, as my mom did, but you expect your siblings to be there when your parents are gone.
Rest in Peace.
November 14, 2010
BLOG: Open Thread
For reasons I'll explain in a few days, it'll continue to be quiet for a bit more time here.
November 10, 2010
BLOG: Apologies For Olbermann
Via Allahpundit on Twitter, Pat Sajak looks back at his role in putting Keith Olbermann on national television for the first time. The video clip, from Super Bowl week in January 1989, is kind of sad, really; Olbermann, complete with Ron Burgundy mustache, is affable, relaxed, and low-key, not the bundle of psychotic vein-popping rage, smarmy smugness, egocentric rants at personal enemies and neuroses about women we see on air today. (Sajak, by contrast, remains a tweener, funny for a game show host but not funny enough for a late-night talk show host). While I found Olbermann off-putting when he first started on SportsCenter, I came to enjoy his work with Craig Kilborn in what has to be the golden age of the show; back then they did shtick, but (1) it was their shtick, not an imitation of somebody else's, (2) it was new and different from everything else on sports TV, and (3) because nobody expected shtick to be the focus of the show, it was much more restrained than it later became.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:28 PM | Blog 2006-13 | Football | Politics 2010 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
November 5, 2010
POLITICS: Apples and Oranges
One of the favorite sports of poll junkies after an election is to grade the pollsters, and that process is in full swing already, and should be. Neil Stevens, however, has an excellent post cautioning against putting too much stock in Nate Silver's latest effort to attach Rasmussen. The biggest specific problem he identifies is that Rasmussen offers two separate types of polls - its own polls and the POR polls, which are done at the request of paying clients under their own terms, among other things using a different margin of error - and Silver's analysis lumps the two together as if they're the same thing.
Polling involves a certain amount of art as well as science; evaluating the accuracy of polls after the fact, however, ought to be a task that can be done through a consistent and transparent methodology, for example comparing pollsters' accuracy at similar distances from Election Day. It doesn't appear that Silver's critiques are using a sufficiently objective methodology to be trustworthy guides to making sense of the pollsters.
POP CULTURE: Jagger on Richards
Slate has a fantastic essay purporting to be Mick Jagger responding to Keith Richards' new book (which is supposedly really good). I'm told this is the parody section of Slate - which implies that some of Slate is not intended as parody - and there are other signs as well that this isn't really a straight essay by Jagger himself, but the essay captures so many truths about the band that it doesn't really matter that it's a parody. Worth reading for the gratuitous cheap shots at Jann Wenner alone. There are too many good parts to excerpt them all, but this should give you a flavor:
And yet I was surprised when it happened. I take the point that professionalism, one's word, rock 'n' roll merriment ... these are fungible things in our world. It is a fair charge that I have become less tolerant in these matters over the decades. In our organization, inside this rather unusual floating circus we call home, I am forced into the role of martinet, the one who gets blamed for silly arbitrary rules. (Like, for a show in front of 60,000 people for which we are being paid some $6 or $7 million for a few hours' work, I like to suggest to everyone that we start on time, and that we each have in place a personal plan, in whatever way suits us best, to stay conscious for the duration of the show.)
And this really sums up in two sentences an entire era:
Society could have effectively halted the upheavals of the 1960s simply by requiring all of us to "intervene" with one another. In any event, considering half our circle was on heroin and the rest were coke fiends, I think it wouldn't have efficacious in our circumstances.
Go read the whole thing.
POLITICS: Independents' Day
At ground level, Republicans win elections by doing one or more of five things:
1) Get more Republicans to vote;
There's been a lot of talk about the "enthusiasm gap" in turnout between Republican and Democrat voters, about how the Democrats registered a lot of voters to vote in the "historic" 2008 election who may not be likely to vote again, and about how the developments of the past two years have driven more people to register as Republicans. I won't attempt to evaluate those arguments here. But let us focus on one simple point, #5 on the list above: Republicans won so many elections on Tuesday because they benefitted from an enormous swing in independent voters from the Democrats to the GOP.
Read More »
The Wall Street Journal covers the dramatic overall swing from 2006 and 2008, as reflected in exit polls, concluding from an analysis of multiple exit polls that:
-Republicans won independents 55-40 across House races (+15);
-Democrats had won independents 57-39 in 2006 (+18);
-Obama had won independents 52-44 in 2008 (+8).
The results, of course, were dramatic. While not every race is settled, last I checked, Republicans seem to have gone 239-187 (56%) in House races (with 9 races still contested), and - assuming no further counting or recounting disturbs the current vote counts - 24-13 (65%) in Senate races, and 23-13-1 (62%) in Governor's races (at least Connecticut and Minnesota remain contested, although Minnesota looks like it's fairly likely to go Democratic and the Democrat currently leads in Connecticut), on top of making colossal gains in lower-profile state legislative races, gaining some 680 seats, winning control of 18 new chambers and at long last returning to the levels of Republican influence in state legislatures that were last held before Herbert Hoover.
Now admittedly, exit polls are an inexact art at best, but they're the best we have, and unlike pre-election polls - or the exits that get leaked before the results are out - exit polls released after the votes are counted at least are constrained to reach the same results as the final polling. To see how the exits played out in specific races, I decided to drill down on a race-by-race basis, using CNN's exit polls for Senate and Governor races (for comparison to the WSJ's multi-poll average, CNN showed Republicans winning independents in House races by a 56-38 margin (+18), so CNN's numbers may be slightly more favorable than the overall average). CNN didn't poll every contested race; it skipped the Alaska Senate race and less competitive open-seat Senate races in Indiana, North Dakota and Kansas, as well as interesting and hotly contested Governor's races in New Mexico, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Rhode Island. That said, CNN polled 25 of the 37 Senate races and 19 of the 37 Governor's races, and the results are interesting enough for what they are.
Let's take a look first at the Senate races, with the Republican candidates ranked by how well they showed with independents, as well as the share that independents made up of each state's electorate (some states have a lot more independents than others, usually depending on whether one or other party has a ton of registered voters in the state):
(If you're wondering, Charlie Crist won only 35% of independents, a terrible showing for a guy whose entire rationale as a candidate was his supposed appeal to independents).
There are a number of interesting takeaways from this. First of all, other than totally hapless candidates like the opponents of Patrick Leahy and Daniel Inouye, virtually every Republican Senate candidate was competitive among independent voters this year, and Republicans won independents in 19 of the 25 races, including five candidates who lost anyway. The top of the chart includes some people in uncompetitive races (Grassley), some people who have always appealed to independents (McCain), and some people who ran against especially disreputable opponents (DeMint and Kirk - the next time some liberal gives you a hard time about the people who supported Christine O'Donnell for Senate, remind them that 71% of South Carolina Democrats voted for Alvin Greene for Senate. Alvin Greene.) Poor Blanche Lincoln got slaughtered, losing independents by 43 points as a two-term incumbent. But perhaps the most striking candidate to win over 60% of the independent vote is Rob Portman, the former Bush budget director running in perennial swing-state Ohio; while Portman was a good candidate running against a hapless opponent, it's a mark of the poisonous climate for Democrats that independents broke 66-27 for an establishment Republican. Also stunning is Kelly Ayotte winning New Hampshire's sizeable independent bloc by 26 points, running for an open seat in a New England state that voted for Kerry and Obama.
The conventional wisdom is that Tea Party Republicans couldn't reach independent voters, notwithstanding of course the fact that much of the Tea Party movement's success is in reaching conservative but unaffiliated voters who don't necessarily self-identify as Republicans or even vote every year. The CNN exits suggest that, while some Tea Party-backed candidates ran better than others, virtually all of them drew more independent support than their opponents. Rand Paul won independents by 16 points, Ken Buck by 16, Marco Rubio by 16, Ron Johnson by 13. Even weaker GOP candidates like Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, John Raese, Carly Fiorina, Jim Huffman (Ron Wyden's opponent in Oregon) and Linda McMahon won a bigger share of independents than did liberal veterans like Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold and Patty Murray. While Angle and O'Donnell didn't do well enough among independents to offset partisan advantages in their states - and Angle clearly ran far weaker among independents than Nevada GOP Gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval - the numbers belie the idea that they were toxic to independent voters. (Interesting side note: Angle won college educated voters, but lost non-college-educated voters by 10 points). As for the Democrats, the only Democratic candidate in a significantly contested race to win a majority of independents was Joe Manchin, who turned around his campaign with the famous ad in which he literally put a bullet through Obama's legislative agenda. That speaks volumes about the mood of independent voters this fall.
The other take-home lesson is that a better get out the vote (GOTV) operation might have made all the difference for Ken Buck and Dino Rossi, both of whom at this writing seem to have lost nailbiters. Rossi won Washington's huge independent faction by a blowout 18-point margin and won 96% of Republicans, but appears to have lost due to the Democrats' large registration and turnout advantage. Buck similarly won independents by a comfortable 16-point margin, although unlike Rossi he took some losses in his own caucus (winning Republicans 89-10). The common denominator is that they lacked organizational support. The RNC, crippled by Michael Steele's feckless financial mismanagement, was unable to put its formerly formidable GOTV operation in the field this year at all; the RGA appears to have stepped into the breach in many states that had contested governor's races (it spent a reported $102 million under Haley Barbour's direction), but Washington had no governor's race (Rossi lost the last two of those, too, also narrowly) and Colorado's GOP slate imploded despite a receptive electorate that swung the state's General Assembly to GOP control. Money spent by the various national organs on other races might have swung those two races.
Now, let's turn to the governors:
(Tom Tancredo, as the de facto Republican candidate after Dan Maes' collapse, won 48% of independents, running ahead of both Maes and Democratic winner John Hickenlooper).
Given that governors' races are less tied to Washington partisanship and ideology, we see a slightly less uniform trend here and fewer blowouts in favor of the GOP candidate, but again, Republicans across the board ran exceptionally well with independents. Note that Bill Brady, who narrowly lost the Illinois Governor's race to Rod Blagojevich's running mate, ran as well with independents as almost any GOP gubernatorial candidate in the country; he just ran ever so slightly behind Mark Kirk, and the Democrats' registration advantage in Illinois is too much to overcome without a huge win among independents. Brady, Tom Foley in Connecticut and Chris Dudley in Oregon stand as the three Republicans who won a majority of independents and (assuming the "counting" process goes poorly for Foley) still lost. (Dudley, by the way, had the most staggering gender gap in exit polls I think I've ever seen - he won men by a landslide 60-36 margin and lost women by an even more decisive 62-36).
Four take-home lessons should be obvious:
1) Republicans and Democrats alike need to persuade independents in order to win any significant number of elections, and the mood of independent voters will be just as important in 2012 as it was in 2006, 2008 and 2010;
2) GOTV and expanding the base matter too, and it's still possible on occasion for Republicans, at least, to lose races where they win independents decisively;
3) The broader trend among independents will be driven by the national mood and show up across the board wherever there's a competitive race, but individual candidates matter, as weak ones will fail to draw enough strength from the national tilt to win unless they're running in very safe states;
4) Good conservative candidates can and do win over independents just as well as good moderate candidates. Bold-colors conservatives like Rubio and Pat Toomey, establishment conservatives like Portman and John Kasich and moderates like Ayotte all did well with swing-state independents. Poor candidates fell closer to breaking even. Conservatives shouldn't stop running good conservative candidates simply out of fear that they can't win - but we should still prefer a strong moderate to a fatally defective conservative, if our goal is to win elections.
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November 1, 2010
POLITICS: Election Predictions
Busy day, I didn't get to anything I'd meant to blog about, even with the World Series in full swing and the elections tomorrow.
HOUSE: GOP definitely takes the majority (+39 seats required), and I'll be surprised if the gains are less than 60 seats, which seems mind-blowing but there are a lot of good arguments floating around for numbers even crazier than that. Alan Grayson is toast. We'll know we're through the looking glass if people like Barney Frank and John Dingell lose, but I'm not prepared to believe Steny Hoyer is actually in trouble. But Charlie Rangel should win easily and proceed to trial.
SENATE: If I had to bet it would be GOP +8; I'm guessing 7-9 pickups, but I don't expect the +10 to retake a majority (+9 puts Joe Biden in the Senate as a tiebreaker). I'd been assuming the Reid-Angle race would go to a recount, but Angle seems to be putting it away at the end. Colorado, Illinois and possibly Washington could all be nail-biters. Russ Feingold is the biggest surprise casualty among races that are no longer in doubt.
I think Joe Miller will pull it out in Alaska. I'm expecting O'Donnell to lose in Delaware by maybe 8-9 points (I do think it will be closer than some of the polls), but if she wins, well, you can throw all my projections out the window and the Democrats are in for a night we haven't seen the likes of in living memory.
GOVERNORS: Not following the tote board on these as closely, but I'm guessing a net of around +8 for the Republicans, who could swipe as many as 13 or 14 Democratic-held Governorships but stand to lose a number as well (unlike in Congress, where Democratic pickups will be nearly nonexistant outside the Delaware at-large House seat and maybe 3 or 4 others). I'm more guardedly optimistic now that Rick Scott will hang on in Florida, the most important of the contested governor's races (I feel pretty confident about Bill Brady in Illinois).
Down the ballot, also look for the GOP to finally break the last remnants of the post-Confederacy Solid South by retaking some Southern legislatures it hasn't held since Reconstruction.
And I meant to write a better plug for him after attending a fundraiser last week, but if I don't get the time: vote for Harry Wilson for NY State Comptroller. He's a really impressive guy and, among other things, the first statewide challenger since Pat Moynihan in '76 to be endorsed by the Times, the News and the Post (the Wall Street Journal doesn't endorse but has been giving him a lot of coverage).