Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
October 24, 2011
BASEBALL: McCarver's Expiration Date

Having listened to Tim McCarver a lot back in the 80s, I agree with almost every word of this from the indispensable Joe Posnanski, with the caveat that I was never as enamored of McCarver as a storyteller:

You know, I've been listening to Tim McCarver call baseball games for almost 30 years now. One of my best friends in high school, Robert, was the first person I knew who had a satellite dish - this was in the days when you had to be one of those guys in the Apollo 13 room to figure out how to operate the thing. I remember there were a lot of vectors involved. Anyway, Robert was and is a huge Mets fan, and so we watched a lot of Mets games with McCarver calling them.

And I loved McCarver. Absolutely loved the guy. Every at-bat, it seemed, he taught me baseball. It was that way for a long time. I honestly believe that McCarver was one of the great pioneers in baseball commentary, the John Madden of his sport in many ways. He was the first I knew who could really break down what the pitcher was trying to do, why he was trying to do it, how the hitter was trying to counter it, and so on. He broke down the game in a way I can never remember any other color commentator doing it. And he was a good story teller too. If I'm listening the greatest color commentators in baseball history, he's right up at the top.

Trouble is, McCarver has been doing this a long time. And one of the sad truths is that sports color commentary tends to have an expiration date (and, I'll admit, sportswriting often does too). There comes a time when everyone has heard the stories, when the insights have become cliches, when the game just changes on you. And if we're being realistic - and I'm not saying this is true for McCarver because I don't know - there usually comes a time when longtime color commentators stop doing the prep work, stop working the clubhouses, stop keeping up with the latest news. They rely on their experience, their history. That's just human nature. I thought it was telling when Terry Francona, who was so refreshing in part because he was so up to date, made the point that Kinsler is one of the best young players in the game. Two days later, McCarver said: "I had never thought of him that way."

McCarver can still wow you now and again. There was a moment on Sunday when he picked up that Yadier Molina had called a full-count pitch verbally against Nelson Cruz, and McCarver brilliantly deduced that Edwin Jackson was going to throw a slider and it probably was not going to be in the strike zone. Sure enough, Jackson threw a slider out of the strike zone. McCarver still understands the pitcher-catcher relationship better than just about anybody in the business.

But, all in all, he has become a hard listen. Al Michaels*, in explaining the art of broadcasting, explained that he sees the game as the music and the announcing as the lyrics. And by that he means that the lyrics need to fit the music, they need to enhance the music, it must blend together. The worst thing an announcer can do is jolt the viewer out of the moment, stop them cold, take them away from the moment. McCarver does that to me way too often now. I find myself 20 times a game taken away from the ballgame and wondering if what I just heard was (1) True; (2) True but misleading; (3) Significant in any way.

And of course, I endorse his concluding paragraph as well. Read the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:31 PM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Best of Seven

Good backgrounder at Grantland on how we ended up with a best of seven format for the World Series.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:23 PM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 23, 2011
BASEBALL: World Series Open Thread

Don't make Albert Pujols angry. You won't like him when he's angry.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:16 AM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
October 22, 2011
POLITICS: Let The Good Governor Roll

It's Election Day today in Lousiana:

[T]he electorate will settle increasingly nasty bouts for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and the state board of education. Local ballots are dotted with contested legislative matchups, a handful of judicial contests in New Orleans, and parish offices in Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist.

Voters also must navigate a gaggle of state constitutional amendments and several local tax issues at the parish and municipal level.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Any voter in line by 8 p.m. should be allowed to vote. Louisiana requires voters to present valid identification.

The big national name on the ballot is Bobby Jindal, up for re-election to his second term as governor; Jindal, the nation's first Indian-American governor, turned 40 in June.

In Louisiana's idiosyncratic system, Jindal needs 50% of the vote today to avoid a runoff. He enters the day a prohibitive favorite:

Jindal, who easily won his first term in 2007, has raised over $11 million for his bid, trumping his nearest rival, Democrat and Clairborne Parish teacher Tara Hollis, who has raised only $40,000, of which $18,000 came in the form of in-kind contributions.

Jindal has been leading in recent polls, coming in at 57 percent in a WWL-TV poll earlier this month, with Hollis polling at five percent.

Louisiana, as a socially conservative Southern state, has trended Republican at the national level for decades, but only after 2005's Hurricane Katrina left the state's Democratic political elite badly discredited did Republicans really break through - Jindal won the Governor's mansion in 2007 and in 2010 gained the first GOP legislative majority in the state since Reconstruction. The inability of the state's Democratic machine to mount a credible challenge to Jindal is symbolic of those shifting fortunes in the state and the region, and also of Jindal's status as a rising star in the national GOP: Jindal is the same age as Mitt Romney in 1987, Rick Perry in 1991, Barack Obama in 2001, and Ronald Reagan in 1951. We will be hearing a lot more from him in years to come.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 AM | Hurricane Katrina • | Politics 2011 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
October 7, 2011
BASEBALL: Click The Link

I cannot do this justice with words. Just click the link. But consider yourself warned that I am not responsible for what you will see.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:02 AM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
October 4, 2011
POLITICS: David Brooks Likes The Crease of Mitt Romney's Pants

I could hardly sum up more pithily the problem with Mitt Romney's candidacy in four words than "David Brooks loves him." Brooks' column today is revealingly out of step with the party and the nation Romney is seeking to lead.

Let's start with what's missing from Brooks' description of the job Romney is applying for:

[T]he challenges ahead are technically difficult. There's a reason that no president since Reagan has been able to reform the tax code. There's a reason no president save Obama has been able to pass health care reform. These are complicated issues that require a sophisticated inside game - navigating through the special interests, building complex coalitions. They are issues that require executive expertise.

Now, I don't discount the idea that a good "inside game" is important, and indeed is one of the reasons why we generally look for presidents with some record of executive political leadership - indeed, for presidents with more of it than Romney brings to the table from a single term in office. But notice who is missing in this picture? The voters. Brooks ascribes no importance whatsoever to the president's role in persuading the public of anything (a critical factor in Reagan's tax cut and tax reform fights); he simply assumes that backroom deals can be cut that make the public's role moot:

He could probably work well with the leaders of his own party. If Romney were to be elected, he would probably share power with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the House speaker, John Boehner. These are not exactly Tea Party radicals. Instead, they are consummate professionals and expert legislators who could plausibly work together.

What about Romney's ability to sway voters?

Romney can be dull. Political activists like exciting candidates. But most people, who have lower expectations from politics and politicians, just want them to provide basic order. They want government to be orderly so they can be daring in other spheres of their lives. Romney is the most predictable of the candidates and would make for the most soporific of presidents. That's a good thing. Government would function better if partisan passions were on a lower flame.

This is all well and good if the government is set on a reliable course and needs no alterations, and if the partisan opposition was vanquished once and for all; you pick a technocratic manager to run the big machines well. (We're talking domestic policy; Brooks makes no mention of national security or international relations). But none of that is true: Brooks gives lip service to the idea that we have real problems with an unsustainable spending and entitlement state, but he is too happy with the status quo to admit to himself that fixing the country's genuine fiscal problems will require real, wrenching changes and an obstinate determination to see things through (let alone to survive the bruising fights that will loom over the next Supreme Court nominations, which are similarly a major inflection point). Nor does he address the thick hide a new president will need to make genuine reductions in the regulatory burdens that currently weigh down business, or to withstand the now-perennial calls for new bailouts (the next big ones on the way will be bailouts of the Postal Service and the State of California).

Let's turn to how Brooks misunderstands the nature of the challenges ahead:

[T]his is not a party riven by big ideological differences. This is not Reagan versus Rockefeller. Whoever wins the nomination will be leading a party with a cohesive ideology and a common set of priorities: reform taxes, replace Obamacare, cut spending and reform entitlements. The next president won't have to come up with a vision, just execute the things almost all Republicans agree upon.

This vision of a bloodless party dispute over technical competence sounds good, although of course this is what the Rockefeller/George Romney side of the party has been saying for decades. It's true that the big differences within the party these days are less about ideology per se than about strategy and tactics, but they are no less divisive for being so (hence, Romney echoing his own father's attacks on Barry Goldwater in his campaign against Rick Perry).

Note the crucial word choice "replace Obamacare." The word is not chosen by accident, and it carries enormous ideological freight. The great health care divide in the party for some time has been over whether Republicans need to accept a comprehensive and universal approach to health care, rather than leave the system as is and tinker piecemeal, by trial and error, around the edges seeking improvements. And Mitt Romney is the high priest of the former faction - the centerpiece of his agenda in his single term in office was passing a "comprehensive" and "universal" health care plan built on a foundation of individual mandates. Rather than a masterful inside game, what happened in that case was that Romney got rolled, badly, by Ted Kennedy and his state-level allies into a plan that has driven up insurance premiums in Massachusetts and laid the political groundwork for Obamacare.

Romney was warned of these consequences by conservatives at the time, and ignoring those warnings was the most significant decision, and largest strategic error, of his political career. But to Brooks, Romney's failure on his signature issue counts as a feather in Romney's cap because a big, complicated bill got passed with the support of a lot of interest groups. Consequences - and voters - be damned.

What does it mean to "replace" Obamacare? The next GOP president should make it a goal on Day One to repeal the bill and go back to the drawing board. Certainly, that should include a plan to follow repeal of the PPACA with the introduction of new, more modest proposals to improve the health care system in this country; nobody argues that our system is perfect, nor that it is such a libertarian utopia that government has no role in fixing problems that are in many cases the creation of government.

But the largest strategic error that can be made is for the next president to link repeal of Obamacare to passage of some equally "comprehensive" plan to "replace" it - thus dissipating political momentum on passage of a new, complex bill that may prove equally unpopular (especially at a time when the president will have to be busy with many other economic issues). And Romney's record and pronouncements thus far have indicated nothing to give confidence that he wouldn't fall into precisely such a trap (his emphasis on suspending Obamacare by executive order, while not a bad thing by itself, suggests the worrisome possibility that he might not put a full effort into getting it entirely off the books before the White House and its power over executive orders falls back into Democratic hands).

Time and again the past five years, David Brooks has been impressed by the supposed erudition of Barack Obama, and time and again he has been disdainful of competing virtues more important to democratic leadership and popular sovereignty. His ode to Romney demonstrates how little Brooks has learned from his own errors, and how far removed Romney's appeal is from those virtues.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:05 PM | Politics 2012 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
October 3, 2011
BLOG: A Word of Explanation

Content and traffic at this blog have been off for some time now, so I probably owe a word or two of explanation to readers who have kept stopping by.

In part, I've just been busier at work the past few months, with some rather large pieces of litigation, and these days it's hard for anyone to complain about being busy at work. But a major drag on my time has been personal.

As you will recall, my older brother died suddenly last November. This was too much for my dad, who turned 77 in December - he'd lost his wife and his two oldest sons. Just about the last thing my brother said to my dad was, "let's have a great Christmas," and my dad was determined to do that - he held together through the funeral and Christmas, and basically unraveled after that. He's been in, out and finally in hospitals and homes since then. As any of you who have dealt with aging parents in poor mental condition will understand, this has been enormously time-consuming, in addition to being stressful and generally unpleasant. But my father has carried so many other people for so long, it was time for us to carry him back.

Second, my wife and I had to take over as administrators of my brother's estate, with all that entails in terms of taking complete control of his finances, assets, bills, tax returns, etc. (Thankfully his papers were well-organized, but there are always small surprises). This, too, has proven enormously time-consuming in its own right. If anybody ever asks you to administer an estate...run.

Third, with my dad unable to function and my younger brother and sister in DC, it fell to my wife and I to mostly take over my father's finances as well - pay his bills, deal with medical stuff, etc. This, too, has proven enormously time-consuming in its own right.

Fourth, my dad for the last few years had been doing a good deal of the work to handle my Uncle John's finances, in terms of making sure his bills got paid on time and the like. My uncle, also a widower and with a son who was incarcerated on drug and theft charges (long story; he's out now and skipped parole, and we've had to take additional steps to protect my dad's house to prevent him from robbing my dad again) was not really able to look after that himself. For reasons not worth explaining here, it fell to my dad, as his surviving brother-in-law, to take this on for my uncle and my uncle's sister, who lived with him. So, we ended up inheriting all of that headache as well and many related others generated by people newly interested in John's finances (John died in the spring of this year, after long illnesses). This, too, has proven spectacularly time-consuming in its own right, as well as needlessly acrimonious.

Only so much of all this can come out of the time I devote to work and family, and so necessarily the blog has suffered the most. In particular, my baseball writing; I find it hard to do short baseball posts off the cuff, and I've had only so much time to do the kinds of number-crunching that typically goes into my baseball posts. And the more I'm stuck at the office listening to games on the radio rather than watching on TV, the harder it gets to do non-stat-driven posts without just repeating things everybody else is saying already. (My two cents on Jose Reyes, however: there's nothing at all unprecedented about the way he won the batting title, but especially if he's leaving town, he owed the fans to at least go out to field his position before being removed, so people could give him a more fitting sendoff ovation). On top of the fact that you can't really intelligently discuss the Mets these days without addressing the impact of litigation on their finances, and for professional reasons I can't really get much into the topic of that litigation.

So, thanks for continuing to drop by; I'm still trying to find time to keep the lights on and write when I can. I'm more active on Twitter, where it's easier to find time to toss off a quick one-liner than to write a long blog post. And sooner or later, I'll have more of my own time back.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Blog 2006-13 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
October 2, 2011
BLOG: Open Thread 10/2/11

Sorry, had to close comments on the Facebook post again due to a massive spam attack.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:31 AM | Blog 2006-13 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)