Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
May 30, 2008
BLOG: Reunion Time

For my fellow Holy Cross '93 friends: see you at the 15th reunion tomorrow.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:22 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

I've been tied up with a bunch of stuff this week, so pardon that the last few days have been slow here. We finally posted yesterday a very lengthy roundtable we had over at RedState about a week ago on high oil prices and the future of the automobile, which largely consisted of the rest of us arguing against a suggestion by Francis Cianfrocca, a/k/a blackhedd, our resident businessman. I'd highly recommend this article circulated as part of the roundtable by Paul Cella, which makes the case for methanol as the substitute fuel of the future (not to be confused with corn-based ethanol, which remains a gigantic, expensive and harmful boondoggle - more here).

I'm still reading up on whether methanol really lives up to the hype of the New Atlantis argument, but it's one of the few practical long-term solutions. Of course, more domestic oil exploration, drilling and refining is still the nearer-term (5-10 year) solution.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:12 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 29, 2008
LAW: That's Gonna Leave A Mark

Note to practicing attorneys: You do not want to end up in this situation.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:53 PM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
May 27, 2008
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame Trivia

11 Hall of Fame pitchers have had a season with an ERA of 5.00 or higher in enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. One of those did it twice in his career. Name him.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:34 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Sunshine Of Your Glove

It's starting to get far enough into the season that it's worth taking seriously the Rays (now with the best record in baseball at 31-20) and the Marlins (with the best record in the NL at 30-20). What gives? Well, let's note for now three things:

1. It's the defense. I was deeply skeptical in the pre-season of the Rays' ability to turn the corner overnight and become a pitching/defense powerhouse after allowing the most runs in the majors by a wide margin last season and posting the worst Defensive Efficiency Rating (the percent of balls in play turned into outs) in Major League Baseball. I would have been still more skeptical of where they'd be today if you'd told me that Scott Kazmir would miss the whole month of April. But Tampa has done a 180: their DER of .721 is now the best in baseball, up 11% from last season's .650. It's a staggering turnaround that explains how guys like Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson are posting solid ERAs, and Jason Hammel isn't getting pounded, despite weak K/BB ratios (Garza's peripheral numbers are no better than Mike Pelfrey's, but he's 3-1 with a 4.06 ERA).

Really great team DERs tend, I think, to be the kind of thing that are hard to sustain over a full season (the Mets last year being a graphic example of the late-season collapse of an early-season defensive juggernaut). It's a little harder to quantify exactly who is responsible, but a comparison of the Rays by ESPN's Zone Ratings to the top non-Rays fielder in the league at each position suggests pretty strongly that Jason Bartlett has truly lived up to all expectations of turning around the Rays (for the catchers I'm instead listing caught stealing %):

PosRaysZRAL LeadZR
1BPena.831D. Barton.953
2BIwamura.852M. Ellis.879
SSBartlett.859E. Aybar.855
3BLongoria.790M. Mora.826
RFGross.927F. Gutierrez.985

As you can see, Bartlett and Crawford are both leading the league at their respective positions, and Iwamura and Upton are settled in well to their relatively new positions, crucial ones on the defensive spectrum, and Navarro has been solid. (It's also worth noticing the number of A's on this list and the superior quality of the Cleveland outfield).

Florida has not improved as dramatically, but at .696 they are now in the middle of the NL pack rather than dead last, as last season; that's still enough to make a big difference. Presumably the absence of Miguel Cabrera, the most visible change in the defense, has helped, plus Josh Willingham hasn't played since April. Even so, none of Florida's starters besides Scott Olsen has actually been particularly effective (the remaining 6 starters have a combined ERA of 5.22 in 210.1 IP, which is why Florida's only 8th in the league in ERA).

2. A little luck helps. The Rays are 2 games ahead of their Pythagorean record, the Marlins 4. I think the Marlins are in general less 'for real,' and that will be reflected as the season rolls on, but neither team is surviving entirely on smoke and mirrors, and both - especially Florida, with Kevin Gregg and Reynel Pinto - have benefitted significantly from excellent bullpen work, always the hallmark of a surprise team. I don't really regard either Gregg or Pinto as an above-average pitcher, though, so that may not last much longer.

3. Crazy hot bats. I don't think even the greatest enthusiasts about Tampa expected Dioner Navarro, a solid but unspectacular young hitter at age 21-22, to rebound from last season's disastrous .227/.286/.356 to .369/.412/.468 this season, but while he is unlikely to keep up that pace, the lesson is never write off hitters under age 25. The other big-time surprise in Tampa is Eric Hinske, a 30-year-old .256 .336 .439 hitter who batted .204 last season, hitting .257/.342/.529; along with B.J. Upton, those two have been Tampa's most effective hitters. In Florida, it's been more the usual suspects (Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Willingham, Mike Jacobs) but Uggla's just been insane (.317/.398/.694 and a pace for 123 RBI) and Willingham was hitting .341/.406/.637 before he got hurt. As a rookie, Uggla fell off from .307/.365/.510 in the first half to .256/.311/.449 in the second; we'll see how he holds up this time, but Florida would still not be near the top of my list of teams to hold on to the NL East crown, and with the Mets' early struggles I've been glad to see them leading the pack rather than Philly or Atlanta.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:02 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 25, 2008
WAR/POLITICS: Barack Obama Is Afraid Of What He Might See In Iraq

Obama Forced To Admit That He Can't Handle The Truth

John McCain is a believer in seeing things with his own eyes, as a result of which he has visited Iraq several times during the current war (at least 7 at last count). McCain wrote in his 1999 memoir about how much his grandfather and father, both admirals, valued the ability to go face-to-face with the men on their ships and commanders and field troops on the ground to learn more about the men in their command and the developments in the war they were fighting (World War II and then Vietnam). It's a lesson he's carried through to his role as a Senator and now presidential candidate supporting the mission in Iraq.
Barack Obama, by contrast, has made just one brief trip to Iraq in 2006; he's seen nothing of the facts on the ground since Gen. Petraeus instituted the "surge" and accompanying counterinsurgency strategy. Obama may fancy his policy to be 'reality-based,' but the reality he's interested in is years out of date.
Sen. McCain, looking to take advantage of a classic opportunity to make political hay from this contrast while making an offer to actually educate the man who might well be Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces at war (including, yes, McCain's two sons), yesterday challenged Obama to join him in a joint factfinding trip to Iraq:

"He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time," the Arizona senator added. "If there was any other issue before the American people, and you hadn't had anything to do with it in a couple of years, I think the American people would judge that very harshly."...

"I go back every few months because things are changing in Iraq," he said. McCain questioned whether Obama has ever been briefed by Petraeus. "I would also seize that opportunity to educate Senator Obama along the way."

Obama has now rejected that offer, with the following response:

We don't need any more 'facts' to know that this war has been lost. The American people don’t want any new 'facts' or 'information,' they deserve a real debate in which we say the same things we have been saying for five years and come to the same conclusions.

Oh, sorry, that's what I heard when I read it. Here's the actual wording, with some window-dressing on the same basic message:

John McCain's proposal is nothing more than a political stunt, and we don't need any more 'Mission Accomplished' banners or walks through Baghdad markets to know that Iraq's leaders have not made the political progress that was the stated purpose of the surge. The American people don't want any more false promises of progress, they deserve a real debate about a war that has overstretched our military, and cost us thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars without making us safer.

Obama opposed the 'surge,' proposing instead to withdraw from Iraq beginning in May 2007, with a complete withdrawal to be completed two months ago. The one thing Obama can't afford - especially while he's still courting Democratic primary voters - is to face up to new information showing that he was wrong or needs to change his preferred strategy, the way President Bush did in approving Gen. Petraeus' approach. McCain is betting that Americans want a wartime leader who actually cares what the war looks like from Baghdad to the people charged with fighting it - not what it looks like from the streets of Chicago to the people fighting against the mission.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:03 PM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-16 | Comments (0)
May 23, 2008
WAR/POLITICS: George W. Bush And The Curious Case Of The Dog In The Night-Time

Beldar reminds us of the two great accomplishments of George W. Bush's national security policy. I have nothing to add to the first, which affects me personally, but I would underline the second:

[E]ven if the Iraq War did nothing else (a proposition I reject), ... it emphatically demonstrated to every other country in the world that, in their dealings with the United States, there simply is no "military solution" which can favor them.

This can't be emphasized often enough in discussing the deterrent effect of the war. Yes, the war has been hard at times on the U.S., but it is not lost on other regimes how badly it ended for Saddam, his sons and his senior apparatchiks. Or for Zarqawi or other leaders of the foreign forces opposing us in Iraq. That's a huge distinction from how Vietnam ended for Ho's regime. Only the Iranians have really come out of this well, and only because they have not yet provoked us to the point where we would turn our guns on them directly. And if the U.S. did invade and seek to conquer Iran in the same fashion as Iraq (not that I'm suggesting this would be a good idea at any time in the foreseeable future), no matter how difficult that would be for the U.S., it would be much worse for the Iranian regime.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:04 PM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-16 | Comments (38) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: It Appears That Mr. Hand Taught Him Nothing

Sean Penn finds Obama inspiring despite his "'phenomenally inhuman and unconstitutional' voting record."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:02 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Will No One Rid Me Of This Meddlesome Freshman Senator?

She didn't go there, did she? Oh, yes she did:

Responding to a question from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader editorial board about calls for her to drop out of the race, she said: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don't understand it," she said, dismissing the idea of abandoning the race.

Clinton said she didn't understand why, given this history, some Democrats were calling for her to quit.

An immediate apology followed. But you know, some things are hard to un-say. It was one thing when Mike Huckabee made a similarly ill-advised joke about somebody pointing a gun at Obama; while that was illustrative of how you never quite know what's coming out of Huck's mouth next, at least he, unlike Hillary, isn't in a position to directly benefit if something bad happened to Obama.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:33 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Stay of Execution

Omar Minaya just held a press conference at Coors Field to give a vote of confidence in WIllie Randolph. You read that right: Minaya held a press conference in mid-game to say he had flown to Colorado to not fire Randolph.

Past history tells us that these kinds of declarations are no barrier to an eventual firing, but I think this gives us a few weeks' reprieve from speculation about an imminent sacking.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:33 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Obama's Sidekick

The Democratic race drags on, but for now at least everyone is still assuming that Obama's the nominee. With that in mind, we had a roundtable over at RedState on his likely running mates.

Of course, Obama has hired a veteran vetter for Veeps:

Obama has asked former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson to begin vetting potential vice presidential picks, Democratic officials said Thursday. Johnson did the same job for Democratic nominees John Kerry in 2004 and Walter Mondale in 1984.

Um, yeah, John Edwards and Geraldine Ferrarro were such great successes. Let's recall some of the things Johnson missed about the husband of Obama's favorite ex-Congresswoman. May he have similar success this time around.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:20 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 22, 2008
BASEBALL: 1-2 and Lights Out

It never ceases to amaze...the Red Sox are firing on all cylinders at this point, from the offense (1st in the AL in scoring, batting, slugging and OBP, with Julio Lugo the only player with at least 10 at bats who is below the league average in OPS), the rotation (I, for one, am very happy to have drafted Dice-K on all three of my Rotisserie teams this year, and the 4.24 ERA for Lester and Buchholz combined beats the heck out of 8.70 for Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy), but the most amazing thing is still the front of the bullpen - here's the career combined numbers for Papelbon and Okajima: 1.79 ERA, 6.10 H/9, 0.73 HR/9, 2.32 BB/9, 9.94 K/9, 300 K compared to 254 baserunners. Wow.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:46 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Mets Trivia of the Day

Among players with 1000 or more plate appearances as a Met, only three have a lifetime Mets batting average of .300 or better. Name them.

Answer here.

Bonus: try to guess the all-time batting leader for the Rangers/Senators franchise; they have 8 career .300 hitters as Rangers/Senators.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Willie Randolph Faces The Music

panicbutton.JPGShould the Mets fire Willie Randolph? In general, I'm not a fan of firing the manager in-season. You can usually get a short-term boost from doing so, even if you hire an empty suit (the Mets' hot streak after hiring Bud Harrelson to replace Davey Johnson in 1990 being a good example), but the #1 problem is that it's hard to find a good replacement in mid-season. Little enough would be accomplished in terms of shaking up the clubhouse by promoting Jerry Manuel.

That said, Randolph has endured more than just a slump. Since last May 30, the Mets are 77-79. The offense is 10th in the NL in scoring this season and 13th in slugging; going back to 5/30/07, you can see that the names have changed but the problem remains, with Jose Reyes (.270/.337/.413 in 649 at bats) being the big disappointment and Beltran and Delgado more generally failing to live up to billing, especially this season. The pitching has been hit or miss, with Oliver Perez the most frustrating over that period - I actually don't feel as concerned about the staff right now, although after yesterday we got another reminder of why the best long-term plan with Pelfrey (leave him in the rotation and let him grow up) conflicts with the team's short-term need for a reliable fifth starter. Even in his four really good starts this season, Pelfrey's averaged less than 5 K per 9.

The case against Randolph isn't so much statistical as a broader sense that his low-key personality has contributed to the team's mental errors and general lack of consistent hustle and sense of urgency - not that they always lack those things, but that the day-to-day focus isn't there. I'm almost out of patience with Randolph myself, so I can see where people with less patience are a lot further along.

As for the flap about Randolph's comments on race, for which he has now apologized:

Randolph, the first black major league manager in New York, wondered aloud in the column whether race had anything to do with his being held to a different standard.

"Is it racial?" Randolph asked in the column, written by The Record's Ian O'Connor. "Huh? It smells a little bit."

"I don't know how to put my finger on it, but I think there's something there," Randolph said in the column. He cited the example of former New York Jets coach Herman Edwards as a coach who was initially successful, but did not last long when the Jets started losing. He also noted the treatment of former New York Knicks coach and GM Isiah Thomas, saying "Isiah didn't do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. ... There's something weird about it."

I missed it when it happened, but I gather on Sunday Joe Morgan made a point of asking why Randolph is on the hot seat and Joe Girardi isn't. As usual, Morgan misses the thunderingly obvious - let's review their 2007 performance:

Girardi - Had not been hired yet.
Randolph - Took a team that was 16 games over .500 at the end of May and led them to arguably the worst September collapse in baseball history.

I don't even know where to begin with the Isiah comparison except to say that if Randolph thinks it's "wierd" that Isiah is unpopular in New York, he clearly does not follow basketball, read the newspapers or watch television; Isiah has been the perfect storm of unpopularity since he was hired, and for a seemingly endless list of very good reasons.

It should be noted that Randolph was a popular choice with the fans and the media when he was hired - he'd been a disciple of Joe Torre, had played and coached for many winning teams, was well-liked when he played for the Mets, and had been regarded as a smart, heads-up player. Does that mean there's no racial element to his unpopularity? We can only speculate. But the point is, there were good reasons why Randolph was initially liked, and good reasons why he is now unpopular. There's no need to look further.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:52 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Name That Name

I have figured out who the candidates should pick as running mates.

John McCain should take John McClane. Sure, he's a fictional character, but he fits well with McCain's appeal and he is played by a Republican.

Barack Obama should take former Clinton HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. Obama-Shalala, baby! The songwriters will love it.

And libertarian Bob Barr should throw the opening sentence of the 12th Amendment to the wind and pick fellow Georgian ex-Senator Sam Nunn. Barr-Nunn '08!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:48 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
May 21, 2008
POLITICS: Obamomentum, Kentucky and Oregon Edition

Well, it's time once again (see here and here) to update the chart with what should now be the complete Democratic presidential primary popular vote totals for the months of March, April and May - I delayed in getting this posted because it took until very late today to get all the votes tallied from Oregon, and in fact I'm running this with 99% of precincts there reporting because who knows how long that last 1% will take. Of course, a handful of late votes are still trickling in from IN & NC, too.

West Virginia5/1391,652239,062-147,410
North Carolina5/6887,412657,676+229,736
Rhode Island3/475,316108,949-33,633

(Source). In other words, even before we get to Puerto Rico, Obama is nearly half a million votes in the hole since the events of late February and early March (i.e., the 3am ad, the Goolsbee/NAFTA flap, and of course the Rev. Wright story). Now, let's look at turnout, using the same baseline as before (the number of votes in 2006 for House Democrats in the state) - this time, I'll just run the chart just for the same time period (the full chart and explanation of sources is here):

State2006 House D VoteDateVotes*Turnout

You will note that turnout was down from the boom in the early May primaries, but at least in Kentucky, the voters still turned out in quite large numbers in the face of the Obama camp's argument that there was nothing left to vote on. Obama had more success in Oregon, where turnout was much lower.

Let's update last week's projections by bringing the turnout back down to 110% for South Dakota and Montana relative to the 2006 figures, while still using the conservative 60% estimate for Puerto Rico. I still don't have new polls for Puerto Rico, South Dakota or Montana - I'm still using the one poll each from the first two and the imputed poll results from the matchup with McCain for the third. Here's where that would get us:

StateDateObama Poll%Clinton Poll%Obama Est.Clinton Est.Margin
Puerto Rico6/137%50%444,000600,000-156,000
South Dakota6/346%34%116,61786,195+30,422
Total46%54% 635,784749,126-113,342

How much guesswork is in this last chart? A lot. We really are operating in the dark as to these last three primaries. Conservative South Dakota blogger Ken Blanchard argued last week that the poll in his state is too optimistic for Obama:

The last poll taken in South Dakota showed Obama 10 points ahead of Senator Clinton. But those results were announced back in April, and a lot of muddy water has gone down the Big Jim River since then. If I had to guess, I would guess that Obama figures to lose South Dakota. He is showing up to show that he isn't just writing off the rural states. If I were him, I would skip the Watertown trip, and instead visit Cabelas in Mitchell. A few photos of him buying a pair of hip waders, and sipping coffee with the locals would be just the thing. It is the Cabelas demographic he is having trouble with.

We shall see; one would hope someone would bother running one last poll. For Obama, though, the best news is that there are only three more of these to go.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:39 PM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Can America Win The War? Yes, We Can!

McCain, Obama and the Optimism Gap


One of Barack Obama's greatest assets has been his appeal to the idealism of young voters and the frustration of grownups disenchanted with the dysfuctional ways of Washington - when prudence and experience says something can't or shouldn't be done, or would have awful unintended consequences, Obama's the guy who says "Yes we can!" Can-do optimism is always popular, and people have come to identify Obama with the ability to eliminate All Things Bad.

But the more we see of Obama, the more cracks we see in the facade of that optimism. A new poll from Rasmussen suggests one of the clearest divides between John McCain and Obama:

If John McCain is elected President, 49% of voters say it is at least somewhat likely that the United States will win the War in Iraq. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 20% believe victory in Iraq is likely if Barack Obama is elected in November.

There are very few things the United States government has done more consistently well throughout its history than win wars against our enemies. It's the most basic, traditional function of government - yet the public recognizes that Obama lacks faith that we can win, whereas McCain has proposed a positive vision of victory by the end of his first term. Which is why I think the following would be a guaranteed applause line for McCain on the stump:

Can America win the war against its radical Islamist enemies? Yes we can! Can we finish the job our troops have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to do in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yes we can! So tell me - why is it that Senator Obama suddenly runs out of hope and optimism when it comes to fighting our enemies?

But the war isn't the only area where Obama's decided lack of confidence in the traditional functions of our government and the dynamism of our economy leads him down the path of pessimism and a cramped view of the future of American liberty.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:12 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
May 20, 2008
POLITICS: "I don't know exactly what's going on there."

Obama stumped on the trail again, and on a question McCain had handled previously. Of course, nuclear power is one of McCain's pet causes, whereas Obama has been unclear on the concept before.

I was complaining the other day to some friends that these days, Obama seems to be aiming to wear down conservative bloggers by producing more material to beat him up with than any one person could possibly keep up with. He's beginning to rival Kerry in that regard.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:44 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Trivia Question of the Day

Who was the last man to get a hit off Satchel Paige?

The answer is in the play-by-play in this boxscore from his last start.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:17 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Piazza Hangs 'Em Up

Mike Piazza, still unsigned, has decided to retire. Piazza could certainly still have been useful, if nothing else as a backup catcher, but obviously preferred not to end his career on that note. He'll remember his years at Shea fondly:

"Within the eight years I spent in New York, I was able to take a different look at the game of baseball," Piazza said. "I wasn't just a young kid that was wet behind the ears anymore - I was learning from other veteran guys like Johnny Franco, who taught me how to deal with the pressures of playing in New York, and Al Leiter, who knew what it took to win a world championship." ...

"Last but certainly not least, I can't say goodbye without thanking the fans," Piazza said. "I can't recall a time in my career where I didn't feel embraced by all of you. Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Miami - whether it was at home or on the road, you were all so supportive over the years.

"But I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn't have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career, was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful."

I haven't updated the analysis in this post from 2001, but by any measurement Piazza has to be the best hitting catcher in the history of Major League baseball, his only real competition for best hitting catcher ever being Josh Gibson, whose talents are more difficult to measure. It's really a crime that he never won the MVP Award while cranking out all those .320-35-110 seasons as an everyday catcher for winning teams in a couple of pitchers' parks.

One of the all-time greats.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:06 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
May 19, 2008
SCIENCE: Building Tomorrow's Soccer Hooligans Today

Human-animal embryos in the UK. I thought traditionally, you were supposed to spend some quality time with the sheep first...

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:32 PM | Science | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Some Guys Have All The Luck

Jon Lester throws a no-hitter. I don't begrudge Lester, who has had an inspiring road back from cancer - this is your basic Hollywood ending to that return - but Red Sox fans have had their share of these; someday, Mets fans will get a turn to enjoy a no-no.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:48 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (20) | TrackBack (0)
OTHER SPORTS: Quote of the Day

"One of the first things that came to my mind was, 'Good thing we brought a second javelin'"

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:47 PM | Other Sports | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Another Amazing Escape

Apparently, at least somebody thinks the new Indiana Jones is really good, as the Daily News gives it four stars. Frankly, I was going to take the kids to see it even if everyone said it was horrible, so it's good to see that the reviews are at worst mixed. George Lucas may have lost his touch, but Spielberg hasn't, which bodes well.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:29 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Harkin Up The Wrong Tree

obama_harkin2.jpgSome things are fairly debable in politics, like how important it really is for a president to have military experience. For my own part, I've argued consistently that yes, it's a very useful experience but not in and of itself an essential one.

Some things are not really debatable, and one of those is that Senator Tom Harkin embarrasses the good people of Iowa every time he opens his mouth on this particular topic. And I don't think he's exactly doing Sen. Barack Obama any favors either.

Let's work backwards. Here's Harkin this past Friday:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain's family background as the son and grandson of admirals has given him a worldview shaped by the military, "and he has a hard time thinking beyond that," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., said Friday.

"I think he's trapped in that," Harkin said in a conference call with Iowa reporters. "Everything is looked at from his life experiences, from always having been in the military, and I think that can be pretty dangerous."

Harkin said that "it's one thing to have been drafted and served, but another thing when you come from generations of military people and that's just how you're steeped, how you've learned, how you've grown up."


He said that "I just want to be very clear there's nothing wrong with a career in the military" and that he has friends who are generals and admirals who have served the country well.

"But now McCain is running for a higher office. He's running for commander in chief, and our Constitution says that should be a civilian," Harkin said. "And in some ways, I think it would be nice if that commander in chief had some military background, but I don't know if they need a whole lot."

More here and here. Uh, OK, so Harkin thinks it's a bad thing to have a lot of military experience? So, he wouldn't bash a candidate for not having served, would he?

Here's Harkin in August 2004, arguing for John Kerry over Bush and Cheney:

Sen. Tom Harkin called Vice President Dick Cheney a "coward" for avoiding service in Vietnam and called on President Bush to end the "backdoor draft."


"When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil," Harkin said. "Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don't like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yeah, he'll be tough. He'll be tough with somebody else's blood, somebody else's kids. But not when it was his turn to go."


Harkin also said that President Bush and Cheney are "running scared because John Kerry has a war record and they don't."

More here. This echoed his 1988 attack on Dan Quayle:

In an editorial in 1988, [The Wall Street Journal] quoted "Senator Tom Harkin who served in Vietnam" (we thought at the time) saying of his Senate colleague Dan Quayle, who did not serve in Vietnam: "It's so ironic; they get in Congress or the government and become big hawks. Don't they have any shame at all?"

Now, assuming you don't just blame Bush for whatever Harkin says, you would at a minimum conclude that Harkin thought Kerry's war record was essential in 2004, right?

harkindean.jpgUm, except that in the primaries in 2004 he supported Howard Dean, who didn't serve because of a supposed bad back that kept him out of Vietnam but not off the ski slopes.

Well, OK, so Harkin doesn't really think it matters if a Democrat has served, right? Well, except that he himself has exaggerated his own service record by claiming falsely that he had flown missions in Vietnam:

In 1979, Mr. Harkin, then a congressman, participated in a round-table discussion arranged by the Congressional Vietnam Veterans' Caucus. "I spent five years as a Navy pilot, starting in November of 1962," Mr. Harkin said at that meeting, in words that were later quoted in a book, Changing of the Guard, by Washington Post political writer David Broder. "One year was in Vietnam. I was flying F-4s and F-8s on combat air patrols and photo-reconnaissance support missions. I did no bombing."

That clearly is not an accurate picture of his Navy service. Though Mr. Harkin stresses he is proud of his Navy record - "I put my ass on the line day after day" - he concedes now he never flew combat air patrols in Vietnam.


Maybe Harkin needs to weave this tapestry of hypocrisy and fraud about who has the authority to do and say things about war to cover his own fantasyland view of war, as detailed at some length here and perhaps best illustrated in this video from last summer:

H/T here and here. For those of you who doubt McCain's ability to control his temper, just watch that one carefully - you can almost see the torrent of F-bombs building quite justifiably in his eyes, but he managed a much more restrained and coherent response to Harkin's Holocaust-denial-level revisionism.

Oh, and one more exit question for the NRSC: remind me again why we are letting this guy run unopposed for re-election this year?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The 2 Train

A 2-game sweep of the Yankees isn't quite the good news for the Mets that a 3-game sweep would be, but I'll take it; it's nice to get a break from playing teams like the Nationals...I don't know if Carlos Delgado has 63 more homers left in him, but if he ends up at 499 for his career, he can blame Bob "The Balking Man" Davidson. But then, I'm still bitter at Davidson from this game.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:05 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
WAR/POLITICS: Does Obama Not Know That Afghanistan Was Involved In September 11?

The latest bit of foreign policy wisdom from Sen. Obama, explaining why today's threats are not like the Cold War:

"Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries. That's what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That's what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That's what Nixon did with Mao. I mean think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela - these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union.

On the plus side, he's at least dropped the historically illiterate comparisons to FDR and Truman. And he's apparently abandoning his short-lived attempt to pretend he didn't advocate direct talks with Iran in a nationally televised debate and on his own campaign website. And maybe this doesn't rise to the level of factual illiteracy shown by complaining about lack of Arabic translators in non-Arabic speaking Afghanistan and use of poppy-farm crop-replacement experts in Iraq. But if Obama really thinks that the old conventional-weapons calculus of forces is the only relevant measure of threats today, he really has slept through everything since September 11.

Erick, Geraghty and Jennifer Rubin have more.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-16 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 16, 2008
POLITICS: McCain and the Bloggers

I had meant to post this yesterday...I was on Thursday's blogger call with John McCain (along with a few others from RedState) and wrote up my summary of the call. As you may have seen, with the general election season underway, McCain opened this call to some liberal bloggers, which resulted in a few fairly confrontational Q&As.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:25 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Glorious Day

Those of you who read a lot of blogs have seen this already, but really, I can't read this post by left-wing blogger John Aravosis often enough. It brings me great joy.

You know, it's hard to tell somebody to get out of the race when they keep winning primaries. How do you say "stop embarrassing the nominee by beating him"?

Meanwhile, Michael Barone explains (with a link to your truly) why Obama will have a tough media night on Tuesday and why he can't really put the race away on Tuesday. Key quote: "no one wants to be identified as the superdelegate who single-handedly decided the Democratic nomination - that is, who rejected either the first woman or the first black with a serious chance to be nominated."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:08 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Manny Being Manny

In lieu of your regularly scheduled Mets-Yankees matchup - it's somehow emblematic of these two teams' 2008 season that they should be rained out - I give you the very best of Manny Ramirez:

Inspired by this play, on which he managed to give a high five to a fan in the middle of a play (in case you missed that, too). H/T here and here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:04 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Penny For Your Thoughts

This is awesome.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 15, 2008
BASEBALL: Unnecessary Roughness

This is just cruel.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:28 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Shaking Down The Taxpayers

Jay Tea on a fairly common tale from Newton, Mass.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:44 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: I'd Like To Make A Request

Let's lock this guy and this guy in a room together somewhere and tell them not to come out until they know what "perspective" means.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:07 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Using Schoenweis With Care

I obviously spoke too soon about my confidence in the Mets bullpen, given last night's showing by Aaron Heilman, although realistically last night is as much the offense's fault as anyone's. But I did want to follow up on one thought from yesterday, which is Scott Schoenweis' improved performance this season - a 1.50 ERA in 16 appearances and just 1 homer and 13 baserunners allowed in 12 innings.

Granted, Schoenweis has allowed as many unearned as earned runs, and granted he's still a waste of $10 million on a 34-year-old pitcher with a 4.97 lifetime ERA, but ... well, if you look at the breakdowns, you will see that Schoenweis has not at all solved the problem of getting murdered by righthanded hitters - .316/.390/.574 in 2007, .381/.391/.524 in 2008. He's improved instead in two ways. One, he's gone from good but a little wild to utterly devastating against lefties - .204/.308/.247 in 2007, .095/.174/.238 in 2008. .095 is obviously unsustainable, but it's not unrealistic to hope that he can be maybe a little better than he was last season against lefthanded hitters (though his career mark of .226/.301/.296 against lefties is solid, but not great).

But what has made the bigger difference is the mix of hitters he has faced. In 2007, righties faced Schoenweis 157 times to 108 lefties - a 59/41 split. This year, it's been 23 righties and 24 lefties, almost an exact 50/50. If Randolph can keep that ratio, Schoenweis still won't be earning his salary, but he'll at least do no more harm than good.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:02 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Righting The Ship

One guy who is really locked in now is CC Sabathia. Even accounting for the dropoff in scoring across the AL this season, the incumbent Cy Young winner had been the one weak link in Cleveland's stellar pitching thus far, getting pummelled to the tune of a 13.50 ERA in his first four starts, but in his last 5, Sabathia has a 1.49 ERA in 36.1 innings, allowing 7.18 H/9, 0.25 HR/9, 1.98 BB/9, and 10.65 K/9.

The big fella is back. Now the Tribe just needs to figure out how to get runs on the board. Unfortunately, Josh Barfield is batting .255/.301/.392 at Buffalo, (nobody on Buffalo is particularly tearing it up) and Andy Marte isn't doing much with his occasional opportunities, so the guys who are most obviously next in line to pick up for people like Asdrubal Cabrera, Casey Blake and even Travis Hafner are not offering a lot of hope. Ben Francisco's been recalled, but it is not as if he was great shakes at Buffalo either (.228/.308/.315).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:51 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Tom Davis: Bush Too Conservative On Spending. Yeah, That's The Problem.

With the latest setback in a House special election, Virginia's Tom Davis - who formerly headed the NRCC - has the long knives out for current head Tom Cole. But his diagnosis of the problem seems more a symptom than a cure:

Rep. Tom Davis stomped on the concrete floor of the Capitol basement when asked by reporters about Republican fortunes at the moment.

"This is the floor," he said, by way of explanation. "We're below the floor."

Inside the meeting, Davis had just presented his colleagues with what he said was a 20-page memo outlining his prescription for a way out of this mess. He did not offer details to the press, yet did not spare the party and the president scathing criticism in his public comments.

"The president swallows the microphone every time he opens his mouth," Davis said.

He believes Bush's staunch opposition to the Democratic housing bill and the SCHIP bill, for example, is hurting rank and file. Look at yesterday's vote on [stopping the purchase of oil for] the SPRO [the federal oil reserve], where Republicans defied the president in droves. Lo and behold, the White House says today that it will not veto the bill.

Today is also the day when the House takes up the farm bill, which the president has promised to veto. It's expected that this will become the second veto of Bush's administration to be overridden -- though the farm bill has more of a parochial dynamic than the national political one.


Now, as it turns out, when you go to Davis' actual memo, a copy of which is available through the Weekly Standard, he has a mixed bag of suggestions, some good and some not so good. But the long-time moderate Davis will have a hard time selling skeptical conservatives on his suggestions if the first thing out of his mouth is that the GOP shouldn't be fighting the few battles where it has truly stuck its neck out for fiscal responsibility.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:43 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 14, 2008
BASEBALL: What Ails The Yankees?

A quick look here at what's wrong with the Yankees, from a Win Shares angle - you'll recall that my EWSL method had the Yanks pegged before the season as having 89 wins worth of talent, which would translate to 101 wins if they got a typical number of Win Shares from players beyond the 23 guys I rated before the season.

So if they keep up their pace through the first 40 games, here's how those 23 guys would finish up, compared to their preseason EWSL:

25Robinson Cano2B023-23
32Alex Rodriguez3B827-19
22Philip Hughes*SP-85-13
32Morgan Ensberg3B011-11
36Jorge PosadaC817-9
23Ian Kennedy+SP-44-8
26Wilson Betemit3B49-5
36Andy PettitteSP813-5
28Shelley Duncan*1B04-4
34Derek JeterSS2024-4
35LaTroy HawkinsRP03-3
37Jason Giambi1B89-1
23Melky Cabrera#OF1617-1
33Jose MolinaC440
22Joba Chamberlain*RP862
32Kyle FarnsworthRP844
39Mike MussinaSP1284
38Mariano RiveraRP16124
34Bobby AbreuOF24204
26Brian BruneyRP826
34Hideki MatsuiDH20137
34Johnny DamonOF24177
28Chien-Ming WangSP241410

As you can see, while guys like Giambi and Mussina have gotten a fair amount of grief, they are not doing too badly given the low expectations EWSL had for them before the season. Giambi's on a pace for 28 homers, 89 walks and 81 RBI, even with his ugly .194 batting average; if he can hit .240, he'll have done basically what's expected of him, while Mussina's actually righted the ship enough to be exceeding his EWSL, much unlike Pettitte. The catastrophic failure of Cano (.183/.237/.303) and injuries to A-Rod and Posada have been the big factors, as well as Ensberg's failure to step up when opportunity knocked and Hughes' and Kennedy's early failures. Jeter's decline, masked by a good batting average, has been a smaller contributor. Note that Win Shares also penalized players who don't perform in the clutch - besides being hurt, A-Rod is batting .130/.259/.174 with runners in scoring position and .111/.273/.111 in the late innings of close games (neither of which has been a particular problem for him in prior years, including .333/.460/.678 with RISP last year).

I should add that the problem doesn't end there - the Yanks have 5 WS so far from the other 10 guys they have used so far (1 each for 6 guys and a -1 for Igawa), which would project to 20 WS, compared to 38.5 for an average team over the past few years. So the cavalry hasn't been riding to the rescue.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:51 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Cleaning House

It can only be good news that the Mets finally dumped Jorge Sosa, choosing instead to keep Joe Smith on the roster when Matt Wise returned from injury even though Smith had options left and Sosa has a guaranteed contract with something like $1 million still owed on it. I wanted Sosa gone by the end of last August; this was long overdue, Sosa having allowed 23 runs in 21.2 innings this season. It was a little sad to see Nelson Figueroa go as well, but Figueroa was clearly a stopgap option, and while his 5.12 ERA was no worse than you would have expected from him, his departure is no loss, and a reminder of what an upgrade it will be if we finally see Pedro back in action in a few weeks. With Schoenweis pitching well, as long as he's limited to LOOGY or mopup duty, I'm actually feeling pretty good about a Wagner-Heilman-Feliciano-Sanchez-Wise-Smith-Schoenweis pen (Sanchez has been very uneven, but he's only been scored on in 3 of his 14 outings, two of which accounted for 7 of the 8 runs and 8 of the 12 hits he has surrendered so far).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:44 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Obamomentum, West Virginia Edition

It's not every day you see the presumptive nominee lose a presidential primary in a swing state by 41 points (by contrast, despite a persistent protest vote faction, McCain hasn't actually lost a primary since Kansas and Louisiana on February 9), but that's exactly what happened to Barack Obama last night in West Virginia, and suggests pretty strongly why his campaign seems to be writing off the state for November.

Anyway, let's update the chart I've been running (last installment here) showing the popular vote trend since Obama's armor started to crack at the beginning of March. Here's the current chart:

West Virginia5/1391,652239,062-147,410
North Carolina5/6883,508656,284+227,224
Rhode Island3/475,316108,949-33,633

Attentive readers will note that some of the earlier states' vote totals have changed slightly; I'm using the RCP figures, which presumably got some late corrections on TX, PA, IN and NC. RCP also has the overall numbers, which mostly narrowly favor Obama, though it depends on what states you count; in any event, recall that Obama didn't even crack 30% in national polls against Hillary until after he won Iowa, and didn't catch her until early February, after trailing by double digits for most of 2007; much of the Obama vote in the first two months was basically the honeymoon of a challenger who had yet to be seriously vetted. So while looking at the last two and a half months doesn't cover the whole race, it likely tells us a lot more than looking at things that happened a political lifetime ago. If you knew nothing else of this race, you'd certainly look at those trendlines and think, especially after last night, that Hillary was really pulling away by now.

Where from here? Another interesting thing is that my rough-estimate projection last week vastly underestimated Hillary's West Virginia margin of victory, which was twice what my mostly unscientific model had projected. Partly that's because I was working off one poll with a lot of undecideds, but partly it's because turnout was larger than the baseline I was using, the number of votes for House Democrats in the off-year 2006 election, which I took as a reasonable proxy for the number of people available to vote in a Democratic primary. I'll attach at the bottom of this post a chart showing how that figure has served as a predictor of turnout, but the take-home from that exercise is that West Virginia Democrats came out in very large numbers despite their betters in the media telling them the race was over, already, man - not quite as large numbers as we saw in Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas, but larger proportional turnout by this metric than in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, or Virginia. The voters apparently think there's still something to vote on.

If we update last week's projections, then, with more recent polling and an assumption of 125% rather than 100% turnout relative to the 2006 figures, what do we get? I'm using now the RCP averages for Oregon and Kentucky, but I don't have new polls for Puerto Rico, South Dakota or Montana, and I'm still using the conservative 60% estimate for Puerto Rico:

StateDateObama Poll%Clinton Poll%Obama Est.Clinton Est.Margin
Puerto Rico6/137%50%444,000600,000-156,000
South Dakota6/346%34%132,51997,949+34,570
Total47%53% 1,397,832 1,584,329-186,497

In other words, if form holds - even using the conservative projection of the vote total in Puerto Rico - Obama could end up well over half a million votes under water for the last three months of the primaries. We can only speculate as to why Obama has been struggling like this - whether it's a sign of Hillary's strength, the nature of the later primary states, a temporary weakness or permanent damage to Obama - and whether it will carry over in the general election campaign. But I can say this: if Obama was a fatally damaged general election candidate by this point, this is pretty much how you would expect him to be doing in the late primaries.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
May 12, 2008
BASEBALL: "Apologize this retard"

Dan Graziano explains, in an item that needs to be read in its entirety, how his latest run-in with Carlos Delgado's agent, David Sloane, shows that Sloane, not the most professional fellow. H/Tfrom a dumbstruck Cerrone. Damien Heath at MetsGeek had a much more extensive rundown of Sloane's follies back in 2005. A reminder that some agents may be super-PR savvy, but some are just the same crazy people that any practicing lawyer encounters from time to time.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:41 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Yes, Experience Matters

Does Barack Obama's inexperience matter - and should it?

Who ya gonna call?

I. Experience Matters In The Presidency

The presidency is an enormous, complex and dangerous job. The president's first and foremost responsibility is as the Commander-in-Chief, with responsibility for reacting, sometimes without time to exhaustively gather and sift the best possible information and explore all the alternatives, and with the need at times to rally the nation to do difficult and painful things. The president is also the head of the vast, sprawling executive branch, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, the head of his or her party, the appointer of life-tenured federal judges and scores of influential bureaucrats, the submitter of budgets and proposer of legislation. No president comes to the job fully prepared for all its demands. But the more of those demands the president comes truly unprepared for, the more difficulty he or she will have in mastering them all at once.

While there are a variety of life experiences that are useful for a president to have, to my mind there are five types of experience that are particularly important:

1. Executive experience: The presidency is fundamentally an executive job: most of the things the president does are carried out by giving orders to other people, and usually through several layers of other people. A successful executive needs to know who to appoint, how to supervise them, how to delegate authority and set priorities. Jimmy Carter, for example, though he had served as a Governor, was famously unable to let go of insignificant details, all the way down to micromanaging the use of the White House tennis courts. The public and private sectors alike are strewn with cautionary examples of the difficulty of mastering these tasks in organizations far less massive and diverse than the Executive Branch of the federal government. A president who has never been an executive of any kind - like all three of this year's remaining presidential contenders (the closest any of them comes is McCain's tenure commanding a squadron in the Navy) - faces a daunting task in learning these skills from scratch.

2. Experience with national security and foreign policy: In some areas of national policy, it's possible - even necessary - for a new president to study up on issues and confront them for the first time. But trouble in foreign affairs comes hard and fast, and the president needs to understand on an instinctual level the array of military and non-military options at his or her disposal in any given situation, as well as the many ways in which a particular decision can affect the situation. Military and defense policy in particular can be bewildering and perilous for a beginner who has never encountered it before, given that so many things the military does are so different from how civilian life works.

3. Political experience: If a lot of the president's job requires managing the Executive Branch, another large component - including the ability to keep the Executive Branch in line - is the ability to marshal and sustain political support, both among Congress and the public, including understanding how to build coalitions and how to deal with the media. Of course, the experience of winning a national election gets any president a leg up in this department, but long experience in politics, especially experience of political leadership and experience in coming back from political setbacks, is important training in this area.

4. Military/combat service: As I said above, understanding defense policy from the top down can be a great challenge, but it undoubtedly helps as well to understand it from the ground up. And since the president's most solemn job is to commit forces to combat, experience in combat is not just a campaign slogan; it is, in fact, an important and useful experience to bear always in mind.

5. Private sector experience: Government exists to serve the people, and what Washington does affects private business and private lives in myriad ways that are unanticipated by policymakers inside the Beltway. Having had the responsibility to live off a private sector paycheck and/or manage a private sector business gives the president irreplaceable insights into the end results of his or her actions.

Now, as important as they are, no one of these experiences is essential; you can cite successful presidents who lacked experience in each of these areas, and campaigns have gone off the rails before by trying to make out one of these as a litmus test. But you'd have a hard time locating someone who was even a credible candidate, let alone a successful president, who was basically lacking in all five; the closest would be the singular exception of Abraham Lincoln, who was truly a unique figure, but even Lincoln had made a living in the private sector as an attorney, storekeeper and railsplitter and had some military command experience as a captain in the Black Hawk War. In each case, he ranks ahead of Obama. And Obama is no Abraham Lincoln.

Let's consider two illustrative examples. You may remember the presidency of George H.W. Bush. GHW Bush may well have been the first presidential candidate since George Washington who could really lay claim to all five types of experience: by 1988, he'd been a two-term Vice President, a presidential candidate, a Congressman, a Senate candidate, chairman of the Republican National Committee at the party's historic low ebb, UN Ambassador, CIA Director, ambassador to China, a combat pilot, and a successful oilman.

Bush is a strong example of the benefits of experience. GHW Bush was not a man of great political gifts, nor did he have what he called "the vision thing." But he knew what he was doing. He held afternoon press conferences so frequently they became non-events, ending the prime time game of Sam Donaldson & co. trying to play gotcha with the president. He ran one of the cleanest Administrations, scandal-wise, in memory. His Administration mopped up the S&L mess, and his Treasury Department handled the workout of Latin American debt with aplomb. In foreign affairs, his long years of experience and contacts around the globe paid off time and again, as he faced down Manuel Noriega in Panama and assembled a massive coalition to roll back Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait; as significant as the things that happened were the things that didn't, as delicate diplomacy helped smooth the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the reunification of Germany and the flowering of democracy on the ashes of tyranny around the globe.

GHW Bush was not, in the main, a successful president, due among other things to his lack of firm political convictions and poor communications skills. But that's just a way of saying that experience alone isn't everything. It is nonetheless true that his experience was an important asset that he relied upon time and again in office.

Consider a contrast: John F. Kennedy. Kennedy and the wildly unsuccessful Warren G. Harding are the only two sitting Senators elected to the White House, neither of them nearly as long-serving as John McCain, but both longer-serving in the Senate than Obama. Kennedy was not as inexperienced as perhaps you might think - in addition to being a combat veteran, he'd been a Congressman for six years and a Senator for eight. But he was relatively young, much of his Senate tenure had been spent in a hospital bed due to back trouble, and he'd never run anything larger than a PT Boat. And the opening of Kennedy's presidency underlined the hazards of being green. He pulled the air support from the Bay of Pigs invasion, after his predecessor had insisted upon it, leading to a humiliating setback that left Cuba in Communist hands to this day; a more experienced leader would have been secure enough to know that whatever you do, you don't mess with an amphibious invasion plan approved by Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy subsequently impressed Khruschev, in their first meeting, as weak. While Kennedy in some ways had sound instincts on foreign policy, that 1-2 punch at the outset of his tenure provoked repeated challenges by the Communist bloc - Berlin, the Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly led to nuclear war, Vietnam (some historians speculate that Kennedy felt compelled to take a more hawkish stance towards Vietnam because of the earlier setbacks). As we saw with the Chinese spy-place incident in 2001 and Mogadishu in 1993, foreign troublemakers are always willing to put a new president to the test; Kennedy's inexperience contributed to him failing those early tests, with dangerously escalating results in the years that followed. Obama will be a similar standing invitation, especially taking office while the nation is still prosecuting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and crises in Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela.

Former Jimmy Carter speechwriter James Fallows, writing in 1979, aptly described how Carter's leap from the small-time to the big leagues of national politics left him unprepared for the demands of the job:

If his secure position and effortless supremacy in Plains had made Carter calmer than Nixon or Kennedy, it seemed also to have given him too high an estimation of his own gifts. It would have helped him to have spent a little while in a law firm in Boston, or with a movie company in Los Angeles, or as a broker in New York, to acquire that edge of neurosis and compulsion to get the best ideas out of the people on his staff. That Jimmy Carter would have been a less pleasant person; a different background might have denied him the very traits that are now his greatest strength. But it might also have made new ideas seem crucial to him; it would not have left him satisfied, as the real Jimmy Carter too often is, with what burbles up in the usual bureaucratic fashion and with the people who happen to come to hand. In Plains, he had run the business himself, relied entirely upon himself. He did not need to search constantly for people to push and test him, because his unpushed abilities were good enough.

II. Experience Matters To Voters

Experience doesn't only matter because it tests and teaches potential Presidents how to do the job. It also matters because experience reveals things that the voters need to evaluate in a candidate. A candidate who has faced the kinds of tests the presidency offers - management in crisis, adversity in wartime, sustained political leadership, job creation - can be evaluated more easily by voters than one who has only talked about those tests. This is a point that can't be emphasized enough, and at the end of the day it explains why the private lives, personalities and personal history of some candidates - Obama, Romney, Edwards, Bush in 2000, Hart in 1984 & 1988 - are and should be subjected to more minute scrutiny than better-known quantities like McCain, or Dole in 1996, or Mondale in 1984, or Reagan. We already have a wealth of evidence, from his quarter century in the Navy, quarter century in Congress, two presidential campaigns and innumerable appearances on national television, of how John McCain reacts to crises and setbacks, how he approaches tough political decisions, how he answers hard questions, how firmly he will stand for what he believes in, what things he will compromise on, when he will be a loyal party man and when he will go out of his way to go his own way. You may like what you see in McCain's long record or you may not, but very few people are left with much doubt about what kind of man McCain is or how he would approach tough decisions.

Barack Obama, with little experience to reveal his character, his abilities, and his judgment and fewer accomplishments, is explicitly running on a platform that he has the "Judgment to Lead":

When McCain talks about judgment, we can test the proof in the pudding. But when Obama says it, how do we know that, other than that Obama says so? He points to his decision to oppose the war in Iraq, and indeed to some extent his talk of "judgment" has just been code for that one position, but even on the Iraq War, Obama had the most minimal responsibility: he did little beyond giving a single speech to a local crowd of like-minded constituents, and was by far less influential in the debate than scores of bloggers, let alone members of the federal government. He didn't even have the burden of confronting the facts - it's significant that the anti-war faction has chosen as its most prominent spokesmen Howard Dean and Obama, who share in common the fact that neither had access to classified intelligence at the time. Obama offers judgment unencumbered by either responsibility or complete information. And beyond Iraq, there's little enough in the file.

So what do we get instead? As voters we're stuck reading tea leaves, looking at who he chooses for his friends, mentors and advisers, poring over his and their every utterance, excavating obscure chapters in his life. Because what we are looking for is some substitute for what we could otherwise glean from his experience.

III. The Role of Advocacy In Politics


Despite the obvious relevance of experience, Lyford - is concerned that "table-pounding partisans" may come off as disingenuous in addressing this issue:

One of the things that I've resisted doing is criticizing Barack Obama for, in Ronald Reagan's words, "youth and inexperience." Clearly, he has nowhere near the track record or experience that one would like to see in the President of the United States. He's been in the US Senate for less than one full term and he's never held any kind of executive position. Any arguments that he's too inexperienced and callow to be elected are legitimate.

But if I were to make them, it would be a lie. It would be to imply that, if only he weren't so young and inexperienced, I might vote for him. And the fact is, based on his entire career, the people he's chosen to align himself with and his voting record, there are no realistic circumstances under which I would ever vote for him.

Not to pick on Lyford, but he's crystallized a common theme here and one worth dispelling, because he's missing a key point about how we make decisions in a democracy - not only does it matter very much that Obama lacks the experience to do the job, but it's very much the job of those of us with strong partisan or ideological attachments to point that out.

The initial misconception here is about the role of partisans - bloggers, pundits, and political professionals who are loyal to one party or whose strong political convictions naturally ally them with one party - in election campaigns. Now, to some extent this is my training as a lawyer talking, but our political system, like our legal system, is adversarial by nature; in the ordinary case, it depends on the partisans of each side to keep the other side honest and marshal the best possible arguments against the other. While there are, of course, exceptions, it's generally true that (a) most political commentary and a lot of the legwork behind it is produced by people with an agenda and (b) most undecided/persuadable voters are less well-informed than the typical partisan commentator. Thus, the partisan commentator's role in providing the best arguments for his or her side is an important and honorable one, without which the system would not work nearly as well.* That's not to deny that there are, just as in the legal system, an enormous number of unprincipled hacks in the field, or that a lot of what you hear can be mind-bendingly hypocritical. In fact, you should always consider the source in any political argument. But the point is that criticism from a position of ideological or partisan commitment is a perfectly respectable way of laying out the things undecided voters need to make up their minds.

Let's use an analogy here. Now, like Lyford, when I look at Obama's view of foreign and national security policy, and his positions on social issues and the kinds of people that would lead him to put on the courts, there's more than enough there to convince me that I could never in good conscience vote for the guy. But does that mean I am indifferent to the fact that Obama is also running on a platform of enormous tax hikes? Of course not; that's another reason to oppose him even if there's already enough reasons to make my mind up. And there's nothing disingenuous about me making the point about Obama's tax-hiking plans to someone who may not have already been decided by his foreign-policy and social-issue views.

Of course, for my own part, I've always put a premium on experience in presidential races even within the GOP, on the theory that ideas don't run for president, people do. In 2000, we had to balance McCain's superior foreign policy, Washington and military experience against Bush's executive experience (six years as a large-state governor after an up-and-down career as a business executive). I valued both, but preferred McCain. This time around I backed Rudy in large part because of his executive experience, applied tougher scrutiny to Fred as a campaigner because of his lack of executive experience, and based my opposition to Romney in large part on his lack of political and foreign policy experience after just a single term in office. And indeed, GOP voters in general have long had a strong preference for experienced candidates. It's the Democrats who often seem to be chasing the New, New Thing, the Next JFK.

IV. Hypocrisy And The Legacy of "Gotcha" Politics

One of the reasons why people take it as somehow hypcritical to criticize Obama's inexperience is the malignant effects of "gotcha" politics. Let me explain. Lots of what goes on in political discourse is about criticizing a politician for doing X. Maybe X is "cheating on his wife" or "experimenting with cocaine" or "cheating on his taxes"; maybe it's "voting for tax hikes" or "supporting the Iraq War." Frankly, if you are trying to bring down a public official or defeat a candidate, it can be tempting to look for the magic bullet that singlehandedly removes him or her from the field. And sometimes, people will go out on a limb to argue in depth that "doing X means you must resign/be voted down/be impeached/be indicted," etc.

There are fair arguments about what things are bad enough that they should be grounds for singlehandedly and categorically disqualifying someone from public office or from receiving your vote. But the problem is that the political commentariat seems to have grown too enamored with the idea that pretty much any basis for criticizing a politician must be (1) grounds for total disqualification or (2) utterly irrelevant. Some high points of this mania include disqualifying Douglas Ginsburg from the Supreme Court for smoking pot and Zoe Baird and Linda Chavez from Cabinet posts for not paying nanny taxes and, in Chavez' case, hiring an illegal immigrant. (Of course, the Clinton impeachment was a field day for these sorts of arguments, which I won't revisit here because, really, this post is already long enough).

The "gotcha" attitude with Obama is to argue that his lack of executive experince isn't a big deal because McCain doesn't have it, lack of foreign policy experience isn't a big deal because Bush didn't have it, etc. As I noted above, taken individually, these are valid points. The perilous logical leap is when his defenders argue that since these weaknesses are not disabling individually, they must not be at all relevant even taken collectively. And if one must speak of hypocrisy, it is rather amusing that we heard Democrats the past few years arguing that various Bush appointees were underqualified hacks who lacked the basic qualifications for their jobs (e.g., Miers, Mike Brown), but those same Democrats who were outraged at appointing unqualified people to mid-level jobs in the Administration are suddenly unconcerned about picking a guy without adequate experience for the top job, the guy who appoints all the others.

But for the same reasons why I rejected that style of argument when I came out in opposition to Harriet Miers (here and here) and Mitt Romney, Obama's lack of all the relevant types of experience, taken together, are very much a problem and quite arguably disqualifying by themselves, or at least very substantial reasons to be skeptical of his candidacy. Assuming he does hang on to squeeze Hillary out of the race, Obama is the emptiest vessel ever to get a major party nomination, a man who can't be judged on the results he has achieved because he's scarcely left a trace of results anywhere. It's all too easy to say "yes, we can" when you haven't ever had to be the guy people look to to say "yes we did."

He's never run anything at all, not even a small law practice like John Edwards. Besides his campaign, probably the biggest thing he's ever run was the Harvard Law Review.

He has nothing resembling national security experience or even particularly sustained advocacy on the issue before announcing his candidacy in 2007. The man has apparently hardly even traveled to Europe, to pick one example.

He is running in a contested election outside the insular world of Chicago politics for the first time and has never had any sort of responsibility for political leadership.

He's never served in the military and seems to have scarcely any experience even knowing people who served in the military.

His private-sector business background is negligible.

Are any of these things disqualifying from the Presidency? No. But electing a man who is so seriously lacking in all of them is indeed unprecedented. And that is and should be a central issue in this campaign.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:59 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (50) | TrackBack (0)
May 11, 2008
BASEBALL: Baby Steps

The Mets had another frustrating weekend, in the sense of a series they could have swept but didn't on the heels of dropping 2 out of 3 against the Dodgers, but the silver lining is that at long last, Beltran and Delgado are hitting. This team can't get far above .500 without those two. In his last 10 games entering today, Delgado was batting .342/.419/.737, while in his last 7, Beltran was batting .348/.407/.565 (this after a three-game span when he didn't hit at all but drew six walks). Add in 1-for-3 for Delgado today and 2-for-5 with a double and a homer for Beltran, plus the recent return of Moises Alou, and you start to have an offense and not just a couple of guys being asked to carry the team.

Honestly, in Delgado's case I'm starting to wonder if this will be his last year; if he ends up not even matching last season, he may find himself unemployable and too proud to battle for a bench job. For now, we'll see how long he stays locked in.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:26 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 10, 2008
POLITICS: Barack Obama has already been "Swift-Boated"

You know, one of the funny things about watching the Democrats is their alternation between fear and bravado about whether Republicans will "Swift Boat" their candidate this time around. Orwell once said that "The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable.'" This is roughly the way the Democrats use the term "Swiftboating" to suggest a political attack of thoroughgoing fraudulence and impropriety concocted out of whole cloth. Never mind that each and every one of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was a combat veteran, including a number of highly decorated veterans; it's casually accepted that they were all liars, knaves and pawns.

But the irony of conducting this discussion in the future tense ignores the fact that, by any reasonable definition, Barack Obama has already been Swift-Boated. A true Swift-Boating proceeds in five predictable stages:

1. The Democrat makes some claim that forms the center of his appeal and convinces his followers on the left that he can reach out to voters in the middle.

Kerry: I served with honor. Thus, you can trust me on national security. Bring it on. That dog won't hunt. Go read Doug Brinkley's book.

Obama: I am a post-racial candidate. I will lead us beyond the age of race-baiting preachers and grievance-mongers. I'm also a religious man who will end the Democrats' secular fixation. Go read The Audacity of Hope.

2. The Democrat's own words are accurately quoted against him, his own actions and associations are turned back on him.

Kerry: The video of his Senate testimony. The Winter Soldier hoaxes he peddled. The Christmas in Cambodia nonsense.

Obama: Rev. Wright, the main who coined "Audacity of Hope," turns out to be just another race-baiting preacher. Obama sneers at other people's faith and has to flee from his own church one step ahead of a bitter gun-toting mob.

3. The Democrat stops answering questions and hopes the media will drop the story.

Kerry: Six weeks where his only interview or press conference was with Jon Stewart.

Obama: Hey, I answered eight questions. Let me eat my waffle. No more debates.

4. The Democrat and his supporters whine and screech about the unfairness of the thing.

Kerry: They questioned my patriotism!

Obama: Racists! Distractions from the Real Issue, which is not my words or my judgment but my...uh....

5. Denial.

Kerry: I'm a strong closer.

Obama: Hey, that was the primaries. Did I mention that John McCain was old?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:29 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
May 9, 2008
POLITICS: Poor Taste, But...

I really shouldn't laugh at this (warning: very bad language), but it really was very funny.

For anyone tempted to comment: no, don't take this seriously. It's humor.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
May 8, 2008
BLOG: Drugs Are Bad, Vol. MCXLVIII

Details here.

UPDATE: Speaking of drugs being bad, apparently playing a highly sophisticated crime scene investigator on television won't prevent you from getting busted like a common wino.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 7, 2008
BLOG: Toddler Moment

So I recently tried out Fox in Socks on my 25-month-old daughter, figuring it was a little beyond her age (stretches have just words that aren't tied closely to pictures in the book, which I explained by pointing out that they were funny words), and she sat for it, but since it was bedtime I figured after that I'd try something easier and more familiar. So I got one of her touch-and-feel-the-animals books, and I started reading, and about two pages in she says, "this book not as funny."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:26 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Obamomentum, Revisited

Most anyone watching the primaries had expected all along that Obama would win North Carolina - where the Democratic primary electorate is dominated by African-Americans and college towns - and Hillary would win the more conservative white Democrats in Indiana last night, but Hillary's relatively narrow margin of victory in Indiana and the simple fact that Obama notched a victory in a state of significant size after a string of losses both add up to an undeniably good night for Obama. Let's update the chart I ran previously of the popular vote since the beginning of March:

North Carolina5/6890,895657,920+232,975
Rhode Island3/475,316108,949-33,633

As you can see, over this period - covering the time after the genuine cracks in Obama's previously untouched public brand image had appeared - Obama is still behind in the popular vote, and with only Oregon on May 20 as a likely source for significant number of votes for Obama, that's not going to change.

That's even before you deal with the exit polls - I'll leave the dissection of those to others, but it seems pretty clear that Obama is getting crushed among white and Latino voters, and you can't win much of anything in these United States without those two groups. It's also before you deal with the popular vote for January and February, which is harder to measure because you get into the question of how to estimate the caucus popular votes (in some states, these were not recorded) or whether to count Florida and Michigan:

Here's the remaining schedule, with a chart showing the most recent poll I could find - I used Rasmussen for West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon, a mid-April Dakota Wesleyan poll for South Dakota, a mid-April Puerto Rico poll, and, lacking a head-to-head poll, I used Rasmussen's general election numbers for Montana, which show Obama polling much better, but with basically similar numbers to the South Dakota poll (but note that unlike earlier Obama mountain-state victories these are primaries, not caucuses). I then projected the number of voters - for the states, I used the number of ballots cast for Democrats in the House in 2006*, since this seems to have been a fairly reliable proxy for the number of ballots cast in the primaries in Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina; Puerto Rico is more challenging, but to be conservative I just assumed a turnout of 1.2 million voters, which is roughly 60% of the 2004 gubernatorial general election turnout (in which above 80% of registered voters voted); as Ben Domenech has noted, given Puerto Rico's traditionally high voter turnout and the realization that this may be a unique opportunity to affect the mainland presidential election, if Hillary's still battling at this point the turnout could be much closer to the general election figures:

StateDateObama Poll%Clinton Poll%Obama Est.Clinton Est.Margin
West Virginia5/1327%56%71,232147,740-76,508
Puerto Rico6/137%50%444,000600,000-156,000
South Dakota6/346%34%106,01578,359+27,656

Obviously, these are very rough estimates, especially since some of these polls have upwards of 20% of the electorate undecided, but you get the general idea. Much will depend on the turnout, especially in Puerto Rico, but I think it's a safe bet that when all is said and done, Obama will be down somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 votes for the period covering the last three months of the primary campaign. Heck of a way to launch a general election campaign.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (28) | TrackBack (0)
May 6, 2008
POLITICS: The Niche Candidate Fills A Niche Of His Arena

You, Too, Can Lead A Mass Movement - If You Limit The Seating Enough


If you watched the election returns tonight, you undoubtedly saw Barack Obama win North Carolina by a fairly wide margin. Of course, that's North Carolina's Democrats, and even among the Democrats he yet again got clobbered among white voters ... but if you slice the salami of the electorate until it looks like the kind of people who vote in Democratic primaries in a state like North Carolina, Obama is indeed the people's choice. It's easier, after all, to be the people's choice if you choose the right people to be the choice of.

If you watched him on television, you undoubtedly saw Barack Obama speak tonight before a large and enthusiastic crowd at Reynolds Coliseum on N.C. State's campus. But just as with the North Carolina Democratic primary electorate, it turns out that the illusion of Obama's enormous popularity is a function of limiting the people - in this case, roping off a single corner of the arena. Mary Katherine Ham has a great post contrasting the picture you see above (her image) with what you saw on television.

The rest of those seats will be reserved for general election voters. Individual results may differ.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: Poor Choices

Who names their kid "Nimrod," anyway? No wonder the poor guy is nuts.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:14 PM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
May 5, 2008
BASEBALL: Making An Entrance

Yesterday's start by Johan Santana reversed his usual pattern; whereas he has thus far, except for his beating at the hands of the Brewers, basically had stretches of dominance interrupted only by too-frequent home runs, yesterday he was laboring with a lot of men on base but muddled through to allow just a single run and leave with a lead the bullpen then gave away.

Now that we are 7 starts in to the Johan Santana Era, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the first 7 appearances by prior mid-career arrivals to the Mets rotation. I tried to limit this list to guys who were slotted comfortably into the rotation, and left off guys who were not yet established starters (other than Rick Reed), guys who were obvious reclamation projects (Pete Harnisch, Randy Jones, Don Cardwell, Ray Burris), guys who started off in the pen (George Stone posted an 0.60 ERA in 7 relief appearances in 1973 to force his way into the rotation), guys who went down for the year with injuries before making it through 7 starts (Vic Zambrano), guys who came straight from Japan (Masato Yoshii) and guys who started with the team in its expansion years. Here, in ascending order of ERA, you can see the great, the hideous, and everything in between (Seaver is listed here for his 1983 encore). One or two of these guys made a few relief appearances in here, but they all started at least 5 of the 7 games.

Al Leiter3219983-21.3945.13601641
Rick Reed3219973-21.5048353532
Bob Ojeda2819865-11.7042.13621027
Tom Seaver3819832-22.12513122038
Bruce Berenyi2919844-32.7043.14031829
Johan Santana2920083-22.9146.13571247
Pedro Astacio3220025-22.94494471140
Pedro Martinez3320054-13.0650253963
Mickey Lolich3519762-43.14434621139
Frank Viola2919892-43.18514121442
Pat Zachry2519771-33.2638.23642124
Armando Reynoso3119972-03.27443541826
Hideo Nomo2919981-13.5238.12922540
Tom Glavine3720034-23.64424441322
Bret Saberhagen2819922-24.02474131146
Mark Clark2819961-54.3747.15371429
Orlando Hernandez4020062-44.8938.23961230
Kevin Appier3320012-35.0637.14431524
Mike Torrez3619831-35.1629.23111613
Kris Benson2920043-35.49414661324
Oliver Perez2420061-36.3836.24171741
Mike Hampton2720002-46.5238.24123619
Orel Hershiser4019992-46.6235.14102218
Steve Trachsel3020011-57.05375091125

I'm not sure you can generalize much here except to say that 7 games does not a season make - some of these guys stayed with the tone they set early, others saw their seasons turn around dramatically, whether for the better (Hampton, Trachsel) or for the worse (Astacio). Other notes:

*Note that the subsequent performance record of the guys who topped 49 innings is decidedly worse than the rest.

*Berenyi and Astacio were the only ones to get decisions in all 7 appearances.

*Yes, Santana's HR rate is bad. On the whole, Santana's had one of the better starts, but of course Viola was the only guy who arrived with comparable fanfare (Pedro and Saberhagen were surrounded by health questions from Day One).

*You forget quite how utterly dominant Pedro was in those early appearances.

*Remember that the league ERA has gone up a lot over the years; under the circumstances, the Mets were happier with El Duque on his arrival than they were with Lolich.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Beane Does It Again

I don't know whether to believe that the A's are at all for real - I suspect not, at least for 2008 - but given their 19-14 start (and 21-12 Pythagorean record) you have to give Billy Beane credit for yet again reloading the team in a way that keeps it playing competitive baseball.

Offensively, the A's are almost a cliche sabermetric team - they don't hit for much average (8th in the league and only recently up that high), they don't hit for power (12th in HR, 11th in Slugging), they don't run (13th in steals) but 3rd in runs scored almost entirely on the strength of leading the league in walks. Jack Cust's recent power surge has him up to .244/.426/.427 (Avg/OBP/Slg), Jack Hannahan is batting .205/.355/.329, Kurt Suzuki .286/.360/.321, Daric Barton .259/.365/.362, Ryan Sweeney .267/.325/.320, newly-arrived Frank Thomas .270/.400/.378 since his return.

The AL-ERA-leading pitching staff is truly a classic no-names unit (the biggest surprises being totally unheralded Greg Smith and Andrew Brown), but they're second in the league in K, second in fewest HR allowed, and 3d in fewest walks. I have to believe that their success, combined with the injuries riddling the Angels' staff, has put an end to talk of trading Joe Blanton, at least until close to the deadline and probably until after the season.

Hats off to Beane. He'll need more than just pitching and walks to go further with this team, but they are already way ahead of where most of us projected this squad before the season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:10 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 1, 2008
WAR: Not So Peaceful

What's Arabic for "Willie Horton"?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:08 PM | War 2007-16 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The McCain Veepstakes Rules

The hottest topic in Republican circles, ever since John McCain iced the nomination, is who he should pick as his running mate. There are many interesting names floated, and McCain will have good reason to make a show of talking to a bunch of candidates for the job, as a way of courting different groups and party leaders and feeling out people who might end up with other jobs in his Administration.

But realistically, there are a number of constraints on what kind of candidate McCain can or should pick. The Vice Presidency isn't like other appointments, since he or she is independently elected and can't be fired. And McCain's choice will be of particular significance for a few reasons. First, because of his age, voters will want more assurance than usual that his running mate is ready to step into the job at a moment's notice. Second, also because of McCain's age, he's seen as less likely to serve two terms; his running mate, win or lose in 2008, will have a leg up to be the heir apparent in 2012. And third, many conservatives are unhappy with McCain as the party leader, and want to see that the moderates have not taken permanent control of the party.

Let's start with the Don'ts, which will be especially important in this process. I'm not saying that McCain will necessarily follow these rules, but he should and I suspect he will. And I'm not saying that it's impossible that he will take someone who breaks them, but it will be a very heavy burden to overcome, and probably fatal for anyone who violates more than one of them. (This list is not necessarily presented in any particular order of importance).

1. No Senators: In every presidential election year, many Senators don the red shirt
and run for the White House, but only two sitting Senators have been elected President, Harding and Kennedy, for a variety of reasons - Senators aren't executives, they vote too much and govern too little, and they tend to speak their own arcane language ("I voted for it before I voted against it"). With approval ratings for Congress at or near all-time lows (Congress, with a 13% approval rating, is less popular even than President Bush, at 34%), putting a Senator on the national ticket would be a bad idea. It's too late, of course, to avoid the fact that both parties will nonetheless be nominating sitting Senators in 2008, but at least McCain can take someone who isn't yet another Senator to balance out the ticket. Also, with the Senate's partisan balance so delicate, taking an incumbent out of the Senate - even one who can be replaced by an appointed Republican - will force the GOP to work still harder to maintain its foothold in the upper chamber.

Could McCain choose someone from the House? Possibly, but it still means the downsides of a Senator's association with the current Beltway conditions, and without the gravitas and name recognition the Senate enjoys.

2. No Bushies: After 8 years of any president, the public wants a new team in place; with Bush's approval ratings in the dumps, and particularly given that those low approval ratings are driven so heavily by unhappiness with Bush's executive management during his second term, especially Hurricane Katrina, the management of the Iraq War and lower-level screwups such as former Attorney General Gonzales' mishandling of what should have been a routine decision to remove a number of U.S. Attorneys, McCain needs a clean break from anyone seen as being part of Bush's management team. That means no Condi Rice, whatever her other virtues as a candidate - McCain's been arguing for five years against parts of the Administration's approach in Iraq, and regardless of the merits of those arguments he couldn't well turn around and pick Bush's single closest foreign policy advisor. It also means no Chris Cox, even if he'd be a fine pick for many of the reasons Quin Hillyer identified in early March; with the collapse of Bear Stearns, Cox has also had a recent education in why being the SEC Chairman is a better way to become a scapegoat than to advance to higher office. And it probably means no Rob Portman, either; while the former six-term Congressman's popularity back home in Ohio will earn him a serious consideration, and while his tenure as Bush's Trade Representative and then Budget Director hasn't made him a high-profile Administration figure, and while most of the grievances with Bush's spending policies predate Portman's tenure at OMB, the simple fact of haling from the Bush White House probably counsels against taking Portman.

3. No Old Retired Guys: McCain's age is a double-edged sword, as it does help him connect with older voters, while alienating young voters who are more interested in "cool" and "change" than understanding the actual requirements of the job. Either way, it would be folly to exacerbate the old-graybeard image by adding a candidate who is old, bald and recently pulled out of mothballs like Fred Thompson or Phil Gramm. An active governor like 66-year-old Don Carcieri might not have the same problem, but I'd still bet on someone with some non-white hair left.

4. No Rookies: On the other end of the spectrum, a large part of McCain's argument, especially against Obama, will be that McCain is experienced, battle-tested, and ready to take the now-proverbial 3 a.m. phone call. But as I noted above, given his age, he'll be undercutting that argument if his running mate doesn't also clearly pass that 3 a.m. test - and that means no first-term Governors or Senators, no Lieutenant Governors or state legislators, no business people without government experience. It has to be someone who has more experience and credibility than the Democrats' presidential nominee.

5. No Novice Politicians: This is a similar but related issue, and trips up people like Rice and Colin Powell who might pass the test for foreign policy credibility: the Obama campaign of late has been yet another illustration of why and how inexperienced politicians get in trouble trying to run national campaigns - there's too much new stuff to come out, they don't do damage control well, they react badly when people throw rotten fruit and the kitchen sink at them. McCain will need someone who knows how to stand in and take it in the closing months of a tense campaign.

6. No Pro-Choicers: McCain, unlike Rudy Giuliani, has been able to pass all the minimal-acceptability thresholds for social conservatives, particularly pro-lifers. But social conservatives remain uneasy with him, and he can't afford significant defections from his base if he is going into a difficult fight in the fall. The one thing that's certain to set off a huge and ugly battle within the party is taking someone who supports legal abortion.

Rudy, had he won the nomination, would have needed an especially vigorous pro-lifer as his running mate; McCain doesn't have to go that far, but he does need a running mate who is at least meets the same minimal standards of trust with pro-lifers. That rules out open pro-choicers; it also rules out people whose views on this crucial issue are simply unknown or not fully formed.

7. No Iraq War Opponents: McCain's signature issue in this campaign has been his steadfast support for the Iraq War. McCain can and possibly should take someone who has criticized aspects of the war-fighting strategy and tactics employed over the past 5 years, as he has; but it would create an impossible muddling of McCain's message to have a running mate who opposed or came to oppose the war.

8. No Democrats: I like Joe Lieberman as much as the next guy, and would trust him to be the next Commander-in-Chief...but the presidency isn't only about foreign policy. McCain still needs Republican votes to win, and - again with the age factor - while many Republicans would be happy to see a Democrat like Lieberman in the right job in a McCain Administration (i.e., in a job whose responsibilities are limited to his areas of agreement with McCain), the Vice Presidency has to go to someone Republicans could get behind as a president.

9. No Closeted Gays: There's not a real good way to say this, but...well, if you look at the publicly floated lists of potential running mates on both the Republican and Democratic sides you see some people who have long been rumored to be gay. I have no inside insight or information about any such people; I can only know the rumors, but I assume the people vetting the candidates are better suited to get at the truth. I do know this: whether or not you believe America is ready for an openly gay candidate on the national ticket, it would be a complete political catastrophe for either party (albeit for different reasons) to pick a closeted candidate who then gets forcibly 'outed' during the stretch run of a national campaign - and you'd be a fool to bet against that happening (I discussed a similar issue here). For the GOP in particular, after the Larry Craig and Mark Foley fiascoes, this would be the equivalent of sticking your face on a land mine and hoping nothing bad happens.

10. No Lobbyists: As a general rule, "lobbyists" is one of those words that when you hear a politician use it, you can be sure that the entire sentence containing the word is utter baloney. That said, this campaign season has seen more than the usual blather about lobbyists, and McCain and his more likely opponent, Obama, both like to posture about separating themselves from the whole DC lobbying scene ... I just can't see McCain choosing a running mate who has actually worked as a lobbyist at any point, like Fred Thompson or Haley Barbour.

11. No 2006 Losers: You sometimes see people throw around names of various Republicans who got voted out of office in 2006. To be blunt: give it up. When you start trying to figure out how to turn around the GOP's setbacks in the last election and how potential running mates could help McCain, you're not going to choose anybody who lost their last election, especially not just two years ago.

12. No Perennial Short-Listers: This might be called the Jack Kemp category - there are certain people in Republican politics (mainly former House members like Cox, John Kasich, and JC Watts) who have been mentioned continually for years and years for higher posts: Senate, Governor, Vice President, federal judge, high Cabinet posts - and somehow never end up in the race. There's usually a reason for that. Sometimes, it means the guy has skeletons in the closet, sometimes it means he lacks the "fire in the belly," ... whatever the reason, discount rumors about people who have been passed over many times before.

13. No New Mothers: OK, this is a one-candidate category, but Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gave birth less than a month ago, and her fifth child has Down's Syndrome - even leaving aside her relatively short resume in office, no way you take a new mother, let alone one with that family situation, and put her on the national campaign trail a thousand miles from home. She'll have to wait for the next cycle.

14. No Dynasties: No Jeb Bush, no Liddy Dole. The American people are just ready to move on, at least for now; McCain needs a second different name on his ticket, after the GOP running a Bush or Dole on the national ticket in every election since 1976.

15. No Affirmative Action Candidates: With Obama or possibly Hillary as the opponent, there will be a lot of sentiment for McCain picking a female or minority-group running mate. All things being equal, that would be a great idea, and indeed the GOP has a number of candidates who at first blush would seem to meet one or another of the job requirements - but when you start ticking off the list above, most of the possible candidates fall by the wayside, at least for this election cycle until the next generation of candidates is ready.

If voters vote on identity politics instead of qualifications, McCain loses. His argument has to be that you don't vote for groups, you vote for people who can do the job. I'd love to see him with a non-white-male running mate, but if it's someone who doesn't seem to be qualified for the job, he'll just look like he's desperate to mimic the other side. And that's always a losing strategy.

Now, the Do's - none of these are as litmus-test critical as the Don'ts, but they are also important considerations:

1. Executive Experience: Successful presidential candidates almost always have it - but McCain doesn't. It will help greatly if he has a running mate who can demonstrate the ability to run something larger than a Senate Committee.

2. Outside the Beltway: Like #1, this points to a Governor: Washington's unpopular right now, moreso even than usual; bringing in someone untainted by the current mess in DC will help, even if it's someone like Mark Sanford who was once a Congressman years ago.

3. Swing Stater: Historically, it's hard to measure the impact of a VP choice, but it's generally thought that a candidate who is popular in his or her home state can help deliver that state, and in a closely divided election, swinging a single mid-size state can be a big plus. That argues in favor of Portman (Ohio) or Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and against Sanford or against candidates from deep blue states like California or Rhode Island. On the other hand, while I'm in the camp that thinks the GOP has had trouble with the perception outside the South that the party has become too Southern, I think McCain is sufficiently non-Southern himself that he doesn't need to avoid a Southerner (and might even benefit from one).

4. Yes, It's The Economy: Historically, McCain hasn't been at his best addressing economic issues; it would help a lot to have a running mate who can talk about bread-and-butter issues with credibility and persuasiveness, rather than taking another national security professional.

One odder consideration that has focused attention on Mitt Romney in particular is the issue of money, of which McCain has far less than Obama. But as Brad Smith has explained, with public financing McCain should actually be in good shape for the general election campaign after the conventions, so the money issue is more time-sensitive - he needs cash now.

I'll get back another day to who this leaves as alternatives, but if you are guessing that I think Sanford and Pawlenty remain the logical frontrunners, the only two guys who really sweep through all the check boxes unscathed, you are right - but while I wasn't ready to back Romney as a presidential candidate, he also should not be ruled out of the veepstakes, as there's no one consideration that really knocks him out, either.


UPDATE: Jim Geraghty likes Carcieri. I'm definitely leanining towards him as one of the top candidates despite his age (he's 65, not 66 as I said above).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Roundtable on Wright

We had a roundtable discussion among the RedState Contributors on the latest twists in the Obama/Wright flap - you can read my take and that of my colleagues here; I also had a post there last week on some comments by Obama's campaign manager that I never got around to cross-posting here (sometimes I write here first, sometimes there).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:47 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
LAW/POLITICS: Second Circuit Dismisses Bloomberg Gun Lawsuit

In case you missed it yesterday morning - opinion in Bloomberg v. Beretta U.S.A. here. Basically, the court found that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is a constitutional exercise of Congress' Commerce power, doesn't violate the 10th Amendment, and bars New York City's lawsuit seeking under state law to enjoin gun manufacturers' lawful firearms sales on the grounds that those sales resulted in diversion of guns to the black market.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:46 AM | Law 2006-08 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Studying Conservatives In The Mist

Barron YoungSmith at The New Republic thinks conservatism should be studied in schools. Up to a point, YoungSmith is right; the ignorance of conservative ideas never ceases to amaze. But I would disagree with this:

American conservatism actually has nothing to do with Burke, other than drawing street cred off his deceased personage. The conservative movement began with William F. Buckley, Frank Meyer, and Russell Kirk himself during the 1950s, in a magazine called National Review--and it was revolutionary, bombastic, and eager to overhaul American society, not Burkean.

This rather reinforces the point about ignorance. Some people just can't understand the difference between wanting to remake society and wanting to remake government to get it out of society's way. As I have said before: conservatives believe that governments cannot change men, but we do believe that men can and should change their governments. That's why Burke himself was favorably disposed towards the American Revolution (YoungSmith's cramped concept of Burkeanism assumes that a conservative can never be a revolutionary) but not the French.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:44 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)