Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
September 30, 2009
WAR: Do You Know Me?

See, the problem with President Obama doing things like jetting off to Copenhagen to lobby for the Olympics - besides the fact that it's kind of degrading for the President to wade personally into that sort of thing - is the things he isn't doing. Now, I don't think the president has to personally do everything; a major part of the job is making decisions and delegating their implementation. Bill Clinton once remarked that the worst mistakes he made as president were all when he was tired. I prefer a president who gets a good night's sleep, gets some exercise and takes vacations to clear his head, etc; it's more important for the head of state to have good judgment and perspective than to be showy about being a workaholic.

But some parts of the job you shouldn't blow off, especially when they involve making the most serious sorts of decisions, and when you then end up procrastinating those decisions on the grounds that you need more time to figure out what to do, as witness this NY Times report about him finally preparing for a videoconference with our commander in Afghanistan today:

General McChrystal has not spoken with Mr. Obama since submitting his grim assessment of the war a month ago and has spoken with him only once in the 100 days since he took command of all American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The lack of direct communication has generated criticism and fueled suspicions of strains between the White House and Kabul.

Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, made a point of speaking with his Iraq commander roughly once a week at the height of the war there, a habit that forged a close working relationship between them even if it effectively bypassed the normal chain of command. Mr. Obama's aides said he relied on General McChrystal's advice but did not feel the need to duplicate Mr. Bush's personal engagement with battlefield generals.

Note the distinction here between the actual George W. Bush and the disengaged Bush of myth, who was supposedly uninterested in listening to his commanders in the field. But that's neither here nor there. The point is, while Obama certainly gets briefings from his senior national security people and written reports from the field, there's still a lot to be said for regular communication with the man on the ground, if you think an active war is a priority. Gordon Brown, no right-winger by any standard, doesn't sound like he's as flummoxed as Obama:

When asked on Sky News if he was prepared to commit more British troops, Brown said "we will do whatever is necessary."

Obama's delay in making up his mind about McChrystal's recommendations is a direct consequence of not keeping his finger more firmly on the pulse of the situation. Somehow, there is time for the head of the SEIU to visit the White House weekly, apparently including regular face time with the President, but not for the head of the military operation in Afghanistan. A curious set of priorities indeed.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:37 AM | War 2007-14 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)

I thought I was a serious Bruce fan, but you know, I've only been to 3 shows, 4 if you count seeing him at Rockefeller Center on the Today Show in 2007; NJ GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie has seen the Boss 120 times, including 9 of 10 shows of a set and scheduling a Paris trip with his wife around Bruce's European tour. Now that is dedication.

It's an uncharacteristically nice piece from the NYT, but of course only in a non-substantive puff profile way; they capture pretty well the uncomfortable position for Christie being a Springsteen fan while Bruce was out campaigning against his party.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:19 AM | Politics 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
September 29, 2009
POLITICS: Respect Authority

Hey, remember when the Left's big slogans were all about "Question Authority" and "Speak Truth to Power" and all that? Well, here's the perfect gift for the left-wingers you know who have had those bumper stickers during the Bush years and want to get their mind right with the new Administration:


Yes, the shirt says "Respect the President of the United States." And no, you just can't get more rebellious and counter-cultural than that, now can you? That'll show The Man!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:08 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Health Care and Abortion, Again

Today's New York Times essentially owns up to what conservatives have been saying, and what President Obama branded a lie during his joint address to Congress: federal funding for abortion is very much on the table in the health care debate. Let's take a look:

Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion.

Hard cases make bad grammar, apparently.

Abortion-rights supporters say such a restriction would all but eliminate from the marketplace private plans that cover the procedure, pushing women who have such coverage to give it up.

In other words, up for discussion is what happens if the plan is structured to subsidize nominally private plans rather than a "public option." Under a public option, the issue would be squarely presented: the plan would cover abortions, or not. In the case of subsidies, it would be indirect. Abortion supporters are concerned that this would entangle the government in regulating private plans' provision of insurance for abortion, but of course the whole health-care proposal is about the government regulating all sorts of things the insurers can and can't cover (recall the exhaustive list of things Obama, in his speech, said would be henceforth prohibited or mandated). The point of keeping the health care sector private is to get government out of those decisions. Once it's in the door regulating everything else, it rings hollow for the proponents of all that other regulation to say that objecting to subsidizing plans that cover abortion isn't the business of the people doing the subsidizing. Consider this line:

The bills would also mandate the availability in each state of at least one plan that covers abortion and at least one that does not.


The question looms as a test of President Obama’s campaign pledge to support abortion rights but seek middle ground with those who do not. Mr. Obama has promised for months that the health care overhaul would not provide federal money to pay for elective abortions, but White House officials have declined to spell out what he means.

Yes, well, he said he'd seek middle ground, but on every substantive issue his record and pledges hewed to the furthest-left position possible. He also pledged to restore federal funding for abortion, but the Times won't tell its readers that.

Democratic Congressional leaders say the latest House and Senate health care bills preserve the spirit of the current ban on federal abortion financing by requiring insurers to segregate their public subsidies into separate accounts from individual premiums and co-payments. Insurers could use money only from private sources to pay for abortions.

But opponents say that is not good enough, because only a line on an insurers’ accounting ledger would divide the federal money from the payments for abortions. The subsidies would still help people afford health coverage that included abortion.

Precisely so, as anyone remotely familiar with the fungibility of money and the pricing of any sort of service could tell you. The Democrats' defense is that they are already using a similar system to evade the Hyde Amendment in the Medicaid program:

Supporters of the current segregated-money model argue that 17 state Medicaid programs that cover elective abortions use a similar system, dividing their federal financing from state revenues they use to pay for procedures.

Moreover, it's not just the Republicans balking. Democrats like Bob Casey, who claim to be pro-life while supporting only Supreme Court Justices they believe will uphold Roe v Wade, are finding the pro-abortion extremism of the health care bills too much to swallow. As a result, even the Times can no longer deny what Obama has been furiously insisting was a complete fiction: that unless it includes a solid prohibition, a vote for the health care bill is a vote for federal taxpayer money subsidizing abortion.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:58 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
LAW/POLITICS: Whoopi Goldberg, Moral Monster

Arguing that drugging and forcibly penetrating a non-consenting 13-year-old girl isn't one of the bad kinds of rape.

I knew Whoopi was rude, an ignoramus (she told John McCain last year that the Constitution doesn't prohibit slavery) and a walking crime against comedy, but even I was startled to discover her cavalier attitude towards the violation of a young girl.

Oh, and also following the same story with what only tries to be parody: the Onion.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:36 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Is Violence The Answer?

ACORN founder's response to news that a fellow community organizer had helped the FBI foil a plot to bomb the 2008 GOP Convention? "[It's] one thing to disagree, but it's a whole different thing to rat on folks."

You should read the whole thing from Brandon Darby, the organizer.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 28, 2009
WAR: Not Now

Benjamin Kerstein explains why the internal politics of the Netanyahu government make it unlikely that Israel will launch a strike on Iran's nuclear program while the issue is in the news.

There are not a lot of good options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, and haven't been for the past decade. I still believe that the real weapon of mass destruction in Iran, as in Syria, North Korea and Saddam-era Iraq, is the tyranny itself and not the tools it possesses. That said, short of an invasion - which remains a bad option for reasons I've discussed before - regime change in Iran is likely to take time, and Israel in particular may not have that luxury, which is why at a minimum it makes sense for the Irsaelis to take the military-strike option very seriously.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:18 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: The Age of Consent

This Salon piece says pretty much everything that needs be said about Roman Polanski.

UPDATE: This is also a good point. But then, sexual abuse of minors just doesn't get taken half as seriously when it's...well, pretty much anybody else.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:17 PM | Law 2009-14 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

While we are on the subject of AL awards, a quick cut on the data for the AL Cy Young Award, looking at the 18 AL ERA qualifiers (not counting Cliff Lee, who will cease qualifying by season's end) with ERAs under 4.00 (you win a prize if before the season you thought this list would include Jeff Niemann, Edwin Jackson and two Rangers):


QI= Quality Innings, a quick-and-dirty metric I like to use: ERA+ times innings pitched.

QCI= Quality Component Innings, a similar metric to quickly look at the defense-independent numbers: K/((HR*4)+BB)

URA: Unearned Run Average. Just worth checking to see who's giving up an unusual number of unearned runs. In this case, almost all the best ERA guys are allowing a few extra unearned runs, most of all King Felix.

Anyway, this cut on the numbers pretty strongly underlines why Greinke is the obvious Cy Young choice. He's just so far ahead of the field when you add up measures of quality, and he's carried about the same workload as the league's big workhorses, and only Sabathia with the Yankees offense behind him is more than one win ahead of him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:11 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Catching A Vote

It was inevitable that at least one of the moribund division races would heat up, and the AL Central has stepped up to the plate, with the Twins - despite the loss of Justin Morneau - being carried on the back of Joe Mauer to a 25-12 record in their last 37 games since falling 5 games under .500, including an 11-1 stretch snapped only by Zack Greinke yesterday, to pull within 2 games of the Tigers entering a 4-game set in Detroit starting tonight for all the marbles. Mauer, for his part, has - despite the wear and tear of catching 102 games since returning to action May 1 - batted .399/.475/.622 since August 2, .406/.513/.594 since September 7.

If Mauer manages to pull this team to a division title with multiple holes in its lineup and a wobbly pitching staff, the MVP debate will intensify, as the writers seem primed (as I've discussed previously) to give the award to Derek Jeter, despite Mauer being far and away the best hitter in the league - leading the AL in batting by 20 points, OBP by 32, slugging by 34, OPS by 95, and likely to finish around 600 plate appearances while spending 80% of his time as a catcher and despite missing a month of the season.

It occurred to me that it was worth looking back at how other big-hitting catchers have fared in the MVP balloting over the years. Here's the top 25 seasons by a catcher who qualified for the batting title and spent at least 75% of his games behind the plate, in years that MVP awards were given, ranked by OPS+, along with how they finished in the MVP balloting and who won the award:

1Mike Piazza19971856332Larry Walker178RF
2Joe Mauer2009181567----
3Mike Piazza19951724754Barry Larkin133SS
4Mike Piazza19961666312Ken Caminiti1733B
5Johnny Bench19721666521---
6Chris Hoiles199316250316Frank Thomas1771B
7Carlton Fisk19721625144Dick Allen1991B
8Ernie Lombardi194216134713Mort Cooper-SP
9Roy Campanella19511595621---
10Gabby Hartnett19371584052Joe Medwick180RF
11Bill Dickey19361584725Lou Gehrig1901B
12Mickey Cochrane193315754215Jimmie Foxx2001B
13Darren Daulton19921565856Barry Bonds205LF
14Joe Torre196615661416Roberto Clemente146RF
15Mike Piazza20001555453Jeff Kent1622B
16Roy Campanella19531555901---
17Jorge Posada20071545896Alex Rodriguez1773B
18Roy Campanella19551535221---
19Ernie Lombardi19381535291---
20Mike Piazza199815262614Sammy Sosa160RF
21Mike Piazza19931526029Barry Bonds204LF
22Dick Dietz1970152612NAJohnny Bench141C
23Gabby Hartnett19331514611---
24Bubbles Hargrave19261513656Bob O'Farrell112C
25Mickey Cochrane19311495219Lefty Grove-SP

Jeter's OPS+, if you are wondering, is 127.

I was surprised by how many guys there were on the list who fared very poorly in the voting. Obviously, the cheif takeaway here is that the voters never respected Mike Piazza. Other cases are justifiable: no shame losing to a Triple Crown winner, or getting beat by Lou Gehrig or Barry Bonds in their primes, and no surprise that guys with less than 400 plate appearances did poorly in the voting. In other cases, somebody else got robbed (Sandy Koufax, 1966). It's appalling that Dick Dietz didn't get any MVP support at all, but not so surprising that the winner in 1970 was Johnny Bench, who drove in 148 runs for a pennant-winning team and was Johnny Bench behind the plate. But even so, more of these guys should have been finishing close to the top, if not the top.

We'll see what the AL voters do this time.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:27 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 9/28/09

*Neil Stevens takes apart Nate Silver's latest series on the polling firm Strategic Vision.

*The Second Circuit reverses a prior decision and concludes that foreign governments, like states of the Union, are not "persons" with rights protected by the Due Process Clause. Perhaps more controversially, the court then extends this rule to companies that act as instrumentalities controlled by the foreign state.

*In the vein of other liberals suddenly switching gears to oppose the war in Afghanistan now that it can no longer be used as a club against Bush's Iraq policy, Rich Lowry takes apart Frank Rich's sudden about-face on Afghanistan. I'd agree with Lowry that, especially in Rich's case, this may be as much ignorance as duplicity at work. The Left's freshly-minted campaign to demonize the Karzai government is simply a fig leaf to cover this reversal, and it ignores the history of Afghanistan, a poverty-stricken country with an appalling history of all sorts of misrule.

*Obama is going to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago getting the Olympics. Yes, the President of the United States has officially run out of better things to do with his time.

But I think we can confidently predict his smile.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:28 PM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
September 25, 2009
BASEBALL: Coming Home To Die

Very little good can be said of Ken Griffey Jr.'s reunion season in Seattle, but say this: he hasn't let down the paying crowds at Safeco. Griffey is batting .272/.385/.523 in 179 plate appearances at home, including 9 homers and 27 walks in 41 starts at home (a pace for 36 homers and 106 walks per 162 games). Not quite the Griffey of old, but still a very dangerous bat.

Unfortunately, he's had a lot more of his playing time on the road, where he's batting .173/.280/.308. Eccch.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:00 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Since the question came up in the comments to yesterday's post on 500-out seasons, I checked and there have been 67 seasons since 1871 in which a player made fewer than 300 outs in a season of 502 or more plate appearances (list here). Only two of those made less than 250 outs: John McGraw with 243 outs in 1899, and Barry Bonds with 244 outs in 2004. Unsurprisingly, this tracks OBP pretty closely. The top 13 seasons (275 outs or less) include two by McGraw, three by Bonds, two by Tris Speaker, three by Ted Williams and one each by Mickey Mantle, Frank Chance and Billy Hamilton. However, the seasons by McGraw, Hamilton and Chance are all from years when caught stealing data was not collected, and one assumes that McGraw with 73 steals, Hamilton with 54 and Chance with 38 would all have had a significant number of CS (those years and Speaker's also predate GIDP data).

Besides Bonds, the seasons from this decade on the list? Chipper Jones in 2008, and Manny Ramirez in 2000 & 2002.

Speaking of GIDP, Ichiro has hit into only one double play all year. Entering last night's action, that was one GIDP in 636 plate appearances for a player who:

-Is 35 years old
-Strikes out in barely more than 10% of his plate appearances (65 K)
-Hits the highest percentage of ground balls in the AL (56.4%)
-Unlike NL leadoff men, does not bat behind the pitcher


UPDATE: Since 1939, the first year we have GIDP data for both leagues, 17 players have finished a season of 502+ plate appearances with 1 or 0 GIDP; Ichiro, Curtis Granderson and Michael Bourn could make it 20. The only guys to make it with no GIDP? Craig Biggio, Dick McAuliffe, Pete Reiser and Rob Deer. Biggio in 1997 had 744 plate appearances with no DPs. I looked to see how long his streak was, but he hit into one on Opening Day in 1998.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:43 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Scrubbed

Goldfarb looks further at what the Administration has been telling the generals about troop requests in Afghanistan. Nothing terribly dramatic here, but it pieces together with everything else we've been seeing lately about the mounting tension between the military commanders and the Administration.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:07 AM | War 2007-14 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
September 24, 2009
BASEBALL: Let's Make Out!

Jimmy Rollins made his 500th out of the season last night. This was the 6th time in his career that Rollins has made 500 outs in a season, a new Major League dubious record. Here's the list of players who have managed the feat more than twice (you'll note that they're mostly middle infielders):

6 - Jimmy Rollins
5 - Cal Ripken, Juan Pierre
4 - Bobby Richardson, Dave Cash
3 - Jose Reyes, Larry Bowa, Juan Samuel, Omar Moreno, Rick Burleson

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:18 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: From The Department Of Completely Predictable Consequences

Governor Paterson discovers the gee-who-coulda-seen-this-coming fact that jacking up marginal tax rates is bad for the economy and not all that helpful to the budget:

[E]arly revenue figures suggest that taxing the wealthy more under this year's state budget may have driven away richer New Yorkers. That could make the economic comeback for the state even harder.

"You heard the mantra, 'Tax the rich, tax the rich,' " Gov. David Paterson said Wednesday at a gathering of newspaper editors at an Associated Press event in Syracuse. "We've done that. We've probably lost jobs and driven people out of the state."

In a similar we-told-you-so vein, the Wall Street Journal notes a GAO report saying that the stimulus has had precisely the effect on state budgets that its critics among the GOP Governors warned it would:

Stimulus money is helping states plug budget holes, but state officials are worried about how they will sustain programs after the federal funds run out, according to a new Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday.

Around $90 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package was dedicated to state Medicaid programs. The money, which goes out quarterly to the states and is known as FMAP funds, has moved faster than stimulus dollars allocated to many other spending categories.

The GAO, the congressional watchdog charged with monitoring how states are handling their share of the stimulus package, found that most states it studied were using the Medicaid funds to cover increased caseloads and to maintain their current services and eligibility criteria. Some states were also using the funds to avoid cutting payments to hospitals and doctors.

State officials "expressed concern about the longer-term sustainability of their Medicaid programs after the increased FMAP funds are no longer available, beginning in January 2011," the report said.

The report also found some states were using the money to free up other parts of their state budget that would otherwise have been used for Medicaid. Several states reported the funds were helping finance general state budget needs.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Engaging in Afghanistan

Ralph Peters looks at the rules of engagement in Afghanistan and blasts the military leadership for accepting/promulgating them. Also via Uncle Jimbo at Ace, who notes that Peters is characteristically somewhat overwrought here, but worth the read nonetheless.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:55 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Leon Wolf disposes swiftly of the legal "merits" of ACORN's lawsuit against Breitbart. One of Jonah Goldberg's readers has more, although I'm skeptical of his third point, on standing grounds (as to RICO, anyway; the False Claims Act would be more a matter of finding something new, and I'm not familiar with whether you can use civil discovery to become an "original source" for qui tam purposes).

Via Ace, ACORN is also $2 million in the hole in paying its taxes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:49 PM | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: The Bad Ally

The UK media is about out of patience with President Obama's evident distaste for the British:

[T]he Prime Minister was forced to dash through the kitchens of the UN in New York to secure a few minutes "face time" with President Obama after five requests for a sit-down meeting were rejected by the White House.

What are we to make of this? This country has proved, through the bravery of men like Acting Sgt Lockett, America's staunchest ally in Afghanistan. In return, the American President treats the British Prime Minister with casual contempt. The President's graceless behaviour is unforgivable. As most members of the Cabinet would confirm, it's not a barrel of laughs having to sit down for a chat with Gordon Brown. But that's not the point. Mr Obama owes this country a great deal for its unflinching commitment to the American-led war in Afghanistan but seems incapable of acknowledging the fact. You might have thought that after the shambles of Mr Brown's first visit to the Obama White House - when there was no joint press conference and the President's "gift" to the Prime Minister was a boxed DVD set - lessons would have been learned. Apparently not. Admittedly, part of the problem was Downing Street's over-anxiety to secure a face-to-face meeting for domestic political purposes but the White House should still have been more obliging. Mr Obama's churlishness is fresh evidence that the US/UK special relationship is a one-way street.

Of course, neither Brown nor Tony Blair had this sort of problem prior to January 20. Maybe we should look into why our bilateral diplomacy was run so much better before that date.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:43 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 23, 2009
WAR: Closing Ranks

Looks like the military leadership is unanimous - General Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen have both backed Gen. McChrystal's recommendation for more troops in Afghanistan.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:36 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Standing Down

Following up on yesterday's item, it looks like both sides have now stood down in the showdown between Gen. McChrystal, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, and the Obama Administration: McChrystal is no longer threatening to resign, and will be permitted to submit his request for additional troops by the end of the week. The White House had been put in an impossible position on this: the whole point of telling him not to make the request was so they could claim it had never been denied, but once the publicity blew up over McChrystal's threat, there was no longer any purpose served by refusing to let him make the request. Which now means that if the White House wants to overrule the military command, it has to do so expressly.

UPDATE: Note also that the report says that McChrystal will explain his reasoning to Congress. Which will put the screws to the Administration to say no. It's always been very rough sledding to argue against a uniformed officer testifying on the Hill.

Meanwhile, Bill Roggio looks at the renewed Pakistani offensive in Waziristan. As usual my expectations for the Pakistani military are pretty low, but it's better than nothing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:58 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 22, 2009
WAR: General McChrystal to Obama: More Troops Or I Quit!

If you are old enough to remember the George W. Bush Administration and the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, you will recall that a favorite theme of critics of Bush's war management was that Bush hadn't listened to Army brass asking for more troops in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. In particular, the Democrats practically made a secular saint of General Eric Shinseki, who supposedly was fired for delivering this message. (The truth is rather different, but the media has been printing the legend for so long it's hardly worth the candle at this late date to argue the point). Gen. Shinseki even ended up being given a Cabinet post in the Obama Administration for little other reason than as a symbol that Obama would break from his predecessor by following his subordinates' recommendations.

Well, as we so often have reason to say of Obama's campaign rhetoric, that was then and this is now. And we are learning that listening to requests from his commanders for more troops is not Obama's strong suit as Commander-in-Chief.

First, Obama scaled back the U.S. troop commitment. Obama during the campaign had promised more troops for Afghanistan, where the U.S. had approximately 36,000 troops and was relying heavily on training the Afghan military to supplement U.S. and NATO forces. In November 2008, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had indicated that some 30,000 troops would be sent to Afghanistan, and the 30,000 figure was requested by General David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan (he reports to General David Petraeus). Instead, Obama reduced the force to some 17,000 additional U.S. counterinsurgency troops - barely more than half what General McKiernan had requested - plus an additional 7,000 troops for other functions. But Obama's national security advisor, General James Jones, bluntly warned the military brass that further requests for more troops would upset the White House:

Now suppose you're the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?

Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have "a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment." Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF - which in the military and elsewhere means "What the [expletive]?"

Obama, despite overruling his commander's request for more troops, trumpeted this as a step towards fully supporting the mission in Afghanistan:

"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said.

In a major address on August 17 (Obama gives a "major address" a few times a week) to the VFW, Obama underlined this commitment and the centrality of the Afghan theater:

By moving forward in Iraq, we're able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why I announced a new, comprehensive strategy in March -- a strategy that recognizes that al Qaeda and its allies had moved their base from the remote, tribal areas -- to the remote, tribal areas of Pakistan. This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war -- that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

In the months since, we have begun to put this comprehensive strategy into action. And in recent weeks, we've seen our troops do their part. They've gone into new areas -- taking the fight to the Taliban in villages and towns where residents have been terrorized for years. They're adapting new tactics, knowing that it's not enough to kill extremists and terrorists; we also need to protect the Afghan people and improve their daily lives. And today, our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week's election so that Afghans can choose the future that they want.

Now, these new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense.

As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight and we won't defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a -- this is fundamental to the defense of our people.

And going forward, we will constantly adapt to new tactics to stay ahead of the enemy and give our troops the tools and equipment they need to succeed. And at every step of the way, we will assess our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and to help the Afghan and Pakistani people build the future that they seek.

As for McKiernan, he was unceremoniously sacked in May, replaced by General Stanley McChrystal, who had worked for Gen. Petraeus in carrying out the counterinsurgency "surge" in Iraq. Was McKiernan being punished for requesting more troops than Obama was willing to provide? Was his replacement a power play by Gen. Petraeus to put his own man in charge? From an outsider's remove, we can't know, we can only look at what happened next.

And what happened was that on August 30, Gen. McChrystal delivered a similar message to that of his predecessor: the latest renewed Taliban offensive requires more American troops to prevent a Taliban victory in the war the Taliban started with us on September 11, 2001:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) - while Afghan security capacity matures - risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

At the liberal Atlantic, D.B. Grady finds McChrystal's message "unambiguous" (H/T):

Some Afghans took us seriously. And the value of an American promise is now being weighed. If we run out the clock, if we rescind our commitment, regardless of president or party or poll, the world will be watching and they, too, will take away "lessons learned."

The McChrystal assessment is an echo of Winston Churchill's message to President Roosevelt. "Give us the tools and we will finish the job."

This is President Obama's FDR moment.

General Petraeus, for his part, took to the London Times on Friday to echo McChrystal's assessment of the situation and the importance of the mission:

General Stan McChrystal, the Commander of Nato's International Security Assistance Force, who has spent most of his career since 9/11 leading the US's most elite counterterrorist element, the Joint Special Operations Command, is employing a comprehensive, counterinsurgency campaign. He is the first to recognise not just the extraordinary capabilities but also the limitations of counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.

In addition to our military operations we are helping the Afghan Government to combat the corruption that has undermined the legitimacy of certain Afghan institutions. We are also working hard to accelerate the development of the Afghan security forces. And we are working to disrupt narcotics trafficking by promoting agricultural alternatives and developing the infrastructure to help Afghan farmers to get their products to market.

But we need to be realistic in recognising that the campaign will require a sustained, substantial commitment. Many tough tasks loom before us - including resolution of the way ahead after the recent election, which obviously has been marred by allegations of fraud. The challenges in Afghanistan clearly are significant. But the stakes are high. And, while the situation unquestionably is, as General McChrystal has observed, serious, the mission is, as he has affirmed, still doable.

So, is the Obama Administration keeping its promise to listen to the brass? Word came down yesterday that the White House has indeed had the predicted "WTF" moment, and the Administration is pushing McChrystal to shut up and back off:

The Pentagon has told its top commander in Afghanistan to delay submitting his request for additional troops, defense officials say, amid signs that the Obama administration is rethinking its strategy for combating a resurgent Taliban


Military officials familiar with the matter say [McChrystal's] report lays out several options, including one that seeks roughly 40,000 reinforcements, which would push the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 for the first time.

But the commander has been told to delay submitting the troop request to the Pentagon at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other top civilian officials, according to defense officials.

The administration's call for a further strategic review - which official said could take weeks - comes as military commanders in the field say the campaign is running out of time and U.S. congressional and public support for the war is flagging.

The military commanders are reportedly distressed at this foot-dragging and wondering if Obama is really committed to victory as he claims. A split is widening between them and the civilian leadership, while John Kerry - who was so certain five years ago what had to be done in Afghanistan - now says we need time to figure out what's going on in a war that's now entering its ninth year.

In fact, so deep is the split that word is circulating that General McChrystal is threatening to resign if he doesn't get the troops he feels he needs. H/T. Which, if it came to pass, would mean having to pick a third NATO commander for Afghanistan in Obama's first year as Commander-in-Chief. Even House Democratic leadership is alarmed enough to want to hear McChrystal tell his side of the story:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is backing Republican calls for Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the ground commander in Afghanistan, to testify before Congress about troop increases and strategy shifts in the war.

"I think it would be useful at some point in time for Gen. McChrystal to share with Congress, both the Senate and the House, his views and proposals," Hoyer told reporters Tuesday morning.

Who is right? It is true, as Churchill Clemenceau once said, that war is too important to be left to the generals. It is also true, as wartime leaders have known since time immemorial, that generals always want more troops, the troops always want more equipment, and both always want more weapons. Civilian leadership can't blindly follow; it has to lead. And in fact, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, there are always competing considerations between adding more troops to increase our capabilities, and keeping a lighter footprint to avoid antagonizing the locals and to allow the indigenous military to shoulder some responsibilities. The critics on the Left - Obama and Kerry included - never, ever gave a moment's thought to these considerations in criticizing the Bush Administration.

But in Barack Obama we have not only a president who came to office pledging to pay more attention to his military leaders, and not only one who keeps insisting that the mission in Afghanistan is one of urgent importance to U.S. national security, but also a man with absolutely zero prior experience as an executive, no military service record, and zero experience with national security issues. One might reasonably expect him to permit an open exchange of views by his commanders and to give very, very serious weight to their opinions, rather than telling people to withdraw recommendations and running through generals like George Steinbrenner through managers. Instead, it looks as if the only reaction a serious person can have to watching Obama's management of the military is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:20 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)
HISTORY: Pickled Yeltsin

I've always had a soft spot for Boris Yeltsin for his courage in standing up at a critical juncture to bring democracy to Russia and draw down the curtain on the Soviet empire; that alone will earn him a righteous place in the history books. Sad to say, though, Yeltsin's second act as head of state had a lot to do with the conditions that have led to democracy's long, slow demise in Russia; the man was just not cut out to run a country. A new book on the Clinton Administration has a telling anecdote:

Boris Yeltsin's late-night drinking during a visit to Washington in 1995 nearly created an international incident. The Russian president was staying at Blair House, the government guest quarters. Late at night, Clinton told Branch, Secret Service agents found Yeltsin clad only in his underwear, standing alone on Pennsylvania Avenue and trying to hail a cab. He wanted a pizza, he told them, his words slurring.

The next night, Yeltsin eluded security forces again when he climbed down back stairs to the Blair House basement. A building guard took Yeltsin for a drunken intruder until Russian and U.S. agents arrived on the scene and rescued him.

In the Soviet era, one imagines that the head of state would have been better protected from himself by his own security.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 AM | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 21, 2009
POLITICS: Too Many Words, Too Few Deeds

Howard Kurtz asks if the American people have seen too much of Obama on TV; Mickey Kaus says we still don't know him well enough to trust him. They may both be right; as Kaus notes, Obama simply lacks the kind of track record that could reassure Americans that he means any of the things he says when he's claiming not to be a creature of the Hard Left. If this is starting to cause him problems, well, it's not as if we didn't warn you.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:53 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Double Trouble

A season in three movements:

On May 13, Fernando Tatis went 3-4 with 4 RBI, raising his season average to .358/.417/.566 in 60 plate appearances. Unfortunately, he also hit into his first GIDP of the season.

From May 13 to July 24, Tatis hit into 13 double plays in 155 plate appearances, a pace at which he would have shattered the single season record in a little over 2/3 of a season. This almost perfectly coincided with Tatis' coldest stretch of the year, as he batted .193/.262/.304 in 151 plate appearances from May 14 to July 25.

Since July 27, Tatis is not only batting .317/.370/.484 over 140 plate appearances, but he hasn't grounded into a single double play.

It's interesting - most players who hit into a lot of double plays will do so even when they're going well, since sometimes you hit line drives or hard grounders right at people. But Tatis has been all or double-nothing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:36 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 20, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 9/20/09

*You know who quietly helped his Hall of Fame case this season? Bobby Abreu. Stayed healthy for a winning team, close to .300 average, .400 OBP and 30 steals, on the verge of his 7th straight 100-RBI season.

*Obama points out to David Paterson that he's already dead. Apparently redistricting trumps racial solidarity (so much for Paterson's effort to argue that all criticisms of him were racist, an argument that was especially dangerous to Obama due to Paterson's effort to equate himself with Obama; Obama has enough problems of his own without carrying Paterson as baggage). Of course, with only one GOP-held Congressional seat and few others even potentially competitive, redistricting isn't as big a deal as it will be in California, Texas, Illinois or Florida, but it's still a priority for the White House to bigfoot governors' races.

*Kaus waits for the next shoe to drop from Breitbart.

*Excellent post by Ace on right-wing rhetoric.

*Ben Domenech notes that Salon's polling shows that Obama had an 85% approval rating among Hispanics the week before the Sotomayor nomination, but 68% after her confirmation. So much for that battle damaging the GOP.

*Michael van der Galien looks at how Afghanistan has replaced Iraq as the anti-war Left's next target, with the declining salience of Iraq and the departure of President Bush dispensing with the need to pretend to be in favor of pressing on with the war that was started when America was attacked from Afghan territory by terrorists who were essentially indistringuishable from the Taliban. This was entirely predictable to anyone familiar with the Left, but it has nonetheless been more depressing than amusing to watch the turn in particular among the leading left-wing bloggers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:56 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 16, 2009
POLITICS: Fun Poll Question of the Day

Only 58% of Hispanics in New Jersey are certain that Barack Obama is not the Anti-Christ.

UPDATE: Allahpundit, looking at the same poll, notes that 9/11 Trutherism is about exactly as prevalent among Democrats as the Birther stuff is on the GOP side. Which is consistent with years of polling on Trutherism, I should add; it's not just this one PPP New Jersey poll. And which is worrisome, since while both are basically fringe ideas, the baroque conspiracy and nefarious motives one has to believe in are much greater on the 9/11 Truther side than in the case of a coverup of the location of one man's birth. (And the 9/11 Truthers have a significant overlap with the Trig Truthers).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:10 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
September 15, 2009
BASEBALL: Indispensable

I'm generally suspicious of efforts to argue that the most valuable players in baseball are anyone other than the best players. That said, due to the way teams are constructed, there's no denying that there always seem to be some guys whose presence and success is especially important to their teams, and right now there are very few players more critical to a team's success than Troy Tulowitzki with the Rockies. Tulowitzki's rise in 2007 coincided with the team's meteoric run to the World Series, his injury-plagued 2008 coincided with the team's equally dramatic decline, and now the Rox, counted out early, have the whip hand in the NL Wild Card race and are the last second-place team that's really alive despite chasing a Dodgers team that looked for much of the season like the class of the game.

Jim Tracy, of course, deserves his share of the credit for the Rockies turnaround - they've played .646 ball under him after Clint Hurdle was sacked with the team 10 games under .500. And much of the credit goes to the pitching staff, with the revival of Huston Street leading a strong bullpen and Ubaldo Jimenez anchoring a more-than-adequate rotation. Despite his strong arm, Tulowitzki can't claim a ton of credit for that: Colorado is (in part due to its park) below average in team Defensive Efficiency, and its pitchers have prospered more by allowing the 5th fewest homers and walks in the NL, as well as a league-average strikeout rate.

But the Rox catching fire also coincided neatly with when Tulowitzki started hitting 10 games into Tracy's tenure. On June 7, the team was 23-32 and 14 1/2 games out of first place, and Tulowitzki was batting an anemic .216/.306/.377; since then, he's hit .315/.396/.596, with 20 homers, 62 Runs and 60 RBI in 86 games played; the Rockies have gone 56-30 in those games. The Colorado offense has had only a few other real surprises - Seth Smith, the development of Carlos Gonzales, a respectable OBP by Dexter Fowler - but Tulowitzki has been the biggest difference-maker.

Anyway, I didn't have time to do a really comprehensive rundown or figure out if somebody else has, so I'm sure I missed someone interesting or useful, but I thought it would be fun to run the record of the Rockies with Tulowitzki in and out of the starting lineup over the 2007-09 period against a comparison group of other stars (I left off people like Hanley Ramirez who haven't missed enough games to be worth asking - as it is, there's something of a small sample size issue with Pujols and Jeter). Here's the result - the last column is the team winning percentage with the player in the lineup minus the team winning percentage without him in the lineup, with the difference multiplied by 162 games to give a value of the difference in wins:


Simply compiling a chart like this helps explain its limitations. Multiple Mets are atop the chart in good part because they were all injured at once this season, multiplying the impact of their absences. The same is partly true of Tulowitzki; it wasn't just his absence that doomed the Rockies last season. On the other hand, for believers in the notion that one player only has so much impact, the size of the gaps here is pretty striking. It's probably not wholly coincidental, either, that Vlad Guerrero's numbers look so poor given that the bulk of his missed time has come this season, when he has been less than stellar (the Angels are 41-38 with Guerrero starting, 45-19 without).

As for A-Rod, well, until the Hated Yankees win in the postseason, nothing compiled on his behalf can answer his critics (and as long as he's on the team, all postseason failures are charged to him and him alone). But, you know, the Yankees really are a better team with him in the lineup, and not just this season; in 2007-08 they were 12-20 without him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:11 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
September 14, 2009

Adrian Wojnarowski's account of Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame acceptance speech just makes me sad. I haven't seen the speech, so maybe Wojnarowski and the people he quotes are overreacting, but really, bringing up long-ago grievances like the 1985 All-Star Game at an event like this is just sort of petty. I've always liked Jordan, even when he was torturing the Knicks, and I never held against him his enormous ego; you don't get to be Michael Jordan (or Babe Ruth, or Ty Cobb, or Ted Williams, or Shaq, or Muhammad Ali, or John Elway, or Brett Favre) if you don't walk around all day believing you can pull off things nobody else thinks possible. But some guys just have trouble letting go of the fight when they're off the playing field. I've been lately reading Leigh Montville's outstanding biography of Ted Williams, and Williams could be the same way (he brooded over old grievances, channeled his fire into fishing but also into yelling at his wives), but at least he used his Hall of Fame speech to be gracious, even changing the history of the Hall with his call for the enshrinement of Negro League greats. Jordan's speech will be swiftly forgotten, as are most such speeches (Williams' aside), but it's sad for him as much as anyone that he couldn't make a nicer moment of it. I wonder - given his stumbles as an executive - where he'll find another challenge worthy of his energies again.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:17 PM | Basketball | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
September 11, 2009
POLITICS: Inconvenient Truth

Mary Katharine Ham looks at the rhetoric and reality of the Democrats' campaign to paint town hall protestors as dangerous, violent right-wingers. It's worth reading the whole thing, especially on the "right-wing terrorist" nonsense, but this stuck out:

That's the full list of documented violence from the August meetings. In more than 400 events: one slap, one shove, three punches, two signs grabbed, one self-inflicted vandalism incident by a liberal, one unsolved vandalism incident, and one serious assault. Despite the left's insistence on the essentially barbaric nature of Obamacare critics, the video, photographic, and police report evidence is fairly clear in showing that 7 of the 10 incidents were perpetrated by Obama supporters and union members on Obama critics. If you add a phoned death threat to Democrat representative Brad Miller of N.C., from an Obama-care critic, the tally is 7 of 11.

As is usually the case when the Left starts attacking ordinary citizens to score political points, it's a bit late by the time the truth laces on its boots, but it's never too late to try. (Meanwhile, the people who practically got a hernia rushing to politicize the death of George Tiller are spluttering about the meaninglessness of this).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:39 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Run, Don't Walk

Posnanski notes that all 8 members of the Dodgers starting lineup have drawn more walks than any member of the Royals this season.

H/T Pinto.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:25 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
HISTORY: Another September 11

A bit off topic of where most people's heads are today, but my RedState colleague Skanderbeg has written up a fascinating account of the Battle of Plattsburgh, September 11, 1814. It's a characteristic illustration of the confluence of fortune and improvisation that have so often favored American military engagements.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:52 PM | History | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Remember, After Eight Years

Never forget.

Where have we come, 8 years later?

We haven't had a significant followup attack in the US or on US interests abroad, outside of the active war zones; there have been other terrorist attacks, some only tenuously connected (anthrax), some copycat (the DC snipers, the LAX shooting), but the enemy has been unable to organize anything against us, having to settle for attacking US allies (London, Madrid, Bali). That's partly luck, partly the result of vigilant new policies instituted by the Bush Administration, and partly the result of going on the offensive overseas - killing scores of jihadist fanatics, disrupting or beseiging safe havens, drawing the enemy's attention to Afghanistan and Iraq instead of New York and DC.

But we seem to be unlearning too many of those lessons. As I have stressed many times before, I don't blame the Clinton Administration, at least not significantly more than the rest of our political culture, for its disastrously misguided anti-terror policies, but we need to learn from the mistakes of the 1990s. The Bush Administration learned those lessons; Obama's team, especially his Clinton Administration retread Attorney General, seem dedicated to unlearning too many of them, focusing their efforts on prosecuting the intelligence community and dismantling many of the tools needed to continue keeping us safe, while the President himself uses the occasion of a major speech two days before this anniversary to complain about the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the former of which he claims to support. But what can you say about a man whose reaction to attacks planned by wealthy, educated Saudi religious fanatics was this:

We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.

(The latter would be less offensive if he wasn't so opposed to actually doing something about the tyrannies that keep the Muslim and Arab worlds in the state they are in). I give Obama some credit for maturity - he has left in place a number of controversial Bush initiatives in areas such as electronic surveillance and hasn't totally cut off existing policies on detention and rendition (although his use of rendition in an antitrust case was an unusual tactic), and while he has cut back on the troops he promised for Afghanistan, he hasn't yet abandoned the fight against the Taliban, as many of his allies on the Left are urging. But the overall record hardly inspires confidence that the next four years will be as secure as the past 8.

On the downside, while we've captured or killed many of the key 9/11 plotters (some of whom, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have become perverse poster boys for the Left's campaign against intelligence-gathering), Osama bin Laden has never been captured, and it is believed that he is as likely as not still alive and traveling about the Waziristan region of Pakistan. If you'd asked me 8 years ago if I'd trade no more attacks for no bin Laden, I'd have taken that trade, but of course I still await the day we have his head on a pole (ideally, literally, though I'd prefer burning him at the stake). That's unfinished business, even if his operational usefulness to his movement is severely limited by his need to keep running and hiding and avoiding all modern forms of communication.

When will the war end? Aside from getting bin Laden and other top fugitives, the fight will continue as long as there are organized terrorist groups targeting the US. We can never totally stamp out individual fanatics, but organized groups with international reach are the core enemy. And of course, those groups can't be wholly rooted out unless and until the tyrannies that support and harbor them and spread their propaganda remain. Those are the terms on which we have been forced to fight; they are the conditions required for victory.

As long as we remember why and how the fight began, we must remain committed, as a nation, to seeing it through to victory. And so we remember.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:00 AM | War 2007-14 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
September 9, 2009
BLOG: Sausage


Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:45 PM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
September 3, 2009

I'll have to go more thoroughly, as we reach the end of the season - much always depends on September - through the MVP arguments. Hard as it is for me to imagine the case for robbing Joe Mauer yet again, Allen Barra makes a game effort at defending the Derek Jeter MVP bandwagon.

Were Mauer not having such a historic year, Jeter is certainly playing well enough to be part of what would usually be the MVP discussion. Then again, how crucial is he to the Yankees offense? He's first on the team in batting, OBP and tied for first in runs, but none by large margins; he's third on the Yankees in total bases, fourth in OPS+, and 8th on his own team in slugging and RBI. The depth of the Yankees offense can't be held too much against Jeter, especially since he plays a critical defensive position, but it does suggest some caution in declaring him the team's indispensable man.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:33 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Grow or Perish

Jay Cost has a typically enlightening column on Obama's present troubles and what he might do to fix them. H/T I thought this was a particularly useful observation: "no president in the last hundred years has won election to a second term with a smaller share of the vote than what he received for the first."

That doesn't mean Obama couldn't be the first, since he does have a margin of around 3% to risk (larger if you count electoral votes), but it's a caution: unlike Governors, Presidents rarely survive by gripping on solely to the coalition that elected them. Somehow, they need to reach out and persuade enough new people to make up for the inevitable loss of some former supporters who didn't get what they expected.

Cost's suggestion that Obama consider sacking Rahm is premature. But if the year closes out with no health care bill and no other significant legislative victories (e.g., cap-and-trade, card check, Son of Stimulus), then the rationale for retaining a brass knuckles get-things-done-and-f***-the-opposition Chief of Staff loses a lot of its force; the entire point of having Rahm around is that he can make the trains run on time and understands how to command the loyalty of all those moderate-district Democrats he helped elect, and if the trains are not running on time and the moderate-district Democrats aren't cooperating, what's the point?

Quin Hillyer is right, if overstated, that conservatives should not get complacent at Obama's bad summer; there remains time for the worm to turn again. But the season of hope is running to its inevitable end; now is the season for Obama to deliver change or face his inability to do so.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:41 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Hey, Look At Those...Wait, Don't Look!

Jonah Goldberg makes an excellent point about EJ Dionne that goes beyond just Dionne: the liberals complaining about media coverage of town hall health care protestors are the same people who just a few weeks ago were deliberately drawing attention to those protestors in an effort to discredit opponents of the health care bill. Uh, oops. The Administration did the same thing. And is now - not coincidentally - pushing the same line as Dionne.

Meanwhile, in California, a 65-year-old health care bill protestor had most of a finger bitten off by a MoveOn activist. Charming.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:25 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
September 2, 2009
POLITICS: When Does School Start? The President Doesn't Know

There's been a lot of controversy about President Barack Obama's plan to give a speech to the nation's public (only public) schoolchildren on September 8 (the Tuesday after Labor Day), a controversy Caleb Howe comprehensively summarizes here. The problem isn't the President giving a pro-education message to the nation's kids, something that's part of any president's job; the problem is the specter of enlisting of public school teachers, already a core interest group supporting Obama, in indoctrinating kids in his agenda. The conservative uproar over the Department of Education's proposed materials for the speech seems to have already scored a victory in forcing the Administration to scale back its plans.

But I'm from New York. When I mentioned this speech to my wife, her immediate reaction was that Obama wasn't looking at the calendar: the New York City schools, public and private, aren't even in session yet the day after Labor Day. Obama's effort to roll this into a massive PR blitz with the following day's health care speech to a joint session of Congress will fail in my neck of the woods because nobody paid attention to the school calendar.

I suspect Obama rushed to coincide the speech with a Bill Gates-produced back to school education documentary that Obama will be appearing on the same evening on a battery of cable channels (because really, what Obama needs is more press). But either way, I'll be keeping my kids home from their (Catholic) school September 8 - because they don't have school anyway.

UPDATE: Moe Lane points out that school's not open in Boston or LA on the 8th either.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:55 PM | Politics 2009 | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)

As part of my recent effort to locate new-ish music worth listening to, I have finally decided once and for all to listen to some songs by three of the biggest "rock" acts of the past decade - Nickelback, Linkin Park, and Coldplay - and decide whether they have made anything worth listening to (my suspicion for some time has been "no," especially as to Coldplay, but I may as well see if I am missing out on anything. Also on my list are Wilco and the White Stripes).

Anyone have suggestions as to where in their catalogue a beginner would start?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:20 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (34) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Olerud Part II

David Wright

The Great Gazoo


I don't mean to poke fun at Wright's desire to avoid another head injury...but if these helmets are really going to become the standard, they're gonna look awful silly.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:18 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
September 1, 2009
BASEBALL: Disco Hayes

Joe Posnanski, the best baseball beat writer in the business, is now at Sports Illustrated and liberated from the Kansas City dungeon. His last column in KC, on a minor league sidearmer named Disco Hayes, is vintage Posnanski. A sample, but really you should read the whole thing:

"You know what I would like to do?" Disco says. "I would love it if they would take all the relievers who throw 95 mph and put them in one group. And then take all the relievers who throw submarine style like I do and put them in another. And then compare their ERAs. I wonder what that would show."

Well, I don't know what it would show overall, but it's worth noting that the Royals do have a bullpen filled with guys who throw extremely hard. Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Robinson Tejeda and Roman Colon all have mid-to-high 90s fastballs. They have a combined ERA of 5.56.

The funny thing about baseball is that people will believe what they want to believe. Nobody in the game will watch Kyle Farnsworth give up runs and conclude: "Well, apparently guys who throw 100 mph can't get people out in the big leagues." But it's that way with the submarine pitchers.

I've always had a thing for sidearmers/submariners, even before I started reading Posnanski, or Michael Lewis, or even Bill James; Terry Leach may still be my all-time favorite ballplayer.

So get down tonight, Disco Hayes.

UPDATE: Also, go read Posnanski on this year's Royals, with a bonus discussion of the 1993 Mets.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:47 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Satisfaction, Not Gotten

British police are reopening the 1969 drowning death of Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

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BASEBALL: The Book of Fred

The Lord sat upon His throne, watching - of course - the World Series. Satan came into His presence. And the Lord spoke.

"See My faithful servant, Fred Wilpon? I have allowed you to test him as you said. In 2005, his team fell short of the postseason. In 2006, you took his ace pitcher, sent his heavily favored team into the NLCS with a shoestring pitching rotation, and even after they got agonizingly close, snatched away the World Series at the last possible moment. In 2007, you gave them the most dramatic September collapse in the game's history. This year, you let his hopes get up and then repeated the trick - and for good measure, their hated divisional rivals are about to win the World Series."

"Yet he has remained My good and faithful servant. He spends money to maintain a big-market payroll. He has nearly completed a beautiful new ballpark. As we speak, he is planning yet again to sign a significant free agent to fix his team's largest weakness. Truly, his faith in his team cannot be shaken."

"You're getting cocky again," replied Satan. (The Lord smirked knowingly - He had heard this routine before - but let him continue). "I have more up my sleeve for this season. This time, I will make him lose faith once and for all."

"First, I will take his money. I have faithful servants too, you know. My man Bernie has him set up perfectly."

"Then, I will cast a shadow over his new ballpark. Already, the economy has soured and he won't be able to sell tickets the way a new park should; now, Congressmen will write angry letters; rumors will fly. Oh, I won't have the sponsorship pulled, but he will wonder, and worry, how long that source of money will last."

"Then, the injuries will start..."

Mets fans can perhaps be forgiven for wondering if this season really is a replay of the Book of Job, with owner Fred Wilpon or perhaps the whole of Mets fandom being put to the test by a plague of misfortunes of Biblical proportions. It is difficult to think of a team in the game's history - a history rich with snakebit seasons - that has had quite so dramatic a run of injuries to nearly every one of its front-line stars.

The ill omens, as mentioned, began with money: it was revealed before the season that Wilpon had lost a significant sum of money in the Bernard Madoff fraud (Wilpon won't say how much but has denied reports that it was $700 million), and just when his personal finances were called into question, the $20 million-a-year naming-rights deal for Citi Field came under scrutiny from Congresspersons wondering where the bailout money given to Citigroup was being spent, and paying little mind to the fact that the point of the sponsorship deal was - as is generally the case when banks sponsor ballparks - precisely to advertise Citi's financial stability and status as an unshakeable pillar of the community. In the end, the naming-rights flap seems to have passed, but it contributed to the souring of what should have been a grand opening for Citi Field.

That storm passed, but the portents grew worse as the season approached. Oliver Perez, signed in the offseason to what looked like a bargain 3-year, $36 million contract, was never right from the time he arrived for spring training; his velocity was off early, and that led to more tentative pitching and more struggles with his always-shaky control. Still, heartbreak requires hope, and Mets fans were given plenty of hope this spring. The team's main weakness, the bullpen, had been fortified by the addition of a prime closer, 27-year-old Francisco Rodriguez, coming off a Major League record 62-save season, and a second prime closer, JJ Putz, to act as K-Rod's setup man. Yes, K-Rod's K rate had been dropping for a few years and Putz had had injury problems, and former ace closer Billy Wagner wasn't expected to join them until September at the earliest, but there was every reason to believe that the pen would be vastly improved. Second baseman Luis Castillo, another weak link, came to camp in his best shape in years. The team looked like it would have enough holes plugged around its core of stars - K-Rod, Johan Santana, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado - that it could make a serious run at the Phillies. And despite a rough April, the Mets got off to a decent start; as late as May 29, they were in first place and on pace to win 93 games.

But the drip of injuries had already set in; they came early and often to the Mets' battery of stars, and have never let up:

-Carlos Delgado, batting .298/.393/.521 and erasing memories of 2008's terrible start, last played on May 10, down with a hip injury.

-Jose Reyes was injured May 15 in the midst of a 12-for-27 tear reminiscent of his annual late-spring hot streak, and has not played since May 20, having torn a hamstring in the minors rehabbing the calf injury that originally sidelined him. The mishandling of Reyes, along with last year's botched management of Ryan Church's concussions, is one of the prime reasons why the Mets' medical staff has become the laughingstock of the game.

-JJ Putz has been out of service since June 4 with a bum elbow; Putz had been ailing for weeks, with a 1.29 ERA through April 18, 6.45 after that as his arm unraveled.

-John Maine, whose shoulder has proven unable to handle the workload of a starting pitcher, hasn't pitched since June 6, and last threw 100 pitches on May 19.

-Carlos Beltran, batting .336/.425/.527 and carrying the team along with David Wright, went down on June 21 with a knee injury.

-Wright, batting .349/.435/.504 when Beltran went out, proved less able to carry the whole load alone, hitting .287/.384/.414 until he was beaned on August 15, suffering a concussion of his own.

-Johan Santana called it a season on August 20, opting for surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.

-Oliver Perez' season ended to knee surgery on August 23 (Perez was off the roster between May 3 and July 18, due to ineffectiveness and injuries, and has been useless since spring training).

All had been expected to be key contributors; all but Wright, whose return is imminent, are either out for the season or at best highly questionable to return in addition to having their performance degraded by injuries.

Even the replacements brought in couldn't stay healthy:

-Scrap-heap find Fernando Nieve was a revelation as a substitute starter, posting a 2.95 ERA; Nieve tore a quadricep running the bases on July 19 and hasn't pitched since.

-Top pitching prospect Jon Niese was called up to stay on July 25; three starts into his introduction to the rotation, he tore a hamstring covering first base on August 5 and was done for the season.

-Top hitting prospect Fernando Martinez, already struggling at a .176/.242/.275 clip after being pressed into service when Beltran and Ryan Church hit the DL in May, was sent to the DL July 9 with a knee injury and has not returned.

-Utility infielders Alex Cora and Ramon Martinez both appear to be done for the season. Cora, who was holding his own with an OBP above .350 as late as July 2, was never supposed to be an everyday player for this team; he went down for the year with a torn thumb ligament on August 12. Martinez played his 12th and final game of the season June 2 before hitting the 60-day DL with a fractured pinkie.

There have been other injuries as well, with Castillo spraining an ankle tripping on the dugout steps and Gary Sheffield missing time with hamstring troubles, plus Church, plus starting catcher Brian Schneider was sidelined from April 15 to May 30 and has contributed nothing since his return, batting .189/.272/.318 on the season. Jeff Francouer, acquired from the Braves for Church and hitting better than he has in years, tore his thumb but is playing through it. (Wagner and Angel Pagan had also opened the season out of service, but those were expected.)

There have also been a few disappointments not directly related to injuries. Daniel Murphy, a third base prospect who batted an encouraging .313/.397/.473 in a 49-game trial last year, was a defensive disaster in left field and, since being moved to first to replace Delgado, has been one of the worst everyday bats in the game. Even a recent hot streak - Murphy has batted .297/.329/.464 since July 25 - has been all singles and doubles, not really a sign that he's developing the skills you'd need to make a living as an everyday corner outfielder or first baseman. Hard-throwing reliever Bobby Parnell struggled after a promising start, and has been shelled after being pressed into service as a starter. Mike Pelfrey, who pitched wonderfully last season, has seen his walk rate regress from 2.4 in his last 24 starts last season to 3.4 this year, his ERA balloon to 4.80; while a good deal of that is the deterioration of the infield defense without Reyes (to which the groundball-dependent Pelfrey is unusually vulnerable), it also reflects his narrow margin for error when not throwing first-pitch strikes. Pelfrey went seven innings in 12 of his last 24 starts last year, averaging 6.27 IP/start - this year, he's gone seven innings just 8 times in 25 starts and averaged 5.85 IP/start, adding to the strain on the bullpen.

When this team wasn't losing players, of course, it has lost games in agonizing fashion. Two endings stand out. On June 12, against the Hated Yankees, K-Rod induced what should have been a game-ending popup from Alex Rodriguez, only to see Castillo drop it; the Mets lost 9-8 (the game is also emblematic of the Yankees' season, as despite relatively subpar performance by A-Rod, the team has gone 64-32 in games he started after struggling in his absence). On August 23, against the bitter rival Phillies, Francouer managed to line into only the second game-ending unassisted triple play in Major League history with the tying runs on base; another loss, 9-7.

Time will tell how the franchise rebounds from this staggering run of ill luck. The Mets rebounded from a disastrous 1972 to steal a pennant, and they won 100 games in 1988 after losing their top 7 starting pitchers in a dispiriting run in 1987. But the 1988 team was absurdly deep in talent. This team probably needs to jettison Delgado (on the heels of cutting Wagner and Livan Hernandez loose) and get younger, and it has many holes to fill even if all the walking wounded return; the starting rotation is now full of question marks, and there are few causes for confidence in the lineup besides Wright, Beltran and Reyes (assuming Reyes returns from what may be offseason hamstring surgery).

As for Wilpon, he's insisting now that he intends to keep the team regardless of his Madoff losses, because he's emotionally invested and wants to leave the team to his son. That's a plausible explanation, and surely the team is still profitable enough to maintain as a stand-alone business, but then if Wilpon really does need to sell, he has every reason not to reveal any financial straits he might be in.

Job, after being put to the test, is finally rewarded for his faith with a new family and new sources of wealth and joy. Mets fans can only hope for the same reward in 2010 and beyond.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)