Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
November 30, 2010
BASEBALL: The Pointed Shot

I'm no fan of the jurisprudence of now-retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, but Stevens was in attendance at the 1932 World Series game where Babe Ruth hit his famous "called shot," and Stevens says Ruth definitely pointed to the stands with his bat before hitting it.

Score one for the legend.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:28 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
November 24, 2010
BLOG: Happy Thanksgiving To All

Enjoy the holidays and give thanks for family, especially. I'll be trying to get back on something more resembling a regular blogging schedule after the long weekend.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:04 PM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
November 23, 2010
BLOG: Getting You There

Interesting look at the plans to remake Penn Station. I agree with the general point that while Penn is an eyesore and confusing to the uninitiated, it's also highly functional, and its multiple entry/exit points are a plus - not just for convenience but safety in the even an evacuation is needed. We should monkey with that for aesthetic purposes at our peril.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:08 PM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 22, 2010
BASEBALL: Meet The New Boss

I can't say I'm any sort of excited over Terry Collins taking over as Mets manager. Collins' record as manager of the Astros and Angels, and even of the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, was that of a somewhat Buck-Showalter-like high pressure, do-it-my-way manager who helped build a contender out of a talented but scuffling team (in the Angels case, one rebounding from the trauma of 1995), but then suffered clubhouse strife, saw the team decay in his hands, and was replaced by a guy who got them over the hump. His last U.S. managing job, either in the majors or minors, was in 1999 (he's managed in Japan and the Chinese WBC team since then and worked as a minor league organizational guy with the Dodgers and Mets). As ESPN's Mark Simon points out, one of Collins' trademarks as a major league manager was his teams' September pennant race collapses, absolutely the last thing Mets fans want to hear. Collins was thought to be a frontrunner for the job throughout the interview process, and is plugged in with the Alderson/Beane crowd that now runs the organization, having been Paul DePodesta's apparent choice to take over as Dodgers manager until DePodesta - now with the Mets - was fired as GM.

So, let's summarize:

-Not a new guy from outside the organization
-Never won anything, and his teams improved after he left
-Poor September pennant race showings
-Difficulty relating to players

What could go wrong?

I trust Sandy Alderson's judgment in building rosters, and when you bring in a big name GM who knows what he's doing in the regard, the manager is less critical and it's important that he be in tune with the program, which Collins apparently is. That said, given the history of Alderson's comments about managers as "middle managers" and the shortcomings of the post-LaRussa A's in the postseason, I do wish that Alderson had learned from his time in the Marine Corps that middle managers still have an important role to play as emotional leaders, especially when managing young men. Marine NCOs are not less vital as teachers and motivators of young men just because the chain of command tells them where to go and what to do.

All that said, the conventional wisdom outlined above assumes that Collins, now 61, has neither matured nor learned from his earlier shortcomings and his decade to ponder what he got wrong. In fact, managers can and do grow over time. There are a number of managers who didn't really get it done until their second or third job - Casey Stengel, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Whitey Herzog, Bobby Valentine...the most recent and perhaps more apt examples would be Terry Francona and Joe Girardi. Francona in particular really seemed like a guy who grasped the job of leading his players better the second time around. Some of those guys were always good managers and just needed the horses, but others really did need to learn and mature into the job. Perhaps the most optimistic parallel would be from the world of football: Bill Belichick was a flop his first go-round with the Browns for reasons somewhat similar to Collins' earlier frustrations, but obviously he was better prepared to be the head coach when he went to New England.

It may also help that Collins knows the Mets' system inside and out and will, I assume, be eager to deploy those youngsters in the system who have impressed him. The Mets are, barring a real stroke of luck, not likely to be significant contenders in 2011, but this is not a complete rebuilding job either assuming the team holds its core of under-30 players and plays its cards right, the franchise may well be a contender again by 2012. Let's hope that by then Collins is able to avoid yet another replay of 2006-08.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:10 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
November 18, 2010
BLOG: Jerry Tough Loss


On Tuesday, we buried my brother Jerry. He was 43. He'd been fine, as far as anybody could tell; he'd been out to dinner with my dad the middle of last week and seemed perfectly healthy, and they were planning to drive to DC on Friday to visit my younger brother and sister. When he didn't show up, my dad called the cops, and they found him in his apartment, no signs of foul play or any other obvious cause or reason. He'd been in Vegas just a few weeks ago with his fraternity brothers. When we went to start cleaning out his apartment on Saturday night, his computer was still on. We're still all in shock. It's hard enough to explain all this to my kids; the oldest are 13 and 11 and don't understand how a man that age can just drop dead with no warning, the youngest is 4 1/2 and just old enough to begin to grasp the finality of death. But the cruelest blow is to my dad, who is 76. My oldest brother Timmy was killed when he was hit by a car in front of our house while flying a kite in 1972; he was 7, Jerry was 5 and was a step behind him when it happened. Jerry didn't talk much about it, any more than my mom did, but Timmy was always with them, and now both of them are with him and my dad is left behind. No man should have to bury a child, let alone two of them.

Regular readers of this site will recall Jerry as one of the regular commenters here on topics large and small. While we were on the same page baseball-wise, we didn't always agree on things political - he was basically a moderate Democrat, voted against Bush twice but had no illusions about Obama and I believe voted against him twice, too - but he always had something pithy and incisive to say on any topic, and usually cut to the issue faster than I did. I've been stealing his ideas and his one-liners for years.

Jerry was everything you'd want in a big brother. He was funny, he was cool, he was even-keeled, he was the responsible one, and he was always there. He was four years my senior: he was born in 1967, I was born in 1971. We shared a bedroom until I was 8; I thought back this weekend to us crying our eyes out when my grandfather died that year, my first experience with death in the family. He was quick and clever enough that almost nobody in the family could beat him at board games or card games; even as a kid, he was the one who could solve Rubik's Cube without taking it apart. He'd worked as a computer programmer at the same company since graduating college in 1989.

The picture above is us with Tom Seaver at my first baseball game, August 28, 1976 (I was not quite 5 and thus not responsible for those plaid shorts, Jerry was 9); my uncle got us down on the field and we got our pictures taken with a bunch of the Mets and a few Dodgers as well. The Mets won that game on a walkoff single in the 9th, Felix Millan driving in Leo Foster. As fate would have it, our last game - I found the ticket stub in his apartment - was 34 years to the day later, August 28, 2010. We'd gotten some tickets from friends who weren't using them, so I decided to take my son and asked Jerry if he wanted to come; he was always up for a ballgame, and being still single, he was generally free. He didn't complain when my son wanted to get something from the Shake Shack and we ended up waiting on a 25-minute line and missing the first-inning rally that put the Astros ahead of Johan Santana and the Mets for the rest of the game (it was Santana's next to last start of the year). We'd gone to a bunch of games with my son and sometimes my older daughter over the years, in the process seeing most of the best games I've seen. He had his company's box seats and my son was just 2 when we saw the Mets win the playoff-game-forcing last game of the 1999 regular season on a Brad Clontz wild pitch; we went to the Mets' last win at Shea, Santana's masterful performance with the 2008 season still hanging within reach, with my son and older daughter. He was with me when we went to see U2 at Yankee Stadium in 1992, when we got stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge leaving a show that ended after midnight and didn't get home until after 2am. He'd seen a lot more great concerts than I ever did.

Looking back now, I realize quite how many of my interests came from him. When I was 6, he came home talking about this movie he'd seen, "Star Wars." We got the comic books and the action figures and I basically knew the whole story by the time I actually saw it in the theater, but it didn't matter. When I was 10 or 11, my Christmas present from him was a model ice planet Hoth built out of Styrofoam, complete with the Wampa's cave. He got a tabletop baseball game, SHERCO baseball, and we spent endless hours compiling and playing teams that we didn't know much more about at the time than their stat lines in the Macmillan Encyclopedia, teams like the 1894 Orioles and the 1906 Cubs. I could still tell you today what a J8K 11-16 pitcher means or a B(11)*mwmk2 hitter is like. He introduced me to The Hobbit (the first full-length book I read, in the second grade) and the Lord of the Rings. He discovered rock n' roll around 1980 or so (my parents had no use for anything recorded after the mid-1950s), and joined the CBS/Columbia Record Club back when it was records and tapes. A few of his early purchases were embarrassing (REO Speedwagon, Eddie Rabbitt), but he was swifty on to the good stuff, buying the Beatles 1962-66 and 1967-70 compilations, the ones that just hit iTunes this week; we wore those cassettes to death on a little tape deck (for my part, Paul McCartney's Tug of War on vinyl was the first album I bought with my own money). He bought The River on vinyl when it was newly out, and introduced me to Bruce Springsteen. He introduced me to Bloom County. He subscribed religiously to Baseball Digest, and in 1983, he introduced me to another new book he'd bought, his first Bill James Baseball Abstract. Eventually, I followed him across the Jersey border to the high school he chose (my younger brother also followed him to Lafayette College).

Jerry wasn't one to wear nostalgia or emotion on his sleeve the way I do, but he tended to the family traditions. He helped my dad decorate the house every year for holidays after my mom died in 2002; that house is still adorned with the Halloween decorations he put up, some of which date back decades. He'd sit patiently with my kids at my dad's house building Legos and Richard Scarry's Puzzletown and playing Wiffle Ball, the same stuff we played as kids. Going through his apartment, I found in the medicine cabinet the ringmaster from the Fisher-Price Little People Circus Train that we had as kids, a toy set long since scattered to the four winds, a little plastic figure squatting among the aspirin bottles and contact lense solutions in his top hat and his cummerbund. The next day, going through the old photo albums, I found a picture of me (age 3, in an engineer's hat) and Jerry (age 7) playing with the full set, Christmas morning, 1974.

For my part, I can't help but feel not just how much I'll miss him, but in a way the loss of that whole period of my life. My younger brother was born in 1975, my sister in 1979; I love them, but my brother scarcely remembers the first decade of my life, my sister not at all; those were the memories Jerry and I shared alone with my parents. You always expect to bury your parents, even if they die too young, as my mom did, but you expect your siblings to be there when your parents are gone.

Rest in Peace.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:30 AM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (54) | TrackBack (0)
November 14, 2010
BLOG: Open Thread

For reasons I'll explain in a few days, it'll continue to be quiet for a bit more time here.

Open thread.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:26 AM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
November 10, 2010
BLOG: Apologies For Olbermann

Via Allahpundit on Twitter, Pat Sajak looks back at his role in putting Keith Olbermann on national television for the first time. The video clip, from Super Bowl week in January 1989, is kind of sad, really; Olbermann, complete with Ron Burgundy mustache, is affable, relaxed, and low-key, not the bundle of psychotic vein-popping rage, smarmy smugness, egocentric rants at personal enemies and neuroses about women we see on air today. (Sajak, by contrast, remains a tweener, funny for a game show host but not funny enough for a late-night talk show host). While I found Olbermann off-putting when he first started on SportsCenter, I came to enjoy his work with Craig Kilborn in what has to be the golden age of the show; back then they did shtick, but (1) it was their shtick, not an imitation of somebody else's, (2) it was new and different from everything else on sports TV, and (3) because nobody expected shtick to be the focus of the show, it was much more restrained than it later became.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:28 PM | Blog 2006-14 • | Football • | Politics 2010 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
November 5, 2010
POLITICS: Apples and Oranges

One of the favorite sports of poll junkies after an election is to grade the pollsters, and that process is in full swing already, and should be. Neil Stevens, however, has an excellent post cautioning against putting too much stock in Nate Silver's latest effort to attach Rasmussen. The biggest specific problem he identifies is that Rasmussen offers two separate types of polls - its own polls and the POR polls, which are done at the request of paying clients under their own terms, among other things using a different margin of error - and Silver's analysis lumps the two together as if they're the same thing.

Polling involves a certain amount of art as well as science; evaluating the accuracy of polls after the fact, however, ought to be a task that can be done through a consistent and transparent methodology, for example comparing pollsters' accuracy at similar distances from Election Day. It doesn't appear that Silver's critiques are using a sufficiently objective methodology to be trustworthy guides to making sense of the pollsters.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:10 PM | Politics 2010 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Jagger on Richards

Slate has a fantastic essay purporting to be Mick Jagger responding to Keith Richards' new book (which is supposedly really good). I'm told this is the parody section of Slate - which implies that some of Slate is not intended as parody - and there are other signs as well that this isn't really a straight essay by Jagger himself, but the essay captures so many truths about the band that it doesn't really matter that it's a parody. Worth reading for the gratuitous cheap shots at Jann Wenner alone. There are too many good parts to excerpt them all, but this should give you a flavor:

And yet I was surprised when it happened. I take the point that professionalism, one's word, rock 'n' roll merriment ... these are fungible things in our world. It is a fair charge that I have become less tolerant in these matters over the decades. In our organization, inside this rather unusual floating circus we call home, I am forced into the role of martinet, the one who gets blamed for silly arbitrary rules. (Like, for a show in front of 60,000 people for which we are being paid some $6 or $7 million for a few hours' work, I like to suggest to everyone that we start on time, and that we each have in place a personal plan, in whatever way suits us best, to stay conscious for the duration of the show.)

So I will take that point. All of the forgoing was just ... a little outre behavior on tour. Let's go to the next tier - again, of matters one is informed of with some regularity, this not over months, not years, but entire decades. Keith's been arrested with a mason jar full of heroin and a shopping bag full of other drugs and drug paraphernalia and is charged with drug trafficking. That was his baggage for a weekend in Toronto.

And this really sums up in two sentences an entire era:

Society could have effectively halted the upheavals of the 1960s simply by requiring all of us to "intervene" with one another. In any event, considering half our circle was on heroin and the rest were coke fiends, I think it wouldn't have efficacious in our circumstances.

Go read the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:50 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Independents' Day

At ground level, Republicans win elections by doing one or more of five things:

1) Get more Republicans to vote;
2) Get more people to become Republicans, and vote;
3) Get fewer Democrats to vote;
4) Get fewer people to be Democrats;
5) Get more votes from independents, i.e., people who are neither Republicans nor Democrats.

There's been a lot of talk about the "enthusiasm gap" in turnout between Republican and Democrat voters, about how the Democrats registered a lot of voters to vote in the "historic" 2008 election who may not be likely to vote again, and about how the developments of the past two years have driven more people to register as Republicans. I won't attempt to evaluate those arguments here. But let us focus on one simple point, #5 on the list above: Republicans won so many elections on Tuesday because they benefitted from an enormous swing in independent voters from the Democrats to the GOP.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Politics 2010 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
November 1, 2010
POLITICS: Election Predictions

Busy day, I didn't get to anything I'd meant to blog about, even with the World Series in full swing and the elections tomorrow.

Quick predictions.

HOUSE: GOP definitely takes the majority (+39 seats required), and I'll be surprised if the gains are less than 60 seats, which seems mind-blowing but there are a lot of good arguments floating around for numbers even crazier than that. Alan Grayson is toast. We'll know we're through the looking glass if people like Barney Frank and John Dingell lose, but I'm not prepared to believe Steny Hoyer is actually in trouble. But Charlie Rangel should win easily and proceed to trial.

SENATE: If I had to bet it would be GOP +8; I'm guessing 7-9 pickups, but I don't expect the +10 to retake a majority (+9 puts Joe Biden in the Senate as a tiebreaker). I'd been assuming the Reid-Angle race would go to a recount, but Angle seems to be putting it away at the end. Colorado, Illinois and possibly Washington could all be nail-biters. Russ Feingold is the biggest surprise casualty among races that are no longer in doubt.

I think Joe Miller will pull it out in Alaska. I'm expecting O'Donnell to lose in Delaware by maybe 8-9 points (I do think it will be closer than some of the polls), but if she wins, well, you can throw all my projections out the window and the Democrats are in for a night we haven't seen the likes of in living memory.

GOVERNORS: Not following the tote board on these as closely, but I'm guessing a net of around +8 for the Republicans, who could swipe as many as 13 or 14 Democratic-held Governorships but stand to lose a number as well (unlike in Congress, where Democratic pickups will be nearly nonexistant outside the Delaware at-large House seat and maybe 3 or 4 others). I'm more guardedly optimistic now that Rick Scott will hang on in Florida, the most important of the contested governor's races (I feel pretty confident about Bill Brady in Illinois).

Down the ballot, also look for the GOP to finally break the last remnants of the post-Confederacy Solid South by retaking some Southern legislatures it hasn't held since Reconstruction.

And I meant to write a better plug for him after attending a fundraiser last week, but if I don't get the time: vote for Harry Wilson for NY State Comptroller. He's a really impressive guy and, among other things, the first statewide challenger since Pat Moynihan in '76 to be endorsed by the Times, the News and the Post (the Wall Street Journal doesn't endorse but has been giving him a lot of coverage).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:57 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)