Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Leo Durocher's Proving Ground

Based on the series of Star Tribune articles emanating from Ft. Meyers, the Twins have spent the offseason accumulating the greatest collection of saints and gentle souls since Pentecost. Yesterday I mentioned the piece on Tony Batista, who in the Strib's telling is a gentle, itinerant preacher man of a ballplayer who dispenses wisdom and mammoth home runs in equal measure. In the past few days, we've been regaled with tales of the gentlemanly Rondell White and Luis Castillo, who can dominate games from the second base position, all while maintaining a level of decorum and dignity that would make Mother Theresa seem to be a malcontent.

Should we be the least bit cynical about any of this? Yeah, I think so. While I have no reason to doubt that all of these gentlemen are indeed fine fellows and we should all be grateful for their presence, baseball is not necessarily a gentleman's game. Indeed, some of the best teams of recent history have been known more for their contentious behavior than for contending for the baseball equivalent of the Lady Byng Trophy. Indeed, since 1970, you would be hard pressed to name a team that has won a World Series with a choirboy reputation. Even the Twins teams of 1987 and 1991 had tough, gruff customers in key positions - the 1987 edition featured crusty Don Baylor and Gary ("Rat") Gaetti, while the 1991 squad had surly righthanders Scott Erickson and Jack Morris leading the charge. It was no accident that the White Sox passed the Twins once they acquired the attitudinally-challenged A. J. Pierzynski. Teams that win usually have an edge - think of the Finley-era A's, the Yankees of the 70s and late 90s, the Big Red Machine.

So what do we make of the Twins charm offensive? Well, I'd suggest wishing them well, but remembering the words of Dale Carnegie dropout Leo Durocher, who said that in baseball, nice guys finish last. The Twins won't finish last (thank you, Royals!) but I'd be surprised if they won the division this year. You will start to see boxscores later this week, so we'll have an idea soon enough.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Tony Batista, International Man of Mystery

The Star Tribune is in the middle of a series about some of the key offseason acquisitions for the Twins. Of these, the most interesting offseason pickup is likely Tony Batista, who returns to the big leagues after a year in Japan. The Strib's writeup is here:


Batista is an interesting bird, to say the least. He is a bit itinerant; hasn't been in one place for more than two years in his career. He also is highly religious. In other words, he's probably a good replacement for some of the more corrosive fellows who were in the Dome last year. The question is, what does he have left? And will he perform better than Corey Koskie, who was available but who ended up in Milwaukee. I'm guessing Batista will bat about .275, with 25-30 homers and 80-90 RBI out of the 7 hole. That's better production than the Twins have seen out of that spot since, I don't know, forever.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sittin' on the Dock of Dubai

Watchin' the pundits blow away. Sittin' on the Dock of Dubai, wastin' time.

Looks like, nothin's gonna change/every day still remains the same
Bush can't do, what people say to do/so I guess he'll remain the same

My apologies to Otis Redding. But the more I read about this controversy, the more I feel like I'm lost in the funhouse. I can't think of the last time the Wall Street Journal and the Minneapolis Star Tribune came down on the same side of an issue. Stuff like this is why I've been blogging about baseball for the last week. And why I am returning to baseball.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Where have you gone, Albert Pujols/A nation turns its lonely eyes to you

Yesterday I offered up the name of Albert Pujols as the best player in baseball today. I received one comment on the post, where fellow blogger "Execu-bot," the proprietor of the Raspberries! blog (found at: http://ontheoregontrail.blogspot.com) noted that he had never heard of Albert Pujols.

Here's what you need to know - Execu-bot is not some garden variety ignoramus. He is, rather, a bright, college-educated young man with fine manners and wide-ranging tastes and knowledge. He also follows sports. But baseball is not one of them. And that's a problem for baseball.

Baseball has long claimed to be "America's Pastime," but it really hasn't been for a long time, maybe since the 1960s. During that decade, the National Football League began to capture the hearts and minds of more and more fans, as the legendary Packers of Lombardi, followed by the Cowboys of Landry and the Steelers of Noll, became the pre-eminent sources of sports entertainment in the country. Part of the change was marketing - images of the 60s and 70s NFL gladiators are often now seen with the surging orchestral ministrations of NFL Films and offered with the "Voice of God" narration of John Facenda, Harry Kalas and other stentorian Philadelphia announcers featuring helmeted gladiators with steam coming from their masks. Comparable baseball films usually feature porn-star quality music and the more ordinary sounding Curt Gowdy, with mustachioed bohos sporting double-knit fashion monstrosities. Come to think of it, some of the best ballplayers of the era looked a bit like porn stars.*

Baseball by its nature is quotidian - during the season, there's a game nearly every day and each contest is just a contest, not an EVENT like an NFL game. For those of us who love baseball, the challenge is to help people understand why the rhythms of the game and the slow, steady accretion of detail that occur during the course of a season are worth following. But it's not been easy for a long time now. For baseball to survive and prosper, Execu-bot and his contemporaries need to understand why Albert Pujols matters, even if they choose not to follow the game as closely as hopeless causes like me.

*at least that's what I hear; your humble host has of course never indulged in watching such horrible things. Nuh-uh. No way, Jose.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Who's the best player in baseball today?

Want to start an argument? Ask people who is the best player in baseball today. You can make arguments for a lot of guys - Alex Rodriguez is in his prime; Johan Santana can be unstoppable; Ichiro Suzuki is clearly one of the great hitters in history. But I'll take Albert Pujols. At the age of 26, Pujols has averaged 40 homers and 125 RBI per season, with a lifetime batting average of .332. His overall statistics eerily mirror the early career of Joe DiMaggio. Add a self-effacing personality and a team-first attitude, and you have a player for the ages. His home run in the 2005 NLCS off Astros fireballer Brad Lidge was not enough to propel the Cardinals to the World Series, but was about as perfect an example of clutch hitting as you are likely to see.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sayonara, Sammy Sosa

Word is that Sammy Sosa, apparently unwanted after a desultory 2005 in Baltimore, is retiring from baseball. He apparently finishes 5th all time on the home run list, with 588 dingers behind his name.

But he also leaves with a trail of suspicion. Many in baseball openly wonder if Sosa was a cheater, if he filled his body with steroids. He had already been suspended once for using a corked bat in 2001. Did he sell his soul for a place in baseball history? Some are questioning whether he belongs in Cooperstown.

Hard to know, of course -- while there have been whispers for years, we have not seen any actual, public allegations of misconduct. Unlike Sosa's contemporary, Rafael Palmeiro, who has tested positive for steroids, we do not have conclusive evidence, nor are we likely to.

So how do we view Sosa? My view is that he is one of the greatest home run hitters ever. It's not clear that steroids were the deciding factor - so many of Sosa's majestic home runs were sent over the short walls of Wrigley Field, it would be difficult to say that the dimensions of his main ballpark were not the main factor in his success. There are two players, both safely in Cooperstown, whose careers make an excellent argument for Sosa.

  • First, consider Mel Ott, the great Giants 1st baseman, whose career was primarily in the 1930s. Ott stands 19th on the all time list, with 511 homers. Ott was a dead-pull left handed hitter, who played the majority of his career in the Polo Grounds, with a short porch of only 297 feet down the right field line. Ott clearly benefitted from his ballpark, but no one has seriously argued that his good fortune in playing at the Polo Grounds somehow disqualifies him from the Hall.
  • Next, consider Gaylord Perry. The big righthander lasted over 20 years in the big leagues finishing his career 17th on the all time list with 314 total victories. Throughout his career Perry threw an illegal pitch, the spitball. He was able to conceal his methods and, even though he was searched almost every time he took the mound, he was able to get through his career without serving any significant time under suspension. He is safely in the Hall.

There's a lot of moralism (and moralizers) in baseball. Always have been. The baseball writers often act like a priesthood, conferring blessings on some and not on others. While there are many who would view the Hall of Fame as some sort of sacrosanct institution, baseball's Holy of Holies, there's little reason to believe that it is. Politics, public relations and horse trading have always been part of the Hall. Given what we now know about Sosa's career, it's difficult to imagine keeping him out of the Hall. And the same goes for Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. Maybe they can replace the logo on their caps with an asterisk or something....

Monday, February 20, 2006

Baseball is here

And we're starting to see how things are shaping up. As a cheesehead living in Minnesota, I am able to follow both the Twins and the Brewers without conflict, especially since the Brew Crew moved to the NL back in 1997. At first glance, it appears that both teams are moving in opposite directions - the Brew Crew made significant progress in 2005, while the Twins slid back to the pack as the Mighty Whities finally removed the 85 year stench of the Black Sox scandal. But it's deceptive. A few things to consider:

  • The Twins picked up a few potentially useful spare parts in the offseason. Rondell White and Ruben Sierra are not necessarily great players at this point, but either will be an improvement over Matt (Beer League) LeCroy as the DH.
  • As my drunk but wise college friend John Ed used to say, you need pitching and management. And the Twins still have an edge over most teams in this department. Johan Santana is one of the best pitchers in baseball and Joe Nathan is a reliable closer. I would take either over the Brew Crew's number one options (Ben Sheets and Derrick Turnbow) at the same positions. If you had to have a pitcher, would you rather have Brad Radke or Chris Capuano? Would you rather have Carlos Silva or Doug Davis? Right now I would take Toma Ohka over Kyle Lohse, but neither are any great shakes. Advantage, TC Men.

Much more to talk about - this space will devote more time to baseball and less time to politics in the coming days. It's going to be fun. I have a hunch that another team on a long-time losing streak is going to get off the schneid this year. Any guesses?

Friday, February 17, 2006

We think you are misleading, therefore you should be silent

I have to wonder what the Minnesota State DFL is thinking right now. They have been calling for WCCO-TV and KARE to stop running pro-Iraq War ads that are being financed by a conversative campaign group. The ads that have run thus far show returning soldiers talking about their views on the war, and along with similar views expressed by the families of soldiers who died in Iraq. Here is the text of an e-mail asking DFLers to get involved.

Dear DFLer,

I’ve heard from many of you that you are disturbed by the misleading "Midwest Heroes" ads produced by Progress for America Voter Fund that are currently being run by KARE 11 and WCCO. The ads erroneously make a connection between Iraq and the 9/11 terrorists attacks and suggest that the war in Iraq will prevent an attack by Al Queda in America. The 9/11 Commission findings clearly state that there was no connection between Iraq and the the Al Queda terrorists attacks on 9/11. We must call for media responsibility regarding this issue. We have extraordinary sympathy for our troops and their families and believe that while our soldiers’ role is to protect the citizens of our country, it is our role as citizens to protect our soldiers and to make certain that they are not misused. It is a travesty that the tragedies of five countries and the deaths of our brave men and women are being used in this type of propaganda. Right now, our state is a testing ground for these ads. If Minnesota speaks out and says no to this ad, the entire country can thank us. What we do here, now, will have an enormous impact on the success or failure of this kind of swiftboating in 06.

You can view the ads at: http://www.midwestheroes.com/

Additionally, WCCO did a Reality Check stating that the ad is misleading and partly true, which in my mind means that it is partly false. See it at: http://www.wcco.com/video/?id=14609@wcco.dayport.com

If you feel that this ad is doing a disservice to our troops and is misleading at best, and pure propaganda at worst, please call:

KARE 11 at 763 546 1111
WCCO at 612 370 0611

to ask for the removal of the ads. Letters to the Editor in your local paper would be helpful to point out the untruths being communicated to citizens as fact. Thanks in advance for being a voice of truth, and for all that you do to improve the state of our nation and state.
DFL Chair Brian Melendez will be holding a press conference at the State Capitol today at 2:30 to ask that this ad be pulled from the air waves. He will be joined by congressional candidate and veteran Tim Walz. Please tune in to your evening news to see coverage of this important event.


Donna Cassutt, Associate Chair,Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party

We can argue until the end of time whether or not al-Qaida is involved in the current Iraqi situation - truth be told, a large part of the national debate since the war started has surrounded this point. What I think is objectionable here is that, rather than continuing the discussion, the DFL wants to simply silence the organization producing the ads. I'd humbly suggest that if the DFL is so confident that these ads are false, they should simply present countervailing evidence and let people decide for themselves. I'd also suggest that the DFL's timing on this effort may turn out to be somewhat less than propitious, with the "Saddam tapes" and the "HARMONY" documents starting to come into the public arena. The overall perception of the war may be in for a dramatic change very soon.

I wish there were less political ads on television - I really do. But suppressing speech does nothing to further understanding. If the DFL were more confident, they wouldn't need to take this approach.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Q. What Are The Four Best Words in the English Language

A. Pitchers and catchers report.

Baseball season is coming - the winter begins to fade and the images of ballplayers jogging on emerald green fields in Florida and Arizona begin to filter into our consciousness again. Major League Baseball has its challenges, to be sure. The current economics essentially doom several franchises to second division finishes. The steroid scandal tarnishes the glowing deeds of recent years and calls into question the records that McGwire, Sosa and Bonds. With each egregious stumble, Commissioner Bud Selig demonstrates that while you can take the boy out of Wisconsin, you can't take the Wisconsin out of the boy.

But still. You see the grass, glistening with dew. You hear the gloves pop. You see the kids, not yet cynical, holding out notebooks for a signature from a hero who may never even see a major league field. You sense that, if the Red Sox and the White Sox can do it, even your Rockies or Devil Rays or Brewers have hope. Even if your hopes have been dashed before, this might be the year. What could be better?

The only thing that remained in Pandora's Box was Hope. And in February and March, Hope gets a furlough.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happiness Is a Warm Gun

The hunting accident involving Vice President Cheney over the weekend took an ominous turn this morning - news reports indicate that some of the bird shot that hit his hunting partner Harry Whittington, had migrated near his heart. We can hope that the elderly Whittington will survive this setback. A few thoughts:

  • An accident is an accident. If Cheney comes off a bit like Elmer Fudd after this incident, that's not surprising, although this might be the best-case scenario.
  • Not reporting the incident immediately was a poor decision. Did the news media have an absolute right to know immediately about the incident? Not necessarily, but full disclosure is always a better idea. At least Cheney & co. got Mr. Whittington immediate medical attention, unlike a certain senator I could name who let the person affected by his accident drown....
  • Not surprisingly, the late night comics had a field day with Cheney. My only quibble with that is, why did David Letterman feel compelled to bring up Cheney's "lesbian daughter" twice during the show, once in a tasteless bit by announcer Alan Kalter and then in the Top Ten list? She's not relevant to the discussion, any more than Chelsea Clinton would have been to a discussion of Bill Clinton's foibles. Leave the families out of it.
  • Many of the people who are responsible for disseminating news in this country know little or nothing about hunting. I heard reports of Mr. Whittington being hit with "buckshot," among other things. No one hunts quail with buckshot; it would essentially vaporize the birds. If Mr. Whittington had been hit at that range by buckshot, he'd have been dead at the scene.

A prayer for Mr. Whittington for a speedy recovery.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Iowahawk Explains It All for you

If you aren't a regular reader of Iowahawk, you should be. He is one of the funniest guys on the Internet. He's in rare form here:


Just a few excerpts:

Like a pot of bratwurst left unattended at a Lambeau Field pregame party, simmering tensions in the strife-torn Midwest boiled over once again today as rioting mobs of green-and-gold clad youth and plump farm wives rampaged through Wisconsin Denny’s and IHOPs, burning Texas toast and demanding apologies and extra half-and-half.


But by far the fiercest demonstration took place in Green Bay's Lambeau Shrine parking lot where throngs of Packer faithful burned Texas flags and effigies of Roger Staubach as Lutheran pastors led them in chants of "Those who defame the Vince suck" and "Favre is Great." Many of the frenzied demonstrators were seen ritualistically beating themselves with mozzarella sticks.
The crowd eventually dispersed, lured away by local supper clubs and the nickel slots of nearby Oneida Bingo Casino, but Pastor Doug Schmidtke of Fond Du Lac's Grand Lutheran Temple threatened continued community unrest "until the infidels of Texas deliver an apology. And the head of Tom Landry in a paper bag."


In response to growing pressure and threats of Wisconsin boycotts, VHT Technologies dismissed Davidson on January 21, issuing a fulsome personal apology from CEO George Uhl asking Wisconsinites "to consider VHT the next time you are choosing a supplier of multiphase diodes," and "please don't kill me."
Despite the olive branch, the Packer community finally exploded into the streets Sunday, as already frayed emotions were further enflamed by the awarding of the Vince Lombardi trophy to the Super Bowl's victorious Pittsburgh Steelers.
Numerous request to Texas Governor Rick Perry to execute or extradite Davidson to Wisconsin have thusfar gone unheeded, but it is unclear whether the Governor can withstand the growing political pressure for a cathartic public beheading. With nearly one million ethnic immigrant Midwesterners now living in Texas, experts say Perry risks alienating an important voter bloc. More troubling, some analyst believe that south Texas is currently infiltrated by a sleeper cell of tens of thousands of elderly Midwestern snowbirds, each of whom is armed with a Winnebago capable of smashing into a fast food restaurant.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Moments of Clarity - Installment III

Hey, guess what? It looks like a lot of people in the Islamic world don't like snotty Danish cartoonists. As the protests, riots, and now killings (of a Catholic priest in Italy) demonstrate, we are not dealing with Western standards of rationality. So what are we learning?
  • While it may not be possible to get enough to eat, or for a woman to walk the streets without a chador, in many parts of the Muslim world, there appears to be a ready supply of European flags for burning. I think I'd like that concession right about now.
  • We are all Danes. More to the point, we are all infidels. And it's a dangerous game to pretend otherwise, or to downplay the meaning of this.
  • The cynicism of Bashar Assad, Hosni Mubarak and the other worthies of the region knows no boundaries.
  • Those freedoms we hold dear could evaporate quite quickly. As the Founders understood, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Blowing Second Hand Smoke

If you were watching the Super Bowl yesterday, you may have seen an ad during halftime, sponsored by MPAAT, the Minnesota Partnership Against Tobacco. The ad was done in typical MPAAT style, with all the subtlety of a German jazz band. A solitary smoker in a bar lights a cigarette, and suddenly airplane-style oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. A stentorian, voice of God narrator drones on about all the known carcinogens in second-hand smoke.

MPAAT's actions are offensive on a number of levels.
  • The purpose of MPAAT and its now moribund partner, Target Market, was to aid those who wish to quit smoking. Funding for MPAAT activities come from the large tobacco settlement that then-Attorney General Skip Humphrey negotiated in the late '90s. MPAAT's primary mission was to help get smokers to quit. MPAAT is swimming in money and they could easily fund smoking cessation programs that could help others. Instead, they have chosen to put their considerable institutional muscle (and nearly unlimited pile of money) into smoking bans. Can you imagine how many people could have been helped with the money MPAAT used on their ad?
  • I quit smoking over 15 years ago; millions of other Americans have done the same. I was able to do it cold turkey because my fiance (now my lovely wife) was supportive of my efforts and because I was able to get away from the environments that I associated with lighting a cigarette. I did not worry about going into bars or restaurants, even though back then it was a rare place that completely banned smoking. There's no doubt that second-hand smoke is annoying to many, but smoking a cigarette is hardly the same as launching mustard gas, which is how MPAAT portrays things.
  • An earlier ad that MPAAT put on is especially egregious. It shows a woman who appears to be around 60 years old. She claims that she has never smoked in her life, but that she is dying of lung cancer and that her place of employment was often "blue with smoke." She also said she worked in the same place for 40 years. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all the assertions made in this ad are true. Even if they are, it does not prove that second-hand smoke caused her cancer, as correlation does not equal causation. She may have lived in a home with radon. She may have been a coal miner on the side. She may have simply been unlucky. The thing that's most amazing about the ad is that it asserts that 40,000 people have died from second hand smoke. But, apparently, none of them are from Minnesota, as the woman in the ad is from Canada. If second hand smoker were as pervasive and pernicious as MPAAT would have you believe, you would assume they could find a Minnesotan to appear in their ads.

The urge to save is often the urge to control. Reducing smoking is a decent, honorable goal. Herding smokers into the cold and treating them as pariahs is neither decent nor honorable.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I didn't see much of the the State of the Union speech - had a more pressing engagement - but a few thoughts.
  • Even if the Democrats feel they did good by effectively killing Bush's Social Security initiative last year, it's bad form to gloat about it. And it will look a lot worse in a few years when the bills come due. The D's really need a plan.
  • The NSA wiretap thing redounds to Bush's credit, and he framed the issue well again yesterday. Unless and until the media provide a specific, credible example of someone suffering a real loss of civil liberties or some other form of persecution as a result of the program, ideally with video, the Democrats will derive no benefit. Moreover, the squishy legalisms reinforce the stereotypes that currently plague the Democrats generally.
  • Cindy Sheehan really doesn't help anyone's cause. It would be helpful if someone took her aside and patiently explained that her 15 minutes are up.
  • I'm not sure I want a car that runs on wood chips. Reminds me too much of the movie Fargo. But hare-brained, off the shelf ideas are a staple of SOTU addresses.