Thursday, September 29, 2016

The baseball Hall of Fame awaits the king of the singles scene

Eddie Collins, who played second base for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox in the early 20th century, is regarded as one of the top-25 baseball players of all-time. Like many players of the so-called “dead-ball” era, homeruns were few and far between. A rubber-centered ball, deeper park dimensions, and pitchers permitted to throw practically any kind of pitch they wanted with a single baseball in play in any condition (any ball that landed in the stands had to be thrown back by fans), contributed to “small-ball,” the strategy of getting on base by whatever means necessary, employing the hit-and-run play, and steals.  Triples were more common than homeruns in the dead-ball era, and Collins hit 187 triples to only 47 homeruns among his 3315 career hits. Although today’s cork-centered baseball was instituted in 1911, “cheating” by pitchers continued to make “small-ball” play the norm. 

Things would change after the tragic death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, whose skull was crushed by a dirty baseball he apparently could not see (in an unlit park during the twilight hours) thrown by the New Yankees Carl Mays. The sound of the impact was so loud that Mays thought the ball had hit the tip of Chapman’s bat, causing him to field the ball and throw it to first base. But Chapman remained in the batter’s box, slowly collapsing with blood flowing from one ear. According to a New York Times story on August 17, 1920,

“Chapman died at 4:40 o'clock this morning, following an operation performed by Dr. T.M. Merrigan, surgical director of the institution. Chapman was unconscious after he arrived at the hospital. The operation began at 12:29 o'clock and was completed at 1:44. The blow had caused a depressed fracture in Chapman's head three and a half inches long. Dr. Merrigan removed a piece of skull about an inch and a half square and found the brain had been so severely jarred that blod clots had formed. The shock of the blow had lacerated the brain not only on the left side of the head where the ball struck but also on the right side where the shock of the blow had forced the brain against the skull, Dr. Merrigan said.”

Following Chapman’s death, MLB rules were changed in regard to the use of dirty balls (especially when done so by the pitcher), and they had to be replaced if discolored or damaged. Some pitches like the spitball were banned from the pitchers’ arsenal, and all this in part contributed to the “live-ball” era, although it may have already been underway that season, with Babe Ruth hitting 54 homeruns, not just breaking but obliterating the previous record high.

But back the subject of this post. As great as he supposedly was, Collins holds a somewhat less than inspiring record that was perhaps not surprising for someone whose best years were during the dead-ball period: the lowest percentage of extra-base hits for any hitter with at least 3,000 career hits. His 438 doubles added up to 672 extra-base hits, only 20.2 percent of his total hits. His .429 slugging percentage on a .333 career batting average might have tagged him as a “pure” hitter in this day and age, but he wouldn’t be the “sexy” hitter that most baseball fans today would have on their rotisserie league line-ups. 

Well, there is probably one person who considers Collins’ stat-line “sexy,” and that would be the player who has “bested” him for worst all-time extra-base hits to total hits over 3,000 percentage. This player told the New York Times in 2010 that “I think there's sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I’d rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength.”

The player we are talking about, perhaps to the surprise of many, is the usually taciturn Ichiro Suzuki. Seattle Mariner fans might remember him; I suspect that they are not aware of the fact that he did, in fact, pass the 3,000 MLB hits mark this season with the Miami Marlins. This is the guy who set a Major League record hitting 262 hits in a single season; of those only 37 were extra-base hits, only 14.1 percent of his total hits. As of today, Ichiro has 3,029 career base hits, of which only 566 went for extra-bases (18.7 percent), contributing to a weakling .405 slugging percentage. His 356 career doubles is also by a significant margin the fewest by any player with at least 3,000 hits. His 760 RBIs are also by far the fewest of any player with at least 3,000 hits. Even notorious “small-ball” hitters like Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs knocked in over 1,000 runners during their careers.

Did Ichiro make-up for his lack of power by stealing bases? After stealing 56 bases his first MLB season, he didn’t do much of that. In his record-setting hits season, he only stole 36 bases to add to his 225 singles and 49 walks, scoring only 101 runs. This kind of play contributed to his increasingly diminishing ability to at least do what a lead hitter is supposed to do: score runs. Ichiro was a dubious quality even as a "small-ball" hitter.

But Ichiro remains a fashion statement, if sometimes only for amusement’s sake. He is the first player outside the usual sphere of baseball talent to make a career out of his time in the big leagues. Some will say he did it the “easy” way, not caring about “strategy” or for the benefit of the team, but just about the best way to “pad” his basic mode of keeping himself in the line-up for 16 years. Although his contribution to his teams’ success may have been more “aesthetic” than real, he was kept in their line-ups as a gesture to curious fans. That doesn’t mean we should disparage him more than he deserves. What he chose to do he did “well”—and likely well enough to get elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The "winner" of yesterday's "presidential" debate: Clinton. The loser: the American people

There was a “winner” after last night’s three-ring circus that many in the media mistakenly referred to as a “presidential” debate, and there was very decidedly a loser. The loser was not Donald Trump, despite doing everything possible to throw the game away. He allowed Hillary Clinton to bait him on inconsequential questions about his taxes and a loan from his father, he didn’t offer anything in terms of specific policy proposals, just his usual cast of public “enemies” portrayed in disproportionate to reality. For example, he repeated his claim that the US ist losing jobs because of NAFTA; the reality is that it has lost much if not most of its manufacturing and apparel jobs to China and other Pacific Rim countries.  Trump again played the racial paranoia card; while the homicide rate among Hispanics is higher than that of whites, it is only 1/3 that of blacks, and I think Hispanics should be deeply offended by Trump’s assertion that their communities are “dangerous” when that is  a decidedly relative term. 

Viewers and radio listeners heard a man who apparently was so inflated with self-regard that he did not take the debate seriously and didn’t bother to prepare, and clearly had little natural grasp of politics and policy. All he could present were tired platitudes and inflammatory rhetoric that might excite bigots, nativists and xenophobes, but behind it was nothing. 

Yet it was not Trump who “lost,” it was America, who has to choose between this buffoon and the “alternative,” who at least according to the media was the “winner” by default. Yes, Clinton sound “commanding”—or was her usual imperious condescension and patronization, that she is superior to you or me or anyone in a pantsuit? The well-rehearsed lies that Clinton has been practicing in deceiving the American people since at least 1993 with the first Clinton presidency scandals—one which resulted in the “suicide” of a “close friend” and law partner of Clinton’s—and let us not forget that people were convicted of crimes in those scandals in which the Clintons were the prime beneficiaries, and investigations repeatedly revealed that Hillary Clinton especially lied over and over again about her involvement as well as her husband’s. Why should she be “rewarded”—let alone entrusted—with supreme power? Because she is a woman and it will be “historic” if she is elected?

Yet Trump failed the American people more than himself in repeatedly failing to play this card. This “trump” card should be the key question in people’s minds before they decide that Clinton is “presidential” material. Is she too corrupt and deceiving to be trusted with the highest office in the land? The “best” one can say about Trump is that he is at least “sensitive” to public opinion, especially when it turns against him. Clinton? She couldn’t care less what the public thinks, privately; she will do whatever the hell she feels like. Yes, the debate moderator never broached the issue of trustworthiness, but Trump had opportunities to bring up Clinton’s long and sordid history beyond the “cybersecurity” issue, which he punted away as well, only mentioning that Clinton’s aids had taken the “Fifth” in regard to her email server business. 

Trump fared no better in foreign affairs, allowing Clinton to portray him as trigger-happy madman. Yet do we want someone as cavalier about state secrets and self-conscious about how she is viewed as Clinton is with her finger on the trigger? Clinton of course lied repeatedly about her “accomplishments” as the Secretary of State. She had nothing to do with building the “coalition” against Iran’s assumed nuclear play; that predated the Obama administration. Not only that, she had nothing to do with the eventual treaty, although she spent much time taking false credit for it. The truth is that not a single significant international treaty was signed during her tenure, likely because of a lack of “respect” for the Secretary and her condescending, patronizing tone to world leaders she needed most to be less so.

As the debate neared its end, Clinton was allowed to bring manic gender politics into the fray, which I’m sure many male listeners were turned off by. Defending her “stamina,” she pointed to her travelogue of a 112 different countries. I have already spoken to that free ride on the taxpayer dime; in the most of those countries, Clinton flew in on a government plane, rode around in a cushy limousine, stomached the local culture for a few minutes, maybe tried hard to absorb a bite of the local cuisine, had a photo-op with the president/dictator, and flew right back out, probably sneering contemptuously about him/her.  

The bottom line is that the American people lost last night because it was proven once and for all that the people who voted for Trump in the primaries were clearly out of their minds, allowing their hate to govern whatever iota of reason they possessed, while once more Clinton was allowed to escape unscathed any exposure of her history of corruption (both personal and political) and perjury. One should find it extremely disturbing in Clinton’s personality that she continues to deny any misconduct on her part whatever, continues to treat the American public as if they are completely blind to her transgressions, believing every lie like the simpletons she takes them for. Yet Clinton was able to arrogantly claim “victory” in the debate, due to Trump’s incompetence as a “politician,” one like Clinton who has all her lines burned to memory so well she will never need a teleprompter.

Monday, September 26, 2016

If it is someone you hate, he must be Hispanic

Soon after the Cascade Mall shooting in Burlington, WA this past weekend, where five people were killed by a lone assailant, it was all over CNN, all the networks, USA TODAY and the Washington Post. The Seattle Times, of course, is Johnny-on-the-spot. There was surveillance video and eyewitness descriptions of the heinous killer, and when the police announced that the suspect was “Hispanic,” this was immediately broadcast throughout the world, as if this bit of information was “meaningful.” The Seattle Times, of course, has claimed before that it never identifies a shooter’s race until the suspect is actually arraigned in court, but this seems only to apply if the suspect is black, because the Times doesn’t want to appear to be assuming any unfair stereotyping of any particularly group, although it violates this “principle” over and over again when it comes to Hispanics. In “justifying” identifying the still at large shooter as “Hispanic,” the Times claimed that “Most major news outlets, including The Seattle Times, mention race or ethnicity in relation to crimes only if the crime is considered racially motivated or if an armed, dangerous suspect is on the loose.” 

But more interesting is this little tidbit related by the Times: “When journalists asked at a Saturday press conference why authorities believed the gunman to be Hispanic, Mount Vernon Police Lt. Chris Cammock said the description was based on the surveillance photos and the man’s dark hair.”  And this is the crux of the matter. How many people in this country could be mistaken for “Hispanic”? I know of a few “Black Irish” types who are upset when they are taken for Hispanic. In fact, anyone who is vaguely “ethnic,” with dark skin, dark hair, dark eyebrows, does not appear “Caucasian” can and often are “mistaken” for Hispanic. 

The mall shooter, Arcan Cetin, is a Turkish immigrant, who was regarded by acquaintances as “creepy,” an attitude that likely “inspired” his actions. But the point is that Cetin is not Hispanic: the Times editors might have had an emergency meeting to come up with a “policy” on identifying race or ethnicity of a suspect to rationalize their own culpability in assuming that anyone who looked dark and “ethnic” and not immediately identified as Middle Eastern must be “Hispanic.”

How to “explain” this purposeful “mistakenness”? Can it be the inclination of many, especially on the extreme right and the likes of Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin, Pat Buchanan—and, of course, Donald Trump—with their excessive paranoia and hate that almost any suggestion that a Hispanic is involved in a “heinous” crime is subject to “special” attention, because “Hispanics”—even those who are citizens—are social and cultural “aliens” who frankly are only permitted to be spoken about in this country (usually in negative terms), rather than actually being allowed to speak for themselves because, frankly, they have no rights anyone in this country is bound to respect. Especially in the media, where unlike blacks are not even permitted the right to have a “token” who is allowed to stand as “evidence” to give the “lie” to the stereotypes.

And yes, the media is so hypocritical. Hispanics are supposedly the largest minority group in this country, yet who speaks for them in the mainstream media? No one. Whites and blacks are the only people that "matter" in this country, and the omnipresence of the latter in the media is meant to establishes that it is only a few bad apples who are responsible for the dysfunctions of their community. The bottom line in this country is that if you need someone to hate or place blame, Hispanics are the go-to group, because there is no one in the media to consider before they leap to their preconceived assumptions.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Week 3 NFL Notes

One of the story lines in the national sports media was when or if Aaron Rodgers was going to break out of his slump, and I purposely left the quotes out of that. This Sunday’s game against the Lions was certainly going to be a test, since Matthew Stafford has a history of putting up big numbers against the Packers, and this game was no exception: 28 0f 41 passing for 383 yards and three touchdowns, and the Lions out-gained the Packers 418 to 324. The Lions also scored 24 of the last 27 points of the game. But those numbers were only part of the story. In the first half, Rodgers completed 12 of 19 passes for 174 yards and four touchdowns as the Packers built a 31-3 lead, before apparently taking their foot of the accelerator, or so Packer fans would like to believe. Rodgers threw only five passes in the second half as Packers managed just one field goal as the Lions rallied to make a game of it before losing 34-27. Jordy Nelson had a Jordy Nelson-like game, so the question is can Rodgers and company play four quarters of high-caliber offense, since their defense isn’t going to save them from themselves. Once more, that is a question mark that this game did not answer.

Bills 33 Cardinals 18 The Cardinals were expected to win this game fairly handily, but Carson Palmer was sacked five times and threw four interceptions, something that he occasionally does. How to explain 33 points from the Bills after their offensive coordinator was fired? One local commentator suggested that the new offensive coordinator “simplified” the playbook for Tyrod Taylor, which is something we hear quite often for quarterbacks like him. What does this mean? Taylor’s passing day was something along the order of horrible, but at least he only threw one interception and ran for nearly as many yards rushing as he did net passing (89 passing yards, 76 rushing yards). 

Raiders 17 Titans 10 Sloppy game that turned, of course, on a stupid penalty by the Titans’ left tackle after a 19-yard completion got the Titans within game-tying position at the Raiders’ 3 with a minute to play. ESPN is busy critiquing Titan quarterback Marcus Mariota’s seven turnovers this season; wonder what they think of Carson Palmer, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston, who have all turned the ball over considerably more times after the first three weeks of the season than he has. 

Dolphins 30 Browns 24 The Browns should have won this game in regulation, except that their kicker missed a 46-yard field goal as time expired (were the laces “out”?). Am I wrong about the Browns’ Terrelle Pryor? This multi-purpose talent not only threw five passes for 35 yards, but he ran four times for 21 yards and a touchdown, and was the Browns’ leading receiver with 8 catches for 144 yards. Hell, Tom Matte never did all three in one game. This must be what happens when a player is not square-pegged into a round position he is not best suited for.

Vikings 22 Panthers 10 I have a question, and be honest about your answer: With the player who should have been last season’s MVP (Adrian Peterson) out for a while, who would you rather have as your quarterback—Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater? I always thought that Bridgewater was the Vikings’ quarterback for political reasons, not because he was a solid player at the position. If Bradford continues his solid play, will the Vikings make the “political” move when Bridgewater is healthy again, or stick with the guy who gives them their best chance to win? It shouldn’t be that tough a decision, since the Vikings are 3-0 without Bridgewater or Peterson, who was a non-factor when he did play, but no doubt the Vikings will make it “tough” because they “have to.” Meanwhile, we saw how Cam Newton plays during the good times; in the bad times, Newton is as helpless as a big baby.

Ravens 19 Jaguars 17 Another sloppy game with neither offense getting on track, and turnovers giving short fields the difference. The Jaguars led 17-16, but a blocked field goal attempt late in the game gave the Ravens another short field in which to convert the game-winning field goal.

Broncos 29 Bengals 17 Before you jump on the Trevor Siemian bandwagon after 312-yard, 4-TD performance in this game, remember that coming into this game he had a 1 to 3 TD to INT ratio, and 74.4 QB rating. That said, the Broncos are 3-0 with him as quarterback after this impressive win on the road against an allegedly quality team. I hate to say it, but the Broncos’ management might have been on to something when they decided to let Brock Osweiler go and keep this guy around—especially after Thursday’s debacle.

Redskins 29 Giants 27 If there is any one of Brett Favre’s career passing records that will be seemingly “safe” from being broken besides his 297 consecutive starts (his career yardage and TD pass records have already been exceeded by Peyton Manning), it is his most “infamous” record—336 career interceptions in 302 games. Right now, the only quarterback who stands a chance of breaking that dubious mark is Eli Manning, whose two interceptions in this game gives him 202 in 188 games in 12+ seasons. Now, to put my math hat on, that means that in order to break Favre’s record, at the rate he is currently going Manning would have to play another 125 games.  That means will have to play every game this season and the next seven. If he does so, he will also break Favre’s consecutive starts record as well. Come to think of it, maybe I’m not so keen for Manning to hang around that long.

Seahawks 37 49ers 18 Obviously I am not happy about this result. Blaine Gabbert was as bad as advertised through three quarters, that is until Russell Wilson twisted his knee and didn’t play the rest of the game. Wilson’s backup, Trevor Boykin, threw an interception that led to a 49ers’ touchdown, which is what happens when you deliberately keep substandard talent to keep your “star” from being “challenged.” We’ll see how this all plays out, because we haven’t seen Wilson play when he is truly immobilized, like Robert Griffin III. 

Chiefs 24 Jets 3 Now come on. Isn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick supposed to be an Ivy Leaguer? Maybe he left his brain in a glass jar as an anthropology exhibit back at Harvard. Six-count-them-six interceptions in this game; even Geno isn’t that dumb. Yeah, Favre did that kind of thing all the time with the Packers, but at least he threw a couple of touchdown passes in between. 

Colts 26 Chargers 22 Andrew Luck and the Colts finally get on track. Luck is at least putting up the kind of numbers he did in 2014, meaning that he is not “regressing” the way some snubbers claimed last season, not taking into consideration his rib injury. After the horrible performance of the Texans against the Patriot’s third-string quarterback, the Colts look like the “cream” of the AFC South again.

Rams 37 Buccaneers 32 Electrical storms were always exciting at the airport, so I know how it was for the fans down in Florida during this game. Too exciting, perhaps, for Rams fans; Jameis Winston, who threw for 405 yards, at least made things “electric” after the storm had passed in the waning seconds, but he has only himself to blame for the loss otherwise, the game turning on his fumble that was returned 77 yards for a touchdown. The other notable factoid is that after failing to score a touchdown in their first two games, the Rams scored five in this game.

Eagles 34 Steelers 3 An impressive win for the Eagles and their rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who through three games has 5 TD passes and 0 interceptions. Wentz was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft out of backwoods North Dakota State, so somebody must have been doing their homework on this guy.

Patriots 27 Texans 0 On the face of it, Bill Belichick exhibited his “genius” by limiting third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to just what he could be expected to do without screwing things up. This meant throwing the ball as little as possible, and employing Brissett’s reflex to run with the ball. The Texans did the rest, either with turnovers or losing the ball on downs. 

I’m not going to waste time on the Cowboys-Bears late game; the Cowboys led 24-3 at halftime, and if Brian Hoyer (in for the injured Jay Cutler) can somehow manufacture a comeback victory, then I’ll be more than surprised—I’ll be stupefied beyond measure.