Friday, January 07, 2011
The Washington Post
Friday, January 7, 2011
For decades, Democrats and Republicans fought over who owns the American flag. Now they're fighting over who owns the Constitution.
The flag debates began during the Vietnam era when leftist radicals made the fatal error of burning it. For decades since, non-suicidal liberals have tried to undo the damage. Demeaningly, and somewhat unfairly, they are forever having to prove their fealty to the flag.
Amazingly, though, some still couldn't get it quite right. During the last presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama, asked why he was not wearing a flag pin, answered that it represented "a substitute" for "true patriotism." Bad move. Months later, Obama quietly beat a retreat and began wearing the flag on his lapel. He does so still.
Today, the issue is the Constitution. It's a healthier debate because flags are pure symbolism and therefore more likely to evoke pure emotion and ad hominem argument. The Constitution, on the other hand, is a document that speaks. It defines concretely the nature of our social contract. Nothing in our public life is more substantive.
Americans are in the midst of a great national debate over the power, scope and reach of the government established by that document. The debate was sparked by the current administration's bold push for government expansion - a massive fiscal stimulus, Obamacare, financial regulation and various attempts at controlling the energy economy. This engendered a popular reaction, identified with the Tea Party but in reality far more widespread, calling for a more restrictive vision of government more consistent with the Founders' intent.
Call it constitutionalism. In essence, constitutionalism is the intellectual counterpart and spiritual progeny of the "originalism" movement in jurisprudence. Judicial "originalists" (led by Antonin Scalia and other notable conservative jurists) insist that legal interpretation be bound by the text of the Constitution as understood by those who wrote it and their contemporaries. Originalism has grown to become the major challenger to the liberal "living Constitution" school, under which high courts are channelers of the spirit of the age, free to create new constitutional principles accordingly.
What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government - for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures - in the words and meaning of the Constitution.
Hence that highly symbolic moment on Thursday when the 112th House of Representatives opened with a reading of the Constitution. Remarkably, this had never been done before - perhaps because it had never been so needed. The reading reflected the feeling, expressed powerfully in the last election, that we had moved far, especially the past two years, from a government constitutionally limited by its enumerated powers to a government constrained only by its perception of social need.
The most galvanizing example of this expansive shift was, of course, the Democrats' health-care reform, which will revolutionize one-sixth of the economy and impose an individual mandate that levies a fine on anyone who does not enter into a private contract with a health insurance company. Whatever its merits as policy, there is no doubting its seriousness as constitutional precedent: If Congress can impose such a mandate, is there anything that Congress may not impose upon the individual?
The new Republican House will henceforth require, in writing, constitutional grounding for every bill submitted. A fine idea, although I suspect 90 percent of them will simply make a ritual appeal to the "general welfare" clause. Nonetheless, anything that reminds members of Congress that they are not untethered free agents is salutary.
But still mostly symbolic. The real test of the Republicans' newfound constitutionalism will come in legislating. Will they really cut government spending? Will they really roll back regulations? Earmarks are nothing. Do the Republicans have the courage to go after entitlements as well?
In the interim, the cynics had best tread carefully. Some liberals are already disdaining the new constitutionalism, denigrating the document's relevance and sneering at its public recitation. They sneer at their political peril. In choosing to focus on a majestic document that bears both study and recitation, the reformed conservatism of the Obama era has found itself not just a symbol but an anchor.
Constitutionalism as a guiding political tendency will require careful and thoughtful development, as did jurisprudential originalism. But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.
By John Kass
The Chicago Tribune
January 7, 2011
President Obama listens as newly appointed White House Chief of Staff William Daley speaks in the East Room of the White House on Thursday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
As President Barack Obama knighted Chicago's William Daley as his new chief of staff — and kept the Daley machine in control of the executive branch of our federal government — I couldn't help thinking of the good old days.
Back when I would fondly recount the legend of Obama of Chicago.
Not the political spin that Obama was some kind of reformer promising a different, cleaner kind of politics. But the true mythic history, Obama as a thin, silky creature of the Daleys, eagerly trotting behind them along the Chicago Way:
And lo, the Daley women found the infant Barack floating in a reed basket along the banks of the Chicago River. And they lifted the crying babe from the river, and nurtured and wrapped him in swaddling clothes. They watched him grow to manhood, where he performed great miracles.
Soon he was ready to transcend the broken politics of the past, just as long as it was in Washington, and not in Chicago, where the Daleys eat and play.
Watching Billy and Barack do their thing Thursday, I developed a strange urge to sit in a great leather wing chair, put my feet up on an ottoman, pour out a fistful of 18-year-old single-malt scotch, and light a big maduro cigar.
Ahhhh. It tastes like … vindication.
"He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy," said Obama. "And, needless to say, Bill also has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait."
Pardon me, Mr. President, but it's not a trait, exactly. It's more like a reason for being.
Not everyone was amused. Bill's brother, Mayor Richard Daley, became upset when pesky reporters dared ask him whether Bill's ascendency smacked of "the Chicago Way."
They suggested to the mayor that "the Chicago Way" carried a negative connotation. He just hates that.
"What do you mean, negative?" the mayor sneered. "Go to New York. Go to Washington. Go to Texas. Go to California. What 'Way'?' This is all your writing."
Thanks for being a loyal reader, Mayor Daley.
Yet what is truly amusing about the Bill Daley story is the reaction of the Washington media.
They seem quite desperate to paint the Billy appointment as something it is not. They want it to be a symbolic move, one of Daley bringing Obama closer to the political center.
It's a neat construction, quite explainable and reasonable, the kind of thing spinners put together and feed feeble-minded reporters on background, so that a favorable consensus may be reached.
And once a consensus is reached, those who adopt it become zealots intent on hunting down the stray heretics.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley talks about his brother William being named the new White House chief of staff during a news conference at St. Mark International Christian Church on Thursday. (Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune / January 7, 2011)
"Using Chicago's early history as bare-knuckled politics and back-room dealmaking is a favored tactic among those outside the region seeking to tarnish the reputations of local Illinois political leaders who rise to the national stage," admonished the Christian Science Monitor, offering up my column as evidence of such heresy.
Early history? You mean like Thursday, when the federal grand jury indicted the former business partner of the mayor's son over that city sewer contract deal?
The Daley boys are adept and skillful and ruthless in the pursuit of power and treasure. The family has controlled Chicago and Cook County for more than half a century. The Daleys are without doubt the best politicians on the planet.
Obama knows this. And because he wants to get re-elected in 2012, he'll keep the Daleys around him.
The mayor's mouthpiece, media merlin David Axelrod, once again will be shaping Obama's message and image for the campaign. And Billy and Rich are easing former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel into the mayor's job.
It might look like coincidence. But there's nothing coincidental about the Daleys. They're not fools. They're not dreamers. They're planners.
Yet what's often left out of the official account of the Billy ascendency is his role as media manager. For decades now, Billy's been playing the role of background source to many establishment media types.
It's a role he might well continue to play even as Obama's major-domo.
A politician acting as a reliable source over years gets a break. And given the early coverage — and the beltway media's historic reluctance to let readers in on the political back story of those who move to Washington — it looks like Billy will be getting a break for quite some time.
Washington reporters hoping to maintain favor with the Chicago gatekeeper would be advised to stay away from the following topics while researching the glowing puff pieces to come.
Don't ask about Billy at Fannie Mae and his little buddy Rahm at Freddie Mac in the 1990s, or how that huge SBC deal went through in Illinois in 2003 when Billy was SBC president.
Don't ask about those meetings back in Chicago, in the early 1990s, when Billy and family adviser Tim Degnan and others helped create those City Hall patronage armies — which were later involved in illegal hiring — to keep Rich Daley in power and elect allies like Emanuel to Congress.
And for Pete's sake, never ask about the Chicago Way.
Just stick to the script as Obama begins the 2012 campaign with Billy and Dave and Rahm and Rich behind him.
It's all about moving to the center. It's all about moving to the center. It's all about …
By Jonah Goldberg
January 7, 2011 12:00 A.M.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a man identified as a guard of governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer, smiles after being detained at the site of Taseer's shooting in Islamabad January 4, 2011. The slain politician's guard, identified as Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, confessed and had been arrested but investigations would determine if others were involved. (REUTERS/Saaf-ur-Rahman.)
For years, we’ve heard how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists.
What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion?
That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.
Salman Taseer, a popular Pakistani governor, was assassinated this week because he was critical of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Specifically, Taseer was supportive of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for “insulting Muhammad.”
Bibi had offered some fellow farm laborers some water. They refused to drink it because Christian hands purportedly make water unclean. An argument followed. She defended her faith, which they took as synonymous with attacking theirs. Later, she says, a mob of her accusers raped her.
Naturally, a Pakistani judge sentenced her to hang for blasphemy.
And Governor Taseer, who bravely visited her and sympathized with her plight, had 40 bullets pumped into him by one of his own bodyguards.
“Salmaan Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer,” Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri said to the television cameras as he was being arrested.
Now, so far, it’s hard to say who is the hijacker and who is the hijackee. After all, Taseer the moderate was a prominent politician, Qadri a mere bodyguard.
A reasonable person might look at this tragic situation and say it is indeed proof of extremists trying to hijack the religion and the country.
Except, it was Taseer who wanted to change the status quo and Qadri who wanted to protect it. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been on the books for decades, and while judicial death sentences for blasphemy are rare, the police and security forces have been enforcing it unilaterally for years.
And what of the reaction to the assassination?
Many columnists and commentators denounced the murder, but the public’s reaction was often celebratory. A Facebook fan page for Qadri had to be taken down as it was drawing thousands of followers.
And what of the country’s official guardians of the faith?
A group of more than 500 leading Muslim scholars, representing what the Associated Press describes as a “moderate school of Islam” and the British Guardian calls the “mainstream religious organizations” in Pakistan not only celebrated the murder, but warned that no Muslim should mourn Taseer’s murder or pray for him.
They even went so far as to warn government officials and journalists that the “supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy,” and so therefore they should all take “a lesson from the exemplary death” of Salman Taseer.
If that’s what counts for religious moderation in Pakistan, I think it’s a little late to be talking about extremists hijacking the religion. The religion has long since been hijacked, and it’s now moving on to even bigger things.
Pakistan isn’t the only troubled spot. In Egypt, Coptic Christians were recently slaughtered in an Islamist terrorist attack. The Egyptian government, which has a long record of brutalizing and killing its own Christian minority, was sufficiently embarrassed by the competition from non-governmental Islamists that it is now offering protection. How long that will last is anyone’s guess.
But Pakistan is special because it has nuclear weapons and is inextricably bound up in the war in neighboring Afghanistan and the larger war on terror. U.S. relations with the Pakistani military remain strong, but — as we’ve seen with Turkey — good relations with a military don’t make up for losing support from an allied government as it goes Islamist. And it seems unlikely that a government can long stay secular when the people want it to become ever more Islamist.
Sadanand Dhume, a Wall Street Journal columnist (and my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute), writes that even “relatively secular-minded Pakistanis are an endangered species.”
While most of the enlightened chatterers remain mute or incoherent as they struggle for a way to blame Israel for all of this, the question becomes all the more pressing: How do we deal with a movement or a nation that refuses to abide by the expiring cliché, “Islam means peace”?
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Thursday, January 06, 2011
January 5, 2011
The Republicans are back in charge in the House of Representatives this week, and not a moment too soon!
Forget "stimulus" bills and "shovel-ready" bailouts (for public school teachers, who need shovels for what they're teaching), the current financial crisis, which is the second Great Depression, was created slowly and methodically by Democrat hacks running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the past 18 years.
As even Obama's treasury secretary admitted in congressional hearings, "Fannie and Freddie were a core part of what went wrong in our system." And if it's something Tim Geithner noticed, it's probably something that's fairly obvious.
Goo-goo liberals with federal titles pressured banks into making absurd loans to high-risk borrowers -- demanding, for example, that the banks accept unemployment benefits as collateral. Then Fannie repackaged the bad loans as "prime mortgages" and sold them to banks, thus poisoning the entire financial market with hidden bad loans.
Believe it or not, the loans went belly up, banks went under, and the Democrats used taxpayer money to bail out their friends on Wall Street.
So far, Fannie and Freddie's default on loans that should never have been made has cost the taxpayer tens of billions of dollars. Some estimates say the final cost to the taxpayer will be more than $1 trillion. To put that number in perspective, for a trillion dollars, President Obama could pass another stupid, useless stimulus package that doesn't create a single real job.
Obama's own Federal Housing Finance Agency reported recently that by 2014, Freddie and Fannie will cost taxpayers between $221 billion to $363 billion.
Over and over again, Republicans tried to rein in the politically correct policies being foisted on mortgage lenders by Fannie Mae, only to be met by a Praetorian Guard of Democrats howling that Republicans hated the poor.
In 2003, Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee wrote a bill to tighten the lending regulation of Fannie and Freddie. Every single Democrat on the committee voted against it.
In the House, Barney Frank angrily proclaimed that Fannie Mae was "just fine."
Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., accused Republicans of going on a "witch hunt" against Fannie Mae and attempting a "political lynching of Franklin Raines" (which, in a game of "bad metaphor Scrabble" would have been a double word score).
Fannie was pressuring banks to write mortgages with no money down and no proof of income. What could go wrong?
In 2004, Bush's White House Chief Economist Gregory Mankiw warned that Fannie was creating "systemic risk for our financial system." In response, Barney Frank went to a champagne brunch with his partner "just because."
Democrats saw nothing of concern in the Fannie debacle. Bad mortgages don't contain sodium, do they? They don't engage in "hate speech." And they don't emit carbon dioxide. There was nothing to catch a Democrat's eye.
In 2005, when the housing bubble burst, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a bill allowing Fannie Mae to buy up even more schlock mortgages, apparently reasoning that if owning some toxic mortgages is bad, owning lots of them must be better!
He accused Republican opponents of his suicidal bill of being against affordable housing. (And that is a specific example of how liberals love the poor so much, they promoted policies to create millions more of them.)
As late as 2008, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who had received more than $133,000 in political contributions from Fannie Mae, called Fannie "fundamentally strong" and "in good shape" -- which is the kind of thing the Politburo used to say about Yuri Andropov right after he died.
(Amazingly, Dodd was only the second most embarrassing Democrat to run for president in 2008, but only because John Edwards was also running that year.)
As the titanic losses were racking up, Fannie Mae's operators, Franklin Raines and Jamie Gorelick, disguised the catastrophe by orchestrating a $5 billion accounting fraud -- all the while continuing to pressure banks to make absurd, politically correct loans and denouncing Republicans as enemies of the poor.
In Gorelick's defense, at least when she was wrecking the economy, she wasn't able to wreck national security by building any more walls between the FBI and the CIA.
Have you ever noticed that whenever there's a major calamity in this country, the name "Jamie Gorelick" always pops up? I think I'll pull some articles about the Great Chicago Fire from Nexis to see if there was a "Gorelick" living on Catherine O'Leary's block.
As Peter Schweizer points out in his magnificent book "Architects of Ruin," which everyone should read, Enron's accounting fraud was a paltry $567 million -- and it didn't bring down the entire financial system. Those involved in the Enron manipulations went to prison. Raines and Gorelick not only didn't go to jail, they walked away with multimillion-dollar payouts, courtesy of the taxpayer.
(Here's more fascinating Jamie Gorelick trivia: That giant wall she built between the FBI and the CIA, making 9/11 possible? It was financed with a risky loan from Fannie Mae.)
Under the Democrats' 2010 "Financial Reform" bill (written by Chris Dodd, Barney Frank and Goldman Sachs), Raines keeps his $90 million, Jamie Gorelick keeps her $26.4 million, and Goldman keeps its $12 billion from the AIG bailout.
Let's get it back. Twelve billion, one hundred and sixteen point four million dollars might not sound like a lot to you, but it starts to add up.
COPYRIGHT 2011 ANN COULTER
The Toronto Star
January 5, 2011
Toronto Blue Jays' Roberto Alomar signs autographs after coming out of the game against the Montreal Expos during Grapefruit Leage action in West Palm Beach, Fla. on March 18, 1994. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Roberto Alomar had cockiness in spades on the diamond.
It’s part of what made the all-star Blue Jay a delight to watch when baseball was a kingpin sport in Toronto.
It’s also a quality that arguably denied the marquee second baseman induction into the Hall of Fame last year, when he was first eligible.
Twelve months ago, at his palatial home in Queens, N.Y., Alomar had lots of family and friends on hand, the champagne chilling, everybody awaiting word on the Cooperstown entry class of 2010, all primed for celebration. A TV crew from the MLB Network arrived, too, Alomar miked up for instant reaction.
But events didn’t unfold as anticipated. Alomar fell eight votes short in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America tally, his 73.7 per cent just shy of the Mendoza Line.
“I’m surprised,” he stuttered.
He’d been up at 6 a.m., after only three hours of sleep, restless and fidgeting about the impending outcome, preparing remarks of gratitude that would pay tribute to both the Toronto organization — franchise of his Glory Jays Days — and the people of his native Puerto Rico.
“Maybe next year,” Alomar offered, gallantly suppressing his disappointment.
Surely so; surely Wednesday, when the inductees for 2011 will be revealed in New York, Alomar will be anointed as the 20th second baseman enshrined in Cooperstown.
This time, however, the 12-time all-star is taking no prematurely huzzah chances. Alomar was in Toronto on Tuesday but giving no interviews. Should the result require it — and who would bet against that? — there will be an MLB-organized conference call for the media and an in-person scrum organized by the Jays.
No candidate who’s ever received 70 per cent of the votes has ever ultimately been denied admittance to the Hall of Fame. The only surprise here was that Alomar had to wait one year more before taking his place among the immortals.
There was plenty of grumbling a year ago when it didn’t happen tout-sweetie, the most common refrain among dissidents that Alomar had been made to pay for that infamous 1996 spitting incident when he hurled a gob at umpire John Hirschbeck — despite the fact the two men had long ago kissed and made up, Hirschbeck even promoting Alomar’s Cooperstown bona fides.
Others pointed at Alomar’s half-assed play with the New York Mets in the tail-end years, when he was in his mid-30s and on the cusp of retirement. He did not go out with a bang, ‘tis true. But the career numbers — in a sport besotted by statistics — were gaudy: 2,724 hits, 210 homers, 474 stolen bases, a lifetime .300 average, 10 Gold Gloves, two World Series rings and maybe the best defensive second baseman ever, a thing of beauty in mid-air on the double-play bang-bang.
What I remember most clearly, or rather dreamily, was an October Sunday in Oakland, slanting rays of sunlight burnishing the ballpark in gold and Alomar pausing for just a moment to marvel at his own home run blast as it arced into the right-field seats at Alameda County Coliseum.
That two-run, ninth-inning shot tied the score 6-6 in a game where the Jays had trailed 6-1 by the eighth frame. Alomar broke ace closer Dennis Eckersley’s heart as Toronto went on to win 7-6, taking a 3-1 lead in the American League playoffs and never looking back en route to the franchise’s first World Series title.
It was a seminal moment for the club, which had choked hard in earlier playoff engagements. Funny thing, then, that Eckersley would be the one later emerging as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But take your pick from the memory photo album of Alomar’s iconic moments: The first time he swatted home runs from both sides of the plate, in ‘91 (and on four occasions subsequently); three home runs in one ‘97 game; a panoply of jaw-dropping defensive plays in the field — snag, pivot, throw.
Maybe those whinges about Toronto getting snubbed at Cooperstown by America’s favourite pastime were not entirely sour grapes or typical Canadian inferiority complex.
It would not be fair, however, to insist that Alomar was robbed in 2010. Only three second basemen were sanctified in their first years of eligibility: Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan and Rod Carew. No less ballot worthies than Joe DiMaggio and Rogers Hornsby had to wait until later rounds.
Alomar could be childish from time to time, petulant, on a few regrettable occasions putting self ahead of the team. Yet he was nearly always a joy to watch, a ballplayer of splendor in the grass (or turf). He even lived at the ballpark, an elevator ride away from the dugout.
While Alomar is no doubt Cooperstown-bound, it will be interesting to see what the baseball scribes make of other contenders whose stats have been bolstered by confirmed steroid use. Rafael Palmeiro is a first-timer; Mark McGwire continues pushing that rock up the Hall hill, claiming he only pushed the syringe in this much, mainly to help play through injuries.
Meanwhile, there’s been a bandwagon a-forming for Bert Blyleven to finally make it on his 14th try (15 is the limit), and he came within a slim five votes of doing so last year. For my money, Jack Morris had the greater-impact career on the mound, but sometimes it’s just about hanging in on the ballot. First time out, way back in 1998, Blyleven garnered only 17.5 per cent of the votes.
As for Alomar, few might remember that on the day he was traded to Toronto from San Diego — undercard in the Joe Carter swap — he wept tears of dismay.
There should be no tears today.
Moments that made a career -
Alomar set to make Hall of Fame history -
Roberto Alomar: By the Numbers -
By JOE CHRISTENSEN, Star Tribune
Last update: January 6, 2011 - 12:33 AM
Former Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven first appeared on baseball's Hall of Fame ballot in December 1997, the same month the movie "Titanic" debuted in theaters.
Disappointment became an annual January rite for Blyleven, whose emotional outbursts peaked in 2001, when he called the process a joke and asked writers to remove his name from the ballot.
Blyleven's long wait finally ended Wednesday, when he was selected in his 14th -- and second to last -- year on the ballot.
"It's been 14 years of praying and waiting," Blyleven said. "I thank the baseball writers of America for -- I'm going to say -- finally getting it right."
Blyleven, 59, received word shortly after noon and immediately called his mother in California. He spent the rest of the afternoon conducting interviews near his home in Fort Myers, Fla.
"I've got goose bumps," Blyleven said during a conference call with national reporters.
Blyleven pitched for five teams in his 22-year major league career, but he's expected to become the fourth player with a Twins cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, joining Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett.
"The Hall of Fame decides what hat I wear [on the plaque]," Blyleven said. "It's their decision; hopefully it'll be the Minnesota Twins."
Twins President Dave St. Peter said the team is planning several ways to honor Blyleven in coming months, starting at TwinsFest in late January. St. Peter said the team will consider retiring Blyleven's No. 28 -- the number was last worn by reliever Jesse Crain, who signed with the rival White Sox last month.
Blyleven, whose curveball is considered one of the best of all time, went 287-250 with a 3.31 ERA and ranks fifth on the all-time strikeout list with 3,701 and ninth on the all-time shutout list with 60.
But the voters -- 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America-- were tough on him from the start. He received only 17.5 percent of the vote that first year and slipped to 14.1 percent in 1999. According to Sports Illustrated, since the current voting rules were put in place in 1967, no player except Duke Snider has overcome a lower starting vote total to gain Hall of Fame election.
"I think we felt [Blyleven's] pain; anyone who's close to him did," St. Peter said. "And frankly, I've always been one who believes the numbers speak for themselves, so when you really step back and look at his statistics, they're staggering."
The turning point for Blyleven came last year, when his vote total increased from 62.7 percent to 74.2 percent. Blyleven said he and his wife, Gayle, were particularly nervous this week awaiting the results.
"I didn't anticipate going in last year," Blyleven said. "I think being five votes short, I really would have been disappointed if I had not gone in this year."
Blyleven received 79.7 percent of the votes submitted by the baseball writers (75 percent is required for selection), joining second baseman Roberto Alomar (90.0 percent) as this year's Hall of Fame electees. Barry Larkin was third with 62.1 percent, and former Twins pitcher Jack Morris was fourth with 53.5 percent, in his 12th year on the ballot.
Former Twins executive Clark Griffith, son of late Twins owner Calvin Griffith, said he vividly remembers the midsummer day in 1969 when he walked onto a minor league field in Bradenton, Fla., and saw a youngster throwing along the third-base line.
"I was in the right-field corner walking in with two other guys, and I looked across the field and saw this guy throw a curveball -- just a horrendous curveball,'' Griffith said. "I looked at the two guys and said, 'Goll, I hope he's ours.' "
The guy was Blyleven, a Netherlands-born, California-raised 18-year-old who had just signed with the Twins and was assigned to their Gulf Coast rookie league team. A year later, he was pitching in the majors.
Blyleven lost numerous close, low-scoring games in his early years with the Twins -- he was 17-17 in 1974 with a 2.66 ERA, 19 complete games and three shutouts -- before being traded to Texas in 1976. Blyleven also played for Pittsburgh (winning a World Series with the Pirates in 1979), Cleveland and the California Angels.
"If we'd have scored some runs for him, he'd have won 25 games a year for us,'' Griffith said. "I absolutely loved the guy. I thought he was magnificent.''
The Twins reacquired Blyleven in a trade with Cleveland late in the 1985 season, and in 1987 the righthander was a key member of the Twins' first World Series championship team. Blyleven was traded to the Angels in 1989 and tried another return to the Twins in spring training 1993, but retired when told he would not make the Opening Day roster.
"I wanted 300 wins, I wanted 5,000 innings pitched and 4,000 strikeouts,'' Blyleven said. "I wanted to keep going, but my body wouldn't let me go anymore.''
Former Twins teammate Kent Hrbek praised Blyleven's competitiveness and his curveball, which he said was "as good as anybody's I ever saw.'' He also called Blyleven one of baseball's best practical jokers.
"He'd have been first ballot there,'' Hrbek said. "He was one of those people who made it fun to come to work. You need those guys whether you're pumping gas, playing baseball or you're a CEO.''
Blyleven flew to New York for another press conference on Thursday. He will have many appearances throughout the year, including the July 24 induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., but said he intends to continue broadcasting for the Twins, a role he has held since 1995.
"If they want me, I love what I do," he said. "I'm around the game of baseball. I love following Twins baseball, I love the fans up there. I've got to continue my 'Circle Me Bert' stuff. That telestrator's mine. I can't give it up."
Staff writer Dennis Brackin contributed to this report.
Numbers add up for Blyleven
By JOE CHRISTENSEN, Star Tribune
Last update: January 6, 2011 - 12:08 AM
When Bert Blyleven started thanking the "people in my corner" Wednesday after finally being elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, the first one he mentioned by name was Rich Lederer, someone he's never actually met in person.
Lederer, 55, is an investment manager from Long Beach, Calif. In 2003, he began writing about Blyleven's lagging Hall of Fame vote totals on his blog, www.baseballanalysts.com.
"That was kind of the beginning of the campaign," Lederer said.
Lederer and others, such as Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski, have since written thousands and thousands of words on the Internet about Blyleven's career, gradually opening eyes among the Baseball Writers Association of America.
This explains how Blyleven's vote total spiked from 17.5 percent in his first year on the ballot to 79.7 percent this year, even though he hasn't thrown a competitive pitch since 1992. That's the biggest climb in voting percentage any player has made since Duke Snider was elected in 1980, after receiving just 17 percent of the vote 10 years earlier.
In Blyleven's case, Lederer helped changed the discussion.
"He's one guy I think who has really brought out so many different stats other than just wins and losses," said Blyleven, who went 287-250 in his 22-year career. "As a pitcher, you can't control wins, and you can't control losses, but what you can control is the innings you pitch, if you keep your team in the game."
Lederer began writing his first blog post on Blyleven on Christmas Day, 2003. The title was "Only the Lonely." In the previous Hall of Fame election, Blyleven had received 29.2 percent of the vote and seemed like a long shot to reach the required 75 percent.
"I thought it was an injustice," Lederer said.
Lederer's father, George, was a Hall of Fame voter after covering the Dodgers for the Long Beach Press-Telegram from 1958 to 1969. The son remembers looking at his dad's ballot, then feeling disappointed when vote totals were announced.
"I think the voters looked at career milestones -- 300 wins, 500 home runs, 3,000 hits -- and Cy Young Awards and MVP voting, and those were the players getting into the Hall," Lederer said. "My job was to make people aware of what they were missing."
Blyleven never won a Cy Young Award. He made only two All-Star teams. He had one 20-win season (1973). But as Lederer's research shows, Blyleven's record suffered because he received below-average run support pitching for the Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels.
Meanwhile, Blyleven did manage 3,701 strikeouts, which still ranks him fifth all-time behind Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton. He also managed 242 complete games and 60 shutouts. Blyleven certainly knew where those numbers ranked.
"I'm kind of a baseball geek," he said. "I love going on Baseball-Reference.com. I always looked at numbers, even as a young kid coming up. I admired Walter Johnson and Cy Young."
Blyleven, 59, read Lederer's research, and the two formed a friendship over e-mail and the phone. Lederer kept track of which voters voiced support for Blyleven and bantered with those who didn't, including a recent exchange with Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman.
"I was the editor in chief of my school paper, so I like to write," Lederer said. "And I've got the finance and math background, so I love numbers. In 2003, my wife and I became empty nesters so I decided to start the blog."
With Blyleven officially headed to the Hall, Lederer can turn his attention to others such as Tim Raines, Barry Larkin and Jeff Bagwell. He said all should be in the Hall, though he probably won't campaign as much as he did for Blyleven.
Lederer said he will definitely be in Cooperstown on July 24, for Blyleven's induction. He will have to introduce himself.
"Bert said, 'You could be standing right next to me, and I wouldn't know it,' " Lederer said, laughing.
Royals Won't Forget Blyleven's Hook -
Blyleven, Twins Celebrate Hall Call -
Blyleven 'really belongs' in Hall of Fame -
Blyleven's Career Highlights -
Career Statistics -
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
If it’s Tuesday (or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, etc., etc.), it’s Political Correctness Run Amok Day in America’s education establishment.
The latest salvo? A publishing house will release p.c.-policed versions of both The Adventures of Huck Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the words “nigger” and “Injun” deleted.
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”
Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”
…Including the table of contents, the slur appears 219 times in Finn.
The tiresome war on Mark Twain’s novels is older than Al Sharpton’s hair grease. I’m reprinting a piece I wrote about the whitewashers’ attempt to expunge the word “nigger” from Huck Finn in 2001. America’s schoolchildren have been robbed by ignorant censors who are too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them and feckless educators too lazy to teach them.
But, hey, at least they’ll have their laptops!
The book burners against Mark Twain
August 24, 2001
By Michelle Malkin
Mark Twain once observed that “We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.” That’s precisely why the muddle-headed movement to ban Twain and his greatest work, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” persists like gangrene.
The Left’s assault on Twain took a literal turn recently in New Jersey. Last month, the mayor of Atlantic City tore down a fiberglass statue of the 19th-century author that had been erected at the intersection of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and Missouri Avenue. The statue was part of new tourist attraction campaign using replicas of state landmarks and celebrities to decorate each block of the famed Boardwalk. In May, vandals smashed and pummeled Twain’s face beyond recognition.
“There were some concerns raised about the appropriateness of Mark Twain,” Atlantic City Mayor James Whelan explained after deep-sixing the battered statue. “Rather than offend anybody, we decided to put him back in storage.” Feelings, nothing more than feelings, did Twain in.
Twain’s knee-jerk Jersey critics said the Missouri-born icon dishonored the heritage of Chicken Bone Beach, a section of the Jersey shore where blacks were segregated until the 1950s. “It’s truly disgraceful that a writer who used the n-word to describe African Americans has taken center stage at Chicken Bone Beach,” William Marsh, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Atlantic City Press.
Ah, yes. The “n-word.” Twain used it in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” 215 times, we are ceaselessly reminded by censors who are too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them. Ignore the book-burning mob chanting “racism.” This novel remains one of the most brilliant and moving anti-slavery tracts ever written.
For the increasing number of Americans who have not read the book, here’s a brief summary: The novel follows the geographic and moral journey of young Huck Finn, who navigates the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave, Jim. As their friendship deepens through a series of shared misadventures, Huck’s eyes are opened to the evils of slavery and racism. The novel climaxes when the boy defies his culture’s rampant bigotry and resolves to rescue Jim from his captors.
Two gifted black writers, Booker T. Washington and Ralph Ellison, understood Twain’s medium and message. Washington wrote that Twain “succeeded in making his readers feel a genuine respect for Jim.” In creating Jim’s character, the moral center of the book, Washington asserted that Twain had “exhibited his sympathy and interest in the masses of the negro people.” Ellison noted similarly that “Huckleberry Finn knew, as did Mark Twain, that Jim was not only a slave but a human being (and) a symbol of humanity … and in freeing Jim, Huck makes a bid to free himself of the conventionalized evil taken for civilization by the town.”
Twain opposed racial inequality in many of his works of fiction and non-fiction, and came to reject slavery after moving East, marrying into an abolitionist family, and meeting Frederick Douglass. Twain used the vernacular of the antebellum South in “Huck Finn” not to denigrate black people, but to keep it real. Whitewashing the word “nigger” out of the book’s dialogue would have played into the hands of those who prefer to sanitize history than confront it.
“You can’t just say he was writing how people talk, and overlook what he wrote,” the NAACP’s William Marsh said last week as he cheered the removal of Twain’s statue overlooking Chicken Bone Beach. Yet, that’s exactly what the anti-Twain marauders have done. Could Twain ever have imagined such a farcical fate — banned on bookshelves and now the Boardwalk by literary Neanderthals?
Marsh and his ilk could do the world much more good by heeding Twain’s timeless advice: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Curiously Long Posts
December 30, 2010
In my mind, there are eight players on this year’s ballot who are clearly above my Hall of Fame standard. That does not mean that they are without their flaws. A couple of them have significant flaws … I refused to vote for one of them for a while until my thoughts about him and what he did crystallized somewhat.
In any case, when I first got the Hall of Fame ballot I gave it a quick glance and counted the players who seemed like easy Hall of Fame choices. These were the eight who came up.
Roberto Alomar: There are differences of opinion about Roberto Alomar’s fielding. He won a Gold Glove every year but one from 1991 through 2001. That’s 10 Gold Gloves, and the general consensus at the time seemed to be that he was a brilliant defensive second baseman, one of the best of all time. But, since then a few people have studied the subject — Bill James for one — and come away with the contrary conclusion that Alomar was wildly overrated defensively. Sean Smith’s Total Zone Rating concludes that Alomar was actually a below-average defensive second baseman for his career, and was below average every year from 1993 through 1996, when he won four of those Gold Gloves.
I bring this up because I think Alomar’s legacy depends on how you feel about his defense. If you feel that he was a solid but overrated defender — which probably sums up the anti-Alomar-defense stance — then he is one of the 10 best second basemen in baseball history. I would say only Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Craig Biggio could match Alomar’s combination of power and speed. Alomar also hit .300 for his career, he walked more than he struck out, and he had three or four MVP-type years. Yes, even without his defensive reputation, he is one of the best to ever play second base.
But … if you believe Alomar was a GREAT defensive player, as many people do, then he’s one of the five best second basemen ever and should be in the discussion with Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby.
All of which is to say: He’s a Hall of Famer either way. I think it was sad that Alomar was not elected to the Hall of Fame last year. His snub seemed to be based on some sort of wordless anger about Alomar’s infamous spitting incident and perhaps some of his post-career troubles. I should say here (and I’ll come back to this in a minute) that I truly loathe the fact that there is a character clause in the Hall of Fame voting instructions, a clause (perhaps written by Kenesaw Mountain Landis himself) that states: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” I think that clause frees up voters to make moral judgments. And I think that kind of freedom often brings out the worst in people.
That’s not say that people who did not vote in Alomar last year were wrong. The beauty of the Hall of Fame voting is also the biggest problem with it: It’s messy. You have several hundred people (539 last year) with different standards, different ideals, different priorities, different moral attitudes, different point of views. They all vote based on what they are and what they believe. This leads to all sorts of interesting, sometimes bizarre, sometimes shameful individual votes — you already know that some people did not vote for Willie Mays or Hank Aaron or Stan Musial — but the hope is that the large number of Hall of Fame voters, and the high threshold of 75% needed for induction, will give us the worthiest candidates.
It was that high threshold that cost Alomar the Hall of Fame in his first year. He should get elected this year.
Jeff Bagwell: OK, let me say this as clearly as I can possibly say it: Jeff Bagwell, in my opinion, is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. His 149 OPS+ ranks 19th all-time among players with 8,000 plate appearances. He is one of only 16 players to finish a lengthy career with an on-base percentage higher than .400 (.408) and a slugging percentage higher than .500 (.540). Among those 16, only Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds stole more bases.
He was a breathtaking offensive player, almost without weakness. He hit for average, he hit for power, he drew walks, he stole bases, he scored runs, he drove in runs, and he looked like a serious badass doing all of it. Remember how everyone talked about Jim Rice’s intimidation factor, so much so that after a while it became kind of a joke. Well, Jeff Bagwell was a scary hitter. He would plant himself into that wide stance, and he would swing the bat with ferocity, and I never knew if it was scarier to be the pitcher or the third baseman or someone seated in a low seat without a net in front. There was enough fear for everyone. The guy was like a cartoon character.
It’s true that Bagwell played in huge offensive time. But he demolished the era. Every single year he was good for a .300 or so average, a .400 or so on-base percentage, 35 homers, 100 walks, 110 RBIs, 110 runs scored … that was just the starting point for Bagwell. A couple of times, he demolished even those numbers. His aborted 1994 season — when he hit .368/.451/.750 — is untouchable in any era. But his 1996 season, when he hit .315/.451/.570 isn’t far behind. In 1999 he walked 149 times and scored 143 runs. In 1997 he became just the sixth National Leaguer to hit 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same year*.
*And two of those six (Larry Walker and Todd Helton) did it Colorado, another one (Chuck Klein) did it in the old Baker Bowl — two absurd hitters ballparks. Bagwell did it in the bleeping ASTRODOME, a legendarily bad hitter’s park. Nobody had ever hit 40 homers runs playing half their games in the Astrodome. And this guy added 40 doubles to the trick.
Bagwell was a force of nature until he turned 35. By then, his shoulder was beginning to deteriorate. He had some sort of arthritic condition there … and it made his career end suddenly. At 35 he hit 39 homers, walked 88 times, and received an MVP vote. At 37, he was done.
Bagwell, to me, looks like a first-ballot, slam-dunk, didn’t-have-to-think-twice Hall of Famer. His rare combination of power and speed (he’s the only first baseman to have a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season, and he did it twice) along with his solid defense (he won one Gold Glove, but was generally viewed year-in, year-out as a very good defender), along with his ability to get on base, along with his solid nature and spectacular peak makes him seem like the surest of sure things.
But it doesn’t look that way. It looks like Bagwell will fall well short. And I can only come up with two somewhat related reasons:
1. The crazy offensive Selig Era has made us jaded about spectacular offensive numbers. That’s understandable, I guess. Bagwell’s six seasons of 39-plus home runs would have seemed otherworldly 20 years ago. After all, that’s as many as Willie Mays had, more than Mickey Mantle had, as many as Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt COMBINED. But the Selig Era has taken the jolt out of those numbers, in part because of steroids but also in part because we simply have grown numb after seeing home run after home run after home run after home run.
2. Jeff Bagwell — though he never tested positive for steroids, never was implicated in any public way, was not named in the Mitchell Report or by anyone on the record as a suspected user, and is not even on this rather comprehensive list of players linked to steroids or HGH — seems to have become in some voters’ minds a player who used performance-enhancing drugs.
I can’t even begin to describe my disgust at No. 2 … it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. This is PRECISELY what I was talking about when I said how much I hate the character clause in the Hall of Fame voting. I think it encourages people to believe their own nonsense, to stand up on high and be judge and jury. It’s something that my friend Bill James calls the “I see it in his eyes” tripe. Bill has finished a book on crime — it is, he says, actually about crime books as much as crime — and one thing he kept running into in his research was people who claimed that they could pinpoint the murderer because “it was in their eyes.” Well, as Bill says, that’s a whole lot of garbage. Eyes are eyes. Some people look guilty when they’re innocent, and some people look innocent when they’re guilty, and most people don’t look innocent OR guilty except when we want to see that something in their eyes. Oh, but we love to believe we know. It’s one of the flaws of humanity. And the Hall of Fame character clause gives voters carte blanche to judge the eyes and hearts and souls of players.
I think my e-migo Craig Calcaterra has made this point on Twitter, but I’d like to also make it as strongly as I can: I’d rather a hundred steroid users were mistakenly voted into the Hall of Fame over keeping one non-user out. I don’t know if Jeff Bagwell used or didn’t use steroids. But there was no testing. There is no convincing evidence that he used (or, as far as I know, even unconvincing evidence). So what separates him from EVERY OTHER PLAYER on the ballot? Were his numbers too good? That’s why you suspect him?
Bagwell has written (or spoken) a story defending himself from the steroid charges. This is the takeaway: “I’m so sick and tired of all the steroids crap, it’s messed up my whole thinking on the subject. … If I ever do get to the Hall of Fame and there are 40 guys sitting behind me thinking, ‘He took steroids,’ then it’s not even worth it to me.”
I would say this to those people who would not vote for Jeff Bagwell because they simply believe he used steroids, based on how he looked or some whispers they heard. I have a better idea: Let’s just burn him at the stake. If he survives, you will know you were right.
Bert Blyleven: My colleague and friend Jon Heyman wrote an entire column this year about why he did not vote for Blyleven, and it’s fair to say that I didn’t agree with much of it. Jon’s main point seems to be that though Blyleven’s career numbers may be impressive, his career lacked impact. He never won a Cy Young award (or finished higher than third), he never was a factor in the MVP voting, he only made two All-Star teams.
The facts are there, but I guess it depends what you mean by impact. Blyleven STILL ranks fifth on the all-time list for strikeouts — wedged between a couple of guys named Carlton and Seaver — and strikeouts seem to have some impact on the game. He ranks ninth all-time in shutouts, fourth if you only count the years after the deadball era — and shutouts seem to have some impact on the game. He won more games 1-0 than any pitcher in 90 years — and 1-0 victories seem to have some impact on the game. I guess I would like to believe more in those than in the award-voters who often underrated him* or the All-Star Game managers who usually have their own agendas.
*Blyleven was probably the best pitcher in the American League in 1973. This was not seen in his 20-17 record, but he was second in the league in ERA, first in ERA+ and first in shutouts, and he threw a staggering 325 innings. You may or may not have use for Wins Above Replacement, but he finished first in the league in WAR — not just for pitchers but for ALL players. The MVP voters were 30-plus years too young for WAR, however, and gave him one 10th-place vote.
But Jon is hardly the first person to say, essentially, that Blyleven does not FEEL like a Hall of Famer. Blyleven was rarely talked about as one of the great pitchers of his time (though people did acknowledge his historically great curveball). I have never thought that this should matter — after all, I can remember Steve Garvey, Fred Lynn, George Foster, Dave Parker and many others referred to as “future Hall of Famers” when they were at their peak, and it didn’t quite work out that way. This, I think, is why we wait five years before voting on a retired player. We want to let a lot of that nonsense dissipate.
And it should have dissipated. Maybe Bert Blyleven did not have a reputation as a great big-game pitcher, but 5-1, 2.47 ERA in the postseason (one of those wins coming over sainted big-game pitcher Jack Morris) and his record in 1-0 games suggest that he didn’t really let that reputation stop him from pitching well in big games.
Maybe Bert Blyleven did not get a lot of Cy Young support, but six times he had a higher WAR than the guy who actually won the Cy Young, which can only mean one of three things:
1. WAR is impossibly flawed and the voters were right.
2. The voters picked a lot of really bad Cy Young winners.
3. Bert Blyleven was absurdly underrated by the Cy Young voters.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be just ONE of those three things. It could be all of them.
Anyway, yes, Blyleven’s Hall of Fame case has some lumps in it. I don’t think even the most devoted of Blyleven’s supporters — I would be in the team photograph, I suspect — would deny that. His winning percentage should have been better, he was kind of a pain in the neck, he was fairly mediocre for three or four years in the middle of his career, and he really only had one good year after age 36. He’s not Greg Maddux (who I think really should have a chance at being voted in unanimously). He’s one of the 30 best starting pitchers in baseball history, I think. But if you want to find flaws, there are some there.
But I guess there was something else about Jon’s Blyleven piece that really bugged me … and he knew it would really bug a bunch of people. He said so right in the piece. He said: “Blyleven’s backers sometimes will also act astounded or even apoplectic over the fact that some, including myself, support Jack Morris over Blyleven.”
Yes. Apoplectic is the word. This, I find, is precisely where I stop being reasonable. I saw three or four stories from other people who voted for Morris over Blyleven, and it so boggles my mind that I have to keep myself from ranting. And I’m never very good about keeping myself from ranting.
I guess my simple comparison of Blyleven and Morris is this: Bert Blyleven won more games with an ERA more than a half run lower and an ERA+ advantage of 118-105. Blyleven struck out 1,223 more batters but, even more remarkably, walked 68 fewer batters. Why are the walks more remarkable? Because Blyleven threw 1,146 more innings than Morris. That’s 127 nine-inning games if you’re scoring at home. And he still walked fewer batters.
Blyleven had a reputation as a gopherball pitcher — well-earned, since his 50 homers allowed in 1986 is still the record — but he gave up fewer homers per nine than Morris. Blyleven threw more than twice as many shutouts, threw 70 more complete games, had a significantly lower WHIP, and he has more than twice as many Wins Above Replacement (90.1 to 39.3). Morris had the better winning percentage, but it has been shown that is almost entirely attributable to Morris’ superior teams. Blyleven also has the better overall postseason numbers. I’ve written about this a million times, it’s out there on the internets if you want to go into greater detail.
Here’s the thing that bugs me most: Jack Morris has a Hall of Fame case. I don’t buy in, but I can see the case. He was an extremely durable pitcher who completed a lot of games and won a lot of games and pitched one of the more famous World Series games ever. There’s a case for him. But to make that case, logic insists that you MUST ACKNOWLEDGE Bert Blyleven first. Because Blyleven was better than Morris in every way that Morris was good. He was MORE durable, and completed MORE games, and he won MORE games, and he was so clearly more dominant in every way that can be recorded. And, as mentioned, when they faced each other in the postseason, Blyleven’s team won.
But some people have simply dug in against Blyleven. The stuff that Jon wrote about Blyleven not having impact — him not being a factor in Cy Young voting or MVP voting — is essentially true about Morris, too. He never won a Cy Young. He never was a factor in the MVP race.
Jon’s essential explanation for his Morris support is to say “to some degree, you had to be there.” I sometimes say that very thing about a Midnight Oil concert I went to in 1994 — to understand Midnight Oil’s greatness you had to be there. But I would probably concede that doesn’t make Midnight Oil into the Beatles.
I should also say that I think Blyleven will get in this year and we can finally end these kinds of posts.
Barry Larkin: Bill James and I have each done a list of our 32 Best All-Around Players in baseball history. Well, I don’t think Bill’s list is quite 32, and I’m not entirely sure we had the same thing in mind when we were thinking what “best all-around players” even means. We’ll run that thing out there sometime in January to keep the hot stove talk burning.
But I can tell you now that Barry Larkin is on both of our lists. He did everything. He hit. He hit with power. He ran. He defended. He threw. He walked. He played the game with a high level of intelligence and verve. I think he was a deserving winner of the MVP in 1995 (assuming you weren’t going to give it to Bonds every year), and he was probably even better in 1996.
The knock on Larkin is simply his durability — he only played 150 games in a season three times. But he was a fabulous player from 1991 through ’98. That’s eight seasons in which he posted a 134 OPS+ (Take Cal Ripken’s eight best seasons — not even in a row — and you get a 132 OPS+), he stole 206 out of 240 bases, he won two Gold Gloves, he slugged .487. There are not many shortstops in baseball history that can give you eight seasons like that. And he offered value in other years, too. I think he’s a clear-cut Hall of Famer.
Edgar Martinez: I’ve made my peace with Edgar Martinez as designated hitter. Here’s why: It seems to me that had Martinez come along before the designated hitter, he would have played third base or first base or left field or something. And he probably would have been well below average. But he still would have played. And he still would have hit as few have ever hit. The Hall of Fame has lousy defenders in it. Harmon Killebrew tried hard everywhere he played, but nobody ever viewed him as a great fielder. Ted Williams rather famously regretted how little effort he put into playing the outfield. Willie Stargell was viewed as a subpar defender. Dave Winfield scored a minus-9.2 defensive WAR for his career, which is (A) the worst among Hall of Famers and (B) startling because he was widely viewed as a very good defender.
Anyway … the point remains. Martinez was a hard-working player and undoubtedly would have worked as hard as he could on defense if that had been his fate. But he had a different fate. He came up in the American League in the late 1980s. He did not play his first full season until he was 27, and that first full year he hit .302 and walked more than he struck out. He was almost exclusively a third baseman. The next year he hit .307, walked 85 times, increased his power somewhat, and played almost exclusively third base again. The next year he hit .343 and led the league in hitting. He was still a third baseman.
And then he had injuries. He only played 131 games in 1993 and 1994. In 1995 he was 32 years old, coming off injury, and the Mariners made him a DH. And he had an absolutely remarkable season; he hit .356/.479/.628 with 52 doubles, 29 homers, 121 runs scored, 111 RBIs. That .479 on-base percentage is the second-best in the American League in the last 40 years (behind only Frank Thomas’ 1994 season).
The Mariners struggled to find an effective third baseman to fill Martinez’s spot. But after 1995, there was no way that the Mariners were going to put him back at third base and take any chances losing that bat. Over the next five years, Martinez never hit worse than .322, never had a lower on-base percentage than .423, never slugged lower than .554. His combined OPS+ in those five years — and remember that DOES NOT EVEN INCLUDE HIS SICK 1995 SEASON — was 160.
The year after that, when he was 38 years old, he hit .306/.423/.543. His OPS+? Yep: 160.
Above, when I wrote about Jeff Bagwell, I mentioned that Bags was one of only 16 players to finish a career (min. 5,000 plate appearances) with an on-base percentage higher than .400 and a slugging percentage higher than .500. Martinez is one of those 16. He’s one of only 13 to also hit better than .300. Throw in his 300 homers, his 500 doubles … the names are suddenly: Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Williams, Musial, Bonds and Martinez.
He was a fabulous hitter — an all-time fabulous hitter. I understand people being a bit hesitant about naming a one-dimensional designated hitter to the Hall, but there is some precedent (Paul Molitor played more games at DH than any other individual position), and if we really consider being a great offensive player who offers little-to-no defensive value as “one-dimensional,” then the Hall of Fame has quite a few one-dimensional players. I do think that for a designated hitter to be a Hall of Famer he needs to be a truly extraordinary hitter. I think Martinez was a truly extraordinary hitter.
Mark McGwire: Last year, after I wrote how I felt about the Mark McGwire apology, I got a phone call from Mark McGwire. It was a bit of a strange phone call because, best I remember, I have never talked to McGwire in a one-on-one setting. Also, I was never really sure how he got my phone number.
Also, he didn’t exactly say why he was calling. We just kind of got to talking about things, and it was a good conversation, and before he hung up he thanked me for writing what I wrote. That was nice, but I can tell you: The McGwire saga is one of the most baffling things I can ever remember in sports. I have spent more time thinking about it than almost anything else, with the probable exception of Bruce Springsteen’s music and the remarkable appeal of Snuggies. And, after all this time, I still can’t say with any certainty that I have it right. Most people seem to be pretty sure that I have it wrong, to tell the truth. But no matter how many times I spin it around in my mind, I keep coming back to the same place.
And that place is this: I think Mark McGwire belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think it now more than ever. I didn’t always think this way. The first couple of years, I did not vote for him. But, as time has gone on, I have started to see steroid usage as a part of McGwire’s era. It’s not a happy part of the era — just like amphetamines were not a happy part of baseball, just like the color barrier was not a happy part of baseball, just like spitballs and corked bats and the electric system rigged up by the 1951 Giants were not a happy part of baseball.
But I believe that steroids were a significant part of the game. As Buck O’Neil always said, players will constantly search for an edge (“The reason we didn’t use steroids,” he said, “was ’cause we didn’t have ‘em.”). I find myself marveling these days at the NFL’s efforts to temper violent hits in football games. Who is fighting the NFL hardest of all? THE PLAYERS, that’s who, the very people whom the NFL is trying to protect. This is because players don’t want to give up their right to pummel each other, health risks be damned. “That’s football,” they say. They want to push envelopes, stretch rules, come back too early from injuries, reach for the very boundary of whatever happens to be considered “fair play.” That sort of striving is hard-wired in the brains of many, many elite athletes — maybe even most of them.
When baseball did not test for steroids, what many players heard was: “Go ahead. Cheat. We don’t mind” And players don’t need to be told twice.
This is doubly true for steroids, because I can see how easy it would be to convince yourself that it’s NOT cheating. After all, it’s only an injection. How much different is it than taking some of these “legal” supplements. Sure, it helps players work out longer, but the players still have to work out, they still have to deal with the pain and exhaustion of working out. Yes, it helps players get stronger, but they still have to connect with the pitch or throw it in the strike zone. Yes, it might help a player come back from injury quicker and maybe it will hold off the years — but, inevitably, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t the whole point of training staffs to get players to come back from injuries quicker and hold off the years?
And most of all: Yes, it’s illegal, and it’s wrong, and it’s dangerous and can have long-lasting health risks … but if nobody’s even testing, how wrong and dangerous could it be?
I’m honestly not trying to explain away the moral choices these players made. I admire the players who didn’t take steroids. I wish I knew for sure who those players were so we could celebrate them more. No, I’m simply saying that I have come to believe that steroid use (and HGH use) was widespread, and that a lot of people with authority looked the other way, and that it all became part of the game. And we will probably never know the full scope of it or all the players who did it.
I believe Mark McGwire when he says he used steroids at that point in his life when he was hurt and worried that his baseball career was over. It seems believable to me. I’m not saying that he never did them before … I don’t know. I’m just saying that it seems to me that faced with the choice of using steroids to help you come back or face life after baseball when you’re only 30 years old, yeah, it seems believable to me. Mark McGwire used steroids, and he worked out like a mad man, and he reworked his swing, and he became the greatest home run hitter the world had ever seen.
And I finally decided that, for me, that last part — the greatest home run hitter the world had ever seen — merited my Hall of Fame vote. I don’t know what part steroids played in his historic home run performance, and I would suggest that nobody else does, either. If people believe that steroids was the biggest factor, the crucial factor, then they will not vote for McGwire, and I get that. I believe that steroids were probably not as big a factor as others believed. Yes, I think they helped him stay healthy. Yes, I think they helped him increase his strength. But, I also think that McGwire made himself into a rare hitting talent. There were a lot of advantages to being a power hitter in the 1990s that had nothing to do with steroids (smaller strike zones, smaller parks, harder bats, perhaps even livelier baseballs). Also lots of players — hitters and pitchers — were using steroids. Only McGwire hit a home run once every 10.6 at-bats. It’s a better percentage than Ruth, better than Bonds, better than Mantle and better than Kiner. McGwire also walked a lot, offered some defensive value early in his career and put on an unprecedented show in 1998, just when baseball really needed something to capture America’s attention again.
I don’t think that Mark McGwire will get into the Hall of Fame. I have written quite a bit about timing when it comes to the Hall of Fame, and I think McGwire’s timing is kind of lousy. I believe that the general fury about steroids in baseball will gradually fade. I think people may start to realize that taking steroids and taking amphetamines are not very different, at least on moral grounds, and nobody seems to care at all about the effect of amphetamines on baseball going back 50 years and more. I think legal supplements will only get better and more effective. I think people will start to wonder why they were so angry about steroids in baseball when it is undoubtedly a much bigger problem in football, where bulk and strength are more directly connected.
But by the time the fury dissipates, I think McGwire’s Hall of Fame case will be lost. Maybe that’s a fair price for what McGwire did. I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m saying that I have one vote, and I will use it to vote for Mark McGwire.
One final thing: I vote for Mark McGwire this year with a little bit of extra emphasis. And that is because of last year’s apology. This is probably where many people will disagree with me most. I think most people found McGwire’s apology to be inauthentic and self-serving and incomplete.
But I was thinking about this: How many players have voluntarily come forward and admitted steroid use? I’m not talking about players who got caught and THEN admitted it. I’m also not talking about players who were trying to get attention or sell books. I’m asking: How many players have come out of private life and admitted that they used steroids?
There have been two that come to mind. Ken Caminiti did. And Mark McGwire did. There may be others, but those are the only two I can think of at the moment. Yes, you might say that McGwire came forward because he wanted to get back into baseball as a hitting coach. I say: Isn’t that actually admirable? He wanted to come back and contribute to the game he loves (in a role that isn’t exactly glamorous). And to come back to the game he came forward and settled old scores and admitted what he did.
Yes, you might say that McGwire refused to say that steroids made him the player he became, and until he admits that, he can’t really be sorry. I say: I think he’s sorry for taking steroids. I also think he refuses to believe that they were a major reason why he was a great player. You may disagree. But that doesn’t mean you’re right.
And, finally, I’m not sure we have come to appreciate just how extraordinary a thing it was for McGwire to come forward the way he did. Almost nobody else has done it. McGwire may have, along the way, lied to protect himself. But when he was pulled before Congress, he refused to lie. He was not ready to tell the truth, but he refused to lie. He became a private person and, as far as I know, at that point he never once lied about steroids. And then, one day, he came forward and said what he said. He did not blame anyone else. He asked for forgiveness. Did he tell everything? Was he hard enough on himself? Was he contrite enough? I don’t have any better answer than anyone else.
I just think that when you compare him with all the other retired baseball players who have come forward to admit that they used steroids and apologize for it, he looks pretty damned good.
Tim Raines: The other day, I wrote that if there had never been a Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines might have been the greatest leadoff man in baseball history.
My friend King Kaufman didn’t buy that premise. He asked on Twitter “Who is the best No.2 hitter?”* His point — and it’s a solid one — is that it can be kind of pointless to break down hitters by batting order, since the best-ever No. 3 hitter — say it’s Babe Ruth — would also have been the best No. 4 hitter, or No. 5 hitter, or No. 2 hitter, or leadoff hitter, too.
*I responded Wade Boggs or Rod Carew … Ty Cobb would have been one helluva No. 2 hitter, but Ty Cobb — like Babe Ruth — would have been a helluva wherever-he-hit hitter.
King is right … but it’s not exactly what I was trying to get across. By leadoff hitter, I didn’t mean a player who leads off the game (though, in seeing how silly that sentence looks, I can understand why it might have come across that way). There is a certain skill set that I think is suggested by the words “leadoff hitter.” I think it as follows:
1. A fast player
2. Gets on base a lot
3. Has some power just to add some spice to his offensive contribution
4. Steals bases at a high percentage
5. Scores lots of runs
There have been 41 players who have stolen 400-plus bases in their careers. That would get us through the No. 1 quality of my mythical idea of a leadoff hitter. Of those 41, fewer than half — 17 — have an on-base percentage greater than .360. Of those, 11 hit at least 100 home runs. I realize that we’re just slicing this list in a relatively haphazard way, but I think the 11 remaining would be a good list of the 11 best potential leadoff hitters (by on-base percentage):
1. Barry Bonds
2. Ty Cobb
3. Tris Speaker
4. Rickey Henderson
5. Joe Morgan
6. Tim Raines
7. Kenny Lofton
8. Roberto Alomar
9. Paul Molitor
10. Frankie Frisch
11. Craig Biggio
Bonds, Cobb and Speaker were not leadoff hitters, not in the way I am defining them here. They could have been, sure, but they all slugged .500 or better and were better suited for positions a couple of spots lower in the lineup.
So the list would look like this, ranked by on-base percentage:
1. Rickey Henderson
2. Joe Morgan
3. Tim Raines
4. Kenny Lofton
5. Roberto Alomar
6. Paul Molitor
7. Frankie Frisch
8. Craig Biggio
That’s a pretty solid quick list, I think. Morgan actually did not spend a lot of time in the leadoff spot in his career — 469 games compared to 1,136 games in the No. 2 spot and 817 games in the No. 3 — but I do think that he was just about the perfect leadoff hitter and worthy of the No. 2 spot on this list.
And so is Raines. It makes me sad that people could see and appreciate Rickey Henderson’s greatness but simply overlook Tim Raines’ greatness. When you combine 808 career stolen bases (and a staggering 84.7% success rate) with a .385 on-base percentage with more times-on-base than Tony Gwynn with a great four-year peak in Montreal in which he hit .323/.409/.477 and averaged more than 100 runs and 66 stolen bases … that spells surefire Hall of Famer for me.
The other thing about that “great leadoff hitters” list? Yeah, Kenny Lofton was probably a better player than you remembered.
Alan Trammell: It really was a lot easier to decide what a Hall of Fame shortstop looked like back when shortstops couldn’t hit. Of the 14 shortstops who were inducted into the Hall of Fame when Alan Trammell played (15 if you count Ernie Banks*), six of them were below-average hitters by OPS+. Another couple were barely above-average. I’d say the only two great-hitting shortstops in the Hall of Fame then (again, not counting Banks) were Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan, and the first played in the Deadball Era, the second was so wildly under-appreciated that the writers never even gave him one third of their vote.
*Banks played fewer than half his games at shortstop, though I got a thoughtful and pointed email on Wednesday from Tom Tango pointing out that I was inaccurate in calling Andre Dawson “a corner outfielder.” Tom’s point, a strong one, is that even though Dawson might have played more games at the corner, he was, in fact, a center fielder. That was where he provided the most value. That’s where he was at his best. It’s a fair point, and in that same way, Ernie Banks is a shortstop.
So it seems that a great shortstop was expected to field the hell out of the ball, take some kind of leadership role and offer some value offensively, perhaps by stealing bases. But around the time when Alan Trammell was ending his classic great shortstop career, the rules had begun to change. Cal Ripken finished a career where he slugged 431 home runs (no shortstop in the Hall had more than 170 homers) and he became the first shortstop to get to 3,000 hits, and of course he set the iron man record. Who could have ever imagined a SHORTSTOP breaking Gehrig’s record? And right around when Trammell retired, a new kind of shortstop emerged. That very year, Barry Larkin became the first shortstop to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in a season. Alex Rodriguez could do ANYTHING with the bat and the glove. Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra crushed the ball — really hit the ball ridiculously hard. Soon enough, Hanley Ramirez would come along.
Standards change in baseball … and maybe the classic nature of Alan Trammell’s career loses some of its power as bionic shortstops emerge. But Trammell really was a great player. He was very good offensively. He posted a 124 OPS+ during his eight-year prime, and probably should have been the MVP in 1987. That’s very Cal Ripken-like.
Trammell was also a very good defensive player, a good base runner, and a solid leader for some very good Detroit Tigers teams. I realize that people generally did not view Trammell as an all-time great player when he played. But I think that should be one of the missions of the Hall of Fame: To point out that sometimes we all miss greatness.
http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/hof11/news/story?id=5984898 (ESPN writer's ballots)
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
The best commentary on Fed policy currently out there is a do-it-yourself animated short called Quantitative Easing Explained.
By Amity Shlaes, 01.17.11, 6:00 PM ET
The best commentary on Fed policy currently out there is a do-it-yourself animated short called Quantitative Easing Explained. The 6-minute, 48-second cartoon features two stuffed animals, drawn in Pokémon style, talking about monetary policy. Specifically, the bears--or are they dogs?--point out the illogic in the official Federal Reserve position that today the danger of deflation is greater than that of inflation. The animals also criticize the Fed officials' recent pursuit of QE2, the acronym for its decision to inject $600 billion into the economy. More than 3.5 million people have watched the video, and it was posted on YouTube in November.
The big question is why a home movie gets through to people in a way that a million words of news commentary have not. The answer is that news commentary has been corrupted, perhaps irreversibly, by an attachment to economic theory. The first kind of theory at issue here is Keynesianism, which assumes that stimuli from government, a category that includes QE2, are beneficial. Keynesianism also assumes a tradeoff between unemployment and inflation. Finally, Keynesianism emphasizes the consumer (demand) at the expense of business (supply). Here are several typical Keynesian sentences that you hear or read in the traditional news.- Consumer spending makes up 70% of the economy.- Growth is coming, so that means we can expect inflation.- Federal spending or the Fed's easing will stimulate the economy.
Monetarism, another theory, has alsodone its share of corrupting. This theorysays that if something seems wrong inthe economy, the solution lies in adjusting the amount of money pumped into it.
These theories do not suffice to explain current events. If many prices are going up--as the video asks--why do we still call our money problem "deflation"? The vanity that is economic discourse puts a high penalty on appearing ignorant or stupid. After all, economists are supposed to be super-smart, smarter than everyone but physicists and mathematicians. John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman preached different philosophies but shared one thing: a withering contempt for students who couldn't keep up with the rest in a seminar. There is a lively debate about whether Friedman himself would have supported QE2. I believe not. But the Friedmanian emphasis on monetary policy helped to make Ben Bernanke's QE2 possible.
The seminar culture carried over to the salon of general economic discussion. Journalists don't clarify. Instead, they become graduate students, journeymen who pander to the masters, professional economists. No one dares to suggest that if high-end theory is so difficult to understand it may not be the best theory. No one dares admit he is less than 100% sure, to quote Mr. Bernanke in his recent 60 Minutes appearance. To talk in anything other than Keynesian or monetarist terms is to ensure you'll be shut out of the salon.
Hence the cartoon. This medium calls the academics' bluff. Cartoons do not even aspire to the salon. What a cartoon video says, in effect, is: "I don't care if I'm called stupid; I'm a cartoon. What I care about is trying to discuss the economy in plain English." Readers and viewers are so relieved to be free of the obligation to appear erudite that they turn to the cartoon in droves. The same phenomenon has produced another unlikely economic messenger: a rap video. A mock rap debate between John Maynard "Let-the-Spending-Soar" Keynes and the Austrian School economist Friedrich "Too-Much-Aggregation" von Hayek has received 1.7 million hits on YouTube.
Switching media represents a sacrifice in content. My own effort in a new medium is a graphic novel version of my economic history book, The Forgotten Man. Starting out at 100 pages, The Forgotten Man Graphic has to date more than doubled. That's because, as the artist, Paul Rivoche, notes, the old truism has it backwards: A picture isn't worth 1,000 words; in fact, it often takes 1,000 pictures to convey a word.
What the national leap to these new media tells us is that many Americans are desperate. They want to know what must be changed--or kept the same--in the U.S. economy. Professional economists may be on the trail of the answer, but to find it they have to dedicate more time to inquiry and less to self-important obfuscation. Seminars were tolerable at 4% unemployment. At over 9% they're too expensive. That's arithmetic anyone can understand, whether in the classroom, in the newsroom or when looking at a cartoon.
Amity Shlaes, senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations; Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author; Lee Kuan Yew, minister mentor of Singapore; and David Malpass, global economist, president of Encima Global LLC, rotate in writing this column. To see past Current Events columns, visit our Web site at www.forbes.com/currentevents.