Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ariel Sharon: A Bulldozer in War and Peace

January 11, 2014

Israel’s indomitable lion Ariel Sharon, a bulldozer in war and peace, died on Saturday, eight years after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage that left him in a coma from which he never awoke.

Perhaps the most revered and often reviled of the country’s politicians, perceived alternately as a peacemaker and a warmonger, for decades his actions as a military commander and statesman shaped both Israel’s self-perception and the world’s image of the Jewish nation.

From the time he fought in Latrun as a young soldier to save Jerusalem in 1948 to his orchestration as prime minister of the Gaza pullout in August 2005, Sharon was at the center of the modern nation’s historical moments. And like the country he served for most of his 85 years, his life was marked by controversy, deep loss, harsh defeat and miraculous victory.

Sharon was always consistent in his desire to secure Israel’s borders and was often photographed with a map in hand. During his tenure as the 11th prime minister he was determined to redraw those borders based on his vision of the new strategic and demographic concerns of the 21st century. In this pursuit he was not afraid to tear down his own physical, ideological and political works. His health failed him before the task was finished.

Strikingly, throughout his life, either or by chance or design, much of what Sharon built or cherished was lost, destroyed or tarnished. His ability to sustain loss made him fearless in his public pursuits.

Sharon the soldier had seen his friends die in battle by age 20. The family man buried one son and two wives. The gallant military leader with a white bandage across his wounded forehead played an instrumental role in capturing the Sinai desert, only to return it to Egypt years later as a politician. The spiritual father of the settlement movement, Sharon claimed to know the driver of every crane building homes in the territories. But then, as defense minister, he was charged with the razing of the Yamit settlement in Sinai in 1982 and, as prime minister, he ordered the destruction of the Gaza settlements in 2005.

The leader of the Likud Party he had founded in 1973, Sharon catapulted it in 2003 from 19 to 40 Knesset mandates. But then, in November 2005, he crippled it by bolting to form the centrist Kadima Party, taking a host of prominent politicians from across the spectrum with him.

And as the avuncular elder statesman widely, though by no means universally, perceived to know better than his rivals how to steer Israel forward, he was well on his way to a third term in office when his stroke on January 4, 2006, halted his plans to shepherd the nation into a new dawn.

With his white hair, heavyset build, grandfatherly smile and the reading glasses that occasionally slipped down his nose, his image in his later years as well his conciliatory words belied his reputation as an authoritarian political leader and a brutal military commander.

For all the Israelis he alienated throughout his larger-than-life career, however, he was a man generally well-liked on the most personal levels – friendly, courteous and solicitous.

Sharon never left the spotlight for long after he came to national prominence as the dashing war hero of the 1950s. He was lauded as a master military strategist in the Sixties and Seventies. In the early Eighties as defense minister, he was blamed for the failures and excesses of the Lebanon War as well as the massacre of more than 700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp at the hands of Christian Phalangists. As opposition leader in September 2000, his visit to the Temple Mount was used by the Palestinians as a pretext for the second intifada, and he was often a scapegoat for the continued conflict. Five years later, when he was felled by illness, his sudden forced departure from the political stage was perceived as a crisis for peace.

The sabra son of an immigrant Russian farmer who preferred his own counsel to the communal decisions of his neighbors, as prime minister Sharon turned his own similar preference for solo leadership into a diplomatic platform of unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians. It was a move that broke a deadlocked period in the conflict. But Sharon’s seemingly swift turnabout from right-wing leader who coined the famous phrase “the fate of Netzarim was the fate of Tel Aviv” to one who evacuated the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, left his dizzied supporters gasping at the betrayal.

Sharon liked to describe himself first and foremost as a Jew and then as a farmer. In addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2005 at the pinnacle of his popularity, he said, “My first love was and remains manual labor: sowing and harvesting, the pasture, the flock and the cattle.”

Circumstances intervened, he said, and instead his life’s path led him “to be a fighter and commander in all Israel’s wars.”

Now, he told world leaders, he had a different purpose. He was reaching out to the Palestinians in “reconciliation and compromise to end the bloody conflict and embark on the path which leads to peace. I view this as my calling and my primary mission for the coming years.”

Hard-line right-wingers who had long believed the prime minister was one of their staunchest advocates felt abandoned by his sudden shift to the Center. His opponents argued that Sharon was simply an opportunist, willing to pay any price and betray any ideal in the pursuit of power. Some said his political shift was designed to deflect corruption allegations, others that he had gone soft.

But Sharon himself had long said that he was not married to one specific path or ideology. “There is no advantage to the person who steadfastly maintains the same position over the years just for the sake of consistency," he said, as early as 1977.

In his autobiography, Warrior, he referred to himself as a “pragmatic Zionist,” a man of action rather than words. When he believed Jewish settlements created security, he constructed them. Persuaded that a security barrier was needed, he built that too.

Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the US and a long-time adviser, said Sharon was foremost “a pragmatist.” He belonged to a small group of similar-minded soldiers-turned-statesmen such as Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin whose primary consideration was security, rather than ideology, said Shoval. “So you never knew how they would act under certain circumstances.”

Proactive, rather than reactive, in this single-minded pursuit of his goals, Sharon pushed forward with a confident winner-take-all attitude.

Back in 1974, The Jerusalem Post predicted that this style of charging into battle would take him far. “Arik Sharon only knows frontal attacks. That is how he fought the Arabs, that is

how he captured the Likud and that is how he intends to storm and capture the State of Israel,” the Post said.

It was not by chance that in the 1970s, solders in his unit were already chanting, “Arik, king of Israel.”

His longtime friend, journalist Uri Dan, said Sharon loved challenges: “When he was told a mission was impossible, that is what he wanted to do.”

Like his biblical hero, Joshua, who blew down the walls of Jericho with a ram’s horn, Sharon bulldozed his way past all military and political obstacles. In the army, he dodged charges that he failed to follow orders and really accurate information to his superiors. In politics he brushed off his image as a has-been politician who attacked both friend and foe. Teflon-style. he survived unscathed allegations of financial corruption.

Former Likud MK Bennie Begin once said acerbically of Sharon that he was as likely to head their party as he was to become a tennis champion. But at the nadir of Sharon’s checkered army career, after he was forced to resign as defense minister in 1983 following Sabra and Shatilla, Dan made a different prediction.

“Those who rejected [Sharon as chief of staff got him in due time as defense minister,” said Dan. “And those who rejected him as defense minister will get him in due course as prime minister.”

Sharon said that his steadfast determination was rooted in his childhood work on a farm.

In an op-ed article for the Post in 1999 Sharon recalled a day he spent with his father at Kfar Malal. “I was working out in the field with my father on an intensely hot day as thirst plagued us and thousands of flies and gnats buzzed around us, getting into our eyes and noses. We, hoes in hand, continued to work. When my father Shmuel, of blessed memory, who was an agronomist, agricultural scientist and also an outstanding farmer, saw I was getting tired, he would stop a minute, point towards the ground we’d covered and say, “Look how much we’ve already done. And with renewed strength, we would continue work.”

It was this mind-set, wrote Sharon, that came to characterize his own indomitable approach - to daily life and to leading Israel.

“This has always been my way: to appreciate what we have already accomplished and to look forward optimistically.” 

'Lone Survivor' Marcus Luttrell's devotion to duty

The former Navy SEAL didn't want to write the book 'Lone Survivor' or advise on the movie about the battlefield loss of his buddies — but he followed orders.

By John Horn
6:00 AM PST, January 6, 2014

Marcus Luttrell
Marcus Luttrell, ex-Navy Seal and author of "Lone Survivor." (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times / November 13, 2013)

Marcus Luttrell is very polite and quiet — "Yessir," "No, ma'am," "Thank you very much" — but his abiding civil demeanor can't mask the fact that the physically imposing former Navy SEAL isn't inclined to suffer fools.

At a breakfast meeting at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills not that long ago, a waitress informed Luttrell that his companion dog, which Luttrell uses to help him deal with a traumatic brain injury suffered in combat, could no longer sit next to him on a banquette.

Marcus Luttrell: An article in the Jan. 6 Calendar section about Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, on whom the movie "Lone Survivor" is based, said the film opened in New York and Los Angeles on Jan. 3. The movie opened in those cities on Dec. 25. —

"Who gave you that order, miss?" Luttrell said with a slight edge to his voice, gently patting his dog, Mr. Rigby. Told that it was local health code rather than instructions from some hardhearted hostess, Luttrell complied, albeit reluctantly. It was probably a good thing she didn't notice that he was discreetly chewing tobacco.

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It's impossible to understand fully what Luttrell experienced in the Afghanistan mountains in 2005, where he and three other SEALs were caught in a disastrous firefight against a much larger Taliban force that ultimately left 19 Americans dead. Luttrell wrote about the experience in his bestselling book, "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10," which has just been made into the movie "Lone Survivor" by writer-director Peter Berg.

It was more than a little hard for Luttrell to recount his ordeal in print. "I didn't want to write the book. I'm a private person," he said of his memoir, co-written by Patrick Robinson. He was compelled to pen it, he said, by his superiors.

"It was the Navy's idea, not mine," the 38-year-old Luttrell said. "They felt the story needed to be set straight."

His commanding officers were equally assertive in recommending that he support a movie adaptation, which opened to solid reviews in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding into national release Jan. 10.

"I didn't want to do a movie," Luttrell said. "But Hollywood was going to do it with or without us. That's what came across the wire."

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So Luttrell personally auditioned Berg, the veteran of "Friday Night Lights" and "Battleship." At the time, the book was being devoured throughout the movie world, and producers were beseeching Luttrell for a meeting. Berg was wrapping up his 2007 Middle East terrorism tale, "The Kingdom," and invited Luttrell to take an early look.

Berg had prepared a detailed pitch for Luttrell, but soon after Luttrell watched Berg's film he decided he liked the director's attention to detail and was done looking for a show-business partner.

"It was the little things that most people would overlook," Luttrell said of how Berg depicted the military in "The Kingdom." "How people move tactically, how they handle their weapons, their communications — there was enough in there to show me he had the wherewithal to pull it off."

The mission at the center of Luttrell's story is both heart-stopping and heartbreaking.

Dropped by helicopter into Afghanistan's Kunar province near the Pakistan border, Luttrell and three other SEALs — Matthew Axelson, Danny Dietz and leader Michael Murphy — were pursuing a Taliban leader when three goat herders, including a young boy, stumbled upon them. The film stars Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell, Taylor Kitsch as Murphy, Emile Hirsch as Dietz and Ben Foster as Axelson.

The four SEALs agonized over their options, knowing they couldn't in good conscience kill the unarmed civilians, even as they were certain that if they released the trio they would alert the enemy, likely dooming Luttrell, Murphy, Axelson and Dietz. (If the SEALs tied up the three, they likely would have died from exposure or starvation.)

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Within minutes of freeing the goat herders, the SEALs were stormed by the Taliban. Axelson, Dietz and Murphy were shot multiple times and died on the battlefield, while a rescue helicopter carrying 16 Special Operations Forces was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all on board. Luttrell managed to escape the firefight seriously wounded (his injuries included a broken back and bullet wounds) but able to walk, and was taken in by a Pashtun villager, who sheltered Luttrell until American forces were able to rescue him.

Berg said he felt compelled to tell Luttrell's story largely because the sacrifices and proficiency of U.S. armed forces are taken for granted. "If you were kidnapped overseas, these guys would do everything, and I mean dying if they have to, to get you out alive," the filmmaker said.

"We just can't really take a moment to think about it — we're totally disengaged. But 'Lone Survivor' forced me to engage in the reality of these deaths, and to pay attention to how our men are dying. We need to support and understand what they are doing and what they are going through."

That includes Berg's not only collaborating with Luttrell in adapting his book, but also shepherding him through the publicity around the movie's release. When a guest at one early screening of the film tactlessly asked Luttrell during a question-and-answer session what he thought of the "futility" of the war in Afghanistan, Berg nearly jumped out of his seat to make sure Luttrell kept his calm.

"Marcus is a tough guy," Berg said. "But there's a real sweetness to him. Once you get to know him, he's one of the sweetest, most vulnerable guys I've met."

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While there were a few disagreements over Berg's telling of the story — a knife fight in the film's conclusion didn't happen, for instance — Luttrell said he realized Berg "is the skipper of the whole thing" and that he was happy with how the adaptation turned out. "I didn't want to make it into something it wasn't," Luttrell said. "The ultimate test is when a Navy SEAL walks out of the movie and says, 'Good job.' Then we did it right."

Berg's attention to detail include his studying the autopsy reports of the SEALs killed while fighting at Luttrell's side, meaning that the R-rated film is as viscerally realistic as it is physiologically accurate.
Luttrell said every time he sees the film he averts his eyes at one scene only — the death of Axelson. "It's the only part of the movie I don't watch, because I wasn't with him when he died in real life," Luttrell said. "I don't know how he died. But I know he died fighting."

Luttrell said he isn't haunted by the film any more than he is by the actual event.

"It goes through my head every day in life," he said. "So when I watch it in the movie, I've already watched it in my head."

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When he's not promoting the film, Luttrell is helping run the Lone Survivor Foundation, which helps treat wounded soldiers, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and their families. Based on what facilitated Luttrell's recovery from battlefield injuries, the Houston foundation emphasizes an outdoor, camp-like approach and interaction with horses.

He said he also is determined to open independent-living facilities for homeless veterans in major American cities. "There should be no way that veterans anywhere should be sleeping on the streets," Luttrell said. "All I care about is putting a roof over their head and making sure there's food in their stomachs."

As breakfast wound down, Luttrell looked around the restaurant and scratched Mr. Rigby's head.

"I knew I was born to do this at a very young age. And one of the beauties of SEAL training is that we don't go back and wonder how we could have done things differently," Luttrell said. "If someone were to come into this restaurant and open fire and kill us all, I would miss my wife and our kids. But I would have no regrets.",0,5723482.story#axzz2q5jIqdJk

Friday, January 10, 2014

Film Review: 'American Hustle'

Big Hair, Bad Scams, Motormouths

By  (NYT Critics' Pick)

December 12, 2013

Irving Rosenfeld, the con man running the great scam in “American Hustle,” isn’t, his mistress admits, much to look at. He has a belly the size of a beer keg and a torturously complicated comb-over that he arranges with the fastidiousness of a Michelin-starred pastry chef. Appearances are not everything to Irving (Christian Bale), but rather just part of the swindle that is his life’s work, his passion and genius. The confidence game is his honey pot: It’s what lines his pockets, lights his fire and cigars, and has transformed the mistress, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), into his equal in theft and dissimulation, making her the Rosalind Russell to his Cary Grant in a romp that’s pure Scorsese screwball.
Only the director here is David O. Russell, who, more than any other contemporary American filmmaker, has reinvigorated screwball comedy, partly by insisting that men and women talk to one another. To that end, that chatter, written by Mr. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, is fast, dirty, intemperate, hilarious and largely in service to the art of the con, specifically the Abscam scandal that almost incidentally inspired the story. The real scandal dates back to 1978 and an F.B.I. investigation into political corruption that found agents posing as wealthy sheikhs anxious to buy off public officials. (Abscam was short for Arab scam, or the nominally less derogatory Abdul scam.) The swindle netted a trove of greasy-palmed politicians, but also charges of entrapment.
The movie tracks the scandal primarily from the points of view of Irving and Sydney, whose he-said, she-said voice-overs are interspersed with adenoidal dispatches from his stay-at-home wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). After setting the contemporary scene, Mr. Russell cuts back to Irving’s childhood, sketching in the con man’s background with brief, funny scenes and a devil-may-care take on criminality that pointedly mirrors the trajectory of Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas.” Like Paul Thomas Anderson, whose period bacchanal “Boogie Nights” also borrows from “GoodFellas,” Mr. Russell is a cinematic Son of Scorsese. Yet while his swooping cameras and motor-mouth characters follow in the virtuosic wake of Mr. Scorsese, they’re equally beholden to Mr. Scorsese’s own influences, including the Golden Hollywood likes of the director Raoul Walsh.
Mr. Scorsese once called Walsh’s 1939 post-World-War-I crime film, “The Roaring Twenties,” a “twisted Horatio Alger story,” a thumbnail description that also fits “American Hustle.” Corrupt politicos and a federal Venus’ flytrap give the movie a veneer of topicality, and there’s plenty in it that matches up with the historical record, including the role played by Irving’s true-crime counterpart, a Bronx-born swindler named Mel Weinberg. Even so, Mr. Russell doesn’t seem all that interested in veracity, and the movie opens with a playful assurance that “some of this actually happened,” a declaration that feels calculated to block off-point objections that some of it didn’t happen. Details have been changed, and everyone, as is often the case in movies, looks younger and prettier, less lumpy and beaten down by life than the original players, even Irving and his magnificently tragic, trumped-up hair.
The attention that Irving bestows on his mop — the movie opens with him whipping it up into a spritzed froth — is emblematic of a life lived as a masquerade. There was something about him, Sydney says in voice-over, “he had this confidence that drew me to him.” A classic type as essential to the American Dream as Horatio Alger, if one who’s ditched honor in favor of hustling, Irving doesn’t pull himself up by his own bootstraps; instead, he steals the boots off some stooge and then sells them back to their original owner at twice the price. He dwells in that shady space between faith and doubt, between our divinely given, legally sanctioned national confidence (“In God We Trust”) and the deep, routinely vindicated recognition that it’s all a con. (Never give a sucker an even break.)
Once Irving’s and Sydney’s back stories are set in place, the movie is off and running. The two join forces personally and professionally after meeting at a party where Irving — resplendent in swimming trunks, gold chains nestling in a thatch of chest fur and a stomach that suggests he’s far into his third trimester — works his magic. Mutually smitten, they begin swindling desperate people who, unable to secure legitimate bank loans, hand over wads of cash in hopes of receiving bigger advances. One mark turns out to be an F.B.I. agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, very good), who uses them to run a bigger con, one he hopes will bag politicians like a New Jersey mayor, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner, excellent), whose decency is tested by his ambitions.
Mr. Bale has long been a great actor, if not an especially likable screen presence — in this, he’s the opposite of Ms. Adams and Ms. Lawrence, who are both talented and appealing — and he’s leaned toward cool, even cold characters, mask or no mask. It’s a pleasure to see him warm up, soften up, not only because he looks as if he were having a good time, but also because he’s extraordinary here. In the past, his performances have occasionally felt like a begrudgingly presented gift to the audience, as he offered us his technique while keeping the more recognizably human part of himself out of reach. Maybe Mr. Russell, who directed Mr. Bale in “The Fighter,” wore him down.
Or perhaps Mr. Bale found pathos in Irving and dignity in this small, striving, vulgar man’s life. Whatever the reasons, Mr. Bale, like some other stars who embrace playing ugly, feels as if he’d been liberated by all the pounds he’s packed on and by his character’s molting looks, an emancipation that’s most evident in his delicately intimate, moving moments with Ms. Adams and Ms. Lawrence. Hilarious and brassy, by turns reminiscent of Jean Harlow and Judy Holliday, Ms. Lawrence is a bountiful delight even in a smallish role, partly because of her magnetism and partly because Mr. Russell is one of the few American male directors working today who’s as interested in women as he is in men. This may be about a famous federal sting, but, like all of his movies, it’s also a love story (or two).
As Irving’s other better half, Ms. Adams, a virtuoso of perkiness, goes deeper here than she’s ever been allowed to. She showed an indelibly darker, more dangerous side in a supporting role in Mr. Anderson’s “Master,” playing Lady Macbeth to a cult leader; she has a lot more to do in “American Hustle.” Like Irving, Sydney is a self-invention, one containing multitudes, from the former stripper she starts off as, to the elegant British noblewoman she pretends to be for the couple’s loan scams. With her bright eyes and alabaster gleam, Ms. Adams can look like a porcelain doll, a deceptive mien that helps complicate Sydney and turns an unpredictable character into a thrillingly wild one, whose ordinary scream is the howl of a wolf.
“American Hustle” giddily embraces the excesses of its era, from spandex to ’staches, though it’s a farce that speaks as well to this tarnished age. Some of its extravagances are purely decorative, and the costume and production designers, along with the hairstylist, must have had a blast. But all the shiny surfaces, the glitter ball and the gaudiness, also suggest a world in which everyone is anxious to shake off the post-Vietnam War, post-Watergate funk. The ghost of Richard M. Nixon hovers in the air; everyone is a fake and everyone wears a mask, even Richie, the F.B.I. agent with the Chia Pet perm. And then there’s Irving and Sydney. “We’ve got to get over on all these guys,” she tells him, when the scam seems to be going south. They may have to do the hustle but they’ll be doing it together.
“American Hustle” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Corrupt politicians.
American Hustle
Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.
Directed by David O. Russell; written by Eric Warren Singer and Mr. Russell; director of photography, Linus Sandgren; edited by Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten; music by Danny Elfman; production design by Judy Becker; costumes by Michael Wilkinson; produced by Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes.
WITH: Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso), Jeremy Renner (Mayor Carmine Polito), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld), Louis C. K. (Stoddard Thorsen), Jack Huston (Pete Musane), Michael Peña (Paco Hernandez/Sheik Abdullah), Shea Whigham (Carl Elway), Alessandro Nivola (Anthony Amado), Elisabeth Rohm (Dolly Polito) and Paul Herman (Alfonse Simone).

Thomas, Maddux, Glavine did it the right way

By Rick Telander
Chicago Sun-Times
January 9, 2014
Former baseball players Tom Glavine (3-L), Greg Maddox (4-L) and Frank Thomas (5-L), the newest electees to the Baseball Hall of Fame, speak during a press conference about their inductions at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, New York, USA, 09 January 2014. EPA/JASON SZENES 2
NEW YORK — They walked into the Vanderbilt Room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and it all just looked right.
Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas — the newly elected 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame members — took their seats at the dais for this first news conference before their official induction into the Cooperstown shrine in July.
“Obviously, I’d like to thank the writers for picking me,’’ said Maddux, winner of 355 games, four Cy Young Awards, 18 Gold Gloves. “I appreciate it. Very humbling experience, like Tom said.’’
Yes, Glavine had started by thanking the writers. And Thomas would say, “For me, I’ve got to thank the writers. I’m overjoyed, overwhelmed.‘’
Thank you, fellows. We’ll take that. I’ll take that.
And thank you for being who you are.
It’s been a mess for the last decade, this Hall of Fame voting, undermined by the flowing cesspool of performance-enhancing drug use, rumors of such, innuendo, suspicion, anger, and the sad, empty sense of betrayal.
All of you who believe you could do a better job than the Baseball Writers’ Association of America writers do in picking the greatest sportsmanlike baseball players of recent times please stand down. A dunce can look at stats. But the Hall of Fame is about stats and integrity.
You want to vote for Barry Bonds? Sammy Sosa? Roger Clemens?
Some Hall voters do vote for them, believing I suppose, that in a morals-free, un-subpoenaed world everybody is a cheater. I don’t. I will never vote for the obvious dopers.
But these three men before us now — a lefty pitcher, a righty pitcher, a huge slugger — seem pure. We’ll never know anything for sure anymore. But these guys seem to have done it for real, on their own, the right way.
Maddux and Glavine, then with the Braves, made their famous, hilarious — and far too prescient — TV ad for Nike in 1998, stating, before being shot down by bimbo fan Heather Locklear, “Chicks dig the long ball!’’ Also in that ad was the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire, hitting long balls and flexing his biceps on a billboard like the hero he never was.
Juicer McGwire got just 11 percent of the Hall votes this year. He’s sinking fast from a 23.7 percent high in 2010 and soon will likely join cheater/home-run hitter Rafael Palmeiro and drop below the 5 percent mark and exit the ballot entirely.
Palmeiro and McGwire have 1,152 home runs between them. Incredible. And they’ll never get voted into the Hall. Because, at some point, rules must mean something. Which brings us back to Glavine, Maddux and Thomas.
Their stats are overwhelming and great, as they need to be. As Hall president Jeff Idelson will say of the 211 player plaques in Cooperstown: roughly one player out of a hundred — of the 18,000 players who have worn major-league jerseys — are voted in.
Do the math. That’s like one Hall of Famer for every millionth kid who picked up a ball or bat in the sandlot.
But more than that, in this dubious era, Glavine, Maddux and Thomas have brought back some faith in, let’s just call it integrity.
Thomas, who had his wife and five kids in attendance, said afterward, “I’ve talked with Hall of Famers, and they say our legacy is what we own. They don’t want anything tainted in Cooperstown. They’re harsh about it.’’
Of himself and PEDs, he said, “At any early age I said, ‘I will not do that to my body.’ Never tempted.’’
Maddux and steroids?
The mind snickers. Six feet tall, about 185 pounds, with a portion of that being beer gut, Maddux looked like Mr. Peepers in a ball cap.
Yes, looks have become important in this You-Figure-Out-The-Roiders Era, which, by the way, isn’t over.
Maddux said he hoped to retire as a Cub, but that little San Diego deal at the end was too good to pass up.
“Wrigley Field, when the wind’s blowing in, it’s a beautiful thing,’’ said perhaps the smartest right-handed pitcher in history.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Glavine, Maddux and Thomas Make up 2014 Hall Class

Fittingly, Maddux and Glavine will go into Hall of Fame together

By Tom Verducci

Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were teammates from 1993 until 2003 in Atlanta. Their careers were cemented as Braves. The two former Braves and 300-game winners headline a list of 19 first-time candidates on baseball's 2014 Hall of Fame ballot. (Sunny Sung/AJC)
Now it can be told. Newly minted Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, a born card counter and the sharpest brain on a baseball field in the modern era, would call pitches based on the way he caught the return throw from his catcher. Here's how it worked:

Maddux would form sequences of pitches in his head the day before a start. As soon as he threw one pitch, he knew which pitch he wanted to throw for the next. He always wanted to work quickly, using pace of the game to disadvantage hitters. So rather than waiting as did every other pitcher for the catcher to throw the ball back, get back on the mound, look for a sign and possibly have to wade through a series of signs before the catcher put down what he wanted, Maddux would call his next pitch by the manner in which he caught the return throw from the catcher.

If, for instance, Maddux caught the throw with his glove to the left side of his body, he wanted a fastball away. (This sometimes required Maddux to take a slight hop to his right to catch the ball at his left side.) If he caught the ball in front of his body, he wanted an inside fastball. And if he caught the ball at his chin, he wanted a changeup.

It was brilliant, as was most everything Maddux did.

"He was the smartest player I ever played with," said John Smoltz, his teammate in Atlanta, and an MLB Network analyst. "We used to call him Hoover, because he would suck you into an argument and he would always win. He would always win because he had a reason for everything. Sometimes I thought it was just Greg being Greg and making some stuff up. But he had a reason for everything."

Today is a day for celebrating why we love baseball. On a day that has become the annual hand-wringing day about the Steroid Era, two pitchers who looked like they should be shelving books at a library instead of playing in the most anabolically-enhanced era in baseball history rose above the Sturm und Drang. Maddux and Tom Glavine, fellow teammates, fellow 300-game winners, fellow golf partners and fellow summa cum laude graduates of the game, are going in to the Hall of Fame just as they navigated the teeth of the Steroid Era: together.

Maddux, who received 97.2 percent of the vote, and Glavine (91.9%) are joined by the great slugger Frank Thomas (83.7), who becomes the first player primarily associated with the White Sox to be elected by the writers since Luis Aparicio in 1984.

Bobby Cox, the manager in Atlanta for Maddux and Glavine, will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 27. Cox was elected by the 16-person Veterans Committee last month, along with fellow former managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. Twelve months after the Baseball Writers Association of America pitched a shutout, Cooperstown will be jammed with one of the most decorated induction classes in the history of the Hall of Fame.

Maddux and Glavine are the headliners. They are the greatest tandem of starting pitchers in the live ball era, the likes of which -- given their durability and wins -- we may never see again. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had six prolific years together with the Dodgers, as did Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry with the Giants. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling spent only four years together with Arizona. Maddux and Glavine spent an entire decade together (1993-2002) in which neither ever had a losing record or lost a start to an injury.

In their 10 seasons as teammates Maddux and Glavine combined for a 347-160 record (.684 winning percentage for a team that otherwise played .579 baseball), a 2.87 ERA and half of the NL Cy Young Awards in that decade. They averaged 35 wins, 66 starts and 454 innings combined for the decade. Atlanta was 19 games better than .500 every year on those two pitchers alone.

Through 1992, the Braves franchise had not played .625 baseball in any season since 1898, when they were known as the Boston Beaneaters. When Maddux -- one the best free agent signings in history -- joined Glavine and Smoltz in time for the 1993 season, the Braves then played .625 ball or better five times in the next 10 years. In those years, Maddux and Glavine accounted for 43 percent of the Braves' starts, 35 percent of the team's wins and 32 percent of the team's innings.

Smoltz, who should join them in Cooperstown next year when he hits the ballot, rode shoulder-to-shoulder with Maddux and Glavine for the first seven of those years, before an elbow injury cost him the 2000 season and forced him into the bullpen upon his return. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz combined for 20 individual winning seasons out of 21 from 1993-99.

What made Maddux and Glavine all the more fascinating was that they controlled hitters without pure power stuff through the greatest era of slugging and size the game ever has seen. Maddux doesn't get enough credit for the quality of his pitches, especially when he was in his 20s, when he could throw 93 mph with ridiculous movement.
Primarily, though, Maddux and Glavine endured because they were smarter than everybody else. Maddux changed modern pitching. His comeback two-seam fastball -- the one that started at a lefthanded hitter's hip and jumped back over the inside corner -- combined with the ability to cut his fastball in the opposite direction, became the template for what is Pitching 101 today.

Maddux was a savant, whose intuition and knowledge produced legendary stories. There was the time pitching coach Leo Mazzone visited the mound when Maddux was in trouble and Maddux told him, "Don't worry. If I make my next pitch I'll get this guy to hit a foul pop-up to third and we'll be out of it." Maddux retired the hitter on a pop-up to third, though it was fair -- by one foot.

Another time he told his outfielders he was going to get nemesis Gary Sheffield to just miss a pitch and fly out to the warning track -- which is exactly what Sheffield did in the next at-bat.

There was the time he grooved a pitch to Jeff Bagwell, which resulted in a home run, just because he wanted to set him up for pitch months later in the postseason.

Another time he waited seven years to exact payback on Dave Martinez. Maddux, pitching with the bases loaded and two outs, intentionally threw a ball out of the strike zone just to get to a full count -- when he could then fool Martinez with a changeup for his redemptive strikeout.

There also was the time he sat on the bench in a game against the Dodgers and warned teammates with Jose Hernandez at bat, "Watch this. The first base coach may be going to the hospital." On the next pitch Hernandez drilled a line drive off the chest of the first-base coach. He was only wrong about the hospital part.

Maddux was baseball's beautiful mind. He saw things nobody else saw. He broke down hitters by the way they swung the bat in the on-deck circle. He saw if they moved their feet in the batter's box. He sniffed out tells like nobody else.

He manipulated the movement of the baseball with subtle shifts in finger pressure and by changing the spot where his front foot landed by centimeters. He once told me he would slightly alter his follow through based on whether he expected a groundball to be hit to his left or his right. He was the greatest fielding pitcher of all time, winning more Gold Gloves (18) than any player at any position.

His mind always was at work. Former Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser once told me a story about a bunch of players walking into a bar together and coming upon one of those video gaming machines. Blauser said after studying the game for a moment or two Maddux told his teammates, "Don't bother. The odds of that game are ridiculous. It's set up too hard to win." Blauser had to laugh. The players had come only for some mindless down time and entertainment, and here was Maddux breaking down the machine's odds.

I never stopped learning from (and being schooled by) Maddux, a.k.a Hoover. I loved this answer he gave when, as he approached his 300th win, I asked him what gave him the most joy in baseball:

"Some guys just show up on Tuesday. The best part is knowing you're going to do something on Monday and actually doing it on Tuesday. And executing it. You know what? It might be a strike. It might be a foul ball. You might think, If I throw this guy this pitch, he's going to hit it foul right over there, and then to go out there and do it, that's pretty cool. To me. That's fun.

"You're only talking about 10 pitches a game. The other 80 or 90 you're trusting what you see and what you feel. It's still fun playing the game. And strike three is still one of the funnest pitches in baseball."

He was a joy to watch, but Maddux had more joy figuring out this crazy game. He loved every detail about it. He once told me, "I'd rather pitch bad than not pitch." That's how much he loved it.

Glavine was cerebral, too, but he was more serious and business-like in his approach. He was courageous, a guy who never had much velocity but had no trouble executing pitches with runners on base, thanks to one of the best changeups ever seen. No one else built such a prolific career without getting hitters to swing and miss. Glavine is one of 10 pitchers to win 300 games since World War II, and his rate of strikeouts per nine innings (5.32) is the worst of the 10.

Together, and with intellect and pristine mechanics more than pure stuff, Maddux and Glavine thrived in one of the great all-time hitters' environments. The best 1-2 pitching combination in the modern game, at least when you find a rare run extended for 10 years, will be together again in Cooperstown in July.

Ballot Takeaways

• Here's who I voted for: Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Fred McGriffJack MorrisMike MussinaTim Raines, Frank Thomas, Curt Schilling.

With five first-time candidates on my ballot, I had to drop one player from the six I voted for last year, and Jeff Bagwell didn't make the cut. I wanted to make sure I kept Fred McGriff because no player is more under-supported on the ballot than he is. It's worth repeating: McGriff, who got 11.7 percent of the vote this year, became only the 10th player to retire with an OPS of .886 or greater after 10,000 plate appearances. That's not some quirky stat to be easily dismissed. To be that good for that long put McGriff in the company of the truly elite; eight of them were first-ballot Hall of Famers (Ty CobbBabe RuthTris SpeakerStan MusialFrank RobinsonWillie MaysHank Aaron and Mike Schmidt) and the other should have been (Mel Ott).

When compared to Bagwell, McGriff has more runs, hits, home runs, total bases, RBIs and All-Star appearances, more top five seasons in home runs, OPS and Runs Created, and is the far superior postseason player (.917 OPS in 50 games) than Bagwell (.685 OPS in 33 games).

• Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza should be encouraged about their eventual election. They were the only holdover candidates on a strong ballot to pick up ground. Biggio fell two votes short of induction -- tying Nellie Fox (1985) and Pie Traynor (1947) for the closest call. Fox missed in his last year on the ballot and was elected by the Veterans Committee 12 years later. Traynor gained election by the writers one year after his near-miss.
The rest of the holdover candidates? They were hurt by the strength of the ballot -- and will probably have to wait until a weaker ballot in 2016 to make up serious ground.

• Goodbye to Jack Morris, who leaves the BBWAA portion of the Hall voting after his 15-year run expired. He likely passes to the Hall's 16-person Expansion Era Committee in December 2016. Morris (a high of 68% in 2013 but down to 61.5% this year) and Gil Hodges (63%) are the only players ever to get 50% of the vote in any one of 15 tries and still not be enshrined by the writers or a Hall of Fame committee.

• I understand Morris is a classic borderline candidate but I don't understand the revisionist vitriol against him. I'll say it again: Morris pitched eight or more innings more times than any AL pitcher in the history of the league with the DH, and he won more games in the AL's DH era than anybody except Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. Over a 14-year period, when the manager gave him the ball Morris was more likely to pitch into the ninth inning (52%) than not (48%). Executives and former players and managers, who typically make up 12 of the 16 committee members, are likely to value Morris' durability as an ace more than the writers.

• Lee Smith looks like he will be joining Morris and Hodges. Smith, who gained 51% of the vote in 2012, plunged to 29.9% this year. He has only three years remaining on the ballot. Smith made a strong debut in 2003 with 42.3%, which puts him in line for a dubious honor of his own: He would replace Steve Garvey (41.6%) as the player with the best first-year percentage without ever getting elected.

• I've written in great detail about why I will not vote for players who used PEDs, and the majority of writers agree. Mark McGwireSammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds have been on the ballot a combined 18 times without any one of them ever getting 40 percent of the vote. Palmeiro will now fall off the ballot after failing to obtain to minimum 5% this year.

• We have pulled out of a long trough in which writers were more frugal with their votes than ever before under current voting rules. The average votes per ballot sunk below 7.00 in 1987 and stayed below that mark for 27 straight years, falling to a record low of 5.10 in 2012.

It climbed to 6.6 last year and to 8.4 this year. Is that unusual? What we're seeing is a return to voting patterns from the 1970s and 1980s, when the average from 1972-83 ranged from 7.57 to 8.36. Keep this in mind, though: the outcome doesn't change much. The number of players elected by the writers has remained very consistent:

1970s: 1.3 
1980s: 1.9 
1990s: 1.5 
2000s: 1.7 
2010s: 1.4

If anything, despite the "sky-is-falling" overreaction after the 2013 shutout, writers may be starting an unprecedented era of liberal voting. A prediction for 2015: first-ballot candidates Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will be elected, as should Biggio. That would mark the first time ever under current voting rules that the writers have elected three or more players in back-to-back years.

Read More:

Global warming's glorious ship of fools

Has there ever been a better story? It's like a version of Titanic where first class cheers for the iceberg
 11 January 2014
The Akademik Shokalskiy awaits the arrival of the Xue Long, in Antarctica.
A penguin looks at the MV Akademik Shokalskiy carrying the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Photograph: Laurence Topham for the Guardian
Yes, yes, just to get the obligatory ‘of courses’ out of the way up front: of course ‘weather’ is not the same as ‘climate’; and of course the thickest iciest ice on record could well be evidence of ‘global warming’, just as 40-and-sunny and a 35-below blizzard and 12 degrees and partly cloudy with occasional showers are all apparently manifestations of ‘climate change’; and of course the global warm-mongers are entirely sincere in their belief that the massive carbon footprint of their rescue operation can be offset by the planting of wall-to-wall trees the length and breadth of Australia, Britain, America and continental Europe.
But still: you’d have to have a heart as cold and unmovable as Commonwealth Bay ice not to be howling with laughter at the exquisite symbolic perfection of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition ‘stuck in our own experiment’, as they put it. I confess I was hoping it might all drag on a bit longer and the cultists of the ecopalypse would find themselves drawing straws as to which of their number would be first on the roasting spit. On Douglas Mawson’s original voyage, he and his surviving comrade wound up having to eat their dogs. I’m not sure there were any on this expedition, so they’d probably have to make do with the Guardian reporters. Forced to wait a year to be rescued, Sir Douglas later recalled, ‘Several of my toes commenced to blacken and fester near the tips.’ Now there’s a man who’s serious about reducing his footprint.
But alas, eating one’s shipmates and watching one’s extremities drop off one by one is not a part of today’s high-end eco-doom tourism. Instead, the ice-locked warmists uploaded chipper selfies to YouTube, as well as a self-composed New Year singalong of such hearty un-self-awareness that it enraged even such party-line climate alarmists as Andrew Revkin, the plonkingly earnest enviro-blogger of the New York Times. A mere six weeks ago, pumping out the usual boosterism, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that, had Captain Scott picked his team as carefully as Professor Chris Turney, he would have survived. Sadly, we’ll never know — although I’ll bet Captain Oates would have been doing his ‘I am going out. I may be some time’ line about eight bars into that New Year number.
Unlike Scott, Amundsen and Mawson, Professor Turney took his wife and kids along for the ride. And his scientists were outnumbered by wealthy tourists paying top dollar for the privilege of cruising the end of the world. In today’s niche-market travel industry, the Antarctic is a veritable Club Dread for upscale ecopalyptics: think globally, cruise icily. The year before the Akademik Shokalskiy set sail, as part of Al Gore’s ‘Living On Thin Ice’ campaign (please, no tittering; it’s so puerile; every professor of climatology knows that the thickest ice ever is a clear sign of thin ice, because as the oceans warm, glaciers break off the Himalayas and are carried by El Ninja down the Gore Stream past the Cape of Good Horn where they merge into the melting ice sheet, named after the awareness-raising rapper Ice Sheet…
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Anyway, as part of his ‘Living On Thin Ice’ campaign, Al Gore’s own luxury Antarctic vessel boasted a line-up of celebrity cruisers unseen since the 1979 season finale of The Love Boat — among them the actor Tommy Lee Jones, the pop star Jason Mraz, the airline entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, the director of Titanic James Cameron, and the Bangladeshi minister of forests Somebody Wossname. If Voyage of the Gored had been a conventional disaster movie like The Poseidon Adventure, the Bangladeshi guy would have been the first to drown, leaving only the Nobel-winning climatologist (Miley Cyrus) and the maverick tree-ring researcher (Ben Affleck) to twerk their way through the ice to safety. Instead, and very regrettably, the SS Gore made it safely home, and it fell to Professor Turney’s ship to play the role of our generation’s Titanic. Unlike the original, this time round the chaps in the first-class staterooms were rooting for the iceberg: as the expedition’s marine ecologist Tracy Rogers told the BBC, ‘I love it when the ice wins and we don’t.’ Up to a point. Like James Cameron’s Titanic toffs, the warm-mongers stampeded for the first fossil-fuelled choppers off the ice, while the Russian crew were left to go down with the ship, or at any rate sit around playing cards in the hold for another month or two.
But unlike you flying off to visit your Auntie Mabel for a week, it’s all absolutely vital and necessary. In the interests of saving the planet, IPCC honcho Rajendra Pachauri demands the introduction of punitive aviation taxes and hotel electricity allowances to deter the masses from travelling, while he flies 300,000 miles a year on official ‘business’ and research for his recent warmographic novel in which a climate activist travels the world bedding big-breasted women who are amazed by his sustainable growth. (Seriously: ‘He removed his clothes and began to feel Sajni’s body, caressing her voluptuous breasts.’ But don’t worry; every sex scene is peer-reviewed.) No doubt his next one will boast an Antarctic scene: Is that an ice core in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?
The AAE is right: the warm-mongers are indeed ‘stuck in our own experiment’. Frozen to their doomsday narrative like Jeff Daniels with his tongue stuck to the ski lift in Dumb and Dumber, the Big Climate enforcers will still not brook anyone rocking their boat. In December 2008 Al Gore predicted the ‘entire North Polar ice cap will be gone in five years’. That would be December last year. Oh, sure, it’s still here, but he got the general trend-line correct, didn’t he? Arctic sea ice, December 2008: 12.5 million square kilometres; Arctic sea ice, December 2013: 12.5 million square kilometres.
Big Climate is slowly being crushed by a hard, icy reality: if you’re heading off to university this year, there has been no global warming since before you were in kindergarten. That’s to say, the story of the early 21st century is that the climate declined to follow the climate ‘models’. (Full disclosure: I’m currently being sued by Dr Michael Mann, creator of the most famously alarming graph, the ‘hockey stick’.) You would think that might occasion a little circumspection. But instead the cultists up the ante: having evolved from ‘global warming’ to the more flexible ‘climate change’, they’re now moving on to ‘climate collapse’. Total collapse. No climate at all. No sun, no ice. No warm fronts, except for the heaving bosoms in Rajendra Pachauri’s bodice-rippers. Nothing except the graphs and charts of ‘settled science’. In the Antarctic wastes of your mind, it’s easier just to ice yourself in.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 

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