The death of the “dead ball”

On this day in 1920, Ray Chapman died, and so did the way baseball was played up until that point.

Chapman’s death signaled the end of the “Dead Ball” era and, in theory, the end of many of the “tricks” pitchers used to fool hitters, including the spit-ball, the scuff-ball, the grease-ball, the carved-up-on-my-belt-buckle-ball, and so on.

Chapman was a 29-year-old infielder for the Indians, their best, and was noted for hanging in tough against any pitcher and his willingness to “take one for the team”, i.e. getting hit by a pitch to get to first base. In his nine-year career, he had led the league in runs scored once, walks once, and plate appearances once. A solid guy.

On August 16, 1920, in the fifth inning of a game against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds, he stepped in to hit against Carl Mays, a submarine style pitcher who liked to throw inside. Mays hit Chapman on the left temple and the sound made by the impact reverberated through the Polo Grounds giving the fans the impression the pitch had been hit by Chapman. The ball hit him so hard that although he had been hit on the left temple, he bled from his right ear.

Chapman went down, was helped up and back to the dugout by team-mates, and died twelve hours later. The last words he uttered on a baseball field were, “I’m all right. Tell Mays not to worry”.

It was the only case of a player being killed by a pitch at the major league level, although there have been several serious and career-ending incidents since then.

Statistically, Mays had been a very good pitcher indeed, and went on to win over 200 games before he was done, including five seasons of 20 or more. He was a potential Hall-of-Famer and was last on the Veteran’s Committee ballot in 2007, when he was turned down for the final time. Most people say it was his complete lack of remorse for the Chapman incident that kept him out.  “It’s not on my conscience,” Mays said 50 years later, just before his death in 1971. “It wasn’t my fault.”

At the time of the incident, umpires Billy Evans and William Dineen issued a statement that blamed Mays:

“No pitcher in the American League resorted to a trickery more than Carl Mays in attempting to rough a ball, in order to get a break on it which would make it difficult to hit.” 

The next year, the rules about what kind of baseballs were allowed in play were changed. Until then, the same few balls were used throughput the game, and became very difficult for hitters to see after a few innings of abuse. After that, new, more tightly wound balls were used, and new ones were brought in whenever a ball was no longer white enough for a hitter to see clearly. The balls could be seen better and traveled farther when hit.

The “lively ball” era was born, and the home run would be king from then on. In 1919, the greatest slugger in baseball history and always a statistical outlier, Babe Ruth, led the league with 29 home runs, a total that exceeded the entire output for ten of the other MLB teams that year. In 1920, he hit 54 which exceeded the total for every other major league team except the Phillies, who had 64 in aggregate. Apart from Ruth’s 54, the 1920 Yankees had only 61 home runs hit by all other players combined.

But after the Chapman incident, the trend started changing radically, and, by 1930 the long ball was firmly established everywhere. The pitchers, or at least those that didn’t cheat, had lost their biggest advantages.

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President violates Twitter T.O.S.

The In-House Corporate Counsel here at GOML has issued a strongly worded memo which will shortly be sent to Omid Kordestanti, the Executive Chairman of Twitter, and Jack Dorsey, its C.E.O.

The memo points out that the President of the United States is in clear violation of the Twitter Terms Of Services (T.O.S.) agreement that all users must abide by, and should have his account de-activated immediately, not only for the protection of the innocent people he routinely harasses using the social media site, but also to prevent further de-stabilization of the U.S. political and social landscape, and to improve the diplomatic climate on which world peace depends.

The memo sites the T.O.S agreement, noting particularly the “Abusive Behavior” element of the “Twitter Rules”:

We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.

It is a regular and predictable event that when someone is mildly or even inadvertently critical, or is simply perceived to be critical of the President, that person will certainly be attacked and insulted via Twitter. Those attacks are exactly “behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.”

Before yesterday, the most recent example had been Mitch McConnell, who made the mistake of mentioning that the President was new to the job and may not yet fully appreciate what’s involved in getting laws passed. This is something the Trump camp itself has repeated often as a way to emphasize Trump’s “outsider” bona fides, so McConnell certainly wouldn’t have thought himself to be attacking Trump. But Trump turned on him using Twitter.

But there’s no need to dissect that particular instance. The New York Times has kept a running account of Trump’s Twitter attacks on others.  There are hundreds and hundreds.

There is no question that these attacks are meant to silence criticism, and no question that they do so effectively. After the Alt-Right violence in Virginia a few days ago, Trump’s tepid and inappropriate response resulted in several CEO’s leaving his Management Advisory Counsel, starting with Merck CEO, Kenneth Frazier, followed immediately by the predictable Twitter attack-tirade from Trump.

Frazier was soon followed out by the Intel and Under Armor CEOs, but others stayed with Trump, not wanting to jeopardize their relations with a business-favoring White House, and, more importantly, not wanting to incur the Twitter-wrath of the POTUS. Who would want to be the subject of an attack-tweet from the leader of the free world?

Even Mrs. Stewie Generis, sipping coffee across the table from me as I write these words, is warning me to be careful what I write as there is a possibility that Trump could single us out and we wouldn’t want that!

In explaining why other CEOs and business leaders, e.g. Michael Dell, Jeff Immelt, and Richard Trumka, have issued statements abhorring racism but stayed with Trump and not endorsed Frazier’s actions, Michael Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said,

“I’m sure that corporate leaders feel some reticence to speak out because they’re afraid of being attacked by the president by name.”

Exactly! And exactly what violates the Twitter T.O.S.

So what should you do to support the effort to ban the President from Twitter? Spread the word. Write a letter to the Twitter management team. Carry signs. Get a bumper sticker made. Start an online petition at Change.org. Get involved!

You are hereby granted permission to cite the GOML legal team in your efforts and you should know we’ll be right behind you every step of the way.

Right up until that first attack-tweet hits us – then we’re out. I’m sure you understand.

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Hi, I’m Glen Campbell

One of the biggest problems with the Tweety Administration is that it sucks the life out of the news cycle – there’s simply no oxygen left for anything that doesn’t have the word “Trump” in it. It sucks the life out of the news, and out of culture, and out of the internet. This week it even seemed like it might suck the life out of life itself.

So I forgive you if you didn’t note the passing last week of Glen Campbell at age 81. Maybe you never saw a link to click on to read about it, or maybe you ignored the link and thought, “Yeah, I get it. Wichita Lineman, Galveston, country music dude. So what? Struggled with alcoholism, addiction, and ultimately Alzheimer’s? Yeah, like a lot of people. Boo Hoo.”

I admit that my own first thought was that I didn’t need to think too much about the guy who had that All American, red white and blue, clean-as-a-whistle TV show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour”, from 1969-1972, at the height of the Viet Nam War, when what we needed was the exact opposite.

But then I remembered Glen Campbell the musician. That boy could play.

His solo career took off with the release of “Gentle On My Mind” in 1967. That changed everything for him, and was the start of whatever most people know about him.

But before that, Glen Campbell was a charter member of The Wrecking Crew, the group of studio musicians that played on virtually every record produced in Los Angeles in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. And I mean everything. From Sinatra and Dean Martin, to Elvis, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Jan and Dean, The Monkees, the Ronettes, The Mamas and the Papas, Bob Dylan. If it was produced in L.A., Glen Campbell probably played on it. All genres, all styles, all tempos, all arrangements.

If you want to find out who was really playing on all those Beach Boys or Byrds records or who really was Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, there’s a Netflix documentary for you to stream called “The Wrecking Crew”. As a bonus, you’ll also find out something about the greatest female musician you never heard of, Carole Kaye.

Check out the T.A.M.I. Show sometime for a trip down Memory Lane, and to get a tiny feel for their versatility. They played every tune for that show.

Even after Glen Campbell became a household name and a huge star, he returned often to the studio to continue playing with them on other people’s records. That’s how good they were and how much they enjoyed playing together.

Playing with The Wrecking Crew meant you were one of the best studio players in the profession, meaning you were one of the best professional musicians in the country. You couldn’t make a mistake – it was expensive to make a record, and there was no budget for overtime for the band or to keep the studio an extra hour. Campbell mainly played rhythm guitar, as he never learned to read music beyond chord charts, but his musicianship was as good as there was.

Glen was a modest and self-effacing guy, the seventh of twelve children born to a poor family in Arkansas. They had no electricity. He picked cotton for $1.25 per hundred pounds, and said, “A dollar in those days looked as big as a saddle blanket.”

He got a five-dollar guitar when he was four and his dad made a capo for it out of a corncob and a nail. He was playing on local radio by the time he was six. He never had any formal musical training, practiced after working in the fields, and admired Django Reinhardt more than any other player he’d heard.

He dropped out of school at 14, worked menial jobs and moved to New Mexico at 17 to start his career as a musician with his uncle’s band. He moved to L.A. at 23 and began work as a session musician, and you know the rest.

He died last week in Nashville, six years after first being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He was great at what he did and made a lot of people happy.

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Youthful Success

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D.U.I.

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Happy birthday, Social Security

On August 14, 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, thereby creating a “safety net” for retirees who may not have saved enough to get by on their own after they stopped working. Unemployment was close to the all-time 1933 high of 24% in 1935, still at about 20%, with over 10 million unemployed.

At the time of the enactment, there were 37 workers paying in to the system for every retiree drawing out of it. Life expectancy was 61 years in 1935, so fewer people ever got to the point of collecting, and those that did collected for a much shorter time than they would today.

Today, there are only three workers paying in to the system for every retiree receiving benefits, and this number is expected to shrink even further going forward. The average life expectancy is now about 85, so many more people will collect Social Security and for much much longer.

Something’s got to give. The main problem, as we have seen most recently in the A.C.A. Repeal/Replace effort, is that once an entitlement is put in place, it is very, very hard indeed to take it away.

The apparent solutions to the new SSA math would be to extend the age of retirement so that there would be fewer retirees collecting for shorter periods, and also to institute further means tests for benefits. But it isn’t that simple.

The problem is  compounded by pressures on corporate leadership to reduce all benefits to employees, which are the biggest drag on their profits, the poor job prospects for older workers in the digital age, the freedom of a poorly-regulated financial industry to siphon off large chunks of “retirement” savings in the form of fees,  and the inevitable migration of jobs to cheaper labor markets.

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I suppose all this is one of the main causes of younger people’s resentment against the Baby Boomer generation. Their view of it is the Boomers are selfish, entitled, and want to get paid now, while flipping off their kids and grand-kids who will have to fend for themselves. Again, it’s not that simple.

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Speaking as a Boomer who paid in to this pyramid scheme for decades, I certainly do want to get paid now, and, yes, I feel entitled to it. If that makes me selfish in the bargain, then so be it.

I fully understand that when the revolution begins, they will be coming for me first. Keep your eye out for me on the bread line – I’ll be the one carrying the sign that says, “Will work for C.O.P.D. meds”.

 

Jews go home!

Amos Oz, the Israeli author, is famously quoted as saying,

‘When my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets of Europe were covered with graffiti, “Jews, go back to Palestine,” or sometimes worse: “Dirty Yids, piss off to Palestine.” When my father revisited Europe fifty years later, the walls were covered with new graffiti, “Jews, get out of Palestine.”’

The idea that there was a need to found a Jewish national homeland gained momentum in the late 1800’s, as Jews all over Europe and the Russian Empire came to understand that assimilation would never be truly possible, that they would always be the “other”and that this almost always meant persecution and often murder. They were beginning to understand that they could never rely on the protection of their “hosts” to live and worship freely. The second World War and its aftermath finally proved to everyone the truth and importance of this idea, the name of which is “Zionism”.

The problem has always been where “home” would be. Even though Jews have lived in the “holy land” continuously for thousands of years, many centuries before the birth of Mohammed, they are regarded as intruders as much there as everywhere else. There are virtually no Arabs or Muslims, or Americans of Arab or Muslim descent for that matter, who believe that the State of Israel has a right to exist as anything other than a temporary expedient. The “two-state solution” is an invention of the western liberal imagination. It has never been a real possibility.

Helen Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants,  was the first female officer of the National Press Club. She was best known as a member of the White House press corps for many years, and covered ten presidents. She always spoke her mind, as this episode from Wikipedia recounts:

Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com, on the White House grounds with his son and a teenage friend for a May 27, 2010, American Jewish Heritage Celebration Day, questioned Thomas as she was leaving the White House via the North Lawn driveway. When asked for comments on Israel, she replied: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” and “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland…” When asked where Israeli Jews should go, she replied they could “go home” to Poland or Germany or “America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” When accused of being an anti-Semite, she responded that she is a Semite, having an Arab background. 

As was often the case, Thomas was merely giving voice to what many were thinking.

Last night at the University of Virginia, there was a torchlight parade of hundreds of White Nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Of course University administrators were “deeply saddened” by this, but declared that,

 “We believe that diversity is an essential element of excellence, and that intolerance and exclusion inhibit progress. We also support the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. These rights belong to the ‘Unite the Right’ activists who will express their beliefs, and to the many others who disagree with them.”

Anti-semitic speech is protected, as has been affirmed often in the past. The “Right” has permission to say what they want against the Jews, and in recent years, the “left” has joined the chorus with gusto.

To the left, the very idea that the Jewish people can and should have a national homeland, i.e. Zionism, is “racist”.  And the Star of David has come to represent not just the State of Israel (and therefore “racism”), but all Jews everywhere. The distinction between an individual Jew living in San Francisco versus the State of Israel itself has been wiped out now on the left as it had always been on the right.

In Chicago recently, there was an LGBT “Dyke March” in which some Jewish members of the community displayed their solidarity with a Star of David on the rainbow flag. They were expelled from the parade as the flag “made people feel unsafe.”

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Their conclusion was they they were allowed to be gay or Jewish, but not both at the same time. That would be Pinkwashing, the Israeli (i.e. “Jewish”) crime of pretending to support gay rights as a way to discredit the Arab/Muslim culture and somehow justify “occupation”. And, if you follow the history of the way “occupation” has been used, you will understand that it now means the very existence of Israel.

The Dyke March tweeted  on July 13, “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes.”

Okay. We get it. The Jews in Israel have to go home. The Jews in Europe and Russia have to go home. The Jews at the University of Virginia have to go home. The Jews in the LGBT community have to go home. We’re all agreed. Right. Left, and Center.

And all over the world. The U.N. hasn’t proven itself very useful over the years in solving world problems, but the one thing it has always done well is condemn Israel loudly, unanimously (except, usually, for the pariah U.S.A.), and continuously in resolution after resolution, twenty of them in 2016 alone.

Perhaps now would be the time for the U.N. to propose a final solution to the Jewish question.

Tweeting towards Armageddon

Only 200 days into the current administration and we are apparently on the brink. Another brilliant accomplishment for the man-baby!

The last time talk of nuclear strikes was so public and scary was in October, 1962. The Soviet Union had installed missiles in Cuba, and President Kennedy had to figure out what to do about it. He understood that the greatest threat he faced during the crisis was the accidental triggering of an action because of a misunderstanding, a misperception, or a miscommunication. He was very careful with the words he used and strictly controlled the messages coming from others in his administration.

He had read Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” not long before, a book which focuses on how WWI got started, and the thought of just how easy it was to blunder into war was very much on his mind. He asked his generals how many Americans would die  if a single missile struck the U.S., and was told 600,000. He immediately pointed out that this was more than all the casualties of the Civil War, and that we hadn’t come close in 100 years.

J.F.K. had served with distinction in the Navy in WWII, and was a serious student of war, history, and the presidency. He had a lot to draw on to make the important decisions needed, and he succeeded in averting war and getting the missiles out of Cuba.

Donald J.Trump, on the other hand, brags of never having read a book, successfully dodged military service, and demonstrates over and over that he knows little of war, history or the presidency.

The bluster that’s been coming out of North Korea has rarely been taken seriously in recent years, and Kim Jong Un has been regarded as an eccentric, somewhat comical pariah. But with Tweety carrying the nuclear football, things have changed. His “leadership style” is the same as that of Kim Jong Un. They both “value” unpredictability and will say anything. In the case of Donald J. Trump, his “thoughts” almost always take the form of 140-character tweets, and they are never validated or vetted by anyone else beforehand. Tweet first, ask questions later is the rule he has lived by.

This is an excellent recipe for the accidental triggering of nuclear war. But unlike incendiary tweeting on other subjects, there will be little opportunity for walking it all back, “explaining” what was really meant, or blaming others as is his wont (there is already some viral disinformation blaming Bill Clinton for North Korea’s nuclear program).

I would imagine there are very few Europeans, for example, who would say there is any difference between Trump and Kim at this point – neither can be trusted and neither seems to be making any more sense than the other.

In 200 days, Trump has managed to reduce the status of President of the United States to the level eccentric, somewhat comical pariah.

But in the mind of the man-baby, “standing up” to Kim in this way is a unique “accomplishment”, and completed faster than anyone else in history! Best of all, talk of Russian meddling in the election has been knocked off the internet, and everyone knows your approval ratings get a huge bump when you start a war!

Well done.

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Catch-22 still sucks

The most eagerly awaited movie of 1970, and maybe ever, was Catch-22. Joseph Heller’s book was so beloved by so many that the idea it would be made into a movie with a big-budget and an all-star cast was thrilling.

Wunderkind Mike Nichols, fresh off the triumphs of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “The Graduate”, was tapped to direct and Buck Henry, the writer of “The Graduate”, would do the screenplay. Everyone who was anyone in movies was in the cast – even the great Orson Welles had a memorable part.

We just couldn’t wait to see it on the big screen. And then the big day came, and there was near-universal disappointment with the result. What went wrong?

Well first, when expectations run as high as they did in this case, the only possible outcome is negative. Second, not everybody was completely disappointed. Vincent Canby, the film critic of the New York Times, said it was “quite simply, the best American film I’ve seen this year”.

One criticism that almost everyone agreed on, even Canby,  was that the movie would be incomprehensible to anyone who hadn’t read the book. Nichols clouds the issue with lots of flashbacks, hallucinations, and other ambiguities that confuse the audience further.

The book was a huge feast of characters and situations and no one could imagine how it could all be successfully boiled down to a two hour film, and of course, they were right. The right answer would have been to make a longer movie or just not do it.

Roger Ebert, then only three years on the job at the Chicago Sun-Times, placed all the blame on Nichols:

 The movie recites speeches and passages from the novel, but doesn’t explain them or make them part of its style.

No, Nichols avoids those hard things altogether, and tries to distract us with razzle-dazzle while he sneaks in a couple of easy messages instead. Pushovers. In the first half of the movie, he tells us officers are dumb and war doesn’t make sense. In the second half, he tells us war is evil and causes human suffering. We already knew all that; we knew it from every other war movie ever made.

And that’s the problem: Nichols has gone and made another war movie, the last thing he should have made from ‘Catch-22.’ Nichols has been at pains to put himself on the fashionable side and make a juicy humanist statement against war, not realizing that for Heller World War II was symbolic of a much larger disease: life.

I saw the excellent “Dunkirk” the other day and it got me thinking about some aspects of WWII, particularly the air war. I got a few books from the library and re-watched a couple of other flicks, including “Twelve O’Clock High” with Gregory Peck, and Catch-22, which I hadn’t seen in 47 years. I was thinking maybe it would age well, particularly as memory of the book faded and expectations were zero.

Nope. It still sucks.

Ebert, Canby, and apparently everyone else, are missing the real problem: Buck Henry’s screenplay. Henry’s idea seems to have been to lift  some of the memorable funny and absurd bits of dialog from the book and build his screenplay around these set pieces. Major Major explaining he’ll only see people when he’s not there, General Dreedle giving the order to “shoot this man”, Doc Daneeka explaining the Catch that keeps him from grounding Yossarian, Nately getting a lecture from an old Italian man about the advantages of losing the war, etc. etc.

Henry roughs in some connective tissue around these comic SNL-like sketches and, Voila! As Delroy Lindo said in “Get Shorty”, you just put in some commas and shit and you’re done.

Remember the glaring weakness that the beloved TV show M*A*S*H had? It was the cartoonish portrayal of Frank Burns (Larry Linville). He was way past being a buffoon – he just wasn’t believable on any level, and it detracted from the whole. Well, virtually every depiction in Catch-22 has way too much of Frank Burns – so many over-the-top and silly characters, and Henry himself sets the tone as Lt. Colonel Korn. Watch what he does playing this character to understand the problem with the whole.

Buck Henry may be a good writer, but he really screwed this thing up. His screenplay is why Catch-22 is not a good movie.

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