We’ve seen Crashes

October 23, 2008

Please forgive the sports fans in Washington State if they are less shaken by recent Wall Street events than people elsewhere.  This is the epi-center of disaster as announced by Mount St. Helens twenty some years ago.  The only good news a sports fan has had in the men’s sport arena is that Clay Bennett left town with the Sonics.  (The Seattle Storm stands alone as local fun and exciting team.)

Sports fans here are familiar with the feeling of the bottom dropping out of things.  The way we look at it the stock market still has 60% of its former value, what’s to complain about? That’s not a crash, more like fender bender. Heck, the Huskies football team has not won a single game since mid season last year. If you combine all of the wins of the football teams of Washington, Washington State and the Seahawks you get two, both of which occurred it seems like months ago.  That and one of those wins was against an intramural team.

In some ways the Mariner season was a foreshadowing of the Market crash.  The ownership spent extravagantly on players with no intrinsic value.  Our general manager speculated that our single power hitter, Richie Sexon, was going to come back after a miserable season to the form he showed the first year of his contract. The general manager believed that Richie’s performance continue to improve, failing to recognize that all cycles must end and Richie was closer to receiving social security than a home run crown.

Some teams have a retro game where the players wear uniforms from a by-gone age.  The Mariners had a retro season where we got to relive the pleasures of watching the team during its expansion phase.

The Mariners announced there new general manager in the newspaper today.  The announcement began with the most dreaded words in the team’s forlorn history:  “Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong decided.”  I couldn’t read on.

There is a rule that a team may not make announcements during the world series.  This is viewed as a distraction from the game apparently.  There are two exceptions to the ban on announcements: (1) the league gives its approval; or (2) the announcement is not significant. It is not clear which of the two exceptions applied to the Mariner announcement. Maybe both.

This proclamation did not rate coverage by the New York Times, and you have to hunt for it on the sports web sites.  In terms of substance and understanding the reasons for the selection, these announcements are a lot like reading the transcript of a presidential debate.

Being as how this guy is from Milwaukee it’s a little like the Pilots or a small piece of them is returning to Seattle.  But who wanted the Pilots back?

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The Storm is Part of Seattle’s Community

September 29, 2008

I thought I’d mention Seattle’s WNBA team, the Storm, which seems to have been embraced by the community. Seattle owes the team an expression of thanks and gratitude for their efforts.

I could not go to the last game in the L.A. series because I had a long standing commitment to attend the Mariners game. The Thursday game was a good baseball game with the Mariners coming out victors against the Angels, a rare feat this season or for that matter in recent seasons.

I was on the second level where they have areas with food and drink concessions, along with tables and lots of televisions. During the game one of the televisions was turned to the channel showing the Storm game and there was a cluster of people leaning forward at the tables anxiously watching the game. A small group of people stood behind them and vendors were craning their necks to get a view.

The viewers were mostly men but women were well represented as well. They cheered as the team came back then grew silernt as L.A. held off the Storm at the end of the game. The disappointment was obvious but the folks watching the games expressed appreciation for theteam and the effort at the end. There was no grousing about the coaches or players; everyone seemed to really like the team and to be proud of it.

This authentic warmth struck as rather unique these days when we tend to dismiss anything but complete success and are quick to find fault with players and coaches. I go to my share of games in different sports and do not often see the love of the sport and the appreciation of the athletes as I do among Storm fans.

The players have not been corrupted by staggering contracts and bring a refreshing sense of sportsmanship to their game; these days it seems almost innocent. I think to some degree the Storm fans are people who miss the innocence of sports, rooting for your team through good and bad times, players who truly are people like you’d like your children to become, people who love their sport and do not imagine that it somehow separates them from others.


Roger Clemens and Partisan Politics

February 26, 2008

In 2006, when the Democrats threw off the shackles of being the minority party and took control of the House there was a lot of talk about how Henry Waxman was going to get to the bottom of the scandals and controversies that beset the federal government almost daily. He was a very tough cookie who would unearth and bring to light the clandestine nefarious conduct that was dragging our nation down. Well, we have finally seen the product of these mighty labors: Roger Clemens probably took steroids or human growth hormones! One thing is absolutely clear after Mr. Waxman’s public hearings: Mr. Clemens certainly has not been taking extension classes or drugs to enhance his mental acuity.

As pitchers age, they typically lose a few feet off their fastball, meaning it doesn’t go as far in the same period of time as it once did. If it once took the ball say 0.38 seconds to get to the plate, when the pitcher reaches his thirties 0.38 seconds after the ball leaves his hand it is still arriving at the plate instead of being safely tucked into the catcher’s glove. In order to compensate for this loss of velocity an older pitcher relies on the vast store of knowledge about hitters that he has accumulated over years of pitching. He becomes a wily veteran. (Left handers become crafty veterans.)

Clemens did not follow this paradigm. As any baseball card collector knows, Clemens’ career followed the recent trend set by Barry Bonds, the home run king. In his thirties he became bulkier, bigger than his predecessors at his position, and achieved staggering statistics. (Each of them had excellent stats to begin with.) Instead of declining in the August years of his career, Clemens like Bonds, improved as if the historical curve of productivity over the number of seasons played had been turned upside down. Until he left Boston after a dozen years as a power pitcher with a high number of innings, Clemens’ career seemed to be on the downward side of the historical productivity curve. At ages 30, 31 and 32 he was injured and his number of innings-pitched declined each successive season. Finally at age 33 he had a losing season and appeared to be through at least as a staff ace. Then the resurgence in Toronto. His “high performance years” were the dozen years that he spent in Boston, earning three Cy Young awards among many other awards. That was amazing but it was incredible that he won four Cy Youngs after leaving Boston at the age of 34!

Any viewer of Mr. Waxman’s hearings was able to eliminate one possible explanation of Mr. Clemens’ career revival after leaving Boston. He is neither crafty nor wily. One would generally not associate his mental activity with success of any sort.

The most interesting aspect of these hearings was that they were partisan. Partisan! Can you believe it! Republicans generally undertook to defend the honor of Mr. Clemens and attack his accuser, Brian McNamee. Most Democrats, such as Representative Waxman, were hostile to Clemens and approving of his accuser. How on earth did this become a partisan issue? I wonder how the parties line up on other pressing issues of the day like who should win American Idol, why doesn’t Britney behave, what can be done to bring back the sparkle to the Oscars, why does Ann Coulter have such a big adam’s apple?

The easy explanation is that each party recognized Mr. Clemens as a person whose financial interests are championed by Republicans. He does after all demand twenty million dollars to participate in a six month season or a portion of one. This is not big stuff compared to war profiteering but it admits you to the circle.

Maybe the notoriously lame Democrats are hunting for some icon that they can take down. This might be some sort of feast of sublimation. When confronted with their record of futility in investigations, they can say “Whud’ya mean, did you see us handle Clemens?”

Maybe the Republican see a disciple of their the-end-justifies-the-means philosophy. Clemens sought wealth and fame and broke the rules to get there. After his a ascension a bunch of nit pickers bring up the rules. What is important is that he made it, not how. Its like pumping up reasons to invade a country, granting no-bid war contracts, torture and stuff like that. It’s an emergency so shuddup.

On the other hand the Democrats might be resentful that Clemens actually did something. Their champion would be the player who couldn’t convince himself to take steroids (clearly a minority), but who would never think of identifying those who did, particularly late in the season.

The Republicans certainly must admire the enduring nature of Clemens career. There is no end in sight. Right after 9/11 our vice president told us that it would probably take about eighty years to eradicate terrorism from the face of the earth. (This certainly seems like reasonable estimate.) More recently Mr. McCain has told us that it might take one hundred years just to triumph on Iraq front of the global war on terror. Nearly perpetual war for hopefully perpetual peace in an arguably Orwellian society. Maybe Clemens’ chemical fueled fastball is a symbol of the petroleum sucking war. Who knows? (The prevailing theory of what we are doing in Iraq is that this massively fuel-consuming activity is for the sake of securing the supply of the resource depleted by the activity.)

I’m not sure what subliminal message Clemons carried that caused the committee members to line up according to party but somewhere in all that there is a clue to what is going on in Washington D.C.