Saturday, August 25, 2012


Let's take a backhanded approach to the big debate in major league baseball.

Remember Dick Fosbury? He was the first guy who went over the bar backwards in the high jump in a track and field meet. Not only did it work, but he brought everyone along with him because it turned out to be more effective than what had gone before.

Remember Pete Gogolak? He came over from Hungary in the 1960's, and started kicking "soccer-style" for the Cornell football team. Then it was on to the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, where he was a reliable place-kicker for years. Within 30 years, every pro football kicker came from the side and not from straight behind the ball.

Remember the first guy ever to try to flip in the air during track's triple jump? Of course you don't, because it was hard to get enough momentum to go all the way forward in the area. It usually resulted in the jumper's shoulders landing in the sand first.

The pioneers of life sometimes get remembered, and sometimes they don't. They all get criticized along the way ... unless it works.

That brings us to Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals.

Strasburg is one of the three most valuable pieces of talent in major league baseball. He, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are all very, very good and very young. You want to take care of them.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo knows this. He also knows Strasburg is coming off Tommy John surgery. So he doesn't want to take any chances on his career.

Therefore, Rizzo is limiting Strasburg's innings for the year. The number supposedly is around 170, more or less, and the pitcher is coming up on that number soon. Rizzo says he'll send his young pitcher home then, even though the Nationals are in a pennant race for the first time in history.

Rizzo has received plenty of criticism for his action. The argument goes that there is no definite link to pitching more than 170 innings in Strasburg's situation and an arm injury. You don't get that many chances at a World Series, and Rizzo's move might jeopardize Washington's chances of winning it all.

But the biggest problem is that Rizzo's approach is new. And people don't like new.

Tony La Russa decided several years ago in Oakland to use his closer for one inning at a time when his team was ahead. Before that, pitchers came in for two or three innings when necessary. Dennis Eckersley filled that role nicely, the Athletics won a lot of games -- or more to the point, didn't lose many with leads in the ninth, and everyone copied La Russa because success breeds imitators.

Some years later, the Red Sox didn't have an obvious closer, so they tried to mix and match pitchers with batters -- closing by committee. Boston got roasted. The problem was that they didn't have anyone good in the bullpen, so it didn't work. But it might have been more of the fault of the personnel than the idea.

We'll never know if Rizzo's approach was best. Strasburg's arm could fall off, rhetorically speaking, next season no matter what happened this year. It's the nature of the beast. But he's willing to put his reputation on the line to possibly trade the present for a brighter future.

It's easy to root for a guy like that. Let's hope he winds up like Fosbury and not the guy in the landing pit, shoulders first.

Be notified of future posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doc Baseball

I've seen a lot of baseball documentaries over the years. Maybe too many.

Which is why I found this pretty funny:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A week in review

I have seen electoral future, and its name is Kathy Hochul.

Sorry, I could resist the chance to borrow a line from the most quoted rock music review in history, Jon Landau's description of Bruce Springsteen in concert, and apply it to the current political race.

We waited a long time for some actual news to come out of the Presidential campaign. It came when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate. It was a fine choice for analysts, because it gave them something to discuss for weeks on end on the all-news channels.

After hearing all of the analysis for the past week, it seems as if Mitt Romney has made an interesting gamble that probably will end up backfiring.

Romney has essentially campaigned on the idea that Barack Obama has done a poor job, and he's not Barack Obama. He hasn't offered a great many alternatives yet, thus building up the perception this this is just another bored rich guy who having made millions in business thinks it would be fun to be President. This approach is a contrast to the Obama's campaign, which as Jon Meacham said, comes down to "it could have been worse under anyone else."

The problem for Romney was that it wasn't working particularly well. Most of the data indicates that all but a few percentage points of the electorate have made up their minds, and Obama right now has about a 70 percent chance of winning. (If you aren't reading Nate Silver's blog regularly, you should be. He's about the smartest guy out there.) Times are indeed tough, but Obama has retained a good portion of his personal popularity. What do you do under those circumstances?

You try to shake up the dynamic with your biggest card, the vice presidential choice. Ryan is clearly a thoughtful man of substance, and he offers a point of view that tries to put the rage of some Republicans into practical solutions. It's quite a chance from four years ago. As Jeff Greenfield said, no one has to ask Ryan what newspapers he reads, because he seems to read all of them.

The fabled "Ryan budget" offers plenty of particulars to the Romney campaign. The biggest centers around Medicare, which under Ryan's plan would switch to a voucher system at some point down the road.

Which brings us, finally, to Kathy Hochul.

When there was a special election last year for an open Congressional seat in upstate New York, Democrats ads pounded the Republicans for their position on changing Medicare. Anyone who has dealt with Medicare -- and that includes looking over the forms with Mom and Dad and trying to figure them out -- knows it's difficult now, but it does offer help to those that need it. The voters like it.

Now Ryan comes along, and offers to make it more complicated by changing the rules down the road. It was a big factor in Hochul's somewhat surprising victory (admittedly, a three-way race didn't hurt her either).

Ryan's pick offered a change of subject to the Democrats, who haven't done a great job of defending their actions in the last four years. The economy is sputtering, but we've had more growth than any other Western nation in that time -- fueled in part by deficit spending, but clearly the government needed to take strong action under severe circumstances.In a country where hospitals must accept any patient regardless of their ability to pay, universal health care is at least an attempt -- a poorly explained one, but an attempt -- to make the system more efficient.

I would suspect we'd see bunches of ads about Ryan's Medicare plan in the weeks to come. That might be enough to push Florida into the Democratic column, and maybe Ohio too -- although Ohio's relatively good economy ought to help Obama as well. If both of those states turn blue, it's almost impossible to see a path for Romney to get to 270 electoral votes.

I'm not sure if there was a better choice out there for Romney; a Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty wouldn't changed the campaign picture much. And I know vice presidential picks usually don't matter much; if Sarah Palin didn't move the needle much in the other direction, no one would. But it's tough to picture the Republicans getting any boost from Ryan, and one was definitely needed.

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Sometimes it hits me that a sign of intelligence can be the linking of two very separate thoughts in order to solve a problem. The problem is that it takes me a while.

Here's the latest example:

Part One of the story centers on my iPod. My old one was perfect for sticking in a protective case, which went in my pocket. I attached headphones, turned it on, and off I went on a run. I never knew which of 980 songs would pop up along the route, which takes me about 35-40 minutes to complete.

(Yes, I know running to music isn't the best idea. But it's not too loud, so I can hear noises from possible obstacles. I stick almost exclusively to sidewalks or roads without vehicular traffic, so it's not much of a problem most of the time. And I like it.)

Sadly, my old iPod died after several years of fine service. I purchased the new Nano, which is even smaller. As I discovered, it also is more likely to pick up perspiration which turns the iPod screen into all sorts of interesting colors -- a sure sign that you have a problem. I took it back to the store, and the salesman said, essentially, stop putting it in your pocket even with a carrying case.

I therefore switched to an mp3 player, which was had a nice, solid plastic case and was simple and cheap. Converting music files is a little time-consuming, but it can be done.

Part Two of the story is completely different. My wife was getting catalogs from The Great Courses on a regular basis. This is a collection of lectures for a variety of subjects. The idea of getting a bit more education in subjects that interested me was appealing. But the prices for courses seemed to be pretty high, and the idea of sitting in a room with headphones on, listening to a portable CD player, wasn't so appealing. Who has the time to do that regularly?

But eventually, emphasis on eventually, I noticed that The Great Courses put all of their courses on sale for something like 70 percent off. And when I went to the web site to investigate the list of courses, I noticed that the company also sold audio downloads of its products at a reduced price as compared to the CD version. No packaging, and all that.

And the light bulb finally went on.

I purchased a course on events that changed history, and loaded the mp3 files into the player. Put on the sneakers, go out the door, and hit play. These days, I come back from a workout smarter than I was when I left.

The other day I returned ready to talk about Martin Luther with anyone who would listen. Buddha, Jesus, Columbus, Dante ... they have been covered in the course so far. Someone asked me if it were tough to concentrate on the material while running. I answered by saying that it's not like I have to take notes on the lectures. Besides, there's no test at the end of the run. As a bonus, hearing a professor talk about the Black Death has to be less dangerous than listening to Led Zeppelin.

What's more, I have converted the files for CD use, and my wife has been listening to the lectures as well in the car. She may not have found what she was looking for at the mall, but she came back from the drive better informed on Michelangelo.

Now, the people at the Great Courses are the most relentless marketers I've ever seen. I've gotten one catalog for August and two other sale catalogs. Plus, I think there have been two emails a week on average announcing some sort of sale.

Even so, this combination has worked out quite well overall. It could prove to provide a burst of intellectual productivity for me long term ... provided my knees hold up.

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Well done, both of you

It's 1:25 a.m., and I'm home from work watching television. Usually, I don't bother at this hour, especially late on a Sunday night, but there's something of interest on for a chance.

The Mars rover "Curiosity" is landing as I write. It soon will send a message back to Earth, hopefully, that essentially says, "I'm O.K." Then, according to the plan, there's three weeks of kicking the tires, and two years of scientific research into another world.

Let's look around the dial.

Fox News has "Geraldo at Large." He is interviewing Mike Huckabee about Chick-fil-a. Yawn. I'm not exactly a fan of Geraldo Rivera under any circumstances, but I don't want to see him on tape now.

MSNBC is showing a very special edition of "Lock Up." But aren't they all very special? No? Yup, they have turned out the lights and gone home.

Meanwhile, CNN has been doing a live broadcast about the Mars landing for the past 30 minutes or so. They have animation of the landing and what the rover will do what it lands.

In other words, CNN is presenting the news. Isn't that what it is supposed to do?

Fox and MSNBC get most of the buzz because they take a point of view. But at times like this, it's nice to have a good, factural accounting, in real time no less, about what's going on. CNN may be a little gray at times, but there's something to be send for dependable.

Shouldn't that be the mission of any "all-news" television outlet?

Nice work, guys. And nice work by NASA as well. The scientists have heard from Curiosity, and data is coming in. It's a great success story for the scientists, and I'm glad I got to see it.

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

On the platform

The only place to watch the Olympics right now is through NBC and its affiliates. There's a ban on other outlets using the clips of the Games, particularly in the window right after the events are completed. It's standard procedure for NBC, which invested zillions in the broadcast and wants to protect the ratings. So far in that sense, it seems to be working, as the ratings are huge.

Still, there's an odd side-effect. For that, we have to switch the channel.

We all know that ESPN has become a giant in the sports broadcasting business, almost overshadowing everything else. No one is better than promoting an event than ESPN. It has a variety of platforms for that purposes, from the television stations, to radio, to websites, to the magazine, etc.

But when ESPN doesn't have the rights to an event, you notice the lack of promotional muscle right away. In this case, that applies to the Olympics.

The network isn't ignoring the Games per se. They do have results on the crawl, and the stories are often the lead story on Sportscenter. But without the action clips, the outlet is reduced to showing interviews and still photos -- in other words, not exactly compelling television for a channel that is devoted to providing exactly that.

What has ESPN done? Moved into the lovely little town of Cortland, New York, where the New York Jets are staging training camp. I've covered training camp, and there's a reason no one writes romantic prose about it like people do for spring training. It's hot, and it's boring. There's not much news there, unless someone gets hurt.

But Cortland is hosting Tim Tebow, so ESPN -- which shows the Monday night NFL games -- sent a crew there for updates. Today ESPN breathlessly reported that the Jets were going to start practicing the Wildcat offense with Tebow at the controls.

Meanwhile, on ESPN2, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless started "First Take" by breathlessly talking about ... Eli Manning. Hold on to your hats on that one.

When I go searching for an update on all categories of news (including sports), I'd like an unbiased viewpoint of what's going on. I don't want the editorial department's views to leak into the newspaper, I don't want a certain political slant to bubble up like a gusher into news coverage (which is why Fox News' deliberate breaking of the mold was so disturbing), and I don't want the marketing department calling the shots on what's important. And no one markets like ESPN.

ESPN calls itself the Worldwide Leader in sports for good reason, but sometimes it's good to remember why you have been told a particular story is worth watching.

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.