April 8, 2020

We All Want Robot Umps ... But What About Robot Fans?

The Taiwanese Rakuten Monkeys will play in front of 500 robot mannequins when they open the Chinese Professional Baseball League season on April 11 in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan.

General Manager Justin Liu: "Since we are not allowed to have any fans in attendance, we might as well have some fun with it." The mannequins will be dressed in team jerseys and hats, and wearing face masks.


I want to sit next to the cool guy who smuggled a fifth of whiskey into the park.


MLB Has A Plan For 2020: All 30 Teams Play A Shortened Schedule In Empty Stadiums In Arizona


The New York Post reports that one of Commissioner Rob Manfred's "numerous contingency plans" for the 2020 season is for all 30 teams to play an abbreviated season exclusively in Arizona, with no crowds at any of the games. A statement on Tuesday from MLB acknowledged the Arizona-Only plan as a possibility.

The Post's Joel Sherman writes:
MLB has yet to submit a plan for approval nor has it received a formal green light from any government or health entity on a variety of scenarios that it has mulled. However, the Arizona Project has some momentum because behind the scenes it has received support from key government and national medical officials, who see — among other things — the symbolic value baseball could have for the country.
The Athletic noted that if the proposal were to be adopted, some changes would be visible on game broadcasts. "The players would sit apart in the stands to promote social distancing. High fives would be discouraged. Same with mound visits."

In a separate article, Sherman writes:
Fueling the energy behind the one-locale plan is concerns by both management and players that playing games across the country during this coronavirus pandemic will be impossible. ...

As one person briefed on the plan said, "It is imperfect. It may be impossible. But we should study this in every way possible because it could be a plan like this or no baseball in 2020." ...

What is acceptable risk? There is not going to be a vaccine in the next month. ... [R]estarting the sport would still put a lot of people in one place at one time — and not just players. There is a need for coaches, umpires, TV crews, grounds crews, clubhouse attendants, doctors, trainers, workout specialists. Everyone will have to be fed and housed and commuted from one place to another, forcing an ever-wider pool of contact. ...

A player representative said, "Everyone wants to play as many games as possible, but only at the point that health and safety are adequately protected."

How many people will agree what "adequately" means?
The Athletic:
The trouble with devising a plan under the current conditions revolves around triangulating the public health issues, the labor issues and the logistical issues. Can federal officials assure the safety of the players and staffers? Will players commit to the plan? And how do you cram 15 major league games a day into one metropolis? The greater Phoenix area houses Chase Field, 10 spring training complexes and several college fields. Only Chase Field, home to the Diamondbacks, has a dome.
Sherman:
What happens if a player, coach, clubhouse attendant, etc., tests positive for the virus? Does that force a team-wide quarantine and, thus, a shutdown of the sport again? After all, if a team needs to quarantine, the other 29 teams can't keep playing without it. ...

[T]his is a sport in which — among other things — there is a lot of licking of fingers and spitting. The ball is shared. Someone has to clean the uniforms. Under even the most consolidated, isolated situation, there are going to be risks encountered.
What Do The Players Think?

The Athletic spoke to players and managers and heard a combination of excitement and apprehension (the safety of support staffers, the desert heat, the difficulty of maintaining quarantine and being separated from their families).

Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood:
I personally don't think that everyone would go for it. [It's] a possibility if we know for certain that that's the only way we can play baseball. Does that make sense? I don't have kids or anything like that. I'm down for whatever. ... If we agreed to it, I think guys would follow [any rules]. Because nobody wants to be the idiot that is like sneaking out or going other places and all of a sudden, boom, that person gets sick, and it's like, 'Now you just messed everything up.'
Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler's wife is due to give birth to their first child in July: "I couldn't even imagine missing the birth and just ... going 'Hey, I'll see you in December' or whenever it is. That's not going to work."

Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. The youngest of his three children was born only a few months ago: "I don't know if I could look at my kids just through a screen for four or five months. The same thing goes for my wife, not being able to be around her. That's a long time. But people have done it in harsh scenarios, I guess."

Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart: "I think it will be really hard to pull off. ... However, if that means we can be back playing ball earlier than first thought and eventually make it back to our regular home cities as things hopefully start to calm down, then I believe that it is something that I could absolutely get behind."

Cleveland manager Terry Francona: "Some of this would most likely be almost impossible. You can't keep players six feet apart the entire day. They're around trainers, for example. Someone might slide into a base."

Atlanta pitcher Cole Hamels: "I think we should do anything we can to get baseball back and into focus for the fans and world. Sports helps give people entertainment and something to look forward to, so they can get through tough times."

Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien: "I think it is an interesting concept ... but it is still a rough draft."

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado: "If doctors OK us playing, it would mean they know this plan really well. And that makes me more confident about it."

Angels manager Joe Maddon: "I'll do anything. I'll play on the moon, I don't care. Whatever the schedule looks like, I'm good. The only thing about Arizona is that it's going to be really hot. Even at night, it's going to be really hot. Those games will be tough. You're talking 100-degree tough. That's the part that concerns me."

Anonymous player: "Playing in 125-degree weather is gruesome. Doubleheaders, 20 games straight, and we're going to be in the desert in the summertime? That doesn't sound like a good idea to me."

Anonymous Mets player: "That's hell. I mean we're talking 120 degrees every day and playing weekly doubleheaders and 20 days straight."

Royals reliever Trevor Rosenthal (sounds like a full-on member of The Trump Cult):
I think it's in the best interest of the nation ... It will provide us an opportunity to inspire and set an example for everyone. ... We are at war and this is what we can do to help fight for our country. Provide the hope and discipline needed to get through this difficult time. Baseball players are the most resilient of all athletes to answer this call.
Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino: "I don't have any good insight, but I would be in the camp of supporting the idea. I'm sure a lot would have to go right for it to actually happen, but I'm hoping it can work because I want to play."

White Sox reliever Evan Marshall: "I'm all in favor ... assuming they can house the players in some sort of quarantine village where we know our exposure is to a minimum. Owners want revenue and players want salary and the opportunity to compete, but common sense has to prevail."

Anonymous AL slugger: "From what I read there are a lot of changes and I personally think a lot of those changes are unrealistic to get a full buy-in from everyone involved. But I am open to the idea of it."

Eireann Dolan, wife of Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle: "What about the non-millionaire hotel workers, security staff, grounds crews, media members, team traveling staffs, clubhouse attendants, janitorial workers, food service workers, and the billion other people required to make that 3.5 hour game happen every night?"

April 6, 2020

'The Baseball Researcher' Tries To Date And Place A Seemingly Ordinary Old Picture

[Draft Post, December 2, 2011]

Tom Shieber (aka The Baseball Researcher) uses his detective skills to figure out the park and date of this picture:



A five-part series by Randall Brown about the game during the Civil War. "Blood and Base Ball": 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Caple: The Overrating Of Mariano Rivera

[Draft Post, September 27, 2013]

The Overrating Of Mariano Rivera
Jim Caple, ESPN
Before you bring the tar to a boil and gather more feathers, let me again cite the work of Project Retrosheet founder Dave Smith. He thoroughly and tirelessly researched games from more than seven decades and found that the rate at which teams win games with late-inning leads basically has not changed. Teams leading by one run after eight innings have gone on to win 85.7 percent of the time. That number goes up to 93.7 percent when leading by two runs, and 97.5 percent when leading by three runs.

Mull that over, and then please tell me why Rivera is so amazing for having an 89.1 percent career save rate (which, by the way, is lower than Joe Nathan's). Because, basically, Rivera was not used except in games the Yankees were going to win 88 percent of the time anyway. Actually, the percentages were usually higher than that. According to Elias, of Rivera's 652 career saves, just under a third (210) were with a one-run lead when he took the mound while 216 were with a two-run lead, 180 with a three-run lead and 46 with a lead of at least four runs. ...

Will Rivera reach the Hall of Fame? Undoubtedly. But other than being the greatest closer ever, his numbers aren't as overwhelming in that regard as many assume. I'm not a disciple of WAR, but even that statistic doesn't rank Rivera high enough to warrant the gushing. FanGraphs lists his WAR at 40.2, or 12.3 points lower than that of Jack Morris, who still isn't in the Hall after 14 years on the ballot. ...

I'm not saying Rivera does not deserve to be in Cooperstown alongside Hall of Fame relievers Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers. Personally, I would much rather have Rivera than Fingers, Wilhelm or Sutter. I'm simply saying that because of his limited role, his career wasn't as extraordinary as we're led to believe.

What separates Rivera from other closers is his great longevity. (Well, his longevity and playing in the narrative-setting New York media market.) Most closers are good for a handful of seasons, then break down from the physical and/or mental stress. Rivera never broke down, never produced ulcers in his managers. He was consistent and reliable throughout his career. But he was consistent and reliable while performing an easier task than pitching an entire game every fifth day or 200-plus innings during a season.

April 5, 2020

Against Cliches: Announcers Relying Upon Stock Phrases To Describe Unique Events

[Draft Post, January 2020]

I have written of my frustration with radio broadcasts of baseball games, specifically what I hear as inadequate descriptions of various plays. Numerous announcers, among them Joe Castiglione, describe certain plays in extremely similar ways, using identical words and phrases to describe plays and actions that, baseball being baseball, cannot possibly be identical.

In How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton noted that Marcel Proust often "got very annoyed by the way some people expressed themselves", such as a fellow French speaker who used English expressions like "Bye-bye" or people who referred to the Mediterranean as "the Big Blue" and to the French army as "our boys".

Similarly, it is maddening that every time a pitcher attempts to keep a baserunner close, Castiglione robotically says "throw to first, runner back standing" (or if the runner must leave his feet, he gets "back in with a hand tag"). Foul balls are mentioned with no indication of which side of the field they were hit to, a ground-ball single past the shortstop (or second baseman) is described without letting the listener know if it was hit to the fielder's left or right. Being aware that your audience has no image of the game to assist them should be something a radio announcer learns on the first day of Announcing 101. (Some fans do watch the TV and listen to the radio, but many do not.) Actually, an announcer should know that many years before he attends any type of class. It should be so ingrained that an announcer shouldn't even have to remember it.

(Many, many years ago, when I was forced to listen to the Yankees on the radio, Michael Kay drove me nuts every time he said, in a casual and dull monotone, as if he could barely be bothered, "There's a strike." He drove me nuts plenty of other times, too – "of course". Similarly, John Sterling's supply of moronic catch-phrases was seemingly infinite, but his use of the meaningless phrase "There's a fast strike" was particularly grating.)

The cause of Proust's frustration was "more a psychological than a grammatical one". He believed these people were exhibiting "signs of wishing to seem smart and in-the-know around 1900, and relying on essentially insincere, overelaborate stock phrases to do so". Their "most exhausted constructions ... implied little concern for evoking the specifics of a situation. Insofar as Proust made pained, irritated grimaces, it was in defense of a more honest and accurate approach to expression."

The keys are "insincere stock phrases" and "little concern for evoking the specifics of a situation".

Gabriel de La Rochefoucauld was "an aristocratic young man ... who liked to spent time in glamorous Paris nightspots". In 1904, he decided to write a novel and eventually presented a manuscript to his friend Proust, asking for his comments. Among Proust's advice: "There are some fine big landscapes in your novel, but at times one would like them to be painted with more originality. It's quite true that the sky is on fire at sunset, but it's been said too often, and the moon that shines discreetly is a trifle dull."

Alain de Botton asks why Proust objected to these phrases? "After all, doesn't the moon shine discreetly? Don't sunsets look as if they were on fire? Aren't clichés just good ideas that have proved rightly popular?" And he writes:
The problem with clichés is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of very good ones. The sun is often on fire at sunset and the moon discreet, but if we keep saying this every time we encounter a sun or a moon, we will end up believing that this is the last rather than the first word to be said on the subject. Clichés are detrimental insofar as they inspire us to believe that they adequately describe a situation while merely grazing its surface. And if this matters, it is because the way we speak is ultimately linked to the way we feel, because how we describe the world must at some level reflect how we first experience it.

The moon Gabriel mentioned might of course have been discreet, but it is liable to have been a lot more besides. When the first volume of Proust's novel was published eight years [later, perhaps Gabriel noticed] ... that Proust had also included a moon, but that he had skirted two thousand years of ready-made moon talk and uncovered an unusual metaphor better to capture the reality of the lunar experience.
Sometimes in the afternoon sky, a white moon would creep up like a little cloud, furtive, without display, suggesting an actress who does not have to "come on" for a while, and so goes "in front" in her ordinary clothes to watch the rest of the company for a moment, but keeps in the background, not wishing to attract attention to herself.
Even if we recognize the virtues of Proust's metaphor, it is not necessarily one we could easily come up with by ourselves. It may lie closer to a genuine impression of the moon, but if we observe the moon and are asked to say something about it, we are more likely to hit upon a tired rather than an inspired image. We may be well aware that our description of a moon is not up to the task, without knowing how to better it. To take license with his response, this would perhaps have bothered Proust less than an unapologetic use of clichés by people who believed that it was always right to follow verbal conventions ("golden orb," "heavenly body"), and felt that a priority when talking was not to be original but to sound like someone else.

Wanting to sound like other people has its temptations. ... [But] a personal imprint is not only more beautiful, it is also a good deal more authentic. ... If, as Proust suggests, we are obliged to create our own language, it is because there are dimensions to ourselves absent from clichés, which require us to flout etiquette in order to convey with greater accuracy the distinctive timbre of our thought.

April 4, 2020

Where We Are


White House Press Briefing, April 3, 2020:
Q: Have the models changed? Have the models changed?

Trump: I'd have to ask Dr. Fauci, and I'd have — have to ask Deborah. Have the models changed?

Dr. Brix: So a lot of the projections, you can see, are based on — there's many different ways to look at this. And as we discussed on Sunday, some of it is based on the current global experience. We are about, I think, 6.5 or 5.5 times the size of Italy, a different factor in Spain. And we look at all of those — what their projections are, where they are currently, and where that is going. And so a lot of the work is based on how this virus has moved through other populations. That's a very direct way to see how the virus is impacting a population. There's also terrific models. And so every day and every night, one of the models that actually looks at the model related to mortality is the HealthData.org data. And they update it every night and you can see where we are in that projection. I think, in the last run of that model, they were at 93,000 or something in the model. Now, all of that can be changed by our behaviors. And so — and all of it can be changed in a different way if we don't follow those behaviors. If another major metropolitan area ends up having an epidemic like the New York metro area, that could dramatically change not the model but the reality of the impact of this virus on Americans.

Q: And where are the models on —

Trump: And, by the way, the models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die. You know what I want to do? I want to come away under the models. The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model, but — at least, this kind of a model. But you know what? Hundreds of thousands of people, they say, are going to die. I want much less than that. I want none, but it’s too late for that. But I want very few people, relative to what the models are saying. Those are projections. I hope they’re wrong. I hope we’re going to be under those projections.
April 3: 32,284 new cases in the US, the most for any country in a single day during this pandemic. 1,321 deaths, the most of any day for the US.

Totals, through April 3: 279,068 cases, 7,396 deaths.

And there is Trump, in front of the entire world, acting like Beavis: "Huh huh huh, models. I had sex with models. It was cool."

April 3, 2020

Pentagon Patriotism & Sports Without War

[Draft Post, November 20, 2016]


In November 2015, it was reported that over the past three years, the Pentagon had signed 72 contracts with professional sports teams, obligating those teams - including the Boston Red Sox - to hold "paid patriotism" events such as flag ceremonies, first pitches, half-time demonstrations, and reunions between soldiers and their families.

The Pentagon used taxpayer dollars to pay for every one of these phony displays, which were nothing more than marketing ploys to boost military recruitment.

Tackling Paid Patriotism (pdf) is a joint oversight report from Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.

That figure of nearly $7 million highlighted on the report's cover represented only what the report's investigators could find. The actual amount spent is much higher. Esquire noted it "excludes the $53 million the DOD spent with sports teams over that same period on what are considered legitimate marketing and advertising contracts meant to dupe young kids into enlisting".

The introduction to the report stated: "By paying for such heartwarming displays like recognition of wounded warriors, surprise homecomings, and on-field enlistment ceremonies, these displays lost their luster. Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns ..."

The Pentagon paid the Milwaukee Brewers $49,000 to allow the Wisconsin Army National Guard to sing "God Bless America".

During my most recent visit to Fenway Park, back in April 2014, I noticed that the television screens around the park (we were sitting in the grandstand on the third-base side) showed military recruitment ads during the entire game. My partner Laura Kaminker wrote:
[B]etween innings, the Fenway Park monitors show a continuous feed of advertising for the United States Army. During the game, the ads continue on a sidebar beside the action.

Let that sink in a moment. The constant advertising crammed into every moment of the ballgame, and the constant linking of sports and the military, are now joined in this doubly offensive development.

There is something particularly Orwellian about watching a baseball game while a constant stream of silent images of war and military run in your peripheral vision.
Reaction to the Pentagon's activity was uniformly negative.

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing:
It's a particularly insidious practice. On the one hand, you have these corrupt, scandal-haunted sports leagues collecting millions of tax dollars for phony displays of seemingly spontaneous patriotism. On the other hand, you have America's increasingly precarious and debt-haunted children being lured into military service in part by these displays, which suggest that America's institutions are far more interested in their willingness to die and kill than is actually the case.
Des Moines Register Editorial Board:
[O]ne would be hard pressed to find a more deeply cynical, ignoble strategy than this.
Esquire:
[W]hat's more American than sending poor kids to war so that a marketing flack can toast a cold one in the VIP section at a Seattle Sounders game on the public's dime?
Keith Olbermann, May 11, 2015: "Pre-Paid Patriotism"




[Draft Post, October 31, 2015]

Dave Zirin, The Nation:
When former NFL-player-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan by US troops, the Department of Defense deceived his family about how he died. It has still not offered full disclosure about what took place on that tragic day when Tillman was felled by "friendly fire." Now Adidas, in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation and Pat's alma mater, Arizona State University, is producing camouflage shirts and sneakers in honor of the late Mr. Tillman. They are all part of Arizona State's "Salute to Service" unis to be worn this Thursday night [October 29], yet their appearance and design raise serious concerns for those still inspired by the person Pat Tillman was, and troubled by the manner of his death.

The sneakers are called "Dark Ops" and are made partially of Kevlar, a material most closely associated with bulletproof vests. A glowing article about the sneakers made this unfortunate on-the-nose description: "All throughout the cleats, you’ll find helpings of Kevlar that help to make this year's lineup of cleats some of the most battle-ready yet." It then quotes the "senior sneaker designer" Thomas Hartings, who said, "Kevlar really brings it home for me, and ties to the soldiers and the real sacrifice that goes on in the military. Bringing that story into footwear is a pretty big deal."

As ESPN writer Kevin Gemmell enthused, "Awesome doesn't even begin to do them justice."

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Pat Tillman's life and the manner of his death can think of some words other than "awesome."

As for the shirts, they are jungle camouflage with a Pat Tillman quote on the back. The quote reads: "Passion is what makes life interesting, what ignites our soul, fuels our love and carries our friendships, stimulates our intellect, and pushes our limits."

They did not choose the words that Pat Tillman said when he was sent on multiple Ranger missions in Iraq: "This war is so fucking illegal." ...


[Draft Post, October 22, 2013]

The Red Sox are no strangers to mixing baseball with militarism. I have written in the past about the Run To Home Base foundation.
"Thoughts Prompted By The Red Sox Foundation's Association With "Run To Home Base""

"The National Anthem And The Idea Of Respect"

For Game 1 of the World Series, the 5-year-old son of an Air Force Captain currently deployed in Afghanistan will yell "Play Ball!" before the first pitch. A retired Marine Corps sergeant will sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.


I support Sports Without War, which describes itself as "a collection of sports fans, athletes, concerned citizens, and activists organized against Canada's role in imperial interventions, occupations and military actions around the world, most notably, in Afghanistan".
[W]e are opposed to the increased use of professional sports as an avenue to promote an imperialistic, pro-military politics. SWW aims to challenge pro-military messaging at sporting events and in sports media through targeted information campaigns, speaking events, and public demonstrations.

Professional sports and the sporting media is a pervasive part of our lives. As sports fans, we enjoy participating in the excitement and drama of seeing the world's greatest athletes compete at the highest level. Nevertheless, we increasingly find our enjoyment of the games interrupted by blatant military propaganda, from the presence of recruiters at arenas and stadiums, to military-themed team uniforms, to the spectacle of troops rappelling from the rafters, to solemn services honouring their sacrifices.

These services ignore the many people - often civilians - who have been killed in the course of Canada's war in Afghanistan. In so doing, they explicitly support the Canadian occupation, which has not been driven by humanitarian or security interests but, rather, by a collusion of corporate interests that prioritize profits over human lives. In the meantime, the Canadian government is spending billions of dollars on the war machine, while ordinary Canadians are struggling in the climate of austerity, job cuts, and wage freezes. ...

[M]ilitary propaganda in sports is part of a broader project to build support for a new Canadian militarism, in a country where some 80% of the population opposes its most visible military occupation, in Afghanistan.

Rob Neyer Is Annoyed At Baseball Being Used To Glorifying War And Nationalism

[Draft Post, July 12, 2014]

Rob Neyer, SB Nation:
[W]hat bothers me more than anything is how sports, and in particular baseball, have lately used every possible excuse to trot out the flag-waving and the war-glorifying and the jingoism. ...

[A]s fewer and fewer Americans are willing to actually serve in the military, sports teams do more and more to make everyone else feel wonderful about sending our young people overseas to fight ... before coming home to face a medical system that is pitiably ill-equipped to take care of them. You want to support the troops? Fantastic. Send fewer of them to fight unwinnable wars, and tell your Congressmen to fight for the requisite care for those who do fight.

"The Indisputable Selfishness of Derek Jeter"

[Draft Post, September 5, 2014]

The Indisputable Selfishness of Derek Jeter
Howard Megdal, SB Nation, September 2, 2014
He entered Tuesday's action hitting .261/.308/.312, good for an OPS+ of 77. His defense is, by most metrics, is well below average. ...

We've seen various attempts to diagnose why he isn't hitting ... as if poor production by a 40-year-old shortstop who broke his ankle is some otherwise unsolvable mystery.

What we haven't seen, not for a moment, is anyone questioning the basic truth about Derek Jeter that we're supposed to accept just as readily as his defensive prowess: that Derek Jeter is a selfless leader who will do whatever it takes to win.

The problem with that one should be pretty obvious, especially given an August when Jeter's bat apparently headed into retirement a little ahead of the rest of him: He hit just .207/.226/.261 in 116 plate appearances, almost all of them compiled in the second spot in the batting order ... This gave the Yankees more of Jeter at a moment when they could have used a lot less of him and provoked the media, quite reasonably, to question Joe Girardi's lineup construction: one player's historic contribution to the team and/or ego was seemingly being put ahead of team goals. ...

If Jeter were the total team player he's portrayed as being, he'd not only have communicated to his manager that he'd be perfectly comfortable hitting anywhere in the lineup and playing only as often as he'd help the Yankees, he'd tell all of us, too. ... [A]ll we seem to be learning about Derek Jeter in 2014 is that he's willing to make any sacrifice to win, provided he remains in a position of prominence while doing so.
The sports media has fawned over Jeter to an excessive degree for nearly 20 years, but suddenly went into overdrive once Jeter announced that he would retire after the 2014 season. That statement by the allegedly selfless Jeter instigated a season-long lovefest that made him the center of attention in every game he appeared, placing him literally above the game.

Jeter may not be responsible for how sportswriters portray him, but he's no dummy: he knew what effect his announcement would have and knew it would cause the media to place him above the game all season long. And he apparently had no problem playing along with that.

Also, the Yankees have announced that, for the final month of the season, all New York players will wear a special Jeter patch:

April 2, 2020

Sabermetrics Is The Revival Of An Old Discussion (Abolishing Fielding Percentage, 1877-1886)

[Draft Post, October 1, 2018]
The Newsletter of the Official Scoring Committee
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)
Volume 2, Number 2, June 2017

Nineteenth Century Sabermetrics: Range Factor by Richard Hershberger

The National Association, the only professional league apart from the National League, in its convention of February 1879 voted to abolish the error column from the official scores of its games. What could possibly have motivated such a bizarre action? It turns out that this was a fairly mainstream idea at the time.

Baseball statistics underwent, as is well known, a revolution in the late 20th century, with the effects still being worked out. One common theme in the controversy (now mostly, and blessedly, past) was that the traditional baseball statistics—batting average, earned run average, and so forth—are straightforward, or even obvious metrics. Many on both sides in the debate agreed on this, while disagreeing whether this was a virtue or a failing.

The claim never really stood up to scrutiny. Batting average, the ne plus ultra of traditional stats, appears to be simplicity itself: Hits divided by At Bats. In reality a lot of complexity is hidden in those two terms. Hitting the ball and getting on base does not necessarily mean the batter got a Hit, nor does a turn at bat necessarily constitute an At Bat.

This observation merely scratches the surface. When we look closely at the history of the traditional statistics, they turn out to be the product of decades of discussion and experimentation by trial and error. They may seem obvious to us today, whether through long familiarity or simple hindsight. Either way, they were anything but obvious to even the closest observers of the day. The modern sabermetrics revolution is, it turns out, not a new phenomenon after all. It only seems that way because the discussion and experimentation had died down through much of the 20th century. Sabermetrics is not a new discussion. It is a revival of an old one.

Stew Thornley, our committee chair, has graciously invited me to write on the abstruse topic of scoring in the 19th century. My aim is to show the discussions and experiments that eventually led to the traditional statistics. My hope is that this will be a series, however irregular, and dependent upon your patience and tolerance. I begin in 1879 in media res to show a path considered, but not taken: the elimination of the error from scoring, and a surprising end to that path: the invention in 1886 of Range Factor.

The error was already an old stat by 1879. It went back to the 1850s, as a disapproving cluck of the tongue at the errant fielder. The 1860s saw the rise of the base hit as a stat. The error came into prominence with it, taking on a new and important role of ensuring that the batter did not get any undeserved credit. The newly prominent error was then in the early 1870s reapplied to fielding in a more systematic manner, resulting in the Fielding Average.

It was with Fielding Average that problems arose. Fielding Average was early recognized as an imperfect tool. Here is a discussion that nicely states the problem:
The sharp bounder between first and second base, that Gerhardt or Dunlap would field in a majority of cases, would be a safe hit were some other player on second base. The question then arises whether it is justice to Gerhardt or Dunlap to charge them with an error when they fail to stop such balls, while a lazy or indifferent second baseman allowed them to be scored as base hits by making no effort to stop them. The same is true of every other in-field position. A hard hit grounder past third base may, by the exercise of great agility, be stopped and thrown to first base in time to retire the batsman. The fielder gets credit for an assist only, no matter though he make the brilliant play a half dozen consecutive times. The seventh time he fails and is charged with an error, while a less agile baseman would fail to make an error, even, and the seven batsmen would score base hits. This is a manifest injustice. Base hits should depend upon the merits of the batsman, not upon the demerits of the fielder. If the league managers can frame any rule to rectify this error, they should do so. (Detroit Free Press, October 18, 1881)
The writer's challenge for a rule to rectify the problem went unmet until a century later Bill James invented Range Factor. There also was an early recognition of the subjectivity of scoring errors, and its susceptibility to homerism:
A pitcher would be charged with earned runs and base-hits against him by one scorer, while another would charge the field with the errors, thereby relieving the pitcher. In fact, this error business is ... ill defined in its rules ... (New York Clipper, February 8, 1879)

Some action should be taken in regard to official scorers. They are appointed by the club managers, and are generally, no doubt, moral young men, who want to secure a dead-head ticket to the games; but ... [i]n plain words, official scorers are liable to stretch their elastic consciences in favor of their home club, and will continue to do so until there are some fixed and definite rules for their guidance. (Detroit Free Press, October 18, 1881)
For all the failings of Fielding Average, and the error tabulation underlying it, it was the best fielding metric they had. It was, absent anything better, generally considered the best way to assess a fielder, and negotiate pay accordingly. People respond to incentives. Some players adopted the simple stratagem of only fielding balls they were sure they could handle. These were known as "record players" and widely condemned, even as the incentives to record playing remained in place. The solution is to change the incentives—to create statistics that better reflect team play. Many innovations, such as scoring sacrifice hits, had improving incentives as the underlying goal. This was the background to the proposal to eliminate errors. Here is an early proposal for the elimination of the error:
The abolition of the error columns. Bold, daring fielding on the part of every fielder would liven up the game twenty per cent. Base ball patrons will remember how, at times, a remarkable play by a fielder in taking great chances has enthused the spectators and given vim to the sport. But, with the error column staring them in the face, alas, most players take but few wide chances. Nothing is so disgusting to a crowd of lookers-on as to see a player shirk a difficult play when it is patent to all that he feared there were too many chances for an error against him to induce him to attempt the play. With no error record to go against him no chance would be slighted by a player, for then he would have every thing to gain if he made the play and nothing to lose if he failed. Give him the benefit of his assists and put-outs as usual, but demolish that demoralizing factor, the error column. (Cincinnati Enquirer, December 4, 1877)
The idea was a regular topic of discussion among scoring aficionados. In the end nothing came of it. The National Association was well into its tailspin into oblivion and already was irrelevant. Newspaper reports of its games often followed the traditional practice and included errors.

The National League seems never to have seriously considered the idea. The idea popped up from time to time through the 1880s, but had acquired the status of "old chestnut"—a theoretical notion to be chewed on in the winter months, but not a practical proposal.

I wrote earlier that Fielding Average was the best measure available until Bill James invented Range Factor. This is not quite true. The flamboyant and contentious sportswriter O. P. Caylor was the leading advocate of abolishing the error. Here he runs the idea up the flagpole in 1886. His proposal doesn’t stop with eliminating the error. He has a positive proposal for its replacement:
Do you ask what I would have instead of the error column? This: I would give every fielder credit for all he did—every assist and every put-out—without recording his failures. Then every fielder would be interested in taking every chance, however desperate, without fear of loss by doing so. I would then make out the players' averages by the number of assists and put-outs he had, divided by the number of games he played, and compare every man's record only with the record of the other fellows of his position. (The Sporting Life, February 3, 1886)
Put-outs plus Assists, divided by Games played: this is Range Factor, invented by O. P. Caylor in 1886. Caylor in 1877 was the baseball writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. It is entirely likely that he wrote the proposal to eliminate errors previous quoted. His thinking had progressed over the ensuing decade. In 1886 he had a flash of genius. Sadly, the idea was both after its time and ahead of it. Had he worked out Range Factor in 1877, when the idea of eliminating errors was a viable proposal, Range Factor might have been adopted and grown beloved over the years, finding its way onto the back of baseball cards. As it was, the idea disappeared almost as soon as it appeared, not to be seen again for nearly a century.

Here we have a road not taken. While a missed opportunity, it shows the scope and the sophistication of the discussions. In later installments I will look at the roads that were taken and why.
Richard Hershberger is the author of Strike Four: The Evolution of Baseball (Introduction by John Thorn).

April 1, 2020

Hayden Siddhartha Finch Celebrates An Anniversary

Thirty-five years ago, something strange was going on at the New York Mets' spring training camp.

The team had signed a fantastic, but unknown, pitcher. They had erected a big tent and he would throw inside, out of sight. Naturally, rumours circulated. The guy was a Buddhist monk, he wore only one hiking boot, and his fastball was clocked at over 150 miles an hour.

The Mets gave Sports Illustrated an exclusive and photographer Lane Stewart headed down to Florida. When he got there, Lenny Dykstra was raving about this guy's fastball and Stewart saw captivated by what looked like a hole burned into catcher Ronn Reynolds's glove.

George Plimpton's 14-page article on Hayden Siddhartha Finch was, of course, one of the greatest April Fool's gags of all time.

Tim Britton of The Athletic has published an oral history of the entire stunt. Plimpton passed away in 2003, but Jonathan Dee, his assistant at The Paris Review, explained the joke's genesis:
George actually got the idea because a paper in England had run an April Fools' story a year or a couple years before connected to the London Marathon. It said that there was a Japanese entrant in the London Marathon who was under the mistaken impression that the marathon lasted not 26 miles, but 26 days. And so there were people out there looking for him; he had just sort of run into the countryside. So George was totally fooled by this. The good thing about him is for somebody who lived the kind of life he did, he was very egoless, and the idea that he'd been taken in by this initially just delighted him. He wanted to do something similar himself.
Plimpton was no stranger to false backstories. In the mid-1960s, when he attended training camp as a member of the Detroit Lions, for what became Paper Lion, he told everyone he had been the quarterback of a semi-pro team called the Newfoundland Newfs. ... A few years earlier, Plimpton had pitched a few innings to AL and NL All-Stars, a stunt recounted in the brilliant Out Of My League (1961).

Plimpton's well-detailed and (seemingly) fact-filled article included quotes from Mets' players and coaches, and there were many photographs from camp, including the Mets' initial report on the pitcher, so the story seemed legit, sort of, at first.


 Here's Plimpton, on when the Mets first turned a radar gun on him and Finch's background:
[John Christensen, a 24-year-old outfielder] bats righthanded. As he stepped around the plate he nodded to Ronn Reynolds, the stocky reserve catcher who has been with the Met organization since 1980. Reynolds whispered up to him from his crouch, "Kid, you won't believe what you're about to see."

A second flap down by the pitcher's end was drawn open, and a tall, gawky player walked in and stepped up onto the pitcher's mound. He was wearing a small, black fielder's glove on his left hand and was holding a baseball in his right. Christensen had never seen him before. He had blue eyes, Christensen remembers, and a pale, youthful face, with facial muscles that were motionless, like a mask. ...

"I'm standing in there to give this guy a target, just waving the bat once or twice out over the plate. He starts his windup. He sways way back, like Juan Marichal ... and he suddenly rears upright like a catapult. The ball is launched from an arm completely straight up and stiff. Before you can blink, the ball is in the catcher's mitt. You hear it crack, and then there's this little bleat from Reynolds."

Christensen said the motion reminded him of the extraordinary contortions that he remembered of Goofy's pitching in one of Walt Disney's cartoon classics.

"I never dreamed a baseball could be thrown that fast. The wrist must have a lot to do with it, and all that leverage. You can hardly see the blur of it as it goes by. As for hitting the thing, frankly, I just don't think it's humanly possible. You could send a blind man up there, and maybe he'd do better hitting at the sound of the thing." ...

The phenomenon the three young batters faced, and about whom only Reynolds, [pitching coach Mel] Stottlemyre and a few members of the Mets' front office know, is a 28-year-old, somewhat eccentric mystic named Hayden (Sidd) Finch. He may well change the course of baseball history. On St. Patrick's Day, to make sure they were not all victims of a crazy hallucination, the Mets brought in a radar gun to measure the speed of Finch's fastball. The model used was a JUGS Supergun II. It looks like a black space gun with a big snout, weighs about five pounds and is usually pointed at the pitcher from behind the catcher. A glass plate in the back of the gun shows the pitch's velocity—accurate, so the manufacturer claims, to within plus or minus 1 mph. The figure at the top of the gauge is 200 mph. The fastest projectile ever measured by the JUGS (which is named after the oldtimer's descriptive—the "jug-handled" curveball) was a Roscoe Tanner serve that registered 153 mph. The highest number that the JUGS had ever turned for a baseball was 103 mph, which it did, curiously, twice on one day, July 11, at the 1978 All-Star game when both Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan threw the ball at that speed. On March 17, the gun was handled by Stottlemyre. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds's mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared on the glass plate. Stottlemyre remembers whistling in amazement, and then he heard Reynolds say, "Don't tell me, Mel, I don't want to know...."

The Met front office is reluctant to talk about Finch. The fact is, they know very little about him. He has had no baseball career. Most of his life has been spent abroad, except for a short period at Harvard University.

The registrar's office at Harvard will release no information about Finch except that in the spring of 1976 he withdrew from the college in midterm. The alumni records in Harvard's Holyoke Center indicate slightly more. Finch spent his early childhood in an orphanage in Leicester, England and was adopted by a foster parent, the eminent archaeologist Francis Whyte-Finch, who was killed in an airplane crash while on an expedition in the Dhaulagiri mountain area of Nepal. At the time of the tragedy, Finch was in his last year at the Stowe School in Buckingham, England, from which he had been accepted into Harvard. Apparently, though, the boy decided to spend a year in the general area of the plane crash in the Himalayas (the plane was never actually found) before he returned to the West and entered Harvard in 1975, dropping for unknown reasons the "Whyte" from his name. Hayden Finch's picture is not in the freshman yearbook. Nor, of course, did he play baseball at Harvard, having departed before the start of the spring season. ...

Finch's entry into the world of baseball occurred last July in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where the Mets' AAA farm club, the Tidewater Tides, was in town playing the Guides. After the first game of the series, Bob Schaefer, the Tides' manager, was strolling back to the hotel. He has very distinct memories of his first meeting with Finch: "I was walking by a park when suddenly this guy—nice-looking kid, clean-shaven, blue jeans, big boots—appears alongside. At first, I think maybe he wants an autograph or to chat about the game, but no, he scrabbles around in a kind of knapsack, gets out a scuffed-up baseball and a small, black leather fielder's mitt that looks like it came out of the back of some Little League kid's closet. This guy says to me, 'I have learned the art of the pitch....' Some odd phrase like that, delivered in a singsong voice, like a chant, kind of what you hear in a Chinese restaurant if there are some Chinese in there.
I can't explain why that closing phrase - "if there are some Chinese in there" - makes me laugh. The humour is so subtle, it's almost invisible.

Dee:
Between the time [Plimpton] submitted the story and the time it came out, he was in agony over the thought he'd gone too far. ... "'No one's going to believe it. I took it way too far. I'm going to be a laughingstock." It hadn't occurred to me that even a really experienced, well-known writer might not be working in a state of total self-confidence all the time. ... [H]e felt like if he didn't fool people he himself would look stupid. ...

[Plimpton was out of town on the day the story came out and he told me] I was going to be in charge. When people called up — if anybody called up — he just begged me to try to string the joke out as long as I could. ... The New York Times ... said they'd sent somebody down there to look around and couldn't find the guy. And I said, "Well, he's notoriously press shy. It wouldn't surprise me if he's out of town because of all the attention."
The feature's tagline included an admission of the hoax. It read: "He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga—and his future in baseball." The first letters from those words spell out (after deleting two extraneous letters): Happy April Fools Day - A Fib.

Lane Stewart:
My wife worked for Life Magazine and they had a sports writer and she says, "He just came into my office. He wants to know how to reach Sidd Finch." And I said, Oh, shit. My heart dropped into my stomach. Someone had believed this fucking thing?

March 31, 2020

Maybe Sometimes The Cure Really Is Worse Than The Disease

[Note: I'm going to post Covid-19 stuff at tested by research. I meant to do that all along, but there was one post I wanted a larger audience for and then I found myself posting about the same thing in different posts at both blogs, which make no sense. But when Trump gets the virus, or is arrested for aiding in the deaths of hundreds of people who were unfortunate to live in a Democratically-leaning state, I'll post about that here.

Before I go: The big story tonight is a White House official admitted to the Washington Post that Donald Trump is making sure "red" states like Florida get all the personal protective gear they have requested while denying essential equipment to "blue" states (like New York, which Trump has no chance of winning). There is a lot of very suspicious circumstantial evidence. Trump will probably ended up admitting to everything in the next few days, anyway. After all, 
once he was acquitted in his impeachment show trial, he admitted to the entire Ukraine conspiracy.

The New York Post's front page on March 1 announced the first US death from Covid-19. On March 31, almost 200,000 Americans have been infected and more than 4,000 have died, and the normal patterns of all facets of society have been radically upended. Today, the United States set a record for the most new cases of Covid-19 in a single day for the
seventh consecutive day.

Testing remains minimal. Last week, the US was doing only 65,000 tests per day. Testing everyone who is sick is impossible. At the Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens (the hospital Trump was rambling about recently), some sick people have waited from 6 AM to 5 PM and gone home without being tested.)

This is reality: The federal response to this global pandemic has been based on Donald Trump's re-election campaign needs.]

Trump Warns TV Stations They Could Lose Licenses For Broadcasting An Ad Criticizing Him

I'm amazed that I can still be amazed. Every day, he sinks lower and lower. There is no bottom.

Todd Shields, Jennifer Epstein, and Mario Parker, Bloomberg News, March 31, 2020:
Trump Campaign's Threat on TV Licenses May Be Mostly Bluster

The Trump re-election campaign told TV stations they could lose their operating licenses for airing an ad criticizing the president's actions in the coronavirus crisis -- a challenge that may be more bluster than actual threat.

President Donald Trump's campaign, in a letter on Wednesday, told stations in five battleground states to stop showing the ad from Priorities USA, a political action committee that supports Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Failure to remove the ad "could put your station's license in jeopardy" before the Federal Communications Commission, the campaign said in the letter. "Your station has an obligation to cease and desist from airing it immediately to comply with FCC licensing requirements."

Trump has an antagonistic relation with much of the media, which he accuses of issuing what he calls "fake news." But the president has been accused by some news outlets of making misleading statements and telling lies, including regarding the coronavirus. Trump has threatened retaliation before, including musing about challenging NBC's license in a 2017 tweet -- even though licenses are generally held by stations, not networks. ...

The FCC doesn't appear to have grounds to act against the stations for airing contentious ads, said Jack Goodman, a Washington broadcast attorney, said in an interview. The ad "is core political speech" protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech, Goodman said. "This is the sort of letter that stations get in political years, day in and day out," Goodman said. "It's intended to intimidate." ...

The ad from Priorities USA shows U.S. coronavirus cases growing from Jan. 20 to March 22 while featuring audio of Trump downplaying the threat during that time. ... Priorities USA responded to the Trump team's "intimidation effort" by announcing Thursday that it would keep running the ad and also begin airing it in Arizona, where the group said it plans to spend $600,000 over the next few weeks. "Trump's super-PAC and now Trump's campaign are resorting to desperate threats to keep Americans from hearing the truth," said Patrick McHugh, the executive director of Priorities. "Priorities USA will continue ensuring voters hear the truth." ...

Gene Policinski, senior fellow for the First Amendment at the Freedom Forum Institute, said previous administrations may have spoken privately about challenging licenses, but Trump was unusual for saying it out loud. "This goes back to Nixon in the '60s, talking about revoking stations critical to his administration," Policinski said. In 1972, President Richard Nixon urged his lieutenants to interfere with the renewal of the Washington Post's licenses for Florida TV stations.

March 30, 2020

0 Cases Or 200,000 Deaths ... Either Way, We've Done "A Very Good Job"

February 26, 2020:
When you have 15 people, and the 15 [cases] within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done.
March 29, 2020:
If we can hold [the number of deaths] down [to] between 100,000 and 200,000 — we all, together, have done a very good job.
This is Trump's new strategy:
Aaron Rupar, Vox:
Trump today repeatedly brought up the model indicating up to 2.2 million Americans would die if no measures were taken to slow coronavirus. People really need to process that he will tout any death toll below that figure - even if it's over a million - as evidence he saved lives.
You know that it's true.

Michael Chavis Doubles In His First MLB At-Bat. Standing On Second, He Thinks: "Don't Cry"

[Draft Post, April 27, 2019]

Michael Chavis made his major league debut on April 20, pinch-hitting and hitting a double. Last Tuesday, he spoke with David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus at Fenway Park:
I wasn't in the lineup — I was on the bench — but I knew the situation. They'd said there was a chance I would get to hit that day. Of course, I didn't know when, who for, or who would be pitching. Come the eighth inning ... I'm taking some swings in the cage, and they come in and say, "Hey, you're going to pinch hit in the ninth." ... "OK. Beautiful." ...
I looked at a little bit of video [on Alvarado] to get a scouting report on what he might do. There wasn't a whole lot of time, and the biggest thing was getting my swing ready, so it was quick. I mostly just wanted to see his motion. That, and the action of his fastball.

The nerves didn't really hit me until I got on deck. ... Walking up to the plate, I heard them announce, "Making his major league debut..." ... I almost cried in the batter's box. It's something I'd dreamed about, many times, as a kid. ... I would pretend that I was playing for the Red Sox, facing a closer, and I'd get a big hit. ...

Alvarado bounced a slider on the 1-2, and then I got a fastball down and in. That's the one I hit for a double. I hit it to pretty much straightaway center, and it went over Kiermaier's head. When you square up a ball like that you don't really even feel it. But I heard it. I knew what was happening.

Kiermaier is a platinum glover, so I'm praying that he doesn't catch it. ... I'm just glad it got over his head. ...

What was I thinking [standing on second base]? "Don't cry. Act like you've been here before." That’s pretty much it, honestly. ... I could hear my mom. I knew where they were sitting, so I could see them ... I'm sure my mom was crying. Without a doubt. She's a big crier. ...

I went out with my family afterwards. ... There was a TV. It was the first time I'd seen myself on TV — they were showing highlights from the game. It was weird. There I was, watching myself on TV, and they're talking about me and the Boston Red Sox. I'm part of this team now. Unreal.
[Draft Post, April 24, 2019]

James Parker of The Atlantic, on "The Lost Art of Deadline Writing":
[A] print deadline—the galloping clock, the smell of the editor—is a particular concentration of mortal tension. The brain on deadline does whatever it can: It improvises, it compresses, it contrives, it uses the language and the ideas that are at hand. Inspiration comes or it doesn't. Here the writer is an athlete—performing under pressure and, if he or she is good, delivering on demand.
Chris Landers, Cut4, September 3, 2018:
Joey Votto was just warming up like usual prior to Monday's matchup with the Pirates when he caught something interesting out of the corner of his eye: a Reds fan, sitting down the first-base line, who just so happened to be wearing a T-shirt that read "Votto for President."

After some inspection, Votto decided that, yes, he would like to own a T-shirt that says he should be elected president. And, being Joey Votto, he had plenty to offer the fan in return -- like, for example, the jersey off of his back

Of course, Votto hails from Canada, a country that has a prime minister rather than a president. Still, that's just a technicality ...
Scott Stossel believes that "Winning [Has] Ruined Boston Sports Fandom".
Before the fall of 2004, wearing a Boston Red Sox hat outside of New England elicited the sort of sympathy or solicitude more commonly extended to a lost child or a wounded fawn. Red Sox fans were objects of pity. To the extent we attracted admiration, it was for our dedication to suffering.

Wearing a Red Sox hat outside of New England today elicits looks of resentment or hostility, as if for a John Hughes villain or a hedge-fund plutocrat. Red Sox fans are objects of contumely. To the extent we attract admiration, it's for ... Well, we don't attract admiration anymore, actually—only envy, at best.
Stossel has been shoveling this horseshit since 2005.
In August of 2005 ... I wrote in an essay for The Boston Globe that something had been lost when the Red Sox traded in their years of accursed failure for a championship. To this day, nothing I've ever written has attracted so much invective—a testament to the snarling intensity of Boston fandom, or perhaps just to the depth of my obtuseness.

"Before 2004," I wrote then, "the basic Red Sox mode was that of tragedy," and then I quoted an essay from the Catholic journal Commonweal. "The Sox remind us that life is a trial; that it raises hopes to crush them cruelly; that it ends badly … A Red Sox fan is an Irishman, an Armenian, reciting ancient hurts by ancient enemies … By now Red Sox suffering surpasses an individual human life span. It is a cathedral of loss and pain. It is holy." But, I asked, "if this suffering no longer surpasses a human life span—if it is no longer suffering—is it any longer holy?" And I wondered further whether, now that we'd finally won a World Series—and then if we started to accumulate more victories (as we since have)—the force of our yearning would be diminished. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp," as Robert Browning wrote, "Or what's a heaven for?"

I don't know whether the force of our yearning has diminished—Boston fans remain ravenous for more championships—but its quality has. We've exchanged the weight of history for the swagger of dominance; humble, sacred hope has given way to a spoiled, profane gluttony.
All I know is I would rather feel good than bad.

Almost Two Months Ago (Early February), With The US's Supply Of Emergency Equipment "Depleted", Trump Cut A Request For Emergency Mask Funds By 75%

Only one month ago (February 29), Donald Trump said:
I think it's always good to be prepared. I think it's always good. But we are super-prepared, when you hear 43 million masks, as an example.
Around that same time, the Department of Health and Human Services stated the US's supply of masks (which Trump accurately repeated!!) is only 1.2% of what would be required if the outbreak became a pandemic. The US would need 3.5 billion respirator masks over a one-year period. Less than one week later, the outbreak was designated a pandemic.

Now, having 1.2% of an essential item does not strike me as being "super-prepared". Putting it in baseball terms, let's say being "super-prepared" was the equivalent of a .350 batting average. Trump and his current mask supply would be hitting .004.

Way back on February 5, Alex Azar, the Secretary of US Health and Human Services, requested $2 billion to purchase respirator masks and other supplies to resupply "a depleted federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment". The White House, counting fewer than a dozen coronavirus cases in the US, cut Azar's request by 75%.

Trump is lying when he whines that it's not his fault that supplies are low. Besides having more than three years in office when he could have stocked up what was necessary, those federal supplies were still "depleted" last month. Trump is also lying when he says he took early action so the country was prepared. There is nothing anyone can point to in proof of his claim. Nothing.

Myriad other examples of Trump abdicating his sworn responsibility exist. We'll pick this one, from March 19: Trump said state governors "are supposed to be doing a lot of this work. ... You know, we're not a shipping clerk." (Bonus!: Trump's Sunday press conference was perhaps his worst yet, just an unmitigated shit show. His rants against the press are getting longer, more frequent, and more unhinged from reality. He is going to snap, sooner rather than later. And when it happens, it will be of a magnitude that nobody has ever seen before, nobody can even imagine. It will be tremendous, believe me.)

Kevin Donovan, president of Lakes Regional HealthCare, says there is no protective gear to be bought on the private market. And even if there was, manufacturers of masks and other supplies are demanding cash payments on delivery, which hospitals don't have because (a) the US health-care system is in tatters and (b) overrun-by-virus hospitals have canceled the elective procedures that bring in money.

Perhaps when millions of human lives are hanging in the balance during a lengthy worldwide emergency, leaving things to market forces to sort themselves out is not a smart move (unless, of course, you're motivated solely by greed and self-interest and you don't care how many corpses pile up, as long as you get paid). Unfortunately, Trump is doing exactly that right now, with his refusal to fully use the power of the Defense Production Act.

Dr. Deborah Birx is a paid-in-full, proud, card-carrying member of the Trump Cult. Only three days ago, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force gushed about Orange Foolius on the Christian Broadcasting Network's Faith Nation:
He is so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data, and I think his ability to analyze and integrate data that comes out of his long history in business has really been a real benefit during these discussions about medical issues.
Yikes. ... If she is admitting that as many as 200,000 Americans could die, even with the current restrictive measures – and Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees with the numbers – then the future is not encouraging.

March 29, 2020

A New Book About 1918, Babe Ruth, Influenza, And The Great War

Should I be concerned that I have quoted The National Review twice in the last five weeks?

Dan McLaughlin, National Review, March 29, 2020:
Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith didn't set out to write a book about the Spanish-flu pandemic of 1918, but the outbreak looms like the ghost at the banquet over their new book War Fever: Boston, Baseball, and America in the Shadow of the Great War. A recurring storyline that runs through the book's narrative has a much more urgent feel today as America is in the grips of the worst pandemic since that terrible autumn.

War Fever looks at America in the First World War through the lens of three interwoven stories, all tied to Boston in 1918: baseball legend Babe Ruth, Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Karl Muck, and Charles Whittlesey, the commander of the "Lost Battalion" in the Argonne Forest. ...

Babe Ruth's story is the best-known of the three, although readers who know his years as a Red Sox pitcher and Yankee slugger will be interested in a closer focus on the season when he was truly a two-way player, making the transition to the everyday lineup while remaining a key contributor on the mound. Allan Wood covered much of the same ground in his excellent 2000 book Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox, but Roberts and Smith integrate Ruth's story more thoroughly into the wartime context.

"President Trump Is A Ratings Hit ... [Daily Briefings Have] Roughly The Viewership Of The Season Finale Of 'The Bachelor'. Numbers Are Continuing To Rise ... Audience Is Expanding ... Astounding" ... As Trump Writes, Tweets This Important News, Covid-19 Cases In The US Have Exceeded 135,000, With 2,400+ Deaths


Covid-19 cases and deaths are skyrocketing, with no end in sight.
USA             CASES     DEATHS
March 15        7,473       115
March 16        8,210       126
March 17        9,193       144
March 18       10,941       167
March 19       13,789       208
March 20       19,383       266
March 21       24,207       312
March 22       33,546       429
March 23       43,714       569
March 24       54,803       794
March 25       68,158     1,041
March 26       85,382     1,309
March 27      104,073     1,710
March 28      125,485     2,225
The number of new cases on March 25 was the most of any country in a single day during this pandemic.

That record was broken on March 26.

And that record was broken on March 27.

And that record was broken on March 28.

But Donald Trump remains focused on what truly matters during this national emergency:



March 28, 2020

Donald Trump Is Calling Alex Rodriguez (From The Oval Office) For Covid-19 Advice

April 1 came four days early this year.


Sarah Al-Arshani, Business Insider, March 28, 2020:
President Donald Trump apparently called former Yankees player Alex Rodriguez for his thoughts on the administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak, ABC News reported Friday evening.
Rodriguez is not a medical or public health expert.

Source told ABC that neither Rodriguez or his fiance Jennifer Lopez will have any official role in the effort, but one source close to the baseball star reportedly said the call with the president was "pleasant".

ABC also reported that the call was part of a number of calls Trump made this week regarding the virus and its impact on the country.
On Friday night, Trump tweeted "More Fake News!" in response to ABC's report of the call.

The US currently has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world with more than 104,000 infected and close to 1,700 deaths.

Trump ... has also said in recent days he wanted to open the country back up by Easter, despite public health officials saying a longer lockdown is needed to help curb the spread of the outbreak.

Additionally, Trump has been critical of governors who are asking the federal government for more support to curb outbreaks in their state. ...
Jordan Hoffman, Vanity Fair, March 28, 2020:
Seeking guidance from, shall we say, unusual sources is not exactly something new for Trump. (How a guy goes from owning shopping malls in New Jersey to heading a Middle East peace plan is one for the record books.) Former Fox News commentator Eric Bolling, who was dismissed from the network after accusations of sexual harassment, had the President's ear as Congress was drafting their stimulus bill. As my colleague Caleb Ecarma reported, Bolling personally pitched Trump a stimulus plan entitled "Bolling2020."

But reaching out to A-Rod is weird even by Trump standards. While it seems like several lifetimes ago, A-Rod was once a target of severe Trump criticism before his new role as a trusted advisor during an unprecedented pandemic. Trump regularly accused him of being "a druggie" and "on the juice." He also suggested that the player was "bad chemistry with the Yankees" and "couldn't perform without drugs," and theorized that Rodriguez was at his best only when he hung his helmet at Trump Park Avenue.