Sunday, April 19, 2009

Phil Cuzzi and the Culture of Mediocrity

One of the things I learned early on, during my days working for the Community Action Program, was that the hardest thing in the world is to fire an employee for incompetence. It is easy to fire somebody for a single act of misconduct, but for an employee who has demonstrated incompetence, even over a long period of time, it is very difficult because it is hard to document it sufficiently to make it stand up to a challenge.

All this came to mind the other day when MLB umpire Phil Cuzzi give another pathetic performance behind the plate. The Indians' announcers couldn't stop talking about him, as the strike zone was so erratic that no hitter could possibly know where it was. When the umpire becomes the major story of a game, you know something is seriously wrong.

Cuzzi has a long and inglorious history. He was the home plate umpire in the 2005 playoff game who tossed Jim Edmonds out, with the count 3-2, for the "crime" of asking where the pitch was (Edmonds thought it was ball 4 and and had started toward first). He had earlier tossed out Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. Before that, Cuzzi had disgraced himself by tossing Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay from a game in which Halladay was going for a team-record 22 wins.

Cuzzi's pathetic performances are reminescent of Eric Gregg's incompetent strike calls during a Braves-Marlins playoff game some years back. Livan Hernandez pitched the Marlins into the World Series in that game, helped by Gregg's consistently calling pitches a foot outside as strikes. Gregg probably would have umpired up until his death, except that he joined a group of 22 umpires in a ridiculously ill-advised act of resigning en masse in 1999. MLB was able to get rid of Gregg by simply not hiring him back.

We hear that the Commissioner's office is grading umpires this year. One hopes that this will lead to evaluations which will allow the incompetent ones to be dismissed. Surely the best umpires in the minor leagues are way better than the worst ones in the majors. The problem is to identify those bad ones and develop the backbone to get rid of them. If the umpires' union contract needs to be renegotiated to allow this, then do it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Favorite Poems

Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold

The Cuckold's Song, Leonard Cohen
The Flowers that I Left in the Ground, Leonard Cohen
For Anne, Leonard Cohen
A Kite is a Victim, Leonard Cohen
Poem, Leonard Cohen

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge

Psalms 23, David

Acquainted with the Night, Frost
Fire and Ice, Frost
The Road not Taken, Frost
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost

The Elephant is Slow to Mate, D. H. Lawrence
New Heaven and Earth, D. H. Lawrence
Search for Love, by D.H. Lawrence
The Ship of Death, D.H. Lawrence
Terra Incognita, D.H. Lawrence
We Are Transmitters, by D.H. Lawrence

Paul Revere's Ride, Longfellow

Outwitted, Edwin Markham

The Raven, Poe
Annabel Lee, Poe

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day, Shakespeare
The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson

Casey at the Bat, Thayer

O Captain, My Captain, Whitman

She was a Phantom of Delight, Wordsworth

Monday, April 13, 2009

Obama Disappoints

Obama has shown himself to be "a prisoner of past perceptions", to use a Jerry Brown quote from years ago. He has backed away at every opportunity to use some creativity and lead the country in new and positive directions. A few examples that especially gripe me.

1. The "drug war". Obama recently had a national town hall meeting, supposedly to answer questions which the most people wanted answered based on Internet voting. However, instead of answering one about legalizing marijuana, he gave it short shrift, giving an offhand "no" between answering what he obviously considered more deserving questions. Obama missed an opportunity to lead. He could have pointed out the horrific problems we are causing other countries by this so-called war, which we are obviously losing and should terminate. An example is 5,300 people killed in Mexico last year in the drug war. He could have been ready with statistics on the millions of our citizens locked up in our prisons over drugs and other non-violent crimes, and the cost this entails to every one of us to keep these folks in prison. What is a crime? This is a serious issue which could have been discussed and dealt with in a thoughtful way. Do we really need all these folks in prison with the rapists and murderers? Do we really need to spend all these billions of dollars to house these prisoners? Do we really need to be waging a war in other sovereign countries, with such inevitable consequences of war as the shooting down of a missionary's helicopter a few years ago in a horrible mistake? All these things could have been thoughtfully discussed, but Obama flunked the test.

2. Afghanistan. Obama seems to understand that we need to make friends with the Arab world, but then he turns around and send thousands of more soldiers to Afghanistan. Doesn't he understand that the only thing that will accomplish is to make more enemies? What does Obama think we can accomplish militarily in Afghanistan? History teaches that our military efforts there will be futile and useless. Shame on you, Mr. President!

3. Health care. Obama recently refused to endorse a single-payer system, even though this is what has worked in every other developed country, all of which have better health care at a lower cost than we do. Obama showed himself to be a captive of the insurance industry, which has dictated health care law since time immemorial. A C-SPAN caller recently recounted an experience which showed how screwed-up the current "system" is. He has chosen to be self-insured, and when he needed an operation, it would have been $34,000 had he had insurance. Since he didn't, he was able to negotiate a charge for the operation of only $4,000! This illustrates how corrupt the status quo is. Why can't we move forward into the 21st century and go to a national health insurance system? Why can't Obama, who surely is smart enough to realize what needs to be done, show some leadership?

4. Torture. Obama has signaled he is leading us into a different direction, but he refuses to prosecute any of the Bush administration criminals who engaged in unlawful behavior and has ruined our image around the world in the process. Guantanamo remains open. Let's live up to our ideals, for crying out loud!

5. Cuba. A Congressional delegation reports that we should normalize relations with Cuba, as other countries ave done, yet Obama takes baby steps toward that instead of simply doing what is right. Again, no leadership shown my our new President.

6. The bailout. Obama simply continues the Bush policies of throwing money at the big companies who have failed. This makes no sense and cannot be justified by any rigorous analysis. Further, he feigns outrage at the ridiculous bonuses given out by these companies, after being saved by the government, yet his own Treasury Secretary is (apparently) responsible for taking out a provision in the most recent bailout bill that would have capped these bonuses.

Will Obama be our savior? I think not.

"Bad day for Pirates everywhere"

Kudos to The Lima News for this clever headline today. No, the story was not the dramatic rescue of the Captain who had offered himself as a hostage to Somali pirates to save his crew. The headline was later in the paper, in the sports section, the story being of Reds' pitcher Aaron Harang pitching a masterful shutout over the woeful Pirates. Nice weaving together of two disparate events on an eventful Sunday, one which saw the Masters won by an Argentine golfer for the first time ever, and the Indians pick up their first win of the young season.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Carl Pavano

If ever there is a poster boy for the foolishness exhibited by Major League clubs in giving long-term contracts to pitchers, that poster boy has to be Carl Pavano. The Yankees gave a four-year, $40 million contract to Pavano after the 2004 season. And what did Pavano produce? His record for the four years *combined* was 9-8!!

Pavano had a series of injuries during that time period, and his character and work habits were drawn into serious question. Manager Joe Torre, who usually supports his players, said that the amount of work Pavano needed to do in repairing his clubhouse image was "sizable." Pitcher Mike Mussina was also critical, saying "It didn't look good from a player's and teammate's standpoint. Was everything just coincidence? Over and over again? I don't know."

So the Indians signed Pavano for the 2009 season, his Yankees contract having finally run out. Fortunately for the Indians, they gave Pavano only a one-year contact, for a relatively low salary. Having installed loser Carl as their #3 starter, the Indians watched his first start in horror as he gave up 9 runs in one inning plus, getting only 3 of the first 12 batters out.

Pavano's problems are typical of the entire Indians staff so far this year. The Indians are still winless, one of only 2 teams to be s0 for the young season. I know it's early, but my prediction of the Indians to win the AL Central looks bad already.

Many pitchers have been busts after getting long-term contracts. Just think of Barry Zito or Russ Ortiz. These are guys getting paid ridiculous amounts of money, and who are fighting just to keep a starting job. When are GM's going to learn?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Observing the Birds

As my hero Yogi once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching". I have been observing the birds on my morning walks around Buckeye Lake in Bluffton. The mallards are paired up for the most part, males and females seeming to stick close together in pairs. I have been speculating that their eggs have been laid and they are in the process of waiting for their babies to hatch. I've looked in vain for where the eggs might be.

However, I see now from Wikipedia that "mallards form pairs only until the female lays eggs, at which time she is left by the male." Wikipedia goes on to say that "the clutch is 8–13 eggs, which are incubated for 27–28 days to hatching with 50–60 days to fledging." So, I guess I can watch for when the pairing-up has gone, and then see how the females take care of the eggs for a month after that. Should be fun!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

SI's Predictions

For comparison purposes, here are SI's 2009 MLB predictions, taken from the April 6th issue.

NL East: Mets, Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Nationals

NL Central: Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, Astros, Pirates

NL West: Dodgers, D-Backs, Giants, Rockies, Padres

AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays

AL Central: Twins, Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Royals

AL West: Angels, Athletics, Rangers, Mariners

Differences from my predictions: 1) Braves and Marlins flip-flopped; 2) last 4 in NL East completely different--I had Rockies, Padres, D-Backs, Giants; 3) AL East, Yanks and Sox flip-flooped, as well as Jays and O's; 4) AL Central, Twins and Tribe flip-flopped, as well as Sox and Tigers; and finally, 5) AL West, A's and Rangers flip-flopped.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Karen Joy Fowler

As part of Bluffton University's annual English Festival, novelist Karen Joy Fowler is in town and I attended a reading last night at the library. She read a short story (which was actually pretty long), and then answered questions.

The question-answering was the most interesting part. She answered every question with interesting and funny stories (like comparing her husband to the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore). In retrospect, what is most impressive is that she never once stumbled over her words or hesitated, it was as if she has a special gift of communicating clearly and with well thought out responses to anything thrown at her.

Ms. Fowler is best-known for her bestselling book "The Jane Austen book Club". In reading Wikipedia's account of this book , it sounds quite complex and character-driven, the sort of book which could never be made into a movie. However, it *is" a movie, directed by Robin Swicord and released two years ago. When asked if she liked the movie, Ms. Fowler said she was quite upset while it was being made, because it didn't seem as if the movie-makers were being faithful to her book. However, when she eventually saw the movie, she found she actually liked it pretty well. I notice that IMDB has it rated 7.1, a pretty favorable rating.

I am looking forward to her speech later this morning at Forum.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Opening Day

As I write ESPN is starting its incredible coverage of what it is calling "opening day", in quotes because the first game was actually last night, but that is being called "opening night". Between ESPN and ESPN2 there are actually five games being shown today!

Snow flurries this morning brought to mind the running private joke I have with my daughter, which goes "those two don't go together!". However, there were several days this past week that were mild enough that I was able to enjoy my new balcony. Over the weekend I bought a bird feeder for the balcony, but the birds have not yet discovered it!

Got home last night from a family pot;luck at my brother's house, and watched the opening night game betwen the Phillies and the Braves. Apparently the recent tradition has been that the defending world champions host the first game of the next year, so the game was played in Philly. With Cole Hamels not ready to go yet, the Phillies' opening day starter was instead Brad Penny. The announcers pre-called his problem, noting he had developed a tendency to rely solely on his cruve ball, instead of first establishing his fast ball as is traditional. Penny was ineffective, givng up several early homers, and the Braves dominated behind the great pitching of Derek Lowe.