Thursday, November 29, 2007

Trades

Obviously there's been some big news for the Twins organization in the past couple days. Trading Matt Garza, our 2005 first-round draft pick, to the Rays for Delmon Young was a big step. I'm inclined to think it was in the right direction.

The Twins have a surplus of young arms and they gave up one of their best, which obviously hurts. But the player they got back is an even more precious quantity; at least for the Twins, given the scarcity of offensive talent in their farm system. The trade balances them, and gives them an immediate every-day outfielder who will hit in the middle of the lineup. Quite possibly next to Joe Mauer, which is noteworthy because both Mauer and Young were the first picks in their respective drafts (2001 and 2003). Looking back over the list of first picks, I don't think I see any in recent history who ever played on the same team, much less batted next to each other.

Making the trade even better for the Twins is the chance that Young will develop into a true star. He's coming off a terrific rookie season, and he stands to improve a lot throughout the next couple years. This is a player who helps the Twins in 2008 and beyond.

Also part of the trade was a swap of shortstops, the Twins giving up Jason Bartlett for Brendan Harris. This part of the trade hurts a little. The two players are similar offensively, but Bartlett is by far the superior defender. However, it sounds as if Harris may not be the starting shortstop for the Twins, and might instead play at 3B or 2B. At second base Harris would be a terrific asset. His offensive numbers would be above average for the position, and his defense would be less critical. This of course leaves a tremendous and gaping hole at SS for the Twins, and so help me they fill it with Punto... ::shaking fist::

Finally we swapped prospects, giving up one of the top bullpen prospects in baseball - Eduardo Morlan - for Jason Pridie, a center fielder that the Twins have been coveting for some time. I know thou shalt not, but since we ended up getting the guy in the end, I think the Lord will overlook it this time. Some Twins fans are disappointed that we gave up such a solid prospect, but I think this may be a bit of overreacting. Yes, Morlan will probably be an excellent late-inning reliever somewhere, perhaps even a top-flite closer. But relief pitchers are often overvalued, especially since they frequently break down earlier in their careers and because their effectiveness can turn so much on how they are used by their coaches. Why do you think the same teams consistently turn out excellent relief pitchers (Twins, Angels) while others routinely destroy them (Rangers)? Morlan is easily replaceable, especially in a system such as Minnesota's, and another strong CF prospect is something the Twins have been sorely craving. All in all, an excellent trade.

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This of course brings us to trade issue #2: Johan Santana.

It sounds inevitable that he will be traded, quite possibly within the next weeks. It makes me so very, very sad. My wife too. She's probably even more upset than I am. We're both going to miss him when he goes. He's just so good at sitting bitches down. There is simply no better pitcher in baseball; and there hasn't been for a long time. Every single time Johan takes the hill you know you have a chance at watching history, and that at very least you'll be looking at an amazing piece of art. Santana doesn't just pitch: he paints and sings and makes the world a wonderful, magical, beautiful place, and all with just a little white ball. And (I'm not afraid to admit it) he's just so darn cute!

Oh, I will miss having Santana on the Twins. He's a favorite player for so many, and watching him these past years I've known every time how lucky we were. But when the season ended I wasn't prepared to say goodbye to him like I was for Hunter, and this trade talk is all so sudden and unwanted. It makes me sad to think that he might not be on the roster come Spring Training, that he might not start for us on opening day. It makes me sad.

And yes, I'm so very afraid of the Twins having to try to hit against Johan. The thought of him beating the Twins is almost too much to bear. Sure, maybe Mauer could handle him, after catching him all those years, but after that? Morneau struggles against lefties, Cuddy would be overmatched, Hunter's no longer around to knock one out of the park when the game is already decided (because Santana does give up the occasional longball), and can you even imagine Punto flailing away against Johan? Yikes! That scares me. And makes me sad.

But worst of all is the thought that losing Santana means that he probably will not go into the Hall of Fame as a Twin. And more than anything else, that thought makes me sad.

Santana is, without question, the best pitcher of his generation. If he can keep it up for just 3 or 4 more years (and he's only 29) he's probably in the realm of greatest pitchers of all time. He has had points in his career that have matched Koufax's best years. All of his numbers are impeccable, and he eats up a ton of innings every year. He's had 4 straight seasons of at least 235 K's, and he'll likely be among career leaders in several categories if he continues on this pace for a few more years. To top it all off, he's doing this in one of the least pitcher-friendly eras in baseball history, in the more difficult American league. Can you even imagine if he were pitching in the deadball era? Quite simply, Santana will be remembered as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Having him forever associated with the Twins, well, that would forever be a highlight to any Minnesota sports fan.

Which is why losing him now hurts so much. He has a big chunk of his career left, barring major injury. His next team will likely keep him for at least six or seven years, matching the time he spent with the Twins. If they sign him beyond that too, then that will likely be the team he will go into the Hall representing. In addition, though he might look back fondly on his years as a Twin, it is with his other teams that he will be chasing milestones and setting more records. Obviously he didn't win a Series with the Twinkies, and if he's able to do that somewhere else then that too cements the other team as his Hall of Fame choice.

Usually I'd be very excited about the prospects and players we could get back for Santana. It's truly a unique opportunity, and there's certainly much to be gained by trading Johan. But there's more than just the player to be lost.

And so there we have the painful reality. If the Twins trade Santana they'll be trading away not only a tremendous pitcher, they'll also be trading away a plaque in the Hall of Fame; they'll be trading away history.

In baseball that matters.

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And I guess that's why I want them to trade him to the Yankees if anyone. Because if Santana isn't going to be a Twin in the Hall, then danggit he should be a Yankee. Because then at least he's with Ruth and Gehrig and so on. Which is where he belongs: among the greats.

When I see you
Thousand eyes turnin blue

Monday, November 19, 2007

These Are The Things I Think About

On the Metro this evening I saw a woman with what must have been a hearing aid in her ear. It wasn't obviously a hearing aid, and in fact it looked more like some sort of spy movie communication gadget. Or perhaps a sci-fi type mind-control device.

This being D.C., where there are more spies than anywhere else in the world (and probably more mad scientists too) one becomes increasingly aware of these possibilities. And by 'one' I mean 'me. Stop judging.'.

Heightening my suspicion of her spy/sci-fi nature was the fact that she seemed to be feigning sleep but actually listening attentively. She kept nodding and, despite the fact that her eyes were closed, blinking in what appeared to be a very deliberate manner. Almost as if it were a form of non-verbal communication with another nearby agent. Or perhaps as if she weren't controlling her own body and was instead under the direct manipulation of some mad genius. Whatever. It all looks the same.

My suspicions aroused, I decided to try to subtly get a closer look at the device. It did appear to have a little wire sticking out, almost some sort of transmitter. In an attempt to better assess the situation I thought I would look to see if she had a similar device in her other ear. I figured that if she did it would make it less likely that she was using the device in some sort of covert espionage capacity, and more likely that it was just a hearing aid. I couldn't get a clear shot at her other ear, but as I was stepping off the train I was able to sneak a quick glance. Sure enough, there was an identical device in her other ear.

Which was kind of a let-down. I was really hoping that she was a spy.

Of course, the fact that there were two devices also probably increases the likelihood of mind-control. So, hey! Today on the Metro I saw a lady who was being controlled by an evil scientist. Which is kind of cool.

Points for the song quote

More coffee for me boss
'Cause I'm not as messed up as I want to be

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Baseball Tragedy: Cause and Effect

Theory time boys and girls! Today's hypothesis: Glaucoma is still affecting the Twins.

With every day it seems to grow more and more likely that Torii Hunter will not be back with the Twins next season. This has many Twins fans quite upset, and if he leaves Hunter will certainly be missed; He's an excellent player, solid offensively and defensively (though he's probably no longer the best defensive outfielder in baseball). But it isn't just the thought of losing a great ball player that upsets most Twins fans. Instead they're afraid that they'll be losing something more.

With the resurgence of the Minnesota Twins in the early 2000's, several previously unheralded players became quite popular. Cristian Guzman was loved for his speed, Eddie Guardado was loved for his work ethic, and Corey Koskie was loved for being a Canuck. But of all the young exciting players, Torii Hunter was by far the most popular. Hunter was even called the "face of the franchise" (a label that has persisted, even though it's probably no longer accurate).

To understand why Hunter was the favorite you need to look a little further back in Twins history: to their World Series Championship teams of '87 and '91. That was a golden age in Twins baseball, with two championships in 5 years, the only team to win a Series in both the '80's and the '90's, and a team full of charismatic players. Among those players was the greatest baseball player I have ever seen: Kirby Puckett. Puckett was amazing on the field, but what made him the greatest was his absolute and pure love of the game. As I wrote when he died,

"When I was ten years old, my hero was a man named Kirby Puckett. He was my hero not because I wanted to play baseball as well as he did, but because he wanted to play baseball as much as I did."

Kirby Puckett was a living legend when he was playing ball. If you understand how Ripken was loved in Baltimore then you're part way to understanding how Puckett was loved in the Upper-Midwest. With very few exceptions, every person who cheered for the Minnesota Twins had the same favorite player: Puckett. I'm starting to tear up just thinking about him as I write this post. That's how deep our love for him ran. Even today it can move me to tears. If you had to pick a historical face of the franchise there is absolutely zero question who it would be.

And then, suddenly, he was gone. In the Spring of 1996 Puckett woke up blind in one eye. He'd been struck by glaucoma. He would never play again. Suddenly, without any warning, the Twins had lost their center-fielder. Even worse for the fans was that they had lost their hero. Not just their current favorite player. Not just a great athlete. Not just the star of the team. Twins fans lost their all-time favorite player. We lost our Ruth.

There was no chance for him to keep chasing records or milestones. No opportunity to serve as the day-in and day-out mentor to the next generation of Twins. No gradual descent into retirement like most stars. It was sudden and abrupt. The closest thing in baseball history was Lou Gehrig's diagnosis with ALS. It was a tragedy. And it left a piece of our hearts empty. For Twins fans there wasn't anyone to fill that hero spot, much less the favorite player spot.

Until we got Torii Hunter. Hunter was seen by many Twins fans as a torch-bearer. We pictured him as the new Kirby Puckett. Just like Puckett, Hunter was drafted and developed by the Twins. He was a defensive force. He was charismatic, and lovable, and he had fun playing the game. And we all still had a big hole in our hearts, so many of us filled it with Torii. Of course, Torii didn't immediately step in and take over for Kirby, at least not directly. Puckett was done after 1995. Hunter's first full year was 1999. That's three full seasons we suffered without a clear favorite player, and so when Hunter finally came along he was quickly anointed straight out. He was the new Kirby.

And because Hunter was the new Kirby, well, that meant he was the face of the franchise. The player who wouldn't be traded. Who'd always re-sign with the team. Who'd be there through it all, until he retired. Puckett was a life-long Twin, Hunter was the new Puckett, ergo... it was safe for us to get attached. Which only made it easier for fans to love him. It was our second chance with Puckett. Though he was a different player, in some ways Hunter was the exact same face of the franchise that we'd been missing.

In some ways, I think Hunter certainly got that treatment from the Twins. He's the only player who's still around from those teams of the early '90's. They've always taken the position that they were going to try to re-sign him. There might even have been times when the Twins turned down some tempting trades to keep Hunter. Nobody wants to lose Hunter, even if it turns out to be inevitable. I'm forced to wonder how things would have shaped up if Hunter hadn't been seen as the new Puckett. Would he still be a Twin? Would we even really care?

Which of course forces me to wonder: What if Puckett had never had glaucoma?

The obvious answer is that he would have kept playing. In 1996 Puckett was 35. It seems fair to speculate that Puckett could have had another 5 years of playing time. Especially on some of those bad '90's Twins teams, and with the DH position available, he easily could have played until he was 41 (and with milestones to chase, who knows how long he would have played). That would have brought Puckett into the 2000 season. Torii would have been in his second year, making them contemporaries, though only briefly.

What effect would this have had? Perhaps one would think that this would make us fans even more likely to see Torii as Kirby's torch-carrier, with the connection between the two a little more definite. Though that seems initially reasonable, on closer inspection, I just don't think it holds up.

Here's why: in 1995 Matt Lawton starting playing for the Twins. He was very briefly a teammate of Puckett's, and they were set to play together again in 1996. This is pretty much the scenario pictured above with Puckett and Hunter. Lawton was with the Twins until 2001 when he was traded to the Mets. Despite the fact that Lawton was a young, athletic outfielder, much like Puckett, he was never viewed by Twins fans in the favorite-player light that Puckett was seen in. Lawton was the direct replacement for Puckett on the field, yet never took over Puckett's spot in our hearts.

My thought is that this is precisely because they were contemporaries. When Lawton was traded fans saw this as simply a baseball decision. They didn't have the emotional attachment because Lawton never filled that favorite-player spot in our hearts. And the reason he never filled it was because it was already occupied when he came around. When Lawton came to the Twins he was blocked in our hearts by Puckett.

If Puckett's glaucoma had never happened, there wouldn't have been an opening for Torii Hunter to become our favorite player. He too would have been blocked in our hearts. If Hunter hadn't taken over the favorite player designation, then he would never have gotten the "face of the franchise" treatment. And who knows where that would put the Twins at today. Maybe they'd have an easier time letting Hunter go? Maybe they'd have an easier time signing him? Maybe he would have been traded long ago? It's impossible to say. But what I think is clear is that the premature end of Puckett's career is still affecting the Twins - and their fans - more than a decade later.

Whatever happens with Hunter, when the time comes, it will be hard for us fans to say goodbye. Because saying goodbye to Torii Hunter is almost the same as saying goodbye to Kirby Puckett. And that's a pain we don't want to feel again.

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Good-Guy Conference

This past weekend I attended the National Consumer Law Conference (NCLC). It's a conference designed for consumer advocates (many of whom are legal aid attorneys) to learn about all the new and exciting ways we can protect people from (and I am using absolutely no hyperbole when I say this) the most evil people in the world.

Let me be perfectly clear: debt collectors are scum. So are car salesmen, credit card corporations, "Pay-day" lenders, mortgage companies, and debt purchasers. Next to these folks the Red Sox look like angels. The creditors and collectors routinely defraud consumers with unconscionable contracts, buy debts for literally cents on the dollar (as in, they'll spend no more than $.04 to get $1.00 worth of debt), and harass people into paying all sorts of fees and penalties and amounts that they don't owe. There's all sorts of illegal behavior going on all the time, and it's absolutely disgusting. After this conference, I'm incredibly motivated to go after all of these evil companies and collectors.

Then again, that's always been my modus operandi: I don't care about helping the disadvantaged nearly as much as I care about punishing those taking advantage of them. In college philosophy classes the problem of evil posed no dilemma for me; I've got no complaints when bad things happen to good people. But when good things happen to bad people? Now that's injustice.

As you can probably tell, this conference was great for motivating me to continue working on these issues (at least, until I move on from Legal Services and go work on other issues in a different field). It was also a great educational conference. I learned a ton about consumer protection statutes, and the ways we can help prevent some of the abuses that creditors and collectors routinely engage in.

But for me the highlight was easily the two congressmen who cam to speak on Friday morning. Getting to be around the political process is a big part of why I came to D.C. in the first place, and so I had to take advantage of attending this session (even though it was optional, at 8 a.m., and I was the only one from my firm to go). The two congressmen were a big hit with me, for two very different reasons.

First there was Barney Frank. Frank is probably the biggest consumer advocate on the Hill, and he's been working hard to deal with all of the bad mortgages that are being made. He's proposed legislation that would penalize mortgage brokers from writing mortgages for any amount above the best rate the buyer would qualify for. Right now brokers will figure out the lowest possible rate and then direct buyers into a higher-rate mortgage because the broker gets a cut of the percentage for doing so. It's a total scam, and leads to a lot of people with good credit being put into loans that they've got no business being in. This isn't a case of all sub-prime (poor) buyers who can't get good rates; this seriously affects a lot of buyers, including those with good or average credit.

Despite the fact that Frank's bill will likely be successful, many of the advocates at the conference felt it didn't go far enough. In asserting this view to the Congressman they practically vilified him, shouting that he wasn't helping the situation. I would have felt bad for Frank, except that he easily gave just as good as he got. At first he calmly explained the political realities of the situation (a stricter bill wouldn't get passed, this was trying to avoid litigation (as opposed to making it easier to bring litigation, which is what these folks wanted)). As the lawyers kept standing up and yelling at Frank, he got madder and madder, and eventually was shouting back at some of the people. It was hilarious. Here was the strongest consumer advocate, proposing an excellent bill, and he was being yelled at for it by the very people he was trying to help! In my mind, Frank got the better of the argument. If not for that, it might not have been so funny. But watching him put these ingrates in their place was a riot.

The second Congressman was Representative Keith Ellison, from good ol' Minny. And he was brilliant. It was a speech you just don't hear from politicians these days (especially not when they're concerned about getting elected). He spoke openly and honestly about the war on the middle class, and how there's been no increase in wages since the 1960's. He flat out said that was the fault of major corporations and the upper class. He talked about the fact that CEO's get paid ridiculous amounts, and that only those with enough money to become serious investors really stand any chance. He focused on the lack of upward mobility, and he didn't couch what he was saying so that it didn't offend. He called for the regulation of credit cards and corporations in ways that protect the lower and middle classes. He labeled the victimization of consumers as the theft it is. It was brilliant.

This wasn't a speech that was designed to ensure his future political success: it was truth.

Unless he someday sells out, Keith Ellison will always have my vote.

I know things will get better
You'll find work and I'll get promoted
We'll move out of the shelter
Buy a big house and live in the suburbs

Monday, November 05, 2007

Phickle Thoughts

I recently saw the new American Masters episode on Charles Schultz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts. It coincides with a new biography about the man as well. Both the PBS documentary and the book (apparently) paint him as a troubled soul. However, his children apparently are saying that they both go too far in their portrayal. They don't deny that he had some issues with self-esteem and self-doubt, but they also claim he was generally a very happy person. My guess is that Schultz, like most people, was just a normal person; he probably did struggle with life at times (we all do), but he probably very much enjoyed it too.

It's kind of an interesting little issue that surrounds biography: you're summing up a person's life, something that can so rarely be encapsulated in any appropriate fashion. Glad I'm not a biographer.
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Speaking of Schultz, here's a link to one of the funniest Daily Show segments I've ever seen.
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Speaking of interesting links, if you've got any interest in politics this is a great one to check out. Instead of the standard one-dimensional left-right political spectrum this one plots an entire plane, with both an x (liberal/conservative) and y (authoritarian/libertarian) axis.

I scored a -6.62/-2.56. It looks like that puts me somewhere right around Gandhi and Mandela. Not bad company.

I do think this graph misses something though. Although they've successfully isolated economic policies on the x-axis, they still have too many things grouped together on the y-axis. The vertical spectrum essentially contains both social policies and views on the role of the state. Those are two very different elements; on social policy I'm probably pretty moderate, but on the role of the state I'm certainly not libertarian (after all, I think the role of the state is to make a good citizenry, not just to get out of the way of the citizenry). Perhaps a three-dimensional graph would really be better. I think someone should work on that. If anyone is interested, I'd be happy to look into that project with you.

And for anyone who takes the test, let me know how you scored. Could be pretty interesting! (hat tip Barzelay).
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If you're at all interested in good music, go check out Dan Wilson's new album Free Life. It's beautiful. And if you recognize his name, it might be because he was the former front-man for Semisonic. Or because he produced Mike Doughty's Haughty Melodic. Or because he wrote 2006's Song of the Year, the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice".

So yeah, seriously, go get this album.
(hat tip Joel)
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Finally, I'm thinking about changing the look of my blog a bit. It's always felt a bit clunky to me. I don't really like how big the text size is, and I'd like a more readable layout. I'll probably just end up with one of the other blogger-provided formats, but I'd love to put together something a little more individualistic. Anyone know anything about that sort of thing? If so, or if there's anything you'd like to see here, drop me a line.

Who we gonna end up being?
How we gonna end up feeling?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Priorities

Friday morning I woke up at around 8:30. Somehow in the night my mind had rolled forward an extra day and I was convinced that it was Saturday morning. This Saturday we had a 9:00 a.m. softball game, making it almost like another weekday. I nervously realized that we might be late, and hurriedly woke Laura so that we could get ready for the game.

"It isn't Saturday. It's Friday," she annoyedly informed me.

"Oh, good," I said, as I crawled back under the covers, "Then I can go back to bed."

The people thought they were just being rewarded
For treating others as they like to be treated
For obeying stop signs and curing diseases

Friday, November 02, 2007

Our Broken Primary System

Things that make me angry include: people telling Stephen Colbert he cannot enter the South Carolina primary.

Yes, Colbert went ahead on his "presidential campaign." Yes, it's probably all a big joke. But the man filled out all the paperwork, he got all of the required signatures, and he paid the filing fee. And then the South Carolina Democratic primary committee voted 13-3 that he would not be allowed on their ballot.

Huh? They can do that?!?

So what's to stop them from denying any candidate? On any basis they choose? Near as I can tell, they didn't have to give a specific reason for denying Colbert. So if they didn't like a candidate because of their race, they could probably deny them too, so long as they didn't say they were doing it because of race.

If a person fulfills all of the requirements to be entered into a primary then they should be allowed to enter the primary! Period. No committee should be able to out-vote the process. Especially when it is a supposedly democratic process. The candidate has to get a ton of signatures, and polls certainly reflect significant support for Colbert. By saying Colbert can't enter the primary these committee members are essentially saying "your motivation for choosing a candidate should not be the fact that that candidate/candidacy is humorous." Who the heck do these people think they are, that they can dictate what constitutes proper vote motivation ("votivation"?)?

It's horrible. Our primary system is horribly broken. We've known it for a long time, but Colbert's joke revealed the system for the joke it is.

At least he'll get his $2,500 filing fee back.

Oh, and this is telling (and hilarious) too: the Democratic filing fee was $2,500. The Republican filing fee was $35,000.

Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe