Baseball witchcraft

I hate to keep harping on Ichiro Suzuki, as I happen to admire his abilities and think very highly of his achievements. But I see Joe Girardi had him batting leadoff today. Which I think says more about Girardi’s limited tactical abilities as a manager than about Suzuki’s limited on-base percentage.

The leadoff hitter will get the most plate appearances in the course of the season, so he should be the best at getting on base (I think Alex Rodriguez would make a good leadoff hitter— he would hit more home runs, he can run around the bases really fast, and everybody is afraid to pitch to him anyway so he walks a lot). Suzuki, in his prime when he was hitting .360, used to fit the bill perfectly. But he doesn’t draw many bases on balls, so when he’s hitting .260 like he is now, he doesn’t get on base very often. He does not belong in the leadoff spot any more.

Then again, baseball managers are infamous for employing hocus-pocus that masquerades as savvy. They seem to be at war with the laws of economics: six-man starting rotations and bloated bullpens means paying more pitchers to pitch less. Only a monopolistic industry run by meatheads (Major League Baseball) can get away with such inefficiency.

The supposedly brilliant Tony La Russa has been known to bat his pitchers eighth in the lineup, and a better hitter ninth. The reasoning is that there are likely to be more base runners ahead of the better hitters at the top of the lineup. To quote an article about Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who copied the tactic in a game this year:

It gives us a couple of leadoff guys, a couple of speed guys back-to-back. I know Tony did it.

Except that, after the first inning, the “leadoff guy” for each subsequent inning is pretty much random (or at least it depends on the performance and disposition of the other batters in the lineup), with the batters at the top of the lineup having a greater probability of another plate appearance. If a batter is good at getting on base (a “leadoff guy”), then he should be in the lineup position most likely to allow him lead off an inning (maybe four or five plate appearances in a typical game versus three or four). Conversely, the worst hitter in the lineup (usually the pitcher) has a greater chance of coming to bat in any lineup position other than ninth. It stands to reason that with this kind of lineup the team is less likely to have runners on base for the good hitters to drive in.


The Yankees’ trade for Ichiro Suzuki surprised me. I don’t think it was a particularly good one, though I would have loved to have this guy six years ago. They must be betting on him playing better on a winning team. It looks like when he doesn’t hit, he doesn’t get on base. And the prevailing wisdom is that getting on base is everything.

I noticed they are going to have him play left field, which is also odd. I don’t have any doubts that Suzuki can play left field any more than I had doubts the Alex Rodriguez could play third base when they got him. But like Rodriguez, Suzuki is better at his old position than the incumbent. The Yankees show a lot deference to their veterans in that regard. I’m not sure if that’s admirable or misguided.

Our dark national weekend

On account of a variety of presidential, departmental, and gubernatorial proclamations, we’ve lowered our nation’s flag to half-staff four or five times in the last month. On Friday I lowered it for the shooting victims of Aurora, Colorado. We won’t raise it again until Wednesday. I feel like we abuse our flag this way, and ourselves, by being in a perpetual state of symbolic mourning. I think it cheapens the idea of official mourning  and renders it rather meaningless.

Despite the recent unpleasantness, the insincere and indulgent spectacle of leaders and commentators tearing at their clothes, we went to see “The Dark Knight Rises” on Saturday . There wasn’t any security theater— just regular motion picture theater, a crowd, and a pretty good movie. It gave me some hope that people weren’t cowering at home in reaction to the latest media event.

(The film, incidentally, is about a government unable to govern fairly, and citizens unable to carry out their democratic duties responsibly. Batman solves both problems with brutal and decisive violence.)

I’ve mostly avoided the news this weekend, and the predictable shouting about gun control. I did find today a calm, reasonable, yet passionate article by Jason Alexander, an actor, about the gulf between the Second Amendment and the unregulated self-arming of belligerent extremists. Like Jason Alexander, I’ve tried very hard to not let my dislike of gun fetishism and trigger-happy social engineering get in the way of my belief in the constitutional validity of responsible gun ownership.

Unlike Jason Alexander, I see these mass shootings more as symptoms of mental health problems (something nobody— politicians, the media, anyone— ever wants to talk about) than of lax gun control. Clearly, Colorado’s permissive conceal-and-carry, make-my-day gun laws didn’t deter this clown from assaulting those theater goers. But whatever it is about our society that produces such antisocial, hyper-individualistic berserkers with stunning regularity deserves examination as much as our gun laws.

So when we raise our flags to full-staff on Wednesday, we’ll have only completed another exercise in feigned solemnity. We’ll take a break for a while until the next appointed outrage. Meanwhile another psychopath is going untreated.


Liang’s book does not say what happened at the end of either story. What of that family of eight? What of the animals and birds crowded in around them? Did they float thus through all eternity? Did they ride the waves in their enormous boat, beneath the rain-sodden sky, forever and a day, skin and fur and feathers, until they became one with the water, the wood, and the wind?

And why salt?

Hong fails the examinations. He keeps the book.

Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son

Every once in a while at work I find a Christian tract left behind in one of the buildings. I wonder if these litterbugs really think a small piece of paper is going to change anyone’s mind. Then I remember Hong Xiuquan, a disappointed Chinese scholar who, after finding such a pamphlet (about Noah’s Ark and Lot’s wife, as related in the quote above), started a quasi-Christian uprising and nearly overthrew the Qing dynasty.

The perils of pedal power

Now that the weather has become tolerable for a while I rode my bike to work for the first time in a few weeks. Some sort of concrete-mixing operation sprung up just outside town last month, possibly in support of the major highway work along Interstate 80. This means there are many more trucks along my usually quiet commuting route. It adds a little edge to the ride.

This year’s meager rains have kept the roadside ditches from getting overgrown and choked with weeds. This means that from the road’s narrow shoulders I can see almost straight down into the culverts that cross beneath. The lack of vegetation doesn’t make the ditches any more dangerous; it simply makes more apparent my likely demise if one of those trucks blows me off the roadway.

Higgs boson

My grasp of Newtonian physics is okay, and with concentration I can understand relativity. I do not understand quantum physics at all. I have trouble believing that something so fundamental to our existence is so complicated that only a few people on earth can understand it. So I’m not excited about the discovery of the Higgs boson.

I keep thinking about another important discovery. Columbus set out to find a westward sea passage to India and, by golly, he found it. Except that he really found the Americas, though he never stopped believing it was Asia. So I feel like the discovery of the Higgs boson was a bit inevitable: the physicists at CERN set out to find it, and of course they did. Except that it’s not yet for sure, and the uncertainty is pretty large. I hope the physicists aren’t as savage as Columbus, and that they’ll admit if the Higgs boson isn’t all it’s expected to be.

As usual I suspect the hyperbole is fault of the news media which regularly throws around the term “God particle” to describe the Higgs boson. If it’s anything like a supreme being, the Higgs will create more questions than it answers.

Thank goodness for the mute button

Yankees-Sox this weekend. I haven’t been following the season very closely this year (and indeed I’ve been neglecting my fantasy league team). I don’t even recognize half these Red Sox. No wonder they stink. That and Bobby Valentine.

The game is on FOX tonight, so I hit the dipstick announcer jackpot: my arch-nemesis Tim McCarver, his sidekick and enabler Joe Buck, and their running-dog lackey Ken Rosenthal. Tonight McCarver was gushing about Robinson Cano’s defensive abilities. Which was interesting because I distinctly remember McCarver being dismissive of Cano in the past. Any fan who’s followed Cano’s career knows he has excellent range and gets rid of the ball faster than anyone, but I think he finally won a Gold Glove award last year so now McCarver’s all about Cano’s greatness.

Joe Buck earns my disapproval simply for not punching McCarver in the face once every half-inning.

As for Ken Rosenthal, my dad hates him with a venom that perhaps exceeds my own for McCarver. Rosenthal only appears on the broadcasts briefly to provide tidbits of baseball news, but he delivers these updates like he’s trying to seduce you with a really boring recipe (“The secret ingredient is… parsley.”).


Driving around Iowa City on a weekend evening is a good way to see the “stoonts” in action. A young man and his voluptuous blonde girlfriend approached an intersection. The male, full of piss and vinegar in the manner of youth, sprinted across the street to beat the oncoming cars, leaving his more sensible female companion stranded alone on the opposite corner.

Run toward the boobies, young man, not away from them!

An archaic barbarism persists

NPR aired a story today about the Kenyan government promoting circumcision as a way to reduce the transmission of HIV. The story claims  that

Studies have shown that circumcision can reduce the risk of a man’s contracting the virus by as much as 60 percent.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa is apparently nothing a little unnecessary surgery can’t fix. NPR didn’t bother to explain why male genital mutilation might reduce disease transmission. Presumably because circumcision makes cleaning oneself easier, and circumcision is a much better method of disease control than, say, teaching men how to clean themselves or practice safe sex.

Nor did the reporters ask the obvious question: why not chop off all body parts, male and female, related to sexually transmitted diseases and drug use? Infection rates would be reduced to almost zero, and Africa would the kind of amputee-populated place that Joseph Kony and monsters like him have been fighting for all their lives.