Bullpen mismanagement

If I might engage in a little second-guessing of Jim Leyland…

In the eighth inning  Leyland practically emptied the Tigers’ bullpen before bringing in his “closer,” Joaquin Benoit. I don’t quite understand his need to work his way through the pitching staff up to his to best reliever. In the playoffs, unlike in the regular season, you don’t need to save your pitchers. If Benoit can come in for a four-out save, why not a six out save? They have the day off tomorrow and they could be done for good very soon. I realize Benoit gave up the game tying run but a series of failures put him in a position where one bad pitch to the Red Sox’s best hitter would lose the lead. Why not just go to your best pitcher first?

Among its other ailments, Major League Baseball suffers from a preoccupation with roles rather than results. But the results are unavoidable.


I had a baseball game on the television while Lore was studying.

“I like the commercials that play during sports games,” she commented.

“That’s interesting,” I replied, “because those commercials are not made for you.”

“I know but they are always about being strong, being a hero,” she said. “I like the voices.”

West Branch Cemetery

Two gravestones in the shade of a tree in a cemetery.
The graves of Jesse and Hulda Hoover, parents of the 31st President

I was in West Branch this morning to meet friends from work for lunch. It was a nice day so before I went home I walked up to the West Branch Municipal Cemetery, where President Hoover’s parents and other relatives are buried. I don’t think I had ever visited there before.

The Hoovers are in a little Hoover section where about a dozen family members are buried. They had never lived in  Engraved in stone all around the cemetery are other familiar names from my reading of the town’s and the historic site’s history: Leech, Stratton, Fawcett, Rummells, Enlow. I don’t know why I was so surprised to see them there.

A citizen speaks

My crusty retired neighbor caught me on the way home. “I assume you are not working,” he said. When I confirmed he was sympathetic and  went on a tirade about his disapproval of Congress and politics in general, adding, “Twenty-four years as a federal employee and thirteen as a state employee. I can take it without K-Y now.”

“Ah, I’m just venting,” he also said.

Democracy shut down

I’m beginning my third day of furlough as the federal government is shut down.

There are those who take issue with the term “shutdown,” arguing the government is not truly closed, just limiting its operations. Which I tend to agree with, in the the sense that  government operations cannot simply be abandoned if we plan on ever coming back to them. As a case in point, NPR reports how National Parks are physically closed, with park rangers  enforcing the closures, though other public lands like national forests are not. How lovely if poachers and looters and could get a break from the onerous preservation laws in national parks! Alas, those laws are still in effect, therefore the parks are closed.

The shutdown is more like a conservative fantasy: environmental regulars and tax auditors are sent home while border guards and the people who spy on us are not. It amounts to an evasion of laws Congresses have already passed and the usual procedure of repealing unwanted laws. In other words, nothing more than a subversion of our democracy.

End of the dynastic cycle

October is upon us tomorrow and it brings the promise of a federal government shutdown and me being furloughed from work. There are things to look forward to, though, like autumn colors (if any; it was a very dry summer) and postseason baseball.

The Yankees didn’t make into the playoffs this year. They tied for third place in a tough division, and actually won 85 games despite an it-would-be-funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-serious epidemic of injuries that wiped out the core of their lineup, some of their backups, and a handful of pitchers.

Their record might give the illusion that the Yankees pulled off something of a moral victory with a makeshift roster of castoffs and spare parts a la Major League or Moneyball. In fact, they were quite bad much of the year. They owe their winning record to a strong start wherein everybody was firing on all eight pistons before the prolonged summer collapse, to the relocation of the 111-game losing Houston Astros to the American League, and Yankees’ repeated thrashings of the hapless Toronto Blue Jays (last in the American League despite an expensive retooling last winter). The Yankees simply did not win games against good teams and played even worse down the stretch. Even the Jays played the Yankees tough in September. Had they squeaked into the playoffs I can’t imagine them getting very far.

The season ended on a sort of warm note. Two of our favorites, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, retired at the end. Rivera had a season-long send-off, with each city they visited celebrating his storied career. Following his appearance at Yankee Stadium,  he declined to pitch during the last three games in Houston, letting the heartfelt hometown farewell be his last game. Throughout all that, he put together another all-star season, performing indistinguishably from any of his other 18 seasons.

This leaves Derek Jeter as the last connection to the late dynasty. He didn’t play most of the year, frustrated by slow rehabilitation and repeated injuries. He will probably return next year, but part of me wishes he’ll retire so the Yankees can move on, because the Yankees have become victims of their own successes. They expect themselves to contend every year, so rather than take chances on promising young players, they staff themselves  with high-priced free agent mercenaries. The young players never get a chance to fail.

Phil Hughes is a case in point. Joe Girardi yanks him from the mound every time he gets in trouble and replaces him with a revolving door of middle relievers visiting from Scranton. After seven years Hughes has no confidence, shows no improvement. And it’s possible he’s just not a good pitcher or will never recover fully from the injuries he’s had but I think he’s never really learned how to pitch. He’d be better off on some lousy team that’s happy to have him throw six or seven innings once a week, no matter the outcome.

So I hope the Yankees don’t go out and try to buy another championship like they did in 2009 (it sounds like they won’t; the owner is trying to keep the payroll from inflating further). Maybe they can develop some exciting home-grown players that we’ll actually care about when they take the field.


Will Shortz

Maybe I’ll file this under “stuff white people like” but we went to see Will Shortz at the Englert Theater this evening. Lore serendipitously won two tickets for the lecture a couple of days ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect… well, no, I did. When I used to work early on Sundays I listened to his puzzle segment on NPR. He’s a lot of fun. He talked a little bit about what a crossword puzzle editor does (people send him crosswords they made, he chooses them and edits things like the clues, and publishes them in the New York Times; a Sunday crossword is worth $1,000), the history of crosswords, answered some questions, and then played a word game with the audience. I answered one: “Awash (Tacoma, Washington; a word made from the last letters of a city and the first letters of its state),” but a lot of other people got it too.

Photography awards

The Iowa State Fair chose a couple of my photos for display in the photography salon (the stools from Portland and the ever-popular Maui snack bus). I didn’t win any ribbons— and didn’t expect to— but was invited to a reception for the selected exhibitors at the State Fairgrounds. We gathered in the courtyard of the fair’s Cultural Center to see the awards presented.

The State Fair begins next weekend.

A crowd gathers in the courtyard of a fairground pavilion under towering white wind turbine.
Iowa State Fair photography awards