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In Association with Amazon.com Tsar

A Peace To End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East
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From Beirut to Jerusalem
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Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990
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© 1986-2004

Welcome Back, Chris Scheer: Not that you'll be staying for long....

12/30/2006 09:36 PM  | 

Ron Fineman, RIP: The Year of Death continues apace with the passing of local TV news critic Ron Fineman, who had battled colon cancer for years. He was only 54.

Ron and I had crossed paths, shared a few e-mail laughs, sat on panels together and crossed the occasional sword over the years. His was one of the few media-crit sites around in L.A. when I came here in 1998, and it always made up for its atrocious design sense (this coming from me!) and near-hysterical attacks on broadcasters who speak accented English with its heartfelt and energetic passion for something as seemingly oxymoronic and irrelevant as local TV journalism ethics. This led him to quite a few scoops, and a consistently interesting site for those interested in such things (and even for those who aren't). We worked hard on an investigative Op-Ed piece he wrote for the Times, and I regret we weren't ever able to get it just right. Nice guy, real self-deprecating sense of humor, and a hopeless love for a possibly doomed cause. He'll be missed.

(Link from L.A. Observed, which has a suitably gruesome roundup of its 2006 death notices.)

12/30/2006 09:00 PM  | 

My Favorite James Brown Song, Circa 1970:

Sorry for the cutoff at the end. If you like the dancing and '60 technicolor, there's always Popcorn:

Remember that time when James Brown was playing that one song, and he pulled Michael Jackson up on stage to dance and sing, then he pulled Prince up to play guitar and do a striptease? You don't? I don't either! But it happened:

And this has got to be one of the best crazy celebrity interviews ever:

12/30/2006 08:10 PM  | 

Top 10 Best Things About Working for the Evil MSM: I make a jackassy little list for Tony Pierce, who writes a kind intro.

12/30/2006 02:50 PM  |  Comment (2)

If You're Silly Enough to Be Reading This Site on a Beautiful Saturday Afternoon: You should turn on the teevee and watch the James Brown funeral. Oh, my.

12/30/2006 12:36 PM  | 

In Praise of Baseball Reference's Many Upgrades, Which (Surprise!) Bolster the Hall of Fame Case for Bobby Grich: As my similarly addled pal Scott Ross IMmed me a week or two ago, "Can we talk briefly about the giant leaps forward B-R has made this year? Holy shit!"

"B-R" is Baseball-Reference.com, or basically what the old Baseball Encyclopedia used to be for kids like me -- the why-would-you-even-think-about-looking-anywhere-else home for easy-to-digest baseball statistics. Except for that it's 400 times better & certainly a lot lighter to carry. Now, this offseason, it has added all kinds of neato new features, like career and season-by-season splits for pitchers and hitters (look! Yaz was basically a platoon player!); daily lineups used by long-ago managers (Gene Mauch in 1982, for instance), game logs, and so on. But the new drug, pure crack as far as I'm concerned (having never actually, you know, smoked crack), is a little tool you'll find on player pages called "Neutralize Stats." With one click of a button you can, in a sense, erase the three biggest sources of distortion in player statistics -- ballpark, era, and length of season. Now you can take a guy who played in pitcher's parks in low-scoring eras (Rusty Staub, say) and reasonably compare him to a guy who played the same position at Coors Field (Todd Helton). Instead of a Staub's decent .279/.362/.431 vs. Helton's stunning .333/.430/.593, you soon discover that Rusty's pretty close-- .300/.385/.460 over 23 seasons vs. Helton's .306/.401/.545 over 10.

I've been saying for years that hitters who played in the modern dead-ball era, from 1963 to 1992, and especially '63-76, are almost criminally underrated, especially when compared to those from the inflationary '20s and '30s, or 1890s. Position after position you'll find the Hall of Fame nearly empty of hitters from the productive years of the Rolling Stones' career. In the offensively robust season of 1926 there were five Hall of Fame second basemen playing full-time on the 16 major league teams -- Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, and Tony Lazzeri, yet in 1976-77, 1981-82 and 1985-86 there was just one for the 26 teams (Joe Morgan, then Ryne Sandberg); and for the rest of the time between 1971-92, there was never more than two HoFers playing 2B regularly in any given year. Saying this, and maybe looking at some semi-exotic context-leveling tool like Win Shares, is one thing; expressing the difference in traditional, easy-to-understand stats is something else.

The best or second-best 2Bman in baseball during that 1976-86 drought was my favorite player, Mr. Bobby Grich, the most deserving eligible pivot man currently not in the Hall of Fame. You can summarize the case against Grich very simply -- A lifetime batting average of .266 just ain't high enough for the Hall. So what does "Neutralize stats" say about that?

First, let us stipulate that five of the 18 Hall of Fame second basemen are "inner-circle" types we need not bring into the number-crunching -- Collins, Morgan, Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, and Jackie Robinson. A sixth, Frank Grant, was a Negro Leagues player, so we can't really compare his stats. So let's put Bobby Grich's raw, non-neutralized offensive numbers against the remaining 12 Hall of Fame 2Bmen. They are, in order of lifetime OPS, Gehringer, Lazzeri, Bobby Doerr, Rod Carew, Frisch, Sandberg, Billy Herman, Biddy McPhee, Red Schoendienst, Nellie Fox, Johnny Evers and Bill Mazeroski. Turns out Grich is smack dab in the middle of that pack:

NM  YRS  G    AB    R   H     2B  HR  RBI   BB  SB   BA  OBP  SLG OPS   RC  
CG 24-42 2323 8860 1774 2839 574 184 1427 1186 181 .320 .404 .480 884 1714
TL 26-39 1740 6297 986 1840 334 178 1191 869 148 .292 .380 .467 847 1114
BD 37-51 1865 7093 1094 2042 381 223 1247 809 54 .288 .362 .461 823 1184
RC 67-85 2469 9315 1424 3053 445 92 1015 1018 353 .328 .393 .429 822 1588
FF 19-37 2311 9112 1532 2880 466 105 1244 728 419 .316 .369 .432 801 1456
RS 81-97 2164 8385 1318 2386 403 282 1061 761 344 .285 .344 .452 796 1312
BG 70-86 2008 6890 1033 1833 320 224 864 1087 104 .266 .371 .424 795 1072
BH 31-47 1922 7707 1163 2345 486 47 839 737 67 .304 .367 .407 774 1151
BM 82-99 2135 8291 1678 2250 303 53 1067 981 568 .271 .355 .372 727 1081
RS 45-63 2216 8479 1223 2449 447 84 773 606 89 .289 .337 .387 724 1112
NF 47-65 2367 9232 1270 2663 355 35 790 719 76 .288 .348 .363 711 1144
JE 02-17 1784 6137 919 1659 216 12 538 778 324 .270 .356 .334 690 727
BM 56-72 2163 7755 769 2016 294 138 853 447 27 .260 .299 .367 656 858

Second-worst in batting average and hits, yes, but also 2nd in homers and walks, 4th in OBP, 7th in slugging. Now, let's see what happens when you neutralize everyone's stats; allowing Johnny Evers to play 162 games a year, Doerr and Gehringer to lose some of their home-field advantage of playing in hitters parks, and so on. Suddenly, the '70s kids go straight to the front of the line:

NM  YRS  G    AB    R   H     2B  HR  RBI   BB  SB   BA  OBP  SLG OPS   RC
RC 67-85 2525 9818 1667 3405 498 98 1182 1135 395 .347 .413 .452 865 1853
BG 70-86 2067 7299 1257 2096 364 260 1052 1230 119 .287 .395 .458 853 1307
CG 24-42 2435 9070 1640 2757 554 176 1318 1146 177 .304 .385 .455 840 1585
TL 26-39 1827 6561 984 1877 340 181 1190 881 152 .286 .372 .457 829 1117
BD 37-51 1960 7407 1116 2102 395 229 1267 834 56 .284 .357 .455 812 1204
RS 81-97 2200 8576 1409 2489 421 293 1127 798 359 .290 .350 .461 811 1398
FF 19-37 2439 9580 1575 3002 480 108 1285 753 443 .313 .365 .427 792 1496
BH 31-47 2018 8167 1285 2540 529 48 931 802 71 .311 .374 .414 788 1271
JE 02-17 1877 6644 1149 1933 251 12 665 909 380 .291 .380 .358 738 899
RS 45-63 2312 8904 1317 2608 455 88 829 645 92 .293 .341 .392 733 1200
NF 47-65 2445 9639 1404 2854 380 36 866 770 79 .296 .356 .372 728 1257
BM 56-72 2202 8037 879 2200 321 149 973 489 28 .274 .314 .386 700 979
BM 82-99 2663 9964 1620 2407 317 57 1020 1007 567 .242 .317 .331 648 1027

If Bobby Grich hit .287 with 260 homers, 2000+ hits and a .395 OBP, would you vote for him? Hell yes, you would -- don't forget that he was one of the five best defensive second basemen to ever play the game (I'd argue he ranks just behind Mazeroski). Well, these stats reflect not what he would have done, but rather what his offensive contributions were actually worth at the time, comparatively. He was basically Ryne Sandberg or Bobby Doerr, but with 50% more walks. His offense, on a percentage basis, was more valuable than Charlie Gehringer's (this is something that I would not have ever fully accepted before). He played in pitchers parks, had his best season (1981) in a strike year, three of his four best seasons ('81, '76 and '72) in offensive drought years, and he missed most of the expansion-fueled offensive mini-boom of 1977 with a wrenching back injury. The only time league runs/game even crossed the 4.63 threshold (the level at which everyone's stats are translated to in this exercise) was 1979, and he .294 with 30 homers and 101 RBIs. Neutralize his stats, and he hit .300 five times (instead of once), scores 100 runs four times (instead of never), drives in 100 three times (instead of once).

Grich's other main problem, one that his candidacy probably won't recover from, is that we have a new Hall of Fame generation of '90s-fattened second basemen coming down the pike - - Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent. Still, this tool is just incredible -- look at how much Biddy McPhee actually couldn't hit! Check out how much Lazzeri still could, even after adjusting for '20s-'30s inflation. And my oh my just look at that Rod Carew!

12/30/2006 12:01 AM  |  Comment (12)

Have a Francy Christmas, Tout le Monde! Hope you eat as many snails as I did last night!

12/24/2006 11:49 PM  |  Comment (2)

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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