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New LAT Book Review From Me -- "McCain's Hard Call Reads Soft": In which I review John McCain's latest book, Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them. A sample from the review:

The choice of hinge moments lists heavily toward the making and preparation of war. Winston Churchill, who seems to be McCain's go-to historical lodestar this election (replacing 2000's Teddy Roosevelt), wins praise for building a bigger and faster navy than Germany before World War I. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr gets an attaboy for renouncing his principled pacifism in the face of Adolf Hitler. Civil War Gen. George McClellan is pilloried for failing to rout Robert E. Lee when he had the chance, and Washington's purveyors of "elite opinion" get zinged for mislabeling the Tet offensive as a U.S. defeat, thereby helping talk the American people out of the Vietnam War. As with Iraq, the justifications for Vietnam have never been of much expressed interest to McCain, strange given that he rotted in a Hanoi prison while his admiral father helped prosecute the war as chief of the Pacific Command. For him, the hard call in Vietnam was made by anti-war congressmen, not pro-war presidents, and the fashionable lefties got it wrong.
One thing that I didn't have enough space to get into is the non-insignificant news that McCain, very quietly, now changing his tune about the Keating Five scandal in this book.

In Worth the Fighting For he copped to "poor judgment," but was harsh toward the Senate Democrats who investigated him, and justified his intervention with regulators as being for the sake of looking after his constituents' jobs. He stressed a couple of times that he was basically guilty of going to two meetings.

Remarkably, 20 years after the original sin, McCain now tells us that:

I did so for no other reason than I valued [Charles Keating's] support. ... Had I weighed the question of honor it occasioned and the public interest more than my personal interest to render a small service to an important supporter, I would not have attended the meeting. ... I lacked humility and an inspiration to some purpose higher than self-interest.
This is a newsworthy shift in mea-culpability, but I doubt anyone outside of Arizona will notice.

08/13/2007 08:02 AM  |  Comment (2)

Well, Lookie That!:

Please commence the serial pre-ordering of my John McCain book right away.

We haven't figured out publicity yet, but I'm sure I'll be drumming up a bunch of my own, so if any of you reading this are potential interviewers and/or reviewers, please reach me at mleewelch-at-gmail.com, and let's figure something out!

08/12/2007 10:39 PM  |  Comment (12)

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez Remembers Her Torturer and Defender, Cathy Seipp: A nice tribute. Here's an interesting bit:

What many people do not know is: It was this peaceful, pleasant phone conversion with Cathy that led me to create the character of Alexis Lopez in PLAYING WITH BOYS. Alexis is a conservative, in Los Angeles, who loves dogs but doesn't have a lot of love for the LA Times. Just like Cathy. Alexis is as far right as you can get, just like Cathy. And I loved Alexis. I wanted to challenge myself to create a right-wing character I could identify with, as I had come to identify with Cathy. I felt hopeful that, if Cathy and I could be peaceful and civil, liberals and conservatives might also find a way to co-exist. Alexis ends up friends with a liberal named Olivia, who is slightly based on me and my life at the time. I always thought I would have a chance to tell Cathy I'd created that character as a sideways homage to her open-mindedness. I always figured our paths would one day cross, in person.
Link via Luke Ford.

08/12/2007 10:29 PM  | 

Top 10 Seasons by Angels Hitters Who Played Multiple Positions: This spring I launched an exciting new project -- a website dedicated to Angels history & analysis, to be the backbone and springboard for a new Los Angeles Angels: An Analytical History that I planned to self-publish & bring out in November, just after the team wins its second World Series.

But then, all at once, the editor of my section at work resigned in one of the most fill-in-the-pejorative journalism-ethics scandals in modern newspaper history; his deputy lit off for the Washington Post, I started editing all the editorials in the newspaper, and then a book publisher was all, "Hey, can you write that book you had been peddling about John McCain after all?"

And so the Angels Project got stillborn for the moment, and will likely continue to be as my book prepares publication (comes out this October!), and I continue working at the paper, and the usual excuses. In fact, even though my secret website exists somewhere, I don't even know where to find it anymore, and there's this one post I put there that I wanted to save for posterity. It's basically about how former Angels great Don Baylor got dozens of details wrong about his 1979 MVP season in his own autobiography. You'll have to wade through some numbers first, but it's here:

In starting this Top 10 Seasons by an Angel series way back when, I arbitrarily decided that in order to qualify for the top 10 at a given position, you had to play at least half the team's games there. This created some orphans; guys who played multiple positions either because they were bad fielders who split time at DH (Mo Vaughn), or were multi-talented enough to shift positions after an injury (Darin Erstad), or were designated rovers to begin with (Chone Figgins). Here are the 10 best seasons of such mutts, ranked by Win Shares.

1) Don Baylor, 1979 (LF 78, DH 65, RF 19)
162  628 120 186 36 139 22/12 71 .296 .371 .530 144 28.7  x    1
2) Chone Figgins, 2005 (3B 56, CF 50, 2B 42, LF 15)
158  642 113 186  8  57 62/17 64 .290 .352 .397 103 21.7      17
3) Darin Erstad, 1998 (1B 70, LF 70)
133  537  84 159 19  82 20/6  43 .296 .353 .486 115 21.3  x   14
4) Mo Vaughn, 1999 (1B 72, DH 70)
139  524  63 147 33 108  0/0  54 .281 .358 .508 118 18.7
5) Juan Rivera, 2006 (LF 56, RF 33, CF 20, DH 18)
124  448  65 139 23  85  0/4  33 .310 .362 .525 131 18.6
6) Jason Thompson, 1980 (1B 47, DH 45)
102  312  59  99 17  70  2/0  70 .317 .439 .526 166 18.0
7) Tim Salmon, 2003 (RF 78, DH 68)
148  528  78 145 19  72  3/1  77 .275 .374 .464 127 17.0
8) Roger Repoz, 1970 (RF 68, CF 42, 1B 18)
137  407  50  97 18  47  4/2  45 .238 .317 .442 111 16.9
9) Bob Oliver, 1973 (3B 49, RF 47, 1B 32, DH 12)
151  544  51 144 18  89  1/1  33 .265 .311 .412 110 16.5
10) Rich Reichardt, 1966 (LF 77, CF 20)
 89  319  48  92 16  44  8/4  27 .288 .367 .480 145 16.2      21

And the winner is: The franchise's first MVP, in its second-most magical season; clubhouse leader and menacing plate-crowder Don Baylor. He was named MVP by acclamation, earning 20 first place votes to runner-up Ken Singleton's 3 (and 8th-place finisher Bobby Grich's zero). Though he was widely and locally seen as the obvious selection over Grich, was he really better? Before attempting to answer that question, let's go off on a king-sized digression.

I noticed last month when ordering Don Baylor's autobiography Nothing But the Truth: A Baseball Life, that his Amazon reviews were just brutal regarding Groove's accuracy. Having a special taste for the lies or even just errors commissioned in the name of the "truth," I had to check for myself. So, limiting myself to Baylor's descriptions of the 1979 MVP season, I used the magic of Retrosheet to fact-check Baylor's claims. How many errors? Only around 31 30 or so. Here they are; italics are direct quotations:

Errors 1-2) On April 21 [...] when the game started, Bob Lacey, the A's left-hander, threw me a little slider, down and in. [...] I crushed a first-inning grand slam.

Bob Lacey wasn't the A's starter on April 21; in fact, he only started two games his whole career, none that year. Baylor did not hit a grand slam in the first inning; he grounded out to starter Matt Keough.

3) On June 1, Rick Wise of the Indians served up a 2-run home run in my first at-bat

Baylor walked in his first at bat on June 1.

4) [On June 28, Fergie Jenkins knocked me down]. Then I doubled. And then homered.

Actually, after the brush-back, Baylor homered, then doubled. Ticky-tack, granted.

5-6) On July 1, [...] I greeted Paul Splittorff with a 2-run home run in the first inning. [...] The next time up I hit another home run, this one against Marty Pattin.

That homer came in the second inning, not the first. And the next time up Baylor didn't homer, he grounded out, and against Splittorff, not Pattin. He did the same his next at bat, too.

7) On the Fourth of July, I faced A's reliever Dave Heaverlo in the eighth with a man on. [...] Moments later, Heaverlo was walking off the field; I'd hit the first pitch over the left-centerfield wall at the Big A.

Seventh inning, actually.

8-9) I needed 3 RBI against [Paul] Mitchell [to reach 100] in the opener [of a series against the A's], though, and only managed to get 1.

Mitchell didn't start the opener; Steve McCatty did. Baylor did get one RBI in the second game, but it was against Rick Lankford.

10-15) We were all in the same neighborhood at the [All-star] break, with Freddy [Lynn] about 15 RBI behind me. Then he went into Detroit one afternoon and drove in 10 runs by hitting 3 home runs and a triple. Ten RBI, just like that. I couldn't believe it. After holding the RBI lead practically all season, I started hearing footsetps. [...] I needed a big game. I got it on August 25

Lynn was 10 RBI behind at the 1979 All-star break. Also, he didn't face Detroit between the All-star game and Aug. 25 (in fact, he faced Detroit just four times the whole second half, all in late September, and drove in a grand total of 2 runs). Lynn never drove in 10 runs or hit 3 home runs in a game all season, and he only hit one triple. His biggest game was Aug. 14 against Minnesota, when he hit 2 homers and double, driving in 6.

16-2019) [On Aug. 25] in my second at-bat that day I hit a 3-run home run, off right-hander Jackson Todd. In my third at-bat I hit an RBI double into the left-field corner. Three at-bats, 8 RBI.

His second at-bat actually came off Jesse Jefferson, and he didn't homer, he popped out. His third at-bat was also off Jefferson, and it also wasn't a home run (RBI double). Three at-bats, 5 RBI. His fourth at-bat was an out. (Four at-bats, 5 RBI.) And his three-run homer, in his fifth at-bat, came off Larry Harlow, not Jackson Todd.

20-22) Rod Carew had a habit that became a dilemma for the 1979 California Angels. Whenever Rodney batted with men on first and second in no-out situations, he bunted, gladly taking the infield hit or the sacrifice. [...] It went that way for about a month or so. Then Jimmy [Fregosi] moved Rodney to the top of the order in place of Brian Downing.

Before he was moved from 3rd to the leadoff spot (on July 22, not after "a month or so"), Carew had all of 5 plate appearances with runners on first and second and nobody out. Here's what he did:
April 4 -- sacrifices successfully as the team's down 5-3 in the 8th inning; they score one and lose 5-4.
April 6 -- GIDP in the 1st inning; team scores nothing on way to 14-6 loss.
April 11 -- flies out to left in 1st inning; team scores 0 on way to 11-2 victory.
April 21 -- GIDP in the 3rd inning; team scores 3 on way to 13-1 victory.
May 27 -- bunt single in the 1st inning; team scores 2 on way to 9-1 victory.
So, he bunted twice, resulting in one sacrifice and a base hit. The only "dilemma" was where to place Carew after a seven-week layoff, considering that Disco Danny Ford had been raking, with power, in the three-hole. Also, Brian Downing neither led off nor hit higher than fifth in the batting order all season long.

23) Rodney, the 1978 league MVP

Rodney was MVP in 1977.

24) Buzzie [Bavasi] made good on his promise and eventually traded [Ken] Landreaux, too, but not until 1980.

Landreaux was traded before the 1979 season.

25) [W]e scored 866 runs, the most by a team in fifteen years.

The Twins scored 867 two years earlier.

26) Right before the 1979 All-Star break we were playing the Yankees [....] More than 43,000 fans [...] turned out for each of the three games.

According to Retrosheet, the highest attendance during the series was 41,805. It's possible different measurements were being used....

27) That Friday night game, on July 13, belonged to Nolan [Ryan]. [...] Mickey Rivers, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph, Jim Spencer, Bucky Dent, Chris Chambliss, they were all overmatched.

Mickey Rivers did not play that game, though I do not doubt he was overmatched on the bench.

28) By the time Gossage got out of the eighth [on July 14] the Yankees' lead was 2. He had served up home runs to me and to Rudi, back-to-back.

Brian Downing flew out to left between the two home runs.

29-30) The '79 Angels had [as a theme song] "Aint No Stopping Us, Now," by McFadden & Whitehead, a Top-Forty rhythm-and-blues single. Every time the song boomed out, I listened, especially to the first two lines, "Ain't no stopping us, now. We're in the groove."

The first two lines of that song -- not counting the sort of spoken-word preamble thingie -- are actually "Ain't no stopping us now // we're on the move." And even when the groove comes, they're not in it, they've "got" it.

Makes you wonder how people even wrote books before the Internet....

Anyway, back to the question at hand -- who was more valuable in 1979, Don Baylor or Bobby Grich? It's an age-old debate, one in which longtime readers of my Angel ramblings probably know where I'm going to end up. Still, let's have a look. Comparing the two, their offensive rate stats and total Win Shares are almost identical:

.296 .371 .530 144 28.7
.294 .365 .537 144 28.4

Baylor's dramatic advantages come in three places -- 42 more runs scored, 38 more RBI, and 5.7 more offensive Win Shares.

162  628 120 186 36 139 22/12 71 27.6/1.0
153  534  78 157 30 101  1/0  59 21.9/6.5

So, what's up with that?

Well, he had 19% more plate appearances: 722 to 609. If Grich had that many offensive opportunities, and performed at the same rate as the rest of his season, he would have earned 26.0 offensive Win Shares, and 32.5 overall, good enough for third-most in the league (behind Freddy Lynn's 34.0, and George Brett's 32.8). Why did Baylor get to hit so much more often? Two reasons:
1) Baylor started all 162 games; Grich started 151.
2) Baylor hit cleanup every dang game of the season; Grich hit 8th 66 times, 7th 45 times, 6th 26 times, and higher than 6th just 15 times. Grich also depressed his run totals by sacrificing 12 times, and by being followed in the order most frequently by Jim Anderson (.350 slugging percentage) and Rick Miller (.365).

So who was the better MVP candidate? Well, here's another way of looking at it. How valuable/rare is it to have a second baseman with 28.4 Win Shares, compared to a left fielder with 28.7? (Note that I'm being generous to Baylor by calling him a LFer that year, considering his substantial tenure at DH.) Let's make a little chart, showing the American League's Win Shares from regulars at those positions on each of the 14 teams in 1979:

XX: 01/02/03/04/05/06/07/08/09/10/11/12/13/14 AV MD
2B: 28/26/23/20/18/15/13/13/11/11/09/07/03/01 13 13
LF: 29/28/25/24/20/19/19/13/12/11/10/09/06/05 15 16

That's "average" and "median" over on the far right. Basically, half the teams got 19 Win Shares from their starting left fielder, and half got 13 Win Shares from their starting 2Bman. And keep in mind that the AL was better stocked than usual (and certainly more than now) at the pivot; numbers 2-4 on this list were Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, and near-Hall of Famers Willie Randolph and Lou Whitaker. Last year in the AL the league high in 2B Win Shares was just 18; for LF it was 29. All things being equal, equally great production at 2B and LF is more valuable at 2B, because it's a far more challenging defensive position to play (limiting the number of big-boppers who can just sort of stand there and hope the ball isn't hit to them).

But Groove performed better in the clutch, didn't he? Wrong again. Grich was better with 2 out and runners in scoring position (.328/.482/.516 to .250/.349/.370), when the game was late and close (.293/.370/.573 to .299/.349/.515), and when the game was tied (.298/.370/.544 to .295/.356/.508). The only game-score situation in which Baylor was significantly better was when the margin was already greater than four runs (.329/.421/.642 to .291/.354/.523).

Given all that, I'd vote for Grich as Angels MVP, hands-down. But Baylor was constantly hyped as Team Leader and house badass, plus there were all those RBIs, so he almost always got better press than Grich. But Grich was the more valuable player.
Conspicuous absence from this list: What list? Oh yeah, Top 10 seasons by a multi-position player. I'll pick Dave Chalk, just because he played all over the field in the Angels' sucking-in-the-'70s era. But the only two years you'd confuse him with being "good" he pretty much stayed put at 3B.
The hell's HE doing here?: I dunno, Jason Thompson?
Win Shares seasons: Counting only players with at least two split-position seasons of 10 or more Win Shares, here are the totals for Baylor, Repoz, Grich, Juan Beniquez, Dave Collins and Jeff DaVanon.
XX: 01/02/03
DB: 29/16
RR: 17/13/12
BG: 16/11
JB: 13/13
DC: 12/10
JD: 12/10

Positional miscellania: I wanted to see how often throughout Angels history they had a guy who played at least 10 games at three or more positions in a given season. Because I'm like that, I found the list strangely evocative. So here it is:
1961: Lee Thomas (RF 65, 1B 34, LF 26), George Thomas (3B 38, LF 24, CF 17)
1962: Lee Thomas (1B 90, RF 42, CF 18, LF 17)
1964: Willie Smith (LF 58, RF 31, P 15), Tom Satriano (3B 38, 1B 32, C 25)
1965: Tom Satriano (3B 15, 2B 12, C 12)
1966: Tom Satriano (C 42, 1B 36, 3B 25), Jimmy Piersall (RF 27, LF 25, CF 14), Jay Johnstone (LF 41, RF 13, CF 12)
1967: Tom Satriano (3B 38, C 23, 2B 15), Jose Cardenal (CF 70, LF 27, RF 17), Woodie Held (3B 19, SS 13, CF 10),
1968: Tom Satriano (C 84, 2B 14, 3B 11), Chuck Hinton (1B 48, RF 23, 3B 13, LF 10)
1969: Roger Repoz (1B 31, CF 22, RF 16, LF 13)
1970: Roger Repoz (RF 68, CF 42, 1B 18)
1971: Roger Repoz (RF 72, CF 25, 1B 13)
1972: Vada Pinson (LF 104, CF 29, RF 15)
1973: Vada Pinson (LF 75, CF 32, RF 25), Bob Oliver (3B 49, RF 47, 1B 32)
1974: Bobby Valentine (LF 62, SS 36, 3B 15)
1975: Rudy Meoli (SS 28, 3B 15, 2B 11), Morris Nettles (LF 39, CF 38, RF 17)
1976: Bruce Bochte (LF 71, 1B 59, RF 18), LeRoy Stanton (LF 33, CF 31, RF 27), Bob Jones (CF 25, RF 21, LF 17)
1977: Don Baylor (LF 48, RF 19, 1B 18, CF 11)
1978: Dave Chalk (SS 97, 2B 29, 3B 22), Ken Landreaux (RF 35, LF 32, CF 23)
1979: Larry Harlow (CF 33, RF 15, LF 11)
1980: Dickie Thon (SS 22, 2B 21, 3B 10)
1981: Larry Harlow (LF 21, RF 13, CF 7), Juan Beniquez (CF 36, LF 15, RF 7)
1982: Juan Beniquez (RF 51, LF 37, CF 25), Bobby Clark (RF 57, CF 24, LF 24)
1983: Juan Beniquez (LF 38, RF 31, CF 30), Ron Jackson (3B 38, 1B 35, LF 14)
1984: Bobby Grich (2B 91, 1B 25, 3B 21)
1985: Juan Beniquez (1B 46, CF 36, RF 22, LF 18), Bobby Grich (2B 116, 1B 16, 3B 15), Ruppert Jones (LF 31, RF 31, CF 18)
1986: Ruppert Jones (RF 96, LF 28, CF 10)
1987: Jack Howell (LF 78, 3B 48, RF 15, 2B 13)
1988: Tony Armas (LF 74, CF 36, RF 10)
1990: Donnie Hill (2B 60, SS 24, 3B 21), Dante Bichette (RF 53, LF 51, CF 16), Max Venable (LF 40, CF 33, RF 10)
1991: Max Venable (RF 30, CF 27, LF 13)
1992: Rene Gonzales (3B 53, 2B 42, 1B 13), Chad Curtis (RF 62, LF 48, CF 35)
1993: Stan Javier (LF 36, CF 16, RF 16, 1B 12)
1994: Jim Edmonds (LF 59, 1B 22, RF 19)
1995: Spike Owen (3B 29, SS 25, 2B 16)
1997: Craig Grebeck (2B 26, SS 20, 3B 15)
2001: Scott Spiezio (1B 105, 3B 10, LF 10), Benji Gil (SS 44, 2B 21, 1B 18)
2002: Orlando Palmeiro (RF 47, LF 33, CF 11), Benji Gil (2B 26, SS 14, 1B 10)
2003: Shawn Wooten (1B 32, C 19, 3B 17), Eric Owens (CF 48, RF 42, LF 10)
2004: Chone Figgins (3B 92, CF 54, 2B 20, SS 13), Jeff DaVanon (CF 39, RF 29, LF 24)
2005: Chone Figgins (3B 56, CF 50, 2B 42, LF 15), Jeff DaVanon (RF 26, CF 24, LF 17)
2006: Chone Figgins (CF 96, 3B 34, LF 16), Juan Rivera (LF 56, RF 33, CF 20) Robb Quinlan (1B 54, 3B 18, LF 11).

Seems like there's some good stories associated with Tom Satriano, but they'll have to wait until I have a spare minute.

08/12/2007 09:12 PM  |  Comment (7)

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