The 2023 Hall of Fame Ballot

It’s that time again! The Baseball Hall of Fame has announced the candidates on the main ballot. It’s a pretty “meh” group; all the superstars have come off (for one reason or another). The biggest names on the ballot are Scott Rolen and Todd Helton. Great players, but not the sort that scream out “Hall of Famer”. When you have to dig into the “advanced stats” because no one really looks like they belong, well….

There are fourteen newcomers to the ballot; let’s give them all their due.

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Marc Fogel

By now you might have heard of Brittney Griner, the American basketball player who, while playing in Russia, got busted for possession of marijuana (she was using it to help deal with the pain from assorted minor injuries) and was sentenced to nine years in prison – a labor camp, specifically.

There’s been quite a bit of justified outrage at her treatment, with much news coverage of her case and calls for her release.

But what of Marc Fogel?

He’s another American citizen who was living in Moscow, teaching history to the students of American diplomats and other VIPs who were there for extended periods. By all accounts, the 60-year-old Fogel was liked and respected by everyone. On a visit back to the US in 2021 for some medical attention, he was prescribed marijuana to help him deal with chronic pain issues resulting from multiple surgeries.

On his return to Moscow in August 2021, he was nabbed at the airport and charged with drug smuggling for the marijuana and cannabis oils he had with him (less than 20 grams in total). At his trial, both the prosecution and judge noted his utter lack of prior record, fine character, and medical need – but he was still sentenced to FOURTEEN YEARS of hard labor in a penal colony.

Given his age and health, that’s pretty much a death sentence.

Where’s the outrage for him? Where are the news articles reporting on his case? Why can’t he even get the State Department to declare him as “Wrongfully Imprisoned”, thereby opening up a lot more diplomatic tools to work for his release?

Is it because he’s pretty much a nonentity? Just another American living and working abroad, and not a star athlete?

I can’t find any mailing or e-mail addresses, but these are the people you should probably contact (along with your representatives in Congress):

Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State

Urza Zeya, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights

BOOK REVIEW: Otherlands

Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds
Thomas Halliday
Random House
Copyright 2022 by the author

One of the most underrated works of art is not found in any small gallery or private collection. It is readily available for the public to view, prominently displayed in a well-known museum. It is the “Age of Reptiles” mural by Rudolph Zellinger, in the Peabody Museum at Yale University in New Haven, CT.

An “illustrated timeline” of some 300 million years of Earth’s history, Zallinger depicted not only dinosaurs and reptiles, but plants as well, using the best scientific information that could be had in the early 1940s. It’s one of the first attempts (and undoubtedly one of the most successful) at depicting the creatures of the distant past in as accurate and complete an environment as possible.

Needless to say, since then we’ve learned a lot about the dinosaurs and other living things of the deep past. Halliday, a paleontologist working out of the Natural History Museum in London, has taken all the new findings and has painted not a continuous mural, but rather a set of “dioramas” depicting each of the major geologic eras in Earth’s history. They aren’t collections of “things you might have seen at that time”; rather they are based on fossil evidence at specific locations – locations where, by pure luck, enough was preserved to give a good picture of all the life that inhabited the area.

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On the 2022 World Series

Well, that was a set of games. At least, in the opinion of this writer, the “proper” result was achieved. I really don’t think it would have been “right” for the team with the worst regular season record of all the playoff teams – one that could only finish third in their division – to have won the Championship. Yes, the Phillies showed that they can compete with the best. But does that make them The Best?

One of the things that annoyed me quite a bit about the coverage was the very frequent mention that this was the Phillies’ first World Series appearance in thirteen years, as if that was somehow a huge “drought”.

Well, you know which teams are in a longer “drought”? Here they are, with the last time they appeared in a World Series:

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MOVIE REVIEW: Viy (USSR, 1967)

It’s Spring Break at the seminary! The wannabe monks are being set free for a spell; this means that they’ll proceed to prank the locals and (lightly) sexually harass whatever women come within reach.

Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov), one of these prospective monks, finds that he and his friends have wandered too far away from town when night falls to find a decent bed. A farmhouse inhabited by an old woman provides some shelter, but he’s forced to bed down for the night in the barn. Eh, presumably he’s had worse accommodations. His rest is interrupted by a visit from the old woman, who it appears wants to do a little sexual harassment of her own. Well, Khoma isn’t having any of it, but she won’t take no for an answer. She turns out to be a witch, and casts a spell of him that stiffens him, allowing her to ride him around all night long. Wait, get your mind out of the gutter. What were you thinking? She forces him to carry her on his shoulders while flying around the countryside.

After finally landing, Khoma is freed from her spell. He promptly whacks the magic out of her, revealing her true form as a lovely young woman (Natalya Varley). Why she needed to disguise herself to get men to do her bidding is left unsaid. Khoma flees the scene, leaving the unconscious woman behind.

Little does he know his problems have just begun.

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The Little Old Local Cemetery

It’s the time of year when people turn to ghost stories and hauntings and graveyards and all that. There is a small – about ¾ of an acre – graveyard not too far from where I live. It’s old, too. And run down, of course. Perhaps there are some stories about it?

At the very least, a little exploration ought to result in a blog post…

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Book Review: The Baseball 100

The Baseball 100
Joe Posnanski
Avid Reader Press
Copyright 2021 by the author

It started out as a project on his personal blog. Essays on who longtime baseball writer Joe Posnanski felt were the 100 greatest baseball players of all time. He never got around to finishing it. Then, when he moved over to The Athletic, he started the list again. This time, presumably because he the site was paying for his contributions, he finished it. Along the way, commenter after commenter begged him to collect them all into a book. Many said they’d buy it whatever the price.

A little hesitant, Posnanski wasn’t sure people a book that merely collected his online essays would sell. He gave in, and a publisher was found. Another writer and baseball fan, George F. Will, heard about the book and demanded to write the introduction.

The book was an instant success, rocketing to the top of the charts.

How could a simple collection of biographical essays (with minimal photographs and about as plain a cover as you can imagine) on great baseball players become a best seller? Continue reading

The New Playoff Format

On the off chance that you, as a baseball fan, haven’t been paying attention, Major League Baseball is going with an expanded playoff format this year. Six teams from each league will be fighting it out; the two division winners in each league with the best records will sit out the first round of playoffs while the other four battle it out in best-of-three series for the opportunity to face them in the second round.

Here’s how the “seeding” works:

1st seed: Division winner with the best overall record.
2nd seed: Division winner with the next best record.
3rd seed: Division winner with the third best record.
4th, 5th, and 6th seeds: Non-division winners with the three best overall records.

There are a bunch of rules in place to prevent the need for tiebreaking games.

In the first round, the third and sixth seeds play each other, as do the fourth and fifth seeds. In the next round, the winner in that first series (3 vs 6) will play the second seed; the winner in the other series (4 vs 5) will play the first seed.

Pretty complicated, isn’t it. It will get worse should MLB decide to expand the playoffs to seven teams per league, as some are speculating.

Anyway, it is always useful when there’s a format change like this to hop back in time and see what the playoffs would have looked like if these rules were in place at the time…

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Gate (1987)

It was a dark and stormy night in Nameless Suburban Town. In the midst of some unsettling dreams, a bolt of lightning takes out the tree in the backyard of Glen’s (Stephen Dorff) home. The next day, the removal of the now-dead tree reveals a rather large hole in the ground. Well, dealing with it will have to wait. Glen’s parents are heading out of town for the weekend, leaving his older sister Alexandra “Al” (Christa Denton) in charge. A large panel of wood is placed over the hole, and strict instructions are given to NOT go in and poke around.

Well, try telling unsupervised teens that they can’t do something. Glen and his friend Terry (Louis Tripp) poke around in the hole. While digging out a large geode, Glen cuts himself on a splinter of wood. A few drops of blood fall into the hole – can’t be anything significant, right?

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Pandemic to Endemic

So it seems President Biden caused quite the stir when he said in his 60 Minutes interview that the COVID pandemic was over. Quite a few people – medical professionals and infectious disease experts included – disagree with him, and warn that COVID is still around, and that there’s still plenty of potential for new and dangerous variants to pop up.

Well, they’re right.

But so is President Biden.

The pandemic phase is over, and we’ve shifted into the endemic phase.

The time for containment is over. COVID is everywhere; there’s no justification in shutting schools and closing businesses. Nor is there much point in requiring masks or proof of vaccination. By now, everyone who is going to get the vaccine (and the boosters) has done so. And no one is going to tolerate masking up when they don’t have to. Our health care system can handle the current case load, and there are a number of good treatments should someone catch the disease. We can even scale back some of the emergency economic measures, too.

Yes, COVID is still around. It’s still killing people. People should still get booster vaccines as they become available, and put on a mask if they’re going into a health care facility of any kind (or if they want to, just in case). Yes, those who have “long COVID” will need the requisite long term care; that’s something that can be dealt with as it comes up.

BUT.

We can handle it. COVID isn’t scaring anyone any more. It’s time to shift from a preventive strategy to a mitigation one.

Enough panicking – it’s pointless.