Scott Rolen

Scott Rolen just won election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Playing third for the Phillies and Cardinals (with end of career stints with the Blue Jays and Reds), he made seven All Star teams and won eight Gold Glove awards for his fielding excellence over his seventeen seasons. He earned a World Series title with the Cardinals in 2006, but other than being named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1997, there’s not much else in the way of trophies.

His career numbers are unremarkable. A .281 batting average and 316 home runs is good, but not really exceptional. And you won’t find him leading the league in any offensive stats over the course of his career.

So what makes him a Hall of Famer?

Defense.

Those eight Gold Glove awards are fourth all time for third basemen. Add that to his solid offense, and he comes in with a career Wins Above Replacement of 70.1 – which compares well with the average of 68.3 for the fifteen third basemen already in Cooperstown.

Compared to other positions, third base isn’t a position where defense can really stand out. You don’t see much of the range and “flash” of a shortstop or second baseman; nor does the speed and grace of an outfielder come to the fore. On tough plays at third, a fan’s attention quickly shifts to the first baseman, to see if the out is made. You have to pay attention to the “Hot Corner” to find exceptional glovework.

And Rolen had it in spades.

More than good enough for the bronze plaque in Cooperstown.

“I told him once, my happiest day would be if there’s a game where 27 ground balls get to third base. The way he plays that position, the way he runs the bases, the way he takes his at-bats, he is a complete player.” – Manager Tony LaRussa

2022 in Review

Well, that’s another year under the belt. Fifty two posts, and who knows how many words. Fewer visitors and views than in 2021, but more “views per visitor”.

The year’s most viewed NEW post was “On the Price of Gasoline” from back in March, which actually sits at #7 overall for the year; “Indiana Jones and the ‘Top Men’” is still the most viewed post in the history of this blog. With over five times as many views as the #2 post, it’s not likely to ever be dethroned.

I have to admit that I’m running out of steam. I know I’ve been saying that in each first post for the past few years, but this time it really does feel that this thing is starting to wind down.

I can’t think of much more to say about baseball, the Olympics, or Eurovision. In large part due to the polarization of the country at this point, political essays would be little more than rants. I’m not sure I can come up with another project (like reading the Kama Sutra) that I can stretch out over several posts, thereby padding my total.

I do have a few reviews and essays sitting in reserve, so I’m good for a while.

If I ever do start “reposting” things from the early days of this blog, or I break out that multi-part essay on The Crusades that I wrote for some reason that escapes me at the moment, then you’ll know I’m burnt out.

I hope I’ll at least have the sense to do a proper sign off and not leave you wondering if there’s going to be another post next week or month…

More Holiday Messages from Our Sponsors

I don’t know about you, but I quickly get tired of holiday TV ads telling people to buy their products or else Christmas will be a disaster. Or that the holiday season is not complete unless you give someone one of their products.

I wondered if this blatant hucksterism happened in other countries.

One of the first things I noticed was that holiday ads from Europe and Canada were more like short films, running for a few minutes instead of the 30 or 60 seconds that they do here in the US. Perhaps their TV scheduling rules are different. Or maybe it was just the ones I found when I went looking for “Best Christmas Commercials”.

I also noticed that they weren’t so much for products as they were for stores. Less “Buy this thing” and more “Shop here; we’ve got all you need for a great Christmas”.

Anyway, roll the clips!

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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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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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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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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.