Putin’s War

The opening phase is over. The invaders’ initial assault has run out of momentum, and the defenders have rallied their people – both at home and around the world – to their side.

Now we’re in the next phase, where the combat becomes a long, dirty, and ugly slog.

And it’s not going to get better for some time.

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BOOK REVIEW: Checkmate in Berlin

Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown that Shaped the Modern World
Giles Milton
Henry Holt and Company
Copyright 2021 by the author

In the waning days of the Second World War, the allies – Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union – were all on reasonably good terms when it came to defeating Nazi Germany. Sure, there were a few rough spots, but “the enemy of my enemy” and all that saw to it that any differences were papered over for the common cause.

Four years later, the Soviets tried – and failed – to blockade western Berlin into submission, and NATO had been founded to counter the Communist threat.

How did it all happen?

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Movies I’d Like to See – The Re-Imagining

If there’s one movie in their back catalog that Disney would really love to consign to oblivion, it’s Song of the South (1946). While a technical marvel with some wonderful songs and one outstanding performance, the racial stereotypes and revisionist history portrayed make it something that will never see another domestic release in any format.

It’s a teeny bit of a shame, in some small ways, because there are a few things in it that should be mentioned in its defense. Perhaps there’s even enough there to justify a proper reappraisal.

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BOOK REVIEW: Head On

Head On: A Novel of the Near Future
John Scalzi
Tor Books
Copyright 2018 by the author

FBI Agent Chris Shane had something of a front-row seat to the death of hilketa player Duane Chapman during an exhibition game. Because the league was trying to persuade his father to invest in their expansion, he was in the luxury box for the game. Well, not really there in person. Shane is one of the millions who is a “Haden” – he suffers from a neurological condition where (as described in the “prequel” Lock In) his mind cannot control his body. Thanks to a neural interface, he can operate an android body to get around.

The same tech is used in hilketa – a superviolent sport that involves knocking the head off a player on the other team, and using it to score. Can’t do that with real people, obviously.

Agent Shane finds himself on the case, with two big questions. How did Chapman die, and why does it look like the league is desperate to cover it up?

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Before the Cy Young Award – 5

Well, what have we learned from this not-so-little exercise?

First, let’s check out the multiple winners, according to me:

Eight: Lefty Grove

Five: Walter Johnson

Four: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Dazzy Vance

Three: Bob Feller, Carl Hubbel, Sandy Koufax, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser, Bucky Walters

Two: Jim Bunning, Ed Cicotte, Mort Cooper, Stan Coveleski, Dizzy Dean, Red Faber, Lefty Gomez, Christy Mathewson, Billy Pierce, George Uhle, Hippo Vaughn

Casual fans would surely recognize a lot of those names. More serious fans would recognize pitchers like Lefty Gomez and Bob Lemon. But Hippo Vaughn? Mort Cooper? A major part of the fun of doing a project like this is finding all the overlooked stars. Or stars like Lefty Grove whose greatness is rarely acknowledged. He utterly dominated his era – but it also happened to be an era when offense was supreme, so his career Earned Run Average is noticeably higher than it is for other all-time greats. So he’s left out of such “GOAT” discussions.

I note that Feller and Johnson could have easily picked up one or two more awards. Christy Mathewson would have earned more if the award started earlier. I also note that the best pitchers tended to be among those with the most wins. If really good pitchers win a lot of games, shouldn’t the converse be true – that pitchers who win a lot of games are really good?

One should also note that the Twins in the 1960s were really good! Two “Cy Young” Award winners – and they could have easily had a third. Plus Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva on offense…. The Cardinals in the early 1940s are another “dynasty” worthy of some respect – four pennants and three World Series wins in five years….

I’m sure if I did this again, I’d change my mind on more than a few winners. I’m also sure you’ll disagree with me. Who would you pick instead?

Before the Cy Young – 4

Almost immediately after the death of Cy Young, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick was able to convince everyone that there needed to be an award for the best pitcher in baseball – one that was named in his honor.

They only gave out one, though. So I get to pick a winner for the other league.

And no, I’m not going to discuss the actual winners. You can read about them yourself.

1956

AL: There are three contenders this year: Whitey Ford (19-6, 2.47 ERA (leading the majors)), and the Indians’ Herb Score (20-9, 2.53 ERA) and Early Wynn (20-9, 2.72 ERA). Score gets my vote with 263 Ks (9.5 per 9 innings) to lead the majors.

NL: Don Newcombe won the NL MVP award, too.

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Before the Cy Young Award – 3

With more important things going on, a lot of players – stars and regulars (e.g. Bob Feller) found themselves working for Uncle Sam in some way. Baseball as a whole had to make compromises in order to keep going. So for the next few years, there will be some unusual names popping up. Doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve the honor, though.

Before the Cy Young Award – 2

(No wonder I hadn’t seen any “Likes” for Part 1 – I loaded it into Drafts, but forgot to publish it! So you get TWO posts today! Hooray.)

You may have noted that although I considered the short-lived Federal League, there’s no sign of the Negro Leagues. This was deliberate. I felt that since Major League Baseball didn’t recognize their existence as “real” leagues at the time, they would never have thought of giving awards to those players when the Negro Leagues were active. There’s also the possibility that the Negro Leagues themselves may have given out individual achievement awards (I haven’t checked).

In any case, I leave it as an exercise to the reader to find players in the Negro Leagues worthy of receiving a Most Valuable Player or “Best Pitcher” award. Now that the stats are on Baseball Reference (thanks in large part to the researchers at Seamheads), it shouldn’t be too hard.

1931

AL: Lefty Grove was even better this year with a 31-4 record and 2.06 ERA. Only 175 Ks, but he still led the majors in all of those categories. If that’s good enough for the MVP award….

NL: A much closer race. The Cardinal’s Paul Derringer had the league’s best record at 18-8, but teammate Bill Hallahan led the league in strikeouts with 159, and his 19-9 record was almost the same. Bill Walker of the Giants led the league in ERA with 2.26, and his record of 16-9 wasn’t too shabby. I’ll go with Walker thanks to his major league leading 6 shutouts.

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Before the Cy Young Award – 1

After the death of Cy Young in 1955, Major League Baseball decided to honor the greatest pitcher of all time by naming an award after him, and giving it to the best pitcher in the game (according to a poll of writers). It was soon doubled to cover both leagues.

But like the World Series Most Valuable Player Award, there were a lot of years and pitchers before the award was instituted.

So, what better way to kill some time in the off-season than wonder who might have won the award if it began in 1912, the year after Cy Young retired?

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2021 in Review

Well, that was a year.

I just about managed to keep up with my overall rate of one post per week – though I did have to split some essays up into parts in order to do so. I find myself gettting a little tired of that pace. Expect things to slow down this year. On some topics (especially the political ones), I’ve said all I need to say. And I’ve reviewed most of the movies I wanted to review for this blog.

If anyone cares about the numbers, I got 5,288 views from 3,826 visitors. That’s a nice steady increase from previous years. The most viewed post was my Christmas playlist, which scored 279 views overall. Nearly 200 of those were all on one day – December 14! How did I manage that? A bit of shameless self-promotion. I subscribe to Craig Calcaterra’s baseball blog, “A Cup of Coffee”. On the 13th, he wrote about a certain Christmas song in the non-baseball part of the essay. This led to some lively discussions of the worst and most overplayed holiday songs in the comments. I mentioned my playlist post to share some alternates to the usual bland stuff. Craig is a cool guy and right proper chap; he at least glances at the comments…. And so the very next day, my playlist post got a specific mention and link – even scoring it’s own section heading!

So I guess that’s the secret to promoting your blog. Hang out in comment sections, and mention your writings when appropriate – and don’t forget the link!

See you around!