Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2012 Reading List

A list of books I hope to read this year:
  1. "Ezra Pound Speaking": Radio Speeches of World War II edited by Leonard W. Doob
  2. The Art of Fielding: A Novel by Chad Harbach
  3. Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Michael Beschloss and Caroline Kennedy
  4. 11th Hour, Guilty Wives, I, Michael Bennett, and Private Games by James Patterson
  5. 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King
  6. Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly
  7. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews
  8. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
  9. Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman
  10. Calico Joe by John Grisham
  11. Cecil Andrus: Idaho's Greatest Governor by Chris Carlson
  12. Presumed Guilty by Tess Gerritsen
  13. The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner
  14. Mudwoman: A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates
  15. Alexander Hamilton, American by Richard Brookhiser
  16. The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al-Qaeda by Ali Soufan
A book I'd like to return to:
  1. Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas
A few books I've already completed:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pardon Me While I Throw Up

If you missed Rick Santorum bastardizing the words of President Kennedy on the separation of church and state this weekend, I beg you to read this piece by Joan Walsh of Salon.

Why Santorum deliberately chose the only man of the forty-three men who have served in the White House that actually paved the way for a Santorum candidacy is a quandary. Does he think attacking John Kennedy the Democrat helps him with the ultra-conservative base he's courting? If so, one could hope that his misrepresentation of Kennedy's words was simply a mistake. Unfortunately, more and more the Republican Party is demonstrating that facts are of no importance. Personally, I highly doubt Santorum 1) thought anyone would take the time to read Kennedy's speech from 1960, and 2) actually thought it mattered if he was truthful in his representation of Kennedy's words. It's far easier to use a person's words in a way that helps whatever point you are trying to make than to use a person's words in the actual way they intended them.

Words without the benefit of context are so easily distorted. For example, the portion of Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that Santorum quoted consisted of: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." It was the absolute part that Santorum said made him "almost [throw] up." But Santorum failed to finish President Kennedy's quote. The sentence, rather than ending at 'absolute', continued on to say, "where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote." Kennedy was walking a fine line with an electorate that feared the influence of the Vatican. He wasn't giving a speech to limit the religious from the "public square" as Santorum accuses. Kennedy was trying to open a door for himself in the public square, a door that fifty-two years later Santorum is perfectly happy to walk right through. To call Santorum ungrateful would simply be too kind.

Did Santorum distort Kennedy's words and, in effect, history because he wants to be the edgy candidate who attacks Democrats (dead ones even) or was this just another Santorum stunt on his quest to prove himself as the extreme social conservative in the race? In any event, Rick Santorum stands by what he said on ABC's This Week.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The VanderSloot Saga

In lieu of a standard smorgasbord today, I thought I would post a collection of links related to the Glenn Greenwald story on Romney's national finance co-chair, donor and Idahoan Frank VanderSloot. I recommend starting with Greenwald's piece (the first link listed).
If there are any stories that I have missed, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will add them to the list.

Friday, February 24, 2012

TGIF Tunes

Brad, the band formed by Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard in the 90's, has a new single out. "A Reason To Be In My Skin" will appear on their forthcoming album, United We Stand, that will hit stores on April 24th. It's currently available for free on their website and can be heard on their mySpace page as well as YouTube. It's definitely worth a listen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Memory of Greg Halman

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
-- Jackie Robinson
One of the biggest baseball stories of this offseason was the tragic death of Mariners outfielder Greg Halman. Halman, a native of the Netherlands, played in thirty-five games with the Mariners last season. Halman was one of eighteen rookies to spend time with the big league club in 2011. While at home in Rotterdam in November, Halman reportedly went downstairs in his apartment to complain about the noise level coming from below and was subsequently stabbed by his brother. Halman died from his injuries. Halman's brother, who is said to suffer from a mental illness, was arrested for Greg's murder.

Halman had a breakout year with the Mariners where he competed for playing time with veteran mainstays as well as a number of talented young outfielders who made the trip to and from the minor leagues often. His numbers in limited plate appearances suggested he was gaining plate discipline, one of the few holes in his game, and he provided solid defense in left field, a spot that was a question mark for the Mariners in 2011 (Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson, Michael Saunders, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Mike Carp, Ryan Langerhans, Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells and Halman all spent time in left field). Halman was listed 57th on Baseball America's top prospect list in 2009, had a memorable big league debut in 2010 as a September call-up, had what Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times called an "electrifying" debut this past season, hit his first major league home run in 2011, and was expected to compete for a big league roster spot during spring training.

Halman's tragic death was a blow to the entire Mariners organization, but especially to young players like Mike Carp. Carp, who played at the Triple-A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers and made his way up to the big leagues with Halman, was one of a handful of Mariners who attended Halman's funeral in the Netherlands. In the days that followed the death of Halman, many of his teammates spoke about their slain friend, the foremost being Carp. Just prior to Christmas, Mike Carp gave an interview to MLB.com's Greg Johns where he spoke of how heavy his heart was as he celebrated the holidays with his family, but without Halman. It was obvious how highly he thought of Halman:
"Definitely, the last month has been life changing," Carp said this week from his home in Long Beach, Calif. "It makes you sit back and realize what a special gift we have, to be able to get up and go every day. It's such a tragedy, what happened with Greg. He never got a chance to prove what he could do in the big leagues. I know he could have made it big. He was going to be a star; there is no doubt in my mind."
Carp went on to speak of Halman's legacy and how he will be remembered, especially in his home country where he had devoted so much of his time helping develop the game. Halman, one of the biggest Dutch names in baseball (another being Andruw Jones who Halman said he grew up admiring), had competed for the Netherlands national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and participated in both the 2010 and 2011 European Big League Tours. In fact, both Greg and Jason Halman had returned just a week earlier from the Tour when Greg was killed. Halman's death was as difficult a loss for his home country as it was for the Mariners organization and its fans.

As players began reporting to the Peoria Sports Complex where the Mariners hold spring training, the second consecutive spring training that the Mariners organization has suffered a major loss in the offseason, they were met by bright orange shirts hanging in each of their lockers. The shirts, designed and paid for by Mike Carp, are a tribute to Halman. The shirts incorporate the Dutch national team color, have a great Dane on the front with the words
"Broer voor het leven" (translated: brother for life), and on the back have Halman's number (56) and the Jackie Robinson quote referenced above.

When Mariners fans first heard of Carp's touching tribute to Halman, they praised Carp's thoughtfulness and quickly asked if the shirts would be available to the public. Carp and teammate Alex Liddi, also a close friend of Halman, have approached the team about making the shirts available in team stores with proceeds going to Halman's family or a mental health charity.

On March 28th, the Mariners will open the baseball season in Tokyo, Japan against the Oakland Athletics. When they take the field at the Tokyo Dome, they will be wearing a patch with the number fifty-six in memory of Greg Halman. As they take the game across the world, showcasing Major League Baseball for Japanese fans, they will surely remember that their teammate once did the same. The memory of Greg Halman will live on and not just through a patch on the uniforms of twenty-five ballplayers or through his close friend Mike Carp, but through the hundreds of lives Halman touched, lives that he brought the joy of baseball to.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quote of the Day

"What democratic nations have failed to understand sufficiently is that the worst feature of unemployment is not economic suffering (which can be mitigated by adequate relief), but the feeling of being useless, unwanted, outside the productive ranks of society."

-- William Ebenstein, Today's Isms (pg. 114)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gary 'The Kid' Carter, 1954-2012


"He was a human backstop back there. Early, before his knees went bad, you couldn't steal on him in Montreal. When he wasn't able to throw because of his knees, that never affected his performance. He was running on and off the field after three outs. This guy played in some pain and it was hustle, hustle, hustle."

-- Keith Hernandez on Gary Carter, Carter died of cancer today.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Smorgasbord Saturday


Friday, February 10, 2012

2012 Postseason Predictions

Editor's Note: I'm fed up with politics, so y'all get baseball again today.

The Mariners' pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training tomorrow with their first workout the following day and the remaining Major League teams report the following weekend, so it's time for some predictions.

Without further ado, my 2012 predictions:

American League: Yankees (East), Royals (Central), Angels (West), Rangers (Wild Card).
National League: Braves (East), Reds (Central), Rockies (West), Phillies (Wild Card).

If the two additional wild card spots that Commissioner Bud Selig wants instituted occur in 2012, my 2 additional wild card selections are the Rays (AL) and the Diamondbacks (NL).

Signing big free agents doesn't necessarily mean a team earns a playoff spot and you'll find my predictions take that into account. I like the way the Tigers are set up, more so for their Fister signing last season than for the Fielder signing, but there aren't enough wild card spots for them to edge out the strong pitching of the Rays and the great young talent emerging in Kansas City. While the Angels did make huge signings with C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols, they had great pieces in place already and the signing put them over the top. Watching the AL West this season is going to be a blast!

One last comment on my predictions: The Braves edging out the Phillies. If the Braves do as well as they did last year and have even half as many injuries, I see them beating the Phillies easily. Sure, the Phillies may have the stronger rotation (their pitchers' experience beats out the Braves' talent), but the Braves have the stronger 'pen. The Braves have the strongest 'pen in the big leagues. Period. Without a healthy Ryan Howard to start the season and no signing as of yet of Oswalt or Ibanez, I anticipate the Phillies doing well, but not well enough. With the collapse behind them, the Braves are headed for success.

Opening Day can't come soon enough!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Contenders Among Us

This off season has been a particularly happening one in baseball. Not to mix metaphors, but once the ball got rolling, it seems every week since the World Series ended on October 28th there has been hot stove news.

This week is no different as the Nationals announced today the signing of starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. The signing of Jackson has been just another reminder to those of us who live and die with the Atlanta Braves that the National League East has become very competitive this off season. Of the five teams who reside in the NL East, only one team seems to be going in the wrong direction and will more than likely be out of contention before the first game is even played--the Mets. Here's a list of some of the biggest signings, trades and extensions in the NL East this off season:
  1. Derek Lowe: Traded away to the Indians by the Braves on 10/31/11. Indians will pick up some of the remainder of his contract ($5 million), but the Braves eat the majority of his contract and pick up a no-name prospect. This actually helps the Braves by freeing up a spot in the rotation for one of the many amazing young arms in Triple A (not to mention Medlan should he return to the starting mix).
  2. Jim Thome: Signed by the Phillies on 11/05/11. After a short stint back in Cleveland, Jim Thome signed with his old hitting coach Charlie Manuel. Brings veteran presence and a bench bat. May very well be Thome's last season if he can't return to the American League to DH. Look for production similar to his season off the bench with the Dodgers.
  3. Jonathan Papelbon: Signed by the Phillies on 11/14/11 after Philadelphia's talks with closer Ryan Madson seemed to stall. Rounds out an incredibly talented pitching staff. The former Red Sox closer is proven, more dependable than Brad Lidge and may be even more dominant in the National League. Look for him to slow down games in the NL East now.
  4. Ty Wigginton: Traded to the Phillies from the Rockies on 11/20/11. Fills the utility infielder role. Best guess? An insurance plan for the aging and oft-injured Philly infield.
  5. Heath Bell: Signed by the Marlins on 12/05/11. One of the best signings of the off season, Bell leaves the Padres for the very different looking Marlins. Bell said he was willing to be a set-up guy, but the Marlins will surely plug him in as a closer. Will liven things up in Miami.
  6. Andres Torres: Traded from the Giants to the New York Mets on 12/07/11 for Angel Pagan. One of the few moves in a positive direction for the Mets. Won't fill the production hole that Beltran's absence created and won't match Pagan's production, but can handle center field quite capably. Pagan will bring a needed bat and acceptable defense to the Bay.
  7. Jose Reyes: Signed by the Miami Marlins on 12/07/11. Blockbuster deal of the off season, as top tier free agent signings usually are. Will bring his dynamic speed, defense and bat to a team that has desperately needed something to get excited about for several seasons now. His presence on the roster will move Hanley Ramirez to third base, possibly a good thing for a player who has become a bit too comfortable with his surroundings. Miami overpaid for an often injured player.
  8. Mark Buehrle: Signed by the Marlins on 12/09/11. Within the space of a week, the Marlins made the announcement that they're serious about competing with their new name, new uniform and new park. Buehrle brings veteran presence, stability, consistency and a proven record to the rotation. The former White Sox ace also brings a bit of home for the new Marlins skipper. Moving to the National League may be a great move for Buehrle.
  9. Jon Rausch: Signed by the Mets on 12/14/11. Fills a gap left by Francisco Rodriguez when he was traded to the Brewers following the 2011 All Star Game.
  10. Dontrelle Willis: Signed by the Phillies on 12/15/11. The longtime Marlin signed with the Phillies after struggling in Detroit and re-establishing himself in Cincinnati. Yet another talented arm for the Phillies pitching staff. Unclear as to where he'll fit in the rotation.
  11. Jimmy Rollins: Re-signed by the Phillies on 12/19/11. The market for Rollin fizzled a bit due to numerous injuries, but the longtime Philly shortstop signed a 3-year deal with the team erasing questions about where they might look to fill his spot. Rollins age & lingering injuries remain question marks for the Phillies, but the addition of Ty Wigginton will surely help.
  12. Gio Gonzalez: Signed by the Nationals on 12/23/11. The biggest and most promising signing by the Nationals since Jayson Werth. Brings experience with the A's, struggles with the A's, and great talent to the Nats. Rounds out a very talented, young pitching staff. With today's addition of Edwin Jackson, the Nats' pitching staff could be one of the top 7 in Major League Baseball.
  13. Carlos Zambrano: Traded to the Marlins by the Cubs on 1/05/12 for Chris Volstad. Volstad is a promising pitcher who would have been successful with the Marlins, but will likely be more successful with the Cubs. The same can't necessarily be said for Zambrano. He could easily become a distraction in Miami. When under control, Big Z brings big game pitching. When out of control, well, ask Chicago's retired Gatorade machine. In my opinion, the Cubs got the better deal here. How will Big Z impact the division competition level? The Braves hit him well.
  14. Edwin Jackson: Signed by the Nationals on 2/2/12. Did fairly well with the Cardinals in the run up to the World Series and was a steal for the Nationals. When your fourth or fifth starter in the rotation is Edwin Jackson, your rotation is ridiculously strong.
This list leaves Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes out of the equation entirely. Cespedes could end up being the biggest NL East signing of the off season should he end up with the very interested (and suddenly rich) Marlins.

In addition to the fourteen listed and Cespedes, the following were signed by NL East teams: Mike Cameron (Nationals), Frank Francisco (Mets), Chad Gaudin (Marlins), Dan Cortes (Nationals), Jack Wilson (Braves), Xavier Paul (Nationals), Mark deRosa (Nationals), Ronny Cedeno (Mets), Joel Pineiro (Phillies), Austin Kearns (Marlins), Brad Lidge (Nationals), Juan Pierre (Phillies), Chad Qualls (Phillies), Chien-Ming Wang (Nationals), Adam Russell (Braves), Josh Wilson (Braves).

If the off season is any indication, both the Marlins and Nationals are ready to contend. No longer content playing the spoiler, both teams have been aggressive this off season and have been very successful attaining production as well as pitching. Both teams have some great young talent (Stanton, Sanchez, Johnson, Ramirez for the Marlins and Morse, Harper, Strasburg, Storen, Zimmermann, Ramos, Espinoza, and Desmond for the Nationals). Adding in key pieces as well as veterans with the presence and experience to lead the way, both teams will be very interesting to watch during the 2012 season.

The annual contenders will have their hands full with the newly rebuilt Nats and Marlins. The Phillies made plenty of moves this off season to shore up an already dominant rotation. The biggest questions for the Phillies will involve Ryan Howard's Achilles tendon, whatever plagued Utley for most of last season, and Jimmy Rollins' legs.

The Braves made very few moves this off season, something that has had fans scratching their heads. Moving D-Lowe opens up a spot in the rotation, as I said, for one of the young arms that we got to see with September call-ups. Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado seem to be the most likely. A rotation consisting of ace Tim Hudson, never traded Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy and one or more of Mike Minor, Teheran or Delgado could be just as dominant as the Phillies' big three (Halladay, Lee, Hamels). Surely if healthy the Braves will not regret for a second hanging on to Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado. Without Lowe and with a healthy Prado, Jurrjens and Hanson, the great September collapse of '11 will be ancient history.

Suddenly the National League East looks as competitive as the American League East. No longer are the days of the Phillies and Braves contending for division champion and the wild card. The new look of the NL East seems to indicate that there are now many contenders.