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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Case of the Excellent Typist (Part I)

As I did with my essay "Baseball As Context" I'm going to serialize for you a short story that includes Sherlock Holmes I wrote called "The Case of the Excellent Typist". This is what is commonly referred to in Holmesian literature as a pastiche. Pastiches have a history reaching back over 100 years and in my own library I have a book entitled The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which contains pastiches by famous authors such as Steven King. Anyway, here is part I.

Looking back over the notes of my long association with Mr. Sherlock Holmes I find that the year 1884 provided us with many interesting cases which have yet to come under the public eye. As there are one or two which are of a sensitive nature and as such are not yet able to be fully divulged, I shall undertake to relate a most singular case which makes evident some of those qualities for which my friend has become renowned.

It was a crisp fall morning on Baker Street that found my companion and I sitting down to a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs. As I was about to partake of the feast Holmes glanced up quickly from the Sunday Times which lay sprawled across his half eaten breakfast, and tossed a small note more or less in my direction.

"What do you make of it Watson?", said he returning to his paper.

I picked up the note which read thusly:

Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
I would very much like to discuss with you a delicate matter of the utmost importance. I shall call first thing tomorrow.
Signed, M. Nordstrum

"I am not sure what to make of it.", I replied. "It would appear that this person requires your consultation urgently."

"That much is of course self evident," he retorted impatiently. Rising from the table he retrieved his pipe from the mantle and lit it before beginning to pace around the room. "What I meant was, what can we learn about the author of the correspondence?"

"Well," I paused and directed my attention to the characteristics of the note while attempting to apply some of my friend’s methods to the matter. "It is surely written in a lady’s hand, and the paper seems common enough. I don't believe I see anything more in it."

"Your observations are certainly correct Doctor but there are of course one or two other points one can deduce from the data. Gaining an eye for observation is simply a matter of discipline, of applied work - indeed our friend Inspector Lestrade has developed a keen sense of observation in comparison to his fellows. Deduction, however, is the very meat and potatoes of our craft. Bringing to bear all the knowledge that to the untrained mind seems unrelated and focusing it upon a single problem - that is deduction. Deduction derives information from the facts whereas observations are merely the facts themselves. Now," he paused in his pacing and sat down in his favorite chair, puffing on his pipe. "What else can we learn while we await the young secretary Miss Nordstrum?" He peered at me from the corner of eye with a satisfied expression on his face.

"Miss Nordstrum?" I inquired. "How do you know the women is young, unmarried and a secretary?"

"It is simplicity itself." he replied. "It is often the custom of young women in a profession these days to sign their names in such a manner as to make it difficult to perceive gender. It is done as a form of protection against unscrupulous men, the papers are full of such occurrences.

"Also, as you have observed the paper is common, and yet it is of the peculiar weight used for correspondence by many businesses. There again is confirmation of her professional standing. I’ll lay odds that Miss Nordstrum is then a secretary for a London business concern."

"London?" I inquired again with a resolution of inferiority. "Could she not be from a surrounding city or village?"

"I very much doubt it." He answered quickly. "Mrs. Hudson discovered the note under the door this morning, which means it must have been left there late last evening as I did not return from my visit with Mycroft at the Diogenese Club until after 9 PM. She mentions urgent business and so I have undertaken to scan the morning paper for any curious business which may have occurred late yesterday. If the event which produced such a strong reaction in this young lady did occur late yesterday an out of towner would have found it difficult to reach our lodgings so quickly. There on page two, first column, I will be very much surprised if we haven’t found our case. Read it aloud please Doctor as I would like to hear the facts once again."

I reached for the paper that lay scattered over the breakfast dishes and open to the second page. I scanned the article quickly and began to read.

Bank Robbery Narrowly Averted
The Hixton Road branch of the Bank of London was the site of furious excitement late last night around 10PM. It now is clear that two burglars made their way into the bank and attempted to abscond with the contents of the safe. Their intrusion caused such a commotion that a constable on patrol was alerted to their presence. Upon confronting the ruffians the constable was struck once in the leg with a bullet from a revolver while the intruders made their escape. Nothing was stolen as the thieves could not open the safe before one of the London’s finest foiled the attempt. The constable will recover from his wounds but is unable to identify his assailants as they were wearing masks.

"So you believe Miss Nordstrum is employed by the bank then?" I asked.

"We shall have all the answers soon enough for I believe the lady is ascending the stair."

Prudery and the FCC

I had written a few weeks back on the FCC decision not to censor a remark at the Golden Globe Awards and noted that the reasoning the FCC used was nonsensical because they insisted that the usage of an obscene word depict a "sexual or excretory activity or organs" rather than an insult.

During the Christmas break I had a chance to read a wonderful collection of articles written by C.S. Lewis collected in 1986 under the title Present Concerns. In an article titled "Prudery and Philology" first printed in The Spectator in January 1955 Lewis discusses the issue of obscenity in literature. He notes how the limitations of language force upon the writer or speaker an implicit comment on the thing being described in a way that a picture or a piece of art does not necessarily do. This is because a speaker or writer must choose descriptive words from a set of alternatives, each loaded with meaning.

"One of these limitations is that the common names (as distinct from the childish, archaic, or scientific names) for certain things are 'obscene' words. It is the words, not the things, that are obscene. That is, they are words long consecrated (or desecrated) to insult, derision, and buffoonery. You cannot use them without bringing in the whole atmosphere of the slum, barrack-room, and the public school."

In other words, the word chosen by the speaker (Bono) at the Golden Globes was obscene by definition since the word is so defined in the public mind. No other justification is required and certainly not one which says that words are only obscene when spoken in the context of bodily functions or organs. I still defend my previous point that their "guidelines" are hopelessly flawed. This simply points out another reason why.

Christmas Letter

For those who read our family's Christmas letter I have to confess to an error. The quote by C.S. Lewis was not taken only from Mere Christianity but also includes several lines from Miracles as noted in a previous post. Everything else in the letter is accurate. I promise.

Friday, December 26, 2003

On the Incarnation

I recently read Miracles by C.S. Lewis for the first time and was especially struck by his descriptions of the Incarnation (the doctrine that God became a man in Jesus). Although I've always viewed Easter as the supreme Christian holiday, Lewis reminds us that without the Incarnation, the redemption of man would not have been possible. In part, Lewis says:

"The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation...Every other miracles prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this...If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth - the very thing the whole story has been about.

In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity;...down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He he goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him."

He then follows with several arguments supporting the belief in the Incarnation, one of the most interesting of which is its likeness or familiarity with the reason of men. Lewis asks in what sense it is conceivable that an eternal Sprit - God - could be combined with a human being. He then answers by stating:

"And this would be a fatal stumbling block if we had not already discovered that in every human being a more than natural activity (the act of reasoning) and therefore presumably a more than natural agent is thus united with a part of Nature: so united that the composite creature calls itself 'I' and 'Me'."

He then likens the infusion of reason into men as a type or "faint image" of the descending of God into a one man. The same tune "in a very minor key". Lewis uses this Platonic idea to argue that "our own composite existence is not the sheer anomaly it might seem to be."

Some greats thoughts by a great thinker to contemplate at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Cubs Add Walker

In a move that really suprised me the Cubs picked up Todd Walker as a free agent signing him to a one-year $1.75M contract (a cut from $3.45M in 2003). Apparently, Walker wants to play for a winner. This presents two interesting discussion points:

1) The Cubs are now considered a team that players want to play for. This is the first time in my lifetime that players have willingly taken less money to stay with or play for the Cubs. The two biggest factors here are the young pitching staff and Dusty Baker. The staff appears poised to dominate the NL in 2004 barring injuries and its got to be tempting to come to a team where you know that if you can just put up a few runs you'll be in every game. While Baker may not be a good field manager, the other half (or even greater than half) of his job is to keep the clubhouse running smoothly and truly "manage" the players. This he appears to do very well, albeit by sacrificing young players who he seems to refuse to play. Choi is a case in point here and so I assume Hendry was playing into Baker's strength by trading Choi rather than have him ride the pines for another season.

2) Who should start at second base? It appears Grudz will be given the nod out of the gate in 2004 but I wouldn't bet that things will stay that way. Walker is a career .296/.346/.434 hitter and hits from the left side while Grudz is a .285/.329/.387 although of course Grudz had the better season in 2003, is considered the better defensive player, and much of his career numbers were accumulated in the poor hitter's enviornment of Dodger Stadium. Since Walker makes significantly less and is three years younger I wouldn't mind seeing Grudz traded if they could do it and get something for him (like a good left-handed hitting outfielder). If they keep them both, they would make a great platoon (Walker went .301/.352/.448 versus righties and Grudz .360/.444/.470 against lefties) or Walker will be that left-handed bat off the bench. I'd like to see the platoon with each of them getting equal at bats and with Walker then spelling Ramirez at third. BTW, this makes the signing of Macias seem rather strange as well.

So the depth chart is:

1B - Lee, Simon as backup and pinch hitter but may be trying to trade him
2B - Grudz, Walker
SS - Gonzales, Martinez
3B - Ramirez, Walker
RF - Sosa
CF - Patterson, Goodwin
LF - Alou, Hollandsworth
C - Barrett, Bako

UT - Macias

SP - Prior, Wood, Clement, Zambrano, Cruz
RP - Borowski, Hawkins, Remlinger(L), Mercker(L), Farnsworth, Wellmeyer

Of course, on this list are 26 players so I wouldn't see Wellmeyer making the roster and they're still looking to trade Simon most likely.

Monday, December 22, 2003

A Day in the Kansas Badlands

I mentioned on a previous post that my daughter and I did a day of fossil prospecting in western Kansas this summer. Since it is a cold, wet, rainy December day I thought I'd give you a description of how it went.

We arrived at the Keystone Gallery at around 6:30AM and found Chuck Bonner and his wife Barbara Shelton ready to go. Chuck in his mosasaur shirt, Indiana Jones hat, and full beard looked exactly as I expected. The gallery is in the middle of open pasture land as far as the eye could see and I recall wondering just where these fossils might be hiding in the pastures. We were staying up in Oakley about 20 miles north along I-70. My daughter and I brought a small backpack and jumped in Chuck's 1949 Suburbun and were off while my wife and younger daughter headed to Scott City for a day in the local stores and parks.

I didn't have to wait long for my answer about the fossils. Chuck drove the Suburbun less than a mile north of the gallery and proceeded into a pasture and along the fence line. When we got out we could see that the pasture land was cut through with canyons (badlands) carved out by rainwater.

We disembarked and Chuck handed us our tools which consisted of a geology hammer and scraper made from a curved screwdriver. We started down the hill while Chuck gave us some last minute advice on what we were looking for. However, even with the instructions it was difficult to sort out the various shades of rock and I was not convinced we would find much. I was most amazed by the number and size of the crushed bivalve shells which were everywhere eroding out of the rock under our feet and pieces of which littered the ground.

After only a few minutes Chuck got my daughter's attention and told her to continue walking on her path and keep her eyes down. She proceeded to walk right over the tooth of a Cretaceous shark (possibly Cretoxyrhina juding from a book on Kansas Geology I picked up at Chuck's museum). With Chuck's help she eventually found it and we felt that the day might be a success after all.

We proceeded to head down into the first of the canyons with Chuck in the lead. As he rounded the first bend he stopped and noticed a vertebrae protruding from the soft chalky rock (known as the Smoky Hills Chalk and officially as the Niobrara formation). The bone was dark in color as opposed to the yellowish rock and so Chuck showed us how to cut the rock over the fossil back and then remove the upper layers to get the bone. Laura assisted with this process while I documented the find.

After a few minutes it was evident that there were more than a dozen vertebrae of a two to three foot fish known as Cimolichtyes, however the skull appeared to be missing but we could see lots of ribs and scales in the matrix.

While they continued working on the Cimolychtes I leaned against the outcropping to Chuck's left and as I turned my head was suprised to see a black tooth directly at eye level. Had it not been at eye level I doubt I would have seen it. The 3/4 inch tooth was still fairly sharp and Chuck informed me that it was the tooth of a mosasaur. After checking the area for other teeth we decided to mark the spot where the Cimolychtes was and continue on.

We continued moving through the side canyons, which were still cool in the shade and morning breeze, making our way to the bottom of the canyon where cows obviously found plenty of plants to eat and perhaps shelter. On the way I quizzed Chuck about the history of fossil hunting in the area, the work of Mike Everhart, the creator of the Oceans of Kansas Web Site and the bone wars of E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh in the 1870s and 1880s. Chuck is of course very knowledgeable and his family has a long history in the area, during which both he and his father Marion have collected countless mosasaurs, fish, and invertebrates from the Kansas Chalk which are now in museums all over the country. Recently the Lawrence Journal World ran a biographical story on his work and he has been interviewed on PBS. This fall he also lectured on Kansas fossils in Cincinnati and at Yale.

As we walked along the base of the canyon Chuck once again noticed some bone protruding about 2 inches from the harder grey rock that underlain the yellow and softer rock. After chiseling away with his rock hammer for several minutes he was able to extract the lower jaw of a Cimolychtes, which after I had removed some of the rock proved to include a 5 inch section of both upper and lower jaws smashed together and 8 to 10 teeth, several of which were quite sharp. We added it to our bag of finds and headed on up the other side of the canyon. Near the top Chuck found a 6 inch mosasaur rib while my daughter and I prospected farther down the slope.

As we re-entered the side canyons on the other side we noticed round structures in the overhanging rock. Chuck pointed out that these were swallow's nests now abandoned for the season.

After a short rest we made our way into a tall and very narrow canyon of greyish rock and followed it for some time heading back in the direction of the first Cimolychtes and the Suburbun. As a testimony to the sharpness of Chuck's eyes, while trailing us he called for us to stop and had us examine a dark line not more than 2 inches long, a fraction of an inch wide, and a foot from the bottom of the canyon. Somehow he had spotted a tiny Enchodus jaw. Since the grey rocks at the bottom of the canyon were so hard, he simply cut out the section with the fish jaw and we went on our way.

We finally made back to the Cimolychtes where we worked on it for a few more minutes before deciding to simply cut out the bulk of it and take it home. More vertebrae continued into the hillside but Chuck was confident the skull had already eroded out.

So finally it was lunch time and with the heat steadily rising we enjoyed sitting in the shade of the Suburbun, eating sandwhiches, apples, and chips and drinking water and pop.

With lunch completed we decided to head out to prospect one more time. Chuck drove the Suburbun a bit east and south of where we had originally parked and we made our way down a slope to enter the canyons from the north. While heading down the slope, Chuck spied a few bones and was convinced they were not from a fish or mosasaur. He thought they might be from a pteranodon although with the heat at 100 degrees he marked the spot with a pile of rocks and said he would come back for them another day.

With our strength almost sapped at around 2pm I noticed two very round small rocks on a small ledge in some grey/white rock. Indeed they were vertebrae from a Pachyrhizodus (a fish about a foot long) and Chuck proceeded to cut several of them out along with the matrix which we added to our bag since once again the skull was nowhere in sight and the remaining vertebrae trailed back into the very hard rock.

By this point we were all hot and tired and so we jumped in the Suburbun and headed for the Monument Rocks. My daughter got a kick out of the staring cows as we passed.

We then headed back the gallery where we packaged up our finds, admired Chuck's museum, and shopped before heading back to Oakley, very tired but quite satisfied with our days work.

During our day in the Kansas badlands I was most struck by the sheer number of fossils that must still be buried in the numberless canyons just waiting for a strong rain to reveal themselves. It is truly mind boggling to think of a vast inland sea existing in the same place as a present day pasture and to be able to hold in your hands the remains of creatures now extinct but that once lived and thrived in that very different past.

Players to be named later

Of course, as pointed out by Ron Hostetter PTBNL is still an FLA but of the five letter variety instead of four. As you can see, I'm very good with numbers.

Also Ron noted that several times in baseball history a player has been traded for himself. The ones I come up with after a brief search are Harry Chiti in the early 1960s and Dickie Noles in 1987 in a trade between the Tigers and Cubs. Of course, the ultimate player to be named later was Jose Gonzales who the Giants traded for in 1984 and who then changed his name to Jose Uribe.

Cubs Move Miller

Not suprisingly, the Cubs traded Damien Miller to the A's on Sunday for cash and a PTBNL ("player to be named later", that's a FLA or four-letter acronym, which itself is a TLA or three-letter acronym). The Cubs will pay $800K of his $3M salary for 2004. Since they also signed Barrett to a one year $1.55M contract they'll effectively be paying their starting catcher in 2004 $2.35M minus the cash they got for Miller, better than 2003 but alot for someone like Barrett (or Miller for that matter). Of course, they also picked up a player to be named later which might prove useful.

The Cubs also obtained Jose Macias from the Expos for minor league pitcher Wilton Chavez. Fairly versatile switch hitter that can play 3B, OF, and 2B. Very low on base, poor slug and at 32 he's not going to get any better. A guy you wouldn't want to play unless you absolutely had to. I assume they're thinking of him as a backup at third to spell Ramirez so that Martinez would spell at SS and 2B although I lilke Martinez a lot better. Macias made $825,000 in 2003. If the Cubs are paying that salary, then they're overpaying by about $525,000.

1B - Lee, Simon as backup and pinch hitter but may be trying to trade him
2B - Grudz, Martinez
SS - Gonzales, Martinez
3B - Ramirez, Macias
RF - Sosa
CF - Patterson, Goodwin
LF - Alou, Hollandsworth
C - Barrett, Bako

SP - Prior, Wood, Clement, Zambrano, Cruz
RP - Borowski, Hawkins, Remlinger(L), Mercker(L), Farnsworth, Wellmeyer

Dinosaurs and Birds

Just read The Bone Museum: Travels in the Lost Worlds of Dinosaurs and Birds by Wayne Grady. Grady also wrote The Dinosaur Project several years ago (which I haven't read) that chronicled a joint paleontological expedition to China in the late 1980s with Candians where some important finds were made.

In the first half of the book the author takes you along on a fossil hunting trip in Patagonia where paleontologists from Canada and Argentina are unearthing a bonebed containing six late Cretaceous theropods known as Gigantosaurus, some of the largest theropods ever found. He does a great job giving you the feel of camp life and the work that's involved in excavating such a find. The book is also a travelogue and there are many alleys and rabbit trails that some may find distracting but are fairly interesting in their own right (for example, some history of Patagonia).

In the second half, the author is once again in his native Canada and this time travels to Alberta to meet up with some of the same scientists to work in an Albertasaurus quarry near Dinosaur Provincial Park, some 80 miles west of Calgary. Once again a feel for camp life is included as well as for prospecting (looking for new bonebeds or individual dinosaur remains) in the badlands of Alberta along with historical portraits of some of its early prospectors including Charles Sternberg, Barnum Brown, and William Cutler. His descriptions of prospecting ring especially true for me since they were very similar to the day my daughter and I spent looking for Cretaceous fossils in the winding canyons and gulleys of western Kansas complete with the difficulty of identifying bone and the way your eyes automatically strain to sort out differences in texture, color, and pattern among the layers of rock.

What holds the book together is an extended discussion of the theory that birds evolved from small theropods. The author covers most of the historical discussion citing T.H. Huxley, who first proposed the idea after seeing Archaeopteryx in the 1860s and on to John Ostrum who revived the idea in the 1960s but also including the views of opponents Alan Feduccia and Larry Martin. Of course, the author sides with Huxley and Ostrum since he traveled to China and Argentina with Phil Currie, a leading exponent of the theory and who was on the expedition that in 1996 uncovered Sinosauropteryx, a theropod with feathers, which opened the door to the possibility and later confirmation that other theropods (including Caudipteryx and Sinornithosaurs ) more closely resembling birds were also feathered (as shown on the Discovery Channel's "Dinosaur Planet" this month where the velociraptors are feathered).

This reminded me of the day my family spent at the Chicago Field Museum after Thanksgiving where the displays associated with Sue, the 90% complete T-Rex discovered in South Dakota, were all about the dinosaur-bird connection. My daughter enjoyed the interactive exhbiit where the kids identify different parts of an ostrich skeleton and link them to Sue. One of the most important aspects of Sue was its wishbone or furcula, the first found on a T-Rex that further points to a link with birds.

In all, an interesting book that gives you a feel for what a fossil dig is like and provides a good bit of history along the way.

Walks and Early Sabermetrics

Noticed a reference to an interesting article on the value of the base on balls published in 1917 posted by a fellow SABR member on the list server. It makes the argument that walks should not be counted as hits as they were in 1887 but should be given more respect than simply not counting against the batter. The author then tries to come up with actual value of a walk by calculating how often a runner scores as a result. Some early sabermetrics that makes for interesting reading.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Nature vs. Nurture

Read an interesting (and suprising) essay in The Best American Science Writing 2003 that orginally appeared in Discover magazine titled "The Blank Slate". It chronicles the rise of the modern "blank slate" school of thought that teaches that all human differences (in individuals, genders, and nations) arise through culture and socialization.

Further, when taken to its logical conclusion, it teaches that there is in fact nothing one can call "human nature". The author is quite critical of the tabula rasa position and notes the persistant human tendencies to treat death, sex, and other human conditions in much the same way in societies throughout history as well as studies of identical versus fraternal twins. This is a refreshing perspective since so much of the intellectual community has been (J.B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, F. Boas) and is still clearly in the blank slate camp. One notable example is Stephen Jay Gould, who preached in many essays and his full length book The Mismeasure of Man that group differences in intelligence are not genetic and do not exist.

Clearly the author sees a genetic component to human behavior and argues for a better balance between nature and nurture. He argues that the pendulum in the intellectual world has swung so far towards nurture in the wake of the holocaust that it defies common sense.

"Academics were swept along by the changing attitudes, but they also helped direct the tide. The prevailing theories of the mind were refashioned to make racism and sexism as untenable as possible. The blank slate became sacred scripture. According to the doctrine, any differences we see among races, ethnic groups, sexes, and individuals come not from differences in their innate constitution but from differences in their experiences."

However, he incitefully points out that while extreme views of biological determinism led to the horrors of the Nazis so rightly condemned, the extreme egalitarianism of the blank slate led to the equally horrific crimes of communism executed by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge. Homicidal dictators can always use the intellectual climate of the day to their advantage.

In America, we're afraid to even raise the possibility of group differences for fear that it will lead to the discrimination of individuals. However, thinking people should realize that groups and individuals are different and that even in cases where groups differ, there is a large overlap between group abilities as I discussed in a previous post on Kenyans and long distance running.

In the end the author calls for the separation of the worth of the individual from the abilities of that individual or the group to which they belong. And of course, given a moment's thought this is the patently obvious way that moral people have always dealt with others - one by one. As Jefferson said "All men are created equal" in terms of the rights that they have, not the abilities with which they've been endowed. It is refreshing to see this perspective once in awhile.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Compact Framework Book Reviewed

I was alerted to a nice online review of Jon Box and my recent book. In part the review (on said:

"This is a 'small book' in the best sense of the word. Sometimes you want a book that tells you everything about a topic, and other times you just want a book that will give you guidance without the need to cover every detail. This is such a book...the authors seem to have covered the topics that I care about....This is not a book with huge amounts of code, but in general the code that is present is there for a reason, and you will likely find yourself using a fair amount of the code...Overall, this is a very good book. Don't be put off by the relatively small size of the book. In this case, good things do come in small packages!"

Royals Hot Stove Redux

The Royals have also made some good moves lately by signing Kelly Stinnet as a backup catcher and Tony Graffanino to fill the backup infielder role. They're still looking for a power hitting left fielder so there is a possibility they could still sign Juan Gonzales or Raul Mondesi. So the Royals depth chart is:

1B - Harvey, Stairs
2B - Relaford, Graffanino
SS - Berroa, Graffanino
3B - Randa, Graffanino
RF - Guiel, Thompson
CF - Beltran, Rich Thompson (obtained in the Rule 5 draft)
LF - DeJesus, Stairs
C - Santiago, Stinnet
DH - Sweeney, Harvey

SP - Anderson, May, Asencio, Appier, Snyder (maybe Affeldt)
RP - Affeldt, MacDougal, Leskanic, Grimsely, Sullivan, Carrasco

They're definitely an improved team and it looks like the Twins and White Sox might be down. You never know in the AL Central!

Cubs pick up Mercker and Hollandsworth

Just as I finished my last post the Cubs picked up Todd Hollandsworth as a left-handed hitting outfielder and Kent Mercker as an additional lefty setup man (Remlinger had surgery in the offseason but should be back). Both contracts are for one year, Mercker's for $1.2M. Mercker had a great year last year, hopefully he can do the same in 04 although he's thrown very few innings since 1999.

Hollandsworth is not as good as his career stats would indicate having spent parts of 3 seasons in Colorado where his avg was well over .300. He's probably a .260/.330/.420 kind of player although he's better against right handers for sure. Hopefully the Cubs didn't pay much for him since I would bet you could find that kind of production in the minors.

Still, no lead off hitter or high on base guys so even with the upgrade of Lee I wouldn't look for the Cubs to be a run scoring machine. Of course, when they scored 4 runs last year they won about 75% of the time so here's hoping the offense is just good enough.

So here is the way it sets up:

1B - Lee, Simon as backup and pinch hitter but may be trying to trade him
2B - Grudz
SS - Gonzales, Martinez
3B - Ramirez
RF - Sosa
CF - Patterson, Goodwin
LF - Alou, Hollandsworth
C - Miller, Barrett, Bako (one of them will go, maybe Miller in a trade)

SP - Prior, Wood, Clement, Zambrano, Cruz
RP - Borowski, Hawkins, Remlinger(L), Mercker(L), Farnsworth, Wellmeyer

Cubs Acquire Catcher

Well, the Cubs got a catcher but it wasn't Pudge or Lopez. I'm not sure that Marty Barrett is a big upgrade to Damian Miller and he will certainly have to compete for the job. His 2002 season was decent enough but took a step backwards last year because of injuries. I can easily see him supplanting Bako, whose days seems to be numbered. Barrett has a little power, appears to be a good receiver (good CS numbers) and is a bit of an all around player who could also play in the infield in a tight spot.

So the Cubs may be about done with their acquisitions. They still need a fourth outfielder, preferrably a left-handed bat with some pop. We'll see.

Baseball As Context (Part VI)

The final installment (Part VI) of Baseball As Context...

As I reached high school age I had become an outfielder and pitcher. At the time I was playing both on the junior varsity team and on a Babe Ruth league team in our town for which my Dad served as a coach. Although I didn’t get to play much on the JV team as a freshman (1 at bat and 2 innings in the outfield, for which my old coach should be ashamed by the way), my parents dutifully took me to each game in both leagues, which totaled between 50 and 60 games in each of those summers. On more than one occasion I remember playing a double header in Babe Ruth league, followed by eating and changing in the car on the way to the JV game.

I did, however, get to play regularly in the Babe Ruth league and patrolled centerfield and pitched on occasion. Our team was not bad and our fiercest rivalry was with a town team from about 40 miles away. They were a good team but what really made us shudder was the presence of "Big Al", the hardest throwing pitcher I’d ever seen armed with a blazing fastball that sometimes exceeded 90 miles per hour. Fortunately, his curve ball was poor and hittable although I typically completed my swing long before it reached the plate. In all, I was content with my strikeouts and occasional walks (his control wasn’t great) and felt fortunate that I was never killed by one his fastballs.

My sophomore season in JV was markedly better and I played centerfield there as well as pitched and even began acting as a reserve for the varsity team. At that time my control and curve ball (to which I and legions of other pitchers who’s arms did not contain the magic to throw a good fastball, will be eternally grateful to Candy Cummings its inventor now justly enshrined in the Hall of Fame) were really coming along and I felt that I had the ability to at least hit regions of the strike zone on command. I recall having concentrated on control after reading the book by Ferguson Jenkins, a master of control during his career and particularly while racking up six consecutive 20-win seasons for the Cubs in the late 60s and early 70s. In fact, in 1971 Jenkins walked only 37 men in 325 innings of work while striking out 263. In 1982 the Cubs reacquired Fergie where he spent his final two seasons, the first a resurgent season where he pitched over 200 innings and won 14 games. He also recorded his 3,000 strikeout in 1982, a game played early in the season in San Diego. I distinctly recall watching his previous start in Los Angeles while scoring the game and marveling at his masterful use of the corners.

Unfortunately, the low light of the season (which ended with the Cubs defeat at the hands of the Padres) was the fact that our coach was insane. And I do mean insane. Some of his more outrageous antics included getting thrown out of at least two games for arguing balls and strikes, cursing at insects while hitting fungos during infield practice, and berating players by calling them "society zeros" when they didn’t play well enough or made errors in the field. Fortunately, the game can survive even the destructive presence of behavior reminiscent of John McGraw or Ty Cobb, and we continued on mostly having fun while out on the field anyway.

Finally, by my junior year things began to click and I became a regular starting pitcher and left fielder on a team that would win the conference championship the next two seasons. My senior year culminated in a 9-0 record as a pitcher and a batting average good enough to earn All-Conference and district honors. I even hit a couple homeruns, the first of which was off of a left hander and which just cleared the left field fence as I raced head down furiously for second base.

Baseball, however, as is often said "is second only to death as a leveler" since it is ultimately a game based on failure (for anyone not named Barry Bonds anyway, he of the over .500 on base percentage in 2002 and thus a man that does not fail more than he succeeds, when he walked a record 198 times). The final game I pitched as a senior was a sub-state tournament game against a larger school. The first batter smashed a line drive to center field that happened to be right at our center fielder while the third batter of the inning hit a hard one hopper right back to the mound. I got out of the inning with no hits and no runs but felt that it might be a long day. However, I used my control to nibble at the corners and with some good defense, I pitched a shutout and we won 8-0. It was the best pure pitching performance of my life and it was in the most important game we had played. Our next tournament game however, certainly leveled me. In left field this time, the first opposing batter hit a line drive directly to me which I promptly dropped. I went hitless and to make the failure complete, gave up a couple of runs in relief in the game that would end our season and my high school career.

After high school I attended Iowa State University, majoring in computer science where, despite my recent disappointment, I still loved baseball. As Robert Adair showed in his book The Physics of Baseball and as I subsequently learned, physics is a deeply fascinating subject. However, I recall that it was far from my first priority in the fall of 1986. While ostensibly paying attention to my professor in the corner of a crowded lecture hall, I listened to the Astros Billy Hatcher put Newton’s laws of motion (F=ma) into practice.

Although not good enough play at a division I school like Iowa State (my fastball topped out around 75mph), I and a good friend played for two summers during college for the Muscatine Red Sox, a team made up of young and not so young players that played other town teams during the hot and humid Iowa summers. What was interesting about the Red Sox, however, was not the players so much as the manager, George Long. George had started the Red Sox in the 1930s and ran the team longer than Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia A’s. I recall him telling us, as I’m sure he enjoyed doing to each new crop of players, the story of when Babe Ruth came to the area to play an exhibition game. However, by the time I played for the Red Sox, George was well into his 80s and his "managing" consisted of encouraging the players with random chatter from the dugout and positioning his 5'5" 120 pound frame behind the pitchers mound with an old catcher’s mitt during batting practice. If you were pitching batting practice you had to be sure to throw the ball on the inner half of the plate so that your teammates wouldn’t inadvertently kill their coach. The real managing was done by his son, a “young man” in his 50s.

My two memories of playing for the Red Sox included throwing a 5 inning no-hitter in Muscatine, Iowa in which the only batter who reached base did so when the first baseman dropped an easy pop-fly (but I’m not bitter). The second was when George was closing in on his 1,000th win as a manager and I was given the ball to pitch as he was sitting on 998. While I don’t recall the details, we won the game and I got win number 999 for George. After his 1,000th there were stories both in the local newspapers and a small blurb in Sports Illustrated. I’m not sure how long George continued to manage or when he died but I’m certain that he loved baseball perhaps more than any other person I’ve ever met.

After those two seasons I thought I’d hung up my glove for good. However, after getting married, landing a software development job with Chevron and moving to Houston I once again got the urge and played for one season in a league in the Houston area for a team called the Orioles. While I pitched a little and played a little outfield, my arm began to get sore (a condition I attributed to playing in softball leagues for Chevron and making outfield throws without properly warming up). However, after moving to Kansas City in 1994 I played one more season with a local team and enjoyed a little success on the mound as well as the plate (I specifically recall an 8 inning shutout that I was particularly proud of). Alas, that proved to be my last season as a child soon followed accompanied by the increased busyness that a full family life entails.

These days I root for the Cubs and the Royals and attend as many games as possible (17 in 2003) and follow the ups and downs of the long season. And so now as I write this, still deep in the shadow of the Cubs most recent collapse, I’m comforted that baseball will continue to provide context in my life, sometimes even coming to the forefront in great hope as it has this October, but even in disappointment always enriching it. You never know, next year might be the year.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Data Logic Patterns

Here is my latest article on data access patterns you can use in .NET Framework applications. The code developed for this article is based on the patterns discussed in Fowler and that I discuss in our Atomic .NET Patterns and Architecture Course.

Baseball As Context (Part V)

This is part V of my essay "Baseball As Context"

Like Sandburg (Carl, not Ryne), during these years I read and collected everything I could get my hands on that was baseball related. Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting and a book on pitching by Ferguson Jenkins stands out. In particular, and like any red blooded American kid, I collected baseball cards. My first card was a 1976 Walt Williams, fondly nicknamed "No-neck" because his head seemed to sit directly atop his shoulders. From that auspicious beginning my brother and I collected over 10,000 cards, many of which I still have and the most cherished of those hang on the walls of my office as I write this. Unlike kids who today put cards neatly into plastic holders to protect their value (although I could never understand the interest in putting cards in bicycle spokes, which would ruin their appearance), we valued them primarily for the wealth of statistics on the back. We poured over the cards daily and gleaned all sorts of important facts like the following gem. The Topps 1974 Richie Hebner card informed us that Hebner dug graves in the offeason in order to keep in shape (remember that this was the era before the reserve clause was upended and in which players often had to work during the offseason)[1].

Our favorite activity, however, was attempting to put together full teams and then arranging the cards in their respective positions. Of course, our biggest concern was building a team of Cubs and much to our disappointment we could never seem to find a shortstop. It turns out that neither could the Cubs until DeJesus secured the position from 1977-1980 after coming over in a trade along with Bill Buckner for Rick Monday (one of the better Cubs trades I might add, falling in behind the deal for Ryne Sandberg with the Phillies, and the trade with the White Sox for Sammy Sosa). At that time, however, we had Jerry Morales in right, Rick Monday in center and Jose Cardenal in left (for which I paid one of my friends the princely sum of $1.75, far more than its worth), Bill Madlock at third, Manny Trillo at second and Pete LaCock at first. Catching was Steve Swisher or Brian Hosey. The shortstop we were looking for was the extremely light hitting Mick Kelleher. Over an eleven year career Kelleher would bat 1,081 times without hitting a homerun. His only semi-regular season was with the Cubs in 1976 when he hit .228. His career average skirted the “Mendoza line” at .213.

Although I was spending my spare time getting a baseball education, baseball returned the favor by increasing my fondness for numbers as no other game is so rich in statistical tradition. Although this is partly due to the fact that the tradition now stretches back over a century and that the relative continuity of the statistics allow for comparison[2], it is also due to the fact that in no other sport are the statistics (especially for batting and pitching, fielding is another complex and sadly problematic story) so linked to a player’s performance. As a result, when looking at a line like so:

505 81 125 17 0 40 94 85 85 .248 .519 .357

a baseball fan can almost visualize this player and narrow down the owner from a field of over 10,000 to under 10. In fact, it would come as no surprise if some readers, upon reviewing the line, immediately conjured up an image of Darrell Evans, the husky Braves, Giants, and Tigers first baseman who played from the late 60s to the late 80s. Because of this close association with individual players, some of the individual statistics then take on identities in their own right including 755, 73, 511, 56, and 4,257[3]. In this, baseball statistics (in the words of Bill James) have acquired the "power of language", which makes them endlessly fascinating since they tell stories as much as they reflect accomplishment.

The lure of these numbers and their rich tradition drove us to scoring games, computing batting averages, and calculating statistics which in turn created an ease with numbers, fractions, and percentages as well as learning to do quick sums in my head. In a direct way, this impacted my fallback career choice, software development.

Ultimately, the love for statistics led to more "serious" pursuits that included playing baseball simulation games in which we created our own leagues and tracked the statistics. After cutting our teeth on Cadaco All-Star baseball (invented by former big leaguer and Yale baseball coach Ethan Allen) and other less precise games, the ultimate expression of this pursuit was the replaying of the 1983 National League season by four of us including my brother using a popular simulation game known as Strat-O-Matic (still advertised I noticed in Baseball Digest, the monthly magazine I subscribed to from 1976 through the mid 1980s). Each of us managed three teams, scored each game, and tracked the statistics as we replayed the entire 1,000 plus game schedule, complete with off days over the course of almost a year.

Although none of my teams won their division and one, the Padres, even lost 112 games due to no fault of the manager, I still today keep a copy of the statistics from that make-believe season and look at them from time to time remembering the comradery of good friends. As I peruse the stat sheets the attributes of the players come to life through the language of the statistics in a unique way that is reminiscent of, but truly distinct from, the real players on which the simulation was based. Only in baseball can the numbers tell so much of the story.

[1] Hebner played for the Pirates in those days but would go on to play, and contribute, on the 1984 Cubs team.
[2] Yes, there has been continuity as evidenced by league batting averages fluctuating around .260 since the 1940s, but in many instances it has been a continuity forced on the game by subtle changes of the rules. The lowering of the mound in 1969 is one prominent example. Only when Babe Ruth saved the game from financial ruin brought on by the Black Sox scandal, did the powers that be choose to let the game move in a different direction, which produced the rift between the "dead ball" and "lively ball" eras. Interestingly, this common nomenclature is likely misleading as documented by Bill James in the Historical Baseball Abstract, who argues that the outlawing of the spitter and its variants along with the more frequent introduction of new baseballs into games had more of an effect than any change in the balls being used.
[3] Hank Aaron’s career homeruns, Barry Bonds single-season homerun record, Cy Young’s victory total, Joe Dimaggios’s hitting streak, and Pete Rose’s hit total.

Salary Arbitration

Nice piece on salary arbitration in MLB. Interesting that players have lost a growing number of cases:

Period Cases/Decided Player Win%
1974-1980 212/92       47.8%
1981-1993 1564/267     43.4%
1994-2002 725/87       36.8%

Why might this be? Certainly, the fewer cases that make it to arbitration represent only those where the two parties are far apart. One might guess that in many of those cases the player is asking for a salary commensurate with a recent block-buster free agent signing, which the arbitrators don't consider realistic. Are there better reasons?

Also, there have been a decreasing number of cases making it to a hearing. This probably shows a stabilization of the process whereby players and owners know what to expect and since the winning percentage of either side is not that high, they would rather compromise than take the risk of losing.

Tramplings for the Holidays

Great column by George Will on the trampling of a shopper at Wal-Mart on their way to purchase a $29 DVD player. About the trampling Will writes:

"Conservatives, in their simplistic way, will blame the Florida trampling on facets of human nature to which the Christmas story pertains -- mankind's fallen condition, meaning original sin. Liberals, being less judgmental and more alert to the social causes of things, will blame Wal-Mart. They already blame it for many flaws in creation, from low wages in Asia to America's "loss of community," by which liberals mean the migration of shoppers from large-hearted Main Street merchants to the superior variety and lower prices at the Wal-Mart on the edge of town."

Will then goes on to poke fun at our modern Christmas celebration noting that one of today's problems "in addition to the toll taken on the body by seasonal wassailing and gorging, is shopping that includes stocking up on 'retaliation presents.' They are used to counter unexpected gift-giving by persons not on your list, which by now includes family, friends, the stockbroker who got you out of Enron in time and the person who cleans your gutters."

Great stuff. This reminded me of C.S. Lewis' essay Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus where Lewis tells the tale of the island of Niatrib where islanders celebrate two concurrent holidays, one of which sounds an awful lot like what Will is describing.


Sorry to post the contents of a circulating email but I couldn't pass this one up. I'm sure most people in the corporate world hear all of these phrases more and more...

Frank Lingua, president and CEO of Dissembling Associates, is the nation's leading purveyor of buzzwords, catch phrases and cliches for people too busy to speak in plain English. Business Finance contributing editor Dan Danbom interviewed Lingua in his New York City office.

Danbom: Is being a cliche expert a full-time job?

Lingua: Bottom line is I have a full plate 24/7.

D. Is it hard to keep up with the seemingly endless supply of cliches
that spew from business?

L. Some days, I don't have the bandwidth. It's like drinking from a
fire hydrant.

D. So it's difficult?

L. Harder than nailing Jell-O to the wall.

D. Where do most cliches come from?

L. Stakeholders push the envelope until it's outside the box.

D. How do you track them once they've been coined?

L. It's like herding cats.

D. Can you predict whether a phrase is going to become a cliche?

L. Yes. I skate to where the puck's going to be. Because if you aren't
the lead dog, you're not providing a customer-centric proactive

D. Give us a new buzzword that we'll be hearing ad nauseam.

L. "Enronitis" could be a next-generation player.

D. Do people understand your role as a cliche expert?

L. No, they can't get their arms around that. But they aren't incented

D. How do people know you're a cliche expert?

L. I walk the walk and talk the talk.

D. Did incomprehensibility come naturally to you?

L. I wasn't wired that way, but it became mission-critical as I
strategically focused on my go-forward plan.

D. What did you do to develop this talent?

L. It's not rocket science. It's not brain surgery. When you drill down
to the granular level, it's just basic blocking and tackling.

D. How do you know if you're successful in your work?

L. At the end of the day, it's all about robust, world-class language

D. How do you stay ahead of others in the buzzword industry?

L. Net-net, my value proposition is based on maximizing synergies and
being first to market with a leveraged, value-added deliverable. That's
the opportunity space on a level playing field.

D. Does everyone in business eventually devolve into the sort of
mindless drivel you spout?

L. If you walk like a duck and talk like a duck, you're a duck. They
all drink the Kool-Aid.

D. Do you read "Dilbert" in the newspaper?

L. My knowledge base is deselective of fiber media.

D. Does that mean "no"?

L. Negative.


L. Let's take your issues offline.


L. You have a result-driven mind-set that isn't a strategic fit with my
game plan.


L. Your perspective on this topic is very important to me.

D. How can you live with yourself?

L. I eat my own dog food. My vision is to monetize scalable supply

D. When are you going to quit this?

L. I may eventually exit the business to pursue other career

D. I hate you.

L. Take it and run with it.

[From an email currently being circulated among some of the less
employable elements in Silicon Valley.]

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Cubs Catcher?

So, it looks like the pursuit of Ivan Rodriguez might have started. At his age I wouldn't want to sign him for more than 1 or 2 years but at his likely price tag of $15-16M I doubt he'll get more than 1. Perhaps he'll take 2 years around $10M for another chance to play in the post season. I'm a little torn between Rodriguez and Javy Lopez. Lopez should command less I would assume and offensively he's the better player.

Relativity Demystified

I just finished reading Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified by Richard Wolfson, professor of physics at Middlebury College. This small book (240 pages) is written for the non-scientist and does a great job of explaining both Einstein's theory of special relativity and his later theory of general relativity.

I really like the way the author tells the story in the first 5 chapters of scientific discovery from a historical perspective starting with Aristotle's conception of the natural state of motion (at rest), on to Galileo's and Newton's views and the idea of Galilean relativity (physics works the same as long as your in a uniform state of motion), and finally to a brief overview of electricity, magnestism and their synthesis by James Clerk Maxwell around 1880.

He then starts his exploration of Einstein's special relativity with a discussion of the Michelson-Morley experiment and how it showed how the speed of light is the same for all observers (the basis of relativity from which all else follows) although Michelson and Morley didn't believe their own results. His explanation of special relativity then consumes the next 8 chapters and is presented in a conversational tone that plays on your natural questions (which I'm sure are driven from his teaching experience) and assumptions, many of which are of course wrong in a world described by relativity. One of the points the author touches on is the same one I made in a previous post, namely that the way we think about nature is based on our everyday experience confined to an area of weak gravity and moving at a relatively very slow speed (what Bacon called "Idols of the Tribe") and it is that experience which makes it impossible to intuitively understand relativity. We can understand it intellectually and mathematically but can never know it "in our bones".

The only math in the entire book is an explanation of the time dilation equation which explains how time is relative for different observers travelling at different speeds (the famous "twins paradox"). An appendix covers the details but the math is no more difficult than 10th grade geometry. Although time dilation is the most well known result of special relativity he also explains the relativity of distance and the order of some classes of events for two different observers. For me, those sections were by far the most challenging and interesting in the book.

One of the great features of this book is that the author constantly reminds the reader of correct relativistic terminology and thinking. For example, it is relativistically incorrect to say that in the case of the twins paradox that "moving clocks run slow". They only run slow from the perspective of an observer in a different frame of reference.

The last three chapters touch on Einstein's general relativity and how it describes the nature of gravity as the curvature of spacetime. Since the mathematics involved in general relativity (non-Euclidian geometry for starters) are complex, he does not attempt to describe any of it but merely describes the axoims of general relativity; that spacetime is curved and that curvature determines the natural state of motion of objects, and that the curvature is gravity, the nature of which is determined by the amount of mass+energy present. He has a great analogy of a basketball sitting on a taught rubber sheet and how marbles or other objects rolled on the sheet mimics in 2 dimensions what is happening in 4 dimensional spacetime in general relativity.

The book has plenty of diagrams and the chapters are short enough to read in a single sitting, which is important for a book like this where you need to digest a complete argument before moving on.

Wolfson also has some lectures available from the Teaching Company which follow the same lines as the book. However, I enjoyed the book more since you really need the diagrams to better understand the concepts. I've also attempted to read other short books on relativity but none are as clear and incorporate the historical perspective, which I always enjoy. A highly recommended book.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Baseball As Context (Part IV)

Here is the 4th installment of my essay Baseball As Context...

I was born in 1968, which fans will instantly recognize as the year of the pitcher which saw Bob Gibson of the Cardinals compile his microscopic 1.12 earned run average, Carl Yasztremski lead the AL with a .301 batting average and which, as a result, the mound was lowered. So it should come as no great shock that eventually I became a pitcher (although I was also born on April 8, exactly six years before Hank Aaron would hit is 714th homerun to eclipse the Bambino). My brother and I began playing baseball at the age of seven, a full three years younger than Pete Rose, as I had read and constantly reminded myself in hopes that I could make the big leagues.

From that time on my memories of spring, summer, and early fall are dominated by playing baseball. In those years in our small town the neighborhood kids would play ball almost every day. Our town was fortunately a "baseball town" and so there seemed to be more interest in the game perhaps than in other places. As fortune would have it we lived only a block from the little league and men’s softball park and only rarely had to resort to playing in empty lots without fences where broken windows were a danger. We would begin at 9 am each morning (in the summer and Saturdays if school was still in session) with the ritualistic calling of the players. My brother and I would get on the phone and call all the kids we thought would play. Of course, we concentrated our efforts on brother combinations like the Fullers and Fratzkes, which was particularly effective since it was a two for one deal. The minimum needed to make a game was six, three on a side, although eight was much better and ten was considered ideal. We played at a Little League park, but to enhance the action we located home plate at a spot in the shallow outfield and put out our own bases with gloves or trash or sometimes even real plastic bases that one of the kids would bring. Of course the big draw for playing in the outfield was that it presented fences that were within our reach.

With six or eight players we played "pitcher’s hand" which meant that the pitcher acted as a proxy for the first baseman and if he received the throw while still in contact with the pitcher’s mound before the runner reached first the out was recorded. We also employed the time honored tradition of "ghost runners", necessary if a team of thee or four ended up with all of their men on base and who occupied the lead base or bases and could only advance as they were forced to by the next batted ball. We threw overhand but the pitching was not paramount. Indeed, like early forms of baseball, the pitcher’s job was to throw strikes so that the hitter could put the ball in play.

Even then I was a classic good field no-hit player. It’s not that I couldn’t hit but that I didn’t hit for power, which is what truly counted ("chicks dig the long ball" as I later learned). I would play the critical shortstop/left field position and hit leadoff. My brother had the power. We never kept track of innings but would play until it was time to go or perhaps until one team got so far ahead we needed to start over to make it interesting. I do know we played enough ball so that my brother collected over 40 homeruns one summer and I stole over 70 bases (although we didn’t always allow steals, which depended on how many fielders were available). The statistics weren’t formal but we tracked in our heads what was important.

Some of those games were wild, many were contentious, and some were pure joy, like the time I scaled the chain link fence ala Tori Hunter to rob one of the Fratzke boys of a homerun. Along with the statistics our own collection of legends grew up around the "lob ball" games as we called them, including Doug Miller’s mammoth blast that cleared the street beyond center field and nailed the lawn mower then in operation much to the surprise of its operator, or the Kingman-like wallop of my brother’s that sailed in a majestic arc between the house and garage behind the street in right, our own Sheffield Avenue.

Apart from the fun of it all, however, and with the perspective of almost 30 years, the facet of these games I treasure most is our good fortune at having lived in a time and place that allowed the games to go on unsupervised and unstructured. In the end it was kids learning to get along (sometimes not so successfully) and making up their own rules playing a game that they loved. It is primarily for this reason that I feel some sadness for my daughters, who I know will not have the opportunities to experience an unstructured sport (let alone almost any other activity) in today’s world of jam-packed, over extended schedules. My experience of baseball played in this way will immediately ring true to legions of American males as I was reminded recently by the words of Carl Sandburg.

"On many a summer day I played baseball starting at eight in the morning, running home at noon for a quick meal, and again with fielding and batting until it was too dark to see the ball. These were times when my head seemed empty of everything but baseball names and figures. I could name the players who led in batting and fielding, and the pitchers who had won the most games. And I had my opinions on who was better than anybody else in the national game."

So why the good field, no hit tag? As a rookie in pee-wee league just after I had taken up baseball, I do recall that I couldn’t catch the ball and I was an even worse hitter. After being relegated to the purgatory of kids baseball – right field – for the season and barely fouling off a pitch, I decided to apply myself to serious training.

I was fortunate to have a good friend, the aforementioned Doug Miller along with an older brother that I could pester to help me improve. The next season, beginning as early as possible, which in eastern Iowa is typically mid March, Doug and I played catch and threw each other grounders and fly balls every single day and sometimes more than once per day. I diligently practiced backhanded stops and coming up to throw to first like my idol, Cubs shortstop Ivan DeJesus, did after receiving the relay from the second baseman on a double play. In fact, after the next season, in which some improvement was evident, there were tryouts to be promoted to Little League. I went to the tryouts not expecting much but after dazzling the other players and coaches with a nifty backhanded stop of grounder in the hole at second, I got the call. Consequently, and because of that single play, I became a left-handed second baseman in Little League and subsequently played on our town’s All-Star team in several local tournaments. As there was no future in being a left-handed second baseman, I also started doing some pitching. Although I distinctly recall hitting a couple of guys in the head (they were left-handed and were likely crowding the plate) I did start to achieve some control and pitched quite a bit in my last Little League campaign.

My fielding was also improved by my brother, who never ceased to hit me fly balls and ground balls in the neighbor’s empty lot out behind our house. He would throw the ball up and hit it and I would track it down. He would hit them over my head so I could practice going back and would hit liners so I’d have to judge the distance. This continued through several years and I eventually became a competent outfielder.

My hitting was another story, however. I am left-handed but as far back as I can remember I’ve always batted right-handed. Since there are natural advantages to batting from the left side including being a step closer to first base as well as taking advantage of the angle of a right hander’s delivery, it is rare that left handed throwers bat right handed. In fact, in the major leagues it is ten times more likely that the situation is reversed. Two of the most prominent to do so were both first baseman, the slick fielding Hal Chase, who played primarily for the Yankees and Reds from 1905 to 1919, and a Yale first baseman who went on to relieve Ronald Regan in the oval office. In modern times, certainly Rickey Henderson has been the most effective lefty swinging from the right side.

Like the origin of baseball itself, the origin of my right-handed swing is lost in the mists of time and likely due only to the contingency of history. My theory is that as a five or six year old I picked up some golf clubs with a friend and we began to hit balls around an empty lot. After doing that for a full day the swing stuck and my course was set. From then on hitting the right-handed curveball and hitting for power were not to be. Had I remained a left-handed hitter I might have developed a Ted Williams like swing, or better yet I may have become a switch hitter in the mold of Mickey Mantle. C’est la vie.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Royals Bag Santiago

Well, the Royals got their catcher. $4.3M over two years is a hefty price to pay for a 38 year old and there is a good chance this deal won't look very good next year. Still, the last 2 years have been Santiago's best since 1996 and if he can hit in the high .270s then he'll certainly be above replacement level.

His percentage throwing out runners suffered a bit last year so I hope that's not a portent of things to come (although at 38 I wouldn't blame him). He also had 1 more PB, 7 less DPs, and 1 more error in 160 fewer innings.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Royals and Cubs Signings

The last couple days have been busy for both the Royals and the Cubs. The Cubs signed Grudzlienek and Goodwin to contracts, the former to a one year deal with a team option for a second at around $2.5M and the latter to a one year deal, hopefully for not more than $500K.

I would rather the Cubs have gone after Vina to fill the gaping leadoff hole but Grudz is certainly above replacement level and hit with some pop (38 doubles). I hate to see him hitting high in the order, he would be a good number 7 guy. Goodwin was good pinch hitter last year, can pinch run, and play a little defense so a good guy to have around.

I recently read an interesting review of a study in a professional journal of heuristics that attempted to determine the optimum batting order. Basically, the conclusion was that if you classify players as "table setters", "all around hitters", and "runner advancers" (or something like that), then your best strategy is to construct a lineup with all your players in order by group and in descending order by ability within each group. Of course, the trick is in how you classify players but not having the article, I can't speculate on the system they used to do so. Grudz to me is more of a "runner advancer" than a table setter since even his best OBP years are going to be around .340 and his potential for moving players via doubles is pretty good. He only hits high in the order since the Cubs don't have ANY table setters. Patterson is an ideal 5 or 6 hitter and Gonzales is 8 hitter.

The Royals signed Matt Stairs, who had a great year last year hit 20 homeruns in just over 300 at bats. He should be a good platoon with Harvey at first and see some action in left field and pinch hitting. I assume its a one year deal. They also signed Scott Sullivan to a 2 year deal to solidify the bullpen. He also had a good year last year splitting time between a couple clubs. Earlier in the week the Royals resigned Grimsely for one year at $1M (a good deal for the Royals I think). He was certainly overworked last year and became totally ineffective after the break. Hopefully, Pena won't try and go to him so often that he fries his arm early again.

So the depth charts are:
1B - Lee, Simon as backup and pinch hitter
2B - Grudz
SS - Gonzales, Martinez
3B - Ramirez
RF - Sosa
CF - Patterson, Goodwin
LF - Alou
C - Miller (hopefully still looking at Lopez)

SP - Prior, Wood, Clement, Zambrano, Cruz
RP - Borowski, Hawkins, Remlinger, Farnsworth, Wellmeyer

1B - Harvey, Stairs
2B - Relaford
SS - Berroa
3B - Randa
RF - Guiel
CF - Beltran
LF - DeJesus, Stairs
C - Nobody (Looking hard at Santiago)
DH - Sweeney

SP - Anderson, May, Asencio, Appier, Snyder (maybe Affeldt)
RP - Affeldt, MacDougal, Leskanic, Grimsely, Sullivan, Carrasco

Monday, December 08, 2003

Domain Logic Patterns

A new article I wrote for has just been published covering common Domain Logic Patterns in .NET Framework applications. It follows the terminology from Fowler's Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, a book I really like.

The follow-up article on Data Access Patterns should be published soon.

Baseball As Context (Part III)

This is part III of Baseball as Context...

Although the Cubs have brought me much joy and more than a little sorrow, baseball also made its way into my life in other ways. The first major league game I actually attended was as a five year old in the Astrodome in 1973. My family made the game since a pitcher for the Mets, Jim McAndrew, had been a few years behind my mother in school. McAndrew was a pretty decent spot starter and reliever with good control for the Mets from 1968-1973 on a staff already loaded with talent. He went on to play one more season with the Padres. Although I still have the autographed program and have seen pictures taken at the game, my only recollection is discussing with my brother how small the players looked on the field from our vantage point in the upper deck. Later, when my wife and I lived in Houston for a few years after college I was able to confirm this recollection by sitting in almost that same upper deck spot when the Rangers' Nolan Ryan played an exhibition game in Houston before the start of the season.

The most prized piece of memorabilia from the visit, however, was the autographed team ball that McAndrew presented to my mother. All of the players and coaches from that pennant winning team (they went on to lose the World Series to the A's of Charlie Finley) signed it in either regular or blue pencil and it includes the signatures of Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Yogi Berra, Jerry Koosman, Rusty Staub, and Tug McGraw. A few years ago my parents decided to disperse some of these heirlooms to their children and a drawing was held between my brother and me for the ball. I lost but as a consolation prize received a ball my mother had inherited from her uncle, who at one time ran a hotel in Florida frequented by the St. Louis Cardinals during spring training. The ball dates from the 1940s and includes the signatures of Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Harry Brecheen, Joe Garagiola, and Solly Hemus. Not a bad consolation prize and it sits proudly above my desk in a place of honor.

Another of my earliest intersections with baseball is the 1975 World Series. During the series I stayed over night at a friend's house and we watched the historic sixth game. I rooted for the Red Sox, a move that would seem quite out of character shortly thereafter since I became a National League guy, since my friend was rooting for the Reds. I can't honestly say I remember seeing Fisk hit the game winner in the bottom of the 12th but I do remember being enthralled with the game many judge as the best ever played and think that it was probably the first time I realized how exciting baseball could be.

Once I and my brother had caught the baseball bug my family indulged our passion by scheduling our summer vacations (typically 2 week road trips in the big green van complete with stickers on the back window from each state we visited) around our own baseball seasons (about which more is to follow) and coinciding with big league games in other cities. Two particular games in St. Louis stand out, the first a Sunday matinee in July of 1979 or 1980 in which a Bill Buckner homerun curving around the right field foul pole, secured the Cubs victory, and the second, a 17 inning affair (my mother fortunately brought a book) with the Pirates in 1982 which saw the Cardinals threaten in each inning past the 10th but ultimately lose the game in the wee hours of the morning. Without much money of my own I was dependant on my father for food during the game. He shut off the spicket around the 2nd inning (we had arrived in time for batting practice and ballpark food was not cheap even then) and so by the time the game ended after midnight I was ravenously hungry but had to wait until the following day. Legend has it, for I admit to being dazed by hunger, that my brother and I went 17 hours without food (quite a feat for teenage boys), fittingly matching the Cardinals futility. It was this game as well where we witnessed Willie "Pops" Stargell in his final year with the Pirates, pinch hit and swat a line drive that nearly took off the second baseman's head before hitting the right field wall on the fly. Stargell, then of substantial girth, ambled to first with a single before being immediately pinch run for.

The most memorable two week car trip, for both its relation to baseball and because we visited several Civil War battlefields including Gettysburg (I was also a Civil War buff) was the year I was fifteen (1983) as we traveled east from Iowa. In addition to games seen in Montreal (remembered as very clean with fans who were quite polite but quiet) and Pittsburg (very dirty and with fans that cursed and threw batteries at their own Dave Parker), the ultimate experience was the afternoon spent in Cooperstown, the high and holy shrine of baseball. The feeling of awe and the connection with history in viewing the Babe's bat and Willie Mays' New York Giants jersey was truly thrilling. My brother and I were even permitted to peruse the library where we searched for statistics on lefty/righty breakdowns , then a difficult thing to secure before the "democratization" of baseball statistics through the discovery (assuredly not too strong a word) of sabermetrics and the wide publication of wonderful books such as the Bill James Baseball Abstract and the Elias Baseball Analyst not to mention the Internet.

These trips are remembered not only for the intersection with baseball. As I now look back on them I find that their ultimate value lies in the sense of geography (we also took several trips west where baseball was more difficult to come by) and history that ultimately bred perspective. They helped shape in me a view of America as a beautiful, vast, a richly complex nation that I still carry today. For that, as for the more traditional things for which children should be thankful, I'll always be indebted to my parents.

In specific and concrete ways, then, baseball can and often does connect us to history. A visit to old Comiskey Park, Fenway Park or Wrigley Field allows us to relive moments gone by and feel in a very visceral way the events that transpired there. In one early visit to Wrigley, for example, I was awestruck by the thought that Babe Ruth stood at that very home plate just a few feet away and called his shot against Charlie Root in the 1932 World Series. Of course, at that time I was not aware of the legendary nature of the "called shot" incident since the children's baseball book I read from cover to cover many times over simply recounted the legends of the game. Unfortunately, in all likelihood Ruth was merely gesturing towards the jeering Cubs dugout. I'm glad that at the time I didn't know the factual, but infinitely less interesting, truth.

I liken experiences like these to the one enjoyed very recently when I viewed for the first time, along with my seven year old daughter, Jupiter and four of its moons through a small starter telescope. In that moment we were immediately connected with Galileo across a span of 400 years, whose own crude telescope gave him a view very similar to ours in 1610.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Baseball As Context (Part II)

This is part II of "Baseball as Context"...

Growing up in eastern Iowa just a few miles from the Mississippi River, my first memory of baseball was listening to the Chicago Cubs on radio 720 WGN while driving in the car with my Dad. We had a green Ford station wagon and I can remember the call of Lou Boudreau, the Hall of Fame shortstop and manager of the Cleveland Indians who guided his team to the pennant in 1948, and Vince Lloyd (who Boudreau referred to as "good kid") the play-by-play man. Even though the specifics of the games are lost, the feel and rhythm of the game (and interestingly even some of the commercial jingles) stuck. Thus we were always Cubs fans, a condition I attribute to the dual causes of a maternal Grandfather and father who always rooted for them, and that few folks in eastern Iowa were or are White Sox or Twins fans. For my Grandfather ((who we grandchildren referred to as Papa - pronounced "paw-paw"), I can only surmise that baseball helped "Americanize" this immigrant from Denmark who landed at Ellis Island in 1910 and who, unlike his siblings, wanted very much to assimilate into the culture. His desire to be an American was so complete that he worked very hard to lose any trace of his Danish accent, a feat he accomplished by his early 20s.

I can also recall the visits to Papa’s farm every Sunday after church in the early to mid 1970s where we would eat pancakes he prepared, followed by listening to or watching the Cubs in the afternoon accompanied by the smell of Papa’s pipe (remember that in the dark days before cable TV and ESPN only one major league game per week was accessible to us on TV, and that was on Sunday afternoon). In later years we would visit him in the nursing home and immediately park beside him in his brown leather recliner to watch the exploits of Dave Kingman as he led the National League in home runs with 48 in 1979, the summer of my 11th year and the year that Papa died, all the while eating butterscotch candies, Papa’s favorite. I can vividly recall one particular Sunday when Kingman hit two prodigious homeruns accompanied by Jack Brickhouse’s signature call of "Hey Hey" as the balls sailed in majestic arcs onto Waveland Avenue and we all rejoiced in his little room. Although Papa is gone, my connection with him through baseball remains something visceral that I can instantly recall when watching the Cubs on a Sunday afternoon.

"King Kong" Kingman, although he only played three seasons in Chicago hitting 28, 48, and 18 homeruns in those three years (data at my fingertips thanks to the trusty Total Baseball, which sits on my desk in a place of prominence since you never know when you might need to study the career of Steve Swisher to discover that his lifetime average was a dismal .216), my brother, who is 18 months my senior, and I often speak in hushed tones of his singular strength as epitomized in two vignettes etched in our collective memory. In the first, with a gale blowing out to left, Kingman lofts one of his high arcing shots down the left field line that catches the jet stream, passes over the 355 marker in left, out of Wrigley Field, over Waveland Avenue, and finally comes to rest between two houses somewhere on the next block. The ball surely must have traveled 700 feet, although wind-aided to be sure (this scene also calls to mind an almost identical shot by Glen Allen Hill in 1998 or 1999). The second scene is of Kingman, having been fooled on a pitch, reaching out in front of the plate as his bottom hand releases the bat. He makes contact around his ankles with one hand on the bat and although the ball looks like a popup, it proceeds to land softly in the center field bleachers.

Yes we were, and I remain, a loyal Cubs fan, although I’ll here confess a brief affair with the Yankees in my junior high years that fortunately dissipated soon after, as infatuations are apt to do. Although pulling for the Yankees in the mid 1980s was not like doing so from the 1940s to the early 60s when it was said that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel (in fact the Yankees did not taste postseason play from 1981 until 1995), they have in recent years returned to dominance. This is in large part thanks to the inequitable and archaic economic situation that virtually ensures that teams from Kansas City (my current home), Pittsburg, and other metro areas with small television revenues, will not generally be competitive. Although some argue the point, the Twins and A’s of 2001-2003 actually bolster the argument since both teams caught "lightening in a bottle" by enjoying success with players not yet eligible for free agency and therefore won’t be able to retain in the coming years. However, the A’s (and now the Blue Jays and Red Sox as well) have at least finally recognized the utility of using the new knowledge of baseball statistics termed "sabermetrics" to more correctly value the contributions of players as documented in Michael Lewis’s fascinating book MoneyBall. The term is a play on the acronym SABR which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research, founded in the early 1970s and to which I proudly belong. Sabermetrics includes nontraditional ways of evaluating the performance of players through analyzing statistics including Runs Created, OPS (on base plus slugging), range factor, Total Average, and other measures developed by gurus such as Bill James and Craig Wright. Using this approach, small market teams might be able to gain a competitive advantage until this "new knowledge" spreads throughout baseball. For now however, with a payroll a fifth that of the Yankees, it is all but certain that even if the Royals had not made several bungling front office moves in the last three years they could not hope to achieve post season success (although Royals fans, and I am one since they balance out my portfolio being in the American League, were momentarily given hope when the team started on a tear at 16-3 in 2003 but quickly lost 27 of their next 41 and fell back to .500 by mid June).

I, along with countless other Cubs fans, like to believe deep down that being a Cubs fan is a badge of honor worn bravely. We’ve come to this belief through hard years of spring hope followed by summer blossoming and ultimately culminating in autumn collapse. The two earliest and most lasting impressions of this pattern occurred in my formative years of 1977 and 1978 when both seasons saw the Cubs in first place near or after the All-Star break only to sink to perfect mediocrity in 1977 (81-81) and a bit below (79-83) in 1978 well out of contention. Fortunately, the penultimate disappointments would not come until I was more mature in 1984 and 1989, when having won the National League East, the first Cubs championship since 1945, the Cubs were beaten by teams from San Diego and San Francisco thanks to bad bounces (and Leon’s Durham’s legs) and timely hitting by a pair of veteran first baseman named Garvey and Clark. Oh, but I do remember the joys of that magical 1984 summer, epitomized by the June 23rd game against the Cardinals in which Ryne Sandberg hit successive homeruns off of former Cub Bruce Sutter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and tenth innings, both shots into the left field bleachers tying the game that the Cubs ultimately went on to win in eleven innings (I was recently able to relive this joy as I happened to catch the broadcast on ESPN Classic). In one other late season game I distinctly recall Harry Carey exclaiming "the good Lord must be a Cubs fan", or words to that affect, after a line drive bounced off of Lee Smith, the fire-balling closer right to Leon Durham to start a double play that sealed a Cubs victory. Unfortunately, as we were soon to learn, the deity turned out not to be a Cubs fan.

And as if to give us one last moment of elation before the impending doom, there was game 1 of the League Championship series. I was allowed by the superintendent with a twinkle in his eye, to cut class (I was a sophomore) that afternoon and watch the Cubs rout the Padres 13-0 complete with a Rick Sutcliffe (who saved our bacon by going 16-1 with the Cubs after being acquired from Cleveland in May) towering homerun out onto Sheffield Avenue in right field (Sutcliffe, a right handed pitcher batted left handed).

Sutcliffe was also on the mound when the Cubs clinched the division title on a September day in Pittsburg, after which my father, brother and I danced around the living room and Dave and I got our trumpets (we played in the marching and concert bands) and announced the Cubs victory to the neighborhood.

The summer of 1989 was also memorable as the Cubs, fueled by Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Mark Grace, Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, and a pair of rookies who would soon disappear like shooting stars in the night named Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith drove to the pennant, clinching it in Montreal. That summer I was doing an internship in Des Moines and recall many an evening spent listening to the Cubs broadcast in my little room in Ames (where I attended Iowa State University during the school year) while courting my soon-to-be fiancé in Iowa City by letter. I witnessed the final crushing blow in the student lounge at her dormitory in Des Moines that fall. I asked her to marry me anyway the next spring.

Although another near miss occurred in 1998, we Cubs fans refused to despair and so my hope was brought to the point of fulfillment this October when the Cubs, powered by a strong pitching staff with phenoms Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, a capable if overrated manager in Dusty Baker, and the ever powerful Sammy Sosa, won the central division championship by edging out the Astros in the final two weeks of the season. On a roll, they defeated the Braves in five exciting games in the division series (their first post season series win in 95 years) and then took a 3 games to 1 lead over the Marlins in the League Championship Series by taking advantage of some timely hitting and a trio of players robbed from the Pirates (Lofton, Ramirez, and Simon). However, it was at this point that the true meaning of being a Cubs fan came home to roost. I could only watch in horror and stunned silence when a fan interfered with Moises Alou in the 8th inning of game 6 and Gonzales booted a sure double play to help salt the game away for the Marlins. It was 1984 all over again. Not so strangely, on the day of game 7 I was resigned to our collective fate as sure as if the game had already been played and lost, and watched, almost emotionless, as a 5-3 lead disappeared and the Cub bats fell silent.

That having been said, being a Cubs fan has also aided in forming in me a rational and grounded view of reality. As Will said in his essay "The Chicago Cubs, Overdue" written in 1974:

"The differences between conservatives and liberals are as much a matter of temperament as ideas. Liberals are temperamentally inclined to see the world as a harmonious carnival of sweetness and light, where goodwill prevails, good intentions are rewarded, the race is to the swift, and a benevolent Nature arranges a favorable balance of pleasure over pain. Conservatives (and Cub fans) know better." [1]

Perhaps that is why I am today a conservative who believes in the fallen nature of both man and creation and that the law of unintended consequences must always be taken into account. Still, I don’t begrudge the Cubs my fate since in the end I do prefer reality to fantasy, nonfiction to fiction, and am glad the lesson was learned early. I don’t envy the feeling of despair that will someday overtake my seven year old nephew who’s favorite team is the Atlanta Braves and thus has never known a season in which the Braves did not finish first and enjoy a postseason run. His mother, my younger sister, was once too a Cubs fan whose favorite player was Bob Dernier (the first half of the "daily double" of 1984) but apparently gave in to temptation and succumbed to 140 games per year on TBS. Cubs fans however, take our lot in life in stride and so I must once again proudly wear my Chicago Cubs World Championship t-shirt, the logo of which displays 07 and one side and 08 on the other to memorialize the last world championships of 1907 and 1908.

Since that 1908 championship season in which the Cubs won 108 games (they hold the 154 game schedule record for wins with 116 in 1906 by the way, the year of the famous "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" double play combination made famous by the poem by Adams. The team also included Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown who lost half his index finger and had his pinky paralyzed in a boyhood accident. He had a devastating curve and once when asked by a reporter if having only three fingers helped his curveball he responded "I don’t know, I’ve never tried it with more."), they played in the World Series in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945 but lost each time. Actually, the 1945 pennant is a bit suspect since the league was depleted by the war effort. The level of play caused one Chicago writer to quip when asked for a prediction of the outcome of the World Series with the Tigers, "I can't conceive of either team winning a single game."

Joy for Cubs fans must therefore come in smaller doses. Most memorable for me were the annual or semi-annual pilgrimages to Wrigley Field where noted baseball writer Roger Angell once wrote in Season Ticket.

"Cub fans, by consensus, are the best in baseball. Year after year, in good times and (mostly) bad, they turn out in vociferous numbers, sustaining themselves with a heavenly ichor that combines loyalty, criticism, cheerfulness, durability, rage, beer and hope, in exquisite proportions."

The two visits to the "friendly confines" I remember most vividly are my first, a double header with the Reds our entire family attended in 1977, and a game against the Mets in 1985.

Other than being the first game I’d attended at Wrigley the doubleheader was memorable since it was the first time I actually spoke to a big league ballplayer. My brother and I had made a sign with a pithy slogan that read "Rose are red, violets are blue, come on Cubs we’re rooting for you". While the sign left something to be desired, we did hold it up proudly at the wall before the game along the left field line down by the Cubs bullpen. As luck would have it, lefty reliever Willie Hernandez, his hat neatly perched on the top of his large afro, began ambling from the clubhouse down to the pen. I quickly grabbed a ball we had brought and a pen and promptly marched to the wall and asked Hernandez to sign the ball. Hernandez, with a chuckle I’m sure, asked me in his thick Spanish accent "Why for you want me to sign the ball?" The question surprised me since I hadn’t really thought about why I should want this marginal (at that time anyway, Hernandez went on to win the 1984 Cy Young award with the Tigers) player’s signature on a ball. However, I quickly composed myself and shot back with the quite logical response "Because I just do". I do remember using the word please after a second question from Hernandez but he must have succumbed to my piercing nine-year old logic. After a little more begging Hernandez agreed and I got my autograph, I might add, only seconds before being trampled by a herd of other kids armed with balls, pens, scorecards and other weapons. Alas, the Cubs dropped the first game and we had to leave before the second was over (our home was over 200 miles from Chicago) but listened to the Cubs furious rally in the late innings to salvage the day.

The second game in August of 1985 I remember distinctly not so much because of anything the Cubs did but because Darryl Strawberry, before drugs, bad health, and bad decisions had destroyed his immense talent and career, put on a hitting display I’ve not seen duplicated. In three times at bat Strawberry hit homeruns, each more majestic and longer than the one before (1 to center, 2 to right if memory serves). However, his fourth official at bat (he was intentionally walked in his fourth plate appearance), off of Warren Brusstar resulted in a smoked line-drive single through the right side of the infield that if it had been hit higher, might have been the longest of the homeruns.

Other Wrigley games are memorable as well, including my eldest daughter’s first trip to the Friendly Confines in 2002 where we saw five Cubs homeruns, the day in 1987 when we were almost decapitated by an Andre Dawson [2] foul ball down the left field line, and a cold spring day in the mid 1980s when the Cubs game was rained out and so our group stayed to see the White Sox/Indians game at old Comiskey with a couple thousand other fans in 40 degree weather. Although I hold no special place in my heart for its namesake, who was by all accounts a parsimonious and mean-spirited owner, I also was disappointed when the new Comiskey was renamed "U.S. Cellular Field". A good part of baseball’s appeal lies in tradition, and as I’ve been arguing in this essay, in its connection to the past. The incremental revenue gained by such a break with the past doesn’t make up for what has been lost.

[1]This essay was reprinted in The Armchair Book of Baseball, 1985, edited by John Thorn who notes that perhaps by the time the reader reads these lines Will will be transformed into a liberal by the success of the Cubs. Well, 18 years later Will is still a conservative and a Cubs fan. Enough said.
[2]Dawson hit 49 homeruns that season and was first NL MVP from a last place team. His final at bat at Wrigley that year was, fittingly, a homerun to dead centerfield.