Batting Average

No manager or coach can tell you something that you can do that will work at any particular at bat. Runners on, a tie game, 9th inning– the pitcher might simply, on that particular occasion, out-smart the hitter. He may have excellent control. He might be able to place that hard fastball low and inside and over the plate: ground ball double-play, game over.

The Blue Jays, for about two weeks now, have looked a lot like the Blue Jays of 2008: excellent pitching, terrible offense. Halliday just pitched seven shut-out innings and the Blue Jays lost, 1-0, to a relatively weak team, Atlanta. Vernon Wells– one of the stars, reputably, of the Blue Jays offense, has gone 5 for 28 in the last week. In those seven games he has walked twice and doesn’t have a single RBI. You can’t fault him for a single at bat– shit happens. But Wells has a lot of stretches where he is worse than ineffective: he is a net drag on the offense. He doesn’t walk: he hits into a double play. He comes up to bat with Hill or Scutaro on base in a close game and produces nothing but outs. He comes to bat early in the game with nothing on the line and hits a single. He is having a terrible month.

Adam Lind is 5 for 27. Scutaro 5 for 26. Rolen 4 for 21.

One thing you learn from baseball is that anecdotal evidence is meaningless. For most of his career with the Blue Jays, Wells averages about .300 with 25 homeruns. At the end of 2009, I suspect he will once again end up with about 25 homeruns and an average around .290 – .310. That means in July or August or September, he will pick up the pace and have a hot week or two, and Blue Jays fans will line-up for Vernon Wells bobble-head day.

Conversely, someone gets a lot of hits– like David Ortiz used to– and the fans begin to think he has some special gift for hitting in the “clutch”. In fact, he just hits well. He gets lots of hits. You seem to remember him always getting a hit when it matters because you are more likely to remember when it matters, but if you check, you will find that good hitters simply get lots of hits. At the end of the year, you will find that they are all pretty close to their career averages.

The manager can’t give any hitter a secret that will guarantee a hit at any particular at bat, and I doubt that either the manager or the hitting coach can have a deep effect on a player’s ultimate ability to hit a ball. The ability to get a hit, in my opinion, is almost entirely a function of the physical skills of the player, and those skills don’t change quickly over a player’s career. They peak at about age 28 and start declining slowly thereafter. (That’s why a player who dramatically improves his performance after the age of 30 should be suspected of cheating.)

The Blue Jays have lost five games in a row because too many of their hitters are slumping at the same time. The Blue Jays are neither as good as their first month or as bad as the last week. I suspect that, once again, they will begin to average out as a fairly good team, with good pitching and defense and a middling offense.

The offensive production of a team is entirely a function of the number of players who are hitting well. The Blue Jays started this season with a dramatic improvement in their offense over last year. The only changes to the line-up were the return of Aaron Hill– who might be the real deal– and the addition of Marco Scutaro as the regular short-stop. Rod Barajas and Scott Rolen hit well over their career averages, for a while. Inevitably, they will revert back to something like what they did last year and the year before. Lyle Overbay, as always, looks like someone who should be hitting a lot more than he does. Over this dismal past week, he hit .350. Fabulous, except that he only walked twice, didn’t hit a single home run, and drove in only 3. If Wells and Rios and Rolen are not driving in runs, Overbay is not picking up the slack.

In short, do the Blue Jays really have an improved offense in 2009? Or did a number of players simply have a good month at the same time? Are they really the 2008 Jays in disguise?

The Blue Jays offense should be better this year with Hill back in the line-up, and, marginally, with Barajas instead of Gregg Zaun behind the plate. Lind will perform better. Rios is a mystery: he could hit 30 homeruns and bat .300 or he could hit 15 homeruns and bat .230. Travis Snider clearly was not ready for major league pitching, but he will be. He probably won’t be a big factor this season.

What I worry about is that you can’t win the East Division or the Wild Card with a team largely comprised of players like Wells, Overbay, Rolen, and Rios, all taking turns slumping, and not being particularly dominating when they aren’t, and certainly not with players like Bautista and Millar using up valuable at bats.

Who would you think would be the highest paid Blue Jay? The one who performs the best? How good is management at predicting, when they offer a player a contract, how well he will perform?

It might surprise you to know that Scott Rolen earns twice as much as Vernon Wells and about five times as much as Aaron Hill. Or that B.J. Ryan earns almost as much as Roy Halliday. Or that Aaron Hill, earns half of what Vernon Wells gets paid. Or that Lyle Overbay earns way more than Vernon Wells.

Patton vs Bradley

Patton vs. Bradley

George Patton was Munchausen: bold, self-possessed, and a little demented. His strategy was to push forward boldly, quickly, without always paying adequate attention to supply lines and coordinated strategies. Sometimes his approach clearly cost lives unnecessarily, but he was also enormously successful on the battlefield.

Omar Bradley, on the other hand, gave a good deal of weight to the idea of minimizing casualties. He knew the war was won– it was won the minute American factories kicked into the production of war materials on a grand scale– and he didn’t always think it was necessary or desirable to race to the finish. Bradley cared about his men. He was also a fairly rational, logical strategist.  He didn’t like waste.

You might think Patton’s approach was better– didn’t he win the war? Patton, also like Munchausen, tried very hard to project an image of himself that was much larger than reality. He also appropriated supplies, especially fuel, that was intended to serve the needs of other divisions besides his. He also had the benefit of superb intelligence– the allies had cracked the Enigma machine and Patton knew what the Germans were planning at every stage of his advance.

Most of all, as noted, Patton had the huge benefit of massive supplies and support, through the industrial might and economic capacity of the entire United States, Canada, and Britain.

The Germans were said to have been frightened of Patton– but they probably should have been more frightened of Bradley, whose patient good sense kept Patton’s recklessness in check. Patton might have been lulled into an improvident move, a reckless gesture. Not Bradley.

In fact, Goering is said to have known the war was over when he became aware of the massive productive capacity of the United States.

More Bradley than Patton.

Patton, incidentally, liked the deficient Sherman tank.  It was only after repeated demonstrations of how inferior it was to the Panzers and Tigers that he began to request the Pershing instead.  Even though the Pershing had the same engine as the Sherman.  it was bigger and had better armor, and could take on a Tiger.

“When we land against the enemy, don’t forget to hit him and hit him hard. When we meet the enemy we will kill him. We will show him no mercy. He has killed thousands of your comrades and he must die. If your company officers in leading your men against the enemy find him shooting at you and when you get within two hundred yards of him he wishes to surrender – oh no! That bastard will die! You will kill him. Stick him between the third and fourth ribs. You will tell your men that. They must have the killer instinct. Tell them to stick him. Stick him in the liver. We will get the name of killers and killers are immortal. When word reaches him that he is being faced by a killer battalion he will fight less. We must build up that name as killers.” – George Patton

I do admire this about Patton: no bs about what he wants soldiers to do.  They are not there to rescue their brothers, feed the orphans, or rebuild a nation:  they are there to kill.

Gilliam the Conservative

Don’t we all usually regard as artistic and ingenious those artists whose views of the world happily coincide with our own prejudices?

And yet, “12 Angry Men” is one of the most popular movies on IMDB. Are any of the people watching this movie any less inclined to believe the government needs to get even more tough on crime? That those who are accused are almost always guilty? That accusers never lie?

Terry Gilliam is one of a few directors I both admire and disagree with. His films are often wildly inventive, original, and satisfying, yet I find myself disagreeing completely with what he is saying. His message is very clear: Reason sucks; go with your feelings.

The most definitive expression of that philosophy is the scene in the theatre in Baron Munchausen, when the heroic soldier (played by Sting) is brought in to meet the mindless functionary, The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson (Jonathan Pryce) who is running the town. It seems the soldier risked his life to lead a bold counter-attack to drive back the enemy and rescue his comrades. The functionary orders him executed. You can’t have idiots like that going around demoralizing the rest of the troops by making them feel inferior, can we?

The functionary is the embodiment of the “Age of Reason”, given as the time period of the events of the movie (at half past ten). We are given to understand that he aspires only to reasonableness, and tries to do what is logical and rational.

There’s something repellent in this characterization– I immediately thought of all the soldiers who die when fanatical idealist leaders, delusional, faithful to their ego-centric visions of their own greatness, order troops to attack against overwhelming odds, in defiance of “reason”.

Like? Like Napoleon, with his vision of defeating Russia? His dream of a greater France dominating the world?

In “Baron Munchausen”, there is a traveling theatrical group in town and it is performing a play based on wildly improbable exploits of Baron Munchausen. The real Baron shows up too, and stops the production to lecture the audience on what “really” happened. Munchausen has a soft spot for the ladies, and a hint of dementia. When Horatio Jackson’s efforts to save the town from the Turks fail (Munchhausen is also, incidentally, responsible for the Turkish attack), Munchhausen makes a balloon out the ladies’ underwear and sails off to fetch help. First stop, memorably: the moon.

Gilliam might argue that the millions who died in the Soviet Gulags, died in the name of “Reason”. Dialectical materialism. They certainly died in the name of collectivism, but then, all nationalist philosophies are, at heart collectivist. I might argue that the millions who died in the two world wars died in the name of romantic, nationalist feelings. A core component of Nazism, certainly, was a romantic belief in Germany’s “destiny”, in the cultural and intellectual superiority of the German peoples. The Nazis also believed in science– conducting medical experiments on many of their victims. But then, so did the allies– inventing and using the nuclear bomb.

Or is it more prosaic than that? Would you rather live in a world of logic and order, or a world of feeling and surprise?

We always use examples of the worst extremes to prove our points. The odd thing about Gilliam is that he mocks reason because he doesn’t believe in it. If you scan the history of satire in the western world, most of the mockery is directed at people who claim to be rational but, in fact, are not. No– Gilliam doesn’t believe in reason. He believes in magic.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy finds out that she could have returned home any time she wanted to, by simply clicking her heels together and repeating “there’s no place like home” to herself. That’s the bourgeois fantasy of people who find exciting, daring adventures entertaining because they never actually live them. In a reasonable world, Dorothy needs to ask for directions, and then follow them.

But it’s the dominant belief of our time– if you want something, go after it, keep at it until you succeed, and never give up.

William Blake said “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. Or, better: “Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death.”

Gilliam’s Movies

  • The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen
  • Time Bandits
  • Brazil
  • Fisher King
  • Brothers Grimm

The Third Man: How do you know a thing like that Afterwards?

It’s 1948. Postwar Vienna is suffering shortages of everything, including medicine. It is administered by a cooperative security force comprised of British, French, American, and Russian soldiers. In a unique arrangement, a representative of each country takes part in each routine patrol, even if they can’t speak each others’ language.

The city is in ruins. The people, demoralized, desperate.

Holly Martins is an American writer of pulp westerns. He gets a message from an old school chum, Harry Lime, to come visit him in Vienna. Sounds like an adventure– old times! But he arrives just ten minutes after Lime’s body has been carted away to be buried, after a car accident. Instead of a happy reunion, he attends a somber funeral, along with a very small number of Lime’s friends. And a young woman, Anna, who walks away quickly when the service is over.

Martins is clearly already infatuated with her and later catches up with her at the theatre where she performs in sad, dispirited, period comedies. Perhaps the most depressing moment of the film– the actresses, in sumptuous costumes, smiling and cavorting on stage, in some pathetic effort to recapture something magical from a hopelessly distant past– and the audience half-heartedly laughing.

After the play, she offers him a cup of tea, but it is clear that she is in no mood for sentimental reminiscences.

You were in love with him, weren’t you?
I don’t know. How can you know a
thing like that afterwards? I don’t
know anything any more.

Well, damn right it’s written by Graham Greene. Martin’s line is freighted with a misguided nostalgia for Lime (we come to understand, even if Martins doesn’t, that Lime used him) and Anna’s line is freighted with bitter disillusionment.

Holly is one of the earliest incarnations of George W. Bush, blundering into complex situations which he can’t remotely understand but determined, nonetheless, to do something about them, and, in the process, causing mayhem and suffering to all those around him. He’s the ugly American, the bumbling fool who thinks his native wit will triumph over sophistication and cunning.

This is not a coincidence.  It is a known theme of Graham Greene’s: how the naïve but well-meaning Americans sew disaster around the world.

Anna wants nothing to do with him. She just wants time to go by. She’s filled with fatalism, resignation, and emotional fatigue.

You begin to understand how war saps away hope and passion. And you begin to understand the complex, disturbing attraction of Lime. And it is a wonderful tribute to Greene that he resists the temptation to imbue Anna with some kind of special nobility: it is clear she doesn’t care about the victims of Lime’s black market activities– she only wants him back. Because he was the only thing in her bleak life that made her laugh.

You don’t even get to anesthetize yourself with this illusory “true love”– she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know how you would even know something like that “afterwards”

[spoiler] Then there is the astonishing last scene. The camera stands distant, at the end of a long laneway leading away from the cemetery. Martins, the fool, prevails upon Major Calloway to let him off. Calloway, reluctantly, stops the jeep and lets him out. He stands there waiting for Anna to catch up to him. The camera watches impassively as Anna slowly approaches Martins… then walks right past him as if he doesn’t even exist.

Martins doesn’t move.

We fully understand that he is being forced into a tremendously painful realization, and all he can do is stand there and watch her walk away.

Graham Greene, who was no stranger to Hollywood movies, thought the original ending of “The Third Man” was too bleak for most audiences and wanted to change it….

Well, no– it wasn’t the “original” ending: [spoiler] in the novella he wrote as a first draft, he actually had Anna walk off, after Lime’s funeral, with Martins. [end of spoiler] It was director Carol Reed and–shockingly– the producer, David O. Selznick– yes, the American Hollywood producer– who insisted there should be no compromise, because it was “right”, artistically, because it was inevitable, because the romantic ending would have been completely contrary to the spirit of the story.

It is very hard to imagine otherwise. It was an uncharacteristically cheesy idea of Greene’s, and a brilliant realization by Reed and Selznick. And I am convinced it is one of the main reasons “The Third Man” is regarded so highly more than fifty years after it was made. The romantic ending might have provided a moment of transient gratification– but it would have trivialized the rest of the film.

Considering all the indignities Hollywood has rendered upon good stories over the years, that is amazing.

I can’t stand it when a movie like “The Reader” comes along acting as if it was something like “The Third Man”. Watch the two one after the other: what’s different? The world. But mainly the writing. The difference is that there is not a single moment in “The Reader” that is even a shadow of the “how do you know a thing like that afterwards” or the cuckoo clock, or “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. ”

If someone were to do a remake of “The Third Man”– a terrible idea, of course– you could do worse than…

Holly Martins: Steve Carell
Harry Lime: Phillip Seymour Hoffman — without a doubt.
Anna: Taryn Manning, or maybe Amy Adams, if she ever decides to take on a challenging role, instead of those lightweight confections she’s been indulging in lately.

Or how about Kelly MacDonald? I don’t know. Yes– absolutely Kelly MacDonald, with Franke Potente as a close second.

I Feel Bad: Who do I Sue?

I am disgusted by the misuse of language because it is usually done in the service of deceit or greed or indifference. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” is the language of an industry– psychology, and it is a label that helps them bill individuals and insurance companies for their services, and it causes many people to behave as if there was a well grounded science behind the procedures and practices used to “treat” the problem and these treatments are better than just learning to cope with something with the help of supportive friends and family.

The Ungrateful Passengers of Flight 1549

Passengers who have received some of their luggage say they are grateful, but not all of them are ready to absolve US Airways of responsibility for injuries, emotional distress and losses they claim to have suffered.

The airline’s insurance company, A.I.G. Aviation Adjustment Services, has started offering each of the passengers $10,000 in exchange for agreeing not to sue the airline, some passengers said. Ms. Lightner, who lives in Tega Cay, S.C., said she had received a two-page contract from the insurer but had not decided whether to sign it.

NY Times, May 18, 2009

Everybody has heard how the heroic captain, Chelsey Sullenberger, landed his crippled Airbus A320 safely into the Hudson River, January 15 this year. The Airbus320 struck some large birds– Canada geese– as it was taking off from LaGuardia Airport, New York City. The geese were sucked into both engines causing catastrophic failure. The jet was not high enough to glide for any distance and, after a brief, hair-raising exchange with the LaGuardia air controllers, Sullenberger safely glided the A320 to a landing in the Hudson River. All passengers and crews were rescued by ferry boats and other craft that reached the plane within four minutes.

Nobody is suing the geese.

The passengers have been offered $10,000 by the airlines. For what? I don’t know. It sounds to me very much like an accident. Usually, passengers sue an airline if a plane crashes due to some incompetence or negligence. On the surface, it appears, to the contrary, that the cause of the crash was an unavoidable accident, that the crash was not caused by any deficiency in the Airbus 320, and that the crew of Flight 1549 performed extremely well. Who do you sue?

Well, if you’re a lawyer, I imagine you could make the case that the airline should be responsible for the general existence of risks and accidents.

It doesn’t seem to matter nowadays. For one thing, lawyers seem to believe that every lawsuit, no matter how frivolous, should be negotiated and settled with an undisclosed amount of cash and a confidentiality agreement. This is usually cheaper than going to court. The lawyers suing on behalf of the passengers know this and hope to score a big fat settlement quickly and bloodlessly, because the negotiators for the airlines are other lawyers.

Could it be that there is no negligence, no fault of the airlines.  Just a bunch of lawyers arranging a deal together that benefits them more than anyone else.

The Ditch Switch

“The Flight crew did not activate the “ditch switch” during the landing.” Wikipedia

The function of the ditch switch is to close all external outlets and openings in the event of a crash landing on water, to prevent the aircraft from sinking too quickly. In all the coverage of the event immediately afterwards, I never heard this mentioned even once. For all the accolades Sullenberger received, he apparently forgot to do something important: hit the ditch switch. Had there been loss of life, because the aircraft sank quickly after ditching, and had the cargo doors not been ripped open anyway, this fact would probably have been pivotal to our assessment of Captain Sullenberger’s performance.

It wasn’t his only mistake: he initially gave Air Traffic Control the incorrect flight number. None of this alters the fact that Sullenberger performed extremely well doing the one thing he is really paid to do: land the plane safely.

June 15: I just saw a documentary on Flight 1549 which noted the issue of the “ditch switch” and claimed that the air plane was sinking quickly at least partly because of that mistake.

I have not read anywhere that anyone thinks the crew of Flight 1549 should have been able to avoid the flock of Canadian Geese. Can they do that? Do they watch for flocks of geese, from the air traffic control tower for this reason?

I do know that they do take some measures to discourage birds from hanging around near the runways. Would that be the basis of a lawsuit? They didn’t do enough to stop the geese from flying into the path of an airliner?

The Saddest Pop Song Ever

“San Francisco” by Scott Mckenzie.

Why? Precisely because it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful of those idealistic songs of the late 60’s (see sidebar) that evoked a blissful world of peace and love and expanded minds and harmony and spiritual connectedness… just waiting for a new generation to reach out and embrace it.

San Francisco became a magnet for those idealists, young girls and boys running away from home, hitch-hiking West. They gravitated to Haight-Ashbury. And for a short time, it did seem magical, at least from the inside. I expect most people today would readily expect the crash, the invasion of drug dealers and pimps, the poverty, the waste, and the sadness. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…

There should be a “Fair and Tender Ladies” for San Francisco, for Haight- Ashbury. “They’re like a star on a cloudy morning / first they’ll appear, and then they’re gone”.

Or, more poignantly: “You made me believe… that the sun rose in the west.” Wear your flowers in your hair.

I wish they hadn’t faded the song out quickly at the end of the recording. This lush, enveloping vibe just suddenly pulls away, leaving you chilled and disappointed. Yes, just as the hopes of a utopian world of peace, joy, and understanding was abruptly shattered by Kent State, Nixon, and Viet Nam.

Can you take the ’60’s? I lived through it– a child, really– and, in retrospect, I ask myself how we were able to absorb such a wild swing of expectations, from the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Chicago and the Democratic Convention, Nixon….

The Highest Hopes:

All You Need is Love (Beatles)
Good Vibrations (Beach Boys)
San Francisco (Scott MacKenzie)
Woodstock (Joni Mitchell)
What the World Needs Now (
Get Together (

Okay, the real saddest song ever written:  Kilkelly Ireland.

Intel’s Ingenious Actors

“The real inventors are not in the ads; they are played by actors. Mr. Bell said he wanted to ensure the commercials were humorous, and avoid arguments with Intel employees over which should be featured.” NY Times, May 6, 2009, on Intel’s newest ad campaign.

It tells you a lot about Intel that when they decided to run a bunch of ads that supposedly showcase how their own engineers and technicians are on par with rock stars and artisans, it couldn’t stand to show real employees. So they hired actors to play Intel’s real employees.

This is about as cynical as you can get.  The whole point of the ad should be that the people in it are authentic.  They are counting on audiences to be stupid.  They are probably not wrong.

One of them is tagged as co-inventor of USB. It tells you a lot about consumer ignorance that most people will regard that as a heroic achievement. USB is a cooperative venture between Microsoft and Intel intended to dodge the cost of adding a 1392 (“Firewire”) port invented by Apple. Firewire has been around for years and years before USB, and it is still faster and more reliable and doesn’t screw up your computer when you plug in or unplug devices. (I am copying large number of very large files right now to a USB device and, as I watch them slowly crawl across the ports, I crave a Firewire connection instead.)

Why on earth did they not use Intel’s real engineers? Because they have no regard for honesty and authenticity whatsoever. None. Not an ounce of respect for truth or accuracy or integrity. None. None whatsoever. Nil. Zero. They didn’t hesitate: let’s tell people about our company. Let’s lie.

Surely the advertising agency will defend itself by saying that advertisers use models all the time. That’s true– and the public knows that ads that feature unrealistically beautiful people in it posing beside cars or swimming pools drinking beer are using models and actors. But the Intel ads deliberately adopt the style normally used (by Home Hardware, for example) to show real employees in order to intentionally confuse the viewer into thinking these are real Intel employees. They even tag the “actor” with the real name of the engineer without identifying him as an actor.

And I know that nobody else cares. And I know that nobody cares that I care. But this is my web page and I get to say what I like.

The 2009 Blue Jays

As of today, the Toronto Blue Jays are 9 games above 500. That’s a remarkable start.

Baseball is unlike hockey and basketball in this respect: April matters. The Blue Jays could play .500 baseball the rest of the season and still have a good shot at the Wild Card. In fact, last year the Jays did pretty well play .500 most of the season— but they didn’t have a 19-10 start to play with.

Most baseball writers that I have scanned think the Blue Jays are not for real. They point to their relatively easy schedule, and the fact that some players, like Kevin Millar and Marco Scutaro, are performing above their career norms.

Partly true. It is also true that one of the reasons that Baltimore and Detroit and Cleveland and Minnesota are seen as “weaker” opponents is that they were beaten by the Blue Jays, and the Blue Jays do not have a lot of big names in their line-up. Ever heard of Adam Lind? Aaron Hill? Lyle Overbay? Travis Snider? Rob Barajas?

On the other hand… Blue Jays’ pitching has been average, at best. Last year, it was the best pitching staff in the majors. Unfortunately, they lost A. J. Burnett to free agency, and two very promising talents, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan, are injured. On the plus side, rookie Ricky Romero has been impressive– now he’s out with a muscle pull. Jesse Litsch, also on the DL, and Scott Richmond have been solid. Rookie Brett Cecil gave up one earned run in six innings as a fill-in fifth starter. Their relievers have been excellent, but that’s nothing new: no relief corps has been better than the Blue Jays’ over the past three years. The weak spot: B. J. Ryan, who has nothing so far this year. One hopes and prays the Blue Jays don’t waste a month trying to figure out if he is going to get it back– not with Scott Downs pitching the way he has.

I think the Blue Jays have a shot, mainly because their pitching is likely to improve with the return of Romero and Litsch, and possibly Marcum. Tallet will then be available to the bullpen again, which improves that area. Or maybe not. In his past two starts, 13 innings, Tallet has allowed one run.

Yes, Scutaro is not likely to maintain his current pace, and Rolen and Overbay will probably settle into an average average average, and Well’s hasn’t convinced me that he is a real star who can carry the team for a few days once in a while.

But Alex Rios might yet find his stroke.

Barajas has also been knocking the ball silly the past month and that is not likely to continue, but they will get some production out of him.

Aaron Hill is a solid 20 HR .290 hitter. Maybe he has a good year and bits 28 HR, .315.

You know, I don’t see it. I don’t understand why the Blue Jays suddenly lead both leagues in most offensive categories. Where’s it coming from? Not from Wells or Rios or Overbay. But whenever I hear someone say their balloon is about to pop, I look at the team and think– maybe not. In the last few years, it has not been unusual for a team to come out of nowhere and make a run at the World Series. The White Sox. The Rays. Philadelphia. Florida. Anaheim.

As a fan, I have high hopes for a team that is currently performing well. I suspect that they will come down to earth to some extent once they face better teams this month.

Last year, the Blue Jays were .500 against the Yankees and Red Sox. If they do that again this year, and if the Rays and Orioles continue to struggle, there is a real chance the Jays will take at least the Wild Card.

So I’m predicting 94 wins and the wild card. And if they get that, anything’s possible because Halladay remains one of the two or three best money pitchers in the American League right now, and an excellent bullpen, solid defense, and a couple of good hitters can take you a long way in the playoffs.

One more possibility: Adam Lind may be the next great power hitter in the American League. Everyone starts somewhere.

As I write… the Blue Jays are leading the Angels 7-0 after two innings. The devastating offense continues. ..

Almost all of the columnists who feel that the Blue Jays are not for real insist they have had a very easy schedule so far– they haven’t had to face any teams from their own division. Except Baltimore. (Which was picked by some pundits to contend this year.)

Among the other teams they faced: Detroit, Minnesota, Cleveland, Oakland, Texas, and the White Sox. All of these teams except Cleveland and Oakland are at or near .500. Kansas is in first place and is the only team to win a series from the Blue Jays this year. Soft schedule? Maybe. But last year, the Blue Jays finished with an 86-76 record largely because they lost to inferior teams while doing relatively well against the better teams, like Boston and New York (.500 combined).

Managing Middles

Sometimes late in a close game you will see a manager position his infielders so that they are “guarding the line”. Why? Allegedly, to prevent doubles. Well, that’s a good idea, isn’t it? So why not do it all the time?

Think about it. Why not do it all the time, if it’s a good idea?

Because it’s not a good idea. Because everybody knows that you will give up more singles and get less outs and ultimately give up more runs if you do that.

So, are managers saying that they are willing to give up an out in the late innings of a close game in order to reduce the number of doubles that are hit against them? That’s crazy. Yes, it is crazy.

I suspect that this move is just another case of the manager having to manage because… what else is he going to do? Go out onto the field and catch a fly ball? Hit a homer? Double-off a potential stealer?

No– he can’t do that. So the manager, feeling an overwhelming compulsion to do something, anything, will make a stupid move like a sacrifice bunt, intentional walk, or ‘have his infielders “guard the line”.

Remember what Keith Richard said when he was asked once why he didn’t sing more. “Then what would Mick do?”

Best Blue Jays

Hitter: Aaron Hill, Adam Lind
Outfield Arm: Rios
Infield Arm: Rolen
Infield Glove: John MacDonald
Starter: Halladay
Reliever: Downs
Oddest Combination of Skills: Lyle Overbay
Best Looking: Scott Rolen
Ugliest: Lyle Overbay
Is never going to be as good as the organization thinks he will be: Alex Rios.
Why is this man so successful? Jessie Litsch
Player the fans would most like to see traded to the Yankees: Ryan.
Player on another team the organization would most like to have: Zack Greinke
Manager’s Biggest Asset: Striking ability to stay out of the way of his players.
Manager’s Biggest Weakness: Loyalty to established, expensive, under-achieving veterans and irrational belief that facts have no relevance to decisions on the field.

Janet Jackson’s Nipple

Apparently the exposure lasted about 9/16 of a second. Janet Jackson’s breast.

Not very long– you would think. But long enough to require a stern response from the guardian of public morals, the Bush Administration’s FCC.

Meanwhile, prime-time television continues to broadcast an unending stream of knifings, shootings, beatings, and torture. All shown tastefully, of course, so as to not cause offense. “24” tells us that torture works: the bad guys immediately tell the truth, even when the torturer has no idea what the truth is and, well, will just have to take the victim’s word for it because there is no time to lose.

This may sound strange, but was it ever so clear that the U.S. government wants to encourage young people to enjoy depictions of violence and abuse and hatred? By all means– let’s prepare our youth for a world in which we will ask them to kill and torture and destroy on behalf of our national interest. Of course it does. Think about all the episodes of “24” and “Lost” and “Dexter” which incurred not the slightest censure or approbation of the U.S. federal government: torture may not be nice but sometimes it’s the only way to find out if someone is hiding an inhaler (“Lost”, Season 1). The government pats TV on the head: that’s cute. It’s nice that our children learn to regard sadistic serial killers as redeemable if they only focus their efforts on suspected criminals (“Dexter”). The audience is assured– as it can never be in real life– that the victim deserved it.

Actually, shows like “Dexter” encourage you to feel that it is right and good to commit the same atrocity we find so reprehensible when committed by our enemies. Even for someone who is a little inured to the raging hypocrisies of television, this show reaches a new level of nauseating deviance: Dexter, a psychopathic serial killer, is actually heroic. I don’t understand why, even in post-9/11 America, there has not been a furious outcry about this show.

And it’s cute that the authorities torture people because, of course, then they instantly tell the truth, as on “24”. How does Jack know it’s the truth? The only possible explanation is that he read the script; there is nothing in the set of facts supplied to us by the story that would justify his belief that he has now heard “truth” and that the victim is not just saying whatever he thinks will make the torture stop;.

And I’m not sure “children” doesn’t include the infantile half of the U.S. population that regard it as their birthrate to carry guns and drive Hummers and biggie-size their fries if they damn well feel like it.

But one thing that cannot be permitted: the sight of a woman’s breast! As at the 2004 Super Bowl. For 9/16th of a second, as determined by a lower court. Our children will imagine the sickening, disgusting things that are done to a woman’s breast, like kissing and caressing and fondling and suckling!

Since it is scientifically proven that children imitate what they see on TV, this must be stopped, at all costs. CBS must be fined $500,000 or more to ensure that they won’t do it again. America will be pure again, and safe for Rush Limbaugh.