Tuesday  November 28, 2006

A New Kind of Moneyball, cont'd

A couple of mediocre outfielders, Carlos Lee (six years, $100 million) and Alfonso Soriano (eight years, $136 million) stand to make more money next year than Pedro Martinez does.  One good outfielder who can't hit (Gary Matthew, Jr.) will be making $55 million over the next five seasons.  Why are teams--which in recent years had reined in spending--suddenly paying players far, far more than they're worth?  Here are five likely reasons:

1.  The success of revenue sharing:  In baseball, trickle-down economics works.  Clubs in smaller markets share the blockbuster receipts of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Mets.

2.  The notion that intelligent overspending might actually make sense:  Omar Minaya made big-money deals with Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, and Carlos Delgado, then nearly took his team to the World Series.  Of course, Pedro, who's injured, may not pitch at all in 2007, or ever again, but ambitious GMs will tend to focus, I believe, on the previous sentence here.

3.  Parity in the National League:  With a month to play in the 2006 season, eight NL teams placed within four games of the Wild Card lead.  Undoubtedly numerous GMs feel that they're just a player away from making the offseason.  This helps explain what's probably the worst deal of this offseason (so far, it needs must be added), the Astros' signing of Carlos Lee.

4.  A backlash against "moneyball":  For several years, teams prided themselves on locating undervalued players. With so many clubs now willing to spend astronomical sums, avoiding risk may mean taking yourself out of the market altogether.

5.  Herd behavior:  Shortly before the GM Meetings in Florida, Boston paid $51.1 million for the right  to negotiate with Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, and with that, baseball's economic pendulum may have swung dramatically away from fiscal prudence.  "When investors are influenced by others' decisions, they may herd on an investment decision that is wrong for all of them," write the authors of a 2001 International Monetary Fund paper, "Herd Behavior in Financial Markets."  What's more, "Individuals [in a market] may have a preference for conformity."  Fearful of innovation, baseball is nothing if not conservative.  Which in this case is just another word for reckless.

Monday  November 20, 2006

Meet the Class of '06

By Greg Veis

It's a little more than a week after Election Day, and the precriminations have turned into recriminations in Punditland. The Democrats won because of the moderate candidates they fielded; the Republicans lost because they were driving drunk on 12 years of power; the voters were sick of Bush's inability to talk straight; and, of course: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. But what of the actual members of the congressional Class of 2006? What did they think about the election? And what are they like as people? Are their legislative priorities sound ones? Do they believe grown men should be using emoticons in correspondence with teenage boys? Inquiring minds, ya know. So we sent out a list of similar questions—some personal, some professional, some wildly inappropriate—to a handful of last Tuesday's biggest winners. Scroll down to read what they had to say for themselves.

Related: Click here for the best of our beltway coverage in The GQ Politics Archive.

Monday  November 20, 2006

Senator-Elect Claire McCaskill [D-MO]

Locked in a very tight, very bitter race with Senator Jim Talent [R-MO] for months, Claire McCaskill, with a slight hat-tip from Michael J. Fox, pulled away at the end for a 50-47 victory. Here, she talks about her love for Rush Limbaugh and how important it is for her fellow Democrats to realize that they're ruling without a mandate.

How much did you end up sleeping during the final week of the campaign?

Well, not much. In fact, I pulled my first all-nighter since childbirth. We decided to do what turned out to be a 36-hour campaign effort. I wanted to meet some nightshift workers, so the Friday before the election, we started at six in the morning, and we didn't stop until six o'clock Saturday evening.

What did you do that night?

We went to an automobile plant and to diners and all-night pharmacies, fire stations, waffle houses—all the places where people have to work around the clock. Normally, politicians only shake hands when the sun is shining, but, really, the people who work the nightshift are what my campaign's about—the middle-class, working people who are figuring out a way to make it work. And this Administration has been kicking those folks to the curb, so I thought it would be a good symbolic gesture to spend some time with them.

If you could ensure the passage of one piece of legislation in your first year of office, what would it be?

[10 full seconds of silence] That's really hard because there's so much I'd like to get done. Picking just one is hard. Still, I think ethics reform is darn important because everything stems from that. If we don't clean the place up, the American people are going to lose confidence in Washington as a place where it's possible to do good work. And to do that, we need to have an independent ethics review board. We're never going to do a good job of patrolling one another.

What issue that has escaped congressional inquiry over the last six years would you most like to sic congressional investigators on?

That's easy: war profiteering. I talked a lot about that during the campaign. I'm taking Harry Truman's Senate seat, and he, in a very brave and courageous fashion, ferreted out war profiteering in World War II, under a Democratic president, and in a Democratic Congress. Clearly, there is some obscene war profiteering that has gone on in Iraq, and as an auditor and former prosecutor, I would like to get to the bottom of it.

What did you find to be the most distasteful campaign ad or tactic employed during this election cycle?

I don't know where to begin. Clearly, there was a nationwide strategy by the Republican Party to do personal character attacks against Democratic challengers, and my state was no different. They did some horrible ads about my family. Very personal. Probably, though, I'd have to choose the ad approved of by Senator Talent where they actually used the words Claire McCaskill is "a liar" and "a cheat." That probably was my least favorite.

Which sitting Members would you most like to seek out as mentors?

I think Senator Lindsey Graham [R-SC] has done a very good job turning an independent course. I don't agree with him on everything, but I've admired his willingness to step out into the breach and disagree with members of his own party when his principles dictate it.

Karl Rove has worn the "genius" tag for some time now. Do you think that it's still appropriate to call him one after these elections?

There are a lot of things I would call Karl Rove. I don't think genius is one of them.

Can you give me one?

Well, our democracy should be one that appeals to the best of us instead of to the lowest common denominator. And I think his politics are all about the lowest common denominator and appealing to people's fears and the negative parts in all of us. The success that that kind of politics has is short-lived, and I think damaging to our democracy.

If you could describe Rush Limbaugh in three words, what would they be?

Oh, I don't want to poke this bear. His brother is an old law school friend of mine, and I don't think it's worth it to rail on him. But I would say this: I'm grateful to him because his reaction to the Michael J. Fox ad proved to be our most effective fundraising effort. We raised a lot of money after he reacted the way he did, so I owe him a debt of gratitude.

Fifty words or less: What do we do in Iraq?

I think we're going to get some sound policy alternatives from Secretary [James] Baker's committee. I think we'll look at their work and press this administration to change policy to, probably, a contained redeployment where our military can get back to having the flexibility we need to respond to problems around the world. We need to realize that we're never going to build democracy at the barrel of a gun.

Were you heartened by Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation?

Yeah, I thought it was fine. I was disappointed because clearly the timing of the decision dripped of politics. Clearly his resignation was steeped in political timing, and that's what people in America are really tired of. He had not done a good job, every bit of advice he'd given the president was wrong, and he should've been removed a long time ago instead of waiting until the day after the election.

What was your immediate gut reaction to John Kerry's "botched joke?"

It's probably better to botch a joke than botch a war.

Election Night is one of the most intense of the year even if you're just a schmo like me. But you were caught up—along with Jim Webb in Virginia and Jon Tester in Montana—right in the middle of the fight for control of the Senate. What was it like watching the returns, knowing what was at stake and that so much hinged on your winning?

I knew that we had done what we needed to do in some of the rural areas, so I was very optimistic early. We were just waiting for St. Louis to come in, but I wasn't going to declare victory until I'd seen those returns. When they finally did, around one o'clock, I was obviously elated. At that point, we had known that Webb was up by the slimmest of margins, and I had talked to people earlier in the day who were expressing extreme confidence that Tester was going to pull it out. Oh, I was thrilled. Having said that, I want to make sure that when I go to Washington, I try to convince my Democratic colleagues that this is no time for high-fives. This is a time for realizing that we have a divided country. We did not receive a mandate. We're there by the slimmest of margins, and we need to be respectful of that. We need to get to work, and through serious bipartisanship, we can get some problems solved.

What would you have done on Wednesday had you lost?

Probably the same thing I did winning: sleep. But I probably would've had two or three more glasses of wine first.

Related: Click here for the best of our beltway coverage in The GQ Politics Archive.

Monday  November 20, 2006

Congressman-Elect Tim Mahoney [D-FL]

Tim Mahoney won the House seat previously occupied by Mark Foley. And for a newly elected Democrat in a strongly Republican district, he's talking tough.

If you could ensure the passage of one piece of legislation in your first year of office, what would it be?

Ethics reform. Part of the problem we have in Washington is that it's all about holding onto power. It's about inappropriate use of earmarks, and people trying to buy influence through trips and lunches. What the Republican Congress has done over the last six years has caused people to lose confidence that they can trust their elected officials in Washington.

But even though you always hear politicians talk about the need for ethics reform, they never act on it because, ultimately, the system in place now can benefit members of both parties.

I don't want to have to face reelection and have nothing happen. I'm very happy that future Speaker Pelosi in her first address after the election said that in the first 100 hours, she intends to create some ethics reform. Everyone's on target. Everyone understands this is a major problem. And I understand better than anybody because of the Foley scandal. What's clear is that the Republican leadership was more interested in holding onto political power than they were in protecting the pages. Mark's problems are Mark's problems, and he'll have to deal with that individually…

But you believe there was a cover-up to save a safe seat?


What did you find to be the most distasteful campaign ad or tactic employed during this election cycle?

The Republican National Committee basically spent $2 million saying that I was a crook. So, other than that… I can't think of anything else. It's a shame because they lie about who you are. There's no integrity in that kind of attack. You heard the president [at his press conference] Wednesday, and you can see it starts at the top. He was talking about how the Democrats are committed to national security, and then somebody said, "That's not what you were saying two days ago." And Bush says, "Well, that's the campaign." That kind of attitude fosters these sorts of attacks. He's directly responsible.

Karl Rove has worn the "genius" tag for some time now. Do you think that it's still appropriate to call him that after these elections?

Rove has won some elections, but he has also set the country way back. He's been a net negative for America. His whole strategy is to be mean and to lie and to create fear. He is a disgrace to this country.

Which sitting Members would you most like to seek out as mentors?

Rahm Emanuel [D-IL] has been a huge help to me. He's at the top of the list. Same with Steny Hoyer [D-MD] and Speaker Pelosi. Artur Davis [D-AL] was key. Steve Israel [D-NY] is another guy who's been there all along. Jane Harman [D-CA]. They are very bright, powerful people—and I mean powerful in the sense that they are powerful in their beliefs and commitment to their country.

How about on the other side of the aisle?

Uh, you know. [pause] I think I'm disappointed… The role of Congress is oversight, and even though the president is the leader of your party, the Constitution is more important than party politics. I'd like to think that if there were a Democratic president, that while I'd respect him as the leader of my party, I'd still make sure I was doing my constitutional duty of providing oversight to the executive branch.

What was your immediate gut reaction to John Kerry's "botched joke?"

Not now, John.

Fifty words or less: What the hell do we do in Iraq?

Diplomacy. This president needs to do what his dad did. He needs to go back into the region, sit down with all the countries that have a stake in it, and get a multinational force together. Get the American troops out, put the multinational force in—and lead. This president has to use the power of America.

The timing of Rumsfeld's resignation was funky, wasn't it? A lot of Republicans would've preferred it having happened a couple of months ago, instead of the day after the "thumpin'."

It's almost incomprehensible. Had he gotten rid of him two months before, a month before, Bush could've gotten started on implementing a new strategy built around diplomacy—and he probably would've seen America get behind him, too. The fact that he didn't means that he's been totally isolated and out of touch with political reality, and it took the election to jolt him.

You're taking over the seat held by Mark Foley.

I don't use instant message.

I haven't even asked a question yet! But now that you bring it up: Do you have official policy positions, one, on emoticons; and, two, at what age a man should stop using them?

I don't know what emoticons are. Is it a dirty word?

Do you know what LOL means?

That's happy, right? That's smile. My daughter sends it to me every once in a while.

If you had a choice between LOL and ROTFL, which would you prefer?

I guess the LOL. I don't know what the difference is.

What would you have done on Wednesday had you lost?

I would've slept in, and I would've gone out and played some golf.


At my club, PGA National.

What's your handicap?

Oh, pretty bad. Not quite my age.

Related: Click here for the best of our beltway coverage in The GQ Politics Archive.

Monday  November 20, 2006

Congressman-Elect Chris Carney [D-PA]

Chris Carney is a heavily be-medaled Navy officer and former Pentagon senior adviser whose résumé and strong opinions about how the war has been handled (poorly) have ingratiated him to voters in his rural Pennsylvanian district. In fairness, though, it also helped that his opponent, Don Sherwood, who didn't even face an opponent in 2004, allegedly strangled his mistress during what he claims was just an intense back rub.

Obviously, your opponent's back rub gone awry was an embarrassment to his campaign, and a huge boon to yours. Perhaps his situation is different, but do you generally feel as if we give too much weight to personal scandals like this when deciding whom to vote for?

In some cases, yes, but Mr. Sherwood ran on this values issue every time he ran. And in the meantime, he was having a five-year affair that basically started right after he got down to Washington. It's very interesting, my wife and I were talking about this a few weeks ago, and she said, "You know, five years is not a mistake"—which is what he said it was in a commercial apologizing for the affair—"five years is a commitment." And she's right! Those are not the values of the 10th district, certainly. And this is not a partisan thing—people just don't put up with that kind of hypocrisy.

What did you find to be the most distasteful campaign ad or tactic employed this election cycle?

The robo-calls that were made at, for example, two o'clock in the morning on the day of the election. They call you up and say "vote for Chris Carney"—and the National Republican Congressional Committee apparently did that in tight races across the country. It's just despicable and smacks of how desperate they were to hold on to power.

If you could ensure the passage of one piece of legislation in your first year in office, what would it be?

The minimum wage increase. We need to start helping the middle class and working families.

And raising the minimum wage is the best way to help middle-class families?
Well, that's one of the ways to do it. We also need to provide access to education, student loan programs, grants, and aid. Of course, health care is very critical, and one of my priorities when I'm in Congress will be trying to find ways to reduce the cost of health care for working families. It's just an absolute crusher.

What issue that has escaped congressional inquiry over the last six years would you most like to sic congressional investigators on?

War profiteering. It really bothers me that in my district, which has a fairly low mean income, people struggle everyday to make ends meet, and tens of billions of dollars have gone unaccounted for in Iraq. That's just horrible, and I'd like to know where that money went.

Which sitting Members would you most like to seek out as mentors?

Jack Murtha [D-PA] is one. On the Senate side, Joe Biden [D-DE] is another. Their strong national security stances are important to me.

Do you think it's still appropriate to hail Karl Rove as a genius?

Yes, he certainly got the vote out for us. He did a great job getting Republicans to come out and vote for me.

Do you have a strong, visceral reaction to political attacks on the service of people like you, people with extensive military backgrounds?

I do, certainly. It's a situation where if you want to politicize or even impugn someone's service to their nation, that's unconscionable. It smacks of desperation. And it proves that they are not the strong party on national security if they're willing to politically impugn their opponents who did serve and were in combat zones. It's incredible that they'd stoop to such measures.

So how do Democrats prove that they're reliable on national security issues? That they have a vision more compelling than, 'Hey, we weren't the ones who mucked this up so badly in the first place?' "

By electing guys like me, who have experience on these issues, who've been there, who know the questions to ask of the Administration. This Congress, the 109th and 108th, really gave up their oversight roles and their accountability roles and just let the president get away with whatever. They rubber-stamped it, and that's not going to happen in the 110th Congress. I promise you that.

And, by the way, those in uniform will appreciate the fact that Congress has their back. They will appreciate the fact that we will not be going to war unprepared, underequipped, without a plan, and without an exit strategy.

Do you think they're pleased with Secretary Rumsfeld's stepping down, too?

I think it's very interesting that just before the resignation, the Military Times newspapers all called for his resignation. It did speak to the level of support that Secretary Rumsfeld had.

Fifty words or less: What the hell do we do in Iraq?

We absolutely must focus on training the Iraqis to take care of their own security—and for every fully trained Iraqi battalion, an American battalion comes home.

Does that mean that we have to send more troops in the short-term?

It means sending the right troops, the troops who do the training. The sad fact is that we haven't always sent trainers to do the training. Just ordinary rank-and-file soldiers have been doing the training. And God bless 'em, they're doing a very difficult job under very difficult circumstances. But we need true military trainers to do the training.

What was your immediate reaction to John Kerry's "botched joke?"

I was appalled. I was angered. As a service member—as someone who's still in, by the way—I couldn't believe he would say something so stupid. Even in jest. I'm still, frankly, kinda cheesed off at him.

What would you have done on Wednesday had you lost?


Okay, hypothetical: Let's say I'm a lobbyist and I wanted to curry favor with you—Washington Wizards tickets?

To curry favor with me, you don't need to offer perks…

Redskins tickets?

Nah, I just need you to be honest.

Related: Click here for the best of our beltway coverage in The GQ Politics Archive.

Monday  November 20, 2006

Senator-Elect Jon Tester [D-MT]

The flat-topped Tester morphed from obscure state senator to Democratic Party hero virtually overnight—and all he had to do was clip Abramoff crony Conrad Burns in the closest senatorial race in the country. But, really, he'd rather be farming.

What do we do about Iran and North Korea? Do we start talking with these people? Mobilize?
Iran has at least signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and you absolutely have to talk to them. If you take a look at what has transpired in this world since 2003 in particular, we haven't really done what's necessary to try and stop these folks, or at least talk to them or put the political pressure on them from an international standpoint to get 'em to stop. We should be talking and applying as much diplomatic pressure as possible and working with our allies. Nuclear weapons don't satisfy anybody; it doesn't do anybody any good, including the countries that develop them.

If the talk doesn't produce the option you want, would you leave the option of mobilizing on the table?
I think you've got to apply the pressure. Mobilization of troops in Iran is always an option, but it's a last option.

Fifty words or less: What do we do in Iraq?
We have to work together—Democrats and Republicans, the legislative and executive branches—to come up with a plan that works for this country and works for the Middle East and get our troops home as soon as possible. You have to have a plan, and that plan would probably have a timetable in it. The problem with Iraq right now is that there's no plan, there's no end to it. People don't see an end to what's going on over there, and they don't see much success. The people I've talked to don't know what even constitutes a win. If you're not working across the aisle and between branches, I don't know what's going to happen. There's also got to be a desire to do something different than what we're doing.

If you could ensure the passage on one piece of legislation in your first year in office, what would it be?
Health care and affordability of health care. I'm interested in policies by which we could make health care more affordable for average working folks and small businesses. It truly is an affordability issue. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor or work in agriculture or own a small business. It's an issue that impacts everybody.

A problem with that, though, is that you always hear how it's a politically infeasible thing to do, what with the insurance companies and all…
Everybody also always talks about working together, which is important. And this one won't be solved unless we do.

What issue that has escaped congressional inquiry over the last six years would you most like to sic congressional investigators on?
The no-bid contract stuff in Iraq doesn't quite smell right.

How about distasteful ads or campaign tactics? Did any seem worse than the others to you?
Hell, I don't know what went on in the other states. But it would be probably be those robo-push polls. You can't really respond to 'em, they don't have to be based on fact at all—most of it isn't, anyway. They were particularly distasteful.

What would you have done last Wednesday had you lost?
I'd be farmin'.


What in particular?
I'd be looking to haul some grain, looking to haul some lentils, cleanin' out my shop. Christ, there's plenty of stuff to do. Workin' on equipment, changing oil in vehicles. There's a lot of deferred maintenance right now because I've spent the last year and a half doing this, and if anything's suffered, it's been the farm.

Do you think that after this election, it's still appropriate to call Karl Rove a genius?
I'm really not much one for labels. I think the guy's got skills; there's no doubt about it.

What was your immediate gut reaction to John Kerry's "botched joke?"
Oh, he made a mistake, and I think he probably shouldn't have said it. But I also think it was probably blown out of proportion.

What can the national Democratic Party learn from Montana's now that it's taken the Governor's Mansion and another Senate seat in what was thought to be one of the reddest states in the country?
I think it's about energy and leadership. That's what people want to see. They want to see people working hard, working for them. And not being self-interested, but publicly interested.

Implicit in that, though, is that the national Democrats aren't providing that.
Well, you've gotta be in a position to provide leadership. If you're in a minority, it's tough to lead because you don't have any of the chits available, you can't dictate the agenda. You're in a bind. We've been in a minority in the executive and legislative houses for the last, what, 10 or 12 years.

Okay, well, did you have a favorite moment on the trail? Someone you met that got you particularly energized? An event?
There were a lot of different times when you meet people and got fired up. I will tell you that if you take a look back at the primary election, that was one of many highlights. We were expected to tie at best, maybe lose, and then winning almost two-to-one—that gets you pumped up.

How much do you attribute that primary victory to the netroots' help?
Oh, they definitely play a role in getting information out to people. There's no doubt about it. And they played a role in this campaign. Furthermore, I think—and this is just an observation that I have no scientific basis for—but I think the netroots fire the young people up. If I look back at this election, one of the things that was real positive was the number of young people we had involved, and the number of young people we had fired up, and the number of young people who were truly politically active. I think that's great. That's what this is about. That's why I ran for this office, because I want to make sure in particular that the young folks and the next generation get a fair shake.

It's been said that the netroots sometimes apply an ideological purity test to Democratic politicians. And with some of your more conservative views, you probably don't fit squarely into that. Do you feel in any way beholden or hamstrung to that part of the party?
The stuff I read about that they were blogging on—I agreed with some of it, I disagreed with some of it. The bottom line is I think they just wanted representation like everybody else.

How many percentage points do you think your hairstyle swung in your direction?

Oh God, at least 60.

Related: Click here for the best of our beltway coverage in The GQ Politics Archive.

Thursday  November 16, 2006

A New Kind of Moneyball


Matsuzaka, swarmed by media, departs for the U.S. from Narita International Airport, November 15, 2006

On Tuesday, Major League Baseball and the Seibu Lions of the Japanese League jointly announced that the Boston Red Sox had won the the exclusive rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka for an astonishing blind bid of $51.1 million.  The offer doubled pre-bidding estimates and exceeded that of the runner-up Mets by more than $13 million.  For the sport, this is a historic moment.  Boston's bid calls to mind nothing if not the exorbitant "transfer fees" European soccer clubs pay to acquire superstar talent--David Beckham, say ($41 million in 2003), or Zinedine Zidane ($65 million in 2001).  For the first time, baseball's international profile, in Asia at least, is sufficiently broad that American teams can spend enormous sums on talent and still (perhaps) see a profit thanks to new foreign revenue streams--cable broadcasts, advertising, merchandising, travel packages, and so forth.  For instance, Scott Boras claims that the ex-Japanese League star Hideki Matsui generates $21 million annually for the New York Yankees.  Not coincidentally, Boras is Matsuzaka's agent.

Tuesday  November 14, 2006

Book Review of IKEA Catalog

In this month's issue of Canadian magazine The Walrus, Ryan Bigge writes a "book review" of the latest IKEA catalog:

If read conventionally, the plot is pedantic, resembling an overdetermined romantic set piece in a chick-lit novel: beginning in the kitchen, it quickly moves through the living room before reaching the bedroom. But the genius of Kamprad's work is how it can be treated as a grown-up choose-your-own-adventure that allows readers to assemble their own narratives.

It's high-quality, cerebral design humor (which is hard to come by these days): "Swedish for Great Literature."

Monday  November 13, 2006

The Worst Phone Ever Made

My favorite gadgets blog, Gizmodo, ran a post recently about my declaring the BeoCom 2 the "worst phone ever made." Here's what ran in the November issue of GQ:


The coolest-looking phone on this page will, unfortunately, look the most ridiculous next to your face. Even the most masochistic consumer will resent the two-column number pad, a bewildering design choice that complicates what should be a simple act: dialing. This is a phone we'd only consider using at gunpoint.


For the bulk of the page, though, I sang the praises of four classic landline telephones, whose appeal—perfect voice quality, zero brain-tumor risk—still endures.


Clockwise from left:

1. Jacob Jensen T5
$110, shop.improvee.com

While other phone designers seem enamored with garish, mismatched buttons, Jacob Jensen offers sweet relief: a telephone that is uncluttered, rational, and clean.

2. BeoCom 1401
$130, www.bang-olufsen.com

Its diminutive base and resolute simplicity—the handset plugs directly into the wall to cut down on wires—make it ideal for small surfaces (nightstands, end tables), as does a brilliant old-school flourish: the built-in notepad holder.

3. ITT 2500
$50, www.customphones.com

This bold, iconic telephone has a mercifully chunky handset (no chiropractic care required after use) and a mechanical bell that delivers the last dignified ringtone on earth.

4. Enzer ET-8408
$60, shop.improvee.com

A desk phone doesn't have to be a rectangular hunk of plastic. Enzer offers a fine alternative by carving away the inessential, leaving a perfect right angle.

Thursday  November 09, 2006

The Photographs of David S. Allee

The November issue of GQ is, as many of you know, the All-Star Sports Issue. I don't follow sports (not even enough to have an opinion on the uniforms), so let me contribute to the conversation by sharing two photographs by David S. Allee: "Office Hoop" and "Garage Driving." Both are part of Allee's exhibition Cross Lands, which is on display at the Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York City. (Click on the images to enlarge them; they won't make as much sense when viewed at this smaller size.)



While glamorous sports images abound, Allee's photographs document the odd realities that result when shortsighted design (in this case, of our towns and cities) collides with our innate need for space to play. We end up in surreal situations: playing (half-court) basketball at unnaturally high altitudes, teeing off over concrete parking structures.

Even when their subjects aren't explicitly sporty, many of Allee's photographs suggest a squaring off between rival teams. In "Turnpike Condos," for instance, it's The Residential vs. The Industrial (you can almost see the line of scrimmage).


Allee was an urban planner for seven years before becoming a photographer, and he has an uncanny way of conveying a sense of overcrowdedness and congestion using landscapes that are utterly barren.

The series has other lovely contradictions, too. My favorite juxtaposition is "Big Box Retail," which shows a dense, somewhat wild patch of skylights (they almost look as though they sprouted from seed) with "Tree Farm," in which saplings are arranged in perfect rows, assembly-line style, along a roadside. The machine-made somehow looks organic; the organic looks machine-made.



Cross Lands is on view until December 2. And although they don't do justice to Allee's large-format chromogenic prints (some are five feet wide), digitized versions are available on the gallery's Web site.

Tuesday  November 07, 2006

The Baby-Faced Ace

Matsuzaka is said to throw a mysterious pitch called a "gyroball"

Starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Seibu Lions, the so-called "baby-faced ace," may have the best raw stuff in all of Japan.  He's particularly celebrated for his alleged mastery of a mysterious pitch, the gyroball, and his extraordinary durability:  As a high schooler during the playoffs, he once threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning complete game, followed it with a save the next day, and followed that a day later with a nine-inning no-hitter.  This past spring, we saw him win the MVP at the World Baseball Classic.

For some time, Matsuzaka has sought to jump to the big leagues; until this year, the Lions refused him permission to do so.  Last Thursday, however, Seibu, in dire financial straits, reluctantly announced that it would "post" Matsuzaka.

What this means is that Major League Baseball, acting on behalf of the Lions, has begun accepting sealed bids for the rights to negotiate with the pitcher.  To win those rights could cost more than $30 million.  Scott Boras, the Dick Cheney of sports agents, represents Matsuzaka, and his public comments to date suggest the pitcher will be seeking #1-starter money--something on the order of $14 million a year.  (This money is distinct from the posting fee, which the Lions will keep.)

After 5 PM tomorrow, we should know the amount of the winning bid, and possibly the identity of the winning bidder as well.  Right now, we know that several teams have reportedly opted not to bid, among them the Mariners, Dodgers, Angels, and Indians.

Apparently some of these teams aren't participating because they've determined Matsuzaka doesn't want to play for them.  I'm skeptical.  Earlier this fall I spoke with an American and a National League scout, each from a team rumored to be interested in Matsuzaka.  Both men had watched the pitcher extensively, and both told me the same thing:  He's not a #1 starter.  "His fastball's straighter than you'd like it to be," said one of them.  I'm guessing that the teams that aren't bidding may have reached the same conclusion--that Matsuzaka isn't worth the money.  Finding out whether or not they're correct will be one of the most interesting stories of the 2007 season.

For more on Daisuke Matsuzaka, see Matsuzaka Watch, a blog maintained by a Yankees fan living in Japan.

Thursday  November 02, 2006

Mulder's Mechanics


Formerly one of the Oakland Athletics' celebrated Three Aces (along with Barry Zito and Tim Hudson), Mark Mulder ranked among the best left-handed pitchers in baseball until 2003, when he was diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition.  After being traded to St. Louis he remade his mechanics, with less than satisfactory results:  In 2006, he allowed nearly two baserunners per inning.

At Baseball Think Factory, a very smart minor-league pitcher has done a fascinating and intensive analysis of Mulder's mechanics then and now, complete with stop-motion GIFs (excerpted above).  It's definitely worth a look.

Wednesday  November 01, 2006

Playoff Pitcher Tests Positive


Guillermo Mota, who pitched in relief this year for the Mets, has failed a drug test and will be suspended for the first 50 games of the 2007 season.  To his credit, Mota's not issuing the sort of faux-bewildered denials we've lately become all too familiar with.

A more cynical take on the matter:  Mota is a free agent, which undoubtedly is shaping his response here.  With prospective employers watching him closely, he doesn't want to present himself as defiant or uncooperative.  To the extent that this is possible, he's trying to salvage his reputation.

We don't yet know whether the drug in question was a performance-enhancer.  For the record, Mota pitched poorly in the postseason, giving up 5 runs and 10 hits in 8.1 innings.  He was, however, excellent for the Mets during the regular season:  In 18 innings, he struck out 19 and allowed 2 runs, for an ERA of 1.00.

Update: The Associated Press is now confirming that Mota did in fact test positive for "a performance-enhancing substance."