Well, Now That That’s Over

As the final seconds ticked off of the fourth quarter clock and the New York Giants earned victory in Super Bowl XLII, those of us who are more inclined towards baseball breathed a sigh of relief and marked another X on the calendar: A week and a half until P’s and C’s report; three weeks until exhibition games begin; seven weeks until the regular season begins.

The Phillies, for the most part, look like an improved team. Brad Lidge was acquired from the Houston Astros; Shane Victorino moved to center field following the departure of Aaron Rowand; Geoff Jenkins was signed to platoon with Jayson Werth in right field; Pedro Feliz was given red pinstripes as a hopeful answer to the team’s third base woes.

Meanwhile, the Phillies watched the Marlins pawn off their two franchise players, the Nationals sign and trade for no one important, the Braves lose Andruw Jones to free agency and trade Edgar Renteria to Detroit and replace them with weaker players. Oh, and the Mets traded for the best pitcher in baseball. The Johan Santana deal aside, everyone in the division either got weaker or stayed essentially in the same place.

Jimmy Rollins, almost a year after declaring the Phillies “the team to beat” in the NL East (and being proven correct on the last day of the regular season), claimed his team would win 100 games in 2008.

As I counted last August, the Phillies’ bullpen was responsible for at blowing at least 19 games between April and the end of August. Remember, this is a bullpen that featured — not just had; featured — Antonio Alfonseca, Clay Condrey, and Jose Mesa, among others, mostly due to the injuries to Closer #1 Tom Gordon, Closer #2 Brett Myers, and Ryan Madson.

Now, the Phillies feature a bona fide closer in Brad Lidge, a now-serviceable set-up man in Tom Gordon, and a surprisingly deep bullpen, now that Ryan Madson will once again be healthy, and the team kept J.C. Romero, who was stunningly effective since he arrived in Philadelphia in early June last season. The bullpen, barring injury, doesn’t figure to be a problem for the Phillies in 2008.

As always, the Phillies feature one of baseball’s best offenses. Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, and the pitchers aside, the Phillies feature 20-25 HR potential at every position, and Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Chase Utley are three of baseball’s best at getting on base. Obviously, scoring runs won’t be a problem for the Phillies, either, but given that Pedro Feliz and his sub-.300 OBP will be playing every day, expect a very slight regression in runs scored from ’07.

However, preventing them appears to be a problem for the starting rotation once you get past Cole Hamels and Brett Myers.

Jamie Moyer is 45, put up a 5.01 ERA, and averaged his highest base runners per inning rate since 2000. Age is less of a problem for a pitcher of Moyer’s ilk, since he relies not on speed, but purely on location and intellect. Either way, Moyer cannot be relied on anything more than league-average production.

Kyle Kendrick put up an impressing rookie campaign for the Phillies in which he revealed himself as a perfect fit for Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies. In 2007, more than 47% of Kendrick’s batted balls were of the ground ball variety, and in CBP, where the gusting winds push would-be fly ball outs halfway up the stands in left field, throwing ground balls creates a huge advantage for their Phillies and their now-great infield defense. Given Kendrick’s age and lack of MLB experience though, we can’t reliably predict a repeat.

Adam Eaton. Not much needs to be said about him other than that the sooner the Phillies get rid of him and his awful pitching, the better. Eaton might be the worst pitcher the Phillies have allowed to pitch 150 innings or more since Brandon Duckworth in 2002. The non-progressives in the Phillies’ front office likely don’t realize this and will try to justify paying him $24.5 million over three years by letting him take the mound once every five games.

Depending on how Kendrick pans out, and how quick the Phillies are to pull Eaton from the starting rotation, expect about average production from the Phillies’ rotation. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers will obviously be well above league-average but it won’t be enough to offset the lackluster performances from the others. If the Phillies can sign Kyle Lohse and bump Eaton from the rotation before the season even starts, that would be such a boon.

Defensively, the Phillies are easily above-average. Pedro Feliz is baseball’s best glove at third base, Chase Utley is a top-two defensive second baseman, Victorino is a gazelle with a cannon in center field, and Carlos Ruiz is one of the better defensive catchers in baseball. Pat Burrell and Geoff Jenkins lack range but both have strong arms, Jayson Werth has decent speed and a strong arm, and Jimmy Rollins provides average to slightly above-average shortstop defense. The only defensive curse on the Phillies is Ryan Howard at first base.

Overall, I expect the Phillies to have the National League’s best offense and Major League Baseball’s third-best, behind the Yankees and Tigers. Pitching-wise, overall, I expect a middle-of-the-pack performance, perhaps 9th out of the 16 National League teams. The starting rotation will rank about 10th or 11th and the bullpen will rank about 4th or 5th.

My prediction (with the roster as it is presently)

Phillies 2008 RPG:  5.42 (878 runs).

Phillies 2008 RAPG: 4.61 (747 runs).

Phillies 2008 record: 91-71, second in NL East behind the 93-69 Mets.

Bonus: Cole Hamels finishes a very close #2 to Johan Santana in Cy Young voting.

Chris Berman Meltdown

Thanks to Lisa H of the FOX Sports blogs for making me aware of what may be the most hilarious rant I’ve heard in a long time. This ranks higher than the Jim Mora and Dennis Green tirades, and ekes by Todd Stottlemyre.

Edit: Apparently, I’m slow, because this video has been posted in a number of different places.

No Reason to Panic

I don’t know if any of you out there have heard, but the Mets traded for two-time Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. I could’ve sworn that the Red Sox and Yankees offered better packages. But the Twins’ front office isn’t who I want to criticize right now (plenty of people will be doing that between now and the end of the regular season); I want to question Don McKee’s logic in an article he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He titled it “Phils Fall Back in Arms Race.” It’s clever, probably unintentionally so. Does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in a relapse of sorts? Or does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in lagging behind the Mets? Probably the latter, but he spends the rest of the article implying the former.

McKee provides a summary of the Santana deal, then hammers out this doozy:

So here’s a friendly little road map that could guide the Phillies back to another of those scintillating stretch runs with their most hated (is it even close?) rivals.

First, send something to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Matt Morris, who has 121 career wins and too big a price tag for the team with the majors’ fourth-lowest payroll. (Since Morris is scheduled to make $9.5 million this season, the Bucs might be willing to accept Wes Helms, who makes about a third of that.)

Then ship Adam Eaton to Minnesota, which will be seeking an arm to fill out its rotation. The Twins could have some big problems without Santana: Francisco Liriano missed all of last season after elbow surgery and former Phillie Carlos Silva signed with Seattle as a free agent.

If you know who Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey are (the rest of Minnesota’s rotation), you get a stack of old Mike Lieberthal cards.

Morris has won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons and won 22 with St. Louis in 2001. He has had a losing record the last two seasons, but that may have had more to do with his teams (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) than him.

Is he Johan Santana? No. But neither is anybody else out there. And with every single arm in the Phillies’ projected rotation a question mark, Morris would be a welcome addition.

He suggests trading Wes Helms to the Pirates for Matt Morris. That sounds reasonable since we’re talking about Wes Helms, a mediocre player, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose front office has made a hobby out of collecting as many mediocre players as possible since 1992.

Morris is owed $9.5 million for the ’08 season and he has a $9 million club option with a $1 million buy-out clause for ’09. Helms is owed $2.5 million this season and he has a $3.75 million club option with a $750,000 buy-out clause for ’09. That’s a total of $6.25 million the Phillies would be required to take on this season. Not bad.

But if you look at the free agent market, once name sticks out: Kyle Lohse. Lohse doesn’t throw as many ground balls as Morris, but he’s a free agent, and that’s key. Instead of having to give up Helms to round out the rotation, the Phillies can sign Lohse, whose price tag drops with every passing day, and then flip Helms to some third base-desperate team who is willing to part with a relief pitcher. As anyone who watched the Phillies last season knows, you can’t have too many relief pitchers.

Lohse will probably take a three-year, $27 million deal, an average of $9 million per season. This also allows the Phillies the flexibility to add another arm to the bullpen by trading Helms.

Even more laughable is that the Phillies can just dump Adam Eaton on the Twins, as if their front office is collectively unconscious following the Santana trade (who knows, maybe he’s right). Dumping Eaton on the Twins would require eating a lot of his remaining salary, which is $7.635 million this season, $8.5 million in ’09, and a $9 million mutual option in ’10 with a $500,000 buy-out clause. The Phillies would have to fork over about half of Eaton’s ’08 salary, most likely.

So, here’s McKee’s plan in the big picture:

Phillies Get

Matt Morris ($9.5 million)

Some random Twins Minor Leaguer who will be serving fries in two years

Phillies Give Up

Wes Helms ($2.5 million)

Adam Eaton ($4 million of $7.635)

To find out how much money the Phillies would have to have, just add up Morris’ salary and the cash they’d send with Eaton, and subtract from it Helms’ salary. That’s $11 million they are paying essentially just for Matt Morris, a pitcher whose poor ’06-07 seasons McKee wrongfully labels as aberrations or due mostly to bad teams.

Take a look at the trends Morris has shown. In 2005, he was with the Cardinals, ’06 with the Giants, and split ’07 between the Giants and Pirates.

K/9

2005: 5.47

2006: 5.07 (-.40)

2007: 4.62 (-.45)

Career: 6.08

BB/9

2005: 1.73

2006: 2.73 (+1.0)

2007: 2.76 (+0.03)

Career: 2.53

WHIP

2005: 1.277

2006: 1.353 (+.076)

2007: 1.515 (+.162)

Career: 1.305

Fly Ball %

2005: 29.8%

2006: 33.4% (+3.6%)

2007: 31.5% (-1.9%)

Career: 31.7%

You can’t blame that on Morris’ teammates. He is striking out less hitters, walking them more, allowing more overall base runners, and is becoming slightly more fly ball-prone.

Also, isn’t it hilarious that McKee thinks it’s some trivial thing to know who Baker (MLB experience since ’05), Bonser (since ’06), and Slowey (’07 rookie) are? It’s not like all of America watched Baker attempt to hold down a perfect game in the 9th inning, or Bonser wasn’t included in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, or Slowey was the 17th-best overall prospect in 2005 according to Baseball America. You’d have to be the Schwab to know those guys.

So, the Mets got Santana. It probably makes them the pre-season favorites barring any other significant moves by the Phillies or Braves. It doesn’t mean the Phillies have to panic and just start randomly acquiring pitchers. Even if the Phillies don’t acquire Lohse and go into the season expecting Adam Eaton to start once every five days, it at least means the Phillies will have some funds available to make a mid-season trade if a player becomes available.

Phillies sign 3B Pedro Feliz

Reasons why you would ever consider signing free agent third baseman Pedro Feliz:

  • You are a bottom-feeding organization like the Tampa Bay Rays or Kansas City Royals.
  • You have never looked at baseball statistics before.
  • You like your hitters reaching base in less than 30% of their plate appearances.
  • You are a vengeful GM and the fans have wronged you.
  • Feliz blackmailed you.

Yet, the Phillies, who have three third basemen (Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, and Eric Bruntlett) are close to signing Feliz to a two-year, $8.5 million deal:

An agreement is believed to be pending a physical, which could happen sometime this week, though the Phillies would only confirm that the sides are in discussions. The deal is reportedly for $8.5 million over two years with a team option for 2010 that could approach $15 million, according to an Associated Press report.

Feliz has played seven full seasons of Major League Baseball, and in none of them has he ever been close to the league average on-base percentage (usually between .330 and .345). In fact, he’s only been above .300 once in 2004 (.305).

Offensively, Feliz is a black hole. He ranked 31st on the San Francisco Giants in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at -2.7.

Defensively, Feliz does have value. The Fielding Bible awards named him the best-fielding third baseman in all of Major League Baseball, and he ranked first in the National League in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) and third in Out of Zone plays (OOZ).

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So, we’ve established that Feliz is unattractive offensively and attractive defensively. Depending on how much money the Phillies threw at him, this signing could be one of those where you just shrug your shoulders. Who knows, maybe Feliz will improve on his offense. After all, he did play in the very pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, and players, under the tutelage of manager/offensive guru Charlie Manuel and hitting coach Milt Thompson, usually end up being more prone to taking walks and set career highs in OBP. For instance:

  • Aaron Rowand: Career-high 32 walks before ’07’s total of 47 walk; career-high .361 OBP before ’07’s .374.
  • Rod Barajas: Career-high .306 OBP before ’07’s .352. He was, however, helped by hitting mostly eighth in the line-up, in front of the pitcher.
  • Jayson Werth: Career-high .338 OBP before ’07’s .404.
  • David Bell: Career-high .331 OBP before ’04’s .363.
  • Jason Michaels: .364 and .399 ’04-05 OBP’s with the Phillies; .326 and .324 ’06-07 OBP’s with the Indians.

Don’t forget that the Phillies have also had four of the best on-base players in the game in Chase Utley (.410 OBP in ’07), Ryan Howard (.392), Pat Burrell (.400), and Bobby Abreu (.408 career OBP).

Feliz will likely fill in as the #7 hitter, ahead of the catcher (Carlos Ruiz or Chris Coste) and the pitcher, so the impact of his lack of offense will be dulled a bit. Either way, it’s a questionable signing at best and rather unnecessary.

Fuck Jesus, Raymond Burke, and Bill Donohue

To the four or five loyal readers I have, you know I’m a happy guy when political issues spill over into sports. Imagine my glee when I’m perusing the fabulous blog With Leather and come across these babies:

Majerus Has Opinion, Catholics Freak Out

ESPN’s Dana Jacobsen Is In Trouble

Majerus’ offense:

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said this morning that… Majerus should be disciplined over his public comments supporting abortion rights and stem cell research […]

Jacobsen’s offense:

A Catholic advocacy group charges the sports TV network ESPN has failed to respond properly to a graphic rant by anchorwoman Dana Jacobson in which she “attacked Jesus Christ.”

Jacobson, reportedly intoxicated, was speaking at a celebrity roast in Atlantic City, N.J., when she unleashed a profane tirade, saying, “F— Notre Dame,” “F— Touchdown Jesus” and finally “F— Jesus.”

It’s not surprising that in both instances, it’s Catholics doing the whining. Even funnier is that the redress required by both Raymond Burke and Bill Donohue is a formal apology, because we all know that when you sin, you can confess and pray to Jesus and it all goes away.

Are you a homosexual pedophile? Jesus can fix that.

Like getting fellatio in airport bathrooms? Pray and your sins will wash away.

A fan of using power to force teenage boys into sexual acts? He is a forgiving God.

All jokes aside, I’d like to point out some of the idiocy on display from the Catholics that I’ve pulled from the articles. First, the Majerus scandal:

Let’s start off with a hanging slider:

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said this morning that St. Louis University basketball coach Rick Majerus should be disciplined over his public comments supporting abortion rights and stem cell research.

Majerus should be punished for having an opinion — a differing opinion?

Later on in the article:

“It’s not possible to be a Catholic and hold those positions,” Burke said. “When you take a position in a Catholic university, you don’t have to embrace everything the Catholic church teaches. But you can’t make statements which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic church.”

This is just downright hilarious. “Think whatever you want, but don’t express your contrarian opinion.”

Yeah, I get it — SLU is a private, Catholic school and they don’t want their employees expressing statements that go against what they believe in. But to me, that just shows weakness. If you’re not willing to have your beliefs scrutinized and questioned, how strong are they in the first place? If the Catholic ideals are so right, shouldn’t they stand being tested?

Look throughout history and the ideals that have been most forcefully and authoritatively stated and defended are the ones that have been the most incorrect. Archbishop Burke just wants everyone in his little bubble to think just like him so he never has to critically think about the views he espouses.

If you read further down in the article, a Missouri Supreme Court case is cited with a conflict regarding the use of tax money for SLU’s new stadium.

The debate came down to two words: “control” and “creed.” Does the guiding mission of a Catholic university align with the specific system of religious faith espoused by the Catholic church? And if so, does that system of faith control the actions of the university?

Do a Google search (I did a Yahoo! search) for St. Louis University. This is what comes up:

It says that exact same thing in the “About Us” page on their website. They are a self-identified religious college. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says that the government cannot support anything religious, or non-religious for that matter (for clarification, that means something like an atheist group wanting to use taxpayer money for some event, similar to SLU wanting to use taxes for their stadium).

I just find it hilarious how mind-numblingly hypocritical and close-minded people can be.

Anyway, onto the Jacobsen rant. This is even more mind-numbing because Jacobsen works for ESPN, which is not a pro-Catholic organization, and is not affiliated with any religion in any way.

A Catholic advocacy group charges the sports TV network ESPN has failed to respond properly to a graphic rant by anchorwoman Dana Jacobson in which she “attacked Jesus Christ.”

Why should ESPN or Jacobsen have to respond at all for attacking Jesus? Not everyone worships the same God you do, Mr. Catholic Advocacy Group. Deal with it.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue said he pressed ESPN on the issue and received an e-mail with an unsatisfactory statement by Jacobson.

The statement said, in part, “My remarks about Notre Dame were foolish and insensitive. I respect all religions and did not mean anything derogatory by my poorly chosen words.”

Donohue contended the response “fails on several counts.”

Even when you make a superfluous apology to people who have no jurisdiction on your behavior, it’s still not enough for these close-minded Jesus freaks.

Frankly, I think Ms. Jacobsen chose her words well. While I don’t follow college football closely at all, especially not enough to have a distaste of Notre Dame, I do share her sentiment in regards to Mr. Christ. The figure of a religion responsible for millions of deaths, the backing of slavery, misogyny, and the mistreatment of animals (I can cite Bible verses if you’d like), and the intolerance of homosexuals, polygamists, atheists, believers of other Gods, disobedient teenagers, people who work on the Sabbath… is not someone to whom I am wont to kneel.

Anyway, how did Jacobsen’s statement “fail on several counts”?

“First, there is no evidence that ESPN is taking this matter seriously,” he said. “Are we to believe that her hate speech is of no consequence?”

Extreme lulz at Donohue citing Jacobsen’s drunken rant as “hate speech” being that he belongs to a religion that has done nothing but hate anyone who isn’t a white male Christian. Go through Donohue’s Wikipedia entry and look at all of the innocuous things he’s whined about. He’s an ideological tattletale.

Donohue argued Jacobson’s comments were at a public event where she represented ESPN.

Yes, and if ESPN wants, it can reprimand Jacobsen. No one — not Donohue, the Super League of Catholics, or anyone else — has jurisdiction on the matter.

Secondly, he pointed out, racist remarks by the late sports commentator Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder during a luncheon interview in 1988 resulted in his prompt firing by CBS, despite an apology.

Donohue added, “It is also important to note that being drunk didn’t help Mel Gibson’s case when he made bigoted remarks about Jews.”

Yes, because “fuck Jesus” — an attack on the “icon” of a religion — is on par with “Fucking Jews…Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” — an attack on all of the adherents of a religion.

Finally, the Catholic leader said, “By far the most offensive thing she said, ‘F— Jesus,’ isn’t even addressed!”

Does it need to be addressed? No.

“It is obvious, then, that neither Jacobson nor ESPN is dealing with this matter in a professional way,” Donohue declared.

The only one being unprofessional is one Mr. William Donohue.

“To put this issue behind them, ESPN must deal with this issue quickly, publicly and fairly, something it has yet to do. After all, most Christians are yet unaware of this event, but once they learn of it, they are sure to demand accountability.”

Accountability… for… having… a differing opinion, and emphasizing it via the F-word?

Fuck Jesus, and fuck Bill Donohue.

The Ryan Howard Situation

The Phillies’ front office has stated that they are done making major deals until spring training starts, though that doesn’t exclude a signing of someone like Kyle Lohse or Kris Benson. The only thing left to complete then is signing Ryan Howard to some kind of a deal, as Howard is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his brief career.

The Phillies and their Ruthian first baseman exchanged figures recently and were $3 million away from each other: the Phils offered him $7 million; Howard wanted $10 million. Should this be settled by an arbitrator, there’s little doubt the Phillies would win, as $10 million for a first-time arbitration-eligible player is unprecedented (as a comparison, Miguel Cabrera got $7.4 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility).

Before last season, however, Howard and the Phillies were at odds. The author of the Phillies’ franchise single-season home run record wanted a long-term deal. Instead, the Phillies gave him a one-year deal worth $900,000. Howard was disappointed, though it tied the record, held along with Albert Pujols, for the highest base salary for a non-arbitration-eligible player. When the deal was completed, Howard said:

It’s a little frustrating and a little disappointing that we didn’t get it done, but that’s the business aspect. Now you use it as a starting point. It’s over. Now you go out and play.

Should the Phillies give him a long-term deal now? They have control of him until after the 2011 season and can go year-to-year with him in arbitration until then. Let’s look at some possibilities.

The Phillies sign Howard to a large long-term deal worth $90 million over the next six seasons.

The Phillies now have control of Howard until after his age 33 season in 2013, when he would undoubtedly be in decline. For those six years, the Phillies wouldn’t have to worry about drafting a first baseman and would have an almost-definite above-average offense, since they also have Chase Utley locked up until after the ’13 season.

Adrian Cardenas, one of the Phillies’ top prospects, then becomes valuable to the Phillies in two ways: they can try him out as a potential third baseman (or perhaps an outfielder), or they can continue grooming him as a second baseman and use him as trade bait, since he’s road-blocked by Utley at his natural position.

By the time Howard’s contract is nearing its end, his annual salary will likely look like a bargain, given inflation. This benefits the Phillies two-fold: the relative cheapness gives them probable cap space to add players and it increases Howard’s trade value.

As for ’08, the Phillies will have little cap room to make another signing (i.e. Lohse) or an in-season move unless it involved shedding salary (perhaps that of Pat Burrell?).

The Phillies sign Howard to a back-loaded four-year, $65 million deal.

With this contract, Howard averages over $16 million per season, so he’s definitely being fairly compensated when you compare it to what he’d make in arbitration. Backloading the contract allows the Phillies flexibility in the immediate future, so they can still sign a player like Kyle Lohse to round out the starting rotation while still ensuring themselves that the mainstay in their offense is happy about his tenure in Philadelphia and doesn’t demand to be traded.

When Howard is reaching the end of this four-year deal and is destined for free agency, the Phillies may want to consider trading Howard and moving Chase Utley over to first base. This is feasible only if Adrian Cardenas makes significant progress in the Minor Leagues, another impact second baseman is drafted and climbs the ranks quickly, or the Phillies sign another good second baseman.

Howard’s deal will run out two years before Utley’s, so that means that unlike the hypothetical six-year deal, the Phillies won’t be left with having to deal with the simultaneous contracts of their two best players. The Phillies can deal Howard without fearing that their offense will collapse and won’t have enough talent to contend.

The Phillies go year-to-year with Ryan Howard until after the 2011 season.

This is a dangerous way to go, as it will all but guarantee that Howard will not be wearing a Phillies uniform in 2012. However, the Phillies would end up getting a bargain and paying market value for a top-tier first baseman, allowing them the financial flexibility to round out the roster and give them the best chance to make a run at the World Series. The Phillies are, if nothing else, a team built for the immediate future.

Towards 2011, the Phillies could shop Howard around similar to how the Twins are shopping Johan Santana. Teams would likely overpay for a top-five offensive juggernaut (assuming Howard averages a 130 or so OPS+) both in terms of players given up and the amount of Howard’s remaining contract taken. Then the Phillies could move Utley to first or shop for another first baseman in the off-season.

So, what should the Phillies do? The Good Phight analyzed how players most similar to Howard performed in their same-age seasons and concluded:

On balance, I think this data suggests that Howard is a solid bet to deliver very good to excellent production over at least the next 4-5 seasons.

“Very good” and “excellent” are ambiguous, perhaps intentionally so. Either way, I’ll take “very good to excellent production” with a backloaded four-year, $65-ish million deal for Howard. After ’11, either deal him or if he’s still productive as his career wanes in his mid-30’s, maybe he’ll want to sign another lighter contract for the Phillies.

On Flags and Speech

I finally got around to catching the re-run of Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher. An excellent quartet — comedian D.L. Hughley, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, country music star Trace Adkins, and pundit Dan Savage — joined Maher for a round-table discussion of politics. One of the subjects that piqued my interest in particular was of the Confederate flag being flown in South Carolina and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s cloaked support for it. Not surprisingly, the three liberals at the table were against it, and Adkins, the conservative, seemed indifferent about it.

I loved a couple of the points that were made in the discussion: that the American flag itself stands for blotches in this nation’s history, and that white Christian males always have and always will try to keep the balance of power tipped in the favor of white Christian males.

Anyone who has been following current events lately knows what little the American flag stands for, if anything, these days. Get a calendar from each year 2000-2008, and point to a random date, and you can probably find this country doing something wrong. In 10 years or so, we will look at our operation in Iraq as angrily as we, or at least I, look at the C.I.A.-backed, Milton Friedman and Chicago School of Economics-led military junta of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. I needn’t cite the USA PATRIOT Act or the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (which, in effect, made Habeas Corpus moot), or Guantanamo Bay, or Walter Reed, or waterboarding (which the U.S. condemned the Japanese for using in WWII), or Halliburton, or the lawless private military company Blackwater, or… you get the point. The American flag, if it supposedly stood for something like freedom, no longer stands for anything good.

And the second point also doesn’t need clarification. There’s a reason why atheists are the least-trusted minority in the U.S. and why we’ve never had a non-white, non-male, non-Christian President. Power has yet to change hands in this country’s history and as long as we keep producing white male Christian politicians, it will stay this way. And no, this is not a thumbs-up to Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama in subterfuge. Look at all of the names we’ve had run for President just in recent history. 95% of them are white Christian males. It’s amazing that we have not only a woman, not only an African-American, but a Mormon running for President, too. Too bad all of them are beholden to lobbyists of big business.

But my main point is the concern Americans seem to have about symbols. George Carlin did an hilarious bit on this during one of his HBO stand-up specials, saying that he leaves symbols to the “symbol-minded.” We know that the Confederacy fought for the right to oppress African-Americans in the Civil War and that the Confederate flag represents that oppression, but seriously, what harm will a flag do and if there is any harm, how does it warrant infringing on others’ right to free speech?

If it was a Christian symbol on a government building, I could see the offense because that is explicitly outlawed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. But this is a flag being flown in a state that was part of the Confederacy. If that’s what they want to do, so be it. Ask them to take it down politely and if they decline, move on.

And on the topic of “states’ rights,” a favorite phrase of libertarians: what’s the point? Let’s take the issue of gay marriage, for instance. It’ll obviously become legal in the liberal states and banned in the conservative states. So, homosexuals who want to get married in, say, Texas, will be forced to move to other states if they want to be legally bound to their partner. In other words, they’ll be forced to give up their residence, their job, friends and neighbors, and perhaps family, all because they happen to live in a part of the country that is highly close-minded towards anyone who isn’t heterosexual.

Is that freedom — banishing someone to another part of the country for having a quality that isn’t viewed favorably by most people?

This idea of states’ rights will also end up dividing the country exponentially deeper than it currently is now between conservatives and liberals. Just have a country-wide policy on these issues. That’s why it’s called the United States of America, right? It’s not the “Some States do one thing and other states do another” America.

And, finally, libertarianism lends credence to ideas that may not deserve such credence. The idea that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to get married does not deserve one ounce of respect from anyone, yet libertarians would like to give these people power potential. If you don’t like gay people, fine, that’s your prerogative. You have no right to tell them that they cannot be legally bound to their partners as heterosexuals are, and it doesn’t matter if 99 out of 100 people feel this way.

Here’s the clip of Maher’s show. Hopefully something exciting happens in the world of baseball so I can put up a decent sports-related post.

New Layout

This is the layout I’ve been planning to use. I’ve still got a few kinks to work out, so just ignore them for now.

If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear it.

Thanks.

A Real Blend of Sports and Politics

As if we haven’t been submerged in 2008 election news and rumors, the entertainment gods have cast a storm upon us: FOX News is going to be mixed into FOX Sports’ Super Bowl coverage.

Given Keith Olbermann’s sky-high ratings following his injection into NBC’s NFL half-time show, it’s easy to see why FOX would want to try their hand at mixing football and politics. It’s too bad that FOX News is easily the least credible of all of the news channels, ever. Thumb through Crooks and Liarsposts under the FOX News category if you’re skeptical.

As a liberal, I think Olbermann is one of the greatest things to happen to the television world since the original American Gladiators. However, mixing Olbermann’s political observations into half-time of a football game just doesn’t sit well with me. Sports and politics merge in many ways: the playing of the national anthem before games, Congress’ mingling in baseball’s drug issues, et cetera, but both are deemed necessary. Olbermann’s show and FOX News during the Super Bowl are superfluous.

I want to know why Tom Brady will pick apart the Green Bay Packer defense during the Super Bowl, not why Barack Obama will pick apart Hilary Clinton’s voting records. And given that it will be FOX News doing the reporting and opining, I imagine we’ll be hearing about why Mike Huckabee’s plan to Christianize the U.S. Constitution is flawless, or why John McCain’s idea to stay in Iraq for 100 years is guaranteed to both turn Iraq into a worldwide beacon of democracy and strengthen our national defense. In other words, we’ll be inundated with patently false statements backed up with skewed and made-up facts, like the cries of a liberal media bias.

And for the record, it’s not that FOX News is blatantly right-wing that makes me detest it so; it’s that they unabashedly ignore reality and make up their own facts and figures on the fly so it suits their agenda. And I’d be just as irritated if they had decided to throw in a bunch of liberals to report and opine during the Super Bowl coverage because it has no reason being there in the first place.

It’s bad enough most of us subject ourselves to the irritating Super Bowl commercials, only 5% of which are entertaining (well, maybe this will make it more entertaining this year). Now we’re going to sit through war cheer-leading and Republican back-patting.

Did I mention that the election is still 10 months away?

In Other News

You can tell it’s the baseball off-season when I go two weeks without one inspiration to write about something. Counting down the days ’til pitchers and catchers report…

Once I get Photoshop CS3 working on my computer again (or once I can get a few graphics done by someone else for free), I’ll have a new design for Crashburn Alley up. I haven’t really liked either of the designs I’ve used thus far but I think the one I am waiting to use is pretty snazzy.

Links

The Doug Glanville Perspective. [Balls, Sticks, & Stuff]

Amen… this is the longest off-season ever. [Bugs & Cranks]

Grading the top-ten starting rotations in baseball. [I’m Writing Sports]

Why do some Phillies fans hate Pat Burrell, again? [I’ve Made a Huge Tiny Mistake]

It’s NFL Championship weekend. [Josh Q. Public]

Sportsmanship, where art thou? [Moondog Sports]

A Thought on the Rolen/Glaus Trade. [The Good Phight]

John Brattain hands out The Pujols Awards. [The Hardball Times]

No surprise that the BBWAA got it wrong again, this time with Tim Raines. [The Progenitor of Severe Gluteal Discomfort]

Bud Selig may be bad, but he’s making the owners a lot of money. [Ump Bump]

Hey, Scotty, big girls don’t cry. [We Should Be GM’s]