Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Tyranny of Pitch Counts

Chris Sale was on fire. Through eight innings, he had allowed two measly singles and struck out the side in the eighth, giving him fourteen for the game. The White Sox held a 1 - 0 lead. 

Then something strange happened. (Apologies to White Sox fans, who may feel the White Sox holding a 1- 0 lead is strange in and of itself.)

Citing Sale's 111 pitches, White Sox manager Robin Ventura pulled him for reliever David Robertson. 

While this doesn't quite qualify as off-the-charts stupid since Robertson has been one of the few bright spots this year for the Sox, it does qualify as curious in light of Sale's mastery.

And as luck would have it, this wasn't Robertson's night. After a walk, a single, a wild pitch and an intentional walk which loaded the bases, Robertson surrendered a single to Rangers' pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland and the White Sox lost 2 – 1.

You have to wonder how Sale, who was humming like a small-block Chevy V8, would have fared.

Afterwards, Ventura was upfront about his reason for pulling Sale; he wasn't tired, cramping or otherwise diminished. It was merely the number of pitches Sales had thrown. Nothing more.

At times, it seems that little else matters in modern baseball. Pitch counts have become so all-important that pitchers in the midst of no-hitters are now pulled merely because of the number of pitches they have thrown.

Ace pitchers are even held out of post-season play for fear their arms can't bear the strain.

Stratospheric salaries certainly have something do with it, especially when pitchers with eight-figure salaries are going at it. (What does it say when premium players are paid so much the people who sign their paychecks are afraid to play them?)

But it doesn't explain pitch counts rearing their ugly heads when the number-four guy on your staff is pulled because he, too, has tossed a certain number of pitches.

If you haven't already guessed, I'm confused.

How is it that twenty-first century pitchers, with their healthy diets, sophisticated workout regimens and access to health care undreamt of just a few decades ago can't pitch like their peers of a century ago, whose workout regimen—with the exception of a privileged few—was their off-season job?

Whose diet consisted of whatever was available and affordable?

Remember—no one was popping into supermarkets to pick-up tomatos, broccoli and pomegranates during the early-twentieth century winters of Walter Johnson's and Christy Mathewson's primes. 

In fact, only those who lived on a farm or in a temperate climate even had off-season access to fruits and vegetables.

And yet the front-line pitchers of yore regularly racked up twenty or thirty complete games a year. Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Mathewson all enjoyed Hall of Fame careers even without helicopter coaches tallying their pitches.

Ditto Warren Spahn. Bob Feller. Sandy Koufax. Ferguson Jenkins. Tom Seaver. And Jim Palmer. Nolan Ryan surpassed two-hundred, and it's looking like he'll be the only pitcher of the Internet age to do so.

Roger Clemens, he of the twenty-four years in the major leagues and untold amounts of steroids, managed just 118. Greg Maddox, after twenty-three years in the bigs, compiled just 109. If fact, no pitcher since 1986 has even managed twenty in a season.

So where are these carefully-managed careers headed? With today's pitchers being treated like vintage Ferraris, that must mean Cy Young's 511 career victories are in danger. As are his 7,356 innings pitched. Surely Ed Walsh's all-time low career ERA of 1.81 is feeling the heat?

No. No. And no.

For all of the tender, loving care they receive, twenty-first century pitchers don't loom any larger than their fore bearers, unless the conversation is about career earnings.

I don't see them dominating the game year in and year out a la Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal. I don't see them blanking the opposition in the post-season, which was another supposed benefit.

Then what, exactly, is the point?

Is it to extend a pitcher's capacity to earn ungodly amounts of money? To keep physical therapists employed? To keep the guys in the bullpen from getting bored?

You could say I'm an old guy grousing about the good old days, and how the present is different and doesn't measure up. And you'd be a teeny weeny bit right.

But tell me how Stephen Strasburg's single complete game is worth his twenty-four million dollars in career earnings. Or how the career-long coddling he has received has yielded the game's most dominant and feared pitcher.

The clock is ticking.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Square Peg's Guide to Vehicular Hazards

We at The Square Peg are committed to keeping our readers as safe as they are informed. Which is our motivation for compiling the following guide to vehicular hazards.

Through careful observation and rigorous analysis, we have identified the three most dangerous types of vehicles and have provided handy personality profiles of the people who drive them.

While admittedly guilty of painting with a broad brush, The Square Peg stands behind its findings and maintains that a majority of the following vehicles are piloted by drivers injurious to your continued well-being.

Jumping right in, first place goes to the Jeep Wrangler.

When they aren't rock-climbing, fire-walking or bungee jumping over a pit of starving salt-water crocs, the hyperactive twenty-somethings who gravitate to Jeep Wranglers can be found attempting to replicate these sensations en route to their part-time jobs at REI.

It is usually while blasting Slayer and chugging espresso that the similarities between their favorite driving-based computer game and actual roadways becomes apparent. Competing against a timer only they can see, they zig-zag through traffic in a furious quest to record their best score ever.

Road signs, pavement markings and traffic signals don't apply to them because, like, the Wrangler can go off-road, you know? Seriously. Besides, even if they crash, it's just a matter of pushing the reset button. 

No worries, dude.

It should be noted the Wranger's high ground clearance and short wheelbase makes them prone to rollovers.

We can only hope.

Just half a notch below Wrangler wranglers are the drivers of pick-up trucks. In fact, they are so closely related you could think of pick-up truck drivers as former Wrangler owners who have impregnated someone (often female and human) and no longer live with mom and dad.

(In-laws are another story.)

They have likely shaved their head and now sport a goatee. They enjoy accessorizing with baseball caps which sport the NRA logo. My next paycheck says they can quote dialogue from Duck Dynasty—verbatim.

With the twin burdens of child support and housing, pick-up truck drivers must now confine their thrill-seeking and angst-letting to the commute to and from their jobs at Al's Stone & Gravel.

They carry a vague and ill-defined sense of unease which they aren't hesitant to share, using their imposing vehicles to harass, intimidate and bully. Pick-up truck owners don't operate their vehicles insomuch as they are armed by them.

Many enjoy hanging testicles from the trailer hitch of their vehicles, which only serves as proof that away from their trucks, most pick-up drivers don't have any.

Third-place goes to the drivers of German luxury sedans: Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

Their expression of angst takes a different tact. Rather than intimidate you the way the driver of a black Ford F-150 might, drivers of German luxury sedans use the imperiousness of their automobiles to speak for them as they pass you and your pedestrian conveyance in a noiseless, Teutonic rush.

You're not even worth getting angry over. You are merely a speed bump on the road to wealth creation and are easily disposed of by pressing the long, rectangular pedal underneath the tasseled loafer adorning their right foot.

I'm sorry—were you saying something?


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Charleston

While many are already mourning the apparent tragedy in South Carolina, I am buying party favors and inflating balloons.

This isn't the senseless massacre of innocent people convention would have us believe. No, this is a party. A shindig. A soiree. 

It is a second amendment celebration. Woo-hoo!

That portion of our citizenry who have dedicated themselves to the creation of a robust gun culture have succeeded, and succeeded wildly. Brilliantly. And awesomely.

We now enjoy a nation awash in guns. A nation conditioned to believe that guns are the great equalizer. That guns are our great protector. That we can cure all that is wrong with a gun.

So yes, I raise a glass and toast yesterday's second amendment celebration in South Carolina. And to the thousands of other second amendment celebrations that have taken place in this great and wonderful country of ours. 

Let us weep with joy. Let us rejoice in the triumph of easy violence over hard peace. Of wild-eyed, craven fear and rage over clear-eyed thought and consideration. Of inhumanity over humanity. 

Give people guns and they'll use them. Who knew? 

Let us never, ever forget that by virtue of our silence, and in the absence of strident and unswerving opposition, this is what we get. 

Is it really what we want? 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dammed If You Do

Economists are alarmed. Americans aren't spending. And since their spending drives two-thirds of the economy, economists warn of dire consequences should this trend become permanent.

(Of course, they have warned of the dire consequences of not saving as well. Hence the title of this post.)

I would love the opportunity to ask these economists (many of whom, it must be remembered, are policymakers) why they suppose Americans aren't spending.

Could it be that with memories of the Great Recession fresh in our minds, and of the vicious and wholesale job-shedding that followed, private-sector Americans have realized exactly how tenuous their livelihoods are?

Is it possible we have finally come to understand that most of us are merely expenses to our employers; expenses to be winnowed down and/or eliminated lest shareholders become upset at not being made exponentially wealthier than they were last month?

Or that, with the inevitable passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership looming, we will become more vulnerable still?

Why, exactly, should we spend? I mean, who does it benefit?

China? Bangladesh? Mexico? Some tax-dodging executive suite shoveling cash at Republican misanthropes? Perhaps E-bay is the biggest beneficiary—at least when we desire to rid ourselves of the junk we've accumulated.

I was once an enthusiastic consumer, and for that I have been rewarded with a lifetime supply of underemployment after committing the unforgivable sin of being unemployed when the Great Recession hit. (I was preparing for a cross-country move, if you must know.)

It is fairly sobering to realize the economy you once so obediently served now wants nothing to do with you. To think nothing of the money spent on entities which now refuse to even consider hiring you.

It is also a powerful incentive to save.

Our captains of industry have been repeating a thinly-disguised threat for years, that the American worker needs to remain competitive in the global market place or face extinction.

And the American worker responded. American workers are among the most productive in the world, even as the buying power of our wages remains flat or even falls.

But—big surprise—it isn't enough.

Without the one-hundred percent profit margin, business is just having a really tough time making this thing work. How are they to pay living wages and buy our elected representation?

However easy their virtue, you should know Congressmen don't come cheaply.

Business' solution is to outsource jobs and re-locate corporate headquarters to foreign tax havens as their increasingly contracted and part-time work force requires government assistance and health insurance.

It is the most indefensible kind of cost-shifting.

In the end, what is really curious is that even as the American worker becomes ever more marginalized, the American consumer is apparently still very much in demand.

Does anyone—anyone at all—see the disparity?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Role Models

I feel awful for Walgreen's executive James Skinner.

I mean, imagine being a high-ranking corporate executive with a seven or eight-figure income, and getting caught trying to defraud the country which has been so very, very good to you and your employer.

Pretty embarrassing, no?

Not if you're a member of the business class.

You see, the business class enjoys unmitigated wealth, unbounded prosperity, unceasing riches and absolute impunity because we (with the considerable help of our elected representation) have ceded control of the country to it in exchange for campaign financing.

America has become the employee who asks “How high?” after the boss has requested that we jump.

The business class are our gods.

So you can imagine the vein-popping rage Mr. Skinner must've felt when he and his employer were called out by the President of the United States of America. You can imagine the ignominy of being a wealthy white man who is called a thief by a black one.

It's a wonder apoplexy didn't send our poor Mr. Skinner to the emergency room.

In response, Mr. Skinner addressed a meeting of shareholders, and blamed the president for calling attention to Walgreen's attempts to fuck the country out of its rightful tax on Walgreen's earnings, saying that Barack Obama had used Walgreen's as “whipping boys” merely to further a presidential agenda.

The shame-resistant Mr. Skinner went on to add that Walgreen's didn't actually intend to send its corporate headquarters abroad to dodge U.S. taxes, but at the same time never explained why it had devoted so much time and so many resources investigating the move.

Getting theoretical for a moment, how do you suppose Mr. Skinner would've reacted to an employee embezzling from Walgreen's? I'm guessing Mr. Skinner would fire the employee even faster than Mr. Skinner has his inflated sense of entitlement bruised, which is certainly interesting.

Stealing for Walgreen's is okay. Stealing from Walgreen's is not. (Sorry—just making sure I understand corporate morality.)

So in conclusion, we are to pity not only Mr. Skinner, but Walgreen's, for President Obama's outrageous and unjustified attack on one of America's leading corporations.

I am sure I speak for Mr. Skinner when I say that only an atheist like President Obama could so completely ignore commandment number-one (Thou shalt have no other gods before me) and place America before James Skinner and Walgreen's.

Heresy, isn't it?