Monthly Archives: February 2004


MEN ARE FROM MARS: Marc Cooper of LA Weekly, as quoted by Mickey Kaus, has an interesting theory about Sunday’s presidential debate:

If you were a man from Mars who looked at the debate not knowing anything about the candidates or issues but just deciding who was most appealing, would you rank Kerry first? No. You’d rank him last. Kucinich and Sharpton might well be the Man from Mars winners, as performers–Kucinich was flush with that Hawaiian serotonin–with Edwards a close third.

I agree- if Edwards can win North Carolina, wouldn’t you expect Kucinich to have a home-state advantage with the Man From Mars?


MICHAEL LEWIS VS. BASEBALL: Michael Lewis, who last year turned the Major League Baseball world upside down with his Billy Beane biography/sabermetrics bible “Moneyball,” has a piece (not online) in this week’s Sports Illustrated defending himself from the many critics of his book- and he fights back so fiercely that you’d think organized baseball was systematically cracking down not on steroids, but rather on his book.
Now I’ve gone on record numerous times as saying that I loved “Moneyball,” consider it the most important book about baseball since Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four,” and truly believe that the onset of statistical-analysis use as applied by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and others has been one of the most important developments in the last decade of the game. However, intrigued as I am by it I do not believe sabermetrics to be the be-all and end-all of baseball strategy, and I’m a bit irked by those who look on it in an almost messianic way. Lewis’ SI piece is much more in that vein than the book was, and while he’s right in some places the overall tone in the piece is paranoid, self-important and, above all, very arrogant.
Lewis writes of all the shots he’s taken from the media and baseball establishment since “Moneyball” was published a year ago, lumping all the scattered voices who have dared to criticize the book into an amorphous entity he calls “The Club,” as though players and executives and sportswriters and scouts are all on the same page and don’t have natural feuds with one another. Sounding a lot like Rush Limbaugh bashing the Democrats, Lewis takes a few extreme examples (Joe Morgan’s repeated, misinformed insistence that Beane actually wrote “Moneyball,” and the ludicrous piece in the Toronto Star which argued that sabermetrics was racist), and paints anyone and everyone who ever argued with the book with the same conspiratorial brush. He writes not so much about “Moneyball” being a highly acclaimed, extremely successful best-seller that most fans loved; Lewis is too busy playing the victim to bother dwelling on the positive.
For instance, as an example of the “scorn” he and Beane have earned from various sportswriters (who, bizarrely, he twice calls “the womens’ auxiliary”), Lewis includes this from Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

It was Beane who had a best-selling book, “Moneyball,” written mostly about him, in which he bragged endlessly about outsmarting more wealthy clubs by reinventing the way players were evaluated.

It’s critical of Lewis, yes- but is any part of that statement not true? Not to mention that in the original piece by Thiel, which doesn’t even mention Beane until the 12th paragraph, the above statement is immediately followed with “much of Beane’s system is a worthy consideration.”
Lewis doesn’t treat baseball establishmentarians as people with a differing opinion- he speaks of them as though they were heretics for daring to disagree with his book- even at one point comparing his battle with his critics to “a religious war… between creationists and evolutionists.” True, sabermetrics is a revolutionary idea that has transformed the game and will continue to do so even more in the future- but does that mean the old way has never worked or will never work again? Of course not- there have been many great teams built various ways throughout history- would the ’86 Mets have been so vastly improved if they’d brought in a centerfielder with a higher on-base percentage than Mookie Wilson’s?
Additionally, is it not a legitimate argument to point out that Oakland has not yet won a playoff series and has suffered four straight first-round exits under Beane, or that another small market/low payroll team (the Florida Marlins) won last year’s World Series without any use of sabermetrics at all? And of course baseball’s fraternity of scouts has resisted the “Moneyball” phenomenon- if a new, untested theory were introduced that threatened to make your entire profession irrelevant, you’d fight it tooth and nail too.
But the biggest weakness of all in the piece is that “The Club” isn’t nearly as monolithic as Lewis says it is: Someone in baseball must’ve liked the book, since one of the sport’s most tradition-bound franchises, the Dodgers, just hired Beane protege Paul DePodesta as their GM, and more such hires are likely to come. In fact, what will probably happen in the next decade is that sabermetrics in baseball will end up like the West Coast offense in football- about half the clubs will use it, and teams will constantly be hiring GMs who are proteges of Billy Beane and proteges of his proteges, the way Bill Walsh begat George Seifert who begat Mike Holmgren. But other systems will be used by other teams, and no one will ever be under the illusion that Moneyball is the only way to go. After all, has anyone ever tried to argue that the West Coast offense is the only right way to win football games?
Michael Lewis wrote an entertaining, well-received, and very influential book which may in fact change baseball forever. But due to his apparent aversion to ever being criticized for any reason, he has unfortunately tarnished the book by writing a condescending, overly defensive polemic which is apparently based upon his belief that baseball doesn’t appreciate him enough. He’s spent so much time accusing others of being closed-minded that he’s become closed-minded himself.
NOTE: Jeremy Wahlman, who will almost certainly be posting a contrary response to this entry imminently, met Lewis at a book signing last year, and is generally credited with being the very first person to alert Lewis to Joe Morgan’s repeated claim that Beane wrote the book.


A BIN LADEN CONSPIRACY?: To hear Dave Taylor of the Naples Daily News tell it, a US capture of Osama Bin Laden is “imminent,” and Fox News knows it. Taylor speculates that the Bush Administration has Bin Laden in their immediate sights and that’s why FNC reporter Bret Baier has been dispatched to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. And since FNC is the most pro-Bush network, administration sources gave them the heads-up so they could have the exclusive on OBL’s capture, with Fox’s sure-to-be-fawning coverage sure to help Bush politically.
Aside from the complete lack of any hard evidence whatsoever, it’s an interesting conspiracy theory, though I am prepared to eat my words if it does come off like that. But if US forces have been chasing Bin Laden around that region for the past two and a half years, why are they so sure he’s about to be caught now? And wouldn’t having a reporter nearby tip al-Qaeda off that the forces are about to swoop in?
Besides, you’d think that if a Bin Laden capture really were “imminent,” that they would’ve sent Geraldo.


HIS WORST MOMENT SINCE CAPONE’S VAULT: As Bill points out, Geraldo Rivera’s convoy was hit with enemy fire this morning in Iraq. He’s okay, and has been appearing on TV to talk about it every 15 minutes since, but all it can do is bring to mind an SNL “Weekend Update” joke by Tina Fey:

Geraldo Rivera will leave his CNBC news show to go to Afghanistan as a war correspondent for Fox News. This raises an interesting moral question: do we have to act sad if Geraldo dies?”


HUH, HUH, YOU SAID “PHYSICAL”: From a Sports Illustrated piece by Peter King about Maurice Clarett, his refusal to work out for NFL teams, and the growing irrelevance of the NFL Scouting Combine:

Clarett did not come across as well to inquiring minds. Asked what kind of player the team drafting him would be getting, he sounded more like Beavis than Jamal Lewis. “I don’t know,” Clarett responded. Then he chuckled and said, “cool.”

Funny what can happen in the course of human events between a Tuesday and a Friday. Since Beavis is currently not under federal indictment for drug trafficking, and Jamal Lewis is, the Ravens would perhaps be better at this point with Beavis, Butt-head or Clarett in their backfield. Of those three, I’d say the best bet is Clarett: he may have only spent one year in college, but then Beavis and Butt-head are still stuck in middle school. Expect a lawsuit soon in regards to their draft eligibility.


MUST-READ ‘PASSION’ LINKS: Some of them are repeats from before, but worth sharing regardless:
Sheila O’Malley’s review- mostly positive, and including a long discussion of whether or not the guy playing Pilate is a babe.”
– And heres Bill McCabes, and he also (rightly) chastises people for bringing their babies to this film. I wish the other seven people we went with had written reviews, but they dont have blogs.
– Leon Wieseltiers TNR review, one of the most scathing film pieces Ive ever read- though I appreciate his reference to a hypothetical Upper West Side Sanhedrin.
– Heres a great Village Voice piece by Jessica Winter from last November, which looks at Gibsons previous work and argues that he has a martyr complex.
– Roger Eberts four-star take, which seems rooted in nostalgia for his own Catholic upbringing- though Im surprised to see Ebert, who normally worships at the altar of liberal message movies, love the conservative-endorsed The Passion as much as he does.
– Andrew Sullivan, in five paragraphs, goes from praising Gibsons film to calling it a deeply immoral work of art. And as always with the Sage of South Goodstone, there are too many worthwhile follow-ups and reader e-mails to mention.
– Also in TNR, Sullivans protege Reihan Salam breaks down the pundits, naming NYT columnist Frank Rich the Pope of pointy-heading cultural elites, and declares that if sneering were an Olympic sport, Rich would be so heavily laden with gold medals as to render him immobile. Also, the Muslim Reihan makes fun of the Catholic William Donohue for using the Jewish word chutzpah. Only in America!
– Dong Resin gives us a typically hilarious paragraph of things not to say on your cell phone outside the Jesus movie. Of all the links in this entry, his is the only one which mentions bukkake.
– New York Press unfortunately didnt let Armond White near this one, but Matt Zoller Seitz contributes a lengthy but very interesting review. I had always assumed Seitz was Jewish but I guess hes Catholic; he generally praises the film except for pointing out longtime homophobe Gibsons apparent fixation on machismo and queer-ish characters (the androgynous Satan, Herod and his “La Cage” entourage, etc.)
– And lastly, once again, I cant recommend the Jon Meacham Newsweek article enough.
Sorry for being all-“Passion”-all-the-time these last few days, but whatever you say about the film, it’s not one that gets out of your system easily.
UPDATE: Got time for one more?: Christopher Hitchens takes a few whacks at Gibson too.


UH HUH- OH NO!: I find out from Gawker that Fannypack, the group behind last years infamous novelty hit Cameltoe, performed last night at Maxwells in Hoboken, which is exactly six blocks from my apartment. I didnt go, of course, but if the show started at 9, the car containing myself and three others drove past the club- on our way to see Passion of the Christ- just as Fannypack was taking the stage. So dont ever say entertainment options in North Jersey in wintertime arent diverse- theres Christ- or Cameltoe!