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credit where credit is due

President Obama spoke on the issue of the proposed mosque in Manhattan:

Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities — particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the founders must endure. …

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And that diversity can bring difficult debates. This is not unique to our time. Past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be — and will be — today.

hello, jose

The Giants are doing better than I expected this season, and yes, Brian Sabean deserves some credit. You don’t think that’s the end of this post, though, do you?

Joe Sheehan said it best in his excellent newsletter (worth the subscription): “I can't say enough about the Giants, who finally have an offense to match their starting rotation. It took a mix of luck (Andres Torres), moves I hated that worked (Aubrey Huff) and Brian Sabean getting out of his own way (Buster Posey) to build it.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Sabes, to be sure. Even Brian would admit that Torres is a delightful surprise, and it’s hard to congratulate him for Posey’s play when Sabean wasted a few months with Bengie Molina before he finally got around to putting Buster where he belonged. But it’s Aubrey Huff I want to look at, especially given today’s acquisition of Jose Guillen.

At the start of the season, Sabean had constructed his usual lineup of old guys. He re-signed Molina (35), and filled the infield with Huff (33), Sanchez (32), and Renteria (33). In the outfield, there was Torres (32) and Rowand (32). Mark DeRosa (35) was to be the utility guy who could play anywhere.

Some of these players crapped out. Molina was predictably awful until he was shipped off. Sanchez, whose one v.good year was four years ago, missed the first part of the season, and has now compiled an OPS+ of 70 in his first 99 games as a Giant. Renteria is injured most of the time, and not hitting when he is healthy. Rowand continues his downward slide … he’s fallen so far, he isn’t a regular any longer, even though he’s making almost $14 million this year (and has two more years to go at $12 million/year). DeRosa hit .194 in 26 games before going on the DL the rest of the season.

This is not a success story. But, of course, I’m leaving out the good parts. Torres is gradually convincing us he is not a fluke. Huff has been the team’s most valuable hitter. And recent acquisition Pat the Bat Burrell (33) has been a mind-blower.

Is there anything we can learn from this? I think there is. I have a tendency to dismiss all of Sabean’s old guys, because he seems like such a poor judge of hitting talent (look two paragraphs earlier). But I think there is a pattern to his success stories. The crapped-out players have something in common. Molina spent his prime years with the Angels. During those years, his OPS+ was 84. He isn’t a good hitter. As is typical of many Sabean signings, he had a couple of decent years that convinced Sabes to grab him; as a Giant, he posted an OPS+ of 88. No surprise at all.

Sanchez made his reputation by leading the league with a .344 average in 2006. He was a bit above average the next year … had his worst year in 2008 … then got off to a nice-enough 2009 at the age of 31, which convinced Sabes to grab him (yes, a pattern emerges). Even with his peaks as a Pirate, he only managed an OPS+ of 99 with them … he was never a great hitter, and he was very likely past his prime when the Giants got him. He was also injured, and he hasn’t hit well as a Giant. He’s been worse than his career totals, but then, he’s in his 30s.

Renteria had a decent time in St. Louis (6 years, OPS+ 97), had a late resurgence with the Braves, and sucked at age 31 with the Tigers, at which point Sabean decided the sucking was temporary. Renteria hasn’t hit as a Giant (two years, OPS+ 72), but as with Sanchez, he wasn’t a big bopper in the first place. Both of them were good players in their prime, but not great players.

Rowand had one v.good year with the White Sox (5 years, OPS+ 104) and another with the Phillies (2 years, OPS+ 108), after which Sabean gave the 30-year-old OF a 5-year deal worth around $60 million. Rowand hasn’t been much good as a Giant, but again, what do you expect from a good-not-great hitter in his 30s? DeRosa … I’ll give Sabean a rest on this one, no one said DeRosa was great in the first place.

That leaves Huff, and now, Burrell. How are they different from Brian’s flops?

Aubrey Huff is a good hitter. He spent his first, prime, years in Tampa Bay, and posted an OPS+ of 116. He went to an awful Oriole team in his early-30s, and had an OPS+ of 112. Sent to the Tigers last year in August, he bombed, hitting only .189. He had 117 plate appearances. Now, I didn’t much like the Huff signing, although the price ($3 million for one year) was reasonable … like I said above, I tend to hate all of Sabean’s Old Guys. But Huff really was the “proven hitter” Brian loves to talk about. He had a bad 40 games in Detroit, and he is 33 years old. But unlike Molina and Sanchez and Renteria and Rowand, he had a good career as a hitter behind him (his defensive reputation was awful, and it is true that I am ignoring defense here, but none of these guys are winning Gold Gloves any more).

Pat Burrell is a good hitter. He spent his first, prime, years with Philly, compiling an OPS+ of 119 over 9 seasons. He also did something so few Giants not named Bonds do … twice he walked more than 100 times in a season. He then went to Tampa Bay and sucked. They released him, the Giants grabbed him … even I liked this move, because Tampa is paying the salary, so it was a no-lose move. Burrell has been the team’s best hitter since joining the club. Surprised? Yes. But, like Huff, and unlike Molina/Sanchez/Renteria/Rowand, Pat Burrell had a good career as a hitter behind him.

I still think the strategy of lusting after aging hitters with weak gloves is a poor one. But I need to reconsider … at the least, look at each case individually. Hindsight is 20/20, but I should have been at least a bit more optimistic about Huff and Burrell.

Having said all of this, there is only so much space for DH-quality fielders on an NL squad (Huff has delighted fans with his defensive play, but we don’t want to go too far with that). The question then becomes, is Jose Guillen a good idea? His career as a hitter is closer to Rowand than to Huff or Burrell … he had a few very good years in his prime, but his career OPS+ is a boringly average 99. He’s cheap … KC is paying most of his salary … but (and let’s hope this never happens), if the Giants want to get these guys in the lineup, we could see an outfield of Burrell-Rowand-Guillen, with Pablo at third and Huff at first. I know I wasn’t going to talk about defense, but yeccch. I think the most we can hope for is that Guillen doesn’t play much, and maybe hits a game-winning homer once.

random friday, 1991 edition: bonnie raitt, “i can’t make you love me”

When Bonnie Raitt released Nick of Time in 1988, it was celebrated as a great comeback. This didn’t make a lot of sense, since on some level, Raitt had never been there in the first place … as Christgau wrote, “Her supposed comeback [was] in fact a breakthrough, she never approached gold back in the day.” She had a loyal following, no doubt, although my feeling in the mid/late-70s was that following was split in two. Her first records were a mixture of folk and blues, the latter enlivened by her skillful slide guitar work. She was a critic’s fave and a bit of a cult figure, but did not have the record sales. When she moved closer to pop, the blues fans were unhappy. Home Plate was a great album, but not many people noticed.

Then came a decade or so when the sales were still low, the albums more erratic, Raitt had substance abuse problems, and she was dropped by her label. All of which explains why Nick of Time was called a comeback: it was her first real hit album, and it came after a low point in her life and career.

Nick of Time, though, wasn’t all that great. Yes, it hit #1 on the charts and won the Grammy for Album of the Year, but 20+ years after the fact, only a handful of songs remain memorable.

Which takes us to 1991, and the real “comeback.” Luck of the Draw was the album everyone thought Nick of Time had been. It sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, spawned half-a-dozen singles, and won Raitt another three Grammys. It is better, top to bottom, than Nick of Time, never more so than in the song that has become a standard:

Here’s another song from the album … not only is it a fave of mine, the video adds Alison Krauss to the mix, and she’s one of the only people I love as much as I love Bonnie Raitt:

Finally … I don’t know if this will even work, and if it does, it will probably only work on MOG. But I can’t find a video of it, so here goes. This is my all-time favorite Bonnie Raitt song: “Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes.

it ain’t easy to de-google

After a day goofing around with various options, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. It’s more trouble than it’s worth to dump Gmail and all its components. Among other things, Gmail and Google Calendar play nice with my Pre.
  2. Google Reader is a lot better than the other readers I tried.

So that leaves the web browser and the search engine as items I can change without trauma. From Chrome to Firefox, and from Google to Bing. I wanted Windows Live to work … I’ve been writing this blog using Windows Live Writer for a long time, and it is simply one of the best pieces of software Microsoft ever produced. But the rest of the Windows Live experience (Hotmail, Messenger) didn’t make it for me. So I’m only halfway de-Googled.

i may only play one game, but i play it a lot

As I check out various software options that don’t involve Google, I’m being reminded of software I installed and then forgot. One such item is Wakoopa, which tracks your software usage. Over the past week, these are the applications I’ve used the most:

  1. Google Chrome
  2. Football Manager
  3. Facebook
  4. Microsoft Word
  5. Twitter
  6. Gmail
  7. Windows Explorer
  8. Wikipedia
  9. Google Reader
  10. MOG

A couple of things come to mind. One, that Wakoopa seems to also track specific web sites. Two, that if I’m going to de-Google myself, I have three places to start: a browser, email, and a feed reader.

don’t be evil

So, let’s say I was thinking of changing my primary email provider. It’s a pain in the ass to do, as I know from the times I’ve done it in the past. My preferences have changed over the years, as well. There was a time when the idea of web-based Internet made me laugh … now, when I upgraded to Office 2010, I got the version without Outlook, because I’ve been web-based for years. A little more than six years, to be more exact, since I got Gmail in June of 2004.

And I’ve expanded … I have several Gmail accounts, most notably one I use for school work.

I know that switching from Gmail is going to be difficult. But I know it can be done. And so the questions are, one, should I do it, and two, if so, to what should I switch? I suppose the easiest answer to the latter is to actually take advantage of accounts I already have, like with Comcast or Microsoft. But it seems a bit silly to protest the increasingly Evil Google by switching to one of those giants.

best american band ever

The invaluable Cody B, MOGger supreme, conducted a longish poll where we all voted for what he called “The Best American Band … Ever.” The rules were complicated, the vote calculations recognizable to fans of the old Pazz & Jops. I was lazy and did not participate in the nomination rounds, but I did finally wake up to cast a ballot in the finals.

A few choices from the final tally:

In the 41-50 range you can find everyone from Count Basie to Hendrix. I mention Hendrix because he was a victim of the process (some thought the Experience wasn’t a “band” as much as Jimi’s support, others thought the three of them weren’t “American”).

REM was #31, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys #40.

#21: The Roots. #30: Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

Duke Ellington’s Orchestra was #11, Bad Brains #20.

6 through 10: Creedence, James Brown & the Famous Flames, The Band, The Pixies, Zappa and the Mothers (I was sure sad to see that last one … should have handed out some of my negative votes).

The Beach Boys came in at #5 … I’ve always found them overrated, but this is no surprise.

The top four must say something about the demographics of the group, since they are all New York bands or close to it:

  • #4: Bruce and the E Street Band
  • #3: Talking Heads
  • #2: The Ramones
  • #1: The Velvet Underground

We were given 50 points to pass around, with 15 max for a single band. We could include write-ins (we were voting from a list constructed via the nominating rounds), but the most we could give them was 10. FWIW, here is how I parceled out my 50 points:

  • Bruce and Velvets: 15 each
  • Sleater-Kinney: 10 (write-in)
  • Sly & the Family Stone: 6
  • Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks: 4 (write-in)

what i watched last week

Grading my last batch of papers meant I had little time for movies, but I did get one in:

A Prophet. The coming-of-age story of a potential crime kingpin that takes place in a prison. One look at the 2 1/2-hour running time and you’d be forgiven for thinking an epic was in store. But instead, A Prophet is low-key, except for the times when violence makes a mess of things … in those moments, you can see why director Jacques Audiard has been called the French Scorsese. As is usually the case with such comparisons, this is unfair to Audiard. The film features wonderful, subtle acting by Tahar Rahim in the lead and Niels Arestrup as the cold, wizened, brutal man who runs the prison from his bench in the courtyard. 8/10.