Friday, April 18, 2014

Dazzy Koufax



Inspired by Joe Posnanski's recent post on Sandy Koufax and an observation by Bill James a few days ago about Sandy and Dazzy Vance.

Sandy Koufax never pitched in or won a major league game after he turned 30 when his career was ended by an elbow injury. 

Dazzy Vance's major league career was derailed at the start by an elbow injury and he did not win a major league game before he turned 31.
Both combined overpowering fastballs with devastating curves.

Both are in the Hall of Fame.

They are the two greatest pitchers in the history of the Dodgers (though Van Lingle Mungo still has the best name and definitely the best song of any Dodger pitcher).

Arthur Charles Vance was born in rural Iowa in 1891 and raised in Nebraska.  He began his professional baseball career in 1912, briefly reaching the majors in 1915 (with the Pirates and Yankees, going 0-3 in 30 innings with an ERA of 4) and again in 1918 (with the Yankees, pitching only 2 1/3 innings with an ERA of 15).  Throughout this time he was plagued by arm problems and by 1920 seemed destined never to return to the majors.

As the story goes (please refer to Official Policy Of This Blog) during the 1920 season, while in a poker game in New Orleans, Dazzy banged his elbow on the table and felt intense pain.  The doctor he consulted performed some type of surgery on his elbow (Bill James speculates he removed floating bone chips) giving Dazzy immediate relief and his arm never gave him trouble again.

In 1921 Dazzy won 21 games in the minors and the next year his contract was purchased by the Brooklyn team, then known as the Robins after their manager Wilbur Robinson.  He was an immediate sensation and over the next ten years (ages 31 to 40) he was spectacular in an era when slugging had taken over the game and the Robins, or Dodgers as they became known later in the decade, were consistently mediocre.

Over those ten years, Dazzy won 165 games, leading the league in ERA 3 times, in FIP (fielding independent pitching) 7 years and in shutouts on 4 occasions.  He also led the league in strikeouts seven times, in WHIP walks + hits per inning) three times, in Hits/9 innings 4 times, strikeouts per 9 on 8 occasions and strikeout/walk ratio 8 times.

His greatest season was 1924, when his won/loss record was 28-6 with an ERA of 2.16 and striking out 262, impressive anytime but even more so in the context of the times.  His ERA was lower by more than half a run than the next best pitcher and the 262 Ks was a staggering total since the runnerup had only 135 and no one else in the league even reached 100.  All things considered and adjusted for the offensive onslaught it may have been one of the ten best pitching performances in history.

In 1930, 39 year old Dazzy had a record of only 17-15 but his ERA was 2.61 with the next closest being 3.87 and he still led the league in strikeouts in a year in which the National League had an average of more than .300!

Dazzy pitched until 1935.  He entered the Hall of Fame in 1955 and died in 1961.
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Sanford Koufax was born in 1935 and raised in Brooklyn and Long Island.  The 19-year old was signed by the Dodgers after his freshman year of college at the University of Cincinnati.  Head Dodger scout, Al Campanis said:

There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up.  The first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the second time, I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball.  
Considered a "bonus baby" because he signed for more than $4,000 the Dodgers were required to keep him on their major league roster for two years so Sandy never pitched in the minors.  He spent most of those two years (1955-6) on the bench only pitching sporadically.  When he did he struck out a lot of batters and walked a lot of batters.  Over the next four years he was in and out of the starting rotation, showing flashes of brilliance (striking out 18 in a game in 1959) but often struggling with his control.

It finally came together in 1961 and for the next six years Koufax was phenomenal.  He won 129 games, losing only 47, leading the league in ERA 5 times, FIP every year, shutouts three times and strikeouts on 4 occasions.  He also had the best WHIP in four years, H/9 innings and K/9 innings five times and in strikeout/walk ratio three times.

 Koufax was also surrealistically dominant in low-scoring games. Years ago, Bill James researched Sandy's performance in 1963 and 1964 in games where the Dodgers scored 1, 2 or 3 runs.  THC did the same for the 1965 and 1966 seasons (thank you, Baseball-reference.com which is the source for all stats used in this post).  During those four seasons Koufax went 41-17 in those games (.703 winning percentage), an astounding achievement (although the specific averages vary depending upon the era, at all times in baseball history a pitcher getting one, two or three runs in support will lose more than 60% of the time).  In the 17 games he lost Sandy gave up more than three runs on only 6 occasions and only once gave up as many as six.


And if Sandy got more than three runs of support?  In 1965 and 1966 when getting more than three runs Koufax won 30 games and lost only one.  Yes, you are reading that correctly.  Yes, it was a hitting poor era but even in that context it is a mind-boggling accomplishment.  Was Sandy helped by having as his home-field pitching friendly Dodger stadium?  Yes, but he also had the lowest-road ERA during that period.

Of course, as an astute THC reader, you are probably asking as you read this; "Yes, that seems to be impressive but how did Sandy's peers Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson perform under those circumstances?"  A very good question, and THC will embark on a further research project and report back on the results.

During those last two seasons Koufax pitched in constant pain.  He began having elbow problems in early 1965 and was told he was risking the use of his left arm if he continued pitching.  He and the team doctor embarked on a treatment program to keep him going as long as possible.

His regimen for those two seasons started by taking Empirin with codeine before the game and after the fifth inning.  He also took butazolidin, a very powerful non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which was later banned for human use in the U.S. and U.K. because of its dangerous side effects. Sandy would also cover his upper body in capsaicin ointment before pitching.  Capsaicin is the active ingredient that gives chili pepper its potency.  In Jane Leavy's wonderful biography, Sandy Koufax, she tells of a rookie mistakenly putting on one of Koufax's uniform tops before it had been laundered and running into the clubhouse screaming as he began to feel the effects of the capsaicin.  No one could understand how Koufax could stand it - actually it smelled so much no one wanted to stand near him.  At the end of each game Sandy's elbow would turn black swelling up to twice its size and he would soak it in ice.  Finally, near the end of the 1966 season he was told he would permanently lose the use of his arm if he continued leading to his retirement at the end of the season.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Sandy is currently a Special Advisor to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And, of course, THC will always remember Koufax refusing to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it was Yom Kippur and then coming back to beat the Twins in Game 5 and pitching a shutout on two days rest to win Game 7 and the series, a moment immortalized in The Big Lebowski (everything on THC leads back to The Big Lebowski) by Walter Sobchak as "3,000 years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax".
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Now it's time for some ultimate Fantasy Baseball.  Let's take Koufax and Vance at their peaks and combine them into Dazzy Koufax (DK).  It works because one retired at 30 and the other didn't win a game till he was 31.  We end up with 16 seasons (ages 25-40) and a record of 294 wins and 165 loses with 3490 strikeouts.  Dazzy Koufax's WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a measure of relative value) is 107.2, placing him #7 all-time, just behind Lefty Grove and just in front of Tom Seaver.

Those are career numbers, but this tells you how terrific DK would have been on a year to year basis as he would have led the league in the following categories over the 16 years:

ERA - 8
FIP - 13
Shutouts - 7
Strikeouts - 11
WHIP - 7
H/9 - 9
K/9 - 13
K/W - 11

It sure would have been fun to see DK pitch for that long.

THC has been unable to find any video of Dazzy Vance pitching so we'll close with 44 seconds of beautiful  motion by Mr Koufax:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chan The Man Unusual 2

Jackie Chan is the best, and funniest, movie action star and has been featured before on THC.  His finest movies were made before he became a star in U.S. productions like Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour.  While THC enjoyed those films, the insurance and liability concerns of U.S. producers and studios limited the extent of stunt craziness that Jackie was allowed.

Below is a compilation of his ten favorite stunts according to his autobiography I Am Jackie Chan, a book THC proudly owns and has read - twice.  No doubles and no CGI on any of it.  Stunts 8 and 5 are tributes to two of his inspirations, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, and if you're familiar with their silent films you'll recognize the set ups.  Stunt 9, the Glass Slide, was done with live electricity and Stunt 6, the Building Slide (shot in Rotterdam) involved sliding down a 22 story incline with no net.  And, yes, on Stunt 7 he jumped onto a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter and on Stunt 3 he jumped onto a balloon.

The video quality is not the best, but it's good enough.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scarcity

Something to think about as you pay your taxes today:

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it.  The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

Thomas Sowell

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Senator

Yes, this is THC's Senator (though the phrase "callow youth" also comes to mind), Chris Murphy (D-CT) explaining away the woes of the Affordable Care Act by whining that it was a tough job since "we were reordering one sixth of the American economy" and that "the only way to do it was to make it big".

That certainly is one way of looking at it. But perhaps THC is being unfair.  Perhaps we should have more empathy for the task of the legislator and regulator who must get everything just right in order to make that one-sixth of the economy operate like clockwork.  And for those who ceaselessly criticize those who are tirelessly working on our behalf - that irksome American public which does not appreciate all that is being done for them - we need only remember the sentiment of the Emperor Caligula when vexed once again by a stubborn Roman populace: 

Utinam populus Romanus unam cervicem haberet!
Would that the Roman people had but one neck!

  (Caligula, not a nice guy)
And certainly our public servants deserve a better class of citizens.  THC is sure that once they can reorder the rest of the economy they'll start working to ensure they have a citizenry worthy of them, or, in the alternative, arranging for that one neck (undoubtedly with advance publication of the proposal in the Code of Federal Regulations) and establishing a more suitable populace which will more tamely accept their guidance. 

Sen Murphy's sentiments merely echo themes of progressives that are now a century old, sentiments best captured in Franklin Roosevelt's Commonwealth Club speech of Sept. 23, 1932, given in the midst of his first presidential campaign. It is worth reading in full because it gives you the most undiluted picture of the Progressive mindset and, as an added attraction, comes complete with a Fractured Fairy Tale version of American history.

Let's enter the WAYBAC Machine and take a look at that speech:File:Waybackmachine3.png(Mr Peabody & his pet boy, Sherman, enter the WAYBAC Machine)

In FDR's view, the world of the Founders had disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century with the emergence of industrial America and thus their ideas about property and liberty were now outmoded.  The Progressives believed that in order for the United States to continue to compete as a great nation the social reforms of late 19th century Bismarckian Germany and the government-industry cooperative model of the new corporatist Italian state provided a better path forward.  It was a world where all that could be invented had already been invented; a world where the large corporations that existed would always exist and maintain their dominance (a generation later John Kenneth Galbraith would make the same argument with a different constellation of corporations in The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State), in other words, a static world in which the pie had been baked and now just needed to be cut up.  Under these circumstances it was time for the rule of the manager and administrator.  FDR summed it up this way:

A mere builder of more industrial plants, a creator of more railroad systems, and organizer of more corporations, is as likely to be a danger as a help. The day of the great promoter or the financial Titan, to whom we granted anything if only he would build, or develop, is over. Our task now is not discovery or exploitation of natural resources, or necessarily producing more goods. It is the soberer, less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already in hand, of seeking to reestablish foreign markets for our surplus production, of meeting the problem of under consumption, of adjusting production to consumption, of distributing wealth and products more equitably, of adapting existing economic organizations to the service of the people. The day of enlightened administration has come.

Take that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates!  No soup for you. 

The goal of this new process was simple then, and remains simple today for Progressives.  Provide regulators and the Executive Branch with enough authority to make the "right" decisions.  The substance of those decisions may change over time; the important part is that bureaucrats have the authority to tame this unruly economic system and the citizens who insist on acting in such a chaotic manner - as FDR put it, we can rely on the enlightened administrator.  That's why, as it turned out, the actual language of the Affordable Care Act, has mattered so little.  Whatever the Obama Administration hasn't liked it just ignores or unilaterally changes.  Maybe they'll get it wrong this time but there is always a more perfect regulation and a more perfect regulator to get it right the next time.

The idea that order needs to be imposed, and can be done so effectively by all-knowing regulators, was widespread in the New Deal and remains a touching, faith-based creed, today.  This distaste for the disorder created by the individual decisions of millions of citizens, along with some bizarre views on economics, can be seen in an excerpt from Justice Cardozo's dissent in Carter v Carter Coal Co (1936) in which the Court, in a 5-4 vote, found the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1935 to be unconstitutional.  The Act was another attempt to set up a government, industry and union cartel to set prices and wages:

Overproduction was at a point where free competition had been degraded into anarchy. Prices had been cut so low that profit had become impossible for all except the lucky handful. . .
 
Congress was not condemned to inaction in the face of price wars and wage wars so pregnant with disaster. Commerce had been choked and burdened; its normal flow had been diverted from one state to another; there had been bankruptcy and waste and ruin alike for capital and for labor. The liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment does not include the right to persist in this anarchic riot.
What's missed is that those individual decisions by millions of people are an incredible example of spontaneous collective action whereas the nominal "collective" decisions by regulators and crony cartels on behalf of "the people" are actually made by very few persons. 

The "principles" other than control remain malleable though the New Deal principles look somewhat odd from today's perspective.  The New Dealers saw the need to reorganize both the industrial and agricultural sectors of society and it was upon these two pillars that their reforms were built. First, was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) which created a cartel of industry and government and industry to regulate prices and create operating rules for every industry sector.  The Progressive idea was that prices were too low and needed to be raised in order for the country to end the Depression.  Doesn't sound like today's Progressives, but no matter, the real point is "who decides?" and "who controls?"  Fortunately, the law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court thanks to Schechter Poultry Corp. v U.S. (1935) in which the government prosecuted a family of Kosher chicken sellers in Brooklyn who insisted that their customers should actually be able to select the chickens they wanted to buy.  You are reading that correctly - the new regulations required buyers to accept chickens only in blocks of a dozen or half-dozen because allowing them to select individual chickens would disrupt the market!

(It's all or nothing!)
The other pillar was the Agricultural Adjustment Act designed to accomplish the same goal - raise prices for the consumer.  As a result of the New Deal policies, millions of cattle and hogs were killed and their meat not allowed to be marketed in order to create more demand and raise prices at a time when millions of Americans were going hungry and a web of subsidies and growing restrictions established to reduce production and make food more expensive.

(Let's make it more expensive for the kids in order to increase corporate profits!)
Unfortunately the agricultural subsidy program has endured and in creating a new constituency for its benefits has ensnared politicians on both sides of the aisle, preventing any meaningful reform measures for 75 years.

While the specific type of Risorgimento intended by the NIRA was knocked off track by Schechter Poultry, later New Deal Supreme Court cases such as Carolene Products (1938) and Wickard v Filburn (1942) resulted in the Court dropping nearly all barriers to government regulation, except for certain Constitutional clauses which the Court still deemed worthy of protection.  As THC has pointed out before, the worst damage done to the Constitution in those years were all in cases where the government advocated for measures to improve the profitability of producers and to increase prices for consumers.  That is why THC says that the governing principle is about control, not about anything else; the details can change at any point as long as the right people continue to make the decisions. 

The result is today's upside-down Constitution. The original one presumed that rights remained with the people except to the extent those rights had been specifically delegated by the people (or the states) to the new federal government.  Today's Constitution, in the view of the predominant legal scholars, presumes that the default position is that the Federal Government, and for that matter, State governments except to the extent preempted by Federal action, can act as they see fit except for certain matters that have been delegated back to the people.  For instance, some sexual-related matters seem to have been delegated back, something the earlier Progressives would definitely not have approved of and, who knows, at some point that delegation may be revoked as academic theories change.

The best way to understand our current situation is that we are governed by the tenured liberal arts faculty of an Ivy League college which has the freedom to instruct students as they deem best and, when funds run low, to send out another tuition bill to the parents.

THC wonders what Senator Murphy next plans to "reorder".  THC knows who will get the tuition bill.











     
     

Sunday, April 13, 2014

2-6-1

Baseball is back.  Here's an unusual 2-6-1 double play (catcher to shortstop to pitcher) by the Milwaukee Brewers.  An extra bonus - the video contain two replays the second of which is by 80 years old Brewers announcer Bob Uecker!  You can watch the play here.

And here is Uecker as Harry Doyle, Cleveland Indians announcer in the movie Major League.

Bluebird

From the classic 1967 album, Buffalo Springfield Again Stephen Stills (who wrote it), Neil Young and a whole bunch of guitars.  At a couple of places it sounds like it's staggering to a halt but keep listening.  And there's even a banjo at the end!