Tuesday, April 22, 2014

. . . And This Is My Other Senator

We recently introduced you to Senator Murphy and now here is Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) at his press event on train safety.  We are in good hands. NOTE:  Blumenthal's the guy standing closest to the train.  Someday he may realize that the yellow stripe designates the area you should not stand in because it is UNSAFE!!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Saturdays With Koji

This past Saturday, THC accompanied by the THC Son, LDC and one of the LDC Sons, visited Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox defeat the Orioles in a well-played game on a beautiful late April afternoon in Boston.  The game was capped by Koji Uehara striking out the side in the 9th to get the save.
And speaking of Koji here's a picture of our Koji, now almost eight months old.  Until taking the picture THC had not realized how much her head had grown in relation to the rest of her body.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Forgotten Americans: John Laurens

For Patriots Day

He was a 27 year old Lieutenant-Colonel who died in a meaningless skirmish along the Combahee River in South Carolina in September 1782 just a few weeks before British troops evacuated the state.
 (John Laurens painted by Charles Willson Peale, 1780
John Laurens came from a prominent family in South Carolina and his father, Henry, was President of the Continental Congress at the time it adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1777.

Sent by his father to Europe for his education, he studied in Geneva and London before returning to America in early 1777, promptly joining the Continental Army commanded by George Washington.  He quickly made the acquaintance of Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette and all three became friends and Laurens and Hamilton became particularly close.  Lafayette became a General while Hamilton and Laurens were appointed Lieutenant-Colonels and aide-de-camps to General Washington.  They were all so young, Laurens 23, Hamilton 22 and LaFayette 19, and all became close to Washington, most of all Lafayette who became in the view of many, the son he never had (for more on their relationship see Adopted Son by David Clary).

Laurens quickly obtained a reputation for reckless bravery, a recklessness which ultimately cost him his life in 1782.  After his first battle, Brandywine, in September 1777, Lafayette observed (from National Park Service: Valley Forge):


It was not his fault that he was not killed or wounded . . . he did every thing that was necessary to procure one or t'other 

A month later he received two minor wounds at Germantown and was wounded yet again at Monmouth in June 1778. 

In December 1780 he was sent as a Special Minister to France where, despite offending by his tactlessness, he received commitment for naval support in 1781 and then obtained a desperately needed loan from the Dutch.  You can read a fascinating and candid letter Washington wrote Laurens while on his mission:

be assured, my dear Laurens, day does not follow night more certainly, than it brings with it some additional proof of the impracticability of carrying on the war without the aids you were directed to solicit. As an honest and candid man, as a man whose all depends on the final and happy termination of the present contest, I assert this, while I give it decisively as my opinion, that, without a foreign loan, our present force, which is but the remnant of an army, cannot be kept together this campaign, much less will it be increased and in readiness for another. 
Laurens returned to the U.S. in time for the Yorktown campaign, where he led an assault on one of the British redoubts and was one of the two American negotiators for Cornwallis' surrender.

But what is most notable about young Laurens is his attitude about slavery which triggered a little-known episode during the Revolution.

The Laurens family were large slaveholders in South Carolina but the family had always had some ambivalence about it.  As he studied in Europe, while a revolution for liberty was going on in his native country, he began to openly question the morality of slavery and started a correspondence with his father on the subject.

In a letter of Oct. 26, 1776 he wrote that brutality towards slaves had:

almost render'd them incapable of that Blessing which equal Heaven bestow'd upon us all (quote from American National Biography Online)

Even before that, his father, responding to one of John's letters, laid out his views in a letter of August 14, 1776:

You know, my dear son, I abhor slavery . . .  In former days there was no combating the prejudices of man supported by interest.  The day I hope is approaching when, from principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the golden rule.  Not less than twenty thousand pounds sterling would all my negroes produce if sold at auction tomorrow  . . . nevertheless I am devising means for manumitting many of them, and cutting off the entail of slavery.  Great powers oppose me - the laws and customs of my country, my own, and the avarice of my countrymen.  What will my children say if I deprive them of so much estate?  These are difficulties, but not insuperable.  I will do as much as I can in my time, and leave the rest to a better hand.
Returning to America strengthened those views as Laurens saw African American soldiers serving in the ranks of the Continental Army and was also subject to the persuasive argument of Lafayette who constantly confronted Americans with the logical inconsistency of fighting for freedom while enslaving others.  Lafayette also influenced Washington's change in views about slavery.

This ultimately led John Laurens to propose raising a regiment of slaves who would be given their freedom in return for volunteering.  He knew how daring a proposal this was, writing to his father in 1778:

I had barely hinted to you, my dearest Father, my desire to augment the Continental Forces from an untried Source … [The raising of black battalions would] … advance those who are unjustly deprived of the Rights of Mankind [and] … reinforce the Defenders of Liberty with a number of gallant soldiers.
Although his father warned him of the difficulties, Laurens petitioned the Continental Congress in the spring of 1779 on behalf of his scheme and received its approval:

That it be recommended to the states of South Carolina and Georgia, if they shall think the same expedient, to take measures immediately for raising three thousand able bodied negroes.
Returning to South Carolina, Laurens was elected to the state House of Representatives and presented his proposal which was overwhelmingly rejected.  Undaunted he tried again in 1780 and 1782, each time failing and causing outrage among many.

Laurens lost his life in a brave, but unnecessary, charge against the British, depriving the new country of his leadership and ideas when peace came shortly thereafter.

Upon receiving word of his death, Washington said:

In a word, he had not a fault that I ever could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives

When peace came the following year, Henry Laurens manumitted all of his 260 slaves.







 

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