Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Down To You

Beauty from Joni Mitchell.  The voice, melody, and arrangement work together seamlessly.  Down To You is one of her lesser known tunes but I think it one of her finest.  Worth listening to all five minutes.  She is singing about herself.  From the 1974 album Court & Spark.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Magic In A Frying Pan

Relax, watch, and listen to 45 minutes of bacon frying.  I swear you can smell it.  And there's quite a build to it as grease accumulates in the pan.  Far better than watching the Yuletide log burning on TV.  This is art.  And pork.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Very Fast Ball

As part of our series to get loyal readers prepared for the start of the major league baseball season in a few days, we answer the burning question "What happens when a batter tries to hit a pitch thrown at 90% of the speed of light?".  Fortunately, the folks at XKCD have done the calculations for us.  It does not end well for anyone involved.

The ball is moving so fast, everything else is stationary relative to it, including the molecules in the air, and the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball’s surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles.  The gamma rays and particles expand in a bubble of incandescent plasma.

The ball reaches the plate in about 70 nanoseconds, although most of the ball is actually gone by that point, and it is academic from the batter's perspective since he has just realized the pitch has been thrown because it is moving at almost the speed of light.

The plasma cloud hits the bat, batter, catcher, umpire and backstop at the same time, hurling them backwards as they disintegrate and then engulfs the dugouts, stands, stadium and neighborhood in a massive fireball.

The XKCD analysis concludes: 
"A careful reading of official Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) suggests that in this situation, the batter would be considered "hit by pitch", and would be eligible to advance to first base."
The details are kinda technical and can be found here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Baseball Analytics: The Vision Thing

For the second consecutive year, I attended the Society for American Baseball Research Analytics Conference in Phoenix on March 9-11 (you can find my account on last year's meeting here).  I ended up missing several sessions but these are my personal highlights.  To start off with, there was only one passing mention of Joey Votto this year, compared to last year's obsessional focus on the Reds star.  According to panelists, now that every team has an analytics group, the best teams have "translators" on staff to talk with players to convey usable information to them and take back comments and questions to the analysts.  Reportedly more and more managers are also becoming comfortable with analytics and some players are concentrating on things like improving launch angles.

Attendance seemed larger than last year with about half or more of the attendees being youngsters seeking jobs with team analytics departments or those already employed in such roles. 

I'm using this as the theme of the conference (last year's was SKYNET is Activated), because it came up in so many ways as you'll see.  With apologies to President George HW Bush.

The Godfather Speaks of His Vision

The highlight of the conference for me was Bill James and his provocative talk "Are We Doing The Best Work We Are Capable Of Doing?"  This was the first time I'd seen Bill in person after reading his work over the past 35 years. It must have been an omen because a few days after returning from the conference, I reached behind some boxes stored away and found my copy of the 1982 Bill James Baseball Abstract (the first one officially published), which, for many years, I thought lost.  He started by saying he'd come to the conference because he had something to say, particularly to the younger folks.  He was there to lament the field's focus on what he termed "microsabremetrics" which are useful to field managers and players and the short shrift being given to "macrosabremetrics" which deal with the bigger questions about baseball and issues like "should we sign a player?" or "what makes a player good?"

He is not enamored of analysis that starts with reams of data and tries to find something significant.  Analysis starts with questions, not data, and the value and impact of your works depends on the size of the question.  Furthermore, if you start with questions you will see what you don't, and you will find the things we don't know are everywhere.  If you start with data you miss what you don't know.  He acknowledged the challenge is that the work that will pay your rent is often not the best we are capable of doing.

Two other observations of interest:
He was wrong years ago to ridicule the importance, or even existence, of team chemistry.  At Bill James Online, he's written of how watching closeup the September 2011 collapse of the Red Sox provided ample evidence of the reality of chemistry.

"Humility is more important to understanding than intelligence", but you also occasionally need to "be arrogant enough to think you have figured it out".
At the conclusion of his talk, Vince Gennaro of SABR presented James with the organization's first Lifetime Achievement Award, a well-deserved honor.

One night during the event, one of my fellow attendees was out for a walk and saw Bill James, John Thorn, Dick Cramer, John Dewan and one of the other Founders having dinner together.  It's like walking the streets of Philadelphia and coming across George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison eating together.

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

We were treated to a player panel featuring Hall of Famer and former D'back, Randy Johnson and former D'back, Luis (Gonzo) Gonzalez, expertly interviewed by Mike Ferrin.  Randy and Gonzo were both very funny, with some good back and forth between a hitter and a pitcher.  Responding to a question on their views on analytics, Gonzo remarked that the best hitting advice he'd gotten was from a trainer, "stay stupid when you get in the box", and added "players aren't that smart".  Randy's response, "hitters aren't smart, but they are smart enough".

They are skeptical of analytics as just too much information that is not useful to them.  At one point, Randy started asking questions of audience members, particularly about "tunneling", the ability to disguise a pitch until it is well on the way to the plate.  Randy didn't feel it was anything new, it's what he referred to as "arm slot" but, more importantly, he told us that in many circumstances a batter knew he'd be throwing a slider and the real issue was whether he (Randy) could execute the pitch.  If he could it simply didn't matter if the batter knew what was coming.

Both of their careers were affected by fellow players seeing things others had not.  When Gonzo was traded to Detroit in 1998, he was a 30 year old player with an opposite field stroke, who'd never hit more than 15 homers in a season and had only 84 in his career.  His new teammates convinced him to become a pull hitter and he whacked 23 taters that season, followed by seasons of 26, 31, 57, 28 and 26, retiring at 40 with 354 homers and more than 1,000 extra base hits, along with, to my eternal delight, beating the Yankees and Mariano Rivera in the 2001 World Series with a clutch single.

Randy Johnson had an even more dramatic experience.  By the end of the 1992 season, he'd completed three full years as a starter for the Mariners.  That year he'd walked 144 in 210 innings with a 12-14 record, going 39-35 since 1990; a pitcher with a lot of promise but wild and inconsistent.  His turnaround was due to Nolan Ryan and Tom House (Rangers pitching coach) talking to him late in the 1992 season.  They told Randy he was landing on the heel of his foot, rather than driving off the ball which resulted in his body not facing the plate and arm in different positions giving him less control.  In doing further research, I found out the encounter with Ryan and House took place on August 8, 1992 and he spent a week in the off season with Ryan.  The difference could be seen in 1993 when Johnson walked 99 in 255 innings, his strikeout rate went up, going 19-8, beginning a ten year run when The Big Unit won 175 and lost only 58.   Randy was polite in referring to his earlier pitching coaches and managers but pointed out none of them had identified this flaw in his delivery.
                                      (The Big Unit is a tall guy)

More from Gonzo & The Big Unit:
Gonzo - Curt Schilling was the first guy he ever saw show up in the clubhouse with a computer (used it to analyze hitters).

TBU - Doesn't like pitch counts because it prevents pitcher development.

TBU - On why he loved pitching in the Astrodome (10-1 with 0.42 home ERA in less than a half season with Astros in 1998); "It's like putting a dome over the Grand Canyon".

TBU - He asked Warren Spahn how he managed pitching when his shoulder was sore, and Spahn told him he had a shot of whiskey before going out to the mound. 
Long Distance Vision

Another panel featured Jed Hoyer, GM Chicago Cubs, and Scott Harris, VP Baseball Operations for the Cubs, interviewed by Dan Migala, on their five year plan which culminated in the Cubs World Series victory.  When Jed and Theo Epstein joined the Cubs after the 2011 season, they decided the team needed a complete rebuild, including front office staff.  Hoyer said that during their first year they felt like a Human Resources department because of the constant interviewing and hiring.  He also told us that the new CBA, negotiated during the 2011-12 off season upset their initial plans.  With the Red Sox and then Padres, Hoyer had spend more on the draft and internationally and less on salaries but the new agreement placed limits on the former.

Hoyer and Harris both spoke of how discouraging the lack of progress was at times and how hard to resist the attempt to do a dramatic, but premature, acquisition but they always had the support of their owner.  The 2013 season was particularly discouraging when the Cubs lost 96 games, but the fall instructional league went well which was their first positive sign the young players were developing.  Nonetheless, "progress is not linear" and Hoyer quoted Andy McPhail; "rebuilding is a shitty way to spend a summer".

They believe that trades are a more difficult way to build a team than free agency or the draft because it is more difficult to determine who will fit in with a team culture.  Culture is one of the reasons they became active in the free agent market after the 2014 season.  They went after John Lester because the team was on the verge of becoming competitive and Lester (as well as David Ross) would help instill a winning culture.  They loved Ross' rallying cry, "try not to suck", which he used when a teammate pinch hit, and was adopted as the team motto last year.

And you need some luck.  They acquired Kyle Hendrix from Texas at the trading deadline after a deal with the deal with the Braves for their preferred candidate fell apart.  The Cubs obtained Jake Arrieta because he was a good "buy-low" guy, but they never thought he'd get a Cy Young or become JAKE ARRIETA!

They spoke of the difficult transition from Rick Renteria, whom they liked, to Joe Maddon, but felt when Maddon became available he was the perfect fit.  As a manager Maddon deflected attention and pressure from the young players.  He doesn't "manage" the players as much as "support" them.  He's also the same guy privately as he is publicly.

We also heard about the agony of Game 7 last year when the Cubs blew the lead.  Both of them said the rain delay was critical in helping the players gather themselves.

Differing Visions

The GM Panel:
Jerry DiPoto - GM, Seattle Mariners, former GM, California Angels
Mike Hazen - GM, Arizona Diamondbacks, formerly with Boston Red Sox
Moderator: Brian Kenny

DiPoto is dynamic, wired and entertaining (and looks a lot younger than he is).  Hazen seems uncertain of himself, maybe nervous and tentative  because he's in the first year of his first GM role.  The two did one of the big trades of the off season, Juan Segura to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker.  That's old hat for DiPoto, who's made at least a dozen trades in each of the past two off seasons but it was the first for Hazen as a GM.

DiPoto, who used a sports psychologist as a player, spoke of his commitment to "science and mental skills aspects" of the game.  He was a mental skills expert running the Mariners farm system and each minor league team has one on staff.  Focus is on mental preparation and they are building team first goals for every minor league player.  For instance, moving runners from 1st to 2nd and then promoting players based on that.
At the major league level, JD is looking for "marginal gains" in non-field areas for improvement, such as sleep and travel strategy (the Mariners travel more miles than any other team).  They are leaving a day earlier than usual for road trips.  He also revealed that many GMs read the baseball websites run by fans and eleven years ago he hired Carlos Gomez as a scout after reading an analysis he wrote on the draft in Hardball Times.

The Mariners are building upon a solid core with Hernandez, Cano, Iwakuma and Seager.  They are trying to enhance outfield defense because they've got a big ballpark and a fly ball staff.  The Diamondbacks are in complete rebuild mode.  They have a long way to go.

Other DiPoto observations:

"When you buy a player in free agency you are buying decline; the only question is when".

"The first time you get a consensus run the other way".

On what he's learned - not to be overbearing and listen more.  Years ago he didn't listen to his scouts and passed on drafting Chris Sale.

Real Vision

Technology Panel:
Jordan Muraskin, de Cervo, Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering
Dr. Daniel Laby, Opthomologist, State University of New York College of Optometry, and consultant to several major league teams
Brian Murphy, STRIVR Labs

A panel on optimizing batters ability to recognize and hit pitching.  Dr Laby has been consulting with major league teams since 1992.  Threshold vision for hitters is 20/15, with average 20/12, and some testing at 20/8.  Conventional eye charts are no longer used.  Instead, low-contrast targets are shown for 100 milliseconds and then must be identified.  Reason is average major league pitch takes 400 milliseconds to get to plate and batter has about 100 milliseconds to recognize and make decision.  If Aroldis Chapman is pitching you've only got 320 milliseconds but still need 100 to react.

Laby thinks batting practice is the worst thing a hitter can do.  Virtual reality training with game speed repetition is much better.  He was also a consultant to the 2004 Red Sox and developed this intricate hand-eye coordination exercise for Manny Ramirez which is described in Terry Francona's book.  And Manny also used to like to play hide and seek with Dr Laby in the clubhouse.  I am not surprised.

Muraskin is working with brain imaging technology to improve hitter cognition and his company has developed training program to simulate baseball pitches which also allows them to measure neural signals and see how and when players make decisions.  Focus on measuring decision making process and getting away from "having a good eye" and "having good plate discipline".

Murphy and STRIVR Labs create virtual reality environments to help players improve decision making.  Began in football and several quarterbacks are using.  Baseball is harder to break into than football.  Football is very collaborative with the GMs, coaches and QBs making decisions together about technology.  In baseball everything is hierarchical and conservative.

Seeing In A Tunnel

The big new concept for me was "tunneling"; the ability of a pitcher to disguise his pitches by making them look similar for as long as possible on their way to the plate.  Apparently John Lester is a master tunneler whose curve, fastball and cutter all look the same for the first half of their journey, though Clayton Kershaw (no surprise) is also considered top-rate.

Even with good tunneling ability, if pitch sequencing is predictable you are going to get hit.  Jessica Mendoza of ESPN (who was very impressive on her panel) told of watching games with David Ortiz last year when he predicted pitches very accurately.  According to Mendoza he would also, while in the on deck circle, signal pitches to the Sox batter at the plate.  Big Papi was not reading analysis, he was watching hours of pitcher video every day.

How It Looks To The Batter

Perry Husband gave a fascinating presentation on "effective velocity (EV)".  According to Husband the EV of a pitch from the hitter's perspective depends on its location.  The higher and more inside the faster it will appear, gaining about 2.5 mph for every six inch change in location.  Smart pitchers are beginning to take advantage of this.  Rick Porcello elevated his fastball last year, changing its EV from 89 to 96 mph.   Kyle Hendrix also became more effective by elevating fast balls.

This means that even if you are good at tunneling a fastball down and away is not a fastball to a batter.  As a result, hard hit balls happen non-randomly and are more frequent at the bottom of the strike zone.  If baseball changes the strike zone by eliminating the low strike it will decrease home runs and hard hit balls.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The American Indian

(NOTE:  This was prematurely published but I'll leave it here from now and revise and extend it as I originally planned when I can get to it).

I recently read The Earth Is Weeping; The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens, an account of the years from the Civil War to the final surrender of the Lakota Sioux in January 1891 after the fight at Wounded Knee.  Over the past few years, I've also read The Apache Wars by Paul Hutton, The Heart of Everything That Is by Paul Drury and Tom Clavin (the story of Red Cloud, the only western Indian to defeat the US Army and obtain a favorable treaty), and Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches by SC Gwynne, all of which are worth reading.

Each book is a sad tale of conflict, misunderstanding, betrayal, and broken promises.  Beyond that it made me think about what were the realistic alternatives to what happened and the legacy that continues to this day as described by Naomi Schaefer Riley in her recent book, The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians.

Before returning to the Indians of the American West let's go all the way back to the initial European settlement of the Americas.  The chances of the Indians of the Western Hemisphere meeting Europeans on grounds of equal strength were fatally compromised at the beginning, when they were exposed to illnesses for which they had no immunity.  This unintended biological invasion diminished native populations between 70% and 90% across both continents within several decades of the first voyage of Columbus (for its impact on Mexico see Ten Years After: 1519-1529).  In 1620 when the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth they found deserted Indian villages along the coast, with most of the population gone after an epidemic fueled by contact with Portugese and English fishermen who had trawled the area over the previous two decades.

Various Indian attempts to repel the invaders in the 16th and 17th centuries failed, often because of disunity and rivalries among the tribes (see Bloody Brook and The Sudbury Fight).  One revolt was temporarily successful when the Pueblos drove Spanish settlers from New Mexico only to have their efforts reversed twelve years later (see Pueblo Revolt).

However, while Europeans cleverly manipulated tribal rivalries (Cortez' conquest of Mexico would have been impossible without the aid of tribes opposed to Aztec rule), Indians were capable of the same behavior.  In North America this meant exploiting the rivalry of French and Britain, allowing Canada west of Quebec and American west of the Appalachians to avoid European settlement for a century.  This strategy became doomed when France ceded its North American posessions to Britain when the French & Indian War ended in 1763.  While the tribes tried a variant of this strategy during the American Revolution, continuing until the end of the War of 1812 during which time many allied themselves with the British, it proved unsuccessful as the English eventually withdrew from contesting the ambitions of the new American nation.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rock Band

If you were ever curious about how Here Comes The Sun would sound on an electromechanical instrument that tosses rocks in the air and makes them vibrate by hitting them, here's your answer.  Via Vimeo:

Rock Band from Neil Mendoza on Vimeo.

And now, learn how to build your own version.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Magic Bus

As we plow through stuff stored away for years in preparation for our move to Arizona, we've come across many items bringing back memories.  Here's one - a flyer for the Magic Bus from the summer of 1978.

In May of 1978, I'd quit my job and gone to Paris, where the future Mrs THC was at the time,  working as an au pair for a French-American family, studying French, and living in a 6th floor walk up garret room with a primitive communal toilet down the hall.

During July we'd traveled to England and Scotland and, after a few weeks of recuperation from my badly sprained ankle (see The Highlands for more), set out south for another adventure.  We were backpacking, alternating camping and staying in cheap hotels as we had little money.  I'd brought all my saving (about $1200 which needed to cover expenses for five months plus my air fare back to the States). We traveled by train through France (I remember camping on an island in the Rhone opposite Avignon) and into Italy, visiting Florence and then rolling down its Adriatic Coast to Brindisi.  Italy was in the grip of the Red Brigades terror campaign and that may have prompted our unusual reception getting off the train at Brindisi.  We were welcomed by heavily armed Italian soldiers who escorted us as we walked the mile or so to the city's port to catch the ferry to Patras in Greece.

We couldn't afford a cabin so slept on the deck during the overnight trip, but it was wonderful waking up early in the morning to see the Greek coast gliding by.  I think it was by train we got from Patras to Athens where we stayed for several days (most of it with an old high school classmate of mine who was teaching at the American School), though before we found him we spent one night sleeping on a mattress on a fire escape at a crowded hostel.  Barb and I hiked up the Acropolis at dawn where she took this picture; back then there were no barriers and access was easy.
We did a side trip, again by train, to Mycenae and then took a hydrofoil to visit the island of Hydra.  Our final trip was to Samos, just off the coast of Turkey, on a ancient ferry that had seen prior duty in the North Sea till it was no longer fit for those rough waters, and listed the entire way across the placid Aegean.

By the time we returned to Athens it was late September and we were almost out of money.  Surveying our options for getting back to Paris, the only route we could afford was the Magic Bus, which ran three times a week from Athens to London.  Two of their routes went via Paris and we chose the one going through Italy.  It was $40 for a 48 hour ride in a rickety, un-air conditioned bus (or maybe it was $48 dollars for a 40 hour ride; this memory thing is tricky) that had 48 seats.

I came across this recollection from someone who rode the Magic Bus in 1975 and it matches up well with our memory:
You had to find a certain doorway in a side street off Syntagma Square, climb four flights of rickety stairs to a scruffy office where 1,700 drachmas changed hands. Your name was laboriously and inaccurately added to a passenger list and you were handed a scrap of paper which purported to be a ticket.
We set off on a late Friday afternoon, heading north towards the Yugoslav border where a jackbooted uniformed guard carrying a firearm got on the bus and carefully inspected passports.  When he got to the few Americans aboard he took our passports, left the bus and only returned with them awhile later.

The Magic Bus drove day and night, only stopping for food and bathroom breaks about every eight hours (some of the male passengers brought along their own private arrangements to help deal with the latter issue).  Most of us carried our own food supply, since nobody had extra money to indulge in expensive cafeteria food available at the stops along the highway.  Much of our trip remains a blur as we became increasingly exhausted.
Image result for Magic Bus from athens to london(Travelers with the Magic Bus in 1976, from Flickr)

Initially we sat towards the middle of the bus but we had two obnoxious guys behind us who never stopped talking so eventually we able to get seats closer to the front which give us a close view of the most memorable moment of the journey.

It was on the highway in France, somewhere between Lyon and Paris.  There were two drivers on the bus, both Greek, who switched on and off every few hours - did I mention they always switched while the bus was moving to save time?  A loud argument erupted - what it was about we didn't know since it was all in Greek.  Both drivers were shouting and finally the one driving stood up to argue with the other - there was no one at the wheel as we careened down the highway!  The passengers all started yelling and finally the driver returned to his seat so we survived to write this in 2017.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

It's Gotta Be Rock 'n Roll Music

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it "Chuck Berry" - John Lennon
He was there at the beginning. Maybelline (1955), Roll Over Beethoven (1956), Too Much Monkey Business (1956), School Days (1957), Rock and Roll Music (1957), Sweet Little Sixteen (1958), Johnny B Goode (1958) with the most seminal guitar riff in rock:


For covers of Johnny B Goode by The Stones, Elvis, AC/DC, Prince, The Grateful Dead, Green Day, George Thorogood, The Sex Pistols, Buck Owens, Judas Priest, The Who, Coldplay, Jimi Hendrix and The Killers listen here.

And let's not forget Carol (1958) and Little Queenie (1959).  The most influential of rock's early pioneers.

Chuck Berry gone at the age of 90.

Here he is torturing Keith Richards in the 1986 film Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll, for which Keith served as musical director for the notoriously prickly Berry, preparing for a concert on his 60th birthday.   Once they get rolling it's pretty good. 
Chuck Berry & Keith Richards - Oh Carol from Music Management USA on Vimeo.

La La Land

Caught this multiple Academy Award winner on a flight from Phoenix to Detroit.

My verdict: Big thumbs down.

Trite, predictable, pretentious and boring, another Hollywood celebration of itself.  I've liked the stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, in other films, but here they prove they can't sing or dance and Stone, in particular, is miscast and quite bad.

The film makers borrowed liberally from two French films of the mid-60s, The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but misplaced the charm of those movies, a charm tied to a specific time and place.  Quite a misfire by the same writer and director who made Whiplash, a wonderful film.

The only time the movie comes alive is when the character played by Gosling joins a band led by John Legend and we see a concert scene which is 100% better than the mundane musical dreck we get in the rest of the film.   And the film looks great throughout, it's just the substance that is lacking.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Reason Why

And the GOP proposal is a failure, in part due to its own ineptitude, in part due to Obamacare adding yet another entitlement and difficult to undue, buying into the fundamental top-down approach of Obamacare, and the inherent political intractability of the issue as noted by Barro.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Combined Degree Program

Creedence Clearwater University is pleased to announce a new combined degree program in Economics, Philosophy and Religion, developed with the guidance of our esteemed Department Chair, Professor John Fogerty.

For background information on the program please listen to the recorded announcement below.  Here is a short exceprt from Prof Fogerty's introduction:
Take you a glass of water
Make it against the law
See how good the water tastes
When you can't have any at all

Required prerequisite course:
I'm the penthouse pauper
I got nothing to my name
I can be most anything
'Cause when you got nothin' it's all the same

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Longest Home Run

. . .  at a game I attended.

This is prompted by a conversation at the recently concluded Analytics Conference of the Society for American Baseball Research held in Phoenix.  At lunch I was talking with a fellow attendee who mentioned that at his first game at Fenway he'd seen Mark Fidrych pitch against Luis Tiant.  It turned out I had been at the same game on May 25, 1976 (see The Bird).

I'd been able to figure out the date of the game with the invaluable help of Baseball-Reference.  I've also used BR to reconstruct the first time I saw Willie Mays play and the day I met him (see Meeting Willie Mays), as well as narrowing down the possible dates on which I'd seen my first major league game (My First Ballgame?), and even figuring out what New York Giants game my dad had attended in 1939 based on a blank scorecard he left me (Baseball Scorecard 1939).  After the lunch conversation, I decided to use BR to track down another event I remembered vividly and to see how my recollection matched up with the facts.

What I remembered for certain

The longest HR I ever saw in person was hit by Jim Rice in a game at Fenway during the 1970s against the Kansas City Royals.  I remember being stunned at how hard it was hit, how fast it got out of the park, and how far it went., Baseball Hall of Fame)

What I thought I remembered

The homer was hit off Jim Busby, the hard throwing KC pitcher.
Bill Lee was pitching for the Sox.
The Red Sox won the game easily.
The HR was a rising line drive that went over the left center field wall, to the right of the Green Monster and to the left of the flagpole (this was before the centerfield scoreboard was built).
The ball was still rising as it disappeared into the night.
We were sitting in the grandstands underneath the overhang between home and third base.

What I found out

The game was on July 18, 1975.  Busby and Lee were the pitchers and the Sox won 9-3.  Rice's homer was off Busby, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs, but striking out six.

Bill Lee pitched a Bill Lee-style complete game, giving up six hits, walking one and not striking out anyone.  Lee got 16 outs on grounders (including seven in a row at one point) plus two more on fair and foul pop ups.  The only Royals to cause Lee trouble were Hal McRae (single, double and triple) and Harmon Killebrew (double and two-run homer in the 9th).  I also remember Lee tied John Mayberry up in knots with an eephus pitch.  George Brett went 0-4, with three grounders.
(Steve Busby from Kansas City Star)

I found several articles referencing Rice's titanic blast leading off the third inning for Boston.

Mercy! A Celebration of Fenway Park's Centennial by Curt Smith, describes Rice's homer as one of only six to clear the centerfield wall before the 1976 park alterations.  The others were by Hank Greenberg (1937), Jimmie Foxx (1937), Bill Skowron (1957), Carl Yastrzemski (1970), and Bobby Mitchell (1973).

On July 23, 2015 the Boston Herald, as part of a series about the 1975 Red Sox, carried an article entitled "Jim Rice's Mammoth Home Run off Steve Busby":
The righthander mis-spotted a fast ball and Rice, the Boston rookie slugger, sent the ball out of the park just a little to the left field side of dead center. Rice's home run, making the score 6-0, didn't clear the famed Green Monster, but rather the back wall of the park behind the rows of bleacher seats.

And it did not just slip over that back wall – which in itself constituted a feat reportedly accomplished only five times previous – it exited Fenway somewhere near the top of the flagpole reaching far above the wall.

Then Boston Globe sports writer Peter Gammons famously wrote the "ball was stopped by Canadian customs".

In a 2009 Boston Globe story, reporter John Powers wrote that Yawkey said it was ""unquestionably the longest ever'' hit at Fenway.

The winning pitcher that night, Bill Lee got a good look at Rice's clout.

"Once it leaves the ballpark, it goes over Landsdowne Street, it usually lands in the flatbed of a truck, a train, a truck that's heading west, so it ended up in Buffalo, for all we know," Lee said during a recent visit to Axis Bat Technology in Fall River. "It was an amazing line drive type shot. It wasn't one of those towering high fly balls that (Dave) Kingman hit.
I also learned from the article the game was not televised

At the Sons of Sam Horn website, I found this recollection from someone in the bleachers that night:
I was sitting in the Fenway CF bleachers in July 1975 when I saw Jim Rice teed off on Steve Busby and hit the longest home-run I've ever seen at Fenway. This was before the "600 Club" so there was probably the jet-stream effect, and before the centerfield scoreboard, so there was just a moderately high wall behind the seats in CF. Rice hit a bomb to straight-away CF, that cleared the CF back-wall (behind the batters eye) and from my vantage point some 430-450 ft from home that ball still had an upward trajectory as it left Fenway. It was probably a 500 footer.
At the Baseball Think Factory, Rice answered a question about a homer he'd hit in Comiskey Park this way:
I don’t remember that homerun.  Comiskey was a very small ball park.  It was shorter than Fenway to centerfield, short to leftfield, and shorter than that in right.  I had two long homeruns in my career that stand out in my mind:

I hit one into the 3rd or 4th deck (however many they have, it was the top one) in Yankee stadium off Matt Keough.  I think Keough hit me with a pitch twice in that game, but third time I got him.

The other home run, which is probably the biggest shot of my career, was off of Kansas City pitcher Steve Busby in 1975.  Mr. Yawkey said it was probably the longest home run he had ever seen.
I'm a little surprised at how close my memory was to the actual event.  Nice to have my recollections confirmed.  It doesn't always happen that way.

The entire game took only 2:07 to play!

And, by the way, it was the very first game that the future Mrs THC attended with THC.  Not a bad night at all.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Walk Away

The James Gang from 1971.  You all know Joe Walsh on guitar and vocals.  On bass is Dale Peters, but pay close attention to the band's fine drummer, James "Jim" Fox.  Fox was the founder of the band and it's why they were called the James Gang.  Jim remained as drummer until the band broke up in 1976 and has since played several reunion gigs with Joe.

Fox also played with Eric Clapton, BB King and Stephen Stills.  Based on these interviews with Modern Drummer (2006) and AXS (2016), he sounds like a pretty cool and laid back guy., Right, 1971), 2011)
Jim has an interesting hobby.  According to Wikipedia:
He was an avid collector of automobile license plates, serving as an officer of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association and authoring the most prominent published work within the hobby, License Plates of the United States.
(from Amazon)  

Thursday, March 9, 2017


(from Getty Images, via The Ringer)

There are so many NBA players that are entertaining to watch this year: Steph Curry, KD, LeBron, The Beard, Kawhi, Isiah Thomas (the Younger), but Russell Westbrook is my favorite.  He's led the Oklahoma City Thunder, sans KD, into playoff contention by a sheer act of will, playing every minute on the court like he's the Energizer bunny and averaging a triple-double (only accomplished by one other NBA player, Oscar Robertson, more than a half century ago).

Bill Simmons sums it up well at The Ringer:
Again, Westbrook is amazing. Twice this season, he demolished my beloved Celtics with some of the best I-have-giant-balls crunch-time offense I’ve ever seen. Even longtime Boston announcer Tommy Heinsohn, who abhors one-on-one basketball, left the second game gushing about Westbrook’s brilliance and never-ending gas tank (which ranks up there with LeBron, and that’s about it). How does Russ never get tired? Does he sweat? Does he even have sweat glands? Does he sleep? Does he bleed? Has anyone ever seen what happens to Westbrook during a power blackout?
Seeing him in person is even more exciting than viewing on cable.  Two years ago we saw him play the Phoenix Suns at a time when Durant was out with an injury.  It was electrifying.

This past Wednesday, we watched, along with friends, the 4th quarter of the Thunders-Trailblazers game.  On two consecutive possessions, Westbrook drove the floor on one-on-three fast breaks and scored on layups.  We couldn't help but yelp loudly in amazement.  You can watch the sequence starting at 7:10 in the video below.

Save The Original Box & Receipt

A lesson for all of us.  A gentleman who purchased a Rolex watch in 1960 while a GI in German gets quite a surprise from an appraiser.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

High Seas

Actually it's inside Sydney Harbor during rough weather.  Photo by Haig Gilchrist.  Hang on!
crashing waves over sydney harbour ferry railings by haig gilchrist Picture of the Day: Crashing Waves Over Sydney Harbour Ferry Railings

Friday, March 3, 2017


A perceptive movie review from Titus Techera, our friend in Bucharest, who often manages to capture the spirit of America better than many of us who live here.  Loving tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose interracial marriage led to the 1967 Supreme Court decision banning laws forbidding such unions. We will definitely see the film.  Some excerpts below, but please, go read the whole thing.  
Americans have been treated to civil rights stories at the movies for almost a decade now.

It’s hard to find a more eloquent or a quieter statement on these important things than Loving, which is almost invisible in America.

The large American public never got the chance to like it or dislike it and that’s a crying shame, because it is the rare spectacle that shows American virtues and the predicaments of injustice in America and yet does not make civil rights the center of the story. This is a story about Americans and respects their desire to have lives apart from the great motions and actors of politics . . . The movie is everything popular movies these days are not: slow, black & white, tender and protective of private life, cautious and serious about public things, interested in and respectful of American lives.

Equality is not divorced from a happy life warmed by love and dignified by work. Suffering is not without the redemption of justice and public opinion. America is not merely a future of more equality and justice, but also a present where life is worth living.

Richard Loving comes from people so backward, they think black people are as good as whites.

The rights they claim have to do primarily with the privates lives they prefer to live and they incline therefore to preserve as much privacy as possible, when it comes to public things and legal quarrels. Within these boundaries, the movie makes the effort to bring out the suffering of the Lovings and the quiet dignity with which they withstood it. The danger that bitterness or resignation could corrupt their family life, that it could poison their love or the minds of their children is real, but it is never treated as more important than they are. Their normality, if we can call normal that to which people aspire, is luminous for that reason.

To the largest extent now possible to American cinema, this is a movie about what human beings embody and not what they stand up for, or what they believe they stand up for. 
It is providential for America that things turned out the way they did, and a needful lesson for our own times. No struggle is guaranteed to come to a good result: It takes certain unrewarded and unloved virtues to endure injustice without being mutilated spiritually by it.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Beatles Over The Years

I thought of tracking the musical development of The Beatles by looking at what they were recording or releasing on or around the same date every year of their recording career.  I started with a mid-point, April 6, 1966, the day studio recording of Tomorrow Never Knows began.  A note as we get started; it is increasingly difficult to find any original Beatles recordings on YouTube.

The Beatles first recording session was on June 6, 1962.  Love Me Do, their first single came out of that session.

On April 11, 1963 From Me To You, their third single and second #1 in the U.K. was released.

Recording of A Hard Day's Night, the title song for their first movie, began on April 16, 1964.  It featured the opening "mystery" chord and was more sophisticated than the 1962 or 1963 songs.  John and Paul composed it over the prior two days.  The song was completed in only nine takes.

A year later, on April 13, 1965 recording of Help!, the title song for their second movie, was underway.  The song showcased a more introspective side of The Beatles.  It took 12 takes to finish the song that day.  This is a live version:

April 6, 1966 was the first day of recording for the album that was to be released on August 5 as Revolver.  The song recorded that day was called Mark I, the working title of Tomorrow Never Knows.  The song and its manner of recording was groundbreaking.  The Beatles Recording Session: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes describes Take One (not used in the final version as:
. . . a heavy metal recording of enormous proportion, with thundering echo and booming, quivering, ocean-bed vibrations.
By the time recording ended, George Martin, engineer Greg Emerick, and the band had introduced Artificial Double Tracking (ADT) for vocals; utilization of tape loops (the sound achieved by tape saturation, by removing the erase head of a machine and then recording over and over again on the same loop), it's worth listening to the isolated tape loops; altering Lennon's vocal by feeding it through a rotating Leslie speaker, and Ringo's booming drum sound achieved by moving the bass drum microphone much closer to the drums, and running the sound through compressors.  Eleven different mixes were made before it was complete.

 It was so different from anything previously done by the band that most people assumed it was the last song to be recorded for the album, particularly since it was positioned as the last song on the second side.  The message for the listener was "wait until you see what's coming on the next record!".

In April 1967 The Beatles were in the midst of making Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The landmark album was released on June 1, 1966.  April 3 saw the recording of George Harrison's Within You Without You, the weakest song on the record.  No other Beatle was in the studio that day.  George Martin took eight violinists and three cellists through a score he'd written based on Harrison's input.  Later that evening, Harrison recorded his lead vocal.

The Beatles were not in the studio in March or April of 1968, but on May 30 they were at Abby Road to begin work on the project that became The White Album, released on November 22.  That day they recorded 18 takes of Revolution, the rocking B side of Hey Jude (the biggest single in the group's history).  The final take ran over 10 minutes and the last six were later carved off to become the basis for the bizarre Revolution 9.

By 1969 The Beatles were emeshed in tensions among the band members.  Ringo had already briefly quit during the recording of The White Album the previous year and the presence of Yoko Ono in the studio created problems, particularly between John and Paul. But on April 14, the two of them got together to record The Ballad of John and Yoko.  Paul played drums, bass, piano and did backing vocals, while John performed on guitar and lead vocals.

The final time the four Beatles were in the studio together was on August 20, 1969 for I Want You (She's So Heavy), the last song recorded for Abbey Road, released on September 26.  The only other time more than one Beatle was in the studio for a recording or mixing session was January 3, 1970 when George, Ringo and Paul gathered to record Harrison's I Me Mine.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The 'burbs

The essayist at Sippican Cottage reflected recently about growing up in the suburbs and diversity.  Some excerpts:
It was a polyglot place, no matter what you've heard from people who live in concrete dovecotes and write for the Gnew Yourk Toimes. In our neighborhood, Irishmen lived right next door to Englishmen. One side skipped car bombing his neighbor, his counterpart  eschewed channeling the Earl of Essex. There was a French family right next door, too. I can picture their little doe-eyed girl named Suzanne, still, forever frozen in my mind's amber, immortal and fey and unchanging.Unlike on the continent, they required only a privet hedge instead of a foggy channel to keep from falling on each other with misericordes and getting busy.

There were Germans living next to Poles. The crabgrass invaded the neighbor's yard looking for lebensraum, but that was about it. There were Scots living next to people I thought were sorta German, but were really Swiss, I think. If they didn't care enough to explain to me what they were, why should I bother to figure it out?

The whole town was lousy with Italians. Italian is a funny word to an Italian. A lot of Eyetalians got unshod of the boot with firsthand memories of the Risorgimento. It wasn't smart to assume they were all the same. A Calabrian had no use for an Abrusseze; a Venetian had no use for a Neapolitan. No one had any use for Sicilians, and still don't.

A block away from me, a Lebanese dad pulled his Ford into his carport, waved to a French-Canadian family on one side, a Portuguese guy on the other, and a neighbor with a name out of Charles Dickens across the street. The Lebanese family had a girl that broke several thousand hearts, no doubt, besides mine, without uttering a sound. She had eyes like dishes of used motor oil, skin like two days at the beach, and a head of hair like a mink.
. . . and concludes with this admonition:
Anyway, for a couple of decades, I've watched a continent full of fools and knaves trying to ram themselves into a political, social, and monetary union while they royally screwed the pooch nine ways from Sunday in the attempt. I suppose it would be unkind of me to point out that we managed it, all on our own, completely by accident, back before disco, simply because there was no corrupt, contemptible government trying to make us do it. 
It reminded me of the movie Brooklyn, which we saw early last year.  I never got around to writing a review of the film, set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, starring the luminous Saoirse Ronan, and which I quite enjoyed.  It tells the tale of an young Irish emigrant to America, the difficulty of her adjustment to a very different, and much more dynamic, culture, and her relationship with a young Italian guy who has already assimilated to America's ways.   It also makes reference to the new post-war suburban boom, portraying it as the path to an optimistic future for all Americans.

In today's parlance we would not think of them as "diverse"; both white, European and of the same religion, but that is not how they, and those around them, would have seen it.  For those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s, the suburbs were full of ethnic and religious diversity, something very different from the neighborhoods our immigrant parents, grandparents and great grandparents experienced.  We were aware of the differences.  It was also our neighborhood.  To miss that aspect of the suburbs is to miss an important part of what makes America, America.