Friday, August 4, 2017

Rooting for Laundry

I'm going to be taking a little time off the column; hiatuses ("hiati"?) are good for the health and probably give time to accumulate a few topics for future columns.  Plus, I actually work for a living, and every once in a while it gets more than a little busy -- particularly in the last couple months of the fiscal year.

So, laundry.

Baseball, as is often said, is not without its charms.  OK, it hasn't been said here, but people do say it.  And among its many charms is the, well, "charming" patois spoken by its practitioners in the major leagues.

In the major-league dugout, for example, "moss" is not the stuff on the side of trees; it is what grows on the heads of humans.  "Moss" is a player's hair, much like a player's stomach is referred to as a "boiler."  When you have a stomach ache, which is conveyed to the press as "intestinal turmoil", the player is said to have "the bad boiler."

Note the definite article there, which appears superfluous, but is used regardless, in the same way as non-baseball players will refer to hyperuricemic inflammatory arthritis as "the gout", perhaps because of the awkward construction if you were to say "He's got gout."

Arms are "hose" and shoes are "kicks."  And when the "hose" tosses a good fastball, it's referred to as "cheese."  So, laundry.

You root for the team that you, well, root for, for whatever reason that may be.  But the roster of that team is likely to have 45-50 guys play for it in a typical season, even though only 25 can be on the active major-league roster at any one time (OK, 26 on those rare doubleheader days, the league allows teams to add one player for just that day).

So you find yourself rooting for whomever happens to be wearing the uniform on a given day, of course, but when you think about it, it's the uniform as much as the player.  The players move too much, too few are with their teams and stay long enough for you to get excited about them.  And that is called "rooting for the laundry."  Or against.

Makes sense.  I mean, I could really like a player on some team, particularly the Red Sox, for whom I root.  Could be a great guy, donates time to charity, all-American type.  Or all Dominican, that's fine too, Papi.  But ... put the guy in the wrong laundry -- and by "wrong laundry", I'm talking about the Yankees -- and he becomes a completely despicable person, scum of the earth, worst of the worst.  It's the uniform that matters.

Now, that's true for me even though I know all the players on the Red Sox major-league (25-man) roster and am pretty familiar with most of the top prospects in the minors.  Imagine if I rooted, but didn't really follow, the team.

For example, well, there's football.  Or college basketball.  I really think I recall that North Carolina won the NCAA basketball tournament last year, but I'm not sure.  You see, the finals game didn't start until almost bedtime, and the first half of a basketball game is irrelevant anyway most of the time.

The point, of course, is that I went to Carolina for med school, and they are the college team I most want to win.  You know how many current Tar Heel players I can name?  Zero.  I can't even get close to naming one.  They don't stay in school more than a year or two, so you can't really root for players.  Say it with me -- you root for the laundry.

I actually have some of that laundry, a Red Sox home jersey that I bought at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on a trip in 1981.  It still fits, by the way.  And it's the laundry I still root for, even if I didn't grow up anywhere near there.

I just don't think it's right.  I think that you should root for the team and the player on it, and be promised a relatively long association between that team and, at least, its better players.  But you end up rooting for laundry, because that's the constant.

Can you tell I need a little break?

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, August 3, 2017

That Pesky Debt Ceiling

Yesterday there was a tweet from Ari Fleischer, a former Bush-era press secretary, calling for an end to the debt ceiling.  "It served no purpose", Fleischer noted, except to cause the risk of shutdowns and general antagonism in Congress.

The debt ceiling, of course, is the law, as amended and amended and amended, ad nauseum, wherein the USA is limited in the amount of debt it can take on.  In turn, that limits the spending that Congress can authorize to only that which is funded with actual Treasury funds and what is left to borrow, up to the ceiling.

Now, I like Ari Fleischer, but I would oppose the eliminate the debt ceiling for exactly the same reason that I oppose legalizing addictive, psychoactive drugs.  Proponents of legalizing drugs generally point out that so much crime and violence are caused by the black market in those drugs, and that their legalizing would generate a lot of tax revenues for the government.

The thing is, if it is wrong, it is wrong.  Handing addictive drugs over to the unregulated economy violates our collective security, at least to the extent that we are unwilling to allow soaring addiction rates, dangerously psychotic people out on the streets fearlessly, and a drain on our health-care capacity.

And that's the issue here.

What is wrong, specifically, with eliminating the debt ceiling, is that deficit spending is itself wrong and cannot and must not be tolerated.  We don't actually need a debt ceiling, we need to eliminate new debt.

No action should be taken on the debt ceiling that is not part of a defined and congressionally (or constitutionally) mandated program to require a balanced budget.  States, of course, mostly require that, and it is not really the debt ceiling that facilitates our current $20 trillion debt as much as the lack of a mandated incentive not to borrow, not to spend more than is taken in.

No one is doing that at this moment, although I bet that it is President Trump's inclination to try to get Congress to do something to move to a balanced budget and ban deficit spending.  It was, in fact, laughable that Chuck Schumer, of all people, in having the gall to make "demands" on the majority in the coming tax debate, included one that it would "not affect the deficit."  Democrats.  Making "demands", after being thrashed in several elections.  And insisting on preventing an increase in the deficit.  One has to laugh, perhaps a Sheldon Cooper laugh (link).

So I'm of a mind to insist not only that the debt ceiling be left in place for now, but that the next legislation to increase it build in mandatory reductions over ten years until the 2027 budget is required to be balanced.  Of course, we have to start paying principal, which we don't do now, but that's a really good thing to do also, much as we are required to do as individuals.

Who aren't, you know, "on" something.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We Don't Need Help, We Need You to Be Better

If you're a baseball fan, you know that July 31 of each year is a special day.  It is called, formally, the "non-waiver trade deadline", and is generally called "the deadline."

July 31 is the last day of the season when teams can trade with each other on an unrestricted basis.  After that date -- actually, 4:00pm Eastern Time on July 31 -- in order to trade a player to another team, you have to place that player on "revocable waivers"; in essence, dangling that player out there for any other team to claim him; however, if another team does claim him, you are able to pull him back from waivers, in which case you can no longer trade him.

Every team gets to claim waived players, in worst-to-first order of the standings.  If no team claims a player in the allotted time, the team is free to trade that player wherever it wants, as long as it can make a deal with another team for only other unrestricted players (minor leaguers and waiver-cleared major leaguers).

Because trading after the deadline is so complex, there is usually a rush to jam in a lot of trades on the 31st.  Trades can't be later because of the waiver rules, and they can't be much earlier because the teams are holding out to get the best deal.  There are lots of sports program focused on baseball that afternoon, for sure, with Twitter wires heating up as news breaks.

As for the players, the ones rumored to be on the block are well aware of this.  So are the ones who figure not to be traded, as they look to see what teammates may be leaving and who might come back -- particularly someone who plays your position.

Monday came and went, of course, and as usual there were a lot of deals.  One team with a curious outcome, however, was the Boston Red Sox -- my team.

I say "curious" because there was only one trade of note for them that day, acquiring a set-up reliever, Addison Reed, from the Mets for a trio of minor leaguers without a lot of future in the Red Sox organization.  That relative inaction was noteworthy, because the need of the Red Sox was to upgrade its hitting, possibly more so than even the relief pitcher spot that they did fill.

Most teams in the same situation would trade for a position player likely to hit a lot better than the one manning that position already.  So it was a bit of a surprise to some that Boston did not acquire a position player at the deadline, save for a trade a week earlier to acquire Eduardo Nunez, a utility infielder but a better hitter than a fielder.

Interestingly, the reaction in the press was that there was a message in the whole process.  It was, they felt (correctly, I bet) that the message was to its position-player core, with the entire outfield, shortstop, third base, and catching positions -- 67% of the lineup -- between 20 and 27 years old.

That message was "We don't need another hitter in the lineup.  We need YOU to hit better!"

That's quite a message.  With the exception of catcher Christian Vazquez (26) and just-called-up third baseman Rafael Devers (20), the other young players are all hitting markedly below what they have shown to be capable of based on their major league track record.  There's obviously nothing to be gained by trading for anyone in those positions, since the Red Sox have a talented young player already there in each one.

The team responded by actually scoring six runs in the first game after the deadline, which wouldn't sound like much except for the previously anemic offense of recent games -- and the fact that their pitching had barely been allowing three runs a game on a consistent basis; their starters' ERA at this writing is the best in the American League.

And naturally, last night, in their second game after the "warning", they scored twelve, including a walk-off home run by Vazquez.  So perhaps the message "took."

I like the message.  "It is your job; we won't be replacing you, at least now.  The team needs you to bear down, concentrate, take pitches, have good at-bats.  We're not getting help.  You are good enough; we need to be closer to what you have shown to be.  Get off your butts and work harder."

That's America, and the American work ethic.  This is America.  Go Sox.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"Mooching" the White House

Anthony Scaramucci is on his way back to the Export-Import Bank, having tendered his resignation as White House communications director, presumably (at this writing) at the request of the brand-new chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly.

I have to step back a bit on this one.  I mean, you had to appreciate the bringing in of Scaramucci to the White House team as a loud, brash New Yorker in the mold of his boss, the president.

But the bigger issue is chain of command, and I'm trying to psych out what happened -- and I don't think it's that hard and I don't think it is particularly scandalous.  Remember that the sequence of events was that Scaramucci came in, then Sean Spicer resigned as spokesman, then Reince Priebus left as chief of staff, John Kelly came in as chief of staff, and Scaramucci went out.

The key is the reporting order and chain of command.

Scaramucci was reporting directly to the president, which bypassed Priebus and was likely OK with Priebus, at least somewhat.  That all blew up when it became obvious to Scaramucci that Priebus was a real problem as far as leaking, or allowing leaks, or tolerating them.  Scaramucci went to the President, and Priebus had to go.

But President Trump had wanted Gen. Kelly to come in and be the chief of staff, and a retired four-star Marine general was not going to have Anthony Scaramucci, in any capacity, not reporting through him.  That would violate every precept of chain-of-command, of course, and is perfectly reasonable.

Plus, Gen. Kelly is from Boston and Scaramucci is from New York.  Want to guess how long before the whole Red Sox-Yankees thing blew up in a very ugly scene?  Trust me, that wouldn't be good, and Kelly is a Taurus, too -- we share a birthday.

So I think that if you look at all this as a logical chain of command situation, it makes perfect sense.  No scandal, just a logical sequencing.

I'm good with that.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.