As the rest of the Foreign Policy gang hobnobs with the foreign
policy glitterati tonight, I'm
stuck in Boston mulling over the fact
that Tom Friedman managed to earn a Bullock.
What is a Bullock? You might recall that earlier this year Sandra Bullock managed to win both an Academy Award for Best Actress (for The Blind Side) and a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress (for All About Steve) -- the first time that has ever happened. So a Bullock is when one manages to earn both a "best of" and "worst of" in the span of a single year.
Lo and behold, this week Friedman's name appears on both Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers as well as Salon's Hack Thirty -- which is definitely the first time that's ever happened. What can we infer from Friedman earning the Bullock? I suppose this depends on who you ask and which mention you think is the more unjustified. Friedman is the certainly the most prominent international relations columnist working today. Your humble blogger has had his occasional issues with Friedman's columns. That said, even Friedman's harsher critics tend to acknowledge that he makes an interesting point every once in a while. And I've had to write enough 700 word columns in my life to know that it's a much harder task than most people realize.
In a perfect world, foreign affairs columnists would rotate in and out of the op-ed pages after 18 months or so. In the branding world in which we live, I can think of better options than Friedman, but man, I can think of a lot more aspirants who would be worse.
This goes back to my point about the opportunity cost of stupid ideas. Friedman is frequently wrong (as are we all), but he's usually wrong in a way that tends to requires serious engagement rather than a backhanded wrist-slap or easy put-down.
For comparison in terms of stupidity, consider Dan Shaughnessy's latest Boston Globe column in which he suggests that the Boston Red Sox sign Derek Jeter:
Suppose the Red Sox step up and shock the world? There is simply no downside to making Jeter a massive offer. In the worst-case scenario he calls your bluff and you get the Yankees captain.
I don't care if Jeter is way past his prime or if the Sox would have to wildly overpay a player of his diminished skills.
I say offer him the world. Forget about Jayson Werth. Blow Jeter away with dollars and years. At worst this would just mean the Sox would jack up the final price the Yankees must pay. It could be sort of like Mark Teixeira-in-reverse…
What's the harm in offering Jeter $20 million a year over three years? If you can pay J.D. Drew $14 million per year… if you can pay a Japanese team $50 million just for the right to speak with Daisuke Matsuzaka… if you can buy a futbol club for $476 million, why not spend $60 million to bust pinstripe chops for all the ages?
Jeter is closing in on 3,000 hits. Imagine if he gets his 3,000th hit as a Red Sox… at Fenway… against Mariano Rivera?
Since we are pretty certain Adrian Beltre is gone, the Red Sox have a big hole at third base. Jeter could play third. Or you could trade Marco Scutaro and put Jeter at short.
This certainly would make the Sox less boring.
This is bad even when grading on a Shaughnessy curve, which already sets the bar ridiculously low.
First, it's horribly written: in the span of three paragraphs, Shaughnessy manages to give two very different worst-case scenarios. Which is it, exactly?
Second, it's horribly argued. If Jeter is not going to move off of shortstop for the Yankees, why would he do it for the Red Sox? Smart baseball people will tell you that Jeter's recent numbers don't justify anyone paying him $20 million a year -- and no one but the Yankees should even pay him $15 million. If I'm the Red Sox, I would make a play for closer Mariano Rivera -- but why sign an aging shortstop when the Red Sox already have one decent veteran (Marco Scutaro) and two pretty promising younger shortstops (Jed Lowrie and Jose Iglesias)?
Shaughnessy thinks the merit of this option is to force the Yankees payroll up. OK, except that a few paragraphs down, he implies that the Red Sox budget is essentially unlimited. There's no world in which a) the sky is blue; and b) the Yankees have a more constrained budget than the Red Sox. Either there are opportunity costs in paying Jeter a lot of money (in which case the cost for the Sox is greater) or both franchises are so rich that money doesn't matter (in which case there's no point to starting a bidding war in the first place).
I've just wasted untold minutes and several neurons of brainpower to explain why Shaughnessy's column might be the stupidest sports column I've read this year. It's not even stupid in an interesting way -- it's just a brainless rant. Arguing when and why Tom Friedman is wrong doesn't feel like the same waste of time to me.
In other words, he deserves his Bullock.
Question to readers: if not Tom Friedman, who would you want to read on world politics on the New York Times op-ed page?
Later today I promise to mock the Obama administration's National Export Initiative to within an inch of its life; on a Friday morning, however, FP readers deserve a dose of whimsy.
With pitchers and catchers due to report later this month, I bring you the greatest nexus between sports, world politics, and Web 2.0 technologies yet discovered: Ichiro Suzuki as a both a precision-guided munition and a weapon of mass destruction.
Hat tip: ESPN's Rob Neyer.
In a post over the weekend about John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's new book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder makes a very odd closing point:
Political scientists aren't going to like this book, because it portrays politics as it is actually lived by the candidates, their staff and the press, which is to say -- a messy, sweaty, ugly, arduous competition between flawed human beings -- a universe away from numbers and probabilities and theories.
I know a lot of political scientists, and let me take this opportunity to assure Marc that most political scientists love good, dishy books full of political gossip -- the uglier, the better. I love Bob Woodward books and all the Making of the **** Campaign tomes as much as the rest of America seems to love John Grisham novels. Many political scientists have similar feelings on this -- before people become political scientists, they're usually political junkies. And anyone who studies this stuff for a living can't only be aware that politicians are flawed beings -- they have to love them just a little for their flaws. As Seth Masket points out, "If we only cared about numbers and probabilities and theories, we'd have become mathematicians."
I suspect that the difference between my profession and Ambinder's is that while I love these canmpaign narratives, I don't always buy their explanations for why things play out the way they do. Structural factors like the economy matter a hell of a lot as well. The chapter in Game Change on the Edwardses, for example, is really gripping stuff -- but it's gripping because of the tawdriness, not because it affected the campaign in any way whatsoever. Even if theirs had been a fairy-tale marriage, John Edwards still wasn't going to be the president.
Ambinder's passive-aggresive attitude towards my profession is not unique to him -- it flares up every once in a while among political journalists. In some ways, this dust-up mirrors the occasional testiness that emerges between traditional baseball writers and sabermetricians. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy's recently complained about "the stat geeks, those get-a-lifers who are sucking all the joy out of our national pastime." Yeah, because the last thing the sport would want is for informed people to be arguing passionately about it.
Shaughnessy's assertion flabbergasted most sabermetricians, who clearly love baseball and all of its facets. They just find it silly not to consider the utility of smart statistics when analyzing the support. But a lot of sabermetricians tend to watch baseball with the television on mute so they don't have to hear broadcasters emphasize points that, to them, are superfluous -- just as many political scientists I know rarely watch the cable news shows.
A good narrative, however? We'll snap that up like popcorn.
[I]s the sacrifice of 58,000 Americans worth a bad Yankee team?
The answer is obviously yes.
This is a question that could tear apart the nation... Red Sox Nation, that is.
More here. I really don't think this is anything more than a coincidence, and I certainly don't agree with the blogger's estimation of Lyndon Johnson.
Still, if one wanted to develop a completely unsubstantiated hypothesis, however, one could posit that the explanation for this correlation is that under a GOP president, the mercurial owner of the Yankees faced fewer contraints to
royally f**k up interfere in the management of the team, resulting in some spectacular flame-outs on the diamond.
It's not true, of course, but it's a more entertaining urban myth than Obama's citizenship status or Bush's role in the 9/11 attacks.
Major League Baseball starts in earnest today. As longtime readers of this blog are aware, I am a diehard Red Sox fan. They are playing in what everyone acknowledges to be the toughest division in baseball, with three teams -- the Sox, Rays and Yankees -- fully capable of winning a World Series this year.
What will be odd, this time around, is that during this offseason the Red Sox did something really, really astonishing -- they followed a lot of the unsolicited recommendations I made 3 1/2 months ago (just to be clear, I'm arguing coincidence and not causation here).
Still, this raises an existential question as a fan -- what happens if your team does almost exactly what you recommend they do, but they don't win? Who can you blame then?
[Um, what if they do win?--ed. I'm a Red Sox fan. Times have changed, but I can still go to the dark place.]
Both the Hardball Times and Baseball Prospectus like these movies, so I'm hardly alone here. When comparing the Red Sox to the Yankees and Rays, what strikes me about the Sox is the (on paper) relative strength of their bullpen, bench, and farm system. Over a 162 game season, that has to count for something.
Of course, no matter what Moneyball says, you don't play games on paper. Play ball!!
The World Baseball Classic has been under way since Saturday, and this year's version of the event has been even more exciting than the 2006 inaugural tournament. Already, the U.S. barely edged Canada, 6-5 in a game that came down to the last pitch. As I'm typing this, Australia, having upset Mexico earlier in the week, is giving Cuba a run for its money (the Aussies are winning 4-2 in the 6th. UPDATE: the Cubans come back to eke out a 5-4 victory). If Cuba loses, I would hate to see Fidel Castro's blog post about it (hat tip: SI's Tom Verducci)
This is all prelude, however, to the biggest shocker of all -- in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands eliminated the Dominican Republic, beating them 2-1 in 11 innings. This was the second victory by the Dutch over the D.R. in a week.
For those traditional Foreign Policy reading, World Cup-loving kind of readers, let me try to explain the magnitude of this upset in terms that you would understand. Imagine that the South Korean soccer team just beat Brazil in a match played in Uruguay. No, check that -- imagine that the Koreans beat the Brazilians twice in two matches. That's what we're talking about here.
The implications for the globalization of baseball are pretty good, as Verducci points out:
Major League Baseball can work all of its machinations to pump up interest in the tournament, such as marketing and broadcasting. But there is nothing more powerful to sell the tournament than the unscripted magnificence of the game itself, never more so than when what we regard as the meek overtake the mighty.
The New York Yankees represent the very worst of America. Overstatement? Consider the times. Cornerstone industries are faltering, taxpayers are being asked to bail out mismanaged financial institutions and their overpaid CEOs, and decent, hard-working men and women are being laid off or worrying that they could be next. Now consider the eight-year, $180 million contract the Yankees reportedly handed first baseman Mark Teixeira Tuesday. Stack it on top of the $161 million deal signed by pitcher CC Sabathia and the (relatively) modest $82.5 million promised to A.J. Burnett and you have the most egregious display of financial irresponsibility in the history of sports. The Yanks' insane overspending would be bad for baseball in the best of times. These are not the best of times.... What's wrong here is obvious. It's also not really new. Unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL, baseball has no salary cap. Those leagues do not have caps for the sheer, unbridled joy of finding loopholes and exceptions. They have them as part of an effort to maintain some kind of competitive balance among teams from different-size markets in disparate parts of the country.Sheridan's response is pretty typical of non-Yankee fans -- which is disturbing, because it's so wrong on so many levels. First, it would be awesome if American corporations acted more like the Yankees. One cause of the deepening recession is that firms are afraid to do anything other than hold cash in hand at the moment. The smart ones should invest in expansion -- capital is ridiculously cheap right now and they'll be well-poised once the economy takes off again. If enough firms acted that way, the economy actually would take off again. In signing these players, the Yankees have made long-term investments while keeping their expenditures constant relative to last year's payroll. Given their move to a new stadium, their revenues should increase. They have made these moves in order to improve their chances of competing. That's how corporations should behave. As for Sheridan's point about competitive balance -- well, let's go to Joe Posnanski, who has some useful data on this point:
it always gives me great comfort to see the following facts: -- Over the past 10 years, eight different teams have won the World Series. In all, 15 teams made the World Series -- half of the teams in baseball. -- Over the past 20 years, 14 different teams have won the World Series. In all 22 teams made the World Series. Now, we're at more than two-thirds who have reached the Series. -- Over the last 30 years, 20 different teams have won the World Series, and only four -- Cubs, Mariners, Rangers and the Expos/Nationals -- have failed to get there... I'm not saying that the Yankees will not win in 2009 -- that's an awfully good team now, absolutely the best that money can buy. But just remember that key fact: 20 teams have won a World Series in the last 30 years. And by comparison: -- Only 14 teams have won the Super Bowl over the last 30 years. -- Only 14 different men have won Wimbledon over the last 30 years. -- Only 13 teams have won the Stanley Cup over the last 30 years. -- Only nine teams have won an NBA title over the last 30 years.It is telling that the team sports with salary caps actually have more dynasties than baseball. In baseball, more money can make the Yankees better, but it can't guarantee them anything. As a Red Sox fan, I'm perfectly happy to have the rest of America hate the Yankees along with me. Holding them up as the symbol of what's wrong with the country, however, is pretty ludicrous. UPDATE: Thanks to YFSF, I see that Dan Szymborski has made a similar argument over at Baseball Think Factory:
The Yankees do spend more money than other teams in MLB, but the differences would be less drastic if the payrolls of many teams had been rising up to the waves of new cash that have entered baseball in recent years. Going by the NFL formula, very generous considering the MLBPA is far more powerful an entity than any other union in sports, the payroll floor for 2009 would almost certainly be in the $100 million range. 58% of league revenue, as the players in NFL get, would be, in baseball, an average team payroll of a hair under $120 million. It's pretty clear that while the Yankees are outspending everyone comfortably, the rest of baseball has just as much to do with the payroll disparity as the Yankees do. Now, what about the Yankee mindset? The Steinbrenners aren't anywhere near as rich or as liquid as some other owners in baseball such as Carl Pohlad of the Twins. The difference is that the Steinbrenners have always invested in their team, always striven to put the best product possible out on the field. The Yankees have certainly made some terrible trades, especially when King George was hands-on the most, but they were done with the motive of making the team better. Yes, the Yankees got a huge, undeserved payday from the locals for their stadium, like most teams in baseball did, but it's a mitigating factor that they're actually plowing those funds back into the on-field product. And the team never threatened to not compete until they got their sweet check. Perhaps a small difference, but I see it as a good bit more ethical than Kevin McClatchy demanding taxpayer moneys to help the Pirates compete and then turn around and use all the money to fund his failing media empire.
The Red Sox, having finally gained the upper hand in the rivalry with the Yankees by the virtue of two World Series championships in the last five seasons, cannot sit idly by and watch the Yanks make dramatic, if incredibly expensive, improvements. And that is what the acquisitions of Sabathia and Burnett were. The Yankees have not won a World Series since 2000, primarily because their starting pitching wasn't of championship caliber. On paper, at least, that shortcoming has now been directly addressed.Hey, that's right! Because when another team makes a free agent signing, the only possible response is to trade away promising young players or spend lots of money on free agents! Because since 2000, the Yankees' acquisition of expensive starting pitchers -- Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and Kei Igawa -- has worked like a charm for them! [Is this fair to Mussina?--ed. No, he was actually worth the money -- but he's the only one on this list who qualifies.] At a minimum, the thirtysomething pitchers will fit right in with the thirtysomething lineup. Going after Teixeira might be an intrinsically good idea -- but doing it just because the Yankees have blown a lot of dough is pretty stupid. The Red Sox look to be in decent shape next year. Their top four starters are all back. Theo Epstein has addressed the bullpen with some trades this offseason. Bauman is correct to say that the Red Sox need an improved offense, but one could argue that better health is they key here. The Red Sox lost a lot of big run producers because of injuries last year -- it's reasonable to expect bounce-back seasons from Mike Lowell and David Ortiz in particular. The pipeline of minor league talent, from Lars Anderson to Michael Bowden to Daniel Bard -- looks pretty promising. All Theo Epstein needs to do is not listen to Mike Bauman and the Red Sox should be fine.
Francona is never going to get the Red Auerbach or Bill Belichick treatment around here. In the eyes of some old-school Red Sox watchers, he's not even on a par with Dick Williams. But when do we start looking at what is happening with the Red Sox and assigning some credit to the man in the corner office? Just because Francona doesn't intimidate people or try to portray himself as a genius, is that any reason to diminish what the man has done?And now Curry:
Although Francona has more World Series rings as a manager than Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox or Jim Leyland, he is not routinely mentioned as one of baseball’s elite managers.... Stop fans on any street that is not in New England and ask them to pick baseball’s best managers. Not many would select Francona. When Francona was presented with this theory, he said, “My dad would.”OK, enough -- do Shaughnessy and Curry have some secret bar where they meet a few guys named Sully once a month so they can write this kind of "fan-on-the-street" crap with a clear conscience? As a Red Sox fan who talks to other Sox fans, I have rarely, if ever, heard an unkind word directed at Francona during his tenure as manager here. In fact, most Sox fans think Francona excels at the three biggest challenges a Red Sox manager faces: a) keeping the players on the same page; b) handling the media; c) never panicking during the season. If anything, it's the national media -- I'm looking at you, BBWAA -- that underrates Francona. Consider that he's never won Manager of the Year. In the miracle year of 2004, he finished fifth in the voting, receiving zero first-place ballots. In 2005, he managed to get a team without a true #1 or #2 starter and no established closer into the postseason and finished sixth in the voting, receiving zero first-place ballots. Last year, despite helming the team with the best record, he finished fourth in the voting and received zero first-place ballots. Oh, and he's not going to win it this year, either -- Joe Maddon will. Why is this? The MOY tends to go to the guy who's team exceeeds expectations -- and since Francona's been around, the Red Sox have been expected to go in the post-season. GM Theo Epstein (deservedly) gets a lot of credit that might otherwise go to Francona. It's a regular season vote as well, so Francona's post-season success doesn't count. And Francona really is pretty self-effacing -- if it's an act, then it's a very convincing one. So, to use a poker metaphor, Francona usually holds better cards than the other guys. His skill at playing those cards, however, is underrated. If the Red Sox win the World Series again this year, however, my bet is that Francona's reputation goes sky-high. By some metrics, the Red Sox are still the best team in the league, but they've had to deal with a lot of injuries plus the whole Manny brouhaha. Unlike last year, they're not expected to win this year. Joe Torre is no longer in New York City. If he can exceed expectations again, then maybe the national baseball media elite will catch up to what Red Sox fans have known for quite some time -- Terry Francona is a damn fine manager.
Over the next 20 minutes, Hamilton hit a total of 28 home runs, including 13 in a row at one point. He hit a series of blasts into the upper deck, a few more scattered through the right-center bleachers, a pair of balls into the "black seats" in center field. Along the way he converted a crowd that had been fairly apathetic to that point -- largely ignoring Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay's repeated requests that they cheer one guy or another on -- into Josh Hamilton's 50,000 biggest fans. Chants of "Ham-il-ton" and "M-V-P" spread from the bleachers to the crowd, each bomb off of Hamilton's bat raising the volume a bit more.Enjoy the break!
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.