I present, without comment, a petite histoire graphique of the unemployment rate in the United States. The median is 5.5 percent.

Sources: Statistical Abstracts of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Series D85-D86 (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/statcomp/documents/CT1970p1-05.pdf) and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Status of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population, 1942 to date (ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat1.txt). Rate for July 2008 used as the average for 2008.

One-Season Wonders?

Norm Cash and Brady Anderson had respectable careers by major-league norms, but each also had a “career year” that stood far above his other accomplishments as a player.

In Cash’s case, the one-season wonder was his league-leading batting average of .361 in 1961. It was Cash’s first and last .300 season in a career that included 14 full seasons of play. His second-best average was .283; his second-best finish was in 1969, when his .279 average garnered seventh place in the AL batting race; and his career average was only .271.

Anderson’s anomalous 1996 season saw him slug 50 home runs, finishing second in the AL to Mark McGwire. Anderson logged nine other full seasons of play, but in none of those seasons did he hit more than 24 home runs. He averaged only 19 home runs per 162 games over the span of his career.

Nevertheless, Cash and Anderson weren’t true one-season wonders. That “accolade” should be reserved for the likes of Gene Bearden and Mark Fidrych. Both were pitchers who had outstanding rookie years — Bearden with a W-L record of 20-7 in 1948; Fidrych with a W-L of 19-9 in 1976 — and then faded quickly, departing from the big leagues after brief, mediocre careers. (Actually, Fidrych faded after July 20 of his rookie season, by which date his record was 11-1; he went 8-8 for the balance of the season.)

Among position players, there’s Joe Charbonneau, AL Rookie of the Year in 1980 with a .289 average in 131 games. After that: .210 in 48 games, .214 in 22 games, and … gone from the majors.

Bearden, Fidrych, and Charbonneau are among the true one-season wonders of baseball.

The Best Announcer in Baseball’s History?

Many baseball fans consider Vin Scully to have been the best announcer in baseball’s long history. Others favor the Southern stylings of Ernie Harwell. I respect Scully and Harwell, but I prefer the late Skip Caray‘s acerbic wit.

Yes, Caray’s partisanship toward the Atlanta Braves was obvious, but he could be tough on the Braves, as well. In any event, he didn’t shirk from the truth about what had happened on the field, good or bad for the Braves. And, unlike most announcers of the past fifty years, Caray said nothing if there was nothing to be said; he didn’t babble just to fill air time. Caray and his long-time partner — the knowledgeable, soft-spoken Pete Van Wieren — made an ideal team: the best I’ve heard, by a long shot.

Mystery Solved

William Lyon (Billy) Phelps was, in his day (1865-1943), a noted professor of English literature (Yale), proponent of Jane Austen, writer of popular prose, public lecturer, and preacher (he was also an ordained minister). I learned of Phelps because he and his wife summered at Huron City, Michigan, not far from the village where my grandmother lived.

The Phelps’s summer home (which Mrs. Phelps inherited from her father) is known as Seven Gables. It is preserved as part of the Huron City Museum, a collection of old buildings and artifacts from the early days of Huron City. Below are successive views of Seven Gables. The first is from the road that runs in front of the house. The second shows the house and its seven gables from above. The third shows the house (toward the bottom of the photo) and an abandoned golf course across the road. The fourth, in which the house is a white speck near the center, shows the proximity of the house and golf course to Lake Huron, which is at the top of the photo.

The mystery (to me) was the golf course. Whenever we stopped at Huron City on the way to grandma’s house, I would walk to the edge of the road bordering the course, gaze down upon the derelict fairways and greens, and wonder about the course’s history. Had a country club been founded there in the boom times of the ’20s, only to fall victim to the Depression? Was the course too isolated to be a going proposition?

The mystery was solved when I learned recently that the course was on the Phelpses’ property — a personal, private course — and that Prof. Phelps played there regularly when he was in residence at Seven Gables. There it sits, abandoned — probably since 1939, the year of Prof. Phelps’s last visit to Huron City.

An Eon Ago…

…when I owned a small business in a rural village…

…one of my customers was the owner of a country inn. He and I traded services instead of paying each other in cash. (I did declare the value of services received as income on my tax returns.) As a result, my family and I enjoyed many a meal in this bucolic setting:

Our favorite seats were on the glassed-in porch (lower photo, left). There we had a splendid view of the nearby stream.

The inn has long since closed; the building is now a venue for music festivals and other “artsy” gatherings; and we now live 1,500 miles from the place. But my mind’s eye still recalls the evenings — sometimes snowy and sometimes showy with fall color — when we traversed country roads to the inn, where food, drink, and hospitality awaited us.

Baseball and Groundhog Day

You may remember the movie Groundhog Day (1993), in which the character played by Bill Murray keeps having the same day over and over again. (If you haven’t seen the movie, do so; I recommend it.)

Has the same thing happened in major-league baseball? That is, in its 137-year history (1871-2007), has a season has ended with a league’s teams finishing in the same positions as those they had occupied at the end of the previous season? The answer is “no, but…”

To arrive at that answer, I went here and followed the links, which cover the following major baseball leagues and seasons of operation:

National Association, 1871-1875
National League, 1876-2007
American Association, 1882-1891
Union Association, 1884
Players League, 1890
American League, 1901-2007
Federal League, 1914-1915

An entire league has yet to end its season with all of its teams finishing in the same order as they did in the previous season. However, since the advent of divisional play in 1969, some division finishes have been duplicated, and even sextuplicated:

  • The duplication occurred in the American League’s Central Division in 1996 and 1997, when Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Kansas City ended both seasons in that order (Cleveland first, etc.).
  • The sextuplication occurred in the American League’s Eastern Division from 1998 through 2003, when New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay ended all six seasons in that order (New York first, etc.).

The 2005 season saw a repetition of the AL East’s pattern for 1998-2003. That’s seven identical finishes in a span of eight seasons. Moreover, the Yankees and Red Sox finished one-two in eight consecutive seasons (1998-2005). How ’bout that!

Election 2008: Signs and Portents

This isn’t a “political” post. Read on.

Forty-two different men have served as president of the United States, although the official number of presidents is 43 because Grover Cleveland was elected to two non-consecutive terms, each of which is counted as a separate presidency. Herein, I present some important facts about those 42 men and their 43 presidencies, and about the implications of those facts for the outcome of election 2008.

No person whose last name begins with “O” has served as president. The last names of three presidents begin with “M” (Madison, Monroe, McKinley); the last name of one president begins with “Mc” (McKinley). Advantage: McCain

Only three presidents’ last names end in vowel sounds (Monroe, McKinley, Kennedy); all the rest end in consonant sounds. Advantage: McCain

No president’s last name ends with “a”; 15 presidents’ last names end with “n.” Advantage: McCain

The mean number of letters in the presidents’ last names is 6.67; the median number is 7. McCain (6) is closer to the norm than Obama (5). Advantage: McCain

Of the 43 presidencies, 38 have occurred by election. (The five presidents who didn’t serve elected terms of office were Tyler, Fillmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, and Ford.) There have been 37 elected successions (Washington didn’t succeed anyone). In two of those successions, the newly elected president was the same age as his predecessor was when the predecessor was elected; in 15 cases, the successor was younger than his predecessor was; in 20 cases, the successor was older than his predecessor was. It is, therefore, more usual than otherwise for a newly elected president to be older than his predecessor was upon election. Such would be the case if McCain (72 by the time of this year’s election) succeeds G.W. Bush (54 at the time of his election in 2000). Alternatively, Obama (47 by the time of this year’s election) would be younger than G.W. Bush was in 2000. Advantage: McCain

Mr. Cranky has the edge over Mr. Change.