Month: October 2008

The Names, They Are A Changing

The popularity of the first names of my grandparents, in the years of their birth (all in the last three decades of the nineteenth century):

Joseph – 7th (all ranks from the Social Security index of popular baby names)
Delia – 126th
Ernest – 24th
Hazel – 26th

As of 2007:

Joseph – 13th
Delia – 989th
Ernest – not in the top 1000
Hazel – 361st

Whereas, in 2007,

Anthony was 7th among male names (103rd when Joseph was born);
Serenity was 126th among female names (not in top 1000 when Delia was born);
Nathan was 24th among male names (136th when Ernest was born); and
Kayla was 26th among female names (not in top 1000 when Hazel was born, probably not a name then).

In 1908, the five most popular female names were Mary, Helen, Margaret, Ruth, and Anna. In 2007, the five most popular female names were Emily, Isabella, Emma, Ava, and Madison. The top five male names in 1908 were John, William, James, George, and Robert; in 2007 the top five male names were Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, and Daniel — an ironic turn toward the Old Testament in this secular age.

My own name — which is associated mainly with an Apostle — stood at or near 10th place from 1880 through the mid-1960s. It has slipped to 51st place.

The Seven-Game World Series

The seven-game World Series holds the promise of high drama. That promise is fulfilled if the Series stretches to a seventh game and that game goes down to the wire. Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, here is what has happened in the deciding game of the Series that have been played to date:

1909 – Pittsburgh (NL) 8 – Detroit (AL) 0

1912 – Boston (AL) 3 – New York (NL) 2 (10 innings)

1925 – Pittsburgh (NL) 9 – Washington (AL) 7

1926 – St. Louis (NL) 3 – New York (AL) 2

1931 – St. Louis (NL) 4 – Philadelphia (AL) 2

1934 – St. Louis (NL) 11 – Detroit (AL) 0

1940 – Cincinnati (NL) 2 – Detroit (AL) 1

1945 – Detroit (AL) 9 – Chicago (NL) 3

1947 – New York (AL) 5 – Brooklyn (NL) 2

1955 – Brooklyn (NL) 2 – New York (AL) 0

1956 – New York (AL) 9 – Brooklyn (NL) 0

1957 – Milwaukee (NL) 5 – New York (AL) 0

1958 – New York (AL) 6 – Milwaukee (NL) 2

1960 – Pittsburgh (NL) 10 New York (AL) 9 (decided by Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the 9th)

1965 – Los Angeles (NL) 2 – Minnesota (AL) 0

1967 – St. Louis (NL) 7 – Boston (AL) 2

1968 – Detroit (AL) 4 – St. Louis (NL) 1

1971 – Pittsburgh (NL) 2 – Baltimore (AL) 1

1972 – Oakland (AL) 3 – Cincinnati (NL) 2

1973 – Oakland (AL) 5 – New York (NL) 2

1975 – Cincinnati (AL) 4 – Boston (AL) 3

1979 – Pittsburgh (NL) 4 – Baltimore (AL) 1

1982 – St. Louis (NL) 6 – Milwaukee (AL) 3

1985 – Kansas City (AL) 11 – St. Louis (NL) 0

1986 – New York (NL) 8 – Boston (AL) 5

1987 – Minnesota (AL) 4 – St. Louis (NL) 2

1991 – Minnesota (AL) 1 – Atlanta (NL) 0 (10 innings)

1997 – Florida (NL) 3 – Cleveland (AL) 2 (11 innings)

2001 – Arizona (NL) 3 – New York (AL) 2 (decided in the bottom of the 9th)

2002 – Anaheim (AL) 4 – San Francisco (NL) 1

Summary statistics:

30 seven-game Series (29 percent of 103 series played, including 4 in a best-of-nine format, none of which lasted 9 games)

15 Series decided by 1 or 2 runs

10 of those 15 Series decided by 1 run (5 times in extra innings or the winning team’s last at-bat)

4 consecutive seven-game Series 1955-58, all involving the New York Yankees (21 percent of the Yankees’ Series — 8 of 39 — went to seven games)

Does the World Series deliver high drama? Seldom. In fact, only about 10 percent of the time. The other 90 percent of the time it’s merely an excuse to fill seats and sell advertising.

What’s in a Name?

American League teams include the St. Petersburg (“Tampa Bay”) Rays, the Minneapolis (“Minnesota”) Twins, the Anaheim (“Los Angeles”) Angels, and the Arlington (“Texas”) Rangers. Over in the National League we find the Miami (“Florida”) Marlins, the Phoenix (“Arizona”) Diamondbacks, and the Denver (“Colorado”) Rockies.

The practice of associating a baseball team with a place other than the city in which it plays its home games dates to 1961, when the original Washington Senators became the “Minnesota” Twins. It’s the baseball equivalent of naming a child after a sign of the Zodiac — very “new age,” “countercultural,” and all that. What began as an exception has become the rule: baseball’s four newest franchises (awarded in 1993 and 1998) belong to “Arizona,” “Colorado,” “Florida,” and “Tampa Bay.” (Can you imagine the “Maryland” Orioles, “Illinois” Cubs, “Ohio” Indians, “Michigan” Tigers, etc., etc., etc.?)

Preferring, as I do, real names like Matthew and Mary, I insist on the St. Petersburg Rays, Minneapolis Twins, Anaheim Angels, Arlington Rangers, Miami Marlins, Phoenix Diamondbacks, and Denver Rockies. The residents of those cities should insist likewise.

A Person’s Truth

Intellectual truth is what you “know” because the “knowledge” flows from a logical argument (which may be supported, in part, by “facts”). Real truth is what you know from direct knowledge.

Intellectual truth can be useful; often, it is indispensable. If your father tells you that it is dangerous — probably life-threatening — to drive a car into a stone wall at 60 miles and hour, you are well advised to heed your father. You should do so even though he probably doesn’t know of the danger from experience or observation.

Indeed, the horizon of useful intellectual truth is vast and seemingly infinite. It encompasses much (but not all) of science, not to mention technology (applied science), and even folklore (where it represents insights gained by trial and error).

Intellectual truth intersects with real truth in many ways. A good example of an intersection is found in counting, which is the foundation of mathematics. We often count real objects that we can sense for ourselves in order to determine such things as whether there are enough eggs to make a cake, enough clean shirts to last until the next laundry day, etc. The act of counting came long before the development of mathematics as a discipline, yet mathematics tells us (among many things) why counting “works” and how to employ it in a variety of ways ranging from the simple and obvious to the dauntingly complex ways (e.g., from addition — a form of counting — and multiplication — a form of addition — to such abstruse subjects as number theory.

I use counting as an example because it leads to the moral of this post: Intellectual truth is real truth only where it comports with real truth. Intellectual truth which doesn’t comport with real truth — or which hasn’t yet been found to be consistent with real truth — is mere conjecture.

Baseball Weather

A good reason to hope that the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox and win the American League championship: The first game of the World Series is scheduled for October 22. The American League team will host that game. The forecast high for Boston on October 22 is 56 degrees; it will probably be in the mid-40s by game time. The Rays play in a domed stadium.

Over in the National League, where the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers are contesting the championship, it is a showdown between World Series games in Philadelphia (where the weather will be only slightly warmer than in Boston) and Los Angeles (where it will be somewhat warmer). I have two problems with Los Angeles, in spite of its better weather. First, it might not be possible to see the game for the smoke from wildfires. Second, Manny Ramirez, that multi-millionaire crybaby and all-around slob, plays for the Dodgers. As long as he is a Dodger, I’ll root against the Bums, even when they are playing a team from Philadelphia — a city whose denizens once booed Santa Claus.

One-Line Movie Reviews

Movies I have seen this year:

Once – Buskers’ holiday.

The Savages, Married Life – Good actors wasting their time and mine.

No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Straight Time, 3:10 to Yuma, Gone Baby Gone, American Gangster – Good actors wasting their time and mine with gratuitous violence.

Interview, Sunshine, The Nines, Unconscious, Death at a Funeral, I’m Not There, Cassandra’s Dream, The American Friend – Weird and mysterious doings, sometimes funny, mostly just weird and mysterious.

The Bourne Ultimatum – Action for action’s sake.

The Man on the Flying Trapeze – W.C. Fields wings it.

Cave of the Yellow Dog, Into the Wild, The Tunnel, The Kite Runner, The Counterfeiters – Gripping reality.

A Little Princess, The Jane Austen Book Club – Enjoyable froth.

Michael Clayton – New Deal propaganda in the 21st century.

Becoming Jane, La Vie en Rose, The Whole Wide World, My Boy Jack – Well done biopics and period pieces.

Lust, Caution – Spicy Chinese fare.

Shadow of a Doubt – Overrated Hitchcock.

Safety Last, Girl Shy – Hilarious silent stuff.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Tomorrow – Southern soul.

Atonement, This Is England, The Search for John Gissing, Son of Rambow – Excellent Britflicks.

Resurrecting the Champ, The Bucket List, The Great Debaters – Feel-good American films — barely bearable.

Ballet Shoes, Before the Rains, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day — Better-than-bearable Britflicks (two feel-gooders, one soaper with scenery); those accents do make a difference.

Lars and the Real Girl, Charlie Bartlett – Middle-age/teen-age angst.

The Bank Job – The best caper movie since Snatch; Topkapi in London, and more realistic.

Charlie Wilson’s War – Mr. Smith goes to Kabul, with laughs.

Panic in the Street (Wall, That Is)

As measured by the Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index, the price of U.S. stocks has declined about 45 percent from the peak of about a year ago. That drop rivals the crash of 1929, when the value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 48 percent of its value from the peak on September 1 to an initial bottom on November 13. (After recovering for a while, the Dow continued to slide, reaching its final bottom on July 8, 1932 — 89 percent below its peak value.)

My objective isn’t to spread panic but, rather, to chastise those who sell in panic. The resources that produce real goods and services haven’t vanished suddenly; the economies of the U.S. and other developed countries can still produce all that they have been producing; and they can continue to grow as they have done for centuries and millenia.

In sum, the current panic has nothing to do with the state of the “real” economy. It is an over-reaction to a credit “crunch” that involves a relatively small portion of the world’s financial markets. Those who sell stocks in the current panic will, in a few months or years, regret having done so as credit markets stabilize and the economy returns to full production and normal growth.

If you are ready to panic, just take a deep breath and consider the big picture:



And just remember this: You haven’t lost money in the stock market until you actually sell stock for less than your purchase price. Up to that point the quoted price of a stock is nothing more than a guess as to its current value. Sure, you can sell at a loss and (maybe) claim the loss as a deduction on your tax return, but the value of a deduction is always less (usually far less) than the loss. And you can sell at a loss and put the money into something else — like a 3-percent savings account (whoopee!) — and then miss the turnaround in stock prices.

Farewell, Chicago

This year marked the first time that both the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox were involved in post-season play. The first time was not a charm, as the Cubs lost their post-season series to the Dodgers, and the White Sox lost their post-season series to the Rays. Dreams of an all-Chicago World Series have vanished like soap bubbles.

Broken Careers

It has been observed many times that some illustrious baseball players would have amassed even more impressive career statistics than they did, had it not been for their service in the armed forces during World War II. Bob Feller, for example, missed the 1942-45 seasons (except for a few games at the end of the ’45 season); Joe Dimaggio, the 1943-45 seasons; Ted Williams, the 1943-45 seasons (and most of the 1952-53 seasons during the Korean War).

Wartime service likewise robbed many lesser-known players of productive years. Here I highlight three Hall of FamersHank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, and Enos Slaughter — and two lesser lights — Buddy Lewis and Cecil Travis.

Greenberg entered the Hall of Fame by the side door. He was chosen by the “normal” route, that is, election by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). But under the rules then in effect, Greenberg — who retired after the 1947 season — could have been elected as early as 1949; he wasn’t elected until 1956. Greenberg’s eventual election to the Hall reflects not only his accomplishments as a player but also what he might have done with the four-and-a-half seasons he lost to military service. Greenberg spent most of the 1941 season as a pre-Peal Harbor draftee and the next three-and-a-half seasons as a post-Pearl Harbor volunteer. Those would have been prime seasons for Greeberg, who at the age of 29 had enjoyed a great 1940 season: batting .34o, winning his second MVP award, and leading the league in home runs, slugging percentage, and runs batted in.

Mize and Slaughter entered the Hall via the back door: election by the Veterans Committee. That dubious honor is reserved for players who aren’t elected within 20 years of their retirement. Mize, who retired in 1953, wasn’t inducted into the Hall until 1981. Slaughter, who stretched his career to 1959, had to wait until 1985 for membership in the Hall.

Mize compiled some outstanding numbers in his first seven seasons (1936-42), including two home-run titles (1939-40). But wartime service (1943-45) deprived him of three prime years (ages 30-32). Mize remained a home-run threat after the war (co-leading the NL in 1947 and 1948), which underscores the significance of his lost seasons. Mize ended his career with very good numbers (2,011 hits, 359 homers, .312 batting average), but his record would have been closer to spectacular had he not lost three prime seasons.

Slaughter had outstanding seasons from 1939 through 1942, then went to war at the age of 27 and missed the 1943-45 seasons (ages 27-29). Slaughter, like Mize, posted some outstanding postwar seasons (e.g., finishing high in the NL batting race four times). Slaughter, like Mize, turned in a very good career (2,383 hits, .300 batting average) that would have been closer to spectacular but for his three lost seasons.

It is perhaps indisputable that wartime service deprived Mize and Slaughter of slam-dunk Hall of Fame careers. Given that, their belated selection by the Veterans Committee was just.

The tales of Buddy Lewis and Cecil Travis have sadder endings. Lewis (who, at 92, is still among us) went to war at the age of 25 with .304 batting average to that point in his career. He completed his next full season at the age of 29. His career ended three years later following a hip injury and a one-year hiatus from baseball. Lewis finished with a very respectable lifetime batting average of .297. But he was deprived of a more productive career, probably one with a .300-plus average and stronger hold on fans’ memories, if not a shot at the Hall of Fame.

Cecil Travis was Lewis’s teammate, and his roommate on the road. Travis went to war at the age of 28 with a career average of .327. It is almost certain that his wartime service cost him a slot in the Hall of Fame. According to Wikipedia, Travis

suffered a bad case of frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, necessitating an operation to prevent amputation of his feet. Travis received a Bronze Star for his military service. Although only 31 years old when he returned to baseball, he was not the same player as he had been before the war, and hit .241 in late 1945 and .252 in 1946. He retired after batting .216 in 74 games in 1947.

Travis was only 33 when his war-shortened career came to an end. In spite of it all, he ran up lifetime batting average of .314. What might have been, indeed.

When we remember the careers that were damaged by military service, we should remember not just the players who enjoyed great and near-great careers in spite of their service. We should remember, also, the likes of Buddy Lewis and Cecil Travis.

Sidekicks, with a Twist

A sidekick, according to Wikipedia,

is a stock character, a close companion who assists a partner in a superior position. Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, Doctor Watson in Sherlock Holmes and Batman‘s companion Robin are some well-known sidekicks….

Sidekicks not only provide comic relief but can occasionally be brave or resourceful at times and rescue the hero from some dire fate: such as … Festus Haggen of Gunsmoke‘s Matt Dillon….

Sidekicks also frequently serve as an emotional connection, especially when the hero is depicted as detached and distant, traits which would normally generate difficulty in making the hero likable. The sidekick is often the confidant who knows the main character better than anyone else and gives a convincing reason to like the hero. Although Sherlock Holmes was admittedly a difficult man to know, the friendship of Dr. Watson convinces the reader that Holmes is a good person….

While it is usually the reverse, it is not unheard of for a sidekick to be physically more conventionally attractive, charismatic, or physically capable than the character who is intended to be the hero. This is most typically encountered when the hero’s appeal is supposed to be intellect instead of sex appeal or physical prowess. Such characters are often middle aged or older and tend towards eccentricity; fictional sleuths and scientists for example. Such sidekicks are rarely encountered in fiction because the hero runs the risk of being upstaged by them. However, examples of successful such pairings include Inspector Morse and his sidekick DS Robbie Lewis, Nero Wolfe and his sidekick Archie Goodwin….

Other famous sidekicks — whose roles vis-a-vis their partners range from comic foil to friendly nemesis to voice of reason to stalwart ally — include (in no particular order):

I’m sure I’ve omitted other notable pairings. I’ll add them as they come to mind.