Archive for March, 2011

Braves Are Up Again (2011 Season Preview)

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Readers of this blog may assume that my favorite subject is the Atlanta Braves notwithstanding the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That would not necessarily be a correct assumption, but the Braves play a prominent part in Atlanta life and it’s only fitting to write about them. The baseball season is long, arduous and if you’re a fan quite often turgid. The regular season kicks off in late March and concludes at the end of the September covering 162 games. Teams fortunate enough to make the playoffs will continue to toil away until a World Series Champion is crowned around Halloween.

The Braves did reasonably well last season to make the playoffs only to fail at the first hurdle against the eventual World Series winners, San Francisco Giants. A play off berth was made more impressive by the absence through injury of Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, two of their more potent offensive weapons.

One has to take the cap off to Chipper. He suffered a serious potentially career ending injury in August and chose to have surgery immediately. Seven months later, and fast approaching 39 years of age, he has enjoyed a great Grapefruit League campaign during spring training and is raring to take his place at third base for the 2011 season. Martin Prado who filled in admirably for Chipper and also played a stellar 2nd base is also healthy but has been moved to left field to accommodate Chipper and the new signing Dan Uggla.

Uggla will help the batting order since he has registered 30 plus home runs for the last five consecutive seasons. Unfortunately, he is a bad defender with 47 errors over the past three seasons which is a lot for a second baseman.

Every American schoolboy knows that the defensive strength of any baseball team is down the middle: catcher, short stop/second base, and center field. Brian McCann is only OK; Alex Gonzalez turns 34 next month and was a major defensive disappointment last season. Dan Uggla is the 2nd baseman and I have already touched upon his defensive frailties. That leads me to the center fielder, Nate McClouth who spent most of last season at Triple AAA Gwinnett and finished the regular major league season with a batting average below the Mendoza line, 0.176.

It was noteworthy that Rick Ankiel was the Braves’ starting center fielder in the Division Series even though McLouth was on the active roster. The Braves thought so little of Ankiel they let him leave after the season, and now they plan to run McLouth out there again. The new manager Fredie Gonzalez believes he has helped McLouth rediscover his swing and confidence, but my thought is you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

In the remaining outfield positions, rookie Freddie Freeman will be playing first base and consequently the jury will be out on him until the all star game by which time  he could be jettisoned back to Triple A in Gwinnett. Justin Heyward is entering his second season which can be a difficult one since pitchers have had a season to assess your strengths and weaknesses.

The bench looks reasonable with the return of Hinske, back up catcher David Ross, and Brooks Conrad. But for goodness sake don’t let Conrad have a regular run in the line up following his abject fielding in the post season.

Despite the new manager’s efforts to instill some basics into his squad during spring training such as bunting, stealing bases, producing squeeze plays, this team still has no speed. The Braves ranked 14th in a 16 team league in stolen bases last season and their new position players are not Olympic sprinters by any stretch of the imagination. Uggla, for example, has 19 stolen bases in five big league seasons.

The Braves have lost Troy Glaus, Omar Infante, Matt Diaz, and Billy Wagner from last year’s regular line up. Glaus was a converted 3rd baseman playing first base and one could argue his wheels fell off following the all star break. Nevertheless in the month of May he transformed the Braves season with his sensational hitting. Infante made the all star team as a utility player but by all accounts was a disruptive influence in the club house and the franchise was happy to trade him.

The starting rotation looks fairly solid, but Derek Lowe was roughed up by the Mets in his last spring season outing before appearing as opening day starter, and one wonders which Derek Lowe will show against the Washington Nationals. However, alarm bells were ringing when Jair Jurrjens was sidelined with yet another injury. The Braves management has not decided whether to place him on the disabled list, but it does not augur well for a player with a history of niggling injuries causing him to miss a substantial number of games in the last couple of seasons.

 Near rookie Brandon Beachy will claim the No. 4 spot in the rotation in the opening weeks of a new season and Mike Minor will be called up into the No. 5 spot; neither of whom looked impressive in spring training. Surprisingly, the rotation does not include a left hander which may come back to haunt them down the road.

The bull pen appears to be fairly efficient, and Craig Kimbrel is projected to be the closer following Billy Wagner’s retirement. He has everything you’d want in a closer except….. control. He walks people as he made patently apparent in the devastating ninth inning of Game 3 of the National League Division Series. You can’t walk people if you want to close.

When the Braves play Thursday in Washington, D.C., it will mark the first time they’ll work for someone other than Bobby Cox since June 23, 1990. I’m not the only one in Atlanta who thought Mr. Cox should have retired at least five years ago, possibly even earlier. Yes, they won 14 consecutive division titles under his tutelage, but one solitary World Series win (1995) is a meager return when one considers he had one of the best starting rotations (Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz) in the history of baseball for over 10 years at his disposal.

Ironically, division rivals Philadelphia now enjoy the best starting rotation (Halliday, Oswallt, Lee and Hammels currently in baseball which should be more than enough to win the division leaving the Braves fighting off the best of the rest to claim the wild card. As usual, a lot will depend on Chipper Jones’ fragile body withstanding another long campaign. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Prado reclaiming 3rd base thirty games into the season. Who from the current staff will be playing left field then? Please don’t mention Brooks Conrad.

Media Whores

Monday, March 21st, 2011

We are only in the middle of March and the relatively new year has experienced a number of devastating and dramatic events. An 18-day revolt led by the young people of Egypt ousted President Mubarak on Friday 11th February; ending his thirty year reign. The world was still reeling from the revolution taking place in Egypt when a similar situation erupted in Libya a few days later on February 15th.

A month has now elapsed since the revolt began. At first, Gaddafi appeared to be on the way out as rebels seized much of eastern Libya and many officials of Gadhafi’s own government defected to their cause. But since then, employing his own troops and foreign mercenaries, Gaddafi has mounted an effective counteroffensive. Not only has he secured the capital, Tripoli, but he has begun to drive the rebels back, recapturing several towns along the Mediterranean coast. At this rate, he could be in Benghazi—Libya’s second city, which the rebels captured early—within days.

Egypt was the news story for about a week until Mubarek stepped down and was replaced by the Vice President. Incredulously, the media quickly abandoned the story and we have not been informed on how Egypt is progressing under its new regime. The media  determined that it  lost its shock value. They quickly moved on to Libya anticipating Gaddifi would take the same road as his fellow tin pot dictator, Mubarek. Gaddafi has proved many times during his 41 year control of his country that he is predictable in his unpredictability and he was not going  gently into the good night. Quite unashamedly, the media did not anticipate such an outcome and quickly lost interest in the story until the toothless tiger in the shape of the United Nations sanctioned a no fly zone over Libya and French, American and British forces are now bombarding Gaddafi led forces” in order to protect civilians.”

Prior to the somewhat surprising United Nations resolution, one could almost hear the wheels turning in the media’s shallow brains determining that issues in the Middle East were turning into stereo type with successive Arab countries being threatened by a revolt in one form or another, when an earthquake of 6.8 magnitude devastated the city of Christchurch, New Zealand on 22nd February. News anchors and camera crews were whisked down to the Antipodes to cover the story which held the attention of the media for a few days until they unaccountably turned their attention to the ridiculous Charlie Sheen saga which culminated in his firing from the sitcom 21/2 Men.

I’m not sure when the dumbing down of the news media began. I believe I read a statistic once that suggested the attention span of an average viewer under 30 years of age for serious news is approximately 5 minutes.  Indeed it is debatable whether it is the news reporter or the viewer who has been dumbed down. The quality of news reporters on BBC America for example leaves a lot to be desired and you wonder are they recruited from Jackanory or Blue Peter.

Before we had  the opportunity to sit back in our seats, news broke on 12th March that an earthquake and tsunami of a record 8.9 magnitude had struck north-eastern Japan and was 8000 times stronger than the Christchurch quake. The Japan earthquake was ranked as the fifth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900. Now any news reporter worth his salt would have posed the question: were the two earthquakes linked as they occurred in the same Pacific region and in a relatively short time frame?

Unable to find an answer from our wonderful media I decided to do my own research and discovered that scientists studying clusters of large earthquakes around the Pacific Rim cannot link the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan.

 Professor Kevin McCue, director of the Australian Seismological Centre in Canberra, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the Japan earthquake was a rupture of the plate boundary. He said, “The Christchurch earthquake was not a rupture. It was not an earthquake on the conjugate fault, a fault that’s an angle to the main fault and 100 kilometers away from the plate boundary. It seems unbelievable, but relative to this the Christchurch earthquake was small.”

Before the dust had time to settle (quite literally) in Christchurch, the media whores, excuse me, news anchors were sent scuttling to Japan. Diane Sawyer from ABC news, wearing her puppy dog expression and wearing the latest fashion from Sachs 5th Avenue was interviewing, via an interpreter, a disheveled survivor and asking inane questions such as: “Were you scared?” This lady earns over a million dollars a year and that’s the best she can come up with?

Okay, I am not so naïve that I fail to acknowledge the media need dramatic stories to sell newspapers and to sell advertising on their TV networks. But I do object to sensational and irresponsible journalism. Only two days after the Japan earthquake, Matt Frei of BBC America posed the question on what effect the radiation fallout from the damaged Japanese nuclear reactor would have on the West Coast of America. The answer is none, but it grabbed the attention of residents of California.

Inexplicably, I have been unable to track down any news concerning the welfare of residents of Christchurch and now that the no fly zone has been operating in Libya, the media circus has moved back to the Middle East confining coverage of Japan’s attempts to bounce back from adversity to the back pages.

Now we have the intervention of the United Nations led by France (of all people), United Kingdom and USA into Libya. But what premeditated such swift action from an organization that normally makes a sloth look like an Olympic sprinter? Writing in the Telegraph, General Lord Dannatt , Chief of the General Staff, 2006-2009, said that the hurdle that international leaders had to clear was deliberately set high; a clear request from the Libyan opposition backed by the Arab League and a firm statement of intent by some Arab and Muslim countries to participate in prospective military action.

United Nation Security Council Resolution 1973 specifies that the aim is “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack … including Benghazi”, but military planners are taught to analyse very carefully the missions they are given.

According to Lord Dannat:” the specified task is the protection of civilians, but the implied task – and the end-state to be achieved – involves the removal of Colonel Gaddafi and his regime and the creation of conditions whereby a government more acceptable to the majority of decent-minded Libyans could be put in place.”

Okay, now we are aware of the parameters, let’s sit back and determine whether the media whores are prepared to give us fair and balanced reporting, or as I believe we will be subjected to image and little substance.

What’s with the title Dude?

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

It may seem bizarre to foreigners but there is something oddly endearing, even quirky, about the British honors system. Twice a year (the Queen’s birthday and New Year) peerages, knighthoods, dames and a variety of gongs and medals are meted out to recipients from the worlds of entertainment, business, military and sporting fraternities. Even Mr. and Mrs. Joe Blow sometimes receive an award for services rendered to Wheels on Meals or providing floral displays at the Women’s Institute.  Politicians are not forgotten either and many receive peerages (which seems quite appropriate) on retirement and subsequently put out to grass in the most exclusive men’s club in the world, The House of Lords.

In America, they pride themselves on living in a classless society and boast that one can achieves ones dreams and goals in the US of A without the need for a silver spoon in ones mouth. A little money helps of course, but Americans summarily dismiss the British aristocracy and landed gentry; particularly the range of titles on offer: duke, earl, count, marquis, viscount, baron, knight, dame and so forth.

Consequently, it is curious to me that American politicians retain their titles regardless of whether they retired, resigned or were defeated in an election. Messrs George Bush, George W. Bush, Clinton, and Carter are reverentially addressed as Mr. President. Carter was badly beaten in his re-election campaign and Gerald Ford was not even elected but retained the title.

Even Richard Nixon was addressed as Mr. President even though he was forced to resign office instead of facing impeachment. Sarah Palin resigned as Governor of Alaska half way through her term but is addressed as Governor Palin on political talk shows. The former speaker of the House of Representative, Newt Gingrich, is interviewed as Mr. Speaker. Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice who both served as Secretary of State for a number of years are called Madam Secretary.

The only explanation I can discern from this weird process is that America is secretly envious of the British nobility system and decided to invent its own posturing. Tony Blair is no longer addressed as Prime Minister, but can look forward to receiving a peerage in his dotage. He could be re-invented as Baron Blair of Sedgefield which he served as Member of Parliament for 24 years

However, he may have to wait longer than most former prime ministers for his peerage as he was responsible for banning fox hunting long regarded as a popular activity practiced by the Nobility. Ironically he also abolished one of the oldest titles in the realm; Lord Chancellor who is summarily head of the judicial system in the UK. The post is now called Minister of Justice which wreaks of George Orwell’s futuristic masterpiece ‘1984.’

Winston Churchill refused a title which was offered him following his sterling efforts in World War 2. George 6th finally persuaded him to accept the “Order of the Knight’s Garter” which is a personal honor only a reigning monarch can bestow. Conversely one or two members of the aristocracy have renounced their titles. Most memorably, King Edward 8th abdicated in 1936 to be free to marry an American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He was downgraded to a Duke minus the prefix HRH: His Royal Highness. In the sixties, Tony Benn renounced his hereditary title, Viscount Stansgate, which allowed him to stand for Member of Parliament. knighthoods apart, parliamentarians are not allowed titles.

Over the years, American music icons have paid homage to the title process if one recalls Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Prince, and who can forget Lady Gaga. American sports have their own idiosyncrasy in the shape of anyone who has coached an NFL, NBA, NHL or College team and hereinafter addressed as “Coach.” Baseball managers are endearingly referred to as “Skipper”, but fortunately we are not subjected to the term too often.

Sarah Palin is being touted as possible presidential candidate, and if God forbid she was elected, she would probably assume the mantra of “Madam President, the great white hunter formerly known as Governor.” Speaker Newt Gingrich is testing the water and so is ex-Governor Romney each with his own former handle. The main protagonist of this absurd ritual of addressing guests by their former titles is a political talk show host, Sean Hannity, whose politics are slightly right of Attila the Hun. The irritating toe rag used to refer to every caller on his radio show as “you’re a great American and so are you Sean.”

For the sake of my fingernails being dragged across a black board, can we drop all the handles and just address political candidates or guests wheeled in to cure us of insomnia as either Mr. Mrs., or if you insist on being politically correct, Ms? I was a town planner by profession and I would be surely (don’t call me Shirley) be addressed by Mr. Hannity as Mr. Planner if he invited me onto his show. Quite frankly, it has a certain ring to it.