The name

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There are stories. There are memories. There are deeply held beliefs. They are the bedrock of who I have become. So many of them include an old man with thinning hair and a quick smile and a sharp wit who often shared a drink or a cigar with my father. He was ever present in our lives. Now that I think about it, I have to assume he had a housekey. He’s been dead for years, but I think of him often. Once, when I was taking too long to tell a story, he stopped me and handed me a business card. Then he barked his beautiful laugh. “I am somewhat of a …. Bullshitter myself But please go on with your story,” the card read. Twenty years later the card is still in my wallet. It will always be there. No matter what I read today. No matter that my opinion of the man has been rocked. That card will be a reminder of a man I admired. A man I loved. A man who I have no doubt loved me. Thankfully, he never hurt me. But he hurt others. I’ll someday comes to grips with that.
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The name

Looking at the Phillies’ schedule and pitching down the stretch

Forty-five games. That’s all that’s left in the Philadelphia Phillies’ thus-far magical season. They enter today in a statistical tie for first place with the Atlanta Braves. Gabe Kapler’s squad has been in this spot, or led the division, every day since July 10.

Currently the Braves hold a 64-51 record with a .557 winning percentage while the Phillies sit 65-52 with a .556 winning percentage. They have the second and third best records in the National League. The Nationals, meanwhile, are just five games back at 60-58 with a .505 winning percentage.

Let’s look at how the coming months break down:

Schedules

Phillies

Philadelphia will play 25 of its final 45 games at home, where it has a .679 mark. On the road, the team is playing .443 ball.

The Phils can sort this out themselves by playing well against the Nationals and Braves down the stretch. They have nine games left against Washington, six of which are at home, and seven against the Braves, three of which are at the bank.

They start a crucial two-game test against the Boston Red Sox, baseball’s  best team, tonight. They also face the Chicago Cubs, the best team in the Senior Circuit, from Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

They also face a tough Rockies team for three of the season’s final ten games.

They face sub.500 teams 20 times. They play the Mets 11 times, face the Marlins six times, and have one three-game set against the Blue Jays.

By no means do the Phillies have an easy schedule the rest of the way. They do, however, have to look at the schedule with some positivity.

Braves

The Braves play 28 of their final 47 games at home. That’s a nice boost for the Braves, but they play .556 at home and .557 on the road. The interesting thing is who the Braves play over that stretch.

They have just 14 games remaining against teams that are below .500.  And three of those are against a San Francisco squad that is 59 and 60. They face the Central Division-leading Cubs for one makeup game. They face the West-leading Diamondbacks for four. They play the Red Sox three times. The rest of their schedule: Phillies (7), Pirates (6), Colorado (4), Washington (3), Cardinals (3) and Tampa Bay (2).

That’s rough.

Nationals

The Nationals have just 44 games to make up 5 games in the standings against two teams. It’s not impossible – just ask the 2007, 2008 Phillies, 1993 Braves. But it’s not easy.

How will Washington’s schedule contribute? Well, they will play 23 of their final games at home. That’s good for Washington. The problem, like the Braves, is who they will play down the stretch.

Washington will play just 15 games against fifteen games against sub-500 teams. All of those games come against the Marlins and Mets. They face the Braves (three times) and the Phillies (9) a lot the rest of the way, so they can make up some room on their own.

The rest of the Nationals schedule features the Cardinals (7), Cubs (4), Brewers (3) and Rockies (3).

Young pitching

Two of these teams are led by young rotations.

Look at how close some of these guys are to reaching their previous highs in single-season innings pitched:

Phillies

Aaron Nola: 14 innings
Vincent Velasquez: 13.3
Nick Pivetta: 13.3
Zach Eflin: Already career high

Braves

Sean Newcomb: Already career high
Mike Foltynewicz: 30 innings

Nationals

All veterans

Analysis

None of the three teams atop the National League East has an easy route to the postseason. In fact, if any of them has even a moderately long hot streak – say an 8-1 or 10-3 stretch, it can put the division away in the coming days. The schedule seems to favor the Phillies, slightly.

The Phillies have also had the better pitching staff up to this point in the season. However, Washington might get the edge going forward because they’ve been here before and we can be somewhat certain they won’t hit a wall.

 

Looking at the Phillies’ schedule and pitching down the stretch

Bob Woodward books, ranked

Bob Woodward is going to publish a book on the Trump Administration. His books have fascinated me since I was in college. I’ve read several of them – “All the President’s Men,” “The Final Days,” “The Brethren,” “Veil” – multiple times. I’ve read every one completely, except “The Last of The President’s Men,” though I have read much of it. Here’s a look at his books, from best to worst.

The Final Days (1976) Working with Carl Bernstein, he takes you inside the climax and denouement of the Watergate scandal. The details are vivid, the people nuanced, the story-telling tight.

All the President’s Men (1974) OK, it’s more important than “The Final Days.” But it’s not as well written and well researched. In many ways it’s got a bit of a memoir in it and there are times it seems both Woodward and Bernstein are uncomfortable with that.

The Brethren (1979) Working with Scott Armstrong, he takes you deep inside the Burger Court. The fun part of this book, beyond the way he lifts the veil on one of our most secretive institutions, is that you can actually tell who his off the record sources are.

Shadow (1999) This tome is different than many of Woodward’s books because it isn’t a narrative of one administration or one event. He takes a look at how Richard Nixon’s scandal affected the following five presidents. Woodward’s books often offer scant analysis. This one offers more and his perspective is a valuable one.

Wired (1984) Easily the most un-Woodward title. He writes a biography of the late John Belushi, who attended his high school. It’s not his most popular book, but I’ll take it over some of his more recent ones because he writes more authoritatively.

The Price of Politics (2012) His look at how President Obama tried to work with Republicans to save the economy gives you a deeper look at what went right and wrong during those crucial 3 years.

Veil (1987) He takes you inside the CIA to look at some of the covert wars of the time. It’s a valuable book to understand today’s biggest international problems.

The Agenda (1994) A concise look at what were the legislative, political and personal struggles inside Clinton’s first term that shaped his presidency?

Plan of Attack (2004) Woodward shows how the George W. Bush Administration planned on going after Saddam Hussein early in his presidency. It’s far and away the best Woodward book on the Bush presidency.

State of Denial (2006) The third chronicle of the George W. Bush Administration, it showed how inept some of the decision-makers were.

The Commanders (1991) A look at the people who drove the success of the first Gulf War. This could use a rerelease with what we know today.

The Choice (1996) Woodward does his Theodore White impersonation, trying to follow an entire 1996 campaign. It’s a good book, but not the best on the 1996 campaign (I’ll take Michael Lewis’ rollicking “Trail Fever” on the Republican Primary.)

The War Within (2008) If he hadn’t already written three books on Bush’s wars, this book would have been incredibly impressive. However, when one considers what he’d already reported previously, this book should have had more perspective in it.

Bush At War  (2002) This one is kind of forgettable because it’s about the Afghan war, so there’s no real controversy. But reading it at the time, you could see that the administration wasn’t prepared for a 2-front War on Terror.

The Last of the President’s Men – One of three books that deviate from Woodward’s normal storytelling techniques. It’s interesting, but not incredibly necessary.

Obama’s Wars (2010) The facts surrounding the book – That Osama bin Laden recommended the book, saying it showed Obama’s ineptitude; was then killed in a raid ordered by Obama; and the book was found in his compound – is much more interesting than the book itself.

Maestro (2000) It’s essentially a hagiography of Alan Greenspan, who does not deserve a hagiography.

The Secret Man (2005) Woodward’s rushed biography of his valued source, Deepthroat. We now know it was W. Mark Felt. And, after reading the book, I cared less.

Bob Woodward books, ranked

A lesson from Dad

PopsIt’s finals week for my third semester. While most of my classes deal with different types of pedagogy, a few have dealt with some deeper aspects of teaching. Basically if and how teachers should connect with students to help foster an environment of learning.
I figured I’d share part of an essay I wrote for this week’s class.

I had my dad for a class in college. He was around 60 and had more than 30 years in by then. A couple times in class he’d offer life lessons.

I always felt uncomfortable sitting through them. I kind of felt like his job was to teach math and his branching out made me a bit uncomfortable. Interestingly, I probably wouldn’t have reacted the same if my other professors did this.

But my classmates ate it up. He won a ton of awards for his teaching and I think those little connections he made with students were a big thing. For example, one time before a test he said, “I ask you not to cheat. Don’t do that to me. If you fail this test, we’ll work it out. But don’t cheat.” Then he added, “And not just in this class, but in other classes or on your careers or your spouses.”

I probably won’t talk to my middle schoolers about cheating on their spouses. But I do think there is a place for teaching like Dad did.

I’ve often found that there are some interesting similarities between journalism and teaching. Most of our classes drench themselves in objectivity. But one of our classes required us to read “The Courage to Teach,” which would be a good read for any field. In it, the author compels educators to connect with their material and students on a personal level. He shows how that helps teachers connect the students and the material.

Dad had that courage to teach.

A lesson from Dad

A journalist’s job

Let’s get something straight, right off the bat. A journalist’s job is not to try to be popular. Often, a journalist’s job is going to make them unpopular. No one likes someone pointing out their favorite candidate has some skeletons in their closet. No one likes someone who shows the world that the company they work for is doing some nefarious things. No one likes someone who reports on a relative’s misdeeds.

Teeth were gnashed and pearls were clutched last week when news broke about a poll that said three-quarters of republicans trusted President Trump over the media. Members of the media asked How do journalists reach these people and What can journalists do to improve their standing? This was quite the waste of time. It’s not a journalist’s job to scratch these peoples’ backs and stroke their egos. The trope that there is nothing the media loves to cover more than itself is incredibly true. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes, it’s incredibly stupid.

A journalist’s job is a complex one, but it can be boiled down to this: To tell the community it serves about the world it lives in as accurately and thoroughly as possible. That means journalists tell stories through words and pictures about the good, the bad and the gray in the world. That isn’t going to please most of the people.

If a journalist strives for thoroughness and accuracy, they’re going to do their jobs correctly 100 percent of the time. Those are the two north stars of the field. Nothing else comes close. It means a journalist is going to talk to more than one person, to strive to dig in behind the official story. It means striving to ensure a story has its facts correct. It means making sure you’re not painting with too broad a brush and getting into the nuance of an issue. It means finding the voices who don’t have a microphone.

We often hear about other goals – particularly “fairness” and “balance.” The problem is those two goals often send journalists down the wrong path. If a journalist strives for “thoroughness” and “accuracy,” they’re going to get every side that matters into a story and they’re going to give them the treatment they deserve. If a journalist strives for “balance,” that means treating two sides equally. Think about that and how absurd that is. We often only see asked for in political reporting, where access and not stepping on toes seems to carry more weight than “thoroughness” and “accuracy.” Here’s a non-political example: the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Coverage that strived for accuracy and thoroughness during the trial would tell you what he was accused of, that he had not been convicted yet, who he was, who his victims were, what evidence the prosecution had, what happened at the trial. But if “balance” is your north star, the terror of his actions could be balanced against his perceived slights. Or against anything else, really. That’s the problem with balance. Like fairness, it’s subjective.

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A journalist’s job

The Scarecrow is a murdered

As a kid, I loved L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” series. I remember thinking it was so different from the movie. Yet, I liked the differences.

I’ve been reading “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” to the kids. I knew the shoes would be silver instead of ruby. I knew there were going to be longer adventures.

What I forgot was the darkness of the novel. Like “Peter Pan” the Oz series takes you to some unexpectedly dark places if you’re only accustomed to the Hollywood versions.

For example, check out this passage:

“The King Crow flew at the Scarecrow, who caught it by the head and twisted its neck until it died. And then another crow flew at him, and the Scarecrow twisted its neck also. There were forty crows, and forty times the Scarecrow twisted a neck, until at last all were lying dead beside him. Then he called to his companions to rise, and again they went upon their journey.”

Whoa, the Scarecrow went medieval on the King Crow’s feathered ass.

Think that’s bad? The Tin Woodman has just decapitated two score beasts while Dorothy slept.

The Scarecrow is a murdered

My baseball library, ranked

I’m bored out of my gourd. I’m doing my afternoon routine of trying to get the girls to nap. I’m staring at my bookshelves of baseball books. Trying to figure out which is my favorite. Which ones are my top ten. So, I ended up ranking them. The list doesn’t include baseball fiction. It also doesn’t include a series of 25 books that I got from Major League Baseball that are about 129 pages each on different topics (such as “Baseball’s Best Pitchers” and “Baseball’s Best Ballparks”)

Continue reading “My baseball library, ranked”

My baseball library, ranked