Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fitzgerald starts prosecution by admitting there was no crime

Quote of the day from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
"One thing should be made very clear," Fitzgerald told the jury. "Mr. Novak relied on two sources. Neither of those sources are the defendant. Let's move forward…"

Someone want to remind me again why the taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on his investigation?

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Patriots-Colts - gameday preview

So, less than 5 hours to kick-off. A couple of thoughts on the New England-Indianapolis game, so that I can later claim bragging rights, or suffer the shame and infamy of looking ridiculous.

  • If one didn't understand before now that it's possible to get "too much of a good thing," it should be obvious by now. 3 years ago, these two teams met in the AFC Championship, and it was hyped to the gills. The next year, they met in the play-offs again, and the hype level, ridiculous a year earlier, was escalated. Now, there's a lot of talk about this game, which should be the better of the two games today, and features the best two teams still playing, but there's just nowhere to go on the hype-meter, and a lot of what hype there is just falls flat. When a game is considered the be-all and end-all, and then is followed by another the following year, and then another two years later, the fact that there could easily be another next year starts to cut through the fog...

  • The national media pundits have, overwhelmingly, picked Indianapolis to win this game. The analysis that leads them to this positions seems, almost universally, to take the form "this is Peyton's/Dungy's/Polian's/Indianapolis' time/turn." Maybe it is their time, but that fact seems unlikely to beat New England if the Patriots are a better team. It would be nice if all of that analysis yielded some actual reasons for those picks.

  • When there are reasons given, they tend to boil down to two points.

    1. The Colts defense, with Bob Sanders back, is playing really well.
      That they've been better in the post-season than they were down the stretch of the regular season is indisputable. Whether that is representative of the performance of the Colts or their opposition is less so. The Chiefs came into Indianapolis bent on running the ball. When the Colts stacked 8 men in the box to stop the run, and it became obvious that KC wasn't going to be able to run, the Chiefs adapted to that by ... handing the ball off to Larry Johnson again. Herm Edwards, who has never been accused of being a master tactician, under-performed his lowest expectations. Not that things got any better when they threw it. Trent Green shouldn't have been playing, and played like it, and Herm left him in. That KC game was like a late Christmas present from Herm to his good friend Tony Dungy.

      As to Baltimore, Jamal Lewis looked old and slow and tired, and Steve McNair had possibly the worst game of his career. The Colts played well, but when an unpressured QB misses an open receiver, as happened time and time and time again, the defense should just say "thank you," and not get caught up in looking for bouquets.

    2. The Colts have beaten New England in New England the last two seasons

      This is also true, and possibly even relevant. But there are reasons to be skeptical of the predictive value of those games, too. The defense was just ravaged in 2005, and that game didn't much resemble anything that happened in 2006. As to the November loss, there are a couple of noteworthy points. One is that the Patriots had 4 turnovers to the Colts 2, and were still just 39 yards from the tying touchdown with 1:25 left in the game when Kevin Faulk let a ball go right through his hands for Brady's 4th interception, and the team's 5th turnover. If Brady throws 4 picks or the team turns it over 5 times today, they'll lose again. I don't expect it to happen.

      Furthermore, down 10 with about 6 minutes left, Faulk was open at the 3 for a touchdown, Brady hit him in the hands, and he dropped it. If he holds that, the Patriots are driving for a winning TD or tying field goal with 1:25 left.

      In addition, Rodney Harrison was anchoring the Patriots defensive backfield entering that game, and played just 3 plays before leaving with a broken shoulder-blade. While they don't have him now, they've had a chance to play 8 or 9 games without him, so they're better prepared to be without him than they were when he went down in November.

      The bottom line on the November game - the Colts couldn't run the ball, and they couldn't stop the New England offense. The Patriots stopped themselves, turned the ball over, and gave the Colts nearly 100 penalty yards. Had New England played a mediocre game that night, they'd have won. If I were the Colts, I'd not be betting too heavily on a repeat of that Patriots performance, and that's not even considering what has generally happened the 2nd time a team plays a Belichick-coached team in the same season in the past.

    So there are a couple of actual reasons to pick the Colts, but neither of them is, in my opinion, all that strong.

  • There's also a huge element of wishful thinking playing into those predictions, as the national writers are sick of writing about the Patriots, and want to canonize, and cover the canonization of, Peyton Manning at a Super Bowl.

  • As to reasons to pick the Patriots - I think that they're a better-coached and more physical team. Each team finished the season at 12-4, with the Patriots having played a tougher schedule. They've certainly played tougher competition in the play-offs. The Patriots outscored their opponents this year by 9.25 points per game (~24-15) while the Colts outscored theirs by only 4.18 (~27-23). The Colts' offense was better than New England's - the Patriots' defense was better, by a bigger margin, than Indianapolis'. The Colts have certainly got a place-kicker who's closer to automatic, but the Patriots have one who can hit from further out.

Bottom line - Indiapolis is playing at home, but the Patriots are a better team, and they love playing on the road and in domes. Indianapolis scores, aided by a couple of questionable pass interference calls, but New England scores more. New Engand wins 31-27.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Patriots-Chargers - The Last Word

A couple more thoughts before we leave the Patriots-Chargers divisional play-off game behind...

  • As I wandered through the media analysis yesterday, there was a theme repeated frequently, one that I think is not right and needs to be addressed. It was the perception, in many corners, that the Chargers marched up and down the field at will, that they dominated the Patriots, and only extreme luck, and help from the officials(!) allowed New England to march out with the victory.


    I've already said that, unlike their previous play-off games, I didn't necessarily think that New England was the better team on Sunday. That said, that doesn't mean that they were worse, either. Those were two excellent teams, one of which (San Diego) was at home with an extra week's rest, and the other of which (New England) played smarter football. That's why it was a 3-point game.

    But, back to the San-Diego-physically-dominated-the-game meme. It is true that, from the beginning of the game, the Chargers were a better team. When Michael Turner scored on a 6-yard run with 2 minutes left in the first half, the Chargers had run 38 plays for 218 yards, a 5.74 yards/play average. New England, on the other hand, had run 21 plays for 62 yards, 2.95 yards/play. Domination, San Diego. No doubt. And that's why they were up 14-3.

    From that point to the end of the game, it was nowhere near as unbalanced. After the Turner touchdown, the Chargers ran 29 plays for 154 yards (5.31), while the Patriots ran 53 plays for 262 yards (4.94). That's not domination.

    And, if I may be allowed to cherry-pick a little bit more, that's not actually representative, yet, of what actually happened. After the 49-yard completion to Caldwell, the Patriots ran 4 plays, 3 to run time off the clock and center the ball, and 1 to take a knee. The Patriots defense allowed San Diego to complete mid-level passes in the middle of the field to keep the clock running. When both teams were trying to both move the ball and prevent the ball from moving, from the Turner touchdown to the Caldwell reception, and not counting the last play of the first half, where San Diego took a knee, the Chargers ran 25 plays for 116 yards (4.64) and the Patriots ran 49 for 259 (5.29). Advantage, New England.

    For the game, the Chargers did have total yardage and time-of-possession advantages. But they weren't great, and they were accumulated early. New England outplayed them after the two-minute warning of the first half, and outscored them 21-7.

  • Another way to look at it. San Diego had 3 touchdown drives. Those averaged 7.3 plays and 69.3 yards. They had 10 more drives, and those averaged 4.6 plays and 13.6 yards. The idea that "New England couldn't stop them," which I heard more than once yesterday, is diametrically opposed to what actually happened on the field. The Patriots stopped them most of the time.

  • Another point. New England forced San Diego to punt 7 times, and stopped them on downs once (which went into the books as a fumble, but even if Rivers hadn't fumbled, it would have been New England's ball at the same spot.) San Diego forced New England to punt 6 times.

  • 5 of New England's drives resulted in points. 3 of San Diego's did.

  • Brady threw an interception that left San Diego in field-goal range in the 3rd quarter. On 7 plays, the Chargers lost 6 yards, and had to punt.

  • "New England couldn't stop Tomlinson, and the Chargers wouldn't give him the ball." Tomlinson carried the ball 10 times, and had it thrown to him once, out of the Chargers 22 second-half plays. (Not counting punts, field goal attempts, and the last drive with no timeouts trying to get into field-goal range). On those 10 carries, he ran for 44 yards, 4.4 per carry. 6 of those carries were for 3 yards or less. 2 of those carries yielded a total of 22 yards. So did the other 8.

  • I've heard it said, several times, that the Chargers had that game won if Marlon Mcree had just knocked the ball down, or fallen to the ground after intercepting it. It's ridiculous. Let's assume that San Diego had gotten the ball right there. They did, only a couple minutes later. The Patriots forced a 3-and-out. Had San Diego kept the ball and the Patriots gotten a 3-and-out, the Patriots would have gotten the ball back, much as they did just a couple of minutes later. The Patriots drove to the San Diego 15, and ran as much clock setting up the winning field goal as they could. Had they been down 8 at that point, there's no reason whatsoever to suppose that they couldn't have scored the touchdown and 2-point conversion, as they had following the interception. In other words, while the fumbled interception certainly made it easier for New England to win the game, Mcree holding onto to the ball wouldn't, by any stretch of the imagination, have sealed the game. And it's silly to say that it would have.

  • Likewise, the officiating complaints seem to center on the fact that Graham didn't get an offsetting penalty when he shoved Florence away on the headbutt. Nope. Not buying it. Graham didn't hit him, he pushed him away. Significant difference between headbutting and pushing the headbutter away.

  • The Colvin interception, on the other hand, featured a blatant facemask penalty that, for some reason, got waved off. I don't care whether LT bent his fingers and "grasped" the mask or not - he clearly put his hand on the bar of the helmet, left it there, and bent Colvin's head backwards using leverage on that part of the facemask. There's no way that shouldn't have been another 15 yards for the Patriots.

Bottom line - the team that played a better, smarter game is going to the AFC Championship game. The Chargers are an excellent team, but so are the Patriots, and they've got nothing to apologize for...

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More "last thoughts" on the Patriots and Chargers

Chris Lynch has some interesting thoughts on the NFL weekend in general, and the LaDainian Tomlinson comments in particular, here and here and here.
Let me also say something to LaDainian Tomlinson - if someone "disrespecting" one of your teammate's patented dance moves is what was bothering you most after losing then you need a fresh perspective.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Patriots Chargers aftermath

When Michael Turner went off left tackle for a six-yard touchdown with 2:10 remaining in the first half, the Chargers had a 14-3 lead in a game that looked as if it could easily turn into a blowout. Over the course of the next 32 minutes, however, the Patriots outscored San Diego 21-7, walking away with a 24-21 win.

A couple of thoughts and observations...

  • The New England Patriots have now played 13 play-off games in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. After each one of those games, I walked away feeling as though the Patriots were the better team. Either more physical (Rams, Colts) or better skilled (Steelers, Eagles) or both (Jaguars, Jets). I would have expected the Patriots to win 6 or more out of 10 against any one of those teams. Even when the Patriots lost in Denver last year, I thought that the Patriots were the better team. Not yesterday. The Chargers were big, tough, physical, fast, highly-skilled - basically everything that you're looking for. Luckily for New England, yesterday, they were also dumb.

  • I think a lot of Marty Schottenheimer's play-off problems are not his fault, he's just been in some bad match-ups, lost with some over-achieving teams, and been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he certainly cost himself and his team big-time yesterday by absolutely wasting his second challenge (which didn't hurt them) and a time-out (which did.) When Brady's 4th down pass was picked off by Marlon Mcree, who was then stripped by Troy Brown to extend the New England tying drive, Marty challenged the play. That was a waste of his timeout. There was no replay on which it was not obvious that a) Mcree had intercepted the ball and had control of it and b) had not been downed when the ball came out. It was a pointless challenge, and it came back to haunt them when they had to settle for a 54-yard field goal attempt on their last drive, because they had no timeouts.

  • I love to see teams go for it on 4th down. But I thought Schottenheimer also made a huge mistake by going for it on 4th and 11 in the first quarter. The Patriots had run 6 plays in the game, 2 3-and-outs, all from inside their own 15. If he didn't trust Kaeding to hit a 47 yard field goal, he should have punted, and pinned them back again. The Chargers failure to convert moved New England out of the shadow of their own goalposts for the first time, and set up the Patriots' first scoring drive.

  • Tom Brady didn't have a great game. He threw an interception on which he apparently missed the linebacker in coverage. He threw another by missing an open receiver short because he threw off his back foot. The third, I'll give him a bit of a pass on. It was 4th and 5, and an interception was no worse for the Patriots in that situation than an incompletion. He tried to force it in, it got picked. Luckily, it also got stripped and they recovered.

  • There are giveaways and takeaways. The Mcree fumble was a Patriot takeaway. The Colvin interception was a Patriot takeaway. The Parker fumble on the punt was a Charger giveaway - the Patriots did a good job covering the kick, making sure that Parker couldn't recover it. But they had nothing to with the fact that he dropped it, and then tried to pick it up instead of falling on it. The other two turnovers were forced - that one was an unforced error.

  • Yes, there are four turnovers on the stat sheet. I don't count the first one. The Patriots sacked Rivers on 4th down, and the ball came out. Didn't matter whether the ball came out, or who recovered it. New England's ball.

  • Dumb - Drayton Florence head-butting Ben Coates to extend a New England drive.

  • Dumb - The Chargers calling a timeout immediately following an injury. On 2nd & 4, in a tie game with under 4 minutes left, NE cornerback Ellis Hobbs went down on the play. He was down for over a full minute, and then hobbled off the ball. When the officials spotted the ball, over a minute-and-a-half after the previous snap, the Chargers lined up, and then called a timeout, because they weren't ready to run a play. Another wasted timeout that they needed later.

  • LaDainian Tomlinson is, by all accounts, one of the real good guys in the NFL. But he handled himself poorly after the game. You don't demonstrate class by asserting it. Calling yourself "classy," as he did after the game, demonstrates a lack of it. As to whether or not the Patriots players who set him off were excessive or classless or inappropriate, I can't say, as I didn't see it. If they were mocking the Chargers, well, I won't defend that - they shouldn't. But Merriman dances when he wins, when he sacks someone. If LT doesn't like to see someone exulting on his field when he loses, maybe he ought to say something to his teammate about doing it when the Chargers win...

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

More on the Rice debate

Chris Lynch didn't care much for my piece on Jim Rice and the Hall of Fame. Which is fine. Go ahead and read it, and you may agree with him. But there are a couple of things he had to say that I want to address.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen people write things like, "When I saw Jim Rice play - I was sure he was a Hall of Fame player but now I'm not convinced." This sort reasoning bothers me. A good example of this sort of reasoning is Lyford's most recent piece talking about Jim Rice and the Hall of Fame.

I can understand being bothered by that, but I want to clarify that. I did, in fact, say that when I was younger I thought Rice was a Hall of Famer. There are two reasons for that.

1) "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; when I became a man, I put away childish things." I know a lot more about the game, I understand a lot more about the game, than I did when I was 14-16, which were my ages during Rice's peak. I understand more about the value of OBP, I understand more about park effects.

2) In 1979, even taking OBP and park effects into account, Jim Rice was clearly on a Hall of Fame track. As late as 1986, there was still an excellent opportunity for him to finish with a career that warranted induction. Unfortunately, he hadn't done quite enough yet, and did nothing else, leaving him, to my way of thinking, on the wrong side of the line that separates Hall of Famers from the very good players who aren't Hall of Famers.

So I don't apologize at all for thinking differently about Jim Rice's Hall of Fame credentials in 2007 than I did in 1979, when I was 16, and his career was still in its first half.

Lyford falls into the same fallacy of thinking that "OBP is more valuable than SLG." Says who?

Pretty much everyone who's ever looked at it seriously.

I know today we accept that OBP is more valuable than SLG but that was not the case when Rice was playing.

The fact that some people didn't know it doesn't mean that it wasn't true.

Jim Rice was a "slugger". His job in the middle of the batting order was to try and hit the cover off the baseball - not to try and draw a walk.

No, Jim Rice was a hitter, whose job was to try to help the team score more runs. It would have been more helpful for him to walk on some of those low-outside pitches instead of pulling them to SS for 6-4-3 double plays. Rice was playing for the same team that Ted Williams had played for 20+ years earlier. It's not the HoF voter's fault that he chose not to walk.

People today like to compare Rice's OBP to Dwight Evan's and yet I've never seen any of these comparisons mention that Rice was always batting 3rd or 4th where his job was to "slug" while for a good chunk of his career - Evans batted leadoff where his job was to get on base for Jim Rice and others to knock him in.

Ted Williams, who has the highest OBP in baseball history, always batted 3rd or 4th, too. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds, who all batted 3rd or 4th, are all in the top 6.

In other words, that's not a reason for a low-OBP - it's an excuse.

Was Jim Rice successful as a slugger? Well consider he had 8 seasons in the top 10 for slugging (leading the league twice). Rice was in the top 10 in HR 7 times including leading the league 3 times. RBI? Rice was top 10 in the AL 9 times including leading the league twice. I think you could say that Jim Rice was a very successful slugger.

He sure was. But not successful enough to reach HoF standards, not when you consider that a) SLG was really all he gave you and b) his SLG was artificially enhanced by his home park and c) he only did it for about 10 years.

Consider this - sluggers are known for HR and RBI and there are currently 30 teams in MLB. The numbers Jim Rice put up in HR and RBI would make him the all time leader in both HR and RBI for 12 franchises including teams like the Indians and Angels.

Consider this - Dwight Evans, who you apparently don't think is a Hall Of Fame worthy candidate, finished 3 HR behind Rice, and would be the career HR leader for exactly the same teams.

He would also be the all-time leader in RBI for the Dodgers and Seattle plus the all-time leader in HR for the Brewers and Royals. One of the all-time great sluggers and people who saw him play knew they were watching a Hall of Famer.

Hey, through 2000, I knew that I was watching a Hall of Famer every time Nomar Garciaparra took the field, too. Now I know that I'm not. You've got to do it for more than a few years.

Too bad so many don't even trust what they saw with their own eyes.

Actually, people trusting their own eyes is one of the biggest problems in baseball analysis. People trusting their own eyes is the reason that Derek Jeter wins Gold Glove awards. The eyes are of limited trustworthiness, and they don't approach objectivity. That's why we keep track of the events that happen on the field, because we know that the eyes aren't trustworthy...

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I should have signed it...

So, the most widely read thing I've written in the last several months is, I suspect, a little 2-paragraph rant about Mark McGwire that Rich Lowry posted in The Corner...

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jim Rice - Hall of Fame?

A collection of thoughts and arguments that I've made in other places as Jim Rice has failed to reach the 75% of the vote necessary for Hall of Fame induction again.

OK. The Jim Rice Hall Of Fame Debate.

First off, I want to reiterate that I'm one of Rice's biggest fans. He was my favorite player from the mid-70s (when Yaz became my favorite player emeritus) until he retired. I was certain, when I was younger, that he was a Hall of Famer, and if he elected next year or the year after, which wouldn't surprise me in the least, I'll be, at least in some respects, happy to see it. That said, I don't think that his career warrants induction.

People make it to the Hall of Fame through either a period of dominance during a middling-length career, or being good enough to be productive over the course of a very long career. Clearly, the latter is not the case for Rice. Given the relative shortness of his career, he needs to go in on peak performance. And I don't think he makes it. I don't think that he peak was either high enough or long enough.

The other thing that goes into a Hall of Fame case is what we might call the "intangible" package. Are there special circumstances that make this player a greater or more important player than his statistics would indicate? Kirby Puckett was the undisputed leader of two World Series Champions, for example, and that played significantly into his case.

Bill James came up with what he (or others) called the "Ken Keltner list." Let's go through it for Rice.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

Yes. I think most people would or did consider him the best player in baseball in 1978. That was probably the only year, though his reputation as one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball persisted for several years in which it wasn't warranted.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

In 1978, he may have been. That was probably the only time, as he played with Fred Lynn early and Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens later. Considering everything, defense and OBP in addition to just raw power, Dwight Evans was a better player than Rice for much of his career as well.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

He was the best hitter at his position a couple of times. He was never a great fielder, and it was one of the easier defensive positions.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Yes. He was important to the AL pennant race in 1975, 1978 and 1986. Had he not been hurt before the 1975 World Series, there are a whole host of issues that might be different, including his HoF case. (Seriously, had Rice rather than Fisk hit that HR in game 6, he might be in already.) But he was, and they aren't.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Nope. He had a precipitous decline, and was out of the game very quickly after his last good season.

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No. Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Rich Gossage, Bert Blyleven - and there are others.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Looking at Rice's similarity scores, we see 4 Hall of Famers (Cepeda, who shouldn't be in, Duke Snider, Billy Williams and Willy Stargell), and 6 players who clearly aren't, including Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga and Joe Carter. So no, they aren't.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

That's really the question, isn't it? Some say yes, I say no. He didn't meet any of the big milestone numbers (3000 hits, 400 HR, 1500 RBI) that people have used in the past for "automatic" induction. His batting average fell below .300, his OBP is only .352, his SLG is .502. None of those numbers screams for HoF induction.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

There's nothing that I'm aware of to provide value above what the numbers say. He didn't have a Fisk/Puckett/Carter moment, winning a World Series game with a HR. He didn't particularly carry a team to a pennant. There's no great defensive or base-running resume. No, his case rests, stands or falls, entirely on what he did with the bat.

The one statistical accomplishment that jumps out and gets talked about was his 1978 season in which he accumulated 406 total bases, the first time that any hitter had bettered 400 TB in 30 years.

And his statistics are skewed, because he put up his best numbers in a ballpark that was exceptionally friendly to offense. If you look at that period from 1977 through 1979, when Rice was considered one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, Fenway was playing very small. Whether due to wind and weather patterns, or something else, bad hitters looked OK, OK hitters looked good and good hitters looked great in Fenway during those years. From 1977 through 1979, Rice hit .350/.405/.699/1.105 at Fenway, and .290/.347/.498/.845 everywhere else. In his MVP season of 1978, he hit .361/.416/.690/1.105 at home and .269/.325/.512/.837 everywhere else. 231 (57%) of those 406 total bases were accumulated in Fenway and only 175 (43%) on the road. He was a great hitter in his home park.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

No. Dick Allen was an outfielder. Was Rice clearly better than Fred Lynn or Sherry Magee or Dave Parker or Dwight Evans or Dale Murphy or Andre Dawson or Jimmy Wynn?

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

He won 1. He was 3rd twice and 4th twice, though I think some of those 3rds and 4ths were reputation votes, rather than deserved votes.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Jim Rice was an All Star 8 times. Half of the players with 8 All Star appearances are in, half are out. There are several 9 time All Stars who are also not in.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

A team could probably win a pennant with Jim Rice, at his peak, as its best player.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?


15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Yes, as far as we know, there's nothing to concern us here.

So, the Keltner list, in my opinion, leaves us where we started - he's a low-borderline case. He has some things in common with other Hall of Fame inductees, and some things in common with others who weren't. I see 7 clear "noes," 5 clear "yesses," and 3 "um, well, probably, but it's sorta-kinda-closes."

Questions and Answers:

If Kirby Puckett and Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda are in, doesn't that legitimately mean that Jim Rice should be, too?

I'm not going to dispute the legitimacy of the argument, and I'm not going to weep for the HoF if he gets in. But I am going to disagree with the argument. If every mistake is a precedent, then eventually, you have a Hall of Mistakes. There are always going to be borderline cases, and every time you shift the border, you add new guys to the borderline. Guys who clearly were borderline get in, and guys who were clearly below it become new borderline cases. If you add Jim Rice, do you all of a sudden have to start talking about Joe Carter? There are always going to be people who are close to the line but below it, whereever you draw it. I think Rice is below it, and the fact that others have been inducted who shouldn't have been doesn't change that.

How can you say that Jim Rice's peak wasn't high enough? I understand the longevity arguments, but not this. In 1978, he had one of the great offensive seasons of all time and he was the undisputed MVP. He had four truly great seasons.

I'm going to disagree with that assessment of his '78 season. He had the highest OPS+ in the AL, but it was only 158. That was the 2nd lowest OPS+ to lead the league in the 1970s. Even his raw OPS of .970 doesn't come close to the top 100 offensive seasons in history, and, as I noted above, the appearance of a monster season was greatly aided and abetted by an extreme offensive ballpark.

And any OPS discussion is going to overrate Rice, as his OBP was never great.

The 46 HR obviously doesn't make it a season for the ages. Nor does the .600 SLG, which doesn't come close to the top 100 SLG seasons of all time. Even adjusted for league context, his SLG was only 50% better than league average. Obviously, 50% better than league average is very good, but there are a lot of players with a lot of seasons that good, that did it in parks that didn't inflate their numbers the way Fenway inflated Rice's.

And that was his best season. If you look at his top 4 OPS+ seasons, they are 158 (1978), 154 (1979), 148 (1977) and 141 (1983). That's really good. But it's not an awesome peak, not when there's so little outside his peak, and little to no defensive value.

You said that he was only dominant for four years, and good for more. Doesn't that describe the careers of most Hall of Famers? Yastrzemski was only dominant for a couple of years, right? Didn't he get in because he played for so long? Don't most Hall of Fame careers consist of a few dominant seasons and a bunch of others?

That's probably true. I just don't see Rice's peak seasons being "dominant." I've seen Yaz brought up as someone who "was only really dominant for a couple of seasons." Here are the top-5 OPS+ seasons for Rice and Yaz.

Rice Yastrzemski
158 195
154 178
148 171
141 156
137 148

I think that represents a pretty big gap...

You said that Dwight Evans had a better career than Rice, and possibly even a better peak! How could you even think that?

Career OBP: Evans .370, Rice .352
Career OPS: Evans .840, Rice .856
When you take into account that OBP is more valuable than SLG, and that Evans played over 600 more games of better defense at a tougher defensive position, I think it's pretty clear that Evans had a signficantly better career than Rice did. BP's WARP3 (Wins Above Replacement Player, adjusted for all-time) has Evans at 119 and Rice at 89.2. Bill James Win Shares had Evans with 347 and Rice with 282.

As to the peak, that's debatable.

Rice Evans
158 163
154 156
148 149
141 147
137 137

Evans' best year was 1981, which makes it tough to evaluate, but it's a legitimate discussion as to peak, and a no-brainer as to career. Obviously, Rice hit more HR and drove in more runs than Evans. It's not at all obvious that that made him a better player. (There's more on Evans vs. Rice to be found here.)

How about Cal Ripken? His average year wasn't as good as Rice's.

He was playing SS. Well. Rice was playing LF. OK.

Robin Yount's average year wasn't as good as Rice's.

He was playing SS, and then he was playing CF. Rice was playing LF.

Dave Winfield is in the Hall of Fame. His average year didn't match Rice's. He never had 200 hits. His high in home runs was 37. He never won an MVP award. His career batting average is only .283. His career slugging percentage is well below Rice's. Isn't he in only because he hung around long enough to hit 400 HR?

Winfield finished with an OPS+ that essentially the same as Rice's, but compiled over 900 more games. That's an enormous difference in career value. Had Rice played 6 more good years, he'd be in the Hall of Fame like Winfield. But he didn't.

As to Ripken and Yount, well, arguing that Rice should be in the Hall of Fame because he has better offensive numbers than two guys who had significantly longer careers while playing SS and CF isn't a particularly strong case to make. And I don't think Rice has the peak advantage over any of those guys that you think he has.

Rice Ripken Winfield Yount
158 162 165 166
154 145 159 152
148 144 154 151
141 139 149 132
137 128 142 130

Tony Perez was not the player Rice was. His average year was inferior to Rice's in most categories, and he never had a year as good as Rice's awesome career year.

Again, I think people have an inflated view of Rice's career year. I've already said that I wouldn't have voted for Perez, but there's no dispute that he played longer and generated more value because of it. (James has him at 349 Win Shares, BP at 109.5 WARP3.) Well, the peak wasn't lower than Rice's, either.

Rice Perez
158 163
154 159
148 145
141 140
137 137

And, unlike Rice, he was credited with being a leader on one of the great Championship teams. Whether he deserves it or not is, of course, debatable. But it's definitely part of his case.

If those players have gotten in, doesn't that set a standard that should allow Rice, if he meets that standard, to get in, too?

Nope. That was a mistake. You don't compound the mistake by adding more mistakes.

Now longevity was Rice's enemy -- a couple of more even mediocre seasons to get to 400 homers and some of those milestones and he would have been in easy. Why does Kirby Puckett get in, with only 12 seasons?

1) No decline phase.
2) Reputation, now apparently undeserved, as a great guy.
3) Considered to have been the leader and best player on two World Series teams.
4) Sympathy votes for the condition that ended his career.
5) Better defense at a tougher defensive position.

I wouldn't have voted for him, but his admission doesn't make Rice's case.

If Rice had just hung on and played a couple of mediocre seasons, and hit 18 more home runs, he probably would have been a lock. But would that really have made him a more deserving player?

Yes, it would. People get credit for being good enough to still be productive Major League players at age 40 and 41. Rice's problem was that, by the time he was 36 he couldn't hang on. He couldn't play mediocre ball and build up the career numbers - he wasn't capable of it. He didn't walk away rather than play poorly - he played so poorly that no one would give him a job.

No offense to Jim Rice. I realize that some of this sounds harsh, and it's certainly not intended that way. But I really think that the case for his induction is weak, at best. I can't see any compelling reason to think he's a legitimate Hall of Famer. And it hurts me to say that - I wish it weren't the case. But I think it is...

(H/T to Sully at Baseball Analysts for doing some good Evans/Rice stuff, and Robert Machemer for information on some non-HoF outfielders, posted to the Red Sox newsgroup, and to phendrie at the Providence Journal Your Turn board, for providing some questions and impetus to do this...)

Technorati tags: Rice, Puckett,Evans, Perez, Winfield, Cepeda, HallOfFame

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Patriots-Chargers preview

Sunday afternoon at 4:30, the New England Patriots will travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers in the AFC divisional round of the play-offs. The Chargers were the best team in football during the regular season, finishing with a 14-2 record and riding into the play-offs on the shoulders of MVP LaDanian Tomlinson, and a 10 game winning streak. They were the highest scoring team in football, and 7th best in points allowed. They're very scary.

They're also a team that I'm familiar with primarily from scores and highlights. I know what their strengths are. Presumably, they have weaknesses as well, but I'm far more aware of the Patriots' weaknesses than the Chargers', and so I start the week with a general perception of an unbeatable foe. I'm certain that they're not, but my gut reaction is to be very afraid of this game.

Do the Patriots have a chance? Let's look at a couple of things.


Heading into Super Bowl XVI, I was very scared of the 2001 St. Louis Rams. The Rams were the highest scoring and best team in football during the regular season.

Patriots vs. Rams - 2001
WLPoints Scoredper gameNFL RankPoints allowedper gameNFL RankPythagorean

New England Patriots11537123.262721760.650

St. Louis Rams14250331.4127317.170.772

St. Louis was clearly the better team headed into that Super Bowl. But Bill Belichick's Patriots' defense, as his 1990 Giants defense had against the high-powered Bills, contained the explosive Rams, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl. Belichick has long been considered the greatest defensive mind in the game, and if there is anyone who can run a defense to contain a high-scoring offense, he's the man. So, the historical precedent certainly offers some hope, as the 2006 Patriots were a better team than the 2001 Patriots, and the 2006 Chargers don't appear to be quite as formidable as the 2001 Rams.

2006 Regular season:

The Chargers, as I noted, were the highest scoring team, and the best team in football, during the regular season. Does that sound familiar?

Patriots vs. Chargers
Points Scoredper gameNFL RankPoints allowedper gameNFL RankPythagorean %

New England38524.1723714.82.725

San Diego49230.8130318.97.725

But the Patriots were no slouches. The Chargers were 1st and 7th in points scored and points allowed, the Patriots were 7th and 2nd. Pretty comparable.

And if you look at that last column, you'll see something pretty interesting. Generally, the pythagorean winning percentage is applied to baseball, but the relationship between points scored, points allowed and winning percentage holds pretty much across sports. The Chargers outscored their opposition by nearly 12 points per game, while the Patriots outscored theirs by just over 9. But every point of difference is more valuable in a lower-scoring game than in a higher-scoring game, and their projected winning percentages are essentially equal.

If the project winning percentages were equal, why did the Chargers win 2 more games? Well, maybe some of it was luck. And maybe some of it was schedule. The Chargers' opponents were a cumulative 115-125 (.479) in non-Chargers games. The Patriots' opponents were a cumulative 125-117 (.513) in non-Patriots games.


Right now, the Patriots have played 17 games, the Chargers 16. The Patriots have averaged 24.8 ppg against opposition that has allowed an average of 20.1 (24% better) and have allowed 14.9 ppg against teams that scored 20.1 ppg (about 26% better). The Chargers have averaged 30.75 ppg against opposition that allowed an average of 20.1 ppg (about 47% better) and allowed 19.0 ppg against opposition that scored 19.1 ppg (less than 1% better.) So the Chargers offense has been better than the Patriots offense by a smaller amount than the Patriots defense has been better than the Chargers defense.

According to Jeff Sagarin's NFL ratings at USA Today.com, the Chargers (1) and Patriots (2) have been the 2 best teams in football. (Ratings are calculated through Sunday's games.) But there are some schedule differences. Sagarin has the Patriots with the 8th toughest schedule and the Chargers with the 27th toughest. New England is 5-2 vs. the top 10 teams, San Diego is only 1-1. According to the Pure Points standings ("PURE POINTS is also known as PREDICTOR, BALLANTINE, RHEINGOLD, WHITE OWL and is the best single PREDICTOR of future games"), New England is number 1, San Diego number 2.

Bottom Line:

You know what? I'm still scared of the Chargers. But the objective evidence suggests that a) they're not unbeatable, b) this is by no means a mismatch and c) it would not be an upset, certainly not a big one, if New England were to go west and win this weekend.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Wild-card weekend re-cap


What a snoozer. Everyone knew that KC would run Larry Johnson. Including the Colts. So they loaded the box, and dared the Chiefs to throw the ball. KC, under the ever-imaginative Herm Edwards, retaliated by ... running Larry Johnson into the teeth of the defense. Over. And over. And over again.

I said: "I think that the Colts win. Probably by double-digits."

My Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Kansas City 14

Final Score: Indianapolis 23, Kansas City 8


I know that they reviewed the play and reversed the touchdown and awarded Seattle a safety. As far as it goes, that was correct. But I don't think Terry Glenn had possession of that ball before it touched the ground, which would have made it an incomplete pass, and completely changed the game.

Has anyone ever made the complete-unknown-to-conquering-hero-to-choking-loser-goat trip faster than Tony Romo? I don't particularly care for the term "choke" in most cases, and there are lot of professional athletes accused of choking unreasonably for striking out, or fumbling, or throwing incomplete passes, or missing tackles, things that happen at a significant frequency, at just the wrong time. But there is no excuse for the holder to drop a good snap. That's a play that gets made 100 times out of 100. He blew it, big time.

I said: "I don't have any confidence in either of these teams playing well, so the question is, who plays less badly? I think Seattle probably plays marginally less badly..."

My Prediction: Seattle 17, Dallas 13

Final Score: Seattle 21, Dallas 20


The conventional wisdom on this one seems to be "it was a lot closer than the final score." I beg to differ. Watching that game, there was never, not for a single minute, the sense that the outcome was actually in doubt. Yes, the Jets were only 1 touchdown down towards the end of the 3rd quarter. That was because a) Corey Dillon fumbled on the Patriots 15 and b) the Patriots defensive backfield blew one play, which resulted in a 77 yard touchdown. There was never a feeling that the Jets could stop the Patriots if they needed to, and there was never a sense that they could put the ball in the end zone.

I said: " I don't think that the Jets can stop the Patriots running game."
The Patriots run 38 times for 158 yards.

I said: "I don't think that the Jets can stop the Patriots passing game."
Brady was 22/34 for 212 yards, 2 TD, no interceptions
And the Patriots were 11/16 converting on 3rd downs.

I said: "I don't think that the Jets can run effectively against the Patriots."
The Jets ran 16 times for 70 yards. 2 draws to Leon Washington went for 30. The other 14 runs went for 40 yards, fewer than 2 per.

I said: "It is not impossible that the Jets win that game, but I do think it unlikely. Extremely unlikely."

My Prediction: New England 27, NY Jets 16

Final Score: New England 37, NY Jets 16


Eli Manning had a great 1st drive, and a great last drive. In between, it was all Philadelphia. I was right about the winner of this game, but the Giants made a much better game of it than I expected.

My Prediction: Philadelphia 23, NY Giants 13

Final Score: Philadelphia 23, NY Giants 20

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wild-card weekend

The NFL play-offs begin this weekend.

Two games Saturday.

Game 1: Kansas City At Indianapolis

I will make this prediction, with great confidence. If the Colts go up by 14 points at any point in this game, they win. Indianapolis can come back from a two-touchdown deficit, but if the Chiefs get down that far, they'll lose.

Everyone knows the storylines here. Peyton Manning in the play-offs. Herm Edwards vs. Tony Dungy. Larry Johnson vs. the Colts run defense. It is certainly possible to envision a scenario in which KC runs the ball, Indy's defense doesn't get off the field, Manning only gets 6-7 drives and the Chiefs grind out a 21-17, 17-14 type win.

But I don't expect that. I think that the Colts win. Probably by double-digits. 27-17, 24-14. Something like that.

Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Kansas City 14

Game 2: Dallas At Seattle

All else being equal, I'd be rooting for Seattle here. I used to be a Seahawk fan, back in the days of Jim Zorn and Steve Largent. And I've always disliked the Cowboys, sometimes more than others, ever since I first heard the phrase "America's Team." They weren't ever mine.

But the Patriots have Seattle's first-round draft pick. It's four picks higher in April if the Cowboys win today than if Seattle does. So I'll probably, out of Patriots fan self-interest, be rooting for Dallas today.

That said, can the Cowboys play defense at all? Can Tony Romo throw more balls to his teammates than the Seakhawks defensive backfield? I'm thinking "yes, sort of" and "maybe." I don't have any confidence in either of these teams playing well, so the question is, who plays less badly? I think Seattle probably plays marginally less badly, but I wouldn't bet a single penny on it.

Prediction: Seattle 17, Dallas 13

Two games Sunday.

Game 3: NY Jets At New England

The Jets came into Foxboro in November and beat the Patriots 17-14. There are a lot of people out there who think that Eric Mangini's "in Bill Belichick's head." And that that game in November is indicative of what's going to happen on Sunday.

I'm not buying it.

The Patriots, come off a Monday night loss to Indianapolis, played poorly in November. They played without standout defensive lineman Ty Warren. They played with standout defensive lineman Richard Seymour, playing essentially one-armed, on the wrong side of the line because of Warren's absence. They played on a field the was 3 inches of mud, which is an advantage to the worse team.

None of those things will be true on Sunday.

I don't think that the Jets can stop the Patriots running game. I don't think that the Jets can stop the Patriots passing game. I don't think that the Jets can run effectively against the Patriots. I don't think that the Jets can go downfield effectively with Chad Pennington at quarterback.

In order to win, I believe that the Jets need the following things to happen:

- 2 or more Patriot turnovers
- 1 kick return for a touchdown OR 2 kick returns into Patriots' territory
- a 6+ minute time-of-possession advantage, which means 70+% completion of 5-10 yard passes

I don't expect that. It is not impossible that the Jets win that game, but I do think it unlikely. Extremely unlikely.

Prediction: New England 27, NY Jets 16

Game 4: NY Giants At Philadelphia

Has there ever been more noise about an 8-8 team than the 2006 NY Giants? The Giants act as if they deserve to be treated as a great team, despite the fact that they've been aggressively mediocre. The Eagles, on the other hand, are a team that finally has a quarterback.

There's some question of whether the Giants need to win this game to save Tom Coughlin's job. There's further question, not about whether that's a dis-incentive to them, but whether it's a large enough dis-incentive to have them actually lay down. Fortunately for the players that want Coughlin gone, it doesn't matter whether they lay down or not. They've got Eli Manning at QB, who has little in common with his brother other than his name.

Someday, people will look back at the draft-day trade that brought Manning to NY as one of the worst draft-day trades in football history. Ernie Accorsi and his flacks in the press have tried very hard to prevent that view from taking hold, but in a couple more years, it'll be unavoidable.

Prediction: Philadelphia 23, NY Giants 13

NFL, WildCard, Play-offs, Patriots, Jets, Giants, Eagles, Chiefs, Colts, Seahawks, Cowboys

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

That pure, white, spotless, morally superior Democratic Majority...

Mark Schmitt, over at Tapped with a ... convenient omission. But what the heck, as long as you can pat yourself on the back for your own moral superiority, right?
Tonight my wife and I are having dinner with friends who are in DC for the swearing-in of a good friend of theirs who is a newly elected senator (hint: It's not Bob Corker.) I think I'll offer a simple toast:

Here's to the first Democratic majority -- ever -- that is not dependent on support from southern racists.

Hmm...I must have missed the part of the election that gave them a Senate majority that didn't include Robert "Sheets" Byrd...

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The wisdom of the ages on the pages of the Times

The Instapundit has linked to a story from the New York Times this morning, in which social science has discovered that there's a link between education and long life.
The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.

Ah. Modern social science discovers the wisdom of Solomon...

Proverbs 3:1-2

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,

for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you prosperity.

Proverbs 3:13-16

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,

for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

USC 32, Michigan 18

Thank you Trojans, for (hopefully) putting an end to the whining from Ann Arbor about the Wolverines not getting a National Championship re-match against Ohio State...

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Happy Feet

Over the past week, I had the opportunity to take the kids to the movies a couple of times. With very different experiences. I went into one film with middling-low expectations, and it failed to live up to my lowest expectations. I went into the other with middling-high expectations, and it exceeded them.

Happy Feet is the former. It’s the latest computer-animated vehicle from someone tapping into the family market which has been so effectively pioneered by Disney and Pixar. And, like the other entries from Warner Brothers, it doesn’t work. In fact, unlike Shrek, which is at least amusing, even if nowhere near as amusing as its makers think, this has virtually nothing to recommend it. The animation is state of the art. There are scenes that are fantastic to look at.

But we need more than that. Toy Story, which broke this ground, was released almost 12 years ago. Monsters Inc. , which significantly expanded the visuals that were being generated, was released almost 6 years ago. It’s too late for a film-maker to be trying to pacify the audience by merely producing spectacular visual effects – there has to be a story. And in that regard, Happy Feet is sorely lacking.

Happy Feet takes the archetype of the shunned outcast who redeems himself in the eyes of the community (think Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, or, even further back, Joseph and the coat of many colors) and populates it with Emperor Penguins. That sounds like a criticism, but it’s not. There’s precious little new under the sun, and one who demands absolute originality in his movies isn’t going to see much that pleases him.

That said, you can take your archetypal story and do it well, or you can do it poorly. Happy Feet does the latter. None of the characters are interesting. The penguins are cute, I suppose, but once you’ve said that, you’ve said everything. Aside from Mumble, our hero, they all look just the same. Three cheers for verisimilitude, but it’s tough to identify characters that way. And there aren’t any, anyway. The evil village elders that condemn him for dancing instead of singing, the long-suffering but supportive parents, the rest of the penguin troop, the girl that he adores. Types, each and every one. There’s not a single interesting individual variation.

The backdrop of the story is this - the Emperor Penguins are facing a problem with their food supply. Where have all the fish gone? And was there damage done when Mumble’s father dropped the egg? Each and every one of these movie Penguins has his or her own “heartsong,” and the heartsongs allow them to find mates. Every one except Mumble. Mumble can’t sing, but he can tap dance. The makers of the movie obviously found that tremendously entertaining, because they spent a lot of time showing it to us.

Well, of course Mumble leaves home, driven out by the conformists. And of course, he meets up with a group that accepts him for what he is, unlike the closed-minded bigots at home. And of course, he and his new friends work through various dangerous situations, surviving by helping each other. And of course, he identifies and fixes the problem in the food supply.

Well, if a movie doesn’t have to be original in all aspects to be a good movie, what’s wrong with this one? I’ve mentioned a couple of things. It’s acceptable to populate your story with archetypes, but if you aren’t telling a straight allegory, you need to provide them with personalities. For the most part, there aren’t any. And the exception, the Adelie penguins that Mumble hooks up with, are, well, offensive. If, that is, you’re offended by stereotypical hip-hop street gang lingo in heavy latino accents.

For as much music as there is in the film, none of it is original. There are smatterings of pop and hip-hop spanning the last 30 years, none of it memorable, some of it inappropriate. The one piece that caught my attention was a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and the reaction it evoked was “gosh, I wish I were somewhere else listening to Queen’s performance of “Somebody to Love.”

The voice talent (and there is some, from Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman to Elijah Wood and Hugo Weaving) is largely wasted. One of the strengths of the Pixar films is that they’ve done a fantastic job uniting the animation with the voices. They’ve gotten great performances from the voice talent, and really integrated it with the animation to create full-blown memorable characters. There’s absolutely none of that here. With the exception of the two Adelies voiced by Robin Williams, there isn’t anything here that you won’t have forgotten by the time the credits finish rolling. And Williams, as talented as he is, has always needed sincere and significant editing to produce great performances rather than just anarchy and noise. He didn’t get it here. (Not that anyone else got it, either, but with Williams, it tends to be … noticeable…)

In any event, as worthless as the film is for the first hour plus, the last half hour is almost comically out-of-place, overwrought, and incoherent. They either wrote themselves into a corner, or were more concerned with getting their message out than producing a good movie, or both. When I tell you that we get real footage of real non-animated humans debating at the UN, and banning all fishing near the south Pole because Mumble tap dances in the zoo, that sounds absurd, but it’s nothing more or less than what happens. The last 20 minutes of the film exhibit all of the tight plotting and coherence we typically see in an episode of the Monkees, combined with all the subtlety of an Al Gore speech. Without Gore’s entertainment value.

In short, it was a disaster. The movie got several good reviews, none of which I agree with in the least. My sister and one of her daughters left half-way through. When they got to the end, I wished I’d done the same.

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