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Among the Best Ever

ichiroIchiro…a Hitting Machine

One of my great baseball memories was watching a batting practice session in Arizona several years ago. It was just one of those typically perfect March days when the boys of summer are getting ready in the sunshine of the desert. It was fun to watch the Mariners take their cuts, until the slender right fielder stepped into the batting cage. Then the hitting became a clinic.

He drove the first pitch on a line down the left field line, the second pitch in the gap in left center, the third batting practice fastball straight into center field and so on. The guy had such control of the bat and such perfect timing that he could literally drive the ball wherever he wanted – and he did. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a better display of raw, professional baseball hitting ever.

The fact that No. 51 established an all-time Major League record last week by getting his 200th hit for the tenth consecutive season has to put Ichiro Suzuki into the ranks of the all-time greatest hitters of a baseball. The great one is a hitting machine.

Ty Cobb needed 18 seasons to get 10 seasons of at least 200 hits and the all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, took 15 years. Ichiro did it in ten straight years with the Mariners. Remarkable.

Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone speculates that Ichi could get 3,500 total hits by the time he quits, still short of Rose’s record, but remarkable considering he came to the U.S. Major Leagues at age 27. As Stone notes, had he been playing since, say, age 22 – he played 9 seasons in Japan before coming to Seattle – he’d be knocking on Rose’s door right now. Ichiro has also, generally speaking, had more at bats per season that Rose and doesn’t walk as much.

The old baseball adage holds that the really great players can do it all – hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, play defense and throw the ball with speed and accuracy. I’ve seen Ichiro jack a few, but he’s clearly not – nor has he tried to be – a power hitter. Still he has 90 homers and has always been a threat to leave the park every time he goes to the plate.

I rank him as one of the true impact players of his age. Barry Bonds – illegal drugs aside – was always an impact player, so too Mays and Clemente. Those types of players can impact a game just by being in the line up. Ichiro is in that class.

He is also the quiet, professional that shuns the spotlight and plays the great game with respect for its traditions, both in the U.S. and in Japan.

One of the first times I saw him I thought you must be joking. This guy’s mechanics are all wrong. He can look perfectly awful swinging at a pitch and stepping in the bucket. He flings the bat at the ball. He falls away from the plate. He just gets 200 hits every year.

He may not always look great slapping a base hit to the opposite field, but Ichiro is among the greatest hitters ever.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Hidden+in+Plain+SightWorld Class Basque Exhibit Opens Friday

Boise’s own Basque Museum and Cultural Center, a bit of a hidden gem in Idaho’s and the Northwest’s cultural life, opens a marvelous new exhibit on Friday at the Museum on Boise’s historic Basque Block downtown.

The exhibit – developed by the Museum – premiered earlier this year at Ellis Island in New York, home of the National Memorial to the American immigration experience. I had a chance to see the exhibit there and can attest to its quality. You’ll be fascinated by the breath and depth of Basque influence in the world from politics to sports, from art to business.

The exhibit opens after a dinner and program on the Basque Block Friday.

Check out the website of the Museum for more information. There is also a website devoted to the exhibit. Reporter Scott Ki of Boise State Public Radio also did a nice piece on the exhibit.

One thing the exhibit does particularly well – this is worth remembering as political campaigns slash and burn around the immigration issue – is to remind us that America is a nation of immigrants.

In his 1958 book – A Nation of Immigrants – John Kennedy said: “Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.”

The Basque experience helps us reflect on the wisdom of Kennedy’s words. Make time to go see the exhibit. You won’t be sorry.

Looking More, Believing Less

newspapersThe Survey Says…

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press is out with a new survey about where we’re going for news and why and at least one of the findings in a little surprising to me. Pew says Americans are spending more time following the news.

Meanwhile, the Gallup organization has its own research that shows that Americans are less confident than ever in what they are getting from newspapers and television. Fewer than 25% of those surveyed by Gallup say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers or TV. That number represents a 10% decline over the last five years or so.

Conclusion: we are more interested than ever in what is going on and we have less belief than ever that what we see and read is the straight scoop.

The Pew survey also seems to buttress a contention of mine that news organizations are more and more appealing on a purely ideological basis. This is the news of the future, but really is a return to the past when political ideology sharply defined newspapers and magazines.

A liberal – defined, for example, in the Pew survey as one who supports gay rights – tends, big surprise, to like the New York Times and National Public Radio. Supporters of the National Rifle Association and the Tea Party are big listeners to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Fox News. Libertarians like the Wall Street Journal. Pew also reports that more and more of us are using digital means to keep up on the world and younger Americans, those under 30, are fast forgetting what a newspaper is all about. More affluent and well-educated Americans, again big surprise, tend to shop around more using digital, print and broadcast sources for their information. Could be that they just have the time and ability to do so.

It may be a stretch to connect these two interesting surveys to some recent musings by former President Bill Clinton, but here goes. During a recent extended interview with the Times – former presidents do extended interviews, apparently – Clinton identified his favorite TV commercial of the last five years as the ESPN spot were the math nerds make fun of the jocks spewing sports stats in the high school cafeteria.

Clinton was making the point that the clever spot is a metaphor for American political life. Namely, if we cared as much about the “hard facts” that pertain to public policy as we do about football, it would be a better, at least in Clinton’s view, for Democrats.

Facts are good things, but Clinton, of all people, should know that politics is much more often – like football – about emotion, feeling and raw execution. I feel Clinton’s pain about the need for more focus on “hard facts” in our consumption of news, but, upon further reflection, the former president just might not be the best messenger for the “hard facts” approach to public life.

The reality of the moment is – and this is the truth – that we often place more emphasis in developing our positions on what Stephen Colbert has called “truthiness.” What we believe may not really be true, but it seems close enough, particularly when we factor in our emotions and ideology.

By the way, the Pew survey finds that among those 30 and younger, “about as many young people regularly watch the Daily Show (13%) and the Colbert Report (13%) as watch the national network evening news (14%) and the morning news shows (12%).”

Sounds about right. There is an element of “truthiness” in there somewhere. Just ask Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly.

A Class Act

torreNice Words for a Dodger?

I don’t like the Yankees or the Dodgers. Never have. But I gotta say a word or two about the class act that recently announced he was taking off the Dodger blue at the end of the season and – do you believe this – retiring.

Joe Torre is plain and simple a class act. I’ll never understand what happened in New York that caused bad blood to develop between Joe and the pinstriper’s management. What the guy didn’t win enough for you? Through thick and thin, Torre kept his temper, showed his class and keep the media spotlight from frying him and his players.

All Torre did was win in New York – every year in the playoffs, ten Eastern
Division titles, six American League pennants and four World Series rings. He obviously didn’t have the same talent or budget in LA, especially after the dysfunctional Dodger owners decided to split the sheets, or was it air the dirty laundry?

The guy was a player, too. A Gold Glove catcher, National League MVP and a batting title. He’s the only guy to have 2,000 wins as a manager and 2,000 hits as a player. He also didn’t take himself too seriously even when he looked like the world was resting on those broad, Italian shoulders.

Torre holds the National League record for grounding into double plays in a single game. He did it four times in a game in 1975. His comment: “I’d like to thank Félix Millán for making all of this possible.” Millán was hitting in front of Torre that day and singled all four times.

One of my partners tells a story about a friend of his who once saw Torre sharing a bottle of wine with some other guys in a Seattle restaurant after a game. The friend thinks he’ll big-time the Yankee manager and sends over another bottle of what Torre and his friends are drinking, then nearly passes out when he gets the bill. Torre obviously had class when it came to selecting a bottle of wine, too.

Torre will have a chance to manage again, I suspect. He certainly deserves another job, if he wants one. He’ll look better in anything but pinstripes and Dodger Blue. Or, if he wants, Torre can go to the broadcast booth or, I can dream, replace Bud Selig. Or, he can really retire, spend time with his family and not sleep 100-plus nights a year in a hotel room.

As the Giants, Padres and Rockies battle to the wire in the National League West, I regret that Torre’s team, as much as I dislike them, aren’t in the hunt. He deserves that.

Baseball has few enough really classy acts. Joe Torre is one of the best.

Timothy Egan

EganA Voice of the West

Tim Egan, who writes an on line column for the New York Times website, had a marvelous piece earlier this month. He called it “My Summer Home” and it was an ode to the vast expanse of America – our public lands – that all of us own.

Egan wrote of an early trip with a friend, also named Tim, and the land they found was theirs and is ours, all of us.

“It was ours, Tim and I came to understand, all of it. We owned it — lake, mountain and forest, meadow, desert and shore. Public land. We could put up our tents and be lords of a manor that no monarch could match. We could hike in whatever direction our whims took us, without fear of barbed wire or stares backed by shotguns. We could raft into frothy little streams, light out for even bigger country, guided only by gravity.”

Good stuff and the kind of thing you can hear first hand from Egan on October 6th in Boise. The Andrus Center for Public Policy, in cooperation with the Ted Trueblood Chapter of Trout Unlimited, is hosting an appearance and book signed for Tim at the Rose Room in downtown Boise. The event is free and open to the public and begins at 6:30 pm.

Tim will talk about his latest book – The Big Burn – and copies of that page turner will be available thanks to Boise’s Rediscovered Books. The Big Burn is a fascinating account of the devastating fires that scorched so much of northern Idaho, Montana and Washington in 1910. Wallace, Idaho virtually burned to the ground. Egan places the fire story in the larger of context of natural resource politics, the birth of the U.S. Forest Service and the legacy that big ol’ fire carries to this day.

Come on down on October 6th. It will be a good time with a good guy and a great writer.

Poverty in America

Homeless_Vet_With_FlagThe Poor Get Poorer

“The moral test of government,” Hubert Humphrey once said, “is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

By that measure, we are failing. The Great Recession has ripped another huge hole in the fabric of America life and the poverty rate, as reported this week, is at a 15-year high and expected to go higher in 2010. More than 43 million Americans, one in 7 in the country, now officially live in poverty. Those numbers take us back to 1959 when about the same number of Americans were officially poor. The numbers are considerably worse for African-Americans and Hispanics, with a quarter of all Hispanics and 36 percent of African-American children living in poverty.

The Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, notes that poverty rates have been on a steady upward trend line since the late 1970’s. The Institute’s director, Dr. Timothy M. Smeeding, told the New York Times that the poverty numbers would be a lot worse if many people hadn’t had someone to move in with during the recession. The Times also noted in its front page story that the temporary aid – the stimulus and extension of unemployment benefits, for instance – that has been so controversial in Congress, has undoubtedly “eased the burdens of millions of families.”

Meanwhile, the debate rages in Washington over whether to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The Miami Herald has put together a helpful Q-A format report on just what is involved with the great 2010 debate over taxes. It is worth a look if you are as confused as I suspect most of us are about the generally out of touch rhetoric about “tax cuts.”

One takeaway, extending or ending the Bush cuts for the wealthiest Americans – families with adjusted gross income of $250,000 or more – impacts about 2.9 million Americans. Or, put another way about 40 million fewer people than are reported living in poverty.

In point of fact, the very, very rich pay taxes at significantly lower rates that most other Americans because so much of their income is in capital gains and dividends. The IRS has reported that the wealthiest 400 taxpayers in the United States in 2007, paid about 16.6 percent of their income in taxes.

Also worth considering: America’s income gap has been steadily growing since the late 1970’s. One wonders if there is any correlation between that fact and the steady increase in poverty in the same period?

“Each of America’s two biggest economic downturns over the last century has followed the same pattern” argues Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich in a recent essay.

“Consider,” Reich wrote, “in 1928 the richest 1 percent of Americans received 23.9 percent of the nation’s total income. After that, the share going to the richest 1 percent steadily declined. New Deal reforms, followed by World War II, the GI Bill and the Great Society expanded the circle of prosperity. By the late 1970s the top 1 percent raked in only 8 to 9 percent of America’s total annual income. But after that, inequality began to widen again, and income reconcentrated at the top. By 2007 the richest 1 percent were back to where they were in 1928—with 23.5 percent of the total.”

It is difficult – maybe impossible – to maintain for long a cohesive, forward-moving country with such a vast gap among the haves and have nots, with so many out of work, out of opportunity, worried about the next meal, the next need to visit the doctor or the next pair of shoes for the kids.The reality of this fact – the bleak circumstances of our fellow Americans in the shadows – is mostly lost in the current political debate over tax cuts, deficits and the struggling economy.

As The Guardian noted – you gotta love those Brits – “in a strange paradox, the party that is accused of doing too little to combat the crisis is poised to suffer heavy defeats in the upcoming mid-term elections by the party accused of doing nothing at all.”

It was hard to miss the paradox – or is it irony – of the “jump” of the Times story on poverty, which began on Friday’s page one and ended next to the Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany’s and Tod’s ads on page three.

Macy’s was touting an animal print mink jacket for $4,995 and Tod’s had a really nice purse for $1,495. Marketing to the one percent, I guess.