Joe Mauer Day

This evening the Minnesota Twins will retire Joe Mauer’s #7.

On Joe Mauer’s player page, Baseball Reference lists two transactions:

  • June 5, 2001: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1st round (1st pick) of the 2001 amateur draft. Player signed July 17, 2001.

  • October 29, 2018: Granted Free Agency.

The seeds of the ongoing revolution in the evaluation of baseball players’ performance stretch back to before Joe Mauer was born. By the time Mauer was swinging the bat on St. Paul’s sandlots, a few forward-thinking executives had started kicking around these new approaches. By the time Joe Mauer signed with the Twins, those approaches had already jumped from theory to application in the most forward-thinking front office in the game. (That front office was not in Minnesota.)

Joe Mauer’s career unfolded in a period in which enlightened baseball executives, baseball bloggers, and a few sportswriters were capable of perceiving how legendarily good Mauer was, but in which traditional executives, old school players, and (especially) sports-writing newspapermen simply lacked the curiosity, imagination, or willingness to appreciate him. The Twins’ front office remained so hidebound in its approach that Mauer’s own organization was simply not capable of articulating to its fans the special abilities of its franchise catcher. In Mauer’s own home state, some newspapermen — Jim Souhan, most infamously — conspired to poison the well, turning a huge percentage of fans against the best pure hitter they might ever see play for their favorite team. Nothing in Joe Mauer’s personality suggests he brought this treatment on himself. His crime” was to be judged a good enough ballplayer to be made a multi-millionaire by the children of a billionaire banker.

Had Mauer’s career unfolded exactly as it had, but a decade later, we would know with much greater certainty how amazing he was behind the plate. We know a few things. He threw out 33% of runners attempting to steal against a cumulative league average of 27% during his catching years. Baseball Info Solutions judges him about 17 runs above average in pitch calling. Johan Santana, the best pitcher to toe the rubber for the Twins since Bert Blylevens heyday and likely the best pitcher in the American League during his own peak, threw more innings to Joe Mauer than any other catcher in his career. The only catcher with whom Johan had a lower OPS+ allowed was Ramon Castro, who caught less than a quarter of the total innings Mauer caught Johan. We can guess other things — Mauer certainly was a very good receiver, and possibly inner-circle great at framing — but we’ll simply never know how he compares to the excellent catchers who came after him.

But we do know this: very, very few catchers could hit like Joe Mauer in his prime. Joe Mauer had the fifth-highest peak, judged by rWAR, of any catcher, ever. In ten seasons, from 2004–2013, Joe Mauer hit .323/.405/.468, good for a 135 OPS+. Over that span, which included a debut season derailed by a knee injury, he ripped an average of 28 doubles every year. He got an extra-base hit in 8% of his plate appearances over that stretch, but struck out just 11.2% of the time. He totaled 2051 total bases in a decade of hitting, often banged-up from his duties on the back side of the plate. Of players who caught at least 750 games and had at least 3000 plate appearances, Mauer is 3rd in Batting Runs, 7th in WAR Runs Batting, and 8th in Runs Created. The names surrounding Mauer’s on hitting leaderboards for catchers are legendary: Piazza, Bench, Cochrane, Berra, Dickey, Carter, Rodríguez, Torre, Fisk, and Hartnett. Four of those catchers were active before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Only two — Mike Piazza & Iván Rodríguez — played in the twenty-first century.

For modern-minded Minnesota baseball fans, Joe Mauer was ours. He arrived just as we gained the ability to follow baseball with new friends we had never met, who lived far away from the territory reached by the 50,000 watts of WCCO that then still carried Herb’s Carneal’s voice. His career was, with the exception of the disappointments his team suffered in the postseason, the career of all of our dreams when we were growing up. Nobody — especially not the cranks at the Star Tribune and their sycophants online — can take Joe Mauer’s greatness away from us.

We knew it, and we shared it.

baseball Minnesota Twins

A Year Without Instagram

I quit Instagram one year ago today. To be precise, I quit posting photos to Instagram; I still open the app occasionally to look at what friends & family have posted. I rarely comment.

My hosted Micro.blog has replaced Instagram as the place I share glimpses into my life. Manton Reece & Jonathan Hays have done a fantastic job with Sunlit, the app I use to post photos to my microblog. It’s sufficiently robust, yet simple enough that it gets out of your way if you don’t want to edit photos in-app. (I prefer Darkroom for editing.) I use Jonathan LaCour’s microgram extension to create my microblog’s Photos page.

I like owning my own photos again. I’m a bit more selective about what I share — my Instagram account was friend-locked from the beginning — but not significantly so. Before our daughter was born, my wife and I decided we would not post photos featuring her face on social media until she was old enough to decide whether she wished this for herself. Despite hearing occasional comments to the effect of, Oh, that’s what she looks like now,” it’s a decision I’m glad we made. I won’t pretend there wasn’t some temptation early on, but I’m not even sure what could tempt me to do such a thing at this stage. Her life is hers to live, and I’ll do my best to honor that and keep her as free of identity mining entanglements as I can.

There’s one thing I miss: hearing from my friends when I post a photo. I miss the sense of connection with them, as most of them live outside my state, in some cases across the country or a continent away. I only know one other person in meatspace who has used Micro.blog. I’ve mentioned it to a few of them as an Instagram replacement when they’ve grumbled about that platform or its corporate owner, but I’m afraid my days of playing tech evangelist are over. I don’t have an appetite for that anymore, and to be honest, I think there are some remaining hurdles to switching to Micro.blog that some of my friends would balk at navigating. Big, privacy-breaching social media platforms have conditioned us to notice friction when we create accounts, because that means we are conditioned to the chutes they’re sending us down for shearing. I’m even more done with that than I am playing tech evangelist.

Tonight, after my daughter goes to bed, I plan to upload my Instagram archive to my microblog via Manson’s importer. I’ve had my archive ready for import for quite a while, but wanted to save it for today’s anniversary. I may not import every one of them, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of the 1500+ photos find their way to my blog.

Thanks to Manton and Jonathan for making the tools that I use to publish photos in a way that respects my ownership of them and my personhood.

Instagram Micro.blog photography social media

Fifteen Years on the Journey Home

Fifteen years ago today, I deployed to Iraq. In preparation, I bought my first digital camera1 and MP3 player2. I Tetris’d my gear into seabag so tight that I was able to fit a dozen books3 & three extra cartons of cigarettes4 inside. It felt a bit like Merlin’s carpetbag from The Sword in the Stone5. Leaving Camp Pendleton for Iraq on 26 February 2004 marked the departure point of a lifelong journey — trying to find my way home. Home” is a state of mind, nearly an abstract idea at this point, rather than a place, always on the horizon of realization, while the terrain between it and me plays tricks with perspective to make it seem closer or farther away.

Some days I feel closer to home than others. I feel home is closest when I’m reading to my daughter, waiting for sleep to greet me in the darkness of my bedroom as I lie next to my already-sleeping wife, or feeling the falling snow kiss my face and cling to my eyebrows, lashes, and beard.

Some days I feel I’m unlikely to ever arrive home. I’ll smell the Euphrates as it cascades through Haditha Dam and feel its cooling mist settle on my face. I’ll taste the mutton, flatbread, cucumbers, and tomatoes from Khalid’s, the grungy truck stop along the highway near Trebil. I’ll hear and sense, but not quite see, the AC-130 flying over Fallujah. I’ll hear our interpreter singing his new favorite song, the late Seventies Barry Manilow tune Larry B. & I taught him, as he walks across our FOB. I’ll hear the adhān for Fajr signaling the end of another overnight watch. I’ll see the white conex box huts lined up in long rows, with one missing, extracted like an abscessed tooth; the socket never heals. I’ll hear that shot, and echoed in it, the mortars, the rockets, our outgoing artillery fire. I’ll feel the anger and confusion as fresh as its first day.

I made it back from Iraq. I took pictures at March ARB in Riverside to prove it. The VA periodically tells me I’m still here. Today I’ll have meetings with colleagues who know in the abstract that I once went to Iraq, but it won’t occur to them that I’m always still there in a corner of my brain. Really, I’m still on my journey; it’s a long walk home.

  1. A Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH SD110.

  2. I couldn’t afford an iPod at the time, so I bought a Creative NOMAD Jukebox Zen XTRA (which had more storage but a terrible UI). I still have it, and I t still works.

  3. The first book I read from my cache was Nicholas Lemann’s The Big Test. Deployments involve a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, so I read most of it as we prepared to convoy up from Udari Range in Kuwait to Fallujah.

  4. I smoked unfiltered Gauloises at the time, but couldn’t get down to San Diego to resupply before we left Camp Pendleton, as I didn’t have a car on base at the time. So, I packed a carton of Camel Wides and two cartons of unfiltered Camels bought from the Pulgatraz PX. This purchase became significant only a week or so later.

  5. Books are always first, you know.

Iraq War Marine Corps

Canceling Subscriptions & Supporting Institutions

I cancelled my subscription to Foreign Policy yesterday afternoon, spurred by an email from FP about an upcoming auto-renewal charge. The quality of the print journal has been in decline for several years, no doubt due, at least in part, to structural challenges the publishing industry faces. I am sympathetic to that; I know firsthand (though at much smaller scale) how hard it is to keep a print publication going in 2018, especially when other outlets are giving similar articles away for free online. In that respect, I feel bad about this parting, because I believe sound, sensation-free journalism & well-informed editorial opinion matters, now as much (or more) than ever. Publications, like FP, that present issues in detailed, yet plain, language have an important place in our culture and provide valuable service to our society.

To cancel, the email indicated I had to call an 800-number during US East Coast business hours, Monday–Friday only, in order to deauthorize the recurring charge to my credit card. There was no way to cancel my subscription through my FP account, or through any other online account service portal. And that, I think, offers a counterpoint: FP s embrace of the web’s digital-first reality has been, well, modest. Yes, FP sent email digests from different desks.” Yes, FP is on social media. Yes, FP eventually started a podcast — in October 2018. (Mid-October 2018.) Yes, FP destroyed its RSS feeds (wait, that move was aligned with contemporary trends in web publication). FP s website redesign, hitched to a brand update, surfaced some content” & buried other pieces & voices while chasing the digital equivalent of glossy visual appeal. Despite being managed by the same publishing entity as Slate, FP wasn’t exactly giving me a compelling sense that it understands how an indispensable, yet boutique, publication needs to evolve in order to survive.

Striking a balance between supporting vital institutions and holding them accountable is never simple, especially in an era when our institutions seem particularly vulnerable. When the person who took my call asked why I was canceling, I said the journal’s quality had really slipped in the eighteen months. How do you send that message in a supportive way that still holds a publication to account?

What good could those subscription dollars do, diverted elsewhere?

media subscriptions

The President’s Lie

The President’s deceitful insistence that the death toll from Hurricane Maria is orders of magnitude lower than the Puerto Rican government’s official total of 2,975 deaths has me thinking about the following lines from The Teeth Mother Naked at Last,” the great anti-war poem by Robert Bly, published in 1970:

The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies,  
        the priests lie… .  
These lies mean that the country wants to die.  
Lie after lie starts out into the prairie grass,  
like enormous caravans of Conestoga wagons… .

And a long desire for death flows out, guiding the  
        enormous caravans from beneath,
stringing together the vague and foolish words.  
It is a desire to eat death,  
to gobble it down,  
to rush on it like a cobra with mouth open.  
It’s a desire to take death inside,
to feel it burning inside, pushing out velvety hairs,
like a clothes brush in the intestines—
This is the thrill that leads the President on to lie

        *   *   *

Now the Chief Executive enters; the press  
        conference begins:
First the President lies about the date the Appalachian  
        Mountains rose.
Then he lies about the population of Chicago, then he lies  
        about the weight of the adult eagle, then about the  
        acreage of the Everglades

He lies about the number of fish taken every year in the  
        Arctic, he has private information about which city is  
        the capital of Wyoming, he lies about the birthplace of  
        Attila the Hun.

He lies about the composition of the amniotic fluid, and  
        he insists that Luther was never a German, and that  
        only the Protestants sold indulgences,

That Pope Leo X wanted to reform the church, but the  
        "liberal elements" prevented him,  
that the Peasants’ War was fomented by Italians  
        from the North.

And the Attorney General lies about the time the  
        sun sets.

Bly’s poem was a scathing, too-true-to-be-surreal condemnation of Nixonian America. Reading it today, the poem seems less of a portrait of a bygone era, and more like a glance in a continent-spanning mirror.

45 America Nixon poetry politics Vietnam War

Butchering Badgers: Public University or Abattoir?

On Saturday the president of AAUP Wisconsin tweeted the draft of a revision of University of Wisconsin System’s administrative policy on program productivity,” a revision which mandates the obligatory elimination of academic programs not meeting certain productivity” criteria. The only criteria detailed in the draft policy is a minimum average number of graduates within a five year period1; it does not include (for example) total enrollments, total credit hours of instruction by program faculty, or high-enrollment service courses taught within the program’s array of courses that are subscribed to by multiple programs or that satisfy campus-wide requirements.

Worse, the draft policy appears to be crafted in a way that skirts any vote by the UW System Board of Regents, to which authority over the UW System’s program array is reserved by state law. According to Nick Fleisher, AAUPs state president & associate professor of linguistics at UW-Milwaukee, the positioning of the policy as a revision of UW System Administrative Policy — rather than as a Board of Regents policy — means it would need approval by only the System President, Ray Cross. Cross was appointed by Scott Walker in 2014, and has since presided over a $250 million cut in state funding, the gutting of tenure from state statue, and a contentious annexation of the UW System’s two-year colleges by some of the System’s four-year universities. This last project was planned in secret, or, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the UW System president intentionally kept his plans a secret from campus governance groups so they wouldn’t be thwarted.” The chancellor of those two-year UW campuses found out about the planned elimination of her institutions not from Cross, but when the story leaked statewide ahead of Cross’ announcement. Cross has received no confidence” rebukes from several UW System institutions, including the faculty of both Research I universities (UW–Madison & UW–Milwaukee). Cross received another unambiguous upbraiding from UW-Madison’s chapter of AAUP earlier this year.

As AAUP president Fleisher observed, this policy is a major, direct attack on the faculty’s authority over its curriculum, and an end-run around faculty termination strictures already hollowed-out by the elimination of tenure provisions from state law. As former UW-Madison professor of Educational Policy Studies Sara Goldrick-Rab observed when she left the University in 2016, this is part of a larger plan to vandalize Wisconsin’s greatest asset: its public universities.2 Indeed, taken with the new tenure policy adopted by the Board of Regents in 2016 that included an unprecedented provision to lay off tenured faculty of discontinued academic programs, this draft policy appears to be the next step in a premeditated-in-secret, coordinated assault on Wisconsin’s public universities. Cross’ past actions, particularly his demonstrated contempt for shared governance & his secret planning of massive alterations to the public university system, suggest he should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge

And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.

— W.H. Auden, Under Which Lyre”

Among the programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison alone that would be targeted for elimination if the draft policy were in effect today (B = Bachelor’s degree program, M = Master’s degree program):

  • African Languages & Literature (M)
  • Afro-American Studies (M)
  • Agronomy (M)
  • Art History (M)
  • Biochemistry (M)
  • Biophysics (M)
  • Botany (M)
  • Cancer Biology (M)
  • Cellular & Molecular Biology (M)
  • Comparative Literature & Folklore Studies (B & M)
  • Engineering Physics (B)
  • Entomology (B)
  • Freshwater & Marine Sciences (M)
  • History of Science, Medicine, & Technology (M)
  • Horticulture (M)
  • Jewish Studies (B)
  • Languages & Cultures of Asia (M)
  • Latin (B)
  • Linguistics (M)
  • Music (M)
  • Music Education (M)
  • Neuroscience (M)
  • Plant Breeding & Plant Genetics (M)
  • Plant Pathology (M)
  • Polish (B)
  • Portuguese (M)
  • Poultry Science (B)
  • Scandinavian Studies (M)
  • Slavic Languages & Literatures (M)
  • Zoology (M)

Were this policy currently in effect, UW-Madison would be expected to submit a plan of action to remediate the low producing [sic] program” within one semester; if that deadline were not met, UW System would begin the governance process for program elimination.” Under the current administrative rules referenced in the draft proposal, UW System could then eliminate the program with as little as four weeks’ notice. Should UW-Madison submit a plan of action to remediate a program, the program would receive a stay of execution for three academic years. Should the program not met the criteria after that time, the draft policy’s guidance is bleak: If after three years, [sic] the program still does not improve, UW System will communicate with the institution to eliminate the program using its governance process… .”

The only option to appeal provided to an institution placed in this position is to UW System — under this draft, a self-appointed judge, jury, & executioner. In his above-linked tweet thread, AAUP president Fleisher noted this appears to be an unprecedented power grab by the UW System’s president:

So we have a draft policy in which Ray Cross/UWSA propose to establish criteria for *obligatory* program closure, on the basis of powers it’s not clear they actually have, using a process that requires only appropriate levels of consultation with affected stakeholders”

Curiously, UW System has not elected to comment directly on the draft policy:

A spokesperson for the system initially referred requests for comment to Greg Summers, provost at the Stevens Point campus and architect of its new plan to eliminate 13 programs, including English, history, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish. Via email, Summers said he supported the policy and its inclusion of shared governance and an appeals mechanism. Hesitant to comment in much detail on something that is still in draft form, Summers said that carefully monitoring program enrollments has always been a fundamental responsibility of the [Wisconsin] system.”

Fleisher points out UW System’s authority is bounded by Regent policy, which specifies its limitation to monitoring and analyzing the current program array, including degree productivity, distance education offerings, and modes of delivery; working with UW institutions in identifying gaps in the current array to address changing and emerging workforce and societal needs,” among other duties. Final authority over programs rests, under state law, with the Board of Regents.

Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before

— Auden again

I am disgusted by the revelation of this draft policy, but I am not surprised. As I remarked yesterday, to work in public higher education in Wisconsin since 2011 is to work in institutions being sabotaged, deliberately & acutely, by the state’s own leadership. The vandalism is unrelenting & ever-worsening, amounting to an absolute looting of a century-plus of public investment in a world-class university system by resentful, obdurate, contemptuous hatchet men. The goal: the extirpation of faculty & staff dedicated to the search for truth, in favor of the narrow vision of a university intended merely to develop human resources to meet the state’s workforce needs.

There aren’t enough tourniquets for the wounds inflicted by these butchers.

  1. The criteria specify metrics at the bachelor’s & master’s levels; doctoral programs are assessed separately accordingg to specific criteria established by the doctoral granting [sic] institutions.

  2. UW System’s crass evaluation of the value of the importance of its institutions to the state by an economic impact study is nonetheless breathtaking: $24 billion.

academic freedom higher education University of Wisconsin Wisconsin