Friday, August 31, 2007

Bernanke's Put-etto

In Ben Bernanke's much anticipated speech today in Jackson Hole, he essentially absolved the Fed of responsibility for protecting market participants from bad financial decisions, emphasizing vigilance yet patience and allowing others to make policy decisions that should relieve pressure on the economy's best friend: the US consumer.

Equity markets liked the speech, even though the market expectation for Fed rate cuts this year has been tempered. Unlike his predecessor, who was famous for swiftly cutting rates to ensure liquidity, Bernanke seems to be content biding his time despite some implicit pleading by others.

Of course this positive market action could just be month-end (and quarter-end for some broker-dealers) window dressing....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

College Football Preview and Countdown (Final)

With the kickoff to the college football season just hours away, it's time to unveil the projected national champ:

#1 - Virginia Tech (currently #9 in the AP Poll)

The Hokies have been in the news a lot recently, including the tragic shootings this past spring, and of course, the off-the-field 'exploits' of this famous alum:

Key Game: Coach Beamer and the Lunchpailers will know early whether the Hokies can channel their emotions: September 8th @ LSU. Win, and the road to January 7th opens with only a Thursday Night (November 1st) game @ Ga. Tech standing in the way; lose, and the road seems much harder, including visits to Blacksburg by Fla State (Nov. 10th) and Miami (November 17th).

'Wither' the Yankees?

The complaining from long-time Yankee fans is hard to stomach (and by "long-time", we mean as long as Mr. Intangibles has been in the big leagues, the equivalent of the "pink hats" in Boston.) The Yankees have won 9 division titles in a row (Quick Quiz: name the last AL East team other than the Yanks to win), but the dream, as they say, is about to die, notwithstanding the results the past two, er three, nights(*). To put it in perspective, the last time the Red Sox won a division title (1995), the lineup included the following immortals (note: because of the strike, the Sox played just 144 games in 1995):

C - Mike MacFarlane (115 G)
2B - Luis Alicea (132 G)
3B - Tim Naehring (126 G)
SS - John Valentin (135 G)
OF - Mike Greenwell (120 G)
OF - Troy O'Leary (112 G)
OF - Lee Tinsley (100 G)

Add 1B Mo Vaughn and DH Jose Canseco to the mix and you could imagine how the Sox could compete in the tabloids, if not on the field...

As for burning through pitchers, it is a Yankee tradition that precedes Joe Torre (who, by the way, preceded Mr. Jeter by one year in New York). In 1989, for instance, the Yankees had a then-23-year-old Al Leiter throw 174 pitches in a single outing; he then struggled through a total of fewer than 10 major league innings in the next three years -- combined. (Leiter, it should noted, is currently a color analyst on the YES Network; perhaps the Bombers felt guilty about blowing out a young arm.)

What does that mean to Roy Oswalt? The Astro's starter has been a workhorse over the past few years, including leading the league in starts twice (2004, 05) and has been in the Top Ten in Innings Pitched 5 of the past 6 years (including 2007, where he is currently third). Let's hope that the modern pitch count era means that Mr. Oswalt won't be the "victim" of a modern-day Billy Martin next year in Houston.

Quick Quiz Answer: Your Baltimore Orioles in 1997

(* - Sox lost, 5-0, as Yanks completed the sweep.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, Roy Oswalt

The pride of Weir, Mississippi, Roy Oswalt, turned 30 today and celebrated by shutting the resurgent Cardinals out on 4 hits over 7 innings, striking out nine. Exactly how good is old Roy?

Well, the list of pitchers who have finished in the top five in Cy Young voting six times during their first seven years in the league has exactly zero entries...until this November when Oswalt (14-6, 3.21) will start the list unless the wheels completely come off the cart. The only year he didn't crack Top 5 was 2003 when he went 10-5, 2.97 in an injury-plagued season.

He is tops in the majors with 112 wins since 2001, already top 15 on the career list in winning percentage and Adjusted ERA+ and has won 53.2% of his career starts. Throw in 19-1, 2.46 in 24 career games just against the Reds and you start to get a sense that he's pretty good.

So the guy whose career was saved by a loose spark plug has quietly amassed the most consistently dominant beginning of a starting pitcher's career in baseball history. Let's just hope that 8-10 years from now he doesn't end up like the pitcher whose career was most like his through age 28.

Daly City Update

As predicted, Hillary's campaign has announced that she will divest herself (by giving to charity) close to $23,000 contributed by Norman Hsu. Others appear ready to follow suit, including Al Franken, a Senate candidate in Minnesota, Reps. Michael Honda and Doris Matsui of California and Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania.

College Football Preview and Countdown (Part IX)

Back to the college football countdown:

At #2, LSU (currently #2 in the AP poll)

The most recently highlight for LSU was the National Championship under Nick Saban in 2003; the seeds for that championship were planted a year earlier in one of the greatest finishes ever, the so-called "Bluegrass Miracle":

Key game: There are no off-days in the SEC, but LSU has all four ranked (pre-season) opponents at home (Va Tech, Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas). The 'trap' game (although it won't be a surprise) is Nov. 3rd in Alabama, against a Tide team now coached by the aforementioned Mr. Saban.

Taking It In the Shorts

Recent volatility and uncertainty is part of the market's unending pendulum swing between fear and greed, but the specifics around this summer's high drama deserve special mention. Let's lay out the backdrop:

1) New Fed Chairman

Ben (not Benjamin) Shalom Bernanke was sworn in as Fed Chairman on February 1, 2006, but it took the greater part of eighteen months for him to meet a true challenge. Oh, and by the way, good luck following the legendary Alan Greenspan and establishing your own credibility.

2) Single source of market disruption: Credit

The economy seems fine, inflation is relatively contained, and global issues are benign. Far and away the main reason for this disruption is lenders have been doing silly things in the credit markets.

3) "Alpha" dogs
The proliferation of hedge funds and accompanying strategies has led to money flow into some rather strange places. Universa Investments is an example of a fund that seems to pin its investment strategy on short-selling and extreme levels of volatility. Just the latest in the never-ending quest for "alpha".

So what did this cocktail produce? Well the only further background information needed is the characteristics of a credit instrument. Being long credit means that you are short optionality, and therefore volatility. In a steady state world, everyone gets their loans paid back (or doesn't have to pay Par for a defaulted security as a result of a credit derivative contract settlement). But in a more volatile environment, the best case for a creditor is still return of principal, but the likelihood of loss is much greater. Therefore it is not surprising to learn that credit spreads and market-based volatility measures (such as the VIX) are highly correlated.

Fast-forward to the credit contagion that started with the Bear Stearns Asset Management announcement. Soon all the aggressive credit deals that had been originated in the past several months (mortgages, LBOs, CDOs, etc...) were under pressure and liquidity became an issue across the globe. Markets began moving (up and down) in whipsaw fashion and volatility spiked.

Enter the Fed. The Federal Reserve Act states:
The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open Market Committee shall maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.

But everyone knows that financial market stability is an "unlegislated" mandate of the Fed as well. The ingenious aspect of the Fed's response to panic in the market was in the timing. To wit:

1) On the third Saturday of every month, index options expire. Those options stop trading at the end of business on Thursday, and the index settlements are determined based off the opening prices on Friday.

2) The equity market hit new lows on the afternoon of August 16th (Thursday), which also coincided with a spike in the VIX to 37.5.

3) The Fed's policy response was released after the index options stopped trading but before the index settlements were determined.

4) The most leveraged way to play any market is through options, and one would imagine that short-sellers (long puts, short calls) and "long vol" plays were very instrumental in driving the market lower and vol higher.

5) By acting between the end of trading and settlement, the Fed "hung the shorts out to dry" as equities rallied over 5% and vol dropped about 30% as a result of the announcement.

The response can therefore be seen as a warning shot to short-sellers, assuming that the Fed believes that "unfettered" short selling drives up volatility and therefore damages the credit market even more.

In addition, the Fed didn't even use the most famous tool in their monetary policy tool chest: the official Fed Funds target. They get to save that for when economic, not just market, conditions warrant it. And it also gives Mr. Bernanke a another notch in his credibility belt, which never hurts.

More from Daly City

As blogged yesterday, the Hillary Clinton campaign (and the John Kerry campaign in 2004) received numerous contributions from one Norman Hsu, together with many from a Paw family that currently resides in a rather modest home once owned by Hsu.

Today, the Los Angeles Times reports that Mr. Hsu previously pled guilty to grand theft in California, agreed to serve three years in jail, and then disappeared.

While it is not expected that Mrs. Clinton (or any other candidate) personally vets campaign contributors, it is undoubtedly true that no campaign wants to accept money from convicted felons, or allow them to 'bundle' funds on behalf of the candidate. Hillary's campaign pushed back yesterday on the WSJ story:
"Norman Hsu is a longtime and generous supporter of the Democratic Party and its candidates, including Sen. Clinton," Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the campaign, said Tuesday.

"During Mr. Hsu's many years of active participation in the political process, there has been no question about his integrity or his commitment to playing by the rules, and we have absolutely no reason to call his contributions into question or to return them."
But with today's news, it seems likely that Mrs. Clinton will be returning at least the $44,000 that Mr. Hsu personally gave her. Other politicians, including (according to the LA Times), Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Barack Obama of Illinois and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, may follow suit.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

College Football Preview and Countdown (Part VIII)

Back to the college football countdown:

#3 - University of Florida (currently #3 in the AP poll)

A year removed from the National Championship, the Gators seem to have re-loaded under Coach Urban Meyer. But before Coach Meyer, there was Gator football, Emmitt Smith-style:

Key Game(s): It's a good thing that the Gators reloaded, because the schedule is a killer. Beginning on Sept 15th (Tenn at home), Sept 22nd (@ Ole Miss), Sept 29th (Auburn at home), and finishing October 6th @ LSU. The backhalf of the schedule includes games @ Georgia (Oct. 27th), @ South Carolina (Nov. 10th), and finishing with Fla. State @ home (Nov. 24th). Throw in a likely trip to the SEC Championship game as the representative of the SEC East.

Whence the Yanks...

Despite all current visual evidence to the contrary, the New York Yankees' postseason hopes are still very much intact (man, that sounded weird). But as everyone south of the imaginary Red Sox/Yankees border knows all too well, it's not getting into the playoffs that matters, it's taking home the World Series Trophy that defines a successful season in the Bronx. So let's examine the reasons why or why not the Yankees can be successful in October.

Reason #1 Why: No team has done more to improve their roster since April

Clemens, Hughes, Duncan, Molina, Betemit, Chamberlain, Ramirez. It's incredulous at this point that some were actually counting on Pavano, Cairo, Nieves, Myers, et al to contribute to this team. No major changes to the starting lineup, but 1 through 25 the Yankees have taken huge steps towards improving the roster during the season.

Reason #1 Why Not: They're not forcing the action

No team is better at waiting the pitcher out and getting on base combined with power, but too often there is no attempt to force the action on offense. Other AL contenders (Angels, Tigers, Red Sox, Mariners, Indians) are all better at "manufacturing" runs or making plays than the Yanks, in spite of some statistics to the contrary (NYY's 99 SBs rank 4th in the AL). In the post-steroid era, more aggressive offensive play does seem to matter more.

Reason #2 Why: Who cares how bad Mussina is?

The new postseason schedule will allow teams to get away with a short pitching staff even more than in previous years. Wang, Pettitte and Clemens are going to get almost all the postseason starts and can prepare for six inning stints which will maximize effectiveness.

Reason #2 Why Not: Good pitching beats them

Kazmir, Guthrie, Halladay, Escobar, and Verlander (twice) are all top 20 in the AL ERA and have all beaten the Yanks since the All-Star break. These are the guys you have to face every game in the playoffs.

Reason #3 Why: The Bullpen

Despite Torre's inability to think further than the next out in managing a pitching staff (see: Scott Proctor getting used and thrown away and the strict "Joba Rules" that Cashman and crew have mandated for their prized, yet tenderly young, phenom), there is a lot of reason for optimism this year. Chamberlain to Vizcaino to Rivera is as good a bullpen bridge as the Yanks have had in recent memory, and that allows for high ceiling types such as Ramirez and Farnsworth to work the other situations.

Reason #3 Why Not: The Bullpen

Time has finally caught up with Mo Rivera's ability to shut down teams over multiple innings. I used to think that they should play the outfield at shallow depth behind Rivera since the only way opposing batters got on base was broken-bat bloopers to the outfield. No longer. Mo is letting up a .367 SLG this year, which doesn't sound like much until you realize that his highest previous SLG against is .300. In addition, there is no reliable lefty.

So what does this all add up to? We'll all have to wait and see if it even matters.

By the way, 94 wins (22-9 the rest of the way) is what it's going to take to get in.

Welcome Aboard

A big Allerton hello to guest blogger Matt ("Easty") Eastwick, who joined the discussion today. His first post is here, and we look forward to commentary on topics ranging from the Yankees' playoff roster to changes in the VIX.

Welcome aboard, Easty.

The Clintons' Favorite Daly City Address

The green house you see above is located at 41 Shelbourne Ave., Daly City, California. As the WSJ reported this morning, six residents of that house -- all members of the Paw family, who all apparently received Social Security cards in 1982 -- have given a total of more than $45,000 to Hillary's various campaigns since 2005.

Coincidentally (or not) Norman Hsu, a wealthy New York businessman, who has pledged to raise more than $100,000 for Hillary's presidential campaign, once lived in the same house -- or at least listed the address. Moreover, Mr. Hsu's giving patterns seem to mirror those of the Paw family: in 2004, both Hsu and the Paw wrote a series of checks to John Kerry's campaign on or about the same day.

It is, to be fair, unlikely that neither Hillary nor Kerry are aware of any connection between Mr. Hsu and the Paws. But there's no question that frontrunners -- and their respective staffs -- are held to higher standards on fundraising. Just ask John Edwards in 2004.

College Football Preview and Countdown (Cont VII)

Next on the college football countdown:

#4 University of Southern California (currently ranked #1 in the AP Poll)

Not exactly a highlight, but rather the enduring symbol of the (pumped and jacked) Pete Carroll-era Trojans:

A more USC-friendly video is here (note carefully who the 'blocking back' is ahead of Charles White: a young Marcus Allen):

Key game: January 7th, opponent TBD. BCS title game, but having not been tested all season, USC will not prevail.

College Football Preview and Countdown (Cont VI)

Back to the college football countdown:

At #5, West Virginia University (currently ranked #3 in the AP Poll):

Key Game: September 28th @ South Florida. The USF Bulls could be this year's Rutgers, and the early season trip will be important for the Mountaineers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Preparing the Battlefield..."

The New York Times' Steven Lee Myers had a column yesterday indicating that President Bush's last few weeks (including the increasingly-commented-upon speech to the VFW last Tuesday) has been 'preparing the battlefield' for the coming PR campaign for Iraq.

Today, AG Albert Gonzalez was, perhaps, another casualty in the preparation; like Karl Rove two weeks ago, another polarizing figure leaves the White House... and there is one less person to catch the flak that is surely heading President Bush's way over Iraq.

Friday, August 24, 2007

College Football Preview and Countdown (Cont V)

More from the college football countdown:

#6 - The Ohio State University (currently #11 in the AP poll)

Key game: as always, Michigan on November 17th. This group of Buckeyes has never lost to the Wolverines.

College Football Preview and Countdown (Cont IV)

Continuing with the college football countdown:
#7 - University of Oklahoma (currently ranked #8 in the AP poll)

An enduring symbol of Oklahoma football, Billy Sims:

Key game: October 6th, vs. Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Next Campaign Heats Up

Almost five years ago to the day, then-White House chief-of-staff Andrew Card noted that, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

The Iraq War is not a 'new product', but it clear that a new campaign has begun to try and continue the Administration's efforts there. Yesterday, after months of denying a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam, the President in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, embraced the connection:
Finally, there’s Vietnam. This is a complex and painful subject for many Americans...Then as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.

The argument that America’s presence in Indochina was dangerous had a long pedigree. In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called, "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism -- and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

After America entered the Vietnam War, the Graham Greene argument gathered some steam. As a matter of fact, many argued that if we pulled out there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people...

Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There’s no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. (Applause.) Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps," and "killing fields."
The President's personal relationship with Vietnam -- and for that matter, that of VP Cheney -- makes the parallel with Vietnam a remarkable one. And he seems to be implying that the killing at the end of the Vietnam conflict could have been avoided if the US had committed to a permanent and on-going presence there, as we did in Korea. Gen. David Patraeus is scheduled to speak, on September 11th no less, to Congress on the status of Iraq. The next (marketing) campaign for Iraq has begun.

College Football Preview and Countdown (Cont III)

Back to the college football countdown:

At #8, University of Georgia, currently ranked #13 in the AP Poll.

Georgia Football means one man: Herschel Walker. Here's a play that, if it happened today, would be an all-time You-Tube highlight:

Key Game: Georgia has a manageable SEC schedule, missing LSU and going to Tennessee on October 6th. No matter what the outcome of the Tenn game, the key game will be Florida at home on October 27th.

In the Heart of the Sea

Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea describes a world that seems accessible today -- Nantucket is a short ferry-ride from Cape Cod -- but in reality a symbol of a by-gone era. In the period before the discovery of oil (or more accurately, the discovery of the ability of oil to burn cleanly and efficiently for lighting purposes), whale oil was the best source of light. And Nantucket -- at least according to Philbrick -- was the cutting edge location for the pursuit and harvesting of whale oil throughout the world.

By 1819-21, when the story is centered, the whaling industry was mature in Nantucket; boats were built, outfitted, and sent out, and every person on board -- from captain to cabin boy -- was compensated in a share of the profits. A 'lucky' captain, or one who could bring his boat back with a full crew and a full hold of oil, was a popular man, and the entire island knew the difference between the 'good' and 'bad' captains.

The Essex, which by 1819 was a old ship, set sail for the South Pacific under a first-time captain, George Pollard; the voyage was relatively routine (although Pollard clearly makes some 'rookie' mistakes along the way) but reaches a stunning termination when, some 3,000 miles off the coast of Peru, the ship was sunk by a very large sperm whale.

The rest of the book is the story of two dozen men and their struggles in three open boats, far from shore. Rather than set sail to the (relatively) near-by Marquesas Islands, Pollard listened to his officers (and their fears of cannibalism on the Marquesas) and attempted to sail roughly east, against the prevailing winds, towards South America. In the end, cannibalism found the men of the Essex in the open ocean, as they ran out of food and water during their 90-day ordeal and resorted to that which they most feared.

The story of the Essex was apparently well-known in 19th century New England (if not America) and became the basis for the climatic scene of Meville's Moby-Dick. It has become a lost story, and not consistent with our current romantic notions of life on Nantucket; yet it is truly compelling.

One other note: The 19th-century whaling industry was recently back in the news with the discovery of a bomb-lance fragment, which dated back to approximately 1880, in the head of a bowhead whale. Whales are known to have normal life-spans in excess of 100 years, but the bowhead in question could easily have been 135 or more.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

College Football Preview and Countdown (Cont)

And the team that will finish #9 at the end of the season:
Michigan Wolverines (curently #5 in AP poll). While that may seem like a good result, I am guessing that UM fans won't be satisfied with that sort of effort.

Here's a trip down memory lane for Wolverine fans:

Key game : Sept 22nd against #17 Penn State (at home). If UM gets by PSU, they should be undefeated for the second straight year until November, when they finish @ Wisconsin (Nov. 4th) and with Ohio State at home. This group of UM seniors has never beaten OSU. And haven't won a bowl game.

College Football Preview and Countdown

With a little more than a week to go before the kick-off of the college football season, there's just enough time to count-down the Top Ten, and add a few predictions.

With that in mind, here's the team that will finish the season at #10:

Arkansas Razorbacks (currently #21 in AP poll), and Heisman hopeful Darren McFadden:

Key game: @ Tenn (Nov. 10th). If the Hogs get by the Vols, however, the LSU game looms and looks even larger (Nov. 24th)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Romney vs. Giuliani

Having engaged and (seemingly) dispatched of Arizona Senator John McCain from the GOP primary on primarily the immigration issue, Gov. Mitt Romney has now seemingly turned his attention to Rudy Giuliani; and he's going to use the same issue -- immigration -- to hurt the former New York Mayor. (In fairness, McCain put the immigration ball on a tee for Romney; talk radio and the blogosphere did the rest.)

Romney's new radio ad (YouTubed above) cites cities like Newark (NJ), San Francisco, and New York, that are effectively "sanctuary cities" that essentially attract immigrants -- illegal and legal. (Romney's ad fails to cite a more local city -- Cambridge -- that does the same, as the Globe's blog points out; of course, running against The People's Republic may not be bad politics in a GOP primary.)

Giuliani, meanwhile, has emerged as a front-runner in the GOP field, much to the chagrin of those who watched him closely in New York. From this weeks' New Yorker profile by Pete Boyer:

When Giuliani’s tenure as mayor ended, in 2002, he left behind a city that was grateful, and more than a little relieved to see him go. He had achieved much of his program of radical reform, and he performed well on September 11th, but it had felt like an eight-year fistfight. Giuliani had fought with teachers and with Yasir Arafat, with the Brooklyn Museum and with Fidel Castro, with squeegee men, tennis fans, street venders, taxi-drivers, his own police chief, and, of course, his wife. He had repeatedly chastised New Yorkers for their incorrigible jaywalking and careless bicycling. (“All of these things are part of making the city safer. There’s been a lot of ridicule about it, which is unfortunate.”) Many Manhattanites felt that when the rest of the country experienced the Rudy Giuliani they knew—the flashes of pique, the slashing remark—the celebrity glow would quickly fade.

It hasn’t happened yet. The Giuliani whom New Yorkers recall isn’t campaigning. With some exceptions, like the debate dustup with Ron Paul, the Presidential contender is all smiles, and holds his tongue even when confronted by the occasional town-hall needler. He has taken to fence-mending as well, initiating a rapprochement with his former police chief, William Bratton, who is now running the L.A.P.D. A few days after they conferred, Giuliani told me that he could even imagine working with Bratton again some day. “I mean, I don’t know if it’s the effect of having been the mayor for eight years, of going through prostate cancer, or having a personal life that’s much happier, or if it’s September 11th—maybe it’s a combination of all those things, and just getting older and wiser,” he said. “But you sort of look back on some of the things and say, that was an extraordinarily productive relationship. . . . I mean, we took a city that nobody believed could be turned around with regard to crime, and really did turn it around. That’s not like a political slogan. We really did it. Now that I look back on it, I really appreciate the relationship.
Looks like it will be an interesting fall.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What To Do About Gagne?

Eric Gagne, who had seemed to have righted the ship after a rocky start in Boston, was handed a 5-4 lead last night in the top of the ninth. The Sox had come back from a 4-1 deficit in the eighth with four runs keyed by a David Ortiz two-run double off Francisco Rodriguez but Gagne allowed a walk and hits by Chone Figgins, old friend Orlando Cabrera, and a double by the always dangerous Vlad Guerrero, which resulted in a 7-5 lead.

Moments later, a fan hurled a bottle across the infield in the direction of Gagne, whose ERA for the season has been inflated from 2.16 (at the time of the trade, not even three weeks ago) to 4.12. His line with the Sox includes 14 H and 10 ER in 6.0 IP.

The loss -- after the tremendous comeback in the 8th, which has been rare this year -- was reminiscent of a devastating 8-7 loss to Texas in August, 2001. There, the Sox lost in 18 innings on an unearned run off Derek Lowe. More important, it marked the beginning of the end for that year's Sox team, which proceeded to lose 8 more games in a row, dropping from 4 games out of first place, to 9.5 games, and the season was effectively over.

The SEC Focuses on Brocade

Although some had questioned -- especially prior to the conviction of CEO Gregory Reyes -- whether the Brocade backdating case was truly 'serious', it is clear that the Securities and Exchange Commission considers it to be so.

News reports indicate that the SEC has sued former Brocade CFO Michael Byrd, for, among other alleged violations, failing to re-state past filings once he learned of the backdating issue (it is unclear whether Byrd knew about the backdating at the time it occurred.)

The conviction of Reyes was groundbreaking; he was the first major figure convicted in the backdating scandals; the expansion of inquiry to those who -- in case of Byrd's alleged conduct -- failed to go back and 'correct the record' even though they had nothing to with the original violation should put a chill in the heart of any current corporate official who has suspicions of prior backdating at his/her company.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Politics of Glory

Phil Rizzuto, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on February 27, 1994, by the Veterans' Committee, died today at the age of 89. Rizzuto was the oldest living HoFer, and his candidacy to the Hall was advanced (according to rumor) by Ted Williams, who declared that "the Red Sox would have won all those pennants if [Rizzuto] had played in front of me[i.e., left fielder Williams]"

By coincidence, over the past few days I have re-read Bill James' "The Politics of Glory: How Baseball's Hall of Fame Really Works" (which was apparently re-published in 1995 as "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?: Baseball, Cooperstown, and the Politics of Glory"); both titles are a mouthful, but improve on James' 1989 work, "This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones."

James' work was clearly inspired by the controversy in the early 1990s about whether Rizzuto should, in fact, be a Hall-of-Famer. Rizzuto's candidacy was clearly aided by the election (also by the Veterans' Committee, of Bobby Doerr (James gives Ted Williams some credit towards getting his teammate Doerr into the HoF on page 142), and, more importantly, Pee Wee Reese. (To be fair, Rizzuto lost the better part of three years to WWII, which would have helped his career numbers be closer to the HoF 'median' for shortstops.)

James' book intersperses a history of the institution -- and its status apart from MLB -- with the voting constituencies, and more important, an analysis of the HoFers who clearly are at the margin -- Rizzuto (who was on the outs at the time James initially wrote; Don Drysdale; Bill Mazeroski (out at the time; subsequently elected); Ron Santo (still on the outside, looking in); Joe Torre (out then and now, although probably in now thanks to his managerial career; much closer to being in as a player than currently appreciated); George Davis (now in); Jim Kaat (out -- then and now); and Minnie Minoso (not considered a 'true' Negro Leaguer, but lost a significant amount of his career thanks to the color line).

Like all of James' writing, the book is witty and thought-provoking; however, in a re-reading some 14 years after publication, what is truly amazing is the changes in the how we view the game -- James still refers to 'Triple Crown' statistics even though they have been replaced (subsequently, and as a result, in part, of James' work) with stats such as OBP, OPS, and the like.

There will be more on the Hall of Fame here shortly, but the original is a good read, albeit dated (written before Michael Lewis' Moneyball, and shortly after Ken Burns' Baseball; the paperback undoubtedly resolves some of the typos and other editing errors that distract from a compelling narrative.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Great Unwind: Update 2

The Yankees (66-51) have clawed to within 4 games of the Red Sox in the AL East, and are tied (as of this writing) for the Wild Card. Yet, the remain six games behind their predicted wins on a Pythagorean theorum basis (700 RS, 537 RA).

The Sox (603 RS, 474 RA) are one game behind pace at 70-47. Seattle (65-50, tied with NYY for Wild Card lead) is actually six games ahead of its pace (573 RS, 555 RA).Publish Post

Final Rovian Thoughts

The Karl Rove chapter has come to a quiet, anti-climatic end in Washington. Instead of a historic realignment, he contributed to a Republican disaster in the latest mid-term elections, and the legacy of his most famous client -- George W. Bush -- remains enmeshed in the shifting sands of Iraq.

A brand-new postmortem (written before the announcement) by Joshua Green in the Atlantic summarizes the flaw as pursuing the permanent -- and divisive -- campaign into domestic politics:

Entitlement reform is a different animal. More important than reaching a majority is offering political cover to those willing to accept the risk of tampering with cherished programs, and the way to do this is by enlisting the other side. So the fact that Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress after 2002—to Rove, a clinching argument for confrontation—actually lessened the likelihood of entitlement reform. Congressional Republicans didn’t support Rove’s plan in 2003 to tackle Social Security or immigration reform because they didn’t want to pass such things on a party-line vote. History suggested they’d pay a steep price at election time.
Rove was without equal at hard-hitting, partisan campaigns that sought a governing majority of 50.1%; like much else in politics, his greatest strength became his greatest weakness.

Rove's departure brings a thematic end to the Bush Presidency. After tax cuts and 'No Child Behind', the domestic agenda is over. All that is left is the resolution of Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan, and -- perhaps -- Iran.

But Rove must have known that his departure will have serious consequences to the 43 Presidency. So we must ask: Why Now?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Democratic Primary Being Fought on Foreign Policy?

The Obama campaign is emailing the above video this afternoon -- taken from last night's AFL-CIO debate -- and arguing that:
Barack challenged the conventional thinking that allowed the Bush administration and its enablers to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation

At the start of the exchange, Obama makes not-so veiled reference to those who voted for the Iraq war, and then defends his statements earlier this week about circumstances under which he might chase al Queda in northwest Pakistan. Hillary responds by saying that those running for President have a duty not to engage in hypotheticals, especially those that might de-stabilize a putative ally like Pakistan. Dodd then follows up on the same point, and Obama tries to parry.

What is interesting is not just the interaction, but rather the tone; all three contenders are engaged in the details of foreign policy and possible projections of American power. In 2000, the foreign policy discussions seemed to be at the level of 'nation building' and, in the case of George W. Bush, knowing the names of foreign leaders (the (in)famous Andy Hiller pop quiz was held in November, 1999; ironically Pakistan's Gen. Musharraf (who had just seized power in a military coup) was one of the correct 'answers' to Hiller's quiz. In a comparable time in the campaign this year, candidates are discussing the various factions within the Pakistan ruling elite.)

The focus on foreign policy -- and even the knowledge exhibited by the candidates -- has to be a positive for Democrats as a whole, regardless of who wins the nomination, or even this week's dust-up. The future of American foreign policy has to be moved beyond the exit from Iraq, and the sooner the better.

Finally: the Hiller/Bush video is not easily accessible on the web. If the same exchange happened today, it would easily have been one of the most popular YouTube videos of the year.

Great Unwind: Update

The Pythagorean theorum of baseball W-L indicates that, based on runs scored to runs allowed, the Yankees are seven games behind where they should (63-50 actual; 70-43 projected). The Red Sox, meanwhile, are a game behind (68-45 actual; 69-44 projected.)

Bottom line: the Bombers have been unlucky, and have room to improve their record considerably.

The Great Unwind - Red Sox Edition

The phrase "Great Unwind" is being used to describe the 'unwinding' of over-leveraged and barely-diligenced loans (both to consumers (for houses) and businesses (as part of leverage buy-outs). It might also be used for a Red Sox team that now has a finally-hitting Yankee team squarely in its rear-view mirror (and just five games behind.) Since the dispiriting loss on August 2nd (13-9 to the White Sox, but having dug out from a 0-8 deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the second), the Yankees have won five in a row, and are getting good starting pitching to go with a lineup that is pounding runs. The Red Sox have been winning seemingly with mirrors (and good relief pitching) the entire season, but the last two nights against likely playoff opponent LAA does not bode well.

Iconic Images

With one swing of the bat -- and with half the nation already asleep -- Barry Bonds ended the long, tortured journey towards the most famous number in sports: 756. One small, but unnoticed anecdote in all of this: just 8 years ago, on the 25th anniversary of Aaron's #715, SI's Tom Verducci named his five 'most-likely' to break the then record of 755. Bonds was not even considered on the list (those on the list: Junior Griffey (currently sitting on #589), Juan Gonzalez (out of baseball; finished with 434 homers); Mark McGwire (out of baseball, 583 homers) Alex Rodriguez (youngest man to reach 500); and Vladimir Guerrero (356 homers at age 31)).

One last image from that night in April, 1974:

And, finally, a great quote from Al Downing, who
gave up Aaron's record-breaking blast: "I never say 'seven-fifteen' anymore. I now say 'quarter after seven.'"

Downing is now joined by journeyman Mike Bacsik in baseball history -- in least until A-Rod reaches the Bonds mark.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Romney Video Strategy

Gov. Mitt Romney's recent appearance on conservative (and seemingly somewhat friendly, although very ummmm, aggressive, on the relationship between the executive and judiciary branches) Jan Mickelson's talk show on WHO radio in Iowa (previous guests include G.W. Bush in March, 2005), has driven the GOP news in the past few days. What is interesting -- in the development of the use of video on the web -- is the decision that the Romney campaign made to aggressively post the video and try to use it to drive their message that Romney is a stand-up leader.

What is interesting is the degree to which the interaction between the two -- which begins around 10:45 on the video -- is an apparently 'positive criticism' by Mickelson: "I think you are making a big mistake in distancing yourself from your faith." (Note: such constructive crticism is not unusual for friendly journalists, who generally seek to help strengthen all candidates on their side of the partisan divide.) Romney then engages in a surprisingly frank discussion, and is seems to be already formulating a 'general election' strategy of separating his political stances from those of his religion; yet while he comes across as having a clear understanding of his Church's doctrine, he does not connect how those doctrines animate his politics -- which is Mickelson's ultimate point.

Compelling video and an interesting dilemma for Romney. But posting the video was a simple choice for his staff -- they had none.

The End of an Era

The short, unhappy life (or at least Red Sox career) of Willie Mo Pena is in its apparent death throes as the outfielder has cleared waivers, and can be traded to any other team before the end of the month. With the signing of Bobby Kielty to a minor league deal -- but one that allows him to opt out if not promoted within a week -- the writing was on the wall for Pena.

The Sox apparently tried to move Pena at the trading deadline, but could find no takers. Now, the outfielder will probably attract a prospect (read: unknown talent) or two, at most. Although in possession of unquestioned power, Pena never found a place in Boston; he is playing tonight in a likely attempt to 'showcase' his ability.

Although the final chapter will not be set unless and until Pena moves, here's the way it looks tonight:
2006 24 BOS AL 84G 276AB 36R 83H 15 2B 2 3B 11HR 42RBI 20BB 90K .301BA .349OBP .489SLG
2007 25 BOS AL 68G 147AB 17R 32H 8 2B 1 3B 5HR 16RBI 13BB 55K .218BA .290OBP .388SLG

2006 29 CIN NL 14W 11L 35G 3CG 1SO 240.7IP 222H 98R 88ER 31HR 64BB 184K 3.29ERA 1.188WHIP
2007 30 CIN NL 4W 12L 23G 1CG 0SO 141.0IP 157H 83R 74ER 14HR 48BB 99K 4.72ERA 1.454WHIP
In 2006, Arroyo also finished 23rd in MVP voting, and was an All-Star.

Brocade and Backdating

After a quiet summer, the backdating scandal appears to be ready to re-emerge front and center in the business community; Brocade's former CEO Gregory Reyes was apparently found guilty of 10 counts of backdating and related securities infractions today. As the markets have slowed (perhaps signaling a finale to the private equity/debt bubble), the last vestiges of the previous bubble (the tech one that popped in 2000-01) are being litigated.

Apple's Steve Jobs remains the highest-profile CEO to be implicated in the backdating scandal, although no SEC charges have been brought against him.