The Chicago Cubs Will Win the 2016 World Series

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View from the Wrigley Field Bleachers, 2008. Photo by Jim Flannery

After a 108-year drought, 2016 is the year when the Chicago Cubs will finally reach the promised land and win the World Series.

It’s a simple case of economics.

Since the last Major League work stoppage wiped out the 1994 World Series, the team with the highest payroll in the Majors has appeared in the World Series six times, winning four (not at all surprisingly, the New York yankees were that team every single time). Of the 36 other teams to make it to the Series in that time, 11 were in the Top 5 in payroll and another 10 were in the Top 10. That’s fully 64 percent of the teams in the World Series over the last two decades.

The team that has won the World Series in those years has been the team with the highest payroll 15 times in 21 seasons, a 71 percent success rate.

Which brings us to the 2016 World Series. According to Spotrac.com, the Cubs have the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, at $186,402,394, while the Cleveland Indians are down at 21st place, with just $114,707,868 in payroll, which also makes them just the fourth team since 1995 to get to the Series and be in the bottom 10 in the league in payroll.

Obviously, the Cubs have finally figured out a way to win—spend a shit-ton of money on talent. Are they guaranteed a win? No. The Florida Marlins proved in 2003 that sometimes David can have a better seven-game run than Goliath by beating the big, bad Yankees. But don’t count on the Indians taking this series, even with it currently tied at 1-1. Chicago has simply invested too much money in this team to lose at this point.

 

Follow me on Twitter @lethbridgejimbo

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50 Years Later, Star Trek Is Still Amazing

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On this day in 1966, the world premiere of Star Trek happened on television. The Original Series lasted just three seasons before NBC killed it, but the most influential pop culture phenomenon in human history had begun to make its mark.

Here we are, 50 years later. There have now been six series, 13 movies, and who knows how much other spin-off stuff in terms of games, novels, technical manuals, fan movies, etc. CBS/Paramount have made any number of moves in recent years that seems designed to kill the franchise, but Star Trek perseveres.

The original series had a profound impact on the world. People like Whoopi Goldberg and Mae Jemison attributed seeing a strong black woman in an important role on the show as being the reasons why they reached for the stars. The show featured the first interracial kiss and dealt head-on with race relations on several other occasions. It featured an episode talking about American policy in Viet Nam at a time when no one else on television dared even mention that war. It presented a future in which humans learn to get along with each other and achieve great things, a vision of hope in the face of humanity’s consistent refusal to find common ground.

And then there’s the tech. Flip phones, iPods, transparent aluminum, tricorders and more are now actual things, all inspired by Star Trek. If someone ever figures out how to travel by space warp or teleporter, you can thank Trek for that too.

Sure, there were some missteps along the way. There are more than a few episodes that are pretty painful to watch (“Brain and brain. What is brain?”). But there are also some that are brilliant. From “Balance of Terror,” to “Space Seed,” to “City on the Edge of Forever,” to “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the show found a great balance between action, adventure, big concepts, and characterization.

This is a show that has coloured my whole world view. I have a fascination with outer space. I always try to look at things logically. I try to keep an open mind and see the possibilities. My wife and I have travelled to James T. Kirk’s future birthplace so we can say we’ve been there.

Will the show remain relevant for another 50 years? That remains to be seen. But as new chapters of the franchise continue to be written and more fans are inspired by the show’s vision, theres no reason to think it couldn’t live on in people’s hearts and minds, driving us forward as a society.

Lethbridge Move Two-Year Anniversary

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Two years ago today, my wife and I, along with our sick cat, Feather, packed up and relocated to Lethbridge, AB. I had accepted a job with a company that was on a fantastic trajectory (and would win the Small Employer of the Year award from the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce later that year) and we were looking forward to our new life and new adventure.

Two years later, the company I started working with is out of business and I’m trying to get my own consulting business running, with invaluable help from my wife. Our cat, Feather, who was already diagnosed with late stage kidney failure when we moved, passed away in the winter of 2015. Not exactly how we were expecting things to play out, but then again that’s just how life seems to go.

It hasn’t all been sad news.

We’ve made some great friends, some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. We’re well into the process of making our house into our home with ongoing fix-ups and improvements, including a new garage, some new light fixtures, fresh paint, and all the yardwork Tracey has done to make our gardens and stuff all lovely. Our consulting business has already earned a second-place in a business plan writing competition and things are generally looking up for our overall profitability. We’ve found several nice local restaurants, including more than one really good pizza place. And although the traffic can be a little scary, the volume is so much lighter compared to Calgary that, on balance, it’s an order of magnitude less stressful.

No, things aren’t perfect. We’ve found that there are some clique-ish elements here. Lethbridge is one of the only cities in Canada that still stubbornly refuses to implement a curbside recycling program. But then again, nothing’s perfect.

All in all, this has been a good move for us. We’ve settled into our new community, we’ve established new traditions, and we’ve found ways to contribute and give back. No regrets at all about making this change. I’m looking forward to the next two years!

Prince: All Good Things, They Say, Never Last

Sometimes I wish that life was everlasting,

But all good things, they say, never last.

–  Sometimes It Snows in April, Prince

When my wife and I heard the news Thursday that Prince had died, we were stunned. At 57 years old, he was still pumping out great music regularly, touring the world, and continuing to dazzle with his virtuoso singing and musicianship.

Now he’s gone.

It can hardly be understated just how talented he was. He could play every instrument. And not just get by on every instrument—he could play. His vocal range was 4 1/2 octaves, putting most every other pop artist on Earth to shame. And not only could he reach higher and lower than almost everyone, his ability to wail or be as delicate as a flower with that range—sometimes in the same verse—was jaw-dropping. Prince didn’t oversing or undersing; he produced the precise note with the exact amount of emotion and power required every single time,

He released 39 albums in his 35-year career making him a spectacularly prolific writer by anyone’s standards. Not every single on every album was brilliant, but if the worst thing you can say about an artist’s work is that sometimes his songs are merely good, that’s quite a credit to their ability to stay fresh. His final album, HitNRun Phase Two, received an aggregate score of 63/100 from Metacritic with Paste Magazine rating the record as high as 8.8/10—not bad for your 39th album.

And how much more material did he leave in that infamous vault in Paisley Park?

Like many people my age, I got on board with Prince in 1982 when the 1999 album came out. Songs like “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” were revolutionary in a radio landscape dominated by… really, really white people like Olivia Newton-John, Soft Cell, The Human League, and Survivor. Following that up with the mega-hit Purple Rain album and movie turned him into one of the great musical icons of the 80s.

His follow-up to Purple Rain to this day is one of my favourite albums he ever recorded, although at the time it was highly controversial because it was such a departure from his previous two radio-friendly, hook-laden records. Around the World in a Day was filled with psychedelic sounds and other things that the masses weren’t quite ready for. But tunes like “Condition of the Heart,” “The Ladder,” and “Temptation” in my humble opinion are ever bit as brilliant as “When Doves Cry” or “Let’s Go Crazy.”

The more I dug into his music, the more my musical horizons were widened. From “Anna Stesia” to “Electric Chair” to “Gett Off” to “7” to “Baltimore” to “Gold” to “Damn U” to  “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance” to “Black Sweat” to “Housequake” to “Colonized Mind” to “FUNKNROLL” he was able to explore dance, rock, funk, soul, pop, power ballads, and so much more.

I have often thought of Prince as a modern day Jon Donne. Both were preoccupied—especially earlier in life—with love and sex and both inevitably found their true calling in religion and God. That constant push and pull between the profane and the holy seemed to me to be a consistent thread in the subject matter both Donne and Prince repeatedly revisited. To me at least, this was just one more confirmation that Prince was operating on a higher level than the rest of his peers.

From the time I began to listen to really appreciate music until now, Prince has been an integral part of my experience. That experience fundamentally changed on Thursday—there will never be another truly new release by Prince (although, who knows, there may be dozens of albums ready to go in the vault…). But thankfully Prince left such a rich legacy that I will able to continue to enjoy those 39 albums for years to come without much repetition. On the other hand, Prince did write a song called “Joy in Repetition.” Maybe I do need to listen to a few of my faves over and over…

I’m not sure if I have a point to all this, except to say I’m really sad about Prince’s death and I’m going to miss his creativity. Time to go watch the seven DVDs of Prince movies and concerts we have on our shelves and remember fondly the Artist we knew as Prince.

Trammell Misses HoF, Reminding Us That the System Is Garbage

Major League Baseball announced their Hall of Fame Class of 2016 on Wednesday, with Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza making the grade. There are some in the media who are talking about which three voters left Griffey off their ballots, ensuring once again that no one has ever been a unanimous choice. But while I find that irksome and indefensible, the thing that really grinds my gears is that Alan Trammell once again fell well short of the 75 percent threshold for Hall of Fame induction.

That was his 15th and final time on the ballot, meaning his fate is now in the hands of the Expansion Era Committee, but his name won’t come up for consideration by them until 2020.

As a point of fact, the 2016 vote produced Trammell’s highest percentage ever, at 40.9, but that means that somehow almost 60 percent of BBWAA’s voters still think Trammell doesn’t belong in the Hall. How is this even possible and what does it say about the Hall of Fame voting system and the baseball knowledge of the 440 BBWAA members who cast ballots for this year’s Hall of Fame class?

In short, it says that this is possible because the system is broken and the BBWAA members are idiots motivated by things other than what constitutes a great baseball player when they cast their votes.

I’ve ranted about this before, but this bears repeating: Alan Trammell was unequivocally one of the top 15 shortstops in MLB history.

Trammell’s career slashline of .285/.352/.415/.767 is excellent for a shortstop: his .285 career batting average is 33rd best of all time among shortstops with at least 1,000 games played; his .767 OPS is 31st. His 2,365 career hits are 17th most among shortstops. His .977 career fielding percentage was the 24th highest ever.

Along the way, Trammell won four Gold Glove Awards, four Silver Slugger awards, was the runner up for the AL MVP in 1987 and won the World Series MVP in 1984. His career post-season performance was almost Michael Jordan-esque, posting a .333/.404/.588/.992 slashline in October.

His career Wins Above Replacement was 70.4, 11th best among shortstops and 93rd best among all players in MLB history. His Defensive WAR of 22.0 is 33rd best among all players in MLB history and 22nd best among shortstops. Trammell’s WAR7—his WAR for the peak seven years of his career—is 44.6, the eighth best among shortstops.

Trammell’s JAWS score, Jay Jaffe’s rating system that evaluate’s a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness, is 57.5. Shortstops with JAWS scores lower than Trammell include the following Hall of Famers: Barry Larkin, Bobby Wallace, Lou Boudreau, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese, Joe Sewell, Luis Aparicio, Joe Tinker, Dave Bankroft, Hughie Jennings, Travis Jackson, Phil Rizzuto, Rabbit Maranville, John Ward, George Wright, and Leo Durocher. There are in fact about 50 percent more Hall of Fame shortstops below Trammell in the JAWS list than there are above him (nine).

You know who else has a lower JAWS score than Trammell? Derek Jeter. Jeter retired with a 57.0 on the JAWS scale. And if I were one to bet on such things, I’d say Jeter is the most likely player in the next decade to become the first-ever unanimous electee to the Hall of Fame.

Am I saying that Trammell was better than Jeter based on one metric? No. But I am saying that they are in the same conversation; that if Jeter is a can’t miss Hall of Famer, Trammell should be as well. The only real difference between the two is that one played his entire career for the Detroit Tigers and the other played his entire career for the New York Yankees—statistically, their performance was very similar.

I’m not claiming Alan Trammell was the best shortstop of all time and I don’t think anyone is. But he was indisputedly as good or better than a dozen or more current Hall of Famers, including recent inductees like Barry Larkin and soon-to-be inductees like Derek Jeter. I’m not arguing a marginal case here: Trammell should have been elected to the Hall of Fame years ago and should not be stuck on the outside looking in, as he is now.

The voting process is clearly too subjective, which opens it wide to bad choices based on opinion, conjecture, and politics. I mean seriously, two professional baseball writers thought David Eckstein was worthy of a Hall of Fame vote? I liked Eckstein’s moxie, but there’s no way on Earth he deserved a vote that could have been better spent on the glut of legitimate candidates on the ballot right now.

Bluntly, I find it disgusting that members of the BBWAA could consistently get this wrong for 15 straight years. They seem so hyper-focussed on punishing players from the Steroid Era that they’ve forgotten that they have an actual job to do when filling out this ballot and that job is to honestly and fairly judge which players have earned the right to get their name enshrined in MLB’s most sacred shrine.

In my humble opinion, the fact that Trammell has been denied membership in the Hall of Fame indicates that the voting system needs major, sweeping revisions to require more objective evaluation of players’ merits. It also suggests that close to 300 members of the BBWAA should be fired for incompetence.

 

Follow me on Twitter @calgaryjimbo

Bill 6 Is Happening Whether You Like It or Not

Photo: Jim Flannery

Photo: Jim Flannery

On Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, I attended the provincial government’s Lethbridge Town Hall stop to discuss Bill 6, the omnibus bill they tabled in mid-November announcing that farms and ranches in Alberta would, at long last, be brought under the umbrella of Occupational Health and Safety and Worker’s Compensation, as well as making changes to labour and employment regulations for those same businesses.

When the bill was introduced the agriculture industry in Alberta immediately responded by completely losing their collective shit about a bill which should have been enacted a decade ago if the previous ruling party, the Conservatives, had had any balls.

Here are a few observations on my part. First, about the NDP and the MLAs in attendance:

When the NDP swept to power in the spring, I predicted that the farming/ranching community was going to be brought under OHS sooner rather than later because, a)the NDP were the only party to even mention OHS in their platform, and b) party leader Rachel Notley has a long history of advocacy with OHS and WCB in Alberta and BC prior to her entering the political world. I was expecting that this could happen some time in 2016 or 2017 with a very gradual implementation process, but the bill was tabled only a few weeks before the OHS and WCB elements come into effect (Jan. 1, 2016). So I was not surprised when Bill 6 was brought forward, but I was shocked to find out the NDP was only giving the industry six weeks warning of the coming changes.

It was therefore not at all surprising to see the swift and angry uprising in protest of this bill. In my opinion, this was a stupid move on the part of the new government—they acted too quickly, with only half of a plan, to make changes to a community that, by and large, didn’t vote for them. You couldn’t script a better way to further alienate an entire industry that already didn’t like you.

The optics of the bill’s introduction were made even more ugly when Premier Notley—who was almost certainly the driving force behind the bill—immediately got on a plane and took off to Paris for the big international climate change talks, making her unavailable to face the music at home.

To their credit, MLAs Lori Sigurdson and Oneil Carlier stood up on the podium for the duration of the meeting and fielded questions from the hostile audience, as they have done in the previous town hall meetings that have been running daily around the province. To their discredit, they’ve backtracked on a couple points from the first announcement of the bill, making them look even less credible, and they don’t have good answers to some of the more reasonable and well-thought-out questions that were raised.

I didn’t even attempt to get into the giant post-Q & A scrum/angry mob around Sigurdson and Carlier, but did have a chance to talk briefly with our local MLA, Maria Fitzpatrick. I thanked her for being there in front of that unfriendly crowd and she answered that she doesn’t take it personally and that she would, of course, be in attendance at a meeting held in her constituency. Still, kudos for showing up; less worthy politicians might not have.

On the farming and ranching side, there were a number of interesting points:

Firstly—and not at all subtly—several attendees were quite literally there brandishing pitchforks (with “Kill Bill 6” signs stuck on them, but still). If only a few people had shown up with torches, we could have had a good ol’ fashioned Frankenstein’s monster burnin’!

One of the loudest rounds of applause in the entire event happened after someone near the front of the audience shouted out “Heil Hitler!” Because imposing the same safety measures on farms and ranches that every other industry in Alberta already has is exactly the same as Nazi fascism.

There seems to be a prevailing concern that the socialist NDP are trying to hide their secret agenda behind a smokescreen of safety. What they’re really trying to do, according to some in the crowd, is make the entire industry unionize and start striking. According to these folks, the part of Bill 6 giving farm and ranch employees the right to unionize has nothing to do with the recent Canadian Supreme Court ruling giving all Canadian workers the right to unionize and to strike, and everything to do with shutting down capitalism.

The paranoia surrounding this particular element of Bill 6 seems to be deeply held and strong. It seems to me that if farm and ranch workers were the sort of people who were prone to striking, they might have been pushing for this for awhile now, which I’m not seeing or hearing.

A legitimate point that was brought up was that about 50 percent of all farm and ranch workers are already being provided insurance coverage by their employers, insurance coverage that is typically 24/7, not just workplace, and therefore quite a bit more valuable than WCB to the workers. The imposition of WCB, it was argued, would result in many employers dropping the superior coverage since they can’t afford to pay for both.

Now I happen to have worked for companies that paid WCB premiums and provided secondary coverage through Blue Cross or some similar insurance company, so I know this can be reconciled. But the audience was very much locked into a black-or-white, all-or-nothing mode of thinking (including the first person to the mic insisting that no farmer or rancher would accept any part of Bill 6 regardless of any proposed changes, so the government needed to just drop the whole damn thing).

But something the audience failed to key on (which came to my attention) was that if half of all farm and ranch workers are currently covered, that also means half of that group are not covered, which means their employers clearly need to be made to do the right thing, something this bill addresses.

Likewise, someone asked why it was that farmers are being persecuted for all the deaths in their industry when more people are killed on Alberta roads every year than have died on farms in the last decade.

My internal response was twofold: 1) Alberta farms and ranches kill more people per year than any other industry in the province. This is completely unacceptable, and the driving force behind Bill 6. 2) Did this guy seriously just dare a government that likes more government intervention to do something meaningful about dangerous driving in this province? I honestly don’t think farmers or ranchers would like that much at all, since it would almost certainly involve significantly tightening up the testing standards for obtaining a license to the point where many people who currently depend on their ability to drive would have their license taken away, including farmers and ranchers (especially farmers and ranchers?).

One fellow who got to the mic observed that only nine percent of the workplace fatalities on farms and ranches in the last 20 years were employees. He then went on to note that the NDP have backed down on their plan to include families in Bill 6 and asked if that means the NDP don’t care about families. Seriously? Again, do you understand that this government’s answer to such questions is likely to be to reverse their position yet again and say, “You’re absolutely right. If you perform work on a farm or ranch, you will be subject to OHS, regardless of whether you’re an employee or a family member.” This would, after all, follow the same model all the other western provinces have been successfully using for years, where there is no distinction made between employees and families.

One person who criticized the WCB requirement in the bill complained that the premiums were prohibitively high. When one of the MLA aides stepped up and pointed out that the premiums set out for the industry for 2016 range from $1.95-$2.70 per $100 insurable earnings (lower than many construction industry premiums), the commentor responded that he already had WCB for his farm and that he had been paying closer to $7 because of poor performance surcharges and that it took him years to bring it down to around $4. Dude, you are exactly who this legislation is aimed at! People who are injuring their staff at a rate 200 percent higher than the industry standard are the problem! Stop putting people in the hospital and your rates will come down. And don’t tell me it can’t be done because, by your own admission, it can be.

Here’s my bottom line: As I mentioned above, this should have been enacted years ago. Sadly, the Conservatives valued rural votes over rural lives, resulting in an industry that got used to being allowed to do what they wanted, how they wanted, with no regard for the human cost. The NDP are not going to dismiss this bill, so industry can either be part of the process and help tailor the loose ends more to their liking or they can continue to have their little tantrum and wind up being handed a piece of legislation they’ll have to follow anyway.

To be fair, the farmers I’ve spoken to directly seem far more moderate in their response to Bill 6 and seem prepared to get themselves properly set up. From what I’ve heard, the moderates are also the majority. But these are also farmers who are, as far as I can see, already doing things the right way. It’s the farms who want to retain the right to injure or kill people without consequence who are the problem.