Openers

Baseball traces its origins back over two hundred years. The sport has evolved constantly since that time. Today’s game would be incomprehensible to the guys in a field in the early Nineteenth Century. Much like the English Common Law, changes in the rules have occurred to accommodate fair competition, or to gain a tactical advantage, without disturbing the balance of the game. One example is the Infield Fly Rule, which prevents a team from achieving a cheap double play by allowing a pop fly to drop and forcing runners. [A famous legal analysis of the origins of the Rule was written by William S. Stevens and appeared in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in 1975. 123 U.Penn.L.Rev. 1474-1481f (1975).]

The most dramatic change in my time has been the advent of the Designated Hitter, at least in the American League; but also widely in the minor leagues and college and high school and even Little League. When I played “beer league” softball, we had ten fielders, plus a DH and an “extra hitter”, for a batting order of twelve, two of whom did not play the field. My team was the “Dirty Dozen”, a moniker made possible by the extra two hitters and ten fielders.

Other changes have been more subtle, occurring only over multiple years (at least, until the inexplicable surge in home runs in 2019). For example, starting pitchers now rarely throw a complete game, something that was still common in the 1960’s and fully expected before that. This led first to the advent of “closers” and then to the importance of “middle relief” and bullpens. For the first half of the Twentieth Century, the guys in the bullpen were failed – or injured – starters. There were few if any relief specialists. By the turn of the Century, teams were concentrating on closers and the bullpen almost as much as on reliable starters.

Meanwhile, pitchers were being subjected to a pitch count from an early age. Depending upon the age of the pitcher and/or the philosophy of the coach or manager, the limit could be no more than fifty pitches in an outing, or a hundred in a week, for example. Hurlers with poor control (who thus threw more pitches) could exhaust their quota in just a few innings. Though this approach was thought to limit injury, there is no evidence of that. Pitchers on pitch counts still get sore and tired arms, and rotator cuff injuries, and require “Tommy John” surgery. The one clear result is that young pitchers are ill-equipped to pitch into the sixth or seventh or eighth inning anymore.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Having effectively truncated the responsibility of starting pitchers at the end of the game, in the past couple of years managers have begun to eliminate the role of a starter from the first pitch. Teams with strong deep bullpens have occasionally forsaken a starting pitcher entirely, instead using a reliever as an “opener” for an inning or two, to be followed by a series of middle relievers, and, if successful, the closer. The trend is not yet widespread, but it is surprisingly being utilized in the post-season, the most important games of the year. That suggests that it will grow in the future.

One perceived advantage of using an “opener” is rest for the starting staff. With the prevalence of five-man staffs, the need for further rest seems surprising. Rarely does any starter exceed two hundred innings any more, something that was common in the days of four-man pitching staffs and complete games. Sometimes a starter may be injured, and an opener is preferable to moving up the entire rotation to pitch on less rest, or hustling up an unproven minor leaguer for a spot start. Of course, the usual practice in past years would have been to throw one of the failed starters in the bullpen; but today those guys are all specialists.

The advent of the opener approach can also be attributed to sabremetrics. Managers now have access to statistics that show how many starters lose effectiveness after their first time through the opposing batting order. The second and third time through, “familiarity breeds success” for the hitters. Somehow, seeing a pitcher for the second time around creates more of an advantage than the pitcher feels in facing the hitter again. Someday this approach will yield a perfect game, where each of three hurlers faces nine hitters, once through the lineup.

The downside of using an opener and a “bullpen game” is that all those pitchers will be tired, and some will not be available the next day. If the following day’s starter does not pitch deep into the game, the manager is left with a bunch of guys who have pitched the day before, and who may not be as effective on a second straight day. The opener approach can easily snowball, to the point that the bullpen is being overused. The need for fresh troops has contributed to the expansion of bullpens to seven, eight, and even nine pitchers, with either one less starter, or fewer bench players. The latter is particularly true in the American League, where the DH Rule means fewer pinch hitters are needed.

Like so many other changes in baseball, the use of openers will spread, if the experiment is deemed to be successful. If so, I can even foresee a team that abandons starting pitchers entirely, in favor of ten or eleven or twelve hurlers who can pitch a few innings each, every other day or so. This novel approach would be a logical extension of how young pitchers are groomed for success. With the widespread use of pitch counts, for fear of arm injuries, few if any young pitchers throw 100 pitches in a game. Rather, the widespread gospel is to throw “as hard as you can as long as you can”, and then give way. (Note that this approach has arguably increased, not decreased, the incidence of severe injuries to pitchers.). It’s a system geared to produce hurlers who can last three of four innings, or one turn through the lineup.

Not the Retiring Sort

The Decision

I retired a few weeks after I turned 67.  I am fortunate enough to have a decent government pension and generous medical benefits.  (My experience signing up for Medicare and in caring for elderly relatives suggests that the broader coverage and efficient administration is superior to private health care options, such that “Medicare for All” would make sense, if we could afford it.). I loved my job, yet I felt it was about time to turn the page.  I am not much of a relaxer, and a terrible golfer, so I need to keep busy.  That could take the form of part-time work, travel, volunteering, and writing (as here).  But, as others warned me, it’s an adjustment.

Advice from Retirees

The best advice I got was [1] don’t stop shaving; [2] don’t stop bathing; and [3] don’t sleep until noon.  Done.  Or not done.  Get out everyday and see folks and do things.  Even if it’s just a Shingles vaccination or a visit to the Pension Office or a run in the woods.  I joked to my wife that my days would be spent in the local coffee shop in the morning, the YMCA at midday, and the local bar in the afternoon.  I haven’t done those things.  I flew off to Florida to see my newest grandson the morning after my last day of work.  I came back and then drove to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the annual fishing trip with four old friends (the timing of retirement to coincide with the annual October trip was no accident).  Now I’m giving this site the attention it deserves.

Feedback

I’d love to hear from other retirees.  Admittedly I’m a neophyte with much to learn.  Yeah, already had the mystery of what day of the week it was, since they all look the same now.  But there is a calendar app for that.  When someone wants to schedule something, it’s still fun to joke that I have no plans.  But amazingly my calendar is filling up fast.  Because it’s harder to say no to things during the day that I could never fit in when I was working.  I wonder if that is the experience that others have had.

Permanent Vacation?

Objectively, the way we typically handle retirement, similar to the way we handle vacation or time off, is unrealistic and defies common sense.  Typical U.S. firms work employees hard, seeking productivity, and skimp on time off, as compared to the rest of the world.  Those businesses pay for that shortsighted attitude in absence, delinquency, stress-related illness, and discontent leading to turnover.  I pushed back by reserving time for family vacations, after-school soccer and baseball and football games, teacher conferences, and the occasional mental health day.  It never hurt my career.  Plus I championed a policy at work to allow flexibility for employees to work from home on an occasional basis, something that canoe achieved with no loss of productivity; just a decrease in stress.

The Cliff

For me, like most, retirement is a bit like stepping off a cliff (I hope with a glider or parachute) – going from full-time responsibility to no responsibility beyond cooking and cleaning and laundry.  How could I be an essential cog in a busy office with considerable responsibility one day, and no job the next day?  Of course, I didn’t suddenly become incompetent or worthless.  Indeed, I have the nagging feeling that my skills are being wasted now.  I was raised to believe that “from those to whom more is given, more is expected”, and suddenly I am having a hard time paying anything forward.  A logical approach to aging would be to cut back gradually from five work days a week to four, then three, two, one, and full retirement, over a period of years.  I have a friend who is a dentist who did exactly that, in the course of selling his practice.  But for most of us, collecting a pension involves tax and legal bars to “double-dipping”.  There is a disincentive to continue working part-time, which is a shame.  Particularly when the extra income could come in handy some day.

Travels 

On the other hand, I can now extend a visit abroad to a month or more, renting an efficiency apartment monthly rather than a hotel room nightly, at considerable savings.  With wifi, I can stay in touch with family, and even work from abroad.  I look forward to getting to know a foreign place by living like a local, shopping for groceries, learning the language, riding the bus.  My wife and I have been fortunate to spend weeks in South Africa, New Zealand, and Costa Rica in recent years.    Wonderful; but it was hard to leave, and hard to move around so often.  We were only just scratching the surface.  Especially when compared to the expatriates we would meet, who had made the ultimate decision to move abroad.  None seemed to regret it, even the seeming isolation from family and friends.  Apparently those you left behind love to visit, when they have a place to stay.  So part of traveling for us will be auditioning other countries and towns as a possible place to resettle.  One lesson from travels thus far is how interconnected we are, answering emails and forwarding photos from the lodge in Kruger National Park, chatting  with my Mother while staring out at the Pacific in Costa Rica, solving a problem at work from a hostel on the South Island of New Zealand.  Small adjustments are necessary, such as realizing that NFL games start at 7:00 am Sunday morning in Hawai’i (and the sports bars are open for business).

Best of Both Worlds

Our goal is to show that a couple can travel all over the world, while keeping in touch, sharing, and working remotely.  Most “desk” jobs can now be done from just about any “desk” that has a high-speed Internet connection.  It could be a dining room table in Argentina, or a picnic table in Portugal, or a countertop in Australia.  For some the constant exposure of being connected is a curse.  For those far away in distant lands, that easy link to home is a lifeline that makes travel possible.  I was overseas in South Africa when a bed opened for my Mother in an assisted living facility.  She was on a waiting list, and we had a contingency plan in place.  My sons back home were able to oversee her transportation and help her move in, with limited guidance from me.  With the time difference, I took a call at 4:00 in the morning, confirming that she was safe and sound.  Naturally I would have wanted to be there; but honestly I could orchestrate the entire thing from 10,000 miles away, including a heartfelt call, clear as a bell.  We should use these amazing technological tools for good, without letting them overwhelm us.

Journey

At this point, I am only half a month into this retirement adventure.  Only this week have I been home long enough to settle into a routine.  I’m keeping busy.  I like it that my time is my own; but I can see how that blessing could be a curse, if the time is wasted.  Thus far my task list seems never-ending, to the point I wonder how I managed to accomplish anything at home, while working full-time.  I’ve spent time on future financial projections, something that was always rushed and decidedly half-assed before.  More time to read, to listen to podcasts and new music, to shop more carefully and thoughtfully for food to cook with more care and time.  Projects around the house that demand hours and even days.  Going to the gym at off-peak times.  Corresponding with friends and volunteering in the community.  And yeah, extra time on a gorgeous Fall day for a long walk in the woods, maybe with my headphones and a curated playlist.  In some ways, where I left off, only 43 years ago, when I took my first full-time job.

 

Debates

Not sure the current debate format gives the candidates fair or proper exposure. The lack of any depth is concerning. Sound bites and quips prevail over thoughtful reasoned answers. With a dozen contenders and pretenders on the stage, no one person gets a chance to catch their breath and elaborate. The benefit for the voter is thus limited.

A case in point is the posturing over the cost – to the middle class – of “Medicare for All”. Elizabeth Warren repeatedly stated (accurately) that her plan would reduce overall costs for health care. Bernie Sanders admitted that his plan (essentially the same plan) would raise taxes. Both were right. The plans would be funded by increased taxes – mostly on the wealthy. But patients would be spared premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, so that the overall bill paid would be less. Regrettably, the time it would take to recite this explanatory paragraph is time the participants did not have and were not given.

Kudos to Cory Booker for chiding others – notably Klubuchar and Buttigieg – who attacked Warren and created “Republican talking points”. As Beto O’Rourke demonstrated, it is possible to disagree on policy without being nasty and confrontational. Beto was the victim of a rather petty dispute over gun buy-back programs, which have been highly successful in places like Australia. The distinction between “mandatory” and “voluntary” programs is misleading. The usual model would ban purchase or sale of a weapon, say a military assault rifle, and give current owners a chance to sell their weapons, before they become illegal to hold at some point in the future.

This is not the election cycle for appealing to bipartisanship. That dog won’t hunt. Democratic voters recall how Obama genuinely pursued a “third way” in 2008, only to be eviscerated by the Senate Republicans. When McConnell won’t even allow a vote on a moderate judicial nominee like Neil Gorsuch (a clear violation of the Constitution), there is no middle ground. This is a war, forced by the opposition, make no mistake, and the public wants warriors. That is why Warren is surging in the polls, Sanders is holding his own, and Joe Biden – a fine man – is fading.

The fundamental lesson from 2016 is that the “middle” in American politics is vanishingly small. A campaign intended to combat extremism with moderation is doomed to fail as weak and lackluster. The tacking to the middle that served Bill Clinton so well in 1992 and 1996 was of no use to Hillary in 2016. That and a condescending, inept campaign leadership turned a sure win into too close a contest. Combined with Republican vote suppression and Russian manipulation of social media, and millions of alienated Sanders supporters (largely stonewalled by the Clinton campaign), allowed a failed developer disapproved by a majority of Americans to steal an election, despite trailing by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

The way to avoid that sorry result is to nominate a strong candidate who stands for something. Voters in distress don’t waste much time on labels like “progressive” or “liberal” or “conservative”. They want solutions to problems like low wages, high health costs, underfunded public schools, and climate change. Polls show they embrace approaches like the Green New Deal and Social Security for all, because they are bold strokes that really confront critical problems and leapfrog over gridlock.

So, the antidote for Trump is not a return to normalcy but a clean departure that deals with problems, rejects greed and misogyny and racism, and delivers results. The lesson from the Obama years is that a bold stroke like the Affordable Care Act, so controversial when narrowly adopted (God bless John McCain), becomes a popular policy when given a chance to work, even stripped of some of its components. The argument now is not about abandoning it, but how to extend its benefits to more people.

This is not a time for moderates like Klubuchar or Buttigieg or Booker, however pragmatic and even-tempered they may be. The public senses – correctly – that plodding along and seeking incremental changes is moving deck chairs on the Titanic, when dealing with greenhouse gases and inequality and soaring healthcare costs. Trump, who pretends to deal in bold strokes, captivated those who were down on their luck and desperate for solutions. But life is not a reality show. What those folks really need, and should want, are Warrens’s many plans for action, Medicare for all, and he Green New Deal and the economic spurt that it would spur.

Whoever becomes the nominee, he or she would have a wealth of talent to draw from on threat stage. Kamala Harris would make a dynamic Attorney General. I would create a cabinet-level position to deal with climate change, with Tom Steyer in charge. Bernie or Warren as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Tulsi Gabbard or Mayor Pete as Secretary of Defense. Andrew Yang as Secretary of Commerce. Joe Biden, finally, as Secretary of State. Cory Booker at HUD. Klubuchar as Majority Leader. And so on. We are going to need the first team.

Those who fear Trump will repeat are ignoring the facts and the polls. One remarkable result is that Trump’s approval rating has hovered around 40%, never ever exceeding 50% at any time. His divisive rhetoric and “playing to his base” means he has no path to a majority. Without Russian interference, with all votes counted, he would have lost in 2016. His fabled base, small as it is, has nothing to show for their support. They were suckers to believe that he would help them, the industrial workers, coal miners, opioid victims. Regardless of who the Democrats nominate, they are looking at an overwhelming victory over the least popular incumbent ever to run for re-election.

Impeachment versus ballot box is a false choice. The Constitution mandates both. When the President has subverted foreign policy, protecting an ally from an adversary, to politics, and has obstructed justice, he is subject to impeachment and trial and, based on the admissions and accumulating evidence, conviction and removal from office. It’s not an either/or. Regardless of the outcome of the impeachment, there will be an election in 2020. As several of the candidates said last night, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

It infuriates me that the same people who worship the Founders can be terrified of the Constitution. It truly is a brilliant document, and the impeachment process, like the process for resolving disputed elections, is pure genius at work. Shame on the Supreme Court for cowering at the thought of letting Congress – as mandated by the Constitution – resolve the designated Florida vote in 2000. At bottom it is a process issue. It was nothing short of cowardly for the Court to interrupt the process and declare a winner, without any basis to do so. Al Gore may have seen himself as statesmanlike for accepting the result, but the clear majority of voters who supported him were silenced. Let’s not make the same mistake, and shy away from the process that was designed for exposure of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.