Remembering Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” died on Friday. He was 83.

Banks is probably best remembered for his sunny disposition. “Let’s play two” was his famous saying.

In on-the-field terms, Banks should be remembered for his remarkable play from 1957-1960, especially the middle two years. In 1958, playing shortstop, Banks hit 47 home runs and drove in 129 runs. The next season, he hit 45 homers and knocked in 143.

Banks led the league in RBI both seasons, and in home runs in 1958. (In ’59, Eddie Mathews edged him out by one homer, but Mathews hit that home run during a tie-breaker playoff series against the Dodgers). Banks didn’t have the opportunity to participate in a playoff. His Cubs finished 5th out of 8 teams that year, a successful season by that franchise’s standards.

During this two-year period, in which Banks was named National League MVP both seasons, the most home runs hit by any other National League shortstop was 17 (by Daryl Spencer and Don Zimmer in 1958). The most RBI by another NL shortstop was 74 (by Spencer in 1958).

Banks’ offensive wins above replacement player (WAR) was an astounding 8.6 in 1958 and 7.8 in 1959. To put these numbers into perspective, Cal Ripken had WAR of 9.1 during his MVP season of 1991, but otherwise never exceeded 7.6.

Banks’ production was nearly as good in 1957 and 1960 (WARs of 7.4 and 6.9). His RBI totals (102 and 117) weren’t as impressive, but this is probably due in part to the fact that the Cubs were horrible in both of these years (62 wins in ’57 and 60 in ’60). In any event, his total of 219 for these two years is only 5 fewer than Ripken’s combined best two-yeartotal (in 1985 and 1991).

Banks was also a good defensive shortstop. He won the Gold Glove in 1960 and still an above average fielding shortstop when, at the beginning of the 1962 season, the Cubs moved him to first base. The move, as I understand it, was due to Banks’ knee problems.

Banks was average at best as a defensive first baseman. Moreover, with his offensive production beginning to decline, and now playing a position occupied mostly by sluggers, Banks no longer stood out offensively.

However, he continued to turn out productive seasons, driving in more than 100 runs in three of his first-base years and twice hitting more than 30 home runs.

One of Banks 100+ RBI years was 1969, the first time in his career he was involved in a serious pennant race. Unfortunately, the New York Mets overtook the Cubs that summer.

The 1969 season was basically it for Mr. Cub (now age 38). He hung on for two more years as a part time player and then retired.

Bleacher Report lists Banks among the ten best players never to win a World Series. Half of the players on its list at least played in a Series. Banks never did.

Banks’ rank among all-time shortstops is controversial because he played fewer than half of his games at that position. Personally, I rate him among the top ten because he played more than 1,000 games at shortstop and played them at a top-5 level.

Finally, let’s not minimize what Banks, the man, meant to Chicago. He was the first black to play for the Cubs. He played with the Cubs for 19 years, most of them as the face of the franchise, and never played for anyone else.

Most importantly, Banks never had a bad word to say about the Cubs (no matter how terrible they were) or, for that matter, about anyone. The fans loved him for this, but some players and writers held it against him.

His teammate Jim Brosnan, author and hipster, was convinced that Banks was, at least to some degree, phony. No one, Brosnan was sure, could endure the indignities of being both a Cub and a black man in the late 1950s without being at least a little bit resentful. And Brosnan wasn’t alone in believing that Banks should have said more about civil rights.

Brosnan and sportswriter Jerome Holtzman believed there was a different Ernie Banks behind the “mask.” But their only evidence is their conviction that, in effect, Banks was too good to be true.

As far as I know, the mask, if there was one, never dropped. The real Ernie Banks, therefore, was probably the one who was too good for cynics to deem true.

The World Burns, America Fiddles

It would be hard to overstate how poorly things are going for the United States around the world. Iran moves steadily toward acquiring nuclear weapons, with the apparent approval of the Obama administration. Iraq, once hailed as one of the Obama administration’s greatest successes by Joe Biden, is now largely occupied by ISIS. The carnage in Syria continues. The government of Yemen, a key ally in the war against Islamic terror, has fallen. In Nigeria, Boko Haram slaughters thousands and now controls much of Africa’s richest country.

And Russia continues to chip away at Ukraine. Let’s pause on this one for a moment. Having absorbed Crimea, Russia is now concentrating its fire on the eastern half of Ukraine, perhaps with a plan to secure Crimea via a land bridge to Russia. There is no longer any pretense about the fact that Russian soldiers have invaded Ukraine and are fighting alongside separatist rebels. The New York Times reports that the war in Ukraine is “exploding.” The Kiev Post profiles Ukrainian soldiers struggling to hold onto the strategically important city of Debaltseve. Stratfor issues a “red alert” and speculates about Russia’s strategic intentions.

If any of this is of concern to the Obama administration, it is not evident. Obama, apparently intent on building socialism in one country–haven’t we heard that somewhere before?–views everything that happens elsewhere with seeming indifference, when he is not actively working to undermine American interests, as in Iran. While he almost never submits to questions from actual journalists (even friendly ones, which they pretty much all are), he did take time to give interviews to four YouTube celebrities. This montage depicts the result; you could never make this up:

To be fair, Obama’s fecklessness is matched by many Americans. With crises erupting around the world, what is the number one news story in the U.S.? Deflate-gate, of course. Michael Ramirez comments; click to enlarge:

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It is times like this when a country needs leadership, and, whatever else you might think about him, Barack Obama has never been accused of being a leader.

Churchill: Not the Last Lion

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Churchill today, I want to pick a minor quibble that I think is not so minor after you think it through a bit.

Several fine commentators, such as Victor Davis Hanson, have embraced the theme of Churchill as “the Last Lion,” borrowing from the title of William Manchester’s compulsively readable three-volume biography of Churchill. To be sure, Churchill was, like Lincoln, extraordinary and no doubt exceedingly rare. But Manchester meant “last” literally, arguing openly that we’d never see the likes of Churchill again because his kind of large character and statesmanship is simply impossible in the modern world. Manchester wrote in 1983 (in National Review, surprisingly enough) that “If there is a high office in the United States to which Winston Churchill could be elected today, it is unknown to me.”

The irony is that pre-war Churchill thought very much the same thing: see his remarkable essay from around 1930 entitled “Mass Effects in Modern Life,” which is in the must-have collection, Thoughts and Adventures. “Modern conditions do not lend themselves to the production of the heroic or superdominant type,” he wrote.  This was, Harry Jaffa pointed out in a splendid essay entitled “Can There Be Another Churchill?,” an instance of Churchill being wrong:

In 1939, Winston Churchill did not think so. But, as so often in his life, he was mistaken. Let us take comfort in that.

The category error of “the Last Lion” theme derives from the pervasive historicism of our time—the view that the flow of History fundamentally changes human character and potentialities. Manchester attributes Churchill’s greatness precisely to the extent that Churchill was a Victorian anachronism in 1940. In his fine late 1990s biography of Churchill, Roy Jenkins wrote that explaining Churchill as a product of Victorian aristocracy is “unconvincing. . . Churchill was far too many faceted, idiosyncratic and unpredictable a character to allow himself to be imprisoned by the circumstances of his birth.” John Lukacs adds: “Contrary to most accepted views we ought to consider that [Churchill] was not some kind of admirable remnant of a more heroic past. He was not The Last Lion. He was something else.” The “something else” at the root of Churchill’s greatness in 1940 derived not from being a Victorian man, but from being, in a larger sense, an ancient man—the kind of “great-souled man” contemplated in Aristotle and other classical authors.

The tides of history and the scale of modern life have not made obsolete or incommensurate the kind of large-souled greatness we associate with Churchill or Lincoln or George Washington. Of course all of us are powerfully affected by our environment and circumstances, yet the case of Churchill offers powerful refutation to the historicist premise that humans and human society are mostly corks bobbing on the waves of history. Lots of Churchill’s contemporaries were also products of the late Victorian era—many of them from the same schools Churchill attended. But no one else had Chruchill’s courage, insight, and capacities. Why was Churchill virtually alone among his contemporaries? The answer must be that they transcended their environments and transformed their circumstances as only great men can do, and thereby bent history to their will. Which means we are contemplating a fundamental human type. Leo Strauss wrote of Churchill in a private letter to the German philosopher Karl Lowith: “A man like Churchill proves that the possibility of megalophysis [the great-souled man] exists today exactly as it did in the fifth century B.C.”  (In other words, as the idea was presented in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.)

By all means let us read and enjoy all three volumes of The Last Lion.  But let’s not embrace the premise of the title.

P.S. Let me add that Victor’s piece linked above is really good and I have no quarrel with a single word.  I’m just picking on the title.  I suspect Victor largely agrees with the point I am making here.

Romney Regresses On Climate

Mitt Romney is never a dollar short, but he is often a day or more late. This week, he showed that he has not been keeping up with developments in climate science:

As he considers a third presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said Wednesday night that one of the country’s biggest challenges is climate change and that global solutions are needed to combat it.

“I’m one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that,” he said.

Getting warmer since when? Since the end of the Little Ice Age, certainly; over the last 18 years, no. And human emissions of CO2 may contribute, in theory, to warming, but how much? Contemporary science has turned decisively away from global warming alarmism. The models on which it is based have been shown to be flat wrong, so that even the IPCC, the United Nations’ global warming lobbying branch, has drastically scaled back its predictions of future warming. Does Romney really not know this?

Romney had previously acknowledged that climate change is real, noting in his 2010 book that “human activity is a contributing factor.” But he questioned the extent to which man was contributing to the warming of the planet and said throughout his 2012 campaign that America shouldn’t spend significant resources combatting the problem.

So Romney had something closer to the right idea in 2012, and is now regressing on the issue, consistent with his overall strategy of sounding more like a liberal. Just what Republican primary voters are looking for!

Romney said Wednesday night that federal leaders have failed to enact global agreements needed to tackle the problem.

Yes, and that is one of the few things the Obama administration has done right. There is a reason why there never has been, and never will be, an international treaty to meaningfully limit CO2 emissions: India, China and other nations are not willing to join us in taking a vow of poverty.

This whole episode is typical of Romney’s tin ear. The last thing we need in a presidential nominee is someone who will try to prop up the scientifically discredited, but lavishly funded, effort to grab more power for government in the guise of fighting “climate change.” If the Democrats want to nominate such a candidate, fine: increasing government’s power over our lives is their core agenda. But Republican voters have no intention of joining in that charade.

Jewish like me in Malmö

John Howard Griffin famously enlisted the assistance of a dermatologist to have his skin darkened so he could pass as a black man traveling in the deep South for six weeks in late 1959. He reported his experiences in Black Like Me. Based on the journal he kept, the book has sold more than 10 million copies and remained continuously in print since its publication in 1961.

Swedish journalist Petter Ljunggren had a similar idea, though he didn’t have to go to Griffin’s lengths to conduct the experiment. Replicating the experiment conducted by journalist Patrick Reilly in October 2013, Ljunggren donned a kippah and a Star of David to walk the streets of Malmö, Sweden, with its large Muslim population. Captured with a hidden camera, the experience depicted is not horrible, but rather unpleasant and threatening (at 17:50 and 29:30 or so in the video below).

The Algemeiner reports on the results of the experiment here. Elder of Ziyon follows up here.

The related television documentary has been uploaded to YouTube here; I’m posting the video below. The comments at YouTube indicate that accurate English subtitles are forthcoming; the current English subtitles were generated automatically via Google. They have the quality of Ezra Pound’s translation of Anglo-Saxon poetry into modern English without the imposing rhythms or alliterative lilt. You sort of get the drift.

The final ten minutes of the video include an interview with a couple of local politicians and are worth sticking around for. Long story short: life isn’t going to be getting better for the Jews of Malmö.

The Week in Pictures: Barack ORobinHood Edition

Not much more to say about Obama’s deflated football of a State of the Union speech, but is there some kind of way we can float Obama and Michael Moore away on a one-person life raft somewhere? (more…)

Final Preview: Miss Universe 2014

The finale of the 2014 Miss Universe pageant is Sunday evening on NBC, at 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central. And no, that isn’t a typo. They must know it’s 2015, but this is indeed the 2014 Miss Universe pageant.

And a good one it has been. The contestants have been in Miami for the last three weeks engaging in a variety of activities, which are documented at the Miss Universe site. If you have somehow missed our prior posts on the pageant, we have featured some of our favorite contestants and covered the only political controversy to arise so far here, here, here and here. Why so much coverage? Two reasons: First, Miss Universe is now the premier international beauty pageant, by far, in part because, unlike Miss World, it retains the traditional swimsuit competition. Also, it excels in social media and marketing generally. Whether the fact that Donald Trump owns it is a plus or a minus is up to you. Second, whom would you rather write about, Barack Obama or Miss Puerto Rico? I rest my case.

You can actually waste quite a bit of time following the Miss Universe pageant. Not only can you look at photos of all of the contestants and a multitude of videos on the pageant’s site, you also can watch brief interviews with all of the contestants on YouTube. The preliminary evening gown and swimsuit competition was on Wednesday, and you can watch the whole thing here. It is around two hours long; the swimsuit portion starts about midway through.

You can also bet on the competition. I am not sure who does that, but the action seems to be pretty lively. And we have a news flash: there is a new betting favorite, supplanting the home country entrant, Miss USA. Miss Colombia, Paulina Vega, is now the favorite, at odds ranging from 2 1/2 to 5 to 1, which seem like awfully short odds for such a strong field. Here is Miss Colombia during the preliminary competition on Wednesday:

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Like a lot of Latin American beauty queens, Miss Vega is not exactly an underdog: she is the daughter of a cardiologist and the granddaughter of a famous tenor. Her grandmother was Miss Atlántico 1953. She has been a model since she was eight and speaks several languages. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

The next betting favorites are contestants we have already pictured and profiled: Miss USA, Miss Venezuela, Miss India. I don’t think we have pictured Miss Spain:

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By the way, if you have ever wondered: surgical enhancement is not against the rules of the major international beauty pageants.

Miss Philippines is the next favorite among bettors:

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Those are all terrific contestants, and probably one of them will win the crown. There are lots of other strong competitors. For example, Miss Czech Republic:

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Miss Angola has zoomed up the leader board and now sits at 24-1. I am not sure how serious a contender she is, but if they gave an award for most impressive physique, she might win it:

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This year, as is usually the case, my personal favorites are not among those preferred by bettors. What’s more, they haven’t changed since the first post I did on this year’s pageant. Miss Gabon, Maggaly Nguema–cutest entrant in this year’s pageant? I say yes. Plus, how can you not like someone who generally goes barefoot and campaigns for equal treatment for victims of leprosy?

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Then we have Miss Puerto Rico, Gabriela Berrios. In her official, glamorous pageant shots, she looks great, but pretty much like a generic beauty contestant:

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But if you check out her candid shots on Instagram, she is pretty angelic:

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One more:

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By the way: if you have never been to Puerto Rico? You should go.

And, finally, we have Miss Israel, Doron Matalon. She is a legitimate beauty queen but also a formidable character: she is a former assistant to the Commander of Israeli Central Command and has been pictured rock climbing as well as frolicking in Miami pools. Miss Matalon is a bit of a trouble-maker, having been involved in the pageant’s only political controversy. She published on her Instagram feed a photo of herself with, among others, Miss Lebanon. Consternation in the Arab world ensued. We wrote about that controversy here. Still, apart from anything else, Miss Matalon is a strong contender. Like Miss Puerto Rico, she is a master of social media and has made a big impression over the last few weeks:

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So there you have it. Tune in Sunday evening to see who wins the Miss Universe crown.