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Sunday, January 31, 2016

SABR Day 2016

Yesterday was SABR Day and I again attended the Louisville "Pee Wee Reese" Chapter meeting. In fact, I arranged for the room on the University of Louisville campus and helped connect the group to a couple of the speakers. Kudos to local leader Harry Rothgerber for making all the detailed arrangements.

The first speaker was UofL baseball Sports Information Director Sean Moth. He calls the Cardinals baseball games on the radio and is also the PA announcer for the basketball team. Sean talked about his background in the media, discussed some of his favorite interviews, imitated Vin Scully and Harry Caray, and opined that the home run ball that ended the UofL season last year (and sent Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series) was foul. 

The second speaker was Greg Rhodes, Team Historian of the Cincinnati Reds and the former director of the Hall of Fame and Museum at Great American Ball Park. Greg is the author of half a dozen books, including two that have won top SABR research prizes.  Backed by a colorful and interesting PowerPoint presentation, he talked about the opening day tradition in Cincinnati, beginning late in the 19th century. In 2004, Rhodes published a book on this topic.  His presentation included numerous interesting anecdotes and some trivia. Did you know that Adam Dunn has hit more home runs (5) in that game than any other Reds player?

Greg focused a good deal of attention on several recent openers that I recall, including the 1994 game(s). The Monday traditional sell-out opening daytime game was played before a crowd of 55,000, but it actually followed a Sunday night game attended by only 32,000 fans. The Sunday game was not preceded by a parade or other typical hoopla. In 1995, the parade was held on the long-scheduled early April date even though the season was delayed because of labor strife. In 1996, the game was canceled after only a few pitches because of the tragic death of home plate umpire John McSherry.

The third and final speaker was UofL Assistant Professor Megan Shreffler who gave a talk on "The Socialization of Chicagoans into Baseball Fandom." Basically, her PowerPoint-backed talk addressed why some Windy City residents cheer for the Cubs, while others back the White Sox. Megan's talk included a bit of academic theory and was based on a survey of Chicago residents -- some responding via Survey Monkey and others filling out a paper form. She found that Cubs fans tend to root for their family's historic favorite team, while Sox fans are best explained by geography.

Megan is a Cubs fan and is very excited about the upcoming season.

Megan Shreffler

The event concluded with Dr. Jack Sullivan's recurring trivia contest, won by Jon Borie (14 points of 25) narrowly over Bob Sawyer (13.5) and myself (13).

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Sunday, January 03, 2016

Books of 2015

Library of historic photo books
Flickr photo by Simon Booth-Lucking. Some rights reserved.

As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I reviewed a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." However, only the winning entry is listed here. I read it as a member of the Final Selection Committee.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (Some of the recommended books may include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via these links). I posted short reviews of most of these books at Shelfari. 


Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman

Otherworldly Politics by Stephen Benedict Dyson

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby

DiMaggio: A Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

Gold Mine 2010 by Bill James

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2015, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was again edited by Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Haugen and Boutros book won the 2016 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

I found Klosterman's book entertaining despite the somewhat morbid subject -- the writer drove around the US visiting famous sites where musicians died. Nick Hornby is reliably witty. Cramer's book about DiMaggio was not as good as I had hoped -- the section on Marilyn Monroe was far too long and the book had very little content after her death. 


As I have in most years, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

Angels by Denis Johnson

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

Frankly, I should have read Warren's classic book about a dubious southern politician years ago. The Walter book is funny, entertaining, and kind of sad. I thought it was heading to Breaking Bad territory for awhile, though the main character was motivated by systemic economic distress, not personal health. I was not altogether taken by this Waugh novel, despite the academic satire. 

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Kahawa by Donald Westlake

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

They Eat People Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley

The Wycherly Woman by Ross Macdonald

Looking for Rachel Wallace by Robert Parker

The Score by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

E is for Evidence by Sue Grafton

The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald

Time to Murder and Create by Lawrence Block

Doctor No by Ian Fleming

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Prospect by Bill Littlefield

The Ballad of Dingus McGee by David Markson

I read quite a bit of science fiction this year, mostly classic books that true fans read years ago (at least when they are anywhere near my age). Though Haldeman and Heinlein both penned military science fiction novels, I enjoyed the former much more than the latter. However, neither was as entertaining a book as was Redshirts, a postmodern story reminiscent of the Will Ferrell film Stranger than Fiction.

I originally read The Andromeda Strain as a kid back in the 1970s, when I also saw the movie. It seemed like a good time to read it again.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, Block's Matthew Scudder, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer.

Neither Millhone nor Scudder nor McGee performed very well in this set of books. I saw some immediate detection errors they made when leaping to conclusions. The premise of the Block book was interesting, but the plot holes undermined the effort. McGee apparently confronted a serial killer, which is not a story genre that I find appealing.

The best hard-boiled stories I read all year involved criminals as main characters. The tale of Eddie Coyle was made into a pretty good movie starring Robert Mitchum. Kawaha involved a complicated heist by thieves intent upon ripping off Idi Amin. 

David Markson's satirical anti-western didn't work for me, though I typically love good satire. Buckley's satire was much more effective, though Washington flacks make for easy targets.

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Friday, January 01, 2016

Films of 2015

Twin Ranch Drive-In Movie Theater, Cleveland, Texas 0804090900BW
Photo credit: Patrick Feller on Flickr

As I note every December, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix. Because I have not yet seen that many new films in the theater, I cannot yet write a credible post on the best movies of 2015. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them.

Again this year, I missed many of the summer blockbusters as well.

Indeed, the best films I saw this past year were movies that I originally missed in the theaters in prior years. I saw many late 2014 Oscar-bait films in theaters earlier this year. I'll surely see most of the 2015 Oscar-bait films early in 2016.

To make this abbreviated 2015 list, I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2015. I also consulted Metacritic.

In rank order of my preference, these were the best 2015 films I saw this year, so best as I can recall:

Ex Machina
Trainwreck **
Mad Max: Fury Road
Two Step
Spy **
Inside Out
People, Places, Things
Wild Canaries
Welcome to Me
Irrational Man
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2 **
Kingsman: The Secret Service

** I saw these films in the theater.

A few of the top films are doing well in end-of-year critic lists, so I anticipate they will be competitive for Oscars. Surprisingly, Mad Max: Fury Road was named best film of the year by the National Board of Review. We watched it in my film class during the week I allowed for a student selection.

The bulk of the my 2015 list consists of genre films -- bawdy comedies, action flicks and science fiction. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom:

Here's the annual list of 2015 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2016):

45 Years, '71, 99 Homes, American Ultra, Amy, Anomalisa, The Assassin, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Best of Enemies, The Big Short, Beasts of No Nation, Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Carol, Chi-Raq, Clouds of Sils Maria, Creed, Crimson Peak, The Danish Girl, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Dope, End of the Tour, Everest, Far From the Madding Crowd, Furious 7, The Gift, Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, Good Kill, Goodnight Mommy, The Hateful Eight, Home, Human Capital, I'll See You in My Dreams, It Follows, Jimmy's Hall, Joy, Jurassic World, The Look of Silence, Love & Mercy, Macbeth, Man from UNCLE, The Martian, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Mr. Holmes, The Overnight, Phoenix, The Revenant, Room, Salt of the Earth, Sicario, Sisters, Son of Saul, SPECTRE, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, Tangerine, Timbuktu, Tommorowland, Truth, The Walk, A Walk in the Woods, What We Do In the Shadows, While We're Young, Wild Tales, The Wrecking Crew, and Youth.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing many 2014 movies from last year's wishlist:

The Babadook, Belle, Big Eyes, Birder's Guide to Everything, Cheap Thrills, Chef, Equalizer, Fault in Our Stars, Foxcatcher, Fury, The Immigrant, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Joe, Listen Up Philip, Lone Survivor, Manuscripts Don't Burn, Mr. Turner, Night Moves, Noah, Non-Stop, The One I Love, Only Lovers Left Alive, Palo Alto, Railway Man, Rob the Mob, Two Days One Night, What If, and the Zero Theorem.

Virtually all of those films are now readily available -- as DVDs at my University library or as recordings on my DVR. A few are on Netflix.

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