Minor Changes

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Why, yes, the lemon tree is producing most prodigiously these days.

Oh, Emmem? Yes, she’s still in protective custody out in the catio.

Her mood oscillates randomly from “secluded grump” to “vociferous grumpy” with the occasional side-jaunt into “pensive grumpy” as seen in the photo above.

With the demographic changes to the outdoor wildlife over the past couple of years, she doesn’t get much feline company. The bowls of Kitty Krunchiez we leave outside the catio are more likely to be emptied by trash pandas or possums than by cats.

Emmem finds this trend distasteful.

But then, she finds many things distasteful.

Eternal grumpiness notwithstanding, she seems in good health. Her appetite is fine–she’s definitely put on some weight–and her fur is lush and shiny (and much darker than in the past, thanks to the recent weather conditions). We haven’t seen any signs of the eye condition (excessive goo at the corners) lately.

And, while she spent much of the winter hiding inside her well-insulated cave, now that the weather is warming, she’s seen more and more often sitting on the highest shelf in the catio, keeping a cautious eye on her surroundings.

With the occasional foray to the floor near the house. She’s got a good view of Yuki’s current habitat in the living room, and Emmem is clearly unsure what to make of his residency.

But at least it means she gets some opportunities to interact with other cats, even if it is through her wire walls and his window.

A Test of Character

The universe just keeps getting stranger.

Latest oddity? Reports accumulating that Alex Rodriguez wants to buy the New York Mets.

Yes, those Mets. The ones he never played for, but reportedly grew up rooting for.

Yes, that A-Rod. The one who played for the Mets’ crosstown rivals.

Oh, yes, and also the one who was suspended for more than an entire season for his role in the BALCO scandal.

Yes, that scandal. The one involving widespread cheating in the form of performance enhancing drugs.

Why is such a purchase even a possibility?

At the very least, it smacks of tone deafness, with MLB currently mired in sign-stealing scandals–it’s not going to end with the Astros, after all, and most likely not with the Red Sox either.

Of course, tone deafness seems to be Commissioner Manfred’s go-to position: from calling the World Series trophy a mere hunk of metal, through declaring that doing away with minor league teams is good for baseball while simultaneously fighting every attempt to pay minor league players a salary that isn’t an insult, and going back to his insistence that “pace of play” is baseball’s only problem.

It’s an interesting break with tradition for a sport that’s historically been concerned with its image–Black Sox Scandal, anyone? How about Pete Rose? Or even the Hall of Fame rules around “character, integrity, and sportsmanship”?

Barring a surprise return to the playing field, A-Rod will be on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2022. And he’ll almost certainly wind up in the same limbo as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. In a just world, his bid to buy the Mets would also limbo down.

Has anyone at MLB headquarters pointed out that the Astros’ self-inflicted miseries are the result of a team culture that encouraged cheating*. A-Rod received significant discipline for his own venture into cheating.

* Yes, stealing signs is a legal, expected part of the game. But using mechanical or electronic assistance is specifically against the rules of baseball. Breaking the rules to gain an advantage is, by definition, cheating. Whether or not “everyone is doing it.”

Maybe he is a changed man and would never countenance cheating of any sort on his team. But is there any solid evidence of that? Certainly he hasn’t become a tireless crusader for integrity in baseball. I don’t even recall seeing a statement from him taking a position on sign-stealing.

By not takeing a public position on the possibility of A-Rod buying the Mets, MLB as a whole and the individual team owners–who will vote on whether to approve a Mets sale–are coming across as solely concerned with the dollar value of their franchises. More money grubbing from the same folks who just proposed to expand the playoffs.

Uncertainties

Sachiko has a new favorite perch.

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The condo is on the landing, halfway up the stairs. This is a recent change, and she finds it irresistible.

Note the casually world-weary expression on her face. “Nuffin’ in dis house can surprise me. I knows it all.”

And, to be fair, the perch is well-positioned to allow her to keep tabs on the majority of the house.

Changes are coming, though. Alterations in the basic fabric of her existence that will shake her certainty and test her resilience.

Okay, that’s overstating things quite a bit. But it sure sounded dramatic, didn’t it?

And there really are changes in the offing. More news soon, I hope.

Erosion

Winter is officially over: pitchers and catchers begin reporting for Spring Training today. The first games are a mere week away.

And, of course, we’ve got our usual controversies over possible changes to the game.

Earlier this week, we heard that MLB is considering expanding the playoffs to fourteen teams. I’m dubious–it seems like a clear money grab, rather than a way to increase “excitement”.

And really, do we need four teams who’ve been hovering around .500 to make the playoffs? If the system had been in place last year, the final four teams in the playoffs would have been Cleveland (.574), Boston (.519), the Mets (.531), and Arizona (.525). In 2018, we’d have gotten Tampa Bay and Seattle–giving us every AL team over .500 in the playoffs–and St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Let us not forget that the Pirates finished the 2018 season at 82-79, barely respectable.

Reports that MLB will be using “robot umpires” to call balls and strikes in Spring Training are apparently overblown. A few games will have the technology in place, but only for hardware and software testing. And a good thing, too. It’s clear from the results of last season’s extended trial run in the Atlantic League that there are still plenty of problems to deal with before it can be considered ready for the majors.

Even when–and it is when, not if; the commissioner has made that crystal clear–MLB decided robo-umps are ready for their call-up, I expect an approach similar to what we’re seeing with the pitch clock: a couple of years of use in the minors, accompanied by intense negotiations with the players’ union.

It’s a shame, really, that the idea is even being considered. It’s just a further erosion of the umpires’ authority.

I blame TV.

Nobody ever expected to change an umpire’s call in the fifties. They might admit to having made a mistake, but the call would stand, regardless. Bad calls were expected and good teams overcame them.

Nobody ever thought umpires were perfect, but instant replay proved just how fallible they were. That MLB held out against using instant replay to review calls as long as they did is to their credit.

But then they screwed up and moved the review off the field. This is one place where the NFL got it right: reviews are done on the field by the same arbiters who made the initial call. That keeps the responsibility and the authority in one place.

Baseball needs umpires. Without someone on the spot, enforcing the rules, baseball isn’t a sport. At best it’s a game, and at worst, it’s a bunch of guys throwing a ball around.

Someone who’s only present to act as a mouthpiece for decisions made somewhere else isn’t an umpire. That’s called a figurehead, and baseball doesn’t need figureheads, no matter what Commissioner Manfred thinks.

Next time you go to a game, spare a few seconds to appreciate those guys in blue while you still can.

And remember: We Are Umpire.

Certain Things

In times of uncertainty–and really, when is it not a time of uncertainty–it’s helpful to focus on whatever reliable things you can find.

One can, for example, count on Rufus to find a cozy place to curl up.
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(It should be noted, by the way, that despite the label on the cave, he routinely snoozes for far longer than thirty minutes at a time. That’s also a certainty.)

And, no matter how deeply asleep he may seem, Rufus can be counted upon to notice when a camera is deployed in his vicinity.
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Notice and demand the the photographer get his best side. And his worst side. And every other side he’s got.
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Strange to think that being able to count on someone’s personal vanity should be a good thing.

Super? You Decide

No, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl again this year.

Well, okay, mostly didn’t watch. I caught about the last five minutes by the game clock–call it the last quarter hour of real time–which was, for those of us rooting for anyone other than San Francisco, the best part.

And I did once again hunt up a recording of the halftime show. Have to keep that record intact, right? Still haven’t missed one this century.

Let’s be blunt here: the FCC and the NFL owe Janet Jackson an apology.

For the sake of the argument, I’ll temporarily accept the dubious premise that sex and sexually explicit television will scar the psyches of the youth of Amurrica.

Over the course of nearly fifteen minutes, Sunday’s halftime show featured (a) Shakira and J. Lo in a succession of outfits that would give a bikini delusions of adequacy, (b) a plethora of panty shots, (c) an American flag accidentally(?) dragged across the stage, (d) pre-teen singers and dancers in short skirts and short shorts, (e) too many naked male nipples to count without freeze-frame, and (f) a bona fide stripper pole.

In high definition.

How is that less psychically and psychologically damaging than a couple of seconds of grainy, standard definition exposure of what might have been a bare nipple?

Nor did Fox cover themselves in glory with the closed captions. The lyrics of the songs in English were displayed, but the others? “[Singing in Spanish]”. I guess they couldn’t afford a bilingual closed caption writer. Watch for the cost of an ad to go up again the next time Fox has the rights so they can again fail to provide equal access.

All sarcasm and sniping aside, it was a good show. Arguably the best since at least Lady Gaga’s outing in 2017. Less explicitly political, but implicitly? Oh, yes!

(And the music itself was good, too. I find I’m enjoying the “throw a bunch of songs in the blender” approach to creating a Super Bowl medley. I suppose it reflects a shortening of my attention span, but perhaps there’s a more innocent interpretation.)

Am I going to gratify the artists’ record labels by rushing out to buy their albums? Nope. But I might support a local business by picking up a CD next time I see one on the shelf.

Looking forward to next year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, when Ms. Jackson will have the opportunity to revitalize her career. Ah, happy dreams.

Not to Plan

This past week has not gone according to plan.

As some of you know, Yuki has hip and knee problems. Always has. He wobbles when he walks, has trouble with corners, and has his own unique style of movement–very Ministry of Silly Walks at times.

He’s never been so bad off as to need surgery; instead we’ve been giving him glucosamine and other joint-friendly compounds. However, recently he’s been wobblier than usual, and last Friday it was obvious he was having serious difficulty managing his hind legs.

So we took him to the vet.

Of course he took the trip in his usual phlegmatic style. Which is to say, not at all. He complained all the way there. He complained while we were sitting in the waiting room. He complained while being examined by the vet tech.

He finally shut up when he was allowed to take up residence on the floor. In a corner. Under a chair.

Once there, he settled down and displayed great dignity.
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That lasted until Round Two, when the doctor came in, at which point the complaints resumed. They continued until well after we got him home.

Based on the X-rays, there doesn’t seem to be any significant decay in his joints. We’re hoping his current problems are a simple strain, rather than a spinal issue.

He’s currently on a two or three week regimen of painkillers, prescription-strength joint-support medications, and “don’t let him jump or go down stairs.”

This has been a major hardship for Yuki, given his preference for spending most of the day on our bed–a significant leap–with occasional forays out to the staircase to hang out in the center of whatever action is going on.

The first couple of days were especially bad for everyone: we had to confine him to the master bathroom. He complained incessantly, and we were sorely tempted to do likewise.

He’s now in a multi-crate cage in the living room. That’s much better all around. He can maneuver more easily on the carpeted floor, the other cats can–and do–visit, and we can give him pettings without worrying about him making a dash for the bed.

He’s alternating between goofy flop-on-his-back-and-wave-his-paws-around, as a request for tummy rubs
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and giving us the Big, Reproachful Yellow Eyes of Doom.
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It’s still too early to be sure, but I think he’s doing better. He seems a little more stable, and his complaints have more to do with his usual belief that we’re not feeding him enough or in a timely fashion than they do with excessive pain.

Cautious optimism, in other words. But please keep a paw or two crossed on his behalf.

Educational

Ask ten people to name an educational TV show, and chances are good at least nine of them will say, “Sesame Street.”

Fifty plus years of embedding itself in the American consciousness accounts for much of its dominance, but it does mean that other worthy shows get short shrift.

And not just American shows (you knew this was where I was going, right? Anime non-fans can tune out now.)

Allow me to redress the balance slightly by introducing you to Hataraku Saibou, better known in the US as Cells at Work.

The concept is simple: present information about the human immune system by anthropomophizing the types of cells in the body*. We follow them around in their daily lives and see how they interact. Occasional popup messages on screen give details that can’t be directly animated. Our main focus is on a red blood cell, tasked with delivering oxygen throughout the body and returning carbon dioxide to the lungs.

* Though it does raise some disturbing questions about whether the components of a cell should be seen as characters in their own right. Anyone up for a “Mitochondria at Work” spinoff?

Blood vessels are depicted as streets of various sizes: main arteries are wide roads, capillaries are alleys that Red Blood Cell has to squeeze through sideways. Platelets are depicted as small children, white blood cells of various types have pale skin and generally dress in all-white clothing–a less than logical choice considering their primary responsibility is the bloody dismemberment of invading bacteria.

What makes the show work is that it’s not a simple travelogue: Red Blood Cell visits a new organ, bacteria attacks and is repelled, end of episode.

Instead, the characters interact in ways that mirror actual body functions. We see, for example, that red blood cells are born in the bone marrow, grow up in groups, and are released into the blood stream to do their work.

The relationship between Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell* is obviously one of mutual love, but the writers spare us any hint of romance. Cells don’t leave love letters in school lockers, fantasize about happy married lives, obsess over breast size and/or inappropriately fondle one another.

* All the cells have distinguishing numbers, typically displayed somewhere on their uniforms, but they’re rarely used in conversation.

The result is a show that stands on its own as entertainment, but still delivers a healthy dose (sorry) of education in each episode.

Check out an episode or two on Crunchyroll (see the link above). You’ll look at your next bout of the flu very differently.

Relax!

Want to see something amazing? Check this out:

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Yes, that’s Lefty. Asleep. I actually got close enough to take the picture without waking him up!

Admittedly, I did use the phone’s zoom lens, so I wasn’t quite as close as the picture might suggest.

But even so, the fact that I was able to get that close without putting him on high alert is astounding.

Want to see something even more amazing? Sure you do!

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Left to right, that’s Rhubarb, ‘Nuki, Lefty, and Yuki.

I think it’s safe to say that Lefty is now one of the gang.

But the impressive part is that they’re sharing a bed, all asleep.

This is an event of earth-shaking magnitude, probably on a par with total solar eclipses for rarity.

Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole.

But it’s nice to see Lefty fitting in and learning to take the presence of bipeds–even bipeds with cameras–as nothing to stress out about.

HOF 2020

Winter is coming to an end. As the MLB app on my phone reminds me, the first pre-season games are less than a month away*. It’s unclear from MLB’s website when we’ll get the first broadcast game, but history suggests it’ll be no later than February 23.

* Most of the earliest games–three of the four on February 21–are, as usual, pros versus colleges, but there is one game between two professional teams. Thanks to the Rangers and Royals for starting things off. I’m confident it won’t be a World Series preview and that most of the players won’t make the Opening Day rosters, but it’ll still be official baseball.

A reminder: there’s no World Baseball Classic this year, but there will be one next year, so we’ll get a chunk of press about the qualifying tournaments. Call it extra baseball.

There are still trades and free agent negotiations going on, but it’s not too late to get in on the annual weeping and wailing over your favorite team’s off-season. Any dedicated fan can find something to complain about–and we do.

But if that’s not your style, how about the Hall of Fame voting?

I’ll be honest here: I haven’t been paying that much attention. Last year was all about whether Edgar would make it in. Once he did, I started thinking about other things. Some of them even had nothing to do with baseball.

But I can’t let the voting go completely unremarked.

The big question leading up to the announcement of the results was whether Derek Jeter would be the second player to be elected unanimously.

Fortunately for my equilibrium, he wasn’t. Missed it by one vote. Thank you, anonymous BBWAA member.

To be clear, I consider Jeter absolutely worthy of the Hall of Fame. I felt the same way about Mariano Rivera last year. This is going to be an ongoing issue (though I don’t see any of next year’s candidates making a serious run at a unanimous election). Now that it’s happened once, it will happen again. But I won’t be reconciled to it until a non-Yankee pulls off the feat.

Curt Schilling added another ten percentage points to his total. If he can keep his mouth shut through the presidential elections, he’ll probably be elected next year.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens moved up slightly, but that’s probably more reflective of a smaller pool of voters than a sign of changing opinions. I doubt they’ll squeak over the bar in 2021 or 2022.

Sympathy votes? Of course there were! One each to Rauuuuuuuul, J.J. Putz, Brad Penny, and Adam Dunn. Two each for Cliff Lee and Eric Chavez. Paul Konerko, Jason Giambi, and Alfonso Soriano also collected a few votes. I don’t think those three qualify as sympathy votes–each of them can make at least vaguely legitimate cases for election.

Disappointingly, my prediction that Chone Figgins would totally rock the sympathy vote tally was only correct in the Charlie Brown sense. I think I’ll stop making predictions at the bottom end of the ballot.

Looking at the potential ballot for 2021, I don’t see any sure bets for election. As I noted above, I think Curt Schilling has a good chance. Omar Vizquel should continue to gain votes, but probably not enough to hit 75% that quickly. Manny Ramirez will probably also move up, but there’s no way he’s going to add more than forty percent of the voters in one year.