As Predicted

Ha! Nailed it!

Pardon my excitement, but I’m not used to seeing my predictions come true so quickly. Last week I suggested that Microsoft would “encourage” diehard Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10 by making the upgrade tool a “Recommended” update in Windows Update. And now several reputable technology sites, including ArsTechnica, are reporting that Microsoft will do exactly that.

If you haven’t already upgraded, you’ll see Windows 10 showing up as an “Optional” update soon, and early next year, it will switch to “Recommended” status. Users who let Windows install updates automatically (the default for non-business users) will see the installer prompting them to carry out the upgrade once the flag is flipped to recommended.

Note that you will be prompted–it won’t be a silent install that suddenly drops you into Windows 10–and you can hide the update in Windows Update to prevent it from being installed, but that could certainly change, especially after the “Upgrade free until July” period.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 hard. After October 31, 2016, you won’t be able to buy a new computer with an older version of Windows pre-installed. Windows 7 will still get security updates into January of 2020, but which bugs get fixed is completely at Microsoft’s discretion. As we saw with XP, the number of security flaws deemed not worth fixing grows rapidly as the end of support approaches.


Not all of my predictions come true. After last year’s correct call of the Giants over the Royals in seven games, I had high hopes for the Mets this year.

Unfortunately, the Royals had other ideas. Not only did they stomp the Mets into submission, they didn’t even take the full seven games. A true shame.

New York had good, solid pitching, but as I’ve said before, pure defense will only get you so far. You still need to score runs to win. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but to a significant extent the Mets relied on Yoenis Cespedes to spark their offense for much of the second half of the regular season. When he went cold in the playoffs, Daniel Murphy took over the ignition duties, but nobody (ahem) stepped up to the plate in the World Series after Murphy’s home run streak ended.

Full credit here to KC: they just plain outplayed the Mets–and everyone else they faced in the playoffs–to earn the title. But it’s still disappointing that we only got a five game Series.

Ah well. Back to cooking contests on Food Network to keep me entertained.

Only 108 days until the start of Spring Training.

Ready to Roll

We’re at that point in MLB’s preseason where everyone is ready for games to start.

OK, everyone except pitchers. Position players, broadcasters, fans; we’re all ready for games that mean something.

It’s those darn pitchers needing more time than anyone else to get all stretched out. At this point, most of the starters are up to five innings, give or take. So close. (Starting pitchers are expected to go six to seven innings–teams track “quality starts” in which the pitcher goes at least six innings, giving up no more than three runs–before they hand the game over to the relievers.) That means they need another start or two to get themselves fully ready, and we get to sit through another week and a half of preseason games.

I’ll spare you the fond memories* of “the good old days” when pitchers routinely pitched 2,000 innings every year and teams expected to get through the entire 308 game season with no more than two pitchers.

* Not my memories. I may be a curmudgeon of a certain age, but but I can’t remember the start of the “modern era,” whether you date that to 1876, 1893, 1900, or 1920.

Those memories are usually coupled with assertions that modern teams are too careful of their pitchers’ arms and blame for the current epidemic of season- and career-ending surgeries on under-work. I don’t buy the argument–but I digress.

Whether pitchers are pitching too much, not enough, or just in the wrong way to preserve their arms, I can’t help but wish they could get ready a little faster.

So in that spirit, how about a modest tweak to the process in the interest of starting the season a little sooner?

By definition, there are players who get ready faster than the average, and those who need more time. That doesn’t just apply to pitchers, but to all positions. Let’s take advantage of that. Let’s move Opening Day up a week, to the last week of March instead of the first week of April. At the same time, keep Spring Training going for the same amount of time, allowing it to overlap with the season by a week. During that week, players on the 40 man roster can move freely between the Spring Training team and the Real Games team.

Sound wacky? Maybe so, but it does offer a couple of advantages over the current schedule in addition to starting meaningful baseball sooner. It offers additional impetus for schedule-makers to put early games in locations with warm climates or indoor ballparks, reducing the chances of losing games to snowouts. And, by ending the season a week earlier, it reduces the odds of the postseason sliding into November.

Imagine a World Series game in New York with a blizzard coming in. The mayor closes the subways. Sound like fun to you?

Me neither.

Balk!

Brace yourselves. I’m about to do something dangerous. It’s OK, though, I’m a professional. Kids, don’t try this at home.

The annual return of professional baseball, like the annual return of the swallows to Capistrano, is almost here. Players have reported to Spring Training. They take the field for exhibition games next week. The swallows take the field (and the fences and the eaves) March 19. And the season–real, meaningful games–begin April 5.

If we were able to smell the Cracker Jack last month, today we’ve got the box open and our greedy hands are shoved inside, searching for the little paper packet that holds the toy.

Ouch! Damn, stretched the metaphor too far and it snapped. “Careful with that metaphor, Junior. You could put somebody’s eye out!”

Oh, well. Professional clowns making balloon animals break a few too.

Actually, let me amend something I said before tattered bits of tortured language flew past our ears. It’s traditional to decry Spring Training games as meaningless. They have no effect on the standings. How well a team performs tells you nothing about how they’ll do in the regular season. How individual players perform has a slight negative correlation to how they’ll do once the games count.

Doesn’t matter. The games are still far from meaningless where it counts: in the hearts of the fans. Not just because they’re “Baseball! Damn it!”–the first games of the year for those of us who don’t follow the college game–but because they’re when the hope really begins. We’ve talked about this before: Spring Training is when we start to see whether our team’s off-season moves are going to pay off. Somewhere in the mass of minor league prospects and newly-acquired free agents is the guy who’s going to lead the team to the World Series, right? Now’s when we get to start figuring out who he is.

Now is also when we get to start arguing about the latest attempts to destroy the integrity of the game. Last year it was expanded replay and anti-collision rules (including the late, unlamented transfer rule). This year it’s all about the length of games and chewing tobacco.

What?

I’m not too concerned about the rule changes intended to speed up games. Limiting the time between innings, the time allowed for pitching changes, and requiring batters to keep one foot in the box isn’t going to change game play significantly. But this smokeless tobacco thing bothers me.

Let’s be fair to MLB. They’ve been working to reduce the use of snoose for years. Spitting is an unpleasant, moderately disgusting sight. And the latest proposal isn’t coming from MLB; it’s straight out of San Francisco. That said, while the league didn’t come up with the idea, they have endorsed it.

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell has introduced a measure that would ban smokeless tobacco at every baseball field in the city, including the Giants’ AT&T Park. Apparently the idea is popular: Richmond Assemblyman Tony Thurmond is pushing a similar ban at the state level.

It’s being promoted as a health issue, and as the death of Tony Gwynn highlighted last year, it’s a significant issue for baseball. Fair enough. But then, why limit the ban to baseball parks? Simple: backers admit that chewing tobacco doesn’t affect others in the way secondhand smoke does. That makes a general ban on its use in public similar to bans on public smoking politically impractical. Instead, the baseball ban is being positioned as a way to reduce the influence of children’s role models. If kids don’t see their idols chewing tobacco, they won’t chew it either.

OK, maybe so. Certainly baseball players are among the most visible users. But if it’s true that MLB is losing younger fans because games are too long (their stated reason for the speed-up rules), how much influence do players have on those young enough to be influenced?

Wait, the whole contretemps gets even less logical: MLB can’t directly ban chewing because that would violate the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union. And, apparently the players union is above the law; for reasons that no article I’ve seen has explained, a legal ban in San Francisco–or California–wouldn’t apply to the players. In order to get the ban passed, Supervisor Farrell has said he would consider exempting AT&T Park from the ban.

Right. The primary purpose of the ban is to reduce the influence of major league players on children, but it might not apply to those same major league players.

No wonder people across the country laugh at the antics of San Francisco’s lawmakers.

Merry Christmas!

Fair warning for those who skip the baseball posts: this is one.

This is the last of the “Baseball Religious Holidays” posts. It won’t be the last baseball post, but it does complete the annual cycle that began with the Happy New Year post last April.

Merry Christmas a little early (the holiday actually begins tomorrow)!

“Christmas? In February? What’s up with that?” I hear you ask.

Simple: the non-baseball world’s Christmas is derived from ancient festivals celebrating the end of winter. In the modern tradition, it’s also a celebration of gift-giving (read: “opening presents”). Oh yes, there’s also something about honoring a saviour.

Christmas works the same way for those of the True Faith. Observe:

The heathen Christmas begins a few days after the event it nominally commemorates: the solstice, officially marking the end of winter and the return of the sun, occurs on December 22. Christmas begins on the 25th and runs for a bit less than two weeks.

Similarly, baseball’s Christmas, also known as “Spring Training” and marking the end of winter and the return of the players, begins when pitchers and catchers report to their teams’ training sites in Arizona and Florida. Although the Diamondbacks and Dodgers players reported last week*, Spring Training begins tomorrow when the rest of the teams get started and runs for a bit less than two months. (For the record, this year pitchers and catchers arrive on the 12th, the rest of the players are due on the 17th, and pre-season games start on the 27th, give or take a day.)

* Arizona and LA start training early because they’ll open the season early with a pair of games in Australia** on March 22. They’ll then return to the US, finish Spring Training along with the rest of the teams, and be ready for Opening Day on the 31st. (Remember last year when the Astros and Rangers jumped the gun and played their first game the night before Opening Day? This year it’s the Dodgers and Padres doing the made-for-TV nonsense.)

** Australia? WTF? Look, I can understand having a couple of games in Japan from time to time. Japan loves baseball and it’s only reasonable to let them have a close look at the sport’s highest level. But Australia? They’ve got their own damn sport. I don’t see them giving up on Australian Rules Football in favor of baseball any time soon… (Back in its early days when it was desperate for content, ESPN used to show ARF games. For those who haven’t seen one, it’s worth digging around for a streaming broadcast. Take three sports I have no interest in watching (soccer, basketball, and rugby) and mix them together. Add a scoring system similar to American football. Somehow the result is quite entertaining.)

Both Christmases are celebrated by opening gifts. In one you have boxes covered in paper, holding a variety of objects, some of which will delight and some of which will disappoint. In the other you have players covered in uniforms, holding a variety of skills, some of which will delight and some of which will disappoint. In the first, you unwrap the gifts from your family and friends and try them out. By the end of the twelve days, you’ve got a pretty good idea of which ones are worthwhile and which ones should go to Goodwill. In the second, you unwrap the gifts from your GM and upper management and try them out. By the end of the 47 days, you’ve got a pretty good idea of which ones are worthwhile and which ones should be cut. Remind me: which one is baseball?

Then there’s that saviour thing. As I understand it, some non-baseball fans believe that Christmas celebrates the birth of an immensely powerful being who worked miracles, gave unstintingly of himself, and worked tirelessly to ensure that his followers would enter into Heaven.

As we’ve discussed, at the end of every season, the baseball fan looks at his team and tries to identify the one key lack that must be filled for next year’s team to win it all. Christmas, to the baseball fan, celebrates the unveiling of the player who will work miracles with his bat or pitching arm, give unstintingly of himself on the field, and work tirelessly to ensure that his team’s followers will enter into the heaven of a World Series victory.

Merry Christmas to all.

Play ball!