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Tag: "i see dead people"

Al Davis

[ 27 ] October 17, 2011 |

I came into football awareness in the late 70s and early 80s in Sacramento, California.  The choice in football lay between the Raiders and 49ers, and for reasons I can’t fully explain I chose to love the Raiders and hate the Niners.  This persisted in spite of the Raiders move to Los Angeles; by that time I identified closely enough with the team that I hated those who hated it. This meant, of course, that I developed a healthy lack of respect for the NFL and for establishment sports media at an early age.

I don’t know much about Davis’ political leanings, although apparently his father was a Taft Republican.  The Raiders donated more money to the Democratic Party than the Republican, but this would not be unusual for a team that bounced between Los Angeles and Oakland.  Davis did hire the first Latino head coach, and the first black head coach of the modern era.  Davis had a reputation for generosity with his players, although this doesn’t mean that he supported any structural efforts on their behalf.  Indeed, Davis understood his relationship with the players in personal terms, supporting Howie Long’s devastating decision to cross the picket lines in the 1987 strike.   And of course, Davis knew how to hate.

What to say about Davis and Marcus Allen?  Davis lost faith in Allen on November 30, 1986, when Allen fumbled in overtime on what should have been the winning drive against the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Raiders were 8-4 at the time, but they lost the last four games of the season, including an awful 37-0 defeat at the hands of the Seahawks.  It was twenty-four years ago, but I swear I remember the fumble like yesterday; I was crushed in the way that only a 13 year can be crushed.  It was very, very easy for me to blame the Raiders’ collapse on Allen, and so on some level I understood Davis’ reluctance to rely on Allen.  But then, I was 13 year old; Davis was fifty-eight, and should have known better.

But… The Raiders drafted Bo Jackson in part because of Davis’ skepticism about Marcus Allen, and it turned out that hey, Bo Jackson was actually better than Marcus Allen.  Jackson didn’t become a Raider by accident; he was precisely the kind of player that Davis was interested in, and the Raiders targeted him because of the feud.  The Jackson-Allen 1-2 punch almost made up for the fact that the Raiders were trying to put together an elite team with helmed by Jay Schroeder, although this was itself a result of Davis’ weird attitude about Steve Beuerlein.

As I understand it, Davis’ player acquisition strategy was guided by an emphasis on athletic ability over demonstrated football skills.  The Raiders thus aimed for players of outstanding physical ability, without specifically trying to fill holes in the offense or defense.  As a strategy, this seems to have made sense for the first two and half decades of the Raiders existence, and less so afterward.  I don’t think that this is accidental; as the NFL (and the NCAA) matured in terms of physical training and scouting, it became harder to find “athletes” who were undervalued because of their lack of skills.  This is to say that NFL teams began to appropriately correct for lack of skill in their acquisition, just as the gap covering raw athletic ability narrowed.  By the 1990s, the Raiders were drafting players like Ricky Dudley, who had Hall of Fame caliber athletic ability but who couldn’t catch the ball.  Under Davis’ influence, the Raiders were never able to update this acquisition strategy.

That said, the thing I hold most against Davis is a departure from the focus on athletic ability, which was the drafting of Todd Marinovich.  Not much serious thought seems to have gone into this, beyond the notion that Marinovich was somehow undervalued because of his attitude.  Turned out that Marinovich just sucked, and that he didn’t even fit into the Raiders offensive scheme.  If there’s one thing I can’t forgive, it’s that Al Davis made me believe in Todd.

Nevertheless, he was a remarkable individual, and football would have been poorer without him.

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Al Davis

[ 30 ] October 8, 2011 |

Al Davis, dead.

I feel like I should be able to make a funny joke here, maybe something about Davis deciding that Satan would make a really fast wide receiver despite his inability to catch. Or maybe something about Davis drinking the blood of live goats. But really, I can’t say too much more than Davis was one of the most remarkable figures in the history of American sport.

Derrick Bell

[ 8 ] October 6, 2011 |

I suspect Paul will have more to say about the passing of this giant of the American legal academy.

The same could be said about almost any paragraph in his obit, but this one seems particularly instructive about both American politics and Bell’s rare integrity:

In his 20s, while working at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, he was told to give up his membership in the N.A.A.C.P., which his superiors believed posed a conflict of interest. Instead, he quit the Justice Department, ignoring the advice of friends to try to change things from within.


Steve Jobs

[ 83 ] October 5, 2011 |

Few entrepreneurs of my lifetime have had greater influence, and it was mostly for the better.   R.I.P.

Oscar Handlin, RIP

[ 10 ] September 24, 2011 |

I don’t often talk about individual historians because most of you won’t care, but it’s worth noting the death of Oscar Handlin, a historian who did more than anyone to create the field of immigration history and who used his expertise and authority to help pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Brad McCrimmon, 1959 – 2011

[ 7 ] September 8, 2011 |

A lot of terrific players died in yesterday’s horrible Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash.   But the one that depressed me the most was Brad McCrimmon.    A stay-at-home defenseman myself, I always admired practitioners of the art, and McCrimmon was one of the best.   He didn’t get half the recognition of his near-contemporary Rod Langway, but I think he was as good or better, racking up >+40 seasons like clockwork in his prime, smart and very tough.    If you appreciate the subtle skills of the defense-first defenseman, he was beautiful to watch, perfectly positioned and firing off quick first passes to ignite the transition.

I neglected to write about this at the time, but three players in this year’s Hall of Fame class were closely connected with McCrimmon.   Two of his teammates from the only championship team I will ever root for (Gilmour overdue, Nieuwendyk frankly a little marginal) made me happy by getting the nod, and his permanently overshadowed teammate and sometime partner on Keenan’s excellent Flyer teams Mark Howe (whose induction was way overdue) was finally selected.    McCrimmon wasn’t quite Hall of Fame caliber, but he helped his teams nearly as much.   He was a rock.

Apparently a great guy too. R.I.P.

“You’re up there in ‘Heaven,’ making terrible sex puns to the angels.”

[ 9 ] August 13, 2011 |

Jani Lane, R.I.P. Seems a particularly cruel fate for this to happen during state fair season…

Brief Thoughts on Mark Hatfield

[ 5 ] August 8, 2011 |

As Erik notes, Mark Hatfield has passed.  He was, from our current point of view, a remarkably odd political figure. I remember this quite well:

Senator Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, the only Republican to vote against the balanced-budget amendment when it fell one vote short of passing the Senate last week, offered to resign before the vote, the majority leader, Bob Dole, said today.

Mr. Dole said he had turned that offer down. But today, he did not rule out punishing Mr. Hatfield for his vote by taking away his committee chairmanship in the Senate.

Mr. Hatfield’s resignation from the Senate would have allowed the proposed constitutional amendment, which would have required a balanced Federal budget, to pass the Senate with the needed majority of two-thirds of those voting.

This was in the prelude to Dole’s final run for the Presidency, when he tossed aside a career long commitment to relatively responsible budgeting in order to appeal to the growing wingnut lobby in the GOP. It’s fascinating both that Hatfield offered to resign over what likely would have been a meaningless vote, and that Dole refused. Today, Hatfield would undoubtedly be subjected to a Tea Party driven primary challenge, and Dole would have come under brutal attack from the right for not accepting the resignation.

Hatfield’s role in national GOP politics is also remarkably interesting. He gave what amounted to an anti-Goldwater keynote at the 1964 Republican convention, and was taken seriously as a vice presidential candidate in 1968. Nixon obviously had sensible reasons for taking Agnew, but Hatfield would have made a very interesting choice. The presence of a strong anti-war voice within the Nixon campaign and the Nixon administration might not have changed policy much- Nixon kept fairly tight control of the foreign policy reins- but it would have been rhetorically interesting. Hatfield might well not have stayed for a second term, but of course if he had…

Hatfield’s position as a Northwest politician is also worth examining. Hatfield was a moderate/liberal Republican at a time and in a place where such creatures still existed. I’d say that the last of the species in Oregon was probably Dave Frohnmayer, who lost the 1990 gubernatorial race because of a right wing, anti-abortion third party spoiler. Cecil Andrus of Idaho argued that Northwest politics was characterized during the 1970s by collaboration between moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans, and he cited Hatfield, Bob Packwood, and Tom McCall as the major figures on the GOP side. It’s important to remember that while Hatfield was staking out a strong anti-war position in Oregon (along with Democrat Wayne Morse), Scoop Jackson and Warren Magnuson were prying open the spigot to flow military dollars into Washington. Of course, because Hatfield was right about the Vietnam War and Jackson wrong, Jackson has a school of international studies and a nuclear submarine named in his honor.

The anti-war aspect of Hatfield’s career also bears some examination.  He opposed the Vietnam War before it was popular to do so, and not quietly. He didn’t particularly like either defense spending or anti-communism, and supported ending the travel ban to Cuba.  He also voted against authorizing the Gulf War.  In Oregon at the time, it was said that he was one of the only genuinely consistent “pro lifers”; he opposed the death penalty, abortion, and war.  Of course, it’s kind of hard to square this career opposition to war with Hatfield’s late life support of the invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror more generally, especially because there was no meaningful institutional reason for Hatfield to shift.  “He just got old,” is one explanation, but not a particularly helpful one.

In any case, Mark Hatfield had a remarkably long and interesting career as a public servant, one that could probably bear considerably more attention. Rest in peace.


[ 5 ] August 2, 2011 |

Hideki Irabu, R.I.P. Good piece about his place in history and sad story here.

RIP Dick Williams

[ 11 ] July 7, 2011 |

Williams and Martin

Williams, Earl Weaver, and Billy Martin were all similar men: tough SOBs who didn’t care if the toes they stepped on were wearing cleats or Italian loafers. I was 13 at the time of the Mike Andrews incident, and it was the first thing of that type that genuinely shocked me. It was a stark introduction to the idea that crazy rich old men played by different rules than everybody else.

Another sharp memory of Williams was how he just outright released Juan Bonilla at the start of the 1984 season, before the Padres went on to win the pennant. That was a classic Williams move: simply cutting a 27-year-old second baseman who had had 617 plate appearances the year before, and handing the job to Alan Wiggins, a second-year guy who had played exactly one game at second base in his major league career.

After Williams was told that Tony LaRussa had passed the bar, he remarked “I never pass a bar.”

Clarence Clemons 1942 – 2011

[ 6 ] June 19, 2011 |

Though we could sort of see it coming, Damn.

Fame Don’t Take Away the Pain, It Just Pays the Bills

[ 4 ] May 21, 2011 |

Derek Boogaard, R.I.P.

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