Welcome Back

This Monday marked the date when teachers in our district returned to work. I am proud of our district and just about everything we do, so I’m not going to call anyone out. This post isn’t really about that anyway. Nothing in education is ever easy and the closer you get to it the more you realize that. I suppose it’s normal to take pot shots from the sidelines. The experts call it Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Our administrative team (at the campus and district level) have done a remarkable job considering the circumstances. I certainly couldn’t do any better. They have had virtually no guidance from the federal level and not a whole bunch from the state level in terms of scheduling. In fact, the general tact has been to avoid making decisions and then come in after the fact and criticize the local governments for making the decisions they did.

Most of the area districts decided to delay in person instruction until after Labor Day. Depending on where you are reading this, your local schools may have done something similar or something completely different. What we know for sure is that no matter what your school is doing, someone somewhere is pissed off about it. The district where I live had four protesters at the administration building protesting something. Maybe it was the delay in opening. Maybe it was the fact that they were opening at all. Maybe it was the inclusion of ketchup as a vegetable or the lack of a lacrosse team. No one is quite certain.

So, the tact that districts and cities are using is completely understandable. They incrementally consider school closures (or online learning) depending on the health data from the virus. So, we very well could see in person instruction delayed when we get further into August. This is especially true if the death rates and positive rates continue as they have been locally.

Politically this makes perfect sense. Educationally it is a bit more difficult. We effectively spent the summer in a holding pattern. We talked about the need to develop a more robust curriculum online and some districts did that, but collectively we twiddled our thumbs to see if we were going to get guidance from the state. Some guidance trickled in, but a robust curriculum was not in the offing. So, we limp along for three or four weeks at a time in hopes that something permanent will happen.

Meanwhile, we are inundated with the screams from all sides. One side screams that we need to go back to normal. Parents need to be able to work outside the home. The death rates among children is low and some argue that the infection rate is lower as well. Furthermore, staying home and away from friends is having an adverse psychological effect on children. Suicide rates are up across the board, but we are always acutely aware of that with children and teenagers in particular.

Most of those points are valid. We know that particularly among teenagers that infection rates are virtually the same as adults. So, that point isn’t valid. Teachers also know that schools are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. Every teacher (especially newer teachers) are susceptible to infection. This doesn’t even mention those in high risk categories. When people talk about opening schools they rarely consider the adults. This includes the adults those kids will come home to.

So, how do we balance these two very different needs? Part of the frustration is that it shouldn’t be on us to make that call. We elect people to make those hard decisions for us. So far, they’ve punted it back to us. If a firm decision had been made earlier we could have had time to develop curriculum, procedures, protocols, and strategies for the chosen scenario. If it were at home instruction, we could figure out attendance, grading, and socialization. If it were complete in person instruction we could have answered all those questions too with time and resources. The half and half is what makes it hard.

Like many of you, I have aging parents, a child of my own, and my own health concerns to consider. I recently lost a friend from childhood very suddenly. Many of us are staring in the face of our mortality. My sister’s district even sent out an email to help teachers with will and estate planning. We are asked to self care and care for our students at the same time. Most of us do this gladly and do it every year. This year is just going to be a little tougher.

So, the next time you peruse social media and see someone demand their school taxes back because students may be remote learning just give all of this a second thought. Some of you may have seen parents demanding pay for “home schooling their children.” Are they the ones planning the lessons? Are they the ones grading those assignments and tests? Are they the ones answering phone calls and emails throughout the day and night? Everyone has it a little harder these days. We all want things to go back to normal. Just remember your child’s teacher is a little more apprehensive this year. They are a little more stressed. We are doing the best we can, but all of us have a little more on our plate and a little more on our minds.

Speaking out as a Christian

It’s meme time again. Suddenly politics is becoming a Rorsharch test. Wearing mask is a Rorsharch test. You can tell where people stand a lot easier these days. There is less and less that unites us. The following meme has been used by people on both sides. I even used it on Facebook.

“Some people probably think we should keep our months shut about politics. Let me tell you something. If Christians don’t take a stand against this evilness going on right now and speak up, we ain’t going to have an America.”

I give you the Rorscharch test. Is this a conservative meme or a liberal meme? Well, it obviously can be both. You obviously start envisioning what the poster is thinking based on what you know about them. When I see it from conservative friends I know exactly what they mean. When I see it from liberal friends I know exactly what they mean.

So, let’s break it down to the heart of the matter. What evilness is going on right now? Well, let’s attack this from another way. What is being a Christian all about? The greatest commandments listed in the New Testament state to love your God with all your heart and strength, and love others as you love yourself.

As Christians, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds should reflect that love. We often fail. That’s the downside of being human. Sometimes we act out of anger and hate. It is probably fair to say that both anger and hate are at the heart of what is evil in this world. Those that we most associate with evil we link very closely to hate and anger. Cruel dictators, serial killers, and those that use their power to meet their selfish needs.

As a cradle Catholic we are seaped in this stuff. Out church probably has more rules and procedures than most. All the rules come from a good place, but we have to keep the focus where it is supposed to go. Does enforcing the rule bring us closer or further away from that purpose? Some are more focused on the rules than what is rendered.

One of the things that has boggled my mind is the support of evangelical Christians for Donald Trump. I just don’t get it. This isn’t just about a sinful lifestyle. George W. Bush was an admitted alcoholic and accused drug addict. He cleaned himself up. He made good and did the best he could do redeem himself. I always disagreed with him politically, but always respected him personally. He is a good man.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done good things as president. Clinton obviously has done bad things in his personal life. We probably don’t know the depths of depravity that he has done personally. So no, the fact that Trump has been married three times, slept with porn stars (and paid them off) and been accused of sexual assault by more than 20 women is not the only thing I’m thinking here. Personal behavior is one thing. Public behavior is something else.

He bullies people online and treats his political opponents with as little respect as possible. The juxtaposition between Trump and Bush is the most fascinating. Bush turned his life around and became a devoted Christian. He hosted Bible studies in the White House with those in his administration. For whatever he believed politically, he treated just about everyone with dignity.

Trump can’t name a single Bible verse. He rarely if ever attends church services and had that infamous photo op with his the Bible upside down. The fact that he violently cleared out a crowd to get there probably fits somewhere in the irony top ten. You had the neglect of Puerto Rico. You had children in cages. You have his lack of empathy during the virus and during numerous other tragedies. In other words, if you are looking for the evil in the world, you might not look much further.

Does this mean that those that follow him are also evil? I don’t think things are that simple. Conservatives that post the meme above believe firmly that they are on the side of good. I respect that. They believe in following rules and it is important to stand for the importance of law and order. I respect that too. They believe in the importance of loving their country and treating it with respect. I respect that as well. I just can’t help but think that the greatest commandment got lost in there somehow. It is hard to be a good Christian when you hate so many people around you.

An Old Testament God

I was perusing through Facebook when I stumbled upon a post from someone I work with. I’ll leave the name out to protect the innocent. The trouble was that he didn’t even write this himself. He took it from someone else and simply reposted it. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to use this space to voice my own opinions. I don’t need to borrow someone else’s material.

Essentially, it was a diatribe that we commonly hear from many of our friends and relatives. The combination of things said perfectly emcompass what I like to call the Old Testament view of God and religion. It will become obvious as I break it down plank by plank.

Im tired of being told I have to spread the wealth. to people who do not have my work ethic. People who have sacrificed nothing and feel entitled to recieve everything.”

So, in the preamble this person talked a lot about how they help people. So essentially, they are saying here, “I got mine. Go get yours.” I used to think this way actually. This is how powerful the Old Testament view of God and religion is. There will be more statements we will look at like above, but it all boils down to a basic tenet that can be seen in the Old Testament.

If I am successful then it is because I worked hard and because I am a righteous and good person. That by itself doesn’t sound bad. It’s when we follow the thought process to its logical conclusion. If I am not successful then it is because I did not work hard and I was not a good person.

This thought process is dangerous for a few reasons. First, it attaches virtue or lack of virtue to success and failure. Secondly, it defines  success in terms related almost exclusively to finances. So, when we see someone who is struggling we are led to assume that they haven’t tried as hard as me. That’s of course unless we know their situation beforehand.

Admittedly, I have not memorized the Bible, but I don’t seem to remember any passages where Jesus tells us to only help those that will help themselves. He doesn’t tell us it’s okay to forget about the poor because they are responsible for their own plight. It’s their fault after all.

And for those afraid of Covid 19 killing you, understand God has a date for you to meet him regardless of any disease that could affect you.”

Oh my, where do I begin here? This is a difficult subject admittedly. I certainly believe that God has a plan for us, but this assumes that God is all powerful, all knowing, and that we do not have free will. Over 150,000 have died in the pandemic. Was this all part of God’s plan? Did each person die on their prescribed date? So, when someone is reckless is that also part of God’s plan? This is admittedly a slippery slope and I usually detest those kinds of arguments.

Shortly after Katrina, one of the local churches put on their marguee, “why Katrina hit New Orleans.” Unless they were giving a meterology sermon, that kind of theology is grotesque and repugnant. It is also very Old Testament. The idea is that if a place is sinful enough, God will send a plaque upon them as punishment for their sinful nature. Therefore, New Orleans was more sinful than other area cities and that is why the hurricane struck there.

My earlier statement could be interpreted as claiming that God is not all powerful or all knowing. The point is that we couldn’t have all three. When God gave us free will he/she also surrendered some level of control. Saying God will protect us doesn’t mean we have carte blanche to do anything we want. There is some expectation of reasonable behavior.

“I’m upset that I’m labeled as a racist because I am proud of my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.”

This ladies and gentlemen is what we call a straw man. We set up an enemy so grotiesque and so ridiculous that we can’t help but defeat it. The problem is that it doesn’t exist. No one is claiming you are racist because you are a Christian. It’s a false choice. No one has asked me to denounce my faith or wear the scarlet R on my forehead.

A charge of racism sticks for one of two reasons. Either you have made statements or done things that other people have interpreted as racist or you support someone that has made racist statements and done things others interpet as racist. It really doesn’t matter how many black friends you may have either. It doesn’t matter how many black people you work with. It really is as simple as seen above.

Granted, I have been called a racist myself. It’s no fun and I had to defend myself against the charge. I also had to reflect about what had happened and why those that accused me thought that. It was an opportunity to grow even if the accusation was incorrect and damaging to my reputation.

These three quotes demonstrate a few things. First, if I am going to be Christ -like then I cannot attach qualifiers to the people I offer help to. As a human, I will never be able to help everyone that needs it or those that I should, but my help can’t be qualified by a litmus test on whether they deserve it. How hard does someone have to work? How do I decide who is deserving?

The poster also included some anti-government rhetoric in terms of help. No hand outs. It is certainly fair to question how we can best help people. It’s certainly fair to wonder whether a certain program best addresses a need. However, the sentiment went beyond that. It said “I help people that deserve my help.” That’s not the attitude that Jesus taught us.

Secondly, God does not provide us with an invisible shied to the virus. There have been numerous examples of outbreaks at churches and other gatherings. Being for God doesn’t mean being against science. It doesn’t mean we can ignore common sense practices that would help curtail the spread of the virus.

The final part on racism is tough. There are ties certainly between racism and evangelical and even Catholic churches. We can go into that at another time. Those that deny white privaledge and systemic racism assert what that writer asserted. Nothing was given to me. I had to work hard for what I got. I earned it. There is certainly a lot of truth to that. I did work hard. I mostly did the right thing. I also was lucky in many respects. There is no shame in admitting that. Some of that was specific to my upbringing, but part of it is a byproduct of who I am and what I look like. It doesn’t mean it was overtly because I am white, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

The flip side is that others have disadvantages they have to overcome. It may not be 100 percent based on what they look like, but it is there. Accepting the existence of it doesn’t mean that we accept it or condone it. However, we need to check our assumptions. If we see someone struggling do we assume it is because they don’t work hard or want things handed to them? This is usually when we ask what Jesus would do. Was his help conditioned? Did he deny help because someone didn’t deserve it.

The Empathy Gap

“It is what it is.”

There might not be a more inane phrase in the English language. The president uttered it in his interview with Axios. The line probably says more about the president than anything else he’s ever said. It probably gets to the heart of what I find most loathsome about this president. That’s saying something because it’s a pretty long list.

First, a history lesson. Like most of you, much of what I learned in politics came from my parents. My father in particular was a history teacher. He left the classroom when I came along, but our home was a classroom. One of the core lessons was that even though our family always supported Democrats, we came into any political discussion believing that the other side wanted what was best for America.

I know that notion seems silly now. We can’t have a lively discussion without someone being painted as something. Liberals are often painted as socialists, anarchists, communists, and now even fascists. Let’s ignore that you literally can’t be all of these things or even most of them at the same time. Conservatives are often painted as uncaring, cruel, or selfish. That has to sting just as much.

People would always make fun of me growing up because my liberal beliefs stood out. Most of the people I graduated with were not liberals. It’s part of growing up in a middle class suburb. Friends often call it “The Bubble.”

Most of the people I went to college with weren’t liberals either. Many of them I still count as my closest friends. The foundation of a functioning society and government is the ability to get along with people we disagree with. Political opponents famously went out and had a beer together after fighting it out in the battlefield. People love to retell history and leave out the disagreements. Our forefathers fought like cats and dogs over matters large and small. Somehow, we made it through.

Now, what does this have to do with empathy? Empathy is very simply the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Can you feel what they feel? Can you see the world as they see the world? When you have an absence of empathy it isn’t so much the inability to understand what is going on in someone else’s life. That’s bad enough. It is the inability or unwillingness to care

Watch past presidents and these moments are always when they are at their best. Whether it be Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, or Ronald Reagan, they all summoned something within themselves when there was suffering. Whether it was the Challenger Explosion, the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, or Sandy Hook those presidents forgot about themselves for the moment and mustered whatever strength they had to ease the suffering of a grieving nation.

For whatever reason, the president is incapable of doing that. Maybe he is psychologically damaged as his niece has claimed. Maybe it’s just not the way he’s wired. Maybe he is too insecure not to take a moment and make it about himself. The whys and what fors don’t really matter. What matters is that when others are suffering it is always about him. Who isn’t giving him the credit he is due? Who is unfairly blaming him for the tragedy? Who is to blame for the tragedy other than him? It doesn’t matter what the tragedy is. The refrain is always the same.

In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln said the following,

The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

The better angels of our nature. There are those of us that can throw a few words together and there are those that can give us goosebumps. There isn’t a writer alive that doesn’t wish they had that power. Presidents and their team of ghost writers have that power. They have the power to unite a disparate group of citizens behind a common goal. They can summon our better natures to help us overcome that which threatens to tear us apart.

Or we can burn it all down. Great men and women know what divides us. They understand what each side believes and why they believe it. They hold the ability to find that common ground that unites all of us. Many have mistaken the evil in this world to be the side that believes the opposite as us. The evil of the world would rather play upon our disagreements, our fears, and our differences in order to obtain power. It is evil because it rarely accomplishes anything. For if you change it then you can no longer make people afraid of it.

So, we have an empathy gap. Sure, I’m troubled by our president’s ethical gap. I’m troubled by his lack of knowledge and lack of intellectual curiosity. I’m troubled by his lack of respect for our laws and norms. These are all troubling things. What troubles me more is the lack of caring. Over 150,000 people are dead and he tells us it is what it is.

Sure, he also said they were doing a really good job and it could have been much worse. He even tried to sound sympathetic for a moment, but that was fleeting. Most rational and normal people don’t want to hear you blame Obama or the governors in that moment. They don’t want to hear you say you did your best. They want to hear you say you’re doing your best and will continue to do your best. They want to know you feel some sense of loss outside of the loss of some stock values. They want to know you are capable of feeling anything that doesn’t involve yourself.

This isn’t a conservative or liberal issue. People can try to make it one, but it really isn’t. One can be a liberal or conservative and care about people. They can care about health care, helping the poor, the rights of oppressed people, and care about how the pandemic is affecting people. The difference comes not in the caring but in the suggestions of how to best alleviate their suffering. The difference comes in the views of the role of government at all three levels and the role of the private sector in these decisions.

The pandemic itself shouldn’t have been political. We managed to make it through World Wars, Great Depressions, and other crisis without our collective response becoming political. Citizens during World War II didn’t loudly proclaim that it violated their rights to ration goods. People didn’t loudly demand more during the Great Depression. We got simple requests to wear masks in public and you would think the Red Coats have returned to reclaim their country. General attitudes and behavior reflects leadership. When leaders don’t care about others or share in self-sacrifice, then those that follow the leader won’t either. They’ll bellow about how it infringes on them and inconveniences them. Lack of empathy. Maybe we’ve been treating the wrong virus all along.

Proportionality and Whataboutism

Two things have been bothering me and they are interrelated, so I thought I’d toss them around today. First, is the absence of what I would call proportionality. Essentially, it amounts to what we would call a scorched earth tactic like the Russians used against the French and the Germans. Essentially, the idea is that when you have no winning hand you make sure your opponent doesn’t have one either.

When Trump was battling Hillary the idea in general was since our candidate might be the least ethical candidate in the history of the country, we are going to play up all of the ethical problems with the other candidates. When they mention Trump university we will mention Benghazi. When they mention the Trump Foundation we will mention the Clinton Foundation. When they mention all the women that have accused him of sexual assault we will hit her emails.

So, this is where proportionality meets whataboutism. Did Hillary have ethical challenges and blind spots? Absolutely. However, her emails and Benghazi had been thoroughly investigated and nothing illegal fell out. Unethical? Sure. Unwise? Sure. Yet, this is where proportionality comes in. How do you equate a man that had stolen from his own charity, defrauded thousands out of their hard earned money with his fake university, and whelched on how many payments over the years to contractors? Trump had been involved in more lawsuits than any candidate in history.

Fast forward to 2020 and the tactic has changed. He tried getting dirt on Joe Biden and that really didn’t stick (remember the whole impeachment thing). Furthermore, while his followers might try to pass the buck (whataboutism) to Obama and the Democrats, that charge really doesn’t stick for the most part. The Obama administration was virtually scandal free and while most people don’t leave Washington poorer than they came, the enormous weight of the Trump scandals and mendacity is overwhelming.

So, it’s Sleepy Joe Biden. Are most Democrats concerned that Biden is 77 years old and occasionally has verbal gaffes? Sure. In fact, those verbal gaffes are the reason he hasn’t ever been president to this point. He’s run numerous times and no one is overly thrilled with the prospect of having an aging Biden in the White House. However, this is where proportionality and whataboutism rears its ugly head.

Has anyone really paid attention to a Trump speech or interview at any point in the last three and a half years. He has never had a handle on the issues. Heck, there are moments where you wonder if he has a handle on reality. His aides and press secretary insists that he reads. Yup, you read that correctly. They insist that he reads. Imagine any president in history where those around him have to try to convince us that he reads.

In his interview with Axios he desperately tried to convince us that he reads. Yet, the scandal of Russia paying off the Taliban never made made it to his desk. Really? Let’s ignore the reports that people like John Bolton said they told him. It has been in his daily briefings. Numerous officials have told us that they have to include pictures for him to pay attention to briefings. If they include stuff about him the odds are better he will pay attention.

Biden has had moments sure, but I’m reasonably sure he has never suggested ingesting bleach or sunlight in order to kill the virus. He doesn’t fumble through numbers and misunderstand basic concepts like per capita. So, the end result is the same as 2016. We all see a man that is either in sharp decline or who never knew anything in the first place. Yet, his supporters are convinced his opponent is loony tunes. This could be said by both sides. See, that’s how it works.

So, the jokes about Biden not wanting to debate or how much Trump would eviscerate him  are an utter joke. In the movie Caddie Shack, there is a scene where Chevy Chase tells the doctor he isn’t playing in the club championship that year. He will have to continue beating himself. The doctor nods agreeably. He doesn’t get the joke.

When you can’t get out multiple interviews with Fox News unscathed do you really think you are going to beat anyone in a debate? He could get up on that stage alone and find some way to fumble the ball. If you listen to some of them, they even know it too. They admit without realizing they are.

A conservative friend that used to be a never Trunper said he thought Trump sounded stupid during the 2016 GOP primary debates. However, that ended up being wrong somehow. I was reacting emotionally to him as he used to. Yet, somehow he didn’t get the irony. He thought he was stupid but apparently doesn’t think so anymore. Has Trump pivoted and shown a maturity we didn’t think he had? No, so he decided that what he saw wasn’t true. We are living in a world where facts and expertise doesn’t matter.

So, every time someone points out how much of an idiot Trump is, they turn around and throw out a meme of Biden being confused. I had another person on Facebook admit that they made up a Biden quote because they could imagine him saying it. That’s rich. So, we either ignore the idiot we see or equivocate with something foolish the other guy says. Ignore the log from my own eye while I remove the speck from yours. Got it.

The battle between social justice and following the rules

I’ve been posting my Hall of Fame index articles at thefantasyfix.com, so I felt it would be good to use this space to offer some opinions on current events. If you don’t want to be bombarded with opinions on politics and culture then you have been forewarned.  However, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently and had nowhere else to put it.

A number of friends Catholic and not have been posting numerous memes on Facebook and social media lately about how it is our duty as Christians to speak up before our country gets lost to evil. Others have been criticizing Black Lives Matter for not caring about all instances of violence and about how horrible it is for athletes to kneel during the national anthem. I can’t help but think these are all interconnected.

The United States Council of Bishops obviously talks a lot about social justice and our responsibilities as Catholics. Obviously, not all of you are Catholic, but I thought I would outline their seven general themes so we can talk more about what is going on in that general context.

  1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
  2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
  3. Rights and Responsibilities
  4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  6. Solidarity
  7. Care for God’s Creation

To be sure, all of these categories have a number of details that we could certainly get into. Still, I think for the most part, the categories say enough to give us a jumping off point. We as Catholics are concerned with life, the plight of the poor and vulnerable, rights of workers, and environment.

So, what happens when the laws and the ways that laws are enforced violate these precepts? We are called to obey the laws of the land and obey the rules of God and the church. This is all true. Generally speaking we can do more when we work within the system. This is true of any system.

Systemic racism is defined as racism that is embedded as normal practice within a society or organization. It is unique from individual racism. It has more to do with typical outcomes than necessarily the individual feelings of those that administer justice.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 57.9 percent of all inmates are white while 38.2 percent are black. These are federal prisoners and don’t include state run penitentiaries. However, let’s assume that the percentages are roughly analogous.  Based on 2019 census data, 63.4 percent of the population is white while only 13.4 percent is black.

So, why is the incarceration rate for African Americans nearly three times what their percentage is in the population. There can only be three possibilities. Either they are naturally more predisposed to commit crimes, they are more likely to be in a socioeconomic group that commits crimes, or the justice system does not treat them fairly.

Notice the difference in overall population numbers. This is the trick that those that want to white wash (pun intended) police brutality numbers want you to overlook. They will tell you that more white people are killed by cops than black people. Well, since they outnumber African Americans more than four to one in the population I should hope so.

In 2020, 215 white suspects have been killed by police nationwide as of July 31st. 111 African Americans have been killed by police. See, the justice system isn’t prejudiced because more white people were killed. The problem is that whites outnumber blacks four to one. So, in theory, the number of suspects killed should occur at the same ratio. It doesn’t. A part of the proof comes in the fact that the Hispanic population and African American population is roughly the same size. Nearly forty more African Americans have been killed by police.

I’m a statistics guy. I trust numbers. The numbers tell me there is something wrong with the system. The same is true when we break down incarceration numbers. It doesn’t mean individual judges, prosecutors, or police officers are racist necessarily. Something is going on with the system.

At its heart, black lives matter is about all of this. On it’s site, they state the following, “Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the U.S., UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.  By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”

Hopefully, no one can seriously oppose any of the aims there. It would seem to affirm the dignity of every human, acknowledge everyone’s rights, and it affords the opportunity to show solidarity. Just like with nations, being an ally doesn’t mean agreeing with everything someone (or a nation) says or does. It simply means we have common goals and we see eye to eye more often than not.

Supporting black lives matter doesn’t mean not supporting police or any other group. It doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter or that blue lives don’t matter. It means that we obviously have a problem with African American lives seemingly mattering less when they interact with the police and criminal justice system. I don’t have to be down with socialism or any other ism to affirm that the above sentence is wrong and we should be invested in seeing change. We can have adult conversations about how.

Ken Boyer vs. Scott Rolen

History often has a way of repeating itself. One of the things we notice is that certain teams seem to have a knack for developing or finding players at certain positions; For the St. Louis Cardinals that spot has been third base. They currently have Matt Carpenter playing there, but they have also had David Freese and Terry Pendleton. However, no third basemen have been more beloved in St. Louis than Ken Boyer and Scott Rolen.

Boyer played a majority of his career in St. Louis unlike Rolen. Rolen came up with the Phillies and spent considerable time in Toronto and Cincinnati as well. Both were members of championship teams. Both got some Hall of Fame support with Boyer getting as much as 25.5 percent and Rolen has gotten 17.2 percent. So, they were similar in their standing in St. Louis and considered similarly by the BBWAA. So, how similar are they really?

Counting Statistics

  Games Hits 2B+3B HR Runs RBI BB
Boyer 2034 2143 386 282 1104 1141 713
Rolen 2038 2077 560 318 1211 1287 899

At first, it would seem that the only way that these two are similar are in the location they played and the number of games they played. However, we have to remember that these two played in different eras. The 1960s were a depressed offensive time period, so it makes sense that Boyer’s numbers were not as good. Rolen’s numbers were sneaky good. Unfortunately, most fans think of dingers and don’t think of anything else, but having more than 500 doubles is pretty substantial.

Of course, both players were known as good defenders as well. This is where we go beyond the counting numbers. Was that reputation based on solid information or was it based on hearsay? The first thing we look at is the percentage numbers. This includes OPS+ which helps us distill out the effects of era.

Percentage Statistics 

  AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Boyer .287 .349 .462 .811 116
Rolen .281 .364 .490 .854 122

Naturally, this doesn’t address the defense, but it does give us a clearer picture of each player offensively. When you combine two players that are well above average offensively and had stellar defensive reputations it is hard to understand why they didn’t get as much support as they did. In fact, these numbers seem to indicate that Rolen was the superior player. He was superior offensively anyway.

Of course, awards voting tends to have an impact on how we perceive a player. Over the years we have discovered that Gold Glove awards are not as meaningful as we thought. However, when we consider that in concert with all-star appearances and MVP voting also gives us a good look at how each player was viewed during their career.

Awards Voting 

  AS GG MVP Top 5 Top 10
Boyer 11 5 1 0 3
Rolen 7 8 0 1 0

 So, even though the numbers for Rolen seem to be better, Boyer seemed to do better in the awards voting. Of course, this can cut both ways. Boyer played in a time when there were eight and ten teams in the league. Rolen played with 15 teams. So, all-star game appearances, Gold Glove awards, and MVP voting takes on a different look based on that fact. Usually players with ten or more all-star game appearances get into the Hall of Fame.

Yet, even in that universe, Rolen won more Gold Glove awards. So, if we took a sneak peak at bWAR we’d notice that Rolen had four seasons where he finished in the top ten in WAR, but he had only the one top five finish in the voting. Obviously, having one top five finish and three top ten finishes would have looked more impressive. Sometimes the voters miss the mark. Boyer had seven seasons in the top ten in bWAR. So, we could claim that both players were equally overlooked. Sorry Cardinals fans.

Robinson Cano vs. Jeff Kent

Comparing two players is difficult enough when they come from different eras, but comparing two when one of them is active is next to impossible. Doing so requires that you suspend disbelief a little. We know the active player will add to his totals and the two will no longer be similar when he is done. We are essentially taking a snapshot in time. This will be true in Robinson Cano’s case as well, but this season has proven that players can age suddenly before your very eyes.

However, at this point in time he appears to be most similar to Jeff Kent. Considering that Kent is the all-time leader for home runs by a second baseman it would seem he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. That’s hasn’t been the case yet. He has been on the ballot for seven years and Is currently hovering around 18 percent of the vote. Of course, Cano will add to his totals, but in the interim it might not look so good for him. However, we need to look at the counting numbers, percentage statistics, and awards voting.

Counting Numbers 

  Games Hits 2B+3B HR Runs RBI BB
Kent 2298 2461 607 377 1320 1518 801
Cano 2179 2567 593 324 1232 1270 605

The natural assumption is that Cano will make the nice slow march to 3000 hits.  He has four more seasons on his contract and players usually don’t leave 24 million per season on the table. So, he needs just over 100 hits per season to reach the magic number. With those 100 hits per season will come some extra base hits. He conservatively should have 700 doubles and triples if he plays every day. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

It is less of a sure thing that Cano will pass Kent in terms of run production. He still needs 53 home runs and nearly 250 RBI to reach Kent. Most guys with 1500 RBI are in the Hall of Fame, but counting numbers can be deceiving. We don’t have much context to surround those numbers. For one, Kent normally played on very good teams with a lot of good offensive performers. For another, he played during a good offensive era. In point of fact, the era was known for more offense than Cano’s era.

This is one of the many reasons why we take a look at the percentage statistics. In particular, we pay close attention to numbers like OPS+. It has a way of distilling the effects of home ballpark and the era. However, even the basic numbers can give us a clue as to why Kent has been so underrepresented.

Percentage Numbers

  AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Kent .290 .356 .500 .856 123
Cano .302 .352 .491 .843 125

As you can see, Kent has slightly better numbers but his OPS+ is a little lower than Cano. That’s only part of the equation when it comes to figuring out why Kent is not in the Hall of Fame. The other portion comes on the defensive side of the equation. We can look at the awards voting at the time (particularly with Gold Gloves) but when we look at the index we normally look at the cold, hard numbers like defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating, or Rfield.

Those numbers tell a more complete story. Kent had -52 runs saved according to defensive runs saved and more than -30 runs according to UZR. Cano might end up having the same issue when he retires. Players often see their fielding numbers decline as they age and Cano has been wildly inconsistent defensively.

That being said, usually the awards voting gives us a bigger clue as to how the player was perceived at the time. Jeff Kent famously told Jeff Bagwell his goal was to have no friends when he left baseball. That likely included the press. The same people that vote for those awards also vote for the Hall of Fame. Our normal benchmark for Hall of Fame fitness is ten all-star games for instance. Looking at Kent and comparing him to Cano might give us some clue as to why he hasn’t gotten more support.

Awards Voting 

  AS GG SS MVP Top 5 Top 10
Kent 5 0 4 1 0 3
Cano 8 2 5 0 4 2

These comparisons are usually a mixed bag. Kent has an MVP award to his name and those usually bring some cache with them. Cano has never won the award, but he has more all-star game appearances, gold gloves, silver slugger awards, and seasons in the top five and ten in the voting. In other words, the writers and fans (since they vote for the all-star team) seem to think Cano was the better player.

We have to dig deeper than that. Awards voting can explain why the vote turns out the way that it does, but it can’t tell us whether those awards are given to the best person. It would be difficult to call Robinson Cano likeable, but he was infinitely more likeable than Jeff Kent. We all know that shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately it does.

Gil Hodges vs. Norm Cash

One of the things we notice with the Hall of Fame is that everyone has players they are emotionally attached to. It makes perfect sense as we all have our favorite teams, so it only makes sense that this allegiance would transfer to individual players from those teams. Unfortunately, those allegiances don’t always hold up to scrutiny when we remove the emotional blinders.

There is probably no player that personifies this more than Gil Hodges. Sure, the index has its place and normally I would abide by it, but one of the things I’ve learned over time is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. What we are doing in this series is comparing players with another player at their position that they compare to closely according to similarity scores. In this case, we get to go to the top of the list. We often don’t have an emotional attachment to both players, so we can see someone like Hodges in a whole new light when we compare him someone like Norm Cash. Of course, the flip side is that we also get a better view of Cash in the process.

Counting Statistics 

  Games Hits 2B+3B HR Runs RBI BB
Hodges 2071 1921 343 370 1105 1374 943
Cash 2089 1820 282 377 1045 1104 1043

This is usually where the argument starts and ends with Hodges. He drove in more runs than Cash and scored more runs. The object of the game is to score runs and he was responsible for more runs than Cash. Ergo, he was the better player. As we all know, it is never that simple and it gets more complicated when we start to consider the fact that Hodges played in a different stadium, on a different team, and in a different era.

No one would accuse the 1960s Tigers teams of being anywhere near the Boys of Summer. Those Tigers teams had some good players (the previously studied Freehan for instance) but there weren’t any Hall of Famers. The Dodgers had four Hall of Famers in addition to Hodges. They would certainly be considered a better supporting cast and the 1950s was a better offensive era than the 1960s.

Furthermore, when we add hits and walks we see that the two were nearly identical in terms of their ability to get on base. Total bases end up being pretty close as well. So, the main difference comes in their perceived ability to produce runs. This is where we have to ask ourselves whether the players were really that different or whether they were a product of their environment. The percentage numbers can help us there. This is especially true when we add in era adjusted numbers like OPS+. OPS+ not only breaks down OPS by the era the player played, but also their home ballpark. So, if they are roughly equal then we know the run differential is based more on the players surrounding Hodges than on anything extra Hodges brought to the table.

Percentage Statistics

  AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Hodges .273 .359 .487 .846 120
Cash .271 .374 .488 .862 139

What do you know? Cash was actually a better hitter than Hodges when we distill the effects of time and place. Their percentage statistics were fairly similar and those that are not sophisticated in their analysis would assume they were similar players because of it. This is the reason why we include the numbers from the index. It gives context to the contributions of the player. This includes fielding and baserunning (which we haven’t looked at here).

One of the other things that these numbers don’t show is the distribution in which they were accrued. This is what we might call the Harold Baines effect. Baines recently got elected by the Veterans Committee on the strength of some impressive career numbers. Unfortunately, he never produced any huge seasons. If someone averages 80 runs and 80 RBI for 15 years they will put up roughly the career numbers these two did. If someone produces more than 100 RBI for six or seven seasons (as Hodges did) then they can appear to be more dominant even though the career numbers look the same.

We can distill these effects out by looking at the awards voting. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to all-star appearances, Gold Glove awards, Silver Slugger awards, and MVP voting, but we begin to see a clear picture when we compare the results with what we currently have. Hodges should have a built in advantage across the board because awards tend to go to teams that win. The Dodgers won far more pennants than the Tigers, so you would expect to see him on the list more.

Awards Voting 

  All-Star GG SS MVP Top 5 Top 10
Hodges 8 3 0 0 0 3
Cash 5 0 0 0 1 0

It’s often difficult to parse these kinds of results out. Hodges went to more all-star games, but the Dodgers were also a better team. Furthermore, he played most of his career with only eight team leagues where Cash played most of his career with ten or more teams in the league. So, that might be a wash.

The Gold Gloves would seem to indicate that Hodges was a better fielder, but the sabermetric fielding numbers would say otherwise. Silver slugger awards haven’t been handed out for very long, so the fact that they don’t have any doesn’t need any. This of course brings us to the MVP voting. Cash had a magical season in 1961 (in which he admitted to using a corked bat) and we have to ask how much one magical season plays into someone’s credentials for the Hall of Fame.

I’ve asked this question before, but it bears repeating for our new readers. When you have great teams you often have to ask whether they are great because of the contributions of any single player or whether that player is great because of the support from great teammates. As you might surmise, the answer depends on the player and the team. In the case of Hodges we find that he always trailed his Hall of Fame teammates in the MVP voting. The MVP voting is not the end all be all of that question. Dodger players and executives swore by Hodges as a key member of that team. It’s just that the MVP voters at the time did not. If you look at other numbers like WAR and win shares they would tend to agree as well.

Bill Freehan vs. Brian McCann

When you throw out the tiers you can do some fun things with groups of players. So, what we will do for the foreseeable future is compare two players from each position that are not in the Hall of Fame. Some of them will be active players, but if they are active they are at the tail end of their career. We will see one such player as we compare two catchers that are either on the outside looking in or will likely be on the outside looking in.

The idea is to get two similar players utilizing Bill James’ “similarity scores” that he developed decades ago. The idea is that both players will have similar counting numbers and therefore should have similar resumes for enshrinement. As we will see, that is not necessarily the case and as such we will see one of the major reasons why uberstats were invented in the first place. We have made the following comparison before, but Brian McCann has another year under his belt and we’ve slept since we made the comparison with Tigers catcher Bill Freehan. So, if you had to pick one of these guys for the Hall of Fame who would it be?

Counting Numbers 

  Games Singles 2B+3B HR Runs RBI BB
McCann 1747 1007 298 281 741 1015 636
Freehan 1774 1115 276 200 706 758 626

Of course, counting numbers are only half of the equation for the traditionalist. We still have the percentage statistics to go, but when you look at these numbers they look fairly close until we get to RBI. McCann surpassed the 1000 RBI mark and we know how much the Hall of Fame voters love round numbers. I’m sure it will be enough to get him a few extra votes. Additionally, his 80 extra home runs will come in handy as well.

At this point, it is not clear whether McCann will continue playing or not. His value numbers are not radically different than they were in 2017 or 2018, but he certainly looked a lot better doing it than he did in 2018. That could be enough to convince the Braves and him to give it another go in 2020. Then again, he could decide to hang them up since he had a nice bounce back campaign as well.

Before we hand the trophy to McCann in this comparison we should note that the percentage numbers are the next level up in terms of sophistication. This is especially true when we include numbers like OPS+. None of the counting numbers have been normalized for the era they played in. Let’s see what happens when we include percentage statistics.

Percentage Statistics 

  AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
McCann .262 .337 .452 .789 110
Freehan .262 .340 .412 .752 112

Now, we see the first major reason why many of us rely on uberstats like WAR and win shares. The percentage numbers are close, but McCann has a slight advantage in slugging percentage according to the raw numbers. Freehan toiled in the 1960s when pitching was more dominant. McCann toiled in the 2000s when home runs were more plentiful. OPS+ shows us that they are remarkably similar offensively.

Unfortunately, percentage numbers only tell us so much. Yes, both are about ten percent better than the league average. At first blush, this is not particularly impressive until we take into account that most catchers aren’t league average. Before we even address their specific fielding we have to address the relative importance of fielding at that position in their respective eras.

In the 1960s and 1970s, teams routinely stole more than 100 bases a season and some teams even stole 200 bases. If we take a random season (say 1965) we would see that of the ten American League teams, three of them had 100 or more steals and they averaged 70 steals per team. Detroit allowed 50 steals that season and caught 39 percent of would be base stealers. That was 20 fewer than the league average and five percent better than the league average.

In 2010, teams in the National League were averaging 91 steals per season, but the Braves allowed 102 steals that season and they caught 30 percent. The league average caught stealing rate was 29 percent. So, McCann was probably closer to average as a defensive catcher in terms of catching would be base stealers. So, we could add a defensive category to look at different statistics we do look at catchers for.

Defensive Statistics

  Games CS% WP PB E
McCann 1607 25% 469 84 93
Freehan 1581 37% 387 108 72

Traditionally, we can measure how well catchers control the run game and how well they block pitches in the dirt. We could anecdotally measure their ability to handle a pitching staff, but past data isn’t as accurate as current data. So, if we analyze only these two facets we would have to assume that Freehan is vastly superior defensively. He caught far more base stealers and generally had fewer passed balls and wild pitches combined. Throw in a better fielding percentage and the case seems pretty clear.

Both catchers caught some pretty good pitching staffs during their career with Detroit winning the 1968 World Series and the Houston Astros winning the 2017 World Series. We know that Brian McCann was a pretty good pitch framer based on the data at billjamesonline.com, but we don’t have hard data on Freehan. McCann is +48 runs in pitch framing since they started keeping that stat in 2010. That would be five wins defensively and that helps explain why some sources of WAR and win shares vary wildly on his value.

What would happen if we were able to do the same with Freehan? I suppose we could go with anecdotal evidence based on scouting reports and eyewitness testimony, but that would be sketchy at best. We could go with reputation, but we will get to that shortly when we cover the awards voting. For now, we can assert that Freehan was likely better overall defensively, but it is hard to say by how much.

Awards Voting 

  All-Star GG SS MVP Top 5 Top 10
McCann 7 0 6 0 0 0
Freehan 11 5 0 0 2 1

 This is difficult to parse. Freehan played in a ten team league for most of his career. So, if there were three catchers on the all-star team he had a 30 percent chance of being one of them. In a similar dynamic, McCann had a 20 percent chance of being one of the three. In a similar way, MVP voting would also be a bit different. That being said, two top five finishes are pretty strong and Freehan had an excellent reputation as a two-way catcher.

Would you rather have the best offensive catcher in the league or the best defensive catcher in the league? That’s a loaded question. It honestly depends on the era and on the individual team. If we include the element of working with pitchers and pitch framing, a defensive catcher that can excel at those skills in addition to blocking pitches in the dirt and controlling the running game is worth a ton. Yet, having an offensive weapon at a position where most players aren’t explosive could be a huge advantage as well.

What makes it more difficult is the fact that neither player was even average at the other skill. McCann made up for his lack of throwing ability by framing pitches and working with pitchers. Freehan was not tremendous offensively compared to guys like Yogi Berra (early in his career) or Johnny Bench (later in his career) but he was easily one of the top five offensive catchers year in and year out.

Part of the fun of this series is avoiding the trappings of the index. Sure, we are illustrating why we would use it, but we are also bringing the debate back to the masses so to speak. So, given the information you have been given, which one of these guys would you vote for?