Saturday, October 11, 2014

Baseball thoughts

It’s been another really disappointing baseball season in Texas. The Houston Astros did ever so slightly better this year, managing to not finish in dead last place for the fourth straight year. Instead, the Texas Rangers ended up as the league’s cellar dweller. 
But the Astros are still pretty pathetic, finishing tied for the fourth worst record. 
Being dead last for the last three years has meant that the Astros have gotten the top draft pick for three years in a row, but so far that hasn’t made much difference. They used their three consecutive picks for Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, and pitchers Mark Appel and Brady Aiken. Correa and Appel have both been plagued by injuries while in the minor leagues and have yet to make a significant impact in the majores. Appel didn’t even sign with the team.
 The big problem, I think, is the Astros’ horrific ownership which has tried to get by with the smallest payroll in Major League Baseball. And as the old adage goes... you get what you pay for. The Astros’ team payroll this year was $44.5 million, which ranked them dead last in MLB. To understand how ridiculous this is, consider that the third lowest paid team - the Tampa Bay Devil Rays - has a payroll nearly twice that of the Astros. Two-thirds of the team makes abouth the league minimum.
As long as the team is being run by Ebeneezer Scrooge, I don’t hold out much hope that we will see them get much better.
Houston, you have a problem.
So now we are down to four teams in the MLB Playoffs. On the National League side it is the same old, same old - Giants vs. Cardinals. Those two teams have dominated the NL this entire decade. The Giants won in 2010, the Cardinals in 2011, the Giants in 2012 and the Cardinals in 2013. So I guess it is the Giants’ turn again. Yawn.
But the American League Playoffs are a bit more interesting with two teams that haven’t made it this far in the postseason since the mid-1980s. The Kansas City Royals’ last World Series appearance came in 1985 and the Baltimore Orioles last went in 1983.
So I will probably be pulling for the AL team this year on principal. But it will be hard to keep up with the series since Texas has pretty much lost interest in baseball and turned its full focus to football. The local paper devotes just one page to baseball amongst all the high school, college and professional pigskin coverage. 

The ballots are too darned long

I love politics.
I have covered it as a news reporter, commented on it as a columnist and blogger, and participated as a voter and activist.
But sometimes it can be too much.
Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age, but I don’t feel the same excitement I used to as election time approaches. Now I just feel overwhelmed.
The problem, I think, is that we ask too much of our electorate. There are too many races and propositions to vote on. Even a political enthusiast such as myself can’t keep up with it all.
I looked up my sample ballot for the upcoming general elections in November and found that I have 56 races where I can cast a vote. (Fortunately, there is just one proposition this time, but I have seen as many as a dozen during past elections.)
Who could be expected to keep track of 56 political races with 134 candidates?
I imagine there are very few people able to make truly informed judgments in all of these races. Most people are doing good to keep up with a handful of the more prominent ones.
At some point, even the most informed voter will get to a point where they are just voting based on party affiliation or name recognition. And all that does is propagate a system that favors the very wealthy who can afford to contribute lots of money for campaign ads and signs. That is no way to run a democracy.
You wouldn’t run a small business like that. If you were starting a company and needed to hire 56 people, would you just take the first applicants who came in the door? Of course not. You would want to interview them and look at their resumes and references. But that takes a lot of time and work and very few people are going to go to all that trouble just to cast a vote. And choosing not to vote just leaves the decision up to a smaller pool of equally uninformed people.
The answer, I think, is not to scold people for being uninformed about elections. Rather, it would be better to pare down the ballots and make the elections more manageable.
I propose that we only elect people who are in representative positions. That would include the governor, lieutenant governor, senators, congressmen, state reps., county judges, mayors, school board members and so forth. The other positions – especially all of these judges – should be appointed by the people we elect to represent us.
I say this as someone who has not always been happy with our state and local leaders. So people will need to take this into consideration when they vote for the people representing them who will be making these appointments. I believe having judges appointed will help take some of the corrupting influence of money out of the judicial system.
Paring down ballots so that there are fewer people to vote for will allow people to make better informed voting decisions at election time and will thus strengthen our democracy.