Book Review: Fun city by Sean Deveney


Author: Sean Deveney
TitleFun city : John Lindsay, Joe Namath, and how sports saved New York in the 1960s
Publication Info: New York : Sports Publishing, 2015.
Summary/Review:

Jonathan Mahler’s excellent book Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning examines New York City in 1977 through the lens of that years highly contested mayoral election and the New York Yankees championship season, despite the high conflict within the team.  Deveney takes a similar approach to New York City in the 1960s, albeit over a longer period of time. The political point covers the election and first term of liberal mayor John Lindsay, perhaps the last good Republican. The sports angle focuses on quarterback Joe Namath who would lead the New York Jets to an unlikely Super Bowl championship in 1969.  Both men are characterized by their youth, good looks, individuality, and celebrity that defines the “New Breed” of 1960s New York.  They also both make a lot of mistakes are subject to hefty amounts of criticism.

There’s a lot of nostalgia by proxy for me in this book as this was the New York City of my parent’s teenage and young adult years, a legendary time in “Old New York” that I would only later realize happened just a few years before I was born. Nevertheless, a lot of the issues in the book are startlingly contemporary: structural racism, angry white resentment that minorities are getting too much attention, conflicts over public education, growing inequality, disinvestment in municipal services, resources going to war taking away from resources that could be used to alleviate poverty, et al  Other issues are from a different time such as the frightening increase in crime or unions with the power to dictate terms to the Mayor while still calling multiple strikes.

The book follows Lindsay and Namath’s careers from 1965-1970, with in-depth details of city politics and the New York Jets football.  Occasionally, Deveney veers into other things happening in New York during the period, such as Muhammad Ali fighting a title bout that would be the last fight  in the old Madison Square Garden and coincidentally would also be Ali’s last fight before his draft protest would get him suspended from boxing.  Deveney also documents the demise of establishment teams, the New York Yankees and New York Giants, contrasting them with the rise of the fresh, new teams the Mets and the Jets. Lindsay, not a sports fan, attaches himself to the Mets’ 1969 World Series drive as part of his reelection campaign, which proves a successful strategy. A final chapter on the New York Knicks also winning their first championship in 1970 seems more an addendum than tying into the themes of the rest of the book.

I think Deveney is more effective as a straightforward sports writer than political analyst, but overall it’s still a good history of an interesting time in New York City history.

Recommended booksLadies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler and Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh
Rating: ****

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Monthly Mixtape – September 2018


The Derevolutions :: “Agua de Beber”

The Beths :: “You Wouldn’t Like Me”

Fatboy Slim :: “Gangster Trippin (Sultan + Shepard Remix)”

Ross From Friends :: “Project Cybersyn”

Previous Mixtapes::

Podcasts of the Week Ending September 29


This American Life :: The Runaways

An infuriating story about children going missing on Long Island and the police refusing to help because they’re from Latin American immigrant families.  Prepare to shake with rage.

Hidden Brain :: Eyes Wide Open

Exploring the dangers of sleep deprivation with the record holder for most days without sleeping – 11!

Radiolab :: Infective Heredity

New research shows how genes can be swapped among organisms and passed on to offspring.

Massachusetts & Me: Two Decades Together


20 years ago today I drove a rental truck down the narrow streets of Winter Hill in Somerville and officially became a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Nine years later almost to the day, I moved to Boston proper in my present home in Jamaica Plain.  20 years is by far the most time I’ve resided in any state (compared with 15 years in Connecticut, 7 years in Virginia, and 2 years in New Jersey), and close to half of my life.

Living in Massachusetts this long means making many friends, some of whom have moved on to other states, and then meeting new, interesting people.  I’ve developed annual traditions, found favorite restaurants (sadly, many of which have closed), gone to tons of concerts and sporting events, visited museums and historic sites, participated in protests and celebrations, and settled into comfortable routines.  And yet there’s so much more to see and do and explore.

It’s all gone by so quickly, so let’s look back at some of the highlights of my 20 years in the Bay State:

1998-2000 – I work sundry temp jobs at GTE, Genzyme, and MIT, and also spend some time unemployed. FUN!

1999-present – began commuting around Boston & environs by bicycle, and while I don’t ride nearly as much as I used to, it’s still a great way to get around the city.

1999 & 2000 – Participated in the Boston –> New York AIDSRide

1999-2006 – Not really in Massachusetts, but living in day trip distance of New Hampshire’s White Mountains meant I could do a lot of hikes of 4000 foot peaks.

2000 – Started working at a library, where I’m still working 3 job changes, 7 offices, and 12 supervisors later.

2000 – Begin leading historical walking tours as a guide for Boston By Foot.

2001-2013 – Participate in a wonderful church community at the Paulist Center in downtown Boston.

2002-2004 – Studied for my Masters in Library and Information Science at the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

2004 – Witnessed the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years.

2005 – Married Susan!

2007 – Saw the Red Sox win the World Series again.

2007 – Peter Born!

2008 – Spend a couple of weeks suffering from crippling sciatica and missing work. :(

2009 – I performed in the annual Christmas Revels show.  I even sang a solo!

2010-2011 – I write and lead a new tour for Boston By Foot for the Avenue of the Arts.

2011 – Kay Born!

2011-2012 – I create and lead another Boston By Foot Tour in Somerville’s Davis Square.

2012 – 2013 – Sang in a family chorus in JP.

2012-present – Our kids attend a wonderful Boston Public School and we get to meet lots of cool teachers, kids, and parents (and become public education activists).

2013 – sang as part of a 50-voice choir in Somerville Theatre bringing the music of Beck to life with burlesque dancers.

2013 – Horrified by the Boston Marathon bombing but touched by the many people who helped save lives and the spirit of the community in the ensuing days.

2013-present – Our kids play in the wonderful Regan Youth League

2013-present – become active in another fantastic church community closer to home, Hope Central.

2013 – Watched the Red Sox win yet another World Series, this time with a 5-year-old superfan

2014-2015 – I write and lead yet another new tour for Boston By Foot of Cambridge Common

2015 – Four consecutive blizzards in a matter of weeks bury Boston in a 108″ of snow.

2017-2018 – Yet again, I’m involved in creating a new tour for Boston By Foot, this time of the SoWa District.

Major League Baseball Expansion: A 48 Team Option


Last week I wrote about the possibility of Major League Baseball adding two expansion teams and what a 32-team baseball league might look like. I proposed using expansion as an opportunity to radically change some ways that MLB is currently contested while bringing back some traditional elements.  These changes would make the regular season and postseason more fair and competitive as well as drawing more fans and increasing television ratings.

This week I will propose an even more radical change to Major League Baseball as we know it: adding 18 new teams and creating a 48-team league! In my previous post, I made a list of 25 cities that could possibly become homes to a new baseball club.  So let’s award expansion teams to Buffalo, Charlotte, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Louisville, Mexico City, Monterrey, Montreal, Nashville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Portland, San Antonio, San Juan, and Vancouver. You may ask, how on Earth can Major League Baseball handles something as unwieldy as 48 teams in cities across North America? The answer is by creating a promotion and relegation league system.

What is a Promotion and Relegation System?

Developed in the 19th century for the English Football League, promotion and relegation originated to guarantee that the league competition by expelling the teams with worst records at the end of the season and bringing in new clubs for the next season. Eventually a pyramid of football divisions grew so that each season the top division would “relegate” its worst-performing teams the second division and “promote” the second divisions best teams to the first division. This happens between the second and third divisions, third and fourth divisions, and so on.  The promotion-relegation model is common in European sports leagues and is used in various leagues across the world except in the United States in Canada.

The reason for the lack of promotion and relegation in the United States and Canada goes back to the formation of the first professional baseball league, the National League in 1876.  While the English Football League hoped to promote competition among the best of the existing football clubs, the National League awarded franchises to a limited number of owners to create teams with exclusive territorial rights, and other sports leagues in the US and Canada have followed the same model.  No matter how poorly a team performs it will be guaranteed a spot in the league the next season (as long as the owner keeps the team financially solvent). No matter how well a team in a lower division performs, it will not gain access to the Major Leagues.

In fact, over time lower divisions became known as the Minor Leagues and were developed as a “farm system” where teams affiliated with Major League teams to develop players. Minor League games are more about watching individual players develop and on-field entertainments than winning or losing games which is rendered meaningless by the farm system. The only way Minor League cities have been able to break into the Majors is via infrequent expansions which involve hefty expansion payments to the existing teams, and little chance to develop a cohesive team before beginning play, which means expansion teams are almost universally awful in their first years. The United States is generally regarded as being the beacon of free-market capitalism, and yet while promotion-relegation leagues is a merit-based system, the closed shop of US sports leagues is akin to socialism.

Transition Period

So 18 new baseball clubs are born – and we’ll use the 18 cities I cited above in this example – now what?  To ease us into the new paradigm, lets have a five-year transition period. The current 30 MLB teams will become the MLB First Division and function pretty much as it does today with two leagues of 15 teams each arranged into 3 divisions, with a tiered playoff.  The 18 new teams would play in the MLB Second Division, likely arranged in 3 divisions of 6 teams each with their own postseason competition.

At the end of the five-year transition period, the six MLB First Division teams with the worst cumulative regular season records over those five years will be relegated to MLB Second Division. Just for this example, I determined that the six MLB teams with the worst cumulative records from the 2013 to 2017 regular seasons are the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and San Diego.  These teams will be relegated to MLB Second Division in the example below.

How a MLB Will Work With Two Divisions

We now have two divisions of 24 teams each.  Much like I proposed for the 32 team option, these teams would be aligned regionally into three leagues of 8 teams each in both divisions.  The 8 team leagues would be a shorter 154-game schedule with no interleague play.  The regional proximity within the leagues would help reduce the wear and tear of travel, encourage rivalries, increase attendance with fans of the away team able to travel to more games, improve broadcast ratings by having most games in the same time zone and starting at consistent times, and playing a balanced schedule that most fairly judges which teams are the best teams.

After the regular season ends, the top team in each league would be awarded the pennant and 8 teams would advance to a postseason tournament. This would be the top two teams from each of the two leagues, and two wild card teams from among the third place finishers.  The teams would be seeded to play in a best-of-5 quarterfinal series, with the winners advancing to a best-of-7 semifinal series, and a best-of-7 World Series.  MLB Second Division would also play a similar postseason tournament.

Here is what the two divisions would like in the first season of the promotion and relegation model:

MLB First Division

EAST CENTRAL WEST
Atlanta Chicago Cubs Arizona
Baltimore Cleveland Houston
Boston Colorado Los Angeles Angels
New York Mets Detroit Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Yankees Kansas City Oakland
Toronto Milwaukee San Francisco
Tampa Bay Pittsburgh Seattle
Washington St. Louis Texas

MLB Second Division

EAST CENTRAL WEST
Buffalo Chicago White Sox Las Vegas
Charlotte Cincinnati Mexico City
Miami Columbus Monterrey
Montreal Indianapolis Oklahoma City
Norfolk Louisville Portland
Orlando Minnesota San Antonio
Philadelphia Nashville San Diego
San Juan New Orleans Vancouver

Promotion and Relegation

Most people are most familiar with promotion and relegation from the English football league system.  Each season, the three worst teams from the Premier League (the first division) are relegated to the EFL Championship (the second division), and three teams from the EFL Championship are promoted to the premier league (in this case, the top two teams from the regular season and the winner of a playoff among the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place teams). Across the world’s sports leagues there are different models of how many teams are promoted and relegated, and what determines which teams will be promoted and relegated.

My plan would have three teams promoted and three teams relegated each season.  1 team from each league in MLB First Division – East, Central, and West – is relegated and replaced by a team from the respective leagues in MLB Second Division. Instead of simply relegating the team with the worst regular season record from each league, instead the teams relegated would have the worst cumulative record over two seasons.  I propose this rule for three reasons:

  1. No team will end up being relegated for having just one bad season. They’ll have a chance to prove themselves the next season.
  2. Since every team will want avoid relegation by having a strong 2-year cumulative record, a team will have the incentive to try to win every game possible, even late in the season when the team’s been eliminated from postseason contention.
  3. A team promoted from the lower division will have a minimum of two seasons at the higher division, giving them a year to find their footing in the new division, and avoid teams popping back and forth between divisions each year.

Promotion would involve simply advancing the pennant winner from each second division league to the first division league.  I tried to come up with a way that the second division playoffs could be used to determine some or all of the teams promoted, but strictly basing it on the best performances in the regular season seems most fair to me.

Minor Leagues

Even with 48 teams playing in the Major Leagues, there would still be a lot of Minor League teams and each MLB team could affiliate with at least 4 MiLB teams.  Ultimately though, I think it would be imperative to rethink the farm system and expand the promotion and relegation system.  There are enough cities currently at the Triple A and Double A levels of Minor League Baseball that could create a 3rd and 4th division of 24 teams each.  Expanding the promotion and relegation system would make competitive professional baseball available in cities across America. The Minor Leagues could be streamlined then to just two affiliated teams per MLB team: one for development, and one as reserves.

With 48 (or 96) teams, obviously the best players will cluster in the MLB First Division. Teams in lower divisions will try to scout and acquire players to improve themselves and get promoted to a higher division. But there would also be opportunities for teams in the lower division to improve their team and/or financial status by trading their best players or selling their contracts to top division teams.  I would also suggest that MLB adopt player loans, where teams that have a player under contract can temporarily have that player play for a team in another division.  This would be a benefit for top division teams who have young talent that they want to get more playing time, but a team in a lower division going through a rebuilding period may also keep their best players happy by allowing them to play for a more competitive team.

 ***

I won’t go into in this post, but for this new model to work, other things that will need to be adjusted include free agency eligibility rules, the amateur draft, territorial rights, and even MLBs antitrust exemption.  And I’m sure that there are hundreds of little things I’ve overlooked.  Nevertheless, I think this would be an effective approach for MLB to consider in growing baseball and making it more competitive in more cities throughout the continent, while establishing a means to continue to grow into the future.

Book Review: The Poisoned City by Anna Clark


AuthorAnna Clark
TitleThe Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy
Publication Info: Metropolitan Books (2018)
Summary/Review:

I briefly knew Anna Clark when I used to volunteer at the Haley House in Boston and she was a member of the intentional community that lived there. Ever since she moved to Michigan I’ve followed her journalism career from afar.  She seems the perfect person to bring together a passion for social justice and the skills of journalism to documenting the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Clark tells the story from the perspective of the local activists who brought the problems with the water to light and the health and science experts who verified that the water was dangerous.  So much of the Flint water crisis is rooted in greed and indifference. The decision was made by the city’s emergency manager who was appointed by the governor to “run the city like a business” (a practice carried out in many Michigan cities leading to 53% of Michigan’s African American population living under non-elected local government).  The switch from Lake Huron water via Detroit to the backup system of the Flint River was purportedly to save money until a new regional water authority came online, although it is questionable if money was saved at all considering the costs of updating the local treatment plant.

While it’s often reported that the Flint River water is unhealthy, it turns out that water in the river and when it left the treatment plant was in fact clean.  But the different chemistry of the river water compared to lake water had a corrosive effect that leeched lead from the city’s ancient pipes and also promoted growth of infectious diseases.  The water authority failed to use the proper anti-corrosives to help prevent this from happening.  But the real scandal is that when residents complained of discolored and odoriferous water and the bad health effects, especially among children, the city and state officials refused to help and continued to claim there was no ill effects from the water.

In addition to thoroughly documenting the crisis, Clark also provides the historical background that shows why the water crisis inordinately affected Flint’s poorer residents, especially black and brown people.  The prosperous Flint of the mid-20th century was heavily segregated, with the effects of redlining and housing segregation still felt today. The movement of prosperous white families and corporations out of Flint was funded by disinvestment in the city itself.  And while medical experts have been aware of the poisonous nature of lead for centuries, that did not stop industry from making efforts to use lead – whether it be in gasoline or water pipes – and promote it as safe.

Poison City is a well-written book, and a very important book to read as Flint’s crisis is one that is happening or could happen in various ways in cities across the country.  It’s hard not to read this book without feeling rage, yet Clark finds hope in the community activists who fought to bring this issue to international attention, and continue to fight for clean water in Flint.

Recommended booksThe Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and Foul Ball by Jim Bouton
Rating: ****1/2