Single-season records

First, some opposition research:

Ozzie Smith committed 281 errors.

Ted Williams struck out 709 times.

Cy Young lost 316 games.

Rickey Henderson was thrown out stealing 335 times.

If voting for the Hall of Fame were conducted like voting for a presidential election, that might be all most people would ever know about these guys. With $150+ million to spend on TV ads to "define" them, it'd be a simple matter to hammer these statistics home through repetition.

VIDEO: A baseball skips through Ozzie Smith's legs, he bounces a throw in the dirt and it rolls into the dugout, etc.

NARRATOR: Light-hitting shortstop Ozzie Smith made 281 errors, giving away more than ten full games' worth of outs.

VIDEO: Cuts to shot of Ozzie doing a backflip, shot freezes halfway, turns black and white and grainy.

NARRATOR: Why does Ozzie think 281 errors is something to celebrate?

The ads, of course, wouldn't mention that Smith played shortstop for 19 long seasons during which he made more than 4,000 put-outs and more than 8,000 assists.

A senator's record is a bit like that of a ballplayer: You can't get through 19 seasons without making at least a few mistakes.

As you read this, teams of researchers are poring over every vote John Kerry ever cast or didn't cast, ever bill he ever co-sponsored, every bill he didn't co-sponsor during his 19 years in the Senate.

It speaks well of Kerry that the worst thing they've come up with so far to say about his record is that some of his votes have changed over time. Thus the charge — repeated ad nauseum by the disciplined servants of the talking points message — that Kerry "flip-flops." Considering how much the world has changed in the last 19 months, let alone the last 19 years, I would find it far more troubling if Kerry's views hadn't evolved during his years in the Senate. (John Maynard Keynes: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?")

Daily Kos offers the definitive response to this charge of flip-floppery: a long, but by no means exhaustive, list of President Bush's own flip-flops. These seem less a case of a mind adapting to changing facts than a politician reacting to changing polls:

Bush is against campaign finance reform; then he's for it.

Bush is against a Homeland Security Department; then he's for it.

Bush is against a 9/11 commission; then he's for it.

Bush is against an Iraq WMD investigation; then he's for it.

Bush is against nation building; then he's for it.

Bush is against deficits; then he's for them.

Bush is for free trade; then he's for tariffs on steel; then he's against them again.

Bush is against the U.S. taking a role in the Israeli Palestinian conflict; then he pushes for a "road map" and a Palestinian State.

Bush is for states' right to decide on gay marriage, then he is for changing the Constitution.

Bush first says he'll provide money for first responders (fire, police, emergency), then he doesn't.

That's just the first ten. There's plenty more.

(WARNING: Kos gets a lot of comments — so many that fully loaded Kos page often causes my iMac to crash or slow down to a glacial pace. The comments are value-added though, especially on a post like this one, and well worth reading. And if your computer has no troubles handling such mega-posts, well, consider me jealous. Here is the link.)

Keep in mind that Bush has only been in the White House for three years, not for 19. Opposition researchers don't need teams of interns poring over arcane records to find the weak spots in his record — top-of-the-head lists provide enough damning evidence to sink any campaign.

Consider, for example, that we had to rewrite a headline in the paper recently that referred to the "record-breaking deficit." The problem was it didn't tell readers which record-breaking deficit the story was about — the budget deficit? the trade deficit? the pension insurance deficit? With this president, "record-breaking deficit" is a category.

John Kerry may not have compiled a hall-of-fame record during his 19 years in the Senate, but George W. Bush has used his three years in the White House to rewrite the record books. And not in a good way. He's setting single-term, single-season records that would make any opponent's worst foibles pale in comparison.

George W. Bush is Joe Sullivan in 1893. He's John Coleman in 1883. He's this guy from 1929-1933.

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  • And the winner in the 50m flip flop — George W. Bush!

    Reading blogs this morning, I find Fred Clark at Slacktivist wrote this wonderful entry about Bush’s record. It starts by making a wonderful point about baseball statistics as if voting for the Hall of Fame was like the election for…

  • The Navigator

    Speaking as a Bush opponent, I have to say that a few of these charges don’t quite stick, in their entirety.
    The first four are sheer, politically-motivated flip-flops, made at times when the underlying facts remained the same. There’s a reason that TWO former administration officials (O’Neill and DiIulio) have said that they’re shocked by the degree to which the Bushites ignore substantive policy discussion and just strategize on politics.
    That said, the ‘nation-building’ reversal came after 9/11 – maybe the clearest example in recent history of a change in the underlying facts.
    Nos. 6, 7, and 8 are flip-flops, plain and simple.
    No. 9 can be partially explained as consistent – Bush could say he thought state voters should decide, and was forced to move by the newly relevant prospect of unelected judges issuing anti-majoritarian decrees (even though that’s what judges are supposed to do). Not a totally unfair justification. On the other hand, 1) as Hawaii had already shown, state voters have the means to reserve unpopular interpretations of state constitutions without federal intervention, by voting to amend state constitutions, and 2) I’m pretty sure the amendment Bush supports would NOT allow states to decide – it would outlaw gay marriage for all states. So it remains at least a partial flip-flop.
    No. 10 is a flip-flop.
    So, that’s at least 8.5 out of 10 that were true flip-flops. There’s tons more, as commenters on Kos and at Matthew Yglesias’ site noted.

  • The Navigator

    That’s “reverse unpopular interpretations”.

  • Willoughby

    So, I figured out Coleman in 1883 because of the most losses ever in a single season. Sullivan in 1893 was harder, but I’m assuming 102 is the most errors ever in a single season?
    The Hoover thing seems the most accurate, though.

  • sushiesque

    One of my favorite Daily Show segments ever was the Governor Bush vs. President Bush debate, in which the Governor argues against nation building on the grounds that “if we’re an arrogant nation, then they’ll resent us. I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the Ugly American is to go around the world saying ‘we do it this way, so should you.'”
    (“Bush vs. Bush”)