Forty years ago today

The fondest sports memories of my youth took place primarily at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. In the 1970s the Pirates, and then, the Steelers, found ways to win. It helped a community through an economic downturn to have one thing, just one thing, to feel good about during the week (or at the end of the week).

The Steelers had plenty of names – Bradshaw, Franco, Mean Joe, Jack Splat, Dobre Shunka, Rocky – plenty of Hall of Famers, too. A trip to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe was an opportunity to see giants – literal giants of the game – walk past you between the practice field and the locker room.

The Pirates had two distinct periods in the ’70s. I was just old enough for the second, when Willie Stargell, by then the most seasoned of veterans, along with the Fam-A-Lee, found a way around a deep Orioles pitching staff to win the 1979 World Series.

But years earlier, it was another seasoned veteran, who led the Pirates. And forty years ago today, he registered his 3,000th regular season major league hit.

His name was Roberto Clemente.

And a mere three months after this play, his last regular-season plate appearance in the season, he was dead, trying to take relief supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake, his overloaded plane crashing just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1972.

I was too young to see Roberto play. I’ve seen him at his best, though, on the field and off. MLB will occasionally show one of the games of the 1971 World Series. His arm in Right Field, his legs on the base paths…he played a different game than anyone ever. Off the field, his legacy lives on in the sports city in his name, and in the hearts of Puerto Ricans and Pittsburghers who share the stories of his legacy and his devotion to his fellow man.

Much has been written of the events of these days. David Maraniss’ wonderfully poetic biography speaks of Clemente’s life in total. Bob Cohn at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review penned a very nice column today on the at-bat itself. And if you’ve never read it, find a copy of W.P. Kinsella’s short story “Searching for January”. It’s in his short-story collection, The Dixon Cornbelt League (as an aside, there are no bad Kinsella stories – as much as I like Shoeless Joe, I love The Iowa Baseball Confederacy).

As a long-time Pittsburgh resident and by default a sports fan, one big thought:

The passing of Roberto before his time marked a point of transition for the city from a baseball town to a football town. When Roberto got hit number 3,000, the Steelers were 1-1 in the beginning of what would seem a magical season. Roberto’s plane crash took place nine days after the Immaculate Reception. From that day forward, the franchise which hadn’t won a thing in its’ first forty years – the Steelers – would win twenty division titles, eight Conference Championships, and six Super Bowl titles.

As for the Pirates? While they would close out the decade on a high note, the ’80s would be best known for the drug trials and for lackluster play (joggin’ George Hendrick, anyone?). The ’90s would begin with so much promise. Three straight division titles. Three straight playoff disappointments, each more painful than the last. And since then? Since that season, twenty years after Roberto’s last hit? Twenty years of losing, unprecedented in team sport in America (well, at least last night, a losing season was averted for one more day thanks to the bat of Andrew McCutchen). Half of the time since Roberto’s last hit has been continuous losing.

We fans still hold out hope, though – however implausible it might be. There is, always, next year.

Ask a Steelers fan in 1972 – or a few years earlier, at the arrival of yet another head coach, an assistant from Baltimore – whether there was hope after almost four decades of losing.

So, I was going to post about partisan breakdowns…

…but as usual Jay Cost beat me to the punch (read from the bottom up):

Nonetheless I could still make a useful point building on my last post:

The essence here is that, in the post-Reagan re-balancing of the two parties (the 1980 D/R differential was D+15!) we’ve been exceptionally regular with the party split, much like the regularity of the Independent share of the vote. D+0 to D+4, until 2008, where, as we saw in the last post, not only a small surge in declared Independents (29%, up from the 26 to 27% norm post-Watergate), but also a surge to D+7 in the partisan split.

So what are we to make of the polls right now?

First, they’re designed to make news, to fill the cycle when news agencies want to discuss the “beauty contest” without spending moment one on the strength of the support. Remember: Jimmy Carter was polling 47 to 48% in September 1980. He got 41% in November.

Second, they’re polls without events. The conventions were a month ago. The only drivers in the interim have been (supposed) GAAAFES, real-world tragedy on the foreign policy front, and days of campaigning and fundraising.

That changes next week, with the first of the debates. Two days later we get the September jobs report. Which one MSNBC personality on Twitter thinks (thanks to ThinkProgress) is going to be great and the end of the Romney jobs attack because new jobless claims are leveling off.

At 330,000 per week.

Well below replenishment.

While 25 million people are unemployed or underemployed.


Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.

Then more debates. And before you know it, one last jobs report and Election Day.

There are in my opinion two potential realities:

First is what I’ll call the Eeyore scenario. That is that 2008 reflected the start of a seismic change in the electorate; this would reflect in the polls PPP and other organizations have posted, with Democratic voter enthusiasm outstripping Republicans for the first time in 60 years; with a D+8 or 9 a possibility.

Second is a norming scenario: a D+2 to D+4 electorate, like every other one since 1984.

Now look at the facts of the economy, and of political instability abroad, and the vast set of accomplishments of this President, and answer me this:

Which is more plausible given what we know?

So chill. Plenty of time on the clock.

So, What Will the Electorate Look Like?

I started thinking about this piece yesterday between Jim Geraghty’s NRO Campaign Spot piece (retweeted by fellow moron @ComradeArthur) with regards to the percentage breakdown of the electorate. It’s been somewhat overwridden by Jay Cost’s great blog post this morning but still I think it’s worth reviewing a national point they’ve skirted past.

Take a look at this handy chart the Washington Post produced in 2007. It captures the percent of the electorate showing up as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Focus on the Independents column.


What you’ll note in looking at that column is that for every presidential election since 1980 either 26 or 27% of the electorate has been independent. 2008 was similar (scroll down to the 15th break-out), but an outlier(or the start of a new trend? History will tell us); Independents comprised 29% of voters in exit polls last time around. Now, this includes the somewhat troubled 2000 and 2004 exit polls which were below par at a state level in predicting the overall winner. Nonetheless it gives us a good starting point for estimating the size of the Independent share nationally. And I say nationally because your mileage will definitely vary looking at state to state numbers.
So one would expect, based on history, to see 25 to 29% of the electorate being Independents in a Presidential election (and that margin is being generous, since the last time we saw the Independent percentage outside 26 to 29% for a Presidential election was in 1976, a hard year to self-identify as a Republican). Which means that 71 to 75% are partisans.
The split there is a stickier wicket. Which is for a future post.

Let’s see how this works

Welcome to Blessed Blasphemy, the official blog of yours truly, Ace of Spades HQ moron horde member KevinInABQ. This is my very first post, so it’s a little thin. This blog will spend its’ time on the same gamut of topics that occupies my Twitter feed:

Politics and polls
Pittsburgh sports

Not to mention whatever gets under my skin today. Posting will be, as my Tweeting is, irregular, ’cause I still have mouths to feed and diapers to change – though hopefully not for long on the latter.

More tomorrow, with a follow-up to a point i tweeted in an exchange with fellow moron Comrade Arthur regarding the makeup of the electorate.