Falling Averages: A-Rod & Baseball’s Decline

Last night I was at Yankee Stadium to see the home team beat the Giants, 5-1, on a grand slam by Alex Rodriguez in the seventh inning. It was his 24th grand slam, moving him ahead of Lou Gerhig as the all-time career leader in the category.

ARod Hits Record Grand SlamIt’s hard to watch A-Rod at the plate and not think about steroids and PEDs, which got me thinking about how hitting performance in Major League Baseball has trended, particularly in the last few years as the league has taken steps to crack down on cheating.

In 1999, the total MLB batting average (combined for all players in the American & National Leagues), was .271, its highest in 60 years (in 1939 it was .275).

Since 1999, the averages have trended downward, and have declined in particular since 2006, from .269 that year to .255 last year.  That’s a drop of over 5%.

It’s also interesting to note that the American League (which due to its Designated Hitter historically has a higher batting average) has declined even more, at 7.3% over the same period.   A-Rod’s batting average has declined 6.2% since 2006 and 15.3% since his best average as a Yankee in 2005 of .321.

I was surprised to see that the AL batting average is now almost identical to the NL batting average, indicating that the DHs’ decline has contributed significantly since the PED crackdown.


Syria & Russia. And Tartus.


For those of you who (like me) could use a primer on Syria, take a look at the attached slides by Deutsche Bank Global Public Affairs (8/26/13).  It’s a quick read and provides a user-friendly overview of the basics.

It also outlines Russia’s relationship with Syria.  Some highlights:

  • “For centuries, a key geopolitical objective of Moscow has been access to a war[m], deep-water port. Additionally, they have wanted one outside of the Bosporus which could give them access to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean.”
  • “Despite having 110,310 km of coastline, Russia does not have a single territorial port that is free year round from ice or the constraints of another power (its Black Sea ports depend on Turkey (NATO) allowing Russian ships to pass through the Bosporus).”
  • “Syria has allowed Russia to use the deep water naval base in Tartus, Syria – a critical asset in Russian military and geopolitical strategy. Thus, Syria is vital strategic staging point for Russia and Iranian foreign policy in the region.”




  • “Earlier this year, due to the escalating violence in Syria, Russia was forced to withdraw her naval forces from Tartus – a naval base granted to Russia by Syria.”


From an historical perspective, Russia has been trying to acquire a port like Tartus at least as far back as the 1500s.  So while this isn’t the only reason why Russia is so focused on the situation in Syria, it’s an important factor.  Five hundred years is a long time spent trying to get something.

How Many Heart Beats Do We Get?

Recently I’ve been wearing one of those heart rate watches to the gym. 

It’s actually pretty fun to develop a feel for when my heart rate is at 120 beats per minute or at 160, or is spiking at 180 (I try not to go above that).  For most of us, our average heart rate is 70-75 bpm.

My brother forwarded me an interesting chart which shows how human bpms compare to other animals.  As the downward sloping line in the chart on the left shows, there’s typically a pretty good (inverse) link between bpms and life expectancy (if bpms are high, then life expectancy is low). [Note: I’m not sure why they have “whale” listed twice on this chart.]

ImageWhat’s really interesting to see is where “Man” falls.  Given our bpms, we should be with tigers and giraffes who have a life expectancy of ~20 years.  And in the Neolithic era 5-10 thousand years ago, human life expectancy actually was 20 years.

But today the average American lives 4 times as long as this, on average 78 years (as of 2008).  Diet, medicine, technology, etc have all boosted our life expectancy to extraordinary degrees.

The chart on the right is interesting too, mainly because its display greatly undersells the number of extra beats humans get — because the chart’s scale is exponential.  10 to the 9th power is 1 billion; 10 to the 10th power is 10 billion.  That 9 billion difference is a pretty big one for such a little shift to the right!  For humans, we’re about 10 to the 9.4th power, which is 2.5 billion beats over our lifetimes, or about 80 years.

So next time you’re at the gym, you can be thankful that after exercising, your heart rate will settle back down to a much more sustainable level!

Who benefits from a stock-market boom?

This is the title of a great post on The Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” (see here) that I saw last month (yes, it has taken me, um, a while to put this up on Historicalness.com…good thing I’m not covering breaking news). Their post was made even better since it had a graph:


What we can see is that since the late 1980s, the top 1% wealthiest households have consistently held about 40% of the stock market wealth.

And for those same 25 years, the top 10% have consistently held about 80% of stock market wealth.

As Wonkblog notes, even though “about 52 percent of Americans own at least some stock, mostly in their 401(k)s,” those holdings are tiny compared to the average holdings of the wealthiest households, which are the ones that benefit disproportionately to a stock market increase.

On Friday, the S&P 500 closed at 1,582, just below its all-time high.  The stock market has had a dramatic rebound since its late 2008 / early 2009 depths.  Here’s a chart showing the S&P’s growth since 1950:


New York City Property #2: Trinity Church

The avid readers of Historicalness.com surely know that this blog’s third-ever post was about New York’s Trinity Church, its deep roots in the city, and its extensive property holdings in lower Manhattan (see the post here).

A few days ago, we learned that by one estimate the value of those properties today — stemming from the 215 acres gifted to the Church by Queen Anne in 1705 — is $2 billion.  The Church’s latest figures show that it holds 14 acres with 5.5 million square feet of commercial space, mainly in the Hudson Square Area.

Here’s the map of their properties that I posted last time:

In addition to its estimated property value, the real estate generated $158 million in revenue in 2011.

Talk about a great long-term hold!

Happy Birthday To Me: Historicalness Turns One!

Big Sky

Well, we’re just a stone’s throw from an important birthday — not just a munchy bday, but also the one year anniversary of Historicalness’ birth which launched on December 26, 2011 with a top-notch (but admittedly sobering) post on World War II.

I wanted to thank all of Historicalness’ readers — and trust me, there are tons of you — who have made this the #1 blog I’ve ever created.  And who have continued to visit, even when there’s been no new post in four months — not sure who you are out there, but the WordPress analytics don’t lie, so mucho gracias.

2012 has been a wonderful year for me and for Historicalness — plants, bears, and grand introductions to coffee.  I’m seeing a post on one or all of these in the future…

As we head into 2013, I wanted to share a recent photo I took which I hope you all enjoy.  Wishing you all a very happy holidays.

The Stars

“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” -Carl Sagan, Cosmos

You may have noticed that the top-notch Historicalness research team has been away for a bit.  But fear not.  After climbing the Seven Summits and writing a few novels, the squad is back…and we’re taking on something big…

If you woke up one day and thought to yourself, “I want to see something really old”, where would you go?  A museum?  Maybe hop on a plane to check out the pyramids?

Turns out, all you need to do is head outside at night and look up (except if you’re in a city…this works better if you’re in some rural spot).  When you see the Milky Way, you’re looking at something that was born 13 billion years ago.  Well, that’s not entirely true — what you’re actually seeing is light emanated from the Milky Way which has traveled for the past 25,000 years to reach your eye ball.

To try to put this in some context:

  • The Great Pyramid of Giza was built about 5,000 years ago — meaning those light beams you’re seeing have been traveling for 5x as long.
  • It takes light only 8 minutes to travel the 150 million kilometer distance from the sun to the earth.  The light you’re seeing from the Milky Way has traveled for 12.6 billion minutes in its 25,000 years.

Even still, that 25K year distance (called light years) is only a quarter of the 100,000 years it would take something moving at the speed of light to travel across our entire galaxy.

The Milky Way

These facts are hard, if not impossible, to fully grasp.  But if you’re curious to try, Khan Academy has some terrific, short videos which help immensely.  See them here.

A few other facts I like:

  • The edge of our solar system is the Oort Cloud which is 1 light year away
  • The middle star in Orion’s belt is 1,500 light years away
  • The next closest large galaxy to ours, Andromeda, is 2.5 million light years away
  • The edge of the observable universe is 13 billion light years away

Here’s a depiction of the Milky Way in relation to Andromeda used in a Khan video which I found helpful:

Remember Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away so it would take something traveling at the speed of light 2.5 million years to get from the Milky Way to Andromeda.

It’s hard not to consider the scale of our galaxy and the millions of other galaxies that make up our universe, and agree with Carl Sagan’s comment in his Cosmos series:

 “There are a hundred million galaxies and a billion trillion stars. Why should this modest planet be the only inhabited world? To me, it seems far more likely that the Cosmos is brimming over with life and intelligence.”

Olympic Edition: Mastering The Pressure

Yes, it’s that time of (two) year(s) again, the time when the world rejoices in peace and harmony, celebrating the human spirit with the grandest of all athletic competitions.  Or something like that.

Yes, it’s the Olympics.  When for two weeks I become a fanatic about badminton and speed track cycling and water polo and weight lifting and equestrian.  When we get moments like Jason Lezak’s swim on the last leg of the 4×100 Freestyle relay at the 2008 games — one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever seen (check out Bud Greenspan’s terrific segment on it here).

Here is the famous photo of Phelps celebrating after that relay win, plus the full squad below (Lezak is on the far right):

Even though the opening ceremonies aren’t until Friday, competition in the 2012 London games began today.

Which leads me to a fascinating article I’ve been saving from last month in the Washington Post called “Michael Phelps has mastered the psychology of speed“.  I think the title is a misnomer — it’s really about the mental components that any high performing athlete (or any high performer generally) draw upon in competitive situations to handle incredible amounts of pressure.

Here’s a feel for what the athletes face:  “‘The pressure at the Olympic Games is really, really, really overwhelming, even if you are incredibly experienced,’ said Natalie Coughlin, a two-time Olympian who has won 11 Olympic medals. ‘The feeling of walking onto the pool deck, standing behind the blocks knowing the race that you’ve prepared for the last four years, or the past decade, [that] everything is going to culminate in that 58 seconds or so, it’s quite stressful.'”

Those who excel in these conditions typically have one of two mental aptitudes:

1) Offensive: “An unyielding desire for victory and superiority… This allows an athlete to use the energy surges or adrenaline produced from high-pressure situations to enhance concentration, strength and execution — rather than to produce nervousness, panic, muscle tightening or over-exertion.”

2) Defensive: “A resilience that allows an athlete to roll with unforeseen circumstances such as a bad lane assignment, [or] a poor night’s sleep.”

What makes Phelps exceptional, according to US Olympic Committee Sport Psychologist Sean McCann is that he has both.  At the 2008 games, “’I was super-laid back,’ Phelps said. ‘I was super-calm. .  . . I was obviously ready for something that nobody had ever done before . . . and nobody was going to step in my way, nobody was going to get me off track. I was . . . focused on what I needed to do, and I was going to get the job done.’”

While it may be that some people have Offensive and/or Defensive aptitudes in abundance compared to everyone else, I do think both are skills that each of us can develop with practice in order to address pressures in our lives.  We may never reach Olympian levels, but we can definitely improve — and my guess is that learning a Defensive aptitude (i.e. resilience) is easier.  Let me know if you agree/disagree.

KFC and Madonna To The Rescue?

I really should do a post on July 4th.  Something with a new spin, like how having it on a Wednesday throws vacation scheduling into a tizzy.  But I won’t.  Maybe I’ll do something next year.

Instead, I was interested to see two articles in the last 10 days highlighting a new trend: cities selling ads on everything from fire hydrants to historic buildings.  From Baltimore to Milan, local governments are devising creative — and controversial — means to make up for lost tax revenue and shrinking budgets.

Here are a few interesting naming rights deals that cities have devised with corporations, starting with America’s favorite colonel:

Finger lickin’ good. In Brazil, Indiana

And the Atlantic Avenue subway stop in Brooklyn now has an additional name (and in return the MTA is pocketing $4 million over the next 20 years).

So are these people at the Atlantic Avenue stop or the Barclays Center stop?

In Europe, efforts have extended to sell ads on historic buildings — here’s a big H&M ad on the side of Milan’s gothic cathedral, Duomo, which had its groundbreaking in 1386.

The heart is a nice touch

The Madonna ad looks out of place, but some of these — at least to my American eye — just look like your run-of-the-mill billboard.  This brand always confused me (why do they have to use a “v” when a “u” will do just fine?), but here it is in Milan’s Piazza Duomo:

In other news: “In France, the caretakers of Versailles have agreed to let two hotels open on the palace grounds and have proposed ­licensing the image of the building for use on luxury watches. In Spain, planners eager for more tax revenue approved the construction of an office tower in the historic city center of Seville near the Gothic cathedral where Christopher Columbus is buried, ignoring threats from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to disqualify the city as a World Heritage site if the project proceeded.”

Will be interesting to see if this trend reverses when the world economy improves. Meanwhile, if you’ve seen some interesting ads pop up in unlikely places in your community, let me know.

First Fathers: The Best & Worst

Just in time for Father’s Day, historian Douglas Brinkley lists his picks for the best and worst first fathers, which you can see here (at the WashingtonPost.com).

The top 3:

  • Theodore Roosevelt Sr.
  • Prescott Bush
  • John Adams

The bottom 3:

  • Leslie Lynch King Sr. (Gerald Ford’s father)
  • Roger M. Clinton Sr.
  • Barack Obama Sr.

It’s worth reading Brinkley’s quick summaries of each pick (see here).

I’m a huge fan of TR and his dad (McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback is a wonderful history of their relationship), and we should celebrate the great fathers in this list.

But what’s most interesting for me is actually the bottom three.  No matter what you think of the sons’ politics and administrations, what they overcame early in their lives — including varied levels of paternal violence and absence — to reach the highest office in the world, is nothing short of remarkable.  Not to mention inspiring.

Happy Father’s Day everyone.