Archive | November, 2011

The myth of orange juice

29 Nov
Orange juice

Orange juice

Have you ever enjoyed a tall, cool glass of orange juice?

Unless you juice your own oranges, then you haven’t.

I’m serious…you haven’t had a glass of orange juice. Not once. Ever. In your entire life.

What you had was a tall, cool glass of orange water.

Let me explain.

The heat is on

If you read my post on milk, particularly the section on pasteurized milk, you know that pasteurization kills most of the beneficial bacteria in milk. Americans have been brain-washed into thinking that all bacteria is bad, so the thought of beneficial bacteria is foreign to most of us.

Nearly all orange juice on the market (98%) is also pasteurized. Have you ever stopped to wonder why on earth orange juice would need to be pasteurized? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pasteurization is needed to kill two particular pathogens: E.coli O157:H7 and salmonella. That answer begs the next question: why would there be salmonella, or even more unfathomably, E.coli O157:H7 (which is found naturally in the intestines of cows) on produce like oranges? That one is still a mystery.

According to the book Raw Milk Revolution, past history has shown that the CDC attributes food-borne illnesses to certain foods (like raw milk) even when there is zero evidence of that food being the source of the illness. And if you’ve watched the documentary film Food Inc., you realized that big agribusiness puts their foot on the collective throats of small farmers. So the cynical side of me says the politics of food regulation and big agribusiness is similarly what’s driving the requirement to pasteurize orange juice in order to either put small farmers out of business or force small farmers to fall under the control of big agribusiness.

What happens during juice pasteurization

Whatever the reason for pasteurizing juice, the fact remains that the “orange juice” you drink is not really orange juice at all. Since it is pasteurized, the vitamins in the juice are destroyed. This is why, if you read the list of ingredients in orange juice, OJ producers add back ascorbic acid to their juice: ascorbic acid is vitamin C. The natural vitamin C in the juice no longer exists so it must be added back.

Let’s continue. The juice is then evaporated by vacuum and heat to reduce into concentrate. Have you ever wondered why orange juice is almost always from concentrate? The reason for turning the juice into concentrate is nicely explained in this St. Petersburg Times article (under the section entitled ‘Concentrating on taste’): orange juice needed to be sold in a way that would extend shelf life.

But there’s more. When the juice is reconstituted with water, citric acid and other essences and oils are also added back to the juice because pasteurization not only destroys the OJ’s vitamins but also the OJ’s flavor by destroying those essences and oils (more on that in a bit). Check the ingredient list of your favorite orange juice…you may see these add-back items listed. If these add-backs are only trace ingredients (as they sometimes are because not much is needed to “refresh” the flavor of the reconstituted juice), then they don’t even need to be labeled on the ingredient list.

You may think it’s not so bad if the producers are adding back something that was taken away. After all, it seems like no net loss, right? Not exactly. The essences and oils that the manufacturers are adding back are chemically configured (read: man-made) in ways that are nothing like their natural configurations. They are chemical replacements (like ethyl butyrate) for the natural versions.

The pasteurization process also strips the oxygen from the juice to allow the juice to be stored in million-gallon tanks for up to a year (a sub-process known as deaeration). One year! No wonder aseptically stored juice, in the words of Alissa Hamilton, author of the book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice,  “must be doctored to taste like orange juice”.

The “Not From Concentrate” scam

Ready for even more? What do you think of when you think of OJ labeled “not from concentrate”, such as from the brand Florida’s Natural? If you think juice that is freshly-squeezed from the groves of Florida and packaged directly into cartons, you’re not alone. That’s what most people think, but that’s not what “not from concentrate” (NFC) means.

Yes, NFC juice bypasses the concentration (evaporation) process but the concentration process is not what ruins the juice’s nutrition and flavor. Re-read the paragraphs above. What ruins the nutrition and flavor is the pasteurization process, and NFC juice is still pasteurized. So NFC juice is just as doctored as orange juice from concentrate! NFC juice is a marketing gimmick designed to charge consumers more for essentially the same type of juice.

The bottom line

When you drink a glass of orange juice, the Times article mentions that there are “more than 300 chemicals in the juice so that [Tropicana] can re-create the same flavor every time.” This again reminds us there are many more things in your “orange juice” than what’s on the ingredient list. That’s why I said at the beginning of this post that when you drink a glass of OJ, what you’re drinking isn’t really orange juice but chemically-crafted orange liquid. So even orange juice is no longer a natural product but just as much a processed food as some of those items in the middle aisles of your supermarket.

About a decade ago, I made a trip to a small town in Florida (don’t remember the name of the town offhand) but we bought some orange juice at an orchard. It was the most amazing juice I’ve ever had and I’ve not ever tasted anything like it since. It was clearly different from the stuff in the Minute Maid cartons I was used to drinking.

To add injury to insult, out of convenience since my employer provides free orange juice to its employees, I drank bottled Mr. Pure orange juice on two separate occasions and each time, I got food poisoning. Coincidence? Possibly. But it reminds me that even pasteurized products can still cause sickness.

We used to buy orange juice faithfully every week, but about six months ago or so, we’ve stopped buying it. We’d rather eat the real thing.

Your turn

What do you think? Will you continue buying orange juice?

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Why Christians should not require retailers to say ‘Merry Christmas’

28 Nov

This weekend, I saw a manger scene outside someone’s house. It had the requisite Mary & Joseph statues looking at the baby Jesus in the manger, as well as a couple animal statues.

Then something struck me as odd about this scene. There was a Santa Claus statue also positioned to be looking at the baby Jesus. Hm. Maybe Santa beat the shepherds to the manger because he has that sleigh and eight (nine?) flying reindeer.

The marriage of secular and Christian in that manger scene is the epitome of the paradox facing Christians during this holiday season. We love the joy and excitement that comes with celebrating our Savior’s birth, but we dislike the commercialization of the event.

‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’?

Merchants (and atheists) have been trying to remove any sign of Christmas from the season, replacing it with “holiday” sentiments. Sometimes, such substitution rightly draws the ire of Christians. During one segment last week, local ABC news anchor Ron Magers inexplicably called Christmas trees “holiday trees” even though no other holiday uses pointy evergreen trees.

However, when it comes to merchants, I don’t think Christians should require them to use “Merry Christmas” in their advertising. For years (including this year), the American Family Association has done an aggressive campaign to get merchants to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” in its promotions. AFA even has a handy list that grades retailers on how Christmas-friendly it is. While I’m a strong supporter of AFA, I’ve not a fan of this particular campaign.

Merchants argue that using “holidays” instead of “Christmas” is simply because the season includes several holidays besides Christmas. But let’s face it, the vast majority of gift shoppers are not buying for Kwanzaa, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Boxer’s Day, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Epiphany or Winter Solstice. Nor does anybody buy gifts to give on New Year’s Day. So I agree those defenses of “holidays” usage are mighty weak. Jewish consumers do in fact buy gifts for Hanukkah so when retailers cite “other holidays” as a reason for using “holidays” instead of “Christmas” in their advertising, the rationale does have a sliver of truth to it (although my hunch is Christmas shopping far exceeds Hanukkah shopping). Inclusiveness for Hanukkah is a legit (although arguably minor) reason to use “holiday” verbage.

But the real reason I believe Christians should not require retailers to use “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” is the very thing that many Christians don’t like about Christmas: the commercialization of it. In other words, merchants are aggressively trying to commercialize Christmas to make us want to buy as much as possible. Shouldn’t we, then, as Christians want to leave Christmas out of such commercialization? If Best Buy wants to say “Hot Holiday Deals” instead of “Hot Christmas Deals”, I say great! If Old Navy wants to advertise “Save 30% on all your holiday shopping” instead of “Save 30% on all your Christmas shopping”, please do! If given a choice, I think it’s better not to associate Christmas with that commercialization.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still one of the first to defend the centrality of Christianity. I still say “Merry Christmas” to friends (unless I know they are Jewish), and Mr. Magers, I’ll still call you out for lamely calling Christmas trees “holiday trees”. But as far as I’m concerned with retailers, they can say “Happy Holidays” all they want.

Your turn

What do you think? If you’re a Christian, do you think we should pressure retailers to say “Christmas” instead of “holidays”? Why or why not?

Why the Cubs should move Starlin Castro to the OF

23 Nov
Chicago Cubs shortstop prospect Starlin Castro.

Starlin Castro as a prospect

Most people, particularly in the media, love Starlin Castro. While some even dubiously proclaim Castro as the next Ernie Banks, count me as someone who’s not quite as impressed with Castro. While Castro accomplished an impressive feat in ringing up 207 hits in 2011, he needed 674 at-bats (the second-highest in the majors) to do so. In addition, Castro has nowhere near Banks’ power: Castro hit 13 home runs in his first 1137 at-bats while Banks hit 21 home runs in 509 fewer at-bats than Castro. Could Castro develop power later in his career, as some hope? Possibly, though history shows power doesn’t usually develop later unless steroids is involved.
The lack of power isn’t a real concern. But Castro’s iron glove and wild arm is. The 21-year-old Dominican led the majors in 2011 with an amazing 29 errors, proving that his 27 errors in 2010 (second-worst in MLB) was no fluke. FanGraphs posted Castro’s UZR (an advanced fielding metric that estimates a fielder’s defensive contribution compared to a league-average fielder) as -8.7, second-worst in the majors among regular shortstops. His defensive liabilities offset some of his offensive contributions.

Merely accepting Castro’s defensive limitations should not be an option. The question is: what can the Cubs do then?

What to do with Castro?

Some have bandied the idea of trading Castro. It’s not a bad idea. If everyone else is enamored with Castro, why not trade him while his value is sky high and get a bunch of top prospects? After all, the Cubs need help at a lot of positions and you could fill several of those voids with one trade. As the Chicago Tribune reminded, the Rays got several exciting prospects and a major-league defensive contributor when they sent Matt Garza to the Cubs, and the Royals got several top prospects and a major-league defensive contributor when they traded Zach Greinke. Just don’t trade Castro for a couple middle-tier prospects. If Theo Epstein is like Tampa Bay’s shrewd GM Andrew Friedman, then he’ll require multiple highly significant prospects for Castro.

But Castro staying with the Cubs is probably the most likely scenario. Epstein has compared Castro’s defensive issues with an early Derek Jeter, implying that Castro too can eventually win five Gold Gloves as Jeter has. Epstein’s comments are puzzling since he, a sabermetrician, should know that sabermetrics clearly reveals Jeter to have performed well below average for nearly his entire career in baseball (or as one blogger succinctly wrote, “Derek Jeter is a crappy fielder“). Just this past summer, Jeter was dead-last in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved, a metric used to evaluate how many runs a player saved or hurt his team compared to an average player at the position) among regular shortstops (-18), worse than even Castro (-16). In 2010, the last year Jeter won a Gold Glove, he had the fourth-worst shortstop DRS at -13. While Jeter has earned his Gold Gloves for his reputation on some flashy plays, Baseball Prospectus’ James Click cautioned in an article entitled “Did Derek Jeter Deserve The Gold Glove” (the answer is no), “While spectacular effort is a joy to watch, it should not be confused with results.” As performance analysts know, Jeter isn’t even the best SS on his own team (that would be Alex Rodriguez).

Where should Castro play?

The Cubs could keep Castro at SS, but why put up with the defensive struggles when you can minimize it? This was an argument Click made about Jeter, stating that the Yankees should have moved Jeter to CF and put Rodriguez back at SS. While some suggest moving Castro to 3B, I suggest the Cubs remove him out of the infield completely and put him in the outfield.

On occasion, Castro shows a flair for the spectacular play but far too often fails to make the routine play. In general, moving a shortstop to 3B will slightly improve that player’s defensive contribution by 1.9 runs per year. However, it’s uncertain if a fielder as bad as Castro will see that slight improvement. Since Castro bungles grounders and slings wild throws from the shortstop position, it’s quite possible he will also bungle grounders and sling wild throws from the third base position. In fact, it could potentially be even uglier at third base when Castro also must charge bunts/slow rollers and then hurry a throw to 1B.

Moving Castro to the OF instead of 3B would limit damage because not all errors are equal. Outfield errors are rarely on dropping catchable fly balls but instead due to bad throws and bad fielding. Thus, outfield errors almost never turn sure outs into baserunners; rather, the baserunners already exist but they get an extra base or two on a bad throw or poor fielding of a grounder.

On the other hand, shortstop errors always turn routine outs into baserunners. Since baseball’s two most precious commodities are runs and outs, shortstop errors negatively affect both. Not only does the defense not reduce one of the offense’s 27 precious outs, but the offense now also has a runner on base that should not have been there, which in turn creates a higher likelihood for the offense to score runs (run expectancy is always higher with a man on base than with bases empty). Indeed, Castro’s DRS for 2011 was -16, again second-worst among all regular shortstops and far below the average shortstop, the Angels’ Erick Aybar. Baseball Prospectus has shown that moving a SS to LF improves the team’s defense by an average 4.8 runs per year. With Castro, this number would be higher.

So why not put Castro in CF, where his strong arm could be an asset? The main reason is that Tony Campana is a known commodity at CF as a strong defender with great speed and great range, two important qualities for CF. Replacing Soriano, with his marginal arm, with Castro in LF would be a better option defensively.

My suggested defensive changes

In 2011, the predominant Cubs defense, based on innings played, was (DRS/UZR in parentheses):

– 2B: Darwin Barney (-4/+5.1)
– SS: Starlin Castro (-16/-8.7)
– LF: Alfonso Soriano (-5/+3.4)
– CF: Marlon Byrd (-2/+2.2)
– RF: Tyler Colvin (+3/+4.6)

Check out all those negative DRS figures. No wonder the 2011 Cubs defense was so awful.

One suggested defense for 2012 could be (2011 DRS/UZR in parentheses):

– 2B: DJ LeMahieu (+1/+0.8)
– SS: Darwin Barney (+1/+1.0)
– LF: Starlin Castro
– CF: Tony Campana (+2/+4.3)
– RF: Tyler Colvin (+3/+4.6)

The Cubs could then put Marlon Byrd (who was -2/+2.2 in CF in 2011) at 1B, resolving the issue of finding a first baseman. This suggestion would significantly upgrade its defense not only at SS but in many other positions on the field. In addition, learning a new position would be kept to a minimum (a minor adjustment for Barney; while Castro would be learning an entirely different position, it’s an easier position to learn, as would be the case for Byrd learning 1B). And what’s more, this suggestion would substantially upgrade the entire defense without having to trade away any prospects or spend one cent on a free agent.

Glaringly, the biggest problem with this suggested defense is that it puts Alfonso Soriano and his offensive production on the bench. But this would only be one problem for Epstein to resolve, compared to trying to resolve multiple glaring problems, any one of which could spell doom for the Cubs in a close game (the team was 25-28 in one-run games in 2011) or turn a close game into an uncontested loss.

Moving Castro to the OF may seem radical but when the status quo clearly isn’t working, why not put all options on the table? If the Cubs want to seriously compete for a championship, it cannot afford 25-30 errors at the most important position on the field.

Your turn

What do you think? Do you like the idea of moving Castro to the OF? Or do you think Castro should stay at SS and can someday improve from “near league worst” to “average”?

Devotional: Not so ‘awesome’: Christians overusing the word

17 Nov

Got $50 from your aunt for your birthday? Awesome!

Finished six sections each week to get the Timothy Award in AWANA? Awesome!

Your baby just started taking his first steps without holding on to anything? Awesome!

Christians using ‘awesome’ to describe anything not related to God Himself? Not so awesome.

Our society has been using ‘awesome’ as a synonym for ‘cool’ since the 1980s. How was that burger, Ted? Oh, it’s awesome, dude. How do those shoes feel, Stephanie? Wow, they are awesome. How does it feel to have your first baby, Joe? Totally awesome.

A website even lists what it considers to be the most awesome things, including, um, Will Farrell’s Super Sexy Sunscreen.

Definition

The dictionary.com definition of awesome is full of awe. Um, yes, of course. So let’s look up the definition of awe. It says:

“an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like”

One of the two examples in that dictionary.com definition says ‘in awe of God’. The other example it gives is ‘in awe of great political figures.’

What the Bible says

Interestingly, Scripture (ESV) also uses the word ‘awe’ in reference to God and great political figures.

In Jos 4:14, the people stood in awe of Joshua, just as they stood in awe of Moses. In 1 Sam 18:15, Saul stood in awe of David due to David’s great success. And in 1 Kgs 3:28, all Israel stood in awe of Solomon due to his wisdom. Great political figures all.

But while the Bible describes people being in awe of other people, it never commands us to be in awe of people (or things, like shoes, sports results, or Will Farrell’s, um, sexy sunscreen). Scripture does, however, command us to be in awe of God. For example:

You who fear the Lord, praise Him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him,
and stand in awe of  Him, all you offspring of Israel! (Ps 22:23)

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! (Ps 33:8)

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. (Ps 65:5-8)

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe (Heb 12:28)

Christians should be careful to not use the word ‘awesome’ to describe anything unrelated to the Lord. This isn’t an attempt to be Pharisaical (where obeying laws are more important than a pure heart), but a caution to keep the Lord in His rightful place in your heart as the only One who truly is awesome.

Your turn

Have you been using the word ‘awesome’ flippantly? Have you ever referred to the Lord Himself, or things related to God (like heaven), as awesome?

The whole truth about milk

15 Nov
Glass of milk

Glass of milk

As alluded to in a previous post about the government’s incorrect dietary guidelines, the government is not the best source of information regarding nutrition and health. Yet it is the most influential source of information because the government’s info is widely disseminated via education throughout the public school system as well as via press releases to the media. Since the source of the info is the government (and also perhaps Americans have become a “Cliff Notes” Nation that just wants the bottom line without reading the supporting evidence), the vast majority of people take it as gospel. I know because I was one of those people.

One such “fact” I assumed to be gospel was that whole milk was bad for you. After all, I had been taught in public school since I was in grade school that saturated fat is bad, and whole milk was loaded with saturated fat. Even low-fat milk had some saturated fat, so if I wanted the healthiest choice in milk, I needed to drink skim (now called fat-free) milk. So I did. As a young’un in grade school up until a few months ago (in my mid-life years now), I only drank skim milk.

But then I read Gary Taubes‘ book Why We Get Fat and learned that saturated fat isn’t what makes us fat and that saturated fat doesn’t have anything to do with heart disease. In fact, saturated fat in animal products actually is good for you. Makes sense since God designed the food chain this way. This revelation was a revolution for our diet…except for milk. Somehow, I was still on auto-pilot about drinking skim milk until one day I pondered, since we were enlightened about saturated fat, whether whole milk was better than skim milk.

I did some more reading about whole milk and discovered a few things.

Whole milk is healthier for you than skim milk

The fat part of milk contains fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Removing the fat obviously reduces the nutritional component of the milk.

What’s more, we already know that the more food is processed, the more adulterated it becomes. Whole grains are better than refined grains. Whole milk is better than refined (skim) milk.

There’s also the politics of skim milk. When dairy companies skim the fat off the milk in order to sell skim milk, they use that fat to make other, more profitable products like butter and cream. If all the skim milk drinkers instead chose whole milk, dairy companies would have less creamy fat to create those other dairy products. [You’d be surprised to know that politics plays more of a role than nutrition science in what foods the government allows and promotes to the American people…more on that in a future post.]

Non-homogenized milk is better than homogenized milk

I never considered non-homogenized milk before. Every container of milk I’ve ever drunk from proudly states it is homogenized, like it’s a feature.

Remember the phrase “The cream rises to the top”? That adage is based on raw milk, where the cream would rise to the top of the milk. Homogenization takes the cream from raw milk and forces it through tiny holes under high pressure to break up the fat so it no longer rises to the top. Instead, the fat globules are molecularly broken up so that it stays mixed with the rest of the milk.

If you’re wondering what’s the big deal about whether there’s cream in your milk, ask yourself whether you like having your products processed for you to remove beneficial content. The dairy industry decided that whole milk should have 3.25% fat when raw milk contains between 4-5.5% fat. So dairy companies are removing the fat, homogenizing it, and then injecting a partial amount of the fat back into the milk. As discussed previously, unadulterated food products are what God intended for us to eat/drink.

You can find non-homogenized milk in stores like Whole Foods and some smaller grocers, which sell milk like Kolona Supernatural (our favorite non-raw milk) or the more expensive Trader’s Point Creamery.

Raw milk is better than pasteurized milk

This might be the third rail of the milk debate. Pasteurized milk, like homogenized milk, is branded on every container of milk like it’s a feature. And to the common mind, pasteurization does appear to be a feature. After all, heating up milk to reduce harmful bacteria is a good thing, yes?

Actually, no. According to the surprisingly objective book Raw Milk Revolution by David Gumpert, pasteurization was useful in the early 1900s to reduce pathogens that were causing an outbreak due to unsanitary dairy conditions at that time when cows were being brought in to cities towards the end of the Second Industrial Revolution. But pasteurization is no longer necessary for hygenically-handled grass-fed cows in sanitary conditions. Claims that raw milk “is responsible for nearly three times more hospitalizations than any other foodborne disease outbreak, making it one of the world’s most dangerous food products” are based on unresearched cases that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has subjectively authored with a heavily negative bias. This bias has been extensively documented in Raw Milk Revolution, which provides another example of the political heavy-handedness of government agencies.

Pasteurizing milk destroys many of milk’s beneficial enzymes, as well as vitamins, although the CDC would argue it doesn’t. Which stance is correct? Clearly, if the CDC promotes pasteurization as a way of making milk safe via killing pathogens, then certainly pasteurization will kill both the good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria. How the CDC can insist that milk is no different nutritionally after pasteurization is beyond me.

Let’s extend the pasteurization concept a little further to make it even more clear. Have you heard of ultra-pasteurization? Ultra-pasteurization is an increasingly common method of pasteurization that heats milk to a minimum 280 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 2 seconds, instead of traditional pasteurization which heats milk to a 161 degrees for a minimum of 15 seconds or 145 degress for 30 minutes. Ultra-pasteurization, therefore, kills all organisms in the milk (traditional pasteurization kills most organisms but some do survive).

With that background, consider that kefir, a probiotic product filled with enzymes, typically requires milk for production. However, kefir cannot be made with ultra-pasteurized milk because there is nothing in that kind of “ultra-dead” milk which the kefir grains can ferment. Kefir can be made with regular pasteurized milk though it is markedly not as nutritious as when it is made with raw milk. This further proves that the pasteurized milk is better than ultra-pasteurized milk, and that raw milk is better than them all. Once again, unadulterated food products are best…that’s the way God intended them.

What’s more, many people who have been lactose-intolerant claim to be able to drink raw milk without any problems. Apparently, the mechanical process of pasteurizing and homogenizing milk is what’s making people lactose-intolerant. While people think the problem is their own body, a bigger part of the problem may in fact be the way commercial milk is being produced.

Your turn

That’s our journey on the path to enlightenment about milk. Neither we nor anyone else we know who drinks raw milk has been hospitalized. What do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge into real milk…raw and whole…pure and ? If not, what’s holding you back?

Why Robin Ventura will fail as White Sox manager

11 Nov

Finding an article critical of the White Sox hiring Robin Ventura as manager is harder than finding an article complementary of Adam Dunn. So allow me to be presumably the first writer to unequivocally say that Robin Ventura will  be a flop as White Sox manager. Here’s why:

Experience is king.

As a youth baseball coach, I’ve discovered there are a myriad of decisions that you have to make, from drafting to preseason preparation to in-game strategy to handling players to postseason planning. Sometimes you’ll face a new situation you hadn’t handled before and make a mistake in the choice you make to address that situation. While major league players need less coaching than youth players, major league managers still have a lot of decisions to make…sometimes just in one inning! Learning from your mistakes (and your successes) is crucial to building your managerial database.

Yet Ventura has no managerial database. That’s because he has no managerial experience. Heck, he doesn’t even have any coaching experience. At any level. Not even Little League. In fact, Ventura once said he didn’t have any desire to manage or coach. With that kind of resume, you and I are just as (if not more) qualified to coach the White Sox as Ventura.

Yes, I realize Ventura has played for Bobby Valentine and Joe Torre, and the argument goes that Ventura surely will have learned something from his former managers. But playing for a manager only means you know how they run spring training, not how they think strategy, how they make decisions, etc.

The greenest of greenhorns who is learning everything for the first time in real-time is unlikely to be successful in that gig. Perhaps in Ventura’s second or third managerial opportunity he’ll be successful, but this first job with the White Sox has ‘disaster’ written in big bold letters via permanent marker. You can take that prediction to the bank. Name any successful manager, whether old-school or modern-day…Torre, Joe Maddon, Billy Martin, Ron Washington, Tommy Lasorda, Tony LaRussa, Terry Francona, Charlie Manuel, Bobby Cox, newcomer Kirk Gibson, Sparky Anderson, or even Ventura’s predecessor Ozzie Guillen…they’ve all gotten some kind of coaching experience prior to becoming a manager. Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein (inadvertently?) took a swipe at the White Sox and Ventura when he said the Cubs next manager must have major league coaching experience.

Every opinion posted about Ventura’s hiring can be classified as “cautiously optimistic“. Yes, such writers know that Ventura has no managerial or coaching experience but these optimistic articles invariably hinge on some combination of the following two arguments: (1) he is a fan favorite/nice guy, and (2) Ventura should earn respect from players in the clubhouse based on his own excellent player stats. I’ll address these arguments in a moment.

So why did GM Kenny Williams hire Ventura?

If experience is king and Ventura has no experience, then why would Williams hire Ventura, and why isn’t anyone else critical of the Ventura hiring?

Let’s address that second question first. First, Ventura’s hiring is quite possibly the first ever of its kind in hiring someone with zero coaching experience at any level to run a major league club. That means there is no history with which to make comparisons. Without any precedent to analyze, people are hesitant to make critical judgments because, for all we know, Ventura could succeed and thus prove that experience is overrated.

Second, Ventura was a fan favorite when he was a player so people can’t bring themselves to criticize him; instead, cautious supporters argue that no one should be able to criticize Ventura since they contend there’s no way to know if he’ll succeed or fail.

As for why Ventura was hired, I have two thoughts on that. First, many have speculated that Williams wanted somebody who was the opposite of Guillen. The thought is that people hire a loud guy (e.g. Guillen) after firing a quiet guy (e.g., Jerry Manuel), and they’ll hire a quiet guy (e.g., Ventura) after firing a loud guy (e.g., Guillen). But I think it’s deeper than that. Guillen and Williams were known to have feuds, and I suspect Williams hired Ventura because Ventura will be more of a ‘yes man’ than Guillen. That’s not to say Ventura will be Williams’ puppet, but Ventura is expected to be much more in lockstep with Williams than Guillen or even someone like Tampa Bay’s Dave Martinez or Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar Jr, two perceived White Sox managerial candidates.

Second, Ventura comes cheap. Very cheap. Since Ventura has no experience (gee, I see a recurring theme here), he won’t ask for much money, which is great for the White Sox since their payroll is weighed down by big contracts for Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy. While Ventura’s financial contract details were not disclosed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the salary was one-third what a Dave Martinez or Sandy Alomar, Jr. would have commanded.

The fact that Kenny Williams considered current Sox first baseman Paul Konerko to be player-manager tells me all I need to know about Ventura as Williams’ managerial choice. Konerko too would have been a Williams ‘yes man’ and would have only needed a modest bump in salary. From where I sit, control and cheap salary were Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf’s two foremost requirements for the next Sox manager, not credentials.

Hey, doesn’t Ventura’s fan favorite status, player history or leadership count for something as a manager?

Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf pointed to Ventura being a “born leader” as one reason Reinsdorf believed Ventura would be a successful manager. Others argue that Ventura’s excellent player stats will gain him some respect in the clubhouse.

Ultimately, though, leadership doesn’t help win games; smart decision-making does. And while I agree Ventura’s glory days as a player likely will give Ventura some respect in the clubhouse, that respect will erode quickly if the White Sox aren’t winning games…and winning games will be challenging for someone who has (here it comes again) zero coaching experience.

What’s more, success as a player has no correlation to success as a manager. None of the aforementioned successful MLB managers had the gaudy player stats Ventura has. Some, like Joe Maddon, didn’t even make it to the bigs.

However, fan favorite status does come in handy in one area: helping deflect media & fan criticism of Kenny Williams for any cheap Sox hire…hence Ventura and Konerko as Williams’ candidates.

Your turn

What do you think? Do you think Ventura will be a successful manager with the White Sox? Do you think experience is overrated? Are you aware of MLB managers who have had no coaching experience yet succeeded?

Devotional: trusting God amid despair

9 Nov

Have you ever been hurting inside? It doesn’t have to be a tragedy of some sort; it could just be a spiritual desert, where you feel like you need a lift from the Lord but you aren’t getting one? You try to be faithful to God, and you try to believe  things will get better. But each day passes by and nothing changes.

I feel that way sometimes. My job doesn’t value me the way I feel it should. Maybe for you, you don’t even have a job and it’s been a long time since you’ve even gotten an interview. Or maybe you and your spouse feel distant, or maybe your spouse left you altogether.

Abraham feels your pain. And then some.

God promised Abraham something, but for 25 years, nothing happened. Twenty-five years! Let’s see what happened during that time.

In Gen 12, the Lord tells Abram for the first time (vv.1-3) about the Lord’s plan to make Abram a great nation. Sounds amazing. Just one problem. Abram doesn’t have any children and he is 75 years old. Abram’s reaction? He believed the Lord’s promise and did as he was told (vv.4-5). As 80s pop icon George Michael once crooned, “you got to have faith, faith, faith.”

After traveling a bit (remember this was before the time of BMWs, so travel was not exactly easy nor quick) into the land of Canaan (v.5b-6), the Lord appears to Abram again and reiterates His promise (v.7). Abram’s reaction? He built an altar there. In other words, Abram worshipped the Lord.

After Abram and Lot decide who gets what land, the Lord appears to Abram again (Gen 13:14-17) and reiterates His promise. Abram’s reaction? He built another altar. So again, full of faith, Abram worshipped the Lord.

In Gen 15, the Lord appears to Abram for the fourth time and reiterates His promise (v.1). Abram’s reaction? For the first time, Abram shows a crack in the armor of his faith, expressing doubt (vv.2-3) because he has no heir. The Lord replies with a specific answer: you will have a son (v.4). Abram’s reaction? He believed the Lord, and the Lord counted Abram’s faith as righteousness.

Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you’ve had your faith stretched to the point where maybe, just maybe, you think the Lord is ignoring you and your plight. But then something happens where your faith is temporarily restored, even though your plight still isn’t resolved. Abraham would tell you, you’re not alone…he’s been there.

In Gen 17, the Lord appears to Abram for a fifth time to reiterate the promise (vv.1-16). The Lord is even more detailed this time, explaining the rite of circumcision that all future male boys will have to go through, including Sarai in the promise, and changing Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah, respectively. It has now been 24 years since the Lord first promised this to Abram. Abram’s reaction?

Abraham laughs (v.17)! It’s been at least 13 years (over a decade) since Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to Abram as righteousness. Abraham has gone the other direction now, into disbelief (though not full-blown disbelief since he prays to the Lord in v.18 for Ishmael).

We can certainly understand why Abraham would have doubt. For a God who spoke the world into existence, why would Abraham have to wait about a quarter of a century for God to do something? Why keep me in the dark for so long, Lord? Can’t you see I’m struggling?

The Lord answers Abraham that it won’t be Ishmael but a son from Sarah to be named Isaac (v.19). Abram’s response? He obeys again, circumcising all the males in his house as directed.

As we know, Abraham and Sarah do have a son, despite the fact that they were “advanced in years” and that “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah”. But why did the Lord wait so long before fulfilling His promise? I believe God wanted to make sure it was an impossible situation for Sarah to conceive and bear a child so that such an event would give God the greatest glory. If Abraham and Sarah conceived when they were much younger, surely they might have thought that they had a lot to do with it. But at this point, it was obvious to all that they had nothing to do with it and God had everything to do with it.

Whatever spiritual desert you’re going through, continue to keep the faith, be obedient to the Lord and worship Him, as Abram did. The Lord cares for you (Mt 6:26) but sometimes help will wait to come until a time that demonstrates you have nothing to do with it and God has everything to do with it.