A Shape of Things to Come?


Like a lot of liberals, I’ve been in shock since last week. Although I liked some things Donald Trump said during his campaign, I didn’t believe he meant very many of them, and a lot of things I really didn’t like. What I hear about his preparations for assuming power don’t reassure me much. I don’t like the things he seems to be planning to do, and I don’t think many of his appointments are very wise. Conservatives are crowing because liberals are so upset, since that’s how they felt when President Obama was elected. Who can blame them? We’ve been living with the politics of resentment for quite awhile now. Each election seems to generate more of it.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how things unfold. From what I read, some people are emboldened to commit crimes, confident that they won’t be prosecuted. Is that what the next four years are going to be like? If Mr. Trump’s actions match the rhetoric of his campaigns, maybe so. That’s how a supposed democracy could devolve into something else.

But he will have to step cautiously. Some Republicans, including the man he is supposedly strongly considering for Secretary of State, are in favor of war with Iran, assuming Trump can’t (as he promised) get a better deal than the arrangement negotiated by John Kerry. How would he do that? How will he get them to agree? He can threaten them, but if you think Iraq was bad (and Trump did), trying to fight a war in Iran would be worse. It’s a country with mountains, so it’s built for a guerilla war. It’s not a war that would be popular at home very long either. Unless Republican legislators want to send their own children to fight it (Is that too mean to say?).

Mr. Trump reportedly also wants to cut taxes. We already have an immense national debt (the deficit has been, I understand, greatly reduced, but it still isn’t small). What I read about his tax plan is that mainly the wealthy and corporations will benefit. How will his supporters feel when they find out about that? It means they still won’t be making enough money to get ahead, and that’s not why they sent him to Washington. It will also look like lobbyists have gotten their way again, something Mr. Trump said would not happen.

Add to that the Affordable Care Act being repealed without a suitable way to insure the millions of people that used to be uninsured. I doubt that even Donald Trump will be very popular if that happens.

And suppose Social Security and Medicare get taken away too. Those are two other things Trump said he wouldn’t do, but the Republican Congress wants to do them. I guess their existence keeps too much money from being handed to the wealthy. If those things happen, President Trump is going to be exceedingly unpopular. Congress may be too, but at that point this may no longer even nominally be a democracy.

Resentment has been powerful in this country for a long time. Mr. Trump could smell it, and knew what to say to get people to express it. He was a bit like a comedian I saw perform a few years ago. He sniffed the air, said a few things, felt the vibrations coming back, and found his way to say what the crowd wanted to hear. Once he gets the first laugh (or cheer, or other reaction), he’s got the crowd’s number, and just hones in on what will get the biggest reaction. He’s never been close to Hillary Clinton in intellect, but he’s beat her with intuition.

That made Mr. Trump an extremely skillful campaigner. But, not being a politician, how is he going to navigate the extremely treacherous swamp he’s promised to drain? Does he actually want to? In one respect, it would be much easier not to even try to keep his promises to the white middle class who gave him such strong support. It’s hard to oppose the people who fund politicians and lobby for favors because they’re extremely powerful. If he can’t keep them happy, they won’t be giving him things he wants, like pay to play. He said he opposes that, but can that really be true?

On the other hand, if he doesn’t keep his promises to his supporters, how will he be seen? If he thinks he’ll be seen as a loser, that might be powerful incentive for him to try to oppose the powerful in Washington, to actually make an effort to “drain the swamp”. But will he see it that way? Or will he decide he wants to emulate Vladimir Putin?

Putin could be the embodiment of the character in George Orwell’s 1984 who told the protagonist that the true image of the state was a boot kicking people in the face forever. Mr. Trump has said he admires Mr. Putin, and it now appears they may be rather closer friends than is seemly for heads of different countries that often disagree. One possible interpretation of Mr. Trump’s history is that he really does like kicking people in the face, metaphorically at least. He will now have the power to have it done literally, if he wants to. He certainly has fans who like to do that.

I think I understand, to some extent, why a lot of people voted for Trump ( apparently not as many as voted for Clinton–though conservatives dispute that). They’re understandably tired of business as usual. A lot of them are hurting economically, and a lot find the way their country continues to change frightening, and a lot are influenced by propaganda–from both sides. They don’t feel that Democrats have stood up for them, at least partly because of propaganda, but also because Democrats too often haven’t when they should have.

So now they’ve gotten what they wanted. I hope they’ll be happy with it, but am afraid they’ll be disappointed. Maybe some of them extremely. I’m afraid there’s going to be an immense assault on people’s freedoms and their ability to make a living. There actually has been for more than thirty years, but it looks like it’s going to get worse. I think Congress wants this government to continue to be of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. Will Mr. Trump have the courage and a strategy to oppose that? I hope he will, but I doubt it. If he doesn’t, we might as well stop calling ourselves a democracy, and begin calling our government fascist.


The Secret Book of Kings


This novel revisits the early history of ancient Israel at the beginning of the monarchy. Its central point is the power of the story. Yochi Brandes, an Israeli Biblical scholar, makes it very plausible that many of the stories in the Old Testament showing King David in a favorable light are propaganda, making it seem that claiming him as an ancestor might be similar to claiming Hitler or Stalin. David merely acted on a smaller stage.

Some years ago I read a history of ancient Israel in which the author expressed some wonderment that David was so venerated when his career wasn’t much different from many opportunists.

In this novel the story of his rise is told by Michal, daughter of King Saul, his first wife, who was advantageously placed to see what happened. She tells how she falls in love with David as a teenager, though he is less enthusiastic about her. She travels with him to entertain the troops, then goes home and tries to get him to go with her. He refuses. He has other things to do.

The other things include organizing an army of his own, led by his relatives, and marrying other women. One of my acquaintances thought David had a sexual relationship with Jonathan, and remarked that David behaved better during that period than he did later. The fact that David defected to the Philistines (as told in the Old Testament) and helped organize the invasion of Israel that killed Saul, Jonathan, and all of Jonathan’s brothers, suggests that whatever relationship he had with Jonathan was a totally cynical one on his part.

After the invasion he arranges his own coronation, then takes Michal and the remainder of her relatives to live with him in his palace with his other wives. Michal had previously married a man who had waited a long time for her. David separates them, and arranges for her husband to be killed. Later, their son and the remainder of her young relatives are also killed. David also conquers neighboring countries and commits what would now be called war crimes there.

All this is told to the narrator of the novel, who turns out to be the great-grandson of King Saul, and the grandson of MIchal, now known as the Mad Princess because she spends every night lighting many candles all over the palace and screaming. This behavior is a cover for her: if she can be dismissed as insane, she’s not perceived as a threat. I suspect this part is invention.

The narrator has been brought up by foster parents in the tribal territory of Ephraim, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. His mother lives in seclusion in a retreat for lepers which she never leaves, and where she always covers her face. She doesn’t have leprosy, but is in danger from the royal family. Shelomoam, the narrator, becomes disenchanted with his foster family, largely because he senses something wrong with the story he’s been told about his background. He leaves his home village to go to Jerusalem to join the army.

On his way there he meets Hadad, an Edomite, who trains him for the army. Edom is one of the neighboring countries conquered by David, and Hadad is determined to get it back. He believes Shelomoam is the key, and we find out why when Shelomoam meets Michal. His father was her son, Nebat, who was killed along with most of her other relatives.

Shelomoam is tested by the authorities and sent to Ephraim to be the head tax collector. David’s policies have preferred his tribe, Judah, to the rest of the tribes, who now (during the reign of Solomon) suffer from high taxes and forced labor, as Solomon carries out grandiose building projects and collects foreign women for his harem. Michal has told Shelomoam how Bathsheba manipulated her way into David’s bed, how (with the aid of her grandfather) David managed to get away with the murder of Bathsheba’s husband with a slap on the wrist, and how Bathsheba managed Solomon’s accession to the throne, in spite of David’s older sons.

Shelomoam is in a dangerous position: he must produce taxes and laborers, or be punished, but if he does, he’ll incur the hatred of the people of Ephraim. He manages this crisis through communication. He persuades the wealthy of the area that by taxing them higher than the poor people they will manage to avoid ruining the area. The rich will eventually be ruined too, and forced labor will ensure a shortage of labor and ruin of the laborers’ families. He becomes very popular. He even manages to prevent punishment when demands to raise taxes and send even more laborers come. He sends fewer laborers than demanded, and tells the authorities that he has to reduce taxes to prevent ruin. The other tribes follow his lead, and this provokes a plot to kill him, so he takes his family and flees to Egypt.

His flight to Egypt is true, according to the Old Testament; I’m not certain we know about the narrator’s early life. When he returns to Ephraim a couple of years later he has changed his name to Jereboam, signifying that he will increase the population of Israel, and manages the separation between Israel and Judah. The novel ends on an optimistic note.

But things in the long-term didn’t work out as well for Israel as Judah. A book about the Old Testament tells us that Israel, though it was richer, more willing to innovate, and more integrated into the life of the region (Judah was a poor and isolated country), was also more volatile. David’s line was preserved in the kings who ruled until the sixth century BCE, when Babylon conquered Judah and deported many of its ablest people. Israel had been conquered by Assyria about a century before, and unlike Judah, was never able to put its kingdom together again. In that time there had been multiple dynasties. The Samaritans mentioned in the New Testament were descendants of the northern kingdom, and detested by the Jews, who lived in Judah (called Judea by the time the Romans conquered the Middle East), which was why the parable of the Good Samaritan is found in the Bible. The Jews had been more conservative, and some were fanatical, at least about the presence of the Romans.

Interestingly, a book I read about twenty years ago, said there were still Samaritans surviving in the Middle East, but only a few hundred. The account said they had their own Torah (not including equivalents of the later books of the Old Testament, apparently), which was somewhat different than the Jewish version which has come down to us.

It seems that the northern kingdom, which seems superficially more attractive than the southern one, was less stable, though the southern kingdom also suffered a great deal. Assyria probably deported a lot of Israelites, and the suspicion is that many of them assimilated. Jews would later assimilate too, but not often (this was not always their doing).

The only obvious moral is to beware of propaganda. It seems that even David’s most famous feat wasn’t really his: Goliath seems to have been killed by someone else. This novel doesn’t credit Saul’s supposed attempts to kill David; it says Saul would have succeeded if he’d tried. Nor does it credit Saul’s visit to the Witch of Endor. All these incidents were propaganda created by the victor to justify the treason that gained him the monarchy. Propaganda is no less dangerous today, and no easier to decode. It may be even more ubiquitous than in the past: America took the lead in creating the advertisement industry which influenced Adolph Hitler in particular. There may be other morals here too: perhaps that suffering and faith mean more in the long run than wealth. That’s not a particularly welcome message.

World Series 2016


It must have been at least by August I realized the Cleveland Indians had a pretty good team. Nothing was certain at that point, and they had only one starting pitcher with a very good record (one of the ways I judge), but they were leading their division. In September they went on a winning streak which locked up a place in the playoffs, but at that point they’d also lost two of their starting pitchers, so along with most commentators, I didn’t expect they’d be able to get far in the post-season.

I missed their first series, with Boston, which they swept. I began watching their second series, with Toronto, in which they lost only one game. Then came the World Series, and I was really fixated on what was happening.

Especially Corey Kluber, Cleveland’s best starting pitcher. He wasn’t being perfect in the post-season, but very nearly so. His stuff and control were dazzling the Cubs, freezing them at the plate and causing them to miss when they did swing. Kluber showed no emotion on the mound, he only pitched, and shut the Cubs down.

The problem was that the other two Cleveland starters didn’t have quite his stature. Trevor Bauer started the second game of the Series, ran into trouble, and had to be relieved pretty early. The Indians only lost 2-1, though. In the third game Josh Timlin started and pitched well for five innings, getting the win. What counter-balanced the weakness of the starting pitching was the bullpen. Andrew Miller was coming in and shutting everyone down in the middle innings the way Mariano Rivera did in the 1996 World Series to get the game to the closer, John Wetteland for the Yankees, now Cody Allen for the Indians.

Over the first four games everything went almost perfectly for the Indians. They weren’t scoring a lot of runs, but enough (with the exception of game 2). Timlin pitched well in the third game, Kluber only gave up one run the fourth, and the Indians were in a great position. With a little luck they could wrap up the Series in Chicago.

They didn’t get that luck. Bauer started the fifth game, and pitched well until the fourth, when he gave up three runs, giving up more well-hit balls than I’d seen together in the rest of the Series. But that was it. They weren’t able to put hits together again, and the Indians came up only one run short. Chicago had to pitch Aroldis Chapman  for more than two innings to save the game (only his first appearance in the Series, which shows how dominating Cleveland had been until then). I thought they’d be okay when they got to Cleveland again.

The Cubs were loaded with talent this year, having been built to win a World Series for the past several years by Theo Epstein, the general manager who had contributed to the Boston Red Sox finally winning a World Series after 86 years. They had more good hitters and a deeper pitching staff. They must have been shocked that the Indians played (and especially pitched) so much better than they did. But in the fifth game they began to adjust to the challenge.

Their pitching hadn’t been bad, just not quite as good as that of the Indians. Now they started to hit the ball well too. Bauer started well until the third, when he gave up three runs. In the next inning Cleveland pitching gave up a grand slam, and the game was effectively over.

Kluber started the seventh game, but wasn’t as untouchable as he’d been his previous two starts. It was his second start on short rest, his thirds start within nine days. He was probably tired, and the Cubs were getting familiar with him. He gave up a lead-off home run, and four runs in less than five innings. Relievers gave up two more runs, and the Indians trailed by three.

Jon Lester, the starting pitcher who had won 19 games in the regular season to lead the Cubs staff, entered the game in the fifth, and gave up two runs with the help of errors and a wild pitch. The Indians were behind, but still in the game.

Aroldis Chapman, the relief pitcher acquired from the Yankees, routinely throws at better than 100  miles an hour, then gave up three runs after relieving Lester, the two tying runs on a home run. He had pitched more than he was used to, as Cubs manager Joe Madden tried to nail the win down.

Andrew Miller, who had been untouchable in the first few games of the Series, pitched again in the middle of the game for Cleveland, and was touchable this time, like Kluber. Cody Allen, the Indians closer came in early this time, and struggled too. It somehow wasn’t surprising when the Cubs scored two runs in the top of the ninth. The Indians got one back in the last of the inning, but it wasn’t enough.

Only Indians fans could be disappointed with this Series, with their team not being quite good enough. Aside from that, it was as competitive a Series as anyone could want. Indians fans had to be thrilled with how great their team could be in stifling the Cubs in the first five games, and disappointed only that they couldn’t sustain that greatness in the last two games.

Cubs fans must have been terrified they were going to lose again, and thrilled that they didn’t, and that the Indians couldn’t quite come back all the way.

One of the fascinating things about the Series was that these were the two teams (excluding expansion teams who have never won a World Series) who had gone longest without a Series win. Long streaks of that sort have been broken early in this century: the Red Sox after a streak of 86 years, the White Sox after a streak of 88, and finally the Cubs after 108. What took them so long? One sportswriter suggested that the Red Sox hadn’t won because of lack of pitching. Very likely that’s a good explanation for the rest too: offense is important, but pitching and defense are the foundations that win championships. Both teams this year had both (though both made defensive mistakes in the Series), and for Cleveland in particular offense was secondary.

Indians fans were disappointed, of course, but they had one consolation: the Cleveland Cavaliers had broken the city’s losing streak for professional sports championships earlier this year, so the Indians getting this close was gravy. With a little luck, they may get even closer next year.

Pioneer Girl


Many people are familiar with the title, Little House on the Prairie, because it was a successful TV show about forty years ago. But before that it was the title of a book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, part of a series of novels about her childhood. It was a series my mother discovered not long after they were published in the 1930s and early 1940s, and she read them to us when we were children.

The action in the novels takes place in the 1870s, beginning with some of Wilder’s early memories. She was born in 1867 to a couple, Charles Ingalls and Caroline Quiner Ingalls, whose parents had grown up in New York state and New England respectively, who had moved to Wisconsin, where Charles and Caroline met and married.

The wave of white settlers had spilled across the country west of the Mississippi about 25-30 years earlier, at first to the amusement, then to the alarm of the Indians. This led to wars which eventually ended in about  the 1890s. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t see any of that violence, but did see Indians.

Pioneer Girl begins with the family in what is now Kansas, living illegally on an Indian reservation, where the Indians weren’t doing too well. It was shortly after the Civil War, and payments to the Indians had been suspended during it, so they were in danger of starvation. Wilder’s mother and father gave the Indians anything they asked for out of fear for what they might do. They didn’t stay in Kansas long, traveling back to Wisconsin to live near family before heading west again.

That’s one of the places Pioneer Girl differs from the eventual series of novels: it doesn’t tell about the family’s time in Kansas, perhaps because Wilder didn’t want to admit that her father was knowingly doing something illegal, the book’s editor suggests. In later novels Wilder changes the timeline and some of the characters from how they’re portrayed in the earlier book. She also doesn’t tell some of the anecdotes of Pioneer Girl because the novels are aimed at children. Alcoholic and sexual escapades are omitted.

From Wisconsin they head west into southwestern Minnesota, where they run into a plague of grasshoppers that lasts several years. From there they head west into what is now North Dakota, where Laura’s father gets work with a railroad and also stakes a claim on land nearby what became the town of DeSmet, where he could farm. This is where Wilder spent her adolescent years before getting married.

The editor of Pioneer Girl comments that Wilder looked up to her father more than her mother, and her father was a hard-working and resourceful man. I doubt that her mother worked any less hard, though, and must also have been resourceful to be a pioneer wife.

One incident I remember being impressed with from the books is Laura’s father building them a house using pegs which he whittled to hold the structure together, since he didn’t have any nails. He not only farmed, but worked for the railroad, was on the board overseeing a church, served as a judge, and was a carpenter. He also liked to play his violin, and had a fairly extensive repertoire.

Laura knew they had to work as a team, and not only helped her mother, but contributed to the family through outside jobs sewing and teaching in nearby schools, beginning when she was fourteen or fifteen. She contributed money to buy an organ her sister Mary, who had attended a school for the blind, could play after she returned home. It’s uncertain what caused Mary’s blindness, though doctors now believe it may have been meningitis, encephalitis, or some combination. She probably couldn’t have gotten much better care in a big city in that day before antibiotics, and x-rays, but it points up how many problems there were even when civilization wasn’t extremely far away.

In the earlier books the family seems isolated, though that wasn’t entirely true. Wilder depicted them that way to emphasize how much they had to depend on themselves, but there were also other people to whom they could go for help. This was particularly acute during the winter of 1880-1881, the Hard or Long Winter.

Snow fell early and often that fall, so much of it that the town was eventually cut off, even though the railroad ran through it. The snow was too deep, and the weather too cold for the railroad to operate. Much livestock froze to death, and people were reduced to eating the seeds saved to grow crops the next season. Almanzo Wilder undertook to find a farmer a dozen or so miles away who still had some grain, a very risky business since he could have gotten caught in a blizzard and lost. But he managed to get back to the town with the grain.

Fuel was another problem. The weather was bitterly cold with high winds, and there was little wood on the prairie. Laura’s father began twisting hay together to make a sort of stick which still burned fast, but helps keep people warm.

With blizzards coming every two to three days people had to be careful about going outside. The storms were so powerful people often couldn’t see, and could get lost between house and barn, as well as in town. Teachers watched for blizzards and sent the children home as soon as they see them coming.

Her later novels depict their interactions with people in the town. They had an extensive social life, with Fourth of July celebrations, social occasions organized by the church, and going riding with Almanzo Wilder, whom she eventually married, first in a sleigh, then a buggy. He has strong fast horses whom he couldn’t trust to stay still in a crowd, so the two of them took long rides of 40-60 miles together in the summer. Such long rides were unsafe in the winter, when it was possible to freeze to death.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s period may have seen the most dramatic changes ever in American life. She lived to be about 90, dying in 1957. Her first glimpse of high technology was a train, as a little girl. But she saw the advent of cars, movies, and airplanes, as well as the ascendance of America in the world. She may even have been aware of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. When writing the series that made her famous, she insisted to her daughter (herself an author and editor) that her material had to be treated in its historical context. It was a very specific time, and very unlike much of the twentieth century.

She clearly had good memories of her childhood and adolescence, but didn’t publish any more novels after her marriage to Almanzo. She wrote a further novel, The First Four Years, but didn’t publish it, perhaps because of many hardships in that period which would have detracted from the optimism of the rest of the series. She and Almanzo had a son who died as a young child, they owed money they were unable to repay until selling their farm and moving to Missouri, and Almanzo had bad complications from diphtheria, leaving him temporarily paralyzed, though his paralysis stopped after they moved to Florida. The couple descended into debt and never became financially stable until Wilder’s novels became popular.

But, as the editor of Pioneer Girl says, her novels became classics of children’s literature. She ranks Wilder with Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, L. Frank Baum, and E.B. White as children’s authors. Our family certainly enjoyed reading them, and so did enough others to generate a TV show which, as you might imagine, wasn’t very true to the books.

It’s hard for us to imagine, I think, just what life was like as pioneers on the edge of the western advance of white settlers. The editor of Pioneer Girl makes clear that civilization wasn’t too far away: railroads were built (and Wilder’s father worked for one), and brought important supplies to the settlers, including seeds to make a crop after the Hard Winter. Had they been totally isolated, they might have been in danger of starvation. They were not, but didn’t have the technology (in particular) we take for granted now. We see Wilder and her world at the very beginning of the transition from the 19th century way of life to that of the 20th century. We never really learn what Wilder thought of all those changes, but the picture painted by the editor suggests that she took the changes for granted.

Her life overlapped mine. There have been large changes since I was born, but nothing as immense as happened in Wilder’s lifetime. She reminds us where our country came from.





I watched Corey Kluber pitch for the Cleveland Indians in the World Series and thought, what an odd game baseball is, and what odd skills are necessary to it. Hitting a round ball with a round bat is difficult enough (and hardly a skill useful in other contexts); pitching, arguably, is even more difficult.

Kluber showed the equanimity that is one of a pitcher’s greatest aids. He didn’t throw all strikes by any means, but was usually able to make a great pitch when he needed to, most often a cutter on the left side of the plate that broke back over, sometimes a curve, also to the left side. Between pitches he looked absolutely unemotional. He didn’t give up a run.

The first thing a pitcher needs is to enjoy throwing. I did, when in my teens, often throwing gravel because I could do that alone. Eventually I graduated to baseballs and actual pitching in high school. I couldn’t take it very far after that, but remain fascinated with pitchers records and the process of pitching decades later. My pitching never achieved any level of sophistication: I had three pitches I tried (often unsuccessfully) to throw over the plate. I wish I still could pursue it, and try to actually apply the strategies I’ve gotten some idea of since high school.

Pitching is possibly even more difficult than hitting because the ball is lively enough that a mistake could lose a game. Until about 1921 that wasn’t the case. With the sudden stardom of Babe Ruth and the scandal about the 1919 World Series the spitball was outlawed and the ball made livelier. Suddenly there were many more home runs. Suddenly pitchers became more anxious and won fewer games. After 1920 there were only three more thirty game winners.  Bill Veeck, in his autobiography, told about Grover Alexander, one of the greats, who always put a man or two on base before really starting to pitch. Nobody does that on purpose anymore.

An announcer told us Kluber had begun with a four-seam fastball which a pitcher throws at the top of the strike zone–something that works well for a pitcher able to throw the ball past a hitter. It’s always popular to apply brute force, but it doesn’t always work very well. For pitchers who aren’t overpowering the two-seam fastball works better: depending on what it does, it’s called a cutter or sinker. Kluber was using the pitch as a cutter. It broke as much over as down, at the last moment, and befuddled both left- and right-handed batters. When a someone has that much movement on pitches and can be that precise, he’s cruising. That’s what pitchers desire, but often can’t achieve. Sometimes it’s nothing but struggle. Kluber is a past Cy Young award winner, and has been pitching like it in the post-season this year.

Pitchers have to make sure their pitches move and that they’re locating them where they want to. When their pitches don’t move they’re unlikely to fool hitters, and when they can’t locate they walk people and give up hits. Neither is attractive.

Pitchers began learning how to make pitches move quite early, even before the founding of the National League in 1876. Candy Cummings has been credited with first throwing the curve, and that may well have been before the National League. The spitball was well established by the beginning of the twentieth century, though it was outlawed later (which didn’t stop some pitchers from using it), and other pitches were invented as time went on.

An important pitch for Christy Matthewson was the fadeaway, later to be called the screwball. That pitch breaks like a curve, but the opposite direction from usual (which makes me wonder if his pitch, and some thrown by others, may not have been thrown in the same way as Kluber’s cutter). A curve thrown by a right-hander breaks to the left, and the opposite by a left-hander. Thus, a screwball breaks to the right from a right-hander, and left from a left-hander. Carl Hubbell, Warren Spahn, and Fernando Valenzuela were outstanding pitchers who used this pitch a lot.

The slider is a variant of the curve, but tends to look like a fastball and to break more suddenly, and usually smaller. Very useful if one can put it in the right places.

The knuckleball, which is thrown with the fingertips instead of the knuckles, goes entirely against what pitchers are most tempted to do: throw the ball as hard as they can. The knuckleball works because the thrower removes spin instead of imparting it. It’s even more important to make sure one is throwing the knuckler correctly because it works better when thrown slowly, which makes it very easy to hit when it doesn’t knuckle.

With all those potential tools, pitchers still have a difficult job. A game can change with one swing of the bat, so pitching requires a lot of concentration. A pitcher like Kluber probably enters something resembling a meditative state, but can’t stay there forever. That’s why bullpens and rests between starts are necessary.

And even the greatest pitchers get bombed sometimes. It happened to Sandy Koufax when he was winning twenty-six and twenty-seven games in his last two seasons. His team several times took him off the hook by coming back to tie or win. Seasons like the one Bob Gibson had in 1967, when he won twenty-two games (thirteen as shutouts),  are rare because home runs are easily hit, it’s easy for a pitcher to lose the movement on the pitches he throws, or the control to throw them where he wants. Such seasons can still happen, but few pitchers can achieve them often.

But winning championships requires good pitching in combination with hitting and fielding, but maybe pitching above all. As I write this, the World Series is tied at three, and the Cubs have the momentum, after being down three to one. One thing can keep them from winning, and that’s great pitching. We’ll see if Corey Kluber can do it again.