Miracle worker.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Sept. 4 2005 4:05 PM

Miracle Worker

Bush longs for James Lee Witt, the Clinton man he should have kept.

80_thehasbeen
(Continued from Page 3)

More important, Bush set another record this week as the first president to preside over five straight years in which household incomes failed to rise. People working the longest fared the worst: Earnings for full-time workers fell by 2.3 percent for men and 1.0 percent for women.

The poverty rate rose for the fourth consecutive year, after declining every year from 1993 to 2000. The percentage of people without private health insurance also went up for the fourth year in a row.

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In response, the president could have revived his dormant compassionate conservatism agenda or abandoned his four-year-long effort to avoid signing a welfare reform bill. Instead, the Bush administration sent out a Commerce Department economist to declare that the poverty rate is "the last, lonely trailing indicator of the business cycle." Except for household incomes. And full-time earnings. And private health coverage. When it comes to economic progress, the people are always the last to know.

Mendoza Watch: With gas prices soaring, worker earnings dropping, and the president's popularity falling through the floor, we need to develop a more comprehensive index of failure than the Mendoza Line. The Mendoza Line is named for former journeyman shortstop Mario Mendoza, who had a lifetime batting average of .215 and a famed breakout season in which he hit .198.

Mendoza's career is a heartwarming reminder of the days when players could hit poorly even when they weren't recuperating from steroids. In common baseball parlance, a player is below the Mendoza Line if his batting average is under .200 or he signed a long-term contract for only $16.8 million.

The Mendoza Line does an excellent job of isolating the worst hitters. This season, on the 30 major league teams, just one regular player is hitting below .200. Last year, no regulars did.

But the Mendoza Line comes up short as a perfect index of failure because it doesn't capture the many ways in which a player can cost his team games. As a good-fielding shortstop, Mario Mendoza was sometimes an asset to his team. That's how he managed to stay in the big leagues long enough to set the standard for feeble hitters everywhere.

Now that Bush has crossed the Mendoza Line as one of the most unpopular presidents of all time, he needs new goals to shoot for. The Has-Been suggests that with this week's poverty and income data on top of last month's steady deluge of bad news from abroad, Bush may be the first president to cross a new threshold: the Incaviglia Line.

Readers may come up with better analogies, but H-B named the Incaviglia Line for former Texas Ranger and brief Bush employee Pete Incaviglia, who in 1986 became, by my hasty calculations, the last player to lead the major leagues in both strikeouts and errors in the same season. 

Incaviglia did it in his rookie season, shattering the American League record for strikeouts and leading major-league outfielders in errors even though his manager kept him off the diamond for nearly a third of the team's games, perhaps because he couldn't catch the ball.

The Incaviglia parallel isn't perfect, either. Like Mendoza, he wasn't the worst player of all time. Like Bush, Incaviglia's partisans could point to a few lonely, lagging indicators, such as his 30 homers that year, a level he would never reach again.

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