Myers to the Bullpen and Luhnow’s Betrayal

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It must’ve been a kick to the gut of the hard core stat people who felt that they finally had one of their own running a club in the way they would run a team if given the opportunity when the GM of the Astros, Jeff Luhnow, okayed the move of Brett Myers from starter to closer.

The reactions ranged from anger to bewildered to non-answer answers in trying to “protect” Luhnow because they don’t want to put forth the impression of infighting in the mostly monolithic “this is how to do it” world of hardline stat-based theory.

Luhnow doesn’t need your protection and obviously, he’s not going to follow a specific set in stone blueprint in running his club.

The underlying sense I got from the responses I saw on Twitter were indicative of righteous indignation and the feeling of betrayal as if a spouse had cheated on them.

(Insert your stat guy/spouse joke here.)

“But, but, but…you’re one of us!!!”

In truth, the shifting of Myers to the bullpen can be argued both ways.

He was a good closer with the Phillies in 2007 and enjoyed the role, the adrenaline rush and the game-on-the-line aspect of doing to the job.

He’s a durable starter who can give a club 200 innings and, at times, pitch well.

The Astros need a closer because they don’t trust Brandon Lyon and the other candidates—David Carpenter and Juan Abreu—are inexperienced.

What you have to do in trying to understand the Astros’ thinking is examine what the long-term strategy is.

They’re not going to be a good team either way and when they are, Myers is not going to be on the roster in any capacity, so how would having Myers for 2012 best help expedite their rebuilding project?

Myers’s contract pays him a guaranteed $14 million with $11 million for 2012, a $10 million club option for 2013 and a $3 million buyout.

Teams have frequently overpaid for good relievers as opposed to mediocre starters in trades in recent years. The Nationals got Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps; the Rangers gave up young talent for Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez and Mike Adams; the Rangers got Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco and got David Murphy for Eric Gagne.

What would be the most lucrative return on Myers at mid-season? It depends on whether he’s pitching as he did last season as a starter or as he did in 2010; either way, he probably wouldn’t be a contributor in the post-season for a team that gets him in that role. But as a reliever he would be more attractive to teams with their eyes on post-season help.

It’s cold reasoning not in the Astros using Myers for themselves on the field, but using him to get a few pieces to make themselves better in the future.

Moving Myers to the bullpen could end up being seen as a smart move.

At least there’s an argument for it.

But stat people are reacting as if Luhnow has betrayed them and it displays the lack of in-the-trenches understanding of how to run a team that led them to relying on stats rather than intuitive, subjective interpretations of circumstances to begin with.

They’re a crutch.

Crunching numbers, reading and regurgitating lines off a stat sheet and steering an organization by rote is not how a successful team can and should be run.

Jeff Luhnow knows that.

Do you?

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Tejada Should’ve Been In Camp Early

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One would think that the intensity and disciplined approach by Mets’ manager Terry Collins would be en vogue after Tom Coughlin was validated by the specious reason that his team won the Super Bowl for the Giants.

It’s more glaring that Coughlin’s team won under his system while their stadium/city mates, the Jets, came apart because of the overwhelming expectations created by their coach Rex Ryan with his foolish bluster and inmates running the asylum lockerroom dynamic.

In reality, Coughlin’s system has always been smarter than making outrageous statements designed for headlines. It weeds out the frontrunners that don’t want to play while Ryan’s way attracts wilder personalities and leads to the infighting that permeated their team as the season came apart.

Collins wanted Jose Reyes’s heir apparent shortstop Ruben Tejada in camp early to get a head start on his new, pressure-packed job.

Was Tejada “late”?

No. Not according to the collective bargaining agreement.

But should he have shown up early?

It would’ve behooved him to be in camp early.

In reality, a few days probably aren’t going to make much of a difference in the long-term—either Tejada’s going to handle the job or he won’t.

I happen to think he will.

But Collins’s statements implying that he was disappointed in Tejada for not taking the initiative and making sure he was able to arrive early at camp are sure to resonate with the young player. They don’t suggest that punishment is warranted or that Collins is flouting the rules. Tejada is under intense scrutiny because of the man he’s replacing. Complacency is a factor when he’s not fighting for a job and the early call into the manager’s office is a signal that even though he’s walking into camp as the starting shortstop, it’s not set in stone that the job is his if he doesn’t work and perform.

Collins can’t discipline Tejada for showing up when he was contractually obligated to do so, but he certainly can send him to the minors if he doesn’t play well in the spring.

That, more than any arcane rule of “be here five minutes early or you’re late”, is the message that the manager wanted to send.

It’s better to be strict with him than let him do what he wants and possibly fail because of it.

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The Real Reason Moneyball Was Shut Out at the Oscars

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You’re wondering how it’s possible that such a wonderful, true-to-life, triumph over adversity story like Moneyball was shut out at an aboveboard and evenhanded event like the Oscars?

See the clip below.

Putting aside the glaring inaccuracies and outright fabrications of the movie and the twisted narrative of the book, I can say that it was watchable though not particularly good and certainly not one of the best films of the year.

I suspect it was nominated as a quid pro quo for Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller and to drum up viewership from the baseball-watching crowd who would normally not watch the Oscars.

Presumably it worked.

You’re being scammed. Again.

On another note, those that are bludgeoning Billy Beane and the Athletics with the suggestion (amid unfunny quips) that Moneyball didn’t win anything at the insipid Academy Awards as another “reason” that the A’s are “losers” are just as foolish as those who cling to the book and movie as if it’s real.

There’s no connection between any of it apart from what’s convenient for those with an agenda for Moneyball to be validated; for Beane to be a “genius”; or for those who rip Moneyball because they’re too lazy or don’t have the aptitude to comprehend it and refute it on its own merits.

They’re all the same to me.

That’s been my point all along.

It was never worthy of all this attention to begin with.

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No Beer Make Red Sox Something Something

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The Red Sox have banned alcoholic beverages—including their precious beer—in the clubhouse and for the final flight on road trips for the coming season.

Read the story here—Sporting News link.

This is in response to the reports from last season of starting pitchers who weren’t working that day hanging around the clubhouse and drinking during games rather than being on the bench supporting their teammates.

There are some who say that camaraderie is enhanced by players hanging out together and having a beer, but one of the main reasons the Red Sox were said to have come apart was the disinterest on the part of those who were supposedly in the clubhouse drinking.

They’re adults, but they’re also there to work. There’s no reason for them to be drinking beer at their workplace, athletes or not.

Former manager Terry Francona was given something of a pass for the way the team collapsed. Supposedly it was a byproduct of veteran behaviors about which he could do nothing.

It’s a flimsy excuse.

Francona got the credit for the wins, he gets the blame for the losses and whether the wins stem from front office intelligence and star power and the losses from disciplinary issues and lack of fundamentals is irrelevant. He was in charge, everything stops with him.

Now Bobby Valentine is in charge and, with support and likely prodding from the front office, has banned beer.

Does it matter?

If the Red Sox are playing well and as a cohesive unit, the banning of beer will be seen as a significant flashpoint in Valentine’s taking of the reins from Francona and consciously deciding that he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes as his predecessor. If they’re not playing well, the tightness of the rules and treatment of the players like naughty children will be cited as the problem.

In reality, the Red Sox success or failure will be determined on the field. The beer drinking in the clubhouse didn’t start during their slide; they were probably doing it all along and got away with it because they were winning and that Francona was too laid back. It became an excuse and if Francona saw what was going on and failed to stop it, it’s a blot on him as well as the Red Sox players who partook in it.

The bully in the room, Josh Beckett, is the one that has to be watched. Already he’s deflecting responsibility for what happened and, as is his nature, is going to test Valentine every chance he gets to try and gain control of the relationship. How that manifests itself and how Valentine responds will be the twin indicators of the Valentine tenure. Maybe Beckett will buy in; maybe he’ll build a still in the trainer’s room like Hawkeye in M*A*S*H.

Contrary to popular belief, the beer drinking wasn’t the cause of the Red Sox stumble and its banishment won’t be the impetus of a comeback.

They have to pitch and play better. Had they done that, Valentine wouldn’t be their manager; Francona wouldn’t be in an ESPN booth; Theo Epstein wouldn’t be running the Cubs; and this whole story wouldn’t be a running joke that the Red Sox are bad boys who had their beer confiscated.

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Braun Needs To Shut Up

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Someone needs to tell Ryan Braun to shut his mouth, walk away and be happy that he got off.

Regardless of guilt or innocence, he needs to keep quiet.

The transcript of his statement and question and answer session with reporters show that he’s not going to do that and the only end result will be Braun making a bad situation worse.

Here’s the transcript of the statement and here’s the Q&A.

If Braun is going to imply that the tester was involved in somehow spiking his urine sample then he’s treading across a dangerous line that’s not only going to promote backlash from MLB itself, but also the testing service whose business hinges on their appearance of propriety in how they do their jobs.

You can read about the Braun allegations and the tester here on NYTimes.com.

To think that the administrator of the test would spike the sample for whatever reason is ignoring several facts—his tenure working for the company; that he would be subject to losing his job and could presumably go to jail while opening his employers up to a lawsuit and being run out of business.

Each suggestion is absurd individually. The statement about the chaperone for the test “just so happen(ing)” to be the administrator’s son as if there was some pre-hatched plot against Ryan Braun is absolutely ridiculous.

When you combine the scope of the post-overturn defense with the conspiracy theories and read them rather than watch Braun’s impassioned insistence upon his innocence, Braun sounds like a paranoid fool.

Braun’s answer regarding the tester during the Q&A following his press conference is equally as idiotic:

Do you believe the test collector tampered with your sample?

“Again, I honestly don’t know what happened to it for that 44-hour period. There are a lot of different things that could have possibly happened. There were a lot of things that we heard about the collection process, the collector and some other people involved in the process that have certainly been concerning to us. But beyond that, as I’ve dealt with this situation, I know what it’s like to be wrongly accused of something and for me to wrongly accuse somebody else of something wouldn’t help anybody.”

Considering Braun’s and his attorney’s decision to use the storing of the sample in the administrator’s home as a basis for their appeal, the above non-accusation accusation is along the lines of a “when did you stop beating your wife?” style question.

This is not the road Braun wants to take.

The biggest mistake isn’t the crime itself. The biggest mistake is when the accused get acquitted and decide that getting away with it isn’t enough and they have to clear their names.

They don’t know when to quit while they’re ahead.

This “clearing my good name” stuff is done for the sake of marketing and maintaining the concept of cleanliness, true or not.

I have no idea what Braun did or didn’t do, but now he’s going so far out with proclamations of innocence that he’s only going to do more damage to himself and increase the scrutiny surrounding him.

The hardest thing to do for an athlete is to accept that he can’t competitively win a battle like this and that he needs to leave it alone.

Braun got off on the charge of the failed drug test and it was the right decision on the part of the arbitrator, but now he’s walking right back into trouble by conscious stupidity rather than poor timing and bad luck.

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Ryan “The Hebrew Hammer” Braun Wins by Split-Decision

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You’ll hear both sides debate the Ryan Braun drug test issue like the conservatives who think guilty is guilty regardless of how the evidence is gathered and liberals ranting and raving that the rights of the innocent are protected when the rights of the guilty are upheld.

Did Braun take a substance to help his performance or did he get caught using something else that wasn’t a PED, but was on the list?

It all goes back to the fine print of the rules and the clumsy, self-serving, stupid way this whole case was handled.

You can read it in detail here on NYTimes.com; briefly, here’s what it comes down to:

  • Braun took a urine test.
  • There was no nearby FedEx center open for the test administrator to drop the sample off, so he took it home and stored it in his fridge.
  • He shipped it on the next Monday.
  • There was no evidence of tampering on the sample, nor to the bag in which it had been placed.
  • Braun had elevated levels of testosterone and failed the test.
  • But then, the story was leaked.

The final bulletpoint is the key to the whole thing.

Braun had rights. Those rights were undermined. That fact has made this an important decision to stop the prevalent whispers that come out in what’s supposed to be a confidential process.

Baseball can proclaim that the revelation of the 2003 list of PED failures helped bring about a “cleaning up” of the game; that in the end, something good came out of the failure to adhere to the rights of the players who, in spite of their supposed guilt, shouldn’t have had their failed tests revealed in the first place.

The union should’ve destroyed the list and didn’t, so it’s their own fault.

But everyone—players, agents, union reps, front office people, owners and MLB executives—were either directly involved in the PED use or just let it go for their own ends.

Once the groundswell of protests at records being demolished and dwarfed, they reacted.

It’s pure marketing and pandering to customer desires: they wanted more scoring, they got more scoring; as people got angry at the overt manner of players bulking up and shattering records, baseball outlawed steroids and HGH and started testing for them.

It’s similar to the angry reactions to repeated stories on ESPN and other “sports news” outlets for continually talking about Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin regardless of whether the players warrant that level of coverage—it’s what the paying customers want.

Confronted with a public outcry and governmental intervention at activities that it both tacitly encouraged and turned a blind eye to, baseball enacted testing and levied harsh penalties for using a list of drugs that might or might not have been prototypical “performance enhancers”.

Is there a place for, “Well, he was guilty anyway so what’s the difference?”

In reality, yes, there is a place for that.

But in the legal system where Braun is part of a union and the union and regulating committee have entered into a binding agreement as to how it should be handled and Braun is vehemently voicing his innocence and won’t back down, there was no choice other than to exonerate him.

The rules of the treatment and testing program can be read here on a PDF file.

When would it end if innuendo, speculation and public response were the determinative factors in whether an individual saw his reputation and ability to make a living compromised by something that hadn’t been handled properly? If one link in the chain is corrupted, the whole thing has to be tossed out.

Braun and every player in the MLB Players Association have rights—rights that were negotiated and are legally binding.

He’s the reigning National League MVP and the validity and perception of his entire career up to now hinged on this decision. If there was any doubt as to its accuracy, he had to be found not guilty.

When the union agreed to the testing program in order to keep labor peace and “clean up” the game, there was no provision that a failed test would be out in the media five months in advance of his hearing so the player had to hide in his home and keep silent on an allegation that he denied.

Being innocent until proven guilty is relevant and if baseball is angry at someone, they should be angry at whomever decided it was a good idea to let the media know that Braun failed the test in the first place because since the other procedures—agreed to by the union—had been followed, the tipping point was that the public knew about Braun’s failed test before his appeal had been heard.

If it hadn’t been leaked, Braun would undoubtedly have lost his case.

It isn’t so much that Braun is “innocent”, it’s that people with knowledge need to keep their mouths shut. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s the person who leaked the story to begin with.

Don’t think that these dropped nuggets aren’t intentional and strategic in an attempt to preclude a player from winning a case such as this and it was the overthinking and attempts to be clever on the part of baseball that has again sabotaged their attempts to be aboveboard.

It was a circular circumstance that got Braun off.

It’s appropriate because there are few entities that are as adept at the circular firing squad as Major League Baseball.

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Life Will Go On Without Mariano Rivera

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The reaction to the inevitable end of Mariano Rivera’s career inspired maudlin whimpering and prognostications of doom as to the Yankees’ fate without the all-time saves leader.

Rivera’s cryptic statements and oft-mentioned reluctance to leave his family every February have led to the belief that this is definitely his final season.

Rivera’s comments saying he knows what his decision will be, that he’s not sharing it with the media yet and that he’d like to go out on top of his game all point to retirement, but if he’s decided to retire at the end of the season, then why not just say it?

Rivera may be leaning a certain way, but because he’s chosen not to state it outright, he’s leaving himself plausible wiggle room to do what he wants.

There’s no reason to go into a depression about it now and contemplate an immediate future without Rivera.

It’s in the post-season where Rivera has become something more than Joe Nathan who, like it or not, for a few years put up regular season stats very comparable to Rivera’s. Had Nathan been able to get the outs in the post-season—outs that Rivera has consistently recorded—won a championship or two with the Twins and been the man on the mound to celebrate when they did it, he might be mentioned as a “Hall of Fame closer” in his own right.

Rivera’s longevity and maintenance of greatness, along with the way he’s gotten batters out all combine to highlight his uniqueness. There’s been no deviation in the strategy from 1996 to now. It’s the cutter, the ice in his veins, and that’s it.

Whereas pitchers like Trevor Hoffman had to adjust from his younger days as a flamethrower to a changeup artists, it’s “here it is, hit it if you can” with Rivera, as it’s always been.

The Yankees won’t prototypically “replace” him because they can’t. They’ll stick someone in the role and hope.

But that’s not something to worry about now; he hasn’t said anything specific despite the allusions. That’s because he’s not 100% sure yet in spite the suggestion and panicky, borderline sickening reactions to the contrary.

Eventually it’s going to happen. It could be in 2013, 2014 or 2015. We don’t know. But it will happen. In his absence, the Yankees will find someone to accumulate the saves during the regular season even if it’s (uch) Rafael Soriano.

Life will go on.

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Josh Beckett’s Ego Trip and Pending Collision

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Josh Beckett is incapable of saying he’s wrong.

He’ll dance around it. He’ll hem and haw and admit to making “mistakes”. But say the words, “I was wrong”? Beckett? Never.

You can read Beckett’s maintaining the Beckett line here on BostonHerald.com.

In truth, there’s a logical basis for Beckett and the Red Sox players to suggest that the beer, chicken and video game stuff that went on in the clubhouse during games weren’t a problem when the team was winning, so why should they have been a problem when the team was losing?

But that’s not going to be good enough for a media and fanbase that wants contrition. Even if Beckett doesn’t think he was wrong—and I guarantee you, he doesn’t—it wouldn’t hurt to apologize for aesthetic purposes and put the whole thing behind him; to say he’s going to be the good soldier rather than try to find a way to maintain his ego.

It’s a sign of overwhelming arrogance and personal weakness to never apologize; never admit wrongdoing; always find a caveat to defend oneself.

There’s no one left in the clubhouse to play the galvanizing, publicly diplomatic, privately intimidating leader. As he gained weight and lost playing time, Jason Varitek’s influence waned; it’s a good move for the Red Sox to let both him and Tim Wakefield go.

Dustin Pedroia was truly offended at the way Francona was treated; he could probably play the role of the clubhouse leader, but would he interfere if (when) Beckett and Valentine begin butting heads? Pedroia might pragmatically steer clear and let the situation resolve itself. That’s what I’d do.

Beckett is the self-important, arrogant and obnoxious alpha-male. Bobby Valentine is a loose cannon with some of those same traits. Valentine’s not going to let one wayward player ruin what’s probably his last chance at managing in the big leagues.

They’re going to clash.

This beginning is not a good sign for the 2012 Red Sox because if Beckett is intent on continuing to behave as he always has and tries to exert his will on Valentine, Valentine is not going to be conciliatory or back down as Terry Francona did.

And as long as Beckett is on his ego trip, it’s going to get messy. Fast.

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Jeremy Lin, Media Stereotyping and Unfunny Stupidity

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This Jeremy Lin phenomenon has been taking a dark turn with the ridiculous racial undertones that are permeating the reporting. It’s gotten so that people are double and triple checking their statements to make sure that they didn’t unintentionally or inadvertently use the wrong words and be viewed as racist or stereotyping.

The ESPN headline below from Sunday morning was foolish and probably a joke that was not intended to be published. It got someone fired from their job.

Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports said the following on Twitter:

Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.

It’s one thing to say something offensive to get yourself into trouble if it’s at least funny, but the stuff that’s coming out isn’t even remotely funny. They’re pathetic.

And here’s the thing about Lin: Lin is Asian, but he’s also an American.

He’s from Northern California, talks like he’s from Northern California, and went to Harvard. If he was a stereotypical immigrant and behaved like an over-the-top exchange student like Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, then there might be something to chuckle about in the cheap humor. That doesn’t mean people wouldn’t get into trouble, but at least it might be worthy of a laugh.

But the repeated references to Lin’s ethnicity are straddling and crossing the line of taste and offensiveness for no reason. It’s said that he’s “Asian-American”, but he’s as American as any other American playing in the NBA. He just happens to have Taiwanese parents.

It’s an unnecessary distraction from a great story and there’s plenty of stupid to go around.

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A.J. Burnett’s Yankees Epitaph

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There are some pitchers who need to be left alone.

Because pitching coaches are pitching coaches, they feel the need to jump in whenever they see something amiss or the results are lacking and adhere to mandate of “do something” even if there’s really nothing to be done other than letting the pitcher try to straighten himself out or wait for him to come and ask for help.

Upon his arrival at Pirates’ camp, A.J. Burnett made a few comments about his time with the Yankees that have been taken as criticisms of the Yankee organization.

Here’s Burnett’s quote from this piece in the Washington Post:

“I let a few too many people tinker with me, maybe,” Burnett said. “When you let that happen, you start doubting yourself sometimes. You wonder, ‘Am I doing it right? Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’ and things like that. In ‘09, nobody messed with me. I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn around, close my eyes and pitch upside down. Then you have a few bad games and you start changing and listening.”

There are absolutely pitchers who have to be hounded; some have to be cajoled; others need to be left alone. It’s up to the individual pitching coach to gauge and determine how best to unlock the potential and get the pitcher to be the best he can be or to find a way for him to get hitters out regardless of stuff.

Earl Weaver and his pitching coaches George Bamberger and Ray Miller were great at that. Weaver would spot a flaw in a pitcher, whether it was a pitch he shouldn’t be throwing or a pitch he should throw and didn’t have in his repertoire, and he’d have his pitching coach instruct him on how to throw it; if the pitcher resisted, Weaver would ask him if he wanted to be a loser all his life—but he only intervened as the enforcer and left the tactical and mechanical work to the pitching coaches.

It worked with Mike Torrez, Steve Stone and Ross Grimsley among others.

Greg Maddux openly says that Dick Pole was the pitching coach who influenced him most on his way up to the big leagues, but Pole has bounced from team to team because he insinuates himself on the manager. Some managers don’t like that.

So there’s a limit to what the pitching coach can do and much of it is contingent on the manager and the pitchers.

I’m not blaming Joe Girardi, Dave Eiland, Larry Rothschild, Mike Harkey or any of the other Yankees’ staff members for Burnett’s complaints, but because Burnett struggled with inconsistency for much of his time as a Yankee and again proved why he’s basically a .500 pitcher in spite of having all-world stuff, there could be something to Burnett’s statements. It could be that the Yankees should’ve just tossed their hands in the air and let him be rather than immediately fiddle with him. They tried everything else.

As for Burnett, if this was a problem, he should’ve expressed it earlier rather than be polite and incorporate every little suggestion he received. Tom Seaver pushed back if his pitching coaches and catchers tried to interfere with him when he felt strongly about something. Perhaps Burnett’s lack of focus and lapses in competitiveness stem from his laid back personality. If he were a little more feisty, he and the Yankees might’ve been a lot better off.

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