Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Underpaid

Every season several writers break out the old standby article to get themselves through the doldrums of the late summer: the all overpaid/underpaid team. Here's a fairly typical example. Now overall this isn't a terrible column as such things go, but the issue I have is with these columns in general - the underpaid portion is always packed with pre-arbitration or pre-free agency players. Naturally, this calls for a long-winded discussion about the history of free agency in baseball. Faster Than A Shark - because we're better than you.

Traditionally, the relationship between teams and players was determined by the reserve clause. What is the reserve clause? Here's the final version of the language of it:

"... the Club may tender to the Player a contract for the term of that year by mailing the same to the Player. If prior to the March 1 next succeeding said January 15, the Player and the Club have not agreed upon the terms of such contract, then on or before 10 days after said March 1, the Club shall have the right ... to renew this contract for the period of one year."

Essentially, if the player and club couldn't come to an agreement on a fair contract by a certain date, the club could simply renew their old contract with the player. The clause said very clearly "one year" but the clubs took this to mean "in perpetuity" and the players took it because they didn't know any better. As long as the club tendered an offer, the player had little choice. He could go home to Alabama and raise chickens instead of taking the deal, but if he wanted to play major league baseball he had to take the team's offer.

Curt Flood was the first player to challenge the reserve clause, mostly because he didn't want to play for the crappy Phillies. He filed a lawsuit in the beginning of 1970 that ultimately went to the Supreme Court. His mistake, or his lawyer's mistake, was in arguing the case based on the antitrust exemption that baseball did (and still does) enjoy. They argued that the reserve clause depressed wages and ran counter to the public interest. The Supreme Court told him to go fuck himself, and Flood went back to baseball with his tail between his legs (eventually getting dealt to the Senators).

It was during the late-60's and early-70's that the MLB Player's Association, under the direction of Marvin Miller, finally woke up and realized that it was pretty damn powerful. The first player granted free agency was Catfish Hunter after the 1974 season - however, he only got out on a technicality. There was a clause in his contract stipulating that a certain amount of money was supposed to be paid into a life insurance fund. Stingy old bastard Charlie O. Finley failed to do this, and arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled the contract void - Hunter signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Yankees. Since this wasn't a situation that applied to most players, it was only a blip on the radar. But it showed the players just how much money was waiting for them if they had the courage to fight the owners on the reserve clause.

During the 1974 offseason, Dave McNally of the Expos and Andy Messersmith of the Dodgers refused to sign new contracts. Their respective teams offered them contracts under the 10 day deadline outlined in the reserve clause, and both played the season under that contract. After the season the two of them filed grievances to baseball's appointed arbitrator (Peter Seitz again) that they were only bound under that contract for the one year (the year they had just played) and were therefore free to sign anywhere they wanted. Seitz ruled that they were, and his decision was upheld on appeal. The free agent era had begun.

The owners, knowing they were beaten, did the only sensible thing, which was to sit down with the Union and work out terms of surrender. The result was the system that is now in place - teams have three years to move a player to the 40-man roster, and three years after that to option him to the minors. Once a player plays in the big leagues it starts his arbitration clock - the team gets three years to offer him contracts it deems fair, and the player either accepts them or stops being a professional baseball player. Over the next three years after that the player can go to arbitration where both the player and the club submit a figure, and an arbitrator picks one or the other. After this three-year period, the player is free to sign with any team. The team is of course always free to offer him a long-term contract (this is of course how the Indians built their 90's teams - by buying out their players' arbitration years and part of their free agency years, for more than arbitration money but less than free agent money).

So, after all that, I get to my original point. These underpaid lists are always full with pre-arbitration and pre-free agency players. They're underpaid because that is how the system is set up. Therefore, they shouldn't count as underpaid. Joe Mauer is one of the best players in the game right now, and he makes $400,000 dollars this year. But he cost the Twins a #1 overall draft pick and, more importantly, he is incapable of making more money. The Twins pay him $400,000, not because they're financial geniuses, but because they can.

So, here is my list of players who are actual bargains:

Ray Durham - $7M this year.
Has anyone noticed that Durham has an 891 OPS this year? Yeah, I hadn't either. This is the last year of his deal with the Giants, but he's making it count.

Scott Hatteberg - $750,000 this year (plus incentives). Signed through 2008 (club option).
The Moneyball star is getting on-base at a .396 clip and has thrown in 13 home runs.

Jermaine Dye - $5M this year and a $6M club option for 2007.
A legitimate MVP candidate.

Frank Thomas - $500,000, plus $2.6M in incentives.
Has given the A's basically his best-case scenario - healthy, and productive.

Carlos Guillen - $5M this year, and $5M next year.
Was never that productive as a Mariner (although he was serviceable), and has never been unproductive in his three seasons in a Tiger uniform. His OPS currently stands at 893.

Nick Johnson - $3.2M this year, $5.5M each of the next three years.
Technically Johnson's free agent clock hasn't started yet, but it will after this year and the Nats wisely locked him up through 2009.

Chris Carpenter - $5M this year, $7M in 2007 and an $8M club option in 2008.
2nd in the NL with a 2.96 ERA.

CC Sabathia - $7M this year, $8.75M in 2007, $9M in 2008.
Another player who doesn't hit free agency until after this season, but the Indians have him locked up through 2008. Sabathia is 26, sports a 3.22 ERA this season and has decreased his walk rate. He is worth much more than $7-9M on the open market.

And one player who I thought would be on this list but isn't:

Travis Hafner
- $2.5M this year, $3.75M in 2007 and $4.5M in 2008 (club option)
Hafner is obviously grossly underpaid, but that's because he's only in his 5th season and therefore his free agent period doesn't begin until after next year. Since the club only has one free agent year locked up, I didn't count him.

(All the contract information comes from Cot's Baseball Contracts, a remarkable resource.)

It's Over.

As the Red Sox's soul-patched, police-escort requiring mascot Doug Mirabelli struck out to end their 2-1 loss to Oakland tonight and put them 7.5 games back of the Yankees, I couldn't help but think of Roy Orbison....

Ok, so it's not the original. (I was going to go with lyrics but found it on youtube instead.) It's from an 1988 TV special, with Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and friends. You can see them all better in Pretty Woman, which I also found - I feel like writing a 5000 word Simmons-style paean to youtube right now.

The victory also puts Oakland up 7.5 in their division. Suck it, Angels! You will not take my team down again this year.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Faster Than A Shark: Three Steps Ahead of Page 2

They take a look at Giambi's mustache. Apparently it is inspired by Mattingly, and here to stay. This is just the kind of article I was worried about. Won't someone please think of the children?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Jeff Karstens, Comically Ugly.

Not to turn this blog into a log of google image search results of the dogs of our pastime, but hey, I am a bitter, critical man, and nothing amuses me so much as the site of such an obviously cursed fellow. I think they pulled him out of his mother with a hook, and left him on the hospital floor to expire curled up and gasping for breath. But Jeff Karstens pulled himself up from that floor, and into our hearts, with a quality start and a victory against the Angels today. Freakish in the vaudvillian rather than basketball draftee sense, he will get another start or two in an uncertain rotation, and fans who stick around after the game may get to see him jump through a flaming hoop or balance a beach ball on his nose.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Yankee Mustaches: A Growing Problem.

I know you're all familar with the Yankees' team rules on facial hair, and you probably think it's a draconian, perhaps even totalitarian idea. The rule has its benefits, however: it prevents the corporate goatee, the drawn-on beard, the pubic chin, and the soulless patch. There is a loophole, perhaps instituted to induce the return of Don Mattingly or pacify Gary Sheffield: a mustache is allowed, but it's never been much of a problem. Sheffield's is tasteful, and Mattingly is a coach, so his facetime is limited. It's not that all baseball facial hair is bad - but for every Roger Clemens, there is a John Smoltz, and for the rare player who pulls off the goatee there are dozens of weak little emasulated ones. And then of course, there are a few absolute monsters. All this and more usually prevented by Steinbrenner's rule.
As this season has dragged on, Sheffield-less, into August, a creeping trend has developed, the first evidence of which began to be visible in the Red Sox series; a new influx of uncomfortably bad lip crust.These things take a few days to move from the suggestion of a problem to a full-grown facestrocity, but they have taken prominent, undoubtable places just above the talkers of Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and the harshly set jaw of Jaret Wright. I've watched, horrified, as these things developed over the last week, cluttering up two spots in the order with manicured black centimeter length abominations.
What if this catches on? What if, Idiot-like, it becomes a thing? Dare the mustache breach the permanently beardless face of Derek Jeter, or Mariano Rivera? All it would take is some clueless commentor or beat writer to invoke the name of the late 70s Oakland "Mustache Gang", in the manner of the Boston Massacre last week, for this trend to enter the lexicon. I fear for the upper lips of the Yankees of the future, and for the children of us all.


Yeah, golf. What's more elitist than that? Rich white snobs like golf, rich black snobs like golf. Fat rich people definitely like golf, like this guy:

and this guy:

So, on with the notes.

- The Bridgestone Invitational is being played this weekend and is currently led by a big giant swoosh. Reports suggest a person may be under the swoosh, but no one has been able to confirm these rumors as of yet.

- Yusaku Miyazato scored two holes-in-one in a single round on Friday (in the Reno-Tahoe Open, the second-tier tournament this weekend), becoming the first golfer to ever accomplish this feat. It is at this point that I downplay this incredible accomplishment by pointing out that no Asian golfer has ever won a major, despite the fact that Japanese people love golf almost as much as they love working way harder than stupid lazy Americans and tentacle rape

- Tiger Woods: Still richer than you.

- Phil Mickelson has picked up a nickname among other golfers on the PGA Tour - FIGJAM. Or, "Fuck I'm good, just ask me." Clearly, most golfers would describe themselves as "leg men" (yes, a cheap Phil-Mickelson-has-bosoms joke. Fuck you).

- Davis Love III seems like he'd probably be a huge douchebag. And no, it's not just because his name includes Roman numerals. It's also because his name is "Davis". What kind of country-club bullshit is that?

- Ernie Els is from South Africa, which coincidentally is also where Charlize Theron is from. Charlize is a supremely attractive lady, but for someone who gets topless in movies a lot her breasts are actually pretty disappointing. Here is a list of the last several best actress Academy Awards winners and whether or not they got naked in the movie they won for:

Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) - no
Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) - no
Charlize Theron (Monster) - yes
Nicole Kidman (The Hours) - I can't remember. Nicole always gets naked though, so I'll count this as a yes.
Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) - yes
Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich) - no (we're still waiting, Julia. We can wait forever if we have to)
Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) - yes (I think)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love) - yes
Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets) - yes, but only properly from behind (front was in a wet t-shirt which would technically a no, but combined with the rear shot I'm giving her a yes)
Frances McDormand (Fargo) - no
Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) - no (Susan doesn't get naked anymore, but was once considered to have the best rack in Hollywood. No joke)
Jessica Lange (Blue Sky) - I have no idea. Has anyone ever seen this movie?
Holly Hunter (The Piano) - dear God yes
Emma Thompson (Howard's End) - probably not
Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs) - no
Kathy Bates (Misery) - no

That makes 7 yes, 8 no, and 1 I don't know. The lesson Hollywood actresses should take from this is, come on, don't be shy. You could win an award.

- Vijay Singh once got kicked off the Asian Tour for accusations of cheating (which he denies). I don't know who to believe, but I do know this: Vijay rhymes with BJ. Draw your own conclusions.

- A poll of sentient beings throughout the known universe has determined that Charles Barkley has the ugliest golf swing in the history of creation.

And finally:

- Ladies and gentlemen, John Daly!

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Clever Little Article on

What. Just when I had given up on the mainstream media, here's a nice little gem from the normal residence of beat writers and "The Weekender". Usually can be counted on to provide idiotic bluster and obvious puff pieces. This little Pluto riff is pointless, sure, but cute, entertaining, and unexpected - just the sort of thing you'd expect from a less distinguished source.
My skepticism and distain returned quickly this morning after reading an article in the New York Times about Utility infielder Nick Green: "Green’s second three-hit game as a Yankee — both against Seattle — put his average at .202, the highest it has been all season."

Yankee-Mariner Thoughts.

As the bear 'round here hails from the green Northwest, some thoughts on tonight's game. Seattle at times does not seem to be fielding a major league club, instead resembling some of those PCL teams he's always gushing about. The Mariners now employ someone named T.J. Bohn, who is startlingly harsh on the eyes. Our announcers pronounced it 'bon', but I sense the name was changed by its sub-Weaver owner some time ago to avoid the embarrassment of being known as Bone. There was also a Snelling, and of course their own hustling Eckstein/Erstad disaster, Willie Bloomquist, hit second. Wow. We also got to see both halves of the Indians' first base platoon, and some Ichiro antics (2-for-4 with a nice catch; the go-to cliche there is 'theatrics'). Randy Johnson give up four runs through three to this non-lineup and ended up going eight in an effort to fool us into thinking it a positive. The fans distinguished themselves in the ninth, standing the whole time and lustily booing Alex Rodriguez, who struck out against J.J. Putz (I do not mourn Chris Berman) to end the game. The Mariners are a dead team, but took 2 out of 3. I can only wish them the same luck against the Red Sox.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Guest post by Choppy Wilkes

So, as any of you who have friends like mine (specifically, my friend F. Scott) know, pool is an excellent game to play. F. Scott has a pool table at his home in West Egg, and all his other friends and I enjoy making use of it. The walls surrounding the pool table are occasionally a bit tight and have framed pictures of John Ellway, but F. Scott has tiny cues for making shots in that area (wait, is the stick the cue or is that the white ball?). In any event, I have found that watching pool on television (ESPN 8) is only a little bit less fun than playing pool while drunk (I am not as good when I am drunk, unlike how every asshole you know claims to be).
So when my younger brother (a spry 12-year old named Jank who knows more about every sport than I do about any given subject) changed our television channel from Comedy Central's airing of every MADtv episode ever to ESPN 8's coverage of lady's pool, I was initially borderline enthused, and then confused.
As a staunch feminist (why not?) I believe that there should be fewer gender divisions in business and theater and whatever. I guess I can understand the logic of making separate leagues for men's and women's basketball (do they count as leagues? Or associations?), but separate pool leagues doesn't make any sense to me. I fully believe that men and women have the potential to be equally good at pool (unless I missed something. Does women's pool have slightly larger and softer white balls [cues, maybe?]?). Jank had an explanation, something about trying to have more or fewer people in a league or something, but I was coming up with my own explanation: men would be unable to play pool while looking at a pair of these (see Fig. 1 --->).
Seriously, Karen Corr. The audience in that 1980's Raffi video I own called, and it wants its eyewear back. Even my grandmother doesn't wear those any more. So what can we, as a pool-observing audience, do? I think we should encourage the Women's Pool Association (or whatever it's called) to adopt strict rules about how its players look. There is precedent.

Pranking the spaz

If you missed the story, a minor hubbub has developed over a player on the Staten Island team in the Little League World Series dropping a very audible f-bomb during their game against Lemont, Ill. The video is no longer on YouTube, but reports also claim that the manager smacked the kid, which could be nothing or it could be really horrible. But I'll focus on the "fucking".

Little League sports are an American institution, a rite of passage that just about every boy (and some girls) go through. Sure there are overbearing parents and overzealous coaches, but for the most part they're just a bunch of kids, in snappy uniforms, playing a game and pretending to be big leaguers. And the Little League World Series has absolutely nothing to do with any of this.

When you, or at least when I, signed up to play baseball they set a try-out for a certain day at a certain time. They put all the kids in a big line and one by one put them through basic drills - throwing, catching, hitting. They grade all the kids on how well they did, and then assign them all to teams. And of course every kid, whether they're a 6'8" behemoth who looks to be about 38 years old or a 4'1" geek with Chris Sabo athletic goggles, has to be assigned to a team. So the teams are created, in general, to have similar talent levels. So naturally, when you have teams formed of guys with disparate talent, cliques form almost immediately. The home run hitters sit on one of the bench, laughing and joking and waiting for their turn - this is Group A. Players who are good but not great form another group, Group B. This is usually the group who are popular with the ladies - good enough to be an asset, but not so good that it's clear that they take it way too seriously. Next was my group - guys who aren't really so great, but who can do just enough things not to embarrass themselves. Group C. My fondest memories of Little League involve teams for which I wore the tools of ignorance - in hindsight, I was most likely given the job not because the coach thought I was a great backstop, but because I was the only guy who willingly submitted to doing it. Wearing that mask on a hot day is miserable; you sweat all over the padding, and eventually the dirt from the home plate area starts to get in there, making a gritty and unpleasant paste around your chin. But even with all that I liked it, because I at least had my niche that I fit into.

The final group is the spaz, Group D. If he's lucky there's more than one, so at least he has someone to commiserate with. But usually, he's alone. He sits at the end of the bench, he likely picks his nose, and when he actually does get into a game he chokes up on the bat to about the halfway point. The kid is an outcast, probably forced to play Little League because of a parent who wants him to get out and make some friends.

One of the clearest memories I have of Little League involves the spaz. It was in Single-A, the second-lowest level in the Fairfax County Little League program (you go there after you graduate tee-ball). It was towards the end of a game, and one of the kids in Group C who I was only casually friends with (because he was fairly clearly a screw-up, even at age 7. We'll call this kid Eric. Incidentally, I was a Group B player in Single-A, but after that the wheels came off and I settled firmly into Group C) managed to get hold of the spaz's (who we'll call Ben) hat, I think while he was batting. Ben was in my elementary school and just mercilessly picked on. Eric had a pen for some reason and he proceeded to write "Fuck" on the brim of the hat. Not "fuckface" or "fucking asshole" or "I fuck your mom". Just "fuck". At 7, that's badassed enough to count as an insult. Needless to say, when Ben came back he saw the hat, which Eric and I had a good laugh at. Ben, being an outcast, did the only thing a sensible kid in his position would do - he squealed to his mom. She was a weird old broad too (you could see where Ben got it from) and she gave Eric and I a serious tongue-lashing. Of course, the first thing I did was rat out Eric and tell her I had nothing to do with it, but no matter. I probably deserved it - it was a shitty thing to do, and I could have at least tried to stop him.

Cursing, especially writing curse words down (for posterity, so generations to come will know that 2+2 = shit), is one of the first "adult" things you can do. You're too young for sex or mind-altering substances when you learn your first good curse words, and throwing them around is rebellious and cool. You start tossing them around with impunity when there are no adults around, just because you can. And when you're playing Little League, you're in the perfect place with the perfect group of people to use them. When the coach is off somewhere else, of course.

But that's real Little League, where you're stuck with the spaz and the greatest thrill most of the players have is the pizza party. The Little League World Series is not real Little League. It's a bunch of All-Star teams, kids who can hit, and who can field. Most of the stories by news outlets focus on the childlike joy of the kids involved, how it's "still a game" to them, but make no mistake, these are the Group A kids, the ones who would never think about writing fuck on the spaz's hat because THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW THE SPAZ EXISTS. To them, he's just a vaguely person-shaped thing that exists in his peripheral vision when he comes back to the dugout to high-fives after hitting a home run. Real Little League has the spaz, and kids who write curse words on his hat, and laugh because someone just let out a really loud fart. The Little League World Series has kids who curse because they actually care about the outcome of the game. I think I'd have smacked the kid too, for being an ultracompetitive douchebag. But then I'd run like hell, because Group A kids could probably still kick my ass.

A Baseball Decision, Pt. II

Whisky covered half of the Moyer trade, how a team that's going nowhere sent its longest-tenured and most beloved for a pile of nothing, robbing their fans of a few well deserved ovations. However, the trade looks just as bad from the other side. Gillick's been trading contracts and relics for a month: Sal Fasano, David Bell, Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle, Rheal Cormier, and Ryan Franklin. Clearly a demolition, and a deserved one. But now his team has a good week and gets within four of the wild card, Gillick is thinking differently. "We thought we needed a veteran pitcher. He's a guy who's going to lend a lot of stability to our pitching staff." ( The Phillies won today. That puts them at 62-62, .500. They're 2.5 games and two teams back of the Wild Card. The article also mentions the the change, that great upturn in Philadelphia Phortunes that has put them in a buying postition: "An 11-7 stretch since Aug. 1 transformed the Phillies from sellers to buyers."
This is what they used to call waffling. In the last month, Gillick has traded two starting pitchers, his right fielder and number three hitter, his starting third baseman and catcher, and a reliever. Then the team went and won eleven out of eighteen games, and he's brought in a 44-year old pitcher. A second mlb article pushes the new direction line, and tries to appease by linking Moyer to the team's glory days. (It turns out that Moyer is so old that his major league debut twenty years ago was against the Steve Carlton) Pat is so fond of his former Seattle charge that the two have worked out a mutual option for 2007, meaning writers and announcers will use words like "anchor", "bulwark" and "ageless" to describe the 45-year-old long into next year. It's a completely see-through gesture of competitiveness to a fanbase that every year watches the Phillies fall a few digits short of the Wild Card. Fire Ed Wade is now defunct, and its target only a memory. But his replacement seems well on his way to authoring another series of flawed just-short teams.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Baseball Decision

With the Seattle Mariners, it rarely is one.
Somehow, that makes Bill Bavasi's weekend trade of Jamie Moyer to the Phillies even more repugnant. A veteran lefthander playing in what is likely his final season is exchanged for a pair of Single-A pitchers. It is exactly a baseball decision (and one that, obviously, met Moyer's 10-and-5 approval).
It's one baseball decision the Seattle Mariners shouldn't have made.
In the days following the trade, Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs will play the company voice-box, speaking of the need to make "tough decisions" for the "future of the ballclub," acknowledging that sometimes those decision "are not popular with fans." Meanwhile, a single strand of drool will weep a path down the contours of broadcaster Dave Niehaus' sagging jowels. (Fellow broadcaster Dave Henderson will dutifully sop up the mucilage with a handkerchief, then replace the soiled linen in Niehaus' breastpocket.)
Jamie Moyer was a fixture in Seattle. In 11 seasons with the Mariners, he was with few exceptions a steady, enduring presence on the mound. An ace who compensated for his shortcomings with incomparable wisdom, whose book on American League hitters was the stuff of legend. A borderline Hall of Famer (in the sense that the D.C. slums share a border with Capital Hill). A pillar of the local community whose Moyer Foundation has given millions of dollars to support organizations and programs that help children in need (fortunately, the organization will remain in Seattle).
He is the final link to those Seattle teams of the mid- to late-1990s, which saved baseball in the city (though the fact that he arrived too late to be involved in the 1995 season has always seemed to me an incongruous--and inconvenient--truth).
He is larger than Mariners baseball.
His market value is a 23-year-old righthander with a 4.04 ERA in High-A and a 21-year-old righthander with a 2.23 ERA in Low-A, the latter formerly of Redmond, Wash., and Everett Community College (this is not exactly a ringing endorsement).
Fans in Seattle have taken the news with a mixture of shock and profound sadness. As I read a newspaper outside a grocery store in my neighborhood Sunday, an older woman asked what I thought of the trade, I assumed because the boldfaced "MOYER TRADED" header was splashed across the front page. But it was the B Section in my hand, which made no mention of the deal. These days, he is an eminent topic of conversation. We both expressed our regrets.
At the expense of a half-dozen farewell starts from one of the organization's most beloved players, the Seattle Mariners added two Single-A pitchers who might get an opportunity to pitch in the majors.
For once, it was a baseball decision.
In this case, the sentimental should have taken precedent.

Coincidence and Causality, II
During ESPN's telecast of the Dodgers-Padres game, announcer Dave O'Brien said that Los Angeles was 16-2 since acquiring Wilson Betemit from the Atlanta Braves.
In his next breath, he noted that Betemit was hitting .227 in August.

I'm in love with Massachusetts with the radio on

Back from three days sleeping on a couch in Richman's state featuring four Yankee victories in Fenway park. These were slug festivals of the finest variety in which the new Abreu-tastic lineup stamped on middle relievers with relentless helmeted will. The underwhelming pitching matchups were correctly billed and the pace of the games (the teams were playing in most of my waking hours) pushed up the scoring further. It is not often pleasant to watch tired relievers getting flogged, and I can not imagine many people enjoyed these games, all of which were nationally televised. I did, however, as you might imagine. Added to that the satisfaction of rooting on the Yankees from within the depths of B hatted New England and it was an excellent time.
After Ortiz, Papelbon jerseys have passed Ramirez's in popularity there, as far as I can figure, despite Manny being their best player. With no computer it was startling to see Eric Hinske; I see now his price was but a PTBNL. That's two former All-Stars for nothing this August, though happily there have been no last minute pitchers. Why didn't they grab Mota, as a friend wondered? In short, a glorious sweepful weekend, and maybe more - Abreu just drove in Cabrera for a 1-0 lead in the fifth game.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The top 12 sports in the video game world

That's my "Snakes on a Plane" title in honor of this weekend's most Samuelicious new movie. Why 12? Because I couldn't think of any more. In ascending order:

12)Volleyball. I don't know why I even bothered including it, except that I spent a lot of time with Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos when I was a kid, to the point that I actually watched beach volleyball on NBC during the afternoon on Saturdays. I can't imagine there's a huge market for volleyball games, except that one with the chicks with big hooters. It's a pretty static game - they might as well make badminton into a game, which would have the added bonus of making kids like badminton, an infinitely more fun game to play at a party than volleyball (especially if there's a lot of spaz kids in your neighborhood).
Classic representative of the genre: Kings of the Beach.

11)Soccer. I like soccer, especially the World Cup variety. But I have never played a soccer game that was any good. They're always too goddamn difficult and too goddamn boring. I might be willing to watch a scoreless tie on TV when it's world class athletes running up and down the field, but I damn sure don't want to watch a scoreless tie when it's my greasy fingers doing all the work.
Classic representative of the genre: Not a single one that I can think of. One of those EA FIFA games I guess.

10)Dodgeball. Obviously, this is only here for one reason. But hey, that game was pretty damn kickass, good enough to lift it over soccer. And I don't want to hear about the movie - until Ben Stiller turns into a floating angel when he gets eliminated, he can kiss my ass.
Classic representative of the genre: Come on. Look at the picture. If you don't know it, you're probably a terrorist.

9)Tennis. This is another game that's position here is essentially justified by a single title. I could never picture any reason why a kid would have gone to the store looking for a Nintendo game and said, "Mommy, can you get me Tennis?" But add Koopa, Yoshi and Wario, and now you've got yourself a game. This was of course Nintendo's entire strategy from the N64 on - take a crappy game, throw Mario and friends into it, and sell lots of titles. But Mario Tennis is actually good so take that Nintendo, dream ruiners!
Classic representative of the genre: Mario Tennis.

8)Boxing. Much like volleyball, this sport is just too static to make a great game. Obviously there's one title that all of us played growing up, but does anyone play those EA boxing games? Except for Turtle? Why not just play Street Fighter where you can be the Indian dude with the giant arms (they stole that bit from Master of the Flying Guillotine).
Classic representative of the genre: Punch Out! (Mike Tyson optional)

7)Olympic sports. Yeah, I'm going to lump them all together. Number one, it's tough to really get into something when they only put the son of a bitch out every 4 years. And two, so many Olympics titles are based around "alternate pushing button A and B as fast as you can for 15 seconds". That shit hurts. Still, these are fun change-of-pace games, especially if you had a Power Pad. And no, no one actually ran on those things (I play video games because I don't want to excercise).
Classic representative of the genre: Winter Olympics 1994. Fun as hell to do the downhill, painful as hell to do speed skating.

6)Motor Sports. Okay, now we're getting into the good ones. No, I've never had any desire to play one of those high-fallutin' NASCAR simulations that EA sells to the redneck market, but there are more than enough good racing titles to go around, whether you like midnight racing, street racing, Monte Carlo-style racing or plain old ugly pixellated racing. These are best played in the arcade of course, unless you happen to own a controller that's shaped like a steering wheel. And if you do, it's not too late to rethink your priorities.
Classic representative of the genre: Pole Position.

5)Basketball. Somehow, basketball games always seem better on paper than they actually end up being. I mean, it's a major American team sport with a large fan base, so they go all out with the realism and all that jazz. But in the end, it's a game where you run up and down the court and score pretty much every time. Plus, they decided long ago that what the fans want are dunks, dunks and more dunks, so that's pretty much all you end up doing. Still, basketball games are in the inner circle.
Classic representative of the genre: NBA Jam. Pretty much the default arcade choice until NFL Blitz came along. If the arcade had nothing else good, you could always get on an NBA Jam machine and rock some Detlef Schrempf.

4)Baseball. Much as it pains me to say it, baseball games have just never lived up to the top-billed status of their sport. Baseball games are always disappointing - too hard, too easy, too goofy, too unrealistic, too boring. That's not to say they don't have their place in the sports video game pantheon, just that it's really hard to find one that's worth wasting too much time on. They're this high partly by default, and partly because they are (or at least were) necessary in order to put together a simulation league with your friends. Oh come on, you know you did that too! Fine, I was the only one. Fuck you.
Classic representative of the genre: Tony LaRussa Baseball 2, for completely personal and sentimental reasons. I can still picture many players' 1993 stats because of this game. And I still have a soft spot for Jeff Reed for the same reason (this would only make sense if you knew Jeff Reed's righty/lefty split in 1993).

3)Golf. I consider this an upset in the number 3 spot, beating out a sport which I care a whole lot more about. But there is something incredibly soothing about loading up a golf game in the middle of winter and hearing the sounds of the links. This is the ultimate single-player sports game, something to do when you're....a huge nerd....with no friends. No, it's totally cool to design an entire course from scratch. That's not sad at all.
Classic representative of the genre: Tiger Woods 2006. Unlike most of the other games, I have no sentimental childhood favorite (well, except the game which was called Links, but that only had one course that came with it and it took forever to load each hole. It did have some catch phrases that are still burned in my brain though:
"Nice bird."
"Looks like it hit the tree, Jim." (I still have no idea who the hell Jim was, but his partner was a dick).
But the EA games are the gold standard, and they're good enough to be considered THE classics now.

2)Football. That's right, 2. I know most people would put it at #1 with a bullet, but I won't. Football has just about everything you want in a game - it's got a huge fan base, so a lot of effort is put into each title, it's fast-paced, it has a bit of strategy and a bit of action, and it's a sport in which you know all the players. But it has two drawbacks - half the game is spent picking plays rather than actually playing the game on the field, and having two players on the same team is more frustrating than fun (making games of more than 2 people kind of pointless). That's nit-picking though - football translates real well to the video game world. Just not #1 well.
Classic representative of the genre: Tecmo Super Bowl. The game of everyone's childhood. I also have a soft spot for Joe Montana Football for Sega Genesis, a game that I knew all the tricks to (screen pass left, spin move down the sideline - the spin move essentially made the ballcarrier untacklable.)

1)Hockey. Number 1, you say? Damn right. Hockey has everything you want in a game - it's fast-paced at all times, it's low scoring (so whenever you get points it's exciting) but not so low scoring that you're bored. It's just as fun with 4 people as it is with 2. It has recognizable names - maybe less so now after the strike, but hockey is still technically a big four sport. It's a team sport, so you can pick your favorite and take them to the title (a big minus for golf). There's even roster management for people who like that sort of thing. Hockey is the classic game for slacker movie characters too - "I'm gonna make Gretzky's head bleed for super fan 99 over here." or perhaps, "What difference does it make if I refer to her as a dyke? Or if I call the Whalers a bunch of faggots in the comfort of my own office, far from the sensitive ears of the rest of the world?"
Classic representative of the genre: NHL 95. One-timers were introduced in 94, but 95 introduced the full season schedule (the main difference between a goofy sports game and a realistic sports "simulation"). Honorable mention goes to NHL 96, which was the last year of the Quebec Nordiques and their awesome logo (RIP).

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Guest Post by Short Redding

(Welcome to a Faster than a Shark semi-recurring featurette: Guest Blogging! Today we hear from Short Redding, an alcoholic with a bad back who proudly refuses to know as much as one sentence of information about sports whatsoever. As of Saturday, we're talking eight hours sober, if Friday goes as planned.)

Now, as many of you probably know, there is a television sports commentator floating around by the name of James Brown. While he is neither as soulful as the Godfather, nor as bad (hardly super), these are both wholly forgivable as James Brown made the error of going by an extremely common first and last name (actually, though, the parents of today's James Brown should have known better).
However, in news that you also probably know but came as a surprise to me, Fox (or whatever) has replaced the black and proud Brown with a gentleman by the name of Joe Buck. I hope that you all will agree that this is a generally unacceptable name to have.
You may or may not be familiar with the film "Midnight Cowboy" (for which the song "Lay Lady Lay" was written). If you are not, I recommend you trot yourself to your local movie dealer soonest and purchase it, for it is a fine movie. There is one rather comical flaw to it, though, which is that Jon Voight's character is named "Joe Buck," which sounds like the sort of name your seventh grade English teacher (Ms. Isaacs, if you are me, which you may be) would come up with if she were creating a fictional porn actor for a grammar lesson (" you see, "Go fuck Joe Buck is an example of assonance..."). Even Dirk Diggler is a better name, and at least that was tongue in cheek (since we are discussing porn, I wish that there were a pun there which I could insist was unintended, but I really can't immediately think of any).
In any event, it was 1969, an era where anything went as far as filmmaking and also drugs. But why should a real human being be named Joe Buck? Further, why would that human being continue to go by that name following the success of "Midnight Cowboy?" Perhaps NBC will hire a competing sports announcer (does NBC have sports?) named Rick Blaine. (I'm going where the sun keeps shining...Casablanca!)
So can we, as a nation of human beings, in some way keep this man from using his own name? Perhaps by giving him an appropriate and catchy nickname. How about "Ole Satch?" Let's get on it.


Take out the Red Sox paragraph, the assorted bits about his fantasy teams and a few odds and ends* and Bill Simmons has written...a pretty good baseball column. In fact, scratch that - by the usual standard for a baseball column by the Palookaville Post or, you know, anything written on, this is an outstanding baseball column. If he keeps this up I'll have to mothball "Bill Simmons references" entirely. Alright, that's not likely, but it certainly looks like the old girl has some life in her yet.

*Kevin Youkilis was a major point of discussion in Moneyball, and would have gone to Oakland if Theo hadn't stepped in and said no. Now he's a major part of the Red Sox lineup. And Jorge Julio is not a quality relief pitcher. He's having a decent half-season in Arizona, which is unsustainable long-term. Just wanted to clear that up.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Of Phillies, and Queen

I took a trip to Citizen's Bank Park (The CBP!) in Philadelphia on Saturday for what will be my only live major league game this year. The Phils are in the race for the playoffs as only a National League club with a sub-.500 record can be, and they were facing the team they were chasing, the Reds. The Phils lost 2 of 3 and now find themselves 4 games out of the Wild Card race with 5 teams ahead of them. So...not good.

On Saturday the game was tied 6-6 going into the 9th. Charlie Manuel (or whoever takes over the team once he's fallen asleep in the dugout around the 7th inning) put in closer Tom Gordon, a move which I will defend to the end. Gordon ended up giving up 3 runs in 2/3 of an inning. On the plus side, he comes out of the bullpen to the theme from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, recorded by Queen, which is about the most hilariously awesome song ever made.

The Phils went into the 9th down 9-6. Jimmy Rollins hit a 2-out homer, his 2nd(!) of the game to make it 9-7. Mike Lieberthal then smacked a single - it was at this time that my brother turned to me and told me that a Casey at the bat scenario was shaping itself up. Optimism, it runs in the family. Chase Utley leaned into a pitched, putting 2 on and the game-winning run at the plate in the form of MVP candidate Ryan Howard. After a drawn-out at-bat, Eddie Guardado struck out Howard on some pretty nasty high heat. I've never been at a game where a walk-off situation set itself up, and so have never seen the way the crowd completely deflates in a split-second when it doesn't come to pass. It's pretty amazing.

Some random thoughts from the game:
  • We caught batting practice for both teams. Pretty standard stuff, but the one thing I learned is that the ball sounds completely different when it comes off of Adam Dunn's bat than anyone else. The man basically has zero baseball skills except taking walks and hitting homers, but good Christ does he hit the ball hard.
  • Utley jerseys were easily the most popular, followed much further down the list by Howard jerseys. I'm not a jersey guy, but I guess I can see the appeal. If you're going to get a jersey though, for Christ's sake don't get one with your name on it. And if you're going to do that, please PLEASE pick a number that's not 69.
  • Citizen's Bank Park is nice, like all the new parks are nice. They're starting to blend together though. The one unique feature is probably the big Liberty Bell in right-center, which continues a tradition from the Vet. This one sways back and forth when the Phils hit a home run. The old Liberty Bell just sat there, mocking everyone who actually paid to be at the Vet.
  • To the credit of Philadelphia fans, the wave was killed after about 2 revolutions. Come to think of it though, I think it stopped at the same time that the bobble head race came up on the scoreboard. The white one is a real dick.
  • It was "Alumni Night" which is shorthand for "screwing me out of something free". Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Robin Roberts were there, as well as the inexplicably popular Bob Boone, among many many others. Alumni night is weird - Hall of Famers stand next to guys like Dickie Noles and Kevin Jordan. No Schmidt or Carlton. I was at alumni night last year too, by coincidence, and by far the most fascinating alumni is Dick Allen. It's hard to find anyone who had a more torrid relationship with a city and its fans - now, he goes back, gets a warm ovation and returns the favor. Just goes to show, no relationship is beyond repairing in sports. Except TO. More on him in a minute.
  • I punched out one of those ballots where you pick the best player for each franchise. My brother asked if it was an All-Star ballot. He's...not so up on the sports. Knows a hell of a lot about music though.
  • I don't know how many other places this happens, but inevitably in Philly some guy will start an E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES! chant around the 6th or 7th inning. The guys in the parking lot hawking shirts don't sell Phillies shirts - they sell "Cowboys Sucks, TO Swallows" shirts. This relationship is probably broken beyond repair (Well duh! you're saying, but if Dick Allen can be forgiven in time then almost anyone can.) But TO will never, ever be forgiven. He burned every bridge he could with the team, the city and the fans. I say this with 100% seriousness, the only thing that stands between him and a bullet on Christmas day when the Cowboys come to town is the diligence of Eagles security. I hope they're up to the challenge.

Recently in Sad Roster News

  • Vinny Castilla is alive and well and living in Denver. Despite the fact that the Rockies' third baseman, Garrett Atkins, is hitting as well as Alex Rodriguez, the team has signed the ancient Castilla to a minor league contract, mostly for sentimental reasons. As the article says, "some of Castilla's most productive years came in purple pinstripes". It still seems amazing that the Padres traded a starting pitcher for him last offseason, albeit a pitcher who has been injured all year.
  • Another once great fantasy player is gone. Preston Wilson has been DFA'd by the Astros. Mookie Wilson's nephew/stepson was the only player Florida got for Mike Piazza that ever did anything in the majors. They of course traded him and Charles Johnson for Juan Pierre and Mike Hampton, who they sent to the Braves but are still paying his contract? Old trades and old players. Maybe Preston's agent will mention that when he calls the Royals today. I'm sure someone will take a 30ish outfielder who has struck out 1041 times in 3828 abs. Doesn't Barry Bonds need a backup?
  • This should not qualify as news. Mark Prior went back to the DL and will probably miss the rest of the season. Luckily for Cubs fans, their season was already lost some time ago.That and Cesar Izturis is hitting .238/.286/.319 since the trade!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Faster Than A Shark: Corrections Department!

Bartolo Colon does not look too much like an inflated long-dead Harpo Marx; rather, an inflated long-dead Chico Marx. Or maybe Andre the Giant. But the key word here is pug-fugly.

Jered Weaver is horrifically ugly.

The Yankees lost to the Angels again, of course. We Yankee fans look forward to playing the Red Sox, and fear the Angels. It's easy to make jokes about their name, but hard to beat them. The twin ALDS embarrassments, 2002 and 2005, were total losses from the start. They were even the only team to sweep the 1998 Yankees. The Angels come into your stadium and you lose hope. Just when you've made a great piont against the announcers, just when you've convinced yourself that your team is not going to get beaten by Vlad Guerrero and his eight scrappy friends, somebody like Macier Izturis hits a home run. Or Curtis Pride, the deaf outfielder we DFAed three years ago, catches a home run. Or some rookie throws six or eight awesome innings (Jered, Saunders, Ervin last fall). One out of three is the best one can hope for against this team.
Today's game added a new twist to the classic Inevitable Angel Victory. It has always been frightening to watch this team play, and they've had some horrific physical specimens before (Ben Weber, John Lackey, and, of course, Bartolo Colon, a man that looks like someone inserted a tube into the decomposing corpse of Harpo Marx and pumped in 100 pounds of helium), but Jesus Christ, Jered is a new low. Watching him pitch is intensely painful. A misguided Unit-throwback mullet surges around his grunting face, which is so squinted and scrunched up that he looks like he's in labor with a third member of this demonic hell-clan. Of course, to prove the point, he's just as good as his ill-fated brother was always supposed to be, coming in at 8-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his rookie season. He's given up only four home runs in 11 starts, and even in this year of incredible rookie pitching is a frontrunning candidate for Rookie of the Year. He's even made it to the top of the Angel's official website.
The two teams have one more game tomorrow, with Lackey facing Johnson, in another showcase of hyper-ugliness. Of course I mean Lackey's face and Johnson's statistics.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bill Simmons discusses.......himself?

"After 12 years of Kevin Smith movies, you know what to expect at this point: Some funny scenes, some painful scenes, at least one classic pop culture riff, at least one truly atrocious acting performance, at least one "I can't believe he thought that was a good idea" scene, polarizing debates on any message board that discusses him, and just enough quality material to keep you coming back for the next one."

- Summer Movie Review, Page 2

Night Beat

Important Events this Evening.
  • Francisco Liriano is out indefinately. If this has ruined your fantasy season, I have little sympathy. You picked him up from the waiver wire in May. Admit it.
  • Deadline trades can pay off. Ryan Shealy's single pushed the Royals past the Red Sox. Reggie Sanders apologized to "But this team is not as bad as it looks on paper. It really isn't." Runelvys Hernandez (it is often pronouced 'Fat Elvis') was a little less humble: "We can compete with the best teams in the world now and we're going to show our fans we're going to get better and better". Rah rah.
  • The NL Standings are a mess again - LA now leads the West by .5 over Arizona and San Diego, the Cardinals' central lead is back up to 3.5 and the Reds are only up .5 on the two Western teams and 2.5 more on Houston. Check back tomorrow for more confusion.
  • The Yankees lost to the White Sox. There was an error by Rodriguez that led to some runs. It's true what they say - collective opinion of him changes on every play. Today he threw the ball into right field. I can still see it rolling on the grass of U.S. Cellular when I close my eyes. The Twins lost, so Chicago leads the Wild Card again.
  • I had forgotten how funny Shoot the Piano Player was at points. Though the focus is on the melancholy, introverted mood of Charles Aznavour (his asides are heartbreaking, especially when walking with the waitress and debating whether to take her hand), the two bumbling criminals are hysterical, and perfectly drawn. So much character comes out when one talks about his father's advice on women, and the other shows the young boy his 'metal tie' from Japan. A quiet movie with an abrupt, sad ending.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hokie preseason Q & A

Question 1: Who will be quarterbacking the Hokies this year?

The battle is between White Guy Who Can't Run (WGWCR) Sean Glennon and Black Guy Who Can't Throw (BGWCT) Cory Holt*. The wildcard is other BGWCT Ike Whitaker. Sean Glennon has the inside track. All of these guys are keeping the position warm for highly touted high school recruit Tyrod Taylor, who looks like Ludacris but Bill O'Reilly doesn't hate him. As much.

Question 2: Who will be picking up the slack for departed running backs Cedric Humes and Mike Imoh?

Branden Ore is damn good, but he's coming off shoulder surgery and may not be ready to go. George Bell isn't as good but he's healthy. He doesn't have an ass-kickingly awesome jheri curl, so that's another strike against him. He'll probably be the opening day starter, depending on how fast Ore can heal.

Question 3: So, what are the Hokies good at?

They have some of the best linebackers in the country, led by Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. The receiving corps is fast and deep. And they know where guns belong - not on campus but in one's home or, in a pinch, at local fast food establishments.

Question 4: VT's schedule is softer than a handful of your mom's cleavage. What gives?

Fuck you and your attitude.

Um, alright, here's the deal. First, 8 games are conference games that the Hokies have no control over. Of the other 4 games, two were purposely-scheduled patsies (Northeastern and Kent State). In the old days these would have been the first two games of the season - now that ESPN is the de facto arbiter of college schedules (and they need quality games all year long, not just starting in week 4) those two games are shuffled around the schedule. The last time Cincinnati played us they beat the crap out of us (sure it was 1995, but who's counting?) And as far as Southern Miss, ask Lou. Personally, I think we might lose to the Eagles. Things will be better next year with a scheduled game against LSU, but things will be bad again the year after that - just remember, we were supposed to play Wisconsin in 2008 and 2009 and they backed out, leaving us scrambling for another game.

Question 5: So, what's the prognosis for this year?

. In the regular season, 9-3 seems about right. Miami is a loss, Boston College, Clemson or Georgia Tech will probably beat us (1 of the 3) and then we will crap the bed in one inexplicable game. Again, I have a bad feeling about Southern Miss. The Bowl will be second tier, but not 3rd tier. It won't be sponsored by a Credit Union, but it might be sponsored by a sporting goods chain.

*In all likelihood, neither of these monikers is accurate and both quarterbacks will suck at everything they try.

Night Beat

Important Events this Evening.
  • The Reds beat the Cardinals, 8-7, on a walkoff home run from their 3rd catcher David Ross. Expect some sulking from Deadspin tomorrow morning. The Reds are only 2.5 back of St. Louis, and one ahead of Arizona for the Wild Card.
  • Mike Piazza hit two home runs in a 4-3 loss at Shea; there were chants of 'Bring him back'. My Met fan friends were all teary-eyed and 2000 reminiscing. Honestly, with his new blond dye job, the man looks ten years younger. His rate stats are all up 50+ points from last year. I've never heard the phrase 'first-ballot' said so many times in my life.
  • The Orioles lost to Toronto again. 34199 attended and I can't imagine why.
  • The Mariners' Big Free Agent Signing Jarrod Washburn held the Devil Rays scoreless over 6.2 in their 2-0 win. This improved his record to 6-11, though his era is a respectable 4.26.
  • Kyle Farnsworth imploded in the eighth, turning a laugher into a problem that Rivera had to come in and fix. Bobby Abreu hit his first home run for the team and played right field, center field, and then right again after Johnny Damon left the game; there was something wrong with his groin. Soreness. That was it.
  • Deserving it's own bullet, Randy Johnson had a no-hitter going through six. Michael Kaye committed the inutterable, genocidal sin of mentioning this, and lo, the no-hitter was lost. Johnson would go on to give up two runs in the inning. If only baseball etiquette had been observed. We were hoping Kaye would make a reference to his outburst, but it was not to be. He and Paul O'Neil decided instead to talk for 20 minutes about the magnitude of the difference between a 97 mile an hour fastball and a 98 mile an hour fastball.
  • Mike Sweeney is back and I am grateful. He singled in the ninth to beat the despicable Papelbon to push the 'sox three games back of the Yankees and 1.5 back of Chicago. David Ortiz went 0 for 4. He is the clutchiest.
  • Brick was still pretty awesome the second time through, but didn't hold well at points. I admit to being a fan of 10 Things I Hate About You and will say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a highly talented guy. Brick's hardboiled, faux modern noir dialogue is lots of fun, but it isn't quite "Where's my bourbon?"

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

How David Beckham blacked out my commute

While lumbering into the buzzsaw of another Seattle commute this afternoon, I imagined the local traffic anchor issuing her throaty appeal: "Darling, blame it on Beckham." The Manchester United ex-pat was in town for an evening game at Qwest Field against DC United---I'm convinced most ticket holders are expecting to see Man-U. Meanwhile, I'm inching my way through the I-90 interchange, wondering if the guy I'm merging in front of attended the Maurice Clarett Automotive Institute.

Explanations for the abnormally heavy commute were threefold: The Real Madrid-DC United tilt at Qwest Field at 8 p.m.; the conclusion of the Devil Rays-Mariners game at Safeco Field at 4:30 p.m.; and the heralded Tim McGraw/Faith Hill twinbill at KeyArena at 7:30 p.m. Like a discarded hubcap in the HOV lane, my anticipation was palpable.

At $35 per seat, I will not be driving to Qwest tonight. In fact, given a local TV blackout, I will also not be watching the game on television.
The theory behind the blackout has always puzzled me---to ensure interest in the event at the box office, the distribution of said event is limited to AM radio and tickets on hand. Maybe this worked before cable; today, if it isn't televised, it didn't happen. And if it didn't happen, I didn't miss anything. Besides, this is that guy. (You know, the guy from that movie, the one where he bends things? It's a caper film.) Ticket sales should not be an issue. If Real Madrid are the Beatles, Beckham is Paul McCartney---handsome, talented, supremely overrated. Like a Tim McGraw/Faith Hill concert, the people will come.
Editor's note: The author apologizes for overstating the relative talents of Mr. McGraw and Ms. Hill.

Coincidence and Causality

I listen to ESPN Radio during the day. It's a sick, disgusting, twisted compulsion I have. I try to rid myself of it, but I always come back to the Boo-yah network. I'm a masochist. Each show is worse than the one before it (except for the hour that Keith Olberman spends on the Dan Patrick show, and the times that the local guys talk Hokie football). In this fetid cesspool, by far the worst of the swine is Colin Cowherd.

Cowherd took over for Tony Kornheiser a couple of years ago (which started things off on the wrong foot immediately - Kornheiser was the last worthwhile thing on the network). He's big on college football, which he knows one iota more about than every other sport there is in the world; this of course brings him to a grand total of one iota. His show isn't so much a sports show as it is the rantings of an amateur psychologist applied to sports. Every subject is dealt with in terms of the psychological impact it will have "in the locker room" or "among the front office" or "on the hundreds of mental institution 'wards of the state' who actually listen to this terrible show". Sports aren't played on the field, with bats and balls and goalposts - they're played solely within the minds of grown men who are incapable of doing their job to any reasonable degree unless they're constantly given positive reinforcement, like cookies and juice boxes.

I didn't catch the entire discussion today, but I'm fairly certain that Colin suggested, not that Greg Maddux SHOULD be the NL Cy Young, but that he should be given consideration for it by the voters. The Dodgers of course have been on a tear recently, winning 11 straight, and many of these wins came after the Dodgers acquired Maddux. Cowherd reached the perfectly reasonable conclusion that it was the acquisition of Maddux that allowed the Dodgers to believe that they were capable of winning, setting them off on their current streak, and that if they take the division it will be because of the locker room presence of Maddux. Only replace the word "reasonable" with "batshit insane". That's unfair to Colin actually; I don't think he's insane, just monstrously stupid.

Whoever the monkey was who he was having this discussion with (not a caller, some "expert") agreed with Colin, or at least didn't violently disagree with him and threaten to murder his children if he didn't stop being so goddamn stupid like any reasonable human being would do. Why is it that 95% of the people who write blogs and post about sports on the internet can understand the difference between coincidence and causality, but the majority of newspaper writers, talk radio and other "mainstream" sports commentators sound like the Catholic Church circa 800 AD?

Night Beat

Important Events This Evening

  • The Yankees lost an ugly one 6-5 in the 11th after Mariano Rivera gave up a 9th inning home run to Paul Konerko, a man with an unassuming goatee. Alex Rodriguez went 3 for 3 with a home run and two walks, but will be skewered in the press tomorrow for not catching a high foul ball from the bat of Jermaine Dye, one pitch before his game-winning RBI single. Happily the Red Sox also lost, to Kansas City. Today Ortiz could not save you New England.
  • The Mariners won (they're all the way up to 55-57 !!) on some Richie Sexson heroics. Meaningless, I know. More importantly, Felix Hernandez went eight. Strong would be the usual adjective there. The team remains in last place, 6.5 games behind Oakland. Also they are 11.5 back of Chicago for the Wild Card. Strange headlines on the Devil Rays website.
  • As for the Orioles - the Redskins have a preseason game scheduled for Sunday.
  • Blue Velvet was once again partially awesome and mostly inscrutable. I blame it for all the PBR I had to drink last year. Roy Orbison is the man.

A pink backpack?

Make the rookie wear it. The punishment should fit the crime; in this case, the crime is being a gigantic gaywad. Moreover, a gigantic rookie gaywad. From the final row of the final tier of Safeco Field, the player's identity cannot immediately be discerned, but he is among a row of six men clad in forest green warmups. Each of them possesses the self-assured demeanor befitting a union man: slight swagger, hitch in the posture, and an air of low--if existant--expectations.

It is the bullpen of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, popularly and colloquially referred to as the "Rayz"--in dropping "Devil" to appease the Pat Robertson Bund, one can only presume the organization is also hoping to target a younger, "Kidz Bop" demographic.

After all, their relievers are wearing pink backpacks.

Whichever clubhouse jokester (Could it be the incorrigible Dan Miceli? The irascible Brian Meadows? The incontrovertible Casey Fossum?) facilitated the hazing, the effect is profound. There in the stadium are the 30,000, standing attentively as the guest delivers the National Anthem in a brilliant tenor. And there is the rookie, amid the verdant green, the bright pink backpack hanging from his shoulders, circle of carnation pink at the center undoubtedly the moonface of Hello, Kitty.

Should the victim survive the Tampa Bay 'pen, bastion of the nondescript, and arrive at his zenith--that of The Journeyman--which path will he choose? Will it be the safe path, the unimaginative, the parade of shaving-cream pies and peppered jocks?

Or will he choose the bold, the innovative, the inspired? Will it be chartreuse leggings in the on-deck circle? Stilletos at batting practice? Trapdoor stirrup pants during a bullpen session?

A Grover by any other name is a muppet
And sometimes it feels as though the M's are being managed by one. When not being interviewed on the set of "A River Runs Through It," Mike Hargrove manages the Seattle Mariners. Unfortunately, this means that the Mariners could quite possibly be more effectively managed by Dennis Erickson, the Lake Washington Parent Teacher Student Association, or a house plant.

Or, you know, by Bob Melvin.

Against Tampa Bay on Monday, Grover was in classic form. Top of the first inning, Carl Crawford standing on third following a one-out triple, there was the Mariners' defense, creeping up on the infield grass to hold the runner. No. 3 hitter Jorge Cantu promptly poked a groundball through the hole at second--an easy groundball out if Hargrove had chosen to concede the run. Instead, Travis Lee the Bemulleted drew a walk, and starter Jamie Moyer labored through what approached a 30-pitch before escaping with just the single run allowed.

In the second, he sent deceptively slow shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on a 1-2 count with two outs and No. 9 hitter Willie Bloomquist at the plate. Bloomquist looked at a ball, and Betancourt was caught stealing. Maybe we're better off taking our chances with Willie and letting Ichiro either lead off the third or hit with two men on and two outs in the second?

But his shining moment came in the bottom of the eighth, when Hargrove dropped trough and crapped all over the dugout steps. With Seattle clinging to a 5-4 lead, a runner on first and one out, Richie ".222/.292/.444" Sexson inexplicably managed to become the beneficiary of a 3-0 count. Hargrove greenlighted him, and Richie--who had impossibly drawn a bases-loaded walk in the third--promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play. Closer J.J. Putz endured a 29-pitch night to notch an ugly save.

This is a man who is presumably being paid a substantial sum of money to manage a baseball team. "Terminate with extreme prejudice" might be a tad harsh, but could we get a price check on Grover, Mr. Nintendo?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Exhuming Palmeiro

"Let us not assassinate this man further Senator, You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

When I was young, what would ultimately be known as "alternative" music (and, later, "indie rock") was generally given the label "college rock". This was a catch-all term covering a wide variety of bands and genres, the common thread being that you would rarely hear any of the artists on mainstream radio. The BMOC's, the guys who owned the hipsters who listened to this stuff, can be summed up in three little letters.


They are still synonymous with the term college rock, despite the fact that they've been irrelevant for more than a decade. You know the story - after acheiving mainstream success with Out of Time, they released Automatic For The People to much critical acclaim. They followed this up with cutout bin staple Monster, then Bill Berry had an aneurysm and left the band (the other guys, to their credit, wanted to disband, but Berry refused to quit unless they stayed together - see, I do remember something from all those episodes of "Behind The Music"). The three remaining members have released three albums since, of declining quality, the latest being the critically-reviled Around the Sun.

Every soccer mom in the world owns a copy of Out of Time, stuffed into that compartment in between the two front seats of their minivan, sandwiched between a recording of a Beethoven symphony and a copy of The Beatles 1. They have probably spent zero time thinking about the fall from grace of the band, filling the gap with Norah Jones or John Legend or whatever the hell counts for new music to a middle-aged woman. But REM used to matter, really matter, and their descent into the worst of MOR album rock has been horrifying. The truth is that REM were never edgy - they made pretty simple roots rock, with just a hint of punk DIY spirit. Hootie and the Blowfish became millionaires with just about the same formula, stripped of the DIY ethic by its label or the band itself. In the end, their early "cool" records don't sound that different from their current output, and it makes me question why I loved them in the first place - in fact, it makes listening to even their first few albums a bit embarrassing.

In 1996 the Orioles made the playoffs for the first time that I actually remembered (I was too young in 1983 to appreciate their run). That team is probably best remembered for two things - Roberto Alomar spitting in the face of John Hirschbeck near the end of the regular season, and Jeffrey Maier turning a Derek Jeter flyout into a home run in game 1 of the ALCS. The next year, 1997, the Orioles went wire-to-wire in the AL East (being the last non-Yankees team to win the division up to this point). This was the greatest year I've yet had as an O's fan - I started college in the fall, so I got to watch the postseason in dorm rooms with like-minded people. Sure the O's lost their second straight ALCS, but in the end it was a hell of a fun ride.

My favorite player on those O's teams was Rafael Palmeiro.

I loved Cal, but he was an earlier generation's Oriole. Roberto Alomar lost a lot of respect with his expectoration, and besides which he always felt like a mercenary. My roommate Jim swore that he saw Brady Anderson in a restaurant carrying a purse - I didn't really believe him, but the fact that I had to think about it tells you a lot about how regular (read: male) fans felt about Brady. Mussina was great, but who chooses a pitcher as their favorite player? No, Raffy was the guy - I remember when he signed with the O's in the 93-94 offseason, it was a big deal because Angelos was still a pretty new owner, and this was the first splashy free agent signing he had made. I loved him - his effortless swing, his little Cuban mullet, his perfectly-styled mustache. He was humble, and he was seriously fucking good.

On August 1, 2005, the lead story on Sportscenter was that Raffy had tested positive for steroids. Canseco said it, but no one really believed it; Canseco's a vindictive douchebag, and Palmeiro looked the same in 2005 as he did in 1995. He didn't balloon up like the other suspected steroiders. But Canseco was right, Raffy had used. Most people were understandably outraged; I was sad. He still looked the same as he did in 1996 and 1997, when the O's finally mattered, so to me he still WAS the same guy. It wasn't simply 2005 Raffy getting caught cheating, it was 1997 Raffy getting caught too. He has permanently altered my memories of that team, and he has made it an embarrassment to remember it with fondness.

I know that REM will ultimately be remembered not for their latter-day output, but for the albums that put them on the map and made them into a success story and an inspiration to hundreds, if not thousands, of other musicians. In the same vein, I believe that some day Palmeiro will be in the Hall of Fame. When this has all passed into history and voters realize just how pervasive this stuff was, they will be able to put in guys who used, even if they have to hold their noses. After all, they may hate steroids, but the love of round numbers ultimately trumps all. I don't know how I'll feel about it, but I know it won't be the same as I would have felt before that test came back positive.

And I know that Document is still a fucking good album. But somehow, it's not as good as it used to be, and that sucks.


So, can the Diamonbacks make the playoffs? Today they are one back of the Reds for the Wild Card, and 2.5 back of San Diego in the division.
They've got snazzy kids (Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin) old man-crushes (Shawn Green), and the best pitcher in the National League, but he's hurt. And now, Livan, everyone's favorite half-brother. The bird-faced Erick Karabell will tell you that his numbers, while poor, mask what is actually an alright year. You read a lot about Livan's postseason experience, but most of that came in 1997 and the rest back in 2002 with the Giants. It's a weak division, though. It's hard to back Coletti's army of injured middle infielders or believe in a lineup where Josh Bard is getting at-bats in the cleanup spot. As for their competition for the Wild Card, last night Jeff Weaver held them to a run over six innings. Arizona has no terrible holes in the lineup, especially if they replace Green with Quentin, a have just improved their rotation. I see the workhorse (some players recieve only one adjective) taking them to the playoffs.