Saturday, September 30, 2006

The sword of Damocles



We all knew it was coming. Over the first 4 weeks of the season, the team had played high school programs and girl scout troops. There is nothing to be learned about a program's strength playing BU, UNC, Duke and Cincinnati. It's a shame the team had to fall so hard against the first real team it played (especially since the Wreck took a beatdown last year in Lane, 51-7) but it's probably better that they dash the hopes of the Hokie faithful now rather than stringing us along for a few more weeks. Two Thursdays from now the team travels to Boston to take on BC, and we'll see if they can recover - BC's been a fairly consistent Hokie whipping boy over the last decade, so if there's any ranked team that can help us right the ship, it's them.

The O-line is a disaster. This has been a storyline that has mostly been flying under the radar so far, with our cupcake schedule, but it was readily apparent tonight. Too often, QB Sean Glennon was running for his life, and too rarely, HB Branden Ore had good holes to run through. The passing game is still crappy, but at least some of the blame for that goes to the line. The surprising thing was how sluggish the defense looked - G. Tech went up 21-0 before the end of the 1st quarter, mostly by exploiting the secondary. Calvin Johnson, it should be said, is really fucking good.

So, as it has every other year except one, Tech's hopes for an undefeated regular season end not with a bang, but a whimper. It's an annual tradition around here, and one we take in stride. Ultimately unphased, we'll be glued to our sets when we play BC, and we'll be jumping to the sounds of (sigh) "Enter Sandman" when Southern Miss comes to town on the 21st. Because really, what the hell else are we going to do?

Anyway, enough misery. My brother asked me to post the following, and who am I to argue? So, enjoy.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

It's Really Happening.

1964. Sam Cooke shot by hotel manager. A Hard Days Night and The Times They Are A-Changin' released. Peter Lorre and Harpo Marx die. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wins Pulitzer Prize. Gulf of Tonkin resolution passes. Philadelphia Phillies lose 10 games in a row in September and lose the pennant to St. Louis.

Earlier today, Houston beat Pittsburgh 3-0 behind seven scoreless from Roy Oswalt and despite only getting three hits. The win is their ninth in a row. In St. Louis, Jason Marquis lasted two innings, and the team is down 9-1 in the fourth. Assuming a loss in this game, the Cardinal division lead will be all the way down to 1/2 game(s?). The Astros will go to Atlanta for three, while the Cardinals will host the Brewers. (Presumably, there's an extra game they'll have to make up if the thing is still in doubt at the end).
Now this has really been a hell of a baseball season. Consider all the candidates for 'The Best Story of the Year', or 'The Talk of Baseball', those wonderful hyperbolic summation terms people are so fond of. The Tigers came out of nowhere to lead the AL for most of the year and end up going to the playoffs for the first time since 1987. The Twins spent the first half playing Tony Bautista and Rondell White, and yet have blocked the offseason favorite White Sox and Indians out of the playoffs despite losing Liriano. The Marlins will finish nearly at .500 despite a firesale and a rookie-laden $15 million payroll. The Braves finally missed the playoffs. But somehow I find the Cardinals situation - a possible failure of historic proportions, to be the most compelling.

For the last week, or few days actually, I've been rooting for this to happen, for the only-just-recently unthinkable collapse to occur. It's not out of spite or hate for the Cardinals - I don't know any Cardinals fans, and I'm certainly not some bitter would-be rival North Sider. Although I've been enjoying Leitch's early morning pain, that's no reason to want an unaffiliated team to lose. It's just that the mystique of such a collapse is incredibly compelling. I find that I want to be a witness to a historyic failure, and I suspect that the Brewers and Astros will have many similarily motivated fans in the next few days. People congregate around a car crash or an argument, and root for a faraway gunman or convict to escape the authorities. The Cardinals are very nearly just such a disaster, and it is compulsively fascinating.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Guest Post by Top Grevey.

Not to be confused with either Cary Grant or Topper Headon, our own Top "Topsman" Grevey earned some national notoriety back in '75 for his aborted Gerald Ford assassination attempt. After just squeaking out from custody, he has triumphantly reemerged.
Despite his claims that it was accidental, it seems that football player Terrell Owens tried to kill himself, which confuses me to no end. When it comes to premature death, athletes seem to rarely commit suicide. Suicide is reserved for those musicians who are too afraid to get into an airplane. Athletes, it seems, only die of eventual oscurity and franchise ownership (car dealerships, fast food joints, baseball teams). Being an athlete is widely considered to be the least depressing activity a person can engage in, other than playing piano while Ella Fitzgerald sings "Cheek to Cheek."
I think I understand the cause for the confusion. About a year (maybe two?) ago, when T.O. started getting big (side note--what kind of asshole goes by the initials that are universally recognized to mean "Time out?"), he was most often described as being a bit too small for pro football, and basically an asshole. I was immediately reminded of the role for which Cuba Gooding, Jr. won an Oscar, the "Show me the money!"-shouting Rod Tidwell. Does anyone else remember his hilarious, over-the-top, some-say-racist performance in that movie? Or what about Frank Sachs, Greg Kinnear's boyfriend in As Good As It Gets? In fact, we can even go back to his subdued but powerful performance in Boyz N the Hood. Clearly, the kid had talent. But somewhere along the way he became Mr. Snow Dogs-Radio-Daddy Day Camp.
So I think this may be another incidence of misreporting. Cuba Gooding Jr., depressed with the direction his career is going, has committed suicide, but the press mixed him up with T.O. (as have I) and just failed to check their facts. T.O. will have some very complicated things to explain to the stupified masses now.

T.O. tries to commit suicide!

Just fucking with you. Go watch ESPN, I have nothing to add to this circus. Actually, neither do they. In fact, why are you still watching ESPN? Yeah okay, because you're hoping that one day Chris Berman will simply melt into a shapeless pile of goo in his chair. Me too. I bet it'll smell like rancid ranch dressing. Berman on one side, Michael Irvin on the other. Tom Jackson must have raped nuns in his former life.

Quick apology, directed at anyone who was on the road with me on Monday night, around 11:15PM. I was listening to Monday Night Football on the radio, and one of the announcers was talking about some football pick-'em league he was in and how he was doing really poorly in it. I think he was a former player, I'm not positive. Maybe a coach. Anyway, he said something like this (this is, obviously, a major paraphrase): "Now that I'm away from the game, I'm having a hard time picking the winners. If I was down in the locker room (like, presumably, he was on a regular basis before he was a "broadcaster") I could pick all the games easily, but up here it's a lot more difficult."

So, to all those people on the road, I wasn't yelling at you. Nor having a nervous breakdown. Mostly. I was simply yelling at my radio. I may have punched it too - I blacked out, so I can't really remember. If he.....was in the locker room......he could pick the games easily. You know what, let's just move on. My eye's starting to twitch again.'s almost the end of the baseball season. Half of the races are still in play - the AL Central (a watered-down race, since both teams are in the playoffs anyway), the NL West, NL Wild Card and NL Central (where the Cardinals are pulling a '64 Phillies right before our eyes. Or, in the vernacular of Bill Simmons, if you happen to be him, a "Mischa Barton right before she left 'The O.C.'"). But what this time of year is really about, assuming of course you're an Orioles fan and the races stopped having much meaning around May 15, is taking stock of individual seasons - MVP and Cy Young debates, interesting counting stats acheived by players on crappy teams, things of that nature. Yes, that was a lazy fucking segue.

Alfonso Soriano, playing for the other terrible Washington-area team, has posted a .281/.355/.569 this year. He also became a part of the 40-40 club, and is the first in that group to throw in 40 doubles. It's the best season of his career, and reverses a downward slide he had been in since his previous high-point of 2002. It's also come in the hitter-unfriendly environment of RFK Stadium, which is an important point that will be mostly overlooked.

(In my best comic book tone): Meanwhile, on the other side of the country.....

D'Angelo Jimenez is now playing for the Oakland A's, having been dumped midseason by the Texas Rangers. He signed a minor league contract with them, and looks to fill Bobby Crosby's roster spot at least through the ALDS. Jimenez has hit .203/.329/.305 in 59 at-bats this year, and his career hangs by a thread. He is at least 28 (and he's Dominican, so there is at least some chance that he's older) and he'll probably never see another job as a starter in the major leagues.

In 1999, the two prospects in the Yankee farm system that were talked about most by outside teams in terms of trades were Alfonso Soriano and D'Angelo Jimenez. Both were middle infielders and were considered, at the time, to be potential major league shortstops who were blocked at that position at the major league level by Derek Jeter. On January 24, 2000, Jimenez was driving a car in the Dominican Republic that collided with a bus. He suffered a broken neck and missed the entire 2000 season. He came back in 2001 but was traded midseason to the Padres for Jay Witasick, and became a nomad. Meanwhile, Soriano became the Yankees' regular 2nd baseman in 2001, supplanting human t-shirt cannon Chuck Knoblauch, finished 3rd in the ROY voting and has been a starter for one team or another ever since. He was nothing short of a sensation in 2002, missing 40-40 that year by one single home run, and was considered good enough in 2004 to be traded, essentially straight up, for Alex Rodriguez.

The thing though, is that between about 1999 and 2001, when both players' careers were still very much a matter of speculation, just about any prognosticator you would talk to believed that Jimenez would have the better career. Soriano's plate discipline was fairly terrible, whereas Jimenez's was good. Soriano had slightly more power, but his fielding was worse and he's almost two years older than Jimenez. It was thought that Jimenez would grow into his power, as players his age often do, and that Soriano would find the going a lot tougher at the major league level once pitchers realized he'd swing at anything they offered. Even today, Soriano remains something of a hacker (although he nearly doubled his walk rate this year, which may be a cause of his career year or merely a side-effect), and Jimenez's plate discipline never abandoned him. But Soriano can rake, and Jimenez can't, and that is the difference between being on the verge of cashing a huge free agent contract and being picked up off waivers by the A's.

It would be silly to discount the effect of the crash in the divergent careers of these two players. Something like that is no doubt traumatic, and forces a player to readjust to playing professional baseball. Lingering effects of the injury may manifest themselves in ways that directly affect a player's performance. Perhaps if Jimenez hadn't hit that bus he'd now be the guy with the 40-40 season. But the fact remains that people, sabermetric nerds primarily but also mainstream writers, thought Soriano would wash out, or at best be a Brian Jordan type player, someone with the ability to put up a good year or two but who would mostly be mediocre. Obviously, he's been a lot better than that. And Jimenez was supposed to be Miguel Tejada, and he's turned into Tony Graffanino.

I can only speculate, but I suspect there is something beyond the car accident in play here. Something fundamental to the way players improve with experience, and why projecting players who have yet to play in the majors is far from an exact science. Maybe Soriano is smarter and is able to process information better, which allows him to take more information away from each at-bat. Or maybe he received better instruction than Jimenez did, or more of it. Maybe Soriano has a better work ethic. Gary Templeton had all the talent in the world, but apparently he was lazy to the point that it hindered his ability to improve - something that's rare in the world of pro athletes, who generally have to work incredibly hard to get to the point they're at. I don't know, but the point is this - numbers are a fine indicator of what a player will be. They're certainly better than "he's a natural leader" or "he's got the red ass" or "he looks hot in his pants". But they only tell part of the story, and projecting from them into the future will always be an inexact science, no matter how finely they can be parsed. People who read Moneyball, and are smart, and who don't think it was written by a computer named Billy Beane always say this - numbers are an important tool that an organization would be foolish to ignore. But they aren't meant to supplant scouting, despite what the luddites like Little Joe think. They are meant to be used side by side, because numbers can't tell you things like how hard a guy works, or whether he cares more about chasing girls than learning how to recognize a change-up. And those things can cause a player to sink or swim, just like a lack of plate discipline.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Before I get into my topic, a minirant about the state of talk radio (come on, were you expecting something else?) The political version of talk radio is possibly the most malicious and dangerous part of the national discourse - a lot of people listen to it at work, and it's about the only way you can get work done and also get "informed". But there's no accountability. If you write something in a newspaper or a magazine and you're full of shit, there's a record that can be checked. But if you say something on the radio, there's basically no readily-accessible record to use in order to call you on being a hypocrite. Obviously sports talk radio doesn't have quite the same influence, but it still suffers from a lack of accountability. If a certain radio host (and if you've read any of my earlier posts, you know who I mean) says, before the 2005 season, that the ACC is the best league in the country because it has the best coaches in the country, and then today states that the ACC is the worse league because it has the worst coaches in the country (the phrase was something like, "clearly, the worst coaches") despite the fact that the league has had ZERO coach turnover between then and now, no one is going to call him on it because no one really remembers what he says from one day to the next. But I remembered. And I say to you, The Worst Sports Talk Radio Host In The History Of Creation, that you are full of shit.

Okay, moving on. Certain teams are saddled with words or phrases, for good or ill, that will almost always show up in an opinion piece about them. I came up with a few, but I'm sure there are many more:

1) Pittsburgh Steelers - "blue collar"
"I'm blue-collar," Hines Ward says, by way of explaining everything."

I've never been to Pittsburgh, but from what I can piece together it is a city packed to the brim with stevedores and mine-workers, who relax from a hard day of work with a beer or three (domestic, of course) and some sort of incredibly unhealthy meat product. A sign of the decreasing racial gap in our country - it is now acceptable to refer to black players as "blue collar". No white collar football players here in Steel-town. Didi mao!

2) Chicago Cubs - "lovable losers"
Calamity on Clark Street: Why the Cubs Will Remain (Lovable) Losers

In the end, is there really anything lovable about losing? If you're a masochist, I guess. But year after year, the Cubs continue to suck or, at best, to fail in some spectacular way after a successful season, and every year they are called the lovable losers of Chicago. You'd think a city that experienced the greatest dynasty of the 1990's wouldn't tolerate this crap anymore.

3) San Antonio Spurs - "fundamentally sound"
"This is a simple but fundamentally sound defense played by San Antonio."

This moniker, of course, follows Tim Duncan into the bathroom and holds it for him while he goes. But the entire team has appropriated the name at this point, in complete disregard for every ill-advised, out-of-control Manu Ginobili drive into the lane.

4) Texas Tech Red Raiders - "high-octane"
"the Miners defense pushed the high-octane Red Raiders offense..."

This applies to any team that throws a lot of passes/scores a lot of points and couldn't stop my grandma from pounding it up the gut for 8 yards a pop, but it seems to be applied most often to the Red Raiders these days. If you think that putting high-octane gasoline into your engine will improve your performance you are 100% wrong - high octane gas is meant for high-performance engines, and most likely if you buy a car that requires it you already know it. Putting high-octane gas into a regular engine does nothing except for costing you extra money. So really, calling an offense high-octane doesn't make a lot of sense, unless it costs you more money. This is the opposite of #7 below.

5) Florida Marlins - "upstart"
"It was a huge day for the upstart Marlins..."

The Marlins have won twice as many World Series over the last 13 years as the Phillies have won in their entire 123 year existence, and this is because they are the undisputed champions of flushing their team and replacing it with cheap and good young players. They are always referred to as upstarts because they're always either not expected to do anything at all, or on the verge of being a good team. By the time they finally win they're already on the way towards dismantling.

6) Nebraska Cornhuskers - "corn-fed"
"To welcome our corn-fed friends to Los Angeles..."

Obviously, if you call yourselves "Cornhuskers" then you're going to get labelled as "corn-fed" quite a bit. Corn-fed means a big giant white guy who plays on the offensive or defensive line. Is corn fattening? I'm guessing most of these guys got fat by eating a lot more than corn. And if you're black you're never allowed to be corn-fed; you're pretty much just a big fat guy who likes mama's (or grandmama's, as the case may be) soul food.

7) Detroit Pistons - "gritty"
"Analysts sing daily praises to the Pistons' gritty defense and their laudable teamwork..."

This moniker suggests a defensive team that couldn't score on my grandma if she was in a coma and simply got wheeled onto the playing surface while lying in bed. Expect a lot of low-scoring games with a lot of ugly penalties/fouls and possibly two or three near-brawls. This of course accurately describes the Pistons, but this is a label that flows from team to team. I guess gritty relates to "grit" which is like determination and fortitude but sounds like the thing you bite on when you stop at Burger King on your way home from the beach. What unfortunate coincidence of nature caused beaches to be covered with sand? Why couldn't they be covered with powdered sugar?

8) Arizona Cardinals - "underachieving"
"...the eternally underachieving Cardinals."

The Arizona Cardinals have been underachieving for the better part of two decades, which would suggest to most people that they just kind of suck.

9) New York Yankees - "corporate"
"Weep not for that corporate golem misleadingly described as 'The New York Yankees.'"

This works as both a compliment and a pejorative - when the Yankees are winning, it is their corporate attitude that keeps them focused on the bigger picture. And when they're losing, it's their corporate attitude that keeps them from having the fiery passion needed to snap out of a losing streak.

10) Miami Hurricanes - "swagger"
"'Canes Missing Swagger"

This, to me, is the grandaddy of all team cliches. The Hurricanes only have two positions, like a light switch - they are either losing their swagger, or regaining their swagger. Right now they are losing their swagger, most likely because their coach looks like Robert Duvall's retarded younger brother. When they get a new coach and they beat Florida State on another missed field goal, they will have regained their swagger, which will hopefully include a Luther Campbell comeback. Because Luther knows where the bitches are at, and players at The U don't function properly without a full compliment of bitches.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Alex Rodriguez Psychoanalysis Chaos!

Well, it's been almost exactly a month since the last wave of journalistic masturbation about that embroiled sports figure condescendingly known as 'A-Rod'. You may remember last month's fracas; it concerned an extended hitting slump that involved a pile of strikeouts and went on for about a week. Or perhaps you remember the printstorm before that, the one about several Knoblauchesque throwing errors at third. It seems it's time to go again. Here's Tom Verducci's Bronx Zoo throwback report on Rodriguez's presence in the Yankee Clubhouse. The thing is spreading it's way around like the latest Bonds report: here's coverage from ESPN, Deadspin, The New York Times, and Yahoo Sports.
The new chorus of articles really adds to how we see this man. Verducci likens him to the "prettiest girl in high school who also gets straight A's". We learn the he "works too hard" and reflog the old clutch accusations. Of course, the man's signature praise makes an appearence: "for all his gifts, A-Rod may never be seen by Yankees traditionalists as worthy of his pinstripes." Just take a look a the pictures attached to these articles, and don't forget the contract, which should properly have moved into legend by now under some moniker like "Hicks' Folly" but instead has been wielded over Rodriguez's head ever since. Apparently he's a loner in the clubhouse, a place where Jason Giambi advises Joe Torre that "'it's time to stop coddling him.'" Here sits the lonely A-Rod, humming "I Am a Rock" to himself between lifecoach mantra recitals, reflecting on his many failures.I'm two weeks deep into an Intro to Psychology class at my local community college (incidently, this means I can get into MOMA for free). We've visited Freud and Pavlov, talked of Oedipus, child abuse, and insecurity. I feel that a large part of the whole Rodriguez situation, from the predictibly intermitent assults from the papers and radio hosts to the fan dissatisfaction, is due to this being a most termanology conscious society. Whether through increased schooling, Woody Allen, or the repetitive underlying themes and plots of movies and television, we have all become amateur shrinks. The public is now incredibly familar with issues of insecurity, masculinity, all manner of diseases, disorders, disabilities, conditions. The popular lexicon expands through formerly scientific words: obsession, depression, penis envy. More children are diagnosed with personality defects or sent to councilling now than ever before. Through my years of elementary and middle schooling ADD was emerging as something some kids had to go take daily pills for. The term no longer exists; it's now ADHD (I'm skeptical; wikipedia covers it). It sounds like a cranky generalization, but this society grows more interested in mental illness for every episode of House.
I can't add anything to the press about Rodriguez. Any argument about the man, whether defending or attacking him, follows the patterns of years of tossed off journalism and single at-bat overreaction. The pattern of the defense starts with his statistics, whether this year's typical excellence (.286/.385/.517, 34 hr, 114 rbi, best Vorp, 44.9, among AL 3b) or the astonishing career numbers (.305/.385/.572, 463 hr, certain Hall of Famitude). It moves to subtly suggest that the man has become an issue with uncomfortable undertones in both class (from the contract) and race (the last name). It then moves on to address the perceptions of sample size and clutchness that hound the man every day in the press and minds of fans, and then, more subtly, the psychoanalysis of it all, encumpassing the insecurities and mental complexity of both the man and the fan. We find that sports journalism has shifted from the character assassination done to Ted Williams and Barry Bonds to something else, the accululation of doubt of a star in the spotlight. The struggle over Rodriguez's reputation becomes a new, postmodern study of a celebrity and his mind by a semi-knowledgable population with a fondness for pseudo-medical proclaimations.
There's just nothing to add on Alex Rodriguez from either side. Repetition, from lurching attack to scrambling retort, has been the constant with him ever since, even I have to mention it, the contract, and especially the trade to New York. In the end, my rambling thoughts today were probably just as masturbatory as Verducci's insider tale.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The little *

The Mets "finally" got theirs yesterday, with the Yankees, A's, and Cardinals soon to follow. The Met clinching delay is probably the most press the Pirates have gotten all year, and most of the articles I read included surprise at Trachsel's 6 good innings. Their rotation is a pile of injuries, kids, and subpar veterans, and I wouldn't trust it to get past a Padre or Dodgers team that's just played a month's worth of postseason-level baseball. Every year a wild card team "surprises" in the playoffs - why should we be taken aback this year? Hate to talk about things like grit or toughness but the Mets just got swept by the Pirates in the three most meaningful/pressurefilled/advertised/overblown games they've played in months. The same argument goes against the Cardinals, actually, and I wouldn't be surprised if last night's home run madness turns out to be an NLCS preview. Were the Phillies to sneak in there, I'd certainly favor their deep rotation and two hitters 'gainst Leitch's two-star squad.
As for the American League, the Yankees will be playing the Wild Card team and so I am sorely hoping for Minnesota to pass the Tigers, leaving the two best staffs in the league to bludgeon each other while my team's absurd lineup sends doubles and homers into the long grassy gaps of Comerica. Both the Twins and A's ought to have a very good chance against the Yankees, whichever series they meet, so I'll go against both my own rooting interest and today's standings to predict an Oakland-San Diego World Series.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Guest post by Guyd Tarken

Mr. Tarken has recently taken up residence with about a dozen anachronistic-style granola-eaters. Though he claims to be a vegetarian, the relocation was a tax issue and not a moral one.

I would not recommend living in a house with other people, if you can avoid it. Live alone, if you can, but if you cannot, at the very least avoid living with the people with whom I am forced to, once a week, spend two hours going over the minutia of the house's problems.

This would not ordinarily be a problem, as I usually just pick a seat toward the back and sleep through these sorts of events, but yesterday I found myself in the curious and surprising position to correct someone's grammar using an example from sports; specifically golf.
I have always considered it a badge of honor to not understand a lick of golf, because it is a bullshit game played by modern day Archie Bunkers. The closest I have ever come to golfing was once painting a golf course while casually employed as a housepainter. I had a solidly good perspective into the world of golfing, as the golfers considered me a reasonably white person to whom they could bitch about minorities, and the caddies saw me as a reasonably working class person to whom they could bitch about golfers. The best conclusion I could reach on the sport is that it is an awful way to spend one's time and I could NOT fathom why so many people think the subject is funny. For Christ's sake, Groucho Marx devoted about half his autobiography to the subject, and it makes for the worst reading in the book.

Anyway, back on subject, one of my housemates (a term that you'd think I'd hate more then the housemates themselves; you clearly do not know my housemates) complained that next to the sink, a pool of water had formed in a divot. This roused me. "A divot," I complained, "is one of those things in golf. Isn't it like the thing that you put the ball onto and then hit it off?"
"No," it was condescendingly explained, "the divot is when the club hits the grass and tears up some turf."
"So is it the turf or the hole in the turf?"

This is bullshit. We cannot have the same word for an empty space and the item that is meant to be in that space. It would be chaos. But, though I thoroughly disagreed with the explanation (see any dictionary website and I will be proven correct), I found within myself a strong kinship with the person who explained it. She clearly does not know much about golf, either. We both apparently have the same idea of what a horrid sport it is. And, in that, we are united against God knows how many awful human beings.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Big Play Dave

Hokies 36, Blue Devils 0. The world lets out a collective yawn, wonders when VA Tech plans to play a real actual football team (September 30, vs. Georgia Tech).

David Clowney has been my favorite player on the Hokies for a long time now, mostly because he's been here since about 1806. I liked him at first because his name makes me titter like a schoolgirl, but he has slowly blossomed into a big play receiver and the leader of the Hokie receivers. He went for 120 yards today, which is completely irrelevant to the following anecdote.

A friend of mine says he saw him at a bar downtown last night - he recognized him due to the fact that one of the people he was with is friends with Dave. This person claims that Dave called him recently and asked if he wanted to come over to, and I quote my friend "triple team some girl". This guy declined - no word on whether Dave decided to simply double team her or called off the entire endeavor out of disappointment. The moniker that I have given him, "Big Play Dave", will never sound the same to me again.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Wheel of History

It's my belief that history is a wheel. "Inconsistency is my very essence" -says the wheel- "Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away". - Tony Wilson

Yes, that's a quote from 24 Hour Party People, one of the most frustrating good movies ever made. It's an interesting look into a fascinating subject (at least in my eyes), the explosion of the Manchester music scene, and it's full of clever lines, but it's also clear that there's a lot more going on than the movie has the inclination to deal with.

I want to talk about another 24 hour party person, one of the most polarizing non-controversial figures in sports, The King Of All He Surveys and 1058th person to have seen Mariah Carey naked, Derek Jeter. This, I believe, will be the first time anyone has ever written about Derek Jeter, who has gone criminally unnoticed by baseball fans in general, and certainly by the mainstream media. You may ask, why am I writing about this nobody, this nothing, this schnook if you will? First, is it your business what I write about? No, so pipe down. Second, I heard Tim Kurkjian refer to him as (I'm paraphrasing) the "most underrated player in baseball and perhaps in the history of creation, from the birthing of the universe from the Hiranyagarbha to the end of our current cycle of existence and the Pralaya. This is a facinating idea on a number of levels, and I want to explore it.

Jeter came up in 1995 for his first taste of the majors, but his proper rookie season was 1996 (incidentally, I remember a Sports Illustrated piece from that year discussing the future of shortstops in New York, with Jeter and Cuban heartthrob Rey Ordonez being the focus of the piece, and it's so cute to think that a guy who could play the field like a motherfucker but who couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper sack could be the "future" of a professional baseball club. But I digress.) The 1996 Yankees won the World Series with Jeter winning the ROY award but really only being one cog on that Yankee team. The Yankees have since added 3 more championships, as well as 2 pennants and a slew of postseason appearances, and the guy in the middle of everything has always been Mariano Rivera. Oh wait, I was talking about Derek Jeter. Yeah, he's been around too.

Jeter has been the subject of intense debates for a decade. Those who blindly support and love him, like ESPN and, presumably, Jesus Christ Almighty (20 million per year, women at his beck and call, New York City as his plaything) can't talk about him without mentioning at least one of the following terms: intangibles, leadership, chemistry, baseball IQ, gives good head...wait, that's just me. Anyway, these people truly and honestly believe that Derek Jeter is underrated, because of the unstated assumption that baseball fans are too stupid to look past things like numbers and actual production to see the heart of the man beating out its intangibles one cutoff throw to home plate at a time. Slide, Jeremy, you fat fuck!

And then there is the other side, the side that believes Derek Jeter is the most overrated player since Phil Rizzuto (no, that's not a coincidence), that he's a terrible defender with a reputation as a great one because he makes that jump-throw look so damn pretty, that he's half the hitter Alex Rodriguez is and Yankee fans are a bunch of goddamn worthless monkeys because they can't see it. And yes, I am generally in this camp. Jeter has been a sucktastic defensive player (although I believe he's getting better, that his positioning has improved a lot, to the point that he's not that different from early-90's Cal Ripken Jr.) I believe that average fans see things in Derek Jeter that aren't there, because baseball journalists are constantly telling them how great he is.


Derek Jeter is, quite possibly, going to win the AL MVP this year. The people who don't think he should win, who think Jermaine Dye or Justin Morneau should win, have all sorts of reasons to vote against him, and most of them are wrong. "Jeter's not a run-producer, only RBI guys should win MVP's." "Jeter's not even the MVP of his own team." "The Yankees would still win without Jeter, how valuable could he really be?" These are stupid reasons. Jeter is second in the AL in VORP, behind Travis Hafner, who would win the MVP in a perfect world but perfect worlds are boring. Jeter deserves the MVP this year. And it should be pointed out that this isn't even Jeter's best year - that would be 1999, when Pudge Rodriguez walked away with an MVP that could have gone to Jeter, or Nomar, or Manny, or Pedro, or Robbie Alomar, but instead went undeservedly to Pudge. In a nutshell, Derek Jeter was pretty fucking good at hitting the baseball in 1999, is pretty fucking good at doing just that in 2006, and was pretty fucking good (to varying degrees) in all the intervening years.

The time in which a baseball player is actively playing the game is short - 15, 20 years for the longest careers. Between the time they retire and the time they die is closer to 40 years, or more than double the length of their active career. When a player is active they're described with subjective things like intangibles and locker-room presence by guys like Tim Kurkjian, but once someone is retired all that's really left is the numbers. 50 years from now, when a kid who never heard him play live is asked what he thinks about Bob Dylan, he's not going to talk about what he said one time to a hostile audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall or how shitty he treated Joan Baez. He's going to talk about what he thinks about the songs on Blonde on Blonde. Musicians have different strengths - some are great live performers, some are funny and charismatic, some are controversial. But in the end, all that history is going to remember is what you managed to get down on record. Put out great albums, you'll be remembered as a great artist. Put out shit albums and no matter how great of a live act you are, you're destined to be forgotten. A player's numbers, his page, is the legacy he leaves. That's what he'll be remembered for above and beyond anything else. No one knows what Tris Speaker's intangibles were; no one will remember what Jeter's were in 50 years.

When you get down to that, when you strip all the extraneous bullshit away and just see what Jeter will leave behind, you're left with the inescapable conclusion that Derek Jeter is pretty fucking good at baseball. He has a career OPS+ of 121, which will certainly go up after this year. He has never finished a full season lower than 100, and he's done this at shortstop where (despite some recent history) it is still hard to find a good bat. He's not a great shortstop, maybe not even a good one, but he's a servicable one, capable of playing the position without killing his team, and that can be enough. He's not underrated, because casual fans think he's a god among men and real fans know that he's not better, in general, than a handful of other players. But that doesn't mean he's not really good, because he is.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Notes from the weekend

Another one of these, because I'm a lazy bum and I can't think of a good topic.

- I don't want to go on about the Hokies too much. They won handily at UNC 35-10, a score which masks the ineptitude of the offense, specifically the passing game. The first two Hokie touchdowns were set up by an interception and a punt block, another came directly from an interception return, and a 4th involved a pass from "quarterback of the future" Ike Whitaker. Sean Glennon threw for 66 yards. Running back Branden Ore is basically the entire offense at this point - he's real good, but the lack of any sort of passing game is going to end in heartache.

- The Redskins lost 19-16 on the least shocking missed field goal ever. John Hall is to kicking what, presumably, Dakota Fanning would be to kicking - a little girl who can't kick the ball very far. The loss wasn't really Hall's cross to bear - a few key penalties down the stretch (Raiders type penalties - unsportsmanlike conducts and the like) buried the Skins in the final few minutes. Maybe it was Norv Turner throwback night and they forgot to tell the fans.

- I've finally figured out who Roger Federer reminds me of. This guy

- The NL MVP race seems to be coming down to Ryan Howard vs. Albert Pujols. Both fine selections - I like Howard's advantage in games played (140-125) but I'm a bit biased so don't listen to me. Carlos Beltran has also been discussed as a candidate, and he'd be okay as well - in fact, given his defense, he may be a better choice than either of the other two. Not to be missed, though, is the phenomenal season Miguel Cabrera is having. Most of the talk around the Marlins has been about their strong crop of rookies, but Cabrera is still only 23 (according to his bio, at least) and currently sports a 1017 OPS. He has increased that number every season that he has been in the majors. He is as good as any young position player in the league, and the Marlins would be fools to trade him.

- I watched Mona Lisa over the weekend; I had recently watched The Long Good Friday and wanted to round out my Bob Hoskins collection. Mona Lisa's a better movie, but The Long Good Friday has the better Hoskins performance. Michael Caine shows up because it was a movie made anywhere at any time during the 80's, so he was contractually obligated to appear. Clarke Peters also shows up as a sleazy pimp - it's odd to see him in a non-David Simon role (watch The Wire). His character is 100% the opposite of Det. Lester Freamon (watch The Wire). Plus it's an English movie, which is really incongruous with his usual role (watch The Wire). Yes, this entire section was a thinly-veiled excuse for me to harangue you about watching The Wire. Watch The fucking Wire already. Sunday, 10:00, HBO.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ortiz Makes Stupid Comments; Ensures Jeter MVP

Now your failure is complete.
ESPN: Ortiz says he should still be considered for MVP.
Say what you want about 'Captain Intangibles', but he'd never make a comment about his own MVP candidacy. Matter of fact, he rarely gives an answer to any loaded question of any kind. Mentioning that Jermaine Dye or Justin Morneau could win "depending on who makes the playoffs" does not advance Ortiz's point either. And bringing up Rodriguez just makes him should like a frustrated B-hatted blogger with the complete DVD set who has secretly started to believe in the curse again. His lineup comments are ridiculous as well; few players in all of baseball has better lineup protection than Ortiz, with Manny Ramirez hitting fourth. Of course the most important point is one that Ortiz has recognized: how can the MVP be from a team that's ten games back?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Joey, baby - dont get crazy

Nah, just fucking with you, I never really got the appeal of Concrete Blonde. Johnette Napolitano is just a bit too goth chick scary for my taste, and Concrete Blonde seems like just another of those "too wussy for metal, too obnoxiously aggressive for college rock" bands that was so popular in the early 90's, like Faith No More.

But I don't want to talk about Johnette and her junkie boyfriend. I want to talk about a much more interesting Joey: Joey Porter, linebacker, Steelers. Joey always reminds me of that line by Principal Skinner that he used when he first began his attempt to boink Edna K, "I've always admired your tart honesty and your ability to be personally offended by broad social trends." Joey's always pissed off at something, whether it's the softness of the Colts, Jerramy Stevens actually suggesting that his team was capable of winning the Super Bowl or even, occasionally, our Supreme Overlord and Protector. Joey loves to be pissed off. Of course, the man was once shot in the ass, so who the hell am I to quibble with his approach towards life? Taking a bullet in the heinie is guaranteed to make you a bit high-strung.

You've probably seen the picture of Joey planting one on coach Bill Cowher's cheek (Fucking Deadspin, stealing my bit). Or maybe you haven't. Joey's like most high-strung people - when he hates you, he HATES you. And when he loves you, he wants to fuck you. Sweetly and tenderly, like you deserve, but make no mistake, Joey is going to make you scream when you come.

Everyone thinks that Joey's kiss is hilariously homoerotic. And I do as well. But you and I and everyone else knows that every single play in every single football game since the beginning of time is equally, if not more, homoerotic than that. Football is a nonstop succession of dudes touching other dudes. Sometimes it's blatant, like when someone congratulates a teammate by smacking him on his ass. And sometimes it's subtle, like when a guy gets down in a pancake block and the two of them end up on top of each other, sweaty bodies writhing against one another in a dance of aggression and ecstasy. Or when someone's at the bottom of a fumble scrum, and he reaches out and grab some dude's johnson just to see if it's bigger than his (it is). The truth is that football is, to paraphrase Leon the orange julius guy, "for gays".

So what happens when one of Joey's teammates, or leaguemates, comes out and says that he actually likes touching dudes and, what's more, chooses to touch them even when he's NOT playing football? And that he's not going to stop playing football despite all this dude touching? Everyone knows that the numbers aren't on Joey's side - even if the low-end estimates are true and only about 1% of American males over age 18 are gay, that makes about 17 gay men playing in the NFL right now. Well I don't know how Joey will feel, but I know how Todd Jones, Garrison Hearst and Jeremy Shockey (among others) feel about it. Not sunshine and roses, that's for sure, and not just because that's the sort of thing that Christopher Lowell might say. See, I pick on Joey because he's outspoken, but I would guess that most football players have the same sort of high-strung personality that he does, because how else could you get angry enough to hit people every week who have never done anything to you? And high-strung guys are the least likely to accept a change as (cosmetically) monumental as having an out teammate.

This is the last frontier in team sports. There are some out athletes among the individual sports - female tennis, specifically, has had more lesbians than "Where The Boys Aren't". But a major team sport athlete has yet to come out while still playing, so any idea about how he'll be received is pure speculation. In society at large, the idea of coming out has lost some of the stigma that was once attached to it - witness Baseball Prospectus's Chris Kahrl's recent admission that she is now living as a transgendered woman: "her heart’s been warmed by the utter nonreaction she’s gotten from baseball and baseball-journalism folks since converting to womanhood". But Chris doesn't have to suit up next to high-strung crazies like Joey, guys who maybe are threatened to be reminded just how gay their job is. It's going to take a superstar coming out to break the stigma of being gay and a pro athlete in a team sport, because only someone who is fully established and respected will be able to weather the criticism and, more importantly, the snide comments spoken on the field that don't appear in the paper. But it's the 21st century, and it's about damn time - we have yet to have a non-white or female president in this country, we could at least have a gay superstar athlete to show the world we're not as backwards as they think we are.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Guest post by Thank Charleston

<-- This is not Thank Charleston; it is Angus Lennie.
Thank has had a tough time and he wants you to hear about it. Seems he was a tall child, but not nearly Andre the Giant level in anything. There was no famous author in his early life.

I have never wanted to be an athlete. I never wanted to grow up to be a baseball player, and I never wanted to play in Little League. But what comforted me all those years when I had to learn to read because all the other boys were busy breaking each other's shins was that in my mind, I could be a competitor if I wanted to. If I really worked hard and put my nose to the dugout, I could pick up a bat and send a ball sailing, or drop "the rock" through "the hoop," or sink a putter or nab a goal or what have you. With that logic, it was clearly my own sane choice to spend my time with the Animorphs, and later Billy Pilgrim.
What was frustrating, however, was knowing that there was one thing I could never be: a jockey.
Sure, I could wear them, but I was far too tall to ever be one. In fact, I was always absurdly tall, which led many people to mistakenly think I was a basketball player (I wasn't). What killed me was that I could have been the size of a jockey and still been a basketball player, but at my height I could never, ever, get on a horse and make it go fast.
Further distressing is my more recent revelation that this too-tall problem extends beyond the world of being a jockey. I am too tall to be an old-school physical comedian. Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and all three Marx Brothers (I know what you're thinking; shut up) were all very short men who would cast very tall villains to make themselves look put upon and sympathetic. If I want to appear in an auteur comedy from the 20's or 30's, I could only play the awfully serious guy who gets his what for.
It is times like these, when I am realizing the limitations of my height, that I think back to the Tom Hanks movie "Big," and remember how much that little kid wished he were bigger.
Fuck him.

Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nelson.

<--- Here he is in unhappier times. Beckett has a 5.11 era.
Seems as I was happily watching Rio Bravo, the Marlins rookie threw a no-hitter. It's always been hard for me not to root for his team, even in the 2003 World Series. They're a Hollywood-style up and down group who are always thrilling, and always full of rookies and young guys. It's impossible to hate the Marlins - they simply haven't been around enough. Not just the franchise, but the players are consistently of the young, wide-eyed variety. As for reasons to like them, there are plenty, starting with Joe Girardi, the 'Fish' nickname, the thematic teal. As a Yankee fan, I love seeing former Red Sox and Mets prospects succeeding, and even the most bitter dispariger has to be rooting for them to make the playoffs (well, unless Anibal-inspired coverage makes them insufferable.) Plus, Jeremy Hermida looks like Tom Waits.
They've got a way to go, being three back of San Diego for the Wild Card, though the Dodgers seem to be ready to collapse, which might open a space up for the youngsters. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo and friends do seem to be small potatoes next to the potential of this team going forward, even if they finish behind the Padres or Phillies. To segue, the Marlins brash-young-up-and-coming act recalls Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo, which I enjoyed thouroghly. The classic Western elements of the movie were great - John Wayne played a little lighter, paternal and sometimes tongue-tied and embarrassed version of his normal character, Ward Bond showed up and was shot, and the girl was way more liberated than I expected. Wayne in particular was a joy, showing some perfect comic timing and a genuine sense of misplacement at points. Coming a few days after seeing The Searchers, it was particularly startling to see even a chinck or two in the man. The confusingly named film also has a place in music history. It came out in 1959, right as rock n'roll was entering the mainstream, and starred two of the biggest musicians of the time, Dean Martin, representing the 50s crooning rat pack lifestyle, and Ricky Nelson, the new wave of early rock. The paring is something like Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift in From Here To Eternity - suddenly the star is middle-aged, and playing a supporting role.
Martin in particular is fantastic as the reforming "Borachón", Spanish for Drunk. He's quite a simpathetic figure, hands actually shaking as he goes through withdrawal. Famous as a real-life lush, he is here scruffy, unshaven, but ultimately loyal to father-figure John Wayne (it's a convention to shorten a name in a long piece like this one, but who would ever call the man 'Wayne'?) He begins the film's one well-selected musical interlude, singing laying down, with his hat over his face, in a great set piece just before the final confrontation. Ricky Nelson, representing the future of music (remember, this was 1959), sings the second part of the scene, pulling out an obviously anachronistic guitar and hits into an uptempo version of the nice old song "Cindy". I've a copy of a nice duet of this one between Johnny Cash and Nick Cave, and here we have Dean Martin on backing vocals.
To contrast with Martin, Ricky Nelson's young gunslinger is clean and handsome. His boyish, young-Elvis looks and soft voice work well with a noncommital character, who takes most of the first hour off before finally saving John Wayne from some thugs and joining our heroes. He's soft-spoken and teenaged, sure, but he's a very fast draw, even in an uninterupted cut. The group is preventing a man charged with murder from being rescued by his brother; in the process they kill ten or twenty men of their own, but in the name of justice. Rio Bravo's just a standard Western from the old Hollywood days, really, albeit funnier than most and a cast that represents to me the changing of the guard of music royalty, but there's something comforting and fun about it. A bit of the old Americana in the best sense perhaps. John Wayne may have been a right-winger, or at worst, a Nazi, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a badass. Nothing quite like a good Western, or a no-hitter by a 22 year old kid. A good night.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Notes from the weekend

I don't have an overarching theme today, just some disconnected thoughts about the past weekend. If you'll be so kind as to indulge me; if not, I'll just write this crap for myself.

- The game I attended on Saturday was, naturally, VA Tech vs. Northeastern. Have I mentioned how embarrassing our out of conference schedule is this year? On tap we have Northeastern, Cincinatti, Kent State and Southern Miss. Even if we were good enough to contend for the title, our schedule would leave us out of all but the most favorable BCS contingencies.

- Sean Glennon's numbers (15-18, 222 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT) looked fine but don't be fooled - Glennon looked much worse than that. He fits every stereotype of a white quarterback - when he runs for a 2-yard gain his effort level is about the same as when an average running quarterback gains about 10 yards. His throws miss the mark more often than not, but he gets bailed out by his receivers. Maybe he was just working out the jitters (this was his first extended game experience) but if he doesn't improve, things are going to be bad for the Hokie offense against real teams.

- I don't mean to constantly harp on how much ESPN Radio sucks, but a certain morning show host that I hate with the white-hot intensity of a million suns went into one of his comfort zones today that absolutely makes me want to stab a homeless man with a bread knife: The "pit football against baseball and see which is more popular" bit. First, I know a lot of sports fans and pretty much to a man they are capable of being fans of both sports. Second, one of the arguments used against baseball is that once football season (college and pro being lumped into one catch-all category, even though they have distinct fan-bases) starts, baseball gets dumped on the side of the road by most sports fans outside of (ESPN BIAS ALERT! ESPN BIAS ALERT!) New York and Boston. This ignores the fact that historically (and not just since Bud Selig's reign of terror) most teams are out of the running by the beginning of September, giving most fans little reason to hang on to the scrap of the regular season left. It should also be pointed out that football (college and pro) doesn't have to directly compete against any other major sport as they limp to the finish line in December - the NBA starts in October so that by the time football teams are slotted into postseason spots, the NBA is already in the midst of its painfully long regular season, and the excitement of the season's beginning is already a distant memory. If the schedule was reversed, and MLB started its season around the beginning of December, plenty of NFL fans following 3, 4 and 5-win teams would abandon the sport for baseball.

- Also on ESPN Radio, Michael Irvin did his usual shuck-and-jive on the Dan Patrick Show, and I bet you can guess the topic. Okay, got your answer? You were close - he wasn't specifically talking about TO, but he WAS talking about how every wide receiver ever is underpaid and should continue to hold out until they're given unlimited supplies of fur coats, tasteful jackets and crack vials as far as the eye can see. Or something like that. Anyway, he stopped boogalooing long enough to make one lucid point - Brett Favre has been hearing "can't" so long that he's incapable of distinguishing constructive criticism from meanspirited bashing, and that's why he's suiting up for the Packers in 2006. Brett's not a silver spoon guy like, say, Peyton Manning - he had to settle for playing at Southern Miss, got drafted in the 2nd round by a 2nd rate organization that unceremoniously dumped him on what was then another 2nd rate organization, and constantly had to prove himself with the Packers before they learned to trust him. So now, when people around him tell him that maybe he should think about quitting, he's too hardened to listen to them. I don't mean to make this into some sort of Horatio Alger story - Brett's got many more athletic gifts than most of us - but he has had to learn to fight for what he has, and when you and I and everyone else knows that the Packers are terrible and Brett is a big part of the problem, he is simply incapable of hearing it objectively. This year will probably be frustrating enough that he'll finally make the right decision after the season.

- I realize that pretty much everyone on the face of the earth has, by this point, agreed that Oasis were a huge piece of shit all along and we were fools to be suckered in by them in the first place, but I watched the video for "Live Forever" on The Alternative last night and they still fascinate me. That song has one of the most kick-ass drum openings of all time; if you were hearing it for the first time, you'd listen to that and think man, this is about to seriously fucking rock. And then Liam starts singing and it's that grating Mancunian accent singing sub-Stone Roses psychedelic crap and you're incredibly disappointed. But then the song clears the first verse and goes into the bridge and you think, again, here is their chance to really knock out a strong chorus and save this song but no, they fizzle out into the "You and I/Are gonna live forevahhhhhh" lyric and you take the CD outside and fill it with buckshot. That song describes them in a nutshell - they had all the trappings of a really good rock and roll band (hardscrabble upbringing in working-class English town, a dangerously antagonistic relationship both amongst the band and between band and audience, a songwriter with an ear for melody) and they seemed good at first but once you start to get into the meat of the song you realized that they were creepily obsessed with their influences to the point that it kept them from pitching their own tent, so that all of their music is filtered through the mealy-mouthed psychedelia of the death rattle of Madchester. Oasis didn't want to be The Beatles, since they were astute enough to realize that no one really wants a "New Beatles" to ever come along; who they really wanted to be was the Stone Roses, but they came along about 5 years too late and ended up sounding derivative. It goes without saying that derivative music ages particularly badly because it lacks the courage of its convictions, having borrowed them directly from others.

(Seriously, Liam? Enough with the scarves.)

Edit: Here's the video, if you're curious -