Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Big hint in the title

Another hiatus strikes the Pantheon of Bloggers: Sluggo's putting the blog to bed for a while. This makes five from a list that never numbers more than twenty. Sort of makes me wonder whether I have a Blog Jinx to go along with the Sports Jinx.

The man always has something interesting to say and says it well. We'll miss you, Sluggo. If you need a soapbox drop me an e-mail.


Since you’ve sat through the nattering nabobbery about bad ads, it’s only fair to talk about what actually does work. Blinding Flash of the Obvious – I have no demographic info and could not begin to guess about my peer group, which seems to be “young fogey.” This is just what works for me, Joe Consumer, an 18-35 type with a decent job. By blog logic, this means that it automatically applies to all of you. (Implied consent, just by loading the page. See what Microsoft can do for you!)

In general, the good spots have the same hallmarks – they’re simple, clever, and fun. You can get away with two of the three, or even one if it’s the only thing you’re trying to do, but you can’t flub them all, or you wind up with one of the spots we mentioned in our last post.

A lot of them are also musical. There’s nothing like a snappy jingle to fix a slogan in the mind. People in my parents’ generation can rattle off the musical spots of their youth the way rappers drop f-bombs: Brylcreem, Alka-Seltzer, Band-Aid, Budweiser.*

It should come as no surprise that many of my favorites are radio ads. Example: there’s a series of racetrack spots that run on the local stations, where a spot-on track announcer calls various everyday events like a horse race. “Guys Night Out” is hands-down the best of these: “And here’s Beautiful Girl! Single Guy comes up on the rail, but Beautiful Girl pulls away! Oh, no! Here comes Cheesy Pickup Line! It’s Cheesy Pickup Line, immediately followed by Getalife, You’re a Creep, and In Your Dreams!”

In general, this brings up the make-or-break guideline, the thing that makes good concepts into great ads, or blown opportunities: pay attention to details. The pacing and tone of the announcer make the track spots: CHEE-sy pickup line! If he misses the emphasis or sounds a false note, the whole thing deflates like a week-old party balloon.

Just don't do it too well. Back in 1989, the New Jersey gubernatorial race featured radio ads with a simple, catchy, sing-song refrain – “Flo-ri-o! Flo-ri-o!” The announcer would give a Florio Fact and then the singers would do their little chirpy bit, and so on. Florio won, and was probably grateful for the spots, which did such a good job of wiring his name into the voters’ brains.

Problem is, Florio’s side didn’t run those ads. His opponent, Jim Courter, did. The facts weren’t very flattering, but because of the jingle, nobody remembered them. Haven’t heard a lot of political singing since then.

* my generation has a healthy share of snappy jingles too. “You Deserve a Break Today,” The Children’s Aid Society, Wild West City (link has sound – see what I mean?), singing pills (“We’re Not Candy!”), and the gold standard, Schoolhouse Rock.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Please don't buy my stuff

More anti-advertising:

A-1 Steak Sauce - ok, I'll give you the janitor running through 10 G's to urge the last drop of A-1 onto his steak. But the guy eating some other guy's steak right in a restaurant? It's just too realistically mean to be amusing. Pass.

Verizon - not entirely fair. They've had some good spots lately, but they made a serious misstep with the "We're hip kids filming a documentary" theme. First, it's been done recently (and more effectively) by Coke. Second, hip kids do not film documentaries about the great service people get from a multi-billion dollar phone company; they're much more likely to film documentaries about how those companies screw their customers, even if they have to invent facts to do it. Third, the Coke spots weren't really about Coke - they were about all the odd kids the hip kids "discovered" on their "documentary trip." Sure, the hip kids mostly discovered a lot of product placement for varieties of Coke - that is the whole point of advertising, after all - but the spots never just came out and said it, and that was the charm. Coke just "happened" to be in all these cool, offbeat places. Verizon utterly dropped this storytelling device, and exposed their own spots as shallow and crass.

(It doesn't help that the "Tax Tax Tax" spot has been running on a near-loop locally. It's the ad equivalent of Ali-Liston. Catchy, clear message... Verizon is over the barrel right now. James Earl Jones wept.)

ESPN Mobile - the first couple of these were cute, but again, we're beyond the point of saturation. Now the guy just comes off as a creepy loser: he won't go away, but he won't stop doing free ads for the very company that brushes him off. I picture Stuart Scott tied hand and foot in this guy's closet while he dances, Buffalo Bill style, chanting the SportsCenter theme.

Starburst - pretty much a chronic offender at this point, starting with the klepto spot, blazing into the final lap with the "What if you had no friends" spot, and sprinting through the tape with the latest, where someone drops his roll of candy into a tub of chemicals and his friend loses his arms trying to fish it out. Uh, if your arm's off, maybe the candy dissolved too? Maybe you can just fish 75¢ out from under your car seat and buy another roll? Then again, considering that the stuff is usually sharp enough to cut your gums to the bone if you bite down wrong, those guys may not have been as dumb as they looked.

Maybe next time I'll make up the difference and share some spots that I thought worked. At this time of night, though, we're moving to infomercial hell, so it will have to wait.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

And by the way

The daily rounds have reminded me of two movies I forgot about when I did my list: Throw Momma From the Train and What About Bob? Really, missing that last is preposterous. Bill Murray is a genius, and Richard Dreyfuss gets a chance to show his comedy chops, which are considerable. For that matter, the kid who plays Sigmund (Dreyfuss's son in the film), Charles Korsmo, demonstrates what's possible for a good actor when he's not dragged down by a poorly-written, over-loud, gimcracky movie.

And by the way, I'd actually fogotten a little-known film that Crystal did in '80 that I must have seen as a boy about fifty times. This is one from the Overlooked Films Vault! Great voice cast. Listening to Crystal do both Ali AND Cosell in the boxing segment was funny even when I was eight. And the poor guy at the end of the marathon! "We had it all planned. Kitty Mambo dolls... Kitty Mambo vitamin pills..." (Pronounced vit-a-min - hahahaha!)

Oh, and fer cryin' out tears, The Dark Crystal.

Why it's hard to be a Mets fan

...because they'd rather keep an easily-replaceable commodity like a good outfield prospect than try to acquire an All-Star quality starting pitcher like Barry Zito or Dontrelle Willis.

...because the current starting rotation is sort of like the Mouseketeers - Cubby, Annette, and a load of other guys you've never heard of.

...because Cubby and Annette are, respectively, 48-year old Pedro Martinez and 53-year old Tom Glavine.

...because, to bolster this group, the Mets recently acquired 72-year old Orlando Hernandez - and he's still better than Jose "Beans" Lima.

...because all of this is happening but I'm wasting all my bandwidth talking about Barry Blargin' Bonds - and all my off-line time researching him.

...because I don't get paid dime one for any of that bandwidth or research, while Skip Bayless is still profitably employed to yell stupidly at Woody Page on television, when he isn't condescending to all of us in his columns.

...because after the Braden Looper debacle last season, when he pitched the entire year without telling the team that he was injured and required surgery, Victor Zambrano wound up trying the same thing this season.

...because the team traded away Scott Kazmir for Zambrano, when he's not even the best pitcher among people with his last name.

...becuase now I get to watch Kazmir strike out 10 guys for Tampa every fifth day for the next fifteen years.

...because I miss Bob Murphy's broadcasts.

...because I'm afraid to talk about the resurgence of our center fielder - indeed, I fear to even name him lest my Sports Jinx powers inflict a dreadful freak injury. (Seriously, his head may pop off and fall over the centerfield wall like the first "Naked Gun.")

...because the Mets took two of three from the Yanks last week, but all anyone noticed was the game they blew a 4-0 lead in the ninth and lost.

...because, after the NHL playoffs (which I can't even watch anyway without OLN), all I've got until September is the inevitable "lost 11 of 14 games to drop behind the suddenly-hot Braves" story.

...because they have great home white uniforms, but insist on wearing the goofy stripes or the even goofier black jerseys at every opportunity.

...because, despite all of that, I will still watch and still live and die with them.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The fix is in

update, 5/24, 7:00 pm - at the request of a friend I've done the charts below a little differently than at first.

As promised, I have the results of my computer-run simulations.

To recap - ESPN's Patrick Hruby estimated here that, without pharmaceutic enhancement, Barry would have hit #616 the other day, rather than #714. To test this I ran off five simulated seasons as-is on High Heat 2001. (These would be years 2000-2004, based on career stats through 1999.) I did this for five trials and tabled the results. Then I "juiced" the cyber Bonds by going back to the beginning of 2000 and simply making him ten years younger, to fool the computer into thinking that he was back in his prime, and ran five trials that way.

The cyber Bonds was impressive enough, but, not surprisingly, he tailed off as time went on. In fact, in three of my five trials, he retired at the end of 2003, which means that I only have 23 seasons for him. He hit just over 38.5 homers in those years, though, and finished his career with a healthy 610 total, on average.

This jibes quite well with Hruby. Bonds has, in real life, only hit 10 homers since the end of 2004, which means that Hruby's estimates of the "unjuiced" bonds would be 606.

And if, in Hruby's words, we "throttle Father Time" as Bonds seems to have done?

Juiced Cyber Barry (we'll call him JCB for short) gained, on average, nearly 14 homers per season, hitting as many as 286 twice in five full trials, which would give him 703 at the end of 2004. (In real life, Bonds had 704. So far, so accurate.) And the further you go, the more grotesque it gets. The following charts, for example: the first gives the single-season highs for the clean cyber Barry vs. JCB in several major batting categories. The bottom line is the number of times out of 25 tries that JCB topped clean Barry.

..... hits avg db tr hr .slg rbi runs bb so* sb
Barry 178 .331 45 10 50 .700 148 135 153 70 _14
_JCB_ 196 .352 55_17 76 .836 175 169 171 75 _37
x over 7_ __7_ _7 _5 14 _16_ _5_ _11 _5_ xx _25

*For strikeouts, this is the lowest, not highest, number for a full year.

JCB topped boring old Barry in other measures as well. Unaltered Barry won two MVPs in the 23 years. JCB won thirteen - including one trial in which he won all five out of five years. The Giants (with unaltered Barry) won two World Series in 23 years. JCB's boys won four, and played in two others. JCB also won five batting titles and ten home run crowns, led the NL in RBI eleven times, and even managed to top the league in triples once. And, ludicrously, JCB stole 35 or more bases in a single season 15 times. Unaltered Barry stole fewer than that in four of the five full trials.

This second chart shows the average numbers per year for clean Barry and JCB.

...... hits .avg .db tr .hr. .slg .rbi. runs. walks .so* sb
Barry 155.4 .292 35.6 5 38.6 .594 109.6 114.4 129.8 88.4 _7
_JCB_ 169.8 .317 41.8 9 52.4 .722 136.8 134.0 141.6 93.2 37

JCB had had one freak season hitting only .258, a full 30 points lower than any of his other 24, and still hit 45 homers that year. About the only thing that remained the same was that in the playoffs, both Barry and JCB's numbers dropped sharply, hitting about 30 points lower each time.

Mr. Hruby, you have some backup. Excelsior.

Monday, May 22, 2006

This may take a while

OK, I'm a bit more than halfway through the simulations. It's taking a little while. Soon I'll be able to start with some basic stuff like average season with and without the "juice." But I will say that, after running the first of five trials with a boosted Bonds, the difference is quite marked - he socked, on average, 13 more homers per season than he did in his unaltered years, which is about where I figured. More to come tomorrow...

Re-stirring the pot

In my fits of research about the surge in home runs, I never attempted to answer a basic question, now much on the mind since His Barryness has tied the Babe: how much of this is his prodigious natural talent, and how much is the juice?

Now, someone has attempted to answer. It isn't ever going to be 100% certain, of course, but I like that someone has started the discussion. Hruby's number - 616 homers for Bonds, sans drugs - seems sensible to me, but I don't think it's fair to leave it at that. I'm going to conduct an experiment on the ol' baseball simulator.

I'm going to go into my HH2001, which has all of the historical stats up to and including 1999. I will run the game for five seasons on full simulation (no human input) as-is, five times, and give you Bonds' career numbers each time; then I will edit his player profile to simulate the juice - I will make him ten years younger and repeat the experiment.

Based on having done this with a computer-generated player in the past, I can tell you what I expect: barring injuries, a jump of about 35-40 points in average, an extra 12-15 homers per year, and twice as many stolen bases. (Then again, at his peak Jimmy Howell was swiping 90 bags a year, a rate even Barry would envy.) Later this evening I will post the results.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


This is a guest post from the eldest child of a family friend. The poem deserves some extra attention. -NF

There was a little ducky and he sat upon a log
He was angry with his quack because it sounded like a frog
He had a mental breakdown and he jumped into the pond
Where he met a little fishy with a bright and shiny wand
Ducky wants a normal quack and so he did complain
Fishy coughed *conformist!* - "But I'll make your quack the same."
He told the Duck to close his eyes and quickly spin around
But duck got dizzy
Gasped for breath
And sadly Ducky drowned

Friday, May 19, 2006

Good, clean fun

Top Ten Things That "Vulture 6" Could Be -

10. A secret society dedicated to the militant preservation of avian species
9. The probe that threatened to zap the Earth unless Kirk and Co. produced the Creator
8. The Buzzard Planet
7. A character they planned to introduce on the American version of "Battle of the Planets" (why do you think they called that stupid robot "7 Zark 7?")
6. A secret society that James Bond defeated
5. The long-forgotten, ill-concieved American Motors sports car (and which ironically had five, not six, cylinders)
4. Something Voltron blew up once
3. A Duran Duran/David Bowie concept album that never quite came off
2. What? You never played Vulture 1-5? Are you kidding?

and the number one thing Vulture 6 could be:

A houseboat with eligible bloggers - in Miami Beach!

Anyone want to pick on someone else? My comments are open.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Movie Tag Again

** update, May 19, 5-ish pm - changed below to reflect V's comments.

Well, Vulture 6 has put out a "Top 100 Films Ever" "100 Repeatedly-Rewatchable Films" post, and part of the post involved tagging fellow bloggers for their picks, and I made the cut. The problem is that I already did this last year, a list of 31, and in order to triple the size I'd be diluting the content.

That gives me a problem. I don't want to disappoint, especially a guy with the bloghandle "Vulture 6." How about this - I will do another small list of films not on the first list, but following the same criteria. In fact, we'll just call it "Some Stuff I'm Shocked I Missed." My only defense is that the original tag only asked for a month of movies. (Therfore, my new month shall be called Double Featurary.)

1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Disney) - this thing must have run on a loop on the Disney Channel in the early days, and I saw it nearly every single time.
2. Big Fish - Tim Burton saved all of the color from every movie he'd previously made and used it in this.
3. Blazing Saddles - you can just fill in your own quotes here. _________________________
4. A Christmas Story - I simply can't believe this isn't on the first list. It's actually shameful. I could recite about 70% of it right now. What was I thinking?
5. Ghostbusters - despite the theme song of Ray Parker Jr., already established in this space as a rip-off jockey.
6. Godfather I & II - yeah, and now this. But I do have a defense; or rather, I have an embarrassing admission rather than omission. Turth is, I'd never actually SEEN these movies in their proper form - only in snippets here and there, back and forth, filling in gaps as I could. I'd seen all the scenes at least twice but not the actual movies. Well - now I have, and here they are.
7. The Iron Giant - a fine movie, quite overlooked (but for that meme, see here, and also over here).
8. Jackie Brown - most people say Pulp Fiction, I guess, but I saw this first, and as a result it has pride of place in the Hive. It was, in a way, the least Tarantinic of Tarantino's films. It also has a killer cast in all the important roles, as is his way.
9. Lady and the Tramp - as you can see, I spent a lot of my childhood watching Disney. This is really a great, warm-hearted film.
10. Pixar in general - Incredibles was on the last list; may as well throw the rest into the mix now. (Even A Bug's Life.) The end to Monsters Inc. always makes the Hive a little dusty. They just know how to do a story well. (No surprise that Brad Bird did Iron Giant before coming to Pixar.)
11. The Princess Bride - more shameful omission. Inconceivable! (Luckily AMC is currently running it every 27 minutes.)
12. Rocky I - III - the first film was amazing on a great many levels. Between that and First Blood it's actually surprising that Sly Stallone devolved into a mere action hero and did utter craptaculars like Judge Dredd. The guy wrote ROCKY for cryin' out tears. I'm not saying that he should be doing Shakespeare, but really. "Yo, Juliet, is dat you in da winnow, dere?"
13. The Untouchables - after four tries of typing a Connery quote in Connery's phonetics, I gave up. We will just have to agree to disagree...
14. When We Were Kings - the documentary of the leadup to the Rumble in the Jungle. Truly amazing.
15. The Wizard of Oz - this deserves a separate post, sometime.

And here I break with tradition. I don't like tagging others. Believe it if you need it; if you don't just pass it on.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Case in point

Two generations' worth of thinking like this leaves you wide open, doesn't it?
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - Mexico said Tuesday that it would file lawsuits in U.S. courts if National Guard troops on the border become directly involved in detaining migrants.

In other words, if we enforce our laws we will be sued in our own courts by a foreign power. What's worse is that they have a reasonable expectation that these courts will step in to order that the National Guard stand down. That's the lack of confidence we have as a society - our own courts may well tell us to ignore our laws and compromise our sovereignty.

(w/t to the Coalition of the Swilling - whom I wish hadn't so quickly illustrated my point.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No truth, no dare

My brain's been working over this piece that the Derb wrote for NRO yesterday.

I must admit, up front, that I've not read Lolita, and that I know little of it save Sting's lyric:

It's no use, he sees her
He starts to shake and cough
Just like the old man in
That book by Nabokov

Luckily for me, John Darbyshire isn't really lasered in on the 'theme' of the story so much as our reactions to it: "It is of course a dreadful story, of awful crimes narrated by the criminal. Like all criminals, Humbert is a solipsist, a person who does not really believe in the existence of anything outside of himself... The more you get to know him, in fact, the more unpleasant things you uncover." His point is that Nabokov aims for something that makes us uncomfortable - for something that led many to reject publishing the novel at all back in 1955 - that we recognize Humbert's humanity, distorted and self-defaced as it is. And that's where Derb gets into the meat of his own critique - not of the novel, which he loves ("dreadful" refers to the character, not Nabokov's writing), but of our society:

Ah, the realities of life! Was there ever a civilization more uncomfortable with them than ours is today? Humbert Humbert is a monster and a sociopath. He was a human monster, though, and a human sociopath. His monstrousnesses are hypertrophied growths of our own flaws... It is all too much for our prim, sissified, feminized, swooning, emoting, mealy-mouthed, litigation-whipped, 'diversity'-terrorized, race-and-'gender'-panicked society. We shudder and turn away, or write an angry e-mail. The America of 1958, with all its shortcomings, was saltier, wiser, closer to the flesh and the bone and the wet earth, less fearful of itself.

I'd love Darbyshire's writing regardless, for the lovely last sentence of that quote, but in this case (like so many others) his aim is true. We are timid when it comes to seeing and recognizing real evil (such as that which confronts us in Nabokov) because we've been detached from the truths of our nature, both the gross and the fine. In fact, one reason I love Derb's writing is that he is the perfect Chestertonian Pessimist - the man who, for the sake of preserving the good, stands to remind us of the ways that good can go wrong, and the likelihood that it shall.

In this case, it's good already gone to seed. One of the things our society recoils from is the thought that evil is free choice. "He must be crazy," we say of the sociopath. "They must be poor," we say of the thieves. "They're oppressed and marginalized," we say of gangs or terrorists. And we act accordingly - understanding the criminal and analyzing the crimes, seeking ever to soothe, mollify, and include. We no longer recognize what is painfully obvious - it is not we that reject such people, but they who reject us. Crime is a veto cast against decency and civilization.

To even say that now is considered harsh, much less actually taking such behavior at its word and punishing it. Criminals are unkind and we shouldn't be like them. Terrorists kill and we shouldn't be like them. Humbert is a monster and we shouldn't be like him. All fine and good - but how are criminals, terrorists, and monsters to understand their cruelty if there is no consequence to it? We don't even have the half-understanding of the criminal, who realizes that crime demands a stern response and laughs at the indulgence of the "tolerant" that permits him to remain a wolf among the sheep, not even bothering to disguise himself. At the very least, we could see the obvious - that doing more than merely punishing criminals by definition cannot omit the punishment.

Humbert could correct us, if we let him. He is human, all in all - and as such stands as testament to what we could become if we are not careful about good and evil. This helps explain our squeamishness. We are unwilling to think of evil as a choice that a person may make, because it would open up the terrible possibility that we may go wrong by our choices, and become brigands and lawbreakers ourselves. We call it illness instead of selfishness so that our own indulgences don't trouble us as much: "Oh, I could never rob a bank." Or, "Well, if I was starving I could rob a bank" - which is the same thing from the other end, that if our plight was bad enough we wouldn't be to blame, any more than those who've already been tried and convicted. In both cases, the choice is shunted aside and all we are left with are circumstances and tendencies, conveniently outside of our control. "Must not be like him" becomes a self-fulfilling pipe dream.

The conclusion is not a stumper. Drop away circumstances and there is no difference between good and evil acts. Removing vice from the picture removes virtue from our own reach. Derb could tell you what's next:
Our women dress like sluts; our kids are taught about buggery in elementary school; "wardrobe malfunctions" expose to prime-time TV viewers body parts customarily covered in public...; songs about pimps rise to the top of the pop music charts; yet so far as anything to do with the actual reality of actual human nature is concerned, we are as prim and shockable as a bunch of Quaker schoolmarms. After 40 years of lying to ourselves, we are now terrified of the truth.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The color of homers

Warning - first-class ranting here. (w/t to WunderKraut)

I had an old old website (pre-blog) in which I tried to make sense of Barry's juiced numbers from 2001. The only analogue I could find was a fellow named Steve Madden, ironically a Pirate, whose cartoon numbers defied description: something like .390, 62 hr, 167 rbi, crap like that. Of course, the reason that Madden's numbers were cartoonish was because that's literally what he was. His monster year came in 2024 on High Heat Baseball. And, this being HHBB, the pitchers weren't smart enough to walk him in the early innings with men on.

I'd like to say that I smelled a rat when Sosa and McGwire were off to the races (no pun intended) in 1998. I'd like to say that McGwire's stretch from 89-94 in Oakland made any renaissance suspect. This would be untrue. It was a myth we could still indulge, that of the proud athlete rising back up and showing his old form for one last glorious run. Hadn't he rebounded before the trade to St. Louis? Hadn't he hit 49 homers as a rookie?

Yes, and yes. Only in hindsight does it seem odd that we thought of that as the true player, and not the man who spent a substantial part of the time hitting .230 when he wasn't injured. The rookie phenom was the flash in the pan - the other guy was a mainstay. In fact, McGwire was probably much more in the Kingman/Balboni mold until the andro. And according to Game of Shadows, that's why Bonds - one of the five best players on the planet before '98 - decided to give in and juice up. Below are his numbers if he'd chosen to retire instead:

..G. .AB. Runs Hits .2b 3b .HR .RBI .BB. .K.. .SB .AVG .SLG
1898 6621 1364 1917 403 63 411 1216 1357 1050 445 .290 .556

Hall-of-Fame lock, I'd say. But the siren song was too much for him, as for so many others. I did some reasearch a way way back and found, not only that the top numbers were rising, but also the middle numbers. (Scroll down to the table. This trend held last season as well, with 77 guys hitting at least 20.)

So, coming back to our original ranting - are we all a bunch of Jim Crows for giving McGwire the pass, and not Bonds? Of course not. McGwire had a good chance of duping us at the time - but fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. (Fool him limitless times, shame on Skip Bayless.) McGwire's singing the Fifth Symphony in front of Congress left the erstwhile Bunyan looking much more like a big blue ox, so it's not like he (or Jason Giambi) are suddenly getting a wink and a nod. Same with Raffy Palmiero, whose career ended in a maelstrom of jokes conflating the drugs he endorsed with the ones he actually took.

My thoughts here keep coming back to Ken Griffey. He, too, was incandescent - and then he, too, was injured, and sent from AL to NL. He's rallied, hitting 35 homers last season. He's a guy that people root for, who has genuine love for the game, who keeps coming back, and who seems alone among the myriad current-day sluggers in that he seems to have done it with his own prodigious talent and not pharmaceutically.

The real color to note here is green. Palmiero had already met the 3000 hit and 500 homer milestones; as a result there was nothing else the Orioles could gain from his continued employment. Bonds, however, still has the Ruthian Ghost, and perhaps Hammerin' Hank by year's end. Therefore the Giants will use Bonds as blithely as he used the juice, much as baseball at large has done until last season. The dragon has a leash, and after his fire is spent, it will be safe to discard him - but not before. That's not racial, its just reality.

All we own, we owe him

Happy 150th birthday, Frank Baum.

Wing tip to the uber-writer Mark Steyn and his faboo article on the occasion. Baum, it turns out, didn't have a large political allegory in mind with the Oz books, as I'd always been told. He simply had whimsy aplenty, and it endures, most famously in film.

True trivia: Frank Morgan tried many looks for Professor Marvel, but the one that worked best included an overcoat that had seen better days, purchased at a consignment shop. It turns out that the coat had once belonged to L Frank Baum himself.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Theme to a Summers Place

My thanks to Emily for noticing, and Ken for correcting, my absence from the It Comes In Pints blogroll. True, they called me "Diphtheria," which makes me sound pathogenic, but I am still grateful. The following is respectfully submitted as a token of my esteem and good will.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gee, thanks, man

Two weeks after not taking Reggie Bush first overall, Charley Casserly has resigned as GM of the Houston Texans. Maybe you should have quit before you screwed up a once-in-a-generation chance - especially since it was widely-rumored for months that you were going to interview for a spot in the league office anyway.

Not that I have much sympathy for Bob McNair, the owner who didn't fire him when it was obvious that he was not really interested in leaving behind a clean slate for his successor. You know, like it was his job or something.

"Casserly defended the decision on Wednesday, promising the Texans would quickly improve."

You were 2-14 last season. Improving isn't really that high a bar to clear, is it? Especially when you don't mean winning more games: ' "Our record is what our record is," Casserly said. "But I think this ballclub will make a dramatic jump this year in caliber of play. Eventually, the wins will come." '

Of course, Mike Milbury has been doing the same thing all season for the Islanders, giving up the GM post months ago but still running the team, making trades, and even choosing his own replacement. Y'know, a guy like Bill Walsh earns the right to do something like that - but Casserly and Milbury? I almost wish that Steinbrenner owned the Isles, he at least cares about fielding a great team and competing every season. Uh, Boss, I know we tanked the past month, and I'm rumored to be in every job from Altoona to Vancouver, but would you mind much if I drafted poorly and hosed the team's salary structure before I resign? Great!

You think that dog would hunt?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I take it all back

Right at the bottom of my little draft choice roundup, one comes to the name Doug Wickenheiser. I wrote that he'd played "11 underwhelming seasons with 5 diappointed teams, finishing with more penalty minutes than points."

This was, from a hockey standpoint, true as far as it goes, but it isn't the whole story. Turns out that, while with the St. Louis Blues, Wickenheiser scored in double-overtime against Calgary and forced a game seven in the semifinals. He also struggled to overcome an off-ice knee injury that should have ended his career.

But that's not why the Blues retired Wickenheiser's #14.

My honest apologies to the Wickenheiser family and to the Blues. The year was bad enough for St. Louis (worst record in the league) without my big mouth.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Meow

After flirting with Blue Templates, RGN asked, "Just no kittens." But they're soooo cute!

Someone got into the hard liquor early this year
Celebrate! Cut a rug with your favorite hep cat.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Reverse psychology

Every once in a while, parents groups, "watchdog" organizations, and other well-meaning busybodies make a concerted effort to derail advertisers, especially on children's programs:

The Center tells us that in addition to trying to addict children to food that will shorten their lives, sicken and kill them, Kellogg is actively dissuading children from eating healthy food: "In a Kellogg advertising campaign for Apple Jacks cereal, the commercial features a conflict between Bad Apple, who is described as grouchy and mischievous, and Sweet Cinna Mon, who supposedly gives Apple Jacks their sweet taste. It is bad enough that Kellogg sells a cereal that has more sugar and more salt than it has apples. However, it is unconscionable to disparage apples when kids need to be encouraged to eat more apples and other fruits and vegetables. On an average day, only 45 percent of American children eat any fruit."

The author who quoted this went off on Senators striking poses because it's easier to take action; he apparently fails to notice that the parents involved in these movements are doing exactly the same - it's easier to whine in the media about what tubby tummies your kids have than to turn off the TV and toss them outdoors for some exercise. And how many ads do they see when they're planted in front of their Game Stations for five hours a day?

In any case, it's astounding that anyone would blame ad hawkers for instilling the kids with such insatiable needs when a lot of modern advertising seems to accomplish the opposite. Both Axe and Tag product spots make me want to bury the television out in the Pine Barrens. "An American Haunting" promises the story of supernatural events "that have never been explained." A mystery that has baffled for a century can only be resolved by a horror film! That explains DaVinci Code as well, though it's only a thriller. Billboards try to insult me into listening to a radio shock-jock (presumably, it's practice for being a regular listener). The list goes on - food spots that nauseate, game ads that annoy, ubiquitous swooshes, pointless noise... half the time one can't even tell quite what's for sale.

All of this does show that the watchdogs have the merest sliver of a point - ads DO influence behavior. That isn't a shock. The real shock is that the kids are expected to be able to discern like adults when the adults in their lives demonstrate no discernment themselves - either in dealing with the ads or with the kids. Reverse psychology is not supposed to work that way.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The 75% solution

I understand that hockey is the "fourth major sport," with much less of a following - but if one is a professional sports journalist, how can you pretend that the entire NHL doesn't exist? Here, again, ESPN is teh suq, in the person of Jim Baker, who compares three-fourths of the #1 draftees from 1980 on to see which sport got the best guy.

Again - how can you do that when you've left out an entire sport? Stooge. Of course, it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness:

2005 - Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh (C) - youngest NHLer ever to reach 100 points in a season. Barring injury, has Hall of Fame written all over him. Baker's choice (KC Royal 3B prospect Alex Gordon) has similar potential but hasn't gotten to the bigs yet, which makes me (for now) prefer his #2, Andrew Bogut. My call - NHL, NBA, MLB. (I think Alex Smith is a stiff.)

'04 -
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington (LW) - 52 goals and 54 assists in this, his debut season in the NHL. Baker's 1-2, however, are as good as anything else on the list: the Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and New York Giants QB Eli Manning. Ovechkin is special, but so is Howard, and he's had an extra year at the top level. Manning is a step behind either, both in his skills and in his accomplishments. My call - NBA, NHL, NFL.

'03 -
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh (G) - the hardest position to evaluate early on, since goalies (like pitchers and quarterbacks) take a statistical beating on horrible teams. His competition here is Cavaliers F LeBron James and Bengals QB Carson Palmer, so that hardly matters. The baseballer, Delmon Young, is considered a top-five prospect, though currently he's on indefinite hiatus because he chucked a bat at an umpire. My call - NBA, NFL, NHL.

'02 -
Rick Nash, Columbus (LW) - not at all a passer, but his defense improved dramatically this year and he remains a dangerous goal scorer. The winner is clearly the tall gentleman, Houston's Yao Ming, but it's tough to judge Nash compared to David Carr, Texans QB. I won't be a homer about it. My call - NBA, NFL, NHL.

'01 -
Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta (LW) - an Olympian and a Hall of Fame talent, putting him ahead of baseball's Joe Mauer and basketball's Kwame Brown. That leaves it a single-city rivalry: the football guy is Michael Vick of the Falcons. Vick has the highlight-machine talent and one of the greatest sport commercials ever (the Vick Experience spot where kids get strapped into a roller-coaster chair to simulate one of his scrambles). More importantly, Vick's made the playoffs, and Kovalchuk hasn't yet. My call - NBA, NHL, MLB.

'00 -
Rick DiPietro, NY Islanders (G) - also an Olympian, though the HoF may have to wait. His only real competition is Kenyon Martin, the Nets' forward, who has made one All-Star team. He's also been traded, hurt, and may just pout himself out of his new city while his old team continues to prosper without him. His stock is falling, DiPietro's is rising. My call - NHL, NBA, MLB.

'99 -
Patrik Stefan, Atlanta (C) - no contest. Stefan is well ahead of QB bust Tim Couch and career minor-leaguer Josh Hamilton, but well behind man-child Elton Brand, currently winning in the playoffs with the Clippers. (The CLIPPERS!) My call - NBA, NHL, NFL.

'98 -
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay (C) - you may have heard of the football guy - fellow named Peyton Manning. Individually, you'd have to say that he's ahead of Lecavalier, who is a fine player - but what the hell, I'll twist the knife: Lecavalier has won a championship. My call - NFL, then NHL - but Lightning, then Colts. (Baseball is third - Pat Burrell.)

'97 -
Joe Thornton, Boston (C) - Another deep, deep year, with Tim Duncan in San Antonio and Orlando Pace in St. Louis. Plus side - Thornton led the league in scoring this year. Minus - he was traded for his inability to move the Bruins out of the first round of the playoffs. The twist - he moved his new team, San Jose, out of the first round this year. Not quite enough to move up, though, since both the other guys have won titles. My call - NBA, NFL, NHL.

'96 -
Chris Phillips, Ottawa (D) - serviceable, stay-at-home defender who is still logging solid minutes with his original team. That leaves him fourth in another deep year. You can get serviceable defensemen any time you like, in nearly any round, but a #1 guy ought to be special - like Allen Iverson. I agree with Baker here. My call - NBA, NFL, MLB.

'95 -
Bryan Berard, Ottawa (D) - this is a tough one. Berard is a former Rookie of the Year and, even though he lost sight in one eye on a freak play, is still playing high-level hockey. The NBA and NFL guys were absolute busts so that leaves only Darin Erstad of the Angels - still playing with his original team, and in his second sport (he punted for Nebraska's football team). Injuries have forced him to play much more first base than center field lately, but has had a more solid career overall. Odd trivia - Erstad has played for the Angels his whole career - in California, Anaheim, AND Los Angeles. My call - MLB, NHL, NBA.

'94 -
Ed Jovanovski, Florida (D) - he's up against three decent guys, but nobody to write home about. The best of those, Glenn Robinson, was a decent scorer, sometimes an All-Star, but hasn't been as durable: 51 games the past three years, none of them this past season. My call - NHL, NBA, NFL.

'93 -
Alexandre Daigle, Ottawa (C) - an enigma, merely serviceable as a second or third-liner. His competition? Three Hall-of-Famers - A-Rod, C-Webb, and Drew Bledsoe. Ouch, babe. My call - MLB, NFL, NBA.

'92 -
Roman Hamrlik, Tampa Bay (D) - well, Shaq-Fu went Numero Uno, the greatest basketball center of his generation. We'll put the Hammer a graceful second, ahead of third-sacker Phil Nevin. I'll only pause to note that, again, Baker's bias shows: "It can be argued that O'Neal has had the most successful career, in terms of personal and team achievement, of any #1... in any of the three sports since 1980." There's a fourth sport, chief, and you will meet their contender for this accolade in '84. My call - NBA, NHL, MLB.

'91 -
Eric Lindros, Quebec (C) - tantalizing with its potential: Charlotte's Larry Johnson, who was dynamite before the injuries limited his skills, and Dallas' Russell Maryland, a defensive tackle with three titles. Lindros is right there, keying several deep playoff runs, and making a solid comeback from career-threatening concussions. Baker gives his nod to Johnson; I beg to differ. The Flyers could have won a couple of Stanley Cups with reliable goaltending. My call - NHL, NFL, NBA.

'90 -
Owen Nolan, Quebec (RW) - ugh. The Atlanta Braves took Chipper Jones #1 this year. He has to win this competition, even though he's a Brave. (He's a nice Brave, but still.) The Nordiques could have had Marty Brodeur, but NOOOOOO. (There's a reason why they're on here three years in a row.) The other two guys were supremely talented basket cases - Derrick Coleman and Jeff George - who are no longer playing, which makes it a little easier to drop them behind Nolie. My call - MLB, NHL, NBA.

'89 -
Mats Sundin, Quebec (C) - Absolutely neck-and-neck, but the tiebreaker is championships. Troy Aikman won three and therefore must go ahead of Sundin, even though they're both going to their respective Halls of Fame. My call - NFL, NHL, MLB.

'88 -
Mike Modano, Minnesota (C) - a Cup winner, a captain, an All-Star, going to the Hall. Complete resume. Nobody from the other three leagues is close. My call - NHL, NBA, MLB.

'87 -
Pierre Turgeon, Buffalo (C) - even the fourth guy on this list, Vinnie Testaverde, hung around and was productive for a good long while. Turgeon is still active, though the gruesome cheap shot he took in the '93 playoffs kept him from consistent All-Star status and he probably isn't quite HoF caliber. He gets third place. The other guys are both MVPs - second goes to David Robinson, because of the hurting Hakeem Olajuwon put on him in the playoffs during that MVP season. First goes to the guy considered the best player in baseball for a few seasons: Ken Griffey Jr. My call - MLB, NBA, NHL.

'86 -
Joe Murphy, Detroit (RW) - nothing special, but managed seven 20-goal seasons and a Stanley Cup after busting with the Red Wings. That gets him ahead of the Pirates' Jeff King. I'm going to go ahead and keep the Cavaliers' Brad Dougherty ahead of Murphy, but unlike Baker, I'm going to put Dougherty second. He was a decent center and an All-Star but Robinson, Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and even Alonzo Mourning were better players. I'm moving Bo Jackson to the top spot - an All-Star in two sports and undoubtedly one of the most exciting athletes of my lifetime, even though it ended far too soon. Bo Knows, baby. My call - Bo, NBA, NHL. (And having to say "Bo" instead of "NFL" says it all, right?)

'85 -
Wendel Clark, Toronto (LW) - 330 career goals, a few trips to the semis, and still arguably fourth - it depends on how much you like BJ Surhoff. I happen to like the guy a lot. Clark really only had one stand-out season (46 goals for Toronto in '92-93). Surhoff started as a catcher and was succesfully converted to both outfield and the corner infield spots, and was a reliable hitter. The two-spot belongs to Patrick Ewing and the number-one is Buffalo's Bruce Smith, which is what every NFL club dreams of when the commish goes to the podium. My call - NFL, NBA, MLB.

'84 -
Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh (C) - poor Hakeem Olajuwon. The Dream won two titles, and elevated himself above his peers at the center position, beating Ewing and Shaq in successive Finals appearances and embarassing the Admiral at every opportunity. He was a total package and a Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, he's second. Super Mario matches the Dream's two championships, exceeds his All-Star appearances, and rests higher on the single-season and career ledgers. He did all this while rescuing hockey in Pittsburgh as a player and then owner, overcoming debilitating and chronic back injury AND life-threatening Hodgkins Disease. He was possibly the best player in all of hockey while Gretzky was still playing. My call - NHL, NBA, NFL, and it's not debatable.

'83 -
Brian Lawton, Minnesota (LW) - There's a fellow name of Elway who was drafted this season, and all y'all know what he did, with so little help, for so many seasons. The basketballer was Ralph Sampson, the fellow "Twin Tower" with Olajuwon, All-Star caliber until injured and still somewhat productive afterward. The other guy is Tim Belcher, who pitched productively for years. Considering how hit-and-miss baseball drafts always are, and especially when it comes to pitchers, you've got to put that ahead of just another fourth-line forward who lasted fewer than 500 games. I'm swapping Baker's two and three, since Belcher was more easily replaceable than Sampson. My call - NFL, NBA, MLB.

'82 -
Gord Kluzak, Boston (D) - Kluz lost two full years to injury, and won the NHL's Masterton Trophy in 1990, given to "player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey." Players are only eligible once in their careers; to get it usually means that you've been through hell and back to keep the skates on. (Berard and Lemeuix have also won it, in their comebacks from severe injury.) It's unfortunately the most notable thing about Kluzak's playing days, but it does get him ahead of New England's pedestrian lineman, Kenneth Sims - Kluzak went to a Stanley Cup finals and was a steady contributor in his four full years. The Lakers' James Worthy, Hall-of-Famer, is the chalk choice for first, followed by talented if erratic shortstop Shawon Dunston (he had some fine seasons with the Cubbies). My call - NBA, MLB, NHL.

'81 -
Dale Hawerchuk, Winnipeg (C/W) - Baker's pick is the underrated Mark Aguirre, which makes it hard on me, because Hawerchuk is the guy who had the record that Crosby just broke - youngest player with 100 points in a season. The year he joined the Jets, they won 24 more games than the previous season. He had five other 100 point years, along with a 98, two 96s, and a 91. When he retired, he was tenth on the league's scoring list with 1409 points (and is still top-20). Hawerchuk was an All-Star five times to Aguirre's three; he went top-ten in scoring four times to Aguirre's five, but was eleventh three other times. Nor can you plead longevity for Aguirre - each man retired at 34. Just about the toughest call on the board. My call - NHL, NBA, NFL.

'80 -
Doug Wickenheiser, Montreal (RW) - this is the year that the Mets tabbed Darryl Strawberry, who was headed for the Hall until he stuck it all up his nose. After that, you're looking at Lions RB Billy Sims, who had a pretty good career - truncated by injury, like so many runners, but still better off than the others on our list. Joe Barry Carroll was known more for his nickname, Joe Barely Cares, but it's a little unfair - he averaged 20 ppg four times in ten years and had career numbers of 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. That leaves us Wickenheiser, who played 11 underwhelming seasons with 5 diappointed teams, finishing with more penalty minutes than points. My call - same as Baker's. MLB, NFL, NBA.

All told:
NFL 5-7-5
MLB 5-1-10
NBA 9-10-5
NHL 7-8-6

The only sport that didn't lose any first-place finishes from Baker's list was football. The NBA is still ahead, but remember that their draft has been only two rounds for some time, since their rosters are the smallest by far. It's much more likely for one of their #1 picks to excel under those circumstances. The least successful group, not surprisingly, was baseball.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Monday in Manhattan

You should go and read this. Then, when you get the chance, you should watch Sheila perform it live, as the Ladybug and I got to on Monday evening.

Sadly, we couldn't get out of work fast enough to catch an early train, and thus had no time for Mandoo. Our consolation prize, walking up 8th Avenue, was a stop at Chevy's genuine homemade chain-restaurant "fresh mex." They weren't kidding. It took six minutes from order to service - we thought that they were talking to the next table over for a moment.

Fast + tasty = time and inclination to share a flan afterward, and still make it to the show. And afterward we got to briefly hobnob with our gracious star.

Oh, yeah... there was some dude who told jokes, too. (Don't be fooled by the picture - he was quite funny during the set and quite gracious afterward.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Good state, bad state

After a full week back it's easy to remember all the beefs one has with one's regular life. On my way to work one morning (I want to say Tuesday. "Tuesday." Now I want to say "Langenbrunner," but I won't because you're waiting for the story) - OK, commute, Tuesday morning. Narrow city street. Nearly run into by someone jutting out into traffic from the right. Had he hit me he would have driven me into a full lane of oncoming traffic. I think I slipped through with about an inch and a half total on both sides.

Flash forward to Wednesday. I'm heading to the medical clinic to get my foot x-rayed. (I'd gotten hurt playing hockey late the night before. It was a busy 36 hours.) Good news - nothing chipped, nothing ripped. Worth the $20 to hear that, for sure. On the way home, a fellow motorist less lucky than I gets plowed and the two cars slide into the opening of a side street. Many rude words traded through the open windows.

We in the oncoming lanes are stalled out, waiting for the light, but those who came behind the crash are doubly fortunate - not crashed into, and free to proceed unimpeded. EXCEPT for one fellow who decides that this is engrossing theater. I watch, amazed, as the fellow rolls past at the bare minimum, and then, even though he's beyond the crash point, I see him staring steadily into his rear-view mirror for the full effect. Now, really, if you're that obviously a jerk, why not just pull over and gawk? Can anyone think any less of you at that point?

(Oh, and while I'm at it - to the gentleman in the blue Ford Focus hatchback, New York tags, Dennis Kucinich bumper sticker - thanks for swerving across three lanes of traffic to cut me off on I-95 northbound in Maryland, only to swerve all the way back to cut off someone else on your way to the exit. Hope you enjoy the next fifteen years in your parents' basement, you wanker.)

So, as you can see, a lot of my normal life tension is car-related. That's why I tried to cultivate more patience behind the wheel for Lent, and why I should consider going back to full-time pedaling while the weather is so nice. I can't bike to my games, though it's a fun mental picture: me in full goaltender's gear, rolling down the side of the road with my stick slung over my shoulders. But I can enjoy the sunshine and a more leisurely daily commute, even if I can't avoid all the idiocies of motorists.

In the meantime, one good story: the very first full day back, going to work Monday, I turned down a long straightaways with my mind on nothing in particular. Above me, the sky was slate grey, stooping low and still, promising rain and worse. Against this, the bright green of the new growth stood out sharply, in minute detail, narrowing as the road rose up to the crest of the hill, with the later white and pink blossoms dotting the roadside like corsages. At the horizon there was a sudden flash of brighter, cottony-white sky, framed in a near-perfect V.

A photograph would have captured the cars, power lines, strip malls, and missed the point of everything. I'm glad I got it in my mind's eye and not on film.