Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Potential of Potential and the Rules of Winning

There are only two ways you can look at yesterday's trade of Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins to the New York Mets if you're a Boston Red Sox: a. awesome we get to keep our kids and the Yankees don't get Santana or b. why didn't we try harder to get him? Ultimately the choice you make colors the way you look at winning.

Inspired by a thread on Sons of Sam Horn, “Are there rules to winning?”, this entry is about the aesthetics of winning. In other words, is there a correct way or an incorrect way of building a championship team? To the hard core, “winning is the only thing” type of fan; no, there isn't a right or wrong way. The bottom line is where you finish. If you finish as the World Series runner-up, you didn't have a good year and need to retool right away by any means necessary.

The other side of that coin, is that in order to win “right” a team can't be a collection of guys assembled from other teams. They have to come up and be nurtured through your farm system for a few years to be considered “real” members of your team. Trades and free agency can augment your team, but it can never be the sole mortar used for assembling a championship squad. For some reason, these people want a degree of difficulty added to an already difficult proposition.

Think of the 2003 Red Sox. They had a team that was a brain fart and five outs away from going to the World Series. Did General Manager Theo Epstein and his front office crew think that lightening would strike twice and they were destined to be in the same place the following year with the exact same team? No. They got rid of Grady Little and hired a manager that would heed their scouting reports. Traded some minor league chaff to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for their ace, Curt Schilling, and spent a boatload of cash to land the best reliever on the market, Keith Foulke. At mid-season, they traded their home grown shortstop for a better shortstop and some bench depth.

You know the rest, the 2004 team went on to win the World Series. Was there disappointment because the team only had two home grown players (Kevin Youkilis and Trot Nixon), four if you include Curt Schilling (originally drafted by the Sox, but never played for the team) and Ellis Burks (also drafted and starred for Boston early in his career)? I don't think so. That year, the Red Sox were essentially a team of well-paid baseball Hessians that won the Series after 86 years of failure. From David Ortiz to David McCarthy, none of those players will ever have to pay for a drink in Boston again.

In contrast, look at the 2007 Red Sox. Another World Champion, but this time there are six home grown players, nine if you count Schilling and Japanese imports Hideki Okajima and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Does this team resonate any more or less with you than the 2004 team (forget that the 2004 team erased 86 years of history—I know it's a big caveat, but stay with me on this) simply because Jonathan Papelbon was a Lowell Spinner or Jon Lester spent some time in Pawtucket? Of course not, both teams overcame great post season odds and established themselves champions by playing hard at the right times. Who cares where they played ball before Boston? In the long run, aside from Manny Delcarmen, none of these men are true Bostonians or Massachusetts residents before they put on the Red Sox jersey.

People may have been a bit more exuberant to celebrate the 2004 team than the 2007 team, but that was strictly because of decades of frustration being shrugged off in one magical three-week period. There is no asterisk next to the 2004 Championship.

What does this have to do with Johan Santana? It's simple, there is a faction of people in blogland and in print and on the radio, who feel that the Sox somehow bettered themselves by not landing the best lefthander of the last seven years. They will argue that when/if the Sox win the Series next they'll have done so with their own players and thus not end up like the Yankees. That's the favorite target of these people, pointing to the bloated payroll of a collection of travelling All-Stars who routinely buy their way into postseason year after year.

In addition to supporting a team with the second highest payroll and not understanding that the rest of Baseball America lumps the Sox in with the Yanks, in terms of grossly overspending for talent, many of these same people are smitten with the idea that the the potential for greatness is better than greatness itself.

It's not.

Sure, Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury or Jed Lowrie or Justin Masterson (all names rumored to go to Minnesota in exchange for Santana) could be either good or great players down the road for the Red Sox. The key word in that last sentence is “could” and Santana is great now. Barring injuries, having him anchor a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Buccholz for the next five years would've been terrific.

Chances are good that some of those prospects either aren't going to get a chance to prove their mettle in Boston (for example, Julio Lugo is signed for three more years and Dustin Pedroia isn't getting traded—what does that mean for Lowrie?) or they're going to flame out (Phil Plantier, anyone?). If one of them will be even half as dominant as Santana, I'll be surprised. But that's the understood gamble with prospects, only some people don't seem to remember that when it comes time to let go of them.

For every Jeff Bagwell, there's a Frankie Rodriguez. For ever Hanley Ramirez, there's a Tony Armas Jr. or Brandon Lyon. In order to get value, you have to give up value. Trading your highly ranked prospects isn't “going the way of the Yankees” or some other inaccurate cliché. It's Baseball Economics 101. There are 25-30 guys drafted every year, all of them will not be making the big club. The trick in establishing a championship team is keeping the two or three draftees that will make you a better team and unloading the others on poor schmucks for their better players. That's not just the way baseball works, it's the way all sports works.

Whether Red Sox fans like it or not, if the Yankees are number 1 in terms of payroll, the Sox are seen as 1A. It's about time that the fandom embraces that, because the Little Engine that Could version of the Sox left the station the first year their payroll went over $100 million. And that's ok, it's alright to have a team make a lot of money and use that money to win. The owners of the Twins and the Royals are among the richest people in America, do you think that the citizens of Minnesota and Kansas City would rather have them use their money to better their teams or line their coffers? The answer is obvious.

There are no bonus points for winning a World Series through some arbitrary “correct way”. A winner is a winner is a winner, no matter how the team is constructed. When it comes to professional athletics, Vince Lombardi was correct, “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.”

Monday, January 28, 2008

49. The Banana Splits



Note: Since I didn't have any pictures for my last entry, you get two here.



When I was younger—like two or three-years-old—I only wanted to do two things: sleep and watch television. Hell, that's what I'd like to do now, but I have to do adult stuff now. Anyway, the first show that I can remember being completely obsessed with was “The Banana Splits”.

Let me step back for a second; the first thing on television that I was obsessed with was a British short that went by the name of “Simon and the Land of Chalk Drawings” that ran every other day during “Romper Room”. You might remember this as the skit that Mike Myers did when he was in his English phase during his later years of SNL. Basically this kid would hop over a fence and enter into this world of stick figures where he was essentially the king because he could draw well. Whenever the cartoon would end, I'd go crazy and cry uncontrollably. My mother told me that one day I bawled so much that after three hours of hysterics she told me that Simon lived on my wall (luckily for her, I had a border of stick-drawn kids running at the top of my room that I had never noticed before) and that he wouldn't come around if I continued to cry. That shut me up.

That was the first short on television that I was completely and totally obsessed with. The first show was the aforementioned “Banana Splits”. What did I like about them? I'm not sure, I think that what attracted me to the show initially was the bright, psychedelic set colors. Remember, I was the kid who'd wake up at 5:00 am to watch the test pattern until the local UHF channel began its broadcasting day. Colors really had a great impact on what I watched when I was a kid; the brighter, the better.

I enjoyed how the cartoon were “real”—the main characters of Fleagle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky were costumed actors who did things that animated characters did, like get hit on the head with a hammer or run at a high rate of speed with bongo noises in the background. The show's format was like none that I had seen before as it was a variety show that would often have three different cartoons a day. I was used to watching just Yogi Bear or just Huckleberry Hound. To me, “The Banana Splits” was like watching four shows at once.

The shorts were often animated, but the live action shorts that sticks out the most was a serial called “Danger Island”. The plot details are murky, but the episodes centered on a father (who was a professor), his two kids (one of which was a young Jan Michael Vincent) their guide and the guide's spastic helper, Chongo who were stuck on an island. The group was often chased by a pirate who had a cadre of henchmen called the Skeleton Men (guys painted like skeletons – and were terrifying to a three-year-old) who thought that the professor knew where a treasure was burried. Whenever the group would get into trouble someone would scream, “Uh-oh Chongo!” and Chongo would go crazy, beating the crap out of anyone within three feet of him.

The more I think of it, the more that I think that Chongo was the first mentally retarded person on television, predating Corky from “Life Goes On” by about 20 years. Chongo had retard strength, no doubt. Other shorts included: “The Adventures of Tom and Huck”, “The Three Muskateers” and “The Adventures of Gulliver”. I have a feeling that these shorts, based on some of the best books ever written, could be the genesis of why I enjoy reading so much.

And that's about all I remembered of “The Banana Splits” until I happened upon the show one night about a decade ago when I was a little tipsy. Much like the time I came across “In Search Of ...” I was completely fascinated with the show and in my altered state began trying to recapture the wonderment I had when I was a kid. The thing that I found was that I still enjoyed the show as an adult and started watching it whenever I could. The colors were still vibrant, the actions of the characters were still cartoon-y, but it still made me smile. The last time I caught the show was three years ago—it was on Boomerang at the time, but after we switched cable companies we lost the channel. It's a shame because I really dug the show and hope to see it again.

One thing that I enjoy about this show is that it's not burnt into the collective conscious of the American people. Therefore it hasn't been turned into a cliché, like some of the other characters from the Hanna Barbera universe. In fact people only have a very hazy recollection of the program when asked if they remember it. Mostly, they can recall the opening song, but that's about it. As an aside, when I was in college, my favorite retro t-shirt was a Banana Splits shirt that I wore just about every weekend. It was always a cool conversation starter that usually ended with “I sort of remember them, but I don't. What were they about again?”

While doing some research on “The Banana Splits” here are some interesting things that I found:

- The live amusement park scenes were not filmed at King's Island in Cincinnati. King's Island wasn't open until 1972, two years after the show ended. The scenes were filmed at Six Flags in Arlington, TX and Coney Island in Cincinnati. I guess I thought that it was filmed in King's Island because of the “Brady Bunch” episode where the gang heads to Cincinnati.

- According to Wikipedia, the show was not based on “The Monkees”, rather it was based on “Rowan and Martin's Laugh In”. The characters themselves were loosely based on the Monkees, who were based on the Beatles. I was thinking about this the other day and came up with a chart:

Fleagle = Davy Jones = Paul McCartney
Drooper = Mike Nesmith = John Lennon
Snorky = Peter Tork = George Harrison
Bingo = Mickey Dolenz = Ringo Starr

- Barry White, yes that Barry White, sang one of the Banana Splits songs. It was called “Doing the Banana Split”. I am as surprised as you are. And Bob Marley said that “Tra, la, la, la's” from the opening theme were a strong influence on the chorus of “Buffalo Soldier”. Dread locked Rasta indeed.

- The costumes were designed by Sid and Marty Kroft. I am not 100% sure of this, but I read somewhere that Sid and Marty Kroft got next to nothing for creating this from Hanna and Barbera and this slight was the impetus for the Krofts to branch out on their own. So fans of HR Puffenstuff, you owe something to the greed of Hanna and Barbera.

- One last thing, check out Snorky from Season One to Season Two:

Season One, a kick-ass Wooly Mammoth looking thing:


Season Two, just a regular old elephant:


Why the change?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

50. SuperRock

I would bet that a majority of people who are reading this probably had never heard of this show before and that's not surprising. Usually when I write one of these entries I do a bit of Internet research on Wikipedia or Google, but I haven't been able to find anything about this show, so there will be no title card graphic today.

During the early to mid 1990s, MTV was in its genesis of getting more and more segmented both musically and how they programmed their channel. The sad state of affairs that MTV is in today (no music, crappy reality show after crappy reality show) is the direct result of the people that complain about the sad state of affairs that MTV is in. When MTV first hit the airwaves, it was literally like radio on television, pretty much wall-to-wall videos with some band interviews and some general information from one of the five VJs about the artists.

First the channel became a phenomena with the youth of America with some thinking that it was a passing fad. Once MTV proved it had staying power, the advertising and marketing executives descended on the channel and came up with an idea on how to make money off MTV's youthful audience. It's basic targeted advertising, their rational was that it was difficult to market a product where the audience was an unknown. Put it this way if you run a block of videos that has Pat Benatar, Michael Jackson, Journey and W.A.S.P. in it, who knows who's watching. It could be a heavy metal fan, a pop fan, etc. However, if you bundle these genres up you have a good idea of what your audience is going to be.

That is how shows like “Club MTV”, “Yo! MTV Raps” and “Headbangers Ball” came to exist. Many of the same commercials ran during these shows, but others were specifically targeted toward the demographic of each program and that was determined by the normal guidelines: race, gender, income bracket. Not surprisingly, these shows were hits. Instead of waiting two hours with the slight hope of watching the latest Public Enemy or Slaughter video, you could just tune into one of the shows and check them out.

Also around this time, (the late 80s) MTV started experimenting with non-music shows. The first that I can remember was “Remote Control”, which was a brilliant game show that combined humor with useless trivia. I loved it and it turned out that it was one of the biggest hits on MTV. As most successful business are wont to do, MTV built on their success and produced other shows that became just as successful like “The Real World”, “Beavis and Butthead”, “The State”, “Singled Out”. Unlike today, these shows were sprinkled through their lineup and while some were aired ad nauseam during marathons, the music was still the backbone of the channel. This all changed in the late 90s when MTV turned their back on music and became a youth-culture channel, but that is another story for another day.

During this time where MTV is going through its growing pains, a new type of music is coming to the scene: alternative. By about 1993, alternative had grown to become the most popular type of rock (causing some to ask what was the alternative to alternative music) and MTV quickly jumped on and exploited this trend too, by having two late-night shows centered around alternative rock. One was the daily “Alternative Nation” which starred the annoying alterna-chick Kennedy. The show pretty much played the staples of the day, the more mainstream alternative stuff: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Live, Soundgarden, etc. During Sunday nights, MTV allowed the real alt stuff to come out with “120 Minutes”. This was two hours of the videos that were a little off-centered or from England that “serious” music fans really liked.

This brings us to the subject of today's blog, “SuperRock”. Unlike “Alternative Nation” and “120 Minutes” and MTV's entire programming philosophy, “SuperRock” was much different. To me, SR was a throwback to the days of early FM radio, where you could literally hear anything. Not that I was around to hear the early days of FM, but I've read stories of Boston's WBCN playing a rock song, followed by a classical piece, followed by a blues album in the span of 20 minutes. SR wasn't that extreme, but it was the one place where diversity was worshipped.

Most of the videos were of the alternative type; but there was a bunch of rap, older stuff and hard rock mixed in. It was the prototype for the iPod shuffle setting. One minute you'd see Eric B and Rakim and then you'd see Biohazard followed by Alice In Chains and then a cut from the Beastie Boy's “Paul's Boutique”.

Another aspect that made this show unique was that there were no VJs yammering at you or trying to impress you with their obnoxious antics. By this time in MTV's history, VJs began to think that they were the talent and that the videos interrupted what they had to say—you can probably blame this phenomena on Pauly Shore. In any event, this and “Unplugged” were probably the last shows on MTV where the music was actually the focus.

Aside from the “randomness” of the play list, seeing videos from two or three years prior was a novelty. There weren't music sharing sites or iTunes where you could download a song that popped into your head. If you didn't have the tape or CD, you were out of luck. Not so with “SuperRock”, one of the videos that I remember them playing was Urban Dance Squad's “A Deeper Shade of Soul”, which has always been a favorite of mine.

The main downfall of the program was that the show was on at a really crappy time: Saturdays at midnight so there wasn't an audience for it. Anyone who'd be into a show like this was probably at a bar or at a party or simply not in front of their televisions. And after 12 weeks, it died a quick death—the death knell was that it was preempted for an MTV special of Madonna's release of her shit album “Bedtime Stories”. After that, SR never returned. Chalk that up as another crime Madonna has perpetrated on the American pop culture landscape.

Inevitably, “SuperRock” was a half decade ahead of its time. If the show was shelved for five more years (it was first broadcast in the winter of 1994) I am confident that it would've been a hit. The late 1990s were the hay days of the rap-rock cross over and with the seemingly randomness of the playlists—rock spliced with rap—it probably would've been something.

Friday, January 18, 2008

51.In Search Of ...



There's not a lot of things that I remember about the 1970s. When the decade ended, I was five years, three months and 22 days old. So the only things that I remember are waking up early to watch the UHF test pattern—which I called “the wheel” (I wasn't a complete psycho because it had music playing over the background), the blizzard of 1978 and a few TV shows. One of which was the Leonard Nimoy hosted “In Search Of ...”

I begin this entry with that caveat because my assumptions based are still from the eyes of a three-year-old, specifically a three-year-old who wouldn't stay in his crib at night and wound wander out to the living room to hide next to the sofa and watch as his father watched “In Search Of ...” From beginning to end, ISO was a 70s freakout to a little kid (and actually, just about anyone): from the weird beginning that featured grainy, old pictures of cults, Bigfoot and UFOs to the strange, halting music to the reenactments of whatever phenomena that the show was searching for that week to Leonard Nimoy himself; the show was a bit off putting. To a kid under five, it was down right scary.

Quick aside, the strangest thing that I found when researching this show is that there was an album dedicated to the music of “In Search Of ...” If I heard that right now, I'd probably crap my pants in terror. Though I'd love to find it. If anyone knows where I can get this, drop me a line.

One of my earliest memories is seeing the orange back drop of the ending credits where the flashing pictures of Amelia Earhart, a castle on Loch Ness, a ceremony at Stonehenge and other “spooky” things flashed on the screen (the screen grab above, shows what the title screen was like and it's was similar to the credit screen). BTW, I don't mean to suggest that Amelia Earhart was scary, but for some reason when I was younger black and white photos bugged me and add that to the fact that she was a part of ISO and she may as well have been Darth Vader. After seeing those credits I remember running back to my room, putting a pillow over my head and trying to go to sleep.

So, yes, this entry has more to do with child trauma than anything.

Right now you're probably wondering how a show that was obviously so scarring, could be considered a favorite. Good question. As with a lot of childhood things remembered later, you begin to wonder if it really was that bad. For the most part, you never get to see what spooked you as a kid and you're left wondering if you were truly scared or just young. Luckily for me, during the mid-90s A&E reran the show and to my surprise, it was well done and most of the episodes weren't terrifying at all. Even the ending credits were tame—though I did get that embedded nostalgic scare a half second before they ran (the first time I watched the reruns). You'll be happy to know that unless you find a gaffer or a best boy frightening, the end credits aren't so bad.

As I continued watching the show in reruns, my nostalgia turned into a general fondness for the program. Even though I assumed that every episode was either about Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster or ghosts—because this was the first TV show I can remember and most of the first books I read, which were written in the 70s, were about this stuff, I sincerely believed that every person in the 1970s had either a ghost or monster living around them—the fact remains there was a lot of good, historical stuff being covered. And it was done is a way where it wasn't beating you over the head with biased information.

According to Wikipedia, there were six seasons (1977-1982) of ISO and 144 episodes were produced. The program was spun off from two movie-length documentaries “In Search of Ancient Astronauts” (which was the film version of the seminal alien close encounter story, “Chariots of the Gods”) and “In Search of Ancient Mysteries”, both hosted by Rod Sterling. When Serling died, Nimoy (who was already a God in the world of Science Fiction, thanks to his turn as Mr. Spock on “Star Trek”) took over the hosting job.

And I'm glad as ISO wouldn't have been even half the show it was without Nimoy. Sure Serling had a pretty good resume of hosting weird programs, but Nimoy (and I can't believe I'm going to say this) brought a sort of smoothness to the show that Serling's halting, speech patterns wouldn't have lent. That was another terrific thing about the show, it never tried to convince you that what you were seeing was absolutely true. The opening monologue said it all:

"This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer's purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine."

It's almost as if they were saying, “You want to believe in the Amityville Horror? That's cool. Here's a few reasons why it might be true.” And that what makes the show different from any documentaries on today, it allowed the audience to make up their own mind. With that being said, there's probably no way that they could make a show like this today. There are far too many ways of getting information and unless there is an obvious angle to the mystery, the modern audience won't want to watch it.

Forget about the rip-off show that came along four years after “In Search Of ...” was taken off the air (the Robert Stack hosted “Unsolved Mysteries”), ISO was really the forefather of a genre of cables channels that includes the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. To appeal to today's viewers, many of the ISO-inspired shows on these channels have to ratchet up the suspense factor. This means murder and violence.

For a show that dealt with mysterious topics, many of them were non violent. Just looking at the list of show topics, I could only find one real episode based on a serial killer (Jack the Ripper), two if you include the one on Jim Jones. Today, a program like this would need to have a few episodes on serial killers (Manson, Zodiac, Nightstalker, etc) to capture anyone's attention. Like the oft-repeated mantra of tabloid television, if it bleeds, it leads. That goes for unsolved mysteries shows too.

And that's a shame, because it seems like even the things that freak us out have grown bigger.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Boring is the Head that Wears the Crown

Aside from the easy signings of their veteran free agents (Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling), this has been a quiet winter for the boys from Yawkey Way. Actually that's not true, they did manage to scrape together $600,000 and resign backup catcher Doug Mirabelli.

Not to get all Dennis Miller on you, but can I go off on a rant for a second: I understand the reasons behind Red Sox signing Dougie Parmesan: it's a fairly cheap salary and he provides insurance in case the real backup catcher they sign can't seem to handle Tim Wakefield's knuckle ball. I get this. But you mean to tell me that there is no one out there that is better than Mirabelli? Really?

Two years ago, he was coming off an atrocious season and last year he was all but washed up with a .202/.278/.360 and five homers and 16 RBIs. Just about anyone would be able to reach those numbers and most catchers should be able to pass these numbers. Wait. I forgot. There's only one person on the planet that can catch Tim Wakefield's knuckler and that's Mirabelli. Doug Mirabelli didn't come to Boston knowing how to catch a knuckle ball, through hard work and practice he became proficient at it. The same can happen for either a young catcher in the organization or one from outside Boston.

In the long run, a team's backup catcher is small potatoes; but it can hurt the Sox one way: more playing time for Varitek. I'm not saying that Varitek stinks, he doesn't, but he's going to turn 36 this season (same as Mirabelli) and catcher magically lose their effectiveness after age 35. Having a young or at least capable backstop behind Varitek could allow him to catch a few more games in the upcoming season and keep him fresh for October.

Put it this way, you're Terry Francona, you'd love to give Varitek a night off but the only option you have is Doug Mirabelli and his Mendoza-line average. Do you risk losing more offense or do you roll the dice and hope that Varitek doesn't get hurt and doesn't wear down. I think you choose the latter and cross your fingers. That's a crappy way to manage.

Rant over.

Since there isn't a lot of Red Sox moves to analyze, lets take a peek at some moves that recently happened around the majors and some potential moves (mostly happening with the Orioles).

The St. Louis Cardinals trade 3B Scott Rolen to the Toronto Blue Jays for 3B Troy Glaus. This is one of those straight up, you take my headache and I'll take you headache that sometimes work out well for both teams. This is the second city that Rolen has shot his way out of—though to be honest any enemy of Tony LaRusa is a friend of mine—and he's starting to get a reputation. He also has a bum shoulder and $36 million left on his contract. He should hit ok in the Blue Jays lineup where he'll be expected to be just a contributor and not a main cog and should shore up their infield defense.

Glaus is a little younger, has less cash and years in his contract and has a lot more power. His problem is that he may be on the drugs. The performance enhancing drugs. That's not good for business, though the Cards fans took to Mark McGwire rather famously. You know who won't take to Glaus? Cardinals pitching. In the words of “Major League” manager Lou Brown, Glaus is going to be doing that Dorn “Ole bullshit”. Only Tony LaRusa won't make him do pushups—maybe he'll make him do a shot for every ball that goes by him. He still has the power though and that should be a lot more helpful behind Albert Pujols than anything Rolen was going to contribute.

And if you're a fan of the disabled list, both of these guys will probably make an appearance at one point or another this season.

What does this mean for the Red Sox? It gets a notorious Sox killer (Glaus) out of the division and into the heartland of America. And it gets a guy who has seen his power sapped over the last few years into a Toronto uniform. While Rolen may steal a hit or two from the Sox during the season, I'm not sure if that adds up to winning a game with a bomb in the eighth or ninth which is what Glaus is wont to do occasionally. My take: win for the Sox.

The Oakland Athletics trade OF Mark Kotsay to the Atlanta Braves for Ps Joey Devine and Jamie Richmond. According to Rotoworld.com, Devine is a potential closer who has a lot of giddyap on his fastball while Richmond could project to be a fifth starter some day. Both prospects were ranked in the top 20 of Atlanta's system. Before John Schurholtz left the Braves, there was barely a chance that he'd get snookered out of two worthwhile prospects, but Frank Wren is running the ship now and he doesn't have the same benefit of the doubt. Especially when Oakland GM Billy Beane is on the other end of the trade table.

With Devine in tow, this probably means that closer Huston Street's days in the home of Digital Underground (that's Oaktown to those who don't know) could be numbered. And if they're going to get rid of Street and they've already said good bye to Kotsay, Dan Harren and Nick Swisher; Joe Blanton, Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby probably won't be sticking around too long either. So, it's rebuilding time by the Bay with an eye towards their new park which opens in a few years.

As far as Mark Kotsay? He was hurt last year and when he did play (56 games) he was terrible (.214/.279/.296). You have to think that the Braves feel that he has made a full recovery will go back to the years when he was batting between .275 and .315 and slugging at a .459 clip, while playing a decent center field.

What does this mean for the Sox? Aside from getting another team to bludgeon, the Sox lost a potential trading partner in Atlanta. The Braves were supposed to be hot and heavy for Coco Crisp. Looks like they don't need him any more. And that means the list of of teams that reportedly wanted Crisp (White Sox, Rangers, Twins and Braves) has now been halved (Swisher was sent to the ChiSox, though Kenny Williams does have the flexibility of putting Swisher in left and Coco in center).

See anyone you like on Baltimore? Make them an offer. If the newspapers and the Internet are to be believed (and when have they steered us wrong?) the Orioles are very close to sending their only good pitcher (Erik Bedard) to the Seattle Mariners for a boatload of prospects including center fielder of the future Adam Jones, right hander Chris Tillman or Jeff Clement, shortstop Carlos Triunfel and reliever George Sherrill. The best Mariners blog USS Mariner is dead set against this deal because they feel that Triunfel and Jones are going to be major stars. And they would absolutely kill themselves if Clement was somehow involved in this deal too (this is supposedly the Mariner's sticking point).

They feel that because Bedard is going to be owed so much money in the future (he's a free agent after the 2009 season) and that the players are so good, the M's will be setting themselves back a few years if they make this trade.

Another Mitchell boy, second baseman Brian Roberts is also rumored to be on the move. He's supposedly going to the North Side of Chicago for Ronny Cedeno, Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall. Marshall and Gallagher are both pitchers, while Cedeno is a shortstop. These guys aren't on the caliber of ball players as the Mariners are giving up, but they are all solid prospects who have the potential to become contributing major leaguers. And that's something that the Orioles don't have too much of.

What does this mean for the Sox? In the short run, both of these trades are great for the Sox as it gets rid of a terrific pitcher and one of the best hitters on a division rival. And since new GM Andy McPhail is going in a complete rebuilding mode (Miguel Tejada was traded to the Astros last month), that adds a couple of more wins to the Sox tally. However, these guys are going to get their seasoning and will eventually turn pretty good. So if you combine a now stocked minor league with the riches of Peter Angelos, they could be a bit of problem in the future.

Minnesota is going to trade Johan Santana to the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or New York Mets. Seriously. They're gonna. I swear. When I heard about this deal way back in December, I was pumped. A legit ace being traded to either the Sox or the Yanks, big drama in the offseason. It has turned out to be the biggest cock tease of the last 20 years. I almost wish that he stays in Minnesota.

One day the Yankees say they're in the Santana derby, the next day they say that they're out. Minnesota is crying because no team is going to give them the prospects that they want for the best left hander of the past five years, still in his prime. And that reason is simple, the guy wants $20 million a year for the next seven years. Even the Yankees aren't that crazy.

Meanwhile, the Sox are sitting back telling Minnesota; “You have our two best offers, pick one or don't we could care less.” Boston is sitting pretty with their rotation and team in general for this season and while they would love to get Johan, they don't need him. Plus, if recent history is any indicator Minnesota is going to end up giving him to Boston anyway just like they did with David Ortiz, Kevin Garnett and Randy Moss.

Remember that while the Yankees need Johan, but they don't desperately need him like ...

The New York Mets do. With the biggest late-season collapse still fresh in the memories of the players and the fans, the Mets have to do something to get that terrible taste out of their collective mouths. Getting Johan Santana would be the perfect after dinner mint. He could slide into another lefthander's place in the rotation (Tom Glavine) and the Mets would be much better for it. Plus, with their new park opening in 2009, the Mets would like a centerpiece pitcher. John Maine ain't that guy.

Right now, the only thing that's holding this transaction up is that the Twins want this to be a five-for-one deal, while the Mets are holding out for a four-for-one trade. The Twins will only agree to a four-for-one swap if the Mets throw in Jose Reyes. That's not going to happen.

Either way, Minnesota is going to get all of the Mets good young players (it really doesn't matter who) and New York is going to have to pray that Santana's elbow is ok. The last time the Mets and Twins made a deal like this, Minnesota sent LHP Frank Viola home to Flushing for a package that included Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West and one more. The first two did pretty well in the Twin Cities, while Viola did ok in New York and Boston (two of his three years as a Sox were highly underrated) before bouncing around to Cincinnati and Toronto. If the Twins could recoup that kind of package, they'd be happy. BTW, the year after they traded Viola, they won the World Series.

What does this mean for the Sox? If the Mets get Santana, it's a win-win-win for the Sox. Win #1, he's not going to the Yankees. Win #2, the Mets getting Santana could tweak new Lil' Boss Hank Steinbrenner and force him into a panic move. Win #3, the Sox keep the money earmarked for Santana and their prospects and hope that a few turn out ok.

Less than one month until pitchers, catchers and Doug Mirabelli report to Fort Myers. Thank God.

Friday, January 11, 2008

52.Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives



When the Food Network first began operating in 1993, the concept bothered me. Eating is a tangible experience, what's the fun of watching someone cook and create an abundance of great food when you can't have a taste? To an eater like me, it was more torture than pleasure.

Plus, there were only two types of food programs: cooking shows and restaurant shows. Like it's distant cousin painting shows, ala Bob Ross or Cap'n Bob, cooking shows move too quickly for you to scribble down recipes or try to make the meal in concert with the host. And the host was usually some unattractive Frau like Julia Child or some guy. Nothing really appealing in either sense. Basically, you're watching something that you're never going to do yourself; unless you take the effort to find the recipe, copy it down and then make it yourself. That's a lot of work.

And restaurant shows are inherently useless unless you happen to live in the area where the restaurant is being reviewed. Who cares if the Hungry Heifer in Butte, Montana got four stars? I'm probably not going there and if I did find myself there, I probably wouldn't remember the restaurant's name anyway.

That all changed once I actually started watching the Food Network a few years ago. The channel has long ago shed the image that cooking shows had to be hosted by personalities without personalities. Some of the women, like Giada DeLaurentiis and Rachel Ray, are pleasing to look at. They've come up with interesting ideas about the science behind food and why things taste good (I will be covering this in the “Good Eats” entry), reality shows about a cake store in Baltimore (trust me, “Ace of Cakes” is a lot better than it sounds) plus shows like “Iron Chef America” and answers the question to “What ever happened to the guy who hosted 'Double Dare'?”

Marc Summers is the former host's name and he is actually on a couple of Food Network shows, most notably “Unwrapped” which tracks the history of popular foods. An interesting fact: Summers suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, which must have driven him crazy when he was hosting “Double Dare” and kids were throwing all sorts of crap at each other.

That little aside leads us to “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” which is hosted by Guy Fieri. The basic gist of the show is that each episode Fieri various holes-in-the-wall throughout the country to find the best tasting food that fits the theme of the day's program. Sometimes it will be about the best cheeseburger, other times the best local hangout or the best breakfast. Then Fieri interacts with the owners, workers and customers.

At first blush Fieri seems like a bit of a tool, using outdated phrases like “money” and “da bomb” while pounding fists. But despite his frat boy mannerisms, he actually seems like a fun person to hang out with and he's definitely the correct fit for a program like this. An accomplished chef who graduated from UNLV during the Runnin' Rebels' NCAA dominance years, Fieri won the second season of “The Next Food Network Star” and also hosts “Guy's Big Bite” on the same channel. When it comes to food, he definitely knows what he's talking about. His big personality does give the show a fun quality and keeps the people who run these diners—who probably have never been on camera and are nervous as hell—at ease.

The latter part is most important because if Fieri was bouncing around and the diner owners were as stiff as day old bread, the show wouldn't work. Fieri banters back and forth, tries to figure out the “secret ingredients” of the signature dishes and is just enjoying himself.

And who wouldn't enjoy a gig like that? I'm sure that the Food Network doesn't make Fieri drive to every location like the show intimates, but he gets to do a lot of traveling on someone else's dime and gets to sample a lot of great faire that he probably wouldn't have a chance to do. Because of this, it's the perfect escape show.

One of my biggest regrets is not buying a convertible automobile after I graduated college and just crisscross the state for the summer. There's a lot of exceptional things to see in this country that you can't see by flying from one coast to the other or spending your time in a state's most populous city. “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” shows the viewer the food the missed hidden jewels and more importantly, the stories by the owners of these places.

I've been a purveyor of greasy spoons my entire life, but I've also missed a few places here and there. Fieri actually went to a diner in Somerville, MA that was about three blocks from my old apartment. I'm not exactly sure why I never went there when I lived there, but you can bet that it's on my list of places to go before I move out of Boston proper.

And that's a great philosophy of living your life: trying new things, taking the time to actually speak with people and find out their stories. In this age where we have any information we'd ever need at our fingertips, we often don't find the time to get the real interesting nuggets of information. That's the stuff that makes life so sweet.

For example in 1910, Cleveland's Nap Lajoie beat out Detroit's Ty Cobb for the American League batting championship by one percentage point (.384 to .383). Pretty straight forward, right? Wrong. At the beginning of the season, a car manufacturer offered a new car to the player who won the batting crown, on the penultimate day of the 1910 season Cobb was leading Lajoie by a slim margin which infuriated the rest of the league, because Cobb was such a dick and no one wanted to see him win the car. So the team playing Cleveland (I think it was St. Louis) began making errors on purpose so that Lajoie would win the title—errors counted as hits before this and Lajoie went 5-5 on the final day bringing his average above the Georgia Peach. Cobb, of course, was beyond pissed and never forgot this slight.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

53.The Andy Griffith Show



For a stereotypical cynical slacker like myself, “The Andy Griffith Show” would seem to be the last show that you would expect to find on a list like this. Especially since I don't enjoy it ironically like “Leave it to Beaver”. The list ranking of TAGS is based on its own merits and to add a caveat, this is only for the black and white episodes -- I've never seen the ones filmed in color.

What's there to like about the show; it's not particularly “real” or cutting edge. It doesn't really speak to where I'm from (geographically, socially and generationally) but it does say something. Much like “My Name is Earl”, after I watch TAGS I feel pretty good about myself and the world at large. Sure, the show is moralistic and some of the wisdom is corn-fed and homespun, however that's ok. That's what the show is about: being good to your fellow person and respecting them. The show has never apologized for this stance and they shouldn't because the Golden Rule is one that we should be trying to live by, not explain away. (Note: I am writing this the day after I made my New Year's resolution, so I still have a lot of optimism about myself and the human condition)

A lot of the things that make me laugh usually has some sort of disrespect tied to it; from making fun of someone to laughing at the shortcomings and bad luck of somebody else, I normally find that very humorous. And I know that I'm not alone, nor is this a new form of humor. Yes, during the past 15 years or so comedy culled from irony, sarcasm and cynicism has grown in leaps and bounds, but it's always been there. Don Rickles made an entire career on calling audience members hockey pucks and George Carlin and Lenny Bruce used sarcasm as an observational—mostly truth-telling sabre—that cut through the bullshit of the 60s.

Which brings us to “The Andy Griffith Show”. If you haven't seen an episode lately, Andy Taylor (played by Andy Griffith) was the single-fathered Sheriff of a small town in North Carolina called Mayberry who dispensed wisdom more than he threw people in jail. His son Opie was played by Ron Howard and his deputy and cousin Barney Fife was played by Don Knotts. Taylor's Aunt Bea (Francis Bavier) kept house and a variety of the town's characters (Floyd the barber, Otis the town drunk and Gomer and Goober) kept things interesting.

Andy is easily the most intelligent person in town and the bulk of his day is spent dealing with the less intelligent townsfolk. While I wouldn't call the average Mayberrian and idiot, they aren't far from idiot county. What makes this show work is that Andy doesn't lord his intelligence (which is really clear-thinking wisdom, Andy isn't about to split the atom any time soon) over the people he interacts with. Having an island of intelligence in a sea of stupidity has long been a (cliched) comedy staple, but the writers of TAGS don't normally stoop to that level. Andy treats his friends and people that he lives with a certain amount of respect and in turn they treat him that way too.

For example, Taylor knows that Barney Fife shouldn't be within 100 yards of a handgun, but he's a cop so he has to have one. Because he doesn't want him to shoot his big toe off, Taylor tells Fife to leave the gun unloaded and keep one bullet in his shirt pocket. Of course, Taylor doesn't tell Fife his reasoning which is why Barney goes along with his instructions.

Taylor deals with circumstances like this every day and with every person in the town.

As sheriff and brightest bulb in Mayberry Andy is the de facto mayor and if he wanted to, could use that position to his advantage. He doesn't. The only time that Andy's hackles are raised is when an outsider comes to town and tries to pull one over on the townspeople. When this occurs (and this was a story that the writers went to the well for a lot) Andy usually plays the “Aww-shucks, backward Southerner who is really smarter than expected” role to the hilt sending the offenders scurrying for the nearest big city where they can try to sandbag someone “less wily”.

In fact, this is essentially how the show began. Originally a spin off of “Make Room for Daddy”, Andy busts Danny Thomas (the star of MRFD) for running a stop sign. Thomas tries to big league Taylor and spends time in jail which makes him late for his show. After figuring out that he needs to respect Taylor and the Mayberry ways, Thomas is released and the audience learns that despite their modern conveniences and new ways city slickers don't always have it over their country bumpkin cousins.

Home style wisdom being the best solutions and life was better in an uncomplicated time were both undercurrents of the show. Many of the people who had televisions when this show was popular lived in the urban or suburban areas and had fast-paced, modern lifestyles. This show was an ode to slow living and patience. And since nothing catastrophic ever happened in Mayberry, one could argue that the overall message of the series was that the modern world is moving too quickly. One needs to stroll down main street, stop every once in awhile and talk face-to-face with your neighbors—learn about your surroundings. The end result is that you'll probably have a friendly society filled with more respect (BTW, I've alluded to or said the word “respect” more times in this essay that Ali G ever did during his show).

I think that is why I enjoy watching this show. I was born in 1974 so I am going to have to assume that most towns and cities weren't actually like this during the early 1960s. Petty grievances and gripes come up all the time and can not be solved in 30 minutes (minus commercials) with a drawl and some of Aunt Bea's famous peach cobbler. In real life, minor grievances and gripes tend to fester and turn into generational feuds that ruin families and destroy communities. But during this program, even if someone is angry with another, they always respected them enough to work their differences out.

And the respect that Andy, an officer of the law, is shown on a day-to-day basis is also refreshing. As someone who graduated a suburban high school the year after the Rodney King incident, blasted NWA's “Fuck the Police” from his father's Ford Tempo and has bitched about personal interactions with John Law (parking fines and speeding infractions) this reason may seem a bit odd. Though, I think that much of society's ills towards law enforcement is the result of the disrespect of the badge.

I've read articles and pieces about people who said that when they were kids, the neighborhood police officer was a position of great respect. Kids were taught that cops were their friends and should be the first person to run to while in trouble. During the last few decades, these thoughts have been turned on its ear. I've heard parents use the police as a scare tactic or worse, a threat; as in “If you're not good I'll have that policeman over there throw you in jail.” How does teaching a child to fear authority also show them to trust and respect the police? It doesn't; this type of parenting creates paranoia and disrespect towards authority.

Sheriff Taylor didn't have to deal with that and as such his town was a virtual utopia. Crime was nonexistent, people seemed happy. Of course respect is a two-way street and to pretend that there aren't crooked cops or people who mistake their badge as an all-access pass to take advantage of any and all situations would be naïve.

This idyllic world is a great world to live in, even if it is only for 30 minutes (minus commercials) and it's in black and white.

Bit of trivia for you: the title of the infectious theme song is called “The Old Swimming Hole”. I had no idea about that until today.