Thursday, April 15, 2004

Just Plain Ugly By DMJ

Well, it's happened. It was never reasonable to think the TV networks would actually kill anyone (or even complicity allow someone to die during filming) in the course of a reality show, so, until we reach that Running Man/Gattaca/Logan's Run-type distant future, complete with hovercrafts, Soylent Green®, and spooky hologram girlfriends/sex toys, this is the end of the line when it comes to bad taste. It can't get any worse than this.

It's worse than the perversity of watching and laughing at people who seem very clearly to have suffered the very serious effects of long-term drug abuse (Maybe Ozzy and Anna Nicole come to mind?), trivializing the real suffering of the poor around the world but sending fat Americans to "survive" in some "exotic" location, and watching whiny, pampered Generation X/Y/Q/E=mc2 members, plopped into the lap of luxury, acting like spoiled, narcissistic, drunken, horny assholes (with certain exceptions, for at least one pseudocelebrity I know).

It's worse than what I thought would be the worst thing ever--MTV's horrific taste in airing the current, San Diego-based season of "The Real World"©, despite some very convincing evidence that a young woman (not a member of the cast) was raped inside the house. To air this show, to promote it and sell commercial time during its broadcast, especially if there are still legitimate questions about what happened that night, is a profound act of disrespect to the (alleged) victim.

I'm talking about "The Swan."

The premise: A bunch of "average" women are selected for every conceivable plastic surgery, put on a starvation diet, then compete against each other in a beauty pageant. There might be other challenges in there as well, I don't know. I'm sure there's a category for skill at blowing Fox executives or something.

And at this point, I could launch into a long-winded explanation of the concept, blah blah blah. Suffice it to say, you get everything you need to know in the paragraph before this one. That's it, and it's really as debased as it sounds. I watched the first couple of minutes and was nauseated enough to swear never to watch again. Watching these desperately deranged, damaged women, bandages and blood all over their faces and bodies, crying in every other shot, taught to hate themselves, broken down to the level of children psychologically for A GODDAMN TELEVISION SHOW, well, no thank you sir, one spin on that carnival ride was (erp) enough for me.

I'd like to echo a point made by Heather Havrilesky (sp?) over on the other day: Yeah, most reality television is pretty cheesy and lame, and some of it offensive, but some of it is (mostly) harmless fun and can be entertaining. But when people talk about television warping people's minds and doing real damage to societal attitudes (an argument I'm likely to tune out, but that doesn't mean it never happens), this is what they're talking about. This is as low as it gets, and if you ever wanted proof that the powers that be in some high places in television have no souls, this is it. So don't watch. Don't give them the satisfaction of tuning in because you're curious--these are entertainment industry executives; if you don't believe that controversy is created and manipulated in order to move product, well, I'd like you to meet Mel Gibson and his 350 million friends, who look a lot more like George Washington than they do Jesus. (And if you don't believe that, head over to and look for the $12.99 silver nail necklaces--no joke!)

Sunday, April 11, 2004

2B 2B Do?

Did you really think the first week of baseball would get by without Sir Rantalot chiming in? Of course not, you know better. Now, I’ll admit that a week does not a season make. Hell, half a season does not a season make. Ask Eric Byrnes, almost and all-star, hit for the cycle, became a fan favorite, then went into a major slump after the all star break (9-95) which culminated in his participation in the big, team wide, brain lock game three performance against Boston. Still, with Detroit making noise and A-Fraud batting .154 it’s a great time to look at some early performances.

With the news that Mark Ellis is done for the year we have to look at the now murky situation at second base. Of course I’ve been a supporter of bringing in a vet to help secure the middle infield (see 10 second Rant below), but now there may be a problem developing. First, the guy I’ve supported thus far, Esteban German, failed to win the job in spring training, and will surely head back to AAA as soon as either Frank Menechino or Mark McLemore are ready to come off the DL. Right now, from what I’ve read in various places the powers that be are waiting for these two savvy vets to come back and take over 2B from the guy whose there right now, Marco Scutaro, who has a scant 75 major league games under his belt. But not so fast says Sir Rantalot.

While five games are too few to predict anything the fact is that Scoot has shown something during this first week. Namely, he reminds me a lot of Mark Ellis’ first few games at second in 2002. So, I looked at Ellis’ first five games after he took over the starting job (his first five consecutive games) and compared them to Scoot’s first five games. Here’s what I found:

Ellis 5 games: .400/0/5/.500/.450/..950
Scutaro 5 games: .313/0/3/.353/.500/.853

Ellis’ numbers are better, which we would expect, still Scoot’s numbers are very respectable. Ellis ended the year at .273/6/35/.359/.394/.753, never hit a major slump and never lost the starting job. Ellis also played stellar defense and was in the conversation for rookie of the year. I won’t say Scutaro is going to have the same success but the similarities are there. Scoot has saved a few runs with better than expected play in the field, and has already won a game with a combo of a bat and speed on the bases.

So, what does Oakland do when the vets come back? Well, I would suggest that its Scoot’s job to lose. In 2002 the A’s brought in Randy Velarde to compete with Menechino for the starting job. When Frankie was sent to the minors and Velarde got hurt Ellis took the job and never let go, even pushing trade acquisition Ray Duhram to DH. Now Scutaro has to hold off Menechino and McLemore in order to stay in the line up. Though I’ve endorsed two of the three other guys I’m rooting for Scoot. He’s plucky, he’s clutch, and he’s got a good nick-name.

In other position battle news catcher, 1B, and one outfield spot still seem to be up for grabs. Sure it’s only been a week, but I have thoughts (surprised?). First, News Flash! Damian Miller is not Ramon Hernandez! So far Miller is hitting .077/0/0/.077/.077/.154. What do all those identical .077s mean? It means that aside from hitting .077 Miller has no walks and no extra base hits, a steep price to pay for good defense and intangibles. I’m sure someone knows how many runs Miller has saved behind the plate, but that person aint me, I want some production at the plate.

So far the talk I’ve heard says that Bobby Kielty’s fast start will keep Eric Byrnes from getting much PT. However Macha is trying to find spots for him (Byrnesies only AB so far was his PH double that won the game against Texas on opening day). I see another path for Byrnes. Mark Kotsay has played below expectations and need. So far Kotsay is a decent but very Terrence Long like .250/0/2/.318/.300/.618. A’s brass once thought that Long would be a good lead off hitter too, Long thought he’d be a good five hole guy, the Pads seem to think he’ll be a good pinch hitter. Now Kotsay’s getting a shot at the lead off spot and giving slightly less than Jeremy Giambi did in 2002. So why not give Byrnes a shot? He’s fast, his career OBP is 25 points higher than Kotsay’s and he’s cheap which means we can trade Kotsay and Miller for a better catcher down the road.

Finally, was anyone else surprised to see Eric Karros starting against a RHP? Has Durazo’s early slump meant that much? Looking at the three year splits Karros is hitting .246/.298 against righties, while Durazo is hitting .267/.391 against RHPs ove rthe same time. Oddly, all of EK’s hits this year have come against RHPs and he still trails Durazo’s numbers against north paws. So, why is EK playing against RHPs? Who knows? I’d rather see Durazo and Hatteberg getting the majority of the ABs against righties, we’ll see what happens.

Monday, April 5, 2004

Happy Opening Day!

I love opening day. That may not come as surprise, but I'll say it again for effect. I love opening day. It hasn't really seemed real for the past two years, but as I sit here, on the cusp of so many changes and so much uncertainty, I know this one thing for sure, I love opening day and opening day will always be there for me.

My first memory of baseball is going to the Oakland Coliseum with my dad. I must have been about four years old. The A's had a hot young left fielder named Rickey Henderson but I was stuck on Dwane Murphy. I loved the way his hat flew off when he chased balls in the outfield. Growing up, one of my treasured possessions was a Henderson signed Billy Ball. Basically, the only real positive memories I have of my father revolve around baseball and, while I swore to be a good brother to my little bro in every way I could, it was baseball that I really strove to pass on to him.

I brought my brother out to our first game on opening day 1997. We went for his birthday, which is always within a week of the season's first game. Until I moved to LA in 1999 my bro and I went to about 40 games a year. We did other things too, but baseball was our thing. It was our brother's day out; away from the world, away from the craziness of our family and our friends. It was time when he and I could bond. We could talk about anything, we were as much two guys going to a game as we were brothers separated by 13 years and a world of experiences. Baseball kept us close.

I think baseball helped me internalize (if you teach it, you gotta live it.), and pass on some of my values and traditions, as well as invent some new ones. For example, I got to teach my brother the nuances of the game by pointing out the moves the games greatest player (we can debate that later). We got to see Rickey play in his last stint in Oakland. I got to teach my bro about the beauty of "The Rickey Run." For those who don't know, a "Rickey Run" is a lead off walk, steal second, steal third, and come in on a single to right. I got to point out the subtlety of the shift, the fact that a triple is three times as exciting as a home run, that the splitter was the pitch of the 90s, and that yelling "Daaaar-yl Daaaar-yl" could get into a grown man's head. Together, we decided that the fourth inning was the nacho inning and that this sacred rite must never be broken, even in Anaheim where the nachos suck.

Through baseball I taught him that you never give up, you never leave a game early. No matter how far behind your team is, you never leave; because in baseball, more than in any other sport, anything can happen. You never know when you may see something you'll never see again. My brother and I were in the stands, with our grandmother attending her first game in over 20 years, for Derek Jeter's amazing backhanded toss to nail a not sliding Jeremy Giambi in game three of the ALDS. We saw Eric Chavez's first career dinger. He was there for "The Bunt Heard Round the World" to beat the Sox in game one last year. Now he's getting into that teenage phase, he wants to be cool. He doesn't hang out with the family as much. But when I came home two weeks ago, the first time since my marriage dissolved, he was there for me everyday. Our bond is strong, in part because of the countless hours we spent around baseball, going to games, listening to games, playing catch in the yard.

After I moved to LA I still made it to three more opening days in Oakland. Last year was the first one I had missed since '97. Still, I made sure that someone took my brother. This year I'm still in DC, I'm still in school, but I made sure he was going. He still calls me from the games. Thanks to him I was there for Giambi's first visit to Okaland as a member of The Evil Empire. I was there as the winning run crossed the plate in last year's ALDS game one. And I'll be there tonight, for the national anthem, and the seventh inning stretch (where they'll sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" like they should), but best of all I'll be there with my bro, like always.

Baseball is forever. Baseball is timeless. Ignore for a moment that juiced balls and juiced players belie my basic premise, the fact is that when you bring a kid to a ball game it's the same for them as it was for us when we were kids (even if it is costing you a week's wages). The smell of the grass, the call of the hot dog guy, seeing 20,000 people wearing the same shirt, it's magic. Baseball is fathers and sons, brothers, friends, its generations connecting. I can argue pitch selection with old men, I can turn to the complete stranger next to me and tell him that David Cone just pitched a perfect game, and he'll care. I can look behind me and know, from voice alone, that the kid behind me is the one that calls the post game show every night. Baseball is a community event and we can all be a part of it. It starts today, the Devil Rays and Orioles are tied for first. Happy Opening day.