Thursday, June 30, 2005

Land of the Dolts

East Coast baseball fans are a bunch of morons. Seriously, I have heard and seen more stupid things living out here than I ever did back home by the bay. I first noticed this a couple years ago as fans in the Bronx wildly cheered every medium deep fly ball can of corn hit by their beloved Bombers as if it were a game seven walk off slam. That particular trend continued this season in Baltimore as the O’s fans went crazy every time Sammy or Miggy popped-up. In fact, the only place I’ve seen a hint of baseball acumen has been at RFK where Nats fans appropriately cheered a ground ball to the right side that advanced a runner from second with no outs. (If you didn’t follow that keep reading it’ll get easier.) The madness continued this weekend in Philly where I took a road trip to see the Red Sox take on the Phightn’ Phils. Philly is a great town. I got a t-shirt with the slogan “Vote For Bobby” emblazoned Napoleon Dynamite style across the front. I saw a gem of a ballpark in Citizen’s Bank Ballpark. After two feet of hoagie I determined that Pat’s is WAY better than Geno’s. I also heard some of the most ridiculous trade talk on the local sports station.

Here’s the deal, the A’s are basically out of it. Oakland is seven games out of the wild card right now, which will be hard to make up. However, the A’s are hot right now. They’ve won eight of their last ten and are inching closer and closer to .500. Still, the assumption in Philly, and everywhere else with a contending team, is that the A’s are close to mailing it in and dismantling the ball club. I ask why? The A’s are finally starting to look like the etam that many people, including me, thought they would be heading into spring training. They’re getting quality starts out of their young pitchers, the bullpen is holding leads, and the bats are coming around. If Chad Bradford can comeback healthy, and Juan Cruz can figure out his control problems this team will be tough to beat down the stretch. If teams like Seattle pack it in, and Texas’ pitching woes continue the A’s could very well find themselves back in the wild card hunt before too long. But even if they don’t there’s no reason for a fire sale this year.

First off the A’s payroll is right about where it should be and knowing Billy Beane probably a few million under budget. Since it’s unlikely the A’s will add anything this year there’s no reason to dump payroll. The only A’s players of note who can walk after this year are Octavio Dotel who has no trade value, and Mark Kotsay who’s working on an extension. Most of the trade rumors surrounding the A’s have focused on Kotsay, a superb defensive out fielder with a good bat, and Barry Zito who’s been in obvious decline since his 23-5 Cy Young season in 2002. Even if this year is a lost cause the A’s should hold on to both these guys. The A’s got off to a slow start this year and every player save Marco Scutaro played far below their usual and expected level for the first two months. As a result Oakland dug a deep hole from which they may not emerge this year. However, unlike previous years they have no superstars eating up payroll and waiting to walk. Also, unlike previous years the A’s can take a mulligan on this year and keep their credibility with the fans as long as they remain competitive and don’t totally pack it in. Also, with a new owner in place the A’s may be in a position to add an impact free agent to complement the pieces they already have.

Still, the rumors persist. The Yankees and Cubs are said to be high on Kotsay, which is fine for them but begs the question, in return for what? The word at the water cooler for the past few years is that the Yanks don’t have any quality prospects in their farm system and I don’t see anyone on their major league roster who I’d want for Kotsay. Do you want Bernie Williams (.249/04/27/.341/.708)? Here’s a guy who’s been so bad in the field this year that he’s been replaced by Tony Womack who’s played 18 games in center during his 11 year career. Who else do you want for a 29 y/o OF in his prime? How about Tony Womack (35), or Reuben Sierra (39)? The only other piece the Yanks would likely give up is Giambi. Giambi has gotten himself up to.256/05/22/.396/.771 and I know I advocated for him earlier, but I still don’t want a 34 year old fallen slugger in exchange for Kotsay. So who do the Yanks give up? Exactly. Looking at the A’s needs and the rosters of each team I’d say the only player the Yanks could put in the centerpiece of a deal is Robinson Cano. The rookie 2B is hitting .282/05/25/.310/.764 in 174 ABs. A Cano for Kotsay deal would move Swisher or Byrnes into center and open up time for Charles Thomas. The Yanks could then move Womack back to second to fill in for Cano. As for the Cubs, well, I’ll take Corey Patterson because he’s young and could develop into a Kotsay type player even though his defense isn’t all there yet.

Which brings us back to the stupidity of Philly fans. All weekend I heard one caller after another propose a Zito for Pat Burrell deal. This belies their complete lack of baseball knowledge in that they obviously have not looked past Zito on the roster. The A’s currently have five major league quality outfielders (Kotsay, Swisher, Byrnes, Kielty, and Thomas) so why on earth would they give up Zito for another OF? Burrell is a nice player who would add some pop to the line-up, but I don’t think he’s worth giving up Zito. There are lots of ways to create offense, but pitching is at a premium. Besides that, who does Philly use to replace Burrell? Kenny Lofton’s been hurt, Endy Chavez sucks, and Jason Michaels, while good, has only had 142 ABs this year. The Phils could resign Doug Glanville who was traded to the Yankees in the Lofton deal and then cut by NY. Still, unless the A’s gave up an outfielder like Byrnes, and brought back a pitcher (Tim Worrell?) the deal wouldn’t make sense seeing as how Dan Meyer isn’t ready for prime time.

Of course, the A’s don’t need an outfielder. In fact, if they hold on to Kotsay the A’s don’t really need anything. The only holes they had going into this year were on the right side of the infield. Since they’re slow start Mark Ellis has come around and Dan Johnson is doing well at 1B. Other than that the A’s are set at every position. I’d like to see more from Jason Kendall on both offense and defense but I’m willing to give it another year. Peter Gammons seems to be the only major media type who thinks that the Yanks, Cubs, et al. will have a hard time prying young players out of small markets this year. Teams like the A’s who don’t need to dump payroll and have a strong farm system don’t need to give away the pieces that would complete the big boys. After all, why help solidify the Yanks outfield for the next five years when you can take advantage of Bernie’s bad knees for the next two or three? Instead the A’s, Brewers, Pirates and Tigers should sit tight and go get ‘em next year.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Belated Commentary “Everyone’s a little bit _____-ist, sometimes.”

Carl Everett of the Chicago White Sox, who has previously stated that he doesn’t believe that dinosaurs existed because they’re not mentioned in the bible, has come out with his opinion on gay marriage. In this month’s issue of Maxim magazine Everett says something to the effect of, “I’ve had gay teammates and I’ve accepted them, but being gay isn’t right. I don’t believe in gay marriage, it isn’t right.” He goes on to reveal that two women cannot make a baby, nor can two men. This morning on Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN radio Mike Greenberg suggested that this comment by Everett will spark “a firestorm of controversy.” It shouldn’t. Everett’s comments should be taken up to the point of “I’ve accepted them” and end there. As far as his opinion of gay marriage, or the validity of homosexual romance he is entitled to his opinion; even if he’s wrong.

Listening to Greenberg read Everett’s statement on air I got the impression that Everett was clearly stating his belief rather than attempting to influence people or incite debate. I don’t agree with Everett’s remarks but the fact that he is willing to accept gay people regardless of his personal opinion is enough for me. After all, we all have our own prejudices (cue Avenue Q soundtrack here). I am not for illegal immigration. I’ll never vote for harsher immigration laws, or denial of services to immigrants regardless of their legal status. Equality and justice for all doesn’t mean we all have to like each other. There will always be groups of people that we have some dislike for. As long as we don’t allow our prejudice to inform our treatment of people, or God forbid our public policy, it doesn’t matter what we think behind our eyes.

Ewoks are not Ethiopian. They’re Iraqi.

OK, they’re neither. One of the lasting memories of childhood is an argument between my mom and her boyfriend a couple of years after Return of the Jedi. The argument was about whether or not Ewoks were derogatory African stereotypes. My mother took the position that they were simply annoying little teddy bears created to sell merchandise to eight-year-olds. This led to one of the more vicious political arguments I have ever witnessed including during my recent trip to the senate.

Now the Ewok argument is being played out on a larger scale as republican leaders attempt to get people to boycott "Revenge of the Sith" due to its alleged anti-Bush bias. Among other things republicans point to Darth Vader’s line “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” As invoking Bush’s “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.” Republicans have also pointed to the films apparent criticism of the war in Iraq.

For crying out loud people get a grip! People have been trying to find hidden messages in Star Wars films for too long. Sure, Lucas borrowed from eastern philosophy and Christianity in order to shape his epic. Sure, there are allusions to other famous stories. Yes, the films depict an amalgam of classic themes on the human condition. We get it. That’s where it should end. When asked about the republican’s ire Lucas himself issued one of the greatest non-confirmations of my young life saying that the story was written during the Vietnam war, not the current war. This statement at once denies that the movie had any overt bias against the current administration while at the same time using the GOP’s accusations to compare the current war to Vietnam, something most republicans want to avoid. In a sly way Lucas is pointing out what should be obvious to all of us, if the GOP see caricatures of themselves in the behavior of the Sith, who are patterned after a xenophobic administration that perpetrated a failed war, maybe they should take a hint that this a clear case of life imitating art. People need to stop trying to find the hidden political messages in Star Wars. After all, how long has this movie been in post production? Wasn’t some form of “Yer either wi’us ‘r a’gin us” used in films as far back as the 1930s? Isn’t likely that it was written into Bush’s speech because it’s an iconic phrase? So did Lucas play on Bush, or did Bush play on John Wayne? Or did Lucas play on Wayne? Could the line have been written prior to Bush’s speech? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Besides, if Bush says something that childish shouldn’t he be lampooned for it? Or are world politics so simple that the entire issue can be as simple as disagreeing with the war equals wishing death upon American civilians? I for one am not against the war because I’m for the terrorists, but rather because I am for the soldiers, and I am for the people of Iraq.

If republicans are upset about Sith now, imagine if Return of the Jedi were released today. Instead of being worried about comparing Bush to Vader the GOP would be up in arms about how the Ewoks, with their guerrilla tactics, were a clear nod to the Iraqi insurgents. After all, the Ewoks used IEDs and other primitive weapons to attack checkpoints in an attempt to defeat the most technologically advanced army in the galaxy, a strategy that closely parallels the tactics of the Vietcong who preyed upon the over confidence the US put into it’s military might. If Jedi were released today Lucas might find himself at Gitmo while our boys kept on the look out for insurgents using big logs and hang-gliders armed with giant rocks. Again, if the GOP sees a parallel, in a film, about outer space, written during Vietnam, to the current political climate they might want to take that as a sign. From what I can tell Vietnam is now widely acknowledged as an abject failure. If we have reached the point where even those who are perpetrating this war, the same people who promised that Iraq would “not be another Vietnam,” are starting to see the similarities, maybe they should wake up and realize it’s not a case of liberal bias, it’s reality.

On a related note…

…I’m kind of glad it’s all over. I was born approximately 11 months before Star Wars was released. The films have been a constant for me, as they have been for most American males my age. Like a Red Sox fan under the age of 90 I don’t know life without gossip and speculation surrounding one of the passions of my generation. Still, I’m glad that I’ll never again have to leave a movie theater listening to a depressed, thirty-something, never-been-kissed Star Wars junkie complaining that “this one wasn’t (fill in the blank) compared to the originals.” Never again will I have to fight the urge to shake this person and scream, “Dude! When you saw the originals you were 12 years old!” Here’s the deal gang, these are movies made for kids. Adults loved the originals in part because there had, to that point, never been a movie like Start Wars. Heck, if you’re reading this chances are your parents were in their mid-twenties when Star warts came out which ain't exactly old. The special effects were unlike anything that had been done to that point. The story was different than anything that had been done to that point. Star Wars was different. Now it’s not. Now we get a few special effects vehicles every summer. Now we have an entire channel that does nothing but sci-fi. Not to mention that no matter what, there’s almost nothing Lucas could have made that would live up to the hype and anticipation that preceded Episode I. Nothing will ever live up to a beloved childhood experience it’s stupid to expect it.

That said Episode III was far and away the best of the recent trilogy. The interesting thing is that this film puts the entire series into a different perspective. The original three were about Luke’s journey from Tatooine farm boy to Jedi Knight. Anakin’s transition into Vader shifts the focus of the entire series to his rise, fall, and eventual redemption. Looking at the series as a whole Luke becomes a supporting character. Say what you want about the acting, the directing, the writing or whatever Episode III delivered exactly what Star Wars fans should have wanted. I think John Cloud said it well in a recent issue of Time magazine. Cloud wrtites, “True, Lucas’ beautiful but turgid prequal trilogy has disappointed. But then again I am no longer an awe struck boy secluded in a theater, trying to find himself in that place far far away.