Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts On The Postseason Thus Far

1. The Minnesota Twins just completely flopped. Mediocre pitching, terrible hitting, no execution - not in a dumb Joe Morgan sense, but in a specific no hits with runners in scoring position sense - and no wins as a result. Credit the Yankees with playing well, but the Twins should've beaten Sabathia in Game 1, should've broken the game open against Pettite in the second inning of Game 2 (instead of scoring a measly one run on a Danny Valencia sacrifice fly) and maybe won that game too, and all in all played completely unlike the powerhouse they were from early April to mid-September. The piece they were missing throughout this unmercifully quick series was a right-handed bat to platoon with the miserably sunk Jason Kubel, who has gone from Beast to Least in a mere 365 days. But hey, Kubel did hit that grand slam of Mariano Rivera earlier this season at Yankee Stadium, so he's got that going for him.

2. The Tampa Bay Rays probably should've won their series against the Rangers, especially Game 5, but errors and defense cost them in the end. I listened to most of the Rays/Rangers series in my car, while delivering pizza. If I delivered pizza like the Rays played defense in Game 5, I'd have t-boned a telephone pole the minute I hit the road (messing up the pizza in the process, with toppings sliding everywhere and all that). Then again, maybe nothing the Rays could've done would've mattered because...

3. Nobody seems to be able to hit Cliff Lee, the future postseason immortal currently pitching as a Texas Ranger for his third team in two seasons, and hey, you just know the Yankees are gonna make him an offer he can't refuse as soon as he becomes a free agent, right? I'd say that their payroll is stretched to breaking point right now, but man, oh, man, to quote a late-game text from my friend Craig in San Francisco: "The Yankees are going to sign him just so they stop losing in the post season to him."

4. Speaking of San Francisco, something to keep in mind as the announcers talk about the Phillies left-handed power threat: the Giants are better off when their great one-two righthanded pitching punch of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are on the mound, than they are with Jonathan Sanchez or Madison Bumgarner tossing: the Phillies have a higher on-base percentage and slugging percentage against lefties than righties (and OPS, natch). It's already Game 3... but my rotation for the Giants here on out would be to return Lincecum and Cain to the mound on short rest for games 4 and 5. They're in San Francisco, home field advantage is in effect. Time to strike while the iron is hot! If this series goes to seven games, Cole Hamels in Philly will likely be invincible. Team Torture needs to win at least two games in SF, or they will not win this series. And Matty and Tim give them their best shot.

5. Respect to Bobby Cox. What a great manager, the greatest in my lifetime for sure.

6. Maybe if Cincinnati hadn't had the worst attendance of any playoff team in the National League, they would've scored more runs against Philly. People of Cincy! Put down the chili and GO TO THE GAMES. Your Reds are one of the most fun, unique, exciting young teams in baseball. And Bronson Arroyo might sing you some Pearl Jam, too, if you ask him real nice and he's got his slow curve working. My NL MVP vote would've been for Joey Votto this year - I say "would've" because, yet again, the Baseball Writers Association Of America has refused to give me my say. Can we start a petition or something?

7. Although the no-hitter from Roy Halladay is an instant legend, for my money the best pitching performance of this year's postseason thus far is Tim Lincecum's 14 strikeout two-hit shutout of the Braves one day later. And when the two met, in Game 1 of the NLDS, Lincecum prevailed. Here's why. The strike zone was called tight, to the point where most strikes could be hit well by a good swing. Halladay refused to accept that, and he suffered as a result (and took the loss). Conversely, the Freak was willing to issue a walk or three, thereby cutting down on the number of pitches that batters could hit with authority, and limited the damage enough to nail down that quality start and win (and one more k than Doc, to boot). It's a risk when a pitcher issues walks, because that allows baserunners, and the opposite of recording an out is allowing a baserunner. But for my money, if a home plate ump is calling an Eddie Gaedel-sized strike zone, a good pitcher should be willing to walk one or two more guys than usual if he knows he can get the strikeout as a result of his ump-induced "effective wildness."

8. Predictions, at 1:17am, from the basement of Mesa Pizza in Dinkytown, Minneapolis: Rangers in six, Phillies in seven. Cliff Lee, meet Roy Halladay. Not sure if you two are aware of this, but you might have something in common...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Know Your Product

The Saints were a great Australian punk band from the late 1970's. Well, they moved to England to make their classic couple of albums (and some less classic albums which, while still very enjoyable in their own right, just don't quite stand up to the first two, no matter what your crazy friend in Brooklyn who is obsessed with Prehistoric Sounds says), but they were Australian.

Their first album, (I'm) Stranded, sounds like a hurricane. The vocals are sneering, slicing nasal acid. The guitar and bass roar. The drums are big and trashy and thunderous. There are a couple slow songs, and hey, they're great too - the guitars are still loud, I think I've never heard louder guitar on a ballad than on "Messing With The Kid." It's an amazing album, hard to beat.

But actually - and this may or not be a key defining characteristic of my musical taste - I've always liked the second album better. It's called Eternally Yours. It's still loud as hell, but the production is a little cleaner, the slow songs have a little less overdrive on the guitar, and ultimately it's less raw. Oh, and there's a horn section here and there. I'm pretty ambivalent about horn sections - basically, the more trebly a horn section is, the worse off I am. And it seems like a horn section makes a song no better and usually worse at least 95% of the time. But a cool, soulful horn arrangement done right can really add a lot to a song - and on the first track, "Know Your Product," the horns do just that. To me, "Know Your Product" is the Everest of punk rock songs with horn sections. The lyrics are essentially a reworking of the frustrated anti-cheap consumerism parts of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," which always floats my boat. I know it's hard to believe, but I think commercials have gotten even dumber in the last few years. No, actually, that's not hard to believe at all. Brawndo's got what plants crave, right, right... well, "Know Your Product" is a great song, and Eternally Yours is a great album.

Last night, I went out to the Triple Rock, here in Minneapolis, to see one of my favorite bands, Gentleman Jesse and His Men, open up for King Hhan and His Shrines (by the way, those twin "His"-es lead me to wonder: are Jesse and Khan the two most insecurely possessive frontmen out there today?). Well, Jesse/His Men smoked as always. They've added a keyboardist who correctly understands that the only two good keyboard sounds in rock'n'roll history are: 1. Hammond organ providing a big background hum, with occasional rare riffy flourishes, and 2. Piano going dingdingdingdingdingding AND NOTHING ELSE (unless you're The Killer, in which case 2.a. Piano going dingdingding-dingdingding-dingdingding is acceptable). They're great.

And then, ladies and gentlemen, King Khan and His Shrines. All I can say is: WOW. I haven't seen a live band that good in a long time. I mean, I've seen live bands that good - just not in recent memory. It was about an 8-piece soul/rnb/rock/garage/funk/punk mishmash, part Screamin' Jay Hawkins, part P-Funk, part garage tras a la the Gories/the Oblivians/etc., a little bit of mindbending banter and secrets, and of course a whole lotta James Brownism from Khan himself. Well, they were tremendous. I danced, sang along to songs I was hearing for the first time, and cheered especially loudly when it was time to get the band back out there for an encore.

That was when I was run over by a freight train. A glorious, jawdropping, freight train of rock'n'roll perfection.

Warren from Gentleman Jesse's Men grabbed a guitar and joined the folks onstage (making it nine total musicians/dancers up there), and the band launched into the GREATEST LIVE COVER I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE: "Know Your Product," done EXACTLY AS THE ROCK'N'ROLL GODS INTENDED.

Ladies and gentleman: Everest has been climbed. That is all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Welcome Back, Me

Hi there, Nato here, I'm back on this blogging thing, hopefully a good once or twice a week from here on out. It sure has been awhile, specifically late July, since I've posted here! This is primarily because I've spent the last couple months with rather sporadic internet access, and not enough time to devote to good lunchbucket blood and guts blogging, the kind you expect from me.

And the twin parallel worlds of rock and roll and baseball have most certainly not ceased to function merely because I temporarily ceased to post here! So let me see if I can't recap what's piqued my interest in the last couple months...

1. I moved to a new neighborhood in Minneapolis - "Nordeast" if you will - and there's a record store about a mile away from me! The last thing I bought from there, The Return Of Roger Miller, is currently blasting through the hallways of my house. Yes, that's the album that has "(And You Had A) Do Wacka Do" and "You Can't Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd," as well as the immortal "King Of The Road" (but my copy skips horribly on that song only). Great stuff to begin your day with, first cup of coffee music and all that.

2. Apparently one of the best bands in the world right now, The Goodnight Loving (from Milwaukee), ended up being popular in SPIN Magazine? Or something? Well regardless, all of you should get their new album, The Goodnight Loving Supper Club, and their previous album, which is self titled and has a picture of them with dogs on the cover... and hey, get their first two albums, too! You can find 'em on Dusty Medical Records, a lable from Milwaukee. Hey, do you like the Byrds? Do you like punk rock that isn't played through Marshall half-stacks? If you answered "yes" to both of these questions, then you're probably fishing right now, and I wish I was you.

3. The National League East, West, and Wild Card races are fascinating and awesome! All season long, I kept saying that I didn't "believe" in the Padres, whatever that means, but I felt that the descriptor was apt for a team named after a bunch of child molestors/Mayan killers... oops I mean Jesuit priests... but that's neither here nor there. I STILL don't believe in the Padres, and fully expect that either the Rockies or the Giants will win the NL West, while the Philadelphia Phillies win the NL East, and most likely the Atlanta Braves but quite possibly the Colorado Rockies snag the Wild Card. My sentimental favorite in the National League (absent the Brewers, of course), is San Francisco, mainly because I like a bunch of the players on the team, and I have a bunch of friends in the Bay Area. However, it's pretty hard to bet against the Phillies right now, with that offense, and the best 1-2-3 punch from a starting rotation available in the Major Leagues, or any other.

4. Let's say you're the Chicago White Sox. Your manager, operating on the principle that the DH spot in the lineup is a good place for position players to get a sort of half-day (i.e. need a rest, Alex Rios, from that demanding center field job? Ok buddy, you're DHing today, we'll toss Brent Lillibridge into center field and you can get a rest from all those fly balls you've been scampering to catch), lets Jim Thome - who is a future Hall Of Famer and a still-ultraproductive power hitter - vanish into free agency, and makes no push to resign him. So, during the disappointing 2010 season, during which your offense is probably the biggest disappointment next to Jake Peavy, you end up with the most DH plate appearances going to Mark Kotsay, with an OPS of .678... and he is your DESIGNATED HITTER, mind you, a player whose only real job requirement is HITTING (ok, a little baserunning too, but come on - Mark Kotsay has an OPS of .678 this year!). And while guys like Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko get the occasional DH assignment, you also end up with such powerhitting luminaries as Gordon Beckham (OPS .695), Juan Pierre (OPS .649), and Omar Vizquel (the real slugger of the bunch with an OPS of .701) clogging up the DH every so often. This is not a plan which guarantees success at the plate. This is a plan which guarantees that the Minnesota Twins will run away with the AL Central by mid-September, which is exactly what happened.

And the Twins? Yeah, they're the team that signed Jim Thome as a DH-only part-time player for $1.5 million... the same Jim Thome who, as a DH-only, leads the Twins in home runs with 24 and a Lazarus-like OPS for a 40-year old man of 1.027!

Let's say you're the White Sox. It's late August, the Twins are playing like it's 1991 again, and your team is struggling to keep up. What do they have that you don't? A slugger at DH. So, you go out and sign known 'roider (incidentally, Jim Thome has never been linked to steroid use) and suspected aging skill-sink Manny Ramirez, and take on approximately $3.8 million of his salary for the rest of the year. And what does Manny give you? Weeks without an extra-base hit or a RBI. A home crowd booing his every at-bat. A circus. An OPS of .768. Well, at least it's an improvement over Mark Kotsay. The Chicago White Sox will enjoy a quiet October, because their manager and organization forgot two important yet often-overlooked facts about baseball:

i. Steroid guys age very quickly.
ii. The only thing a designated hitter should be able to do is hit.

The Minnesota Twins, with a somewhat old-school manager and a thrifty GM, kept both these things in mind, and are currently competing for the best record in all of baseball.

5. Delmon Young has a Misfits tattoo! "I've got something to saaaayyyy... I hit two homers today and it doesn't matter much to meeeee, as long as weee wiiiinnnnnnn...."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Descendents and Thin Lizzy

This past month, my band (www.myspace.com/natocoles) learned a set of Descendents songs, to play at a two-day event in Minneapolis called The Pop Punk Emporium, which happened on July 9th and 10th. Here's the setlist:


Now, I know what you're thinking. You're wondering why your favorite Descendents song - "Pep Talk," perhaps, or maybe "Suburban Home," or even "Iceman" - wasn't included in this set. There were three criteria used to draw up the set: 1.) General popularity of the song; 2.) Specific popularity of the song within the band; 3.) Difficulty of learning and playing the song.

For example, consider "Good Good Things." It's a really cool song! But, is it as cool as "Pervert," or the song "I Don't Want To Grow Up," or "Silly Girl," or "My World," or the song "Descendents," all of which are from the same album (I Don't Want To Grow Up)? Well, Mike Cranberry (our drummer) really loves "Good Good Things," and it was a very easy song to learn - unlike, say, "Pervert" or "I Don't Want To Grow Up," both of which have funny chord changes and timing issues (as is typical of songs Tony Lombardo had something to do with the writing of). And although my favorite Descendents song of all time is "My World," it's a personal favorite more than a fan favorite, and thus it was left off the setlist (by which I mean, not learned).

Anyway, we played the set on July 9th, and then about 2/3rds of it again on July 26th (at a bowling alley called Memory Lanes, appropriate enough a location for a tribute act). We worked very hard to get the songs tight and right, and it was a ton of fun to actually pull it off. I think it was a success. I saw a lot of smiling, familiar faces as we played, that's for sure. Some crazy dancing as well.

Now, we near the end of July, and my band has our sights set on another task: a Thin Lizzy cover set, to be played at the Triple Rock Social Club on August 20th. I doubt we'll learn ten songs - more like six or seven. And we're not going to learn any "hits," as those will be left to the headlining band of punks (their name? Jailbreak, naturally). I'm not sure what songs we're going to learn. Any suggestions?

The only thing I know is this: learning Thin Lizzy songs is WAYYY easier than learning Descendents songs!!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Liveblogging" Bob Uecker's Return

Why not? Over the course of the Milwaukee Brewers broadcast today, July 23rd 2010 A.D., I will attempt my first-ever "liveblog," because Bob Uecker is back! He's back, he's healthy (enough), and he's calling the play-by-play for the Brew Crew (with Corey Provus) once more. Glad to have ya back, Bob.

(I put "liveblog" in quotes, because I'm not truly liveblogging, just keeping the minutes of his broadcast, which I will then post at the end of the game or whenever it is I have to quit typing and go to the Screeching Weasel reunion show at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis, like around 8:30pm or so).

7:10pm - "Allright Corey, thank you very much, and this broadcast once again is..." blah blah blah express written consent, whatever, HOLY SHIT, BOB UECKER IS BACK!!! This is awesome.
7:11pm - Bob Uecker congratulates Corey and Davey Nelson for their work in his absence. This makes sense. Corey did his quasi-Jim Powell best - good enough. And Davey Nelson did nothing whatsoever to convince Brewers nation that Bob Uecker could be replaced. Good job, Davey!
7:12pm - Bob sounds good, calling Nyjer Morgan's strikeout. He has not forgotten how baseball works. Gold star!
7:13pm - Here, Bob alludes to the recent flooding of Milwaukee, although no mention of the giant sinkhole at the corner of Oakland and North which literally swallowed a Cadillac Escalade... we'll see if he gets to that later. Seems like a Ueck-ish thing.
7:15pm - "Here is Ricky Weeks to lead things off..." And we are back to Ueck play-by-play on offense for the Brewers, which, let's face it, most Brewer fans are looking forward to much more than his play-by-play calling of Brewers pitching or the very unreasonable facsimile thereof.
7:18pm - "Great to be back. Miss this stuff when you're not around it!... I did read the disclaimer every day whether I was at the park or not. The doctors told me it was the first thing I did after I came out of anaethesia. This surgery brought to you by the Milwaukee Brewers... speaking of the surgery, it was a coin flip to find out who was gonna do it..." Then he thanks the doctors by name.
7:19pm - Corey Hart triples to the opposite field, and an excited Bob Uecker calls it without requiring more heart surgery!
7:23pm - "Braun, with his 60th RBI of the year..." gives the Brewers the lead on a sac fly to deep center, driving in Corey from third. According to Bob, Ryan Braun "hit that one right on the screws." One to nothing, Brewers lead the Nationals here in the first inning.
7:25pm - "Fielder lines a bullet to Adamn Dunn and the inning is over." Works for me! Bob Uecker is back, and everything is awesome. Hey, the Brewers are even winning (by one run)! Time for a bathroom break.
7:35pm - Upon my return to this "liveblog," I hear Bob complaining about how someone named Morse hit a home run. Uh oh. Three to one, Nationals. At least there's a bright side - Chris Narveson has really improved as a starting pitcher. In the past, he's had trouble getting out of the first inning without giving up multiple runs, after which point he usually settled down. Tonight? Well, he's managed to hold off on his Inning of Crappiness until the second. Good for him!
7:38pm - Uecker, in promoting a Menards special: "I've been in Menards a whole lot the last couple of months! Anything to pick up a couple bucks. Paint department." Corey: "Any new hobbies?" Bob: "Wellll, I fell off a ladder! Coupla shinburgers on that baby." Later, after mentioning that he fell into one of his flower beds... "I don't know why I did it. It made everybody mad. At least if I'd have expired I'd have been in the flowers, anyway."
7:40pm - Corey says the most popular text messages regarding Bob Uecker were ones inquiring as to the health of his garden. Bob claims that most of it is currently somewhere in the Menomonee River.
7:41pm - Ueck: "It's not tough to get that stuff in the ground. It's tough to train the chipmunks to dig the little holes for ya."
7:45pm - "We are ready for the third, and stepping in to call it for you, here's Corey Provus." Ok, no offense to Corey (who is very good at his job), but I'm gonna listen to the Twins game for a little while. This is, after all, Dan Gladden's first night back in the broadcast booth after having surgery to remove his siamese Jack Morris.
8:10pm - Despite a tension-filled 2-out moment in Baltimore, I'm checking back on the Brewer game. Let's see what Bob has to say...
8:11pm - It's still Corey Provus, and that damn Morse fellow hit yet another home run off Chris Narveson. Five to one, Nats. That's enough for me. I'm off to Screeching Weasel! But hey, Bob Uecker's back, and it's awesome. See y'all next time.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The 2010 All-Star Game: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Hey! The 2010 Major League Baseball All-Star Game just happened! And some pretty interesting things happened during it. I'm sitting in a beautiful log cabin just upmountain from Estes, Colorado, with the door wide open and I'm feeling that refreshing breeze typical of young mountains, pine forests, and sparkling ice-cold crystal-clear lakes and streams. Also, I talk to trout.

Anyway, consider that old Clint Eastwood movie The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. That three-part title has always meant to me the following: some things in life are just and right and awesome - The Good. And some things in life are nasty and brutish and stupid and evil - The Bad. And then there are some things that aren't pretty, aren't nice, but are effective and get the job done no matter how high the body count may climb - The Ugly. Here's my The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly take on yesterday's baseball match.

The Good:
1. The National League won! It was about time. I kinda knew they were going to win this year, because they in general had a more solid pitching staff. It'll be nice for the NL team to have home field advantage again... for the first time since cave man days.
2. Marlon Byrd. Credit where credit's due to a hated Cubbie - he worked a great at-bat against Matt Thorton with two outs to draw a walk, just before Brian McCann hit a bases-clearing double to score all three NL runs. Byrd, being a speedy fellow, scored from first, where a slower dude - Scott Rolen (who scored from third) comes to mind - wouldn't have. Although the NL only needed two of their three runs to win, that cushion is invaluable. Not to mention his heads-up defense in the ninth inning; Marlon Byrd played a shallow blooper on a hop and threw a laser strike to second base to nick David Ortiz for the second out of the inning, and kill a rally. That's classic veteran poise and performance - and considering his great day in Anaheim, Byrd must've been "Eight Miles High" after the game, heh.
3. Brian McCann. Hit a bases-clearing double to score the only runs the NL would need to win. Plus, he caught just about every single pitch he was thrown by the vast assortment of talented NL pitchers he handled - and Matt Capps, too (more on Capps later).
4. Derek Jeter using Bob Sheppard's recorded intro was cool. Even if you're sick of the Yankees, that's classy all down the line.
5. Ryan Braun's diving catch to rob Josh Hamilton of extra bases. Watching him twist and bend his wrist over and backward and come up with the ball unharmed, you had to give it up for a guy willing to risk injury in what is essentially an exhibition game. I guess he really thinks the Brewers can come back and make it to the World Series and get home-field advantage. Good for him!

The Bad:
1. The Managers. Ay, yi, yi. Let's start with Joe Girardi. Why on EARTH would you let Alex Rodriguez sit on the bench throughout an entire game, where at several crucial late inning moments, his pinch-hitting or baserunning could've made a difference or even tied the game? I am baffled, and I have to assume that A-Rod didn't a.) pinch run for David Ortiz in the ninth inning (dollars to donuts Byrd can't throw A-Rod out on that play), or b.) pinch hit for Ian Kinsler with two down in the bottom of the ninth, who while a fine hitter in his own right, isn't - oh, I don't know, what's a good descriptor here - THE BEST HITTER IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE??? I have to assume that A-Rod didn't enter the game for one of two reasons: because Joe Girardi didn't want to risk injury or whatnot to his star, or because A-Rod is a total dick and didn't want to play. The easy joke here is "both answers are correct," but I honestly see a different A-Rod this year, and I can't believe that New A-Rod isn't a little pissed that he didn't get a chance to play hero when the chips were down in Southern Cali.

Also, he didn't use Joakim Soria once, despite the fact that The Mexicutioner is the hottest closer in baseball right now.

I can't complain about putting Andy Pettite in to pitch the third inning, but if he had stumbled, you'd better believe I would be complaining right now!

Then you've got Charlie Manuel, manager of the National League - the victors. Besides picking Omar Infante for the All-Star game, a horrible move in the first place (Infante must have pictures of Charlie shaking hands with Jerry Manuel or Santa Claus or something else that would get him fired in Philly), there's the yanking of Roy Halladay for Matt Capps to face David Ortiz, after the Doc had recorded only two outs and thrown 17 pitches - and recall now that Halladay has BY FAR the most complete games of any pitcher in baseball today, so fatigue ain't the issue. That made no sense, but less sense that it was Matt Capps he brought in. You see, if he were channelling Mr. Burns and "playing the percentages," he might have gone to a lefty in his bullpen for that critical out with runners on first and second and two down. He had a few to choose from - and southpaw Arthur Rhodes immediately jumps to mind, and what a great story it would be if that 40-something old man made a freakin' All-Star appearance, eh?

Charlie Manuel brought in Matt Capps. Matt Capps is a righty. David Ortiz devours righties. Why did this happen??? Luckily for the NL, Ortiz struck out and no damage was done. But it was the wrong move, and I can't for life of me understand why Manuel made it. Hey, I guess that's why he's the manager and I'm the bloggerist.

2. Matt Capps gets the win. Ok. Let's say you have a pitcher - Pitcher A. He pitches for two innings, pretty much lights out, and then is relieved for innings numbers three and four by Pitcher B, who is also pretty much lights out. No other pitcher on your team throws for more than an inning. A couple pitchers only throw a handful of pitches, used situationally to get one out. When all is said and done, who should get the win? Pitcher A or Pitcher B, right?

Nah. Let's give it to one of the dudes who recorded one out (admittedly one of four or five more crucial outs, but really! Come on!). Let's give it to one of the guys who threw five pitches. The Win is one of the most stupid stats in baseball, right up there with The Loss and The Hold.

3. Joe Mauer's attempt to throw out David Wright stealing second was abysmally off target, and exceedingly atypical considering the man's past history of great defense behind home plate. But that throw wasn't as off target as Hong Chi-Kuo's attempt to throw out Joe Mauer at first - fueled by nerves and adrenaline, Kuo picked up Mauer's choppy swing-bunt and threw the ball practically to San Diego. Yikes! And thus was the road paved for Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly, scoring what would be the AL's only run.

The Ugly

1. The one run scored by the AL came about via a walk, a throwing error advancing a runner to third, and a sacrifice fly. Ugly. But effective. Maybe the AL should've tried using that strategy more, instead of trying hit the ball well (and locking their best hitter to the bench with titanium manacles).

2. The anointed closer for the 2010 National League All-Stars Jonathan Broxton was able to lock down the bottom of the ninth with a major assist from two sources: boneheaded managing by Joe Girardi - no pinch runner for Ortiz; no at-bat for A-Rod - and exceptional defense from Marlon Byrd and Brandon Phillips to retire the American League and secure the first win for the NL since, say it with me now, cave man days. Sure, he might've gotten the job done had there been one out and runners on first and second and A-Rod at the plate... you know how this game works. Broxton was ugly, but the job was done.

3. The shadows and sun spots sliding and sinking across the ballpark during the first half of the game were causing trouble for the batters on both teams. Is it coincidence that neither offense really mustered anything until the shadows completely settled on the field? Not to take anything away from Ubaldo, Josh, David, and others, but one has to wonder.

That's all for this entry. Now I'm gonna go wrestle a grizzly bear, and drink a good microbrew. Later.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Comments On The Internet

(Important note: this entry is neither entirely about rock and roll or baseball. Not even close. If you therefore feel compelled to skip it, so be it. However,

It's Thursday, July 8th, 2010, and tonight a very famous and very good professional basketball player named LeBron James is going to hold a press conference to announce which NBA team he is going to play for this year.

Who will it be? Chicago? New York? Cleveland? Miami? Oklahoma City, for some reason? Maybe he just wants to shake things up? Anyway, LeBron James is an incredibly talented basketballer, and free agency and quest for the best possible contract, and search for the most talented team to win hypothetical championship after championship is as newsworthy as anything else in entertainment and/or sports news.

Here are, as of 7:30pm, the two comments left by people on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel website article covering the James news today (http://www.jsonline.com/sports/98073504.html#postComment)

1. Gary909 - Jul 08, 2010 7:20 PM

"Who gives a crap about some multi million dollar basket ball player. Maybe with a new contract he can get another ten tatoos."

2. jonah - Jul 08, 2010 7:28 PM


there are more important things to worry about then where Lebron James
will play basketball next season. Sad sad sad !"

Gary909, Jonah... allow me to handle this. First off, you clicked on the article. You knew what the article was going to be about. If no sports news is news, that's fine. I look forward to your comments on every single sports-related article/blog post/etc. on the Journal-Sentinel website decrying the waste of journalistic resources. Go, you watchdogs, go! Arf arf!

Also, Gary909, I don't know you, but apparently you are paying way too much for your tattoos. One reason I suspect that this is so is because you don't know how to spell "tattoo." Another reason is because it seems like you think LeBron James might spend a salary bump somewhere in the millions of dollars on ten tattoos. My simple calculations indicates that you believe the average cost of a tattoo is approximately $750,000. Gary909, you are getting ripped off! That portrait of Sarah Palin on your upper bicep would be about a $300 job where I get my work done, and the butterfly on the small of your back should've cost $75 plus tip at most. If you email me, I will give you the phone numbers for several good tattoo shops in the Milwaukee area who charge less than $750,000 per tattoo.

And Jonah, perhaps there are more important things to worry about than where LeBron James will play, such as the use of "then" vs. "than." It still doesn't explain why you clicked on this article, read it, and then commented on it - aren't there more important things to be done? But whatever. I agree. World peace, ending poverty, stopping that oil spill, and Brett Favre news from 2007 through 2009 are all much more important things to worry about. Thank god we solved that last problem by shipping him to Siberia or wherever.

Seriously, everyone: if you think that where LeBron James signs isn't news, watch this video. http://www.mefeedia.com/video/31902868

This shit matters. And that'll do it for now.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dock Ellis's No Hitter On June 12th, 1970

Oops! I forgot to honor the 30th Anniversary of Dock Ellis's amazing no-hitter in San Diego some 30 years ago, June 12th 1970. I'm 13 days late. Damn it. I guess I've been doing too much non-blogging this past month. Too much sunshine. On June 12th, I was in Milwaukee, watching Tenement (www.myspace.com/tenementwi) knock 'em out. Also, I ate a giant chorizo burrito from El Corazon, Riverwest's newest Mexican restaurant. I won't say taqueria... but it was a damn good (and damn huge) burrito nonetheless.

But back to Dock and his no-no. For those of you who don't know exactly what I'm talking about, Mr. Ellis pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres to win the day game of a Jack Murphy Stadium day/night doubleheader.

And, as many of you know, Dock Ellis claims he was tripping on LSD at the time.

Do the stats back up his outrageous and hilarious claim? Well, he walked eight guys, and struck out six. That would seem to be the kind of BB:K rate that you could achieve while under the influence of a hallucinogen. (This is, of course, more proof of what I've been saying all along: Nolan Ryan pitched every game of his career while high on PCP.) The game took two hours and a lucky thirteen minutes to complete (As you may be aware, 213 was Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment number, for the record. Just sayin'.)

He was interviewed about this on NPR a few years back, and some enterprising animator created this great work of audio/visual genius: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vUhSYLRw14

Anyway, as I type this, an Arizona Diamondback named Edwin Jackson has just completed his own no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays. He threw 149 pitches, walked eight men, and struck out six. THE SAME NUMBER OF WALKS AND STRIKEOUTS AS DOCK ELLIS ON JUNE 12TH, 1970.

Edwin Jackson, congratulations on becoming the second pitcher in Major League history to throw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. The lizard people will eat your brains in gratitude.

(RIP Dock Ellis)

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Poltergeist In My House Loves Billy Bragg and Wilco

Today, while I was taking a shower (yes, dear readers, your faithful bloggist occasionally deigns to cleanse himself of the accumuluted dirt/grit/grime of the Rock And Roll And Baseball Lifestyle tm), I heard voices from my living room. But when I walked out into the room, no one was there. There was soft acoustic guitar playing from somewhere. I thought to myself, "hmm, is my roommate Logan playing a soft, sweet melody, just out of my sight?" But that would've been ridiculous, because a.) there would have been nowhere for him to sit except the foyer, the stairs, and other places that aren't really fun to hang out in, and b.) he's a drummer, and plays the acoustic guitar like it's a form of strange, stringed floor tom.

No, as it turns out, my living room stereo turned itself on completely by itself, and began playing the "Mermaid Avenue" album, which I'd been listening to the night before and which I had left in the machine (why not?). Or maybe it was a poltergeist that turned on the stereo? Regardless, that's the kind of life I live - I'm surrounded by self-aware electronic appliances and phantasms of the ether, and they all want to listen to my Billy Bragg and Wilco CD, almost more than me...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Time For Baseball To Introduce The Challenge Flag

Last night, an umpire in Detroit ruled a runner safe at first base on a close play. Replays showed that the runner was out by at least half a step. The umpire was wrong, but the play stood.

This has all happened before, hundreds, maybe thousands of times, in the great game of baseball. Today, there are 30 teams in baseball, and 162 games played each year by each team. And usually, each team needs 27 outs to finish a game - 54 total. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. But you get the picture. When you start multiplying 162 times 54 times 30 times all the years of baseball, you understand how many chances there have been for umpires to make the wrong call (and that's not even bringing up balls and strikes, fair or foul, or anything else - we're just talking about outs). There are going to be mistakes made. And most of the time, that's ok, the sheer weight of the countless number of calls got right will drown the few calls got wrong in a sea of baseball umpiring justice.

Now, back to Detroit, last night, and to last night's blown call at first base. Here's another number: 20. There have been 20 perfect games pitched over the entire history of modern baseball. It's the rarest, toughest feat in baseball, bar none.

And if the ump had gotten the call right last night, that number would've gone up to 21.

Instead, we have hand-wringing, tearful apologies from the umpire (Jim Joyce, whose name will now live in infamy along with Don Denkinger and really nobody else), graceful and classy handling of the situation by the pitcher (Armando Galarraga, who might want to look Pedro Martinez for his thoughts, considering it's going to be hard to reach Harvey Haddix today) and his teammates... but here's what we don't have: justice. And we never will. It's too late. To overturn this call, and give the perfect game to the pitcher who was perfect on June 2nd, 2010, would be to open a massive can of worms which is better left shut.

Baseball will never be able to set things right for Galarraga and Joyce, as well as Tigers catcher Gerald Laird who caught a perfect game but did not, and even Indians shortstop Jason Donald who grounded into the 27th out of a perfect game but did not, whatever he thinks about it.

But baseball can, and should, make some changes. Or maybe just one change. Give managers a challenge flag! One challenge flag per game. Authorize the use of the challenge flag for a limited set of circumstances - boundary calls, calls of safe or out at any base, and maybe a very few other extremely rare occurrences. Let the manager throw the flag if they like, and let the umpires go to the booth for video review.

If there is clear evidence that the wrong call was made, then allow the umpiring crew to overturn the call, and if necessary award extra bases as necessary - say, in the event that a runner who grounded into the third out with a runner on second base is ruled safe after a successful challenge, the umpires could allow that runner on second base to take third.

And if the manager was right, give them back the flag, and allow them to use it again if they feel as if the wrong call was made. And if the manager was wrong, then they don't get it back - that's it for the game.

One challenge flag. That's all. People talk about "the human element" in baseball, as if umpires screwing up is charming somehow. Maybe it is - but it's also "human" to give a manager - a "human" - a challenge flag. Hell, it makes the "human" element more interested and less one-sided. People talk about how the game is too slow, and how instant replay would make that worse. One flag doesn't slow the game down, as opposed to the current argue-argue-kick-dust-eject-the-manager system! That gets things right.

Perhaps time is all relative, and history repeats itself, and all the past mistakes umpires have made will all happen again - but this time, the manager will have a challenge flag to throw.

That means that, in the future, Armando Galarraga's perfect game is perfect. That means that future Joe Mauer hits a double in the ALDS last year, not a long strike two, and the Twins maybe slay that Yankee dragon. That means that the future St Louis Cardinals have another chance to win the World Series in 1985. (And maybe we can set the whole Did Yogi Tag Jackie Out At Home? debate to rest, too - that is to say, when it happens again, in the future).

Sorry to get all quantum on you there, readers. But seriously. Let's give the managers a challenge flag. Just one challenge flag. Try it out, Bud Selig! It won't make the game perfect... but it'll certainly help.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Friday At Target Field

On Friday, May 21st, I went to Target Field to see the Milwaukee Brewers play the Minnesota Twins. I went by myself, accidentally on purpose. I bought a scorecard and a pencil, and settled down in the right field bleachers, hangin' out with Michael Cuddyer and Corey Hart.

By the end of the first inning, the Twins had scored seven runs against Brewers starter Dave Bush, all on walks, singles, and doubles. Bush managed to record just one out before he got the hook (he got Justin Morneau to fly out to center). He walked in a run, too. At one point, Bush - normally a very quiet, noncombative presence on the mound - and home plate umpire Ed Rapuano got into a very heated argument, and both men had to be restrained from charging each other! Heh.

Well, obviously, it wasn't much of a game. The Twins took it, 15-3, including another crooked number: a five-run 4th inning against Brewers sad retread Jeff Suppan. But there were a couple other notable moments...

1. Carlos Gomez hit a home run! A three-run homer off sharp Twins starter Nick Blackburn. It was his first homer back here in Minneapolis, where he learned to be a man playing baseball, or at least slightly less of a boy playing baseball. When he tossed the bat after the ball had been well crushed to deep left field, it grazed Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Gomez was apparently unaware of this. Some players, were they to flip their bat and have it hit the opposing catcher, would be ducking and covering the next time they came up to bat - retaliation in the form of a beaning would be appropriate. However, since Carlos is such a goofy, unrestrained character, the Twins didn't seem to mind. Gomez apologized immediately after the game, and the Twins took it with good humor. But, for example, had it been "Hollywood" Braun? SMACK. PLUNK. CRUNCH.

2. Carlos Gomez fell over swinging at a breaking ball! That happened before the home run, and the crowd cheered and laughed a little. Again: we here in the Twin Cities are very familiar with Go-Go. I'm going to step in with a little editorial here: I fully support Carlos Gomez, and the way he plays ball. He's always exciting, even when his lack of finesse is maddening. This year, his good offensive numbers (power, on-base pct.) are up. As long as he plays his highlight-worthy defense in center field, and hits reasonably well, he can occasionally screw up the etiquette/refinement part of the game. Which, as we all know, is all kind of bullshit anyway. In today's media-friendly major leagues, Bob Gibson would be muzzled and/or drummed out of the game. More on that another time.

3. Todd Coffey! He ran out at full steam to finish the game in the 8th inning, when the Twins victory was just about inevitable. The fans sitting around me in the bleachers had never seen this guy before, and they were all very, very impressed. I wish he could've had his intro music ("The Ultimate Warrior Theme Song") playing, though - that would've probably been enough to start a Minnesota Twins Fans Who Love Todd Coffey Fan Club.

4. PLOOOOOOOOOOOUFFFE! Trevor Plouffe, a rookie from the Twins farm system, was brought up for this game to sub for the injured starting shortstop J.J. Hardy (a former Brewer, by the way). If there's one thing I've learned about crowds, it's that given the chance to shout/bellow/bay a word with the "oooo" sound in it, they will seize the moment with aplomb! BRUUUUUUUUCE... Bruce Springsteen. KUUUUUUUUUUUUUB... Jason Kubel. YOUUUUUUUUUUK... Kevin Youkilis. And now Trevor Plouffe. He acquited himself well, playing solid defense at short, and batting two for five with two RBI's and a double. Note: Ploof is the sound a sack of flour makes when dropped from the top of a ten-story building.

Allright, that's Friday, May 21st. The Brewers were, in a word, annihilated. But the weekend wasn't all lost for the Brew Crew - and I will write another entry soon about my very different experience at Target Field on Sunday, May 23rd. Stay tuned for the next installment of Nato's Rock And Roll And Baseball Blog, now with 100% more coverage of John Axford's moustache!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hello Again (A Long Entry To Make Up For A Long Gap In Entries)

Hi everybody. Sorry it's taken me so long to update this dusty old blog, but I've been a very busy baseball-fan rock-and-roller. Let me explain...

First off, I went on tour. And for much of the tour, I was playing solo. That dramatically cuts down on free time. Then again, the way I tour (lazily), I'm not sure that's a good excuse! Anyway, it was a great time.

I played with my Twin Cities band (the Blue Diamond Band) in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The first two were phenomenal - check out the pictures up at www.myspace.com/natocoles, if you're interested. But... Chicago! Oh, Chicago, you Sick Man of the Midwestern Scene*. Despite the heroic efforts of the awesome Blackbelts, there were few people at the show indeed. Based on my experiences elsewhere, with rabid fanbases numbering even into the high teens (!), I just can't fathom why Chicago would show me such a cold shoulder. Maybe I shoulda played Broukal's in Blue Island. Luckily, there was an awesome afterparty, with foosball and snacks. And drinks. And I'm pretty sure somebody had a prescription for their glaucoma if you know what I'm saying.

*In the 1800's, the Ottoman Empire was called "the Sick Man of Europe," because although it controlled lots of territory, it was a dysfunctional government with virtually no military power whatsoever, propped up only by the diplomatic machinations of England, Russia, Germany, and the like. This is pretty much the basis for the board game RISK.

Anyway, the Blue Diamond Band headed home after Chicago, and I headed east. After a couple good solo shows in Detroit (a bonfire with Bobby from The State Lottery) and Cleveland (at The Soggy Dog House, Cavs game on mute), accompanied on the long drives only by my trusty ally and confidantessa Sara ("The Most Powerful Woman In Washington D.C."), I made it to New York City.

I love New York City. I used to live there, and I have to admit, I miss the New Yorkiness of it all. The crowds! The buildings! The subway! The noise, the heat, the traffic... these things are almost charming, if you don't have to live amongst them day in, day out. And the people are great. Joining me for three east coast rock shows were Jon and Jimmy from the excellent band Sandworms, and my nominee for "Most Interesting Man In The World Who Does Not Prefer Dos Equis," Mario Viele (a St. Louis ex-pat who is pretty sure he knows who Albert Pujols is and that he's a pretty good batter or something).

It was great to see all my friends in Brooklyn. My old Used Kids bandmate Danny has a great new band called - brace yourselves - Marvin Berry And The New Sound. Great Scott!, what a good band name. Good band, too. We played one of my favorite shows I've ever played at Lulu's, a great bar in Greenpoint (neighborhood of Brooklyn). Also, with this Jon/Jimmy/Mario band, we played in New Brunswick, New Jersey. After that show, I played a solo set at one of my favorite unknown bars in America: McCormick's! Jay Insult DJ'd, because he is the best person to do that in the universe. And to ice the cake, I raced over to old Used Kids bandmate C.J.'s "Bad Hug Radio" show, and played some songs on that! Look it up. The last show with that band was in Philadelphia, at J.R.'s Bar. This bar is CRAZY. It was awesome, enough said!

For the rest of the tour, down to Florida and then back up to the Twin Cities, I was on my own. I had a picnic in historic Ft. Lauderdale, randomly encountering my very good friend Colin (who does sliceharvester.com, a document of one man's attempt to eat a slice of pizza at every pizzeria in NYC). I rocked Gainesville, Florida on Cinco De Mayo with The (acoustic) Grabass Charlestons, and Dave and Rich (acoustic) from Vaginasore Jr. (what a name!). I did an impromptu "Storytellers"-style set with Russ Van Cleeve from The Tim Version in St. Petersburg. Most importantly out of anything I did on this tour, I played a set of Tom Petty covers at Aaron and Robin's wedding on the beautiful Gulf Coast beach - which, at the time, was entirely oil-free.

On the way back north, I played a cool set in Atlanta, on a bill with one of my favorite bands I'd never heard before - North Trolls. In Chattanooga, I played requests to the loyal few in the backyard of JJ's on Dollar Beer Night! In other words, it went well. And in Carbondale... hoo boy.

I have two tales to tell of Carbondale. First off, on Ray Suburbia's orders, a bunch of my friends and I drove out to the hamlet of Neunert, IL, less than a mile from the Mississippi River near Fountain Bluff, to get insanely cheap, outrageously awesome fried chicken. Seems that Wednesdays, a bar out there called Bottoms Up has a special where you can get half a chicken for $2.50, plus dollar beers and dollar sides (including GREEN BEANS WITH BACON BITS, a favorite of mine). Well, word had gotten out, and it was the last Wednesday with college still in session at Southern Illinois U, so the wait was horrific: two hours and fifteen minutes for our food! But we waited (and took advantage of those dollar beers), and it was amazing. I can't remember the last time I ate so fast, or that fried chicken tasted so good.

The second tale is of the show. It started late. How late? LATE. It started at 2:30am! And that was just the first band! There were THREE BANDS, including me. I'm as night-owlish as they come, but I feared the worst: would anybody make it to the end with me? Nick said "play until dawn," and so I did. And believe it or not, a handful of folks did watch the whole thing! I took what requests I could, ending with "Achin' To Be" by the Replacements (as I often like to), put my guitar and harmonicas away, and scrambled up the block to crash on a soft couch in front of a cooling breeze from a fan. AHHHhhh...

Well, that's that. I got home on May 14th, had a birthday party, and have since settled back into Twin Cities Livin' (tm). That's the rock and roll side of things. Turning our attention to Cinco Diamond Sacks, here are some thoughts I have regarding the first quarter of the 2010 Major League Baseball calendar.

1. The Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees are really good, because they can hit and they can pitch. One of these three teams is going to win the AL Pennant. Mark my words.

2. The Milwaukee Brewers are not really good, because they can't pitch. At all. Except for Yovanni Gallardo. And that's a shame, because their shitty overall record is going to steal Ryan Braun's 2010 NL MVP award away from him, and give it to some undeserving clown like Albert Pujols or something. Also not really good: the Kansas City Royals, the Seattle Mariners, the Bal'mor Orioles, and the Houston Astros. I'm not ready to nail the casket shut yet on anyone else, but it looks pretty grim for the aforementioned Fucked Five.

3. Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball, and has been for the past five-plus years. Not that anybody in the mainstream media noticed, because most of those years were in Toronto. It occurs to me that if you asked the average Yankee fan, "who would you rather have starting Game One of the World Series, Roy Halladay or Andy Pettite?", that fan would definitely at least have to think about it.
3.a. It's really a shame that the Blue Jays can't draw fans anymore. The Skydome used to be ON FIRE when the Jays were playing at home. Now? Crowds at Toronto games at the Rogers Centre aren't quite down to Marlins tomblike numbers, but it sure looks a lot like some of those World Baseball Classic games when the Netherlands would square off against Italy (if that actually happened). Somebody in the Blue Jays organization really needs to shake things up.

4. Jason Heyward, that Atlanta Braves rookie phenom? FOR REAL. For my money, he's got Rookie Of The Year wrapped up. If Stephen Strasburg even wants consideration, he would have to combine Pedro Martinez's 2000 season with Eric Gagne's 2003, and toss in Micah Owing's bat to boot.

5. Did you think I'd get out of this entry without even mentioning the White Sox once? Well, the pitching has been a disappointment and hitting has been what we thought it would be (not great), and so they're headed straight for the middle, like the Replacements used to joke on long van rides... but we'll always have this (it's been all downhill since Opening Day, when this amazing play occurred): http://chicago.whitesox.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100405&content_id=9079870&vkey=recap&fext=.jsp&c_id=cws

Ok. If you made it through my entire blog entry, good for you! The next ones will be shorter. I'm headed to two, if not all three of the Twins/Brewers games at Target Field this weekend. I will report back when I'm able! See ya later.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Should We Talk About The Weather?

Is it too cold to play outdoor baseball in Minneapolis during early April and late October?

Short answer: no, I don't think so. But over at one of my favorite websites, www.joeposnanski.com, I got embroiled in a climatological debate in the comments thread of his excellent "Something To Think About 4/12" post, which consists of a couple lines from that great old Saturday Night Live skit where Dana Carvey plays George Will hosting a sports quiz show: George Will's Sports Machine. Funny stuff, I wish I could find a link to that...

Anyway, here's some climate data from Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and Boston. After checking it out, it's clear that Minneapolis is measurably less hospitable to outdoor ball in early April and late October. But sometimes, the differences are so small (in particular, there's almost no difference between April in Minneapolis and Detroit), that I just don't see any reason for panic.

But please, don't believe me. Here are the numbers:

April high/mean/low: 57.0/46.6/38.2
October h/m/l: 58.4/48.7/38.9
Average April precipitation/snow (inches): 2.31/3.1
Average number of April days with precipitation/snow: 11.3/2.2
Average October precip./snow (inches):
Average October days w precip/snow: 8.4/0.6

April h/m/l: 59.2/49.7/40.2
October h/m/l: 63.2/54.1/44.9
Avg April precip/snow (in): 3.82/1.4
Avg April days w precip/snow: 11.6/1.0
Avg Oct precip/snow (in): 2.79/0.1
Avg Oct days w precip/snow: 9.7/0.2

April h/m/l: 57.8/48.1/38.4
October h/m/l: 61.2/51.9/42.5
Avg April precip/snow (in): 3.05/1.7
Avg April days w precip/snow: 12.6/2.1
Avg Oct precip/snow (in): 2.23/0.3
Avg Oct days w precip/snow: 9.8/0.3

April h/m/l: 56.1/48.3/40.5
October h/m/l: 61.8/54.1/46.4
Avg April precip/snow (in): 3.6/1.1
Avg April days w precip/snow: 11.0/0.7
Avg Oct precip/snow (in): 3.79/0
Avg Oct days w precip/snow: 8.0/0

Let's hear it for data!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Warmup Music For Professional Closers Of Today

I was reading today about the Minnesota Twins' home opener, the inaugural game at their new ballpark Target Field, and I learned that Jon Rauch, the anointed 2010 Twins closer hustled into said role earlier this year to replace future Tommy John surgery survivor Joe Nathan, gets his act warmed up to the strains of Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam."

Well, ok. Good for him. Another closer with another generic, uninspired choice of crap metal warmup tuneage. Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera of the Brewers and Yankees respectively use the only decent heavy warmup music - "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC and "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, where the former is only particularly cool because of the bell sound effect (does anybody really want to argue that the song itself is a particularly choice cut? Nah, me neither), and the latter because, well, it's pretty much an awesome, badass tune for the greatest closer of all time to use. Further, my friend Ryan Poortenga has already identified the song "Reign In Blood" by Slayer as the ultimate closer music - thus rendering all other modern, post-NWOBH* metal song choices weak and pale in comparison (with the two exceptions I just made - and "Hell's Bells" isn't really "post-NWOBH" anyway). And as long as "Reign In Blood" goes unused, I will use this forum to suggest more appropriate into/warmup music for the professional closers of today.

For starters, Jon Rauch needs a new tune. Considering his considerable height, I think that "I Can See For Miles" by The Who is the obvious choice.

Moving on, my close(r) personal friend Bobby Jenks of the Chicago White Sox uses some piece of garbage by P.O.D. as his intro music. That is a big fat no. And since Bobby is a girth-positive individual (albeit slighly less so this year), I recommend the "Weird Al" Yankovic tune "Fat," which of course is a parody of Michael Jackson's "Bad." And he needs to use the intro dialogue, i.e. "you ain't fat! You ain't nothin'! YOU AIN'T NOTHIN'!" to set the tone and put the other team in their place before he even hits the mound.

I'm sort of impressed with Jonathan Papelbon's choice of "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" by The Dropkick Murphys (written by my actual father, Woody Guthrie!). But we can do better, and we must do better! His nickname is Chucky, due to his resemblance to that terrifying doll from the "Child's Play" movies. So let's retire "Boston," but borrow the idea of a current band covering an old song. Listen to the theme music for the movie "Child's Play" - seriously, do it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhWm_uGwKAc. Now imagine the Canadian art-thrash band Fucked Up covering it, in drop-C# with a full-on roar. 9th Inning death magic at Fenway? Oh yeah!

San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson uses the song "Disciple" by Christian metal band Rise Up, which is obviously not a Beach Boys song, but upon further reflection, I'm not sure The Beach Boys ever recorded an appropriate song for a closer to use. Hey Beach Boys fans - any ideas? For now, I'll play the trump card and suggest he use "Reign In Blood" by Slayer (which as previously discussed is THE ULTIMATE CLOSER SONG), since he's such a good little Christian and all.

While not a closer, current free agent and noted redhead Seth McClung was a good pitcher for the Brewers when used properly out of the bullpen. With his mid-90's fastball and a couple other good working pitches, he strikes me as closer material down the line. His song? The music from the Saturday Night Live fake toy commercial "Big Red." I wish I could find a link for you people who are unfamiliar with it, but trust me when I say it's perfect, rollicking, rocking stuff. And very McClung-appropriate!

Allright, that'll do it for now. However, as the season progresses, I'll write one or two follow-ups to this article. For example, there is no way that Joakim Soria should be using "Welcome To The Jungle" - he's the goddamn Mexicutioner! With a nickname like that, he needs something with more of a South Of The Border flavor, or at least something by Los Crudos.

Please feel free to submit your own ideas. This ain't over.

*New Wave Of British Heavy Metal

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Musings Upon Three Days Into The 2010 Season...

Here we go, here we go, here we go. Opening Day is already in the rear-view. We're in the trenches, folks. Let's take a look around the big leagues, huh?

1. It's been a long time coming, but Jim Thome has decided to bring back the "Baltimore Chop" this year. The free agent slugger turned Minnesota Twin took advantage of his first big pinch-hit opportunity to bounce a grounder in front of home plate high enough into the air that he almost beat it out for a single. Remember, this is Jim Thome we're talking about. Perhaps he's trying to make up for the speed lost when Carlos Gomez was traded away?* I hope I don't have to say it too often this year, but I fear the worst: why is Ron Gardenhire not giving Thome more starts against right-handed pitching? Refer to my earlier blog entry ("Thome Time") for more detailed research on the topic. Or don't.

2. Mark Buehrle is whatever the opposite of a schlemiel is, and also, whatever the opposite of a schlamazel is. His deflect-dive-flip-out play on Opening Day was just remarkable! Watch it on YouTube (or maybe whitesox.mlb.com). Or on every single "Baseball Tonight" promo from here to eternity.

3. I had occasion to post this on facebook the other day: "Nathan Coles is learning fantasy baseball lessons, such as: the guy (Ian Stewart) who you just dropped from your (fantasy) team will be the guy who hits a home run against your (real) team (the Milwaukee Brewers), but it's ok because your (fantasy) opponent has the (Brewers) pitcher on his team. WTFFTW."

4. Jason Heyward, rookie outfielder for the Atlanta Braves is going to be something else this year. "Heyward the home run Jason hit on Opening Day finally come down?" "Two towns over..." When it comes to writing about prospects, I'm no Peter Gammons (although I suspect I can out blues-rock him when the chips are down), but it's hard to see anyone else taking NL Rookie Of The Year this year, unless pitchers Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg have insanity in their numbers, or Brewers shortstop Alcides Escobar can somehow perfect a double-backflip while turning an unassisted triple play.

5. Downhearted because your favorite team started the year with a 0-1 record? Losing on Opening Day is not a great predictor of how your team's season will go. However, since 1996 began (the first year with a full slate of April games after the stupid strike in '94 robbed the Expos of certain postseason glory, and by extension, Montreal of Major League Baseball itself), only 22 out of the 112 teams that have made the playoffs finished April with losing records**. 28 teams have met in the World Series since 1995. Of them, only four finished April in debt to the Win Gods. Think about that as the month named for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles's favorite tv reporter unfolds. Don't push the panic button if your favorite team hits International Labor Day with a losing record - but do be aware of the odds, and how they begin to stack against you, like evil pancakes.

*Meanwhile, Carlos Gomez hit the first home run of the season for the Milwaukee Brewers. However, since he also stole a base, we can be reasonably certain that he and Jim Thome are not disguised as each other for some nefarious purpose, or perhaps as a result of some ill-conceived wager ("Ok big guy, it's infield singles versus home runs. Loser has to kiss Ron Gardenhire on New Year's Eve at midnight.")

**How bad can you be and still make the playoffs? Last year (2009), the Colorado Rockies finished April with an 8-12 record. They struggled through May, and on June 1st, they were 20-29. Then, something clicked (to those who say that managers don't matter, consider that Clint Hurdle ran the team for the first 46 games; after he was fired, the Jim Tracy-led Rockies went 74-42. There could be any number of reasons for this, but I'd like to suggest that we not rule out managerial skills entirely...). Colorado tore it up for the rest of the season, and made the playoffs via the Wild Card. Whereupon they were promptly bounced by the Phillies... who started the season 27-20. So it goes.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another Saturday Night

If I could spend every night like I spent the last two hours or so - listening to Astral Weeks and Let It Bleed, reading Othello, and drinking scotch, with my faithful dog sleeping on the couch next to me, and The Simpsons Season 3 awaiting the publication of this blog entry - I might never spend 'em in any other way.

Improve upon this scenario. Go ahead, try. I dare you. You can't!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher Facts

Today is March 25th - "Waffle Day" in Sweden. So, while we all enjoy waffles and socialism*, let's take a moment to discuss Milwaukee Brewer Pitcher Facts.

Fact One: The first pitcher I ever drank, made by a Milwaukee Brewer, would be a $5 pitcher of Blatz at Foundation, located just north of Center St. on Bremen in glorious 2000-era Riverwest.

Fact Two: The Brewers have four pitchers competing for two spots in the starting rotation. Their names are Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, and Chris Narveson. The coaches must make a decision very soon - the season is almost upon us! And the decision won't be easy. But maybe I can offer some assistance (hey, that's why you're reading this!).

Fact Three: The cost of pitchers of Blatz at Foundation went up a dollar over the first two or three years I lived in Riverwest. My friends and I protested, but eventually came to terms with the new reality.

Fact Four: Manny Parra and Chris Narveson can't start the season in Triple AAA Nashville, because another team could claim them off waivers. Dave Bush has enough years of Major League service that he, too, could decline a minor league assignment. And Jeff Suppan? The aging veteran, who has now been entirely paid off, is a "sunk cost" of a whopping $12.5 million. For those who don't know the Brewers team well, you might be surprised to know that Suppan has been the highest-paid Brewer over the past three years.

Fact Five: Foundation ELIMINATED pitchers of Blatz sometime around 2004 or 2005, switching to $2 bottles of PBR for its "cheap" beer. But, all along, the Uptowner (two blocks from Foundation, at the corner of Center and Humboldt Blvd) had been offering $5 pitchers of Blatz! Smacking our foreheads, we hiked thataway for our Milwaukee Brewer pitchers.

Fact Six: Manny Parra has great talent, but seems unable to put it all together. Chris Narveson is the opposite - a journeyman who seemingly does everything right. Dave Bush is a precision pitcher who pitched 8+ innings of a no-hitter last spring, and clearly has what it takes to be a quality starting pitcher in the major leagues (as long as he avoids those hard line drives to the elbow, such as the one that derailed him last year). Jeff Suppan is running on fumes - his ERA the last two years were 4.96 and 5.29, and his WHIP was 1.542 and 1.695. This spring, in 12 innings of work, his ERA is 9.00, and his WHIP is 1.833.

Fact Seven: Rumor has it that the delicious pitchers of Blatz are not Blatz at all - that the dastardly G. Heileman Brewery secretly brews kegs of Milwaukee's Best Light, labels them Blatz for the old-timers and weirdos, and distributes them throughout the townie and hipster bars of Milwaukee!

Fact Eight: One of these four pitchers is clearly deserving of a spot in the starting rotation, two line up just about the same in terms of risk-vs.-reward, and one is clearly not capable of quality starting pitching in the majors.

Dave Bush should start for the Brewers. He is a proven quantity - a dependable middle-rotation starter. He has pitched well this spring, and is seemingly recovered from his elbow injury last year.

Jeff Suppan should not start for the Brewers. He has been our worst starter for the past two years, and is clearly the same guy this spring. He is a sunk cost. He is paid off. It's time to say goodbye. Either Manny Parra or Chris Narveson would be a better choice.

Manny Parra and Chris Narveson present the toughest call. While Manny has been solid this spring, his long-term potential is just so tough to get a handle on, I don't know what to do! We all want to believe - and the Brewers organization does believe - that Parra has the stuff to be a good/great pitcher. Chris Narveson, on the other hand, has been really impressive late last year and this spring. He seems to have discovered an underground reservoir of talent that was previously untapped. But how deep does it truly go?

So, I propose this: Offer Jeff Suppan a spot on the Nashville Sounds. If he declines, let him go. Better pitchers than he are still looking for work. Dave Bush and Manny Parra should occupy the fourth and fifth spots of the Brewers starting five, and Chris Narveson somewhat unfortunately ought to begin 2010 in the bullpen - Manny Parra needs one more chance to be a starting pitcher for the Brewers, and this strategy also allows Narveson to work some innings of long relief, where hopefully the Brewers coaches will be able to further judge exactly what he's capable of. If either Bush or Parra tanks (can't keep the ERA below 5.00, can't keep runners off the bases/high WHIP, etc.), cut the offender and promote Narveson to the rotation. One last thing: Chris Narveson represents a potentially valuable trade commodity, should the Brewers need to shore up their roster somewhere. Hey, shit happens.

I know that Doug Melvin, Ken Macha, and Rick Peterson are regular readers of this blog (Ken really enjoyed my Tom Waits entry). So, guys, please: listen to me! I watch the games and I crunch the numbers. I speak for a million-plus hopeful Brewers fans, looking to get the most out of their team. I hope you will do what's right for the pitching staff, and for the team.


Fact Nine: I'll have a pitcher of Blatz and one pint glass, please.

That is all.

*Socialism? Yeah, right.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Alex Chilton Post

Check this - Alex Chilton, who was an awesome musician and rocker from Memphis Tennessee, died yesterday at the age of 59. There are serious Chilton people, completists, and I can't compete with them, but I really loved his music and I'm going to type out some thoughts that are jumping around in my brain, upon his passing. In my life, I've played the first two Big Star albums the most, because when I was younger, the Replacements told me to "never travel far without a little big star" (I scribbled "never leave home without a little Ramones" on my travel CD case, too), and back in the late 90's, the only thing you could really easily find by Big Star was a CD of the first two albums in sequence - as a consequence, I'm still a little hazy on where #1 Record ends and Radio City begins - but they both are GREAT ALBUMS, PERIOD, so does it really matter? Nope!

I also like the albums Sister Lovers, and Flys In The Sherbert (ok, that last one is a solo album, but it's really cool, and I recommend it very strongly if you like Big Star and music that's kinda goofy and fucked up). And of course I've been singing along to the song "The Letter" before I can remember memories. Here are three ways in which Big Star/Alex Chilton has impacted my life:

1. I think "September Gurls" is one of the top 25 or so songs ever written, and certainly one of the most beautiful rock/pop tunes I've ever heard. I've put it on more mixtapes than I can count, and played along with it dozens of times on guitar in my room.

2. I learned how to play the song "I'm In Love With A Girl" (I'm sure I didn't get the chords exactly right, but I'm at least in the ballpark), and have played it at a bunch of shows. I'm no Tim Schweiger* but I try.

3. Here's a chain of events that I am convinced happened: a.) Paul Westerberg, a big Alex Chilton/Big Star and also Minnesota Twins fan, lobbies the Twins energetically in the offseason to sign free agent slugger Jim Thome. b.) The Twins sign Jim Thome, and Paul makes him a mix CD prominently featuring Chilton tunes. c.) Thome becomes an Alex Chilton fan, too. d.) Alex Chilton passes away the night of March 17th, 2010. e.) Jim Thome, in his honor, hits his first home run as a Twin the very next day, knocking a pitch from Pittsburgh's Ross Ohlendorf over the right-field fence down in Ft Myers. ABSOLUTELY AIRTIGHT LOGICAL CHAIN OF EVENTS, NO???

RIP Alex Chilton.

*Tim Schweiger is one of my favorite Wisconsin musicians of all time - he was in a great band called Yesterday's Kids back in the late 90's and early 00's, and he now plays solo or with a backing band called the Middle Men. He's covered several Big Star/Alex Chilton songs in his day, solo or with other bands. He doesn't tour much, but if you are hanging around Wisconsin long enough - and why wouldn't you? - you can probably catch one of his shows. You will be rocked! Here's a link to his jazzy page: http://www.myspace.com/timothyschweiger

Friday, March 12, 2010

Something Tom Waits Said

I don't remember where it was I read it, but somewhere, in some interview, Tom Waits said that he likes songs that give specific details. As in, "Chestnut Street" as opposed to "the street." Or "Senators" instead of "politicians." Or, I dunno, "Ramones records" instead of punk rock records? In any event, I completely agree with Mr. Waits. I'll try and provide more specifics from here on out. Not just for my band, but other people's bands too!

1. "Went to my university" - Descendents (My World)


"Went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison"

2. "I wanted to go by the river/keeping warm with something bitter" - Bent Outta Shape (Stick Around)


"I wanted to pee by the East River/keeping warm with any one or more of the following: coffee, unsweetened cocoa, South American "mate", marmalade, bitter melon, beer, bitters, olives, citrus peel, many plants in the Brassicaceae family, dandelion greens and escarole."

3. "Read about your band in some local page/didn't mention the name" - the Replacements (Left Of The Dial)


"Read about Zuzu's Petals in the City Pages/didn't mention the name" - then how did you know, Paul? HOW DID YOU KNOW, PAUL?!?

4. "She grew up in an Indiana town/had a good lookin' mama who never was around" - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Last Dance With Mary Jane)


"She grew up in a shitty town/had a MILF who was smart enough to not stay in said shitty town"

I'm sure I could think of more if I took the time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Joe Nathan Meant To The Twins

This will be a relatively short, bittersweet post. During his first appearance in spring training against an opposing team, Twins ace closer Joe Nathan tore a ligament in his elbow. He most likely will be unavailable for the entire season as a result. Considering his age (35, one of my most-ignored speed limits), this could be as catastrophic an injury as they come.

Since 2004, when Nathan broke in with the Twins, nobody has more saves in baseball than Joe: 246. Since 2004, when the Twins have taken a save-situation lead into the 9th inning, Joe Nathan has preserved that lead 91% of the time. Only Mariano Rivera (the greatest closer thus far in the history of baseball) has been more reliable. The save is a flawed statistic (i.e. it's quite easy to maintain a 3-run lead in the 9th inning), but you can't argue against his consistency or sheer accumulation of saves. Plus, he's a good dude.

(For this next paragraph, I owe a debt of gratitude to Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Joe Christensen as well as Baseball Prospectus. Thanks, everybody.)

I mentioned that has Joe nailed down the save 91% of the time since 2004. The home team that takes a save-situation lead into the 9th inning has won 87% of the time, and the average away team has won 86% of the time. Simple math dictates: Nathan has made the Twins about 5% better in the 9th inning than they otherwise would've been. Since 2004, the Twins have entered the 9th inning in a save situation 271 times, and Joe Nathan has been golden 246 times. With a league-average closer, the Twins notch 234 (statistically, 234.4) saves. How many of those games do they end up winning in extra innings? Not many. Also, the impact on the rest of the bullpen is harder to measure, but losing Nathan puts more pressure on everybody else, and so you end up giving up a run here and a run there in games in which you otherwise wouldn't. Putting it all together, I'd say that this loss costs the Twins about two games every year that they rely on a league-average closer.

Naturally, there is something to be said for the consistency and reliability of a Joe Nathan closing out your 9th inning. And naturally, twelve wins over six seasons is nothing to scoff at. Consider this alternate history (by Harry Turtledove): If the Twins lose two more games than they did in 2006, they lose the AL Central to Detroit by one game. If the Twins lose two more games in 2007 and/or 2009, the White Sox and Tigers win the division outright each year, respectively. Also, the South wins the Civil War*. Ouch... but at least there's no Florida Marlins.

So let's not kid ourselves: a lights-out closer can give you an legitimate edge over your rivals. And knowing that your uber-reliable closer has got the 9th inning locked down, year-in and year-out, can't be quantified. PLUS HE IS A GOOD DUDE! I can't stress that enough. This injury sucks.

But the sky is not falling. The missiles haven't been launched. And the Twins season is far from over. The Twins will have to take a deep breath, figure out their best option, and move forward. I am confident that this 2010 team is the best Twins team in years, even - and it pains me to say it - without Joe Nathan.

*Apologies here to anybody unfamiliar with the alternate-history novelist Harry Turtledove. He wrote a series of books set in a parallel universe in which the South won the Civil War. At one point, Louis Armstrong and his band escape to the North in a jeep, machine guns blazing. Good stuff.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What Time Is Thome Time In Minnesota?

During the winter trading season, the Minnesota Twins acquired free agent slugger Jim Thome on the open market for whatever the opposite of a pretty penny is (an ugly penny). The Twins got a bona fide masher, the kind of guy who only swings at pitches he believes he can launch into the stratosphere - thus, a guy who hits home runs a lot, strikes out a lot, and walks a lot, especially in comparison to your average ballplayer. Some baseball stat joker termed these the "three true outcomes" awhile back. "Big Jim" Thome currently ranks third among active players in home runs with 564, first in strikeouts with 2313, and first in walks with 1619. Three true outcomes indeed - nobody does 'em better.

Jim Thome will turn 40 during this season. He is not the baseball player he once was. He cannot play defense at any position, not even first base - thus, he will serve the Twins purely as their designated hitter. He doesn't run well - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is lucky in that there usually will be a speedy bench jockey to pinch-run for Thome should he reach base during later innings. And even his once-mighty hitting skills have been in decline for the past few years - his OPS was .973 in 2007, .865 in 2008, and .847 in 2009. These last two years represent his first full seasons with a sub-.900 OPS since his first couple years in the big leagues. However, he still can pack a wallop beyond that of your average MLBer, especially when facing righthanded pitchers, against which his 2009 OPS was .881, very respectable for a DH.

And so here we are, Jim Thome a Twin. But Jason Kubel is already a lefthanded hitting DH, and Delmon Young needs at bats. If Jim Thome's in the lineup, one of those guys has to sit. And so, we must ask ourselves (well, we don't HAVE to ask ourselves, but if you're the sort of person who's still reading this blog, you are highly encouraged to ask yourself): when should Ron Gardenhire pencil Thome's name in the Twins starting lineup?

I suggest the following criteria.

1. Jim Thome can start as DH regardless of whether the pitcher is a righty or a lefty. He is an excellent hitter against righthanded pitching but has sunk to league average or just below against lefties. However, Jason Kubel hits even worse against lefthanders than Thome does (I was quite surprised to learn this). Since Kubel hits righties better than Thome, and Thome hits them better than Delmon, the Twins may want to consider Thome at DH and Kubel in left field against righthanders, and Thome and Young against lefthanders. But wait, there's more...

2. Jim Thome should usually only start as DH when the opposing pitcher is at least a 50/50 flyout vs. groundout pitcher. His OPS against canned corn inducers was .956, whereas against ditch diggers, it was .821. Conversely, Delmon Young fares best against pitchers who rely on the grounder for outs. Note that his OPS against them is actually lower than Thome's, but his defense and his potential for offensive improvement this year make him a better starting option in this sort of matchup. Jason Kubel was a force to be reckoned with last year against pitchers who induce the groundout, and didn't hit flyball pitchers so well, but over his career, he is a slightly better hitter against the fly guys, albeit not as good as Big Jim.

3. Jim Thome should not start against pitchers who strike out or walk a high percentage of batters - "power pitchers." He can't hit against them, but Jason Kubel can (he hits all pitchers about equally well when compared by how many batters they walk and strike out), and Delmon Young can play defense to compensate for any lack of hitting skill he may have against power pitchers. I believe Thome is so weak against power pitchers, he should not ever face them. This means he should ride the bench against Jake Peavy (White Sox), Justin Verlander (Tigers), Zach Greinke (Royals), and their ilk - all of them pitchers he would have been more than equal to in his glory days. So it goes.

4. Last, consider who the Twins starting pitcher is, and what kind of outs he is likely to produce. A Twins outfield of Kubel/Span/Cuddyer is markedly worse at catching fly balls than the Young/Span/Cuddyer outfield is. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and probably Francisco Liriano (who is somewhat of an x-factor right now) induce more fly balls, and whether caught or not depends on who's in the outfield. Glen Perkins - should he win a spot in the rotation - is about league average when it comes to air vs. ground. And Nick Blackburn gets a ton of grounders with that nice sinker (a quick note: when I lived in NYC and listened to Blackburn pitch against the Yankees, the local radio commentators, John Sterling and Susan Waldman, absolutely would not shut up about Nick Blackburn's sinker. They really drove the point into the dirt, so to speak).

So, we have a few guidelines. If the starting pitcher for the Twins is Nick Blackburn, and the opponent's starter is a right-handed pitcher who relies on fly outs, and who doesn't strike out or walk a high chunk of batters he faces, then it's Thome Time. If, however, the Minnesota starter is Scott Baker, and the Twins opponent is a lefthanded grounout-getting strikeout-and-walk machine, it is... well, whatever the opposite of Thome Time is. If he were still on the team, I would say "Gomez O'Clock," but Carlos Gomez is a Brewer now.

All of this, of course, presumes perfect health and levels of rest for everyone involved. Baseball is a funny game. People get hurt. And there are a TON of games to play, and lineup cards to write - we might see Jim Thome starting at DH against Jake Peavy (a power pitcher, plus plenty of groundouts), with Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and (brace yourself) Nick Punto in right, left, and center field, respectively. You never know.

Here's the most important thing to take away from all this: when considering only the righty/lefty split (the most important split in baseball, the one that made Mr. Burns pinch-hit Homer Simpson for Darryl Strawberry in a move that won him the game), Big Jim Thome is a better DH option than Jason Kubel, no matter which side of the mound the ball is hurled from. Jason Kubel should get most of his at-bats while starting in the outfield this year. There is not much need for him to fill the designated hitter position when the clock strikes Thome.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Night Before

The title of this post is taken from one of my favorite Beatles songs. And I guess it wouldn't hurt to say right now that the Beatles are one of my favorite bands, from their first single ("Love Me Do") right up through Revolver (I nominate "And Your Bird Can Sing" as the number one song Thin Lizzy should've covered, but didn't. At least, I've never heard their version, if they did one). I like the later-era Beatles too, but the timeline really pulls a Ken Griffey Jr.* of sorts on me: so incredibly talented and amazing right out the gate, you expect the sun, moon, and stars, until about halfway along the timeline (Beatles: between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper; Junior: The Injury Years) when they sort of level off into "very good, but..." status (here, Griffey's 2005 season is analogous to Side B of Abbey Road). Later Beatles and later Junior are still better than 90% of the competition (at least until Let It Be, or the trade back to the Mariners, at which point it's clear that the glue factory is gearing up for a Seabiscuit shipment if you catch my hopelessly twisted analogizing), but they just can't coast on the first half of their careers forever.

Anyway, it's The Night Before... THE FIRST MILWAUKEE BREWERS, MINNESOTA TWINS, AND CHICAGO WHITE SOX SPRING TRAINING GAMES! And I'm absolutely bouncing off walls and dancing on the ceiling! The Brewers take on the Giants, the White Sox meet the Angels, and the Twins stare down the Red Sox later that evening.

I haven't bought that gameday radio thing from mlb.com yet, so I can't listen to the White Sox game. But you better believe I'll be tuned in to the Brewers, and then later on to the Twins (although I will probably miss the end of that latter game, because of band practice. Bands are dumb).

Mets and Braves (of Atlanta) fans got their baseball life back on March 2nd**. A few other teams, March 3rd. And everybody else joins in today, March 4th. But whatever the team you root for, the night before they play their first real spring training game is one of those nights where you might want to consider taking some extra sleep medication before bedtime. Bushmills Nerve Tonic works fine for me. You?

*Non-Beatles=Griffey fact: earlier today (or yesterday, depending on when you read this... ah heck, it happened the afternoon of March 3rd) against San Francisco, Ken Griffey Jr. walked in the first inning, tried to steal a base, and was thrown out. The next time around in the order, he was pinch-hit for by former Milwaukee Brewer Brad Nelson. Just thought I'd report that for you. I think it's a perfect example of that useless trivia we all know baseball is absolutely rotten with.

**Not counting pro teams playing against college teams, even if that pro team is the Pittsburgh Pirates and therefore the matchup is almost even...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Greg Zaun Is Grizzled

Brewers fans, we are in luck. When Jason Kendall was let go, we all thought that our team had lost any chance of winning games through sheer grizzledness.

Well, one picture is worth a thousand words. Greg Zaun may actually have IMPROVED the Brewers rating on the Team Grizzlometer. Look at his skin, whipped by a thousand Arctic zephyrs. Look at those haunted, weary eyes - eyes that have seen one too many heartbreaking losses at home (he has called eight ballparks home since 1995). Look at that beard. LOOK AT THAT BEARD. He has at least three California Redwoods lodged in that beard!

I guarantee that this scenario happens at least once this season: Ryan Theriot will be at third base with a chance to score on a sacrifice fly, but he will also be aware that the play will be a close one. He will take one look at the iron-hewn wall of time-honed tenacity that is The Zaun... and collapse in a quivering heap, a la "Flynn a-hugging third" from the story of Casey At The Bat.


(photo by Roy Dabner, courtesy of jsonline.com)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Frank Thomas vs. Thomas Frank

Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas has recently made official his retirement from Major League Baseball. During the first decade of his career, there was not a better all-around hitter in baseball. Batting average, power, home runs, walks, all that stuff - he was the man you least wanted to see 60 feet and 6 inches away during the majority of the Clinton administration (except for maybe Ken Starr*). Although injuries put a serious damper on his offensive prowess, there is no doubt that Frank Thomas will make the Hall Of Fame when he's eligible - most likely in the first year of voting. One more thing: I won a Frank Thomas jersey (White Sox colors of course) in a contest at a show by the punk band The Boys Club out in Long Beach, Long Island. It brings me luck, and so far no injuries.

Thomas "(no nickname)" Frank is an author who wrote a book called What's The Matter With Kansas? Said book discusses the issue of working-class people, mostly rural white folks, who have been bamboozled into voting against their economic interests by the smoke and mirrors of mainstream politics. The title refers to a popular song of the same name from the late 1800's, when Kansas (and many other rural, mostly white regions) were ablaze with legitimate populist movements - "legitimate" here defined as "not overseen by conservative think tanks in Washington DC." Back then, poor farmers from near Wichita tended to vote for progressive or even (gasp!) Socialist candidates for local, state, and national office. What changed? Ask Thomas Frank, but in my humble opinion, the general standard of living for poor rural whites has increased substantially since the late 1800's (since the Great Depression, really), and most of the Bubbas now really don't care so much about sticking it to the wealthy as they used to when there was no such thing as farm subsidies, food stamps, and social security/medicare. Forget the Dust Bowl and sodbuster starvation; they're now on the NASCAR diet now and are doing just fine, thank you.

As of this date, I am not sure that Frank Thomas and Thomas Frank have ever met, or are even necessarily aware of each other's existence. And I wouldn't even know who would be more likely to be aware of who, all things considered.

Thomas Frank makes some great points in his writing, but doesn't seem to grasp that many people tend to vote against their own economic interests when they reach a certain low level of affluence. Frank Thomas was the best hitter of the 1990's, but was primarily a DH and first baseman, and his injuries did rob him of some productive years. He also has the reputation, deserved or no, of not being all that "tough" - The Big Hurt couldn't PLAY hurt. Hmm. I do think that Frank Thomas can probably write better than Thomas Frank can hit, though.


*in fairness, most people probably didn't care how near or far away Ken Starr was - they just didn't want to see him, period.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pitchers and Catchers Report

Well, some of them, anyway. The New York Yankees, for one, are charging up their batteries in Tampa. The Twins, on the other hand, don't get crackin' until Monday. Both are just examples. The White Sox report Sunday afternoon, if my math is correct. The Brewers? The Velvet Underground have a song about it: "Sunday Morning."

It's funny that so much is made out of such a non-event date, but that's the way it goes during the long, dark winter of the baseball season. Three pitchers I'll be paying particular attention to:

1. Dave Bush (Brewers) - in my opinion, "Good Bush" is the key to the Brewers rotation, and whether or not it performs at a level good enough to give the tremendous offense a chance to win games. Yovanni Gallardo and Randy Wolf will allow the Brewers to win 2/3rds of the games they start. Doug Davis is nothing if not the most consistently mediocre pitcher in baseball - the Brewers can win half the games he starts, and the fact that he does pitch deep into games, even when he's allowing runs (as opposed to Jeff Suppan), means the bullpen can take an inning or two off here and there. Our #5 spot is completely unreliable - but that's nothing special in today's Major League Baseball. So, the key is Bush. If you recall, Dave Bush is the only current Brewers starter to come anywhere close to a no-hitter, and he clearly has the skills to win games for the Brewers, and keep them in games when he can't dominate his opponents. The Brewers need that 2008 (or 2006!) version of Dave Bush to show up, and hopefully not take any more line drives to the elbow. It's a slight mix of correlation and causation, but when Dave Bush keeps his WHIP low, the Brewers finish above .500. When he allows baserunners, he gets in trouble, and when Dave Bush gets in trouble, the small-market rotation house of cards starts trembling. And then we get waterboarded.

2. Francisco Liriano (Twins) - Back in "the day" (2006), Liriano and Johan Santana were the Minnesota one-two punch that no team wanted to go up against. Then, late that year, Liriano got hurt, needed Tommy John surgery, and just couldn't seem to recapture his top fastball or - and this really hurt - the bite on his slider, the kind of slider that could bankrupt White Castle. He's floundered ever since... until this winter, when all of a sudden, the 2006 Liriano magically reappeared for the Dominican Republic team in Winter League baseball. His stats with the Leones are just silly. He went 3-1 with a 0.49 ERA in seven playoff starts along with 47 strikeouts in 37 innings. In his championship-clinching appearance in Game 9* of the WL series, he allowed three hits - weak ones - in five scoreless innings, struck out six and walked only one batter he faced. In the regular WL games, he pitched like some long-lost twin brother of Mariano Rivera who became a starter instead of a closer, with a WHIP of .086. Again: SILLY. If this guy shows up in the Warehouse District in April, we'll be talking Cy Young in May. More likely, he returns to form as a great second second starter in a deep, quality Twins rotation. Or, all those gaudy winter numbers may all be chaff before the thresher. Like I said: I'll be watching.

3. Jake Peavy (White Sox) - I don't need to tell you how effective Mr. Solid State was in Burritoville USA. Petco Park is the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in this or any other world. I will tell you this: he's got a nasty sinker, but doesn't rely on ground ball outs as much as a one-trick sinkerballer like Chien Ming Wang or Fausto Carmona. Put it all together, and Peavy shouldn't be quite as dominant at the Cell, or in the American League for that matter, yet reports of his death should be greatly exaggerated. Anyway, if he is 90% the pitcher he was in San Diego, he will anchor a rotation that is the class of the AL Central. If his ankle injury has taken a higher toll than we realize, and the Miguel Cabreras and Grady Sizemores of the world start figuring him out by July? Well, at least we'll have a plethora of entertaining Ozzie Guillen soundbites to look forward to (honestly this is the silver lining where any White Sox disasters are concerned).

*The Winter League championship series is a best-of-nine. The World Series used to be best-of-nine. Bring that back! Seriously! As a result of allowing four playoff teams instead of two, and playing short divisional series, luck now plays too large a role in the current WS format. Nine games! Nine games! NINE GAMES! That is all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yeah, But What Replacements Lyrics Are The Google's Most Favorite?

One of my little time-killing tricks is to go to the homepage of The Google and type a word as if to search for it... but not actually search. Rather, the goal here is to see what the most common Googlings prompted by that word are.

So, without further ado, here are The Google's favorite Replacements lyrics (the phrase I used to get this list: "replacements lyrics", duhhh):

1. Can't Hardly Wait
2. Alex Chilton
3. Unsatisfied
4. I Will Dare
5. Drake*
6. Here Comes A Regular
7. Left Of The Dial
8. Bastards Of Young
9. I'll Be You
10. Achin' To Be

*a super-rare, ultra-hard-to-find outtake from Let It Be, "Drake" has the unique distinction of being the only song co-written (as far as we know) by Paul Westerberg and his crosstown contemporary, Husker Du bassist Greg Norton! Both have refused to acknowledge the existence of this song, but a person who shall remain nameless (hint: she was involved in the 80's Twin Cities music scene, and she's tall for a lady) once played me the song at a party and, having only heard it once, I was struck by the similarities between Norton's tune "Everytime," Paul's later solo tune "Silver Naked Ladies" (especially the riff), and the classic-rock staple "Hocus Pocus" by Focus. I mean, it was WEIRD. But cool!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Smashed A Bottle Of Champagne On My Computer

That's how you christen a blog, right?

Hi everyone, welcome to my newest project: a blog. Recently, I read somewhere that blogs are falling out of style. Naturally, that was all the encouragement I needed to start my own. For some time, I've meant to do some writing on my two favorite topics - rock and roll, and baseball (in that order) - and I suppose this blog will be that place for awhile. Don't expect much in the way of flash or gimmicks here; I am 99% html illiterate. This is going to be one of those blogs that features mostly regular text.

So, to kick things off, while I pick chunks of glass out of my hand and the champagne drips down the screen and before the keyboard gets too sticky, let me clear up a couple things for the people who don't know me all that well. This is an opinion blog supported by facts, not the other around, so I'd like you all to know where I stand on the two most pertinent issues.

ROCK AND ROLL BIAS. My favorite kind of music is rock'n'roll. This means everything from "Rocket 88" by Ike Turner* to the punk band currently practicing for the first time in the basement down the street from you. Soon there'll be empty beer cans on your lawn and noise complaints. That's how it goes, 'cause baby, that is rock and roll! And that's the music I'll be writing about most of the time.

BASEBALL BIAS. My baseball allegiance goes as follows: 1. Milwaukee Brewers, 2. Minnesota Twins, 3. Chicago White Sox. The Brewers are easily #1, so be wary of my journalistic integrity when Milwaukee's the topic. Now. When I lived in Milwaukee, I used to root for the White Sox to win the AL pennant. My family, however, is full of Twins fans. Now that I live closer to the Twin Cities, I find that Stockholm Syndrome has effectively set in. I still have a soft spot for the White Sox, though. There aren't many people who can maintain the cognitive dissonance necessary to root for both of these divisional rivals, but I'm one of them.

There. Now that you know where I'm coming from when I'm writing the things I'm writing, let me toss my hat in the ring for real.

Who's heard the new Shannon and the Clams album? It's a great garagey/pop/punk record to be sure. It's also a classic "Alpha-Omega." What's an Alpha-Omega, you ask? Well, it's my own term for when an album's first song and last song are real standouts, usually the best songs on the album and always the most blatant in their epic rock grandeur. Something about this kind of album always makes it a little more memorable, somehow. Maybe if you're about to record an album and two songs are a cut above the rest, the Alpha-Omega route is the way to go (especially if you don't end the record with some silly novelty nonsense a la Nirvana with "Endless Nameless" on Nevermind, or alternately close an album of rockers with a morose ballad a la "Here Comes A Regular" on Tim, my personal favorite Replacements record). On the Shannon/Clams LP, you've got "Troublemaker" and "I Wanna Go Home," alpha and omega. Of course, all the songs between them are really cool, too...

Some Alpha-Omegas:
Stooges - Raw Power (maybe the best example?)
Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed
Replacements - Let It Be
Clash - London Calling

I'm sure you can think of other examples (hint: the fourth album by a certain New Jersey poet laureate...). Once you're aware of Alpha-Omega albums, I bet you'll start noticing them everywhere you listen.

Ok, that does it for my first post. Tune in real soon for the next one, possibly even tomorrow. See ya later, and thanks for reading.

*the song "Rocket 88" is credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, but that's just a name Ike came up with in the studio for his epochally pivotal tune, maybe the first true rock'n'roll single ever recorded. Whatever the historians say, it sure is a good song... you can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gbfnh1oVTk0