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

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: