Monday, November 24, 2003
AP Headline of the Day
A contender for Headline of the Year, in fact...
"Cops Seize 756 Pounds of Smuggled Bologna"
The brief story that follows doesn't disappoint, either, describing how the bologna was "arranged into the shape of a car seat and covered with blankets in a man's pickup."
The war on drugs might be misguided, the war on terrorism might be futile, but it seems we're finally making headway in the war on deli meats.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
MVP -- Here We Go Again...
New year, same arguments.
I wouldn't have voted for A-Rod as the American League MVP for all the reasons others have stated, but the rest of the league certainly made it tough to find a palatable alternative. Players like David Ortiz and Shannon Stewart had stretches where they lifted a contending team, but their overall seasons don't strike me as MVP-worthy. Jorge Posada plays a key position and had a career year for a pennant winner. I would have voted for him and just considered it a weak year.
Why not A-Rod? Two reasons.
Jayson Stark makes a good point in his most recent column on ESPN.com, which is that only four of 145 MVPs have played for losing teams. Not last-place teams, like this year's Rangers, but losing teams. Like it or not, that sets a precedent for what the award means. In my mind, to overcome that, one has to do something extraordinary. I could vote for a .400 hitter on a last-place team.
The other factor is A-Rod's performance itself. Earlier this fall, I read a column that argued A-Rod was in a funk through a key period in May during which the Rangers fell way out of contention. Friend to Riding the Pine BB pointed out the redundancy of such an argument -- of course the Rangers struggled when A-Rod struggled. That proves his value. Still, A-Rod's most productive month, by a healthy margin, was August, when the Rangers were long gone. He's an incredible talent, but that simply hasn't proven to be the definition of the award over time.
AL Cy Young debate
Friend to Riding the Pine JL laments the fact that pitchers with gaudy records on winning teams often win the Cy Young over pitchers with worse won-loss records but better ERA's, etc. He cites John Smoltz over Kevin Brown in 1996 and Roy Halladay over Esteban Loaiza this year as his examples.
In both cases, the winner received 26 first-place votes to the runner-up's two first-place votes. JL wants answers.
The case of Smoltz-Brown would appear to be tougher than a 26-2 vote reflects. Brown went 17-11 with a 1.89 ERA. Smoltz went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA. My guess is that the Braves' division title helped Smoltz, as did his 276 strikeouts (to Brown's 159, and Smoltz only pitched 21 more innings). But in the end, 24 wins is 24 wins, even with a strong supporting cast. Only one other pitcher (Randy Johnson) has won that many in the past 13 seasons. Maybe if Brown had won 20 it would've been a closer call.
As for this year, that decision makes more sense. Halladay and Loaiza had ERAs of 3.25 and 2.90, respectively, but that's not a significant discrepancy (consider that Pedro Martinez posted a 2.22). Halladay and Loaiza had opposite trajectories, and a strong finish is always viewed more favorably than a strong start. Loaiza was 11-2 with a 1.99 ERA in late June. From there on, he was average. Halladay lost or got a no-decision in his first six starts. He then won 15 decisions in a row. He also threw nine complete games to Loaiza's one. Halladay was more thoroughly dominant, and for a longer stretch of the season.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
AP Headline of the Day
“Flynt Says He Won't Use Nude Lynch Photos”
The concept of decency squeaks through to see another day.
If you haven’t heard, smut magnate Larry Flynt allegedly possesses photographs of a nude Jessica Lynch before she went to Iraq. In this AP story, Flynt says: “My first intention was to publish them, but I don't think it was the best, positive move I could make. She's very much a pawn for the government. They force-fed us a Joan of Arc.”
I find two things about this hilarious: He makes it sound as if it was a near-miss in judgment, like now he's going to go back to his routine of doing all the "best, positive" things he can. Better than that, though, is the implication that, faced with thousands of legitimate reasons for his decision, Flynt's ax to grind with the government is really what led him to the light. I suppose D.C. is crawling with "pawnographers". (Forgive me.)
Flynt also lets loose with this doozy: "Some things are more important than money. You gotta do the right thing." All this proves is that no sentient creature is on the other side of this debate.
Flynt to Publish Photos of Steinbrenner Being Reasonable
No, not really. But the Yankees boss does sound remarkably sane in his criticism of the Rookie of the Year voting. Two writers left Hideki Matsui off their top three because they believe his previous career in Japan keeps him from reflecting the spirit of the award. Steinbrenner wrote in part of his response: “Spirit of the award? The award was renamed by the Baseball Writers’ Association to honor Jackie Robinson, its first recipient. Jackie Robinson came to the Major Leagues after playing in the Negro Leagues, a league whose high level of play is unquestioned.”
Despite the obvious differences between the Negro Leagues and Japanese baseball, that’s not bad logic, as far as it goes, and if Matsui only lost the award to Angel Berroa because writers were stubbornly obeying their own rules, that’s not right. Still, there’s an explanation for why Berroa beat out Matsui with many less vengeful voters as well. Isn’t it possible that, in creating such an impressive track record in Japan – many thought he would have to hit 40 home runs to live up to his billing, and he hit 16 – Matsui inadvertently sabotaged the possibility of impressing in his first season in America?
When I heard last month that Manute Bol was going to be a jockey for charity, I gave real thought to flying to Indianapolis to watch the event in person. Seems now that the seven-foot, seven-incher's foray into horse racing consisted of forcing some poor tailor to make otherwise useless outsized jockey silks, weighing in before a race, and then giving quotes to the press: http://www.sacbee.com/24hour/sports/horse_racing/story/1031811p-7241285c.html
I do appreciate that Manute does these crazy stunts for his charity, though. He's like an even taller, even thinner, even more enigmatic, more charitable George Plimpton. I'd like to make the following recommendations for future Bol stunts: rodeo clown, American Idol contestant, co-host of CNN's Crossfire. If you have any other suggestions, sent them to RidingPine@hotmail.com. I've set up that address for reader feedback in order to: A) generate ideas, and B) confirm that anyone is visiting this site. Manute, are you out there?
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Reports of Humility's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
From an AP recap of last night's Washington Wizards-Dallas Mavericks game, in which Washington guard Gilbert Arenas posted a triple-double:
"I'm an assassin with the ball," Arenas said. "I rebounded, dished the ball, scored. Like a point guard -- like a Jason Kidd or Gary Payton -- I just helped the team win."
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Mark Messier moved into second place on hockey's all-time points list last night:
He remains more than a thousand points behind all-time leader Wayne Gretzky. Friend to Riding the Pine BB points out that adding the total career points of Sergei Fedorov (no slouch himself) to Messier's total still leaves him short of Wayne. In other words, no one is going to catch Wayne.
Even more unbreakable
The only safer record I could think of is Cy Young's 511 wins. Forget 500 or 400 wins (impossibilities in this era), even the 300-win benchmark is likely to be extinct before long. Clemens won't be the last -- Greg Maddux only needs 11. Tom Glavine needs 49, which seems like a fair over/under for the rest of his career. Randy Johnson needs 70. Seems unlikely. After that, you fall back to Chuck Finley and David Wells, who each have 200 wins and are more likely to cure cancer than win another 100 games.
The only active pitchers younger than 34 (!) who have won more than 150 games are Pedro Martinez (166 wins) and Andy Pettitte (149, so I'm cheating by a win). They're both 31. Given Pedro's fragility and Pettitte's longer road, do you like either of them to win 300?
Thinking outside the box
Friend to Riding the Pine JF unearthed a few slightly more obscure records that might not be surpassed:
Most consecutive years an afro exceeded the width of a baseball card: 8, Gamble, Oscar.
Most times in a game a coach threatened to suck his mustache into his scowl: 35, Cowher, Bill.
Most hours spent blaming oneself for the Cubs' collapse over the winter: all [record shared between 23,986,432 Cubs fans]
The RTP faithful have been crying out for delayed comment on what is hands down, to this point, the best story of the year: Randall Simon attacking a sausage. (The resulting media storm memorably dubbed "Sausagegate" by friend to Riding the Pine JF.) If you don't remember the details, go here:
I couldn't get enough of this story when it broke. There was one day when the New York Times ran no less than three items about the incident (two stories and a slide show). The whole thing was a lucky convergence of several notable strands in American culture --
1. The inability of social commentators to retain any perspective whatsoever. Most of them were calling for Simon's head. For Simon to have meant real harm, he must have thought the woman inside the costume was eight feet tall. The tops of the outfits are clearly just foam add-ons, and the swing itself was about an eighth of a swing.
2. The insanity and outsized needs of 24-hour media. During the ensuing week, the video clip was played more than the Zapruder film. (I'm not complaining, of course -- the double-take done by the third sausage while trying to figure out what just occurred was maybe the funniest single thing I've seen in nearly 30 years on Earth).
3. The great, great humor of mascots in general. SportsCenter's coverage of the incident included a lengthy montage of other significant moments in mascot history, both earnest and playful. Awesome stuff. I forgot a hockey coach went OVER THE BOARDS once to attack an opposing mascot who had been teasing him.
As if all of that isn't enough, Simon himself elevated the situation past sports and into linguistic history by putting the final nail in the coffin of comprehensive communication with this doozy:
"It's a lesson, not only for me, but for every other player in the big leagues," he said. "That's something right there that makes me feel good, because at least I know that there ain't no hate or nothing like that in the incident that happened. When you do something, when you're not trying to hurt anybody, you don't think maybe this is going to happen, that is going to happen."
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Friend to Riding the Pine JF noted that the naming of Ozzie Guillen and Don Mattingly as manager of the White Sox and hitting coach for the Yankees, respectively, made him feel old. True enough. So, JF, try this one on for size: Jesse Barfield's son, Josh, is a 20-year-old prospect in the Padres system. See here: http://www.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/?id=1493
The logical follow-up is: Have George Bell and Lloyd Moseby produced sons? If so, we might one day reincarnate the Toronto outfield of the mid-'80s.
The Usefulness of John Madden
I suggest that next year the Monday Night Football booth should consist of Al Michaels and a box of Corn Flakes. Wouldn't that be at least as great a publicity stunt as getting Dennis Miller or John Madden? And you wouldn't lose much -- Last night, in the second quarter of the Broncos-Patriots game, Michaels made the point that Denver should focus on the Pats, then next week they have a bye, then maybe they get Jake Plummer back, and the second half of their schedule is pretty soft. He then tossed things to Madden for his analysis, which consisted of repeating, almost word for word, what Michaels had just said. I'm no engineer, but I think you could rig a box of Corn Flakes to do that.
Then Madden went on to say, for the 4,347th time of the broadcast, that Danny Kanell didn't have to "win" the game for the Broncos; he just had to "not lose it."
BBC Beard of the Day
OK, so it's not AP. But it's quite a beard. Link to the story is below. (I'm having some trouble with links, so for now you'll have to cut and paste. Back to the stone age, people.)