June 28, 2004

Weekend Rehash

Today's Musical Selection: "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band

Good day, all. Or at least I'm told it is. It's a grumpy Monday for your pal Mediocre Fred, but I'll do my best not to let that bleed into today's post. I'll do that by focusing on some of the things that happened this weekend, which was overall very enjoyable.

Let's start off with one of my famous Food Reviews. The latest item to catch my attention was the Burger King Angus burger, which has been the subject of a recent ad blitz. I have a somewhat curious relationship with Burger King. I don't really like their food; if it's bad burgers I'm into, then I tend to opt for McDonald's. (Save your letters: it's entirely possible that, on an objective scale, Burger King's burger are "better". But I grew up on the Arches, so I'm conforted by the familiar.)

My first prolonged exposure to Burger King came during college, when I worked summers in a sporting-goods store that had a BK next door. I regarded this as a stroke of good fortune, since I didn't have time to drive elsewhere for lunch, but as time passed I was struck with the slowly dawning realization that I didn't actually like Burger King's burgers. Ever since that realization, I've tended to maintain a healthy distance from my local BK. Even after I moved to my current apartment, which is right across the street from a BK, I've passed it up.

Except that every so often, Burger King will roll out a new burger, or improved fries, or some such thing, and like a lemming, I'll find myself going over to check it out. It's like Lewis Black's relationship with candy corn. When Lewis was a youngster, he says, his mother introduced him to candy corn: "Try it! It's corn that tastes like candy!" And Lewis went, "Duh, okay," and tried it, and hated it. But every year, like an Alzheimer's patient, he sees some in a candy dish somewhere, and goes, "Ooooh! Corn that tastes like candy!" and pops it in his mouth, and shouts, "Son of a bitch! This sucks!" This is how it is with me and Burger King.

The last time, they suckered me in with something called a "Shaq Paq." Clearly, I should have known better. Shaquille O'Neal may be a fine basketball player, and he's clearly no stranger to the drive-thru window, but he could not reasonably be described as a gourmand. What made the "Shaq Paq" special? It was a bacon-cheeseburger combo meal, except that the burger was served on "toasted sourdough bread". Ooooh! I've got to get me some of that! Suffice to say, if this bread had ever actually been toasted, it was at some point before the bread arrived at the restaurant, and by this time the bread had the texture and mouthfeel of a cosmetic sponge. After that debacle, I swore never to fall for Burger King's promotional chicanery again. And I kept my word. Until now.

When I learned that BK had unveiled a burger made of Angus beef, I admit I was intrigued. This was a departure from usual fast-food standards. I was not foolish enough to accept BK's contention that this was in fact a "steakburger," but it sure did look nice. And I was out of food at the house. And I'm weak and pathetic. So off to the drive-thru I went. I chose the standard model over the bacon-and-cheese, on the theory that I'd prefer to make it through the weekend without suffering a coronary, if at all possible. The Angus designation was worth a $1 surcharge over a regular burger.

The first thing I noticed was that, rather than ketchup or mustard or mayo, this burger was topped with steak sauce. It bears a visual resemblance to A1, but its flavor note is a touch mellower, more like Heinz 57. It was topped with sauteed onions and lettuce, sauteed onions because that's the sort of thing one typically envisions on a "steakburger", and lettuce because it's supposedly healthy, and that helps fast-food executives to sleep at night. My personal belief is that if I wanted lettuce I'd eat a salad, but I am not a fast-food executive. But this is irrelevant, really; when one is eating something billed as a "steakburger", one does not care about the toppings. One cares about the meat.

And the meat, as it turns out, is pretty darn good. The hamburger was in fact more tender than one typically expects in a joint such as this. Some credit may go to the Angus pedigree of the beef, but at least as much credit goes to the fact that the patty is thicker than normal at a joint such as this. The main problem with fast-food hamburgers, in my view, is that in order to comply with health regulations they must be cooked into oblivion. With your typical fast-food patty, by the time the meat hits that sanitary state of advanced doneness, the moisture has long since departed the premises. With a thicker patty, at least some of the juice makes the cut. While the Angus does not approach what I would do with my own grill, it does at least bear a congenial resemblance to a burger that I might produce. And when it comes to fast food, a congenial resemblance is as good as it gets. I do recommend the Angus burger for those whose taste buds have not been dulled into insensitivity by fast-food overexposure.

Actually, as I was downing my burger, I recall thinking, "Gee, I've never had a fast-food burger this tender before." Then I recalled that I had. A couple years ago, facing extinction, the Hardee's (or Carl's Jr. for you Westerners) chain junked its menu and threw its lot in with what it called "Thickburgers", which are indeed a double-fisted eating experience. I tried one of those once, and found it congenial. The only problem is that, in order to convince us customers of the value we were getting, Hardee's dumped so many condiments on the burger that they squirted out all over the place when I tried to bite into it. The Thickburger itself, though, possessed the same tenderness I discovered in the Angus. Bonus points to Burger King for managing to put that same tenderness into a reasonably tidy package (I ate the whole burger and it didn't drip on my shirt once, which is quite an accomplishment, as anyone who knows me will attest.)

Next item of business on the weekend recap: the trip Papa Shaft and I took to Frederick to see the Keys. I like Frederick a lock; the whole town seems to have been preserved in amber in about 1957. The old downtown storefronts are still occupied, the housing stock is a mixture of old-urban rowhouses and early-suburban ranches (though the modern McMansions are creeping in around the edges). The people, too, tend to carry themselves with a hip-to-be-square old-fashioned attitude. Crowds at Keys games generally have that slow-lane defiantly-rural look. It's a very nice change of pace from the usual Fedroplex rat-race atmosphere.

Imagine, then, my surprise upon looking at the outfield advertisements and seeing an ad for "Time Bomb Tattoos & Piercing." I am quite certain that ad was not there the last time I was in Frederick. The times, they are a-changin'.

My faith in Frederick's fundamental squareness was restored, however, by the folks sitting in front of us. These were Good Old Folks if I ever saw them. They had the out-of-fashion shirts, the old-school haircuts, and they were talking in that old-person way about their adult children (who don't visit enough) and their friends (all of whom seem to be in, just out of or going into the hospital for something or other). Now this is a Frederick crowd.

Unfortunately, for such a big crowd (beyond capacity, I'd say), it was a fairly comatose lot. The PA would try to encourage some rhythmic clapping, and the crowd largely seemed to ignore it. Papa and I were, of course, clapping right along and trying without much success to generate enthusiasm. About the fifth inning, I finally turned to Papa and complained. "We've got a crowd of at least six thousand here," I said, "and we're the only two people clapping. What's going on here?" At this point the woman in front of me (one of the elderly Frederick women) turned around and smiled and said, "Maybe you're the only ones with rhythm!" Now I knew I was home: People as Caucasian as myself are rarely accused of having rhythm. Certainly this has never happened to me in the Fedroplex. At last I'd found a group of people whiter than me!

When the elderly folks left in the eighth, the same lady turned back and said, "Thanks for making it lively for us!" Either our youthful enthusiasm really was welcome, or our cheering was driving them to distraction, but either way we enjoyed the comment. Papa and I consider it our job to bring vigor and enthusiasm to sporting crowds, and we accomplished our goal that night. A successful trip, to be sure.

Speaking of trips: Papa and I are headed to Pittsburgh this weekend to take in a Pirates game. Anyone who has suggestions on Pittsburgh sights or experiences that we shouldn't miss, or anyone in the Pittsburgh area who'd be willing to buy us a beer, leave a note in the comments.

Let's see, what else did I do this weekend? Ah, yes... I watched Sunday Night Baseball. And I've noticed a growing trend on the show: the ongoing disintegration of Joe Morgan. I seem to remember that Joe used to be a thoughtful analyst, contributing usefully to the Sunday night broadcasts. Nowadays, possibly under the withering glare of criticisms from the sabermetric types, Joe's become more and more useless. What's more, I think his broadcast partner, Jon Miller, is looking for subtle ways to make Joe look bad during the broadcast.

Think I'm kidding? Here are a few highlights I noticeed from last night's broadcast:

- The Yanks have runners on first and second, no out, full count on Matsui, and they send the runners on the pitch. Joe says it's a bad idea. What if they get a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play? The runners go, Matsui strikes out, and Joe says, "I told 'em they shouldn't do it." But no sooner do the words leave poor Joe's mouth than the runner beats the throw. Joe mutters, "Well, it worked that time." And Jon Miller says, in his stagiest voice, "It's a brilliant play!"

- Ruben Sierra bloops a ball into left to score a couple runs. And Joe says, "That's where Ruben Sierra's big bat helps him," explaining that Sierra's big bat slowed down his swing and allowed him to make contact. And then he says Mike Stanton "made the pitch he wanted," a slow curve. So help me out here... if Sierra has a slow swing because of his bat, don't you *not* want to throw him a slow curve? Don't you want to throw, I don't know, an inside fastball? Jon is rendered speechless by this burst of "logic."

- Jon points out that the Mets have the best ERA in the NL, then says, "That may change after today." And Joe says, "Well, the Mets have three errors up there, so I don't know how many of those runs are earned." Which he could presumably figure out by consulting his scorecard. Which Jon promptly does and says, "Actually, those errors have not figured into the scoring. They're all earned." Joe says nothing.

- Jon describes the Mets' performance on the evening as "Sisyphean," and then asks Joe if he (Jon) is pronouncing the word correctly. Joe goes, "Uhhhhh... I don't really know what that means." Jon then proceeds to explain the legend of Sisyphus in excruciating detail, and Joe says, "Um, okay. I think I get you now." The camera then cuts to the two men sitting in the booth, and Joe looks like he wants to hide under the desk. At this point, Joe starts to reconsider the whole "talking" idea and starts saying less and less throughout the rest of the game, going the entire top of the eighth without saying a word.

- Joe finally decides to open his mouth again. Derek Jeter beats out a dribbler for a base hit, and Joe says, "That's what you call smellin' a base hit. He smelled it coming, he hasn't had a hit today, so he kicked it into second gear." That's priceless analysis right there.

- There was a trivia question about which Yankee won the most World Series titles by age 30. Jon reads the question, and then says, "So, what's the answer, Joe?" Joe says it's either Mantle or Berra. Jon says in a hugely put-on voice, "Really? More than Joe D?" And Joe stumbles all over the place, "Well, I don't know nothin'.... It's just a guess.... I have no idea." Jon twists the knife in a little further: "You do know that DiMaggio won the Series each of his first four years. Joe fumpfers around some more, and basically withdraws his answer.

So then comes the answer: Mantle and Berra are tied. Jon says, "See, there, Joe Morgan gave you the answer right there!" And Joe says, "Well, that was a guess, you know. I figured Yogi has so many rings, and he couldn't have won them all after age 30. I stink at trivia, you know." And Jon says, in the by-now-familiar put-on stage voice, "Hey, you're 1-for-1 so far. You're the most brilliant trivia mind I've ever seen!" The camera is on Joe, who tries to smile.

- The Mets' batter, Eric Valent, just had a kid, Jon tells us. And Joe starts rambling about bumping into his boss, Steve Anderson, who also just had a kid. Then Valent jacks a home run into the upper deck, and Joe says, and I quote: "You know why that happened? Because I was busy talking about Steve Anderson, and it interrupted my focus." (I'm not sure if he confused himself with the pitcher or what.) Then, deciding to provide the color commentary that he's allegedly being paid for, he adds, "That was a big fly."

In between Joe-isms, I clicked over to a stand-up comic named Ron White, who said something that might just as easily apply to Joe: "Hey, the next time you get an idea in your head? Just let it go."

What can we do about this? Well, I think it's time to start the Joe Morgan Watch. Every Monday, I'll report Joe's flubs and inanities (and Jon's provocations and put-downs) from the previous night's broadcast. You, The Reader, can help by watching the games and passing along word of any incidents you notice, or anything you may spot in Joe's online chats or columns. Drop a note in the comments, and I'll see that your contribution gets credited. Travis Nelson over at Boy of Summer ought to be able to help us out here. What say you, Travis?

I want to stress here that I like Joe and don't wish him ill. It's just that his "analysis" is making it increasingly difficult to enjoy Sunday Night Baseball. I would just turn the sound down, but then I'd miss Miller's traditionally excellent play-by-play (incidentally, I think this may be why Miller's taken to undermining Joe). ESPN needs to find Joe another job, and get a commentator who's capable of commenting usefully on the game, before we're all driven to watching "Major League" on DVD every Sunday night.

Finally, our man Frinklin is seeing the bright side of the Sonics' pick in last week's draft:

Everything I read about Robert Swift says he could be great 3 or 4 years down the road. I guess I can handle that. It was either him or yet another shooting guard.

Besides, anything short of in-their-prime Hakeem Olajuwon or Micheal Jordan joining, the Sonics are still gonna be middle-of-the-road.

Two thoughts about that first paragraph:

(1) If he actually gets good 3 or 4 years down the road, that'll be right on time for his rookie contract to expire. Angry Sonics fans will run him out of town, and he'll hook on somewhere else just in time to redeem all that promise.

(2) Has there been a white big man acquired in the draft who's had success in the NBA since Rik Smits? Not to rub it in or anything, but here's the Bill Simmons list of big white guys who've been drafted the last few years:

Alec Kessler ... Rich King ... Adam Keefe ... Frederic Weis ... Scott Haskin ... Eric Montross ... Cherokee Parks ... Loren Meyer ... Todd Fuller ... Les Jepsen ... Bill Curley ... Chris Anstey ... Scot Pollard ... Paul Grant ... Michael Doleac ... Jim McIlvaine ... Gheorghe Muresan ... George Zidek ... Jeff Foster ... Scott Padgett ... Joel Przybilla ... Jason Collier ... Vitaly Potapenko ... Geert Hammink ... Troy Murphy ... Jake Tsakalidis ... Michael Bradley ... Bruno Sundov ... Kirk Haston ... Travis Knight ... Radoslav Nesterovic ... Jake Voskuhl ... Evan Eschmeyer ... Alex Radojevic ... Zydrunas Ilgauskas ... Brian Evans ... Greg Ostertag ... Loren Meyer ... Dwayne Schintzius ... Primor Brezic ... Curtis Borchardt ... Chris Mihm.

Now, maybe Swift is the guy who breaks the string. But I have my doubts.

On your second point, that's dead on... the Sonics just don't have the kind of game-changing players you need to make a splash in the West. Ray Allen is probably the Sonics' best player right now. I'm familiar with Allen from Milwaukee. He's smooth, very talented, and a fine human being. I'd want my sister to date him. But can he carry a team on his back? No. He's one of those guys in the very-good-but-not-great class, the players who can't win without help (just like Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Vince Carter). And the Sonics don't have the talent or cap room to get Allen the help he needs. (I keep hearing rumors that the Sonics are going to trade Allen, as if every other team in the league doesn't already know that Allen is a hugely overpaid second banana. Good luck.)

That's all for today. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are back tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at June 28, 2004 05:20 PM
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