October 29, 2004

Random End-of-Week Nonsense

Today's Musical Selection: "Dirty Water" by the Standells

Well, the end of the week comes around again, and I've received a couple comments on yesterday's post-Series column. First, my man Frinklin weighed in on Jimmy Fallon's appearance on the field in the middle of the Red Sox celebration:

I believe that Jimmy Fallon's cameo on the field is part of a movie he's shooting. Some wacky, madcap affair where the Red Sox win the World Series.

Indeed, this is the case. Fallon is starring in "Fever Pitch," an adaptation of a British movie which was undoubtedly much better, which was itself an adaptation of a book by Nick Hornby, which was surely better still. The Farrelly Brothers, who are directing the Fallon flick, confirmed that the appearance of Fallon and Drew Barrymore on-field was part of their movie script, a script that was in fact hastily rewritten once the Sawx went on their run, lest life trump art.

The explanation makes sense. But that doesn't make it right. MLB had actually cracked down on celebrities partying it up with reveling teams after Billy Crystal welded himself to the side of the Yankee dynasty in the late '90s, but they made an exception for Fallon and Barrymore and their little film. I forget what the excuse was, but it was craven and lame. I don't want to see actors shooting movies in real time alongside celebrating teams, espeically not talentless hacks like Fallon. With the fancy computer technology they have now, you're telling me there's no way they could film the actual celebration and add Fallon and Barrymore in later? I know, I know, given Fox's gross commercialization of the Series, singling out Fallon and the Farrellys may seem unfair. But if I'm going to be shooting fish in a barrel, I'm at least going to take aim at my least favorite fish.

Loyal reader (and debate-partner-to-be) BallWonk weighed in on my argument for the Curse of Cicotte:

Good idea to play up the White Sox as a cursed club. But the name just doesn't work. For one thing, it's both derivative and, um, whatever the word is for "different in a way that doesn't quite work, like stripes and plaid together." Boston had "The Curse of the Bambino." That second "the" is important. It's the difference between "The magic of the Amazing Randy" and "the magic of Randy." And who the heck knows how to pronounce Cicotte? I lived in Chicago not too long ago and I haven't a clue.

We need a little bit of different thinking here to get the White Sox curse going in the national media. Something like "The Shoeless Jinx" or "Weaver's Hex" or "The Landis Whammy." (It would be good to bring back the word "whammy" to mean "curse" anyway. I like old words.) "The Curse of the Black Sox" if all else fails.

As usual, BallWonk makes a good case. His argument about the second "the" is intriguing, and it would be more persuasive if it wasn't complete bollocks. The salient difference between "the magic of the Amazing Randy" and "the magic of Randy" is not "the," it's "Amazing," at least in my view. Therefore, I reject your "second the" argument.

However, his point that no one knows how to pronounce "Cicotte" is a very good one. How is it pronounced, anyway? "SEE-cut"? "si-COTT"? "si-COAT"? "si-COTT-ee"? "chi-COAT-ee"? I've heard all of the above at some point or another. Doubtless there are other possibilites. And since Mr. Cicotte is not around to clear up the record, perhaps we should look elsewhere.

"The Shoeless Jinx" is catchy, but as I said yesterday, I'm not inclined to focus this curse around the already-martyred Shoeless Joe. By most accounts, he was an illiterate hayseed who was suspicious of outsiders and not especially friendly anyhow. But because he has that catchy name, everyone loves him.

"Weaver's Hex" is all right, and it gives poor Buck Weaver the long-overdue attention he deserves, but it doesn't really have that ring to it. "Landis Whammy" sounds better, but that self-important racist gasbag, like Joe Jackson, already gets more credit than he ought. I do agree that it's time to birng back "whammy" in its old-fashioned meaning. To the degree that people still use "whammy," it's usually in connection with that ugly red twit who used to take all your money on that moldy '80s game show "Press Your Luck."

So how about "Weaver's Whammy"? It brings together the best two elements of BallWonk's suggestions, it's catchy, it's unique, and it's perfectly packaged for years or even decades of media overkill. What say you, friends and readers? Have we a curse? Let me know what you think.

Speaking of BallWonk, we've completed our negotations, and we've decided that we're going to have our Great Name Debate between Senators and the winner of his primary from November 8th to the 16th, with voting to take place afterward. (There may also be some vicious negative ads between now and then, but only if I'm provoked.) Stay tuned for further details.

As if we needed it, we now have another reason to dislike that poster child for the dangers of nepotism, Laura Vecsey. Being the good contrarian she is, Vecsey's always looking for something to piss on. And on Monday, she took aim at one of the brightest stars of the moment, Curt Schilling. In her column, she accused Schilling of dabbing his famously stained sock with Magic Marker or Mercurochrome and claiming it was blood in order to amplify his accomplishments and glorify himself. With her usual class, this column ran the day after Schilling's performance in Game 2 of the World Series.

The accusation is framed in her usual smug "every smart person knows I'm right" tone, but her slam actually goes beyond the issue of what was on Schilling's sock. Consider this passage:

Out in the right-field seats last night in damp, happy Fenway, savvy members of Red Sox Nation knew the real score.

Not the score of Game 2 of this World Series, which was all in favor of the home team.

We're talking about the score on Curt Schilling, who took the mound last night and again defied his bad ankle, defied the odds, defied the doctors who had never heard of the kind of surgical procedure that secured said tendon, and, perhaps, defied our wild and gullible imaginations.

See, Schilling is the pitcher who cried wolf once already this October. His ankle tendon sheath torn, there was a time after Game 1 of the American League Championship Series that Schilling appeared to be finished, kaput, done.

There seemed no way he could get back out to the mound, let alone be as dominant as he was in the ALCS Game 6 win.

Then there was last night, when Schilling was apparently so used to being held together with nylon thread, he completely dominated the game. The Cardinals managed four hits, but only one unearned run in Schilling's six innings.

Catch that? Vecsey's not just accusing Schilling of faking the blood on his sock. She's accusing him of overblowing the entire injury. Just how badly could he be hurt, she wonders, if he's out there pitching, and pitching so well? Some injury. After all, it didn't hurt Vecsey one bit.

Of course, accusing an athlete of faking injury is the kind of thing that can really get you in trouble with said athlete. Said athlete might even take a swing at you if he's especially displeased. (Though I can't imagine Schilling hitting a woman.) So she covers herself with this weak denial:

No one disputes that something's seriously wrong with the ankle. The medical experts who treat him agree he needs surgery, then three months of rehabilitation.

But there's a contingent of baseball watchers, including Red Sox Nation faithful, who wouldn't put it past Schilling to embellish the theatrics surrounding the management of this ankle problem.

And she can't resist throwing in this barb at the end: "And by the way, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein last night said Schilling is the starter for Game 6." Oh, so he must be faking. If he's going back out there again, he's obviously a fraud. Never mind that Epstein might have been blowing smoke about Schilling being ready for Game 6. I can picture the smirk on Vecsey's face as she typed that.

So what did Schilling have to say about all this? Asked by a Boston reporter if he had anything to say to Vecsey, Schilling replied:

Other than she's a bad person? No. There are a lot of her in that industry... People with so little skill in their profession that they need to speculate, make up, fabricate, to write something interesting enough to be printed. What makes them bad people? I am sure I cannot nail the exact reason, but I know some. Jealousy, bitterness, the need to be "different", I am sure there are others, but those are the ones I know off hand.

Pretty strong stuff, but he's absolutely right. And certainly, Laura Vecsey accusing Curt Schilling of doing something to get attention is the pot calling the kettle black. Which is not to say that Schilling doesn't have a self-promoting streak in him. But for Vecsey to be taking thinly-veiled shots at the severity of Schilling's injury when he's out there limping and grimacing... well, it's ugly. If Vecsey was an Iraq correspondent, she'd have claimed that the US already had Saddam Hussein in custody before the war even started, and the whole foxhole routine was just for show.

That's all for this week. On Monday, tune in for Mediocre Fred's Pre-Election Grab Bag! Have a good weekend, and I'll see you then.

Posted by Fred at 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2004

The Ballad of Derek Lowe Part 2, or, Introducing the Curse of Cicotte!

Today's Musical Selection: "Tessie" by the Royal Rooters

Hi, everyone. I know, I know, I'm taking the week off. But you didn't think I could go without writing about this, did you? An 86-year chapter of history comes to a close, and you expect me to sit idly by? No way. This is rarer than Halley's Comet. (Actually, I remember going to a Halley's Comet viewing party. It was supposed to be a big deal and all that, but it was kind of a bust because it was overcast and we couldn't see a damned thing. The year? 1986.)

Obligatory mentions that will, I'm sure, be repeated in every column by every half-wit who fancies himself clever:

1. Yes, the night that the Red Sox broke the Curse happened to feature a lunar eclipse. Everyone will mention this. What some people might not mention is that, during the eclipse, the moon had a distinct reddish cast. It was about the same color as the blood-stained portion of Curt Schilling's sock. I know because I actually dashed out during the sixth inning to check.

2. Yes, all the old people in New England who have been using the dream of an elusive Red Sox title to prop themselves up can die now. Lots of people will mention this. I'll bet, however, that few people were gauche enough to have the conversation I had with Papa Shaft this evening. The transcript follows:

MF: Three outs away from a mass New England suicide.
PS: That sounds suspiciously like a joke, which, of course, it isn't. I fully expect to see Red Sox fans leaping into the Atlantic like lemmings within the hour.
MF: Absolutely. It'll be like Heaven's Gate.... masses of old people will be voiding themselves atop mountains and buildings all over the region.
PS: I honestly wonder how many senior citizens in New England, after this is over, will breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Thank God. Now I can die."
MF: Probably a great many.

I am the same person who suggested that, if the Series made it back to Boston, upon a Red Sox victory thousands of elderly people would fling themselves from the upper deck of Fenway Park, in the manner of the buffalo jumps of the Old West. Yes, I am a horrible person and I am going to Hell.

Now, some things you won't hear endlessly repeated, or might not anyway.

While watching the Red Sox dance and celebrate and pour champagne on each other and pass the World Series trophy around, I mentioned to Papa Shaft that I could not imagine a group of 25 people whom I would trust less with a delicate trophy than this bunch of self-proclaimed idiots. Papa agreed and added, "Strangely, that makes this all the more fun. This is almost exactly what the scene would have been like had the Major League Indians ever won the World Series." And he's right.

This Red Sox club has to bear the closest real-life resemblance to the Indians team in "Major League" of any outfit in history. They look like a bunch of misfits and castoffs, and in a way they are. Curt Schilling played the gimped-up captain role of Jake Taylor. Manny and Ortiz both share the vaguely-menacing power-hitting air of Pedro Cerrano. Pedro has definite Rick Vaughn tendencies. Derek Lowe's season strongly resembles that of Eddie Harris. Johnny Damon looks more like Haywood than Willie Mays Hayes, but he has that air about him. No Roger Dorns on this team, although Nomar did a pretty good job playing that role before they traded him. Terry Francona is no Lou Brown, but who is? (Phil Garner's probably the closest facsimile in today's game.)

More to the point, watching these guys raise hell and go crazy and bring a vague sense of impending disaster to their celebration, it's exactly the way you'd have expected the Indians to celebrate the World Series. And I think that's part of what made this team so appealing: the fact that they look like the scraggliest, ugliest bunch of reprobates ever to make off with the Commissioner's Trophy. They're the most appealing champions of my lifetime, for sure, and definitely the greatest championship story, displacing the '97 Marlins. (Everyone likes to mock the '97 Marlins and call them undeserving champions, but as far as I'm concerned, that was the most stirring chamnpionship I'd ever seen until this one.)

Some random notes from the celebration:

- Your World Series Most Valuable Player: Manny Ramirez. After being handed the trophy by a disapproving Bud Selig, Manny proceeded to make the following statements on national TV:

"Thank Gods I me, man"
"I don't believe in curse. I believe you make your own destination."

Your World Series Most Valuable Player. On the edge of the screen, Commissioner Selig glowered and vowed to himself that next time, he would rig the MVP voting if necessary to make sure that no one the likes of Ramirez would be given national face time again.

- While John Henry was being interviewed by Jeanne Zelasko, Pedro Martinez danced across the screen with a huge grin, holding the World Series trophy high in the air. Then he danced off, and you could see Henry's face for a split second. The look on his face waas priceless. It read: "Pedro... be careful now... don't drop the trophy... we'll lose our deposit on it... that's a very fragile trophy, son... important piece of history... please God, don't drop it... how did you get so drunk already?"

- Moments later, Theo Esptein ran up behind Henry and doused him with champagne. Zelasko uttered this gem: "Theo Epstein has waited 86 years for this." Pretty remarkable, given that Epstein's only 30.

- Kevin Kennedy interviewed Tony LaRussa in front of the Cards' locker room. He looked pissed to a magnitude I've rarely seen on television. He kept repeating "We didn't come all this way to lose," all the while wearing a "My players let me down" grimace. Tough times for the genius. He looked like he was going to go back in the locker room and start knocking some heads together. I'm surprised he didn't end the interview with, "We may lose again next year, but not with the same guys. Because I'm going to kill them all."

- Curt Schilling looked like he'd had about 700 cups of coffee before his interview. He talked a mile a minute rocking back and forth with his hands jammed in his armpits. Papa Shaft theorized that he was on heavy painkillers. Either way, it was clear he was floating on a sea of mood-altering substances.

- Who invited Jimmy Fallon onto the field for the Red Sox celebration? What a sorry desperate hack. The minute he ran onto the field, he should have been maced and beaten. The fact that he wasn't tells me that MLB has sold out completely (as if the little AOL man flashing us over to the replays didn't already tell me that). This is the most disturbing celebrity sighting I've had since my sister pointed out Will Smith standing next to Lance Armstrong when he won the Tour de France.

So what happens now? The Red Sox have had a glorious run, and the celebration in Boston will be long-lasting, and deservedly so. But now they're just another team. What will superstitious baseball fans do for a curse fix? We have the Cubs, of course, but that whole billy-goat thing doesn't really convince anyone, and besides, we're starting to get the sneaking suspicion that the Cubs and their fans prefer losing. So we need a new tragic curse.

May I present: the Chicago White Sox. (This one's for you, Vincent.) The Pale Hose have not captured a World Title since 1917 (longer than the Red Sox, by the way, not that anyone cared). They haven't been in the Series since 1959. I humbly submit that the ChiSox are a fine outlet for our mythic voodoo, now that we've lost one of the oldest and most reliable purveyors of same.

One curse to a city, you say? I say pish-tosh. Besides, any Chicagoan will tell you that, though the Cubs and White Sox technically inhabit the same city, they occupy entirely separate universes.

They lack tragic-heroic figures, you say? I disagree. There are plenty of colorful characters in White Sox history just waiting to be mythologized. We just need to find them. I'll give you a few for starters: Moe Berg, Zeke Bonura, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Al Lopez, Minnie Minoso, Wilbur Wood, Dick Allen, Richie Zisk, Carlton Fisk (in terms of games played, his Sox are more White than Red), Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski, Steve Lyons, Frank Thomas. The exploding scoreboard. Disco Demolition Night. Playing in shorts. And of course, the incomparable Bill Veeck (responsible for those last three events.) And these are all just off the top of my head.

Now, all we need is a focal point for the Curse. And that's easy: the Black Sox and the fixed Series of 1919. This chapter in baseball history is well familiar to even casual fans. Books have been written about it. And the easy and tempting route is to call it the "Curse of Shoeless Joe." But that would be wrong. Jackson's participation in the fix is still hotly disputed, and you can't base a curse around someone who wasn't necessarily in on the central event. (And anyway, if we wanted to base the curse on a martyr, we should pick Buck Weaver, who was guilty only of refusing to rat out his teammates.) Besides, Shoeless Joe is overmythologized already. Our curse can never compete with that Kevin Costner movie. You know the one I'm talking about.

No, I believe our central tragic figure must be Eddie Cicotte. Eddie was the team's ace pitcher, and it was Eddie who was the ringleader of the fix. Cicotte lost two games in service of the cause, and in a particularly diabolical twist, he won one game, presumably to prove he could. (Teammate Lefty Williams tanked three games, but to me that's somehow less diabolical than what Cicotte did. Winning the one -- which incidentally would have been the Series-losing game if he'd blown it -- seems especially wicked.) It was Cicotte who led his teammates down the path of wrongdoing, and he on whom the curse should be pinned. Besides, "The Curse of Cicotte" has a nice ring to it.

(To be fair and give Cicotte equal time, he felt he was driven to cheat by miserly owner Charlie Comiskey and his penny-pinching ways. "The Curse of Comiskey" also has a nice ring, and it raises some interesting issues surrounding the park, but who wants a curse named after an owner? Feh. They didn't call it "The Curse of Harry Frazee," did they?)

Now, there is one other small issue. Some people might not enjoy mythologizing a curse based around the tanking of a World Series. There's a sense that the White Sox deserved what they got. (That may be one reason why the White Sox have never gained currency as a tragically cursed franchise among the national audience.) But hell, if selling off a star player to pay the bills is enough for a curse (or barring some drunk idiot and his damn billy goat from the park), surely this qualifies. And even if the White Sox deserved the curse then, haven't they suffered enough?

Besides, joining the curse industry could be just what the White Sox need to revive their franchise. For decades, despite playing in the third-largest city in America and being one of the AL's charter franchises, the White Sox have gotten little to no local or national love. Truth be told, they've been on life support much of the time. They've tried every gimmick in the book to attract national attention. They're had more uniform changes than Diana Ross in concert. And there's not a city or town in North America that the White Sox have not, at some point, threatened to move to.

And yet, despite all that, despite the Curse of Cicotte, they haven't given up and they haven't given in. They've persevered despite everything. And we love that in America, don't we? We love the scrappy survivors, the prodigal sons, the comeback kids. We wait patiently for them and greet them with open arms when they come bounding back out of the ravine. We elected Bill Clinton twice, didn't we?

So I ask you, America, can't you make room in your heart for one more prodigal franchise? Three curses at once, I think we can all agree, is too many; it makes the head hurt just trying to keep up with all the tragic figures and curse-related rituals and fateful flops. But now that the Red Sox have been so kind as to spring themselves from Bambino Hell, can't we take that now-unused space in our brains and hearts and fill it with the Curse of Cicotte? I believe we can. Who's with me?

And on that note, I'll sign off. Enjoy the party, Boston, but stay safe, okay? Everyone else, I'll see you tomorrow.

Posted by Fred at 01:28 AM | Comments (2)

October 25, 2004

Good News!

This just in: I have received word from the BallWonk camp that our election challenge has been accepted. "Senators" will stand in debate against the winner of the BallWonk primary, whichever name that may be. The opposing camps are currently in negotiations to determine the number of debates and their format. I will report back to all of you as soon as we have reached an agreement.

In the meantime, go on over to BallWonk's site and take a look around. Despite his dishonorable attempt to rig the electoral system to force "Senators" from office, he is a fine and entertaining writer. And if you happen to take a moment and vote in his primary, I'm not necessarily suggesting that you subvert the primary by voting for the weakest possible candidate, but hey, this is democracy. Officially, I encourage you to vote your conscience.

Stay tuned for further developments!

Posted by Fred at 07:44 PM | Comments (0)

Very busy week at work...

...so I won't be having time to blog. Talk amongst yourselves, enjoy the World Series, and I'll be back Friday.

Oh, I happened to see Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live. For those who didn't see it, it was every bit as bad as it seems. In all my years watching SNL, I've seen some memorable flubs, but I've never seen a performer actually walk off the stage. This was even worse than the time Sinead O'Conner ripped up a picture of the Pope on the air. Mistakes happen, but very tasteless to blame the band, who did the best it could in an extremely awkward situation. It's always enjoyable to see one of those pop-tart frauds exposed for what she is, particularly one whose fame is primarily derivative of her older sister's. Ms. Simpson, I'm afraid your fifteen minutes are up, sweetheart.

I must away. See you Friday!

Posted by Fred at 07:07 PM | Comments (2)

October 22, 2004

Re-Elect the Senators!

Hello, everyone. As I've mentioned previously in this space, my friend and blog colleague BallWonk has been running a most entertaining series on what to name Washington's new baseball team. In the spirit of the election season, he's even created a little primary in which the names can run against each other. Isn't it cute?

There's just one itsy-bitsy problem. If you look at his list, you'll notice there's a name missing. And not just any name, but the name that I've argued at some length is the only proper choice: Senators.

How can BallWonk leave out the name to which generations of Washingtonians became accustomed, you ask? Well, he has an undeniably clever little explanation on his site, something about the Constitution saying we can only have two Senators. Despite the ingenuity of this argument, I have sussed out the true force at work here: BallWonk is attempting to impose term limits on the name "Senators."

Well, as Tom Hanks famously said, "There's no term limits in baseball!" More to the point, the Constitution does not prescribe term limits for Senators. BallWonk, being the Constitutional scholar he apparently is, undoubtedly knows this. I was all set to steal a page from my conservative friends and accuse BallWonk of "legislating from the bench," but then I recalled that he is not, as far as I know, a judge. Rather, he's manipulating the party apparatus to keep Senators out of the primary.

Well, I'm not going to take this lying down. Senators is the incumbent here, and a popular incumbent at that. If BallWonk is going to rig the primary to keep the incumbent out, then Senators is prepared to run as an independent. We're not going to settle for being run out of office by some overzealous party boss with a grudge against the incumbent.

We're not the first Senators to go the independent route. Lowell Weicker, former Republican senator from Connecticut, maintained a running battle with the state party before they forced him out in 1988, with conservative groups funneling support to his Democratic opponent, Joe Lieberman. Two years later, Weicker ran for the governorship of Connecticut as an independent and won. More recently, Jim Jeffords of Vermont became tired of his increasing isolation in the Republican party and became an independent. The Senators name will follow the honorable tradition of men like Weicker and Jeffords and seek re-election without party backing. (Besides, one-party rule's gone on for too long in Washington anyhow.)

Therefore, today I'm announcing the independent candidacy of Senators as the name of Washington's new baseball team. The polls all suggest that the people are behind our cause, and I believe in giving the people what they want, even if BallWonk doesn't. I hereby challenge his winning candidate, after the primary, to a series of debates, to be broadcast on his blog and mine. The number, format and scheduling of debates will be determined when and if BallWonk and his candidate consent to debate.

Recently, BallWonk ran a campaign ad on his site for the presumed favorite in his primary, the Grays. It's a pretty strong ad, but unfortunately it's riddled with distortions and misinformation. I posted a countering ad on his site, and I'm now re-running it here. I hate to go negative so early in the campaign, but given the way the primary has been set up, it's clear that laying back and taking the high road isn't going to cut it. I present to you the first ad of the Re-Elect the Senators campaign.

* * * * *

Grays has made a strong and persuasive case for itself. But if Grays is the candidate of confidence and strength, why does their campaign feel the need to run an ad so full of inaccuracies -- and even outright untruths?

CLAIM: "At the Hall of Fame, it's Grays 8, Senators 3."
FACT: Your undeniably cute little graphic conceals the fact that Negro League players were not, by and large, inducted with logos on their caps. Whereas you required Senator inductees to be wearing a "W" on their caps, your Grays inductees were allowed a much looser standard. None of the players in your graphic is wearing a Grays cap, and two of them are actually wearing the logos of different clubs (Joe Williams has a Lincoln Giants logo, while Willie Wells sports the insignia of the Newark Eagles). If you go by cap logos, it's Senators 3, Grays 0. If you go on the qualification of having played for the team, it's Senators 14, Grays 8.

Come on, Grays, you can't expect the American people to fall for your cheap distortions. What else might you be trying to conceal from us?

CLAIM: "Do we want to wallow in nostalgia for a team so chronically, embarrassingly bad that the St. Louis Browns were our daddies."
FACT: During the existence of both franchises, from 1902 to 1953, the Senators went 594-538 against the Browns. That's right, a winning record.

Is that the kind of propaganda and outright lying that the people are willing to accept from a name candidate? I think not.

CLAIM: "Do we want to admire the clever pun in our name while the Phillies mince us into cheeseteak fillinh, throw us on the griddle with some onions and white American cheese, and serve us on a hot bun?"
FACT: As we all know, the Grays' campaign manager hails from Minnesota. No true son of Philadelphia ever orders anything other than Cheez Whiz on his cheesesteak. That's right, Cheez Whiz.

If we can't trust the Grays to get the most basic facts straight, how can we trust them with our precious new baseball franchise?

CLAIM: "All zero expansion Senators in the Hall of Fame"
FACT: That... oh, actually, that's correct. Alas, my campaign to put Bernie Allen in the Hall has come to nought.

CLAIM: "Naming our team the Grays isn't just the right thing to do. It's the best thing to do."
FACT: Well, judge for yourself, America. Given that this campaign ad has been nothing but a teeming mess of inaccuracies and innuendo, can you really trust this conclusion?

It's time to come clean, Grays, and be honest with the people, instead of hiding behind exaggerated claims and cheap political tactics.

Though some may find it inconvenient to recall, "Senators" remains the incumbent in this debate, and we will not rest until we've beaten this sham primary and secured re-election.

Vote for experience. Vote to re-elect "Senators."

I'm Mediocre Fred and I approved this message.

(Paid for by the Committee to Re-Elect the Senators)

* * * * *

Honestly, I don't want this to be a campaign of mud-slinging and name-calling. I'm prepared to have a forthright dialogue with BallWonk and his chosen candidate. I only hope that he's prepared for an honest debate, one free of the sort of manipulation of truth we saw in his ad. That is, assuming he's even willing to engage in debate with the people's choice, the popular incumbent. I eagerly await his reply.

On a happier note, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, who captured the NLCS last night with a 5-2 win over the Houston Astros. The Astros' 43-year run of frustration continues, as they've still never played in a World Series. I feel particularly good for the Cardinal fans, one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases in baseball. The Cardinals-Red Sox matchup pits two of baseball's best sets of fans, and that can only be good for the game. (And I might point out that I've called every series winner correctly so far. This has never happened before. I have no idea what to do with this information. I can only assume that the Apocalypse is, indeed, nigh.)

There was a drive-by parading here this afternoon! I came home from work and I heard the sound of drumming. I found this bizarre, since I didn't know that anyone in my building owned drums. I'd certainly never heard them before. Then I heard the sound of... a marching band?! I was, to say the least, befuddled. I dashed out to the scene and discovered that the local high school was having its Homecoming parade, and it was marching right by my apartment!

I stayed out to watch the whole thing. It's one of those kitschy small-townish rituals I dig on. My high school never had a homecoming parade, probably because it's a magnet school that drew from the whole county, and therefore didn't have strong ties to the surrounding community. At the time, I didn't miss it. But since then I've seen a couple such parades, and I've really come to enjoy them. The band, the cheerleaders, the homecoming dressed up and waving from the backs of fancy convertibles, the clever floats, the high-schoolers with faces painted chanting and clapping... I'm a sucker for the whole experience. (And definitely a fan of the candy that they tossed from the floats in the style of Mardi Gras. I was a good boy, though... I didn't fight for the candy with any of the little children standing next to me. Well, except that one. But he was being a real jerk. I'd absolutely called dibs on that Tootsie Roll. But he and his little seven-year-old pals won't be crossing me again, I assure you.)

Time to roll downhill to the weekend, and try to catch up on sleep before the World Series begins. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

October 21, 2004

The Ballad of Derek Lowe

Today's Musical Selection: "Need You Tonight" by INXS

Hi, everyone! I'm still digesting the events of the last few days. I think what I enjoyed most about the series is that the Yankees finally got what's been coming to them for years. The Yankees and their fans have always treated winning as a sort of royal entitlement, as if no other team could legitimately be considered champions. That, combined with the undisguised joy they take in rubbing salt in the wounds of their opponents, is enough to make this grand collapse a glorious moment for all of baseball.

And just as Derek Jeter was the classy, professional symbol of the late-'90s Yankee dynasty, the face of this disintegration belongs to none other than Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees' supposed coup of last offseason. Prior to his donning the pinstripes, I'd never disliked Rodriguez; he was pleasant, articulate, image-conscious and very rich, baseball's answer to Kobe Bryant. But seeing the richest team in baseball acquire the richest player in baseball, a man whose annual salary was only slightly less that the Brewers' entire payroll... well, it made my blood boil. Seeing A-Rod with the Yankees was like seeing Kobe with the Lakers... it seems unfair that one person can possibly have so much good fortune in his life. You get the idea that he's using up the collective good fortune of the population of some Third World country. Even for those not inclined to envy (as I'm not), it's hard not to feel a twinge of... something when you see that much privilege paraded in front of your nose.

And just as it was hard to avoid taking at least a little pleasure in seeing Kobe go on trial, it was hard to avoid rejoicing in Rodriguez's leading his team in its historic tank job. That sissy slap play in Game 6 summarized Yankee arrogance in a nutshell; it was representative of Jeter's phantom tags and Jeffrey Maier catching the ball and every other time the damn Yankees have had the breaks go their way. When the ball popped out of Arroyo's glove and Rodriguez went to second and the run scored and it was 4-3... you could sense the hand of fate reaching down to favor the privileged Yanks yet again. And then you saw the replay, saw what Rodriguez did, realized that the richest player in baseball felt it necessary to cheat to win... and then the umpires did the right thing and called him out. It felt like the scales of cosmic justice were finally evening out after all these years.

And then, of course, A-Rod compounded the felony by complaining when the umpires correctly called him out. He had the incredulous look of a school bully forced to return the lunch money he just stole. And then, of course, he had that classy line in the post-game interview: "I guess I should have run him over." What a jerk. The loss couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

In the dugout during Game 7, A-Rod looked on the verge of tears most of the time. I almost felt sorry for him. I wanted to reach out, touch him softly on the arm and say, "Don't worry, buddy, you'll still get paid."

If you want to feel sorry for somebody, feel sorry for Brian Cashman. Did you see the look on his face last night? It was the look of a man who knew he was about to catch hell. Cashman is a bright guy and a good GM, but he's subject to the whims and rages of a megalomaniacal owner, who undermines clubhouse morale, drains all the fun out of winning and turns losing into hell on earth. He never looked like a Yankee GM anyway... he's so small, frail and peaked that he looks like a small-time hustler who snuck into the luxury box while no one was looking. And now he's going to have to face the wrath and humiliation of a beaten Steinbrenner. Poor Cashman. Some people thoght he'd be fired, but I figured that Steinbrenner would consider that to be letting him off too easy. The worst punishment he could conceive was to force Cashman to remain around the Yankee circus for one more season.

Couple good comments on my item about Jim DeMint. My dear blogfriend Ensie seems as disturbed by DeMint as I am:

I saw this guy on Meet the Press on Sunday. Why would anyone want to vote for this idiot? Tim Russert did a good job of showing just how unable this man is of answering a simple question. In his closing remarks, DeMint stated that he would be a strong leader or some other such total load of crap. He didn't want to clearly state a single opinion and wouldn't back any of his previous statments. What a leader. Of course, his opponent didn't look all that special either.

His opponent, Inez Tanenbaum, is sort of a blank to me. She seems okay, but as Ensie says, she's nothing special. In ordinary circumstances, I might root for Tanenbaum strictly in the hopes of recapturing the Senate, but otherwise not particularly care one way or another. But given that she's running against DeMint, I suddenly have a great deal more invested in her victory than previously. (A friend of my cousin's used to work for DeMint. He quit earlier this year. Near as I can tell, he got out at the right time.)

I mentioned DeMint's story to my dad last night, since he hadn't heard about it. He responded with a laugh, "Well, that remark ought to about sew the election up for him in South Carolina." Sadly, Dad might well be right.

Loyal reader arrScott mused a bit on dumb politicians in general:

The two stupidest men I have ever met were both politicians. the first, a feeble-minded friend of my family and son of a popular former vice president, was a really nice guy but he couldn't maintain a conversation for more than about five minutes without his dim bulb flickering off. He ran for governor of Minnesota in 1998 as a Democrat and came in third.

The other, the single dumbest man I have ever met and the son of a popular former football coach, can't even string together five whole minutes of coherent conversation. The man would fail a Turing test, he's a downright mean man, and I strongly suspect he's functionally illiterate in addition to being massively ignorant. This man has never lost an election in Virginia, and currently serves in the U.S. Senate.

That dichotomy tells me everything I need to know about the differences between north and south in America. When folks in the north discover that a politician is an amiable dunce, they retire him. When folks in the south discover that a politician is a cruel-hearted dunce, they promote him to a higher position.

For those who aren't familiar, the first man arrScott describes is former Minnesota attorney general Skip Humphrey, while the second man is former Virginia governor and current Republican senator George Allen. I've always referred to Allen as "Gomer," since every time he appears in public he's smiling that folksy aw-shucks grin. I always suspected he was a fraud, and I'm not surprised that arrScott's up-close assessment of him matches my impression that he's not the brightest light in the harbor.

As for his north vs. south sentiment... well, I've tried to stop making statements like that, since it tends to irritate my southern friends, of whom I have several. But if someone else says it... I have no problem posting it. (In the interest of fairness, any southern readers who wish to respond with a long and colorful list of corrupt hacks elected by northern states will be granted equal time.)

That's enough for me today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 10:08 PM | Comments (0)

Dispatches From a Parallel Universe

Today's Musical Selection: "Unbelievable" by EMF

So, how do you like that? Really, how do you like that? For those of you who've been living under a rock for the last week or so, the Boston Red Sox just pulled off the greatest comeback in sports history, rallying from a 3-0 ALCS deficit to defeat the mighty imperial New York Yankees, giving them a shot at their first Series win since 1918.

So when did you start to believe? Did you assume, as I did, that the usual fates were asserting themselves when Damon got thrown out at home? How about when Cairo got on with that phantom hit-by-pitch, stole second and scored? How about when Francona inexplicably yanked Lowe and brought in, of all people, Pedro? How about when Pedro started melting down, with the "1918" signs and "Who's Your Daddy?" chants rattling the stadium and clearly ringing in Pedro's ears? Did you lose faith then?

I'll admit I lost faith with the Pedro move. Normally, even a worrywart fan like me is comfortable with a seven-run lead, but these are the Red Sox, and these are the Yankees. Lowe was clearly working his magic; the Yanks barely touched him. To yank him after only six innings was absurd. To replace him with a tired, flaky pitcher with a bad history against the Yanks was worse. To bring in the guy who'd made one of the most ill-advised quotes in baseball, one that would bring a pretty much dormant crowd back to life... well, it was just plain stupid. Stupid and mystifying.

And when the Yanks greeted him with back-to-back doubles... well, I said to myself, "So this is how it's going to come apart." Francona sat there in the dugout, apparently blissfully unaware of the fact that the sad history of the Red Sox was about to claim him in its wake. How could he be so stupid? How could he make the one move that could cause an 8-1 lead to disappear? Why does this always happen to the Red Sox?

Except, of course, it didn't. For once, the Red Sox didn't choke when it counted. For once, they came up strong with the chips on the line. (My friend the Gamer Girl compares them to John Kerry: they won't put up much of a fight until they're backed into a corner, and then there's no stopping them.)

I watched the game in the company of my dad, noted Yankee fan. Since I was rooting openly for the Red Sox, this had the potential to be ugly (not call-out-the-riot-police ugly, but definitely unpleasant). Fortunately, though, Dad was in a good humor about it, mocking the struggles of his Yanks right along with me. Although he did make one of the funniest statements I have heard in a long time. "If we had 9 Miguel Cairos, we'd have won this thing." I'm reasonably sure that this is the first time this sentence has been uttered in world history. And it's definitely amusing that a fan of a team with a $200 million payroll was openly pining for a team full of Miguel Cairos. But the funniest thing, I think, was that he was absolutely right. Cairo was the only Yankee to exert a consistent effort the entire series.

My sister, who has adopted the Sawx since moving to New Hampshire, called my dad in the fifth inning to taunt him. Dad replied, "Yeah, thanks, I needed an update on how the game was going." Obviously my sister hasn't been a Boston fan long; no true Sox fan would call to taunt anyone in the middle of a game. Anything can happen.

I would like to state for the record that I deserve a small bit of credit for Boston's victory. On Sunday afternoon I visited Barnes and Noble and purchased "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" by Buster Olney. Of course, I immediately dashed over to my parents' house and tormented my dad with it. At the time, sitting on a 3-0 cushion, he dismissed it pretty breezily. In fact, he said, "You know, I hope Houston and St. Louis go seven. We can use the rest." The Yankees haven't won since. New England, you're welcome.

What a wild week. For five straight nights, it's been tension and adrenaline and lost sleep. I feel like I've grabbed hold of a live wire and I've just let go of it. I'm drained, yet somehow still wired. When you come down off the tightrope like that, you just feel hollowed out. I can't even imagine what it feels like to be a Red Sox fan. Boston, enjoy the party!

As for me, I need to start catching up on all that sleep I've been missing. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 01:13 AM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2004

Romantic Advice Straight Ahead!

Today's Musical Selection: "Sex Machine" by James Brown

Hi, everyone! Time once again for our bi-weekly installment of Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Today, our fun-loving couple reports in from Columbus, Ohio. Uncle Millie asked me to convey the following message: "Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Rumors of my debauchery, however, are right on target!" Aunt Beatrice asked me to convey the following message: "I don't know where Uncle Millie got the idea that people thought he was dead. Perhaps I've been talking in my sleep again." I certainly hope this doesn't mean that their relationship has gone downhill again. Their contract is coming up for renewal, and another marital spat figures to throw a big wrench into the negotiations. But you didn't come here to listen to me complain about contract negotiations; you came for the advice. Very well, let me turn things over to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Take it away!

- - - - -

What is Love? Well, For One Thing, It's Expensive, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! And greetings from the heart of the Badger State.

AB: The Buckeye State, dear. Wisconsin is the Badger State.

UM: Surely you jest, my love. Wisconsin is, as we all know, the Wolverine State.

AB: No, that would be Michigan.

UM: Now you're just pulling my leg. Michigan is the Musk Oxen State.

AB: No, that's... actually, I have no idea what that is.

UM: At any rate, today we find ourselves in the fine state of Ohio due to a bit of a misconception on my part.

AB: See, last week Uncle Millie was watching the news, and he caught the political report.

UM: I'm not much of a political animal myself. I do, however, greatly miss President Clinton.

AB: As you loyal readers might have guessed.

UM: He was an inspiration to us all.

AB: At any rate, this particular newscast featured a swing-state profile of Ohio.

UM: Naturally, my ears pricked up. A state full of swingers? I booked passage on the next flight to lovely Columbus.

AB: Of course, as Uncle Millie discovered shortly after arriving and making some rather forward inquiries of the locals, the "swingers" in Ohio are swing voters. Much to Uncle Millie's chagrin.

UM: Indeed. However, I am pleased to report that, since Columbus is the home of The Ohio State University, the city is well-supplied with attractive coeds. Therefore, all is not lost.

AB: Funny you should mention Ohio State. Do you know what their mascot is, by chance?

UM: Uh... no.

AB: Well, perhaps you should stop one of those nubile coeds you keep leering at and ask. You might learn something. Such as the fact that they're not the Badgers.

UM: Ah, well, let us not tarry further. On to this week's letters!

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I have a problem, or at least I'm told I do. I don't think it's a problem. See, I'm a middle-aged man, and I find myself attracted to one of those teeny-bopper pop stars. (Which one isn't important, except to me, of course.) Personally, I think my fascination is harmless (I'm not engaging in stalker behavior or anything), but my wife finds it, to quote her, "creepy and disgusting." When I even mention my crush's name, she leaves the room. She won't even listen to me about this.

This harmless (to me) fascination is starting to seriously affect our marriage. My wife looks at me like I'm a pedophile. How do I get her to see that this isn't a problem?

George in Valdosta

UM: Well, lad, I agree with you that your interest in this young woman is harmless. After all, I believe in a beneficent Creator, and why would He have given us eyes if He did not intend for us to behold the glory of His creations?

AB: Oh, please. George, you're allegedly a grown man now, and it's time for you to give up these fantasies. I'm sure your wife feels it's enough of a struggle to do battle with middle age without being taunted by vision of some nubile young vixen dancing across your imagination.

UM: You misunderstand, dear. The admiration men have for attractive young women is not unlike your appreciation for a fine piece of art. I don't assume that, because you like that David statue, that you're disappointed that I do not resemble him.

AB: You look like you're smuggling that statue under your shirt.

UM: Why, thank you.

AB: It wasn't... never mind.

UM: At any rate, lad, you must understand that your wife's reaction is pure jealousy. And truth be told, a little jealousy is good for a relationship. It keeps your wife on her toes. She'll go that extra mile, put a little extra effort into beautifying herself, if she is aware of the competition.

AB: Competition? Please. Women like them wouldn't go out with men like you unless you held them at gunpoint. We don't like you drooling over those pop stars because it's embarrassing. We can't take you out in public for fear you'll start drooling over some piece of jailbait. Ahem.

UM: College students are legal, my love.

AB: Doesn't mean it's not embarrassing. By the way, you're drooling all over your sweater.

UM: Oops, sorry.

AB: In your case, I'm not sure if it's a sign of lust or approaching senility.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 22, and I just broke up with my first really serious girlfriend. It feels like hell. I don't want to get out of bed in the morning, and the daily grind feels like a sick joke. I have no interest in my classes or friends. All I can think about is how much I miss her.

My friends try to fix me up with other women; I can't even envision it. I know I'd spend the entire date thinking of the ways in which the new girl doesn't measure up. How do I break out of this skid?

Orlando in Orinda

AB: Hi, Orlando. Sorry about the breakup. I know it must feel terrible. And you've got to give yourself time to recover. Losing someone you really care about, especially your first real love, is a tough blow. Your friends mean well, but dating right now would be a bad idea for everyone involved.

UM: On the contrary, lad. I know you're hurting right now; it always hurts to lose a fine woman. But your friends have exactly the right idea. You need to "get back on your horse," so to speak. Don't spend all your time alone moping over your lost love. It isn't healthy. You need to get out and circulate! Should you expect to find a new true love in these dates? Of course not, lad. But a little casual "rebound sex" can do wonders for your outlook on life.

AB: Typical. Orlando, casual sex is like a drug: a cheap, quick high that crashes you down just as far and just as fast. It's the last thing you need. Rather, you need to take some time to get your bearings back. Take long walks and try to absorb it all. You need to give yourself time to adjust.

UM: And the adjustment process goes a hell of a lot faster if you're hip-deep in some lovely young thing.

AB: You're just a pig. Orlando, please ignore him. You need to give yourself time.

UM: Time between the sheets.

AB: Why do I even bother?

UM: Because you love me so.

AB: Just keep telling yourself that.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

Can you help out a lonely sports widow? My husband, "Kirk," is completely obsessed with baseball. In particular, he's a fan of a team we'll call the "Blue Sox." He lives and dies with them (mostly dies; they have a long and inglorious history). Well, the Blue Sox are in the playoffs against their archrivals (let's call them the "Tycoons"). Kirk is in an alternate universe. When he's not watching the game, he's on message boards with fellow fanatics, mourning over the Blue Sox's misfortunes, or saying fervent prayers wishing on certain Tycoons players fates that I would not wish on Osama bin Laden. If he realizes that I'm alive, he shows no outward sign.

Here's my question: Is it ethical for me to root for the Blue Sox to lose so that I can get my husband back? I don't know if I can put up with much more of this.

Glenda in Blue Sox Nation

UM: Well, hello, my dear lass. As a sports fan myself, I'd strongly advise rooting against your husband's team. If he later finds out that you did, he might blame you for their inevitable defeat. And Hell hath no fury like a baseball fan scorned.

AB: Hi, Glenda, and you have my sympathies. Uncle Millie has been known to disappear into the Sports Fan Triangle for weeks at a time, particularly during the playoffs. If there's a way to get him out of it, I haven't thought of it.

UM: Actually, I have a suggestion. Rooting against his team is bad form and possibly hazardous to your health. But I know a surefire way to attract his attention.

AB: Oh, I can't wait.

UM: Try serving him dinner without any clothes on one evening. Assuming he's a normally-functioning male, he'll respond to the biological imperative and give you the attention you desire.

AB: I should have known.

UM: Unless of course it's an elimination game. Or the game's in extra-innings. Or tied.

AB: Uncle Millie is such a complex man, isn't he, ladies? Sorry, though, he's taken.

UM: The woman asked for advice, and I gave her advice. What do you want from me?

AB: That's an excellent question.

UM: At any rate, I believe it's time for us to go.

AB: Yes, Uncle Millie has places to go and coeds to ogle.

UM: Why must you always air our dirty laundry in public like this?

AB: I like to think it provides hope to other struggling couples out there. If we can make it, so can they.

UM: That's a pretty sentiment. I rather like the sound of it.

AB: After all, if I can tolerate a lazy, sloppy, absentminded-

UM: Okay, that's enough, my dear.

AB: -alcoholic, womanizing, irresponsible-

UM: And that wraps up yet another column. See you in a fortnight!

AB: -igorant, foolish-

UM: Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Those contract negotiations are going to be something, I tell you.

Hey, here's a story that seems to be getting lost in the shuffle: Rep. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who is running for the Senate seat currently held by Fritz Hollings, has issued an apology of sorts for some fairly outrageous remarks he's made on the trail. To wit, in a debate three Sundays back DeMint said that he favored banning openly gay people from teaching in public schools. The following Tuesday, he expanded his remarks to say that he'd also favor banning unwed mothers from teaching. His apology, moreover, was extremely narrow: he apologized for discussing something that Senators have no control over, not for the substance of his remarks.

Why isn't this a bigger deal? Is South Carolina really that screwed up? DeMint's remarks would sink a Senate candidacy in a normal state. It's arguably the most outrageous thing said this election season by someone other than Alan Keyes or Jim Bunning. And polls show DeMint favored to win. Any South Carolinians out there care to enlighten me on how the hell he's getting away with this?

Anyhow, that's enough for me today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 07:20 PM | Comments (2)

October 18, 2004

Back to RFK

Today's Musical Selection: "Born to be Alive" by Patrick Hernandez

Hello, everyone! Sorry about Friday... too busy at work to post during the day, then I was going to post at night and fell asleep. It was that kind of week. Today I want to tell you about the experience Papa Shaft and I had last Saturday, taking a trip to RFK Stadium, where Washington's baseball team will play next year.

The night we went, the DC United soccer team was playing a game, but neither or us cares about soccer. We went to experience the stadium, to whet our appetite for next April. And we did just that. Both of us are extremely jazzed about the idea of seeing our team playing in that stadium next season.

On the approach toward RFK from the Stadium/Armory Metro stop, I immediately noticed two things. First, the old stadium looks a lot better than I figured. RFK was the forerunner of the multi-purpose cylindrical stadium trend, but it's head and shoulders more attractive than the Vets and Riverfronts that came after. Rather than a dull circular roof, RFK has a dip in the front that makes the stadium look distinctive. Its facade is made of marble, which is far more appealing than the unbroken concrete of the later ashtray-style facilites. The entryway looks classy and distinctly Washington.

The second thing I noticed was that the stadium was in the middle of nowhere. In order to get to RFK, you have to walk down a long, tree-lined avenue next to the DC Armory. The trees look nice, but (1) they block your view of the stadium and (2) there's not enough room between them for people to gather. The avenue has the effect of isolating RFK (it's surrounded by an ocean of parking spaces on the other side), preventing it from tying into the surrounding neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, there's no sports bars or nightlife nearby. During the game, United announced that fans desiring a post-game hangout spot should meet at Fado, which is in Mount Vernon Square, halfway across town. A good stadium revitalizes the neighborhood around it. That didn't happen with RFK because there is no neighborhood around it.

Once we got closer, though, my heart began to beat faster. One thing about facilities like RFK... they exude sports. You take one look at a stadium like that, you know instantly what it's for. I got all tingly just envisioning baseball taking place there in a few months.

We bought our tickets and entered the concourse, and it was like stepping back in time. The old section markers, the dim lighting, the walls painted in a shade of blue not popular since 1967, the plainly exposed piping and ductwork... for better and worse, RFK is a stadium from a bygone era. Even the newer features, like the plastic-coated TV consoles and the signs announcing the concession stands, feel dated. The concourse smelled of popcorn and beer from ballgames past, and it was easy to imagine that it was 1964 instead of 2004. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. RFK is one of the last venues from a certain age of baseball, and in an era of manufactured history and retro-style parks, it's nice to have a stadium that's unapologetically genuine. I get fatigue as I travel from one new ballpark to another; the wrought-iron gates, cutesy quirks and skyline views all start to blend together after a while. RFK is a mid-century ballpark, and I'm grateful for it.

We walked down into the main seating bowl, and that's where RFK really shows its age. The burgundy, orange and yellow paint is chipping off the seats, the painted-on-concrete section numbers are especially dated and tacky, and the lower deck is backed by featureless concrete walls bearing no decorating save some blue paint. No concession stands with views of the field while you wait, only a smattering of ads, really nothing to catcht he eye at all. Even the right-field wall, once the home of the very cool Washington Post scoreboard, is now bare save for a couple soccer displays. The Ring of Honor, paying tribute to Washington sports legends, remains intact, but the signs are dull and faded and only highlight the lack of pizzazz around the park.

And yet... the seats are surprisingly comfortable (though lacking cupholders, to which I've become accustomed), there's plenty of leg room (an especially welcome development for the long-legged Papa Shaft), and the sightlines are terrific from all around the stadium. The stadium also holds in the noise very well, which makes even a small crowd sound raucous (the boisterous but sparse crowd at the United game sounded like a gathering twice its size thanks to RFK's acoustics).

And as I looked at the spot where home plate will stand, imagined the outfield fence to come, glanced up at the sloping roof over the upper deck and the ligth standards above... well, as I said aloud to Papa, "It feels like baseball's here already. Baseball belongs here." He just nodded. We both saw the stadium's potential.

Although my opinion of soccer as a sport improved not one whit during the game I witnessed, let me say this: I hope that our baseball fans in Washington will be as enthusiastic as the crowd we saw that night. The fans maintained a buzz practically from start to finish, which at least kept me awake. Of particular note was the fan-club section next to us, which had a giant drum that kept up a beat throughout the game. When we first sat down and I heard the drum, I thought I'd hate it. But I came to enjoy it as the night wore on, along with the festive and creative chants directed at the field (although I could have lived without the "You suck, asshole!" chants, and judging by the look on the face of the guy who was sitting behind me with his school-age children, I gather I wasn't alone). If our fans are as excited and as passionate as the fans we saw that night, RFK is going to rock (literally -- some of the stands are retractable and they tend to bounce when the fans get going).

Shortcomings? The scoreboard and sound system both need work; if left as-is, they'll easily be the league's worst (though Papa pointed out that the right-field videoboard, though small, is very sharp). The concessions could also use a major upgrade: my hot-dog was missing half its bun, certainly not worth the 10-minute wait while the clueless concessionaire tried to find the dogs. And they only had yellow mustard, not brown, which is nearly an unpardonable sin in my book. My Pepsi was, even by ballpark standards, awfully watery. Papa reported greater satisfaction with his popcorn, though not with the $7 charge for the popcorn and a bottled water.

Perhaps the worst part of the RFK experience, however, was the poor quality of the staff. Papa expressed his frustrations on this pretty well, so I'll turn it over to him:

This is where RFK really suffered. On entry, the ticket seller was downright listless, with a bored look on her face. The concession workers were nothing short of incompetent (not surprisingly, concessions at RFK are handled by ARAMARK)

The worst had to be the security people; within 10 minutes of the end of the game, they were standing in the aisles like the gestapo, herding people like cattle out of the stadium. When moving around the stadium to take pictures (mind you, not 10 minutes after the end of the game), I was accosted twice by these idiots, standing in front of my shot and repeating that their supervisor told them they had to clear out the stadium. (Mind you, I wasn't about to be pushed around by these $5.50 an hour slugs, so I simply aimed around them, got my shots and politely moved on) Before we left, I were on the first base side, trying to get a shot of the lone remaining dugout when a man near the portal called down to another guy near the dugout who had lost something. Seems like a pretty normal exchange, until the idiot security guy showed up. The exchange went something like this:

SECURITY SLUG: Sir, we're closing this section off. You need to go.
FAN: Okay, but wait a second, this guy down there lost something. (Calling out) Dave, what'd you lose?
SECURITY SLUG: Sir, you need to move.
FAN: Just hold on a second, will you? This guy lost something. (Another exchange with Dave, who apparently had a bag with something valuable in it swiped)
SECURITY SLUG: The stadium is being cleared out. The stadium is closed. You need to...
FAN: All right, look, you don't need to be rude about it....
SECURITY: I'm not being rude, you just need to go. You just keep moving.

Keep in mind that this was ten minutes after the end of the game. DC United players were still signing autographs near the home dugout. Apparently, these slugs had nothing better to do then flex their minimum wage muscles instead of showing the least ounce of compassion and understanding.

All of that is completely unacceptable, and will need to be changed before the baseball team gets here so that people actually enjoy their experience at the ballpark rather than feeling like they're surrounded by incompetents. Fortunately, most ballclubs (the Orioles included) hire their own ushers and ticket takers instead of contracting it out (I suspect these slugs were from Comcast Spectacor, and most were from Philadelphia rather than DC), so hopefully they will have better quality control over their employees. In the meantime, though, the employees at RFK are absolutely shameful.

I hope that Papa's right, and that the new regime will bring in new, more competent, more polite employees.

One last fun note: With time winding down in the second half (or winding up, I guess, since in soccer the clock counts up instead of down), I made a remark to the effect that we should enjoy these seats while we could, since we weren't going to get second-row seats for the baseball team unless one of us started dating the owner's daughter. Then we took a little closer look, and noticed the boards in front of us, the boards covering the dugout step. So our seats were actually on the third-base dugout. (The section we were in slides away when the park is converted for baseball.) Never mind dating the owner's daughter; unless the new team suddenly develops a need for a short junkballing left-handed reliever, I'll never have seats that good for baseball.

It took me back to an earlier time... in particular, 1993. The Orioles had recently abandoned Memorial Stadium in Baltimore for the gorgeous Camden Yards. That same year, the O's moved their AA farm club out of Hagerstown, Maryland, with the intention of moving them to Bowie. The stadium in Bowie wasn't yet ready, though, so the Baysox spent a season at old Memorial. Crowds averaging about 5,000 a night looked positively tiny in a stadium designed to seat 50,000. My family went one night, and it's an experience I'll never forget. Previously, I'd only experienced Memorial from the upper deck; this night, we had fourth-row seats. (We'd purchased seats about fifteen rows back, but we were herded into the front rows by a newspaper photographer who wanted the pictures to look better.) Every cheer, chant or whispered aside echoed throughout the park. We were all close enough to converse with the players in the Baysox dugout, and some folks did. (Glenn Davis, the outfielder, was in town on rehab after breaking his jaw; I remember his batting helmet with the leather strap under it, rather like an old-school football helmet.) At one point, the photographer decided he wanted a shot of the crowd chasing a foul ball, so he started tossing balls into the stands for us to fight over. (He tried to ask for them back afterward and was roundly booed.) My family didn't have the budget for VIP seats normally, so it was cool to live like a big shot for a day.

Sitting down over the dugout at RFK brought back those fond old memories, and tied into the time-warp feeling of the night. I can't wait to go back to the future next April.

In the past, I've railed with justification at the Washington Post's sorry Sunday Source section, which attempts to broaden the appeal of the newspaper to the moron population by using lots of pretty pictures and restricting itself to small words. My anti-Source position has not changed, but I have to give them a little bit of credit for this Sunday's edition. I now have a crush on this woman. And unlike most of my crushes, she is at least theoretically obtainable, since she's alive (a trait not shared by a surprsing number of my crushes), roughly my age and lives (I presume) locally. Do I wish now that I'd studied more astronomy in college? Absolutely.

Finally, I want to help draw attention to a growing menace highlighted by my man Frinklin yesterday. Yes, that's right, Celine Dion and Anne Geddes have collaborated on a celebration of babies and motherhood. I spotted this yesterday afternoon at my local Barnes and Noble, and I was as horrified as Frinklin. Anyone who ever suspected that the Apocalypse will be soundtracked by the grating strains of "My Heart Will Go On" knows all too well about Ms. Dion's oeuvre. You might not, however, be familiar with the work of Ms. Geddes. An acquaintance of mine had a Geddes calendar, and through it I became aware of the odd and frankly disturbing "art" for which she is famous. Essentially, Geddes dresses babies in nauseatingly precious little costumes and poses them in strange ways. I would not be at all surprised to discover that she is the high priestess of some bizarre baby-worshipping cult. The thought of those two combining forces chills me to the bone. For the love of God, if you care at all about the future of America, they must be stopped. Anyone with ideas on doing so, please leave a comment.

That's all for me today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:58 PM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2004

I'm Still Tired

Today's Musical Selection: "Knock on Wood" by Amii Stewart

Today I bring you more random short thoughts, since I still can't seem to wrap my mind around a coherent point...

- Today's first report comes from my mom, who says that my dad, while watching the Yankees game last night, spent the last four innings chanting "Who's your daddy?" along with the stadium crowd. Bear in mind that my father is a gainfully employed, well-respected computer scientist in his 50s. "Who's your daddy?" is not part of his usual conversational repertoire. I asked him if he even knew what it meant. He said, "I guess his dad used to beat him all the time, like the Yankees do." He then proceeded to recount an apocryphal tale from his childhood in which his mother used to show him flash cards and hit him with a yardstick whenever he got the answer wrong. For some reason, I used to think my family was normal.

- Did anyone else think when they were a kid that "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was about the university? Just wondering.

- I see that, with his usual tact and charm, William Donald Schaefer has found a new way to get attention: attacking AIDS victims. The former governor and current comptroller of the state of Maryland called people with AIDS "a danger" and said they are "bad people" who "brought it on themselves." No word yet on whether Schaefer plans to push wheelchair-bound people down staircases as a follow-up.

It's been whispered for years that Schaefer is losing his marbles, and the whispers are starting to become louder. Even Schaefer's running buddy, Governor Helmethead Ehrlich, refused to come to the comptroller's defense, pointedly refusing public comments. Schaefer's slogan is: "He says what you think." Perhaps now he should change that to "He says what the little voices in his head tell him to."

- Speaking of politicians losing their marbles, what in the world is going on with Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky? The 72-year-old ex-major leaguer, running for re-election, has restricted his public appearances severely lately, which is probably fortunate for him, since when he has ventured to speak in public he's made a number of ugly and bizarre comments, such as saying his opponent looks like the son of Saddam Hussein or accusing the opponent's staff of assaulting his (Bunning's) wife.

Bunning had been expected to cruise to victory in this race, but his strange behavior has put him in danger of losing his seat. It's sad more than anything else to see a prominent man unravel in public like this. It's scenes like this that make me admire Fritz Hollings for retiring while he still has his wits about him.

By the way, the attempt by Bunning's staff to claim that Bunning is "as sharp and fit as he was when he pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964" is pathetic. No reasonable person could believe that a 72-year-old senator is as fit as a profesisonal athlete in the prime of his career. His staff's absurd contention only makes Bunning's condition look worse.

- I received a couple comments worth noting from yesterday. First, from loyal reader Ensie:

I totally second that Burger King commercial thing. Ew. Ew. Ew. And, I saw Raising Helen. And before you even ask, yes, it sucked. I see a lot a bad movies. It's my "thing." :) In actuality, this movie turned out to be neither romantically comical or screwbally comical. Again, it just sucked.

Thanks for backing me up on my aversion to the King, Ensie. I'm not surprised about Raising Helen; they wouldn't have tried to re-package the movie for the DVD version if it had been a raging success in theaters. I'm a connoisseur of bad movies myself, but I think I'll pass on this one.

Second, more thoughts on a Negro League museum in DC from my main man Papa Shaft:

Thanks, Carl. Didn't mean to imply that there wasn't a Negro Leagues museum. And honestly, it's in a good place, in the home of one of the strongest (if not *the* strongest) Negro Leagues franchise.

I do think, though, that Washington would be a more visible place to have another museum honoring the Negro Leagues, because it's a much larger market, it has tourists out the yinyang who need to be educated about black Americans' contributions to the game, and perhaps most appropriate, DC is one of the capitals of black America. Combining a Negro Leagues museum with this sort of market, plus a sparkling new ballpark right on a Metro line would create a win-win situation for everyone, I think.

I couldn't agree more. I think a Negro-league museum in DC would be a smashing success, and would help turn the ballpark into even more of a positive force for the surrounding neighborhood. The team and the city would be foolish not to include the museum in the new park.

- Commentary on the last debate is all over the place, with no clear consensus on a winner. I am a little curious, however, about the people who seem to have scored the debate a victory for Bush just because he didn't vomit all over himself. If you think Bush won on the merits, fine, but giving the incumbent president a win just because Kerry didn't clean his clock this time?

(To be fair and balanced, I also don't understand Will Saletan's contention that Kerry hit a "grand slam" in this debate. Though I think you could reasonably conclude that Kerry won, to say he whipped Bush is implausible. I think Saletan got all caught up in his baseball analogy and wanted to close out his debate reviews with the home run, even if it didn't actually occur.)

That's all for today. See you tomorrow, presumably. (For the curious, I'm still 0-for-3 on the aspirin, backrub and tub soak. Maybe tomorrow.)

Quote of the Day
"I've always been a big supporter of the Constitutional right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition government for redress of grievances. It's just that I never envisioned it taking the form of thousands of people screaming 'you asshole!' at me."
-Lowell Weicker, former governor of Connecticut

Posted by Fred at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2004

Egads, I'm Tired

But I have a couple thoughts to share, just so you all know I'm not dead or incapacitated...

- I thought this last debate was a draw. Both men largely rehashed points they made in the first two debates, and little new ground was covered. Neither man made any major blunders, although I thought Bush's speech patterns were a bit odd early on and he had a tendency to grin at the oddest, most inappropriate times. And what some people call "passion," I call "ranting." I'd give Bush and Kerry both Bs for this debate.

- Anyone remember the movie "Raising Helen"? It came out in theaters a while ago, and now it's on DVD. I didn't see it then, and don't plan to now. But I did find it interesting that they seem to have completely repackaged the pitch for this movie. When it came out, as I recall, they were selling it as a screwball comedy about a self-absorbed nitwit being forced to raise someone else's kid. Now, they're selling it as a romance in which someone finds happiness and fulfillment through The Perfect Guy (played by John Corbett, who played the groom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Frankly, the other movie looked more appealing.

- I have this to say about the new Burger King commercial, featuring a man waking up in bed next to The King: Stop it. It's creepy, it's disturbing, it gives me nightmares. I'll never eat at Burger King again until they yank that commercial. Stop it. Right. Now.

- I see the NHL handed a $250,000 smackdown to Atlanta Thrashers owner Steve Belkin because Belkin dared to suggest that the NHL might run next season with replacement players, if no agreement is reached. I think the NHL is being idiotic. For one thing, neither side is saying a damn thing about this situation, and anyone willing to speak openly and honestly deserves a medal, not a fine. For another, as Papa Shaft pointed out, "Why wait till next year?" Isn't it better for the NHL to produce a product, even a substandard one, than to lose an entire year and permanently cripple the league in the minds and hearts of the public? I say bring on the replacement players! Anything that brings on a quicker settlement and preserves the league.

- Couple good follow-up comments on the Washington name game.

First, from Papa Shaft:

I suppose I could get behind "Washington Potomacs" as a distant third behind Senators and Nationals. I don't think it sounds great and I'm not exactly enthusiastic about the idea, but it's a sight better than Grays and at least has a bit of local wackiness to it (like the "Philadelphia Phillies" or the "New York Met(ropolitan)s").

I think the main problem with Grays is one of the things that MF mentioned - it's dead boring. In order for a sports team name to be marketable, it needs to be either: a) exciting, or b) have some sort of traditional connection to the city.

To that end, let's take a look at another Senators - the Ottawa NHL team. Sure, the new owners in 1992 could have named the team something like Ice Breakers, Igloos or Thrashers (how ridiculous!), but instead they went with a traditional name that goes back to the earliest days of the NHL. And fans in the area overwhelmingly supported the name Ottawa Senators, a fact proven by polls at the time. People loved the choice because, in their minds, there was really nothing else that an Ottawa hockey team could or should be called. Ottawa Senators is traditional, and had a tight connection to the area, even if it hadn't actually been used in decades.

In the case of the Washington Senators, we have an even stronger case. People want this name because many actually went to Senators games as kids (not a lot of Ottawans could say that back in the early '90s), and want to pass those memories, those experiences along to their kids. And with baseball, people just tend to like tradition, particularly here on the east coast. The Arizona Diamondbacks may work better out west, where tradition is thrown in the shredder with Enron documents, but here in the east it's traditional names that are far more marketable: Yankees. Red Sox. Braves. Orioles. Indians. Phillies. Reds. Senators.

It just works. And people in this area seem to agree on that. In the end, that's really all that matters.

I think I overstated my enthusiasm for the "Potomacs" name in my last column. I do like it, though; it's got an old-school ring to it. I agree with everything else you wrote. Bonus points for the reference to Enron documents.

Also, Carl of FoolBlog wants to remind us of something:

While I agree with Papa Shaft that a Negro Leagues museum at the new ballpark would be great, the unaware may read into his comments that there's no remembrances of the Negro Leagues anywhere. I assume, though, that he knows the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is alive and well in Kansas City, and well worth a visit.

Thanks, Carl, and a good point for anyone who might not have known about this. I've never been to the museum myself, but I've heard that it's excellent and I intend to check it out at the first opportunity. I encourage all my readers to do the same.

Gosh, I'm beat. I need an aspirin, a backrub, and a long soak in the tub. Alas, none of these appear to be in the offing. Ah, well. See you tomorrow.

Posted by Fred at 11:36 PM | Comments (2)

October 11, 2004

The Name Game, Round 2

Today's Musical Selection: See above.

Hello again, everyone! Well, my Friday column on naming the new Washington baseball team generated some interesting comments. I've always thought that I have bright, thoughtful readers, more so than many blogs, and this latest round of comments just affirmed my belief. (And even if I wasn't shamelessly sucking up to you, The Reader, in a bid for more comments, I'd still believe it.)

Better still, not only were all three comments thoughtful, they each articulated a different position. It's possible to make a sound case for several different names, as my commenters have shown. Let's take a look at their respective arguments.

Let's start with m good buddy Papa Shaft, who is with me on the choice of "Senators" with a populist case to support me, and has a few words for those who want to honor the Negro Leagues with "Grays."

Excellent points all around.

There's one thing I'd like to say to the people supporting the Grays name - does this really accomplish what you're trying to do? You say that naming the MLB team after the Homestead Grays honors Negro League ballplayers.

I say, what kind of honor is that? People are going to forget about the name connection once the newness of the team wears off, and won't take the time to learn about the long (largely forgotten, mind you) history of the Negro Leagues and black Americans in baseball. Naming the team after the Grays really amounts to nothing more than a token PC gesture - just like many token PC gestures from white America to black Americans.

If the people supporting the Grays name are serious about truly honoring the Negro Leagues, why not (as MF suggests) push for the creation of a Negro Leagues museum inside the new ballpark with memorabilia, video exhibits, classic uniforms, and an entire sections focusing on the Homestead Grays. And on top of that, push for the museum to be open every day of the year, not just on game days. This would do far more to educate the public about the Negro Leagues than simply naming a team ever would, and would only be appropriate for one of the top cities in the country for black Americans.

Besides, why not unite behind a name that the entire area - white, black, brown, yellow and green - supports: Senators. In terms of fan support, Senators spanks the Grays, with nearly twice the number of votes in a recent Washington Post poll (41% of the vote to 21%). Even the top three choices behind Senators ("Grays", "Nationals" and "Choose Something Else") didn't add up to the number of votes in favor of Senators. The area's baseball fans have spoken, and the eventual owners of this team would be downright suicidal [to make a different choice].

I wonder if people really forget about the connections of the "Grays" name as quickly as Papa believes, but given the microsecond attention spans of the American public, I think he might be right. And if that does happen, Washington will be saddled with an uninteresting name with no real appeal. (And doesn't "Grays" sound a lot better with "Homestead" in front of it? Try it.)

Either way, Papa's absolutely right that just calling the team "Grays" isn't going to do it. If the team's attempt to evoke the Negro Leagues stops with the name, that's a cynical attempt to move merchandise and it will do nothing to build a connection to the African-American community. A museum would do much more to honor the Negro Leagues than a name ever could.

As for his polls supporting the "Senators" name, I've not seen any studies on the sentiments of the green people of the Fedroplex, but local polls do suggest sentiment running very strongly in favor of the Senators name, something I'm sure no ownership group would ignore. But if I might play devil's advocate for a second, think of "Senators" as the incumbent in this particular race. Generally, incumbents have wide leads in the early stages of a race, just based on name recognition. It'll be interesting to see if, as time goes on, the name "Senators" starts to lose ground as fans become more accustomed to the other choices. (John Kelly of the Post said in his Friday chat that this was happening for him.)

Next up was my man Frinklin, who supports the "Grays" name and had an answer for Papa Shaft:

I have to wonder why DC would be so interested in naming the new team after a franchise that failed twice. Not only did the Senators leave town twice, they were terrible on the field 95% of the time too.

The name Grays, other than just being cool, also celebrates a legacy of success. The Homestead Grays are a franchise with great history of success, something that Senators doesn't have. Baseball is about connecting with history, and with the choice in front of you, isn't it better to connect with the successful history?

Hell, have the museum too. And there needs to be two statues outside the stadium: Walter Johnson and Buck Leonard. While Josh Gibson was a more famous Gray, Leonard spent almost his entire career there, which was unheard of in Negro League Baseball.

Regardless of the name, forget about the stadium being named the Voting Booth. Like all new stadiums, it will be WhoeverPaysTheMost Field.

Why are we interested in renaming the team after the twice-departed and often-lousy Senators? Because that's our team. That's our history, for better or worse. The team's caliber of play is immaterial.

Oh, and I have to call you on your assertion that the Senators were "terrible 95% of the time." Let's be generous to your argument and define "terrible" as having a losing record. In 71 seasons of Senators baseball, we had 51 losing seasons. Bad? Absolutely. 95%? No way. We won the Series in 1924, as I mentioned Friday, but we also went to the Series in 1925 and 1933. Our last winning season was 1969, a mere two years before we lost the second team. Over the years of our existence, the Phillies had a worse collective record, and the Braves, Browns/Orioles and A's were barely better. Contrary to the world's collective memories, we weren't the only struggling team out there. Yet no one ever asks the Phillies to ditch their name.

I tease my Cub-fan friends that if their team ditched the "Cubs" name for something like "Grizzlies" and blew up Wrigley Field and replaced it with a symetrical Astroturf stadium, the team would immediately start ripping off Series wins. The point behind the jibe is that while certain team names may not be synonymous with victory, they are synonymous with the city and its history, and a lot of fans appreciate that.

Now, about the "Grays" name... what exactly makes it "cool"? If the name had never been associated with Homestead, it wouldn't even come close to being considered. It's a bland, unappealing name on its own. It's only the Negro League connection that makes it palatable and interesting.

I second absolutely your request for statues of Walter Johnson and Buck Leonard outside the new stadium. Both Leonard and Josh Gibson are honored in the Ring of Honor at RFK Stadium, as they should be, and they should be honored in the new facility.

And I know, Frinklin, that the stadium name will be sold off to a corporate sponsor. I was suggesting the Voting Booth as an unofficial nickname.

Finally, I present an offbeat suggestion from the estimable BallWonk:

Good points, and arguments like yours have softened my own resistance to the Senators name. (Softened, but not reversed; I was raised a Twins fan, and so it is an article of faith rather than reason to me that the Washington Senators now play in Minnesota, and that's history you just don't mess with.)

But if we're in the mood, we could pay tribute to Washington's dismal baseball heritage - which basically amounts to lose, lose, lose, 1924, lose, lose, lose, lose entire team, gain new team, lose, lose, lose, lose entire team again - AND the Negro Leagues AND have a catchy name. Just go for the Washington Potomacs. The Potomacs were an independent negro-league team in 1923, formed by the legendary Ben Taylor. Sadly, the only thing legendary about the rest of the team was its talent; it had almost none. The Potomacs joined the Eastern Colored League in 1924 and finished 6th out of 8. They finished last in 1925 and moved to Wilmington. (Ye gads, was the indignity of playing segregated ball for a bad team not enough without having to move to Delaware?)

So the Potomacs offer all the historical "charm" of the Senators - losses and relocation - and an even older Negro-League tie-in than the Grays and with a catchier name to boot. Plus the Potomac is the one thing DC, Virginia, and Maryland have in common, and the new ballpark will be almost within sight of the Potomac. And in terms of nicknames, we'd probably wind up being the Macs. If someone offers me my choice of tickets to the Senators, the Grays, or the Macs, I'm taking the Macs tix every time.

See my above remarks about the "dismal" Washington baseball tradition. It's interesting that you raise the question of the "real" Senators. The original franchise did convey to Minnesota, but the Senators name and trademarks did not. They were transferred to the expansion franchise, and they followed that team to Texas. And those of us in Washington would argue that the only "real" Senators are the ones that play here.

I like the spirit behind your suggestion, though, BallWonk. "Potomacs" is a much more interesting name than "Grays." Also, the Potomacs were truly Washington's team. Though the Grays played a lot of games in Washington, they were Pittsburgh's (or, properly, Homestead's) team.

Were my mind not made up in favor of the Senators, I'd be very happy to join you in the Potomacs camp. I like the sound of the name, I like the "Macs" nickname, and I like the regional tie. Very well argued.

While I still favor Senators, I acknowledge the validity of arguments in favor of other names. (Some other names, anyway; "Washington Monuments" is still idiotic, the kind of name that better befits a fantasy team.) Anyone who wishes to press a case for another name, please feel free to leave a comment.

I did watch the second presidential debate, and I'm not going to bother with a full work-up, since it's been several days and I'm sure you've gotten the details elsewhere. I scored this one as a clean win for Kerry. He was poised, articulate, and presidential, while Bush was impulsive, inarticulate and overly heated. Bush did improve as the debate wore on, but Kerry got under his skin quite visibly. Bush is not comfortable speaking in front of a non-supportive audience, and he has few if any verbal gifts. Kerry was long-winded and he had a habit of circling back to answer previous questions, but he looked more leaderly and poised than Bush. And as our president said, "Those aren't make-up facts." (I was, however, relieved to see that he will not appoint any Supreme Court justices who support the Dred Scott decision. We dodged a bullet there.)

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 02:44 PM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2004

What's in a Name?

Today's Musical Selection: "Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Phillip Sousa

Hi, everybody! Today I'm back on the DC baseball kick (curb your enthusiasm), in particular the task of naming the team. The naming issue is a bit up in the air at the moment, as MLB is trying to put off the decision until the team is sold, allowing the new owners to choose a name. That hasn't stopped fans and media outlets from debating the merits of various name possibilities. So, naturally, I felt the need to step into the fray.

BallWonk is running a highly entertaining series on some possibilities he'd like to see considered. His list includes Commanders, Diplomats, Federals, Georges, Grays, Monuments, Mosquitos, Potomacs, Speakers, and Whips. (Some of these choices are, I trust, more serious than others.) Other names bandied about include Exposes, Filibusters, Lobbyists, Beltway Bandits, Nationals, and Suckers (from those bitter about the stadium deal).

As far as I'm concerned, the right choice is the old choice: Senators.

I know there are plenty of good reasons not to choose "Senators," and I'll address those in a minute. But first, I want to address the issue of why some of the other choices won't fly.

For those who are wondering, "Why can't they just keep the Expos name?", that name is particular to Montreal. The team was originally named for Expo 67, the world's fair that put Montreal on the map as a cosmopolitan city and spurred the baseball drive. To keep the Expos name would not only be an insult to the people of Montreal, but it would rank up there in pantheon of mismatched names with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers and the infamous Utah Jazz. (I once ridiculed the Jazz in front of a Mormon friend, and he proceeded to explain, in all sincerity, that BYU actually had a fine jazz band. I shook my head and walked away.) Besides that, "Washington Expos" sounds pretty dumb.

Also, Washington is a pretty old-line and traditional city. The kind of colorful and progressive names usually associated with new teams aren't going to work here. We need something old-fashioned. So anything well off the beaten path (like Georges, Mosquitos and Whips) or based on dumb wordplay (Exposes and Monuments) is automatically stricken from consideration. Any name using "DC," "Capital City" or "Beltway" in place of "Washington" is out of the running. Anyone proposing a singular name or one ending in "z" or "x" will be shot on sight. (Exception: "Sox" names may be considered, but the options are thin. "Black Sox" has unsavory connotations. Green, Yellow, Orange, Purple, and Gray are not appropriate for DC. "Blue Sox" has possibilities, and I'm surprised it hasn't come up more.)

In addition to being an old-line city, Washington is a city that upholds its sporting traditions. When the NBA's Bullets became the "Wizards" in a misguided effort by owner Abe Pollin to combat violence, such fans as the team had went into revolt. The same thing occurred when the Bullets and the NHL's capitals ditched the old red-white-and-blue (as Gregg Easterbrook likes to say, "not to put too fine a point on it, the most successful color scheme in world history") in favor of a bland medium blue, copper and black. Even the nauseatingly racist "Redskins" name refuses to die, because the fans are accustomed to it. As I said, we venerate sports tradition here.

This means that otherwise intriguing names (like Potomacs, Speakers, Commanders, Ambassadors and Blue Sox) would miss the cut, along with some names attached to defunct Washington teams from other sports, like Federals (USFL), Diplomats (NASL), Stars (ASL), and Eagles (the name that the Padres were supposed to take when they almost moved to Washington in '74).

After all, what sets this Washington team apart from new teams in places like Tampa Bay and Phoenix is that we have a long and established history with the sport. Picking a name with no ties to our baseball heritage would be tantamount to throwing away all that tradition, which seems suicidal in a city like this. The new team should honor our past. It'd be foolish not to. (For cynics who wish to sneer that Washington's baseball tradition is nothing to be proud of, I would like to point out that we've won a world title more recently than the Cubs, Red Sox and White Sox, and that our history is dotted with great players such as Sam Rice, Joe Judge, Goose Goslin and the legendary Walter Johnson. I see nothing to be ashamed of.)

Applying those criteria, we're down to four choices: Senators, Nationals, Statesmen and Grays. The Washington team was officially called the Nationals from 1901 to 1958, when they finally formalized the name "Senators," which local fans had been calling the team for decades. Statesmen is the name of Washington's American Association entry from the 19th century. And Grays was the name of the Negro League team which played many of its games in Washington, though it was officially based in Pittsburgh.

Statesmen is a respectable choice, though it may even be too old-school to be considered. I doubt even the oldest baseball fans in the Washington area have memories of the old Statesmen, who were very short-lived and were gone before the turn of the 20th century. There's a difference between honoring your history and burying yourself in a mausoleum, and I think "Statesmen" falls on the other side of that line.

Nationals is a solid choice with a lot of tradition behind it (officially, it's the longest-running name in Washington baseball history). I would have no objections to this choice. On the other hand, it is a little dry. Try saying "Washington Nationals" a few times out loud and you'll see what I mean. Doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Grays is the favored choice of Mayor Williams, and anyone who's worked as long and hard as he has to bring baseball to DC deserves a hearing. Those in favor of the Grays name point out that the Grays had far better record than the Senators squads of the same era, sometimes outdrew them, and might have won a head-to-head matchup if such a thing had been feasible at the time. Also, picking the name "Grays" would be a good way to make connections with the city's African American population, some of whom are feeling put out with the teams because they're afraid gentrification will drive them out of Anacostia. Baseball as a whole needs to do a better job marketing itself to African Americans, and in city might that be more important than in Washington, famously dubbed "Chocolate City" by Parliament in the '70s.

I was a lot more down on the "Grays" name, as I mentioned last week, until I spotted someone on TV sporting a modernized rendering of the Grays jersey. I thought it looked pretty sharp. Even though, like Nationals, it lacks a bit for punch, I would not object in the least if the new ownership elected to go this route.

That leaves us with my choice, Senators. It a name with a great sound (trying saying "Washington Senators" out loud). it has pop and punch, it's uniquely DC (Ottawa hockey team aside), and it's got the history. It even has the distinction of being a "democratically elected" name, since the team adopted it after fans preferred it to the official name. It even lends itself to headline puns ("Senators Veto Mets," "Senators Censure Braves"), which is something you can't say for Grays. What more could you want?

Now, there are some worthwhile objections to Senators. I'll deal with the primary objections I've heard:

DC doesn't have Senators. Mark Plotkin's hobby-horse argument. As if Congress will tell the DC statehood folks, "Well, seems you bought yourself a whole team of Senators, so no voting rights for you." It's a fair point, but if we're looking to use the baseball team as a platform for voting rights, wouldn't it be better to use the name "Senators," on the off chance that an announcer might comment on the irony in passing on a broadcast some day? Avoiding the name "Senators" for voting-rights reasons won't attract attention because it's hard to notice something that isn't there. It's far more likely that Tim McCarver, in the middle of one of his rambling half-hour tangents, will say, "Huh, the Washington team's called the Senators, but they don't have any. Figure that," than to say, "Did you know that the Washington team's not called the Senators because they don't have any?" Think about it.

Oh, and Mark: We do have Senators in Washington. A hundred of 'em. Try looking in that building with the big white dome out beyond left field in the renderings of the new park.

(If Plotkin and the voting-rights folks want to refer to the new team the "Shadow Senators" so they can make their point, they can feel free.)

The Texas Rangers own the name. Technically, this is true. When Bob $hort sold us out and hauled our team to Dallas, he took the copyrights and trademarks with him. However, I really don't think the Rangers would try to hold us for ransom to get the name back. It's not like they're using it. Send 'em a ribeye and a 6-pack of Pearl beer and we're good to go.

It's already failed twice. This is the most powerful argument from people who want a fresh start. Despite the proud moments, the Senators' history is laminated in failure, and two teams with the Senators name skipped town. Those who believe in curses darkly suggest that one hangs over this name. Why set ourselves up for doom and failure?

But I don't believe in curses. And nicknames don't kill teams, bad owners do. The Senators name bears far less blame for the loss of our teams than noted racist Calvin Griffith (who in 1978 told a Lions' Club meeting in Waseca, Minnesota that he moved the team "because you have a lot of good, hard-working white people here") and noted opportunistic sellout $hort. We just happened to be afflicted by two of the worst owners in baseball. It's not the name that drove the teams out of town.

So let's bring back the Senators, shall we? I propose that we nickname our stadium "The Voting Booth." And in recognition of the valid points of the Grays backers, I think the stadium should contain a museum dedicated to the Negro Leagues, with a special focus on the Grays and other teams that called Washington home. Sound like a plan?

Here's hoping I'll see my fellow fans at the Voting Booth in 2008.

That's all for me today. Until next time!

Posted by Fred at 02:51 PM | Comments (3)

October 07, 2004

Taking a Day Off

I'm sorry, but I'm tired. I'll be back tomorrow, and I'll make it up on the weekend if I get a chance. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 09:23 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2004

Up for Debate

Today's Musical Selection: "You Talk Too Much" by Joe Jones

Hello, everybody! Well, yesterday I subjected myself to the vice-presidential debate. I did this in despite of my long-held position that debates are the Kabuki theater of politics, and like NASCAR races are only interesting if something goes wrong.

So why did I tune in? Two reasons: First, I haven't seen much of John "Mister Blue Sky" Edwards lately, and I wanted to see how he was doing. Second, I remember the cool, polite, competent Dick Cheney of the 2000 debate and I wanted to see if he was still holding up after four years of pulling strings from his undiclosed location. So I dug in for 90 minutes (actually, more than 90, since it ran long) of scripted quips and coached expressions. Lucky me.

And in the end, I saw nothing particularly startling on either side. In the end, left-leaning folks (like Slate's Will Saletan) thought Edwards won, and right-leaning folks (like my man Frinklin) thought Cheney won. This is usually a sign that the debate was a tie, and indeed that's the way I saw it. What I found interesting (to the degree that anything was interesting) was the degree to which each man seemed to be on an island. They had different approaches, different sets of facts, and were appealing to different audiences. Cheney at times seemed to be pretending that Edwards wasn't even on the stage with him. That bizarre disconnected quality was part of what made the debate, especially in its later stages, so dull. But I'm sure you want to hear the pluses and minuses, and far be it from me to deny you that. Here we go:

Dick Cheney

Pluses: He didn't blow his stack, and he maintained a mien of firm control throughout the debate. He radiated confidence, especially in the first half, and came off as a man who knew what he was talking about. (Confidence, however, doesn't always mean correctness, and the truth-squadders had a field day.) In the first half of the debate, Cheney did a good job zinging Edwards when provided openings (the best example came when he accused Edwards of demeaning the sacrifices of Iraqis fighting for the coalition). He articulated well the theme that the Bush-Cheney team was steady, reliable and experienced, while the Kerry-Edwards team was unsure and inexperienced. Big points for staying on message.

Minuses: He was a lot less genial this time around than in 2000, and his cheerless demeanor surely didn't win too many people over. When he tried for personal warmth, relaying the anecdote of the airplane builder in Minnesota, he became bogged down in figures and economic concerns, a gaffe out of the Bob Dole playbook. In the second half, especially after the gay-marriage question, he became oddly passive, declining several opportunities to go after Edwards or even respond to Edwards' charges. He had an annoying habit of ignoring questions he didn't want to answer, tending instead to fall back on his theme of security and experience, whether that had anything to do with the question or not. At times, Cheney seemed dismissive of Edwards, as if the senator had no right to be on the same stage as the vice president. (Giving Edwards the "talk to the hand" signal when Edwards protested the zinger about the fallen Iraqis was probably the worst offense here.) And that zinger about never having met Edwards before was terrific... except that it wasn't true. The Kerry campaign had a photo of Cheney and Edwards together at a prayer breakfast circulating before the night was out. The line was obviously scripted; did Cheney forget that he'd met Edwards before, or did he just not care?

Overall Grade: B+

John Edwards

Pluses: He did a good job combining his natural charm with a solid attack on the Bush-Cheney record. He definitely appeared ready for prime time, refusing to wither or stumble in the face of Cheney's frontal assaults on his record. And Edwards did not shy away from jabbing at Cheney, the way he backed off from going after Kerry throughout most of the primaries. And refreshingly for a man with undisguised presidential aspirations, he kept the focus of his remarks on Kerry and not on himself. (By contrast, did Cheney mention Bush by name at all? I don't recall it, though I'm sure he did once or twice.) Edwards is a good second fiddle, sunny and supportive while still displaying some fortitude. I liked the way he lightly jabbed Cheney for evading the questions he didn't want to answer. He was very courteous to Gwen Ifill, while Cheney tended not to mention her. And I liked his story at the end about his father learning math on the TV.

Minuses: He did stumble a few times, the kind of quick misstatements that aren't uncommon in normal speech, but they made Edwards look less prepared than Cheney, who didn't make such slips. He had an annoying habit of circling back to answer accusations made by Cheney in previous questions, leaving himself little time to answer the question at hand. Cheney's answer to the gay-marriage question, indicating a gap between administration policy and his personal views, offered Edwards a golden opportunity to skewer the vice president, but he passed on it because he's so squeamish of appearing pro-gay-marriage. His own answer wound up being as tortured as Cheney's. Also, when Edwards blatantly makes love to the camera, as he did during his closing statement, I want to vomit.

Overall Grade: B+

Gwen Ifill

(Yeah, I'm rating the moderator too.)

Pluses: She didn't shy away from asking tough, probing questions of both Cheney and Edwards. I particularly liked her question to Edwards about whether Saddam Hussein would still be in power under a Kerry administration and her question to Cheney about the links between 9/11 and Hussein. In general, her foreign policy questions were strong. By asking such pointed question, she set the stage for a lively debate in the first half.

Minuses: Her performance petered out in the second half. Her domestic policy questions were as weak as her foreign-policy questions were strong. The question in which she commanded both candidates not to mention their running mates, though well-intentioned, was stupid. (And Edwards highlighted the silliness of the "rule" by violating it twice.) Her question about the spread of AIDS among African-American women was an odd one, particularly as it was the only health-related question she asked. (Edwards was practically begging for a real health-care-policy question by the end.) Her aside about neither candidate answering the Israel question was inappropriate (and inaccurate, as Edwards pointed out, since he did answer it). Worst of all, she failed at the most basic fuction of a moderator, which is to keep the debate running smoothly and in an orderly. She forgot whose turn it was to answer questions. She awarded Edwards an extra 30-second rebuttal to which he wasn't entitled. She didn't cut off either candidate when they ran long, as both did a couple times. And as a result, the debate ran about 10 minutes long, which undoubtedly contributed to the sense that the debate was dragging. The moderator has to keep control of the debate and make everything run on time, and Ifill failed at that. Like umpiring, the traffic-control function of the moderator is only noticeable when it's not there, and it wasn't there last night. I understand this was Ifill's first try at moderating, and her inexperience showed.

Overall Grade: C+

Hopefully the next debate, on Friday in St. Louis, will be more intriguing than this one.

I want to take a moment to introduce you to the newest link on my blogroll, BallWonk. BallWonk is a new Washington baseball blog, a category whose ranks can be expected to swell in the coming months. It's definitely worth a look, as it's a very well-constructed site.

And that's all for me today. More tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 08:45 PM | Comments (2)

October 05, 2004


Today's Musical Selection: "True Fine Love" by the Steve Miller Band

Hi, everybody! It's time for more romantic advice from Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, inasmuch as it's been two weeks since the last one. Uncle Millie reports that he's "chomping at the bit." Aunt Beatrice reports that he's been chomping at some corn dogs, since they come to us today from Six Flags America in the wilds of suburban Maryland. Aunt Beatrice also wishes to inform the owner of the 48DD bra that she found in their hotel room last night may come by to claim it any time, although if she's smart she might choose not to. At any rate, let me step aside and turn things over to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice!

- - - - -

Call Me, Anytime.... Operators are Standing By, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! My beloved Beatrice and I have just dismounted from a truly wild ride, on the Batwing roller coaster. How did you enjoy that ride, my love?

AB: I'm, uh, not really a roller-coaster person. Not that this has stopped you from dragging me on every coaster in the park. Dear.

UM: Oh, come now, my love, you enjoyed that coaster. I heard you shrieking with delight.

AB: That wasn't delight. That was fear.

UM: No, love, I know an adrenaline-fueled scream when I hear one.

AB: So when you grabbed the rear of the young lady in the Skee Ball line, was that an "adrenaline-fueled" scream?

UM: No matter. I wanted to take a moment to congratulate my good friends in the nation's capital on securing a baseball team. Well done, lads! I fully intend to raise a toast to the new team at RFK Stadium this April. Play ball, Washington!

AB: I'm happy for the people here, too. One more team in America means fewer incidents with border-patrol officials, like the "Niagara Falls incident" last year. But Uncle Millie's lawyer has advised me not to talk about that.

UM: Shall we take a look at this week's letters?

AB: You go ahead. I'm going to sit down until my stomach stops quivering.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 27, a young professional in the city, and the girls don't seem to go for me. The interesting thing is, the boys do. (I am male myself.) On three separate occasions in the last month, I have been hit on by gay men who must have assumed I swung that way. I'm not sure why this is; I've never been gay or felt any attraction to men. Is there some sort of secret signal I'm accidentally giving off? If so, could this be hurting my chances with women?

Brent in Annapolis

UM: Well, lad, this is quite the dilemma. Uncle Millie, of course, has never had this dilemma, as I have never been hit on by other men before. I assume that my natural rugged masculinity leaves no doubt about my orientation.

AB: Personally, I think it's that no man would have you.

UM: No man could handle me.

AB: No sane person can handle you. I wonder if any sane person would try. At any rate, Brent, yes, there are certain styles of dress, gestures and speech patterns that are considered to be stereotypically homosexual. And it's entirely possible that you may, purely by coincidence, have some of those characteristics. If that's the case, I wouldn't worry about it. Women worth having will look beyond those surface considerations and see the qualities underneath.

UM: What a lovely sentiment. Wrong-headed, but lovely. Lad, if you appear homosexual, women will run away from you faster than a one-eyed cat fleeing a burning building. If you truly do appear light in the loafers, it's time to "butch it up," as the saying goes.

AB: "Butch it up?"

UM: Yes. If you're obsessively concerned with your appearance, for instance, try relaxing your standards. Shave less often. Avoid hair-care products. Don't iron your clothes.

AB: In other words, become a slob?

UM: Well, everyone knows that our homosexual friends tend toward tidiness.

AB: Ah. Well, if there's anything women love, it's a slob.

UM: See, my beloved knows I am right.

AB: Keep telling yourself that.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm living on my own for the first time in the big city. I was born and raised from a little rural town. The adjustments have been a challenge, but so far I've been enjoyed myself. However, I've had a problem with women. The women here seem to be attracted to status, money and material things. They want men with fancy cars, fancy clothes and fancy apartments. I don't have any of those things. As a result, women keep passing me over for smooth-talking rich guys. How do I overcome this handicap?

Big Ed in the Big Apple

AB: Hi, Ed. I can understand how hard it must be to adjust to such a different environment. And yes, I'm sure a lot of big-city women are status-conscious. They're not all materialistic, though. Part of your problem might be that you're looking for love in all the wrong places, as the song says. If you spend all your time in bars and clubs, you're going to run into a lot of people fixated on appearances. If you try volunteering for a cause you believe in, on the other hand, you're likely to meet women who aren't shallow and look for more in a man than a fat wallet.

UM: Sentimental balderdahs, I'm afraid. You're in the big leagues now, lad, and you're going to have to learn big-league moves. Back home, if you weren't too inbred and had all of your teeth, you were probably considered a great catch. In a city like New York, that's not going to cut it. You're going to have to invest in the clothes, the car, the lifestyle. But it's not wasted money, lad, no; it is an investment. An investment in your romantic success.

AB: Don't listen to him. Please. If you're lucky you'll end up bankrupt and in a bad relationship with a gold digger. If you're unlucky, you'll be bankrupt and alone.

UM: Well, he's alone right now. Seems like "being himself" isn't getting him a thing.

AB: That's not true. He has his sense of himself.

UM: That and a couple dollars will get you coffee at Starbucks.

AB: Ed, don't sell yourself out to land a woman. It's just not worth it.

UM: Lad, unless you enjoy dating your right hand, take my advice.

AB: I ought to let you date your right hand for a while.

UM: Your tongue, woman! There are children present.

AB: But you... oh, I give up.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I read your recent advice column from Boise with some dismay. It seems that Uncle Millie, in particular, is bent on furthering the stereotype of Boise and the state of Idaho in general as nothing but a giant potato patch. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our state contains many natural wonders, including the famed Craters of the Moon National Park and the mighty Snake River. Our state nickname is not "The Potato State," it's "The Gem State," and fittingly so, since Idaho is a major source of a wide variety of minerals, including jade, topaz, zircon, tourmaline, opal and jasper. We also have rich deposits of gold, silver, lead, zinc, cobalt, and copper.

Boise is a hub of industry, serving as home to such famous companies as Boise Cascade, Micron Technology, Albertson's, J.R. Simplot Company, and Washington Group International, as well as the Hewlett-Packard printer factory. It's also justly famous for its city park system.

In short, Boise is far more than the one-sided caricature displayed in your column, and we in Idaho are getting tired of simple-minded cracks from people like you. I would like you to publish an apology.

Bob in Boise

AB: Hi, Bob. Well, I personally apologize to any Idaho residents who took offense at Uncle Millie's potato cracks. I feel, as I said in the column, that Idaho is a beautiful state and is certainly much more than poatoes. Uncle Millie, would you be so kind as to apologize to Bob?

UM: Well, lad, I surely meant no offense to your fine state. I enjoyed my time there, at least the parts of it that I remember. I was quite impressed by your list of Idaho facts. So please accept my sincere apology. I didn't mean to be an agi-tater. Haw haw!

AB: Oh, don't start!

UM: Say, lad, is your last name by chance Au Gratin?

AB: And that's all the time we have for this week. Say goodnight, Uncle Millie.

UM: I'll bet you're a chip off the old block!

AB: We'll see you next week.

UM: Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Our fun-loving couple will return in a fortnight.

So, the allegedly mighty Baltimore Ravens got hammered by the previously-winless and seemingly-hopeless Kansas City Chiefs. That kind of game can disorient even the most sound mind. It certainly seemed to disorient Ravens safety Ed Reed, who said in a post-game interview upon being asked to explain his team's pummeling, "The devil did it." Thanks for the insight, Ed. Perhaps he was channeling the spirit of Flip Wilson.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:54 PM | Comments (2)

October 04, 2004

Mediocre Fred's Gala Playoff Preview

Today's Musical Selection: "Taking Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive

Hi, everybody! Those of you sick of my DC-baseball victory dance are in luck: Today, you get a reprieve. Those of you sick of my baseball writings, however, are going to have to wait for Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice to show up tomorrow. Because it's the eve of the playoffs, and because I'm honor-bound to make a fool of myself every so often, it is my duty to predict the results of said playoffs. In keeping with the long-standing Mediocre Fred tradition dating all the way back to last year, I will attempt to use as little actual baseball knowledge as possible in the making of these picks.

Last season I wrote a paragraph proclaiming my agnosticism regarding the playoffs, a paragraph that is worth reproducing for its timelessness:

There are those who, seeing that I'm planning to stay away from objective statistics, will accuse me of bias in my picks. To this I say: Pish tosh. Not because I know what it means, but because it is fun to say, and it sounds like the sort of thing you should say to answer charges like that. To begin with, I don't have any particular rooting interest, since my team of choice, the Milwaukee Brewers, narrowly missed the playoffs for the 21st consecutive year with a 68-94 record. And my family and friends are more or less evenly divided among the playoff teams. My good friend the Young American once threatened to wear a Marlins-teal tuxedo to his wedding. (He is not, as of this writing, married, for which we can probably thank the indifferent gods.) My other good friend the Mad Prophet is a diehard Red Sox fan. He claims to have patented the Red Sox Fan's Crown of Thorns. One of my cousins has always rooted for the Cubs. My front-running sister roots for the Braves. She learned her front-running behavior from my Yankee-fan dad. One of my co-workers is a big-time Giants rooter. I once dated a Twins fan. And while I don't know any Athletics fans, I am kind of fond of their uniforms. So rest assured that, no matter who I pick to win, I'm bound to alienate someone I care about. That's your guarantee of impartiality.

Much of this paragraph holds true again this year. The Brewers are now in Year 22 of their playoff "drought" (although at this point, I think we have to start seriously considering whether this is in fact a drought, or if we've undergone a climate change that has stranded my beloved Brew Crew in the midst of a desert. I'm still pondering this) and this year's 67-94 record is almost identical to last season's performance. The Yankees, Braves, Red Sox and Twins are all back in the dance this year, while the Athletics, Cubs, Giants and Marlins have been replaced by the Angels, Cardinals, Dodgers and Astros. The Smart Lady is (marginally) an Astros fan. I played for the Dodgers in Little League. I got my first Little League hit against the Cardinals. And while I know no Angels fan, I used to have a crush on the Rally Monkey, a phase I'd rather not discuss. So, just the same as last year, any pick I make is bound to alienate me from someone close to me. I am as impartial as a network news anchor. And pish tosh is still fun to say.

That said, I proudly present:

Mediocre Fred's Exclusive Guide to the Playoffs, 2004

(DISCLAIMER: These picks are provided by the site proprietor (hereinafter "Mediocre Fred") to the site viewer (hereinafter "You, The Reader") for the strict and sole purpose of the entertainment (hereinafter "Shits and Giggles") of said Reader. Should said Reader used said picks as the basis of any actual cash wager (hereinafter "Filthy Lucre"), and should said Said lose any Filthy Lucre, up to and including the Reader's life savings (hereinafter "The Farm"), Mediocre Fred will upon questioning deny any knowledge of said picks, said Reader, and anything else he may care to deny, and will then go to said Reader's house to laugh at said Reader. Should said Reader win any Filthy Lucre, said Reader owes Mediocre Fred a taste of the gig, okay? Come on. I'm dying here.)


National League

Los Angeles Dodgers vs St. Louis Cardinals

Boy, the Cardinals looked good this year, didn't they? At least until they clinched the division, at which point they began resembling the early-season Los Angeles Lakers. But this sounds suspiciously like actual baseball knowledge, which I promised I'd avoid. So I decided to compare uniforms. The Dodgers and Cardinals have two of the most classic looks in baseball. Tough to choose between them. So I decided to run this by an expert. Specifically, my mom, who knows little about baseball but plenty about color combinations. I showed my mom pictures of the Cardinals and Dodgers in home and road garb. She squinted at the pictures a bit, then rendered her verdict.

"I'll go with the red ones," she said. "Muscular men look good in bright colors."

I neglected to show her the Cardinals' navy caps, so I don't know how those would affect her judgment. Take this under advisement.

Pick: Cardinals in 4

Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves

Do I have to pick a winner here? I don't like either team. The Braves' jaded, cell-phoning fan base doesn't deserve another playoff win. Meanwhile, the Astros' stadium, with its cheap hill-and-flagpole gimmick in centerfield and that gaudy, tacky train, deserves to be the site of the next above-ground nuclear bomb test. I'd like to get both out of the playoffs as soon as possible. Hrmpf.

Since the annoyance factor is even, I'm going with Garner. Phil Garner, that is, the man who took over a slumbering, sagging team at the All-Star Break and guided them into the promised land. This is a particularly happy experience for me, because I remember Garner's miracle work running the Brewers for a decade. Turning water into wine? You call that a miracle? Keeping the Crew on the periphery of contention for so many years is tantamount to making wine out of elephant urine. It ended badly, though, and after he left everyone assumed Garner couldn't manage. His next gig came at the helm of the Tigers, and we all know how that turned out. It's vindicated to see Garner leading a team with actual talent and proving once and for all that, as Lefty Driesell liked to say, "Ah can coach." This pick's for you, Scrap Iron.

Pick: Astros in 5

American League

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

These same teams met in the divisional playoffs last year, and this is what I wrote then:

The Yankees suffer a hugely stunning upset. Giambi, Soriano and Jeter go 0-for-the-series. The pitching staff falls apart like an old jalopy. After the series, George Steinbrenner is so disgusted that he sells the team for the $10 million he purchased it for in 1973. After Steinbrenner sells, Commissioner Selig bans him from any future involvement with the game for "conduct detrimental to the game." The Yankees auction off all their good players and enter into a 50-year Series-less odyssey of mediocrity.

PICK: Twins in 3

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. But it was fun, wasn't it? I really want to pick the Twins here. I'd love to. And the Twins have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star Break. But the Yankees rolled to a 101-61 season despite having looking thoroughly unimpressive all year. (Or so claims my dad.)

PICK: Sigh. Yankees in 5. Dammit.

Substitute "A-Rod" for "Soriano," and the exact same applies today. (Even the record's the same.) The more things change...

PICK: Sigh. Yankees in 5. Dammit.

Boston Red Sox vs. Anaheim Angels

It's a shame that Oakland didn't win the West, because then I could have used last season's paragraph on that match-up and saved myself some trouble. Alas, 'twas not to be. Last year, the Sawx defied my prediction and made it to the ALCS, and fell one Grady Little short of the World Series. Do they have it in them to do it again? Possibly. They've got that Animal House chemistry, and a real playoff stud in Schilling. On the other hand, the Angels have Bad Vlad (so nicknamed by Jon Miller, and so repeated by me every time he comes to the plate, which annoys the hell out of my viewing companions), a pretty tough starter in Bartolo Colon (assuming he doesn't eat the pitcher's mound) and some good karma of their own.

This is a tough call. But I'm going with Boston. See, the Rally Monkey... but we don't talk about the Rally Monkey.

PICK: Red Sox in 5


National League

Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Boy, tough pick. The Cards have the best record in baseball, which is actually a bad omen (in the last 15 years, only once has the team with the best record won the Series). And Scrap Iron, he's a good manager. And Roger Clemens... well, if you don't think he's hungry for another shot at Series glory, you're crazy. That's what he came out of retirement for, after all.

But if the Astros win, that means we'll be treated to three World Series games in that carnival fun house of a ballpark, and that I simply will not stand for.

PICK: Cardinals in 6

American League

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

Ah, the classic age-old rivalry again. And it's easy to just pick New York and be done with it. After all, as Yogi Berra said, "Relax, we've been beating these guys for 80 years."

But the Yankees can be had, dammit! Their starting pitching is weak, and their only consistently good starter, El Duque, has a tired shoulder at the worst possible time. The lineup has holes. And the Hammer of God, Mariano Rivera, has had hiccups lately. The Yankees can be had!

And if anyone is well-suited to beat them, it's this Red Sox squad. They're so loose and happy-go-lucky that no curse can stop them, can they? I don't believe in curses, anyway. I think that the Red Sox' so-called "curse" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the Sawx expect to choke in big games, they always do. This team, I tihnk, is too crazy to believe in the Fickle Finger of Fate the way past teams have.

That said, if the Yankees win this Series, somebody better call an exorcist.

PICK: Red Sox in 7


St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox

A rematch of the 1967 "Impossible Dream Series," for you history buff. Boy, this is a tough one. Hmmm... let me toss my coin here... it's tails!

What, you find that unsatisfying? Okay. These are two great teams with a rich and storied history. The Cardinals have a fistful of World Series titles, most recently in 1985, while the Red Sox haven't won since... oh, you know. (If you've forgotten, sit in the Yankee Stadium bleachers for a couple innings and they'll remind you.) If the Red Sox have gotten this far, and dispatched the Yankees, who knows how far their curse-busting mojo might take them? And the Cardinals are good, but they don't that kind of game-changing starter that a Series champion usually has. The Sawx do, in Schilling. And God knows what that team might do with the World Series trophy. Turning it into a bong might just be for starters.

So what say you, Baseball Gods? What say we end the Curse once and for all? I'd do it for you.

Pick: Red Sox in 7

There you have it. And if you dare to doubt the accuracy of my picks, remember that I'm the guy who gave you Giants over Yankees last year. In other words, you're right to doubt me.

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

Posted by Fred at 10:01 PM | Comments (4)

October 01, 2004

Baseball and Me: A Fan's Story

Today's Musical Selection: "Talkin' Baseball" by Terry Cashman

Hi, everybody! Today I pick up on Frinklin's question from yesterday, about how I ever managed to become a Brewers fan, living in the Fedroplex as I always have. It's a natural question. Most people look at my fondness for the Brewers (as well as the Bucks and the University of Wisconsin), combine that with my mild-mannered nature and my pale skin and assume I'm from Milwaukee. I'm not, though. So how did I become addicted to the Brewers, the Third World franchise of baseball. Well, sit back and let me tell you a story.

I became aware of Major League Baseball when I was about 8. I would have gotten started earlier, but the Yankees were in a down cycle, and Dad (in the proud tradition of Yankee frontrunners everywhere) was doing a fair job of pretending that there was no such thing as "Major League Baseball." But I found the game anyway, through baseball cards. I used to buy packs of Topps out of the grocery-store vending machine, 50 cents a pack. That was my first window into the game.

The next year, my best friend turned me on to The Sports Page, the local card and memorabilia shop. Entering The Sports Page for the first time was like stepping through the Pearly Gates. It was a cramped little shop and the owner tailed us like a private eye to make sure we didn't shoplift anything, but I didn't care. They had cards, hats, pennants, everything. The Sports Page was a second home for me.

My family didn't have cable, so my exposure to the major-league game consisted of cards and the Game of the Week. At least until I was 11 and my dad and my grandfather took me to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. My dad had asked me who I wanted to see the Orioles play, and I requested Pittsburgh, whereupon Dad gently explained about the American and National Leaague and how the twain never would meet. So instead we went to see the O's take on the Red Sox.

It was a 6-5 Orioles loss, but I was hooked on the game. After the game, my grandfather took me down into the warrens of the stadium. I asked where we were headed, and he said, "You'll see." We wound up in the team offices, where I was introduced to my great-aunt Helen, who worked for the Orioles. She set me up with a bunch of promotional freebies -- postcards, a gym bag -- and a small box which she instructed me not to open until I left. The minute we got in the car, I opened the box... and found a ball autographed by the whole team! It's one of my prized possessions; it sits on the shelf over my head as I write this.

So what does any of this have to do with the Brewers? I'm getting there.

As a result of attending the game, I briefly flirted with Oriole rootership. I was so encouraged by my Oriole-fan grandfather. It didn't last long, though... as I learned pretty early on, Baltimore is not Washington, and just because some people tried to tell me the Orioles were my "home team," that didn't mean I had to believe them. So I was casting around for a team to call my own pretty much from the start.

So naturally enough, I started rooting for the teams that owned my favorite players. I was an aspiring catcher in those days (before I learned just how hard to find a left-handed catcher's mitt), and so I came to admire two top-notch catchers of the era, Benito Santiago and B.J. Surhoff. Santiago was a Padre and Surhoff was a Brewer, so they became my favorite teams, one in each league. (That's right, Frinklin, I was a Padres fan once.)

What happened to divorce me from the Padres? Well, in 1993 the Padres started selling off pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down. It was in this year that I first learned the definition of the term "fire sale." I refused to abandon the Padres, though... I believe in sticking with your team through thick and thin. No bandwagon-jumper, I.

At least until the Padres abandoned me. My dad came home from work some day and said, "Well, your guy has a new home."
I cleverly replied, "What?"
He said, "The Padres traded Santiago to Florida. I heard it on the news."

Like any devoted fan, I refused to believe him. But I opened the paper the next day and it was true. And the Padres and I were through from that day on. Trade my favorite player, and we're history.

I thought of taking up Florida, but I decided my loyalties weren't that easily transferred. I decided to root for Santiago as a player, independent of the team he was on. (And given the way he subsequently bounced around, from the Marlins to the Reds to the Phillies to the Cubs to the Reds again to the Giants to the Royals, I think this was a prudent decision on my part.)

So that left me with the Brewers. Remember what I said about sticking with my team through thick and thin? I've had more than a decade to contemplate the depths of my love, and I've held firm. (Surhoff left Milwaukee in 1996, but I didn't blame the Brewers for that. They turned down more money from them to sign with Baltimore, so that he could care for his autistic son at Johns Hopkins. I respect that.)

My Brewers fanship bloomed into a wider love for all things Wisconsin: the Bucks, the Packers, the Badgers, and the state in general. Last year, I went to Milwaukee for the first time in my life. I felt instantly at home. I fell for the town and the people almost from the minute I stepped off the plane at Mitchell Field. If I ever leave Washington, I hope to wind up in Milwaukee.

So what will happen with my and the Brewers now that we have a team in DC? It's a tough call. If the teams were in different leagues, it would be easier, but they're both NL clubs. I've come too far with the Brewers to throw them over; I grew up with the team, and that's not something you just wash away. But the Washington team... how can they not be #1 in my heart? Any fans with advice are welcome to weigh in on this.

Right now I'm watching the Giants-Dodgers game, and the announcers were cracking a joke about the age of the Giants' outfield. "The last time we saw an outfield this old," the play-by-play man said, "there was baseball in Washington. Not the new Senators, the old Senators." The mention of the new Senators put a blissful grin on my face. It's finally starting to sink in... this isn't a trick. This is the real thing. At long last. Hallelujah.

Ah, what a glorious and tiring week! I need to rest. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)