Saturday, August 1, 2009

Do you like ham?

Of course you do.

Also, here's Wilt Chamberlain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Andre the Giant on the set of Conan the Destroyer.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A really good article about a really good player

I would encourage anybody who likes baseball or likes good sports writing to read Howard Bryant's recent piece on Pedro Martinez, found here.

Bryant is an excellent writer. In my opinion, he's the best writer at ESPN, the Worldwide Leader. His recent pieces on former players' union chief Donald Fehr, greatest closer of all time Mariano Rivera, the recently released Michael Vick, and keeping PED users out of the Hall of Fame have all been very good reads and well-written and researched articles. I don't always agree with Bryant (for example, his stance on PED users being banned from the Hall), but at no point have I ever said "he doesn't know what he's talking about" or wanted to punt an infant as retribution for his heinous writing (Gene Wojciechowski). Anyway, I encourage all of you to follow him.

Now, his subject, Pedro. Pedro Martinez, at his peak, was a better pitcher than just about anybody else that's toed the rubber in history. The numbers back it up. Wins and losses aren't the most important factor in determining overall value, but there must be something said for Pedro's absurd career winning percentage of .684, behind only Whitey Ford and Don Gullett amongst post-WWII pitchers, and both of those guys pitched in much less offensively challenging eras for pitchers. Pedro's 3117 career strike outs has him at 13th on the All-Time list, tied with Bob Gibson (a number which he'll undoubtedly pass when he begins pitching for the Phillies later this year), and the folks he is behind are all either Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers (barring the exclusion of Roger Clemens for PEDs or the exclusion of Bert Blyleven for the idiocy of Hall of Famer voters). It should also be noted that everybody in front of Perdo on the Ks list pitched at least 1000 more innings...which is the equivalent of 5 or 6 more seasons by todays standards. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention his inhuman 1.051 career WHIP, good enough for 6th best all-time. Those who have bettered him? Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, and John Ward, who all pitched before 1920, and Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, who are both relievers and thus less susceptible to high WHIPs. So really, the guy has been absurdly good.

Many will point to Pedro's lack of cumulative numbers to discredit him as anything other than greatness. Indeed, some numbers, namely his 214 career wins, aren't as great as some others, it would be foolish to think that Pedro wasn't one of the most dominant pitchers of the steroid era when he, clearly, wasn't doing any. One pitcher that many olde-tyme fans like to point to as the standard bearer of excellence is Sandy Koufax. Now Koufax was a great pitcher, but was he better than Martinez? Let's examine. Now because Koufax was a victim of injuries that likely would have been fixable these days, we'll go only on average-based stats, not cumulative. Koufax's career ERA: 2.76, Pedro's: 2.91. Certainly that's advantage, if negligible for Koufax, until one remembers that Koufax played in a pitching dominant era and Pedro is playing in a offense and power dominant era. So we look to ERA+ [100*(ERA/league average ERA)], a tool which measures how much better one is compared to their respective league including a ball park adjustment, in this instance, higher is better. Koufax: 131, very good. Pedro: 154, even better. As previously discussed, Pedro's WHIP of 1.051 is better than Koufax's still impressive 1.106. In addition, Pedro's BB/9 and K/9 of 2.4 and 10.1, respectively, are better than Koufax's rates of 3.2 and 9.3. Also, they possess the same HR/9 of 0.8, even though, again, Koufax played in a era dominated by big ballparks, smaller and weaker players, and pitching while Pedro pitched in the most homer-happy era in baseball history. Of course, none of this comparison is done to take away anything from Koufax, one of the finest pitchers ever and a deserving Hall of Famer, especially for his unreal performance from 1962-1966 (though it may be done to spite some Olde-Tyme fans...they can't use the internets so I'm not really worried). Rather I make these comparisons to illustrate how good Martinez has been.

But if stats simply aren't enough for you, simply read Bryant's piece. Other major league players, trained professionals and the absolute best in the world, were in awe of the man. People will, rightly, remember Curt Schilling as one of the keys that put the Red Sox over the top and ended their 86 year World Series drought. But those same people should remember that Pedro was every bit as good as Schilling that season, and had, by far, his worst season with the Red Sox. It was Pedro who brought legitimacy and an edge back to the Red Sox and started the rush of perennial contending that Boston has enjoyed in the past decade.

As a younger fan, I never cared too much about who was pitching for any team other than the Orioles, but I did care about Pedro. I remember seeing him throwing in the outfield before a Red Sox-Orioles game that he was not scheduled to pitch in and thinking, "This guy is no-bigger than does he do it?" And that's the thing; there is no explanation. Pedro was simply better. I don't know if he'll be successful with this comeback stint with the Phillies, but I really hope he is.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Both of your authors, for whatever reasons, don't have much love for the Chicago White Sox. I don't think we really hate them, but we certainly dislike them. But one player that both of us have always loved is Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle is an efficient pitcher who throws tons of strikes, generates lots of ground balls, and works quickly. He threw a no-hitter on April 18, 2007. And now he's thrown the 18th perfect game in major league history. He used just 116 pitches and a spectacular catch by Dewayne Wise to thwart any offensive attempts by an imposing Rays' lineup.

So congratulations to Buehrle. He will undoubtedly be a key cog in the White Sox' playoff hopes and will continue to be the most likeable player from the South Side.

Well this is great news

I've always liked Phil Mickelson. He's a nice guy. He's left-handed. He has a beautiful wife and kids. He finally got that no-major monkey off his back. He's pudgy. What's not to love?

Well, it turns out that Lefty is even cooler than we thought. That's right, Phil Mickelson is trying to buy 105 Waffle House "restaurants".

Seriously, the Waffle House serves horrendously greasy food that has caused more than one person to reconsider their religious affiliation and question why there is evil in the world. But like any good diner, dive bar, or brothel worth its salt, it's about the atmosphere with Waffle House. And that atmosphere says, "I'm drunk, high, or too poor to care."

So Phil, I hope this works out for you.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In an effort to maintain our usual standards...

Nick's recent review was entirely too professional and good. So I counter with this:

Review: The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow does not care what you think.

She is not interested in your flag-waving git-r-done jingoism, and she is not interested in your left-wing apologist psychobabble. What Kathryn Bigelow is interested in is delivering one of the greatest war films ever made. And with The Hurt Locker, she has succeeded.

Most people agree that World War II was the apex of American heroism. At no other time in human history has the USA been held in such high esteem by its allies. As such, films depicting American deployment, combat, and experience in Nazi-occupied France all have the saccharine, yet historically accurate, undercurrent of unshakable bravery amongst its American protagonists.

Thirty years later, America was embroiled in the Vietnam War, a warped return to the battlefield that seemed to turn World War II's noble conquest of evil inside out. Clean-cut PFC Johnny from Iowa City didn't want to serve his country and make it home to his young wife anymore; he wanted to make Charlie bleed and get laid and smoke his painful memories of home away. Americans, just a generation removed from their collective identity as the world's saviors, were killing innocent people, killing women, killing children, killing their own college students in Ohio. As before, the American public educated itself of its country's servicemen through Hollywood, but now, the images were darker, bleaker, angrier. The Thousand-Yard Stare of Colonel Nicholson's heroic lads gave way to Travis Bickle's sociopathic monologue in front of his mirror.

Today, the world--with America invariably entrenched within it--is at war once more. And, as before, the mood has shifted with the passage of time. The recurring theme of the Iraq War, begun in March 2003, is the ebb and flow of emotion and trust. The physical threat to the American soldier is greater than ever--there is no gentleman's agreement between combatants on the battlefield--and the downtime is more customizable than ever. GIs can have protein powder shipped to their bunks, play Xbox 360 off-shift, call their wives at any time. There is no particular routine or arrangement or schedule to military life in the Middle East. And with this new purgatory of the constant switch between duty and simple self-preservation has arisen a new kind of soldier, a new kind of man.

That man is Staff Sergeant William James, our rapscallion hero in The Hurt Locker. He is not charming, he is not particularly handsome, he does not have a snaketongued quip always at the ready. He is a dude, a dude who drinks and swears and defuses bombs, because it's all he's got, dude man. James has a wife and son thousands of miles away, but we do not care about them, because he does not care about them. The compound simplicity and gripping terror that comprise James' life in Iraq also comprise our film experience. The Hurt Locker has two settings: on and off. Movies do not work this way. But this one does, and flawlessly.

The plot of The Hurt Locker revolves around the aforementioned Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner) and his three-man Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit during their final 30 days in the stir. James has only just arrived to the unit, and his unorthodox and extremely dangerous style immediately puts him at odds with his two subordinates, Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and the increasingly distraught Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).

There are more than three people in this film, but you will not be blamed if you only pay attention to Renner. It is difficult to imagine a performance more challenging than one which requires the actor to convey complete sincerity in his boredom and angst. We rightfully praise actors who take on the "difficult" roles--Harvey Milk, Idi Amin, Andrew Beckett--but Renner's task is equally as tall, for nothing--not a covertly wired stash of six IEDs, not a stone-faced suicide bomber, not an unseen sniper--fazes him. Not because he is a one dimensional action hero, like Rambo or the Terminator, but because he is caught somewhere between apathy and insanity. Maybe he doesn't care if he lives or dies; maybe he is just as frightened as Eldridge. He simply has his game face on at all times because he can't afford to remove it, and even if he could, it's likely he's forgotten how to do so. It's truly a brilliant, understated performance that cannot receive enough praise.

The Hurt Locker would be nothing without its sensory accomplishments. You can include all the expository dialogue and giggling drunken bromance you want, but if you make a movie about defusing homemade bombs and you can't pull off a credible explosion, well, you have yourself a worthless film. Fortunately, director Bigelow and English cinematographer Barry Ackroyd beautifully present a dusty land of mistrust and danger. In an filmmaking era in which the mantra seems increasingly to be "make it grittier," Bigelow and Ackroyd have done a simply masterful job of balancing the heat, sand, and wind with the audience's need to actually see what is taking place on screen.

Do not be confused: The Hurt Locker can stand shoulder to shoulder with the grittiest of films. But it doesn't do so at the expense of its stark, exceptional imagery. It won't make you want to visit Baghdad anytime soon, but the photography is beautiful nonetheless. Ackroyd is on an impressive streak, having helmed cinematography duties on the Oscar-nominated United 93 and the Irish independent film The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Though Bigelow employs a Canon Phantom HD for the film's handful of slow-motion shots, the bulk of The Hurt Locker was shot on 16 mm Fuji Eterna 250D film stock, which was popular about 25 years ago, through Aaton A-Minima cameras--also about a quarter-century past their peak usage. This unheralded choice of equipment makes a huge difference; the film is crisp and frenetic, like so many modern nailbiters shot on video, but still looks like it belongs on a 30-foot screen.

The lasting image of The Hurt Locker, perhaps, is that of James' bomb disposal suit; it is enormous, bulky, hot, and green; it requires three men just to suit James up; when the camera is inside it, you can hear James breathing heavily, struggling to take his next lumbering step. There is nothing manly or enviable about this suit. Your son will not want an action figure of this suit. Much like that suit is the war which necessitates its use. The camera flits over dead-eyed locals weary of the American occupation of their home and over Eldridge's panicked face as he desperately tries to clean blood off of his rifle's bullets so that he can reload in the middle of a firefight. The Hurt Locker is not a depiction of heroism or cowardice, of nobility or shame. It does not ask its audience to reevaluate its reception of the American military's presence in Iraq. It offers no one dimensional characterizations of villains or champions of justice. It simply invites us to witness and experience the harrowing, exhausting, terrifying, yet encompassingly simple existence of the new American soldier. And that experience just so happens to be one of the greatest films you will ever see.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Kudos Ryan Howard, who yesterday became the fastest play to reach 200 career homeruns in terms of games played, needing a mere 658, breaking the record of Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

This certainly an impressive achievement and I don't mean to detract from it (yes I do), but I am puzzled at how many are touting Howard as destined for all-time greatness. Now Howard is a good player. His power is impressive and he gets on base pretty well and his defense is improving. But Howard is already 29 years old. Will he end up being an all-time great? Time is not on his side. Players tend to hit their primes in the 27-33 year old range. That is not to say their primes are 6 years, but rather that their peak will be reached in that time period. In reality, most players generally only have about 3 years that could be called a prime. After that a decline is expect. Now obviously some players buck this trend, but unless we are to believe that Howard hasn't reached his prime, which is possible but unlikely, we can expect Howard not to continue this rate of production.

In contrast Ken Griffey, Jr. had 398 homers by the end of his last full season as a 29 year old. And Alex Rodriguez had a whopping 429 by his last full season as a 29 year old. In addition, those guys were superior defenders at much more demanding positions and provided good baserunner and better on-base numbers. Hell, Albert Pujols is 29 and he has 351 already. And you don't need me to tell you how much better at everything Pujols is than Howard.

So is Howard a very good player who could help almost any team he'd be on? Yes. Is it ridiculous to already start thinking of him in terms of the great and Hall-worthy players of All-Time? Absolutely.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Second Half Preview

Baseball just completed its all-star game and we head in to the second half of the season. Here is one man's take on what has happened, what is about to happen, and what some might not notice happening.

There was a good piece from the legendary Peter Gammons on today about the future of the game. I encourage you to take a read right here. The biggest point to note is that the steroid era, as we know it, is practically over...indeed, there are still and will always will be PEDs or other methods of cheating, it's just the way sports are. But many of the big, power-hitting names of just 5 to 10 years ago are on their way out and the game is getting faster, more athletic, and younger. There will still be a place for the hulking brute who can mash 40 HRs a season, but the days of every team having a couple of those guys is coming to a close, at least for the time being. As such, I encourage the fans of baseball to move on and embrace this new track. There is no need to forget the transgressions of players past, but let's take their actions with a grain of salt and look to the future.

Even though All-Star Weekend ultimately means nothing (home field advantage at the World Series, I guess...but if you're a good team, you should be able to win anywhere), I always enjoy it. Perhaps because I'm a baseball junkie or perhaps because my team seems to be in a constant state of rebuilding, but I always love the futures game. This year was no different. We got a chance to see the finest prospects the minors have to offer and they didn't disappoint. Some guys who will be making an impact in the bigs sooner rather than later: Neftali Feliz, RHP Texas, the guy can gas and it looks like he's not even trying, expect him with the Rangers very soon; Jason Heyward, of Atlanta, the consensus number 3 prospect (after David Price and Matt Wieters) at the start of the season, Heyward continues to tear things up and it will soon become tough for ATL to keep him out of the big league lineup; Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, RHP and LHP Baltimore, the two studs of the Orioles' system performed well, while the team wants to keep the two and fellow star prospect Jake Arrietta in the minors for the rest of this season, they may get a call up in September and take the Orioles one step closer to 4th place.

The Home Run Derby is always fun. I have nothing more to say on the matter.

The All Star game started off well enough. I always enjoy the introductions to see the reactions of some players to hearing their names called. Some guys like Derek Jeter who have been there before and/or know how to handle the public eye react appropriately. Some don't. It's also always fun to watch whenever All Stars from some teams (such as the Nationals) have their token All Star announce and nobody in the crowd reacts. Anyway, President Obama threw out a solid first pitch. It wasn't a strike, but he got it to the plate and Adam Dunn probably would have swung at it so really one can't complain. Say what you will about O-Bams, negative or positive, but I appreciate his sports fan-hood, just like I appreciated George Bush's. Anyway, the game was quite entertain. Lots of defense to go around, including a great catch by Carl Crawford. Adam "Don't Call Me Pacman" Jones drove in the winning run. And it was proven again that the AL is the superior league. (Undefeated since 1996...really?)

I've never been a big fan of the idea that every team should get at least one All Star. But I understand the reasoning behind it, it keeps every market involved and watching out for their representative so ultimately I'm not too upset about it, especially as the Orioles have benefited more than a few times because of this. But I just wish that the managers would get it right with selecting players. For instance, Ryan Zimmerman was the Nationals' All Star. Zimmerman is a perfectly fine player and could play for a championship team (though definitely not in Washington), but he was not the team's best player, not by a long shot. Adam Dunn should have been the rep. Zimmerman holds a line of 14 HRs, 37 BBs, a .354 OBP, and a .473 SLG and good, not great defense. Again, a solid line. But Dunn provides 23 HRs, 68 BBs, a .398 OBP, and a .544 SLG, and average defense. Those are better numbers. When managers are filling out the rest of the rosters, they should first look at filling each team, then working on the rest of the rosters, instead of filling the roster then saying "oh, the Nats need a player, let's give it to Zimmerman because he's the only National who's sold any jerseys."

Some notes to start the 2nd half:

Many of you already know this, but we are witnessing something special with Albert Pujols this season. The man has always been really, really good, but this season is blowing everyone else away. The only guy I can remember doing something similar was early 2000s Barry Bonds. All anyone can do is be in awe and just be absolutely appalled that the Cardinals have refused to surround Mr. Pujols with anyone resembling a talented hitter to bat behind the man.

Teams I expect to stick around and make a serious run at the playoffs: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles of Anaheim, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies. There are even more folks still within striking distance, but these are the folks who I think are actually legitimate threats to make the playoffs...though realistically the only ones I could see winning it all are the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and Dodgers.

Where will Roy Halladay go? A team with money and top prospects. Who fits that? Uhh...The best bets would be the Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies, but I wouldn't be surprised if some darkhorse team rolled the dice and came up huge a la the Brewers last season with CC Sabathia. My top pick for the darkhorse? I'd say the Rangers as they have a little money and they have a great farm system, but they seem content to build from within and they'll be getting some pitching help from said farm system in the form of top prospects Neftali Feliz (hey! I mentioned him earlier!) and Derek Holland and the bat of first baseman Justin Smoak. So I'm going to, once again, pick the Brewers. Because why not.

Other folks on the move potentially include Matt Holliday, Freddy Sanchez, Orlando Cabrera, Nick Johnson, Aubrey Huff, the Orioles' bullpen, any Pirate not named Andrew McCutcheon, Garrett Atkins, and any Seattle pitcher who isn't Felix Hernandez. Holliday is the biggest name because although he's had a down season away from the confines of Coors Field, he's still a 5 tool player who is an immediate asset for most teams and should command a pretty hefty salary in free agency. That being said, if Billy Beane doesn't get a solid package in return, he could just hold on to Holliday, whose free agency departure will garner his team a supplemental first round draft pick. Johnson and Huff are being pursued by the same sorts of teams as their similar players who have some pop and can work a count. Garrett Atkins is being pursued by the Mariners who can't decide if they're actually contenders or not. A word of advice: they're not. The Mariners have some good pieces, but a lot of bad pieces. Rebuild for a season or two more and then you'll be there. As such, deal Jarrod Washburn...yes he threw a one-hitter and has pitched well this season, but what possibly would make you believe that this will continue. If you remember correctly, Sidney Ponson once won 18 games in a season...send Washburn away now while his value is beyond its peak. Erik Bedard? I might hold on to him. But what do I know?

Why is Joe Torre batting Matt Kemp 8th? He's hitting .320 with 11 HRs, a .384 OBP, .495 SLG and 19 steals. Come on, Joe! My fantasy team needs help!

The Nationals are epically bad. I count exactly 4 major-league caliber players on that team (Adam Dunn, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jordan Zimmerman). This is an affront to baseball fans everywhere. So naturally, I'm super excited to see if they can lose the most games ever in a season. In addition, I hope they don't sign Stephen Strasburg...because that would cause riots...oh wait...Nats fans don't care.

Matt Wieters can and will pick things up. He was heating up before the All-Star break and should only continue to rise. Should be awesome. Bring an extra pair of underwear.

Normally, I don't care too much about Hall of Fame induction speeches. I think they're nice and I have no problem with them, but I just don't care. So far the only speech I've cared about is that of Cal Ripken Jr. because it isn't very often that deities speak to us mere mortals. But I and everyone else should be ready for Rickey Henderson's speech. Even Matt Wieters will be impressed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: Public Enemies

About thirty minutes into Michael Mann's first film since 2006's Miami Vice, John Dillinger tells his stickup partner, Red Hamilton, "We're having too good a time today to worry about tomorrow." Dillinger lived exclusively in the present; he had no grand ambitions or schemes beyond his next robbery, and he did not dwell upon dark unspoken moments of his past. He was simply a charming guy with a notorious talent for robbing banks. In Public Enemies, director Michael Mann does not take any historical liberties with Dillinger. He is precisely as uncomplicated as he was in real life.

I begin with this important clarification because a number of negative reactions to the film have all revolved around the same gripe: this film has no emotional depth. Johnny Depp's John Dillinger oozes charisma and confidence, but lacks a hole in his heart or a chip on his shoulder in which the audience can take a firm foothold and invest themselves. His pursuer, Christian Bale's Melvin Purvis, is similarly uncomplicated but with the added disinterest of a wooden personality.

To a degree, these complaints are accurate. Christian Bale, somehow, is still stuck in Batman mode, though this time with an authentic Old-Timey accent. Billy Crudup gained about thirty pounds of neck flesh to portray J. Edgar Hoover, and although the added weight does not prohibit him from matching Bale's Depression-era speech patterns, Crudup is all but unnecessary. Marion Cotillard performs admirably as Dillinger's girlfriend Billie Frechette, although, like so many other characters, there is simply nothing wrong with her. Oh, you rob banks? That's cool. Yes, I'll sleep with you. The real star, obviously, is Johnny Depp, who radiates cool in every scene. Ever since he transcended mere fame as Captain Jack Sparrow, Depp has not so much acted as he has glided. The real challenge at this point would be to cast him as someone with severe Social Anxiety Disorder.

In a departure from Mann's previous films, Public Enemies is thematically extremely simple. John Dillinger robs banks for a living; along the way, he acquires a girlfriend; various men attempt to thwart him. As Al Pacino said in Mann's Heat: "Cut and dry. That is it."

If anything can claim to steal the screen from Depp, it is Dante Spinotti's cinematography. Mann has always been at the cutting edge of camera work, and this film is no different. From lingering close-ups of beautiful people to gun battles shrouded in the dark of night, Public Enemies might just be the best-looking film you'll see this year. The production also had 32 crewmembers dedicated to sound, and you can definitely hear the difference. I would be surprised if Public Enemies didn't receive a handful of technical Oscar nominations.

The final word is this: If you demand pathos in your film experience, you won't get much out of Public Enemies. It will probably leave you feeling hollow and uninspired. But if you go to the movies to be entertained, to marvel at the technical wizardry of one of the finest filmmakers of all time, you will love this film.