Monday, April 30, 2007

Peter King Probably Stinks

I don't ask for much on Mondays. Just give me my weekly lunchtime reads like Tom Daniels' East Coast Bias column (aaaaaaany time now, Tom) and Sports Illustrated's Peter King and his Monday Morning Quarterback.

Now, I'm a pretty casual football fan, which is PC-speak for "I'm a Raiders fan". So, while I wait for my team to be good again, just so I can claim that I never lost faith, here's a snippet from King's latest MMQB:

The other day, I'm in the Comfort Inn near the BWI Airport. I open the wrapped soap, use it for a morning shower and put it back on the soap dish. I'd say the soap is about half as thick as the bar you'd buy in the store. This bar could last 10 or 12 days, easily. And so the next morning, when I step into the shower, I find the bar's been taken away. This isn't exclusive to the Comfort Inn-BWI. It happens all the time.

Wait one frickin' minute, here. Peter King can make one of those hotel bars of soap last "10 or 12 days"? Does he know that you're supposed to, y'know, use it and not just stand next to it while hoping to absorb its effeminate chemical scent?

And, using his math, he can get up to 24 days of use with a regular-sized bar of soap. Combine this with what's surely the worst coffee-breath this side of your boss and it makes for a unique blend of scents.

(Am I crazy? Does everyone else get 3+ weeks from one bar of soap?)

The Oakland A's Monday #4

Overall: 12-13 (3rd Place, AL West)
Last Week: 3-4 (2-0 vs. Orioles, 0-2 vs. Mariners, 1-2 vs. Devil Rays)

Truth be told, we were spoiled by the 1980s.

As kids, we could still enjoy Saturday morning cartoons, instead of live-action badly-acted teen sitcoms starring Dick Butkus as a gruff, but cuddly curmudgeon/coach. Cereal could still use the word "sugar" in its name and video game systems were released in numbers divisible by 2600.

Back then, the mighty A's were represented by The Bash Brothers on offense, but their unquestioned leader was a pale, slightly paunchy third baseman with thinning hair and an awful '80s mustache. Carney Lansford played 10 seasons in Oakland (1983-1992) and is probably known most for four things: his wobbly batting stance, hitting second behind future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, being the best two strike hitter of his era (he'd basically wait for Rickey to steal 2nd base, then get into hitting mode) and the 1991 snowmobile accident that essentially ended his career and killed the A's dynasty.

Without their leader, the A's run of consecutive playoff appearances ended at three. CF Dave Henderson was forced to hit in Lansford's #2 spot, which weakened the bottom of the order (Hendu usually hit fifth or sixth). Meanwhile, Lansford's injury occurred too late in the offseason for the team to adequately replace him through free agency, so they panicked and signed washed up 3B Vance Law from the Japanese League and traded for utility IF Ernest Riles. Words can't describe how awful they were, so here are some numbers: OPS (Law, .579 and Riles, .614).

The reason for the history lesson is that the A's now have a third baseman who is the antithesis of Carney Lansford.

Eric Chavez is a spectacular fielder but seemingly indifferent towards every other aspect of the game, whether it's offensively or off-the field. Last Wednesday night, the A's and Mariners were playing, with Seattle leading 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th. Shannon Stewart was on first, one out, and Chavez strode to the plate. He hit a slow roller to the second baseman, which prompted the play-by-play guy to immediately predict the Mariners would only get one out. Instead, Seattle turned a game-ending double play (even though Chavez was obviously safe at first).

Afterwards, Chavez gestured slightly, put his hands on his head and slunk back to the dugout. The next day, I wrote to my boy that if this happened 20 years ago, someone would've had to pry Lansford's hands from around that blind umpire's neck.

And, that's my point. Chavez has been in the big leagues since 1998 and has put up some fine numbers. He's won, like, 600 Gold Gloves and seems to be universally liked by his teammates. But, this team has needed two things during his tenure: 1.) A win in a decisive playoff game. 2.) Someone in the clubhouse who'll put his foot up the collective asses of his 24 teammates.

Accounting for the fact that the Pirates are picking up a portion of Jason Kendall's horrible contract, Eric Chavez is the highest paid player on the team. Now, I'm the last person to play the salary card, but is it asking too much for the biggest drain on Oakland's miserly payroll to actually look like he gives a sh*t?

It seems like each at-bat can't end soon enough as he frequently swings at the first pitch he sees, whether it's at his eyes or below his toes. Meanwhile, his stubborn, almost comical refusal to make adjustments vs. left-handed pitchers has killed dozens of late-inning rallies.

No one is claiming that Lansford (.290/.343./.411) was a better hitter than Chavez (.271/.349/.487) over their careers. What little power Lansford did have dried up by his 30th birthday. But, he was a solid player for several years who A's fans still remember fondly.

And, all he had to do was give a damn.

This Week: at Red Sox (2), at Devil Rays (3)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tha Dogg Pound - Dogg Chit Review

I bought this CD about a month ago with the intention of getting a review up pretty quickly. It's not that there's actually an audience for the gangsta stylings of Daz n' Kurupt, anymore. It's just that I freely acknowledge that I'm the last man alive who still buys their shit chit. And, I think I know why.

Tha Dogg Pound is the Hip Hop equivalent of McDonald's. They've been around for 50 years and everyone knows what's on the menu. The food isn't very good and there's no real reason for anyone over the age of eighteen to eat there, but when no one's looking, it can be a great guilty pleasure.

Take the opening track, Get Out My Way, for example. The bombastic production lends a breath of credibility to the duo's empty threats and intimidation. Predictably, this is a theme that's repeated on just about every track, not unlike a side order of fries.

Kurupt turns back the clock to his mid-90s lyrical flow on I'll Bury You, but that's still about five years after his apex on the mic. Meanwhile, Mo Murder is solidly haunting as an instrumental, but the thought of two men older than me planning robberies and drive-bys is…quaint. And, look…The Game has managed to pull himself away from buying up copies of his last album for a guest spot on Anybody Killa. It lifts an old N.W.A. beat, but is weakened by Game's indifferent verse.

The mood lightens up on Vibe, which features an assist from Snoop Dogg. It's not quite one of those always awful "thug in love" songs, but the beat is straight cheese and soft-ass Daz and Kurupt are often fast-fowardable. Immediately afterwards, we careen to the other end of the relationship spectrum with Can't Get Enough. It's got a guest spot from Too Short, 68, so I probably don't need to say any more about it.

(OK, here's the hook: "I can't get enough of your tongue in my p****…can't get enough of your loooooooooove.")

Yep. We finish up with clichéd, but listenable material with self-explanatory titles like Throw Ya Hood Up, Blaze It Up and Blast on 'Em. Hood, weed and guns? Check, check aaaaaaand…check.

Dogg Chit is what it is, kids. Too formulaic to be offensive, as it's the same album these guys have been mass producing since they left Death Row. The beats are tighter than you'd think (in fact, there's an instrumental version of the album available on their website) and, occasionally, Kurupt's shows off his old flow.

If I were writing this for Inside Pulse my teaser would've been "There are worse things to step in." See? That's why they fired me.
Rating: 3 out of 5

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Republicans Hate Rap Music!

I'm really not sure why I'm even bothering with what I'm about to write.

I'm an African-American liberal who lives in a very white, very conservative community and in no place is that more greatly reflected than in the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper.

Every Saturday, the paper turns its "Lifestyle Section" into "Religion & Ethics", which is basically a transparent excuse to run not one, but two editorial pages in one day.

Just remember, kids: It's the gays and minorities who have "an agenda" (don't forget the exaggerated quote pantomime with your fingers). Let the conservative persecution complex commence, as authored by some old broad:

My friends say I'm going to get hurt one of these days. There was, for instance, the time I was at a gas station in North Park when a young man pulled up, leaving his rap music booming with all the subtlety of a plane taking off from Lindbergh Field.

Yep…it's one of those articles. Quick translation for those who aren't locals: North Park, while not the worst part of town, is just about as "hood" as San Diego gets. Combine that with the implied threat in her first sentence and I'll bet a paycheck that the "young man" she describes wasn't part of the 70-80% of rap album buyers who are white.

I couldn't help but hear the words.

"Excuse me," I said to him. "Would you like to see your sister raped?"

His face scrunched up like an album left too long in the sun. I tried to explain. "That's what your song is saying – it's talking about raping your sister. Have you ever really listened to it?"

Even conceding that the polite thing to do would've been to turn down the "bitches-n-ho fest" while at the pump, I'm left wondering what the hell this has to do with anything. Rap foes have turned their embarrassingly narrow knowledge of the genre into their own self-serving sermon on morality. Won't somebody think of the children?

F*ck you.

I'll worry about my own son. Now, in accordance with your parents wishes, you may go out into the hall and pray for our souls. (Oh, and "an album left too long in the sun"? Yeah…dude was Black.)

He shrugged and turned his back. So much for my superhero powers of persuasion. I got to thinking about that incident after radio host Don Imus was fired for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos." Imus argued unsuccessfully that rappers use a lot worse language and they get glorified.

And, so there's her point. The Don Imus World Tour of Martyrdom/Trail of Tears continues by way of the "everyone else does it, too" argument. I'm pretty sure I was six the last time I used that one.

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are among those who have gotten buddy-buddy with famous potty mouths.

Here's the author's checklist of points, so far: 1.) Blacks are inconsiderate of others and play their music too damn loud. 2.) Don Imus was the victim. 3.) Democrats = N-Word Lovers.

We'll keep a running total the rest of the way for your convenience.

Obama invited Ludacris to his office to discuss the rapper's AIDS campaign. This is a man who raps about killing people and flicking pennies from an overpass at rush hour. And those are his good points.

Over at Inside Pulse, a Moodspins discussion on Imus led to one reader referring to Ludacris as a "gangsta rapper". The notion is, of course, laughable to anyone with ears, but the reader went so far as to post a handful of words from a Ludacris verse to prove his/her point. This is the equivalent of calling Pulp Fiction "gay porn", because Ving Rhames gets raped.

Here's the difference: Pulp Fiction = "masterpiece"…Rap Music = "filth" (just ignore the violence and "n-words" in the former, because when you take them in context…etc.)

And, I'd argue that Luda has a few other good points: he's a decent actor, he's funny as hell and…oh yeah, he's part of a campaign against AIDS.

Clinton's rendezvous was with Timbaland, who threw a fundraiser for her at his Miami home. Timbaland's lyrics are salted with a derogatory description of women (rhymes with "witch"), the n-word and the before-mentioned "ho." And these guys are considered mainstream artists.

"Rhymes with witch…" Hilarious. And, not to wait until now to get picky, but I'd argue that Tim is a mainstream producer, as opposed to a rapper. But, why differentiate between those evil Negroes, when it's easier go after the whole group?

Earlier this week, two local organizations that represent mobile DJs – like those who go to weddings and corporate parties – announced they will stop playing music with violent or hateful lyrics.

OK…at this point even the most hardcore Hip Hop hater has to agree that she's reaching here. Show of hands: How many of you have been to a wedding or "corporate party" and heard Hit 'Em Up? Yet, the "news" that a pair of local mobile DJs have taken a stand (more like a "kneel") on a nonexistent issue in their industry is supposed to reinforce her point? Tell me when they stop playing The Chicken Dance.

Newsboys, a faith-based rock group, has a rap song out that includes these lines: "See I agree we oughtta boycott hell, but we oughtta boycott dumb lyrics as well."

I think what I hear them saying is that smut is smut – no matter how good the beat.

I think what I hear them saying is that listeners should boycott Newsboys and their dumb lyrics. And, that grammar? Sheesh!

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, The Associated Press reports that police union leaders want a city firefighter fired over anti-police rap lyrics he wrote about turning "pigs into bacon bits."

And the hits keep coming.

Point #4: When your soapbox falls apart under your own specious reasoning, you can always rely on a weeks-old non-story to hammer your point home.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Oakland A's Monday #3

Overall: 9-9 (T-1st Place, AL West)
Last Week: 3-2 (2-0 vs. Angels, 1-2 vs. Rangers)

For whatever reason, this recent vintage of Oakland A's seems unusually somnambulant during the first few months of the season.

Back in 2001, the A's were picked by many to win the World Series. They had added Johnny Damon to the top of the lineup and featured one of the more exciting young teams in recent memory. They put up an 8-18 April, before going 94-42 the rest of the way en route to the postseason.

The following year, they weren't quite hyped to the heavens (they HAD lost Jason Giambi that offseason, after all). But, after an indifferent, underachieving seven weeks to start the season, GM Billy Beane blew the roster up on May 22. (Heavy) drinking buddies and, more importantly, Jason Giambi Sympathizers, LF Jeremy Giambi and IF Frank Menechino were sent packing. While super-prospect 1B Carlos Peña was demoted to AAA primarily because he was writing a "rookie diary" for and was convinced his t'ish didn't stink.

My point is that it's often hard to find excitement for the Oakland A's in the early going, which is why we are all indebted to journeyman left-handed starting pitcher, Brad Halsey.

Quick recap: The A's have a guy with an arm made from Faberge Eggs by the name of Rich Harden. He's a once-every-ten-years type of talent, but he can't stay healthy. Predictably, he broke down not even a month into the season (just like last year).

The question on the minds of A's fans everywhere was who'd start in his stead. Most of us thought that Brad Halsey, who was one of the last cuts this spring and had a serviceable, if unspectacular 2006 (mostly) out of the bullpen, would be the guy.

Halsey thought this, too. In fact, he was certain of it.

Oh, how wrong we were. With the usual apologies to our friends at Fire Joe Morgan, here's what ran in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

Brad Halsey figured when he was held out of his start at Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday that he was coming up to start for Rich Harden on Tuesday. He said he was told he was being held in readiness in case Harden couldn't go.

Nothing surprising here, if you know the cast of characters at AAA-Sacto. Let's see if it gets better.

Harden can't go, but instead of Halsey, the A's are going with left-hander Dallas Braden, and Halsey is convinced that he was bypassed because the A's found out that the left-hander is scheduled for an MRI exam later this week.

Braden is a 22-year-old screwball specialist who struck out 53 in 34 innings between rookie ball and single-A last year. Halsey, 26, has borderline average stuff to go along with 286 IPs and a 4.84 ERA over parts of three seasons in the big leagues. But, the MRI accusation intrigues me. Let's read on:

That makes Halsey furious because he said he complained of arm trouble all spring and was repeatedly told he didn't need an MRI.

"I kept going in and saying, 'My arm is bothering me, it's not right,' and they said, 'Oh, it's just biceps tendonitis, you'll be fine,' '' Halsey said by phone from Sacramento. "Then they send you down and screw you. I'm grinding it out, trying to be a team guy, and I get f -- . It's all just a business decision, because if I came up and pitched Tuesday and then had an MRI and had to go on the DL, they'd have to pay me major-league DL money. It's such a mom-and-pop organization."


Now, as an A's fan, I'm torn. Here's a fringe Major Leaguer bashing my favorite team and making a very serious accusation. On the other hand, he's the second A's player in less than six months to call out the team for a perceived lack of credibility on the medical staff.

SS Bobby Crosby was equally livid when he had to go outside the organization to find the correct diagnosis for the back injury that ended his 2006 season early.

But, back to the first hand…"mom-and-pop organization"? Hilarious! I mean, casual fans can surely see the low-rent, tacky green tarp that covers the third deck of the A's home ballpark (seats that rarely sell) and the succession of homegrown talent that have graduated to teams in higher tax brackets. The A's really aren't that far from selling indie CDs to supplement the monthly "Bake Sale for Payroll". And, let's hope that Esteban Loiaza's abuela makes tamales, again. Only 2 for $1 or 12 for $5!

A's general manager Billy Beane said he was not aware that Halsey was scheduled for an MRI and if Halsey was under the impression that he was set to start at Baltimore, his assumption was erroneous.

'K…Aaron loves his A's, but I'm calling bullshh… here. As outlined in Moneyball, Beane has his fingerprints on every aspect of this organization from in-game to administrative. Halsey is still on the 40-man roster, so if an MRI was in his immediate future, you can reasonably assume that Beane picked the doctor and scheduled the appointment.

At this point, I'm genuinely hoping Beane is lying, as the alternative scares me more.

This Week: at Orioles (2), vs. Mariners (2), vs. Devil Rays (3)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Redman - Red Gone Wild Review

It's been about 15 years since I could say I was a Redman fan.

His 1992 debut joint, Whut? Thee Album, was one of the genre's best releases during rap's salad days. Hell, he even parlayed it into a live performance on the season premiere of In Living Color that fall. Trust me, that meant something back then.

Then, with the release of his sophomore effort (1994's Dare Iz A Darkside) Redman became one of the game's more inconsistent superstars. On his next four albums, the quality seemed to pendulum wildly from the narrow, unfocused droning of Dare… to the inexplicably underrated Doc's Da Name.

He lost me somewhere in there. And, by the time he and Method Man were doing their Wayans Bros. 2.0 TV show, Redman officially became a Bootleg Guy punchline in perpetuity.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I picked up Red's latest CD at Best Buy.

The l-o-n-g delayed album is Redman's best work since his aforementioned first release, with a lyrical ferocity ingeniously interwoven with a collection of beats that are both an homage to Hip Hop's roots, while serving as hope for the music's future.

And, would you believe that Erick Sermon only produced three of the tracks?

Walk In Gutta sounds about as "Sermon-ish" as it gets on the boards with a minimalist beat and moderate bass, while guest stars Sermon and Keith Murray carry their weight beyond the revitalized Red's first verse. Meanwhile, Sermon's production work on Rite Now is phenomenal, with an Al Green sample serving as the foundation for more of Red's dense lyrical goodness:

Me, I'm never scared / I die on my two feet
And, you confused / Like a Jew wearing koofis

Even the obvious reaches for radio rotation work here. The 2K7 Timbaland infestation continues unabated with his production on Put It Down, but Red kicks up his flow with an excellent mix of intensity and irreverence. A few cuts later, Red is able to dial it back down on Freestyle Freestyle. It's pretty sparse for a Scott Storch beat, but that gives Red all the room he needs for his scattershot subject matter:

Witness…yeah, boy!
I get'cha dumb like white people looking for weird noise

A look at the tracklisting would seem to hint at a few unlistenable elements, but, believe it or not, that's generally not the case. So sue me…I frickin' loved Sumtn' 4 Urrbody, in spite of its Down South sound and five MCs on the mic who weren't Redman. I equally can't explain my enjoyment of Pimp Nutz, but the conversational storytelling tone and surprisingly layered beat combine to make it one of my favorite tracks on the album.

I suppose there HAS to be a negative or two, though. I gotta say I wasn't impressed with Merry Jane, which featured recycled lyrics from Nate Dogg (although, since he re-used his words from 2004's lightly-sold 213 album, would anyone other than me notice?) and one of Snoop Dogg's usual paint-by-numbers cameos.

OK, we're reaching to hate here. Red Gone Wild will be on the short lists of 2007's best albums, kids. If you were ever on board with Reggie Noble, get back on the bandwagon with this one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Who Do I Look Like? Christopher Columbo?"

So, some of you know that Kid Cameron had surgery a couple of weeks ago. He's doing fine after a few days of discomfort and irritability. Anyways, Jalen had a follow up appointment today. I told Mrs. Bootleg that I'd go with them, since the follow-up was scheduled during my lunch hour, but I had mistakenly assumed that the boy would be seen at the same place he had the procedure.

Instead of a 20-minute straight shot down the freeway to Children's Hospital, I hopped in the car, fired up the XM and checked the directions only to see that I'd be driving to Encinitas. Now, I know that means nothing to most of you, so grab your car keys and you'll see what I mean:

First, drive about 15 miles south. Then, head west for another 15 miles. Remember, if you hit the Pacific Ocean, you've gone too far. Finally, head north for another 15 miles.

Now, here's the fun part: When you reach the correct freeway exit, head east and…y'know, I think I'll turn over the directional duties to Children's ENT of San Diego's webpage:

"From I-5 exit Encinitas Boulevard East. Turn left onto Saxony, which is the first light. Take a right at the flagpole and another right at the yellow fire hydrant."

Yes, those would be "landmark directions" still being used here in 2007.

The wife and I took two separate cars and, within minutes of each other, we both missed the flagpole turn. After doubling back, we both realized that our mistake was looking at the road while we drove. If we arched our eyes away from oncoming traffic and/or any pedestrians with the right-of-way, when we looked up, the flagpole was easy to see.

I've got six months before his next appointment and to think of excuses of why I can't make it. I'm leaning towards "meeting".

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Oakland A's Monday #2

Overall: 6-7 (T-2nd Place, AL West)
Last Week: 3-3 (1-2 vs. White Sox, 2-1 vs. Yankees)

If it wasn't for ESPN's extensive hour-by-hour exploitation of Jackie Robinson yesterday, my Oakland A's would've been the network's top story all day Sunday.

It was obvious to this writer that God and his son, Jesus, were among the 35,077 in attendance on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon (we'll assume Allah filled in at the office) at the Oakland Coliseum. With 2 outs, an 0-2 count and the eyes of A's fans upon him, the
Venezuelan Lilliputian homered against future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, 62, to lead the righteous past the sinful, 5-4.

Marco Scutaro is one of those players that's overrated by almost every A's fan and essentially unknown to everyone else on earth. He's a back-up infielder who bounced around the minors for about 10 years before finally getting a shot to succeed in Oakland.

The A's might not have invented this type of player, but in all the years I've been a fan, they've done a damn fine job of keeping at least one of 'em on the roster:

Tony Phillips (1982-1989, 1999): One of my all-time favorites, even though he could never stay consistently healthy while in Oakland. He signed with Detroit after the '89 season and became one of the most underrated players of the '90s. His career suspiciously coincided with the Canseco/McGwire steroid era, though, as he was a much better (and bigger) player in his mid-30s than he ever was in his 20s. Got busted for doing crack in a seedy Anaheim motel during the 1997 season. I still love him.

Mike Gallego (1985-1991, 1995): The prototype for Scutaro, Gallego stood about 3'6" in his spikes. He was a terrible hitter (but, exceptional fielder) until his 30th birthday, which also happened to be his "walk year" in 1991. After, uh, "muscling up" to set career highs in OBP and SLG, he betrayed those of us who watched him hit 300-foot flyball outs for six years and signed with the Yankees. This was during their glorious Andy Stankiewicz / Scott Kamieniecki Scrabble Era. F*ck you, Scooter. Still.

Lance Blankenship (1988-1993): Back in the late '80s, when everyone claimed to be an A's fan, I remember having several involved discussion as to who'd be our fourth straight Rookie of the Year Award winner. There was Canseco, McGwire and Walt Weiss and the A's constituency was divided between Blankenship and OF Felix Jose. I don't want to spoil the ending, but if anyone wants 100 1989 Donruss cards of either Blankenship or Jose, I've got 'em priced to move.

Jerry Browne (1992-1993): Proof that great baseball nicknames kick ass in their simplicity, "The Governor" was part of the bridge from the end of the 1988-1992 run of excellence to the 1993-1998 run of…well, let's just call it "the runs". Finished his career in Florida and was out of baseball by 1995.

Steve Sax (1994): One of the oddest, most inexplicable signings in team history, Sax was three years removed from his last good year when the A's brought him on board to fill in for an injured Brent Gates. Sax's career ended with seven games in green and gold and, in his last game ever, I was in attendance to see him get ejected arguing balls and strikes. Oakland: where pretty boys come to die. (Uh oh, Mike Piazza!)

Scott Spiezio (1996-1999): I don't remember too much about Spiezio. His tenure came during a confluence of sad circumstances: my own personal post-strike malaise, an abject lack of cable TV during my first year at San Diego State and the inability to buy a plane ticket to Oakland while working for $5.50/hour renting out adult movies in one of San Diego's few "hoods". I've since grown to hate him as both an Angel and a Cardinal.

Frank Menechino (1999-2004): Ah, Frankie. Originally from Staten Island, he was the quintessential New Yorker. Square head? Check. Obnoxious accent? Check. Napoleon Complex? Check. Don't ask me how I remember this, but heading into a June 2001 series vs. the Padres, Frankie was hitting .270 with pop and a solid OBP. From there, he tailspun into mediocrity. My favorite parts of the Menechino Era? Well, there were the stories of drunken debauchery that reportedly influenced, and later claimed the career of teammate Jeremy Giambi. There was the "just look at him" steroid whispers. Finally, there was the trade to Toronto in 2004, where he put up a .904 OPS. I still miss him.

Jose Ortiz (2000-2001): True story…during batting practice, at a spring training game in 2001, Ortiz hit on my wife, who was then just my girlfriend. The fact that he looks like a gold-lamé lizard obviously influenced her decision to stay with me. Just my luck.

TBG Reviews: Wendy's 4-Alarm Spicy Chicken Sandwich

I haven't been to Wendy's in almost 10 years. Growing up, they were the (distant) third burger place, behind McDonald's and Burger King. And, I'll be honest, Wendy's square patties, baked potatoes and piping hot chili frightened me, but not nearly as much as their Mrs. Hans Moleman endorsement in the '80s.

Wendy's had no McDonald Land characters and they didn't do the cool movie tie-ins like Burger King's cholesterol-synergy with the original Star Wars movies. Consequently, in my mind, they weren't "kid friendly" and this is something I've held against them ever since.

Plus, my more recent memories of Wendy's haven't been pleasant.

My wife, Mrs. Bootleg, used to favor one of Wendy's more popular menu items: the regular spicy chicken sandwich. Fast food fiends know the routine…deep fried chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and mayo. That's pretty much "Chicken Sandwich 101" in the industry. Except Mrs. Bootleg ruins it all by putting ketchup on top.

Ketchup…on fried chicken.

Y'all know how much I hate hyperbole, so I'll stop short, catch my breath and think before I speak.

This is blasphemy. It sickens me. Rotoworld reports that the Blacks are ready to put my wife on irrevocable waivers, which would make her eligible for Dave Chappelle's Supplemental Racial Draft.

Then, sometime in the late '90s, I had the single worst burger in my life at Wendy's. Now, know that I'm the least picky eater that most of you will never meet. Brussels sprouts and that slimy, canned fruit pie filling are the only two things that I won't eat. Everything else? I'm eatin' it.

From anchovies to artichoke hearts to all the foods that start with the letter Q. (On a related note, it's been 15 years and I've still never heard one good reason why White Men Can't Jump included that whole "Gloria gets on Jeopardy" side story. The whole sequence nearly ruins the movie worse than the dated hair, the dated clothes or the retroactive hilarity of the words "Starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson".)

Anyways, on that day, I ordered a burger that tasted of foot and ass. It took two bites for the bile on the bun to meet the bile from the back of my throat.

But, I'm always willing to forgive and forget. With the creatively titled "4-Alarm Spicy Chicken Sandwich", I figured I'd give the little red-headed girl another chance for me to eat her out eat out with her.

The sandwich comes on dry, crusty ciabatta bread. We're not off to a good start here, girl. This is the kind of bread that would normally be served lukewarm in a pretentious basket and covered with a checkered cloth at your friendly neighborhood ersatz steakhouse.

A weird orange-colored sauce is lightly drizzled on said bread. Wendy's calls it "chipotle spread" which, to my tongue, is Spanish for "mayonnaise mixed with cayenne pepper". Apparently, it's bought in bulk, as Burger King has an almost identical ooze that they call "onion ring sauce". Wendy's finishes the fillet with sliced jalapeños and processed pepper jack cheese.

Now, over the years, I've had to dial down the spice in some of my favorite foods. A few years ago, a plate of Hooters' "Three Mile Island" wings nearly torched my innards as my, uh, "back door" was basically burned to the ground. Thai food is another favorite of mine. Now, when asked how spicy I want it, I've dropped from the "7 to 8" echelon down to asking, "How much forehead sweat will I get from a 3?"

Wendy's 4-Alarm sandwich isn't at all spicy, kids. It's an average, unspectacular lunch that carries all the "heat" as an order of ballpark nachos. And, at $7.50 for a side of fries and a drink, you'd be better served to hit up Hardee's or Carl's Jr. for their Jalapeño Burger, which comes with a hotter spread, fresher sliced peppers and fried jalapeños on top.

It singes the nostrils.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Imus Ask Y'all to Calm the F*** Down

By now, everyone's been brought into the brouhaha surrounding shock jock Don Imus and his comments on the Rutgers women's basketball team. Now, generally, I don't get too worked up over so-called "racial comments" from famous people. From Fuzzy Zoeller to Michael Richards to Jimmy "The Greek" to John Rocker…they've all put their foot in their respective moufs and, after the initial eruption, we all moved on.

When I first heard what Imus said, I'll admit that the ol' jaw dropped an inch or two. It's not that it was surprising…I mean, c'mon, he's a white guy born in the early 1940s. I'm sure there are many more who regularly think and say a lot worse than ol' Imus. What jarred me was the conversational tone of the discussion, if that makes any sense. Imus and his crew were basically having a calm talk over the air, while almost oblivious to the millions of people listening in.

I've inadvertently walked in on some of my co-workers' conversations or jokes where Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, gays, lesbians, etc. are the punch line or punching bag. Regardless of the target, one person in the group will nudge the keynote speaker and everyone will stand around in awkward silence until I get my coffee and walk back to my office, so that the societal dissertation can continue.

Unfortunately, no one nudged Imus.

So, is America overreacting? Of course…and that goes for both Imus' defenders and detractors. Here are a few reasons to explain my stance:

The Bad Man: As mentioned above, I'm willing to bet that Imus' was raised in a different racial climate than his great-grandkids. Is he racist? Who knows, but it's not like he'd be the first old white man who had no love for "the Black people". Sorry, Sharpton: no news here.

The Target(s): There are some very influential people in the sports industry who are convinced that women's basketball can be a relevant and vital sports entity. The most notable cheerleaders are probably everyone at ESPN, who have a financial interest in both the WNBA and women's college basketball. Consequently, this story's shelf life is already twice as long as it should've been, simply because The Worldwide Leader can hitch their self-serving promotional wagon to all parties involved.

The Climate: Normally, I run from anyone's discussion of politics, gender equity and other polarizing claptrap. But, we live in a country that's about to shove a female presidential candidate down our collective throats. We're a long way from the days of the E.R.A., but the empowerment of women, politically and professionally, isn't imaginary anymore. Or, in clearer terms: you can't be pissin' the bitches off.

The Apology: Imus has apologized. He's been suspended for two weeks and, more damning, he'll be stigmatized for the rest of his short, tonsorial-challenged life. Let the man walk the earth with the scarlet "R" on his chest for all I care, but he shouldn't be fired. Move along, thought police, move along.

The Soundbite: If Imus hadn't said those three little words, this story would've died on the vine. Don't believe me? ESPN's Bill Simmons wrote the following about the WNBA almost two years ago:

Well, the vast majority of WNBA players lack crossover sex appeal. That's just the way it is. Some are uncomfortably tall and gawky, while others lack the requisite, um, softer qualities to captivate males between 18 and 35. The baggy uniforms don't help. Neither does the fact that it's tough for anyone to look attractive at the end of a two-hour basketball game.
While not defending Imus' choice of words, can't it be reasonably argued that this was his point? And, is there anyone who'd dispute this argument?

I'll leave you with words from That Nick'a Guy:

If something offensive is said on AM radio...does anyone hear it?

Who still listens to Imus or AM radio?

Monday, April 9, 2007

My Return to Machine Gun Funk

"As hard as it might be to believe... yes, San Diego has quite the collection of crack whores."

Jeff Fernandez was one of my fourteen former bosses over at Inside Pulse subsite, Machine Gun Funk. He invited me back for a guest spot in his column this week and asked that I comment on Lily Allen's recent controversial comments at her concert here in San Diego.

The above italicized sentence are just a few of the 200+ words I used. Read the rest right here.

The Oakland A's Monday #1

Overall: 3-4 (3rd Place, AL West)
Last Week: 3-4 (1-2 vs. Mariners, 2-2 vs. Angels)

Last Friday, I made my first drive of the new baseball year up to Anaheim to see our heroes play the hated, hated, hated Angels in front of their idiot fans. (Stupid link, hit 'refresh' if it doesn't work the first time.)

As usual, I was joined by Friend of the Bootleg (FotB), "Stone Cold", who bears an uncanny resemblance to a swollen Steve Austin ("it's glandular!") We've been doing this every year since the late '80s, save for a three year stretch in the mid-90s while I was finishing up the final 36 months of my six-year stay in college. Longtime readers know that I red-shirted my first two years.

We met at the famous National Sports Bar & Grill, which ranked #25 in Sports Illustrated's Top 25 American Sports Bars. A feat only matched in numeric meaningless-ness by any countdown sports show with the words "Best Damn" before it. Still, the sourdough buffalo chicken melt with onion rings was better than a black girl's ass: fat and fabulous!

Jerseys of choice: For me, a 1973 gold throwback that I had personalized with the name and number of John "Blue Moon" Odom, famous for his All-Star pitching on those Swingin' A's teams of the '70s and for fighting teammate Rollie Fingers a few years before Odom did two months time on a drug conviction. For Stone Cold, an A's BP jersey with Venezuelan Lilliputian Marco Scutaro #19 on the back. Trust me, we both appreciated the sad, inherent hilarity in our "fashion" choices.

And, we both know we're in our 30s.

The actual game was one of those ubiquitous American League snoozers where everyone waits around for the 3-run HR. And, on this night, it came in the seventh inning off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero in a 5-2 Angels win. Stone Cold and I found entertainment in the audience, though.

Whether it was the little Hispanic kid in front of us with the crazy Carlito 'do or the spectacular rack on the young girl two seats from to our left (I said "over 18", my boy – who's a high school teacher and paid to know these things – said "no way"), it was still a good night.

This Week: vs. White Sox (3), vs. Yankees (3)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

TBG Reviews McDonalds' Angus Third Pounder

As anyone with even a modicum of marketing knowledge knows, the big, bad brand names often test market new merchandise across a limited populace before unleashing their beast on an unsuspecting America.

Over the years, Southern California has been a breeding ground for celebrated sneak peeks at new fast food. Some of them catch on, like Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza, which was originally introduced out here in the early '80s as "Pizzazz Pizza". On an unrelated note, one year later, the word "gay" officially ceased as a synonym to "showy", "merry" or "lively".

Keeping on the sh*tty sham pizza theme, not everything new actually stays. McDonald's "McPizza" was regionally introduced in California in the '90s. Wondering why it didn't stick? Well, first there was the unspoken admission that "McRib might be the breaking point in their overuse of the 'Mc' prefix" thing. Secondly, it was essentially the size of one of those Celeste's pizzas-for-one. Finally, 15 years ago, no one was willing to pay $3.99 for a fast food menu item.

It's now 2007 and my home state is once again advancing our nation towards mass angioplasties.

McDonald's has introduced their line of "Angus Third Pounders". From their March 5 press release:

The Angus Third Pounders, available at participating McDonald’s restaurants in Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties, come in three varieties: Angus Deluxe, Angus Mushroom and Swiss, and Angus Bacon and Cheese, for a suggested retail price of $3.99 each.

It really wasn't that long ago when McDonald's sold pretty much any burger, fries and drink combo as a $2.99 Extra Value Meal. I'm not complaining about the price of this new four buck hamburger, I'm just openly showing my age in a subversively cantankerous fashion.

And, as a resident of San Diego County, it is my obligation to clog my colon for you, dear reader. Last week, I made my way to the McDonald's drive thru and experienced an almost identical experience to the last time I was there. (Just click 'refresh' if the link won't open, kids.)

Wanna confuse any of the McKids behind the McCounter? Hand one of them a McCoupon. The last thing I heard from "Trainee" after he took my coupon was, "I'll have to get my manager." (For the record, I'm NOT one of those guys who normally uses coupons at restaurants, but a free burger is a free burger. And, also, "shut up".)

It was a pretty good-sized hunk of cow, to be sure. Although, I'm not sure why something that's advertised as 1/3 of one pound should be considered "big" by anybody. For your frame of reference, my son Jalen was three pounds when he was born and felt pretty light in my hand. Uh, I mean "hands", plural…two hands. (In case the wife is reading.)

Anyways, the first thing I noticed about my burger was the smell. It wasn't a bad smell, but it was…well, it was that McDonald's smell. I can't explain it, but if you've eaten enough Quarter Pounders, you know how that Mickey D meat smells. Nothing new there.

I went with the "Angus Deluxe" (lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion and condiments). Still, this mountain of salad fixins and multi-colored spreads couldn't hide the fact that the burger, while beefy, was flat out bland. In fact, it tasted like less than nothing. Is all of McDonald's sodium saved for their artificially-flavored French fries? Nothing new here, either.

In hindsight, I should've ordered mine with swine. (Or Swiss, which wouldn't have rhymed.)

Still, I seriously doubt that any amount of pork and cheese could save this four dollar heart bomb. Anyone over the age of eight knows there are an infinite amount of better burgers than whatever Mayor McCheese is shilling. Get this one for the four-year-olds and watch their little tummies explode.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Birthday Recap Post

Well, another Bootleg Guy Birfday has come and gone. On March 30, I turned…well, let's just say I'm still younger than every West Coast rapper not named "The Game". And, these days, I'm more "street".

Fortunately, most of the people who gave me the gift of, uh…"gifts" are regular readers. So, without the handicap of having to fake a positive reaction to your faces, now you can all know what I really thought of this year's haul.

The 10-Speed Bike/Optimus Prime Gift of the Year Award

Honoring the anniversary of the booty from my 10th birthday which, to this day, has never been topped, Mrs. Bootleg came about as close as one can. In conjunction/cahoots with Friend of the Bootleg, "That Nick'a Guy", the wife bought me a plane ticket to the east coast. The highlight of the long weekend will be my first trip to Yankee Stadium to watch the New York Yankees play my Oakland A's on Saturday, June 30.

Not only has Mrs. Bootleg signed off on this, but she's…not…coming! I dare say this is the greatest kitchen pass ever procured. Do they still wear red and black lumberjacks with the hat to match out there? I'm prepared, if they do. And, NYC is the home of my former employers at Inside Pulse. Is Widro real or imaginary? Now, the world will know! It's my fervent hope that some New York nightlife will be in the cards, if only so me and Nick'a can try to kick over buildings at 3:00AM like Daz and Kurupt in that New York, New York video.

Honorable Mentions

The lovely wife of TBG poster, Ron Mexico, baked a few dozen oatmeal cookies (they're my favorite, ladies!) boxed 'em up and sent them across the country to me. They arrived last Thursday and were gone by sunrise on Sunday. After all these years, Mrs. Bootleg's claim that "homemade" cookies only come from phallic tubes of Pillsbury goo appears to be untrue. Hey, I'm as shocked as you.

Speaking of the wife, there was a little bit of controversy at Stately Cameron Manor on Friday. Several of the P.Y.T.s at my j-o-b brought me bottles of beer, bourbon and other alcoholic endeavors. These women…and I hope you'll forgive the generalization…have mostly maintained their inherent hotness and fresh-out-the-box bodies that have yet to be beat up by bringing babies into this world. As the wife sneered, "Do you get them gifts?" Do flowers count?

Birthday Gifts? More like "Worst-day Gifts"!

Not every gift deserved to be labeled "Goodness". There was the ubiquitous signed-by-the-entire-office birthday card. Whenever these get passed around, I always write the funniest, cruelest and/or most sarcastic comment for the birthday boy/girl. Trust me, I'm not bragging, it's just that most of my co-workers are in their late 40s or early 50s. Their funny bones have decalcified and turned into dust. So, with my reputation, everyone in the office tried to "write like Aaron" on my card. Here's a sampling:

"You're almost old enough to play for the (Oakland) Raiders!"

"You don't look a day over 50!"

"Just one more year until you get the senior discount at Denny's!"

On Saturday, The Cam Fam drove up to my mom' house for what will certainly be the last double birthday party for me and my twin brother. There were numbered candles, the Happy Birthday song and all other kinds of reverie usually reserved for children.

And, if anyone knows your likes and dislikes, it's gotta be your momma, right? Now, back in my youth, I suffered from what today is called "childhood obesity". There was only so much one could hide in a pair of Sears' Toughskins jeans (size: "husky"). Anyways, one of the few foods I could never stand was coconut. I still don't like it. So, what does my mom serve? A homemade coconut cake.

Even better, the coconut shavings completely covered the six inches of cream cheese frosting that avalanched the overcooked white cake within.

The Snake Through the Skull T-Shirt Worst Gift of the Year Award

My mom carried her .000 average for the afternoon right into the evening with exhibit A for "it's the thought that counts". This "snake through the skull" t-shirt is the latest, annual entry in her one-woman game to get me a sh*ttier gift than the year before: