Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The TBoGden Travel Diary - Introduction

As our flight left Salt Lake City around 11:00 AM Tuesday morning, it was 28 degrees. The sky was sunny and clear for the first time in our entire stay. When our flight landed in San Diego 90 minutes later, it was 70 degrees. The sky was sunny and clear for the 350th time this year.

No, no…this isn't another one of those posts where I take Suge Knight's side in his never-ending beef on behalf of California against the other 49 states in the union. In fact, after four days with my in-laws in Ogden, Utah, I've learned that you cold-weather-in-winter states actually enhance some of the same things we have on the West Coast.

In no particular order:

NFL Games on TV: My old man was stationed in North Carolina for a few years in the early '80s and I'd forgotten how awesome the inverse relationship between outdoor temperature and late-season playoff intensity could be. We caught some of the wind-whipped first half of the Bills-Patriots game while a fresh layer of snow fell from Utah's smoke-colored sky above. Later, the nationally televised Chargers-Broncos debacle showed how easy it is to be one of San Diego's know-nothing, fair-weather fans when goddamn weather is always fair.

Mrs. Bootleg's Homemade Chili: A longtime favorite within The Cam Fam household, this is the first time I've ever enjoyed my usual three servings when the temperature actually called for a steaming bowl of something for dinner. And, let me tell you…after 10 minutes of frolicking in my in-law's front yard, I was ready for a hot, hearty meal! Now, I know what you're thinking: "10 minutes, Cam?" My response: "Shut up. It was f*****g cold outside."

Women Who Wear Knee-High Boots with Skirts: Here in California, this fashion combination is worn for entirely superficial reasons. We can all agree that it looks good, no? Well, when it dips into the high 10s/low 20s and women are still walking around in skirts/boots, I've gotta believe that their reasoning is even MORE superficial. For this, they should be applauded. They couldn't possibly be comfortable, but – God bless 'em – they're clearly favoring "fabulous" over frostbite. Work it, ladies!

Anyways, come on back over the next few days as my Utah Travel Diary is still being cobbled together. Highlights include my first time on a sled, the last time I ever share a bed with my son and a confrontation between mild-mannered me and the dog-carrying passenger sitting immediately behind me. Pretty sure Mrs. Bootleg has never been so embarrassed in her life. Good times!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #17

Kansas City at Cincinnati
Aaron: If Chiefs coach Herm Edwards survives this season, he'll take his rightful place amongst the greatest can't-kill-'em Black horror movie villians of all time like Snoop Dogg's "Jimmy Bones", Eddie Murphy's "Vampire in Brooklyn" and the guy who played "Blackula". Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Don't forget Angela Bassett in "She-Hulk"! Pick: Kansas City

Oakland at Tampa Bay
Aaron: A Raiders win here over former Oakland coach Jon Gruden (currently #3 on Al Davis' irrational list of enemies - one spot above Pete Rozelle's soul) would somehow justify the embarrassment of '08 as "progress" in their mind. Come on, other team. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Can the Bucs win convincingly enough to fool people into betting on them in the Wild Card game? Pick: Tampa Bay

Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Aaron: I'm guessing Brady Quinn had it coming, as most pretty boy quarterbacks named "Brady" DO, in fact, have it coming. It's science. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: The Steelers, meanwhile, remain steadfast in their status as the league's least confidence-inspiring Super Bowl contender. Pick: Pittsburgh

New England at Buffalo
Aaron: The Bills' win last week in Denver kept the Chargers alive while torpedoing the Broncos fading playoff hopes. Buffalo's ill-advised Toronto road trip positioned Chad Pennington for a possible AFC East title. This final weekend is going to be SO exciting! Thanks, Bills! Pick: New England

Joe: The Bills winning here and sticking it to the Patriots and their fans, who have finally regained their customary smugness, would be maybe the sweetest thing a non-playoff team has ever done. Which is why it'll never happen. Pick: New England

St. Louis at Atlanta
Aaron: I'm about 17 weeks late to the party, but Matt Ryan's "Matty Ice" nickname is the single worst nickname in the history of the world. It's the kind of name you'd give your guy in the "create-a-wrestler" feature of some WWE PS3 game. And, his finisher would be "the frozen rope" - kind of an old school lariat. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Dork. Pick: Atlanta

Chicago at Houston
Aaron: The previous three teams the Raiders have beaten this season have gone 2-1 in their very next game. You won't find stats like that anywhere, but here, gamblers. Pick: Houston

Joe: Seeing as I have become clinically incapable of picking a Texans game right this year, I'm going against my first, third, and fifth instincts. Pick: Chicago

Tennessee at Indianapolis
Aaron: Couldn't help but notice the words "Vince Young will play" on the ESPN crawl a few days ago. Good enough for me. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: Me too. Pick: Indianapolis

N.Y. Giants at Minnesota
Aaron: With the Giants resting up for the playoffs, this looks like one of those games where Adrian Peterson can pad his stats and raise his '09 Madden and fantasy rankings. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: Not to mention Tarvaris Jackson gets another week to fool people into thinking he's a capable "caretaker" quarterback. Pick: Minnesota

Carolina at New Orleans
Aaron: Drew Brees should just give up his pipe dream of ever winning a Super Bowl with this Saints team. Dude could seriously leave the NFL, dig up a dozen or so Arena League receivers and barnstorm the country as the football Harlem Globetrotters. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: The proud highlight of my 2008 second-place fantasy football season? Waiving DeAngelo Williams after week 3. Good thing I was raised Catholic so I have no shortage of ideas for how I should best beat myself up for that one. Pick: Carolina

Detroit at Green Bay
Aaron: A Black president and an 0-16 team? In my lifetime? In the same year? Wonder if it'll be just as hard to buy a newspaper on December 29th. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: This has to go on that Great Moments in Sports Futility DVD, along with Pete Rose at Wrestlemania and Charlie Brown trying to kick that football. Pick: Green Bay

Seattle at Arizona
Aaron: Allow me to join the cacophony of voices who doubt that Arizona's novel concept of tanking the last two games of the regular season will be an effective way of building momentum into January. Pick: Seattle

Joe: It's still Arizona at home against a crappy team, though. Pick: Arizona

Dallas at Philadelphia
Aaron: Dammit, Redskins...THIS was supposed to be the game that exposed the ridiculous notion that Donovan McNabb's temporary benching had anything to do with his "resurgence." I was going to make nachos and everything! Pick: Dallas

Joe: Can we do a Top 10 Most Ridiculous Things About Donovan McNabb's Season list? I feel like it's just been one neverending parade of bullshit with that guy. Pick: Dallas

Miami at N.Y. Jets
Aaron: Late December games in The Meadowlands are the reason why Chad Pennington is playing in Miami. I'm beginning to think the last images of Brett Favre any of us will ever see involve a last-minute TD pass on Sunday. F*ck. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: No, the last image any of us will see of Brett Favre is the Brett-Favre-shaped cloud of dust in the middle of the field as he hastily announces his once-and-for-all retirement during the walking-off-the-field interview. Nothing like one season as a Jet to make you never want to play football again, for reals. Pick: NY Jets

Washington at San Francisco
Aaron: That whole "across three time zones" thing was something of a season-long punchline, but I can't imagine a worse trip for a non-playoff team on the final weekend than traveling across three...well, you know. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: And so here I am, with opportunities to gain ground on Cam dwindling, forced to pick the Redskins on the road against an inspired 49ers team. Sigh. Pick: Washington

Jacksonville at Baltimore
Aaron: I love Week #17 games in which Joe wouldn't dare pick differently than me. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Merry Christmas to you too, you merciless bastard. Pick: Baltimore

Denver at San Diego
Aaron: Win and they're in. That's all the Chargers have to do to make the playoffs. The thing is, though, that this is just the type of game the Chargers have lost this season. Half of their 8 losses came in the last minute or two, while most of the others were against teams they should've beaten. Everything points to a San Diego win, which makes this an easy call. Pick: Denver

Joe: That all sounds plausibly true. And yet ... revenge for the Ed Hochuli game is the X factor there. Plus, now that my fantasy season is over, LT is free to go off for four touchdowns. So, yes, it's very possible that the outcome of this pickin' season will rest on the Chargers game. Gulp. Pick: San Diego

The Sure-Thing Suicide Spread:

Aaron: Denver (+8) at San Diego
Joe: Oakland (+13) at Tampa Bay

Friday, December 26, 2008

Upcoming Travel Diaries

Ogden, Utah – Tomorrow!: Visiting the in-laws for the first time since Thanksgiving 2005.

Arizona – mid-March 2009: We're taking the boy to Spring Training. And, yes, a trip that's entirely built around nothing but baseball is "for the boy". I'm sure I'll get nothing out of this. I still can't believe Mrs. Bootleg is on board, though. We fly in on the 12th. On the 13th, we're seeing the A's down at the Indians' new complex. On the 14th, it's another A's game in Phoenix. We leave on the 15th. Autographs! For the boy.

Cooperstown, NY – Late July 2009: I'm fervently rooting against Jim Rice's eventual induction, just so Rickey Henderson will have the day to himself and I'll be spared an entire weekend of Red Sox Nation. How do those of you who hate the Sox/Patriots/Celtics – or, worse, don't even like sports – live in New England?

Cam Fam Summer Vacation – Late August 2009: A return trip to the Pacific Northwest is very tentatively planned, with Mrs. Bootleg pushing for a "Vancouver only" experience and me lobbying hard for a Seattle Mariners hosting the Oakland A's from August 24 through 26 five-day stay in Seattle – the Emerald City. We did three-day stays in both cities back in 2006. Of course, that was a time when our son, Jalen, would sleep for the entire two-hour ride between countries. I ain't sitting in an American-made rental SUV for 120-plus minutes with Chatty McGee and his mom, thankyouverymuch.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

TBG Eats: The NEW Charbroiled Steak Sandwich from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 166.8 lbs.

Carl's Jr. has done a phenomenal job of positioning itself as "fast food for guys". Their burgers are proudly billed as big, messy two-hand fat bombs that can barely be contained within the confines of one bun.

The two spots Carl's Jr. has created for their new Charbroiled Steak Sandwich successfully continues this testosterone-filled trend. The above ad is getting most of the airplay, while the below commercial is way racier – albeit much easier on the eyes:

(Quick aside: Am I the only one who's noticed a rise in slovenly, unshaven white guys in fast food commercials? Admittedly, I'm about 15 years removed from the "too cool to care" crowd, but these restaurants should know that not everyone who enjoys their products looks like they're running 20 minutes late for an 8:00 AM "Intro to Anthropology" class.)

After one of the more nightmarish weeks within the walls of the Unnamed Defense Contractor, I went drinking last Friday afternoon and chased a few pitchers of cheap beer with this Steak Sandwich.

It's a simple array of ingredients: 100% sirloin steak, lettuce, tomato, two onion rings and mayonnaise on a toasted roll. Not included amongst the toppings: flavor. The meat is completely tasteless. Now, I wasn't expecting it to explode with the gastronomical awesome of Mrs. Bootleg's marinade or a basic, yet effective dry rub, but come on Carl's Jr.

The overly-breaded, deep-fried onion rings neutered the typical kick that raw onions always add, while the limp lettuce and tomato remains an infrequent Achilles' heel for the chain's hit-or-miss meals.

Considering you're out about $7.50 for the sandwich combo meal (with medium fries and drink), one would be wise to invest in the "Six Dollar Burger" combo for about the same price. You'll get more meat for your money, including a variety of toppings and about 60% less pretentiousness.

"Steak" sandwich? More like fake sandwich. Feel free to use that.

Grade: 1 (out of 5)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #16

Indianapolis at Jacksonville (Thurs.)
Aaron: Last week's closer-than-it-should've-been win over Detroit has everyone awaiting Indy's demise. Pride still matters in this league and it's all the Lions have to play for. The Jaguars, on the other hand…not so much. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: Maurice Jones-Drew. Keep pulling off those 4th quarter TDs. Please and thank you. Pick: Indianapolis

Baltimore at Dallas (Sat.)
Aaron: Watching Tony Romo writhe in agony on the ground at Texas Stadium as my fantasy football money league hopes went up in flames was kind of liberating in a way. Now, I can throw financial alliances out the window and root for Ray Lewis to finish the job. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: How sure are you that Ray Lewis will finish the job rather than freak out and speed away from the job, then six months later testifying against the job in exchange for immunity? Pick: Dallas

Miami at Kansas City
Aaron: My sincere thanks to Chiefs coach Herm Edwards for his colossal incompetence in blowing an 18 point lead to a DOA Chargers team and costing me a win last week. Way to set back the movement of us light-skinned bruthas, asshole. Pick: Miami

Joe: Miami's been riding the razor's edge seemingly for the last nine weeks or whatever. Can they get by one more week and make it to a division-deciding matchup with the Jets next week. Weird as it seems, I'm rooting for them. Sorry, guys. Pick: Kansas City

New Orleans at Detroit
Aaron: A lot's being made of Drew Brees' opportunity for a 450+ yard performance here, but that Saints defense against a Lions team fighting like hell to avoid becoming an eternal punchline… I think the Lions win here on a field goal in OT. (But, I'm NOT losing this pool because of this game, so…) Pick: New Orleans

Joe: Gah! Thought I had one there. Pick: New Orleans

Cincinnati at Cleveland
Aaron: Sorry, Ohio…you ceased being relevant to me after Obama carried your state, and I have no further use for you. Looking forward to your State school's annual BCS annihilation at the hands of Texas, though. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Did Cincy have their last hurrah win last week or do the Browns make a play for a Top-3 draft pick? Decisions, decisions. Pick: Cleveland

San Diego at Tampa Bay
Aaron: Despite one of the most disappointing seasons for a supposed Super Bowl contender in the last thirty years, the Chargers just might have momentum on their side – in the form of how bad the Bucs have looked lately. Pick: San Diego

Joe: The Bucs have won ugly before, they can do it again. Pick: Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh at Tennessee
Aaron: Anyone else notice how many of those ridiculously redemptive "Kerry Collins is the reason for the season" stories failed to mention the importance of Albert Haynesworth to the Titans? Good luck the rest of the way without him, Tennessee. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: That harsh winter wind is really whipping through that Tennessee bandwagon now that it's gotten so sparsely populated. Feel free to use Bill Simmons to cushion your fall, guys. Pick: Pittsburgh

San Francisco at St. Louis
Aaron: The 49ers are 3-4 under Mike Singletary. His old-school ways and game day intensity are being lauded as "refreshing" by the media. This time next year – when his team has tuned out this lunatic – that same media will lecture us on how Singletary's tactics won't work in today's NFL. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I can't decide whether St. Louis is one non-broken-down quarterback away from being halfway decent or not. Suppose it doesn't matter much this week. Pick: San Francisco

Arizona at New England
Aaron: When Tarvaris Jackson walks into Arizona and throws four TD passes, it's time to officially close the curtain on the Cardinals' '08 season. Can't wait to bet next month's mortgage against 'em when the playoffs start! Pick: New England

Joe: It'd be awfully ungracious for me to bitch about Anquan Boldin sitting out this week after he pretty much put my fantasy football season on his back for a good 2/3 of the year, but...GOD DAMN IT. Pick: New England

Buffalo at Denver
Aaron: I've just got a weird feeling that next week's Chargers vs. Broncos game in San Diego is actually going to mean something. Plus, the Bills just have to be looking to redeem themselves after last week's, umm…"flubbed ending". Right, Joe? Pick: Buffalo

Joe: See, that's where you're wrong, Cam. And I have an equally weird feeling that next week's Chargers/Broncos game will mean less than nothing. Pick: Denver

N.Y. Jets at Seattle
Aaron: Right on cue, everyone's using the last three weeks to jump off the Brett Favre bandwagon. Fools. Don't you realize that your pessimism only makes him stronger? Against all odds, Favre wins here then lays his long-awaited four INT stinkbomb next week vs. Miami or in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Too many people making Seattle the trendy upset pick of the week. I can't imagine I'd be that fortunate. Pick: NY Jets

Houston at Oakland
Aaron: Not sure what I'm looking more forward to: the litany of third and fourth tier names who turn down an opportunity to interview for the Raiders' head coaching job or the eventual August press conference that removes the "interim" tag from Tom Cable's title. Pick: Houston

Joe: The Texans' brass should really look into developing a serum which would fool their players into playing like they're 1-6 all year long. Pick: Houston

Philadelphia at Washington
Aaron: Happy Holidays to RB Clinton Portis and his gutless Redskins teammates who let an execrable Bengals squad beat 'em last Sunday without a fight, ending my fantasy football money league dreams. How 'bout you dedicate next year to winning, instead of Sean Taylor, 'K? Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Let the record show (tm Claire Huxtable) that Cam's original pick of "Miami" was submitted for reconsideration due to the indelible kindness of certain unnamed persons. Let the record also show that I'd really like to pick Washington here except for how they're playing like such shit. Pick: Philadelphia

Atlanta at Minnesota
Aaron: Favorite moment of the 2008 season – when Michael Turner surpassed his former mentor LaDanian "Classy" Tomlinson on everyone's 2009 fantasy running back depth charts. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: The Christmas spirit is strong in this one. And Atlanta has more to play for than Minnesota right now. Pick: Atlanta

Carolina at N.Y. Giants
Aaron: So, I appear to be the last man alive to give the Panthers their due. And, I'm still holding out. They've beaten TWO pretty good teams this year (Atlanta, definitely and I'm being generous with the Bucs). Their other nine wins have been against varying degrees of mediocrity. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Seeing as the Giants only started going downhill after you'd decided you suddenly believed in them, the Panthers are probably not too crushed. On the road against a still-good Giants team is probably not their best showcase, but they run the ball well (or haven't you heard) and play good defense. Pick: Carolina

Green Bay at Chicago
Aaron: The promos for Monday Night Football tell me that this is the oldest rivalry in the NFL. They leave out the "these two teams are a combined 13-15" line from the script. Pick: Chicago

Joe: There is every chance that my fantasy league championship will come down to this game, and Devin Hester vs. Donald Driver. Good lord, may I make it to New Year's. Pick: Chicago

The Sure-Thing Suicide Spread:
Aaron: Pittsburgh (-2) at Tennessee
Joe: Arizona at New England (-7.5)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Final 2008 A'ssessment: Pitchers

Catcher and DH

Greg Smith

7-16, 4.16 ERA, 32 GS

The Good News: When all 8,000 A's fans were singing Greg Smith's praises after he posted a 2.84 ERA in his first ten starts, I was the voice of reason that screamed, "Wait! He's not as awesome as you think!" Thankfully, the A's front office saw what I saw and flipped him to Colorado in the Matt Holliday deal. Smith was pretty OK in the first half (3.43 ERA), he held lefties to a .270 OBP on the year and his 15 pickoffs were one of the highlights – seriously – of the team's entire season. Ugh.

The Bad News: Smith completely imploded in the second half (2-9, 5.17 ERA) as his career-high workload caught up with him. He's got average stuff and a razor-thin margin of error, so the league simply laid off of any breaking pitch he threw and forced Smith to come at 'em with a 90 mph fastball he could only occasionally toss for strikes.

2009 Outlook: It kind of sucks that all of the Billy Beane sycophants – who LOVED Smith out of the gate – called him a low-ceiling #5 starter and focused on his won-loss record (obtained with the worst run support in the league) as Smith was on his way out the door. Still, his future is in the bullpen, where he could make millions as a Paul Assenmacher/Alan Embree imitation.

Dana Eveland

9-9, 4.34 ERA, 29 GS

The Good News: After an early August demotion to Triple-A, Eveland came back three weeks later and had a half-dozen strong starts (2.84 ERA, 2-0) before getting cuffed around in his final start of the year. He recorded a 3.49 ERA in the first half and pitched well vs. lefties all season.

The Bad News: Eveland walked 77 and struck out 118 – a terrible ratio made worse by the fact that he walked more than four batters per nine innings. RH hitters reached base at an ungodly .371 (OBP) clip. It'd be nice to see the 25-year-old take his conditioning a little more seriously. You can be a fat steaming load – a la David Wells – when your résumé shows you've earned the right.

2009 Outlook: The A's have some blue-chip pitching prospects in the pipeline behind Eveland, so he's probably not anyone's long-term answer in the rotation. Watching him blob around the basepaths during Interleague play has me hoping that he ends up in the National League, eventually. As it stands, he's probably our #3 starter right now. Damn it.

Justin Duchscherer

10-8, 2.54 ERA, 22 GS

The Good News: It was something of a breakout campaign for the unassuming, erstwhile relief pitcher. He spent most of the season among the league leaders in ERA and was named to the All-Star Game (where Fox PBP guy Joe Buck – unfamiliar with any player east of the Mississippi – mispronounced Duke's last name). He was often economical with his pitch count while going deeper into games as the season wore on.

The Bad News: As pretty much everyone predicted, Duke wasn't able to make it through his first season as a full-time starter. A hip injury nagged him all year long, before finally shutting him down in mid-August with just 141 innings pitched. There's a terrific piece over at fangraphs.com that suggests – correctly, IMO – that some of Duke's success in '08 is not sustainable going forward.

2009 Outlook: I thought the A's should've moved Duchscherer last season at the same time they were showing Joe Blanton and Rich Harden the door. Duke will be a free agent after this season and is either going to (1) price himself right out of Oakland or (2) injure himself right back to the bullpen. He's our ace as of this writing.

Huston Street

7-5, 3.73 ERA, 63 Games

The Good News: Finished the season with a flourish, posting a 1.37 ERA over his final 19 2/3 innings in 17 appearances, striking out 20. In the first half, while still the closer, Street shook off a poor start to post a 2.74 ERA and 17 saves from mid-April to mid-July.

The Bad News: On July 13, he spectacularly blew a save against the Angels right before the All-Star Break, effectively killing the A's season. Yes, yes, the two events aren't cause n' effect, but still… Street's always been wound pretty tight, getting flustered and agitated whenever runners reach base or he can't find the touch on his pitches. He blew up at manager Bob Geren during a pitching change in Detroit and ended his A's tenure as a fifth/sixth inning spare part.

2009 Outlook: "Closer mystique", as everyone knows, is overrated. That said, Street ain't got it. He's averaged 25 saves per year in his career and is capable of doing it again, but he'll never be the lights-out stopper he was in 2005 or, to a lesser degree, in 2007.

Brad Ziegler

3-0, 1.06 ERA, 47 Games

The Good News: He threw 39 scoreless innings in 2008 to begin his career – a feat that was unquestionably (and sadly) the biggest highlight of the season for the A's. Already insanely beloved by A's fans, Ziegler blogs at the fansite Athletics Nation and comes across as a humble everyman (he was signed out of an independent league) just happy to be in the bigs.

The Bad News: One of the best and worst things about being an A's fan is that we're conditioned to generally piss on sentiment. Ziegler's 2008 season was superficially excellent, but beneath the buzz, it was a colossal fluke. He allowed his fair share of baserunners (roughly 1.5 per appearance), his BB/K ratio was only 22/30, lefties thumped him pretty good (.800 OPS) and his groundball skill set is heavily dependent on the defense behind him.

2009 Outlook: I'm calling a hee-yuge regression for Ziegler next season, if he's used the same way in '09. He's not without value, but if Oakland really has him earmarked for a part-time closer's role and/or 8th inning bridge, LH hitters will eat him alive. Let him face tough right-handers late in the game or in situations that call for a groundball and the A's could have the best years of Chad Bradford all over again.

Joey Devine

6-1, 0.59 ERA, 42 Games

The Good News: After returning from the disabled list on August 3, Devine didn't give up an earned run the rest of the season spanning 24 appearances. Before hitting the DL, his ERA stood at 1.23 through his first 18 games. LH hitters recorded a .515 OPS against Devine, while righties could only muster a .312 (!!!) on-base plus slugging. He didn't give up a home run all season (in 45 2/3 innings) and avoided the unsightly walk totals that have plagued his abbreviated big league career.

The Bad News: Devine missed about two months with a strained elbow and his rough delivery hints at future arm ailments. He was mostly a low leverage set-up man in 2008, with his best work coming when the A's had long since thrown in the towel on the season. It remains to be seen if Devine can hold up from April to October over the pressure of a real pennant race.

2009 Outlook: A's management envisions a case-by-case division of the closer's role next year. Sometimes it'll be Ziegler, sometimes it'll be Devine. I'd be stunned if this job-sharing nonsense lasted too long, though. Devine does all the things that Ziegler can't: miss bats, intimidate and shut down hitters from both sides of the plate. He not THIS good, but he's better than anyone else the A's have. The whole "grown man called 'Joey'" thing does work my nerves, though.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

AiAA: That NFLshop.com Spot

Chances are you've seen the commercial for NFLshop.com that features an African-American husband and wife exchanging Christmas gifts. The wife receives a toaster from her husband, while the husband "gives his blood" in exchange for a Green Bay Packers jersey.

I should note that I couldn't find the actual commercial anywhere on the interwebs, but you should instantly recognize it from the screen grab in this link. If the goal of the spot was to drive traffic to the NFL's official online retailer, it worked. On the day the commercial debuted, NFLshop.com reported a 260% increase in sales. Still, this particular ad offers up a lot of awful…and that's what I'm here for.

1.) After the husband rattles off some of the features of the $10 toaster ("…it's got a knob for 'light' and 'dark'…") the wife replies with a terse "MmmHmm". It's one of those tired jive-time soundbites that's long been associated with Black women dating back to its '70s & '80s sitcom "sassy Black neighbor" origins. Racist? Absolutely not. But, not every African-American woman is Wilona Woods or Sandra Clark.

2.) As the husband opens his gift, he cuts his finger then proceeds to bleed – in the green and yellow colors of the Green Bay Packers. This is actually a clever little piece of hyperbole, save for one thing: there aren't any Black fans of the Green Bay Packers. There just aren't. Just like there aren't any Black Boston Red Sox fans (we've never forgotten that the BoSox were the last Major League team to integrate – 12 years after Jackie Robinson) or Black Utah Jazz fans (my wife and her family is from Utah and, as a result, I know every African-American in the state…none of them like the Jazz).

3.) If the wife in this ad really loved her husband, she would've NEVER gotten him a personalized jersey with anything but a real player's name on the back. "Pack Daddy #1"?! Really?! There have been a zillion cookie-cutter pieces written on the "rules" for wearing your favorite jersey and all of them include a personalization provision allowing for no leeway here. I'm proud to say Mrs. Bootleg would know better.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My 20 Most Hated Oakland A's – Part II

Having been an A's fan since 1981, I've had the pleasure of watching some of my favorite players – both all-world and obscure – wear the white shoes and rock the green and gold. But, I haven't openly rooted for every Oakland Athletic. Some were incessantly overhyped rookies, some were unsuccessful closers. Some were more style than substance, some were just jerks. I'll always love my A's…I just hate these guys.

Part I

#10 – T.J. Mathews: As part of the worthless 1997 haul from the Cardinals (along with the immortal Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein) for Mark McGwire, Mathews became Oakland's top middle reliever by default. His knack for serving up game-tying or tie-breaking home runs was legendary and forever earned him the moniker "Death to T.J. Mathews" by m'boy – and fellow A's fan – Smitty. He last pitched for the A's in 2001, then bounced around the minors and independent leagues for five more years as part of some demented tour to piss off every baseball fan in America.

#9 – Arthur Rhodes: Whenever anyone points to the unimpeachable genius of A's GM Billy Beane, one can either reference the
Tim Hudson trade or the signing of Rhodes as a free agent in 2003 to serve as a rebuttal. Beane was still perched atop his just-published Moneyball mountain of sabermetric blowjobs and hubris. His theory: "closers are made, not born" – so why not make a longtime middle reliever like Rhodes into his new closer? Statheads everywhere defended the move and while Beane's theory is absolutely right, Rhodes was the wrong arm to test it. He was 9 for 14 in save opportunities, surrendering late home runs to everyone from Alex Rodriguez to David F'n Eckstein. When he was finally demoted, he lashed out at the entire organization. Most egregiously, the A's sent him to Pittsburgh for Jason Kendall. Foreshadowing!

#8 – Brian Kingman: I was too young to remember Brian Kingman's bizarre 20-loss season in 1980. He threw 211 innings, posted essentially a league-average ERA (3.83) and completed 10 of his 30 starts. Oh, and the A's scored just 2.87 runs/start for him. That '80s A's pitching staff completed 94 of their 162 total starts under the old-school eye of alcoholic manager Billy Martin. Kingman blamed Martin's overuse for ruining his career – an accusation that isn't entirely untrue – but, any sympathy points he might've garnered were washed away when Kingman
began embracing the "celebrity" of his 20-loss season. Take the rampant douchebaggery of the '72 Miami Dolphins, strip the squad of all its talent, fame and place in history – and you've got Brian Kingman. All I can say is: thank you, Mike Maroth.

#7 – Octavio Dotel: Once the Arthur Rhodes experiment had run its calamitous 10-week course, the A's acquired Dotel as part of the three-way Carlos Beltran-to-Houston trade. On June 26 – Dotel's first appearance with the A's – he coughed up a four run lead in the ninth. On July 9 against the Indians, Dotel blew a late 4-2 lead. When the winning Indian run crossed the plate, I punched the coffee table in response resulting in a sweet purpley bruise on the side of my hand from my wrist to the tip of my pinky finger. Dotel would give up nine home runs in a tick over 50 Oakland innings as each save opportunity turned into a two or three-runners-on roller coaster. Lost his job to Huston Street the following year.

#6 – Jeremy Giambi: Just to get it out there, I remain unconvinced that Giambi would've been safe even if he'd slid into home plate during the "Jeter Flip" game in the 2001 ALDS. "Little G's" problem was a sense of entitlement that came from being the kid brother of the A's then-best player. Jeremy's approach was fine for those A's teams – he reached base at a very good clip, had some pop and couldn't field a lick. However, there never seemed to be any accountability for the idiotic way he played the game. In an
early April 2001 game, Rangers reliever Mike Venafro walked the bases loaded. On the first pitch he saw, Giambi grounded into a game-ending double play. His off-the-field tomfoolery was cribbed from the 1986 Mets playbook and once his big brother was no longer around to hold his leash, Jeremy Giambi was unceremoniously flipped to Philadelphia.

#5 – Todd Van Poppel: You really had to be following baseball in 1990 to appreciate the Todd Van Poppel experience. Even though ESPN was in the infancy of its eventual worldwide domination of the sports media field, Van Poppel's hype was inescapable. The baseball card industry (then, the ONLY measure prospective talent) couldn't overproduce his rookie cards fast enough in an already oversaturated market. Van Poppel would win just 18 games in an A's uniform and put up season ERAs of 5.04, 6.09 and 7.71 while doing it. He would pitch in the bigs for parts of 11 seasons, compiling the highest lifetime ERA (5.58) for anyone with at least 500 career innings pitched. Hey, that's a record!

#4 – Barry Zito: Zito debuted against the Anaheim Angels throwing Bugs Bunny curveballs that started over the hitter's head and ended somewhere around his shoe tops. Zito won seven games in his rookie year, then 17 the following season. Oddly enough, it in 2002 – when Zito won 23 games and the Cy Young Award – that my fandom for the man took a nosedive. He made his last start of the regular season on the last day of the regular season, instead of saving himself for Game #1 of the ALDS. Consequently, the A's best pitcher that year started just one playoff game and Oakland was sent home early when the Twins upset 'em in five. From there, Zito began a slow decline into an – at best – average pitcher. His starts turned into torturous ordeals where his pitch count would be at 110 in the fifth inning. His post-game interviews after yet another loss included ridiculous lines like, "I made good pitches". His flaky lefty schtick got so obnoxiously disingenuous that even Zito tried to tamp it down. Watching him suck mightily in San Francisco has warmed the darkest recesses of my heart. Keep making good pitches, weirdo.

#3 – Jason Kendall: One of the most polarizing players in recent A's history, Kendall spent 2 ½ seasons in green and gold. The sycophantic local media successfully conned the know-nothing portion of the A's fanbase into thinking that Kendall's unshaven face and permanent scowl equaled "leadership". And, whenever anyone quotes the mythical and un-measurable skill of "game calling" as a legitimate attribute, you know you're hearing the equivalent of complementing the ugly girl with the "great personality". Kendall was just a terrible hitter in Oakland, save for drawing walks decently in 2005-06. His ability to hit into double plays was almost legendary, while his opposite field infield groundouts were the stuff of Little League. By 2007, he'd become almost impervious to criticism, while racking up a .542(!!!) OPS over 80 games. His supporters pointed to the team's ERA as if this nancy had anything to do with the outcome of a ball that's pitched and put into play. Now in Milwaukee, I wonder why he's getting no credit for CC Sabathia's half-season there.

#2 – Eric Byrnes: Even when Byrnes was at the apex of his popularity in Oakland, I never climbed aboard the bandwagon. Most A's fans saw Byrnes as a whirling dervish on the basepaths and a kamikaze daredevil in the field who – wait for it – got the most out of his abilities. He lived the gimmick with a goofy, self-deprecating interview style that the media ate up with a spoon. Never mind that Eric Byrnes might be the most fundamentally unsound player alive today. I've watched him off an on for his entire nine-year career and I can say the next cutoff man he hits will be his first. He swings from the heels on almost every pitch, playing a power game that he's ill-suited for. And, while he owns a terrific lifetime stolen base percentage, he's actually an embarrassingly bad baserunner who famously help cost the A's an ALDS win over the Red Sox when he opted to bowl over catcher Jason Varitek, instead of touching home plate. Byrnes is a glorified fourth outfielder whose balls-out approach consistently wears him down over the course of a full season (career first half OPS: .826, second half OPS: .695).

#1 – Bobby Crosby: The 2004 rookie of the year – in what would turn out to be one of the weakest crops of AL freshmen in a generation (Shingo Takatsu? Ross Gload?) – Crosby somehow parlayed that 22 home run season into a five-year run as the Oakland A's regular shortstop. From 2005-07, Crosby never played in more than 96 games and never hit more than nine homers. He was frequently excused by fans and the media with the "if he could only stay healthy" caveat, yet when he was healthy he wasn't hitting. In 2008, Crosby played in 145 games, racking up 605 plate appearances and rewarded the team's inexplicable loyalty to the tune of a .645 OPS. His approach at the plate is simply "pull everything". It hasn't changed since his rookie year and watching him rollover the top of one change-up after another has become something of a summer tradition. Like most bad ballplayers, he remains completely oblivious to his own sucktitude and publicly pissed and moaned when the A's announced his playing time would be cut last September. "The Crosby Show" can't be cancelled soon enough for my taste. (Been sittin' on that one for awhile now.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #15

Last Week:
Aaron: 12-4 (0-1 vs. the spread)
Joe: 13-3 (1-0 vs. the spread)

Season to Date:
Joe: 137-70-1 (7-7 vs. the spread)
Aaron: 132-75-1 (6-8 vs. the spread)

New Orleans at Chicago
Aaron: Tonight's forecast in Chicago is 19 degrees with flurries. Do I make the predictable, unfunny Californian joke about how the only "flurries" I've seen are blended with delicious soft serve and Heath Bar? Or are those "Blizzards"? Meh, either way, it seems awfully cold to eat ice cream. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Weirder NFL development at running back: That, in Denver's Payton Hillis, we have the first notable white running back since The Nick Goings Improbably Fantasy MVP Season of '05, or the emergence of an RB named "Pierre" Thomas, in New Orleans. Yes, yes, New Orleans has their proud creole tradition and all. But still, can't he just switch names with Tony Parker to make the world make sense again? Pick: New Orleans

Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Aaron: Here's hoping the Bucs' run defense is as porous as it looked on Monday night vs. Carolina. Signed, All of us who own Michael Turner in our fantasy money leagues. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: You think the Falcons feel out of place as the least controversial NFC wildcard contender? Andre Rison, Eugene Robinson, and Michael Vick officially think the team has gone soft. Pick: Atlanta

Seattle at St. Louis
Aaron: Nice of the Seahawks' receivers to get all healthy and un-injured just in time for some third-rate opponents and a chance to torpedo a top six draft pick. Pick: Seattle

Joe: Not to mention Seneca Wallace making his case for the Billy Volek "Weeks 14-16 MVP" award. Pick: Seattle

Buffalo at N.Y. Jets
Aaron: My Raiders will remain the template for inept sports franchises as long as the wind whistles thru Al Davis' remains. That said, even he wouldn't OK the relocation of a home game to a neutral site with neutral conditions in front of a neutered crowd in December. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Dear Roger Goddell: See? Canadians HATE FOOTBALL. Please don't give them our team. In other news: the playoff hopes are finished, but knocking Brett Favre and the Jets out of the playoffs would be goddamn sweet. Stupid J.P. Losman. Pick: NY Jets

San Francisco at Miami
Aaron: Soooooo, maybe it was just the 4-6 cold weather games Chad Pennington had to play every year in New York, New England and/or Buffalo that kept him from crossing over into the realm of perfectly serviceable QBs? Thanks, South Florida! You, too, province of Ontario! Pick: Miami

Joe: Never thought I'd be rooting for the Dolphins to win the division, but here we are. Come on, Davone Bess! Pick: Miami

San Diego at Kansas City
Aaron: The Chargers have played the Chiefs in December a few times in the past few seasons and never seem to look good. OK, not a convincing argument, but I needs to make up some ground to ol' Brooklyn Joe. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: Happy to oblige! Pick: San Diego

Green Bay at Jacksonville
Aaron: That 4th down run vs. Pittsburgh in last year's playoffs netted Jags QB David Garrard a huge contract extension. Sure, he and the Jags quit on their coach, but they showed up for about 50% of the season! Pick: Green Bay

Joe: I'd love to pick the Jags as I need Maurice Jones-Drew to show up big here, but that whole thing about quitting on this season ain't no joke. Pick: Green Bay

Washington at Cincinnati
Aaron: Goddammit, Clinton Portis...quit feuding with your head coach, rest your body until Sunday and shred the Bengals like every other running back has this year. Fantasy. Playoffs. Money. League. Does this mean nothing to you?! Pick: Washington

Joe: And speaking of teams who have mailed this season in. With insufficient postage. Pick: Washington

Tennessee at Houston
Aaron: Can't get enough of those soft-focused Kerry Collins "redemption" stories. A recovering alcoholic (who still drinks)...quit on his Panthers team after his heart was no longer in it...looked awful in every big game he's ever played in. And, all he had to say is "sorry about that". That's the liberal media elite for ya. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: For what seems like the tenth week in a row, I'd love to pick the Texans here, but I won't. Pick: Tennessee

Detroit at Indianapolis
Aaron: Y'know...I think they're going to do it. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: You know, Detroit's close to the Canadian border too. Anybody discussing giving THEIR crappy team to Toronto? Pick: Indianapolis

Minnesota at Arizona
Aaron: The Vikings looked lethargic against an overmatched Lions squad last week. That combined with an "NFC West Champions Hangover" effect for the Cards makes this...OK, OK, I'm just trying to convince myself. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: Isn't there some coincidental and silly "rule" about dome teams from cold-weather cities traveling in a southwesterly direction and playing a team that's marginally better than them? I think there is. Pick: Arizona

New England at Oakland
Aaron: The death of Matt Cassel's father this week only means one thing: 500 passing yards for the Pats QB, all dedicated to the memory of his pops. (See how inspiring death can be, Al Davis?) Pick: New England

Joe: Aaron, they're not all Brett Favre, you know. Pick: New England

Denver at Carolina
Aaron: The mediocre Broncos are going to win the AFC West and the slightly better Panthers looked like world-beaters a week ago. I miss the certainty of Johnny Unitas. Now, there's a haircut you can set your watch to. Pick: Denver

Joe: You think the Panthers are only slightly better than the Broncos? Guess it's just that No Coast Bias coming into play. Pick: Carolina

Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Aaron: Last time I mention my fantasy playoff game (hopefully, just for this week!): I've got Hines Ward AND Derrick Mason AND the Steelers' defense. The Ravens, meanwhile, are targeting Ward with the most publicized bounty since that whole Boba Fett/Han Solo thing back in '80. How can I lose?! Ugh. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: The Ravens at home after a emotional comeback win by the Steelers SEEMS like the right call. But "AFC North Campion Baltimore Ravens" certainly sounds odd. Let's see what happens when I put all my chips on Joe Flacco. Pick: Baltimore

N.Y. Giants at Dallas
Aaron: Come on, Tony Romo! (I can't say why, as I used up my quota of fantasy football self-references earlier in this post.) Pick: Dallas

Joe: It's pretty kind of TO, Jason Witten, and the entire road company of Wade Phillips's Bumbling Wild West Show to make the post-Plax Giants the LEAST distracted team on the field this week. It's closing in three weeks. Pick: NY Giants

Cleveland at Philadelphia
Aaron: Isn't it about time for Donovan McNabb to come back down to earth against an opponent he has no business losing to? Stupid Ken Dorsey. Why can't you be at least average? Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: The silver lining to another Eagles win is that we'll get another week of the very same sports pundits throwing dirt on Philly's grave three weeks ago telling the rest of us how stupid and disrespectful we were for thinking Donovan and Co. didn't have the rest of the league right where they wanted them all along. Awesome. Pick: Philadelphia

Sure-Thing Suicide Spread

Aaron: Denver (+7.5) at Carolina
Joe: Buffalo (+7.5) at NY Jets

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My 20 Most Hated Oakland A's - Part I

Having been an A's fan since 1981, I've had the pleasure of watching some of my favorite players – both all-world and obscure – wear the white shoes and rock the green and gold. But, I haven't openly rooted for every Oakland Athletic. Some were incessantly overhyped rookies, some were unsuccessful closers. Some were more style than substance, some were just jerks. I'll always love my A's…I just hate these guys.

#20 – Jose Ortiz: Selected by Baseball America as the A's top prospect in 2001 after putting up .351/.408/.575 line at AAA-Sacramento in 2000. His power numbers were SO far above and beyond anything he'd done to that point, it's probably not a stretch to suggest he had Miguel Tejada, Adam Piatt and Jason Giambi on speed vial, er, dial. Only had 52 at-bats with the A's before he was traded to Colorado, but at Spring Training in 2001, he started chatting up my girlfriend (the future Mrs. Bootleg) and asked her out. He's spent the last few years bouncing back and forth between Japan and a California Independent League. Karma, m*thaf*cka…

#19 – Curt Young: Won 65 games for the A's over parts of ten seasons (1983-1991, 1993) including three straight double-digit win campaigns from 1986-88. Unfortunately, Young had the misfortune of being the worst starter – by comparison – on some of the best A's teams in history. It's hard to look good when Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Mike Moore and Scott Sanderson are flirting with 20 wins. Oh, and Young was on the mound for the first Angels/A's game m'boy Smitty and I attended in Anaheim. Our ongoing 20 years and counting tradition kicked off with a somnambulant loss.

#18 – Jim Mecir: In 4 ½ years in Oakland, Mecir put up some very respectable numbers. He recorded decent ERAs and a solid strikeouts-to-innings pitched ratio. So, perhaps it was only perception and not reality, but Mecir always seemed to be that reliever that would come into a game with the bases loaded just before yielding a three-run double and then getting out of the inning. One-third of an inning, technically zero runs allowed, A's lose. The fact that he played in mostly media-absent Oakland and was born with a serious (and oft-mentioned) case of club feet garnered him a long leash from criticism.

#17 – Ernie Riles/Vance Law: In the winter of 1991, our longtime third baseman – Carney Lansford – was seriously injured in a snowmobile accident. Earlier that offseason, the A's acquired utility man Ernest Riles from San Francisco (in exchange for all-field, no-hit CF Darren Lewis) and, in response to the loss of Lansford, Oakland signed former Cubs and Expos third baseman Vance Law, who'd spent the 1990 season in Japan. The idea was to form a platoon with the lefty Riles and righty Law. The result was so bad (Riles' OPS: .614, Law's OPS: .579) that Lansford was forced to come back months-too-early before shutting himself back down for the season after just five games. They were SO bad that we traded for the remains of erstwhile Indian Brook Jacoby…who was even worse (OPS: .532)!

#16 – Ariel Prieto: Todd Helton, Roy Halladay, Geoff Jenkins and Matt Morris. All four were picked after Prieto in the first round of the 1995 draft. We covered this ground before so I'll just say that those A's teams of the mid-1990s were the worst I've ever seen and Ariel Prieto was their poster boy.

#15 – Jay Howell: For anyone wondering who the A's regular closer was before Dennis Eckersley redefined the role in the late 1980s, here you go. For me, I'll remember Howell for three things: (1) Being part of the Yankees' package sent to Oakland in exchange for my all-time favorite player, Rickey Henderson, after the 1984 season. (2) Erasing two respectable seasons (1985-86) with an absolutely rotten 1987 in which he blew eight saves in 24 chances, put up an ERA of 5.89 and inexplicably made the All-Star team (the ASG was in Oakland, where he was booed like crazy during pre-game introductions AND got the loss!) (3) Getting a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1988.

#14 – Nick Swisher: OK…Swisher actually was productive during his time in Oakland. His OPS in 2005-06 was .865 and .836, respectively. He popped as many as 35 home runs in a season and by 2007, he'd become the de facto face of the franchise. He also grew up in West Virginia. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but Swisher held on to his goofy redneck schtick a little too much for me. Remember, during the presidential campaign, how Sarah Palin and the GOP routinely bashed those of us who favor utensils and own a three-digit IQ? Well, ol' Nick and his Y2K Urban Cowboy persona represented the "real" America that embraces its backwoods ignorance. Watch out for the pimps and the C.H.U.D.s in New York, Cletus.

#13 – Ricardo Rincon: The A's acquired him from Cleveland for the stretch run in 2002. He recorded a 3.10 ERA in 20 games. In each of his three subsequent seasons, his innings pitched eroded to the point where he was being used exclusively against left-handed hitters and often for just one batter. Tony Fossas and Jesse Orosco pitched into their eighties with this gimmick, but Rincon never seemed to have the stomach for the role. Watching him break into a profuse sweat on the mound during Arctic-condition night games in Oakland was always worth the price of my MLB Extra Innings package.

#12 – Ruben Sierra: On August 31, 1992, the A's traded Jose Canseco to Texas in exchange for Sierra, Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell. Sierra promptly missed a week with chicken pox. In roughly four seasons in Oakland, Sierra never lived up to the oversized expectations brought on by what would be his career year in 1989 at the age of 23 (.306/.347/.543). And, speaking of oversized, Sierra famously came to Spring Training in 1993 with a new, grotesquely muscular physique that was then credited to a "strenuous workout regimen". Ironically, the juice sapped him of what little natural juice he had left in his bat and Sierra was finished as an everyday player by the time the A's traded him to the Yankees for the esteemed Danny Tartabull.

#11 – Storm Davis: In 1988 and 1989, Davis won 16 and 19 games, respectively. Back then, the only pitching stats that anyone cared about were wins and losses. Still, even to my friends and fellow A's fans, something didn't seem quite right. Davis was averaging less than six innings per start, while the offense seemed to show up en masse each and every time he pitched. Good pitcher or exceptionally good fortune? Davis had a solid, but unspectacular start in the 1988 ALCS versus Roger Clemens in Game #2. In his next three postseason appearances, his ERA was 9.44. He sealed his fate with the team and his place on this list when he publicly barked at having his '89 World Series start skipped after the games came back from the 10-day earthquake delay.

Next: The Top 10!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Adventures in Awful Advertising: The "Nuggnuts" Ad Campaign

In December 1997, I earned a Bachelor's Degree in marketing from San Diego State University. Immediately after college, I spent seven weeks working in sales for a software company. Truth be told, after two days, I knew that sales weren't for me and all the real advertising jobs were in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. So, it's time to see if 10 years have dulled the skills that I once applied. For 48 hours. 10 years ago.

Synopsis: Last month, McDonald's embarked on an odd ad blitz centered on their ubiquitous Chicken McNuggets product. 2008 marks the 25th anniversary of their original release and to celebrate, McDonald's is creating a new word. And, a lazy Facebook page. Oh, and a tagline that may or may not have been lifted from Mad Men.

Target Audience: This marks the first time I can remember McDonald's actively pushing Chicken McNuggets towards the 18-34 demographic. Back in 1983, McNuggets were targeted towards kids and their Chevrolet Caprice-driving parents. A generation later, we're watching an attempt to play into those sepia-toned adolescent memories of fried foods and barbecue sauce. "Remember McNuggets? They're still here and they're STILL fun!"

Three Reasons Why it Won't Work: (1) "Nuggnuts" is just a stupid, stupid word. Are you telling me that not ONE participant from the dozens of McDonald's-commissioned "Nuggnuts" focus groups said, "It kinda sounds like numbnuts"? I'm reminded of that Simpsons episode where Homer's running through potential schoolyard insults for his as-yet unborn and unnamed son ("…cart, dart, eee-art…Nope, can't see any problem with that!").

(2) No one has figured out the internet. Put it this way…when the origins of your ad campaign are tied to a 45-second YouTube phenomenon, it might be time to admit you're out of ideas. Nearly two million page views of two rapping tools is simply not indicative of burgeoning brand loyalty. Who makes up the audience? How many of them already eat at McDonald's? How many don't? What's their household income? Do they have kids? Are they kids? More than a decade since the internet explosion, we still don't know with any degree of certainty who's out there. Well, besides "everyone".

(3) Too many mixed messages. So, there's this fast food company out there that raked in $23 billion in worldwide revenues last year. Its mascot once famously scored 96% recognition with grade-school aged kids (second behind Santa Claus). Yet, McDonald's is positioning Chicken McNuggets as part of an ersatz underground campaign dressed up and dumbed down as some sort of "movement"? All that's missing are the creepy George Orwellian black shirts with a single cryptic message scrawled across the front for all of us to wear. But, apparently they'll be available on December 31. Of course.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

TBG's Friend Eats: Spain

Over the summer, Jeff Fernandez passed along his gastrointestinal report from Israel. It was such a fun read that he offered up another one from his recent trip to Spain.

The people of Madrid (madrileños, as they refer to themselves) have an eating regimen that's unlike anything I've ever experienced. They eat a breakfast just like most others, but take a two-hour lunch period in mid-late afternoon (during which time almost everything in town closes down) and then proceed to snack throughout the evening and finally eat dinner around 10pm or later.

Of the Spanish raciones that I tried, I think my favorite was either the gambas al ajillo or the gambas a la plancha. Both are shrimp, though they're served in completely different ways. The former is a shallow ceramic bowl filled with small shrimp (think popcorn shrimp-size), sliced garlic, some dried red peppers and olive oil and then cooked over an open flame until it boils. The bowl is then served to the patron with a side of bread for soaking up the olive oil. This fucking kicked ass, seriously. I ate it at least six or seven times throughout the course of five days. The other shrimp dish is much simpler, but it's not for the squeamish. It's a platter of six to eight shrimp grilled with salt and olive oil, though once cooked, they're served alone on a plate with the heads, legs and shells still intact. You pull all of that stuff off, but not before sucking the juices out of the head. It sounds disgusting, but it's a sweet salty treat that may very well be the cure for cancer. I ate this quite a few times as well.

The lomo embuchado, a cured pork loin sliced and grilled, was delicious when served with a fried egg and some tuna salad on the side. Tuna salad here still has mayo, but that's about where the similarity ends. The concoction also boasts diced potatoes (not unlike in potato salad), green olives, carrots and sometimes peas and other vegetables.

I was a bit disappointed by the chorizo, which is one of my favorite foods when served in its Mexican-style incarnation. The Spanish version, which no doubt is the original, is served more like a hot link or Italian sausage, and tastes a lot more similar. The Spanish don't really eat a lot of spicy food, and this is about as spicy as it gets, though it doesn't really hold a candle to the spicy Mexican chorizo available in North America.

Speaking of things that differ from the Mexican variation, the tortilla española isn't even close to what you probably think it is. It is neither used to make tacos or low-carb substitute submarine sandwiches. Here, a tortilla is essentially a thick, pizza-sized omelet made with potatoes (patatas) and then sliced into smaller portions. It's a popular breakfast item, as it soaks up alcohol very well.

But the gastronomic pride of Spain is undoubtedly jamón iberico, a type of ham made from the Black Iberian Pig, which resembles Italian prosciutto. The most expensive type is made from pigs that were exclusively fed acorns, while lower grades were also able to eat hazelnuts and other similar things. I had previously seen Andrew Zimmern eating this on an episode of Bizarre Foods, where he said that one can taste the acorns in the fat of the ham. This is very true. It has a rich, earthy taste (and is plenty greasy and salty), so for those of you who cut the fat off of your meat, you probably won't dig it as much, as the fat does come with the territory. It was good, but not something for which I would pay $80/pound again. The locals eat it by the slice, and also serve it in everything from sandwiches to atop small pieces of bread or crackers as a snack. You can tell that a place serves it by looking see if they have a pig leg (with hoof still intact) either hanging in the window or sitting on a serrano stand inside.

The McDonald's I visited was just across the street from the busy Gran Vía subway station. This is just about a five-minute walk from Puerta del Sol, and another five minutes from the Plaza Mayor, both of which are huge tourist destinations (the latter is probably number one), so it's always going whether it's three in the afternoon or three in the morning. (On the other side of the street from the McDonald's, if you go south on Calle de la Montera about 200 feet, you've got a load of street prostitutes and sex shops, if that's your thing. Just saying.)

[If you want to see the actual menu items, click on the "Que Me Tomo Hoy" on the McDonald's home page. - TBG]

El Mac
I didn't have it, but it's all over the place. It's a large, elliptical-shaped beef patty nestled in a ciabatta bun with lettuce, tomato and a slice of Swiss cheese. It looked good, but it was nothing exotic enough for me to go with, as they had even better things on the menu...

CBO stands for "Chicken, Bacon, Onions"... yes, they're going with the full-on English experience here, and this is quite possibly the greatest thing that I've ever tasted at a McDonald's anywhere—better than the McCountry, better than the McKebbab and even better than the limited-edition Beef Wennington (available for a limited time in Chicago in the '90s to commemorate the Chicago Bulls' end-of-the-bench center). It's about the size of the larger chicken sandwiches available at American outlets, except along with the crispy chicken breast filet comes a few slices of bacon, crispy onion strings, lettuce, cheese, tomato and what tastes sort of like a thousand-island-type sauce, except it's white. Top it all off with square-shaped, ciabatta-type sesame-seed bun and we have ourselves one of the greatest things to ever be offered at the Golden Arches. Oh yeah... and the bun also has real bacon bits on it. Better book that flight now before prices go up again.

Capricho Francés and Capricho Italiano
Capricho literally means "fancy," though in this case I reckon it's meant to be taken more as "deluxe," as in "French (or Italian) Deluxe" sandwich. I think we all remember how that went for McDonald's the last time around, but these sandwiches are better than anything from the ill-fated Arch Deluxe line. Being as I am glutton, and I wasn't sure when or if I'd be back again before I left the country, I ordered both the Capricho Francés and the Capricho Italiano. The former is a regular-sized burger patty on a ciabatta bun with lettuce, tomato and honey dijon mustard. I can't recall if it had cheese, too, but the Italiano is leaps and bounds above it in either case. It isn't just a different type of burger; it's a chicken sandwich, and quite possibly the best chicken sandwich I've ever eaten at a McDonald's. It's about the size of a McChicken, but the patty is garnished with lettuce, tomato and two (count 'em... TWO) different sauces—a zesty marinara-type sauce and a creamy tzadziki-type sauce. To make things even better, it's on split-top bun dusted with a mix of zesty Italiano herbs, with oregano being the only one that I can identify by name.

I didn't eat at Burger King, because they didn't seem to have anything that I couldn't get back at home (although if you were upset when they discontinued the Big King, they do still have that). What did, however, catch my attention was their version of the Original Chicken Sandwich. Much like the Burger Kings here, they've got the Tendercrisp, as well as the classic, long chicken-patty sandwich, which they've so aptly named... Long Chicken. I shit you not. I'm quite certain that every English-speaking person that's happened to pass by has had a laugh at the expense of Burger King over this. Seeing as it's also called that Germany and the Netherlands, both of which are home to a large amount of English speakers, they seem to be having a bit of fun with it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Negro Elite Recommends…

I know that a link to fivethirtyeight.com is located just to the right of what you're reading right now, but in this post-election political talk burnout that most of us are suffering from, it's worth yet another post.

They've got a fascinating take on Saxby Chambliss's win in the Georgia Senate runoff earlier this week, specifically on how it may serve as a template in 2010 for Republicans. I'm not sure I agree with every point (personally, I think the predictable fall-off of Black voters AND the voters' concern of a potential 60-seat Democratic Senate AND the Sarah Palin cameos throughout the state were all downplayed a little too much by the esteemed Mr. Silver), but it's still a great read.

TBG's 2008 NFL Pickin' - Week #14

Oakland at San Diego
Aaron: Way to sell the merits of your exciting Thursday night schedule, NFL Network! This - this - is the biggest game of the season for the Chargers and their miserable fan base, so let the trash talk and victory parade commence at game's end. I'll still have three more weeks to watch Tomlinson sitting dejectedly on the bench by himself with that ridiculous shaded helmet hiding his classy, classy tears. Ass. Pick: San Diego

Joe: Wait, wait, wait. I thought I was supposed to be the bitter hometown fan while YOU were the snarky, detached cool guy. We really should clear this up before we pick the Sunday games. Pick: San Diego

Washington at Baltimore
Aaron: Clinton Portis has been playing injured all season. He's currently being held together with Scotch Tape and twine and may explode on contact with the Ravens' defense. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: I'm starting to become a believer in this Ravens team. HA! Y'all are fucked now, Baltimore fans! Pick: Baltimore

Cleveland at Tennessee
Aaron: How did LenDale White get away with publicly griping about his lack of involvement in the team's offense, then get rewarded with 500 carries in the very next game? Oh, LenDale White. I see. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: So is this Ken Dorsey for the Browns the QB from Miami? I wonder how his arrogant cries of "The U!" will sound from four feet deep in Tennessee's Former Adelphia Coliseum. Pick: Tennessee

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
Aaron: A year from now, when Donovan McNabb is finishing up his first season in Chicago or Minnesota, he'll look especially awful in a late-season game in bad weather. This is the prequel. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: I put the over/under on high-handed Plaxico Burress lectures by the FOX crew (please be Joe Buck, please be Joe Buck!) at 99, while the over/under on tasteless jokes about sweatpants and the "shotgun" formation that show a sense of humor about the whole situation is at 2. Take the under on the latter. Pick: NY Giants

Atlanta at New Orleans
Aaron: Let's see... in this week's ESPN Magazine: (1) Matt Ryan is on the cover. (2) Kim Kardashian offers advice on "How to be an NFL Girlfriend". Stay relevant, Saints. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: I should know the answer to this, but it's escaping me: what was the genesis of your irrational Saints hatred again? Not that it's not totally amusing, I'm just curious. Pick: New Orleans

Cincinnati at Indianapolis
Aaron: The Colts have a soft December schedule and look like a team that suckers us all into thinking they'll go farther than the second round of the playoffs. Quit copying the 2006-07 Chargers, Indy. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: It's kind of bizarre to see the Bengals play for next year when, by all indications, they're gonna suck like crazy next year too. Pick: Indianapolis

Houston at Green Bay
Aaron: The Packers are playing for their season each week and got punched in the mouth at home last week. Green Bay will make orphans out of a few Texans' kids. ("Yes, but I imagine their mothers will die of grief.") Pick: Green Bay

Joe: They've been playing for their season for the past two weeks, and they've given up 86 points in that span. With Matt Schaub back under center at Houston, they have cause to be worried. Still, they're at home. Pick: Green Bay

Minnesota at Detroit
Aaron: On the bright side, the Lions would have to be the favorites versus inter-city "whose year's been sh*ttier?" rivals Kwame Kilpatrick and the American auto industry. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: If those two fat Williamses were still suspended, I was all set to pick the Lions to get their first win of the season. Probably not now. Pick: Minnesota

Jacksonville at Chicago
Aaron: That whole "team travels three time zones" storyline gained traction earlier this year, but for my money, it doesn't get any lazier than the ol' "warm weather team plays in cold weather" chestnut. Pick: Chicago

Joe: After the Jaguars basically played at half-speed last week on national television, I wonder if there's a gambler in the country who would put their money on them now. Pick: Chicago

N.Y. Jets at San Francisco
Aaron: I dunno. Favre and the Jets are travelling across three time zones here. Three! And, that was quite the generic storyline earlier this year. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: Yeah, but they're traveling the good way across the country. The way that energizes you and puts you three whole hours AHEAD of everyone else. Kind of like how I'm three hours ahead of -- and thus better than -- you at any given time. Pick: NY Jets

Kansas City at Denver
Aaron: A win by Denver gives the AFC West to the Broncos, so there's that for motivation. On an unrelated note, I'm playing Cutler over Romo in my money league this week, so there's that for picking KC. Pick: Denver

Joe: I wonder if a team has ever been a 20-point underdog at home in the playoffs like Denver's destined to be. Joe Flacco, this team's defense is our eventual Christmas gift to you! Pick: Denver

Miami at Buffalo
Aaron: We do love us some Bill Simmons bashing here at "Aaron and Joe's Cavalcade of Whimsy" and sometimes he really deserves it. In his Friday column, he points to the relocation of this game from Western NY to Toronto as being an advantage for the Bills! And, he uses the Toronto fans as his explanation! He does know the roof's going to be closed, right? No? Jerk. Pick: Miami

Joe: Bill can get back to me in the middle of the first quarter, after the third massive "GO LEAFS GO!" chant. Assholes. Pick: Miami

Dallas at Pittsburgh
Aaron: Just to recap...no running back for the Cowboys means the Steelers ferocious defense can focus on pressuring Dallas QB Tony Nine Fingers and his gag-in-the-big-game gaggle of receivers. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: You know, I stopped touting the Steelers as a Super Bowl-caliber team when I stopped believing in their offense ('round about that Eagles game). But now I'm wondering if they have a chance to be that kind of defense-first AFC champion that all the Tennessee dick-suckers are saying the Titans can be. Pick: Pittsburgh

St. Louis at Arizona
Aaron: Looks like a Certain Someone's been forsaking Kurt Warner these last few weeks! Thankfully, "He only gives us challenges that He knows we can conquer" - Rams Suck 3:16 Pick: Arizona

Joe: I'm still trying to figure out what to get Anquan Boldin this Christmas for saving my fantasy season. You think diamonds would be too forward? Pick: Arizona

New England at Seattle
Aaron: Matt Cassel is going to turn a few huge games versus some terrible opponents into a ginormous free agent contract this offseason. If he's smart, he'll pick San Francisco, just so he'll get to play Seattle twice next year. Pick: New England

Joe: Plus all those fantastic rainy Christmases! Pick: New England

Tampa Bay at Carolina
Aaron: "Jake Delhomme versus even a passable defense" trumps "Jake Delhomme at home". Every time. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: The Bucs defense are going to, by and large, shut down the Panthers offense. En route to a 13-7 loss. Pick: Carolina

The Sure-Thing Suicide Spread
Aaron: Tampa Bay (+3) at Carolina
Joe: Minnesota at Detroit (+10)

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Sunday with My Son

Last Saturday, I navigated the 90-some miles from San Diego to Long Beach – my old hometown. Despite giving her tacit approval weeks in advance, Mrs. Bootleg seemed none too pleased when I hit the road around 11:00 AM. In response, I opted to give my wife some Jalen-free time on Sunday.

8:00 AM - Mrs. Bootleg has been complaining all weekend, off and on, about a headache she couldn't shake. But, in 30 minutes she's supposed to meet "the girls" for breakfast. What a shock…she's strong enough to make the drive for waffles and home fries. Keep this in mind when she returns home…

9:00 AM - Dipping into TBG's debauchery fund, I lay some real money on the Falcons (vs. San Diego) plus 4 ½ points. Absolutely, the most ill-informed spread of the season.

10:00 AM - I'm sitting on the couch, self-lobotomized by a kid-friendly DVD of this when Mrs. Bootleg returns. She plops down next to me and exaggeratedly rubs her left temple and eye socket. Which sympathy card will she play? Migraine? Sinus headache? Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan ear canal critter? Regardless, given the choice between a day with my uncontrollable son or one with him AND my wife…

11:00 AM - My son and I steal the wife's SUV. Our first stop is Wal-Mart. I don't know why, but I always feel better about myself after spending 10 minutes amongst the typical Wal-Mart customers. I'm not sure if it's my gainful employment, the college degree or the simple act of occasionally brushing my teeth. Probably all of the above.

11:30 AM - I've purchased a toy (Autobot Jazz!) for the Toys for Tots donation box outside Wal-Mart, currently being guarded by two 18-year-old Marines in full dress blues. I'd criticize their never-ending retail occupation of this territory, but maybe if we'd stationed a few at the Wal-Mart in Long Island on Black Friday '08… (Also, anyone know the over/under on how many times the words "thugs", "animals" and "savages" would've been used if that trampling occurred at a Wal-Mart in "the bad part of town"?)

Before I forget, here's how Jalen translated my explanation of the Toys for Tots purchase to the cashier: "We bought this for the poor people." Then, in the next beat, he tells her: "We bought this because it doesn't cost a lot of money." Jesus.

12:00 PM - We're now at Old Poway Park and onboard the replica steam engine that loops around the acreage a couple of times. I remember liking trains when I was Jalen's age, too. Then, in 2000, Girlfriend Bootleg and I took Amtrak from San Diego to Santa Barbara for my boy JP's wedding. In the pantheon of filth, rubbish and refuse there's public beach restrooms, Qualcomm Stadium restrooms when the Chargers host the Raiders and Amtrak restrooms at the end of a six-hour ride. We'll leave it at that.

12:30 PM - I ask Jalen where he wants to go for lunch and he offers up "Old McDonald's". Not as awesome as his "Hamburger King" misnomer, but it's worth a few points on the ol' anecdote scale. I decide on The Hamburger Factory, instead. It's right next to the train, has a couple of antique picture tube TVs and we've walked in just as the Browns are driving with a three point lead in the fourth quarter vs. Indy! Eat it, Joe Reid!

12:45 PM - I've ordered a "schooner" of Karl Strauss Amber Lager, which dictionary.reference.com defines as "a very tall glass, as for beer". What I get is a pimp goblet that could've held 80 ounces of malt liquor. For the next 30 minutes, all the customers who walk past en route to their tables gawk and offer up unsolicited, unfunny commentary like "hope your kid is driving" and "got enough beer there?" One woman even huffs, "Oh, that's just too much" to her teenaged son.

12:50 PM - The Colts have just returned a fumble for a touchdown to take the lead, 10-6.

12:55 PM - Browns' QB Derek Anderson is injured, so Cleveland is left with their 3rd string QB Ken Dorsey. He promptly lofts two or three pieces of wobbly, wind-swept trash to no receivers in particular sealing the deal for Indy. Eat it, Aaron Cameron.

1:00 PM - I've ordered a giant strawberry shake with our lunch. It comes with whipped cream, which Jalen apparently doesn't like. I tell him it's "vanilla syrup". He believes me. Wow. And – just to expedite the inevitable – if any future exiled Nigerian princes are reading this, save your fraudulent emails. Jalen keeps his piggy bank on the dresser by his bed. Help yourselves.

1:15 PM - We're at the park, which is adjacent to the train, the restaurant and the homes of several people who really should kill their realtors. Jalen meets a little Hispanic girl who doesn't speak English. They're still able to erase their communication and ethnic boundaries, playing for nearly ½ an hour in a scene that could foster harmony between the Blacks and the Browns for generations to come.

1:45 PM - It's 80 degrees and I'm in a long-sleeve shirt, as the temperature has jumped from the 65 it was when we left the house. Playtime's over.

2:00 PM - That two gallon jug of suds has negotiated an untimely exit strategy with my urethra. I pull into a Target in the hope that Jalen and I can just use the restroom and be on our way.

2:30 PM - Half an hour after peeing, we're still s-l-o-w-l-y roaming the toy aisle.

3:00 PM - We're finally back home. The Falcons are nursing a precarious lead over the Chargers. The isolated shots of LaDanian Tomlinson's sullen, solitary presence on the bench would increase over the next hour.

4:00 PM - Falcons win! Aaron wins! Gambling…f*ck, yeah!

5:00 PM - Mrs. Bootleg wraps up her hour-long "You can't be gambling in this economy" dissertation. Good to be home.

Proving just how small the blogosphere really is, m'man Tom Daniels put up a similar Wal-Mart highlighted Thanksgiving weekend diary, but with an upstate New York flavor.