Saturday, January 31, 2009

Flippin' Thru: ESPN The Magazine (02/09/2009)

Billed as "The Fan Issue", the latest ESPN mag includes survey results from more than 42,000 sports fans. Some of the highlights from the survey are included below:

Does God affect the outcome of sporting events?

65% responded "no" with 20% in the "not sure/no opinion" realm. This subject has been in the news a lot recently as "America's Christian" Kurt Warner is back in the national spotlight. My take? No clue. But, I'm tempted to believe He does have a say in the final score since the loudest voices arguing the contrarian position are on AM radio operating under aliases like "Mad Dog", "Hacksaw" and "The Brick".

I would follow a sport more if it had more players of my ethnicity.

63% said "no" and 27% had no opinion or weren't sure. True story: A couple of years ago, I was sitting at an airport bar in Las Vegas with one of my engineers who happened to be born and raised in Buffalo. The NHL playoffs were well underway and in the midst of the televised action, my co-worker looked over to me in all seriousness and said, "You should really follow the Sabres. You know they have a Black guy on the team?" I'd still vote "no" on this one.

Sports give me an excuse to drink more alcohol than I otherwise would.

69% disagree, which means only 31% told the truth. Come on, America. Two of the most well-publicized stories of alcohol recovery in the past 10 years are from this guy and this guy. And, if they're drinking up to (and in Pat's case, during) game time, then I'm guessing you are, too.

Do you think the following sports are fixed?

Not surprisingly, professional wrestling nearly lapped the field with 75% of correspondents answering in the affirmative. Boxing was a distant second with…wait a tic. 25% of ESPN's 42,000 sample size population don't think wrestling's fake?

Which of the following have you done at a college or pro sporting event?

Sneaked into a better seat (74%) - Wow…I don't know if I've ever done this. A mid-July game at San Diego's Petco Park with the Brewers in town never really seemed worth the hassle. I have snitched on kids who tried to seat-hop near me, though. Oh, don't look at me like that. It's not like I'm telling boss-man where the slaves is hiding.

Yelled obscenities (63%) - At the apex of my embarrassingly obnoxious fandom, m'boy Smitty and I practically cut pro wrestling-style promos on the crowds at old Anaheim Stadium when the A's came to town. In our defense, we always kept it clean.

Caught a ball or a puck (31%) - Former Oakland A's ace Dave Stewart threw me a ball during batting practice which should count for something, considering the dozen or so kids I had to plow through just to get my hands up to catch the ball. As for in-game action, my friend Vig caught a foul ball with me standing next to him at a game in 1993. Ten years later, he caught another one as I lost the ball in the sun and ended up sprawled out across the two empty rows in front of me. What? Hey, it was a "high sky"!

Lied to an acquaintance in order to attend (30%) - Yes.

Sneaked in without paying (19%) - I'm calling bullsh*t on this one. I'll concede that the security at most major sporting venues is a joke with their half-assed bag checks and no-outside-food rule enforcement. But, in an age of bar coded tickets and at least a half-dozen attendants at every gate, there ain't no way in without paying. If I'm wrong, let me know. Please?

Used a racial slur against an opposing player or fan (8%) - I'm surprised it's this high. Here in California, you pretty much run the risk of getting your ass kicked by someone within earshot of any slur, seeing as we're such a diverse populace of tolerance. Ballot initiatives, notwithstanding. I was, however, at an A's/Mariners game several years ago, where an a-hole was proudly rocking a shirt with the words "Ichiro Wok'd My Dog" on the front. Stay classy, Oaktown.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Behold the Power of Pork

There are no words to describe the sheer awesomeness of the this recipe. Really, what can one say to celebrate the overdue union of bacon, Italian sausage and barbecue sauce? Together at last?

Yes, together at last.

And, that the finished product appears to be served up on a biscuit only makes me want it more. We'll ignore the fact that, if you squint, it looks like a heavily-lacquered coffin.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

TBG TV: Lost - "Jughead"

The Good:

For the most part, viewers have had to swallow the notion that the Oceanic passengers – a collection of strangers to each other prior to the crash – could develop a loyalty to one another based on Jack's redoubtable (HAW~!) leadership skills, some passing physical attraction and a smattering of tension-breaking wisecracks. So, it was refreshing to see Miles so quickly sell out Faraday as the "leader" of their group while at gunpoint.

I appreciated the scene where Locke tried to convince 1954 Richard Alpert that his fantastic time-traveling story was true. Even with the compass, Richard still wasn't buying it. ("Well, I hate to contradict myself.") And, the continuity between Locke's plea for Richard to visit Locke in two years for Locke's birth and last season's "Cabin Fever" episode was gold.

No Jack. No Kate. No Hurley. Huzzah!

The Bad:

Soooo…let me get this straight: Desmond, in a panic, runs up and down the streets of some tiny fishing village. He needs a doctor for his wife – who is in labor and about to burst. The doctor races to Desmond's boat, finds Penny flat on her back and writhing in agony. The doctor's contribution? He tells Penny to push. Once. That's it. He didn't even wash his hands or send Desmond off for hot towels, which are the two staples of TV pregnancy scenes. Come on, writers.

Wow. Considering two of the clear highpoints of last season were easily the "Constant" episode and the unexpected payoff of the Desmond/Penny saga in the season finale, it's amazing that the writers could undo that excellence in such a short time. Penny as the nagging wife? Desmond awkwardly attempting to lie to her? Penny seeing right through it? To think me and my hard heart were rooting for them last year.

Separated at birth: Guest star Alexandra Krosney and this.

Enough with the "…where when I've been" lines. We get it…they're all traveling through time. You writers have beaten us into submission with this concept. The silly play on words isn't helping me embrace it.

Well, the dialogue wasn't as creaky as last week, but Faraday's "I'm in love with the woman sitting next to me…" speech (and Charlotte's "You didn't have to say that…" follow-up)...Just, ugh.

Easy on the eyeliner, Richard Alpert. Easy on the eyeliner.

For a show that's prided itself on esoteric clues and outright red herrings, the Charles Widmore/1954 revelation sure seemed…just thrown out there. And, Locke's "reinforcing by repeating" reaction was almost insulting. Kudos for the reveal, I guess, but it still felt like reading the answer from the back of the book.

It's still early, but the time flashes make for a lousy storytelling device. This whole "we're going to find something out, we're going to find something out, we're going to find…aauuugh, the flash!" thing is just jerking the audience around.

The Verdict: I dunno, kids. Maybe I need to watch it again, but the intentionally disjointed direction of this show is starting to feel annoyingly disjointed, instead. And, the prospect of yet another doomed island romance (while the only interesting relationship – Desmond and Penny – has been essentially neutered) sure feels like filler.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The TBoGden Travel Diary - Part IV

Part I

Part II

Part III

Monday, December 29

In the Pantheon of Bad Ideas… - During my last visit to Utah in 2005, one of the (many, many) things I later bitched about was the amount of time we spent indoors doing nothing. (In fact, I'm pretty sure I was the first one to coin the now-tired quip, "I finished the internet!" Prove me wrong.) Anyways, the plan for today was to take the commuter train into Salt Lake City and…shop? As luck would have it, I'd just mentioned to Mrs. Bootleg the day before, "We haven't spent enough money this month."

I'm Told This is REAL America - For any of you who live in or visit New York City with any regularity: you know all those times that you're forced to wait in line behind tourists and out-of-towners who don't know how the subway system works? They can't read the routes and schedules, the turnstiles won't take their tickets, etc. Now, imagine that these people have suddenly become the majority. OK, OK…the overwhelming majority! Exclamation point!

I hadn't heard Mrs. Bootleg's incoherent command to bring Jalen's other TWO jackets, so I was summarily dispatched back to the car to retrieve them. I was gone for several minutes and when I returned, a small army of slack-jawed yokels had gathered at the bottom of the ramp. They were trying to figure out how to pay for train tickets. All of them! Before I could shove aside the intellectual revolution in front of me, an attendant told everyone to get on the train any pay when we reached our destination.

This Moment Can Stand by Itself - The train dropped us off on Karl Malone Drive, right in front of the Utah Jazz's Energy Solutions Center. No sign of the bus stop named after Walter Bond.

My Wife Lived Here Until She Was 18 - Gateway Mall is an outdoor mall. This outdoor mall is open in the winter. Today, it's warmed up to about 28°. After lunch, we roamed from shop to shop – me in an undershirt, thermal undershirt and long-sleeve t-shirt over it with a knit cap; while my wife rocked this Hoth ensemble. For the sake of accuracy in ethnicity, here's another image. Alas, no hat for her ("I don't wanna mess up my hair.") She spent the next few hours complaining about the cold. Outside? In Utah?! In December?! And, that's no exaggeration. Two. Straight. Hours. ("I can't feel my ears. Ow, my face hurts! My toes are, like, frozen! Wahhh! Wahhh!")

Keepin' it Real - It wasn't long before our party crossed paths with another African-American. He walked right up to my father-in-law and declared how good it was to see Black people, since there were so few us who call Utah home. It was obviously an unusual moment, but really not that uncommon in the comings and goings of Negroes. Quick question for my white readers: does the Caucasian equivalent happen to you guys in places like New York and Los Angeles? (And, don't give me that "no, because I'm 'color-blind'" bullsh*t, either…)

That Sledding Guy - A few hours later, we were back in Ogden and changing for a late afternoon/early evening sledding session. I've been in snow just twice in my life and not looking forward to this third excursion. Meanwhile, my son was…ummm, "amped". Before we left, it was time for the obligatory "look how ridiculous Aaron looks in snow boots and heavy coat" catcalls from the in-laws. And, yes, I did quote Pulp Fiction in response:

"Ha, ha, ha…they're YOUR clothes, mutha…"

My son's enthusiasm was tamped down by the challenges of actually walking through snow. And, since my 4'8" wife would've been buried alive if she had to carry the boy, I was tasked with hauling an additional 44 lbs. atop my spindly frame for a few hundred yards. Yes, yes…I know this image isn't entirely accurate for this anecdote, but I really love that image.

My son's enthusiasm ramped up again during our first run down the hill. I don't remember much about it save that I had no idea what I was doing and we took 95% of the ride backwards. Later, we somehow managed to come this close to kneecapping Mrs. Bootleg, whose "old Black woman" reflexes are on par with a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth, at this point. Towards the end, Jalen and I even "caught air" as we unintentionally skidded towards a snowboard ramp…that was made of snow! Extreme!

Y'know this snow thing is actually kind of fun.

(Thank God we're going home tomorrow.)

Next: Aaron Cameron vs. Paris Hilton!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

TBG TV: Batman - The Brave & The Bold

Channel and Time: Cartoon Network, Fridays at 8:00 PM

The 10-Word Premise: (Not-So) Dark Knight joins forces with less-known heroes against evildoers.

Starring: Peter's neighbor from Office Space is the voice of Batman. Apparently, he was also a supporting character on The Drew Carey Show, which I never really got into. Ten years ago, I'd have been cruelly labeled a "humorless elitist" for not climbing aboard the Drew Carey bandwagon. Today, I'm called "prescient". I told you he wasn't funny.

The Best Thang: MUCH lighter in tone and dialogue than every other Batman depiction since the early 1970s, this show is a weekly 30-minute homage to old-school superhero cartoons. All of the characters are always IN character (no alter ego angst here); the plots are refreshingly ludicrous (Bats uses a "Tibetan technique" to raise his spirit to the surface after Gentleman Ghost buries him alive…ahem) and the wisecracking is cranked up to 11 ("That's the last time I ever work with a kid partner.")

The Worst Thang: Unless you're a hardcore DC geek, you might not easily embrace all of the (relatively) obscure heroes and villains who populate the storylines from week to week. Some of them have been given the briefest of back stories, but – for the most part – these episodes and plots stand alone without allowing for any character investment.

The Verdict: Love it. And, if YOU grew up on Superfriends, you should be watching, too. Oh, wait…I forgot the obligatory blogger comment: "Too bad it comes on at 8:00 PM on Friday nights. I've got SO much going on that it's hard for me to find time to watch." Pfft…dorks.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

TBG's Potpourri & Assorted Haberdashery

In my self-serving attempt to remain the ONLY African-American blogger with a 2009 post-per-day streak going…

M'man Josh Da Cane doesn't nearly get enough love in these parts. He's been on board since the days of my insanely long Friday column; he served as my Jewish GPS when I was back in Washington DC last year and he's coming out to Cali this spring. His input here: the man who REALLY should've played Tupac in that Notorious movie. Cluck-U Pac?

Speaking of DC, the Unnamed Defense Contractor just released their 2009 list of offsite contracts development programs. This year's locales: Phoenix, Washington DC, Nashua (New Hampshire) and Orlando. The current leader in the clubhouse for me is, once again, the District of Columbia. The bad news is the Nationals are on the road that week (April 27-29)…the good news is I could fly into Baltimore on a red-eye and catch the Orioles on April 26th at Camden Yards. Oh, and learn how to be better at my job and stuff.

Anyone out there doubt that gambling (like bacon) makes everything better? Movie Joe Reid is once again helming his annual American Idol pool. I'm not an Idol fan, but the chance to snatch the ginormous pot for only a $10 entry fee keeps me coming back. Linky, linky if anyone wants in. I was actually eliminated eight minutes into the season last year!

That Beer Snob Guy has a new review up. Black Chocolate Stout, anyone?

Finally, the Thai is about a month late with what would've been the greatest Xmas present of all time. Memo to Mrs. Bootleg…make this happen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

AiAA: Geico – The Return of Rockwell

I do not get this ad campaign.

It's not funny, it's creepy.

And, who thought a Michael Jackson hook would be the way to appeal to working class ("Save money!") America?

Friday, January 23, 2009

TBG Eats: Starbucks' "Perfect" Oatmeal

Current Weight: 167.0 lbs.

Growing up, I vowed that I would never develop the same addiction to coffee that my mom still carries to this day.

I started out drinking it only on weekends – coincidentally, this initial pattern mirrors my current parenting model. A few lifetimes ago, I managed an ice cream and frozen yogurt store. The early morning Saturday/Sunday opening shifts – accompanied by book balancing and embezzling – took their toll as, oftentimes, I was getting home from evenings of Hollywood debauchery only two or three hours before having to punch in.

Several years later, I began working for the Unnamed Defense Contractor. For those of you who might fooled by the astounding job title, the day-to-day duties of a "Contracts Specialist" can be a wee bit boring. Consequently, on occasion, I'd been known to supplement my mornings with a shot of whatever steaming stool sample our old cafeteria used to sell by the cupful and call "coffee".

Then, in 2004, I became a father. The end.

Ever since that blessed event, I drink two "travel cup" sized servings of coffee each morning. And, if I remember my San Diego State University advanced mathematics courses, that's 32 ounces of coffee per day.

Making matters "worse", I now work in area of the UDC that serves free Starbucks coffee all day long. Next to Mr. and Mrs. Nick'a the introducing me to Dunkin' Donuts coffee a couple of years ago, the free joe development was the greatest caffeine-related moment of my life.

And, that's why – on days when I'm not working – you might find me at Starbucks.


Now, for years, my order was simple and straight-forward: "a grande 'bold' with no room and a glazed donut". Then, I discovered this and opted to go with just the coffee.

I'd managed to successfully sidestep Starbucks' assorted pastries, sandwiches and side items until an in-store sign for "the perfect oatmeal" caught my eye. I was there with my son ("kid-sized hot chocolate, low temp. and – for the love of God and all our ears – NO whipped cream") and since HE was having breakfast (giant chocolate chip cookie), I figured I might as well, too.

"Perfect" oatmeal? Pretty damn close.

It's a single-sized serving of molten-hot, chewy oats served with packets of brown sugar, nuts and dried fruit. Make sure you order it with everything. The brown sugar is, of course, a natural accompaniment and the nuts give the oatmeal a firmer texture, but it's the dried fruit medley that brings it all to the doorstep of perfection. God bless the woman who gave the world golden raisins.

So, what prevents this oatmeal from achieving complete and utter awesome? Well, I know it's Starbucks. I know they've successfully squashed every mom n' pop coffee house by using a business model of "variety, brand ubiquity and squashing every mom n' pop coffee house". Still, though…two dollars and fifty cents for a bowl of oatmeal? Really?!

Good thing the coffee's free at work.

Grade: 3 (out of 5), with a full point lopped off for the price

Thursday, January 22, 2009

TBG TV: Lost - "Because You Left" & "The Lie"

The Good

Some of the geeky nods to the most loyal Lost fanboys hit the target – most notably the Dharma Initiative opening sequence ("I don't need a script!") and Hurley's absolutely spot-on nonsensical explanation of the show's first four seasons.

•Michael Emerson's "Ben Linus" continues to be the single most consistent performance on the show. Even in a week where the dialogue was positively George Lucas-ian at times, Ben's snarky quips ("That's the spirit."), overt manipulation and terrific reaction shots (the nonverbal cues that he and Hurley exchanged right before Hurley surrendered to the police especially stood out) have me rooting for the bug-eyed bastard to outlive everyone else.

•As someone who loathed the Ana Lucia character from season two, her cameo at the end of the first episode was pretty damn cool. The whole thing was one big inside joke, but still an effective bit of tension breaking.

•I'm usually one of those guys who roll his eyes whenever the media uses pandering platitudes like, "I was holding my breath…" to describe an action sequence, but, damn that flaming arrow scene was bad ASS! It actually turned me into one of those guys who screams, "RUN!" at the TV.

•Gas isn't $3.22/gallon anymore.

The Bad

•OK…I'm really going to be open-minded about this whole time travel thing. Really. It's just that the writers have spent four years easing into every major plot point with a deliberate (to say the least) storytelling style. The whole time travel thing was hinted at towards the end of last season, then sledgehammered to death before the first episode of this season was half over. Yeah, yeah…everyone wants the show to be faster paced, but a leap of THIS magnitude that's so hastily incorporated has me already worried about ye olde deus ex machina at some point.

•I don't know who was responsible for last night's script(s), but…yoikes. Sawyer's sloppily melodramatic, "I wanted to make sure she…they got off the island…"; Farraday's predictably frenetic "I don't have TIME to explain…"; the entire Kate/Sun sequence and the inevitably cheesy "WHEN am I" line… Dialogue has never been this show's strong point, but last night was the worst it's been in awhile.

•I was a wee bit disappointed with the (almost) immediate payoff from Sayid's "Whatever [Ben] says, do the opposite" warning to Hurley. In the end, it fit the sequence, I guess, but it still would've been something I'd have kept on the back burner until we get closer to endgame.

•I love Sayid's character. I feel he's been one of the more underutilized and underwritten personalities on the show. But, Lost writers, come on. If you want me to take him seriously as a soulless assassin, can you stop with the one-guy-charges-him-at-a-time fight sequences? TWO guys with guns are laying in wait and second guy attacks only after the first one's been dispatched?

•And, I don't care how pervasive cell phone cameras are within society. If a behemoth with a gun is looking over the railing at a dead body below, I'm not sticking around to take his picture.

•Cheech Marin has been wonderful in his cameos as Hurley's dad. That said, there's just NO f'ing way that Hurley beats the cops to his house. No f'ing way the cops leave Hurley's house with only a "here's our card" gesture to Hurley's dad. No f'ing way Hurley's dad isn't followed by the cops to his meeting with Jack. And, no f'ing way that the license plates on whatever car Hurley used to GET to his house wouldn't have been run by the cops.

Verdict: In an email to Movie Joe Reid this morning, I called last night's season premiere "busy". Joe responded that he didn't love it nor hate it and that pretty much sums it up for me, as well. There was a LOT going on – I'll probably watch it again tonight with Mrs. Bootleg, who passed out early on me – and even though it wasn't all good, it beats the hell out of inertia.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Even I'M Getting Sick of Him

You've successfully engineered a brand-new baseball game to be released on the Playstation 3 and X-Box systems later this month. You've only got so much coin left to sign a famous Major Leaguer to serve as primary endorser and cover boy. In fact, your minimal marketing budget forces you to recruit a member of…my Oakland A's.

Who'll help you move the most units?

(a) Eric Chavez
(b) Matt Holliday
(c) Jason Giambi
(d) This Guy

TBG Drinks: Sawyer's Triple

Brewed By: Stone Brewing Company
Brewed In: Escondido, California
Type: Tripel
ABV: 7.6%

What They Say: "Sawyer's Triple is based upon the traditional "Golden Triple" style of strong ale, hailing from Belgium. The brew is deep golden in color with a distinctive spicy, sweet and hoppy nose. Effervescent carbonation leads to a modestly dry malt character with hoppy flavors and alcohol overtones."

Website: A sub-site off of the Stone Brewing home page, the Sawyer's Triple area is a straight-forward no-frills presentation that belies its tragic, yet inspirational origins. There's a press release from 2003, which details how Sawyer's Triple came to be (the son of a Stone brewer had been diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) – a rare neuro-degenerative disease – and this beer was crafted in his honor). In addition, there are links to pictures from the original 2003 release/sale and a FAQ.

Why I Picked It: M'man "JPinAZ" gave me a heads-up that Sawyer's Triple was being re-released in the fall of 2008. He has yet to steer me wrong on any high-end beer, plus he's an accomplished home brewer, himself. He's got a bathtub-brewed bock that (I'm told) uses 80% less antifreeze than any other bootleg beer.


Presentation (5): It might take Lasik to read the tiny text on the back of the bottle, but spend a minute to mull it over as it's quite the bittersweet read. It covers the creation of Sawyer's Triple by Bill Sherwood and how his son's (Sawyer) battle with an awful illness inspired him. Sawyer passed away a few years ago at the age of eight, but the powerful message here shows that the Sherwoods will continue the good fight. 5

Originality (5): I haven't had too many tripels (New Belgium makes (made?) a pretty tasty one), but I doubt you'll find the flavorfully complex blend in here. The lower ABV and smoother overall finish add a few bits of uniqueness, as well. 4

Body (10): The most common criticism seems to be that Sawyer's Triple is too thin, but I'm not in agreement. While it does lean a little light, I think it's an effective way to carry the low-to-low medium level of carbonation. At this risk of extinguishing every alcohol cliché there is, this is absolutely a California beer. 8

Taste (10): There are several citrus layers here, each laced with a ginger-peppery finish and the slightest clove aftertaste. It lacks a little in hoppy/yeasty goodness, as the ancillary flavors do hijack the palette at times. Nothing is too overwhelming, though and it seems a little silly to knock a Tripel down for having too much flavor. 8

Efficiency (10): There aren't many beers sold in 22 oz. bottles that can be called "efficient". Besides, there's enough goodness going on here to make Sawyer's Triple worth sippin' slowly. The 7.6% ABV didn't do much damage, but I wouldn't tempt fate by pounding this at will. 6

Versatility (10): Preferably served if you're trying to impress an aficionado with the brand name (Stone Brewing) or convince a casual beer drinker that there's more to life than Miller Lite. Not to be wasted on card games or college parties. 5

Grade: 36 (out of 50) – Really good beer

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quickie Inauguration Thoughts

Why, no, I'm not working today. How'd you guess?

Obama the Great Orator fumbled the hell out of his swearing in recitation. [Yes, yes, it wasn't his fault.] How soon before the fanatical right-wing blogosphere posits that since Obama didn't exactly repeat the oath of office word for word, he should lose the presidency by DQ? Keep fighting the good fight, ya kooks.

Lots of on-location shots from around the country, including Times Square, Los Angeles and Chicago. There were also images from Harlem and Memphis. A few questions: (1) Didn't Harlem deservedly lose their unofficial title as the capital of Black America 20 years ago? (2) Or was it when Booker T "relocated" to Houston? (3) Memphis? Over Detroit? Over Atlanta? I trust Ebony Magazine is investigating this gross oversight.

Hard to believe that poet Elizabeth Alexander had to follow Obama's speech. The shots of the crowd dispersing at the mall during the poem didn't help the imagery of the moment, nor did the awkward pause between the end of Alexander's poem and the crowd's realization that it was time to applaud.

What was with all the "peaceful transfer of power" comments from the media? Has there ever been any other kind in American presidential history?

Aretha Franklin could roll out of bed and hit every note before brushing her teeth. Here's hoping, before she dies, she's invited back to sing at another inauguration. Or, at least, another Wrestlemania.

Hey, it's the evolution of Dianne Feinstein!

Mrs. Bootleg and I vehemently disagree on Michelle Obama's guacamole ensemble. The wife thinks she pulled it off, I…respectfully disagree.

Jill Biden's boots, on the other hand…

Monday, January 19, 2009

The TBoGden Travel Diary - Part III

Part I

Part II

Sunday, December 28

Aaron Cameron's Kryptonite - I had about two hours of real sleep sprinkled within seven fitful hours in bed with the boy. I lumbered down the hallway of my in-laws' house, stumbled down an unfamiliar set of stairs, picked myself up after I partially fell down said set of stairs and reached the kitchen…only to find that there are living, breathing human beings who still drink Folgers.

It's been almost three weeks and I still don't know where to begin with this one. Mrs. Bootleg knows that a GOOD cup of coffee in the morning is all the difference between "surly, (verbally) abusive Bootleg Guy" and the slightly less-so version.

Most Uncomfortable Shower Scene since Oz - I take it back. There are TWO things I need in the AM: good coffee and a good shower. We're talkin' at least 10 minutes of scalding hot goodness, which provides enough time to clean the body, wash the last loyal remnants of my rapidly-retreating hairline and do this until the hot water runs out.

After Mrs. Bootleg and the boy split a shower, they left me with approximately 120 seconds of lukewarm water. This forced me into "military mode" – turning the water off after an initial, half-assed soaking with the shower head and then blowing through any soap and shampoo-related requirements. If there are any other loofah-using bruthas out there, you'll know that this is NO way to get that clean feeling.

This Can't End Well - The mother-in-law needed to pick up a prescription, but she didn't want to drive. Current time: 10:00 AM; current temperature: 18°; current weather conditions: light snow falling. Her chauffeur options included her husband (born/raised in Missouri and has lived in Utah for more than half his life)…her daughter (born/raised in Utah, previous snow-driving history) and me (born/raised in California, never driven in snow, worst previous personal driving conditions = reflection of glorious sunset/sunrise in my windshield).

We didn't even get out of the driveway, before I had the tires of the in-law's truck spinning on the ice. On our way back from the drugstore, I cut a left turn too wide and skidded nicely atop the snow-capped curb. My mother-in-law found this to be hilarious. I'm left wondering who thinks a $35,000 vehicle is a comedic device.

It's the Liberal Elitist in Me - A few weeks ago, I threw up a quickie post on some of the things that are actually better in cold weather. In the interest of fairness, here's something that is not: sightseeing around my wife's old hometown. Is there any place more depressing than small-town America in the winter? The streets are deserted, everything is gray and the self-imposed speed limit is 6 mph. You can HAVE your "seasons", Salt Lake City, Saskatoon and Syracuse. It was 80 degrees in San Diego this weekend. Now, I don't normally throw that in my readers' faces, but in your face, readers. In your face!

Snow Daze - Before we retire for an evening of NBC's Sunday Night football, Jalen and I pile out of the car and attempt to play in the snow. Now, some of you have been doing this for so long that I'm sure it's second nature. But, this is just my second time in snow and Jalen's first. We tentatively reached for handfuls of fresh-fallen snow and tossed it towards…nowhere in particular. This went on for another minute or two before our hands got cold. Then, we got gloves. Believe me, this was as awkward and stilted as it sounds. We took some pictures (as Californians are legally obligated to do whenever we're in or around snow), threw some more snow and then – after 30 more minutes – determined that snow really isn't that interesting.

Hey, where'd that ominous music come from?

Next: I discover Utah has an OUTDOOR mall and enjoy my first time on a sled!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2009 AFC/NFC Championship Weekend Pickin'

Last Week (Total):

Straight Up
Cam: 1-3 (4-4)
Tom: 2-2 (3-5)
Joe: 1-3 (1-7)

Against the Spread

Cam: 2-2 (4-4)
Tom: 3-1 (4-4)
Joe: 0-4 (0-8)

Philadelphia Eagles (-4) at Arizona Cardinals

Joe: Here we are. 0-11 on the line. And yet, for the life of me, I can't tell whether my instincts are guiding me to pick a winner (and salvage some pride) or pick a loser (and keep the streak alive). And on top of that, whether my instincts -- which have served me so crappily the past two weeks -- should even be listened to in the first place. Anyhoo, Arizona is the home underdog, has the benefit of the best player on the field (Larry Fitz), and yet still seems like the most unlikely choice. Works for me. Pick: Arizona 31, Philadelphia 27

Aaron: The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. There. The sooner we put it out there, the sooner we'll all accept it. This also means accepting two weeks of stories on the "long suffering" Cards fans who started showing up two years ago with the opening of a new stadium. The Cardinals. In the Super Bowl. And...wait. Joe's pickin' 'Zona? I recant. Pick: Philadelphia 17, Arizona 14

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)
Joe: I don't care how many points the Steelers put up on the fairly crappy Chargers D last week, six points seems a little high against the Ravens D, right? Pick: Pittsburgh 14, Baltimore 10

Aaron: Looks like I'm going to have to talk myself into picking the Ravens, since Reid's reverse ju-ju once again plants the kiss of death on my original pick. That aging Ravens defense HAS to know that this is the last hurrah, right? Hunger still counts for something. The Ravens have already lost twice to the Steelers and, sooner or later, they'll have to figure Pittsburgh out. Finally, Ravens' QB Joe Flacco may be a rookie, but he sure doesn't play like one! Convinced? Me, neither. Pick: Pittsburgh 17, Baltimore 16

Friday, January 16, 2009

NOT Fire Joe Morgan: David Eckstein

The San Diego Padres have signed David Eckstein to be their starting second baseman in 2009. I would like to thank Padres ownership for inflicting a season's worth of articles like THIS upon us:

Tiny target brings toughness, tenacity

Most notable "T" word missing from headline: "talent". Also, is it just a coincidence that you (almost) can't spell "alliteration" without "little"?

David Eckstein's batting stance is sheer defiance. He crowds the plate like a swimmer awaiting the starting gun, his posture perched somewhere between a lean and a lunge.

These things are nothing alike.

Though Eckstein presents one of baseball's tiniest targets – he's not quite 5-foot-7, reputedly 177 pounds – he has been hit by 125 pitches during his eight-year, big-league career.

That's more than the career totals of such pugnacious players as Ty Cobb and Pete Rose; more even than Barry Bonds, who crowded the plate to the point of claustrophobia. Eckstein is the last player to lead the American League in getting plunked in consecutive seasons and the patron saint of crash dummies.

I'm pretty sure that among the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Eckstein in this decade, this is the first time his career hit-by-pitch numbers have been reported. Really, Tim Sullivan? Your initial selling point on the guy is hit by pitch? Why stop there with the cherry picking? Jason F*****g Kendall is #6 all time in HBP! Kendall (.651 OPS in 2008) doesn't wear batting gloves and can grow a full beard of unshaven intensity between innings! Sign him up! (Also, career OPS: Cobb, .945; Rose, .784; Bonds, 1.051; Eckstein, .712).

"I'm not afraid to take one for the team, I can tell you that," the Padres' new second baseman said yesterday. "If I'm going to stand that close to the plate, that's part of the game for me. I'm willing to wear the pain."

And, that blue-collar lunch-pail work ethic will go over really well here in hardscrabble San Diego.

Though Eckstein has spent most of his baseball career in the middle of the infield, his German surname means "cornerstone."

Seriously, has THIS ever been mentioned before? I can't believe it's the first I'm hearing of it. The whole "former punter Nebraska football player" bit is part of EVERY love letter to Darin Erstad. The journalistic mileage from this "cornerstone" nonsense is incalculable.

He signed a one-year contract to return to his natural position at second base and to provide the Padres a daily example of diligence and a recurring source of inspiration. You can hardly watch Eckstein at work without wondering whether you're exerting enough effort at your own job, or tapping enough of your talent. You can hardly fail but come away impressed.

Last year, Eckstein was 16% worse than the average Major League hitter. In 484 innings played, he was the worst defensive shortstop in ALL of baseball according to RZR. (In about 200 innings played at 2B, he was actually pretty good.) The point is, if I watched him last year, I'd feel a LOT better about my sh*tty work ethic, which mostly involves writing really long posts for my lightly-read blog.

"And he is just a man of iron. I think he's the toughest guy I've ever seen."

Someone should tell Tony LaRussa that Tony Stark has been on the disabled list at least three times since 2007.

Though his arm is barely adequate, Eckstein was twice an All-Star shortstop in St. Louis. Though he has hit only 32 major-league home runs, he led both leagues with three grand slams in 2002.

In 2005, Eckstein was voted the starter at shortstop ahead of Cincinnati's Felipe Lopez. One guy's first half OPS was .727 and the other's was .874. I'll let you guess which one was which. In 2006, Eckstein was almost literally a last-minute replacement. This is why "All Star games" is a supremely stupid way to judge talent.

Also, Ben Davis and Karim Garcia both hit two grand slams in 2002. This is why "grand slams hit in a single season" is an even more supremely stupid way to judge talent.

No, David Eckstein does not tip the balance of power in the National League West. Heck, he barely tips a scale. But if you don't like the guy Larry Walker once described as a "hyper little bugger," you don't really like baseball.

Look…David Eckstein has had a solid little career. He's been a perfectly serviceable shortstop who probably doesn't deserve ALL the crap he gets from the stat geeks. That said, sentences like the one immediately above drive home the fact that Eckstein is the single most overrated player in my lifetime.

I love baseball. But, I don't want David Eckstein anywhere near my Oakland A's. It's perfectly OK to prefer players who hit a little better or who might be better on defense or are younger or don't need to mask their numerous shortcomings with grit and gumption.

Some people don't like apple pie, some people don't like puppies and some people don't like David Eckstein.

And, if Eckstein really IS everything the media says he is…why does he have to settle for an $850K contract from arguably the worst team in baseball?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Hall of Fame Wayback Machine

Yesterday's post got me nostalgic for the good ol' Bootleg days. In 2005, I wrote "The Hall of Fame 100", in which I looked at HOF chances of 100 active and retired players. I've recycled some of these before on this blog, but if you haven't seen it, it's new to you! While my position on a few of these guys has changed, I've kept everything as it was written four years ago:

Roberto Alomar: Here's a clear case study in the "suitcase superstar". After achieving fame, fortune and two World Series rings as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Alomar took his act on the road for several contenders throughout the remainder of the '90s.

Despite the numerous changes of address (seven different teams in 17 years), Alomar was unquestionably the best second baseman of his era. 12 All Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves and five top 10 finishes in the MVP race would be enough by themselves. Throw in a career .300 average and .371 OBP and you've got one of the finest top of the order hitters of this generation. 2700+ hits and 470+ stolen bases (and counting) are just icing on the cake.

The last few years haven't been kind, as his skills have eroded on both offense and defense. Still, he's not the first (or last) great player to hang on too long. Verdict: In

Jeff Bagwell: As the offensive explosion of the last ten years shows no sign of slowing down, there are several players who'll be held to a different standard than yesteryear. 500 career home runs are no longer an automatic ticket to the Hall and Jeff Bagwell will be one of several players who will have to bring more to the ballot to distinguish themselves.

At 446 career HRs and signs that he might be slowing down, Bagwell's not likely to ever revisit the monster years he put up from 1993 to 2000. In his favor, he spent a good chunk of those years playing half his games in the Astrodome, a notorious pitcher's park. He also owns a career OBP over .400 and a lifetime SLG of .542. Despite winning just one Gold Glove, he's been a fine defensive player and a smart, underrated basestealer with over 200 SBs.

The Astros are paying for that fat contract he signed prior to the 2001 season, which runs through 2006. While still productive, he's nowhere near a $15 million player. However, with or without the magical 500 HR mark, Bags has a very strong case for Cooperstown. Verdict: In, but another good season or two wouldn't hurt

Craig Biggio: Does anyone still have his 1989 rookie cards that showed him playing catcher? Those are probably the only remaining shreds of evidence, since he's spent the bulk of his career as the premier second baseman in the National League.

Often compared to his contemporary in the AL (mostly), Roberto Alomar, Biggio hasn't been quite as good with the stick or the glove, but that's not to take anything away from him. A career .373 OBP is a good place to start. He's also just 4 SBs shy of joining the 200 HR/400 SB club. Biggio currently places 18th on the all-time doubles list. And, in an admittedly odd novelty, is a safe bet to break the all-time hit-by-pitch mark of 287.

Ah, but there's a little something they call the "recency effect" in psychology…and watching Biggio stumble around in Minute Maid Park's silly centerfield "hill" is a sad sight to see. To his credit, he set a career high with 24 homers in 2004, but that was after two years of decline and his shrinking OBP indicates that last year was likely a fluke. Verdict: Out, but two more solid seasons or one last big year could get him in.

Andre Dawson: During the juiced-ball season of 1987, "The Hawk" treated the sport to the possibility of the first 50 home run season in exactly 10 years. Dawson would fall one bomb shy, but would win the MVP award despite playing for a last place Cubs team.

And so goes the story of Andre, whose most Gigantic seasons had mostly materialized in Montreal and away from the big-market media. An eight-time All Star and Gold Glove winner, Dawson was very good for a very long time, but seldom great. He only reached the 30 HR plateau three times, his lifetime OBP of .323 is borderline awful and the fact that he collected nearly 1,000 useless and unproductive at-bats over his final four years make his case for Cooperstown all the less compelling.

Superfluous words like "clutch" are often tossed around when describing Dawson. And he got his share of hits when it counted. But, even at his peak, his numbers were bested by several of his contemporaries, like Dale Murphy, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis. Questionable company, indeed.

Verdict: Out

Barry Larkin: There were several shortstops who had the misfortune of playing in the same era as Ozzie Smith. But, none of them (at least in the National League) were greater than Larkin. And, it's amazing to think how much better his numbers would be if he could've avoided the injury bug.

By the time the late '80s rolled around, Smith was pretty much living on his reputation and not much more. Larkin had easily surpassed him offensively and, arguably, was already better with the glove. But, in a sign of things to come, Larkin injured himself at the 1989 All Star Game. He ended up hitting .342 that year, but few outside of Cincy noticed. In the years that would follow, Larkin would win a World Series ring, three Gold Gloves and one undeserved NL MVP award in 1995 (which should've gone to Mike Piazza). Still, Larkin could not seem to dodge the disabled list. In recent years, it's only gotten worse, as he's missed significant time in four of the last five seasons.

Larkin, by all accounts, is great teammate who probably deserved a better fate. He's had a fine career and he's something of an icon in Cincinnati…but, a few steps short of enshrinement. Verdict: Out

Edgar Martinez: It's taken more than 30 years, since the inception of the designated hitter, but we've finally got our first true Hall of Fame case study. Martinez might be one of the most underrated players of this era, but a look at his body of work shows that you'll all be getting to know him again in a few years.

He made his debut on September 12, 1987, but didn't become a full-time player until 1990, at the age of 27. Martinez enjoyed a three-year stretch marked by consistent improvement, until injuries robbed him of his ability to play the field (3B) everyday and cut into his number of at-bats. He returned with a vengeance in 1995, putting up an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.107, in what would be the first of three straight seasons over 1.000. In fact, his .993 OPS in 1998 broke that string, but he put up 1.001 and 1.002 OPS numbers in '99 and '00. For his career, this seven-time All Star ranks 21st all time in on-base percentage, while his .933 career OPS is 37th.

Martinez is a little light in the hits department, with just over 2,200, but he's a career .312 hitter with 300+ home runs and a stretch of dominance that the DH position has never seen before. Verdict: In

Tim Raines: Am I the only one who remembers an early '90s Topps card featuring a smiling Chicago White Sox player sitting on a slab of granite, with the name Rock Raines printed on the bottom? Hey, it was better than "HoJo", I guess.

Raines was a great player in the '80s. You probably didn't know that because he played in Montreal…and he was the most prominent victim of the owners' collusion activities prior to the 1987 season…and because Rickey Henderson played during the exact same era. During the decade, Raines' OBP hovered around .400 every year, he passed the 100-runs threshold four times and finished in the top four in stolen bases every season, but one.

Traded to the Chi Sox prior to 1991, he manned the leadoff spot during their south side revival and continued to put up productive numbers, despite a slight decline in skill. Raines put up two more 100 run seasons and still kept his OBP in the .370 range, although injuries sapped him of his once-great speed. By the end of the '90s, he was exceptional in a reduced role with the Yankees, putting up OBPs of .383, .403 and .395.

A bout with lupus nearly ended his career with Oakland in 1999, but Raines returned (in more ways than one) and played with the Expos, two other teams and his son, before retiring in 2002. Wow…check those numbers again. While not as great as long as Rickey was, it's hard to ignore 2,600 hits and 808 stolen bases.

But, I just can't do it. Verdict: Out

Bernie Williams: In 115 postseason games, Williams has collected 443 at-bats. He's used all that time to hit 22 playoff home runs, while driving in 79. While the notion of a "clutch hitter" has been decisively debunked by the stat head nation…is there really any other way one can describe Bernie Williams?

His power took awhile to come around. Williams' didn't pass the .500 mark in SLG for a single season until his sixth year in the bigs, at the age of 27. That was in 1996, which capped off a three-year stretch that saw his batting average and OBP remain consistently impressive. From 1996 to 1999, his BA leapt from .305 to .342, while his OPS topped out in the high .900s. As if that wasn't enough, he took home four straight Gold Gloves from 1997-2000.

Unfortunately, since the turn of the century, Bernie has gone from "great" to "very good" to merely "decent". Over the last two years, he's hit about .262 with a SLG around .425. Even worse than his obvious, and ongoing offensive decline is his slide with the leather. His range in centerfield is nowhere close to what it once was and many argue that he's actually a defensive liability these days.

But, you've got to love those career stats: .301/.388/.488. He'd make for a much more intriguing case if he had more than 2,100 hits, 263 HRs or 144 SBs. He absolutely gets extra credit for his October heroics and, at 36, he might have enough in the tank to put up the three more above-average seasons he'll likely need to get another look. Verdict: Out

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yes, We Can No, I Didn't

Junk Mail RETURNS! Junk…Mail. You remember "Junk Mail", right? It was the ironically unoriginal name for the reader feedback section of my old Friday Music News Bootleg column. Sigh. The Friday…Music…News…Bootleg. Remember?

Anyways, this 'bout made my month:


I was killing time online last night and stumbled across your baseball broadcasters series from last summer. I really enjoyed your music stuff back in the day so I'm glad to see you're still writing! I'm looking forward to catching up on the last two years of "TBG". Not long ago I was trolling archives at 411 and came across this piece that you wrote in January 2005. Holy shit, is all I can say dude.

NICE! The piece he's referencing is from my January 7, 2005 Bootleg column and it's got everything: (1) a shot at Cicely Tyson, who was an odd long-running joke for my column's three-year run (2) a news item about Sean Combs that was literally two or three name changes ago (3) a crack about Beloved that was way dated when I wrote it four years ago (4) a Bill Cosby quip (see #3, also is it any wonder it took me eight hours to write those old columns…?)

(5) A bit of clairvoyance on my part regarding the electability of one Barack Obama.

Sometimes the News Just Wrote Itself…

= = =

Cicely Tyson Must Be Rolling Over In Her Grave…

We're a little over a week away from Martin Luther King Day and just three weeks out from the beginning of Black History Month. With that in mind, I'm proud to announce that Sean "P. Diddy" Combs has been named's "Person of the Year" for 2004.

Puff Daddy…Person of the Year.

The website credits his efforts on the Citizen Change non-partisan youth voting program that was such a raging success last fall. His work with continuing to maintain his Justin's restaurants and Sean John clothing brand were also cited as deciding factors.

Who knew that soul food and $75 T-shirts had such sway with his supporters?

And who were the other finalists for the honor? Well, there was Oprah Winfrey, who was forced to buy back her Blackness at five cents on the dollar after Beloved. Bill Cosby, who spent the year Hayhursting [TBG Note: Don't ask.] over "the look of those teenagers". Rev. Al Sharpton, who doesn't need me to write a joke for him and Barack Obama.

Y'all remember Barack…? Democratic National Convention…real stirring speech…talk of a Presidential run down the line. Let's hope that Barack saw that Eddie Murphy movie The Distinguished Gentleman. That's the one where Murphy's "Jeff Johnson" snuck his way into office because he shared his name with a white politician who died and fooled the voters by running a campaign without once showing his face.

"Shared his name with a white politician…?"

So, what's Plan B, Obama?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"What kind of grown-ass man calls himself 'Puffy'?"

I admit it: I'm kind of digging the trailer for the Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious.

Knee-Jerk Positive: With cooperation from Bad Boy Records and B.I.G.'s estate, the movie will be able to use actual songs from Biggie's catalog.

Knee-Jerk Negative: The song that gets the most play in the trailer is "Notorious", from Biggie's pedestrian posthumous release Born Again. It's arguably his worst and least respected commercial single.

Knee-Jerk Positive: Former Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett – as Biggie's mom, Voletta Wallace – adds credibility to an otherwise anonymous cast. (Sorry, Derek Luke.)

Knee-Jerk Negative: I can still smell the stench of Mr. 3000 from Ms. Bassett whenever she's onscreen.

Knee-Jerk Positive: Antonique Smith is a spot-on dead ringer for Faith Evans. Considering Smith's last two roles in anything were as a hooker in Across the Universe and a manipulative whore who beds her lawyer in an episode of Law & Order, I'd suggest the real Faith Evans watch her back lest Smith attempts to murder her and steal her life.

Knee-Jerk Negative: Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur…the polar opposite of "dead ringer". The real Tupac is surely rolling over in his continued seclusion.

Knee-Jerk Positive: Lil' Kim is unhappy with her portrayal in the film.

Knee-Jerk Negative: I sat here for 30 minutes trying to think of a Lil' Kim joke before realizing I used them all during my Friday Music News Bootleg days.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rickey Henderson (Aaron's iFAQ #4)

I have no recollection of the first time I saw Rickey Henderson play.

I do know that it wasn't on June 24, 1979 – the day of his Major League debut when he went 2 for 4 with a stolen base. Nor was at anytime during the 1980 season, when he finished 10th in the AL MVP balloting (.303 BA/.420 OBP/100 SB) behind – among others – four future Hall of Famers.

It might've been in 1981. I'd pledged my sports loyalties to all things Oakland after the Raiders won Super Bowl XV. I spent the rest of second grade calling myself an A's fan. Although, that was the year that our family moved to North Carolina due to my dad's military service. Those were the dark ages of fandom when the three hour time difference meant games played on the West Coast weren't covered in the "news-paper" until 36 hours after the final out.

I do remember watching Rickey Henderson in 1982.

That was the year he broke Lou Brock's single season stolen base record. For the time, it was pretty big news, which is to say it merited a mention during the three minutes allotted to sports at the end of our local news broadcast. There was also a segment on it at the top(!) of This Week in Baseball.

I'd only see Rickey Henderson sporadically for the rest of his first run with the A's. He always seemed to be in All-Star Games, so we had a standing summer date with an agreement to cross paths one or two other times each year – always on Saturday afternoons or Monday nights. Thankfully, he had someone send me a recent picture at the start of each season.

I didn't see enough of him to be too torn up over the trade that sent Rickey Henderson to New York at the end of the 1984 season. Plus, by now, the Los Angeles Raiders had won another Super Bowl and were on television six to seven times more than the A's. 25 years later, who knew that would be the apex of my Raiders fandom?

Ironically, even though Rickey Henderson was closer to me geographically, I lost touch with the guy. I very vaguely remember highlights and soundbites of Don Mattingly's monster 1985 season, but it would be years later before resource sites like came along to show that Donnie Baseball stole the MVP Award from, of all people, Rickey Henderson.

By the start of the 1986 season, my family had moved back to Southern California. With the California Angels playing less than an hour away, I finally had a chance to see A's games with relative regularity. This was the balanced schedule era, so each team played a pair of home and a pair of road series against everyone else in the league. Six to eight A's games on TV!

In 1988, my A's won 104 games and the American League pennant. Rickey Henderson couldn't have been farther from my mind. These A's were all about The Bash Brothers, Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley. Besides, who needed Rickey when left field was in the capable hands of Luis Polonia and Stan Javier?

I do remember where I was when the A's reacquired Rickey Henderson in June 1989. M'man Smitty and I were at my house playing some old school Nintendo when our friend JP called with the news – on a landline, no less. Of course, none of us could trust JP as far as we could throw him, so we sought independent verification from our local NBC affiliate/liberal media elitists.

It was true!

Two months later, the A's played the Angels in Anaheim for first place in the American League West. On August 11, 1989, I finally got to see Rickey in person. He went 0 for 5, but the A's won 5-0 in front of 61,696 fans. Rickey hit .294/.425/.438 with the A's after a sluggish start of the season with New York. In the playoffs, he won the ALCS MVP with an eight stolen bases performance that was his coming out party on the national stage.

The following year, Rickey Henderson transcended to superstar status (.325/439/.577) and pretty much cemented himself as my all-time favorite player. The 1988-92 A's team played with a rock-star cockiness that endeared them to no one. So, it was quite the exclusive club (outside of Alameda County) for those of us who thought Rickey could do no wrong.

And, even when Rickey DID do wrong, I couldn't stay mad at him for long. In 1991, he went to war with the A's front office over his contract. He was beginning the second year of a four year deal, which he signed the offseason before baseball's salary structure shot through the stratosphere. Uh, for the first time. Uh, in the 1990s.

Rickey came to camp late, moped through spring training and famously quipped, "If they're going to pay me like [light-hitting teammate] Mike Gallego, then I'll play like Mike Gallego." Then, Rickey went 2 for 4 on Opening Day with two runs scored and a stolen base. He always had a way of making things right, again.

Unfortunately, whatever goodwill Rickey had accumulated with the media after returning to Oakland had been emptied out during his salary dispute. On May 1, 1991, Rickey broke Lou Brock's career stolen base record. But, the oft-reported out-of-context "news" from that event is Rickey's "I (pause) am the greatest of all time" soundbite. You know he DID say a few other things!

"It took a long time, huh? [Pause for cheers] First of all, I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity. I want to thank the Haas family, the Oakland organization, the city of Oakland, and all you beautiful fans for supporting me. [Pause for cheers] Most of all, I'd like to thank my mom, my friends, and loved ones for their support. I want to give my appreciation to Tom Trebelhorn and the late Billy Martin. Billy Martin was a great manager. He was a great friend to me. I love you, Billy. I wish you were here. [Pause for cheers] Lou Brock was the symbol of great base stealing. But today, I'm the greatest of all time. Thank you."

Ultimately, those A's team underachieved and by 1993 they were an old, unwatchable lot. Rickey was traded to Toronto in a deal I applauded at the time. He'd get another crack at a World Series ring, while the A's would finally begin the rebuilding process. Fun fact: before Joe Carter walked-off into highlight reel history, Rickey opened the bottom of the ninth with a walk.

The 1994 strike took a lot of the luster off of Rickey's third tour of duty in Oakland and by 1995 – while living on my own and without cable television or an internet connection – it was right back to the Rickey-free days from a decade earlier.

It's weird how the two biggest Rickey-related transactions indirectly involved some of my best friends. On December 29, 1995, I was hanging out with a guy we all call "Thai" when news broke that Rickey had signed a free agent contract with the San Diego Padres. San Diego! My adopted hometown as of three months earlier!

With my strike-related malaise lifted, during the 1996 season, I was able to see more of my favorite player on TV than ever before. I only managed to catch one game at Qualcomm Stadium, though. And, unfortunately, it was on September 13. "Unfortunate" because by then, the Padres had acquired a grotesquely "swollen" version of Greg Vaughn and relegated Rickey to the role of revolving fourth outfielder.

Oh, and on the way to the ballpark, we heard that Tupac had died. Rickey struck out as a pinch-hitter. Kind of a bummer day all around, y'know?

Rickey would play for five different teams from 1997-2000, including an underwhelming fourth stop through Oakland in 1998. And, speaking of the A's, they were on their way to getting good again after nearly a decade-long lull. However, that didn't diminish my excitement when Rickey signed with the Padres near the end of spring training 2001.

With more disposable income since Rickey's last stint in "America's Finest City", the future Mrs. Bootleg and I caught him live several times. For the most part, it was a depressing experience. Rickey looked…old. And, not in that comical Otis Nixon way, either.

A five-week 14-for-104 (.135!) slump had Rickey's average at .209 on June 15. He could still reach base a very good clip, but only because he could no longer catch up to good fastballs or consistently make contact with even average breaking pitches. He'd foul-off his way into 3-2 counts, then keep the bat on his shoulder and hope the umpire would give him the call on reputation alone.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the glue factory. Rickey got hot. OK, it wasn't Rickey hot, but from September 1 until the end of the season, he hit .278/.398/.444 and stole nine bags in ten attempts.

The Padres returned from their final road trip of the season with Rickey one run behind Ty Cobb's all-time career record. I couldn't find anyone to go with me to the game on October 3, so I bought an $8 nose-bleed seat and watched Rickey tie the mark on a Ryan Klesko RBI double. I had two tickets for the following afternoon, but my friend bailed at the last second. Mrs. Bootleg couldn't get away from work, so it was just me.

Rickey homered in the bottom of the third inning to enter the record books. Again. A few days later, on the final day of the season, I was there with Mrs. Bootleg and a small army of friends as we watched Tony Gwynn's final game Rickey's 3,000th hit.

I'd prefer not to remember Rickey's mediocre runs through Boston and Los Angeles in 2002-2003. And, as far as I'm concerned his stints with the Independent League Newark Bears and San Diego Surf Dawgs – much like his two months with the hated Angels in 1997 – never, ever happened.

Rickey Henderson isn't just my all-time favorite player…he's the last favorite player I'll ever have. I'm too damn cynical (and too damn old) to get attached to anyone on my A's today. Last year, my four-year-old son determined his favorite A's were Bobby Crosby, Emil Brown and Eric Patterson. It just so happens that they were three of my least favorite A's on the 2008 team.

I'm inclined to let Jalen slide, though. As I said, he's only four. But, in a few years, I expect him to have perfected the "favorite player" selection process.

Just like his old man.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

MLB Network's Belated Opening Day!

Sometime last week, That Nick Guy and I were having an email exchange over the new MLB Network. The gist of the dialogue was just how much we were enjoying it. As I mentioned to Nick, baseball has orchestrated some of the least fan-friendly events and innovations during Bud Selig's frumpy sovereignty, but THIS they get right?

Put it this way: while most of you reading this were probably watching the Chargers vs. Steelers tilt this afternoon, I was watching Game #4 of the 1989 American League Championship Series (Rickey's two home run game, Canseco's testosterone shot into the fifth deck at Skydome). OK, the football game was on screen with a picture-in-picture set-up, but it was relegated to the smaller "picture-in…" status.

The Network's not perfect, though. During a countdown of the game's greatest home runs on their Prime 9 show, there was nary a mention of that guy who broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. There's also been a comparable amount of Red Sox-related programming that one would expect from ESPNESN.

I quibble, I quibble… Anyways, I'd planned to throw this up earlier, but never got around to it. It's a running diary of the MLB Network's first airing of "Hot Stove" on January 1 – think ESPN's Baseball Tonight with a million more people onscreen.

0:01 - Commissioner Selig formally introduces MLB Network to a nation of hungover New Year's revelers who've flipped over from halftime of the Rose Bowl. Selig pimps the Network's access to 150,000 hours of archival footage. Mrs. Bootleg thinks I'm watching a DVD. I tell her what it really is. Her icy "what?" reaction might be the greatest moment of my marriage.

0:02 - Quite the stunning montage to kick things off: Jackie Robinson (natch); Barry Bonds is shown hitting #756 with the end of Hank Aaron's "…there's a new home run champion…" call dubbed over (pretty damn cool, actually); Rickey(!) stealing 939 fades to Sid Bream's famous dash in '92 which fades to Ken Griffey's winning run in the '95 ALDS. OK…remember that episode of The Simpsons where Krusty solemnly states, "Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience a television event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage"…? Yeah, this is that.

0:03 - Victor Rojas is our studio host (although I'm pretty sure he's just filling in for the awesomely outrageous Matt Vasgersian here), former ESPN personality and Mariners' offensive cipher/2B Harold Reynolds joins him, along with Al Leiter and Barry Larkin. Hazel Mae – looking more, umm…"manufactured" than in her NESN days – is our update bunny and Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins gets to introduce himself and ends with the line "don't miss it" while flashing the double guns/universal douche sign.

0:05 - With the introductions out of the way, the gang gets to the business of offseason analysis, including a recap of the awards, player movement… The half-Pravda, half-vanilla style here is like come to life. All that's missing is Leiter looking into the camera and reading "Barry Zito focused on 2009 turnaround" off the teleprompter.

0:08 - A discussion on Manny Ramirez establishes everyone's roles right away. Leiter – a criminally underrated color commentator for the past few years – will be the contrarian voice of reason. Reynolds will continue to mix salient analysis with bad comedy (his impression of Vin Scully here actually hurts my ears) and Larkin will be the ex-athlete whose pedigree will protect his unfounded, inexplicable claims ("Manny puts at least 5,000 butts in the seats for every game!") for only so long.

0:14 - Jimmy Rollins stands on the faux field at "Studio 42". He and Reynolds talk about the Cole Hamels "Mets/choke artists" non-story that'll be a story all season in New York. Reynolds follows up with a "two-fold question" (his words), then mispronounces J.J. Putz's surname. They conclude by discussing new Phillies OF Raul Ibañez without once mentioning his awful defense. Seriously, Harold, he's worse than Pat Burrell. You'd know that if you stayed up for the late games.

0:18 - Bob Costas intros a spot for the Network's "Greatest Games" series. This one spotlight's Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956. Larsen and Yogi Berra – his catcher that day – stand with their arms folded in one of those dramatic television poses that should've really been retired with this guy.

0:21 - Rollins and all the analysts are in warm-up suits (Reynolds: "Obviously, we've changed clothes." Thanks, H.R.). They spend the next 10 minutes breaking down footage from Jackie Robinson stealing home in the 1955 World Series. I spend the next 10 seconds fast forwarding through it. Reynolds' ridiculous assertion ("For years, fans have argued whether Jackie was safe or out") only emboldens my thumb towards the remote's button.

0:30 - Hey, it's an interview with Rangers OF Josh Hamilton! Like most noteworthy Hamilton moments, it's soft-toss all the way. Neither Rojas nor Leiter ask if Hamilton ever plans to pay back the Tampa Bay Rays for the $3 million he stole from them during the smack addict first act of "The Josh Hamilton Story". Last time I'll mention this, I promise.

0:38 - We meet our MLB Network "insiders" - Sports Illustrated writers Tom Verducci and Jon Heyman. I am not a fan of either man. Both look uncomfortable on camera, while Heyman – in particular – comes across as arrogantly as he writes.

0:50 - Trenni Kusnierek narrates a piece on Roberto Clemente. Terrific stuff here, including video of Clemente's 3,000th hit (the announcer repeatedly refers to him as "Bobby", which is…well, 1972), his jersey retirement ceremony and Hall of Fame induction a year later.

= = =

So, it's going to be a 24-hour baseball network that ultimately ends my marriage?

Holy sh*t, I actually had that in the pool!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

2009 Playoff Pickery - AFC/NFC Divisional Round

Last Week:

Straight Up
Cam: 3-1
Tom: 1-3
Joe: 0-4

Against The Spread
Cam: 2-2
Tom: 1-3
Joe: 0-4

Cam: 2-2
Joe: 2-2
Tom: 0-4

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans (-3)
Joe: My lack of respect for the now 12-5 Ravens has lost me many a game throughout this season. Why quit now? Pick: Tennessee 27, Baltimore 20

Aaron: Meanwhile, I believe I was the one who wrote words to the effect of "Tennessee is NOT a great team" earlier this year (check the archives!) I ignored the whole "rookie QB on the road" stuff last week with Matty Ice and got burned. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...ah, screw it. Pick: Baltimore 17, Tennessee 16

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-10)
Joe: Ten points is a lot to lay down in a divisional round game. Particularly for the shakiest of the four home teams this week. But consider that the Cardinals have lost on the road this season by 21, 28, and 40 points and that point spread starts to look positively modest. Yes, I realize Carolina only won by 4 when they met in October. Regardless. Pick: Carolina 34, Arizona 20

Aaron: So, was I wrong about Matt Ryan and the Falcons or wrong about Kurt Warner and the Cardinals last week? I'll say this much: that Arizona crowd was LOUD. I know people in 'Zona and they aren't a loud people. They're polite, old and white. They also won't be in North Carolina to save their team this week. Kudos to Joe for citing a Cards' loss to Brett Favre as a reason why the Panthers will cover. He just can't let go, readers. Pick: Carolina 22, Arizona 20

Philadelphia Eagles at NY Giants (-4)
Joe: The Giants wideouts are still a problem. But if the Eagles were real contenders, they'd have beaten Minnesota by more. That's college football logic, so you know it's sound. Pick: NY Giants 29, Philadelphia 17

Aaron: Last week, I was the only guy in America who picked the Chargers outright over Indy. I had the benefit of seeing San Diego all season and knew that their QB was pretty damn good and LDT was far from their only weapon. This week, everyone I know from NYC is spooked(!) by this Eagles team. Do you guys know something I don't about the Giants or did you not notice that Philly needed three quarters to finish off Quincy Carter Tarvaris Jackson last week? Pick: NY Giants 38, Philadelphia 17

San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)
Joe: So. 0-4 last week. Not a proud day for yours truly. My downfall, besides picking four teams who ended up losing, was that I picked the four teams I wanted to win. That freakin' NEVER works. I should have known better. This week, I'm really liking the Chargers -- I like Sproles, I like Babyface Rivers, and I like how they're the only team still alive in the AFC who don't have to rely on winning ugly defensive struggles. I think Pittsburgh is deeply flawed on offense, and their last meeting was pretty much a toss-up. And that was before the Chargers had all the momentum. I love the Chargers here. Not falling for that shit again. (Though I'll take them to cover.) Pick: Pittsburgh 22, San Diego 21

Aaron: This was gonna be my still-unsponsored lock of the week AND still-unsponsored upset of the week. Then, *everyone* got on the Chargers' bandwagon. People...that was NOT a good (or well-coached) Colts team that San Diego beat. That's not why they're going to beat Pittsburgh. Here's why: Ben Roethlisberger's concussion from two weeks ago was so quickly and ridiculously dismissed by everyone that I have to believe some sort of wishcasting reverse ju-ju is in place. Oh, and the Chargers have a better offense. But, it's mostly the ju-ju thing. Pick: San Diego 17, Pittsburgh 12

Friday, January 9, 2009

The TBoGden Travel Diary - Part II

Saturday, December 27 (cont'd)

4:30 PM - While slowly lugging assorted luggage across the icy sidewalk outside of Salt Lake City's airport, our son Jalen darts away from us, weaves through the chaos of assorted strangers and gridlocked traffic, then happily bounds inside the open passenger door of the SUV driven by his grandfather – who he's seen all of twice in his life. See how easy it was to come up with the plot for The Changeling II?

4:45 PM - Mrs. Bootleg has been fiddling with the kid's car seat for the last fifteen minutes with all four car doors open as she "just can't get it in there". She's attacked it from every angle save for sliding through the moon roof. Her stepdad finally pulls away from the curb before my wife gets her seatbelt on.

(This is a GINORMOUS pet peeve for my wife, as I've had to immediately slam the brakes on repeated occasions to the harpy-shrieks of, "STOP! I'm not buckled in yet!" She doesn't say anything here out of politeness, I assume…and, it's killing her to keep quiet. This moment has made the whole trip worth it, already.)

5:00 PM - The mother-in-law surmises that we must be hungry after our long, uhh…90 minute trip. She suggests Chic-Fil-A. Good call. I've always heard about these "food courts" in "malls", but I've never had the pleasure of actually eating in one. Will they be able to seat a party of five on such short notice?

5:15 PM - We arrive at the Newgate Mall. I've never been in a car with the heater running for 30 straight minutes, so I'm actually looking forward to the now-sub 20° air. (See, kids, during "winter" in California we run our car's heater for a few minutes in the morning just to "take the chill off" and un-fog – not to be confused with actually defrosting – our windows. This is why all of our car heaters smell like slow-roasted dust whenever we turn them on.)

5:20 PM - I can see why my mother-in-law was pushing Chic-Fil-A so damn hard. It's the only restaurant in the entire food court doing any semblance of business. And, look! Ogden, Utah has douchebag, disaffected kids standing around for no apparent reason in their malls, too! We need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks a little. (Oh, right. Sorry.)

I briefly consider something other than fried chicken on a buttered bun. My choices include Sbarro's Pizza, Javier's Rapido Mex(!!!) and Jungle Juice(!!!!!) I opt for the least ethnically offensive and get Chic-Fil-A.

6:00 PM - We get to my in-law's house where we're aggressively greeted by their dog, "Scout".

6:00 PM - 6:15 PM - Jalen's running around the house in sheer terror of this dog that's twice my son's size. My mother-in-law assures Jalen that Scout is "just playing", while she openly wonders if Jalen is just tired from the long day. Yeah, that's it…it's got nothing to do with an animal he's generally unfamiliar with knocking him down, barking and trying to eat him.

6:15 PM - My father-in-law proudly displays the remote control that runs their household. They have Dish Network and my attention is turned away from extracting Jalen out of Scout's belly and towards the majesty of one million channels.

6:16 PM - AIEEEEEEEEEE! Including NFL Network!

6:17 PM - AIEEEEEEEEEE! It's a replay of Week #2's Chargers/Broncos game, which was arguably the game of the year!

(In truth, I'm probably just a slightly-more-than-casual football fan these days, but the set-up here is terrific. The dead time is completely edited out of the game, with fewer commercials, to boot and even though I know the outcome, it moves along at such a brisk pace, I couldn't turn away. Why have none of you told me about this NFL Network before? I can't wait to watch it on my Time-Warner Cable system at home!)

8:15 PM - Jalen has apparently lightsabered himself out of the Taun-Taun's stomach, so I take him upstairs for two stories and a bedtime chaser.

8:30 PM – 3:30 AM - I fall asleep next to the boy, which turns out to be a grievous mistake on my part. Here now are the next seven hours. And, for those of you in on the joke, imagine it told in voice of WWE announcer Jim Ross:

Collar and elbow tie up to begin. Jalen backs his daddy into the far corner of the ring bed. We get a clean break! That's some surprising sportsmanship on the part of Jalen. Oh, and it's Jalen with a closed fist! Damn it, Mrs. Bootleg, get in there!

Jalen's daddy back to a vertical base, dragging his son to the center of the bed. His daddy's no slouch, King. He's a former six-year marketing major from San Diego State University. On campus, he was known as "The Cerebral Aztec".

Jalen's daddy is back down, but wait! What's his son up to? Jalen's now perpendicular to his supine daddy and…uh oh, King! Jalen's tuning up the band! His daddy can't see it coming! Sweet Chin Music! He hit it! He hit it! He hit it! Jalen for the cover! One! Two! No! His daddy's up at two.

Jalen dragged back to the center of the bed. His daddy regains the advantage and lies back down. And, wait…Jalen's moving into position…oh, a headbutt right between his daddy's eyes! Jalen falls on top for the cover!

Damn it, Mrs. Bootleg get in there and help! That…that jezebel! She's pretending to be asleep! She won't help her man! One! Two! Three! Jalen! Jalen! Jalen!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wuddup, G?

Me: "You hear the A's signed Jason Giambi?"

Mrs. Bootleg: "That must've made you unhappy."

Me: "Y'know, truth be told…I never stopped loving him."

Mrs. Bootleg: "…"

It's probably a good thing I didn't have a lightly-read blog back on December 13, 2001. When Jason Giambi signed with the New York Yankees, I was – to put it politely – pissed. It had been almost a decade since I had an A's team I actually adored and I naively bought into the Bluto Blutarsky persona that Giambi self-marketed with aplomb.

See, I remembered when the A's called up this skinny third baseman in May 1995. I'd spent a few seasons following my favorite team from afar after the strike, but Giambi had done time in my hometown at Long Beach State University. And, Lord knows that '95 A's team was old (38-year-old Dave Stewart was our Opening Day starter) and awful (Craig Paquette! Brent Gates! Mike Harkey!).

Within three seasons, Giambi was the best homegrown player on the roster and by 2000 the entire organization had been rebuilt in the mold of his "take n' rake" philosophy.

Giambi said all the right things leading into his 2001 contract year. Hell, the rumor was that he and the team were this close to agreeing on a six-year, $90 million deal in Spring Training. Then, came word that Giambi wanted a full no-trade clause. An instant later, both sides decided to table negotiations until after the season.

Watching the crocodile tears at Giambi's introductory press conference in New York was nauseating at first, then Jason punctuated it with a collective punch to A's fans stomachs when he declared that he always wanted to be a Yankee.

Giambi's first game back in Oakland in 2002 was surreal. The normally 80% empty Coliseum was filled to capacity and Giambi was booed on a level that I'd only heard when Darryl Strawberry returned to Shea Stadium as a Dodger and Alex Rodriguez first visited Seattle as a Ranger. Personally, I think booing is stupid…but, on this night, it was glorious.

And, now Jason Giambi is back. Cool, whatever. It's a terrific low-risk deal for the A's with only $5.25 million guaranteed up front on a one-year commitment plus an option. He's clearly in decline, but the A's middle of the order will at least be intriguing with Giambi, Matt Holliday and Jack Cust.

Giambi's first run with the A's restored my fanaticism in the sport and for that, he'll get a pass from me in his encore.

TBG Drinks: 2° Below Ale

Brewed By: New Belgium Brewing
Brewed In: Fort Collins, Colorado
Type: Extra Special/Strong Bitter (Pale Ale)
ABV: 6.6%

What They Say: "A bright, warming blast of Sterling and Liberty hops along with tawny roasted malts. By pushing our 2° Below into a final, nearly freezing state, its ample structure develops a brilliant clarity. Dry-hopping during fermentation creates a bright, hoppy palate and a cheery warm afterglow."

Website: Ummm…let's go with "uncluttered" – although I wouldn't be opposed to "amateurish". (Full disclosure: I don't know t'ish about web design.) The "Beer" link is a kick as it leads to a complete listing of New Belgium's product lines accompanied by recommended food pairings. Some of the suggestions are so hilariously pretentious ("Coca-Cola braised pork shoulder"?) that I actually wanna try 'em. As the story goes, New Belgium was "born on a bike" so there are several bike-themed events promoted here. And, you can't have a beer site without an infrequently updated blog, a mediocre souvenir page and a cooler-than-you tone throughout.

Why I Picked It: New Belgium's Fat Tire is far and away my favorite casual beer of choice, so I'm pretty much open to sampling anything they opt to bottle.


Presentation (4): The label on Fat Tire's bottles is easily recognizable and New Belgium wisely keeps the brand identification for 2° Below similar in style. My eye was drawn to the logo, immediately – thinking it was actually Fat Tire – before noticing the clever depiction of frost, icicles and a plunging thermostat.

Originality (1): I'm still a neophyte in the field of beer snobbery, but I'm fairly certain that seasonal winter-warmer beers are a common occurrence on store shelves this time of year. Not much of a break from the norm in the New Belgium formula, either, but kudos for the effort to expand my favorite brand.

Body (7): In an attempt to keep from typing "just like Fat Tire" all the way through this review, I'll instead say that it bears more than a passing resemblance to New Belgium's signature brand. Smooth without really being watery, what it might lack in mouthfeel, it makes up for with an ability to get down my gullet in good time.

Taste (7): Malty with a moderate level of hoppiness that loiters on the tongue. I finished off a six-pack over the course of a few days and didn't think I cared for it. I bought another six-pack a week later and better appreciated the toasted spiciness and relatively dry finish. Somewhat complex for commercialized, mass produced product.

Efficiency (8): I'm mostly hiding behind my waistline when I say that I could only drink two 12-ouncers in a single sitting. The reality is that after the first half-bottle, the mouth is familiarized with the flavor and the 6.6% ABV isn't enough to do any superficial damage over the course of an evening. Not a poundable brew in the truest sense of the made-up word, but it's right at the line.

Versatility (7): I wouldn't call it a straight-up "social beer" due to the finish and lingering bitterness. I'd recommend it most for those pretentious "grown-up parties" that are common amongst newlyweds in their late 20s who are fighting their own insecurities and guilt about their unfettered (and unprotected) youth by hosting a wine n' cheese affair in an ineffective attempt to renounce the past decade.

Grade: 34 (Good Beer)

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.