Thursday, July 31, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer – Introduction

Growing up in the 1980s as an Oakland A's fan – and living in Southern California –meant that the only times I could see my team were:

1.) On KTLA Channel 5 when they played the California Angels. And, almost exclusively when the games were in Oakland as Angels home games were rarely televised.

2.) On NBC's "Saturday Afternoon Game of the Week". For those too young to remember, this concept was a lot like ESPN's "Sunday Night Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs Game of the Week", but with a few dozen less appearances from the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs each season.

3.) During the postseason. This was fine and dandy when the A's won it all in 1989…less dandy and fine in 1988.

In 1990, ESPN began airing Major League Baseball games four nights a week, including doubleheaders on Tuesdays and Fridays with single games on Wednesdays and Sundays. In fact, for several years, the Sunday Night edict from the network was to showcase every team at least once. Including the 1992-93 Mets!

My A's were at the apex of their popularity in the early '90s and, as a result, were often part of the featured game at least twice a week. Throughout the rest of the decade, however, ESPN slowly scaled back their baseball broadcasting and Oakland baseball went from awesome to awful to almost.

By the start of this decade, all-access season-long innovations such as NFL's Sunday Ticket were providing fans with a means to decide for themselves which games they wanted to watch. Major League Baseball soon followed suit with their MLB Extra Innings package.

I've been a subscriber since 2002. I'd estimate that over the past six and half seasons I've watched all or part of 80% of the games, home and road, that the A's have played. Of course, my wife – Mrs. Bootleg – has been insanely understanding about all this. And, since I'm already watching around 130 games per season, what's 30 or so more?

That's right, kids…from the Bootleg Guy who brought you the five-part Worst Fans in Sports series and the ten-part Hall of Fame 100 feature comes the biggest multi-part endeavor I've ever done! Everyday throughout the month of August, I'll be reviewing, rating and ranking all 30 Major League Baseball local broadcast teams.

From Michael Kay and Harry Kalas to Hawk Harrelson and Vin Scully, everyone will get the opportunity to impress me. The broadcasts will be graded on the criteria that I deem most important to my viewing experience:

Chemistry - How well does the play-by-play guy mesh with the color commentator? Does each one know his role and not intrude on the other's turf? Hell, does it sound like they even like each other? (10 points maximum)

Knowledge - Am I learning something new or are the broadcasters just reading from the media guide? I can see that lazy flyball to left as well as the next guy. I want to know why Bobby Crosby swung at the first offering after this same pitcher had just walked the bases loaded. (10 points maximum)

Enthusiasm - A good broadcaster lends the proper amount of urgency to a dramatic moment. I want the guys in the booth to enjoy an exciting play as much as I do and not be afraid to let their love of the game show. (10 points maximum)

Bar Stool Quotient - Baseball's languid pace leads to extended periods where it's just me, the broadcasters and a 13-pitch at-bat from some scrub in the sixth inning of a late April blowout. It's a lot easier to sit through when I can imagine myself tipping back Fat Tires with these guys, talking baseball and swapping stories. (10 points maximum)

Camera/Production - Give me timely, relevant replays; some interesting, yet non-intrusive graphics; an occasional peek into the dugouts and an emphasis on not missing anything that happens between the white lines. I don't ask for much. (10 points maximum)

Homerism - Enthusiasm is one thing…cheerleading is quite another. If your local broadcaster has a dozen ridiculous nicknames for everyone on the team or if he verbally urges batted balls to STAY FAIR, STAY FAIR or if he truly believes that every umpire is against them, then they'll pay for it here. (-10 points maximum)

That all adds up to a maximum possible score of 50. Within the individual categories, a score of 5 is considered "average" and 10/-10s will only be doled out in the most extreme examples.

I'll also have some fun with the litany of local commercials airing during each game and keep a running tally of the silly little trivia questions that pop up around the fourth or fifth inning.

The one caveat I'll add is that each broadcast team only gets one time to shine. If a member of the local TV team is off that night, then it's the fill-in(s) who'll get graded.

So, settle in, place your bets and try'n guess where your local baseball broadcast crew will finish when sized up against every other team in the league.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mrs. Bootleg vs. The Hamburger King

I strolled into work today, plopped myself down and opened my email. At the top of the unread pile was a reminder from one of the marketing guys:

"Are you almost done with the contracts write-up for the Government's report?"

I had two weeks to get this done and it's due tomorrow. As of 8:00 AM this morning, I still hadn't clicked on that cute little "New Blank Document" icon in the upper left-hand corner of my MS Word toolbar.

It was a challenging day at the office.

I threw in the towel after 10 hours and came home to find Mrs. Bootleg in the process of tossing some plate-sized patties of ground cow on the ol' propane Jane. I tried to sneak past my son and into the kitchen in the hope of having one uninterrupted beer before I had to be a father for the next 90 minutes (or until he fell asleep, whichever came first).

Instead, I scored a front-row seat for one of Jalen's patented "half-tantrums" – no tears or screaming, just a firm entrenchment in his position.

"I don't like hamburgers! I want hot dogs!", Jalen said. Mrs. Bootleg quickly reminded the boy that we were having hamburgers.

"But, I don't like your hamburgers. I only eat hamburgers from The King.", Jalen responded.

I pretty much lost it at this point and haven't stopped laughing since. Jalen could've left it alone – Mrs. Bootleg had this indecisive look that I read to say "Should I cry or kill him?" But, no…Jalen twisted the dagger with, "I only eat hamburgers from Hamburger King."

He referred to THIS GUY by his full name!

In the end, the boy choked down half of a burger, while his mother spent all of our dinnertime pettily criticizing Jalen for every little thing: eating too fast, putting too much in his mouth, not eating enough, making a mess. Of course, I made sure to inhale two of these sirloin bad boys – at the eventual cost of my colon – to ensure that Mrs. Bootleg's culinary confidence wasn't too shaken.

They were pretty damn good, too. But, just between you and me…Mrs. Bootleg ain't no Hamburger King.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Oakland A's Monday #28

For the second straight July, the A's have essentially folded up their tents and called it a season. Last year, they entered the month at 42-39 – fresh off of taking 2 of 3 in New York from the Yankees – before going 9-18 in July. This year, Oakland was 45-37 entering play on July 1 and have gone 8-15 since then.

And, between my A's and Raiders, I think I'll just head off to bed for the next nine months.

There are still about 48 hours left until the July 31 Major League Baseball trading deadline and the A's are in the unique position of being a seller that HAS to make a move.

A few days ago, SP Justin Duchscherer had his worst start of the season, yielding eight earned runs in six innings to the Rangers. His ERA still sits at a terrific 2.37, but there's no way he should still be with this team on August 1.

I made all of these same points last week, but Duke is having a career season at 30 years old. He's never been a starting pitcher for a full season in the bigs. He's going to get very expensive when he's eligible for arbitration during the offseason and he'll almost certainly hit the open market as a free agent after the 2009 campaign.

So, where can he go?

I'd be stunned if he ended up in the National League. Duke had offseason surgery on his hip. During an interleague start against Arizona on June 17, he felt a twinge in his hip while hitting and – as a precautionary move – was instructed to keep the bat on his shoulder. He fanned in all four at-bats, the final three while looking at nine straight pitches.

In the American League, there just aren't many legitimate playoff contenders who need a starter. The Tigers might be the best fit, as their offense is averaging about five runs per game (tied for 2nd in the AL), but their team ERA is 4.42 (11th). Upon closer inspection, Detroit's rotation is even worse than I thought, as they rank last in strikeouts and third from the bottom in walks allowed. Would the Tigers part with Jeff Larish (25-year-old 1B, slugging .542 in AAA, really just a fringe prospect) and the crazy-raw Brandon Hamilton (21 years old, at Single-A)?

I'm still not convinced that RP Huston Street is going anywhere, despite the intensifying trade talks. If, however, the Dodgers are as disenchanted with 3B prospect Andy LaRoche as it appears they are, I'd do a straight-up swap in a heartbeat. Street could slot into the eighth inning role that the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton vacated when an injury forced Los Angeles to elevate him to closer. Meanwhile, LaRoche would likely replace Eric Chavez who's rumored to be moving across the diamond.

Wake me when it's next April.

We're OK, America!

I can't tell y'all how amused I've been at today's breathless reporting of the "moderate earthquake" that hit Southern California during my lunch hour.

I was sitting in my cube, shooting the t'ish with the guy across from me, when the walls shook for about seven seconds. Even conceding that the epicenter was 100-some miles north of San Diego, this one was nothing. Reports that tonight's Dodgers game would STILL be played in Los Angeles represent the type of press coverage I'd expect from people who still think we get a couple of 'quakes a week.

Here's the thing…in all the years I've lived in California, there have been exactly two earthquakes that I actually remember. In 1987, a 5.9 centered near the city of Whittier (about 15 minutes north of my hometown, Long Beach) sloshed the water out of our apartment complex's swimming pool like the aftermath of my son's bath time. Then, in 1994, a 6.7 woke my Black ass up at 4:30 in the morning on Martin Luther King Day. That one also killed 72 people, injured 12,000 and caused $12.5 billion in damages.

And, it woke me up on my day off!

All I'm saying is that of all the things to fear in this state, earthquakes rank somewhere down around the inch or two of rain that we get at rush hour…once or twice a month…from the months of December to March.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

TBG Sees: The Dark Knight

Yesterday's sunrise came with the promise of awesome.

Thanks to the unnamed defense contractor's 9/80 schedule, I was off for the day. And, more importantly, our son would be attending a school-sponsored "sleep-over" event in the evening that pretty much guaranteed six minutes of non-birthday/anniversary/Martin Luther King, Jr. Day sex with Mrs. Bootleg.

(Spoiler Alert: Last night's cock-and-bull excuse from the wife: "I think I had too much greasy food [on Friday]. My stomach hurts.")

But, before I could curl up on the couch with an evening of evisceration (Rangers 14, A's 6) and a snoozing Mrs. Bootleg in an upstairs bedroom, there was the matter of The Dark Knight.

1997's Batman & Robin abortion pretty much ruined the whole damn cinematic brand. As a result, I missed the Batman Begins reboot during its initial theater run in 2005. In fact, I didn't see it until it was the in-flight movie on a cross-country journey to New England that November. And, didn't I feel quite the fool?

I bought the DVD when I returned to San Diego and waited with anticipation when initial news and trailers from The Dark Knight began trickling across the airwaves and internet.

Then, Heath Ledger died and I got pretty sick of every breathless update. And, then everyone LOVED the movie. Consequently, I grew equally ill from the polysyllabic saccharin-filled praise from every two-bit critic in America.

Crash was an overly-simplistic, colossally flawed movie that was still perfectly watchable, yet I found myself hating the (undeserved) hype it received more than anything else. As I settled into my seat at the movie theater, Ledger had already been handed an Oscar, The Dark Knight redefined the comic book movie genre forever and if you don't like this movie, there's something wrong with YOU.

My thoughts two and half hours later?

If you don't like this movie, there's something wrong with YOU.

I keed, of course, but, goddamm, son…

There's nothing about Ledger's balls-out performance as The Joker that I could add to the cacophony of credit he's already received. It's simultaneously subtle and sledgehammer-y, controlled and chaotic, comedic and tragic. I was absolutely riveted by his vocal inflections and the myriad of little tics he added (a tilt of the head, a quick lick of his lips). That The Joker was written without much motivation was brilliant in how it motivated every other major character in the film.

Christian Bale's Batman kept up every step of the way – a conflicted spirit who is ostensibly inspiring the public to take back its city and can't wait until the day in which the world no longer needs him. Yet, there he is, every night, fighting the good fight.

It says a lot that Aaron Eckhart's performance as Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent has, relatively speaking, flown under the radar. That's a shame, because Eckhart has arguably a greater challenge than Ledger. While The Joker is fully formed from the first moment we see him onscreen, Dent's downfall from hero of the people to the deranged Harvey Two-Face is absolutely nailed by Eckhart.

The movie itself manages to hold everything together…for the most part.

It's not that everything in this movie didn't have a purpose. It's just that, if I've got a beef, it's how kinda…sorta…I dunno…contrived some of the plot movements were. Again, I get why Batman had to make a quick trip to China. I guess. On the other hand, the whole storyline with the Wayne Foundation pencil pusher who stumbled across…well, everything about Batman in what amounted to an eight-hour day at the office was really stretching things in my eyes.

Everything weaves along at a hectic pace (and, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the phenomenal score that built copious amounts of tension every step of the way) and takes us through to a morally ambiguous resolution in which, to an extent, both the good guys and bad guys can claim victory.

Best movie of the year? I'm nowhere near qualified to make that claim, but I will say that the sequence with the two ferry boats and their dueling detonators (an important piece to the film's climax) was ham-handed and dumb.

And, umm…Michael Jai White AND Tiny Lister, Jr.? Really? Really, Central Casting? Did Damon Wayans and Ving Rhames not send forwarding addresses?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Picture it, Heaven…2008"

Estelle Getty passed away today.

Longtime readers of mine know my affinity for The Golden Girls – one of the seminal sitcoms of the 1980s. I watched it during its initial run on NBC, and then followed the reruns into syndication. Some of my fondest memories in the early stages of my relationship with then Girlfriend Bootleg were watching the 6:00PM – 7:00PM back-to-back episodes on Lifetime over whatever takeout eats two college kids could afford.

Like most long-running (1984-1992) sitcoms, the show gets a little too much credit for its peak and not enough for its decline. The writing and acting didn't find a concurrent footing until its second season, but managed to sustain its strength until around 1988-89. By then, commercial television was getting bawdier and the show's writing reflected a sad attempt to lemming along. The jokes were dirtier and more mean-spirited. The plots became recycled and, occasionally, ridiculous (remember the "full moon" crossover episode with Empty Nest?).

And, then it ended.

Getty's fascinating life story of perseverance and belated success (to say nothing of her admirable stances on AIDS research and gay rights) is an endangered species in this era of inexplicable celebrity and manufactured stardom.

Godspeed, Sophia.

Mid-Term A'Ssessment – Bullpen

Huston Street – RHP

The Good News: Well, if you throw out his first three and last three appearances this season, his ERA dips to 2.72, with an opponents' batting average of .194. He remains one of the prettier A's, as his delicate countenance is still a hit with the squealing teens who think the team arrived in Oakland in 2000. Let's see, what else…oh, he hasn't made an error all year.

The Bad News: Street's first two years (2005, 2006) were almost identical in their awesomeness. Since then, he's developed several maddening habits that threaten to torpedo his career as a closer. Most notably, he's run afoul of the long ball – yielding six in just 43 innings. His struggles are pretty transparent to A's fans, so it blows my mind that I've been able to predict when Street doesn't have "it", while the coaching staff sits on their hands. Street has had next to no command of his out pitch (slider) this year and when he can't throw it for strikes; hitters lay off and wait for his straight-as-a-string fastball. Now, I don't buy into the whole "closer's mystique", but when Street scuffles, he fidgets, fusses and agitates himself in an overt scene that everyone can see and opposing hitters can't wait to pounce on. He's already got five blown saves this year and continues to reduce his trade value with every uneven outing.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Street's arbitration eligible after this season and talks for a long-term contract have understandably stalled. He's rumored to go to a half-dozen teams before the trade deadline, but my guess is that the A's wait until the offseason to deal him. Eight or nine weeks of non-pressure, non-pennant race baseball might cure what ails him.

Grade: C+

And, the Rest…: Independent League refugee Brad Ziegler has been outstanding since coming up. He's thrown almost 22 scoreless innings to start his career and fans have clamored for him to ascend to closer. As great as he's been, though, he doesn't miss many bats and his .193 batting average on balls in play is unsustainably low. Santiago Casilla was terrific for the first six weeks. He went on the DL in mid-May with an ERA under 1.00. Since his return, his ERA is 7.20 in 11 appearances.

In last night's game against Tampa Bay, I noticed that Andrew Brown bares more than a passing facial resemblance to former journeyman reliever Jeff Parrett. They're also similar in that Parrett spent one year (1992) with Oakland, putting up a line that mirrored Brown's low ERA, good strikeout rate, too many walks approach.

Keith Foulke and Alan Embree have been up and down all year. Foulke has been torched by righties and looks uncomfortable in the role of middle reliever. Embree is 100 years old. On May 11, his ERA was 2.60. Since then, it's 5.85.

Monday, July 21, 2008

25 Things I Learned From My Friend's Wedding Weekend

The best thing about a late morning flight out of San Diego is the relatively early morning drinking that can be had at the airport bar. It wasn't the 7:00 AM Sam Adams I enjoyed in Hawaii while watching the Patriots vs. Dolphins kick off my Sunday morning on Maui, but a 10:00 AM Fat Tire on a Thursday comes pretty damn close.

Women who get all dolled up for an airplane ride should be spanked. Seriously…this is the transportation equivalent of laundry day, ladies. It's not that I don't enjoy ogling your short shorts, four-inch heels, skin-tight tops and all that pretend texting you're doing, but come on. Unless you're on your way to a work-related meeting (and maybe these hoes actually are) then the dress code at the airport should be "community college".

I do my fair share of flying and the airport in Oakland has long been my least favorite in the land (although Denver's is a strong silver medalist). Well, the ten-year construction plan is almost complete and damned if Oaktown don't clean up good. Terminal 2 is pretty snazzy and includes several nods to the city's rich African-American heritage. My favorite display – and, see it now, cuz a certain demographic will ensure it ain't up for much longer – was a wall of Ebony magazine covers from the 1970s. Diahann Carroll! The Black Panthers! The cast of What's Happening!!! OJ Simpson! Forget it…I'm sure it's already down.

Terminal 1…still a dump.

Like every other American car manufacturer, the good people at Dodge will never get my Black ass behind their steering wheels unless it's a rental. The contents of the Bootleg Family's garage has been completely Japanese since 2005 and it's weekends like these that make me realize why. With barely 10,000 miles, my Dodge Avenger's electronic dashboard display was completely inoperable, the acceleration was glacial and it came with Sirius satellite radio, instead of XM.

The Walnut Creek Marriott has NO free on-site parking. I've seen this at the really high-end hotels, but, really…Marriott?! I was told that I could park for free at a lot about half a mile up the street and under the BART tracks. But, since I knew how Mrs. Bootleg would react (umm, angrily) I paid more for the privilege of already paying the Marriott to stay there.

My given name is now, apparently, "Arann Cammaran". This was what the Marriott had my reservation under. Thankfully, after several minutes of restrained rage at their offer to re-book my three nights stay at the $269/night rate (vs. $109/night), I produced my reservation number. For my "trouble", they gave me a handful of free breakfast cards.

Anyone attending a wedding at the Wildwood Acres Resort should be assigned a Sherpa. For the wedding rehearsal, I was surprised to find myself navigating rural residential streets that inexplicably inclined towards the upper reaches of our atmosphere. Within minutes, I was traversing a one-lane road up the side of a mountain. And, when I say "one lane", I mean ONE lane – as in traffic in both directions using the same road, only yielding when a car is coming up the other way. It was basically an aesthetically pleasing alley.

There really is someone for everyone! No, no…I don't mean the bride and groom. See, I've known the groom (a white guy) since 7th grade and I was assigned to be a groomsman. The bride (also white) had a bridesmaid who just happened to be an African-American that she's known since…7th grade!

And, in a six-person wedding party, guess who I got paired with.

The only thing better than the incredible Italian food at the Postino Restaurant in Lafayette was telling Mrs. Bootleg what she missed out on. I teased her with the salad that featured fresh berries and cubed blue cheese. I set her up with the hot bread and garlic butter, then knocked her down with the sausage n' sun-dried tomato penne. Finally, when she thought I'd left her jealous carcass lying in a heap of her own envy, I went for the kill and called the tiramisu "the best I've ever had". All true. All awesome.

The maple pepper bacon at the Walnut Creek Marriott is the greatest bacon ever cut and cured from a pig. This is what I want blocking my arteries when I die at 45.

My three-passenger arrival time trifecta actually paid off on Friday afternoon as Mrs. Bootleg and my boys, Thai and JP – all traveling into Oakland on different flights – showed up virtually on time between 11:45 AM and 12:45 PM. I fully realize that I'll never be this lucky again.

In the city of Oakland, they actually do freeway construction in the middle of the day and seem surprisingly indifferent to turning a 30-minute drive to Walnut Creek into an hour-long ordeal.

The restrooms in nail salons are really, really cramped. I learned this while dropping Mrs. Bootleg off to get her nails did. My friends and I were going to walk a few blocks to a sports bar, when I suddenly felt the urge to, umm…"bomb the oval office". Thankfully, the little Asian lady working on my wife directed me to a shoebox-sized room that will never be the same again.

Probably should shy away from breakfast buffet biscuits n' gravy for a few years.

If you're ever at a place in Walnut Creek called "Stadium Pub", get the ribs. They're actually a pound of barbecued pork – with a few bones mixed in for effect – served atop a mountain of fries. F-#-c-k-i-n-g g-l-o-r-i-o-u-s.

The Oakland A's 2008 season was given a closed casket funeral in New York.

Mark Twain has long been erroneously associated with the quote, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco". Now sure, the wedding was on the other side of the bay – and, even 20 miles east of Oakland – but, 82 degrees on wedding Saturday was unexpectedly uncomfortable. My tuxedo didn't help, nor did the constant ray of sunshine that poked through the heavily wooded setting and found my enormous forehead during the entire ceremony.

It IS possible to sweat through an undershirt, tuxedo shirt and jacket.

Make sure you get to the appetizer trays before the table(s) where all the old, white people are sitting. The self-described "greatest generation" is worse than all the welfare and freeloaders that their Republican heroes tell them to vote against every election season. I'd never seen bruschetta and fried wontons eaten – together – by the fistful until now.

In an upset that rivaled the aforementioned airplane arrival thing, the DJ (a middle-aged white lady) played Digital Underground's Freaks of the Industry. These things happen in threes. I should've played the lottery.

Mrs. Bootleg is still alive. At the reception she had three glasses of white wine, then later, at the best man's after-party, she downed a glass of insanely boozed-up punch.

The Knob Creek Manhattan, dutifully prepared by the Marriott's bartender-on-duty, is pure gasoline and a must-drink for whiskey lovers like me. Even after a late-night shower, the wife swears she still smelled it on me. An enchanting musk.

Don't leave Walnut Creek at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning in July while wearing only Jordan shorts and a six-year-old T-shirt. 52 degrees, kids, and I still had to pump gas for the rental car.

Mid-Term A'Ssessment – Starting Pitchers & Catcher

Joe Blanton – RHP

The Good News: Many of his 2008 individual rate stats (both traditional and advanced) were right in line with his 16-win season from 2006. ERA sat at 3.92 on Memorial Day. Owned a wonderfully convenient excuse to explain away part of 5-12 record, as the anemic A's offense could only scrap together an average of 3.42 runs per game in his starts.

The Bad News: His vastly overrated – albeit still valuable – 16-win season in 2006 masked many of the same faults he's always had: low strikeout rates, high WHIP numbers and poor conditioning. He's been unlucky with run support, but in eight starts since the end of May, Blanton's ERA is 6.75. Eroded most of his trade value from this offseason.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Blanton is officially the Phillies problem, after being dealt for three prospects the day after the All-Star Break. His pass from the media and fans will officially expire by the end of this month. Fat Joe's entire career has been built on run support, defense and the A's home ballpark. Philadelphia will score more for him, but those last two are going to make the next 2 ½ months a lot of fun…for me.

Grade: D+

Dana Eveland – LHP

The Good News: A pleasant, paunchy surprise who came over from Arizona in the Dan Haren deal, Eveland has pitched solidly most of the time with an occasionally outstanding outing thrown in for good measure. Eliminate his back-to-back starts on May 29 and June 3 (10 runs in 8.2 innings) and his first half ERA is around 2.90. Watching him run the basepaths in Atlanta – and get thrown out at home – will be one of the most entertaining images of the year for A's fans. Sigh.

The Bad News: Like most A's starters, Eveland could blame run support on some of his losses, but he creates a lot of his own problems when he can't find the plate. On the season, he's walked 4.4 batters per nine innings, which isn't good for any arm, much less someone who allows as many balls in play as Eveland does. He hasn't looked especially sharp lately and is one of those guys who could implode as his innings pitched total surpasses his career-high.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: A quick check of shows that Eveland's never pitched more than 140 innings in a season. He's got the Rays tonight and, tentatively, the awesome Rangers and Red Sox offenses after that. Sh*t. "Prediction?"…"Yes, prediction."…"Pain."

Grade: B-

Greg Smith – LHP

The Good News: Another piece of the Dan Haren haul, Smith surrendered four earned runs in just one of his first ten starts. His pickoff move is simply phenomenal and might be the best of any pitcher I've ever seen wearing the white shoes.

The Bad News: A closer look at his numbers shows that he wasn't as impressive as I thought. His BB/K ratio is about the same as Eveland's. In his last nine starts – including this past weekend's abomination in the Bronx – his ERA is just shy of 5.00. Again, like Eveland, Smith is about 30 innings shy of his career-high and the regression, it would seem, is in full swing.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: It's no secret that Smith's innings will be heavily monitored down the stretch and it wouldn't surprise me to see him sent to the bullpen sometime next month to keep him around 170-180 for the season. He's death to lefties and his pickoff move is tailor-made for late-inning situations.

Grade: B-

Justin Duchscherer – RHP

The Good News: Well, for those who think an All-Star nomination means anything, there ya go. I mean, Duke deserved it and all…he hasn't given up more than three earned runs in any of his starts (fun fact: I was at his May 1 start when he gave up five unearned runs…thanks, Jack Cust's sh*tty glove!) His ERA stands at 1.87, his WHIP is an ungodly 0.890 and he's even shown some fire out there, unafraid to mix it up with an umpire or two who's squeezed him on calls.

The Bad News: A lot of his "ungodly" numbers are simply unsustainable. I'm reminded of Dan Haren's lights-out first half last year. Haren's final numbers were solid, but his August and September bore no resemblance to his April-July. Duke doesn't miss many bats and relies a lot on the defense behind him. The A's are statistically the best team in baseball at turning balls in play into outs. And, yes, Duke's already about 20 innings over his previous Major League high.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Duchscherer's value will NEVER be higher than it is right now. It'll sound like blasphemy, but he could be the best arm available over the next 10 days. He's already 30 years old, he'll be eligible for free agency after 2009 (arbitration-eligible after this season) and he had surgery on his hip last year. He'll either be dealt or mentioned in every rumor from now until July 31st.

Grade: A

Rich Harden – RHP

The Good News: Pitched more innings this season than he has in the last two years, combined. Harden was absolutely dominating at times, striking out eight or more batters in seven of his 13 starts for the A's.

The Bad News: Missed almost six weeks from early April to mid-May due to injury, but it's not like anyone didn't see this coming. His last two starts with Oakland may have expedited his exit as his velocity was down and his control absent. Traded to the Cubs for a package bereft of upside.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: The Harden/Piniella marriage could be one to watch. Harden, for the uninitiated, has long had a reputation as someone who will not pitch in or through pain. I think there'll be at least one over-reported incident between the two before the end of the year.

Grade: A-

Kurt Suzuki – C

The Good News: Got off to a great start and was hitting .312 with a .389 OBP on April 25. After a month-long slump, he's hit .331/.378/.470 since May 20. He gets WAY too much credit for his "game calling" skills, but he does look more comfortable behind the plate this year than he did last year. It's damning with faint praise in an overall down year for AL catchers, but he might be having the third or fourth best season in the league behind Joe Mauer, Dionner Navarro and that d*ck in Chicago.

The Bad News: I dunno. There's something about Suzuki that rubs me the wrong way. He's made some embarrassingly bad baserunning gaffes in the first half, he's inconsistent when he comes to blocking the plate and, when he's hitting, Suzuki has this goofy way of lunging away from pitches that are nowhere near him. Nitpicking? Probably. But, I think he could stand to gain some maturity as a ballplayer.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: As with Jason Kendall's Oakland tenure, no one will ask why Suzuki's magical game-calling skillz don't work on certain pitchers – this year, including Blanton, Lenny DiNardo, Huston Street and the last few weeks of Santiago Casilla.

Grade: B+

And, the Rest…: The A's sent Chad Gaudin to the bullpen after six pretty good starts, then traded him to the Cubs in the Rich Harden deal. Sean Gallagher came over to Oakland in that same trade and shut down the Angels in his first start before the break. Rob Bowen hasn't gotten untracked as this year's back-up catcher. His bat looks slow and the A's have let him rot for up to two weeks between appearances.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

That Out of Town Guy that we've established that there are, in fact, TWO Miriams in New York, I feel safe in knowing I can take my leave for the weekend.

One of my boys is getting married up in Oakland this Saturday (well, it's actually west of Oakland, near Walnut Creek, so no chance of that New Jack City wedding scene breaking out...). Anyways, if anything interesting goes down, there'll be a Travel Diary in it for you when I get back.

Meanwhile, my goal is to find something Oakland A's-related for my son.

"Jalen, they only had daddy-sizes."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mid-Term A'Ssessment - The Outfielders

Jack Cust – LF

The Good News: After a rancid April (.176 BA, .265 SLG), I was in attendance at Anaheim when Cust broke out with a 4 for 4 game on May 1. He'd go on to put up an insane 1.004 OPS for that month. Cust currently leads the A's in home runs (18) and on-base percentage (.374), among other offensive categories. His cameo in The Mitchell Report this past offseason wasn't the least bit of an issue, despite Cust coming to camp this year with nearly 30 pounds of "extra muscle".

The Bad News: Honestly, in nearly 30 years of following this team, I can't remember a more polarizing player. Cust strikes out a TON and, for many fans, this makes him worse than herpes. He's sitting at 114 K's on the season and on pace to pass 200 sometime in September. The much bigger problem from where I sit is his defense. I've seen some bad leftfielders in my time – Kevin Reimer springs immediately to mind, as does Dale Murphy's '93 stint in Colorado – but, Cust is something else. Since June 1st, Cust's OPS is just .773.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Cust is cheap and reasonably productive, so he's not going anywhere. Most A's fans will continue to blindly obsess over the things he can't do (make consistent contact, use his glove, mix in a salad now and then) instead of the things he does better than anyone else on the team (hit home runs, not make outs).

Grade: B

Ryan Sweeney – CF

The Good News: Jettisoned from Chicago as part of the Nick Swisher haul, Sweeney's played with a chip on his shoulder all year and might be the most exciting guy on the team. He stalled in the White Sox system when his power failed to develop, but there's still a lot of value in a .300 hitter who reaches base 35% of the time.

The Bad News: Well, he does only have 14 extra base hits this year. He's only 23, so it's not unreasonable to think that he's still got room to grow in the power department. Of course, here in San Diego, they said the same thing about Sean Burroughs. Oddly enough, Sweeney's #2 comp over at Baseball Prospectus is Travis Buck – a guy who put up better numbers for the A's than Sweeney did in 2007, before completely collapsing this year.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Sweeney's current .301/.354/.408 line is eerily similar to the numbers he put up over six minor league seasons (.291/.353/.405). There's a lot of talk that he's playing over his head, but I think he keeps this up and finishes in the AL ROY top three.

Grade: B+

Emil Brown – RF

The Good News: He's been killing the ball this month, slugging .513 in 39 at bats and he's tied for the team lead in RBI (47).

The Bad News: RBI might be the most overrated counting stat in all of baseball. Brown's total can be sourced to a fluky first month of the season when he drove in 25 due to an inordinately high number of baserunners when he came to bat and a lot of luck with balls in play. He's a fifth outfielder on a good team as he doesn't have one baseball attribute that he does well (his soft .294 BA vs. LHP this year can't be counted). Defensively, he's almost as bad as Cust, but plays a more important position, so it's a wash.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: I'm absolutely flummoxed. If the A's are trying to contend in 2008, Brown isn't helping. If the A's are building towards 2009 and beyond, Brown won't be around. He's someone only Bizarro Billy Beane would want. Hoping against hope here, but there's no way Emil Quincy Brown gets 308(!) plate appearances in the second half. Right?

Grade: D+

And the rest…: In two separate stints with the A's, Travis Buck hit .160/.235/.321. He's currently back in Triple-A where his moderate power has continued to erode. Carlos Gonzalez has hit 17 doubles in the 39 games since his call up at the end of May. He's got a pretty sweet swing that belies his ghastly BB/K rate (4/37). Rajai Davis is "Willie Mays Hayes" revisited – the Omar Epps version. A punchless midget who's convinced he can hit the ball a mile and refuses to use his one offensive skill (speed) to his advantage. He plays a mean centerfield, though, and is slightly more convincing than Epps as an athlete.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mid-Term A'Ssessment (See what I did there…?) – Infielders

Daric Barton – 1B

The Good News: He was a heavily hyped ROY candidate after hitting .347/.429/.639 over 72 September at-bats last year. He's had brief stretches of offensive effectiveness (.321/.397/.446 over the last two weeks of April and a similar surge for roughly the first two weeks of June), but that's about it. Defensively, he's not nearly as bad as he looked in the first month.

The Bad News: Since April 23, Barton is hitting .203/.304/.279…and even that doesn't show how bad he's looked at times. Despite the four home runs he hit last September, power is not really his calling card. Yet, I've lost count of the number of times Barton has swung out of his shoes in a futile attempt to pull another high-fastball. Barton had a reputation for stubbornness in the minors and the coaching staff hasn't curtailed his terrible, ineffectual and often times, stupid at-bats.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Barton's AAA-Sacramento home jersey will still fit like a "T", despite the abundance of post-game spreads in big league clubhouses.

Grade: D

Mark Ellis – 2B

The Good News: His OBP and SLG percentages are right in line with his typical seasons, while his defense remains completely underrated on a national level. Ellis is also 12-for-14 in stolen bases on a team that's currently two SBs away from matching their 2007 total.

The Bad News: His batting average (for what it's worth) is .238, which is about 40 points off his number from last year. Ellis has also looked like he's overtly trying to top last year's home run total of 19. This is his free agent walk year and he's been rumored to be heading home to Arizona in 2009. I dare say that no one has hit more lazy 295 foot fly balls this year than him.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: The Bay Area media will incessantly report that Ellis and the A's are "close" on an extension that will never be signed. Same thing happened with Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas and other fan favorites over the years.

Grade: B

Bobby Crosby – SS

The Good News: After watching him with me on TV since 2003, Mrs. Bootleg finally made the Brad Pitt look-alike reference only five years after everyone else. After first 20 games this season, Crosby was hitting .313/.368/.475 and has fooled legions of A's fans into thinking he's finally realizing his potential. He's still his usual solid self with the glove.

The Bad News: From his 21st game played – on April 22 – through July 2 (when he strained a hamstring and hit the DL), Crosby is hitting .243/.300/.343 and has constantly been slotted in the middle of the order. It'd be different if he made the effort to adjust his approach from at-bat to at-bat and game to game, but his swing is still long, he refuses to walk an no one bats an eye.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Now in the fifth full year of his six-year pass from the fans and media, Crosby will continue to skate along on the merits of his overrated ROY season in 2004. Look for writers to get a head start on their annual "Crosby Hopes for Healthy '09" stories later this summer.

Grade: D+

Jack Hannahan – 3B

The Good News: He is what he is – a quadruple-A player who has no business starting at a corner infield spot in the bigs, but he's held his own with the glove. There was a six-week stretch from late April to early June in which he hit .279 with a .385 OBP, but it says something that the best news of all was the return of Eric Chavez…for awhile.

The Bad News: His swing reminds me of a very slightly less "torquey" Phil Plantier. GM Billy Beane gets tons of credit for finding underappreciated and undervalued talent, but that approach is Teflon-infused. If a guy like Hannahan hits, Beane's a "genius". If he doesn't, then no one expected him to hit.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: There is no f'ing way that John Joseph Hannahan gets 300 plate appearances in the second half of the 2008 season.

Grade: D+

And, the Rest…: Well, he had his moments in the first half, but it's obvious that Eric Chavez isn't ready to reclaim the everyday third base job. After three surgeries in the offseason, he logged about 90 at-bats before heading back to the DL. On the plus side, he's had some huge clutch hits in a limited sample. Donnie Murphy hit two home runs vs. the Twins on April 24. Since then, he's hit .151/.250/.233…and missed time with a bum elbow…and struck out 26 times in 73 at-bats.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"This Mexican Walks into Israel…"

I worked with Jeff Fernandez first at 411mania, then over at Inside Pulse. Longtime readers know that – from 2003 to 2006 – I was That Friday Music News Guy and Jeff held it down on Saturdays with the long-running, always entertaining Saturday Swindle Sheet. My favorite Fernandez stuff has to start with this piece on strip club anthems. His "World's Finest" team-up is another gem. But, he hooked me for good with the fast food reviews he'd slip into columns. It's no secret that he inspired what's inexplicably become the most popular topic on this blog, so I'm handing over the keyboard to him…

Last month I went to Israel. Since That_Bootleg_Guy and I both share an appreciation for all types of food (though mainly the unhealthy variety), and I've got no outlet for this at either Machine Gun Funk or Inside Pulse (damn Fingers for not letting me post food reviews to Moodspins), I'm making a guest appearance here to share some of my culinary adventures.

Pizza-by-the-slice joints are also all over the place, with a popular topping on pizza being corn. I guess since putting meat on pizza isn't kosher, they felt the need to experiment with as many other vegetable combos as possible. But I digress... in actuality, I was really digging the corn, as it gives a nice texture to the pizza and is pretty damn good when paired with some sliced green olives. Other common toppings are onions, spinach, tomato and... tuna. Sorry, I just couldn't. You'll have to try that one yourself to find out what it's like.

Probably the most easily accessible and therefore most well-known of Middle Eastern culinary items is the trifecta of hummus, falafel and shawarma. For the uninitiated, here's a quick breakdown: Hummus is a ground chickpea-based paste eaten either as a condiment or a dip with a side of sliced pita bread for dipping. Falafel are golf-ball sized fritters made with crushed, spiced chickpeas and are often served with tahini (sesame paste) for dipping. Last, but certainly not least, shawarma—the most substantial of the three and the one that I'll focus on the most here—is made by stacking sliced pieces of lamb, goat or turkey (in some cases beef or chicken is also used) onto a vertical skewer (not unlike those things you can put on your desk for impaling pieces of paper that you intend to read later) and then sticking the whole thing into a rotisserie, from which the meat is sliced off (like the meat for a gyros or tacos al pastor) an put into a pita with a wide array of toppings.

The first shawarma I had was in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. It was delicious goat meat (being of Mexican heritage, I was already familiar with the deliciousness that is goat meat) sliced off of a spit and served inside of a pita with red cabbage, hummus and diced tomato and cucumber salad (also known as Israel salad, of salat aravi). It was about four dollars, which is pretty cheap given the exchange rate. I would later have another one at a snack bar across from the Church of the Redeemer, along with a cup of extra strong coffee (which is par for the course, as filtered coffee is mocked by locals, as well as everyone else not hailing rom North America).

As I had more and more shawarma sandwiches, I got more adventurous, mixing it up with a variety of sides including (but not limited to) hummus, tahini, salat aravi, lettuce, red cabbage, sliced gherkins, skhug (a Yemeni-style hot chili paste), minced red onion, thick-cut french fries (yes, they put them in the pita, and it is a beautiful thing), eggplant, corn and amba (a mango pickle paste). One of the nights I was in Jerusalem, I received a pointer from some locals that I had met at the local rock bar to try it in an Iraqi-style lafa bread, which is similar to a pita but more similar to a large burrito tortilla in both texture and size. This meant that I could get the same thing, but much, much bigger. Being an American, this was something that I would embrace and order for the rest of my time in the country. While the independently-owned places tend to be hit-or-miss, but always cheaper, the best chains I had were in West Jerusalem at a place called Moshiko (which had a really good corn salad) and what I believe was called Hishman. The latter, aside from having a great selection of condiments and two different types of meat, had a self-serve condiment bar with large plastic containers so you could stockpile the shit for carry-out. My favorite was the caramelized, grilled onions, which were so good that they brought a tear to my eye. These were so dead-on to the Maxwell Street style that I can only imagine that the chain is owned or at the very least managed by a Maxwell Street expatriate. (I would be remiss not to mention the coincidence that Maxwell Street area is still colloquially known as "Jew Town.")

No matter where I go, McDonald's always seems to have some sort of different fare, and while past international trips have exposed me to good (McCountry in Prague), bad (McKroket in Amsterdam) and just plain odd (El Maco Grande in Stockholm and Beef Latino in Zürich) things, Israel was no different. In Israel, McDonald's has kosher and non-kosher locations, though I believe only one of the locations I visited was kosher. While this means no cheeseburgers, no bacon and no McRib... ever, neither of the three of those are available at any of the McDonald's I visited.

The McRoyale seems to be the flagship sandwich here—surpassing the Big Mac and replacing the Quarter Pounder—and after ordering one I realized why. They're not fucking around here. This thing is not only thicker than the Whopper with which you're familiar (which, of course, has always been touted as bigger than anything on the McDonald's menu), but it's also got it beaten by at least an inch, in diameter. It's topped with mayonnaise, red onion, lettuce, tomato, pickle and some sort of mystery sauce that's sort of like the Big Mac sauce except slightly thinner, redder in color and with more a tomato taste. Color me impressed.

The McKebbab was probably my favorite thing on the menu. At first I was a little apprehensive about a pita-based sandwich at McDonald's, but I was pleasantly surprised. The pita used was lafa-sized and stuffed with two spiced lamb-meat patties, lettuce, tomato, red onion and an interesting mystery sauce. It had a light green color and a bitterness perhaps either achieved by some sort of herbs or paste. I would say that it tasted of stronger feta cheese, but that wouldn't be kosher. Either way, McKebbab rocked my socks and I had to come back a second time for it before I left.

I also tried the Fish Royale, which was sans cheese, but had shredded lettuce and tomato, along with a kosher tartar sauce. This wasn't bad, and the lettuce and tomato would be worth trying on a non-kosher Filet O' Fish, but it was nothing spectacular.

Also on available were potato wedges and something called "corn sticks." While the latter wasn't going to happen, the former can be subbed into a value meal in lieu of fries for an additional cost. The wedges were warm, crispy and fantastic, and very reminiscent of those found at KFC.

McDonald's Israel also recently unveiled its take on the classic salat aravi, which consists of a bowl of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and mint sprigs (all of the above diced) with a smattering of olive oil and lemon juice. The entire time I was eating it, there were two thoughts flying about my head: (1) this would be much better with some hot peppers, lime, cilantro and a bowl of chips, and (2) peppermint sprigs in my food is really odd.

KFC and Burger King (both of which I tried in Tel Aviv) pretty much offer the same fare you'd find in the U.S., except for a few subtleties like BK offering roasted onions on your Whopper (again, no cheese here), while KFC still has those fantastic chicken nuggets that were abandoned at American locations several years back in favor of the Colonel's Crispy Strips and popcorn chicken. I had two orders of them and was good for the night.

My next trip is to South America, where I hope McDonald's isn't trying to capitalize on cuy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Out of Context Awesomeness

Since I'm in desperate need of a pick-me-up from the sport that keeps spittin' in my eye, I thought it was time to once again revisit my baseball predictions from the start of the season over at Tailgate Crashers. Back in May, I humbly highlighted a few of my can't-miss calls. Let's just assume that those calls are still spot-on. I'm pretty sure they are.

There's too much talent [on the Dodgers] for them not too contend, but there are just enough talentless malcontents for them not to win.

I've done it again. Los Angeles is currently tied for first in the NL West, but sit at a game under .500. This team is 13th in the NL in runs scored and next-to-last in slugging percentage, as established no-talents like OF Juan Pierre continue to get playing time and grit-licious gamers like 3B Blake DeWitt are lauded in the press despite an inability to hit a frickin' baseball. But, hey…only 18 more months of the Andruw Jones era!

But, Jeff Francis ain't winning 17 games again, Aaron Cook still doesn't miss enough bats and Manny Corpas is an average middle reliever in closer's clothing. Sorry, Rockies…back to anonymity with you and those horrible unis.

Francis is 3-7 with a 5.67 ERA, Cook has a K/9 rate of 4.4 (and, fine, an 11-6 record) while Corpas lost his job as closer during the season's first month and is now working middle relief. In all seriousness, predicting several backwards steps for a Rockies team that played (wait for it) a mile over their heads from Labor Day 2007 to the middle of October was the easiest call of the year. Hopefully, SS Troy Tulowitzki's ridiculous self-inflicted injury will quell all the talk about his heart and show why a 23-year-old should be leading no one.

I nabbed Texas Rangers OF Josh Hamilton in the 18th round of my [fantasy] draft last week, but don't be fooled. When you have your draft, you won't be able to find 12 owners as stupid as us. Hamilton has no business going that late, but he certainly…should light it up in hitter-friendly Arlington.

.354/.402/.683…those are the home numbers for everyone's favorite feel-good story – a guy who stole millions from the Tampa Bay Rays, blew most of it on drugs, tattoos and hookers, then found God and instantly got the benefit of the doubt from fans and media.

Another 3 for 3.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Harden Than Ever to be an A's Fan

I've known m'boy Smitty – a fellow A's fan – since 9th grade and this was his take on the trade that sent A's RHPs Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for RHP Sean Gallagher, OF/2B Eric Patterson, OF Matt Murton, and minor league C Josh Donaldson:

"This is one of those deals you would expect some Cubs fan to come up with on Chicago sports talk radio."

Since this deal involves some lesser-known Cubs, a minor leaguer and a team in California, some introductions are probably in order:

Rich Harden - Fragile, but electric starting pitcher who is as dominating as any arm in the league when he's "on". Career winning percentage of .655, but can't stay healthy.

Chad Gaudin - Bounced from Tampa to Toronto before landing with the A's in 2006. Forced into the starting rotation in '07, he wasn't great, but was among the leaders in ERA for most of the first half. Only six starts in '08 (3-2, 3.75 ERA) before a numbers game put him back in the pen.

Sean Gallagher - 22-year-old righty who's been on the Chicago-Iowa escalator for the past two seasons. Inconsistent command and a ceiling that scouts have placed at "#4 starter".

Eric Patterson - Corey's little brother, Eric is a 25-year-old second baseman with questions about his defense, an inability to hit left-handed pitching and, after adjusting his minor league numbers, a skill set that gives off "utility player" fumes.

Matt Murton - Some Cub fans insist all that's standing between Murton and a decent career is an opportunity to play. A lot of us said the same thing about Bobby Kielty. In 870 big league at-bats Murton's hit .294/.362/.448.

Josh Donaldson - 21-year-old catcher out of Auburn University and the Cubs' #2 pick last year. He's been described as an "on-base machine", but he's hitting .217 in single-A and considering the polished college program he came from…

After all these years, I know how the A's operate, but I just don't understand the timing of this deal. Harden is in the middle of his healthiest season in three years. No, that's not saying much as his 13 starts equal his combined 2006-07 total, but why did GM Billy Beane pull the trigger now?

It would've been a HUGE roll of the dice – especially considering reports from Harden's last two starts that indicate a troubling loss of velocity – but, why not see what Harden does in the three weeks between now and the July 31 trade deadline?

If Harden were to dominate in his next three or four starts, you've got the single biggest bargaining chip in baseball. If he continued to be the solid, but unspectacular version from the past few weeks, a Cub-like package from Chicago or another contender could still be had. Worst case scenario: Harden's arm falls off and the A's have a decision to make about his 2009 option (when the above process would most likely repeat itself).

As it is, the A's probably did cash out with Harden's value at its peak, but if they were so intent on punting 2008, what would've been the harm in putting Harden on display for a little longer? I'm not naïve enough to believe that the A's were going to win the West this year, but they were hanging in there and had the somnambulant Mariners and division-leading Angels in Oakland this week.

What's especially galling is that Gallagher is just a slightly less obese Joe Blanton and Fat Joe's value was NEVER going to be higher than it was this past offseason. Either rebuild or don't, Mr. Beane, but don't try to tell me that Joe Blanton is a pitcher you build around.

And, don't get me started on the fact that Chad Gaudin was a throw-in, either. While he'd never put together a full season as a starter, he was just starting to catch fire before he was sent to the bullpen to make room for erstwhile Diamondbacks LHPs Greg Smith and Dana Eveland.

What sucks the most for me, personally, is that I saw Harden's first big league win live vs. the Angels in Anaheim with Smitty and then, four years later, I was in the stands with That Nicka Guy when Harden and Gaudin combined to one-hit the Yankees in the Bronx.

As an A's fan, you get used to rooting for the front of the uniforms instead of the names and numbers on the back.

I can't wait to pass this cynicism onto my son.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Why Do I Still Watch The Sports Reporters?

TSR is even pre-programmed onto my DVR. I have no excuse, really. Well, maybe one: I remember watching the show in its infancy back in the late '80s. Twenty years ago, we really believed that guys who asked questions like, "How did it feel to score three touchdowns?" were the only "experts" in sports and that Rafael Santana's Dominican grit was just as important as Darryl Strawberry's ability to hit a baseball.

In 2008, the death of the newspaper industry has exposed sportswriters as an insular, insecure lot who possess a comically hubristic view of their own importance…and exposed Rafael Santana, Darin Erstad and the like as spectacularly sh*tty ballplayers.

But, yes, I still watch TSR. Truth be told, I'll delete it from the DVR without watching it as often as I do watch, but occasionally there are Sundays when the wife and boy take concurrent naps, so what am I gonna do…?

Sunday's panelists were Mike Lupica, Mitch Albom and Bob Ryan. Canadian Negro John Saunders was the moderator.

Topic #1: Venus Williams wins Wimbledon - I was up early with the boy on Saturday and caught most of this contest. I always love watching the Williams sisters play each other (though I've never been even a casual tennis fan). Notwithstanding the zillion reaction shots of their mother in the stands, I enjoyed this one, too.

Of course, the discussion veers to the predictable criticism of the sisters' work ethic, conditioning, dedication, etc. Now, those of you know me know that I'm never the one to unnecessarily drag race into the discussion, but I've always thought Venus and Serena have gotten the short end of the PR stick, simply because they've chosen not to conform to the sports' standards set more than a century ago by fans and media and observers who look nothing like the Williamses.

Neither one kowtows to the press or runs from their ethnicity a la Tiger Woods or Derek Jeter and because Serena and Venus would rather diversify their personal and professional lives with acting or fashion design, they'll never be viewed as "committed" to the sport.

Like, say, Jennifer Capriati.

The whole "Serena is fat" series of articles that came out a year or two ago after a long layoff was all the evidence one needed of the racial divide between an athlete and the a-holes who cover them.

Topic #2: Is Brett Favre coming back? - Whatever. I mean, it's not like anyone didn't see this discussion coming mere moments after Favre's retirement speech was finished. However, there was the notion that Favre might come back this year with a team that wasn't the Packers.

On July 6th.

With about two months to go until the start of the season.


Topic #3: How 'bout them Rays? - Never mind that the statheads over at Baseball Prospectus (among other places) have been predicting the rise of the Rays for the last couple of years based on their phenomenal minor league system…to the mainstream media, Tampa Bay is still a "surprise". BP tagged the team as an 88-90 win squad in the preseason, but those eggheads with their VORPy-MORPy hocus-pocus and non-belief in the pixie dust of David Eckstein, are never acknowledged in the real world of press passes, fedoras and old-timey typewriters.

Why do I still watch this show?

Sunday, July 6, 2008


After four years and five months as parents, the Camerons took our first family outing to the local movie theater.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that the boy has been to the movies a few times before. A couple of weeks ago, he saw Kung-Fu Panda with one of Mrs. Bootleg's girlfriends and her kids. Prior to that, the wife semi-regularly took then-Baby Bootleg to one of those weekday "Movies with Mommies" promotions – park the strollers at the entrance, the volume is minimal, the lights are only partially dimmed.

Yep…all the accoutrements of your Grandma's living room and for only $8 and gas!

So, this is the first trip to the movies that I'm taking with the Cam Fam. Sure, I could've opened with that, but, really…newsflash I'm a neglectful father and inattentive husband.

Our son, Jalen, is just getting out of an irrational and financially one-sided relationship with Disney's Cars movie and merchandising. And, WALL-E seemed like a good enough fit for a four-year-old. Jalen's glommed on to the toy line and his "WALL-E: Smash Trash!" book has been an indispensible bedtime story for two straight weeks.

Mrs. Bootleg Fandango'd us some tickets for today's 11:15AM show, so we left the house at around 10:30AM. And, since "doing something" on a Sunday morning is foreign to my family, at about the five mile mark down the freeway I realized that I forgot to DVR the A's/White Sox game. Well, this f*cking day is already ruined.

We get to the theater and Mrs. Bootleg promptly buys movie food. Now, I have a good job and we're not cash-strapped or anything, but for as long as I've known her this has always driven me right up the wall. There are three of us, including small child, and she buys: a hot dog, nachos, two drinks, Skittles and popcorn. I don't even want to know what this set us back. And, before any of you who've been with me to baseball games open your yaps, just remember they sell beer at the ballpark. It's totally different.

Jalen finished the decent-sized hot dog in about three bites and annihilated 7/8 of the popcorn. I got the unpopped kernels he didn't finish and whatever fell out of mouth.

Thankfully, our timing was pretty good as the "Where's WALL-E?" question from the boy started up about five minutes after we reached our seats and, immediately afterwards, the trailers began.

Speaking of which, have you heard about the new animated flick Fly Me to the Moon? It's about three flies in outer space – the smart-mouthed leader, the bespectacled genius and the fat one. Oooh, I'm telling. Also, if Meet Dave doesn't kill off Eddie Murphy's film career once and for all, I'll give all y'all a dollar.

Onto WALL-E.

Ummm, put it this way: Jalen was rapt for the first few minutes, then slowly began drifting off until he was sort of horizontal across his mom's lap well into the third act. He perked up towards the end and, when it was over, he asked if he could see it again.

Save for the desire to see it again, that's about my WALL-E reaction to a tee.

Quick synopsis – our planet is one big Mrs. Bootleg's walk-in closet in our master bedroom trash hole, so mankind has relocated to a giant ship in outer space. WALL-E is the last functioning trash remover from a project that's in its 700th year of abject failure. WALL-E meets a mysterious probe (tee hee) and the two of them must work together to return mankind to earth.

For a kid's movie, the writers sure seemed content to load up on the sedentary scenes. At one point, early on, the probe ("EVE") finds what it's looking for and locks up. We see day and night and day and night and day, etc. pass with WALL-E waiting around for it to open up again. Later, the one life form that is the key to the whole movie is batted around in an interminable bout of "hot potato" that…never…ends.

The voice actors aren't given much to do, save for that guy who plays Larry David's agent in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Here, he's the captain of the Axiom – the giant spaceship where we all live seven centuries from now. And, then there's Fred Willard, who – for some weird reason – plays a live character. He's the CEO of the company that junked up our planet and his slimy countenance is way out of place here.

Even though it's a Disney movie, I won't get into spoilers that you all could probably guess. Just a few questions:

Why does the Axiom continue to send probes to planet Earth even after it becomes clear that the real forces controlling the ship have no desire to return to Earth?

How do all those people living on the Axiom earn the money to buy all of the excesses that symbolize their current existence?

What happened to all the animals?

And, why did I have a lot fewer questions after the talking race car movie?

Friday, July 4, 2008

There's Something Dead About Him

"No children have ever meddled with the Republican Party and lived to tell about it." Godspeed, you racist homophobe.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's New Queso Crunchwrap

Current Weight: 181.8 lbs.

With my insides returning to normal after last week's deep fried side trip to the Fair, I thought I'd give the latest TB menu item a chance to win me over. As an armchair marketing geek, I can't say the initial ad campaign (guy brings Crunchwrap on an elevator) did anything other than annoy me, but I've enjoyed the other iterations of the Crunchwrap – two tostada shells topped in layers with ground beef (or chicken or steak) and the usual Taco Bell fillings, then wrapped in a giant grilled flour tortilla.

This time around, TB adds something called "queso" to the mix. Y'see, back in the '80s, "cheese dip" was called…"cheese dip". White folk would break out the zesty Velveeta, dice some tomatoes n' onions, melt it all in their newfangled microwave ovens for 45 minutes, then settle in for a Saturday night of Diff'rent Strokes and Silver Spoons.

Much to my surprise, Taco Bell's "queso" wasn't just a recycled name for what they already serve up as nacho cheese sauce.

My Queso Crunchwrap was still steaming hot when I got it home and absolutely loaded with a good-sized ladle of liquid cheese. The sauce was actually pretty flavorful with a very mild kick and a sweet finish. Every other ingredient (ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, three cheese blend and a creamy jalapeño sauce) was right from the original Crunchwrap.

As you might expect, it all turns pretty messy by the end, but Mrs. Bootleg has known me long enough that I don't feel the least bit uncomfortable licking cheese sauce off of foil wrappers. Quite the unexpectedly awesome addition to the Taco Bell family, my friends.

Grade: 4.5 (out of 5)