Sunday, January 31, 2010

TBG Eats: Little Caesar's Hot-N-Ready $5.00 Pizza

Current Weight: 165.8 lbs.

There are a myriad of "man-traits" I've been missing since birth.

For instance, I don't know anything about cars – I've never changed my own oil; I've never fixed a flat tire and while I own a set of jumper cables, it sure would help if the little old lady with the dead car battery knew how to attach them for me.

It should go without saying that I've never been good with my hands.

I abhorred my wood-shop class in eighth grade with all its saws, sanders and hammers. Several years earlier, I'd spent a summer mowing lawns for extra money and developed a healthy disdain for manual labor. After a few weeks, wood-shop started to harden my baby soft hands while someone else's jheri curl juice often dripped from the communal safety goggles.

When I was Jalen's age, THE fallback gift for little boys was still model cars and airplanes. I vividly remember a birthday when a neighbor brought over Trans-Am models for me and my brother. I burst into tears, aghast at the brazen disdain for child labor laws among the adults in the room. Seriously, though, I did cry.

Today, America's default gift for little guys is Legos.

I've never bought my son anything Lego. Mrs. Bootleg's bought Jalen one – maybe two – Lego-related products during the boy's life. Yet, there are Lego pieces EVERYWHERE in our house. Friends and relatives have bought J sets of Lego for birthdays, holidays and no reason at all.

And, Jalen loves Legos. Or, more specifically, he loves (1) pouring all the pieces into a pile (2) ignoring the directions and building whatever he wants and (3) playing violently with the meticulously constructed finished product.

Just after Christmas, Jalen and I put all of the smaller Lego sets he received from assorted "Santas" together. His awesome Godparents had gotten him a massive three-vehicle set. The description on the box included frightening, sure-to-take-four-hours-to-build language like "special edition". I stalled for as long as I could, before the boy broke me down.

To the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Bootleg has never offered any Lego help. In fact, when it comes to Legos, she's mastered that little bullsh** parenting trick of pretending not to notice that Jalen and I already put the Lego set together and then offering to help – only to act all disappointed when she "discovers" all the work is already done.

(Yes, I do this, too. "I thought you wanted ME to chop those onions, honey!")

So, on "special edition" Lego night, Mrs. Bootleg's contributions were to declare – out loud, for all of us to hear – this particular Friday evening to be "Family Night!" (Exclamation point, hers). To celebrate, she drove out to pick up dinner.

Little Caesar's Pizza recently opened a location just up the road from Stately Bootleg Manor. They've been offering "Hot-N-Ready" pizzas for $5.00 since 2004. Pre-made pepperoni pizzas, boxed up and warming in a cylindrical oven…walk in, no wait and five dollars later, you've got a large pizza in your hands.

I've written about my adolescent love affair with Little Caesar's before, so I can't be too harsh on an old gastronomic girlfriend. Suffice to say, that there's a certain formulaic flavor with their "Hot-N-Ready" pizzas. I couldn't find any evidence that these were reheated frozen pizzas, so let's examine the evidence.

The crust was stiff with a processed texture. The mozzarella was nicely melted, but otherwise didn't move – just sitting on top like a squishy white mud puddle. The sauce and pepperoni were equally unexceptional.

Yes, the "Hot-N-Ready" is a substandard pizza – even by chain standards – but, I'm inclined to grade easy, here. The $5.00 deal isn't intended for fast-food eating elitists like me. If this were around when I was in college, I'd have stood in line to buy one. And, I can appreciate the franchise's commitment to an affordable family meal.

Especially on "Special Edition Lego Family Night".

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5) Calories (one slice): 280 Fat: 11g

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A's of the Decade: Right Field – Milton Bradley

Years: 2006-2007

Other Candidates: Matt Stairs (1996-2000); Jermaine Dye (2001-2004); Nick Swisher (2004-2007); Travis Buck (2007-2009); Ryan Sweeney (2008-2009)

Summary: Bradley's going to end up as the most questionable inclusion in this feature, but his two-year line as the A's everyday RF was an impressive .279/.371/.447 – albeit in just 115 total games. And, remember, in order to qualify as a candidate for each position, a player has to have been the team leader in games played at that position for any individual year of the past decade. Cool? Cool.

Most A's fans despise Bradley today, because…(1) Oakland traded budding superstar Andre Ethier to acquire him. (2) The A's also acquired IF Antonio Perez with Bradley from Los Angeles.* (3) Bradley dared
speak ill of our boy-genius GM. Personally, I dug watching him play – hell, still do. Bradley might be batsh*t-insane, but you can't say he doesn't leave it all on the field. I'd take one of him over nine Matt Hollidays, anytime.

* -- Perez is on the short list of worst players to ever suit up for Oakland. He went hitless in his first 25 plate appearances and since he was already the last guy off the bench, his confidence never, ever returned. He seemed visibly shaken if his at-bats lasted more than one or two pitches. I'd never accuse a professional athlete of intentionally surrendering, but… How bad was he? On September 22, he was hitting .099 (9 for 91). He went 1 for 7 in his last two games of the season and raised his final average to .102. He hasn't been back to the Big Leagues since that 2006 season, spending last year at AA and AAA in the Braves' system (.203/.273/.312).

Favorite A's Moment: Bradley hit .500 with an ungodly 1.444 OPS in the 2006 ALCS vs. Detroit. His
two-homer performance in Game #2 saw a certain Bootleg Guy attain a vertical leap in my living room that hasn't been matched, before or since. After the Tigers swept Oakland in four, Bradley was reportedly inconsolable in the locker room, sobbing through every postgame question.

Runner-Up: Jermaine Dye (2001, .297/.366/.547)

Worst of the Decade: Jermaine Dye (2002-04, .243/.318/.425)**

** -- Yes, I remember his horrific leg injury in the 2001 ALDS, since I was at the game. No, I won't reconsider.

Friday, January 29, 2010

AiAA: All-Star Baseball Edition

It's the name of the product that ruins this Frank Thomas spot. Maybe it's not "iPad" bad, but anything that evokes the tired slang of Snoop Dogg (by way of E-40, by way of Frankie Smith) can't be marketable.

Canseco = credible. Also, chicks with a six-pack = eww.

The transparent arrogance given off by Reggie here is off the charts. And, he probably dialed it up a notch for the cameras.

It's easy to hate today's athletes. But, back in the day, ballplayers had to work double-time to be as despised as Gary Carter was in and out of the game. Quit trying so hard to be liked!

I...have no words.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My First Day as a Little League Dad

The call came in on Tuesday evening:

"Hi, I'm one of the coaches with RB Little League. I'm pleased to tell you that Jalen's been drafted by the Athletics' Rookie Ball team!"

Wait...I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's go back to mid-November when I signed Jalen up for the official, capital letters version of Little League. I handed over a check for $165 and when I inquired about trivial issues like "when does the season start?" or "where will my kid be playing?" or "what is the next step?"; I was told to check the league -- whoops, League -- website.

I had been checking
the website semi-regularly leading up to sign-ups and -- much to my wide-eyed surprise -- the site had not been updated with answers to my questions in the 10 minutes it took for me to drive home from sign-ups.

A few weeks later, the website had news of a free baseball skills clinic for 6-9-year-olds on January 9 and formal tryouts on January 16.

Over the past year or so, Jalen and I have spent nearly every Sunday afternoon outside playing baseball. I have no idea how this weekly tradition began, but we've got the routine down cold: after 10 minutes, I abandon my plan to drill Jalen on the fundamentals -- usually with an expletive at the end. ("Point, step and throw, Jalen! Point! Step! And...ah, f*** it, do what you want, Jalen. Do what you f****** want!") I'm kidding about one of those expletives, of course.

The remaining 90 minutes are spent indulging Jalen's inexplicable desire to pretend he's every single member of the Oakland A's lineup from whatever random year pops into his head. It's my job to remember which way Joe Rudi (1970s) batted; where Carney Lansford (1980s) hit in the batting order and explain why left-handed mashers like Jack Cust (today) like the ball low in the strike zone. Jalen's all about authenticity in his imitations.

J incorporates all this information into a mock ballgame where I always seem to be pitching, he always seems to be hitting and, when it's over, he bursts through the front door to tell Mrs. Bootleg that he beat me again.

The skills clinic on January 9 was my first real interaction with other Little League parents. Most of 'em knew each other from seasons past and quickly formed into little privileged cliques. They talked to each other about their kids' athletic progress while warily assessing the achievements of other children -- all in a passive-aggressive display of one-upmanship.

The tryouts were the following week. Now, there's an exceedingly convoluted set of divisions in Little League. At the simplest level, they're based on age and ability. At the seediest level, they're driven by agenda and politics -- not unlike the
country music industry. There were only two options open to Jalen (from the League's website):

(1) T-Ball - Instructional League. No score kept. Emphasis on beginning skills and FUN [emphasis, theirs]. Hitting off of Tee and then coach soft toss. --- Recommended ages 5 thru 7

(2) Rookies - Training and Development league. Emphasis on basic skills and basic game strategy. Introduction to competitive baseball. Recommended ages 6 thru 9. Machine pitch then player/coach pitches. Score and standings kept with playoffs and tournament at end of season.

Obviously, there are no tryouts for t-ball -- with their emphasis on FUN -- so I brought Jalen down for the Rookies exhibition.

When we arrived, the age group ahead of Rookies was still going through their tryout drills. The kids were taking three swings off a pitching machine; fielding a pop-fly shot out of the same machine; throwing across the diamond and running from home to second. Aside from the baserunning drill, most of the kids were abominable at everything.

I can say that because my son was only abominable at one thing that day.

Believe me...I don't want this to sound like I'm making excuses for Daddy's precious little guy, but J had never even seen a pitching machine before, much less hit off one. And, since he doesn't actually turn six until early February, he was one of the smallest kids in his age group. So, he probably had two strikes against him when he did the ONE thing you never do against a pitching machine: he took the first pitch! J didn't lift the bat off his shoulder, then gawked at the catcher's mitt with a look that said, "Wait, where the hell did this ball come from?"

Jalen did swing at the next two offerings...eventually. By my unofficial estimate, he was about six seconds late on both swings. On Twitter, I compared him to the
greatest athlete of our time. From there, Jalen looked pretty good running (natch) from home to second and -- shockingly -- showed decent form in fielding three ground balls at shortstop.

After our allotted five minutes, we received the equivalent of the "we'll keep your resume on file" speech from the League president and were sent on our merry way. J was pretty bummed about his hitting until an immediate ice cream intervention solved all his problems. T-ball, here we come.

But, wait! Scroll up to the top of this post! Jalen actually made the Rookie league team?! And, he's on the A's, again?! I was later told that the coach who selected him "liked his fundamentals". After talking to the coach, me and Mrs. Bootleg took sides: she was at the tryout, too, and...let's just say she didn't agree with the coach. Meanwhile, I was just south of ecstatic. For a few minutes.

Upon further consideration, I agreed with the wife. Jalen wasn't ready for Rookies and the thought of him learning on the fly -- and possibly turning on baseball before his teenage friends eventually force him into football and basketball -- didn't appeal to me. When I called the League to let them know we wanted to keep J in t-ball for the spring season, I was told he might not be able to be "released" from Rookies. Released! They eventually relented, but...yeah.

I just hope this experience doesn't turn me on baseball.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Billy Beane's Baseball Brain is Broken

News Item: The Oakland A's signed SP Ben Sheets to a one-year, $10M contract with incentives.

Last week, Sheets – who hasn't thrown a pitch in a Major League game since August 2008 – held a workout for interested teams down in his home state of Louisiana. By all accounts, Sheets was superb. His fastball topped out in the low 90s and his signature curve looked as sharp as ever.

24 hours after Sheets' workout, reports began circulating that the erstwhile Milwaukee Brewers ace was looking for a one-year, $8M contract. I'd read that my Oakland A's were one of the teams down in the bayou taking a first-hand look at Sheets. However, when his expected price tag became public, I figured the A's would stand pat with a pitching staff that finished an impressive fourth in the league in ERA and a standing-room-only starting rotation that's at least six deep on the eve of Spring Training.

The A's apparently had money to spend after free agents Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Aroldis Chapman rejected the team's offseason overtures (in fact, the A's offered Scutaro and Beltre longer, more lucrative deals than what they accepted in Boston). And, like a child with Christmas money still in his pocket, the A's spent it all on the last broken toy in the box.

Every hour since this deal went down; I've found new ways to hate it even more.

The A's did NOT need pitching. They'd re-signed former All-Star Justin Duchscherer (who also didn't pitch in 2009) for one year, $2M plus incentives. Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden pitched exceptionally well at times last year, while Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro took their lumps, but all showed legitimate promise in 2009.

The "you can never have enough pitching" argument doesn't apply when a team signs a guy for more than twice the combined salary of their entire rotation – especially, a guy with the injury history of Sheets.

Now, let's be generous and toss out 2009. Sheets has averaged just a tick over 150 innings pitched over his last four seasons. Former A's starter Rich Harden – who shares Sheets' bouts with brittleness – threw 148 and 141 innings in 2008-2009, respectively. With a MUCH stronger recent track record, Harden signed with the Rangers for 30% less than Sheets.

The only way this deal works is if two things happen: (1) The A's contend deep into the season and (2) Sheets throws 180+ effective innings.

In case you hadn't heard, the A's are seriously considering Ryan Sweeney (career SLG: .387) and Kurt Suzuki (career SLG: .398) for the #3 spot in the batting order. This is a terrible offensive team that won't contend as currently constructed. And, if Sheets throws 180+ innings, it'll be just the second time since 2004 that he's done so.

A's boy-genius GM Billy Beane has fallen over himself to tamp down expectations for this team's short term future:

"We have a long way to go. It's going to take some time and some commitment. I don't know in our marketplace if there's any way to speed up that process." - Beane on the A's rebuilding effort,
October 2009

"The only way [the A's can eventually contend] is continued development of young players and adding more players, and acquiring young players is the most difficult thing to do. That takes time." - Beane,
December 2009

From where I sit, Beane dropped $10M on a player and – in Beane's BEST case scenario – he flips Sheets, if healthy AND productive, for prospects and other rebuilding chips at the trade deadline.

My A's spent $10M on the prototypical "player to be named later"…for someone else's team.

As plans go, it fits right in with the past three years:

2007 – Brought back almost the entire team that reached the ALCS in 2006, replacing DH Frank Thomas with Mike Piazza in hopes of contending. Instead, injuries crippled the roster; the A's finished third and began the teardown process by trading SP Dan Haren and OF Nick Swisher the following offseason.

2008 – With a younger roster in place, the A's were surprising contenders through the first half of the season. They were eight games over .500 and just five games behind the Angels when they threw in the towel and traded SP Rich Harden on July 8, then SP Joe Blanton on July 17. At the time, Beane's reasoning was that he didn't believe the A's were really contenders.

2009 – Beane's commitment to full-on rebuilding lasted about five weeks into the 2008 offseason. The A's acquired OF Matt Holliday and gave up one of their prized prospects for the honor. Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra were also brought in, as Beane completely changed course with an old, selfish roster that stunted the development of the kids who'll actually be in Oakland one or two years down the road.

2010 – Make "value" the cornerstone of your
promotional campaign by signing a guaranteed DL visit to a $10M contract, then selling your remaining 800 fans on the OBProspects you'll get in return come July. You hope.

Individual regular season tickets are on sale this Saturday!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TBG (Finally) Eats: Del Taco...Again

Current Weight: 166.8 lbs.

Twenty years ago, if you'd told me that my faux Mexican food of choice would be Taco Bell, I wouldn't have believed you. While I confess to having a brief fling with TB's Mexican Pizza -- back then, it was known as "Pizzazz Pizza" -- in the late 1980s, it would've been Del Taco that received the too-frequent fast food review treatment from me if lightly-read blogs had been around at the time.

There were two reasons why Del Taco trumped Taco Bell: (1) Proximity -- when you grow up poor, your fast food options are limited to how far your feet can carry you or wherever you might have 30 minutes to kill between bus transfers. Our apartment was just off of Pacific Coast Highway* in Long Beach and there was a Del Taco barely a block away. The nearest Taco Bell was a few miles down the road. (2) Del Taco not only had better food than the late-1980s, early-1990s TB menu, but they were considered one of the more innovative -- albeit regional -- fast food chains out there.

* -- For those of you who don't live in California, keep in mind that Pacific Coast Highway is a l-o-n-g stretch of road. Perhaps for you, the name invokes picturesque images such this, this and this. The portion of PCH that runs through Long Beach, though, is less about beaches and cliffs as it is Bloods, Crips and Thrift Stores. Mostly Crips.

Del Taco beat Taco Bell to the punch on several items that are now considered staples of both restaurants' menus, including
quesadillas, steak or chicken salads and oversized 1,000-calorie portions of burritos and nachos.

But, a grandiose expansion plan in the 1990s overextended the Del Taco brand right into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Keep in mind, though, that these were the halcyon Clinton days. Fast food companies seemed to rise from their own ashes on a bi-monthly basis. McDonald's recovered from the
Arch Deluxe. Jack in the Box came back from that whole killing people thing. And, less than 10 years after the brink of extinction, Del Taco claimed the largest average sales volume per store of any fast food chain in America.

Full disclosure: Del Taco did it without my help.

I've lived in San Diego for almost 15 years. In that time, I've had five different addresses -- none of which were less than a 20-minute drive from the nearest Del Taco. Meanwhile, I've lived less than a mile from the nearest Taco Bell for at least the last decade. While I won't drive too far out of my way for fast food, I will extend my odometer in pursuit of novelty beer. It was on a BevMo scavenger hunt in Escondido when I noticed the Del Taco right across the street. I know destiny when I see it, yo.

It's extremely rare to find me dining inside a fast food restaurant these days, but if I'd brought this meal home, I'd have run the very real risk of a cold lunch when I walked through my front door. Also, Mrs. Bootleg would've been wondering where her lunch was and we can't have that. Now, I'm not quite sure when I turned into my mother, but the cramped and unkempt eating area nearly ended my gastronomic mission before it began. Then, I noticed a wall full of those 25-cent vending machines -- a Laundromat and liquor store tradition! I can't go back now.

On the recommendation of m'man Smitty, I ordered the Jalapeño Rings. I also asked for a Classic Taco just to see if it was as good as I remembered.

The Rings are $1.99 and only come in one size: big-ass. One of my Twitter followers called Del Taco's Jalapeño Rings one of his top 10 favorite things from 2009. I humbly submit them as the first entry on MY list of favorite things from 2010. Oh, it's not too early. There's no chance they get knocked off.

Deep fried slices of jalapeño peppers that crunch through the not-too-thick batter coating and unleash a decent amount of heat within, one order is almost a meal. In a nice touch, the peppers used are both green and (the more-ripened) red. Even after frying up a batch, the color contrast can still be seen. I couldn't get over the overflowing sleeve with some pieces bigger than silver dollars. They're a little chewy, but it keeps the spices from the peppers and salt-n-(cayenne?) pepper seasoning from the breading in your mouth for a little bit longer. Only downside was the "secret sauce" it came with. The "secret" appears to be two parts Hidden Valley Ranch packet, 200 parts tap water.

Del Taco's Classic Taco sells for 99 cents. They've apparently doubled the meat and cheese from the Classic Taco's predecessor ("The Prologue Taco"?) and, as always, Del Taco differentiates from Taco Bell's regular taco by adding tomatoes atop the ground beef, cheese and lettuce. With all condiments being equal, it comes down to the taste of the taco meat. Del Taco's ground beef has a smokier flavor than TB, but really isn't demonstrably better. Like Taco Bell's regular taco, this is an inoffensive and edible bit of business.

It looks like my ersatz ethnic food list just got a little bit longer.

Grade (Jalapeño Rings): 5 (out of 5)
Calories: 260 Fat: 15g

Grade (Classic Taco): 3
Calories: 200 Fat: 12g

Monday, January 25, 2010

TBG (Finally) Sees: Big Fan

10-Word Premise: Crazy Giants fan beaten up by favorite player. Goes crazier.

Starring: Patton Oswalt as NOT
Tom Daniels; Kevin Corrigan as a half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican Milhouse Van Houten; Middle-aged Michael Rapaport as a Philadelphia pastiche and Marcia Jean Kurtz as the cinematic Italian mother.

The Best Thang(s): The movie immediately – albeit broadly – establishes the characters and their respective motivations. Oswalt plays "Paul" – an obsessive fan of the New York Giants football team. His best friend (Corrigan) is "Sal" whose loyalty to the Giants is almost matched by his loyalty to Paul. Meanwhile, Paul's mother (Kurtz) is at her wit's end with her 36-year-old son who lives at home and wakes her up with late night calls to his favorite sports-talk radio show.

The first 20 minutes are very strong, highlighted by a terrifically ridiculous sequence involving Paul's whorish, home-wrecking sister-in-law (Serafina Fiore), a child's birthday cake featuring the visage of a certain gangsta rapper and the car ride home between Paul and his mother (and a gazillion f-bombs).

The Worst Thang(s): At the film's one-quarter mark, Paul is nearly beaten to death by his favorite player after following him to a strip club (natch). Big Fan, unfortunately, spends the rest of its time stuck in first gear. You'd think a brazen assault would cause even the most strident supporter to at least question his blind allegiance to his favorite player, but Robert Siegel's script barely pays lip service to Paul's internal conflict. Paul immediately chooses a side in the conflict he inadvertently created and doesn't really waver.

Frustratingly, the character development doesn't evolve beyond the caricatures we see in the film's first scenes. Paul is not only a loser, but he masturbates a lot. His brother Jeff is not only a seedy lawyer, but an adulterer, a racist and a REALLY seedy lawyer (again). Even the predictable media firestorm seems flat and two-dimensional. The reporters hounding Paul come across as a minor nuisance hardly worth the stress Paul's apparently experiencing.

Matt Servitto plays a detective trying to get to the bottom of things, but Paul blows him off in three different scenes. The final three-quarters of the film tell the same story over and over against the backdrop of the Giants collapsing down the stretch. There's a weird climactic build towards Paul's confrontation with the disembodied voice of his talk-radio archenemy (Rapaport) and a swervy, unsatisfying payoff in the cramped confines of a sports-bar bathroom.

The Verdict: I really think non-sports fans will dig this more than sports fans. Big Fan plays right into the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing stereotypes of people who wear their favorite players' jerseys and live in their mother's basement spare bedroom. But, this really could've been a more nuanced look at society's sports fanaticism. Instead, we get one team's fan trying to kill another team's fan and about 10 minutes too many of Scott Ferrall.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A's of the Decade: Centerfield – Mark Kotsay

Years: 2004 – 2007

Other Candidates: Terrence Long (2000-2003); Johnny Damon (2001); Chris Singleton (2003); Nick Swisher (2004-2007); Carlos Gonzalez (2008); Rajai Davis (2009)

Summary: Acquired from the San Diego Padres after the 2003 season, Kotsay was brought in to fill Oakland's black bottomless hole of centerfield suck (Terrence Long and Chris Singleton, most notably). Kotsay was kind enough to record career-highs in several offensive categories during his first season with the A's and finished with a .314/.370/.459 line. Unfortunately, his 2004 season was driven by an unsustainable spike in batting average. Over his next three seasons, he hit .267/.321/.388 combined and averaged just 108 games played – down from 148 in 2004. Many A's fans remember him most fondly for his
reasonably attractive wife.

Favorite A's Moment: The obvious choice would be his
inside-the-park home run against Minnesota in Game #2 of the 2006 ALDS. But, I'll go with April 30, 2005, instead. M'man Vig and I were in attendance in Oakland on an afternoon when Kotsay went 5 for 6 with a walk-off single in the 10th inning. That game also featured a blown save by erstwhile A's closer, the combustible Octavio Dotel AND Jason Kendall batting third. Hard to believe we didn't make the playoffs that year.

Runner-Up: Nick Swisher

Worst of the Decade: Chris Singleton

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery - AFC/NFC Championship

Last Week Outright (Total):

Joe: 3-1 (5-3)
Tom: 3-1 (5-3)
Aaron: 1-3 (3-5)

Last Week vs. Spread (Total):

Tom: 3-1 (5-3)
Joe: 1-3 (2-6)
Aaron: 0-4 (2-6)

The Spread Sez: COLTS (-8) v. Jets

Aaron: I'm kind of surprised that the Jets aren't getting more national love. The primary narrative here is still that "Colts haven't lost a game all season when they gave a damn" line and an oddly condescending characterization of the Jets as a plucky band of Football David Ecksteins who collectively orbit their bulbous head coach. Last week, the Ravens had opportunities to keep the pressure on Manning and the Colts, but when Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is fumbling away interceptions and a broken Joe Flacco was tasked with playing from behind: endgame. The Jets will have to do a lot more here than in San Diego and I think their defense is fierce enough to give New York a puncher's chance. (Believe me, I'm rooting for 'em. Those of you outside San Diego have no idea how wonderful the last week has been. Two days of incessant tears and inarticulate disbelief from Chargers fans...and then the team signs their embattled head coach to a three-year extension! I can't get enough!)

Final Score: Colts 20, Jets 19

Joe: That giant disparity between my straight-up picks and my against-the-spread picks is embarrassing, and a result of foolishly trying to split the difference in too many of these playoff games. Going forward (all three of the games that are left!), if I think a team is gonna win, I'm pickin' them to cover. When I'm a Jet, I'm a Jet all the way? In other news: I'm not a Jet this week. That extra week of rest Indy got a couple weeks ago is going to come into play, the massive advantage in the passing game (Revis or no Revis), and the fact that Sanchez still hasn't made the crucial mistakes that everybody was waiting for him to make last week, all these come into play. San Diego was dominating that game last week; they just failed to build up much of a lead. I think the Colts punch it in early and play from out front.

Final Score: Colts 24, Jets 13

The Spread Sez: SAINTS (-3.5) v. Vikings

Aaron: Here's the thing: The Vikings were running up the score last weekend against the Cowboys. Maybe you call it "hitting the over" or excuse it by suggesting the Cowboys play some damn defense, but don't tell me that Brett Favre wasn't throwing the ball -- late in the game, already up by 20+ points -- for any other reason than to pad his stats and re-write his own recent playoff performance history. There's nothing wrong with that, but why can't we just call it what it is? That Vikings defensive front is a force, Favre doesn't have to deal with the elements and I just don't believe that Reggie Bush is going to have the greatest game of his pro career two weeks in a row. Prepare for Favre-ageddon, America.

Final Score: Vikings 23, Saints 21

Joe: Totally agree with everything about Favre running up the score. That being said, Reggie Bush doesn't have to have the greatest game of his pro career two weeks in a row. That's what makes the Saints so dangerous -- maybe it's Reggie Bush, maybe Pierre Thomas, maybe (uch) Jeremy Shockey, maybe Devery Henderson, maybe Dalton Hilliard and Craig "Ironhead" Heyward will emerge from the tunnel. So long as it's Drew Brees slinging passes and not Bobby Hebert, I think they still have the advantage.

Final Score: Saints 31, Vikings 24

Friday, January 22, 2010

A's of the Decade: Left Field – Nick Swisher

Years: 2004 – 2007

Other Candidates: Ben Grieve (2000); Terrence Long (2000-2003); David Justice (2002); Eric Byrnes (2000-2005); Bobby Kielty (2004-2007); Shannon Stewart (2007); Jack Cust (2007-present); Matt Holliday (2009)

Summary: This position has been quite the revolving door since Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson's departure in 1995 (hell, Rickey even revolved back through for one season just three years later). Swisher only spent one year as the A's primary leftfielder, but it just so happened to be the best year (2006) of his Oakland career (35 HR, 95 RBI, .864 OPS). He averaged 26 HR per year during his three full seasons with the A's and was arguably the last real personality the team's had in the clubhouse since he was traded to the White Sox after the 2007 season. His
unkempt bumpkin schtick personally annoyed me to no end, but to each his own.

Favorite A's Moment: On
June 11, 2006, off the immortal Shawn Chacon, Swisher legged out an inside-the-park home run in old Yankee Stadium contributing to a 6-5 win. There are few things more unintentionally enjoyable than watching these world-class athletes sucking wind in the dugout like any other beer-league weekend warrior after running 360 feet.

Runner-Up: Jack Cust

Worst of the Decade: Terrence Long

Thursday, January 21, 2010

TBG Eats: Wendy's Double Baconator AND Spicy Chicken Nuggets

Current Weight: 165.6 lbs.

TBG reader Jag writes:

Hey Aaron,

One of the best parts of your blog is the fast food reviews but I'm curious on your take on Wendy's. It's my favourite as I'm hooked on the Baconator (although I'm in Canada and I've found that sometimes the fast food tastes somewhat different in the States).

Well, let's see…I've been in the lightly-read blog business for just over three years. In that time, I've written close to 150 posts with the "Food n' Drink" label. According to the Blogger™ search function, only two of those posts have been about Wendy's. And, neither the
Steakhouse Double Melt nor 4-Alarm Spicy Chicken Sandwich is still on Wendy's menu.

This really isn't an indictment on the restaurant. I've always admired the brand as Wendy's was responsible for one of the defining
marketing campaigns of my youth. They successfully rebranded themselves as a "family values" fast food restaurant in the 1990s with these commercials and, in recent years, have removed themselves from the so-called "burger wars" with their "way better than…" ads.

But, while the former marketing major within me digs what Wendy's has done, the unspeakably lazy and aging Black man within me has noticed there really aren't any Wendy's near my house or flanking my commute.

Fortunately for both of us, Jag, yesterday presented quite a favorable set of circumstances.

Y'see, Mrs. Bootleg is having one of those "thank Allah it's ain't me" medical procedures later this morning. Consequently, she was ordered not to eat anything on Wednesday save for sports drinks and chicken broth. Not wanting to eat in front of her – and knowing full well she'd selfishly use her situation as an excuse to NOT cook – I swung by Wendy's on my way home from work.

I was especially famished, as I'd made the mistake of eating in the employee cafeteria for lunch. My chicken tortilla soup shared the taste and texture of tepid Crisco after a 60-minute frying session. So, I ordered a Double Baconator and five-piece Spicy Chicken Nuggets. Take it from here, Wendy's website:

The Double Baconator is made up of two 1/4 lb. patties topped with juicy Applewood smoked bacon in between a premium fresh bun. Topped off with mayo, ketchup, and American cheese.

As I write this, it's been about five hours since I finished this farm animal slaughterhouse sandwich. I assure you, it feels like a helluva lot more than half a pound of cow in my belly. I was surprised at how much I missed the vegetable-based condiments here. The texture of some lettuce, tomatoes and onions probably would've made the Baconator easier to eat.

As it was, it felt like I was lifting a two-dollar steak off my tray and gnawing straight from the bone. Going with the double was gastronomic overkill on my part – way too much cheese, way too much meat (and just enough bacon, thank you very much.) In my experience, the taste of a Wendy's hamburger has always been all about the toppings. Here, the bacon – in both quality and quantity – tries its damndest, but can't carry the Baconator past average.

The five-piece Spicy Chicken Nuggets are currently featured for just 99 cents. They're a pretty nice size for snack food with a stiff Tabasco-colored breading that coats the heavily-processed meat within. They're miles from "spicy", of course, but with the right dipping sauce (I chose honey-mustard) the sum has more flavor than you'd expect.

I look forward to Mrs. Bootleg topping my single-sitting caloric intake from last evening when she gets the green light to eat again later today.

Grade (Double Baconator): 2.5 (out of 5)
970 calories 60g fat

Spicy Chicken Nuggets: 3
230 calories 15g fat

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2009 Final A'ssessment: Starting Pitchers

Trevor Cahill - (10-13, 4.63 ERA)

2009 Grade: C

The Good: Oakland's
Pitch-bury Doughboy (I know, I know…I'm still working on it.) finished strong with a 4-2 record and 3.44 ERA in his last nine starts. His 178.2 innings pitched was no small feat for a 21-year-old who'd never thrown more than 125 innings in a professional season. On April 12, he no-hit the Mariners for 6.2 innings and his aforementioned season-ending run included 14 combined shutout innings vs. the Angels and Rangers.

The Not-So-Good: Cahill struck out just 4.5 batters per nine innings. I don't care how sinker-bally, pitch-to-contact you are…that's terrible. His K rate placed him 74th (minimum 160 IP) in all of baseball, right behind Braden Looper – not exactly the high-rent district for right-handers. His dramatic platoon split (.920 OPS vs. LH; .689 OPS vs. RH) needs work and it wouldn't kill him to find a better conditioning program in the offseason. Actually, I've seen
how he's built…it might kill him.

Brett Anderson - (11-11, 4.06 ERA)

2009 Grade: B+

The Good: On July 6, Anderson entered his start against the Red Sox with a 5.45 ERA. Nine innings later, he became the first rookie southpaw to shut out Sox at Fenway in 20 years. In this very blog, I mocked those who believed one start could signal a pitcher's "arrival". Then, from that start through the end of the season, Anderson went 7-4 with a 3.03 ERA and 98 Ks in 101 innings.

The Not-So-Good: He finished a distant – and inexplicable – sixth in AL ROY balloting, despite having better numbers than Detroit's Rick Porcello (3rd) and Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann (4th). Anderson had one of those goofy reverse-platoon splits, as lefties posted an OPS more than 100 points higher than what righties could muster. Most of the other negatives surrounding his inconsistent first half can be written off on his age (21).

Dallas Braden - (8-9, 3.89 ERA)

2009 Grade: B

The Good: Back in mid-March, I dragged the family out to Phoenix for Spring Training. I caught Braden's start against the Giants and could see that this kid finally was ready to drop the afro-flake act. I even mentioned this a few days later
right c'here. Through his first 18 starts, Braden's ERA was 3.12 and with even a shred of run support, he'd have won 10 games by then. Dude even took a line drive off the back of his hand in a start on May 10 and stayed in the game. What? We lost 87 games in '09…you can't pass up an opportunity to over-celebrate something good.

The Not-So-Good: Braden was horrific in his final four starts (7.40 ERA) through July 31, before missing the rest of the season with a bizarre foot infection. Before his July collapse, Braden had only given up more than three earned runs in one start. His foot infection led to nerve damage and while reports indicate he'll be ready for Spring Training, the most recent word is that he still doesn't have feeling in some of his toes. Just so we're clear, this does NOT negate my prescient observation before last season. I checked.

And, the rest…: 24-year-old Gio Gonzalez had one of the more maddening seasons in recent memory. He gave up 11 runs in 2.2 innings on July 20 vs. Minnesota – in a game the A's came back to win – and in his next start, he beat the Yankees in the Bronx on two hits/one run over six innings. He posted a 4.40 ERA with 80 Ks in 71.2 innings after that debacle against the Twins.

Hackensack's own Vin Mazzaro beat the White Sox in his Major League debut and had an ERA under 3.00 after his first six starts. In his next 11 starts, his ERA jumped to 6.91. I flew up to Oakland and watched the first SEVEN batters reach base against him in a start on August 2. After a shaky April, Josh Outman posted a 3.16 ERA in his 10 starts from May 3 through June 19. Jalen and I caught his last start in San Diego when he left after 1.2 innings with an injury that required Tommy John surgery.

I'm beginning to think the two of us are bad luck.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

TBG Re-Eats: Jack in the Box's Chorizo Sausage Burrito and Sirloin Steak & Egg Burrito

Current Weight: 165.8 lbs.

Some of you might've seen this on my
Twitter feed over the weekend:

Just cuz you have a 2 for 1 b-fast burrito coupon from Jack in the Box doesn't mean you should eat 2 b-fast burritos in 1 sitting. Trust me.

And, here's the rest of the story.

Last August, I reviewed Jack in the Box's
Chorizo Sausage Burrito. I used words like "forgettable", "artificial" and "bland" while handing out a pedestrian 2.5 (out of 5) score.

I've mentioned before how much I love the feedback from my fast food reviews, but this one struck a nerve for some reason. I was cornered by a few co-workers within the walls of the Unnamed Defense Contractor. I received some prickly emails. Even m'man Smitty thought I had lost my mind.

The general consensus from my readers: "There's something wrong with anyone who doesn't like chorizo."

It turns out…my readers were right.

A week after the JitB Chorizo Burrito post was posted; I went to see my allergist. She
diagnosed me with Samter's Triad after I'd complained about losing my sense of smell and taste – two of the five senses that may (or may not) have something to do with detecting flavor in food. Thanks to an assortment of expensive medications and twice daily sinus flushing, I can taste hastily prepared, inauthentic Mexican food, again! Sometimes!

JitB's Chorizo Sausage Burrito is actually a little bit better than I originally thought. There's a decent bit of spice and seasoning within the chorizo which, while not on par with the closer-to-traditional fare at the hole-in-the-wall Mexican spots, is a clear differentiation from most fast food breakfast burritos. JitB's chorizo does have an odd grittiness to it, but not enough grit to
make me hate it. Order it without the cheese sauce and thank me later.

Two(!) years ago, I reviewed JitB's
Sirloin Steak and Egg Burrito. It scored a 1 on my eat-o-meter as my primary beef (I'll be here all week…) was with the bitter, shoe-leather steak. I mistakenly mocked the burrito's chipotle sauce, too, before remembering one of the first rules of fast food – if it comes with sauce, order it with extra sauce.

The steak is still suspect, but it's a LOT easier to eat with excess chipotle sauce oozing from the front and back of the burrito. The eggs and hash brown sticks on the inside add substance to the eatin'. But, be warned: JitB apparently uses some sort of cash register key code when a customer orders "extra sauce". On more than one occasion, my "extra sauce" showed up as "no sauce" on the drive-thru menu monitor.

Make it clear when you order…and avoid those awkward drive-thru window debates with the 16-year-old who just handed you a sauceless burrito.

Revised Grade (Chorizo Sausage Burrito): 3.5 (out of 5)
Calories: 729 Fat: 40g

Revised Grade (Sirloin Steak & Egg Burrito): 3
Calories: 821 Fat: 50g

Monday, January 18, 2010

TBG Drinks: John Henry 3-Lick Spiker Ale

Brewed By: Cold Spring Brewing Company
Brewed In: Cold Spring, Minnesota
Type: American Strong Ale
ABV: 9.1%

What They Say: "In recognition of the men who built railroads across this country we dedicate this ale. These skilled railroad men could swing a nine pound spike mall and drive an iron spike into the railroad tie in three swings. That is the basis of the term "3 lick spiker". Named after the mystical folk hero, John Henry, who competed and beat the automatic machine spiker. This is a big beer that you can not [sic] pass up."

Website: I don't know much about web design, but I know the main page's "beers across the bar" intro is unnecessarily cheesy -- especially since it's juxtaposed with an interesting little sidebar about the beginnings of the brewery. There's a longer history written under the "Company" tab (Cold Spring is the #1 producer of energy specialty drinks in America!) as well as a couple of things I've never before seen on a beer site: (1) a certificate of registration with the FDA and (2) "Point-of-Sale" (POS) products, like table tents and in-store signage.

Why I Picked It: On my last day in the office before the Christmas break, m'man JP texted me with news that
Bourbon County Brand Stout was back on the shelves at his local (Phoenix, AZ) BevMo. I made the 10 minute drive down I-15 to my BevMo, but was told Bourbon County was not being carried in San Diego. Unlike most BevMo employees, this one was incredibly helpful and he recommended John Henry. In his words, "It's got a good bourbon flavor and goes down easier." He had me at "bourbon".


Presentation (5): I was in third grade when I first heard the story of "John Henry". I'm not sure why, but it was one of those memories that's still stuck in my head nearly 30 years later -- like the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back or the name Meeno Peluce. Of course, I love the imagery here. The script heading over the hard block letters says both "sophisticated" and "kick yo' ass", while the brick red logo -- if nothing else -- captures the spirit of beer. 5

Originality (5): Bourbon just so happens to be my preferred social -- or solo -- beverage. Whenever I'm looking for new brands, my internet searches have returned more and more "bourbon beer" hits in recent months. Hell, m'man Daniels
reviewed one a few weeks back. While the concept of bourbon beer is increasing in popularity, John Henry is the first ale I've come across AND an ABV under 10%. That's worth an extra point, no? 3

Body (10): Pours dark with good lacing and a fizzy little head that dissipates pretty quickly. The contents are thin but, this really isn't that big of a deal with me. Most of the other bourbon beers I've had were stouts, so -- grading by ale standards -- this one holds its own in a pint glass. 7

Taste (10): A very, very good (not quite "great") bourbon flavor with strong notes of vanilla and dark chocolate. It's all tied together with an oaky aroma that would be perfect if I lived in a state that experiences winter. The mouthfeel is a bit of a trip, as John Henry features the carbonation levels you'd expect in ale, but with a full, flavorful taste you'd expect from a more substantial type. 9

Efficiency (10): The BevMo employee who said this beer would "go down easy" wasn't kidding. I had my first bottle while wrapping presents on Christmas Eve and was surprised at how quickly it could be consumed. Bourbon lovers could easily talk themselves into a two or three bottle evening with ease. The obvious consequence is the speed with which John Henry could beat up your BAC.9

Versatility (10): John Henry's probably a bit more accessible to the casual beer drinker than most of the bourbon brews out there, but I can't go any higher than meeting in the middle of the range. If you can get 'em past some of the upfront flavor complexities, its thinner nature might make it more appealing to those still suckling from the domestic teat of macro-brews. 5

Grade: 38 (out of 50) -- Really good Beer

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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A's of the Decade: Third Base – Eric Chavez

Years: 1998 – 2009

Other Candidates: Jack Hannahan (2008); Adam Kennedy (2009)

Summary: The most (unfairly) maligned – including by me, at times – A's player in at least the previous three decades and quite possibly in team history. From 2000 – 2004, he hit .280/.357/.513 and won six Gold Gloves during the 2000s. He signed a six-year, $66 million extension just before the 2004 season and hit only .250/.326/.441 from 2005 – 2009, missing about half of the '07 season and virtually all of 2008-09.

Three things turned the fans against him, but only one had real merit: (1) The contract – A's fans whine that ownership won't retain homegrown talent, so when the A's pony up, A's fans whine that ownership retained the wrong guy. (2) No emotion – Chavez never played with Darin Erstad's
eternal scowl or Eric Byrnes' false hustle, so fans perceived him as aloof and disinterested despite being better at his peak than guys like Erstad and Byrnes. (3) The media coddling – Make no mistake: Chavez deserved some blame. He never adjusted to LHP (career .699 OPS) and his retroactive excuses for his poor play seemed straight from a Serena Williams press conference. But, the Bay Area media never, ever, ever took the guy to task. For anything. And, for the past few seasons, they've bought Chavez's annual bunk about "feeling great" and being "in the best shape of his career" only to have to eat their words as soon as Chavez took the field.

Favorite A's Moment: On
August 31, 2002, with the A's and Twins tied at 3, Minnesota left-handed reliever JC Romero – who entered the game with a 1.51 ERA – intentionally walked A's SS Miguel Tejada to load the bases with two outs for Chavez. As usual in these clutch situations, Chavez swung at the first pitch. But instead of fouling out or rolling over the top of an off-speed pitch, Chavez cued a broken-bat single that drove in two. It was the deciding hit in the A's 17th straight win.

Runner-Up: Adam Kennedy, I guess. As long as we ignore his stats from July 1 thru August 31 (.655 OPS) or his atrocious glove at the hot corner.

Worst of the Decade: Jack Hannahan

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery - Divisional Round

Last Week Outright (Total):

Aaron: 2-2 (2-2)
Joe: 2-2 (2-2)
Tom: 2-2 (2-2)

Last Week vs. Spread (Total):

Aaron: 2-2 (2-2)
Tom: 2-2 (2-2)
Joe: 1-3 (1-3)

The Spread Sez: SAINTS (-7) v. Cardinals

Aaron: I was ready to pick three of this week's four road teams to win outright, but here's the thing: WAY too many people are ready to bury the Saints for either their three-game losing streak to end the season or Arizona's Arena Ball offensive explosion last weekend. Whether your hand-picked platitude for a prediction is "the last team standing" or "the last team to touch the ball" or "the last team to score", just know that the home team ALWAYS wins these types of game. Admittedly, my evidence is just one game -- last week's Cards/Packers tilt. Wait, which one's the home team here?

Final Score: Saints 38, Cardinals 37

Joe: Damn it, Cam'ron. Last week, I let you temper my God-given hunches with your irrational Jet-hatred and your endless Donovan McNabb theories. This week, I've pledged to go with my ample gut, only to find that you beat me to my own guesses. And with my own analysis too! Anyway, agree with everything you wrote up there. Except for the Cards covering the spread.

Final Score: Saints 34, Cardinals 24

The Spread Sez: COLTS (-6.5) v. Ravens

Aaron: The Ravens' annihilation of the Patriots last week might have been one of the least appreciated ass-whippings of my lifetime. After the game, the national narrative surrounded New England's injuries, Tom Brady's struggles, Bill Belichick's creeping senility and his curious choice of knit hat. With about 50% of QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens waltzed into New England and punched aura n' mystique square in the mouf. Yes, the Ravens were the better team going in, but that's not always enough on the road in January. ALL the pressure here is on the Colts and I think the Ravens' D has been sent from the football gods to cleanse the earth of false prophets (Belichick) and teams that sit their starters instead of going for 16-0.

Final Score: Ravens 27, Colts 13

Joe: Et tu, Cam? The Colts' decision to tank the final six quarters of the regular season has been the single most disproportionately covered story of this NFL season, give or take blah blah Brett Favre blah. If Colts fans have really turned on this team for losing what amounted to an exhibition game, despite a decade's worth of fabulous success and a Super Bowl title, they're welcome to do so. The Patriots' fans need someone to look more ungrateful than them anyway. Moving along, I like this Ravens team, but the Colts spent a whole season (the part where they played their starters at least) winning these kinds of games; ugly, if need be.

Final Score: Colts, 21, Ravens 18

The Spread Sez: VIKINGS (-2.5) v. Cowboys

Aaron: I know it's a gross oversimplification, but let's cut right to the chase: can Tony Romo win a playoff game on the road? The Vikings have been teetering for weeks with a defense that's been picked apart by teams that can throw the ball. Brett Favre will be starting his 17th game this season, which I'm certain is unprecedented for a septuagenarian. Dallas hasn't faced a running back like Adrian Peterson in recent weeks, but unless the Vikings plan on running the ball 80 times on Sunday, I'm not sure I trust the home team to keep up. So, can Romo win on the road? This week, he can.

Final Score: Cowboys 31, Vikings 27

Joe: I feel like I'm a character in a really hackneyed action/horror movie, where everything looks fine, and Dallas has all the momentum, and I'm like, "I have a bad feeling about this." But there is seriously almost NO reason to pick Minnesota here. Tony Romo is apparently one of those quarterbacks who will be forever dogged by whatever the rung above him on the ladder is. When the Cowboys were bad this season, it wasn't because of Romo, and when they were good, it often WAS. But he's destined to be scrutinized because he dated Jessica Simpson, or something. Anyway, I'm gonna go with momentum over reverse psychology. ...Or am I?

Final Score: Vikings 28, Cowboys 27

The Spread Sez: CHARGERS (-7) v. Jets

Aaron: OK...I'll concede that I way underestimated this Jets team if YOU concede that all this talk about the Jets being "a good match-up" for the Chargers is bat-sh*t insane. Cool? Yes, the Jets run the ball well and the Chargers can't stop the run. Yes, the Jets defense against the run is strong and the Chargers can't run the ball. But, the Chargers also feature a collection of receivers whose average height is 7'12". QB Phillip Rivers is an epic d**k, but his fluttering junk throws have been hauled in all year by guys who can create separation as good as anyone. This won't be close, yo.

Final Score: Chargers 44, Jets 17

Joe: I feel like this is a 1-point game or a 20+-point game. I also feel like the Chargers are to my postseason picks as the Jaguars are to my regular season picks. Never, ever, ever right. But again, my commitment was to go with my gut. And my gut said the Chargers WORK the Jets here.

Final Score: Chargers 30, Jets 10

Friday, January 15, 2010

Leno & Conan. Conan & Leno.

I don't have a dog in this fight -- never really watched any of 'em; Letterman, Kimmel and Ted Koppel included. In fact, the greatest late-night related show I've ever seen was HBO's balls-out, over-the-top satirical adaptation of Bill Carter's "The Late Shift".

Sure, I suppose it's hard not to be rooting for Conan O'Brien, but I can't be the only one who finds the circling of the wagons by other late night hosts to be nothing short of absurd, right? 20 years after getting hosed -- and making $200 bazillion in the interim -- we're supposed to view Letterman's recent "killing the Indians and taking their land" Leno comparison as anything other than sour grapes? And, did Jimmy Kimmel really play the "we have KIDS we have to support" argument while defending Conan on Leno's show earlier in the week?

Fine. I see that I'm still not getting through to you. Everyone who's been breathlessly following the Leno/Conan proceedings needs to separate themselves from the drama. Try to imagine this whole ridiculous d**k-waving scenario with people you can't relate to or who don't look like you or who you just don't like.

Two celebrities -- both of whom sleep on mattresses full of money, but might have writers or assorted hangers-on who barely scrape by -- in a televised slap fight.

I didn't care then and I don't care now.

And, I'm too damn old to be this far ahead of YOUR pop culture curve, kids.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

AiAA: Tide Coldwater Detergent

Music never meant as much to me as it did during the five-year stretch from 1992 to 1996. It was the apex of West Coast rap and the East Coast's celebrated return to lyricism. Pop stars reflected the times -- optimistic and colorful early in the decade, cynical and grittier by the middle of the '90s.

Let's not rewrite history, though. Some of the music was good and has held up just fine. Some of the music wasn't that good to begin with.

I'll leave it to y'all to decide where the work of Digable Planets falls within this spectrum. In many ways, for me, they represented the best and worst aspects of the era. This is why I was so disheartened to hear "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" used to sell Tide detergent.

I'd argue that 1987-1991 was the last golden era for African-Americans within entertainment and pop culture, before commercialism and changing times hastened today's bojanglin' age. With one 30-second spot, Tide takes me on a 20-year ride that reminds me of the good, but leaves me feeling bad.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination – 01/10/2009

Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)

(1) The Cleveland Show ("Love Rollercoaster") - I promise I'll only mention this point eight or nine more times this season: when this show plays it relatively straight (instead of trying to be bad Black satire) it's subversively brill…wait, no. Let's not lose our minds here. It still can be pretty damn good, though. The ridiculous invention subplot nailed the infomercial mark and Tim the Bear's throwaway "Ale aboard!" line just killed me. The "Tyra Obama" story was just fine and it led to the "Alaska's greatest exports" bit at the end, so I approve. Good to see the writers aggressively going after Meg Ryan's face, too. That makes them the one-millionth customer or something.

(2) The Simpsons ("Once Upon a Time in Springfield") - Another solid episode in what's been a decent little season. I'd have given it the top spot in a two-show Sunday, if not for…well, see below. Yes, this was another recycled plot (Krusty's show gets a makeover!) but, Anne Hathaway freaking knocked it out of the park as the voice of "Princess Penelope" – the woman who ruins/reveres a certain Jewish clown. And, I'm never opposed to occasionally shoehorning Homer into the secondary story. His was an amusing little aside with a terrific finish (one donut and health care or TWO donuts).

MVP & Quote of the Night: I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I've watched the "Balls Deep"
musical sequence from The Cleveland Show, but let's just say the number's probably bigger than a baker's dozen. Cleveland, Jr. gets the MVP nod for somehow channeling the soulful spirit of former Death Row Records artist, Danny Boy. And, the Scottie Pippen cameo? Icing on the cake, kids.

Current Standings

The Cleveland Show – 34
The Simpsons – 30
American Dad! – 21
Family Guy – 21

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TBG Eats Versus: The Original Pancake House's $10 One-Pound Apple Pancake

Current Weight: 167.2 lbs.

Original Pancake House Website

My son, Jalen, was born on February 7, 2004. He was nine weeks premature and spent more than a month in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU).

I'm confident that there are few places on earth quite like the NICU. Before entering, parents are required to scrub from their hands to their elbows under a faucet that's set to one water temperature: scalding. Inside the NICU – and I can still hear it to this day –dozens of heart monitors incessantly chirp, each one beeping out of sync with every other monitor in the room.

Rows of tiny new lives with tubes snaking through their noses and mouths, each one assigned a numbered "bed" that takes identification precedent over their names. (For those wondering, Jalen was #54). The children here are intangible patients to their parents. If they cry, you can't comfort them. Someone else determines when they can go home. And, don't let any of the kids' heart rates dip below normal. The ensuing monitor alarm will do bad things to your heart.

Things were a tad stressful for Mrs. Bootleg and me during this time. We visited Jalen every day* and often ate meals at one of the surrounding restaurants. It was at one of these eateries that I first met The Original Pancake House's enormous Apple Pancake.

* - Full disclosure: I should mention that while Mrs. Bootleg visited Jalen in the NICU every day, I actually missed ONE day. It was a Thursday night and I was up against the deadline for my weekly music news column. Mrs. Bootleg has never, EVER let me forget this, despite – at the time – giving her explicit permission.

I wrote about my first Apple Pancake encounter on February 27, 2004. And, as long as y'all solemnly promise to: (1) not read past the intro (2) ignore the nonsensical references to Scott Keith and Shallow Hal and (3) not give me grief about all the dead links, I'll provide a (live) link to the piece
right here.

Six years ago, I finished approximately one-quarter of this apple-cinnamon Millennium Falcon. Since then, I've learned – among other things – how to eat for
six straight hours. It's the rematch, Original Pancake House. Let's dance.

The first step was convincing Mrs. Bootleg to join me. We were both off from work last Friday, but she didn't seem too keen to the idea. She'd actually been home for almost three weeks to this point and on this day she declared, "I need to start eating better." I reminded her that the "party of one at the breakfast counter" is an east coast concept and pretty much nonexistent out west. Somehow, my half-ass argument won her over.

Most mornings – even during the week – the Original Pancake House has quite a long wait. On this day, however, the restaurant was half empty and we're seated right away. And, like the world-class multi-million dollar athlete who needs imaginary slights, insults and disrespect from the opposition to serve as motivation, we're seated right next to the front door – guaranteeing a blast of cold air enveloping us whenever someone entered and/or exited. Oh, it was "on" before. Now, it's even more on.

Our server added fuel to the fire by overdramatizing my own order ("Ooooh, you know that's like a pound of pancake!") yet unknowingly multiplying my motivation.

The Apple Pancake took its own sweet time to come down the aisle and when it appeared, it was 2004 all over again. Everything was just as I remembered – all old school with no entrance music and the only pyro to be found was still popping from the pancake itself. Right on cue, Mrs. Bootleg went all Adrian Balboa on me ("You can't win!")

I remembered that I was too tentative last time, but couldn't remember why. I've watched enough Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel to know the best strategy is to dive in and eat fast. Immediately after my first forkful, I remembered why I ate so slowly last time. As I type this on Monday night, the top two layers of my tongue still haven't regenerated. Instead, I spent several seconds warmed by its molten glow.

NOW, it's go time! Wait, nope…still too hot.

After another minute, I'm all up in it. I start low in the middle of the plate and work my way up the zone – similar to the way Dennis Eckersley should've thrown to Kirk Gibson in 1988. But, there's no bitterness to be found here…just soft, steaming-hot apples that are equal parts sweet AND tart. The sugar and cinnamon contrast furthers the delicious dichotomy on my tongue.

The apple glaze is heavy – it has to be or else the pancake would turn into a soggy blob – and could be served by itself, topped with a scoop of ice cream. Similarly, the pancake is d-e-n-s-e. But, even with three trees of apples on top, its ubiquitous flapjack flavor can't be covered up.

I'd blazed a trail right through the heart of the Apple Pancake. My appetite was still in tact as I made my way to its outer edges. With another refill of black coffee on my belly, I veered right and wolfed down another 33%. Then, things got…colder.

With roughly a third of the Apple Pancake remaining, I noticed its temperature had dropped 100 degrees since my first bite. Caffeine and adrenaline enabled me to knock out about a dozen more bites until all that remained was the equivalent of a breadstick. Unfortunately, I'd slowed my pace to the point that the contents of my stomach skipped right past the first two trimesters.

I sipped some more coffee and even picked at Mrs. Bootleg's bacon and eggs, but by the time I went back for one last run at the Apple Pancake, my first bite had the consistency of Han Solo –
post-frozen in carbonite. I threw down my crumpled-up napkin in disgust. A frustrated white flag that our server immediately picked up on:

"Looks like you've surrendered! Well, at least you beat your wife!"

One last slap in the face, eh, Original Pancake House?

Alright then…between now and the end of the year…I want one last chance at the Apple Pancake.

Today? Uh, no…today doesn't really work for me.

I'll get back to you.

Grade: 500 (out of 5)

Monday, January 11, 2010

A's of the Decade: Shortstop – Miguel Tejada

Years: 1997 – 2003

Other Candidates: Bobby Crosby (2004-2008); Orlando Cabrera (2009)

Summary: I should come clean and admit that I wasn't as smitten with "Miggy" as most of my fellow A's fans. He had a frustratingly long "always wants to be the hero" swing; he could loaf up the first base line with the best worst of 'em and his baseball IQ
approached single digits sometimes. Still, he put that 2002 team on his back, much like Jason Giambi did in 2000-01. Considering the corpse who played SS for Oakland during the rest of the decade, Tejada wins this in a landslide.

Favorite A's Moment: On
September 1, 2002, the A's were holding on to a 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth against Minnesota and on the verge of winning their 18th straight game. SP Mark Mulder surrendered back-to-back home runs to the immortal Matt LeCroy and Corey Koskie tying the game. Closer Billy Koch then gave up a bomb to Michael Cuddyer before retiring the side. With two runners on and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Tejada homered off of Twins closer Eddie Guardado giving Oakland their 18th straight win, 8-5. If I'd celebrated today like I did on that day, the resulting asthma attack would kill me.

Runner-Up: [Left blank on principle.]

Worst of the Decade: Bobby Crosby

Sunday, January 10, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination -- 01/03/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5, 3, 2, 1 scoring)

(1) The Simpsons ("Thursdays with Abie") -- I am a long-time, well-established sucker for an Abe Simpson episode. The show's writers have managed to keep the character fresher than you might expect by using him as an infrequent one-note joke throughout each season, then giving him a feature episode every few years to flesh out the caricature. The premise for this episode has been done to death (someone related to Homer seeks affection/attention/approval from someone other than Homer, who then fights to win back his son/daughter/wife/father); but it worked here. I especially dug the climactic train sequence and an actually amusing cameo from Mitch Albom.

(2) The Cleveland Show ("Field of Streams") -- I wanted to love this episode. The show was finally paying off on its occasional baseball references (in the pilot, Cleveland was originally on his way to the west coast to accept a position as a scout, before he landed back in his hometown). The execution, however, was...inconsistent. The none-too-subtle digs over the game's pacing and declining national popularity elicited some chuckles, but the writers wasted a lay-up line of jokes that could've used baseball and Blacks as interchangeable punchlines. Good...but, should've been better.

(3) American Dad! ("Don't Look a Smith Horse in the Mouth") -- Named the worst show of the week by the Parents Television Council, my obvious retort would be that it wasn't even the worst show on Sunday night. I will say that American Dad! has perfected the "it isn't really semen" sequence. Remember the sperm bank/milk tank scene from a few years ago? Yeah, I'd put this last week's horse goo/water hose gag right up there. The episode's absurd plot was built around Stan switching bodies with a horse - a joke that's proven colossally unfunny with the show's man/fish character, Klaus. There's a reason why Klaus gets, like, two lines a week, y'all.

(4) Family Guy ("Big Man on Hippocampus") -- This was a 30-minute barrage of "done-before, done-better" obscure references and sight gags. I know, I know...but, the show's first few seasons really were better than this. Family Feud and Richard Dawson mocking? Sorry, but there was no topping the "Pig in a Poke" opening of National Lampoon's European Vacation in 1985. Meanwhile, "Grand Theft Auto" and "Crocodile Dundee" gags have been played out for a combined 30 years. And, the self-effacing acknowledgement of an amnesia plot can't erase the lazy absurdity of an amnesia plot. (By the I the only one who thought the Gene Siskel joke was unnecessarily cruel? Probably.)

MVP: Easy win for Abe Simpson. I've enjoyed his endless, nonsensical ramblings for twenty years. And, as usual, The Simpsons' tremendous heart shined through in the end as Abe ceremoniously passed the torch of aimless anecdotes to his son.

Quote of the Night: "You're in the newspaper business? Finally, something that'll die before me!" -- Abe Simpson (The Simpsons)

Current Standings

The Simpsons -- 32
The Cleveland Show -- 32
American Dad! -- 23
Family Guy -- 22

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery - Wildcard Weekend

I received a few e-mails from people who seemed to be waiting in suspense for the final NFL Pickery results. Spoiler alert: I didn't win. It came down to the Jets/Bengals on Sunday night for all the marbles - well, a Cincinnati win would've meant I'd tie with Joe. Instead, in a show of New York/New Jersey bridge-n-tunnel solidarity, the Jets steamrolled the Bengals (who deliberately laid down, WWE-style) and gave Joe his first win in one of these things. How I hate him.

Joe's victory lap brings him back around here for the playoffs. We'll track picks against the spread AND outright winners.

The Spread Sez: BENGALS (-2.5) v. Jets

Aaron: This year, the Jets beat Houston, Oakland, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and - infamously - Indianapolis on the road this year. They had ONE regular season win against a 2009 playoff team that actually was trying to win the game and that came in week #2. Anyone who picks Mark Sanchez on the road in January AND willfully ignores the Jets asterisk-crossed road to the playoffs deserves what they get.

Final Score: Bengals 20, Jets 7

Joe: Here's the thing: I really want the Jets to win. I've become oddly attached to Thomas Jones due to him holding up my fantasy season, the pile-up on Mark Sanchez this season has been annoying, Bill Simmons has been particularly obnoxious in his pretzeling of logic in Cincy's favor(or in the Jets' disfavor, more specifically). Rex Ryan is a wad, but other than that, I'd much rather side with the mountain of stats that favor the Jets on this. But the rookie QB factor does appear to be a thing, and it's blazingly obvious that the Bengals were goldbricking it last week.

Final Score: Bengals 17, Jets 16

The Spread Sez: COWBOYS (-4) v. Eagles

Aaron: One week ago, the Eagles in position to earn the #2 seed in the NFC and first week bye. After a miserable performance in Dallas, the Eagles' annual playoff epitaph has already been written. Thing is, I'm not ready to toss dirt on Donovan McNabb just yet. His playoff pedigree - though spotty - still has nine more wins than Tony Romo's (zero). And, the Eagles usual bed-wettings never occur in back-to-back weeks. Do they?

Final Score: Eagles 24, Cowboys 23

Joe: Argh! You had to remind me of McNabb's every-other-week tendencies. Because otherwise, it just seems like Dallas is the better team in this matchup. Maybe not in the scheme of the whole league, but in THIS particular matchup, Philly has been outgunned. And yet...McNabb really does zig whenever he's supposed to zag, doesn't he? God damn it.

Final Score: Cowboys 30, Eagles 27

The Spread Sez: PATRIOTS (-3) v. Ravens

Aaron: The Ravens have suffered through a pair of gut-wrenching regular season losses to the Patriots over the past three years. Baltimore's got the third best defense in the league and a criminally underrated offense (seriously, all the "Joe Flacco's regressed" nonsense is absolute lunacy). Is it enough to win in New England? These aren't your slightly older brother's Patriots of seasons past, yo.

Final Score: Ravens 20, Patriots 17

Joe: Eight of New England's ten wins were over non-playoff teams. Six of Baltimore's seven losses were to teams who did make the playoffs (and by an average of 5.5 points). Of course, one of those losses was to the Patriots. The lesson? Win/loss stats can be confusing! Anyway, the Pats were pretty awful in the second half of the season, even when they did win. And Baltimore seems like just the kind of WTF team that catches fire in the playoffs these days.

Final Score: Ravens 27, Patriots 14

The Spread Sez: Packers (Pick) v. CARDINALS

Aaron: Green Bay's defense has been pretty frisky since back-to-back losses two months ago. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have gotten fat off the league's bottom-feeders in recent weeks. I grossly underestimated the Cardinals' crowd factor during their Super Bowl run last year and I'm leaning towards them if only because I've already picked two road teams to win. Hard to understand why I don't gamble more often with a can't-fail philosophy like that.

Final Score: Cardinals 31, Packers 28

Joe: I maintain that the Cards were in more of a shut-down mode last week than the Packers were. No way Green Bay blows them out again. However, that doesn't mean that wont still win, despite how daunting the task of beating a team two weeks in a row on the road. Arizona's banged up and Kurt Warner doesn't seem nearly as fearsome as he was last year.

Final Score: Packers 37, Cardinals 35

Friday, January 8, 2010

A's of the Decade: Second Base – Mark Ellis

Years: 2002 – 2009

Other Candidates: Randy Velarde (2000); Frank Menechino (2001); Marco Scutaro (2004)

Summary: He is unquestionably the best defensive second basemen that none of you have ever heard of – whether using outmoded measurements like fielding percentage or egghead stats like UZR. His terrific 2005 line (.316/.384/.477) bought him a lifetime pass from most A's fans, despite a career that's been pockmarked with injuries and a failure to come close to his '05 season at the plate. Still, he's the best 2B in team history.

Favorite A's Moment: [Lifted from one of my previous A's posts] I guess I'd have to go with Ellis' three-run home run in the
bottom of the ninth during Game #5 of the 2002 ALDS. I was driving back from my bachelor party weekend in L.A. on a Sunday afternoon and Ellis' shot would've been a dramatic walk-off into the ALCS (against the Angels!)…if RP Billy Koch hadn't given up a three-spot in the top of the ninth.

Runner-Up: Randy Velarde

Worst of the Decade: Frank Menechino