Saturday, July 31, 2010

TBG Beats: Big Boi feat. Vonnegutt -- "Follow Us"

As most of you know, I spent several years reviewing rap albums over at 411mania and Inside Pulse. To this day, the passionately negative e-mails I received from readers who disagreed with me remain one of my favorite memories from my earliest writing gigs.

so-so review of Jay-Z's 2001 release The Blueprint STILL attracts occasional hate mail from Jigga fans who stumble across it (and has earned me the eternal scorn of former colleague/model Mathan Erhardt). Later, I posted a less-than-complementary critique of Freeway's debut LP. In response, a reader offered the following opinion of me: "I used to think you were black, but now I question that."

Oddly enough,
my review of kiddie-rapper Bow Wow's Unleashed album probably generated some of the most profane bile of all. I got it from both his pre-teen fans and their teenage mothers. And, those of you who were reading me way back in 2002, might remember when west coast act Shade Sheist (a little-known rapper who had a couple of regional hit singles a decade ago) came after me for using the words "little-known" and "regional" in my review of his album.

At the risk of attracting even more scorn...I've never been a fan of Outkast.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three reasons why I've never had an ear for them.

Timing - When Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATLiens were released in April 1994 and August 1996, respectively, my rap preferences were fairly narrow -- commercial acts from the east or west coast with an infrequent urban movie soundtrack thrown in if my paycheck could support the additional purchase.

Peer Pressure - A year after I graduated college, Outkast released Aquemini with Stankonia following in 2000. Even though I had more disposable income and a desire to expand my rap collection with acts I'd previously ignored, I still resisted the Outkast Movement. These two albums produced crossover hits such as "Rosa Parks", "So Fresh, So Clean" and "Ms. Jackson". Three tracks that were EVERYWHERE. But, the accompanying universal acclaim -- particularly from the "I used to hate rap, but THIS..." collection of privileged suburban kids -- actually pushed me farther away.

The Gimmick - M'man Nick once summed up the allure of Outkast with three simple words: "They dress weird".

These days, rumors of Outkast's break-up are running neck and neck with rumors about their next album. For now, their fans are going to have to settle for the long-delayed solo debut from Antwan "Big Boi" Patton. The first single (if we don't count the pair of promotional singles that Big Boi, himself, leaked to the internet) was the solid, but disposable "Shutterbugg". The second single -- "Follow Us" -- hit the airwaves on June 21.

OK, OK...the video isn't all that great. (The only thing triter than the "night-on-the-town" concept is the array of YouTube comments on the video's "racial ratio".

Lyrically, however, Big Boi is killin' it.

"It's like the game is haunted; cuz there's so many ghost wri-ters!"

And, later: "I'm like a crocodile walkin' 'round with alligator skin!"

This is as natural as Big Boi's ever been -- no contrived conceptual characters, no insincere marketing-department charisma. Salaam Remi's malleable beat builds through each verse until Vonnegutt's ballad-y hook pours out of their unnaturally large mouths.

More than 15 years after their first album; I'm finally ready to accept Outkast.

Well, one of 'em, anyway.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ben Sheets, Billy Beane & Teflon Economics

News Item: On Wednesday, the A's announced SP Ben Sheets will miss the remainder of the season with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow.

For those scoring at home, this is the same injury that shelved Sheets for 18 months following the 2008 season. The 32-year-old right-hander has quite possibly thrown his last pitch in a Major League uniform.

According to most accounts, Sheets has been pitching through pain, inflammation and swelling around his elbow over his past 2-3 starts. This would explain both his decrease in velocity and our boy-genius General Manager's curious "we're not inclined to trade Sheets because he's great with our kids" public position. It's not like Billy Beane could come clean and own up to the most short-sighted, ill-conceived free agent signing of his tenure.

When my A's signed Sheets to a one-year, $10 million contract this past January,
I wrote:

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

Six months later and it keeps right on giving.

The predictable ending to the Ben Sheets era sparked an equally predictable response from some A's fans and beat writers who believe in Billy Beane. To them, the last few years of failure -- built around a somnambulant offense, a kiddie-corps pitching rotation and a zillion trips to the disabled list -- has nothing to do with poor amateur drafts and a questionable medical staff. They swallow our GM's repetitive pabulum about small markets, old stadiums and competitive disadvantage with an accepting shrug.

On July 24, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle

I know there will be a lot of criticism about signing Sheets in the first place, but the A's knew the risks and even though it is a $10 million deal, the commitment is only for one year, and the upside seemed worth it. Also, they couldn't give their money away - they tried to sign Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro - no one was interested. They had it to spend, it's not like there's somewhere else that's suffering because they used that for Sheets. I don't get the worry about the investment. Where was it supposed to be going? It's not like ticket prices went up to sign Sheets. If there's concern about the A's bottom's their budget, their risk, they're still at the bottom of the league in payroll. The Sheets money just doesn't even seem like much of an issue.

I like Slusser's work, I follow her on Twitter...really, I don't have any ax to grind. It's just that this kind of hands-off commentary is maddeningly consistent on the A's beat. Let's address a few of her points:

"The A's Knew the Risks..." -- Back in January, Sheets auditioned for several teams during a workout in his native Louisiana. Along with the A's; the Reds, Nationals, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Brewers, Dodgers, Mets, Giants, Pirates and Phillies were all
reportedly in attendance. In 2009, the Nationals had the worst ERA in the National League, yet they passed on Sheets. The Brewers finished next-to-last in ERA last season and employed Sheets for eight years...they passed, too. Many of the teams that watched Sheets test his surgically-repaired elbow were desperate for pitching help, yet they ALL opted to look elsewhere. Those are the teams that knew the risks. In 2009, the A's finished fourth in the AL in ERA and instead paid a premium for "the risks".

"They Had Money to Spend..." -- When did Major League Baseball become Brewster's Millions? Just because a team has $10 million in its pocket -- and can't lure any offensive upgrades to Oakland -- doesn't mean it should spend for the sake of spending. I said it in January and I'll say it again: the A's didn't need Sheets. And, Slusser's contention that there's no other aspect of the team that's suffering due to the money allocated to the Sheets contract is indefensible. The A's are next-to-last in the AL with 66 home runs in 2010. They're third from the bottom in SLG and scored the fourth fewest runs. Why didn't the A's go to Spring Training with the components of the promising 2009 rotation? Then, they could use March to assess other team's offensive options while determining how much of this $10 million slush fund they could use for the 2010 salary of an upgrade at the plate.

"It's Their Budget..." -- And, these aren't the Yankees. Some teams can sign Carl Pavano to a 4-year, $39 million contract without wincing when it blows up in their collective faces. While the Ben Sheets signing -- in a vacuum -- isn't necessarily cumbersome on a single season's budget, it follows the A's recent pattern of filling prominent roles with aging or injury-prone players. It's one thing when DH Frank Thomas is signing for barely the league-minimum (and a load of incentive clauses). It's another when SS Orlando Cabrera and 1B Jason Giambi are making something south of $5 million. And, DH Mike Piazza is signed for $8.5 million. By the time we get to Sheets, "budgets" start looking like a tradition of bad deals.

"$10M is the Going Rate..." -- This wasn't in Slusser's write-up, but it's something I've heard from a few A's fans. They'll name-drop guys like the Yankees' AJ Burnett or the Red Sox's John Lackey (two recent high-profile, high-dollar free agent signings who've struggled to keep their ERAs under 4.50 this season). You'll never hear these fans mention White Sox SP Freddy Garcia. He's started just 23 games combined from 2007-2009 and he's making 1/10th of Sheets' salary this year (4.74 ERA in 18 starts).

"The A's NEEDED Sheets' Veteran-osity" -- Starting this weekend, the A's starting rotation will be: Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro. Now, guess which five starting pitchers led the A's in games started in 2009. Hint: their names are in this blurb.

Just to recap: my Oakland A's signed an injury-prone Ben Sheets to a ridiculously large contract, despite knowing the risks and slightly more than half-way through the season, they're handing their rotation over to the five guys who they should've trusted with the keys to the car in the first place.

That about cover it, Mr. Beane?

Monday, July 26, 2010

AiAA: Four Short Stories About the Apple iPhone 4

Homer: "There can only be one truly great festival a lifetime and it's the 'Us Festival'."

Clerk: "The WHAT festival?"

Homer: "The 'Us Festival'! Geez! It was sponsored by the guy from Apple Computers."

Clerk: "WHAT computers?"

-- The Simpsons,
Homerpalooza (May 1996)

I graduated from San Diego State University with a marketing degree in 1997. As television and movies have taught us on countless occasions; the most unforgettable college professors are eccentric, unconventional loons whose enthusiasm is inversely proportional to their hygiene.

One of my favorite professors from SDSU was an excitable, unwashed woman who inexplicably -- albeit seamlessly -- blended oral case studies with outlandish conspiracy theories and urban legends.

She taught us, among other things, that: (1) The fast food industry was colluding to keep inner city residents economically repressed and in poor physical health. (2) Coca-Cola, undeterred from the infamous failure of "New Coke", was in the middle of a 20-year plan to gradually change its original formula to...New Coke. (3) Bill Gates would own Apple Computer, Inc. by the end of 1998.

That last one didn't seem entirely inconceivable at the time.

In the mid-90s, Apple was reeling from several failed product lines and turmoil within the upper echelons of management. Of course, the company completely recovered (introducing the iMac in...1998) and turned a profit of $3.3 billion in the first quarter of this year.

Apple has rolled out their latest television ad campaign for the iPhone 4. As these commercials indicate, a company can freely embrace clichés and unintentional comedy when it's put towards a product that essentially sells itself.

Did you have to cast
Frederick Douglass as the grandfather, Apple? My grandfather is 84 years old, shaves every day and wears his hair as short as I do. Most black men don't want to look like Questlove's eventual corpse, y'know.

This couple is obviously not married. Mrs. Bootleg has mastered that marital mindf*ck in which she gets her hair done, doesn't mention it and expects me to notice. In baseball parlance, my .275 average would be perfectly respectable.

Pfft. Here's how I found out that Mrs. Bootleg was pregnant with Jalen: It was a Sunday morning and I was on the can, reading the sports section. Mrs. Bootleg broke down the door, shoved a plastic pee stick in my face and frantically translated the results. Our story's better, Apple.

Is there still a stigma attached to braces? I've heard more than a handful of older friends and co-workers tell me that their kids want braces to correct some imaginary crookedness or simply because one of their classmates has them. I'm eagerly waiting for the day when
asthma ascends to the same level of acceptance.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TBG Eats: Aaron vs. the Giant Apple Pancake from the Original Pancake House -- Round III

Current Weight: 172.0 lbs.

Original Pancake House Website

Round I: In February 2004, I visited the Original Pancake House for the first time and took on the restaurant's enormous Apple Pancake. I was woefully unprepared and overconfident; finishing just 1/4 of my meal. This four-minute clip is a rough real-time equivalent that only slightly overdramatizes my experience.

Round II: This past January, the Apple Pancake and I had our rematch. In the six years since our first encounter, my unhealthy and irresponsible appetite had taken on a life of its own within the confines of this lightly-read blog. As a result, I fervently believed in my ability to clean my plate and take no prisoners. I brought everything I had to the breakfast table that morning, but sometimes 100% isn't enough. (Fun Fact: In the immediate aftermath of this latest defeat, I reacted in the same over-the-top style as the loser in this clip, before graciously draping the belt my knife, fork and napkin over my server's shoulder.)

Since then, I've spent the past several months languishing in the mid-card of their menu. My current program with the Original Pancake House's bacon pancakes has been a satisfying bit of
blog fodder, but it lacks the main event drama and anticipation of a meal that's defeated me in the two times I've challenged it.

Last Friday, I took my third crack at the Giant Apple Pancake.

It would be breakfast-for-lunch as m'man Thai and I drove over to the Original Pancake House in Poway around 11:00 AM. Thai -- whose appetite rivals mine -- was down from Long Beach and eager for his first three-way with bacon and pancakes. In the 25 years I've known him, Thai has achieved "THAT guy" status in three specific areas among those of us who know and love him.

(1) He's the friend who is NEVER on time. Is everyone meeting at 6:00 PM? You'd better tell Thai we're meeting at 5:30 PM if you have any hope of seeing him before 6:30 PM. (2) He's chivalrous with the ladies and the most pleasant, non-threatening flirt of anyone I know. Consequently, every other male in his presence looks like a sack of crap by comparison. (3) He's the slowest g*ddam eater on planet earth.

I was counting on that last trait to inspire me to set a modest pace with the Apple Pancake. Thai has posted the crock pot-sized portions of meals he's mauled to his Facebook wall. This is the same man who takes 45 minutes to finish a French dip and fries. Thankfully, I was off from work and without the cumbersome corporate boundaries of my usual two-hour, end-of-the-week lunch hour.

After a short wait, we were seated on the patio and placed our orders. For round three, I made a point of ordering two additional items. The first was extra butter. I'd never before added butter to this already anti-arterial meal, but I was planning for the last few bites that become cold, doughy and in need of something to alter the texture and taste. The second accompaniment was a side order of bacon. I ordered it mostly as a goof to go alongside Thai's bacon pancakes.

Our server placed the Apple Pancake in front of me, which elicited a few curious whispers from the table next to ours. (" that the...? Yeah, that's the Apple Pancake.") Cockily, I called my shot to pretty much anyone within earshot, grabbed my knife and fork and...let the Apple Pancake cool off. Oh, yeah. I'm already a step ahead of you, scalding hot plate of food.

Once again, I carved a path straight through the heart of the Apple Pancake -- small, manageable bites...not too fast and not too slow. I noticed that this pancake seemed thicker than the first two I failed to finish. I'm already starting to labor as I finish off just the first third. The pancake has cooled off, but remains somewhere between "steaming hot" and "volcanic rock". Combine this with the 80-degree outdoor setting, along with my enormous solar-panel forehead and I'm beginning to glisten with the kind of perspiration usually seen in those who foolishly order a "9" or "10" on the spice content of an Indian food menu.

The ice water I order is excruciatingly slow to arrive as our server had completely screwed up the order of the table next to ours. As a result, she becomes overly-attentive to their needs at the expense of everyone else in the area. When it finally shows up, I gulp down the glass in a single swallow.

I begin work on the first of two outer edges that remain and comment to Thai that I'm already slowing down. The cinnamon and sugar flavors continue to meld with the tartness of the Granny Smith apples, creating a gooey, spiced, sweet-but-not-too-sweet topping that could easily be eaten by itself. The heavy pancake underneath, however, is the more challenging component of my personal food pugilism. I finished the first outer edge -- approximately 2/3 of the way to victory -- and stared sideways at the deliciously sticky section that remained.

This was when I stumbled back in January. I had waited too long to resume my meal and the cold Apple Pancake had the consistency of a cheap street pretzel. The only way to win was to jump right in. I cut the last section in half and then cut each half into four identical
quasi-diamond shapes.

I slather the first of the eight remaining pieces in butter. To my astonishment, I realize that butter seems to make the decadent dessert-like topping even richer and heavier! Who knew?! And, why did none of y'all tell me this before?! The first piece goes down like a freshly-baked brick and the second -- sans butter -- does, too.

There were six pieces left on my plate when the epiphany occurred. Three strips from my side order of bacon were sitting undisturbed to the left of my pancake plate. I tore each one in half and covered each piece of pancake shrapnel with a bacon blanket. This helped me knock out -- albeit glacially -- the next four pieces with relative ease. I had to cut the last two pieces into smaller halves, but finally...six years after my first...

"Nah, Aaron. You've got bacon and pancake crumbs all over your plate."

Dammit, Thai! Fine. I scrape my plate clean and THEN...six years after my first attempt...the Giant Apple Pancake had been vanquished.

And, since this
perfectly good theme music is lying around unused...I think I'll claim it for my own.

TBG Sees: Inception

I liked it.

I might've liked it a lot.

But, I'm positive I didn't love it.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan penned a script that's dense and richly layered. The plot moves along at a reasonably brisk pace with gasps of exposition where needed. Perhaps "cerebral" is too strong a word, but Inception -- for the most part -- isn't your run-of-the-mill knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing summer blockbuster.

The visual effects are stunning. Nolan's interpretation of the dream worlds where Leonardo DiCaprio and his crew set up shop isn't so much fantasy as it's a malleable reality -- infinite staircases (paradox!), a stretch of zero-gravity and stackable, interlocking urban landscapes.

I do think, however, that the concept of Inception -- at times -- suffocated itself.

DiCaprio was strong as the tortured soul still mourning the loss of his wife. The emotionless detachment he conveys while leading his team into a virtual suicide mission is captivating, as his Dominic Cobb character only wants to reunite with the fragments of his fractured family. Unfortunately, Nolan doesn't especially flesh out any of the other characters. Ellen Page's two-dimensional "Ariadne" especially drags on almost every scene she's in.

And, why exactly should I root for these characters? Dominic Cobb has made a deal with the virtual devil to get his life back and would willingly sell the souls of his entire team for the peace he's seeking.

But, I really DID like it.

Marion Cotillard is phenomenal in the role of Mal -- Dominic Cobb's deceased, bat-sh*t insane old lady. Tom Berenger returns from the dead (figuratively, I think) for a small, but important part. And, at about the 3/5 mark of the movie, Page's character kills it with a wonderful wink-to-the-audience in a single line that conveys some of the confusion from the "dream within a dream within a dream" conceit.

I liked it. I just didn't love it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

2010 Mid-Term A'ssessment: The Pitchers

Ben Sheets -- SP: 4-8, 4.63 ERA

What I Said in March: "His health is still the biggest question mark heading into the season, but Sheets is also auditioning for a midseason move to a contender."

What I Say Now: Sheets hasn't exactly turned the "question mark" into an "exclamation point", but I'll settle for the relative "ellipse" he's been over his past few starts. Since surrendering a combined 17 runs over 7.1 innings in back-to-back starts on April 27 and May 2, Sheets' ERA is 3.62 (14 GS, 89 IP). In his last four starts, his ERA is 2.77. Our boy-genius GM insists that Sheets is
NOT on the trading block, despite rumored interested from Minnesota and Philadelphia. If this is true, then Billy Beane has become Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel, USMC and should be relieved of his duties, immediately. "Coco the General."

Mid-Term Grade: C...It was still too much money ($10M) for a pitcher who used the first month of the regular season as extended spring training and is on track to post the highest walk and home run rates of his career. Sheets is striking out just 6.3 hitters per nine innings, which would be his lowest mark since 2003. Obviously, Beane is well aware of these shortcomings and is attempting to create some artificial scarcity in the trade market to drum up Sheets' value. Umm...right?

Gio Gonzalez -- SP: 7-6, 3.79 ERA

What I Said in March: "He's in the right type of low-pressure environment to turn things around, but pitching coach Curt Young's track record of 'fixing' pitchers is poor."

What I Say Now: Gonzalez hasn't completely turned the corner (his 56 walks allowed are second in all of baseball), but 2010 has been his best season in the big leagues, by far. It's always been between the ears with this guy. A few walks and/or some shaky umpiring was all it took to overtly rattle him during brief MLB stints in 2008-09. Now, when he gets into early trouble, he trusts his stuff (and his defense) and has stopped trying to blow everyone away. He's only allowed nine home runs in 114 inning and lefties are hitting .155/.219/.278 off of him.

Mid-Term Grade: B...Gonzalez is still susceptible to patient teams who'll work the count and sit on the fastball (he's been hit hard twice by NYY and was wobbly against BOS), but most of the pitchers in the game have the same flaw. He's not nearly as polished as some of the A's other young starters, so there's still room for this already-talented kid to grow, y'all.

Trevor Cahill -- SP: 9-3, 2.94 ERA

What I Said in March: "Cahill completely ditched his plus-curveball after repeatedly falling behind in the count. I'm not sure he can improve enough...for me to take anything except the "over" [on his projected ERA]."

What I Say Now: Cahill improved enough to be one of baseball's 800 All-Stars this year. Why? In 2009, over all his pitches in nearly 180 innings, Cahill threw his curveball just 2.7% of the time. In 2010, he's dropped a deuce 12.6% of the time. Cahill's strikeout rate -- though, still not great -- is up to 5.84 (from 4.53). His walk rate (3.63 to 2.83) and home run rate (1.36 to 0.97) are down. And, he even snagged a starring role alongside legendary (yeah, you heard me) A's starting pitcher Dave Stewart in the team's
best commercial of the year.

Mid-Term Grade: B+...Regression could be on the horizon for Cahill, though. His
BABIP is a crazy, unsustainably low .225 and his FIP would theoretically add more than a run to his current ERA. I only mention this for the esoteric-centric in my audience. Wherever his numbers end up this season, it's been fun to watch this unassuming sack of mashed potatoes pitch like he belongs.

Dallas Braden -- SP: 4-7, 3.83 ERA

What I Said in March: "He's one of many A's who are easy to root for, but until he shows he can pitch a full season on 60% of a left foot, I'm going "over" [on his projected ERA].

What I Say Now: Braden will always have
the perfect game on his resume. And, unfortunately, Braden will always have the perfect game on his resume. He's been solid this season (5.84 K/9; 1.55 BB/9 and an ERA that's pretty indicative of his performance), but his Mother's Day performance has created an odd dichotomy in which everyone will raise expectations while affording Braden the benefit of the doubt. It makes for difficult -- potentially myopic -- evaluation of his body of work going forward.

Mid-Term Grade: A...So sue me. I've got the final six outs and the entire postgame hullabaloo from Braden's perfect game that originally aired on Comcast Bay Area saved on my DVR. His embrace with his grandmother still turns me into a slobbering pool of goo. Braden is 0-5 (4.10 ERA) in nine starts since then and has endured several minor injuries and ailments. Still, I don't think anyone's ready to invoke the name of
Mike Warren. Yet.

Andrew Bailey -- CL: 18 SV, 1.70 ERA

What I Said in March: "Bailey will finish third in the AL in saves."

What I Say Now: As of this writing, Bailey is fourth in saves in the Junior Circuit. He made the All-Star team for the second time and is only six saves away from matching his 2009 total. Still, he hasn't looked nearly as dominant as he did when he won the AL Rookie of the Year award last year. Some of the numbers bear this out as his K/9 rate is way down (9.8 to 6.5). His ERA is 1.56, but his FIP is almost two runs higher (3.47). Now, you can choose to embrace or ignore "nerd stats", but even to the naked eye, he's not the baby-faced assassin from last year. He's still effective, but...let's agree to keep an eye on him. Cool?

Mid-Term Grade: A-...Bailey's job is to lock down the ninth and he's done that. Admittedly, it's a little silly to mark him down for "his numbers are not what they seeeeeeem". Still, the closer's role has been a star-crossed position for A's fans since Dennis Eckersley took his mustache to St. Louis in 1996. From the Jason Isringhausen roller-coaster to Billy Koch's self-immolations to Keith...wait, Keith Foulke was terrific in the abominable Arthur Rhodes experiment to Octavio Dotel setting the tone by blowing a save in his first appearance to the rise and fall of Huston Street. Aw, sh*t, Andrew.

And, the rest...: SP Vin Mazzaro didn't crack the rotation full-time until early June. He's 3-1 in his last five starts with an ERA of 2.06, but could be on his way out when SP Brett Anderson returns from the DL later this month. Anderson signed a long-term deal earlier this season and then injured his elbow. He's 2-1 in just 30 IP, but hasn't given up a home run. Yale University's Craig Breslow remains
the world's smartest man AND pitched well enough out of the pen (46 K in 44.2 IP) to garner a few All-Star whispers. LH hitters have raked RP Brad Ziegler for an OPS of 1.165. RP Michael Wuertz was awful in May and through most of June as worked his way back from injury, but in the last month his ERA is 1.08 (11 appearances) and he's regained his glorious slider.

Monday, July 19, 2010

TBG Eats: Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce on Pizza

Current Weight: 171.2 lbs.

previously blogged about my dad's frequent ruination of the few times my family had pizza for dinner:

My dad would grab five slices out of the box, saturate every inch in hot sauce and then remember he hates pizza after a few bites. He'd put the uneaten remains back in the box, forcing my brother and me to intently smell the leftovers. What if one of us overlooked the slices with the equivalent of molten-hot magma comingled with mozzarella cheese? Remember, these were only eight-year-old taste buds, y'all.

In addition, I've previously mentioned that I've kinda-sorta reached "maximum capacity" on pizza consumption. It was the first substantial meal that our six-year-old son Jalen not-so-surprisingly embraced when he was younger. Consequently, the owners of a local
hole-in-the-wall Italian spot get so much business from Mrs. Bootleg that they gave Jalen a free cake for his last birthday.

Even when I order something for myself other than pizza on "Family Pizza Night", I end up mauling the leftover pie long after the wife and boy have gone to bed. The guilt that engulfs me is exacerbated the next morning when Jalen sadly asks about the empty pizza box in our recycling bin and I'm forced to shift the blame to Mrs. Bootleg.

I need to fall in love with pizza again, so that I'm not pilfering slices -- earmarked for a six-year-old child -- in the middle of the night. That isn't's a gastronomic booty call.*

*-- Do the kids still say "booty call"? Back in the mid-90s, it was THE crossover urban colloquialism for a few years. It had surprising staying power, outlasting "jiggy", "bout it, bout it" and Bill Bellamy.

Earlier this year, the folks at Tabasco tapped bombastic ESPN Radio personality Mike Golic for
an ad campaign that promoted Tabasco as a pizza condiment. The company's marketing department came up with some surprisingly solid phraseology for the print ad:

"...blending with every bite..."

"...amplifying the true taste of pizza..."

"...revealing flavors you never knew were there..."

Remember, kids: advertising doesn't have to be true; it just has to get you to try something new.

Last Friday night, Mrs. Bootleg abandoned her maternal AND spousal duties in favor of an evening out with her girls. The 50th cinematic re-release of Grease was playing, which meant make-up, mojitos and high heels before the movie and bottomless double-butter buckets of popcorn during the film.

Jalen and I were left with a 5:00 PM Oakland A's vs. Kansas City Royals game and, since it was payday, I picked up a $5.00
Little Caesar's pepperoni pizza.

It seemed just short of sacrilege to conduct my Tabasco experiment on the quality mom-n-pop pies we usually order. Instead, the test will be whether or not Tabasco can lift the edible, but unspectacular taste of a national chain pizza to the next level. After a liberal (10-12 shakes) application of pepper sauce on my single slice, I was ready to ravage.

Huh. The flavors of the spices in the pepperoni are actually heightened a bit. They're even creating a wee bit of tang towards the back of my tongue. The tomato sauce is only negligibly improved, though. There's a little more kick, but it still tastes canned and over-processed. Finally, the gloriously oily mozzarella cheese aids in the pooling of the Tabasco on top and -- I'll be damned -- creates a zesty little ooze.

I gave Little Caesar's "Hot-n-Ready" $5.00 pizza a 2.5 grade in my original review. With a dozen or so shots of Tabasco, I'd bump it up to a rock-solid 3.0. Tabasco absolutely improves upon the quality of corporate pizza, but I wouldn't think of using it in any restaurant that takes its name from any ethnic possessive proper noun.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

2010 Mid-Term A'ssessment: Catcher and DH

Kurt Suzuki – C: .252/.306/.411

What I Said in March: "However, he'll have to turn around his OBP [from 2009], which dropped more than 30 points from 2008 as he lengthened his swing to increase his power."

What I Say Now: That swing's still long. Despite missing three weeks with an intercostal strain, Suzuki's 10 first-half home runs were just five shy of the career-high 15 bombs he hit last season. Before the injury, though, Suzuki's OBP was .343 and his SLG was .508. Since he returned on May 16 through the end of the first half, his OBP and SLG were .293 and .380, respectively. In his defense, he's spent most of the season as Oakland's cleanup hitter and – in an admittedly small sample size – he's hit .281/.331/.469 in 172 plate appearances when batting fourth.

Mid-Term Grade: B...We're halfway through 2010 and Suzuki's on a similar pace to several of his 2009 numbers. He was fairly unlucky on balls in play (.251
BABIP) during the first half and his 14% line drive rate is likely to trend upward, closer to normalization. Over his career, however, Suzuki's OPS is about 25 points lower after the All Star Break. The last two sentences are the statistical equivalent of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

Eric Chavez – DH: .234/.276/.333

What I Said in March: "Eric Chavez will announce his retirement before season's end."

What I Say Now: I'm one of the few A's fans who appreciates how great Chavez was at his apex (.280/.357/.513 from 2000-2004 with an average of 30 home runs per year). I'm also one of the many A's fans who predicted disaster when Chavez was handed the everyday DH job out of Spring Training. The assortment of significant injuries (back, neck, shoulder) that Chavez has endured over the past several seasons has eroded his beautifully lethal swing into a soft breeze. Watching Chavez tentatively flick at pitches – as if his bat were a porcelain fly swatter – is not how I want to remember him.

Mid-Term Grade: INC... On May 22, Chavez was placed on the disabled list with two bulging discs in his neck. The move came after Chavez spent February, March, April and most of May proclaiming his good health to anyone with a tape recorder. There's no point kicking the guy when he's down. Chavez was either playing hurt all season (his ret-conned version of the events) or he stepped aside on his own in late May and sought to save face when it was unbearably obvious that the end was here.

And, the rest…: After putting together 100 solid at-bats vs. RHP as a rookie last season, back-up catcher Landon Powell has been inexplicably jerked around in 2010. He spent the first half yo-yoing between Oakland and AAA-Sacramento. Why? Because Jake Fox was out of minor league options. Fox was around for one reason: annihilate LHPs. It's his only offensive attribute. He failed. Miserably. M'man Jack Cust spent the season's first six weeks in the minor leagues (after our boy-genius GM signed him to a one-year, $2.65M deal last offseason). The A's team leader in home runs since 2007 was recalled in mid-May…and suddenly stopped hitting home runs. His .294 BA and .398 OBP are impressive, but his ungodly .404 BABIP isn't going to last.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

AiAA: The OTHER Black Old Spice Guy

Comedian Larry Miller has a bit where he explains the difference between the way a man leers at a woman and how a woman ogles a man:

"It's the difference between shooting a gun and throwing a bullet."

Mrs. Bootleg, however, can be quite lecherous when she wants. Hers is a tempered lust that – to the best of my knowledge – only manifests itself with celebrities she can't have.

In recent years, she's directed her fantasy affection towards…

Torii Hunter -- Much like the residents of Orange County, my wife had never heard of Hunter until he signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent a few years ago. Hey, I'll admit it: he's one of baseball's most photogenic faces. Mrs. Bootleg will knock her own son out of the way if he's blocking the TV during one of Hunter's at-bats or interrupting Professor Hunter's latest sociological dissertation.

The Rock -- This one's pretty easy to understand as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and I have more in common than you might think. We're both of mixed race ancestry that blessed us with confectionery complexions (him, peanut butter…me, caramel). And, we both became infinitely more popular when we cut our outdated 'dos down by a few feet. Here's his and here's mine:

Isaiah Mustafa -- Otherwise known as "The Old Spice Guy", Mrs. Bootleg gets positively ooey and gooey whenever one of his new spots premieres. She breathlessly called me at work to relay news of his newly-signed talent deal with NBC. (As African-Americans, we're obligated to call one another when Jackie Robinson gets called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers or when some guy from commercials might have a pilot written around him that might be picked up as a mid-season replacement, someday.) His Old Spice commercials are undeniably catchy and clever, though.

Terry Crews' Old Spice commercials are neither catchy nor clever. Yeah, he's the other black guy is some recent Old Spice ads. This one's just really f***ing loud.

His "Stuart Scott" shouting, gross lumpy muscles and talking abdominals only succeed in blocking any of the product's brand recognition amongst the audience. But, it's still better than this one that sounds an awful lot like "BLACK! BLACK! BLACK! BLACK!" after the first few seconds:

In this final spot, I can only assume Old Spice is overtly marketing to geeks who think Old Spice 16-Hour Body Wash can turn our planet into…

Crews captured a stern, but earnest "John Amos" vibe in his role as family patriarch on the UPN/CW sitcom Everybody Hates Chris.

His new juiced-up "Jimmie Walker" act should've been left in the '70s.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

2010 Mid-Term A'ssessment: Outfield

Ryan Sweeney – RF: .294/.342/.383

What I Said in March: "Sweeney enters [2010] with 12 career home runs and I'm calling his shot on his behalf…he's going to hit exactly 12 home runs in 2010."

What I Say Now: In 331 plate appearances over 82 first-half games, Sweeney has one home run. In his defense, he's played the entire season on a pair of chronically sore knees that have clearly affected him in the field, at the plate and on the basepaths. On the other hand, save for what appears to be a fluky 25-point uptick in SLG last year (aided by a .355 BABIP in the second half), his slash line has been virtually unchanged since 2008. I'm juuust about ready to reduce Sweeney's potential ceiling from Mark Kotsay to
Derrick May.

Mid-Term Grade: C...On June 8, Sweeney's OPS stood at .785 and since then it's .586. Maybe it's just regression to the mean or maybe it's his barking knees, but on the season, Sweeney's OPS is next-to-last among all Major League right fielders (you suck, Jeff Francoeur). He's noticeably slower on defense, too. As I've mentioned more than once to my wife, "Sweeney looks like the world's oldest 25-year-old."

Rajai Davis – CF: .268/.308/.372

What I Said in March: "I'm not entirely convinced Davis is going to lose all of the OBP gains he made in 2009."

What I Say Now: From 2006-08, Davis' cumulative OBP was .314. In 2009, it leapt to .360. This year, it's .308. Yes, he's lost all of the OBP gains he made last year. In searching for an explanation, Davis' percentage of walks per plate appearance has fallen from 6.7% in 2009 to 4.2% this year. His line drive rate – quite simply, a measure of how hard he's hitting the ball – is down from 20% to about 15% (in fact, he's already surpassed his 2009 total of infield hits this season). The biggest difference, however, is his BABIP – down 50 points from an unsustainably high .361 in 2009.

Mid-Term Grade: C+... Davis earned an everyday job with his second-half performance in 2009. It took less than half a season for him to lose it in 2010. He's a super-nice guy whom the local beat writers adore, so he gets a pass for the more-than-infrequent moments when a fly ball clangs off his glove or a baserunning miscue kills a rally. I'm rooting for Davis, but he really doesn't make it easy.

Gabe Gross – LF: .265/.299/.342

What I Said in March: "The A's have dialed up the drama regarding their pending decision on the roster's '25th man'. [Eric] Patterson is battling Jake Fox for the team's lone IF/OF bench role."

What I Say Now: The above quote came from my write-up of Patterson, as Gabe Gross didn't make my preseason cut. Naturally, it was both Patterson and Fox who would be cut by the A's before the season's first half had played out. Mostly due to Coco Crisp's injuries, Gross has started 20 games in LF (Patterson led the team with 21 starts out there). He's a 30-year-old spare part who's on team #4 in a nomadic journey that will surely span most of this decade, simply because of the "L" that appears next to the word "Bats:" on his baseball card.

Mid-Term Grade: C...I can't knock the 5th outfielder for playing too much when there aren't any other viable options on the active roster. Earlier this season, Gross made a spectacular
over-the-wall catch in Detroit's Comerica Park that'll make every end-of-season highlight reel. Seems like good people. But, if he's played the second most games in one of your team's corner outfield spots…your team isn't in first place.

And, the rest…: Prior to acquiring Conor Jackson, the erstwhile Diamondback had been on the DL with a hamstring injury. Not long after the A's
traded for Jackson, he landed on the DL with a hamstring injury. Oft-injured Travis Buck made the Opening Day roster due to another OF's late injury. Buck played in just 11 games before suffering his own injury (oblique) and hasn't been seen in Oakland since. Coco Crisp fractured his pinky finger just days before the A's opened the regular season. He returned on May 21…and, then injured his ribcage which caused him to miss another month. In 76 plate appearances, he's hit .277/.333/.554 and the rumors of a trade to the Padres are getting louder here in San Diego.

The Write Stuff?

I've been doing the "anonymous internet writer" bit for almost eight years. In that time, I've been accused of (among other things):

  • Overusing adverbs.
  • Leaning too heavily on and/or forcing alliteration.
  • Taking too long to get to the point.

All fair points, I suppose. Hell, when people start calling me out for adverbs, the least I can do is consider their comments.

And, then I stumbled across one of those "Analyze Your Writing" sites. I fed it my last few travel diaries and my "Open Letter" to Jalen, discovering:

I write like
Stephen King

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I don't read fiction, so I only know Stephen King's recent work from his often-unreadable column in Entertainment Weekly. For all I know, "Analyze Your Writing" could be some kind of random author generator.

Either way, I think I'll be keeping my adverbs, yo.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Mid-Term A'ssessment: Infield

Daric Barton – 1B: .272/.378/.394

What I Said in March: "This will be Barton's last chance at the everyday first baseman gig if he doesn't take a step forward on offense this season."

What I Say Now: Barton posted a surprising .873 OPS in April that skewed his overall numbers a bit. Since May 1, his OPS is .737 which is more in line with his career mark entering 2010. Barton's only 24 and playing just his second full season, so he's still exhibiting evidence of growth (his 20 doubles are already a career-high and he's on pace to top his personal bests in hits (101) and walks (65) early in the second half) with frustrating inertia (his
reverse platoon split is borderline ridiculous).

Mid-Term Grade: B...Barton's .394 SLG is the worst among everyday first baseman save for the remains of Derrick Lee and Todd Helton. Still, there isn't an A's fan alive who wouldn't have taken his first-half slash line. He still has room to mature (see: defense) and it'd be a huge help if he'd
stop f**king bunting.

Mark Ellis – 2B: .278/.347/.356

What I Said in March: "Ellis turns 33 this year and he's been unable to stay on the field for a full season since 2007."

What I Say Now: Ellis didn't make it past the first full week of the regular season before injuring his hamstring on April 11 vs. the Angels. He was off to a hot start (.345/.406/.414) and, as usual, the A's dragged their feet on a decision about the disabled list. Ellis came back too soon (April 20) and then missed the next four weeks. He's hit just .268/.339/.349 since his May 22 return and my head spontaneously combusted during each of the four games when Ellis has been our designated hitter (he's SLUGGING .356!)

Mid-Term Grade: C+... This is pretty much the Mark Ellis era in a nutshell, y'all. Earlier this month, there were rumors that scouts from the Phillies were in Oakland to size up Ellis for a possible acquisition, but the A's let it be known that
they'd be keeping him. Mediocre offensive contributors are the new "Moneyball", don'cha know?

Cliff Pennington – SS: .264/.333/.392

What I Said in March: "He reminds me of Mike Bordick – capable of a solid season at the plate if the BABIP deities shine upon him."

What I Say Now: In Bordick's first full season (1992), he recorded an OPS of .729. At the halfway mark of Pennington's first full season, his OPS stands at .726. At the start of play on May 3, his slash line was .273/.354/.455. Over his next 31 games, he hit .143/.218/.179. And, then, in a madcap dash to make me look good, Pennington's hit .409/.459/.602 over his last 27 games. He's a lot of fun to watch at the plate (SIX triples!) and, especially, in the field. If your team is playing Oakland, tune in simply for this kid's Shawon Dunston-esque arm.

Mid-Term Grade: B-...There'll be more peaks and valleys at the plate, but in sports-entertainment parlance, Pennington is a fine
transitional champion until the heir to the throne (phenom Grant Green) is ready to ascend in a few more years.

Kevin Kouzmanoff – 3B: .266/.304/.385

What I Said in March: "In 858 career plate appearances in San Diego's PETCO Park, he's hit .239/.290/.394. In every other park in North America he's hit .285/.327/.474."

What I Say Now: Well, he did
sign my son's baseball at a game in mid-May, so I suppose I should go easy on him. I won't mention his ninth-inning error on Opening Night that cost us the game (or, that without Gold Glove Padres 1B Adrian Gonzalez bailing him out, Kouz has more than doubled his 2009 error total). On offense, he's been as streaky as advertised -- .619 OPS through May 31; 1.030 OPS from June 1-25 and .345(!) OPS from June 26 through the All Star Break.

Mid-Term Grade: D...Kouzmanoff's .688 OPS places 20th among the 22 Major League third basemen who qualify. He's been steadily declining at the plate since 2008 and from the looks of his current
platoon splits; he could be playing his way out of an everyday role by this time next year.

And, the rest…: I'm still not sure what to make of utility IF Adam Rosales. He's been a capable fill-in all over the diamond and his six home runs are good enough for third place in this flaccid offense. But, like erstwhile OF Eric Byrnes, his overt hustle can't quite mask a few fundamental shortcomings and ill-timed mental errors. 2B/OF Eric Patterson was traded to the Red Sox in late June. I'm looking forward to seeing how his "145 lb. power hitter" act plays on NESN.

Monday, July 12, 2010

TBG Eats: Bernard'O Restaurant

Current Weight: 171.4 lbs. (!!!)

Bernard'O Menu

This past Friday was the annual "summer sleepover night" at my son's school. Since 2008, Mrs. Bootleg and I have enjoyed one Jalen-free evening every July. On this night, his teachers are the ones tasked with feeding him pizza, ensuring he pees right before bedtime and answering his half-awake/half-asleep spiritual questions like, "Are there bathrooms in heaven?"

During the previous two "sleepover nights", Mrs. Bootleg has shown zero interest in the inherent fringe benefits of temporary parental parole. We'd have a drink or two after dropping Jalen off, before returning home so my wife could beat the sunset to bed. In turn, she left me alone with televised Friday night Oakland A's games which, for the past few seasons, constituted spousal abuse.

So, when Mrs. Bootleg asked me to come up with plans she could ruin for this year's school sleepover, I deferred to her.

She suggested a French restaurant called Bernard'O. While it's just over a mile from Stately Bootleg Manor, we've never been during the six-plus years we've lived in the Rancho Bernardo section of San Diego. And, according to their website, they were voted "Best French food in San Diego" for 2008!*

* -- I'm not sure how I feel about their need to promote such a dated acknowledgement, but as a "Writer of the Year" award winner in 2003 with and then again in 2004 with Inside Pulse, I'm inclined to give them a pass. THIS time.

Belying its moderately-priced menu and ostentatious interior, Bernard'O is located in an otherwise antiseptic strip mall that includes an Albertson's supermarket, Starbucks, Papa John's Pizza and a dry cleaner. At the restaurant's entrance is a tacky, three-foot tall unintentional likeness of
this guy.

Our reservations were for 7:00 PM and, once inside, the first thing I noticed was the lighting. Did you ever notice how unrealistically well-lit EVERY television and movie scene inside a bar, nightclub or a restaurant is? Well, Bernard'O has 'em all beat. I'd put the brightness here just behind "inner city convenience store" and "first three seconds after leaving a movie theater".

My cocktail for the evening is Maker's Mark on the rocks, while Mrs. Bootleg opts for a chardonnay on our server's recommendation and his use of the word "buttery" to describe it. I'm briefly intrigued by the wife's drink – can "buttery" legally be used to describe anything other than butter, margarine and
McCormick Imitation Butter Flavor? – but, I stick with the bourbon that brought me to the dance.

If you've read any of my previous long-winded restaurant reviews, you know that the official appetizer of me and Mrs. Bootleg is crab cake. Bernard'O offers up a Dungeness Crab Cake accompanied by remoulade and micro green salad. Our server split the order between two plates which substantially reduced our usual marital "fork interference". The crab meat was a little looser than I like, but with a nice peppery bite. The remoulade straddled the fence between sweet and spicy, while the infinitesimal salad leaves were bitter enough to bring everything together. Grade: 4 (out of 5)

Mrs. Bootleg was won over by our server's impressive description of the above tomato and mozzarella salad. Up until now, I thought this was from Italy and called Insalata Caprese. But, if Oklahoma can steal
chicken-fried steak from Texas, who am I to argue? The tomatoes here were at varying degrees of ripeness which provided four or five different flavors with the oil-based dressing and fresh mozzarella blob. Solid, but my wife actually makes a better version of this. Grade: 4

I went with the Scottish Salmon for my entrée. And, just as it was brought out, the restaurant significantly reduced the interior lighting specifically to f**k with the above cell phone picture. This was topped with "Ruby Red Grapefruit Beurre Blanc" which lent an intense citric acidity to this naturally mild fish. It took a few bites, but I was really digging the balance of tastes on my tongue by the end. The risotto seemed a wee bit undercooked, though, and similar to a certain boxed
San Francisco Treat that introduced a generation of children to trolleys and high-sodium side dishes. Grade: 4

For dessert, I ordered the Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries and Boysenberries. None of the desserts seemed especially appealing since I'm not a chocolat fanatic and apparently apple brown betty with FRENCH vanilla ice cream is more "Perris, California" than…oh, don't look at me like that. Y'all should know by now that there's no joke "too easy" for me. Nice vanilla bean flavor, but the two berries did nothing to change my underwhelmed opinion of them. Grade: 3

Postscript: After half a glass of wine, Mrs. Bootleg BARELY made it for the entire 1.2 mile ride back home.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Fat From 50 States -- Part II

Here's Part I.

Follow along with this link to's listing of
The 50 Fattiest Foods in the States.

UPDATED -- Now with more Utah!

Montana -- Rocky Mountain Oysters: Ten years ago, I was on a business trip in Denver and took in a Rockies game at Coors Field. I'd heard there was a stand that sold these deep-fried calf testicles, but I couldn't find it and none of the locals seemed to know where it was. Ever since then, this has been my white whale. Verdict: Want

Nebraska -- Eskimo Pie: If your state's representative food can be found in the freezer at my 7-11, your state needs to try harder. (And, is an Eskimo Pie really just ice cream and a Nestle Crunch chocolate shell? I've never had one and I was imagining something...more.) Verdict: Don't Want

Nevada -- Buffets: I've never done Las Vegas "correctly". On my first trip, m'man Vig and I stayed at the decrepit Frontier. During my next visit, I stayed at Stratosphere which is as far removed from The Strip as one can get while still, technically, being on The Strip. My last two trips were for work and the highlights included a
Las Vegas 51s game and meeting Mathan Erhardt. Verdict: Shrug

New Hampshire -- New England Clam Chowder: The best chowder I ever had was at a dive bar in Boston. It was served in the ceramic equivalent of a Dixie cup and cost $7.99, but it was spackle-thick with a red pepper finish. The six hours I spent bar-hopping there are the only six hours I've ever been in Boston and I'm not ashamed to admit the city's spectacular drinking scene is only the second best thing about some of their pubs. Verdict: Want (More)

New Jersey -- Fat Darrell: A knockoff of this Rutgers University staple was sold at this year's San Diego Fair. This sandwich is stuffed with chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, marinara sauce, French fries, lettuce and tomato. Isn't this just a poor man's chicken parm with a semi-interesting back-story? Of course, I want it, but still... Verdict: Want

New Mexico -- Frito Pie: Fritos, chili, cheese...yeah, yeah, yeah...want, want, want. I would've written more, but I've inexplicably spent the last 10 minutes watching a collection of old,
racist commercials. Verdict: Want

New York -- Garbage Plate: Home fries, macaroni salad, baked beans or French fries, topped with choice of meat (hamburger, cheeseburger, hot dog, sausage, chicken tender, fish, fried ham), and drenched in mustard, onions, and hot sauce, eh? Yes, no, no or yes, yes, no, yes, no. When it comes to the ingredients of my meal, your state needs to do better than a 1:1 yes/no ratio. Verdict: Don't Want

North Carolina -- Livermush: Described as "30% pig liver and a mixture of pig head parts and cornmeal". This is proof that not every slave invention should be mentioned during Black History Month. Verdict: Don't Want

North Dakota -- Fleischkuechle: This is just a beef patty wrapped in fried dough. As a Californian, my "beef wrapped in something fried" philosophy begins and ends with the chimichanga, but I'm open to this German import. Admittedly, my knowledge of Germany was heavily influenced by the
historic events of 1985. Verdict: Want

Ohio -- Bob Evans' Sausage Biscuit Bowl: Home fries, eggs, sausage, sausage gravy...all four food groups are covered -- and smothered! -- for our gastronomic enjoyment. Hold the scallions, though. Do they not grow real onions in Ohio? Verdict: Want

Oklahoma -- Chicken-Fried Steak: My dad was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in New River, North Carolina for four years. During that time, "chicken-fried steak day" in my elementary school's cafeteria held the same level of reverence with me as "pizza day" or "taco day". And, Lord, if tater tots were being served alongside the chicken-fried steak... Hard to believe I weighed 185 lbs. when I was 13. Verdict: Want

Oregon -- Brunchbox's Redonkadonk: So, the good people at chose egg, ham, Spam, bacon and American cheese on a beef patty -- between TWO grilled-cheese sandwiches on Texas Toast bread, instead of the
bacon maple bar at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland? Tragic. Verdict: Want (but, I want the bacon maple bar even more).

Pennsylvania -- Philly Cheesesteak: I doubt I've ever had an authentic cheesesteak, but I've spent a few decades devouring the ersatz versions served up here in California. Perhaps our versions aren't on par with Pat's and Geno's in Philadelphia; but steak, cheese and onions are universally delicious ingredients, no? Besides, even the locals
can't tell the difference. Verdict: Want

Rhode Island -- New York System Hot Wieners: For the most part, I'm a hot dog toppings purist -- mustard, ketchup and onions. But, for a condiment that sounds as nutritionally poisonous as "ground beef sauce", I'm willing to keep an open mind...and mouth! In fact, if I ever write a book, that just might be the title. Verdict: Want

South Carolina -- Turducken: Turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken stuffed with pork sausage stuffing. Like most of America, I'd never heard of this
Island of Dr. Moreau mash-up until NFL broadcaster John Madden made this meal the centerpiece of the league's annual Thanksgiving Day disemboweling of the Detroit Lions. I'm not big on duck, but I'm intrigued to see how all the flavors would slowly meld. Verdict: Want

South Dakota -- Frybread: I had this a few weeks back at the San Diego Fair. I doubt it'll be knocking off the
Corn Palace as the state's most famous food-based...uh, thing. Verdict: Don't Want

Tennessee -- Ruby Tuesday's Triple-Prime Bacon Cheddar Burger: My Google search for "Memphis barbecue" came back with 1,080,000 results. And, if I learned nothing else from
this man, it's that Memphis is still in Tennessee, y'all. Verdict: Want...all 115(!) grams of fat.

Texas -- Corn Dog: During a business trip to Austin, Texas in 2002, my co-worker and I went to dinner at a steakhouse across the street from our hotel. I ordered chicken. Our server practically recoiled in horror as she told me, "No one comes here for the chicken, honey!" I imagine this is similar to the reaction I'd get if I visited Texas again and asked the first person I saw, "Where can I get one of those famous Texas corn dogs?" Verdict: Don't Want

Utah -- Scone: From the state that gave us Mrs. Bootleg. I love how the writer goes so far out of his way to differentiate these scones from the ubiquitous Starbucks accompaniment. In fact, according to the blurb, Utah's scones are more similar to...two foods that are synonymous with other states. If only it was this easy to renounce one's claim to everyone everything that's ever come out of Utah. Verdict: Don't Want

Vermont -- Ben & Jerry's Vermonster: 20 scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, bananas, cookies, brownies and other toppings of one's choosing. We're all family, so I can say this in front of you: if I ate this, I would never stop farting. Verdict: Don't Want

Virginia -- Ham: Not a ham fan. Not in a sandwich, not as an entree and certainly NOT served with Dr. Seuss' green eggs. My mother would serve ham on Easter and I remember, at a relatively early age, wondering why none of the otherwise delicious side dishes didn't seem to go with ham. Well, except yams...which I also don't like. Verdict: Don't Want

Washington -- Crab Louis Salad: I've repeatedly professed my love for those 1,000-calorie casual dining entree salads. Adding crabmeat, cocktail sauce, green olives and pimentos makes me want to schedule a return trip to Seattle. (Also, if anyone from
Trader Joe's is reading this: you guys NEED to bring back those blue cheese-stuffed green olives. Please remove the awful pomegranate juice that Mrs. Bootleg brought home from your shelves and replace it with the aforementioned olives. Thanks.) Verdict: Want

West Virginia -- Hillbilly Hot Dogs' 10-Pound Burger: Hey, another grotesquely enormous hamburger! You've stopped trying and so have I, Verdict: Don't Want

Wisconsin -- Deep-Fried Cheese Curds: M'man Smitty has found a place or two here in Southern California that serves these up alongside a few pints of beer. I'll defer to his gluttonous wisdom, but I'm leery of anything with the words "fried cheese" that is only considered a regional dish. There HAS to be a reason the other 49 states aren't on board, right? Verdict: Want

Wyoming -- Lamb: "
I can't eat this. I can't eat a poor, little lamb." Verdict: Want (I just like that episode of The Simpsons).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's – June 2010

June Record: 10-17
Overall Record: 38-41 (3rd Place, -10 GB Texas)

(1) Bob Geren Had a Really Bad Month I: On
June 5, Geren – in his fourth season as A's manager – ordered Minnesota Twins All-Star 1B Justin Morneau to be intentionally walked in the top of the ninth inning with the bases empty and one out in a tie game. A's reliever Brad Ziegler has been mutilated by lefties (.321/.422/.502; 290 plate appearances) over his brief career, but willfully allowing the winning run to reach base safely would be an egregious offense in Little League or PS3. The A's could've called on southpaws Cedrick Bowers or Craig Breslow to face Morneau (who didn't start due to the flu) or let Ziegler go after the weakened slugger. Of course, Morneau's pinch-runner scored what would be the winning run in a 4-3 loss.

(2) Bob Geren Had a Really Bad Month II: In an interleague game against the Cubs on
June 17, Geren called on closer Andrew Bailey in the bottom of the eighth inning with one out and the bases loaded. The A's were nursing a 2-1 lead and promptly gave it up on a sacrifice fly that tied the game. Bailey struck out the next batter he faced to end the inning, but since Geren inexplicably didn't signal for a double-switch when he brought Bailey in, the A's had to pinch-hit for their best reliever as he was slated to lead off the top of the ninth inning. The A's lost in the bottom of the ninth.

(3) We Hardly Knew You, Jake Fox: Here's
what I wrote about Neanderthal utility guy Jake Fox in my "30 A's in 30 Days" preview back in March: "I just don't see a fit for him on the 2010 team." Fox was designated for assignment in mid-June after posting a .214/.264/.327 line in 106 plate appearances. American League teams are generally clueless about how to play platoon-y pinch-hitter types, but the A's compounded matters by filling the back end of their offense with them.

(4) Ben Sheets Continues to Hoodwink:
reported that the A's may choose to retain the services of $10M SP Ben Sheets for the remainder of the 2010 season. The story cited Sheets' role as "mentor" for the young pitching staff. Sheets was 2-7 with a 4.95 ERA when this rumor came out. Through June 30, he's surrendered 16 home runs in 99.1 innings. I wouldn't want Sheets "mentoring" my six-year-old. Obviously, this story was fed to the press by someone associated with our boy-genius GM in an attempt to create demand via perceived scarcity. Good to see overpaid mediocrities continue to receive free passes from the media, simply for being a nice guy.

(5) Let's Discount What We Marked Up!: Like many teams, the A's charge higher ticket prices for games against "premium" opponents. This year's high-rent district included July series against the Yankees and Red Sox. Late last month, the A's began offering ticket discounts for the July 5-7 games against the Yankees in a transparent attempt to stimulate sales against an opponent that routinely sold out the Coliseum just a few years ago. Sucks to be fans who bought early and paid higher prices.

(6) Eric Chavez to Begin Rehab Assignme…Whoops, False Alarm: In early June, A's beat writers breathlessly reported on the impending return of the injury-ravaged Eric Chavez. Hailed for his "honesty", he suckered fans and writers into believing he was 100% healthy entering this season. But, since no one can stay mad at him, Chavez's minor league rehab assignment was reported with nary a mention of his earlier con job. And, gee,
what a shock.

(7) The One A's T-Shirt I Won't Be Buying: The A's are selling this ridiculous,
bush-league t-shirt in an attempt to further the "feud" with Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees. Last night, Dallas Braden issued a forceful denouncement of the attire, which was almost as forceful as HIS after-the-fact sh*t-stirring.

(8) A's Offense in June: .281/.332/.412 with 21 home runs in 27 games. Far and away their best month at the plate in 2010.

(9) A's Pitching in June: 4.34 ERA, .776 OPS allowed. Far and away their worst month on the mound in 2010.

(10) All You Need to Know about My Oakland A's: Whenever a ballplayer calls up to the press box to gripe about the way a certain play was scored – if I remember correctly there was a famous incident with Bobby Bonilla during his toxic first season with the Mets – the player is usually crucified in the press for being selfish. On June 30, A's 2B Mark Ellis was credited with a steal of home before the official scorer changed the call to "fielder's choice". The following day the team
announced it was appealing the scoring change. No word if my A's are appealing the 9-6 loss to the lowly Orioles.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Fat From 50 States -- Part I

During my 3 1/2 years in the lightly-read blog business, I can't ever remember wrestling with such an extended bout of writer's block. Last night, Mrs. Bootleg and a girlfriend caught an early-evening screening of Eclipse -- a little old black woman in a theater full of squealing teenagers -- yet, somehow, I couldn't "find the funny". I still haven't started my Oakland A's "month in review" for June, as their precipitous 30-day fall from first place to third place bummed me out a lot more than it should've considering I picked the A's to win 73 games and finish last back in March.

And, the latest Jalen news? I'm told he was crying at school earlier in the week, because...a little girl refused to give him a hug. When my six-year-old is bringing the blog fodder on a silver platter, I shouldn't be staring blankly at my laptop. Thankfully, m'man Other Joe supplied a link to
The 50 Fattiest Foods in the States in the comments of my last post. And, then, earlier this evening, TBG reader Ms. Elena got the ball rolling with a few state-by-state comments.

Just like that, my writer's block was broken! Thanks, Joe and Elena. As for the rest of my readers: what the hell were you waiting for? This week's back-to-back TBG reviews of 30-second commercials were SO obviously a cry for help. Come on, y'all.

Now, let's see how quickly we can blow through the representative pig-outs of all 50 states. Follow along with the above link, won't you?

Alabama -- Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf: My mother occasionally made her meatloaf with a bacon blanket, but I prefer Mrs. Bootleg's "three-meat, triple-threat match meat loaf". Ground sirloin, ground turkey and ground pork with a tangy, homemade red sauce. Eat it, Alabama. Verdict: Don't Want

Alaska -- Eskimo Ice Cream: Variations of the recipe include Crisco, reindeer fat and/or seal oil. Look, I know I'm the guy who ate the fried butter, but still... Verdict: Don't Want

Arizona -- Quadruple-Bypass Burger: I think I saw this on Man vs. Food. Con: 8,000 calories. Pro: Red onions, which I love! Verdict: Want

Arkansas -- Catfish: Hey, thanks for participating, Arkansas! This isn't even the legendary "General Sherman" catfish from
Catfish Lake. If "The Natural State" agrees to serve mine with cornmeal breading, a bottle of hot sauce AND remove that tail section, we're cool. Verdict: Want

California -- In-N-Out Double Double: This is as uninspired as Arkansas' selection. It's an absolutely acceptable burger, but unworthy of its universal praise and fanatical following. A better selection would've been "any hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant at 3:00 AM". Verdict: Had It Before

Colorado -- Jack & Grill's 7-Pound Breakfast Burrito: Ingredients: 7 potatoes, 12 eggs, one pound of ham, a whole onion, cheese, and chili. Verdict: WANT~!

Connecticut -- 2-Footlong Hot Dog: Back in the '80s, I thought I'd discovered the
greatest hot dog ever invented. I'm willing to concede its 25-year reign may be coming to an end. Verdict: Want

Delaware -- Deep-Fried Pastry: Crabmeat, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise, you say? Unfortunately, "deep-fried" sounds a lot less delicious to me today than it did
a week ago. Verdict: Don't Want

Florida -- Empanadas: BIG fan. Before she broke my heart -- twice! -- I dated a girl from South America whose mother made these every weekend. I love Mrs. Bootleg, but THIS is the one that got away. (Don't look at me like that. Those were some good-ass empanadas.) Verdict: Want

Georgia -- Luther Burger: I had the chicken version at the San Diego Fair a few years ago. Let's go out on a limb and predict that the addition of bacon, fried eggs and replacing the lean chicken with a greasy hamburger will incrementally improve this meal. Verdict: Want

Hawaii -- Loco Moco: This was also featured on Man vs. Food. I visited Hawaii in 2007 and had a great time. No disrespect to the locals, but white rice, a beef patty and brown gravy sounds like something my mom would scrape together on the 13th day between my dad's two-week paychecks. Verdict: Don't Want

Idaho -- Bacon-Bleu Cheese Dressing: One the one hand, some of America's most virulent racists reside there. On the other, the glorious union of bacon and blue cheese -- two foods of different backgrounds and colors. "If I can change, you can change." Verdict: Want

Illinois -- Deep-Dish Pizza: I'm amused by the "regional pizza wars". It's fine to prefer thin crust to deep dish and vice versa. But, if you're refusing to eat deep dish on the grounds of geographic loyalties...I'll ask
The Pope to pray for you. Verdict: Want

Indiana -- Fried-Brain Sandwich: 15 years ago, I ordered the tacos de sesos from the Mexican restaurant just up the street from my apartment. I tossed it after one bite. It's 2010, America. Stop eating the whole goddam animal. Verdict: Don't Want

Iowa -- Hot Beef Sundae: Ingredients: Mashed potatoes, roast beef, beef gravy, cheddar cheese and a Roma tomato on top. And, it's served in the shape of an ice cream sundae? Steal this idea, San Diego Fair! Hurry! Verdict: Want

Kansas -- Charred Ends: These are the burnt, fatty ends of barbecued brisket. While it certainly sounds delicious, is THIS what you want representing your state, Kansas? Verdict: Don't Want

Kentucky -- KFC's Double-Down Sandwich: Kentucky is represented by...KFC? KFC doesn't even use the word "Kentucky" in its name, anymore. Did Kentucky fail to submit a legitimate entry prior to the deadline? Verdict: Already Ate It

Louisiana -- Beignet: I've got some bayou-born co-workers who swear this is the Lord's dessert. But, I'm kind of underwhelmed by fried dough and powdered sugar. This wouldn't be the first thing from New Orleans that
failed to resonate with me. Verdict: Don't Want

Maine -- Lobster Roll: True story - I've never had lobster. Oh, I've had "lobster" tacos and burritos and the like, but those are made with squat lobster, which isn't actually a lobster, at all. Would covering real lobster in mayonnaise and shoving it inside a roll cheapen my "first time"? I'm OK with that. Verdict: Want

Maryland -- Smith Island Cake: The official state dessert of Maryland is just a 10-layer chocolate cake. Meh. I'd wreck a 10-layer crab cake right off the Richter scale, though. Verdict: Don't Want

Massachusetts -- Chocolate Chip Cookie: You want this one, Elena? "While I'm proud that Massachusetts gave the world the chocolate-chip cookie (it may even bump the Pixies back to our second-greatest achievement), I'm amazed that they couldn't come up with something worse. I mean, Dunkin' Donuts started here, for crying out loud." Verdict: You Heard Her

Michigan -- BLT: One pound of bacon on a single sandwich? At the risk of further angering the
Earl of Sandwich, I'm just gonna say it...that's almost...gross. Verdict: Don't Want (Sorry, Thai...)

Minnesota -- Dairy Queen's Flame-Thrower GrillBurger:
This commercial aaaand this commercial pretty much sealed the deal for me. Verdict: Want

Mississippi -- Mud Pie: Grazing through Jalen's Halloween candy and/or absconding with bite-sized Butterfingers and Baby Ruths from the office of our Director's executive secretary is enough of a chocolate fix for me. Verdict: Don't Want

Missouri -- 2/3-Pound Hardee's Monster Thickburger: So, in the state that's home to iconic barbecue locations like Gates and Arthur Bryant's, this list opts for a giant chain burger that can be purchased in every Hardee's and Carl's Jr. in America? This rant seems like a good place to stop for the evening. Verdict: Don't Want

Next: The other states!