Monthly archives: May 2006
The Most Important Cuban in Baseball
Sure Jose Contreas has pitched now for the last year like the guy the Yankees thought they were signing, but the Cuban that would make the biggest difference in baseball is Mark. Yeah, Mark Cuban. For some time now, Cuban has said he would be interested in buying the Pirates, which we all know is the tonic that Pittsburgh needs for its team. He recently shared with the Chicago Tribune that he would have interest in buying the Cubs, as well.
Many don't like the brash Cuban, but he is the kind of aggressive owner that believes in spending money to make money. He demands the best from his employees and provides them with the best tools to do their jobs. Baseball needs an owner who would shake up the old boys network that it has and know one shakes up a league like Mark Cuban. Pittsburgh needs him to change the losing mentality they have had for so long, so if he needs to make a hostile takeover, I hope it happens.
Sad to hear that Britney Spears looks to be on the road to divorcing Kevin Federline. Those kids seemed to be the perfect pair. You got to give K-Fed some points for his moxie, considering he had no talent, but was able to score a rich, beautiful woman and use her to finance every wish he desired. What Britney needs is a man she can count on. I hear Charlie Sheen's on the market. Just call me Mr. Matchmaker.
SATIRE WARNING!!!!! So Theo Epstein got on stage and played with Pearl Jam, the other night. Hoping this example would turn his luck around, Allan Baird jammed with Molly Hatchett at a county fair in Joplin. (Nothing like putting up a satire warning to wreck part of the comedy potential.)
In case you missed it, Dutch pedophiles are starting their own political party. I'm sure you are thinking, "you mean such a popular group didn't already have a fierce political machine, already?" Nope, but Ad ven den Berg, one of the pedophile party founders is ready to take the country by storm. His group is pushing for a cut in the legal age for sexual realtions to 12 from 16 and the legalization of child porn and sex with animals. By the way, this is not a made-up story. While I'm a usually a contrarian on most subjects, the whole idea of pedophilia revolts me. Now, while I'm not a fan of beastility, either, I've never quite understood the uproar about the subject. I mean, if I'm a cow and my choices are to be butchered for the pleasure of diners at Morton's or for some human to make sweet cow love to me, I'm saying a very definite MOOOOOOOOOOO for the latter being my pick. So in conclusion. Pedophilia=Very Bad----Beastility=Not a Fan, but preferable to most cows surveyed versus a visit to the slaughterhouse.
Will You Be My Friend?
Let me begin by stating I'm very uncomfortable asking you to do this, because I think the whole thing is kind of ridiculous. In the business of stand-up comedy, myspace.com pages are the rage and for some comics, it has become a great promotional tool. I just put mine up (it needs a lot of work, still). I wanted to mention to any readers here to visit my site and you should learn a little more about me. I also am looking to start building up my "friends" list, so please click in to join. The one positive I could see coming from this would be to be able to put a face on who contributes to thejuiceblog site. Here is the link. http://www.myspace.com/insidescott
Please Help Me Get Tom off my front page!
Also, if you would have an interest in helping me build a new website for my comedy career, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
'American Idol' Review: Sure Taylor Won, But What's the Deal with Freaky Clay Aiken?
I know I'm a little late doing a wrap-up of the final episode of American Idol, but I still do have a few things to offer. I will go in order, as the two-hour finale actually lived up to the hype. It had moments of great entertainment, even though half of the show was filled with massive Amtrak collisions.
The show began with live remotes of the two finalists, hometown celebrations. Taylor had, what appeared to be, half of the state of Alabama, in Birmingham to root him on. It was like the Iron Bowl times 10. Katharine, on the other hand, had about 30 people there in L.A., which I'm guessing half were part of a Fox TV tour group.
In Katherine's defense, let me mention this. I've been to Birmingham and I've been to L.A. There is nothing to do outside of going to the Stardome in Birmingham, so no wonder Taylor was drawing such big crowds. Los Angeles has so much going on that they couldn't keep an NFL team there, as people have better things to do than show up to football games. Like watch the E! channel.
The American Idol finale featured many of this season's contestants singing with their musical heroes. First up was Paris Bennett dueting with Al Jarreau. While Mr. Jarreau is a fellow University of Iowa alum, I don't get his crazy scatting style. I know "We're in This Love Together" is his signature song, but my choice would have been "Theme from Moonlighting," with maybe a guest appearance from Miss Dipesto and Herbert Viola doing the tango to it.
The guy who should have won the contest, Chris Daughtry, was up next and he joined the band Live in a strong duet of some new song from the band that no one will ever hear again on network TV or commercial radio. (I'm not gay, but ... alert!) Is there any guy sporting a bald head who looks cooler than singer Ed Kowalczyk? He was like a cross between Andre Agassi and the villian from the movie The Mummy.
A running bit through the show was little comedy sketches that Kelly Pickler did with noted comic actor Wolfgang Puck. Pickler is not much of a singer, but she has decent comedic timing and I look forward to when she joins the cast of the reformed Mandrell Sisters Variety Show, with Kelly reprising the role of Louise Mandrell. Look for the Pickler to be opening for Yakov Smirnoff in Branson by 2010. America, what a country!
The next duet featured Katharine singing with Meat Loaf. Katharine might have had her best singing performance during this song, but it was hard to focus with Marvin Lee Adlay emoting like Shatner during Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I mean the guy was shaking so bad that even Muhammad Ali watching at home was praying for this fight to be stopped. I've never understood how anyone can listen to Jim Steinman's epic song-writing style. The only performance I've ever liked on a Meat Loaf album was by Phil Rizzuto. (This reference to Rizzuto officially makes this post a baseball piece, so all the haters stay off my back and focus your venom on World Cup updates.)
While I usually can't stand when shows do a choreographed piece using the cast, the segment with all the guys singing BTO's "Takin' Care of Business" was good. Standouts were Daughtry and Elliott Yamin, who are the two best male singers the show has ever had. Even poodle-haired Bucky Covington sang well on the tune. On the negative side, Ace Young demonstrated once again that the guy is little more than a breathy singing Tiger Beat pinup come to life. A final note to this performance was that Taylor played harmonica in the song, showing who he really is. Return of Bruno I say!
After a great beginning to U2's classic "One," sung beautifully by Yamin, Mary J. Blige joined him and went way over the top, drowning out Yamin and whomever else was attempting to speak in a five-mile radius. Can someone develop a V-chip which shuts down a television whenever someone over-sings? I'm buying it as soon as it's available.
Last year's winner, Carrie Underwood, was up next. Underwood, who I think is a lightweight talent, did a fine job with whatever song she was doing and she looked really hot doing it. While she's no Natalie Maines or Sara Evans, she has more ability than I gave her credit for.
Another running feature during the show was to have "awards" given to the most memorable audition losers. I enjoyed this segment, despite it giving more airtime to the swarmiest man in TV, Ryan Seacrest. Every time I see Seacrest on the screen I think about how he and fellow no-talents Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul should kick in 90 percent of their salaries to Simon Cowell, as Simon is the reason the show is such a sensation. Oh and one more thing, where is Dunkleman?
Taylor was paired for a duet with Toni Braxton on "In the Ghetto." Braxton was singing at such a low key that her voice could not be heard except by sperm whales. It was like she was trying to channel the deep bass voiced guy from the Oak Ridge Boys. "Umm Papa, Umm Papa, Umm Papa, Mau Mau." Who would have guessed that Curtis Martin would have a longer career than Braxton? Well, maybe Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson would have bet against Toni.
While the men's ensemble number was good, the women proved that they were definitely not the equal in talent for the 2006 season. Mandissa was the best, as she has a great voice and a pretty face, but genetics will keep her in the backup singer role.
The show was beginning to hit a lull but then one of the most memorable moments in TV history was about to happen. A clip was shown from the auditions of a guy who looked a lot like Clay Aiken. After presenting him an award for Best Impersonator -- I thought Taylor whould have won for doing Michael McDonald -- Clay II came out to sing, only to be joined by the freakish Aiken himself. I know in the past many have felt I was unfair to the Gaiken, but after his performance Wednesday night, I've been vindicated. If you don't believe me, watch this clip.
Aiken looked like something out of plastic surgery nightmare. It was the least human-looking performance to hit the TV airwaves since Max Headroom. And what do you call the singing style he was using? Though I did appreciate the humor of Clay singing "Don't Let the Sun (SON) Go Down On Me." (Hack joke, but when it comes to the Gaiken, I will do whatever it takes to bring him to his knees. Well... you know what I mean.)
Putting the show back on the talent track, Burt Bacharach led the cast in singing some of his greatest hits. Once again, Elliott was the standout performer, doing a version of "This House is Not a Home" that had Luther Vandross groovin' in his grave. How I know this? I spoke to my Psychic Friends who had contacted Luther. These "friends" were available, as their leader, Dionne Warwick was busy reprising some of her Bacharach classics on the show at the time. Dionne has the reserved phrasing that is the antithesis of the overdramatic warbling which wrecks so much of modern soul music. Also, Ms. Warwick was the greatest "Solid Gold" TV host, far exceeding her successors. (Done in the voice of a cheesy '80s TV announcer.) Ladies and Gentlemen. Let's hear it for your host. Marilyn McCoo and Rex Smith.
Right before the results were to be announced, out popped Prince. I haven't heard his new release, outside of the first single, but his performing power and completely unique singing style on the songs he did made me want to go out and buy it. Listening to Prince is a great example of why Taylor Hicks is so limited as a performer. There is nothing original about the guy. Sure Prince has been influenced by the likes of James Brown and Sly Stone, but he is completely an original at the same time. Taylor Hicks is a tribute act.
In the most anti-climatic announcement since Bush 41 beat Dukakis, Taylor was crowned champion. I figure the most nervous guys about his victory are Walt Frazier and Keith Hernandez, as the Just for Men executives must have Taylor in their future spokesman sites.
This year's American Idol had the greatest depth of talent, but sadly, there were four more deserving people to win the show's crown. I would have voted:
I had the most vivid dream. I'm not one for remembering dreams despite my Jungian bent, so this is unusual. I think some of it may be aided by my recent discovery of Pzizz. I was in the midst of an Energizer Nap when I got this amazingly clear dream. I was standing in a club -- a nightclub, dance club, whatever you want to call it -- and everyone was dancing. Except there was no music. Everyone had on iPods and was, very literally (for a dream), dancing to the beat of their own drummer.
I have no idea what it means, or whether it's a business plan.
Buying Tickets to the Train Wreck
It was an exciting time for me and my best friend. Tickets to see INXS, one of our favorite bands, even if a bit delayed from the end of Rockstar:INXS, one of the best shows of the genre; it was a good thing. Yes, I know that Michael Hutchence remains dead and that INXS without Hutchence's Jaggeresque charisma is just not the same thing. It's like U2 without Bono -- which makes me remember that for a time in the 80's, INXS and U2 went head to head for the title of "best band in the world" in the post-Clash era. I could even make an argument that for a while, it was INXS.
Still, the band was mostly intact unlike "The New Cars" or other such recycling jobs. The band was the band and they'd done a very good job finding a singer. J.D. Fortune was a manipulative SOB, stirring the pot on Rockstar nicely. He wasn't the most talented or original, but the exit line for contestants on Rockstar was "You're just not right for our band, INXS." Fortune *was* right.
The concert was scheduled for an unusual venue - Clowes Hall in Indianapolis. A theater on a mid-major college campus, seating about 2000, isn't the normal milieu for a stadium rock band. I wondered if it would work, if the crowd would overwhelm the band or vice versa. Worse, a week before the show we got terrible news.
The opening act would not be Marty Casey, the Rockstar runner up. Instead, it was perhaps the worst singer in the world, Scott Stapp. Stapp, formerly the lead singer of Creed, is one of those guys who you wonder how he made it through life, then realize that dumb luck, good looks, and sycophancy do go a long way in the modern world. We decided that while you don't buy tickets to the train wreck, you don't turn away either -- though we did come in late.
The first song wasn't bad. It was actually the fourth or so, but first we heard. Our expectations were so low that only a William Hung cameo or a Clay Aiken duet could have lowered them further. Before launching into Creed's hit "Arms Wide Open," Stapp mumbled about his friends letting him down, about the birth of his son, and other shallow things said in such an earnest, self-absorbed manner that I recalled something a professor used to say about college kids. He called it the "Harvard effect" after where he first saw it as an undergrad. Every new student had been the smartest kid in his class and now saw their self-image reshuffled as they went from valedictorian to mediocrity. Some adjusted, some didn't, but the ones he liked to watch were the ones that didn't get it and thought that they were still the smartest guys in the room.
No one seems to have told Stapp that he's shallow. Bearing all the subtlety of Christian rock, Stapp sounded like the 4 am ramblings of a college freshman and moved like the evil teenage spawn of Eddie Vedder and Freddie Mercury mugging for the camera with all the bombast and none of the talent you'd expect from that mashup. Just as I thought it couldn't get worse, Stapp slipped in a couple lines from U2's "Pride", butchering it in a way that would made me wonder where Chuck Barris was when you need him.
Stapp mercifully exited early and after a brief intermission, the sounds of AC/DC's "TNT" brought the crowd back up to speed. A countdown projected onto the curtain heightened the suspense and served a purpose. As the curtain dropped, my expectations remained high. This was still INXS or as close as we can get.
From the first notes, the band sounded great despite a muddy sound mix that seemed to have replaced most of the Marshall amps with subwoofers. The deep sound of the Aussie pop stars was always immediately recognizeable, whether it was the jangly leads from Jon Farris or the sax solos from Kirk Pengilly. Fortune strutted out, echoing Hutchence vocally -- never more so than on "Mystify" -- yet inhabiting the band with his own presence. It would be easy for Fortune to do a tribute act, singing the songs the fans want to hear without injecting himself into it. He actually goes off script a bit more on the Hutchence tunes than he does on his own work off the new album.
Fortune doesn't look like Hutchence, but has some of the same charisma. His moves are still raw - his hands are cliched band-leader, following the notes or twitching Cocker-style. When he seems in doubt, he'll unbutton his shirt. He's confident yet searching, feeding off the audience and still maintaining his own aura. It took a couple songs to realize who he reminded me of but it was David Bowie. His voice is a mix of Hutchence and Bowie, but it's the sense that Fortune is playing a character rather than showing his character that really reminds me of Bowie. It's not a bad thing; this is a rock show, not a reality show now.
In other words, Fortune was right for the band. He puts on a good show, sounds good on his own songs and solid singing Hutchence's material. The band itself doesn't seem to have lost a beat. I wonder if INXS would be touring now if Hutchence had not have died young. The band was losing itself in the nineties, putting out good but not great albums while Hutchence was working on solo material before his passing. Perhaps they'd be reunited now and the band just as re-energized as they seem with Fortune fronting them. It's hard to imagine INXS without their lead singer, but it's hard to think of U2 without Bono or REM without Stipe. I can only hope that Eddie Van Halen makes one of these shows and realizes that it's about time he got a new lead singer.
On Stapp's last song, he screamed a lyric saying "I don't have to justify my life." Fortune oozed across the stage, reaching out to the crowd as he sang "I've got nothing to prove." It's a nice juxtaposition for a band that could still be going places, while the other guy tags along not realizing that his fifteen minutes were over. It's a show worth watching for both, though I'd advise you to get there late.
Quick postscript: Rockstar starts a second season this summer. Instead of looking for a frontman for an existing band, they'll find one for a supergroup that includes Tommy Lee, Jason Newstead, and Gilby Clarke. Since Axl Rose is still working on his latest album, I guess he's not available. I'm a bit worried that Tommy Lee will get even more smarmy with the contestants than Dave Navarro did last season, but mostly I'm confused about how this will work out. Last year, the contestants sang their songs talent-show style, then staved off elimination by singing an INXS song. It was tense, but also did a great job of showing who could actually handle the job. I never took Marty Casey seriously as a contender before he blew the roof off of "Don't Change" and knew that J.D. Fortune was the winner when he did "New Sensation." What will this new group, dubbed "Supernova", do with nothing in the catalog? That the new band will be produced by the guy that brought us Pink and Avril Levigne makes me really nervous. I'd love to see someone like Van Halen, Alice in Chains, or Queen take the chair instead of this created group.
Of course, over on VH1 we have a similar concept without the talent show. "Supergroup" has a decidedly non-VH1 group of guys (Ted Nugent, members of Anthrax, Biohazard, and Skid Row) putting together a band in two weeks. Sure, it will work, but the mix of guys in the band should make for good TV. Evan Seinfeld of Biohazard and "Oz" has taken some time off from his new porn career (he's Mr. Tera Patrick ... which is oddly the real name of Carmen Electra, wife of Dave Navarro, host of Rockstar to Kevin Bacon this whole thing) to play bass. You don't get to use that sentence often enough. My friend points out that if you put Ted Nugent and Gary Busey in the same room on a reality show the world ends.
Schizo Scott on the 2006 Chicago White Sox
While ESPN has focused wall-to-wall coverage on the Yankees and Red Sox, you might have missed the most entertaining team in baseball. Oh and by the way, they just happen to be the defending World Champs. Sad isn't it? Outside of the Chicagoland area, the White Sox are generally an afterthought, with the national media far more concerned with what is happening with the East Coast 3 (above mentioned+the Mets.) I've generally tried to stay away from the East Coast bias card, but let me tell you what you've missed.
The White Sox possess a couple number 1 studs in Mark Buerhle and Jose Contreas, plus 3 solid number 2's in Garcia, Vasquez, and Garland. No team in baseball can match it. Add to this, a bullpen, which might not be as great as 2005, but still possesses a lot of depth. For those of you that shorted closer Bobby Jenks stock, it might be time to cut your losses, as he has given up a run in just 3 of his 14 appearances. (Analyst Full Disclosure: I stopped shorting him sometime in late April.)
New addition Jim Thome might have wrapped up comeback player of the year by the middle of May, as he has combined with Paul Konerko to provide a power duo in the class of Ramirez and Ortiz. Sitting right behind these two is the often forgotten power source, Jermaine Dye, who is worth the Moneyball that the A's didn't think he was. While I haven't broken down the defensive stats (Tango Tiger?), it's hard to imagine there is a better defensive infield in the game.
Being a championship quality team doesn't always make for an exciting style to watch. (see New England Patriots, San Antonio Spurs, and Detroit Pistons) Well, the media doesn't have that excuse with the White Sox, as they possess the most quotable, certifiable manager since Billy Martin in Ozzie Guillen. Then add A.J. Pierzynski, who just might be the best heel in sports since Roddy Piper and you have fireworks set to go off more than just when a homer is hit at 35th and Shields.
Just look at the last 3 games. You have a home plate collision followed by a sucker punch, a near melee over pointing up to the sky after a homer (both featuring America's greatest heel, A.J. Pierzynski) and then tonight with the White Sox coming back from a 4-0 deficit in the eighth to eventually win in the tenth. Just to add to the excitement, the winning run versus the A's was scored with 2 outs when a bunt was pushed up the first base line to score A.J. Heel. Oh and did I forget to mention that World Series Hero, Doug Eddings was behind home plate and threw out Guillen early in the game? Yeah, I'm not making this up. It's too bad Pierzynski didn't hug Eddings after scoring the winning run.
If your own favorite team is already letting you down, let me suggest you dig into your pockets and buy a MLB Season Pass because what the White Sox do on the field is truly something special to watch. The White Sox's balance of pitching, power hitting, fundamental baseball, and spectacular defense has no match in the game. Unless the bullpen starts to disingrate, it's hard to see how this year's White Sox aren't the favorites to win it all again. Hey, can someone give Kenny William's number to Michael Lewis, as I smell another hit best-seller.
It's been a good few months over here at the Toaster, with national attention being shown to Alex Belth for his great book on Curt Flood, Jon Weisman joining Alex writing for Sports Illustrated, and the always busy Will Carroll appearing in every media outlet you can think of. (Self-Promtion Alert!) I want to give a welcome to any new readers who were pointed here from the nationally syndicated Open Season column written weekly by the San Francisco Chronicle's Tom Fitzgerald. Tom has included stuff of mine in the past and over the weekend he used a blurb from my Northwestern women's volleyball team piece. It's right next to a Leno quote, so I'm expecting my Tonight Show invite soon.
In each issue of Sporting News they have a section called "Dream Week" which has made up quotes and stories for upcoming games. Chris Bahr is the author of the section and he does a great job. I'm wondering after the whole "Under the Spork" debacle if Ken Rosenthal gets angry calls from baseball front office people "asking how could he write such a thing?" I'd like to say I should let go of this past incident, but bitterness is often the fuel that drives me. Man do I need therapy.
This month's issue of GQ features some great photos of Christina Aguilera. As someone who never was a fan of the physical charms of Christina, being more of a Britney admirer, just let me say I've changed my mind. Here's is my favorite shotof Miss Aguilera. Between the marriage to Kevin Firstinline (to be an idiot), the lard that is destroying Britney's greatest ASS-et, plus not even being in the same league as Christina singing-wise, it's time to retire any notion there is any competition between the two.
File Under Important Issues of the Day: A lot of play is being given to sandwiches put on frescata bread. Wendy's is leading the way, so I thought I would try the new flavor of the month. Not impressed is the verdict. The sandwich ran me nearly $4.00 and I can tell you it's a much better deal to go to your favorite sub shop or Arby's (Market Fresh) if you want to spend the same money to fill your belly. According to some stories I pulled up on Google, the sandwiches seem to be selling briskly, but I suspect frescata will be a niche item following in the footsteps of sourdough.
I'm a co-ed at a private midwestern college. I play on the women's soccer team and even though I have a boyfriend, it sometimes is difficult to suppress my desires to be more than just teammates. (NSFW!)
Tuesday Morning Quarterback
When second-guessing GM's moves, I try to wait awhile, as like in the Keith Foulke/Billy Koch deal, you often don't know how it will how it shake out down the line. (see Neal Cotts) Having said this, I do think when conventional wisdom believes the acquisition sucked from the beginning, there is a shorter time table on calling it a bad deal.
OK, so we're only a month and a half into the season, but the Cubs new savior at the lead-off position, Juan Pierre is killing them. Considering that Pierre had a career OPS of .723 which includes 2 full years in Colorado and very few of us in the sabermetrical world saw this deal as a good one. While the Cubs I'm sure were looking for their own top of the order jolt, which happened cross-town with Scott Podsednik, outside of similar OPS, they are not the same. Podsednik is a better defensive player and most importantly, had a salary more than 1/5th the price of Pierre's. While I realize it wasn't a great market for free-agent outfielders this past off-season, trying to force a fit with Pierre is a move which smelled of desperation.
The 3 off-season moves that I was most critical of in 2005 were Russ Ortiz, Jason Kendall, and Adrian Beltre. All 3 have been huge busts and the GM's who made these deals have to be called out, considering how much their salaries continue to hurt their team's productivity. The 3 players I mentioned as bad signings before this season were Jarod Washburn, Troy Glaus, and A.J. Burnett. So far, Washburn has been decent and Glaus has been excellent, while Burnett has already went down with an injury. At this time next year, we will have a better feel for how these acquisitions truly grade out. While it's early, I just don't see where there is much question on how Juan Pierre's deal will be evaluated.
On the subject of the Cubs, it's got to be extra torture this year, with the defending World Champions White Sox adding to the perpetual Wrigley agony with the best record in baseball. In the past, the Sox/Cubs inter-league games had a college football feel, with both teams treating the games as their own World Series, since they both had to realize their past histories were going to keep them from visiting the real one. This year is different, as even if the unlikely event happens that the Cubs sweep the upcoming series, it won't be that big of a deal, as the White Sox and their fans have the recent memory of World Championship ecstasy, plus the future reality of being a contender again in 2006. Come on Cubs, your ineptitude is making it hard for White Sox fans to hate you.
File this under embarassment. Quite possibly the worst show on televsion could be the MTV disaster, "Parental Control". It saddens me to say that I can't turn away from this program when I flipping around, despite me realizing I lose brain cells at a rapid rate everytime I catch it. On second thought, the worst show on TV is the other dating disaster which airs on the no music-music channel, "Date My Mom", which has creepy written all over it. It's like a MILF porn movie done without the sex, which is about the only redeeming value of the whole MILF scenario. What is most amazing about "Date My Mom" is that the acting is worse than porn. Please don't watch these shows, as I would feel more guilty about being the person who had gotten someone hooked on them then I would getting someone hooked on crack.
Quick Music Reviews:
After how much I loved the 2004 release by Snow Patrol, (No. 3 on my year-end list), I was really looking forward to their newest offering, "Eyes Open". Unfortunately, it's a letdown from "Final Straw". The band still has the transcendent quality that few bands are able to manage, but this time around the record lacks the anthemic hooks that got them a place opening for U2 on their "Vertigo" tour. While "Eyes Open" has some tracks worth listening to, it's overall mediocrity just makes me more excited for their Scottish breathren Muse's newest offering, which is set to come out July 3rd.
Neil Young's latest, "Living with War", just might be the best political rant I've ever heard from a major artist. I love how a guy over the age of 60 can be still so pointed and angry, like George Carlin with a guitar. Having said this I can't say I will probably listen to the CD more than twice, as Neil Young's vocals are not something my ears want to hear anything new from. If I'm in the mood, I can listen to "Decade" and love it, but unfair or not, I just can't see myself ever hearing anything new of Neil's and wanting to hit the replay button. Ever since he came out with one of the great rock songs of all-time, "Rockin' in the Free World", I just haven't been moved to listen to his newer work, outside of a couple of times. The lyrics to "Living with War" deserve to be heard by a larger audience. I wish Young would have called up some of his rock friends to sing on it with him, as then it would have been a recording I could be more passionate about.
Today, you said "Sheff and Matsui, that's two or three runs a game right there."
Stick to the running into walls, diving for balls, and throwing like a girl. Let BP do the math.
Matsui is eighth on the team with a 0.050 MLVr while Sheffield has an MLVr of 0.209. That's almost exactly a quarter of a run a game. Yes, that's significant and no, you don't have a good replacement. Bubba Crosby's a negative and Melky Cabrera won't keep up his small-sample pace.
The biggest problem the Yankees have now is figuring out that Bernie Williams is not the answer. Do the math on that one, Johnny.
Your pal, Will
'American Idol' breakdown: Is Chris Daughtry the new Roy Jones?
Regular Juice readers realize that I've been known to take shots at American Idol from time to time. I've been silent on the show this year, as this is the first season of AI that I've actually felt compelled to consistently watch past the Gong Show episodes that begin each year. This year has had the best depth and diversity, with five or six singers possessing real talent.
From the beginning of this season, Chris Daughtry has been the star of the show. He has one of the best rock singer voices I have ever heard, despite his often bad choices in musical selection. It seemed like a Bush Administration (my new way of saying no-brainer) that he would be in the finals, but last night Daughtry was dumped. I bet even Last Comic Standing winner Dat Phan was shocked. I can just imagine the "hilarious" routine Phan has written about the decision, with his mom saying, "What you mean, Chris Daughtry lose to that girl?"
Watching Daughtry and Katherine McPhee's faces after the announcement reminded me of Roy Jones Jr. being screwed in the 1988 Olympic boxing finals. I was waiting for the shocked McPhee to lift Daughtry's arm up in celebration of the true champion, like the South Korean fighter did for Jones.
McPhee is a gorgeous young woman who the camera loves, but she is at best a broadway musical type singer, not a pop star. Seventeen-year-old Paris Bennett was the best female vocalist on the show this season. Bennett reminds me of an NBA draft choice who might have come out one year too early, as she could have used more maturity. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if she ends up having the longest career of this year's contestants.
Outside of McPhee, the other two singers left are Taylor Hicks and Elliott Yamin. Hicks has a good personality and does a fair Michael McDonald impersonation, but his career will follow Clay Aiken's, performing for 50-year-old women at State Fairs. Not a bad thing, overall, but not what American Idol is seeking in its champion.
Lost in the Daughtry controversy has been that Yamin has gotten better and better each week to the point where I think he's had the best performances the past three weeks. While I don't think he has the kind of fanbase to win the competition, he has been the most versatile singer on the show. His vocal style has a Donnie-Hathaway-meets-the-Rat-Pack sensibility, which, properly marketed, could make him the Jaime Cullum of the U.S. If Yamin wins or not, it's his CD I would buy first from the 2006 American Idol show.
A final note on Daughtry. By losing a fight he so obviously should have won, Roy Jones, Jr. came out of the 1988 Olympics a bigger star than if he had won Gold. I would think that being crowned American Idol champion would have been a negative in regards to obtaining street cred in the rock world, so this is blessing. Being mentioned in the same breath as Fantasia or Carrie Underwood is not exactly going to create instant comraderie backstage at Ozzfest.
I will be interested to hear Daughtry's first album, as he's someone who could go either way. His instincts seem to go more towards the Nickelback world, which might sell records, but is music for the messes. When he explores his Ed Kowalczyk side (Live's lead singer), Daughtry has more substance. It will be vital for him to pick the right producer (See: Rick Rubin) who can help him stay away from AOR-balladeer that many will push him towards. Sure he's got a great voice, but so do singers in bands like Train, Goo Goo Dolls, and Tonic. It's the songwriting for him that will make the difference between rock stardom and opening for Poison at the Burlington Steamboat Days in 2010.
Dan Lebatard Lives the Life We Dream Of
While working at the Fort Lauderdale Improv last week, I got a chance to appear on the Dan Lebatard afternoon sports show. Lebatard, who is a great columnist for the Miami Herald and ESPN the Magazine, just happens to be one of the best sports talk show hosts around as well. I've heard his weekend show on ESPN Radio, and the guy has the rare ability of doing interesting sports radio without coming off bombastic.
So let's go down the list. Lebatard is a columnist for a major newspaper and is at the front of every issue of ESPN the Magazine. He fills in on PTI, the best show on the all-sports channel. He hosts a top-notch local sports show, plus a weekend program on ESPN Radio. He's got almost as good of a resume as Tony Kornheiser, which considering he's quite a bit younger and better looking than TK, could easily lend itself to ego-mania. But it doesn't. My experience with him was great.
Lebatard has a self-deprecating, laid-back style that makes him really difficult to hate, despite my natural inclinations. I respect how he has taken a contrarian view to a lot of the major issues of the day, unlike most columnists and talk show hosts who spew up the majority line just to pander to their audience. A good example of this was during a recent ESPN the Magazine column where he doesn't condone Barry Bonds' steroid use, and uses Chris Rock's great line about O.J. Simpson as an analogy: "I'm not sayin' he should have killed her... but I do understand." In the rush to judgement on many athletes, Lebatard is one of the few in the business who exposes how hypocritical we can be in our condemnations. (See this Miami Herald column for further evidence.)
Too many bloggers see the mainstream media as the enemy. While many of them are stuck in their old school ways, we need to celebrate the ones who regularly produce quality work. While I don't agree with all of his points, Lebatard generally gets it right.
So yeah, his life is better than ours, but at least as a sports columnist and talk show host in Miami, he has to cover the NBA on regular basis. From my view that is some punishment for the good life Lebatard lives, as I think I would rather cover the tarp at Pro Player's Stadium than cover the NBA.
Semi-Annual Juice Blog State of the State
Every so often, I need to explain a few things about what goes on here at this site. I do this on a regular basis, as some people continue to get confused about what this site is basically all about. Here is what my thoughts are about this blog.
Baseball is the number 1 topic at thejuiceblog.com, despite what many of you think. Go through our archives and you will see that is the case.
The site is a lot more than that though, which I'm happy to say has finally been grasped by most readers, unlike when we started. We have always gotten way more comments on music and other pop culture subjects than we do on baseball. I'm guessing since we don't cover just one team, we lack a community feel that other more focused blogs have. Our commnunity is a diverse group of readers who we really appreciate. (Well, most of the time.)
HERE'S AN IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE. Will Carroll is not the only person who writes at this site. When you see the name Scott Long at the top of the post, you should realize that means it was written by me. Scott Long is not a pseudonym Will uses to write other stuff. Scott Long is an actual person that believe it or not is more well-known than Will in certain circles.
I mention this because I like to write pieces that are a little edgier than you get from your local fishwrap. This is one of the best advantages that Blogs have over newspapers, so I believe bloggers should use it whenever possible.
Unfortunately, satire is one thing that can be difficult to absorb for some people, so at this site I've tried to error on the side of caution by actually writing the word SATIRE in the title before some satiric pieces. For those of you unaware of what the word means, check out this definition from dictionary.com
A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit
I bring this up because my most recent post featured satire which a few people objected to. I have pulled it off the website, as I don't want Will to suffer any fall-out from a silly thing I wrote entitled "Under the Spork." I did cut and paste a couple of sentences that explained what I was doing with this satirical work.
What "Under the Spork" is about is discussing more internal issues which are affecting baseball players, but done in the gossip tradition of just giving hints of who I'm talking about. By using this method, it allows me to completely MAKE UP what I'm writing, without getting sued.
Now I would like to begin by apologizing to any made up Major League players that I might have offended with my anonymous gossip. Specifically, I'm sorry if you are a hitter with a farting problem or a pitcher who refuses to cheat on his wife.
Now that I've done that I ask the readers of thejuiceblog.com to do me a favor. Check out the byline, before hassling Will with anything, as during baseball season it's most likely going to be me writing the piece. Will is one of the busiest men on the planet during this time of year coming up with the great info he does for Baseball Prospectus, so the majority of stuff I'm guessing will come from me.
When you check-in here, realize that I'm a standup comic who for the past 3 years has written satirical sports sketches for TV, so I'm likely to push the edge. I'm a big fan of our readers and I'm pretty happy with the number of page hits thejuiceblog.com continues to get, despite Will and I rarely mentioning the site when we do media appearances. Thanks for being a part of the site.
END OF RANT. Now you can go back to less important things, like trying to figure out a solution to our problems in Iraq. (NOTE: This was sarcasm.)
Sarcasm- A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound.
Under the Spork
I've been looking for a niche to fill in the sports/entertainment for the past couple of years. Considering that Will Carroll's "Under the Knife" and the gossip info on Page 6 in the New York Tabloids are so entertaining, I've thought it's time to mesh the two. What "Under the Spork" is about is discussing more internal issues which are affecting baseball players, but done in the gossip tradition of just giving hints of who I'm talking about. By using this method, it allows me to completely make up what I'm writing, without getting sued. Hopefully you enjoy my first installment. While reading this, keep in mind that this is important stuff, people.
We are hearing that a certain Red Sox pitcher is playing with a a bad case of the clap. He might be forced to go on the 15 day DL, if it doesn't clear up.
One of your favorite Yankee infielders is such a prodigious farter that many of his teammates refuse to sit next to him on the bench. It has been suggested that a couple former coaches left for this particular reason.
If injuries weren't a big enough problem for the Dodgers, an insider tells the SPORK that one of its current bullpen members will be seeing Dr. Andrews. The pitcher's suffering from an elbow problems, not caused from a slider or curveball, but because of too much time spent throwing a spitball in his hotel room while perusing Bangbros.com.
(Extreme Sarcasm ahead.) On a side note, I don't know about you but I sure wish I could get a little info on Tom Cruise's baby. (sarcasm finished) Seriously, I would rather be teabagged by a sweaty Todd Jones than have to listen to L. Ron* Cruise tell me about his new child. Dude, you're creepy. I'm thinking about watching Top Gun again, just so I can change my rooting interest from Maverick to the Iceman.
The Spork has been told that a mole exists in the Cubs front office that was planted by the White Sox. This mole spends much of his time sticking pins in voodoo dolls he has made up of Cubs players. Derek Lee is his latest victim. Interestingly, he does not have a voodoo doll of Wood or Prior, as he feels that would just be a waste of his time. "I mean those guys couldn't stay healthy if Jesus was their pitching coach", the Mole told us.
We have a lot of juicy stories about the Royals, but since not even Rany and Rob really care about the team anymore, we have decided not to run it.
Is it me or does singer James Blunt have a voice made to sing Leo Sayer songs at Kareoke? "When I Need You, I Just Hold Out My Hand and I Touch You...."
Finally, there is a player on an AL West team that does not cheat on his wife. We at the SPORK have decided to withhold his name, so as not to embarass and ostracize him from his fellow teammates. Shameful. Come on man, get with the program. There are a lot of Baseball Annie's out there that need some love, so quit being so selfish by just sharing it with your wife.
*See comment No. 2.
Exiting the Turnpike: A 'Sopranos' Mid-Season Review
"How did I get here?"
Forgive me for stealing this lead-in from the folks at Pitchfork Mediaand perhaps to a greater degree, David Byrnebut any assessment of The Sopranos' sixth season (HBO) needs to begin with this question and its logical follow-up, "Where am I going?" Eight episodes into the most recent storyline, the most celebrated television program of the 21st century stands at a crossroads with the end of the line vaguely in sight.
There's no denying that the season began with a bang. After 21 months of stagnation from David Chase and his crew, The Sopranos returned to television without the slightest hint of rust, meshing seamlessly with the end of the fifth season where everything was finally looking up for the show's eponymous family (well, mostly; sorry, Chris). That fate smote Tony at the end of the first episode, "Members Only," was a surprise, but hardly a buzz kill: Part of what makes The Sopranos such an engrossing soap opera is that the sense of impending danger is always looming and tangible, even for the show's protagonist.
The way Chase followed this shocking turn-of-events was equally skillful, splitting storylines between secondary characters like Vito, Paulie, and Silvio, while giving my favorite family member, Carmela, some of her best scenes in years. I'll admit to being nonplussedlike much of the viewing publicby the extended dream sequences at the end of the previous season, but Chase & Co. fearlessly returned to their most controversial storytelling device with aplomb. The notion of Tony's identity has always been at the heart of the show, but his search has never been more literal or affecting than it was earlier this year. While the conclusion to his journey might have been predictable (we're not that close to the end, after all), it was nothing if not insightful. Tony's apprehension over the life he's chosenand as a result, the persona he's assumedwas suddenly crystal clear.
That the first three episodes were charged with such vitality has made the show's descent into lassitude (or some would say subtlety) frustrating, though far from unbearable. Unlike Fox's 24, which is highly dependant on keeping the tension level at "White Knuckle" to move the plot along, The Sopranos has always followed a conventional, though hardly predictable, ebb and flow: action follows inaction, war follows peace, with the rich texture of life in the New Jersey underworld to fill in the gaps. Though bloodshed occasionally comes from nowhere to provide a season with a shot in the arm (See: Aprile, Richie or Cifaretto, Ralph), it has been largely used as a device to put the concluding stamp on a plotlinethe substance of the show.
The problem for The Sopranos has always been striking that balance between texture and substancewhat Steven Johnson, in his book on pop-culture, television, and the human brain, Everything Bad is Good for You, cites as the proverbial yin and yang of drama. After all, a constant barrage of bullets and body-dumping (for The Sopranos, often the impetus for substance) can leave the viewer numb. Suddenly, a punch lacks punch. But too much banalitytoo many idle conversations in front of Satriale's Pork Store, too many hilarious trips to the west coast that end up with Lauren Bacall getting decked in a stupefying cameo (the texture, natch)¬and the show works itself into corner. Because viewers know that immediate storylines run for roughly a dozen episodes at a time, it becomes easy to tell when the plot is going to kick into high-gear. The smell of blood gathers thickly in the air.
Which brings us to our current exit along the turnpike: year six. As I fleetingly mentioned just a few paragraphs ago, the season's first act was as strong as any group of episodes since the show's peak, 1999-2001, when Tony's mother, Livia, still loomed large. In a way, this should be obvious, because main characters thrust into life-or-death situations almost always make for great viewing. The problem has been coming down from those emotional highs and settling into a lull of indecision.
Part of this has to do with fact that the Dr. Melfi/Tony relationshipwhat was once the driving force of the showis no longer front-and-center. It's not uncommon, for instance, for her character to make just one appearance per episode, acting as little more than a segue between plot events. That Chase & Co. showed Dr. Melfi in therapy last week with Peter Bogdonavich, ostensibly dealing with issues related to her "infamous mafia-connected client," felt like a worn-out ruse to make her character relevant again. But that's probably because it was.
Not that this is a failing on the writers, per se. It's a natural progression. You can only dig so deep with a character like Tony until the revelations stop, and the easy one-liners from Dr. Melfi about "taking control" quit neatly applying to his problems at home and with his crew. You'd have to fundamentally change Tony's characterhis disposition, his ability to self-criticize, his capacity to see the bigger picturein order to get more out of him, and that's not likely to happen this late in the lifespan of the show.
And yet, it's not just Tony's inability to growhis constant rehashing of the same conflicts over and over againthat's made The Sopranos so frustrating at times. The problem has been nothing if not systemic. As Heather Havrilesky sums it up at Salon:
This is the repeating story of The Sopranos: There's a bad little sheep in Tony's flock, and Tony is forced to pull out his shotgun and eliminate the problem. [We're] being treated to the same scenarios we have been since the very first season. ... A.J. is still chumpy and annoying, Meadow is a somewhat ineffectual do-gooder, Carmela compromises and keeps the peace, [and] Tony's men are all self-interested, short-sighted assholes with no conscience who aren't evolving past a violent, simian state.Additionally, there's been the problem of Chase & Co. not striking the right balance between substance and texture in the current season. While Tony's stay in the hospital provided a nice change of sceneryan event that worked because it was unforeseenthe show has relied mainly on texturethe Sacramoni's wedding, A.J. going clubbing, Chris rubbing shoulders with Hollywood big-wigsto pass the time. Where's the "payback" for all of favors Johnny Sack has asked for? Where's the residual guilt and blame for Adriana's death? Where's the power-struggle at the top of the Soprano crew, now that Tony has been physically and mentally weakened? Where's the substance?
I don't mean for my tone to veer from "critical" to "histrionic," but these are BIG issues for a show that has only 12 episodes remaining on the docket. That the characters are chiefly concerned with the whereabouts of a recently-outed colleague and not some of the larger issues looming in the background speaks to either one of two things:
Color me hopeful, but ultimately pessimistic. While I doubt that everything will end up just dandy for Tony and his familiesmark my words, not only will someone die, but ducks will be referenced!I just don't think the writing team is willing to create a dark enough scenario to provide the final days with a real punch to the gut. So Paulie takes a bullet in the head for crossing Tony? So Chris gets his comeuppance for being so cocky and falling off the wagon again? Who cares? Neither of these scenarios carries much weight, and there are dozens more just like them. It's just not tragedy if the character is not particularly sympathetic to begin with.
What needs to happen is much darker, and much more closely related to Tony's soul. The arc has to be elliptical: Tragedy needs to strike his nuclear family in a way that has never happened before.
Whether this means that A.J. is struck down in the crossfire of his father's business, or as one writer predicted at the beginning of the season, Meadow is violated, remains to be seen. But the emphasis needs to be on Tony's role as a parent, and his inability to protect his children from the lifestyle that was introduced to him at such a young age. He needs to see the connection between himself, his father, and his own children, who are more and more closely subjected to his work than ever before.
And at last, the ducks need to come home once again. Whether their return is marked by sadness for an innocence lost or happiness spurred by growth and change is a question for one man: David Chase. Let's just hope he knows where he's going.
Ryan Wilkins is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can contact him by clicking here.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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