Monthly archives: April 2007
Under the Spork!
A couple of years back, I created what I hoped would be a new feature at the Juiceblog entitled Under the Spork. The concept behind it was to do a parody of my blogging partner, Will Carroll's great regular feature at Baseball Prospectus, Under the Knife, but mix in with it the internet gossip-style which litters the net. Since I wrote the word SATIRE above the piece and had my name on top, I didn't figure anyone would see it as anything more than just a big goof.
In Memory of Matt
One year ago today, Matt Long died in a car crash on the Ventura Highway. He was hit by a car traveling on the highway. The details are a bit murky, so I don’t know if my brother was trying to commit suicide or if he was just hit while walking on the side of the road. The first detective on the scene said it was a suicide. The second detective my family spoke to wasn’t as sure. Either way, the driver didn’t do it intentionally and Matt was pretty troubled at this point in his life, so I don’t see the purpose in making it a CSI episode. Now that enough time has went by, I thought I would explore how my brother came to the depths of depression he reached on his last day on earth.
Matt Long was born on July 12, 1972 in Newton, Iowa. He always had a strange mix of possessing a gentle soul, but this same soul was capable of going into rage very quickly. Our father was manic depressive, which in the 1970’s earned him the diagnosis of ‘that fellow is kind of moody.” It was not an easy life living in the house with a dad who was prone to violent mood swings. By the time my brother was just turning 6, my mom finally decided to leave my raging father.
Please Explain: Domino's Pizza
Let me begin this installment of Please Explain by mentioning that if you live in the cities of New York, Chicago, or Philly, you probably have little concept of national pizza chains. These cities have so many great pizzarias that it's hard to concieve why anyone would even contemplate ordering one of the generic Za's that litter the rest of the American landscape.
For the majority of Americans there isn't a great option within a few miles, like there is in the places I named above. Considering that Americans have such pathetic taste buds that they will eat Tony's or Tombstone frozen pizzas, I guess it's not surprising that they will choose convenience in going with one of the national pizza chains.
Some of the younger readers might not realize this, but as recent as the late 70's, there was really only one national pizza chain, Pizza Hut. Each city had some local delivery chains, but if you grew up in a smaller town like I did, as hard as it might be to believe, Pizza Hut was your best option. This was a decade that when my Mom said "we were having Italian tonight," it meant Spaghetti O's or the molten lava puffs (better known as Pizza Rolls) were going to be served.
In the 80's, Domino's expanded, becoming Pizza Hut's first national competitor. What really put the chain on the map was Domino's promised to deliver their pizza to your house within 30 minutes or the pizza would be free. I can't think of another product that has ever offered such a thrilling concept. Think about it: Generally brain-dead males in their late teens to early twenties, terrorizing communities with their revved up beaters, just so they could deliver a substandard pie to their customer. The excitement derived in being able to get something free from the man (Domino's) was a delirous game. When the driver showed up before the 30-minute mark, you would actually feel some dejection. Name me another experience where good service is actually a bummer?
The beginning of the end for Domino's began in the early 90's, when the amount of car accidents their delivery drivers were involved in was creating negative publicity. By 1993, the company decided to do away with the 30-minute guarantee. While this was a neccessary decision, it also robbed Domino's of what made it special, their pizza shot clock. With that gone, its customers were left with solely focusing on the product itself. Considering how bad the typical Domino's pizza tastes, I truly don't know how the majority of its franchises stay in business.
I can't say that Pizza Hut is much better when delivered, but its ultra-greasy pan pizza is pretty good when eaten in the restaurant. Papa John's is consistently the highest quality home delivery pizza of the national chains and is pretty comparable in price to Domino's. While Little Caesars is the one pizza chain that is definitely worse than Domino's, it has such a low price point that it is more a direct competitor with frozen pizzas than delivery ones. None of the other chains are truly national players, but each area of the country has a Round Table, a Godfather's, a Hungry Howie's, a Donatos, etc. which generally are better than Domino's, as well.
For awhile, Domino's had the jump on its competition in offering buffalo wings as a menu item. This added heart-attack bonus gave them an edge, but its competitors have now matched them, so I really don't understand why anyone would call Domino's, if they had a choice. Please Explain Domino's Pizza.
In a baseball note to this piece, it is interesting that the 2 worst pizza chains in this land are from Michigan and happen to have been founded by men who at one time have owned the Detroit Tigers.
Mike Illitch is still the owner of Little Caesars. He also owns the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings.
Domino's founder Tom Monaghan owned the Tigers when they won the 1984 World Series, but sold the team in 1992 to Illitch. For the past couple of decades, Monaghan has been one of the biggest financial supporters of groups that are bent on trying to restrict a woman's right to choose. Since Monaghan sold Domino's in 1998, it should be mentioned that you are not contributing to some of his nutty projects (see philanthropy) by ordering some Cinna Stix. His latest idea is creating his own conservative Catholic Truman Show in Ave Maria, Florida. This town Monaghan is building will be one where a pharmacy will not be allowed to sell contraceptives. If he really was concerned about protecting his followers in Ava Maria, he would be more concerned with banning Domino's Pizza chains,
Author's note: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the 2 latest products Domino's has thrust upon the American public, Brooklyn Style Pizza and the Philly Cheese Steak Pizza are actually decent. This reminds me of how the Frosty or Chili is good, but how I still don't understand how Wendy's can stay in business on the level that it does.
Also, the chain most likely to gain market share is the take and bake chain, Papa Murphy's. It is very reasonable and the quality is better, since it is cooked at home.
While Papa John's is generally the best delivery choice of the national chains, its new pan pizza is quite possibly the worst pizza I've had in a long time. I contacted Papa John's website about how bad the thing was and never received a reply back. Despite this, I'm trying not to hold a grudge, though I was happy Louisville's football underachieved in 2006.
Is Mark Buerhle the Most Under-Appreciated Pitcher in MLB?
This isn't a story about the no-hitter that Mark Buerhle threw on Wednesday night. Yes, it was impressive, especially against an offense like the Rangers, but that isn't my focus. Combine this game with his previous start where he retired 20 of the last 22 batters he faced and you have a stretch where Buerhle has erased 47 of 50 opponents. Not Johnny Vander Meer, but it has to be one of the best 50 batter performances in history. While this is a great feat, it is not my focus, either.
What I found most illuminating about the no-hitter is how underrated Buerhle is on a national level. All over ESPN TV and Radio, the talking heads were discussing how Buerhle is just another case of how you don't have to be a great pitcher to throw a no-hitter. The question was asked how is it that a Buerhle can throw one, but Maddux and Clemens have never been able to during their illustrious careers? While Buerhle isn't of this quality, let's examine what he has accomplished.
Since Mark Buerhle has been pitching in the majors for so long, some fail to realize that he just turned 28 years old. Beginning his 7th full-season for the White Sox, here is his resume.
Even after Buerhle's only below average season in his career (2006), how many 27 year-old pitchers can you say this about? Look at Buerhle's player comps and the first 2 that come up through Age 27 are Mark Mulder and Tom Glavine. Despite these type of career achievements, many baseball talking heads were discussing him as if he should be put in the Mike Witt and Eric Milton category of no-hit pitchers.
While scouts and sabermetricians often differ on their evaluations of players, the one thing that they generally have a similar bias against are pitchers who don't strikeout a lot of batters. This is the biggest reason Buerhle has been underrated during his career. PECOTA, as it usually does, came in way too high on Buerhle's predicted ERA, with a projected number for 2007 of 4.90.
Many people wrote Buerhle off going into 2007, as his 2006 was such a down season. As durable as he has been, 2005 put too much stress on him (and the rest of the White Sox starters), as they threw deeper into games than any staff had done during the post-season since the 1970's. This was why I was so confident at the beginning of this year that the staff would do way better than PECOTA and other computer prediction models were expecting. Considering his track record and how much of this has been accomplished in a hitter's park, it's time to give Mark Buerhle more of the credit that he deserves.
A Few Thoughts on the American League (so far)
Imus Fiasco Part 2 (or) So Now What?
Now that the decaying carcas of Don Imus has been tossed on the racist-speech heap next to the graves of Jimmy the Greek and Al Campanis, it will be interesting to see who the next target is to join him. Imus was in a unique position, as he was trying to mix shock jock comedy, while interviewing Washington insiders. Kind of like second-rate Ali G., but with the guests being in on the joke. It was a tightrope that Imus wasn't bright enough to manuever any longer.
Some have stated that Imus should just slide over to Satellite radio. My guess is this won't happen, as with the current merger efforts between the 2 companies under review by the FCC, XM and Sirius won't want to take on anything too radioactive. (Which makes Imus, radio-inactive. Clever wordplay, huh?) Also, Howard Stern, who is the most important talent in Satellite radio, hates Imus and I'm sure would do everything in his power to keep him from joining either company.
Imus is basically done, anyway, as his whole schtick was being irreverent with Capitol Hill honchos. After groveling the past week (rightfully so as it may have been), he has lost any of the "bad boy" attitude that his audience tuned in for. Plus, now most of his regular guests are as likely to return his call, as they would hit the links with O.J. Simpson.
I stated in Part 1 that I was never a fan of Imus. Well, the more I learn about him, the less impressed I am. My biggest concern about his ouster was the power that Pastors Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were wielding after Imus stuck his cowboy boot in his Polygripped-mouth. Sharpton has spent his life being on the wrong side of most causes he trumpeted. Jackson has accomplished some impressive things during his career, but he also has has made as many missteps, including this one that he should answer to. I have always been vocal about how I don't want the Bible-thumping Donald Wildmon's and James Dobson's dictate what I can and cannot listen to. Well, I feel just as uncomfortable having the left-wing versions of them doing the same, even if their politics are more in tune with mine.
Listening to Jesse Jackson's talk show on XM this weekend was a really scary thing. Jackson's cronies were trotted out for one big self-congratulatory lovefest. Good enough, I don't mind you putting Imus' cowboy hatted skull on your pitchforks, as he was an a-hole who probably deserved what he got. I'm more concerned about the talk this group had about this only being the start in getting "hateful" speech off the airwaves.
SO WHO IS THE NEXT TARGET
The morning show that is on many of the previous stations Howard Stern used to be on is The Opie and Anthony Show. Last week was a resurgance for the show, as the whole Imus fiasco brought energy back into the hosts, as they had a cause to fire them up. Anthony Cumia does a brilliant Don Imus impression, which they used to poke fun at everyone involved in the case. Both of them believe they are next on the hit list. Considering they do a lot of racial and sexist humor and work for CBS radio, it would seem like they have a good reason to feel like they are the new bulls-eye.
Gangsta rap has been a target of Jackson and Sharpton, as well. I'm not about to defend it anymore than I would Imus, but having ministers and professors determining what should be released and what shouldn't is not my idea of what this country is all about. In this current climate, Barack Obama (with Ludacris) and Hilary Clinton (with Timbaland) meeting with rappers with spotty records creates a problem, considering the statements they have made in inferring Imus' should be let go. Oh and don't get me started on BET founder Robert Johnson condemming Imus. No one has exploited women more for profit than BET's late-night video shows. Here is another Robert Johnson who sold his soul to the Devil, but he didn't even have to go to the Crossroads to do it.
The dream scenario for many who have led the march against Imus is the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. This doctrine would purportedly level the playing field to where Hannity, Limbaugh, Savage. etc. wouldn't be the only voices you heard on political talk radio. As much as I think these conservative radio talkshow hosts are distortion machines spouting out half-truths about most everything they discuss, I don't believe that their voices should be clipped through some Congressional law.
I was a big fan of Air America radio when it came on the scene and was hopeful it would take off and give a different perspective to the American public. It hasn't worked. Left-leaning people just aren't designed to want to listen to propoganda from their side, as they would rather get a more unbiased view from NPR or better yet, rock out to their Ipods. I'm not a free-market guy, as I don't always believe the marketplace is the answer, but in the case of political talk radio, Lberals or Moderates have not shown they have much interest in the format. I don't see a lot of "Fairness" in this Doctrine.
If Democrats manage to rid the nation of shock jocks, gansta rappers, and conservative talk hosts, it will be a very short-term win. Currently the Republican party has little to offer out of their propoganda machine. If you go too hard at these groups, you are guaranteeing that males under 50, especially white ones, will become an even stronger demographic in voting for the GOP. Sure the Democrats who push hard on this will have the high moral ground, but in politics this type of ground is very slippery, with a slope that falls fast for its victims. With the dismal governing the Republicans have done since Bush took office, why give them something that can be a rallying cry to shift the debate from the issues that are most important?
So Good Riddance to Imus. His time was past. Those that are joyous of his downfall should be really careful about thinking that the next few targets will be as quick and easy, as the backlash will get stronger when they go after the next groups on their list.
The Imus Fiasco (or) Who Knew Al Sharpton Was Made the Head of the FCC
Considering how overblown the whole Don Imus event has become, I'm reticent to give it even more attention, but I think I might have a unique view about the situation. Before I do this, I do recommend you read a couple columns on the subject by 2 writers I have a lot respect for.
Jason Whitlock is often pompous and lives to take the contrarian view. No wonder I like the guy so much. One of the few members of the corporate media who you can count on not to be afraid to ruffle feathers. I think his latest column is the best one I've read on the subject.
Another excellent view on the Imus case is by Newsday's Shaun Powell.
While most of you know this already, I've been in the comedy business for over 15 years. Besides performing stand-up, I also have appeared on hundreds of radio shows. I've actually filled-in as a radio host a few times, so I know the biz fairly well.
Morning radio DJ's are dissed by the intelligencia more than any group I can think of. In many cases this is fair, as there is some really awful morning zoo's roaming the airwaves. Yes, low-ball humor is basically the theme that connects most of these shows together.
Having put this out there, let me also defend the best of these shows, as even low-ball comedy has it quality purveyors. I would argue that there is nothing harder in in the entertainment field than to produce 4 hours of quality material day in, day out. This is why the tops in their field like Howard Stern, Bob and Tom, Opie and Anthony, and a few select others make so much money. It has become even tougher to do an entertaining show since the crackdown by the FCC after Janet Jackson acted like a "Ho" during the Super Bowl and exposed her medallion circled nipple.
Please Explain: Latin Music
This week's American Idol just might have been the most dismal episode the show has ever had. While I don't think there is one breakout talent this year, what made this week even worse was the its theme: Latin Music. The only thing fun was getting to watch Jennifer Lopez offer up suggestions. Considering she is the Paula Abdul of her musical generation, Melinda and LaKisha must have been thinking, "you are not even in my league, so watch what you say."
My Please Explain this week goes a lot farther than Jennifer Lopez, as I can't name you one authentic Latin musical artist that I would want to hear. Gloria Estefan quite possibly is my least favorite, big selling artist of all-time. Sorry but the rhythm isn't going to get me....tonight (or ever). Her attitude and her singing tone always came off abrasive to me. While I don't think Shakira is that great either, at least she has a hypnotic shake to her rumba. Whenever I see Estefan perform, it reminds me of some second-rate show on a cruise ship. During the Elian Gonzalez fiasco, Estefan was out front in the cause of separating the young boy from his father. At the time, I wrote that I was okay with Gonzalez staying in America, as long as Estefan was sent in exchange to Cuba.
I'm not an elitist in my musical tastes, as I can still listen to classic rock radio and enjoy what is playing. Do I want to hear a Boston block party or double shot of REO Speedwagon? Not particularly, but even these groups have a few songs I can put up with. Now here's my confession. I have never liked one Santana tune. Ever. I will hear some people put him in the category with guitar heroes like Hendrix, Clapton, and Beck. Don't even try to explain that one to me.
I've dated a Black Magic Woman during my past, which was pretty exciting, but Santana's biggest hit of the same title doesn't capture the vibe of it for me. I understood the basic charm of Santana's solo album monster hit, Smooth. The guitar hook had a sexy groove to it, but what made it a smash was the vocals of Rob Thomas. After being overplayed more than any song I can think of over the past 10 years, it creates a violent reaction in me to turn the dial when it comes on, but I guess I'm in the minority considering how it still gets airplay.
While Carlos Santana could be a Please Explain category all by himself, I want to tackle the bigger issue which is that I believe most Latin Music es mierda. I've been to most Latin countries and love almost everything about the culture. I can remember spending a couple weeks in Panama and having the best time taking in the scenery and the sites. The one thing that made it easier for me to go back home to the cold was that I wouldn't have to hear the cha-cha-cha of the music that was constantly blaring in the restaurants and nightclubs.
I tried to rack my brain to come up with Latin musicians that I could say I've enjoyed. Julio or Enrique Iglesias? Ha! Gypsy Kings? Sorry, I tried. You can go all the way back to Sergio Mendes or more recently, the plague that was the Macarena and I will consistently tell you it was lame. The perpetual suckitude of Latin Music just proves how great Los Lobos were during the first few albums of their career, as they were able to use some Latin Musical tenets and make really good music. I would argue that like Richie Valens, Los Lobos always let the rock overtake the Latin influence during their peak years. This was their winning formula.
So you can keep your Rico Suave. Personally I don't need a Selena tribute act. Menudo? I say Menu-NO!
Please Explain Latin Music.
Please Explain: Fantasy Baseball 5x5 Leagues
During one of the fantasy drafts I was involved in, I mentioned to the other team owners that I've never understood why so many people who pledge allegiance to sabermetrics still play in the typical 5x5 league? One of the other owner's mentioned that this sounds like a topic for Please Explain. So here we are.
If you not familiar about what a 5x5 league consists of here you go.
Offensive categories: runs, homeruns, ribbies, batting average, stolen bases.
Defensive categories: wins, saves, strikeouts, era, whip
Now, I'm not blaming Daniel Okrent and the guys who developed rotisserie baseball back in 1980, as these were the stats that ruled the game at the time. It's just as many of these numbers have been exposed as being empty categories over the past couple decades that I wonder why so many baseball fans continue to play in these leagues. What is really mystifying to me is when there are fantasy baseball challenges conducted between writers who cover the game, they always seem to be 5x5 leagues.
I have always joined "sabr-type" scoring leagues, which generally use OBP, SLG, Runs, RBI's for offense, with Wins, Saves, ERA, WHIP for pitching categories. While I know there is no perfect stat to judge players (yes, even SWOBODA), being concerned about batting average and stolen bases just seems hypocrital. How can sabermetrical experts be involved in public leagues where these categories count for so much? It's like Al Gore owning stock in Haliburton. There seems to be a major conflict of interest here, as you are rooting for something that you find as a negative to your most central beliefs.
Now, I know some would knock the merits of runs batted in, wins, and saves, but if you just had an OPS category, it wouldn't make for a very interesting game. While a "sabr-type" league has flaws in its categories, at least it doesn't give a player like Juan Pierre too much credibility like 5x5 does.
If you follow baseball from a sabermetrical viewpoint, Please Explain why 5x5 fantasy baseball has merit.
PECOTA vs SWOBODA: Ranking the Teams
Following in the tradition of such battles as King Kong vs Godzilla, the Abbott and Costello vs Frankenstein, and Trump vs Rosie, here comes PECOTA vs SWOBODA. Baseball Prospectus put out their Prospectus Hit List today. Now I realize that the rankings are made up of more than just PECOTA, but it is the main component used in ranking the teams.
I have listed my Top 30, with BP's in parenthesis. Like BP, I don't just grade strictly on record, as the AL is superior to the NL. For example, I suspect the Braves will have more wins than any team other than the Red Sox, but I knock them down to where I think they rate among all of MLB.
Pre-season Top 30
Look at BP's list and 3 thing jump out at me about the biases that PECOTA suffers from.
Update! Need 2 Players for Fantasy Draft on Monday Night
Had some people who couldn't make the new draft date. Still 2 spots available for 11:15 EST.
Send an email to the address below if you would like to join. Thanks
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Will Anyone Win 95 Games in the AL?
In the other major professional sports leagues, (NFL, NBA, NHSC*) parity has been the word most used to describe the competition between its teams during the past 10 years. One could make an argument that over the past few seasons, the National League has joined the parity concept, with 2006 only featuring one team (Mets) that had over 90 wins. The one place where most of us thought it would never happen is in the American League. *NHSC stands for the National Hacky Sack Confederation
With no salary cap and having 2 teams with such a financial advantage over the rest, the American League was everything that was wrong with professional sports. Sure the Twins and A's have been competitive, despite much smaller budgets, but they weren't going to the World Series. It took the Cinderella seasons of the White Sox and Tigers to really chip away at this have and have-not concept. The next step would be for a number of teams to be competitive with the cash cows. Welcome to the brave new world which is the 2007 season.
Watch out for my bold prediction. Not only will no team in the
1. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
5. Devil Rays
The Red Sox are the best team in baseball, as long as Papelbon saves the bullpen like last season. Loved the addition of
Sure the everyday lineup is stacked, but the pitching staff...well let me break it down like a real expert...yeeeesh. Pettitte has been the most overrated pitcher in baseball over the past 5 seasons. Mussina, Pavano, Wang...who knows if they will stay healthy. Phillip Hughes might be their best pitcher by July. Truthfully, it's a coin-flip between 2-4 in this division.
The Orioles I think will be the most improved team in baseball for 2007. The 3 young hurlers that front their staff will take another step forward this season (see 2006 Tigers), but they could really use a Kenny Rogers-type to help them take a bigger leap. The lineup is balanced between speed and power, with the outfield defense the best I can remember patrolling
Baseball Prospectus has been doing a great feature titled "Hope and Faith" on each team. The Blue Jays I believe have the highest upside and downside in the majors. If Glaus and Thomas stay healthy they should score a lot of runs. I doubt there are many Blue Jays fans that could honestly believe that will happen. Who knows how Burnett will pitch. Looking at the below average staff, outside of Halladay, the Jays have to pray he will finally throw to his ability level. Hope and Faith, indeed.
The Devil Rays have become a trendy pick among the sabermetrical crowd to be the
1. White Sox
Honestly, I have no idea how this division will turn out. Last year I took the Indians, but their bullpen and defense killed them. Hard to see where they have improved much in these categories. Another Wedge-issue is their manager, who is far behind Leyland, Gardenhire, and Guillen. Sabathia has always reminded me some of Bartolo Colon, as I suspect his career will be one of a lot of highs and lows. Did I mention the bullpen and the manager?
The Tigers have the best balance, but I think they will face a lot of the same problems that the White Sox did, after winning the World Series. Their staff pitched a lot of stressful innings and I doubt any of them, besides Bonderman, will reach their 2006 performances. A healthy Carlos Guillen will keep them in the chase, but I think they will fall short.
How can you have 5 of the best players in your league and finish 4th? I'm not sure about that one, myself, but considering that after Santana there are 4 pretty big pitching question marks, I think this will cost the Twins the playoffs. Another question I have is how long can the Twins bullpen be so dominant? 3 seasons of near perfection might be a little too much to ask.
It should be mentioned that I have never picked the White Sox to finish 1st in the AL Central (so keep the homer comments to yourself). I am fully aware that they could post their first losing season this decade. Sure they were terrible in spring training. I know that PECOTA sees the starting pitching being one of the worst in baseball. My SWOBODA sees it differently, though. If Posednik gets hurt/benched like I suspect, their offensive lineup will score enough runs to win this division. The biggest question mark is closer Jenks, but the Sox have a lot more options than the Indians, if he can't do the job. .
I think all 4 teams will be in the hunt going into the final week. Final Win tally. White Sox 88. Indians 87. Tigers 86. Twins 85. Should be fun.
Some are predicting doom for the A's, but I think their offense might be the most improved in the
The Rangers would be my choice to take one of the playoff spots, if they hadn't have made one of the worst trades of the past 10 years. (giving to the Padres Young and Gonzalez for practically nothing in return) Getting rid of Showalter will help, but not enough to make it into the post-season.
The Mariners are improved, but it's hard to see where they will be able to get over .500, considering the depth of talent in the
Only the Royals have no chance of winning half their games in the
Here's your place to list your 2007 scenario. If you want to have the right to boast that you were right, like say a guy I know who chose in pre-season the Super Bowl champ and nailed the Final 4, including who would play in the championship, here is your place to do it.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
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