An All Star Shame

Today Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a column about the 2015 All Star Game voting and how the Kansas City Royals’ fan base has essentially hijacked the process, putting seven (!) of the defending AL Champs in line to start the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati next month. There does seem to be a tongue-in-cheek factor in the article; still, he frames some of the many issues with the MLB All Star Game pretty effectively.

2015 ASG

All other absurdity around this whole sham (This time it counts!) aside, one thing Strauss mentioned both surprised and depressed me: no more paper All Star ballots at the stadium? One of my fondest ballpark memories as a kid was scouring the list of names and positions and punching holes next to, admittedly, players that probably had no logical business playing in an All Star Game. But it was a fun way to feel like a part of the game while at the game. Kind of a shame future generations won’t get to experience that without clicking around ads for car insurance.

I don’t know that I like the general idea of eliminating the fan vote, but if the winner of the All Star Game continues to determine home field advantage in the World Series, MLB needs to consider it. Of course, the most logical thing to do would be to take the HFA aspect out of it altogether so it doesn’t matter who votes for—or who gets voted to start—the All Star Game. But since even the installation of a new commissioner doesn’t appear to be changing that anytime soon, logic probably isn’t in play here at all.

 

–CCR

 

The Nooner #28: Jaime Expectations

In just a few moments, Jaime Garcia takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in what is probably his last big chance with the organization that drafted him back in 2005. Garcia—somehow only 28 years old—has battled injury after injury since his last full season, the World Championship year of 2011. And with 2015 being his walk year, he needs a good showing this year just as much as the Cardinals do. But what exactly does that mean? What do the Cards really need from him right now?

In a word: efficiency.

The Cardinals have good pitchers in their rotation, but they’re far from efficient. It was fairly exciting to see Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha get through seven innings this week, because in recent outings the rotation has pitched more like Carlos Martinez yesterday: get to 100 pitches, but not make it through seven (or even six) innings. Among qualifiers, the Cardinals only have two pitchers—Lackey and Wacha—who are in the top 50 in MLB in pitches per inning pitched. If that continues, the effect on the bullpen could become disastrous real quick. As a team, the Cardinals’ staff has great numbers. But the starters have to find a way to get deeper into games. In a year without Adam Wainwright, the team desperately needs an innings-eater.

Sure it would be great if the 2010-2011 version of Garcia showed up this season, when he was arguably the second or third best pitcher in the rotation depending on whether Wainwright or Chris Carpenter happened to be hurt. But those days are likely gone; expecting Jaime to come out throwing complete games this season seems foolish at best. Obviously what the team really doesn’t need is for Garcia to get shelled over and over again or get re-injured, although the Marco Gonzales honks would probably see that as a win. But if Garcia can just be OK-to-good, take the ball every fifth day, and go deep into the games he does pitch, the team should consider that a windfall. And since Garcia isn’t likely to be able to fire 100+ pitches per outing every day, he’s going to have to get the Mets and every other team he faces to make soft contact. In short, Jaime Garcia needs to revive the Dave Duncan/Tony La Russa days of pitching to contact.

Getting five good innings out of Garcia today might be acceptable, but it’s not going to be sustainable. The team needs more from him. And if that means lining up the best possible defense behind him regardless of the offense that lineup might provide, so be it. This is likely the beginning to Jaime Garcia’s final chapter as a Cardinal. Let’s all hope it’s readable.

Nooner #27: Bullpen Weirdness in the Windy City

C-Mart

Photo: Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I can’t get it out of my head: Carlos Martinez coming in for relief on Opening Night bothered me. I caught hell on Twitter for thinking so. I know, he doesn’t pitch until Saturday and needs to throw. But is putting him into the first game of the season with a completely rested bullpen really necessary? I mean, they have an awful lot riding on his success. Their belief in him—admittedly paired with other factors—basically cost Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller their jobs with the Cardinals, and sent the best pitcher on the staff this spring (Marco Gonzalez) to Triple A. C-Mart is the 5th starter. That’s his role. The rest of the guys in the ‘pen have their roles, too. Jordan Walden in the 8th and Trevor Rosenthal in the 9th, right? Nobody would question those moves. But no Seth Maness in the 7th? No Kevin Siegrist? I just can’t wrap my head around why Martinez in the 7th was even an option, let alone necessary. The only thing that would have made less sense is bringing Randy Choate in to face righties.

There’s always risk when a pitcher is on the mound, but Carlos Martinez taking a liner off the knee pitching in middle relief in Game 1 of 162 would have been infuriating. The old adage applies: sure, it worked out…but was it really the right move?

CCR   @birdbrained

Happy New Year!

It begins today.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to still be in hockey mode, tonight is Opening Night for Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, an Austin radio station made that fact really hit home for me this morning.

I slept in a bit today, trying to shake off the effects of both the rainy, dreary morning weather and the not-as-good-as-I-thought-it-was bottle of wine from last night. I was in desperate need of coffee, breakfast, and Chillville—a local radio show that plays mellow indie and electronic music until 11 a.m. on Sundays. As the show wrapped up, I was clearing my dishes and pouring my second cup so I just left the radio on. And that’s when the most perfectly-timed song started to flow out of my little countertop radio: the first post-Chillville song to come on was “Some Nights” by fun. I perked up instantly, because whenever I hear that song now, I think about the online video made after the 2011 World Series. And that’s when it hit me…

TODAY IS OPENING DAY.

It’s one game out of 162. And there is plenty of hockey to watch still–Go Blues. But if that video doesn’t get you psyched up for Cardinals baseball, nothing will. The Redbirds renew their rivalry with the new-look Chicago Cubs in just a couple hours.

Play Ball!

–CCR   @birdbrained

Shock and Disbelief: Oscar Taveras

I thought I would have better perspective on the sudden and tragic death of Oscar Taveras, 22, after a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll get one of those tonight.

His life and the life of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 18, were cut painfully short when Taveras wrecked his red Camaro on Sunday in the Dominican Republic. Early reports indicate there had been a lot of rain in the area, and that the car ran off the road and hit a tree. It’s the kind of gut-punch you only expect to get upon hearing something absurd like “Baseball has been cancelled forever.” Because the reality certainly couldn’t be true, even though it too often is: a young man and his girlfriend driving along, maybe laughing at a joke or holding hands or singing along to a song on the radio, then something happens and it’s all gone. Just like that. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it sucks, even from afar as nothing more than a fan of the team the kid played for. Potential unrealized takes a backseat to life unlived. How could this happen?

What’s worse, how could this happen again? News of Taveras’ untimely, shocking, and tragic death immediately reopened Cardinals fans’ old wounds from the 2002 death of Darryl Kile and the 2007 death of Josh Hancock. For Major League Baseball as a whole, the news rang eerily similar to the 2009 death of LA Angels’ young star-in-the-making Nick Adenhart. He also died in a car wreck. He was also 22. Those three tragedies—which, even more unfortunately, are of course but a fraction of the list of young lives ended too soon—happened in-season. As difficult as the events were, the teammates could lean on each other for support. They could grieve together in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and on the team charter. And they still had to take the field every day, using game day responsibilities to honor their fallen brother or maybe just not dwell on the tragedy for a couple hours. But this Cardinals team doesn’t get that luxury; all they have to do is sit around and think. Sure, some are playing Winter Ball, and all have offseason programs to follow to keep in shape until Spring Training. I’d guess the majority of these guys would tell you it’s not the same. That is, if they can get the words out at all.

I don’t really know what else to say. I’ve seen the tweets and the tributes and the video interviews and the footage of the story breaking and I still can’t believe it’s real. But a lot of people are hurting today. My heart goes out to the Taveras family, the Arvelo family, and the St. Louis Cardinals family.

 

Giants Cardinals Baseball

 

OT18-3

 

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(PHOTOS CLIPPED FROM INTERNET SOURCES; THESE PICTURES ARE NOT MINE.)

 

–CCR

Decadent, Depraved, Gonzo: The Kentucky Derby

One of the greatest spectacles in U.S. sports is The Kentucky Derby. While I have been to Churchill Downs on a number of occasions, I have yet to make it to that iconic palace for its greatest annual event. So instead, every year in the week leading up to this event, I give a reread to the great Hunter S. Thompson feature “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” to satisfy a nagging itch that could probably only be scratched by a bender I’m no longer willing to undertake.

Derby Horse“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” is a significant benchmark for a number of reasons. Thompson was still finding his way in the “New Journalism” movement of the time, and after it was published it became the first of his pieces referred to as Gonzo–a moniker that was and will be forever synonymous with his revolutionary work. It also marked the beginning of a lifelong creative partnership between Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman. But it also provided a bit of social commentary about what it meant to interact with the “whisky gentry” of the South nearly half a century ago, and you can’t help but notice how little has changed since.

Personally, I’m connected to this piece in two ways. At this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin, I caught the documentary “For No Good Reason,” a film about Steadman’s art and relationship with Thompson (Johnny Depp features prominently as well). It’s a great picture for Thompson/Gonzo fans, and the beginning of the Steadman-Thompson partnership at the time of the 1970 Kentucky Derby is featured prominently. The other personal connection is to Michael MacCambridge, contributor to the Grantland website who annotated “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” for the site–and taught me sports journalism at Washington University in St. Louis. Maybe he wouldn’t want me bragging about that, but it happened all the same.

Derby Finish Line

Enough about me. The Kentucky Derby happens later this afternoon. Before then, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the Director’s Cut version of “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” over at Grantland (language warning). And resist the urge to Mace everyone you see today.

–Chris  @birdbrained

REVIEW: “No No: A Dockumentary”

The tale is well known. In 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. It’s the stuff of legend for baseball aficionados and psychedelic adventurers alike, but both groups want to know the answer to same question: How in the hell could someone pitch a no-no while tripping on acid?DockEllis1970T

Ellis’ career and life were more than just one great performance under the most bizarre of circumstances, however, and “No No: A Dockumentary” explores the man he was on and off the field. The documentary premiered Saturday at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas as part of the annual event’s new “South By Sports” effort.

The no hitter is the central event around which “No No” revolves, but it is far from the only focus of the film. I count myself among probably many who didn’t know much more about Ellis than the acid event, but he was a lot more than that and “No No” does a great job of telling the whole story of the man.

Ellis was a fairly polarizing figure in his day, and his day was a fairly turbulent time in history. In “No No” I learned about his baseball career, his civil rights activism, his flamboyant personality, and his substance and physical abuse problems. I also learned about how Ellis was able to right the ship and use his experiences to mentor troubled and at-risk youth long after his Major League Baseball days were over. He was far from a perfect man, but Ellis managed to overcome his faults and accomplish a lot of good before his death in 2008 from a liver ailment. The film covers his ups and downs and features interviews from teammates, family members, and close friends. Footage of Ellis himself is from before filming for this movie began, but its inclusion punctuates the story perfectly.

“No No: A Dockumentary” is an incredible film that would be really hard to improve upon. It is laughs, it is tears, it is a redemption story, it is a baseball story. And if you enjoy any of the aforementioned even a little bit, it is a can’t miss. “No No: A Dockumentary” is one of the best baseball documentaries I’ve ever seen, and the long, sustained applause from the audience at its conclusion tells me I’m not alone in that assessment. Seriously, when it comes out, see it.

–Chris

Happy Birthday, Old Friend

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Van Halen’s epic album 1984. I could sit here and wax poetic about the greatness of each song, the unbelievable sales the album achieved, and how it played into the departure of David Lee Roth from the band. But that’s all been done so many times I’m afraid Google would laugh at me if I added another document like that to its search results. So here’s something a little more personal.

Van Halen’s 1984 is easily the largest brick in the foundation of my love for all things music. In fact, it might just be the entire foundation.

I was born in 1977, so Van Halen has been around almost as long as I have. But like most kids in that 7-8-9 year old range, my mid-80s music tastes were still pretty much limited to what my parents owned or what happened to come on the radio. I’m not entirely sure how much airplay Van Halen got in those days before 1984, but I either never heard it or never recognized it on the stations that dominated our house and cars. We listened to a lot of music, and we had a lot of records—just no Van Halen that I can recall.

Then my parents decided it was time to step out of the 70s and into the 80s and bought a portable stereo with a cassette player and tuner known in those days as a “boom box.” My dad also joined Columbia House, the music club catalog service that would send you new cassettes (or records, at that time) you chose every month, or a preselected hit album unless you told them not to. Back then I think the introductory offer was six for a penny or something like that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure by that time “Jump” and “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” had made it through even our stereo speakers via popular radio, so that first shipment of cassettes included 1984.

I don’t know if it was fascination with the new medium or just a budding desire to listen to whatever new music came my way, but I listened to those first cassettes every chance I got. Eventually I would start building my own collection of music outside of the children’s records and random 45s I had scattered among my parents’ collection, and it was all cassettes. I still listened to a lot of the stuff my dad was now acquiring on cassette as well, but 1984 was always a go-to for me—so much so that, inevitably, the tape ended up in my collection permanently. I played the shit out of that thing, so much so that the white plastic yellowed and most of the screen printed track listings were rubbed down to mere ghosts of the black lettering they once were. I was in awe of Edward Van Halen’s guitar virtuosity, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s thunder, and David Lee Roth’s bravado. My love for Van Halen was off and running.

As I got older, friends turned me on to the new incarnation of VH with Sammy Hagar at the helm. By the time I started high school, I owned every Van Halen release on cassette. Not long after, I got my first CD player. I had evolved into full-fledged geekdom over Van Halen by then, so of course I re-bought every album on disc—but one of the first ones was, of course, 1984.

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And then something happened that would change me and my music obsessions forever. At a friend’s house as a teenager—probably while I was preaching to my eye-rolling comrades about how great Van Halen was and/or how Eddie is the greatest guitarist who ever lived—my friend’s dad caught wind of my love for VH and said he had something I might like. He brought out a copy of 1984 on vinyl that was still partially in the original shrink wrap. He said he bought it when it first came out because he liked “Jump” but didn’t really care for the rest of the album, so it had been played once. I was in awe once again but, oddly enough, I couldn’t quite figure out why. At that point in the mid-90s, vinyl was nowhere near its resurgence. Records were the dusty old fossils parents brought out to reminisce about polyester days gone by. A child of the times, I had a respectable cassette collection that I was slowly pushing toward obsolescence by a growing CD collection. But this record immediately jumped out to me as a beautiful, pristine work of art and I had to have it. The black vinyl was so clean I could see myself in it. It even still smelled new. I think I gave him $10 for it; at the time, it probably wasn’t worth half that. But you can’t put a price tag on love at first sight.

Since that day, I’ve acquired about 1,000 records of varying condition and worth, both monetary and sentimental. But 1984 is still my most treasured record, and always will be. It was the first hit of a long, steady addiction to vinyl. Strangely, it’s not even my favorite Van Halen album musically. But as is true in every aspect of life, you never forget your first. And listening to it today still gives me that same flood of awe and wonder it did nearly 30 years ago and every day in between.

–Chris

Resolute

Even though I’ve made a few over the years, I’m not really sure what the point is of making a New Year’s Resolution. I get the symbolism of a new beginning and wanting the road ahead to be better than the one in the rearview mirror. But I’m not sure any of my resolutions ever stuck. I’ve had much more success with positive change when I said “fuck it” and spontaneously jumped in head-first. If you’re going to do something, do it.

I promise I’m not discouraging others from making resolutions—just stating that they’ve never worked for me. I know I’m not alone on that island, just like I know there are tons of folks who make their annual covenant with self and follow through every time. We’re all different, obviously, but we’re all really kind of the same too. Raise your hand if any of these sounds like you:

Would I like to lose that last 20 pounds? Sure.

Would I like to finish that project I’ve never been able to polish off? Sure.

Would I like to put myself in a better financial position, eat healthier, learn to play an instrument, learn a foreign language, volunteer in my community, take a cooking class, or become a helicopter pilot?

Sure. All of that sounds wonderful.

But I can’t do it all in one year. Hell, all of that stuff would take me at least ten. So what if I pick one and fail? Can I start another one as a March resolution? Seems a bit too gimmicky for me. I’m all for making lists, but this isn’t picking up groceries or figuring out the best songs of 1972. This is supposed to be me bettering my life. Not that I have a lot to complain about in the first place…there’s just always room for improvement, no?

And that idea is what led me here. There is always room for improvement. You super goal-oriented people: how long do you revel in the achievement of a goal before you start working toward the next one? It would be very easy for me to keep one of the resolutions above and, at the same time, completely blow it in another area of my life. That’s not really success in my book.

So I’m not making a New Year’s Resolution on January 1 of 2014 or any of the following years I’m fortunate enough to remain on this earth. But I am adopting a new motto. This may be something you’re down with and want to try; if so, more power to you and good luck. Or maybe you love the idea of a yearly resolution and think I’m a weirdo; if so, that’s fine too. I just think I’ve come up with something meaningful to my life that doesn’t ever have to change, but at the same time could bring about tons of change every day of every year going forward. This isn’t anything groundbreaking or planet-saving, but at 12:01 every 01/01 I’m going to say it to myself. Ready? Here it is:

 

“Do it better this year than you did it last year.”

 

Simple, yet potentially outstanding no matter what I achieve (or don’t). Here’s to living up to it. Cheers, and Happy New Year.

 

–Chris

On The Job With Yadi

After St. Louis won Game 5 of the NLDS, the Cardinal Nation Twittersphere was obviously jubilant and busy. I happened upon a tweet by fellow Cardinal blogger Dennis Lawson that talked about the hug Adam Wainwright got from Yadier Molina at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s clincher and compared it to the hug Jason Motte got from Molina at the securing of the last out of the 2011 World Series. After a quick exchange, Dennis remarked “Seriously, I want toyadi-walk celebrate the end of a work day with a Yadi hug.”

It’s a funny mental picture, depending on your job. And it got me thinking: that would actually make a great “This is SportsCenter” commercial.

You’ve seen these spots advertising ESPN’s flagship news and highlights show; athletes or mascots or pop culture luminaries interact with SportsCenter anchors in the offices or on the set of the network’s headquarters and awkward hilarity ensues. Albert Pujols as “The Machine,” somewhat vanilla football commentator John Clayton as a metal head, and this misunderstanding in the lunch line are a few of my favorites. Proposing ideas for these commercials is certainly nothing new, but I’m going to give it a whirl. I’m emulating the “This is SportsCenter” model so of course the settings and cast will follow suit.

 

Scene 1

SportsCenter anchor John Anderson gets out of his car to head into work at the start of the day. He is met by Yadier Molina in full uniform and gear (but carrying his mask), who walks Anderson into the building like he would walk from the bullpen to the dugout with that day’s starting pitcher. While they’re walking Molina says “OK John, you have a tough day today: full NFL schedule, MLB playoffs, hockey highlights. Here (hands Anderson a sheet of paper) is your list of catch phrases; stick to the game plan and we should get through OK.” Anderson agrees with everything Molina says.

 

Scene 2

Cut to the lunchroom, and anchor Scott Van Pelt is looking in the fridge. He says “Hmm, I wonder what John brought me for lunch today…” Suddenly the door is slammed shut, almost smashing his hand. Van Pelt straightens and turns; Molina is standing there (full uniform and gear, but again no mask) slowly shaking his head and says, firmly, “NO STEALING.” Van Pelt mumbles an apology and sulks out of the room while Molina looks at him disapprovingly.

 

Scene 3

Cut to the SportsCenter studio, showing Anderson in the middle of anchoring but from over his shoulder so the ESPN cameras and teleprompters are visible too. Among the cameras is Molina in his crouch (full gear with mask). As Anderson is setting up a highlight, Molina puts down a two fingers sign; Anderson pauses for an instant to glance at the catch phrase sheet Molina gave him earlier and smoothly delivers catch phrase #2. NLDS Pirates Cardinals Baseball

 

Scene 4

Anderson, obviously tired and a little disheveled after a long day, punches out at a time clock and, turning, raises his hands in relief and joy. The camera then pans back to show Molina doing the same thing and running toward Anderson; they hug and jump and yell as if they just won the World Series while “This is SportsCenter” appears on the screen.

 

I’m not sure if all of that could be squeezed into 30 seconds; maybe the lunchroom scene would have to be a short follow-up commercial. But I think it works. Because let’s face it…we’d all be a little happier at our jobs if we knew even the toughest day might end with a hug from Yadi.

–CCR

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