Monday, October 16, 2006

Active Hall of Famers, Part II

And so, it's time for the second in our (now) ongoing series examining current Major League players who will one day be in the Hall of Fame. Today, an easy one: the AL Central (there's only four).

Again, we're ignoring guys who are so young, we can't tell what's going to happen. Grady Sizemore and Francisco Liriano will just have to wait until we revisit this topic in five or ten years (which is unlikely, unless we're hard up for stuff to write about five or ten years from now). There are two categories: Surefire Guys (guys who would be Hall of Famers based on what they've already done, even if they never played another game; this category's name has been changed for reasons that will be obvious to those who follow baseball or aviation) and Probables (guys who I'm predicting will wind up in the Hall of Fame, but who need to put up a few more numbers first).

Here, the short list:

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Surefire Guys

Jim Thome - The debate with Thome was whether he's a Surefire Guy or a Probable, not whether he'll be a Hall of Famer. I think he's done enough, but, if he has one more 30 home run season (likely, since he it 42 this year) he'll top 500, which will probably remain an automatic number for Cooperstown (among players who never actually tested positive for steroids). Two more 100-RBI seasons (109 this year) and he'll have more than Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Eddie Matthews, Joe "Ducky" Medwick and Robin Yount. Come to think of it, those guys are marginal Hall of Famers (although I say that in the spirit of -- to borrow a phrase from myself -- praising with faint damnation); maybe Thome should be a probable.

Probables

Jim Thome - See above.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

none (and, so you don't have to look it up, C. C. Sabathia's last three seasons: 11-10 [4.12], 15-10 [4.03], 12-11 [3.22], all under 200 strikeouts.)

DETROIT TIGERS

Ivan Rodriguez - Start naming Major League catchers you'd take before him, and you kind of run out of steam after Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench. Hard to believe, but, go ahead. See for yourself.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

none

MINNESOTA TWINS

Probables

Johan Santana - Yes, it's probably too early to put Santana on this list, but, I'm a Twins fan and I can't help it. Want to know the active pitchers ranked ahead of him in career ERA? How about Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, huh? And right behind him: Randy Johnson and John Smoltz! That do anything for you? Want to know how many pitchers in Major League history have a better winning percentage? Two! Since 1900: One!

Joe Mauer - Will retire as the greatest all-around catcher in baseball history. Would I be saying this if I hadn't grown up in Minnesota and wasn't a lifelong Twins fan (like Mauer himself)? Uh, yeah. I'm sure I would.

Coming up next: the AL West.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Scandal!

It's not often that a scandal breaks in the sports world to which I can bring a better perspective than almost every single other person whose comments you might encounter on the internet, but, one finally did!

The University of Wisconsin marching band received a sternly worded letter from University Chancellor John Wiley, putting the band on probation (get the details here or here). Apparently, during a road trip to Wisconsin's September 23 game at Michigan, band members engaged in conduct "that can be seen as anything from boorish and offensive to patently dangerous and unlawful."

Having spent a year in the University of Southern California marching band, and having read enough (not much, but enough) about the Wisconsin band to confirm that big college marching bands pretty much all operate the same way, I can tell you that "anything from boorish and offensive to patently dangerous and unlawful" would probably be a best case scenario.

[note: stop reading now if you don't like bad language. I generally like to keep this area clean, but, I don't think you can talk about a college marching band without swear words. So please. Don't say you weren't warned. I'm serious. Don't read on and then complain]

I joined up in the summer of 1997. I was a sophomore at USC, but a freshman as far as the band was concerned (I didn't join my freshman year for a couple of reasons, mainly 1) I never really liked playing the trumpet that much, and 2) my sophomore year USC was playing at Notre Dame and the whole band got to go, whereas my freshman year they weren't).

We started with a three-day "basic training," which consisted of learning how to march in the USC style (it's a precise high-step that, upon introduction, seems virtually impossible to do while playing an instrument. Eventually everyone masters it, which is one of the many reasons that the USC marching band is the best college marching band on the planet). We did that morning and afternoon, and it was exhausting, draining work; over the course of the three days, I peed twice.

Along the way, all of the freshmen were given little nicknames, most of which were eventually shortened because they were too long and too profane to say in public (I was "Pussy Boy" [P.B.], the guy next to me who dropped out after basic training for the welcoming bosom of the fraternity system was "Fuck Stick" [F.S.], another guy named Jeremy was "Fucking Crack's Sister" [F.C.S.]; "Crack" was a junior who had been given that name as a freshman, and Jeremy was dating his little sister).

Then, we were taught the filthy lyrics to various songs that we'd play and various fight songs of other Pac-10 teams ("In the locker room at halftime / Bruins give each other head / They con-grat-u-late their coach by taking him to bed RAH! RAH! RAH!"). There was even a bound, Xeroxed collection of these songs called the "Hymenal" (some of the stuff was disgusting, juvenile and awful; some was disgusting, juvenile and hilarious). It was pretty much exactly how a story on Madison's WKOW website puts it:

One UW band member, who asked to remain anonymous, says the band has dropped most nicknames for each other, and have altered offensive lyrics to some songs and chants. The member says they hope they'll do their best and hope that's good enough.

In order to facilitate the learning of a new halftime show for every home game (for which we memorized all the music and during which we actually marched while we played, unlike some other college bands), the band was divided up into "squads" of four, with each squad having a squad leader (an upperclassman who has been in the band for a few years). In the trumpet section, every squad devised its own squad "chant," and would chant them on the busses to games, or marching on the way to games. Or anywhere else, regardless of who might be listening. Some of the chants were as follows:

"Bite Me, Suck Me, Nibble and Chew!
We're Squad Nine, Woo-Woo!"

"Doug's Mom Screamed It Would Never Fit,
But We're Squad Eleven and We Fucked That Shit!"

And, my personal favorite:

"Fuck You Fuck You Fuck You Fuck You
Fuck You Fuck You We're Squad Five!"

Other chants were specific to certain people; one young Jewish woman who played in and worked as a coordinator of some sort for the band had a special song devoted to her that focused chiefly on the size of her nose.

Throughout the course of the season, freshmen were strongly encouraged (unofficially required) to attend parties and gatherings and made to line up in formation and recite various chants and sing various songs. Often, we were given what they called "slicks," which were usually to be consumed in mid-marching pose, standing on one leg. One of my favorites was made up at a burger place called Tommy's, and consisted of hamburger patty, chili, soda, a jalapeno pepper, Hershey's chocolate syrup and God knows what else. I was yelled at about halfway through one of them by a guy who accused me of spitting mine out onto the ground. I told him to relax; most of what he saw down there was puke (it was). Of course, no one was physically forced to do any of this, but, the understanding was that if you wanted to be part of the band (or at least part of the trumpet section), participation in the hazing was highly recommended.

On game day, the band would gather on campus, marching from USC across the street to the Coliseum and stopping to play several times along the way. Officially, no band member was ever allowed to consume alcohol while in uniform. Unofficially, a decent number of band members would be buzzed -- if not full-on drunk -- by the time we got to the stadium. I was adept at opening beer cans quickly and unobtrusively with my teeth (needless to say I was under 21 at the time), not having to move my trumpet-holding arm at all and attracting as little attention as possible, so I usually started our squad off and passed it on to the squad leader, who did the bulk of the damage. Fights between band members and fans of rival schools were not unheard of.

I tell you all this not to elicit sympathy or to blow the lid off of the USC marching band. I only bring it up so you know what sort of stuff went on, and to tell you that anybody in any position of authority within the band pretty much knew all about it. Shortly after the training retreat, an older woman (older than us; she was probably in her 30s) who understandably didn't take to the frat house nature of the trumpet section was quietly moved over to the french horns at the behest of out section leaders, with those in charge of the band knowing exactly why.

I can't stand that kind of stuff, and I wasn't going to be around it any longer than I had to to get my free trip to Notre Dame (and one to the Bay Area; the whole band goes on those trips, and smaller contingents made up of people who have been in the band longer go to other away games). The upperclassmen in the band were surprised that I wasn't coming back the next year, since I was a competent (if unexceptional) marcher and trumpet player and since I wouldn't have to deal with any of that stupid crap as a band sophomore. Personally, I would rather go through it than watch someone else go through it, and one year of it was plenty.

The point is, this is how every college marching band is (well, maybe not BYU's, but, most of them). Putting a stop to this type of behavior when it happens during road trips or practices would be extremely easy, if the people in charged cared to do so. I have a big problem with university administrators who seem outraged only when news of this kind of thing hits the AP wire (whether it's the Wisconsin marching band, the Northwestern women's soccer team, or some other organization not affiliated with Big Ten sports), when everyone connected with college life either knows full well that this stuff goes on all the time or is so willfully ignorant about college students that they don't deserve to keep their job.

Still, as much as I disdain the hazing and initiation bullshit (not so much the vulgar songs and chants and constant sexist/homophobic remarks, most of which are funny), the victims are all people who, to one degree or another, signed up for it. I wouldn't call it an enormous, epidemic problem. I just hate it.

Anyway. To the people like University of Wisconsin Chancellor John Wiley: either put a stop to this stuff, or live with it going on. To ignore it most of the time, and to pretend to be outraged by it only when forced to, is to deal with it in the most craven possible way.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Honest To God, Plays!

I finally read one too many bitches about laugh tracks in TV sitcoms, and, I have to say something.

This particular bitch came from somebody named Adam Hoff, who, based on the one blog post I read, is an interesting writer who decided to do a Top 10 Power Ranking of new fall TV shows (perhaps an intriguing idea, if Onebee.com weren't doing its annual Fall TV gauntlet, next to which any television writing on the internet is going to look unfortunately amateurish). I don't know anything about Mr. Hoff, but, the fact that he listed "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" at number one means we can conclude that he's doubtless a patchouli-smelling dreadlocked hippie in a "Free Mumia" t-shirt whose screensaver is either the logo for a band he'll abandon in disgust once three other people have heard of it or an image of George W. Bush with a Hitler moustache.

(I kid; I'm sure he's fine. "Studio 60" just isn't turning out to be that great a show unless you're convinced we're all living in Salem, Massachusetts)

He listed "The Class" at number seven, and while I can't imagine "The Class" is any good whatsoever, I haven't actually seen an episode so I can't say for sure (well, I can, but, I'm being nice). But, here's what he said that got me going:

We've obviously become spoiled by the likes of "The Office," "Arrested Development," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and "Scrubs," because many of us absolutely cannot tolerate a laugh track. It makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon.

I guess what has continued to amaze me is that people who seem to be -- or claim to be -- savvy about TV constantly miss the point here. There's a big difference between a traditional multi-camera sitcom and a single camera show. A quick tutorial for those who don't know (or need to be reminded):

Multi-camera sitcoms (from "The Honeymooners" to "Everybody Loves Raymond") are performed on a stage in front of a live audience. They're essentially filmed plays. Other examples include "Friends," "Frasier" and "All in the Family."

Single camera shows (from "Doogie Howser, MD" to "My Name is Earl") are essentially like movies. They are movies, in fact; half-hour ones. Other examples include "The Wonder Years" and "Malcolm in the Middle."

The problem with laugh tracks comes from shoving them into shows that have no live studio audience. ABC tried this with "SportsNight" for a while, and people complained about how much they don't like laugh tracks, when really what they don't like are laugh tracks on single camera shows. And for good reason; it's weird to hear laugher coming from nowhere. When you watch "M*A*S*H" or an early episode of "SportsNight," it's bizarre to hear disembodied laugher after a joke, just like it would be if you rented "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

On the other hand, multi-camera shows like "Frasier" or "Friends" are conceived to be presented before a crowd, and, when you watch them, you essentially join the live studio audience. If it's jarring to hear laugher coming from nowhere while watching a single camera show, imagine the converse: going to a theater and watching a performance of an hilarious play with yourself as the only audience member. That would be very weird as well. Watching a show like "Frasier" without an audience would be like watching a televised baseball game being played in an empty stadium; it would feel weird to you.

Anyway, I guess people who don't know any better (but really should) kind of got confused when single camera sitcoms like "Scrubs," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Arrested Development" came along and were really good just when multi-camera sitcoms started to really stink ("Yes, Dear," "According to Jim," anything NBC's put out since 1997). Conventional wisdom held that the traditional sitcom was dead, when in reality there just weren't any good ones ("Everybody Loves Raymond" being determinedly un-hip, and thus easy for a lot of people to ignore despite its greatness). So, in a sort of post hoc ergo propter hoc leap of fallacious logic, it was surmised that laugh track=bad sitcom and no laugh track=good sitcom.

(then there's the small sub-issue of "sweetening" laugh tracks for multi-camera sitcoms, using added, pre-recorded laughs to make it seem like the live studio audience really thought that Ted Danson's remarks on "Becker" were funny. Which I suppose is annoying, but, if you work on "Becker," that the heck else are you going to do? You know?)

Anyway. The point is: the only issue people really have with laugh tracks is that they're jarring when used with single camera shows. People who complain about laugh tracks seemed too dumb to realize this, and that got me annoyed enough that I had to clear things up. So there. Saying the laugh track on a multi-camera show makes you "want to gouge your eyes out like a spoon" would be like saying that you can't watch a comedic play with a full audience because of all that distracting laugher around you. That's absurd.

Life Imitates Ms. Pac Man

In an effort to relieve me of a small chunk of my disposable income, someone in the building where I work recently installed an old-school Ms. Pac Man machine in the post office box area that's been carved out of a section of parking garage. I usually manage to fit in a game or two a day (it still only costs a quarter).

This afternoon, as I was walking away from the machine after a game that started well but ended badly, a nice postal worker lady who also happened to be on her way out asked me, "did you lose?"

I said, "Well, you always lose; it's just a matter of how long it takes."

And as I rode up the elevator to our offices I thought, "Boy, if that doesn't sum up human mortality."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Best Show on TV, Part 4

The Best Show on TV

"The Office" (NBC) -- 2/9/2006 - 4/2/2006
"Huff" (Showtime) -- 4/2/2006 - 8/26/2006
"Big Brother" (CBS) -- 8/26/2006 - 10/4/2006
"South Park" (Comedy Central) -- 10/4/2006 - present

I kept waiting for a show to jump out at me and distinguish itself as The Best Show on TV. I figured it might be a new show ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "Heroes") or a returning favorite ("Boston Legal," "Veronica Mars," "The Office"); I just figured what when it hit me, it would hit me. Just like previous title holders "The Office," "Huff" and "Big Brother" had (well, that's a bit disingenuous; I was merely waiting for the "Huff" Season 2 premiere to award it the title).

Well, last night it hit me. The Best Show on TV is "South Park."

My first clue: the episode description read, "The boys dedicate their lives to defeating a mad gamer and saving the World of Warcraft." Now, before watching the episode, my familiarity with Warcraft was that I had sort of heard of it, almost. I thought, and said to my wife, that it was unfortunate that I probably wouldn't understand the episode.

But, two minutes in, I was not only understanding what was going on but was delighted by what I saw. World of Warcraft is, apparently, some sort of online computer game, where players from all over the world play at the same time. Or something. The point is, several minutes of the episode were rendered in gorgeous computer animation, in what I would assume was the Warcraft style, and it worked. All in all it was a typically wonderful "South Park" episode.

And the thing is, "South Park" is as strong as ever. Maybe stronger. The list of episodes they've done over the past season is as good as anything they've ever done, and while a certain segment of the online community (although a smaller segment than NBC had hoped) has lined up to teabag Aaron Sorkin for being brave enough to stand up to those scary, threatening Christians, "South Park" was the pretty much the only American media entity with the stones enough to take on the Mohammed cartoon controversy earlier this year (even though Comedy Central chickened out). I enjoy "Studio 60" fine, but, Aaron Sorkin could probably learn something about genuine courage in art from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. After all, it's not like Evangelical Christians are going to boycott your head off with a dull sword while shouting "Allahu akbar!"

Still, knowing all of this, it never even occurred to me until last night (although it only took a couple of minutes into the episode) that "South Park" might be the best show on TV. But it is. Don't believe me? You can download most episodes at this site. It's where I went to catch up, because I'd been taking "South Park" for granted and not watching it regularly for the last few seasons. And shame on me. But it's nice to know that even though I wasn't watching, "South Park" was there, being consistently awesome.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

So Long, Torii

Torii Hunter seems like a hell of a guy, but he's currently hitting .143 in a playoff series that he moments ago pissed away with a ridiculous play in center field. There's been a lot of talk about whether the Twins will re-sign Hunter this offseason as he'll be a free agent and his price should be pretty high; I think it's safe to assume that the Twins can get by without him.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Right in the Balls

Since 2002, the Minnesota Twins are now 2-7 in the Metrodome in the playoffs.

So, the next idiot I hear talking about the Twins' magical "advantage" in the Metrodome in the playoffs, I'm going to kick him in the balls.

Right in the balls.

And this isn't like a little joke that I'm putting on the internet because I'm frustrated because Johan Santata just lost Game 1 and the Twins are pretty much done and there's no point in even playing the rest of the series and I'm just venting; I'm completely serious. The next person who says that, I'm really going to kick him in the balls.

I'm not what you would call a wealthy man, but, I have at least enough money for a round-trip plane ticket anywhere in the country, and, the next retard who talks about the Twins' home field advantage in the playoffs is getting kicked in the balls.

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