Monday, December 25, 2006

Suck It, Mormons. Take That, Wyoming

Maybe you've been to Denver before, maybe you haven't. It's one of those "Oh, it was nice" cities. As in, "Hey, weren't you in Denver for that wedding/meeting/Voltron convention?"

"Yeah, I was. Just got back yesterday."

"Cool. How was it?"

"Oh, it was nice."

Oh, it was nice.

Despite having four major professional sports teams (we're giving hockey the benefit of the doubt here), numerous big-time colleges within an hour or two (Colorado, Colorado State, Denver University, Air Force, Colorado College), and numerous other "fringe" professional teams (Colorado Crush in Arena League, the Mammoth of professional indoor lacrosse, etc.) Colorado, and, especially, Denver, has never had much of a cultural impact on sports. Or anywhere else for that matter.

That may have all changed within the past few months, however. The Real World: Denver house is pictured above, and although I haven't watched much of it, I've heard through the grapevine that it may be the most deliciously slutty installment yet. They seem to get more juvenile with each passing year (can you imagine somebody now going through the realization of having HIV or AIDS?), and all that I've heard of RW: Denver so far is that there is much hot-tubbing, making out, and making of the fucky-sucky. Which, for such a whitebread, whitehorse town, isn't much of a bad thing.

Think about it. When was the last time something cool came out of Denver, or had Denver/Colorado as its epicenter? For all intents and purposes, New York and Los Angeles always have been and always will be the engine that drives our cultural SUVs. But even Seattle had the coffee/grunge music influence. Miami has the beaches, Cuban influence and Dwyane Wade, which is a force in and of itself. Chicago has always been the Second City, but it's Second for a reason: good shit has always come out of Chicago, and probably will for a while. Boston has its immense Irish influence, which can be seen in at least four movies each year. Detroit, while looking like Baghdad on crack, will always be gritty enough to give us hip-hop and garage rock stars. Las Vegas is, well, Las Vegas, and other cities (Baltimore, Washington D.C., Houston, New Orleans, San Diego, St. Louis, Atlanta, etc.) always have one or two extremely unique things that keep them on the peak of one cultural mountain.

Speaking of which, that's all Denver has. Mountains. Skiing. Snowboarding. And even Utah has some places, like Park City, that rival many of Colorado's slopes (Vail and Aspen notwithstanding, obviously). But it's the only pastime where 99% of the participants are the exact color of the surface on which they are participating. A hobby that costs about as much as a new big-screen plasma TV to indulge in for a weekend. When I tell people that I grew up in the Denver suburbs and don't ski or snowboard, they look at me like Komodo dragons are crawling out of my nostrils. What? You don't ski? Are you crazy?

No, I was just poor. Sorry. I will now dunk this basketball, purely because I'm 6-foot-5. (I've got virtually no hops, by the way.)

My senior class in high school had between 250 and 300 people when we graduated. I can honestly say that about 5 were black. Probably 40% was white, 40% hispanic, and most of the rest asian. My high school certainly was not indicative of the entire state (Chauncey Billups graduated from East High in Denver, which is predominantly black), but outside of the main part of Denver, it was a decent snapshot. And once you get into the foothills and mountains, it's pretty heavily caucasian.

Basically, white people do not drive popular culture. It's true. And the town has certainly had some stars, but I don't remember people going out and getting front teeth extensions just to be like John Elway.

But now Denver matters. To be quite honest, there's not one person who knows, sufficiently one way or the other, how the trade for Allen Iverson will work on the court. Iverson could defer to Carmelo Anthony, or he could take tons of ill-advised shots, as he's done in the past. Maybe he'll be invigorated playing the Nuggets' up-tempo, fast-break style, or maybe it will just make his (already sub-par) defense that much worse. Maybe they'll win a championship. Maybe they won't.

No matter what happens now, though, people will be talking about the Nuggets. Aside from Melo jerseys, which have sold pretty well all over the country, Iverson powder-blue #3 Nuggets jerseys will be flying off the shelves this holiday season. Kids in inner cities across the nation will be saying, "Yo, did you peep that Denver game last night?" even if they can't find Denver on a map.

And for the city that brought you Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, well, that ain't such a bad thing, either.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Which J.C. Did Jay Cutler Play Like? Episode III

Yes, this is extremely late. No, I don't care. It's been an interesting few days, and the cultural phenomena that is the Denver Nuggets has kept me from pursuing our little installment (that and the fact that I have to post at work because my laptop is suddenly infected with all kinds of evil shit. Jeez, I wonder where that stuff could've come from...hmmmm...).

Anyway, as if you didn't already know - the Broncos are back in the hunt for a playoff spot after dismissing the Buzzsaw that is the Arizona Cardinals 37-20. At 8-6 they are tied with Jacksonville, New York and Cincinnati for the wild card, and those lovable, law-breakin' Bengals visit snow-packed Denver on Sunday for a Christmas Eve ramma-jamma.

So, which J.C. did Jay Cutler play like?

First Half:

I mean, seriously, did you see that throw to Javon Walker? Because I didn't. The game didn't get switched over in the bar I was in until about seven minutes into the game. But then they played it on replay, and I think I may have gotten an erection: play-action fake, turns around, steps left to avoid the rush, and unleashes a drop-dead perfect 60-something-yard homing missile to an in-stride Walker while absorbing a pretty lethal hit. Sure, it was 54 yards in the books, but the books aren't the gospel, dude. Cutler's right arm is.

Second Half:

After going 13-17 for 161 yards and a touchdown in the first half, Cutler threw an interception on the first drive of the second half that could have swung momentum. But Arizona got called for a penalty on a field goal and ended up having to take 3 points off the board. Then, on the ensuing drive, Cutler finished with a perfect pass to Rod Smith in the corner of the end zone on a fade route. From there on out it was Mike Bell's show, and the game was really never in doubt.

Final stats: 21-31, 261 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. If I had a degree from MIT I'd calculate his passer rating, but I don't. So I'll just call it a pretty damn good game and leave it at that.

Which J.C. did Jay Cutler play like? #1

Which J.C. did Jay Cutler play like? #2

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "A Change is Gonna Come..."

As the Washington Redskins proved that I was a genius for doubting them all week, I wondered what the hell Clinton Portis has to be thinking right now. I mean, after watching Ladell Betts saddle up the Redskins on his damn haunches and bust first down run after first down run, doesn’t he seem like he is the typical Gibbs power back? He even has the double consonant that Gibbs owns and loves—Timmy Smith, Riggins, etc. I know Portis is a machine, and believe me, I love watching him, but Betts is impressive, fearless and form-fitting for the stubborn yet incisive coach of Redskins lore.

In thinking further, the change was an invited respite. The resurgence I witnessed last week is not wholly on the shoulders of Mr. Betts, but instead probably the product of Mr. Gibbs threatening the lifespan of players and coaches. Still, Betts’ running is inspirational. The O-Line seems to be more motivated now than when they still had a shot at the playoffs (after accidentally beating Dallas, even). Campbell seems to love checking down to Betts. Confidence springs from the kids arm when he knows Betts is nearby. The defense knows they aren’t going straight back onto the field after three downs EVERY series, and this all but justifies my move on Madden 2005 to trade Portis for picks and run with the less flashy but exceedingly hard running Betts. I won five straight super bowls on his shoulders (and a plucky young quarterback with my exact name—who knew?).

Could such an unfathomable trade be in the future? Doubtful. Washington fans love having Portis (or at east the ones I interact with here in NYC), and I don’t know that I want his antics in some other locker room. Can you see him getting any attention in Denver (again)? Oakland? New York? Anywhere that needs a considerable running talent and is willing to PAY for it? I certainly can’t. Of course, speculation is pointless. The ‘Skins will hold on to Portis and Betts. I just wonder if somehow a marriage of styles could result from Betts’ inspiring play.

Would we pay an astronomical amount to platoon Portis and Betts next year? Betts’ 5 year extension is around $4 million in cap money and Portis’ is around 6.5 (I think—I’m no mathematician). For two quality backs they’re paying $10.5 million. It’s more than we pay Adam Archuleta to flip imaginary pancakes on the C-Squad, I guess. It’s more than we paid Deion Sanders (in sharp suits—I’m not sure we actually gave him money, but flame retardant flashy suits). It’s more than we paid Bruce Smith to break records and for being a better story than the biggest coaching disaster in fifty years (until the ‘Art Shell 2: Silent Stare’ era began). It’s more than we paid for Brandon Lloyd (more double consonants!) to stand around and look thuggish or Antwaan Randle-El (do double vowels count?) to run fifty yards for every five yards gained. It’s also more than Santana Moss’ (double… nevermind) contract which allows him to be one of the two spark plugs (with Portis) that revived Mark Brunell (this is getting ridiculous) during last year’s improbable playoff run.

In effect, letting any talent leave gives us more room to sign exorbitant free agents and have them ruin more reputations. Hopefully, I will get the distinct pleasure of seeing both men display their considerable talents (a la my beloved partner’s Broncos, only with, you know, good RBs).

The only problem is, Gibbs and Al Saunders may see the opportunity to get affordable young ta… what am I saying? Portis will probably stay, and we’ll trade for a third highly paid RB and jettison him to the practice squad—that way Archuleta will have a super rich practice buddy. I love you, Dan Snyder. Perhaps your love of excessive contracts will actually work to the Redskins’ advantage this time.

The supposed “shake-up” that is invariably linked to any off-season Snyder has his hands in doesn’t seem all that drastic compared to some. Seems like a couple of underachievers will fall and a couple of contracts will be re-negotiated. Maybe the Archuleta/Randle El/Fauria/Lloyd signings have re-taught the lesson he should have learned in the Smith/Sanders days. For every major class of free agents, only one has pulled through: the 2004 class (Phillip Daniels, Portis, et al). Portis remains a big reason why I get excited about this team. Betts and Campbell are fast becoming new reasons. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched the ‘Skins and looked for reasons to win. Betts and Campbell may have induced this, but without Portis I wouldn’t have been so likely to care. Of the new class of free agents, I’ve been impressed with exactly none of them—Randle El having the most potential (in all fairness, you can’t be upset with Fauria’s IR stint—these things happen).

When Portis returns, and of course he will, there will be a sense of continuity and a pair of fresh legs awaiting their chance. That’s exciting. Here’s to next year—something I haven’t been able to say in awhile—so long as the “shake-up” stays conservative.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Yeah, I Know He's A Complete Fucking Moron And He Could Run A Rice Stand In Downtown Beijing into The Ground, But He's OUR Coach!"

There are always sporting events that you've attended in your life that you remember fondly.
The best football game I've ever seen was a game that my Colorado State Rams lost 44-40. That may not sound impressive, but when Air Force and CSU rack up over 1,000 yards of offense in conditions that would've made penguins beg for some Jack Daniels and hot chocolate, you don't care in the long run if your team emerged victorious or not. You're just happy you saw something special.

Usually, though, the games that end up sticking around in the cobwebs of your memory are the ones where your team wins a big game, makes a big comeback, or your favorite player does something to rock your world.

Or, as was the case Saturday night, a big-ass freaking brawl breaks out.

That's not the greatest picture ever, but it's here because it's authentic. It was taken by my friend Kelly during the fracas, and while she was busy snapping pictures, I was busy spilling my beer on myself and screaming for Carmelo to go all Avon Barksdale on some dudes.

Thing is, I didn't think he'd actually do it.

Ok, so, here's what happ- well, I'll just let Nate Robinson explain.

From what they did, keeping their guys on the court, I knew a foul was going to come. It was a good, clean, hard foul, and after that things went down from there. I've never seen a team up 20 keep their starters in. They wanted to embarrass us, and it was a slap in the face to us as a team and a franchise.
Umm, Mr. Robinson, you think this was a "good, clean, hard foul"? Oh, wait, you also think you're an elite-level point guard, too? And, as so many have pointed out over the last few days, didn't you try a highlight-reel dunk on a breakaway against the Cavaliers a little while back and BLOW IT? Oh, you did? And that's not trying to "embarrass" someone? Hey, Nate - SHUT THE HELL UP YOU STUPID FUCKING MIDGET. You should love the Nuggets because we gave the world Chris Andersen in the dunk contest (even though he was with the Hornets at the time), whose atrocious display is the only thing keeping your 2006 Dunk Championship debacle from being remembered as the worst thing to happen to the dunk since Shawn Bradley.

And as far as Robinson and Isiah Thomas's comments that the Nuggets were running up the score: YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT THEY WERE. George Karl does not like you, Isiah. That much is obvious. But how about ten days before this game, where the Nuggets blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter at home against the Hawks? Or how about something that nobody's talked about - the fact that the night before this game, Carmelo dropped 42 on the Celtics and Denver still lost? That does not make a team happy. Those things - a coach loathing the coach of the team he's about to play the day after losing to a shitty team when his star has a huge game - contribute to a man wanting to put his foot down on your throat and press hard.

Most coaches would realize this. They would whip their teams into a frenzy and say, "This squatty John Lithgow-lookin' motherfucker does not like me OR my organization-running skills, he doesn't respect the fact that I grew up poor in Chicago and he's going to tell his team to come into our house and whup your ass." And if those players had even the smallest amount of respect for their coach, they would get out there and go after it.

But they didn't. The Knicks weren't good enough to stop the other team, and it resulted in an ugly, consequence-heavy fight.

I remember thinking that 'Melo would get three, maybe even five games. But then I saw the punch again, saw how it came right when the whole thing was dying down, and knew it would be a lot worse.

You know what? He'll do his fifteen, come back in January, go right back to leading the league in scoring, get his first All-Star nod, and (hopefully) lead the Nuggets back to the playoffs. But Kid Napoleon Dynamite, Isiah and the rest of the Knicks? They'll still be claiming games with 3,000 empty seats are "sold-out," they'll still be getting their asses run out of their own building, and they'll still be pointing the finger at everyone but themselves.

And then Isiah Thomas and Matt Millen will go back to Hell and resume serving Satan his Daquiris.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Which J.C. Did Jay Cutler Play Like? Numero Dos

I do not like our, as human beings, inability to discern sarcasm in text messaging.

I was late getting to the bar Sunday, and I got a message from my buddy Berg. All it said was "Looking solid so far."

Great, I thought. We might have a chance.

But when I got to the bar, the harsh reality of our cold, digital world smacked me upside the head before I could even order a beer: 21-3 San Diego, early second quarter.

I should have stayed in bed.

So which J.C. did Jay Cutler play like?

First half:
John Clayton: Indecisive, poor, pathetic.

Second half:
Jay Cutler: Solid, decisive, improving.

Now, we're still in this thing. Cutler definitely improved on his 4 for 11 first half, with a couple of quick touchdowns to open the third quarter. But the second was merely a nice tip by Tony Scheffler to himself; it's very possible that one might have been picked off otherwise.

But we're nitpicking here. Cutler played well enough to conceivably come away with a victory - if the Broncos weren't playing the best team in the NFL.

And, no, I'm not being sarcastic.

Which J.C. Did Jay Cutler Play Like? #1

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "Out of Step... WITH THE WOOOOOOORLD."

You know what? I'm gonna resist the Jason Campbell and Jay Cutler have the same initials and I could do a similar blog post to my partner becuase you know what? I'm fucked. Completely fucked. PROPER fucked. The Red Sox just signed JD Drew and Julio Lugo, the Redskins are one more Adam Archuleta away from thinking Carl Pavano would be a fantastic quaterback (he's got tremendous stuff, guys), and NC State just lost back to back games to UVA and WVU-- that means they lost to the original Virginia AND the spinoff. Did ABC find it difficult to lose ratings to the latter years of The Cosby Show AND A Different World? You're goddamn right they did.

I'm of the mind that my sports teams should just celebrate their funerals. Black helmets are cool (unless you're Rothlisberger in the offseason). Admittedly, I'm drunk as a hammerbird right now, but The Redskins, Red Sox, Celtics, North Carolina State University, and anyone else I've purposefully forgotten are fantastic examples of why I should find a way to become a ninja. Then the Tyler Hansbroughs, the Derek Jeters, the Tim Duncans, the Tony Romos of the world would have a realistic fear in their hearts: the fear of me showing up in their houses undetected and ripping their dicks right the fuck off.

Sure, I could blame the management groups of my teams for their lack of regard for free agent and recruitment scouting. Sure, my father deserves another, "why do we watch sports again?" call. Sure, at least I'm not justifying Andy Pettite coming back to the AL (much less the East for 16 MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS--awesome). Sure, I've seen beautiful things in my lifetime involving my sports teams. The fact remains, though, I'm in the throes of sports depression. I've no hope until baseball season officially begins, and then, I am, at best, semi-excited. Our best pitching prospect is either a headcase (Mr. Beckett) or a man whose never lived on American soil before. Our new free agent pickups are injury prone prima donnas (yeah, that's harsh).

Sports depression is tricky. The questions pile up. Do the sports Gods want me to take a break? Is it over for me? Should I move to a different city to have new and refreshing reasons to complain? Tune in next week, loyal readers, for another installment of... SHITHOLE FRANCHISES AND THE MAN WHO LOVES THEM. Next week's foe? JULIO FUCKING LUGO. Ugh. I can't spin it. I just can't.

In fact, I'm a step away from seriously signing up for karate lessons. I need them. I gotta kick too many asses. I gotta justify too many hopeful statements and rely on violence for my many failed mission statements. We all gotta believe in something... maybe I just ain't gotta believe in sports.

In other words... Jason Campbell? I'm praying to JC, but I don't have much faith.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "We've Become What We Hate."

The phrase, “the casual fan” used to be a term that absolutely infuriated me. Aren’t most fans “casual fans?” Shouldn’t people without insider status be considered the majority without being less informed? Sports are simple enough to avoid anything other than unilateral thought, right? I realized, with this baseball off-season, the difference is quite simple.

In 2001, I became a baseball superfan. I wanted to know everything. I read numerous books, discovered internet chat rooms and began hunting the perfect stats. Since this time, I have become more than a casual fan. Nothing refines your understanding more than trying to understand the ridiculous nature of Red Sox baseball. The fans are rabid, the players are constantly maligned, and the Front Office is under the microscope like viruses—honest to God infections. Meticulous and morose, the superfan must take each signing with a grain of salt, each personnel move with a casual fan’s indifference but the mentality of a possessed and still-infatuated girlfriend. Who is this new scout? Where did you meet HIM?

The true test is to ignore media typecasting and see each signing, trade or decision long-term and wait out the usual period of malaise (especially pertinent to the off-season since the superfan must wait for the season with a the awkward gait of a runner finishing a marathon—attention to other sports just seems so forced). For example, it was hard seeing Pedro Martinez go. The casual fan in me screamed “NOOOOOOOOO” while collapsing on the sidewalk in the middle of a rainstorm. The superfan took a few weeks, examined the value of the draft picks, considered Pedro’s proclivity for future injuries and decided it was the smart move to let someone else pay millions for him to hang out on IR. Smarts wins again. The same went for Bill Mueller (one of my personal favorite batting champions of all time), Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe (well, maybe not), Trot Nixon (another favorite) and the same would go for Manny Ramirez if they are stupid enough to let him go without getting at least Sheffield value out of him.

Point of fact, last night was a ridiculous test of my objections to casual fandom. With the announcements of Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew (and the possibility of “Mr. Injured Reserve” Eric Gagne), I was forced to evaluate two players I completely detested as players. As recently as last week I read three articles maligning Drew especially, and my dislike of Lugo was simply his seemingly sub-par efficiency at both the field and the plate (remember: casual fan only takes into focus seeing Lugo play for the Rays and against the Sox, a team altogether owned by the Sox for the most part). So, before going to bed, I enveloped both moves. I saw altered Fenway-specific stats and projections, recommendations, message board inquiries, player interviews and other superfan reactions to these signings.

I’ve decided to take into account both voices in regarding these signings. Drew’s is up now. Lugo’s will come later. Here, in effect, is J.D. Drew from the casual fan and superfan takes:

J.D. Drew:
Here’s the way I see it. Having looked at his numbers and taken into account he will be relieved by Wily Mo Pena more than a few times in the coming season, I’m projecting some stats (completely from me after having seen other projections and taking into account I watch enough baseball to try this out):

Without Manny Ramirez:
130 73 21 83 60 6 3 .265 .365 .459 20.1*

With Manny Ramirez:
130 88 25 93 71 6 3 .285 .388 .485 21.1*

*- I know what Value over Replacement Player is, what it means, and why it is important, but not how to calculate it. I stole this as a composite number of some other blogs' calculations. Such is life. Also, the Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing stats are contingent upon my belief that Drew will try and steal around 10 bases, you know, for shits and giggles.

OK. Those are projections after reading numerous attempts at seeing how Fenway will affect his psyche; abilities and taking into account his injury-prone nature.

Boston Media Take: Another in a long line of mistakes made to cover old mistakes (in this case losing Arroyo for unproven Wily Mo). He must shed his “soft” image for fans to like him. Overpaid, and not likely worth his market value. Generally, aligned with the venomous horde that is Red Sox writers.

Casual Fan’s Take: I liked Trot Nixon. Seems to me, we’re paying double the money for a decent improvement over already poor power numbers. Why not take the fan favorite, hard-working, already oft-injured, original “dirt dog” over Drew? Why give up on a guy that has put his heart and soul into the team and the fans? I don’t like this move at all. I can see him being a softer version of Nixon and playing 110 games. I just don’t see the money working out. Boras wins again.

Superfan’s Take: The numbers aren’t exactly $14 million-worthy, but he’s got the seal of approval from Bull Mueller: “the way J.D. is, he goes about business the way I do. Usually when people have that kind of personality, they do fine because they go out there and play their hearts out.” That’s coming from one of my favorites from an era that redefined the way I watch sports. The more I dissect this move—the market being what it was—a payment nightmare—and what we had on the field last year, this is a smart move to upgrade from a statistical aberration last year. Nixon was great, but Drew is more of a potential breakout player—Trot had his time to develop his power back to larger umbers behind a fantastic set of hitters, and never reproduced his efforts from earlier in his Sox career. I support the move, though not wholeheartedly.

Immediate Judgment: I’m in favor of J.D. Drew. I can’t believe I wrote that. Christ. What have I become? Ugh. I’m going to drink a bottle of 4 dollar wine tonight.

Note: I can't post this without giving a shoutout to Jon Lester who beat fucking CANCER. All sports talk aside, that's some major shit. He deserves hall of fame consideration for this. Cancer altered his very young existence, but he was lucky and brave enough to earn a clean bill of health. Congrats to Jon and the Lester family.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Which J.C. did Jay Cutler Play Like? Episode The First

Well, it happened. Mike Shanahan made the move from Jake Plummer to Jay Cutler. Every Bronco fan begged for it, got it, and now must live with it, playoffs-be-damned.

Sunday night, on national television, Cutler looked ... well, like a rookie, mostly. His final stats: 10 of 21 for 143 yards, 2 INT (one of which was of the Gawd-awful getting-dragged-down-so-I'll-just-huck-up-a-dead-duck variety, which, to no one's surprise, was returned for a score to cut Denver's lead to 10-7) and 2 TD (the first of which was a laser to Stephen Alexander that he tipped to himself, and the other was all Brandon Marshall, who broke several pathetic tackles and converted a six-yard out into a 71-yard score).

The Bottom Line: Seattle 23, Denver 20. Somewhere, Captain Caveman was smiling his little ass off.

But which J.C. did Jay Cutler play like? John Clayton, Jay Cutler, or Jesus Christ? The breakdown:

John Clayton: Erstwhile nerd hero for ESPN, diligent reporter of everything pigskin, natural enemy to Sean Salisbury (which is actually a good thing).

Likes: The Tampa Two defense; two tight end sets; Tom Brady; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Herm Edwards; North Dallas Forty; anything with coconut in it; dragging a fullback across the middle on play-action near the goal line; anything with Catherine O'Hara in it; cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio; Tom Brady; the year 1987; hairless dogs; Tom Brady.

Dislikes: Sean Salisbury; Sean Salisbury; carrots; Sean Salisbury; chardonnay; Seardonnay Salisbury; running draws on anything longer than third-and-eight; salisbury steak.

This J.C. plays like: Your nerdy cousin who feels like he kinda has to get involved in the annual Thanksgiving game, then jams a finger when you lightly toss the ball to him. He then runs inside and pokes at some cranberry sauce, asking your mother about her sweater.

Jay Cutler: No, really, check it out.

Likes: Protein enhancers; six sets of four reps; baby oil; tanning beds; tanning lotions; lotion in general; lifting insane amounts of weight; asking the person nearest to him to scratch that itch on his back, or thigh, or ... well, just about anywhere; supplements; being hung like a 3-year-old Asian kid in Alaska in January; eating everything in bar form; drinking everything (including protein enhancers and supplements) in shake form; feeling the "burn"; scaring the Bejeesus out of people in public; oh, who are we kidding - taking copious amounts of illegal steroids; bacne.

Dislikes: The geek he used to be in high school (see above); not giving 110%; hair; walking for more than 20 minutes at a time; the constricting nature of clothes made for mortal humans; sex.

This J.C. plays like: A solid veteran. May make a few mistakes here and there (and get some much-loved "needling" from his teammates) but, overall, gets the job done and earns a W for the team. And they respect him because, you know, he's the quarterback and can squash their heads like a grape.

Jesus Christ: Son of God; died for all of your sins, you naughty, dirty little soul, you; had a comeback that was so freakin' epic we now celebrate it by eating chocolate bunnies and finding hidden eggs that have been dyed in various pastel hues; at parties, frequently walks on top of the hot tub water as amazed partygoers scream, "JC! JC!"; then completely blows their minds when he turns said water into wine; fasted for forty days and forty nights, and not in the gay way Josh Hartnett did in that movie; returned to the NBA for one glorious night, bagging 34 points on 12-19 shooting (3-4 from downtown), grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out eight assists; totally made Paul Rodriguez get him a beer once.

Likes: Everything, man. It's Jesus.

Dislikes: Seeing crosses everywhere; nails; Jews (according to Mel Gibson).

This J.C. plays like: If Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, John Elway, Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Peyton Manning got together, did their business into a Terrible Towel, then impregnated Wonder Woman, and when that kid grew up all he did was live to play football. And so he did.

The Verdict:

Yup. The touchdowns weren't anything special, but the mistakes were pretty bad. And apparently it took him a while to get the right tone of voice in the huddle, so that his team could hear him and the other team couldn't.

It takes time. We'll see.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Oh ESPN, Where Is Thy Stain?

Mark it in history. Today, November 27th, 2006 is officially the day I switch from ESPN's juggernaut of a website to another major sports news website. Why the hasty change? Why the wierd Snoop-Raven Simone picture? Glad you asked, friend. Today's headline on That's So Raven-ous. The pun is referencing the beatdown the Baltimore Ravens administered yesterday and, of all things, a Disney Network show "That's So Raven"-- a show with a target audience of braindead 9 to 14 year-olds-- starring the aforementioned Simone.

Readers, you make the call as to whether or not this marketing crossover makes any sense or if it is intentional at all on DisnEySPN's behalf. Meanwhile, John Clayton looks even gayer (somehow) by having his article's lead in referencing the girl who destroyed the Cosby show.

Why do I feel like Homer Simpson screaming, "YOU JUST LOST YOURSELF A CUSTOMER!"?

Oh, right.

With that-- I'm off to a funeral (no, seriously...).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Holy Brutal Hell

I just returned from the rural South. I was a bit culture shocked-- to say the least-- after my extensive absence. The unrefined and bitter days of my youth attacked my senses and sent me into a freefall of accents and accidents. I was garrulous and reserved at the same time. I couldn't figure out why.

Then I read this and remembered the rules of Padgett Powell's New South. Everyone is out to get you. I can't imagine being a witness to this, but I can imagine that at some point the entire crux of the argument regressed into a discussion over who was better than who in high school athletics.

Collegiate sports are overblown in the South. Rivalries are taking on new meaning. What's surprising is this wasn't even a Duke-NorthCarolina argument. I've seen some violent shit break out over Jeff Lebo and Eric Montross as compared to Cherokee Parks and Steve Wojchekowski. No lie, Serge Zwicker's laxness made a man throw a bottle once. This, however, was Clemson vs. South Carolina. It was football. It was SEC vs. ACC pride, and goddamnit if James Walter Quick was gonna take Steve Spurrier's shit lying down. He wasn't afraid of the goddamned SEC-- he knew good and hell's well that Allen Johnson was as sonofabitch for laughing at him, and he wasn't paying for no bullshit cheater-ass shit like this.

The craziest part? He used a hunting rifle. This is some shit Mark Twain would've scoffed at-- c'mon Jamie, man, at least break a beer over his head. A hunting rifle? Wow.

If nothing else, I'm really glad to be back in NYC. At least here I can get shot outside of a strip club 50 times for a reason.

Ahem. My point is... the South is crazy, man.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Body Parts 3: Plummer's Plumage

I have copper strands in my beard. I don't know why; I just do. My hair is black (or dark brown), and nowhere on my person is there any suggestion for the redness in my facial hair.

I'm rather proud of it, actually. It's different. It's a conversation topic. And while I get admittedly angry when I have to tell people that, No, I don't dye my beard, it's pretty funny that they have to ask in the first place.

As a matter of fact, I have to have my beard. Without it I look like I'm 18 - and I know the ladies like it.

In 2005, the hirsute Snake threw for 3,366 yards and 18 touchdowns against only seven interceptions in leading the Denver Broncos to a 13-3 record, a second seed in the AFC and a trip to the conference title game.

But that's where things get, well, hairy.

In 2006, sans bushy crumb catcher, Jake has amassed some rather pedestrian numbers. He's completed only 55 percent of his passes, and thrown 12 picks against 11 scores. With left tackle Matt Lepsis out for the year with a torn ACL and tackle George Foster benched for playing more like Jodie Foster, the running game has come to a grinding halt. Teams are stacking the box and daring Plummer to beat them. He can't.

I tracked down Plummer's Beard at the Holiday Inn Cocktail Lounge on St. Marks in Manhattan. I bought him another round of a shot of Wild Turkey and a Budweiser bottle. Myself, a Jameson on the rocks.

Phony Gwynn: How'd you get all the way out here?
Plummer's Beard: An old buddy of mine, some sideburns, moved out here years ago. I needed to get away. (Takes the shot, holds the shot glass up, stares at it for a second.) Sonuvabitch shaved me like Boston College did points.
PG: Did he say why he did it?
PB: Nah. Just woke up one day and - BZZZT - I'm gone. No reason. Like one of his passes into triple coverage. (Gets up, puts a few quarters into the jukebox, punches a few numbers, and sits back down.)
PG: But you guys had such a good year last year. When did it go wrong?
PB: I'll tell you when (takes a long sip of the beer). Second quarter, AFC championship game. We're down two TDs, and he throws a bad - I mean, Michael Richards at a NAACP conference bad - pass that's picked off by Ike Taylor. When he came to the sideline, he threw his helmet down and then started scratching at me. Like, really hard, you know? Like he was trying to kill some lice in there or something. That's when I knew.
PG: Wow. But did you ev-
PB: Oh man, this is my song. ("Sharp Dressed Man" by ZZ Top begins playing.) I love this shit. (Takes another long swig of his Bud.) Did you know that the drummer's name was Frank Beard and he was the only one in the band that DIDN'T have a beard? (Laughs loudly.) Oh, man. Good shit, man. Good fucking shit. (Takes another long drink, this time killing the bottle.)
PG: Yeah, I didn't know that. That's pretty funny. Here, let me get another round.
PB: Naw, I got it. (Comes back with same drinks as before, but with shots of Patron.)
PG: Damn. Thanks.
PB: Hey, no prob. (He holds up his shot.) Here's to the glory and success of the Jay Cutler era in Denver. And to Jake the Mistake, soon to be washing cars with the rest of the also-rans in Bronco history. (We take the shots - he bangs the shot glass hard on the table three times.)
PG: So do you think this is a Samson and Delilah situation? Are you convinced that Plummer's having problems now solely because he cut you loose?
PB: Is there any other explanation? He got rid of me in mid-April and then guess what? He cuts some guy off and then, when the guy honks at him, he gets out and kicks his headlight. While on the way to deliver a check to charity no less! And on 4-20 - maybe he should've participated in that day's festivities and calmed the fuck down, you know what I'm sayin'?
PG: I do. So what are your future plans?
PB: Ah, I don't...I don't know. I'm gonna hang out here. See the sights. Maybe go to work for a high school kid in Maryland. He's got potential. But mostly I'm killing time until the World Moustache and Beard championships. I'm going to try to find a little sexy action.
PG: That's coo - uh, wait. What? Aren't all the mustaches dudes?
PB: Hey, man, it's either some good, full-on lovin' or those nasty things that Mexican women over the age of 30 grow. And trust me, man, you don't want that. I wouldn't even wish that shit on Jake - now THAT'S saying something.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "This Is All Just Hearsay..."

Outside the Aviary is proud to present a feature that will preclude the beginning of each season in sports: the Outside the Aviary forthcoming happenings column! This marks the first time I’ve done this on a grandiose (read: unread blog) scale, and it begins with the NCAA Basketball season. I’m only covering a few of the roughly 650295869503 teams in contention—my apologies to most of the conferences I just don’t care about. Here’s part one: The Atlantic Coast Conference.

North Carolina
: Amidst a successful season, Coach Roy Williams will inadvertently cause a stumble in his teams’ season by admitting that a) Duke has a cooler mascot and b) Sidney Lowe will become the new Everett Case. The players, dejected, will turn to their fan base for help. That fan base, however, will be indulging a bit in their quest to become the least knowledgeable fan base in basketball history. Their heads, firmly lodged in their stupid asses, will not heed the cries of a team in need—a team on the brink. After a disappointing 18-12 season, they will make the NCAA tourney when Dean Smith blows some acceptance committee members. Acidentally witnessing this, Tyler Hansbrough will take his own goofy life. OK, so they'll actually finish with more than 20 wins. OK, so I do not like Chapel Hill, NC. I will not apologize.

Duke: Before the second Duke v. UNC game, Shelden Williams (f/ Jay Williams) will give an inspired talk over one of his signature hip hop beats. He will then field questions from the team. The questions will include: 1) Can I ski from your forehead? 2) Didn’t Paulus want to play football? 3) How did you stay in Durham so long? God, what a vapid fuckhole. 4) You’re seriously retarded, right? Inspired, the team will win it’s game, get a #1 seed, and lose in the third round to, um, someone actually good. Ok, so I do not like Durham. I will not apologize.

Maryland: A quick note here: in two separate games of the Coaches v. Cancer Classic the other night, Anthony Mason Jr. (yes, that Anthony Mason) and DJ (“Son of Darrell”) Strawberry were on the court. I went to Madison Square Garden to see this. Needless to say, I heckled—a ton. Best night ever. As for Maryland's season, it all pales in comparison to holding that elusive "Coaches v. Cancer prsented by 2k Sports Trophy. Gary Williams’ head will explode this year, and Lefty Drissell will come out of retirement. He will lead them to prominence. Still, they have no point guard that can handle pressure. With their NCAA bid, Lefty Drissell will announce his bid for Presidency of the Confederacy. This will cause commotion. Lefty likes commotion.

Georgia Tech: after the city of Atlanta is burned to the ground, Paul Hewitt will relocate the team to Athens and rename them Georgia 2: Tech Harder. They will win the ACC Tourney with vengeance on their mind, and make a run toward the NCAA title. Just remember Hewitt, the shell of a ghost of a man that once was a resemblance of Bobby Cremins is watching. You will pay for the team you inherited. YOU WILL PAY.

NC State: Um, do I have to do this? Damn. Holler at me, Sid Lowe. I gotchoo, son. Not this year, but I feel you in, like, three. Four? Until then, keep y’head up, playa.

BC/Miami/other non-O.G. teams: No thanks. Get another league to ruin the sanctity of, why don’t you? Sure B.C. will make the tourney, but who expects them to matter?

Wake Forest: I can’t name one player on this team. I don’t know that I’ll need to. Skip Prosser may have to punch the opposing players’ nuts himself this year. Prosser will do so, but if nuts get punched and no one is watching—does anyone hear the stilted man-screams?

Virginia/Clemson: These two teams will battle, once and for all, for Orange domination. The winner gets to, um, keep their awesome color. The loser? They are resigned to hang back with Florida State at the bottom of the ACC Standings in perpetuity forevermore so we don’t have to care about them anymore. Overpopulation means you gotta kill some of the beautiful animals sometimes, kiddo.

Regular Season Winner: UNC (Ugh. I just vomited in my mouth a little.)

Tourney Winner: Georgia Tech

NCAA Bound: Duke, UNC, Georgia Tech, Maryland, BC

Note: This may be the only one I do. I just don’t have it in me to care about a billion college kids through the nation. We’ll see.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Daisuke: Japanese for "Expensive Hope"

Mr. Matsuzaka? Welcome to hell, brother. For the next three or more years, every move you make, every bloop single you allow, every time you shake off Captain ‘Tek, every time allow a two-run single, Boston will be watching with crossed arms and cross statements. The town that chose you knows about failed free agents and misallocated capital. They’ve lived through the Carl Everett era, the Clemens debacle, the Fisk mismanagement, etc, etc, etc. Red Sox fans have seen what happens when promise doesn’t translate from dollars to sense. I’m hoping this won’t be the case, but be prepared for that argument, Mr. Matsuzaka. Be prepared for a million other arguments as well.

A primer, if you will: it’s not so much the clubhouse or the expectations of the front office. They’ve invested (and will be investing) quite a bit into your pitching, to be sure. It’s not so much the media—they’re happy to have new fodder, sure, but they’re just talking heads that would be angry about anything. No, it’s the fans—the hulking mass of humanity that expect their number 9 hitter to have the same average as their cleanup hitter. It’s that rabid fan base that operates roughly thirty billion sports blogs and message boards who have already extensively analyzed your pitches, calculated your efficiency and debated the merits of your pitch counts.

The money the Red Sox are willing to spend seems exorbitant for an unproven commodity. At twenty-five/twenty-six you will have to pitch in sport’s most overblown rivalry, pitch in the hardest league in baseball, and be expected to live up to the truckload of money left at your proverbial doorstep. Thankfully, we have a plan for you, Mr. Matsuzaka. This 3 step plan will ensure your sanity. It will bring you the success that other failed free agents and big risk names never had in Boston.

Step One: Completely ignore what everyone is saying.

Use the “I don’t speak any English” routine. Say you left your translator in your other pants. Run if you have to. Just don’t listen. Don’t read the papers. Stay away from the internet. Stay indoors if possible. Destroy your television. Pull a Manny/Pedro and don’t allow the press to speak to you. Francona will cover you. If he can be Manny’s Mouthpiece for three years, he can certainly do that for you as well.

Certain people adapt to the Boston atmosphere. We think that most of them are level-headed enough to take criticism, are bat shit crazy or they are completely brain dead. In either event, commentary (on every single part of their lives) washes over them. Some recent examples included Trot Nixon—level headed, Johnny Damon—brain dead, and Pedro Martinez—bat shit crazy. Even in these cases, though the press eats out of their hands when they did speak, only one of them really wanted to stay in Boston and he is currently being replaced by either Wily Mo Pena (a train wreck of a fielder) or JD Drew (a train wreck of a human). The criticisms will come. They will come early and often in your MLB career. With the right amount of causal indifference and stubbornness—the perfect mixture of brain-dead, level-headed bat shit crazy—you can ignore it all. It’s called survival.

Step Two: Always have dirt on your uniform and/or a disgusting ball cap.

Boston fans like this sort of thing. I call it the Mike Timlin corollary. You see, hustle is the only thing Sox fans say they want. You want to wow the fans right away? Walk out looking like you haven’t taken a shower in about a year. They LOVE that shit.

Step Three: Win every single game you pitch for the next three or four years, win some World Series, three Cy Young awards and be the first to win thirty games in a season since Denny McLain in 1968.

This best case scenario is what I hope you’ll do. This way, I’ll feel justified in my favorite sports team spending an entire payroll for the rights to talk to you in a businesslike manner. You see, Mr. Matsuzaka, the typical Boston fan is proud of three things: 2004, the fact that they continually stay below the Yanks in payroll, and that they are smarter than the average fan. While the latter is completely ridiculous, if you falsify the second statement, the argument for evil completely changes. The Yanks are the free-spending juggernaut while the Sox are the underdog with “smart money” (though second in MLB payroll is, admittedly, hardly room for complaint). Reversing this gives us no reason to lose, and if there are two things the Red Sox have been adept at in their years, it’s losing and complaining about the Yanks’ formidable payroll. Now that the Front Office is willing to drop $100 million on one player, you’ll have some pretty lofty expectations behind you.

The only way to meet those expectations is to absolutely shatter them. Win all the time. Never lose. Be the first Red Sox pitcher to win MVP since Clemens. Be the first Cy Young Winner since Pedro. Get the gold glove Alex Gonzales and Mike Lowell deserved. Be the first since Nomar to be Rookie of the Year (stupid Verlander). Be the pitcher that $100 million makes you.

Otherwise, you’ve left a fan base with too much interest and too much anger with too much to talk about. As a Red Sox fan, I hope you live up to the hype/money. If you do, then I will be happy to have witnessed this debacle. If not—it’s like I said before: welcome to hell, Daisuke.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Webb of Lies

Since it's November and, you know, they have to, Major League Baseball decided to hand out the National League Cy Young Award today.

Your winner? Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, he of the 16-8 record and 3.10 ERA. Oh, and that also means that the D-backs can lay claim to 5 Cy Young Awards in their 9 years of existence.

In a down year for, well, pretty much the entire senior circuit, the Sinkerball-slingin' Southerner beat out Trevor Hoffman, Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt.

While the San Diego Padres have never had a no-hitter, they do boast three Cy Young winners in their illustrious - umm, dubious? - history, including the most losses ever for a Cy Young winner*:

Randy Jones in 1976 (22-14*, 2.74 ERA)
Gaylord Perry in 1978 (21-6, 2.73 ERA)
Mark Davis in 1989 (44 sv, 1.85 ERA)

Should Hoffman have been the fourth?

While the debate centering on the importance of a starter vs. a reliever is one that many, many baseball geeks have indulged in (yes, I'm guilty), it appears that the trend of using more relievers is being reflected in the winners of the Cy Young. And you can't blame the relievers - the Cy Young should go to the best pitcher, not the people that have thrown the most innings. When the fabric of the game takes you in a certain direction, you need to reward those who do their jobs.

Mike Marshall was the first reliever to win it in 1974 (NL); then Sparky Lyle in 1977 (AL); Bruce Sutter in 1979 (NL); Rollie Fingers in 1981 (AL); Willie Hernandez in 1984 (AL - plus the MVP award); Steve Bedrosian in 1987 (NL); Davis in '89 (NL); Dennis Eckersley in 1992 (AL); and Eric Gagne in 2003 (NL).

Although there was a decade-long gap from 1992 to 2003, for a while it was a lock that every two or three years, a reliever (OK, a closer) would win the Cy Young. They gave the first one out in 1956, and they didn't start giving one out for each league until 1967. Still, a starter won the first 25 awards (only counting the Cuellar/McClain tie in 1969 once). Then, for roughly the next 20 years, a reliever would win one out of every five or six.

Basically, a reliever was due. And that reliever was Trevor Hoffman.

Everybody will remember the blown save in the All-Star game. But look how much that mattered - the Tigers didn't even get home for Game 6, let alone Game 7.

Remarkably, Hoffy had a better K/9 ratio than Webb (7.14 to 6.82). He also had: a better WHIP (.97 to 1.13); a better K/BB ratio (3.85 to 3.56); a far better OPS allowed (.566 to .647); and a better ERA (2.14 to 3.10).

Cancelling out October, in which they both did terribly (albeit in limited action - not counting the playoffs, where Hoffman got a save in his - ugh - only appearance), Webb had two pretty bad months: June and August, where he was a combined 2-4 with an ERA over five. Hoffman, on the other hand, only struggled in July, where his ERA was near six and he blew 3 of his 5 saves.

And did I mention that the Padres won the division over - ahem - Arizona?

Yeah, Hoffman's monster 1998 season was better (53 saves, one blown, 1.48 ERA), but the Padres were a much better team that year (98 wins and NL champs before being steamrolled by the Yankees, one of the greatest teams of all-time). And Tom Glavine had a pretty solid year in '98, too. For all his accomplishments, including breaking Lee Smith's record for most career saves, it seems like Hoffy should've been rewarded at some point for his outstanding consistency.

This year should've been that year.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Proof positive that Music is Dead, part 1

Apparently, Big Ron Artest’s album (album?) My World didn’t sell all that well. Soundscan numbers indicate that he sold, um, 343 CDs this week. Hey, it’s better than selling one. At this rate he should be platinum by January of 2032. We can only imagine how this topic was broached.

Record Exec: Send in Mr. Artest, please.
Artest: What’s goin’ on? You wanted to see me?
RE: Yes. Ronald. Hello. I wanted to talk about your album sales.
Artest: Is there a problem? (Artest clasps his left wrist and his eye begins involuntarily twitching).
RE: Oh… heavens, no! We, that is, well…
Artest: You got the numbers. How’d I do? (Artest begins staring at a picture of the executive’s family).
RE: Yes, the news is… that is to say, I’ve seen the numbers, and while I don’t know them offhand, I—
Artest: (rocking back and forth) Motherfucker—
RE: Let’s, uh, ahem. Let’s put it like this. We thought you were doing poorly, but it seems that Soundscan made an error, and your sales have skyrocketed!
Artest: F’real?
RE: Indeed. It’s a markup of over 300%.
Artest: Cool, man. Yo, I gotta peace, man. Good looks, yo.
RE: Pleasure to see you again, Mr. Artest. (Exec begins crying a little).

As for us, we’re waiting for the local 99 cent store to pick the album up. Then, and only then, will we truly understand Ron Ron's world.

Thanks, Nahright.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Body Parts 2: Eclectic Boogaloo

Hello, friends. Today, I’m supposed to sit down with the ego of St. Louis Cardinal’s Manager Tony La Russa. Knowing full well the ego’s busy schedule, I am not surprised at it’s lateness, but I am worried whether it will arrive at all the demands were sort of bizarre: I am not allowed to look Mr. La Russa’s ego in the eye, there should be two full glasses of Dry Sherry at the disposal of the ego at all times, and, for some reason, I have to play Queen’s Greatest Hits (Vol. 1) throughout the interview. I think it’s arrived.

Business or Leisure: Um, hello. Are you, the—that is—you’re the ego, I presume?
Tony’s Ego: Ahem. Ahem.
BoL: What? Oh. (I hit play and Tony’s ego immediately requests Track 4. “Fat Bottom Girls” begins playing.)
TE: Love that cut, man.
BoL: Oh. Um, yes. I thought you would look, uh, different. I mean—
TE: What, you mean like a distended eye, or some sort of hulking beast? Maybe on some ballplayer or something, but Mr. La Russa has an ego made of pure light and energy. That is why you are not allowed to look directly at my energy source. I am not unlike an eclipse, Mr., uh…
BoL: You can call me—
TE: No matter. (It sips the sherry.)
BoL: Right. So, to begin, I want to ask you about the modern athlete as compared with the athletes of past decades. Is their a large differential in their egos or beha—
TE: I know Terrell Owens’ ego quite well. We’re intimates. I’m supposed to meet him in an hour. He wants to feel a real life championship trophy.
BoL: OK. Interesting. What’s Mr. Owens’—?
TE: He’s sort of a bore. He’s in the shape of a bicep and mostly flexes himself when talking, but he’s quite fun once you get to know him. I do enjoy his company.
BoL: Right. Now getting back to the matter at hand.
TE: You know, winning two World Series makes me a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame. To think! Me next to some of the great egos of all time!
BoL: Do you think that is a great honor?
TE: Honor?! (It laughs loudly for what seems like a full minute. Then it tapers off and sips more sherry.) Heavens, no. This is the opportunity for other ego to pale in comparison to my vigor and unadulterated power. Ruth, Williams, Bonds… they all pale in comparison to the greatest managerial ego of all time.
BoL: Is that so?
TE: Indeed. Who keeps Tony’s hair so pristine, his demeanor so incredulous, his laundry so permanently in place, and his eyes turned away while his players drive needles into their asses? I do. I am the controlling force behind the greatest baseball mind ever.
BoL: Well, I happen to think—
TE: Can you skip to “We Are the Champions?” It would be rather befitting, no?
BoL: No. No, I won’t switch. Now, let’s go back to the original questions.
TE: Is it hot in here to you?
BoL: Hot? No. It’s a decent temperature.
TE: Must be my natural aversion to lesser beings. Were you asking something?
BoL: Now wait just a goddamn minute you—
TE: One second, Chet.
BoL: My name is—
TE: (answers cell phone) TegO. What’s the deal mate? No. No. Really? Right then, I’m off. I’ll see you there. Cheers, mate.
TE: TO’s ego. Says Faith Hill’s ego is ready to hang out. She’s a handful, but… well, never mind. Are we done then?
BoL: I suppose so.
TE: Thanks ever so much for the, um, sherry. If you can call it that, I suppose (tips back both glasses).
BoL: Yeah. Sure. See you later.
TE: (stifles laughter) Right right.

Author's Note: In any event, I think it went relatively well. Another quick note, I’ve since been told that La Russa’s ego put Faith Hill’s ego up to her whole gag. Maybe it convinced Donald Rumsfeld’s ego that he was comparable to Winston Churchill? Perhaps. La Russa’s ego denies both claims, and has not returned any of our phone calls here at the Pretzel Factory. All the same, it’s probably for the best. The Cards were, at best, the eighth best team in the MLB this year anyway.

Outside the Aviary: "Baby Come Back"

Dear the NBA,

I know we haven’t spoken in some time. Here’s a quick update: I moved to New York City, I’m writing for several unread blogs, I grew what is considered a formidable beard, I’m failing at everything, and I’ve decided I want to patch things up.

Here’s the thing: I don’t mean for the latter of the update points to be something I try to slip by you. I know it's been a few years. I know I said some unruly and uncalled for things—hastily put together arguments do not a break-up make and I know this now—but I’ve realized the error of my ways. Give me a minute, would you?

Admittedly, there were many positive things about you I chose to ignore. You’ve always had an understated beauty about you. And sure, the Red Sox are spiraling farther from their elite status, the Redskins are winning on luck alone, and Hockey has fallen farther than the Christian Slater bandwagon membership, but I want you to know that I was always keeping an eye on you. I was just waiting for you to make a few changes—drop some of the dead weight, so to speak. I sound shallow, right? You must admit, though, your “Latrell Sprewell is a bona fide superstar years” were not your best. I was upset. I acted in haste. I said some things I didn’t mean—like defense, real speed, and the fast break are all dead—but I repent. Take me back. I promise that I am willing to change (much like you have).

It may have taken a Chris Paul, a new Rat Pack, and some Euro names, but I see the way you carry yourself now—like a sport with meaning again, and I want in. I promise to make informative arguments and watch entire games before voicing opinions on the new rules. I promise to be a better fan—a better man even. I’ll do the cooking and the cleaning. I’ll windex the television screen. I’ll even cheer for the Celtics as vehemently as I did when I watched Larry. Hell, I’ll even admit the new breed of athlete isn’t just different; it’s as good as the older breed—though still slightly contemptible in many ways. I didn’t mean that last crack. I’m sorry, baby.

I’ll prove it to you: I watched a Knicks game last night because it was ON. I’ve hated the Knicks since I can remember, but I like that Lee character. I like a member of the NY Knickerbockers. I admit it. There, you see? I’m a changed fan.

I know it will take time, but I’ve always loved you. I know I had a funny way of showing it (calling you a mockery of a league, and making “which ref’s turn is it to blow Shaq tonight?” jokes to start), but I just wanted something more from you. Now I realize I should've been more. Think about it, won’t you? Talk it over with your family. They always liked me.
I love that skirt. I love those shoes. I love the squeak they make when they slide step into the proper defensive position. I love you. Let me come back. I won’t disappoint you. I really won’t. Unless, of course, you don’t amend this silly “no talkback” rule just a little. That’s just stubborn. We can make it work, though. I’m willing to try. Seriously. I’m willing.

I just love you too much to let a good thing get away-- again.

Business or Leisure

The Body Part Interviews, #1: Jerramy's Junk

We'll admit, first and foremost, that we didn't watch Monday Night's game between the Seahawks and the Raiders. (At least I didn't.)

When you're a fan of a team (in this case, the Broncos) and you grow up hating the mere mention of a team, let alone the visage of those painted, spike-studded-shoulder-pad-wearing, 500 SAT-scoring trilobites from the Bay Area, you wish them all the luck in the world, as long as it's bad.

Well, these Raiders are bad. On offense, anyway. So when they take their ineptitude to the national stage, you'd rather just look away. This team, these ... monsters, these silver-and-black clad crazies, used to bring out the best in you, your team, and your fandom.

Not so much anymore. So instead of watching them get washed away into the abyss of the Pacific, I ate some macaroni and cheese and watched the last three episodes of Season 1 of "The Wire." Because if you haven't seen that show ... damn, what a good f#!%ng show.

But the events that took place near the end of said game, when Raiders defensive end Tyler Brayton (a CU Buffalo, by the way) tried to effectively ensure that Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens would never, ever procreate again, are what we are interested in today. Because you see, we here at the Pretzel Store are going to start interviewing athletes ... 's body parts. I mean, really, how many times can you hear the old cliches before these millionaires just start sounding like the teachers from "Peanuts"? There are far too many Michael Jordans and far too few Gilbert Arenas's (quotationly speaking, of course).

No, we must hear it from the source. The torn hammys. The weak hearts. The engorged egos. And, based on the (semi) timeliness, what better way to kick -- er, knee -- things off than with Jerramy's Undeniably Numb Kids?

Phony Gwynn: How are you feeling?

J.U.N.K.: Fine, man, fine. Been restin' up, ready to bust.

PG: Are you sure? Because, well, to be honest, you ... you don't look so good.

J.U.N.K.: No?

PG: No, not really. I thought you'd be ... well, a little more tanned. More of a brass color, really.

J.U.N.K.: You think you'd look like Denzel at the Oscars after a 280-pound sociopath rams his knee right into your mouth? How do you think you'd look?

PG: Probably not too hot. But Jerramy did make some big predictions before the Super Bowl last year. Especially for a guy who, up to that point, had averaged 27 catches, 307 yards and three touchdowns a year.

J.U.N.K.: Look, man, all he said is that we were going to win the game. What, you want him to say we're going to lose? That just because that fat-ass Bettis was born in that shithole town we should just lay down like dogs? Is that what you want?

PG: No, not at all. But then he went out and dropped some key passes, and-

J.U.N.K.: Who caught Seattle's only touchdown? I repeat: who caught Seattle's only touchdown?

PG: Jerramy Stevens.

J.U.N.K.: That's right. So are we here to talk about me, or Jerramy? I mean, it's not like I'm busy or anything. No, it ain't like me, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson aren't gonna get some sushi, a few apple martinis, and roll around in some fig leaves for a few hours or nuthin'. Nah, that wasn't supposed to happen in about 20 minutes or so.

PG: Ok, we'll try to wrap it up. So, about Monday night, how come Jerramy didn't look a little more ... unhappy with the incident? It looked like Tyler Brayton went straight for the kibbles 'n bits there with that knee. And pretty much every angle showed it to be a direct hit.

J.U.N.K.: Well, what do you want me to say? He's a tough guy? Look, I don't remember exactly what happened. Have you ever been shoved inside of an athletic supporter, which was then squeezed into them damn pants? Shit, I was probably makin' googly-eyes at his taint for all I know. There was a pinch, some commotion, and that was it.

PG: Are you ... I mean, you seem to be of pretty good size, and-

J.U.N.K.: What the hell did you just say?

PG: Nothing, nothing. (Coughs.) Umm, looks like you have a birthday coming up in a few days. You'll be, let's see ... 27.

J.U.N.K.: Yeah, yeah. Should be fun. I'm looking forward to it. I got a record coming out soon, too.

PG: Oh yeah? When does it drop?

J.U.N.K.: Super Bowl Sunday.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Completely Perplexing Situation

While we are not completely happy with the 2006 baseball season of the San Diego Padres, we can honestly say this: It was better than a kick in the head.

This team was as hot and cold as the sink in your bathroom. After an opening day gem by Jake Peavy, the Friars promptly lost four in a row. From the last day in April to May 14th they went a scorching 14-1, with only an extra-inning loss to the Brewers uglying up a historic streak. And then? They lost six of the next seven.

On and on this bi-polar team went, winning three and then losing four. Winning two and losing two. But when they needed it - and boy, did they need it - the Padres ended the year by going 28-13 over the last month and a half. They tied the Dodgers for the NL West lead, and won the division based on the head-to-head records.

I remember thinking in early October, in the immortal words of Willie Mays Hayes boarding a seemingly lavish jumbo jet to Milwaukee, "This is good. Real good." The Padres would be facing the Cardinals, a team that was backing into the playoffs so hard you could hear the "beep-beep-beep" from Wichita.

Something happened, though, in the thick October air, something that had happened all year but had never really been publicized because they always seemed to do something to cover it up: the Padres couldn't hit the goddamned ball.

We knew this going in: the Padres would have to pitch very, very well and play solid defense, and maybe pick up a timely hit or two. But here are the facts in their four-game ousting at the hands of the Redbirds: 29 for 129 (.225 AVG) with 0 - yes, zero - home runs. I'd go into detail about their average with runners in scoring position, but I'm on the twelfth floor of a building right now and the windows over there on that wall are big.

So what happens?


Ugh. You know what that "SF" means? Sorry, Fuckers.

I mean, I know there had been grumblings, and I had heard things (I am in New York, remember, where San Diego is usually talked about only when discussing "Anchorman"), but not enough to expect this.

And during the WORLD FREAKING SERIES nonetheless. There are many unwritten rules in baseball, chiefly A) you don't steal a base when up by a large margin, B) you don't bunt to break up a no-hitter, and C) you don't hire a manager during a World Series.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, I don't know, but this seemed, well, dirty. He's been with the organization almost as long as I've been alive. There's only a handful of professional coaches/managers who had been with their team as long or longer (Bobby Cox, Jerry Sloan, Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher come to mind - I'm not gonna do the fucking research, though, so if you're curious, do it yourself) and Bruce Bochy, with his strange smile and creepy-ass eyelid, said "San Diego Padres" as much as my man Tony's finely-tuned physique in a Pads jersey and Hoffman running onto the field to the tune of "Hell's Bells."

But now that's gone. Washed away like a sandcastle on the San Diego beach. The image is still there - an imprint, if you will - but the frothy foam has torn it asunder and carried it away to its new life, to be mixed with seashells and sandcrabs and Moises Alou's urine-soaked hands.

Oh, I'll have my memories. Ken Caminiti's steroids, Snickers and IV-infused run to the MVP and division crown in 1996. The quality club that ran into an epic Yankees team in 1998 (that was a strike on that 2-2 pitch, with the bases loaded, to Tino Martinez in the bottom of the seventh of Game One, with the score tied at 2, if you remember; and if you don't, just humor me). These last two division titles, and the subsequent waxing at the hands of the St. Louis squad (and 2006 World Series Champions, by the way). I'll look back at Bruce's tenure fondly, like that cute girlfriend in high school who would let you make out with her behind the small gym, and maybe feel a breast at the movies, but would never let you round third and head for home.

But you know what? He wasn't even a .500 manager (951-975). Sure he delivered four of the five postseason appearances in the franchise's history, but you've got to look forward (and I will, later). What's done is done: he's the Giants manager now, and if Barry Bonds decides to leave, maybe he'll leave behind his gigantic hats for Bruce so the Giants don't have to go through the trouble of bronzing them as a humongous statue outside AT&T Park.

All I know is this: if you re-arrange the letters in "Bruce Bochy" you get "Curb, Beyoch."

Adios, Bruce. It was nice knowin' ya.

See you on April 3rd.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "This Conversation is Ending (Starting Right Now)."

Talking points have destroyed the way the brain processes certain news items. For instance, certain debates have been utterly destroyed by point-counterpoint argumentative stances. Abortion, racism, intolerance, torture, etc.—they have a negative connotation to the idea of rationality. Sports have especially embodied this negativity. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that arguing a point, in the debate format, is a rapidly dying idea. The fragile American psyche has met its match; discourse has destroyed us all.

I work in a place where discussion is the root of everything. I discuss the merit of books, the knowledge of high and low art, and most of all sports. Are sports a force that give us meaning? No. They provide a convenient escape without real distraction. They are more abstract than television or movies (high artistic quality) and provide the base instinctual derivatives we crave (low artistic quality). Debating sports is both necessary and futile. There is little to be truly “right” about, yet so much to discuss. The normal debate axis centers on people with little to no sense of understanding insofar as they are idols. Their talent supercedes their humanity. Discussing the personality of a sportsman is as pointless as analyzing daytime television.

For example, I went to military school with Plaxico Burress (and Chris Perry). I know for a fact that he is a vapid soulless man that, at least a decade ago, used more derogatory terms than an imaginary meeting between Ty Cobb and Jesse Jackson could produce. Every Sunday, however, I hear his praises from on high. People cheer their hearts out, and I sit in a dejected corner sipping whiskey and coke. When Plex nabbed an Eli Manning pass to defeat the Eagles this year, I screamed and knocked over a chair. I had on a Redskins shirt. When Giants’ well-wishers inquired as to my rage, I replied, fuming, “I know him. I lived a floor above him and he would spit on your faces just as soon as hand you a quarter.”

Granted, this is a biased argument. Personally knowing a sports figure doesn’t give me license to say that all of them are worthless or degenerative. It does, however, give me license to remind the sports-viewing audience that when they delve into the personalities of their culture, sports will always prove at least one thing: cheering for a uniform is better than encapsulating the personage of the players. For every Reggie White or scrappy David Eckstein there will be a million idiotic boat parties, paternity suits, players who quit on their coaches, alcoholic ne’er do wells, coaches abusing their pulpits, or Leonard Little types getting third chances. And we will cheer.

The discourse, then, needs to shift a bit. Inasmuch as we need to invade the lives of these individuals, we can easily remember why we don’t want to. More sordid than politics, more unsavory than the world of hip-hop, the world of the athlete revolves special treatment and intolerance more than any other field. Re-examining the thought processes of a world of excess will ALWAYS produce results. The sports outlets of the world will have materials as long as the privilege of sports heroism is condoned. A rule of thumb: a large percentage of athletes have no extensive knowledge past their sport. This is fine. Their profession is to excel in sports, and ours is not. The public discourse should, then, stop at accomplishments. Otherwise, disappointment and fan-player relations will continue to decline (beer throwing fans and field tackles of first base coaches, anyone?).

Sports talk has always had the possibility of combining the rational and rugged—fans of every type can talk about their teams’ chances without having to wonder if their wide-receiver has a self destructive problem. This transcends the logics of point-counterpoint asthetic (shhhh, don't tell DISNESPN). Unlike music or celebrity, the personality of a player barely matters. The inner-monologue and outside lives of the modern sportsman is unimportant. Like celebrities, assume that your life is different and leave it at that. When the human angle dissipates, the statistical and normal escapes that we desire will still be there. The heroics may seem a little more involved and less prosaic—less the work of a collection of assholes than (albeit privileged) superior athletes.

Besides, it’s hard enough watching this Redskins season without having to worry about the undeniable stupidity of Sean Taylor. I am willing to forgive Plexico for what he is while cheering against him all the same. His uniform is a different color than I like. That’s all the reason I need.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "Hate It Or Love It..."

Detroit's success in the postseason has been a limited affair for one reason or another since the Sparky Anderson days, but they handled their two series victories with the grace and effectiveness that ALL underdogs seem to. Their quotes were boring hat tips to their opponents and accreditation of their pitching staff. Emotion and pride were left to shots of the celebration and the typical managerial humility. The players acted surprised. This is the burden of the modern athlete. When is one supposed to be brash and confident? When are the rules of humility and civility to change? When are emotions too affected to matter?

Why, then, does this have to be labeled, "an emotional win" at all? When Detroit got into the playoffs, they exhibited the same amount of emotive behavior and choked up "hardships" than they did after the Yankee/Oakland collapses. As the playoffs began, the front page of, Jim Leyland stood in an "arms crossed" manner with a banner advertising his toughness and implausible upbringing in the same breath as his managerial style. So, his familial situation affects whether or not he decides to pinch-hit when a lefty comes in? His father's "hardassery" affects when he gives speeches to his team? Aren't all managers "impossible to please?"

In fact, the one storyline laid bare in all this is Detroit's complete collapse down the stretch, and everyone writing them off. Most experts had them going out in four—at BEST. Full disclosure, I had them out in five simply due to the Yankee pleasure in breaking hearts (and the home field advantage). I knew, however, that the Yankees had no chance to sweep with Jaret Wright or Kyle Farnsworth having ANYTHING to do with the outcome. How is it, then, that Detroit went from media darling of the playoffs—baseball fans cheering them against the "evil empire"—to the underdogs with no chance, to the victor and commander of their own destinies? Moreover, how did they become darlings in the first place? In effect, their pitching—the best staff in the league—should have affronted them at least one HUGE weapon in a series marked by a Yankee team that hasn't been successful in signing a front-line starter since Mussina, Clemens or Wells in the nineties. Clearly, the pundits aren't blind enough to write off their own media blitz are they? They are when it involves the one word that strikes fear into sportswriters and gamblers alike: parity.

Thus is the nature of the sports writing conundrum. What makes the Tigers a phenomenon is their complete lack of appeal. Leyland’s “harsh” upbringing is hardly a story, the team is humble and unspectacular, their leaders are no-nonsense anti-Bonds types with emotional outbursts at all the right times, and their demeanor is one of self-effacing candor in the face of victory and defeat. In effect, they are my father’s baseball heroes. Of course their manager is a hardass, of course they follow the old school rules of civility, and their answer to emotional outburst timing is simple: after something dramatic happens.

Example: earlier in the year, they stormed out of the gates. Then they stumbled. Whether it was overconfidence or underwhelming play, Leyland had the all-too-typical “closed door yell-fest” and said afterward that he wasn’t going to watch his team screw up the season (paraphrasing). Unlike some players who would reveal certain details, I remember the players essentially repeating their manager’s Orwellian mantra: “we will work harder.” This is the reason it should not have been so amazing that they beat the Yanks. Their work ethic was, as far as we know, indestructible. We don’t know because they projected their workmanship and ignored their individual efforts.

Detroit’s mantra is also the reason they were so boring. “We will work harder” is the ultimate way to fly under the radar. Downplaying the drama of the clubhouse and counteracting their own problems by concentrating on the game made Detroit the antithesis of their two opponents—the Yankees being a collection of assholes and the A’s being the baby Beanes. From players to media to ownership (whose names I never knew and still don’t), theirs is a completely unknown circle. They lack star power (minus Pudge). They don’t quote well. They’re young in a lot of key positions. They were completely futile recently. In retrospect, they are the parity that baseball has searched for—the Marlins, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and White Sox not being built for the long run—a young team with staying power in a city that clamors for a chance to cheer.

As the underdogs continue to come up the conundrums continue to topple. The bloated payrolls and big media targets fall to the wayside year after year. The steroid era players are retiring and re-injuring themselves and the other rabid fan bases are getting their turns at the helm. The other half of New York City, Detroit, St. Louis and to a lesser extent Minnesota and Oakland are terrific sports cities, and with big name free agents becoming more risk than reward (read: Gary Sheffield, Matt Clement, Carl Pavano, Adrian Beltre, etc.) these cities forcibly made gambles on smaller or “washed-up” names and minor leaguers with something to prove (read: Joe Mauer, Frank Thomas, Jermaine Dye, Magglio Ordonez, etc.). Now, the major forces are re-upping in their own respective ways. This, friends, is parity, and it’s awesome.

It’s going to make the sports writing and team ethics of the future one boring misstep following another, but it will make for a fantastic series of chases and bi-lines. Cities will cheer—hopefully droning out the talking heads and talking points of the media conglomerates. Detroit is another in the long list of benefactors. They may not say it, but they have a chance to become a mainstay in our collective subconscious—the new “watch out for” team on a yearly basis. I’m sure Leyland and the boys would downplay that. Perhaps their humbleness makes them that much more boring. I say it makes them innately more interesting. No, their players aren’t high profile, imprisoned, or brash and outspoken, but they did make the World Series. I say they’ll probably win it, and still, “they will work harder.”

Oh, and in case you’re interested: and are also stupid enough to have me aboard.