Tuesday, October 17, 2006

An Open Letter to Aaron Sorkin

Being a huge fan of West Wing, I was worried that your new show, Studio 60, would fall into the same chasm as had his earlier Sports Night. While clever, Sports Night was ultimately doomed by its irrelevance; no one really cares about what happens backstage at ESPN SportCenter. West Wing, however, gave youthe perfect platform on which to pontificate, and the rest of us could share in the dream that wielders of the executive power actually could be that witty, that charming, that thoughtful.

Who really cares what goes on backstage at Saturday Night Live? Well, my pop culture-dar is telling me about as many who cared about Sports Night. But I am holding out hope, and I think your show has tremendous promise. Unlike its Tina Fey-backed doppelganger 30 Rock, Studio 60 is about more than not-ready-for-prime-time shenanigans. In fact, I believe you are wrestling with adeeper question, What are we allowed to laugh at? The answer to this question defines a society at least as much as who rules it, making Studio 60 potentially as weighty as even The West Wing. At least when you want it to be -- last night's show got some great sight gags out of a recurring character in a lobster suit.

Over the past few week, as I cottoned onto the deeper significance of Studio 60, it brought to mind Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose -- which gets my vote as best novel of the 20th century. In TNotR, the antagonist attempts to conceal Aristotle's work on laughter, and the book makes a convincing case that the rediscovery of man's capacity for joy and whimsy is ultimately what spurred the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

Set aside these theoretical musings. I have an idea for how Studio 60 can push the envelope far beyond anything West Wing ever did. What if the fictional Studio 60 wanted to run a sketch about Mohammed? The show has had some great scenes thus far as corporate suits try to put the kibbosh on irreverent writers out to lampoon fundamentalist Christians. Mr. Sorkin, RAISE THE STAKES. What if they wanted to make a joke about Mohammed? Would fictional NBS back them? Would fictional Matthew Perry and Brad Whitford get death threats? Would real NBC ever go for this? I'm dying to find out.

Allen's Macaca Beanball

I love it how pitchers who bean guys go into full plausible-deniability lawyer mode when questioned about their actions. "I didn't mean to hit him. I was only trying to pitch inside." Translated: "I was trying to throw the ball just so it singed the guy's eyelashes, but I did not mean to actually plunk him in the head." Because this statement is probably true, the relevant test of fault should not be whether somebody in fact was trying to commit injury, but merely whether the injury was a reasonably foreseeable result of actions that were undertaken willfully. If you throw at a guy's eyelashes, you're going to miss and hit him in the head a fair amount of the time. You're still guilty.

A similar event popped up a few weeks ago. Some louses parked in my spot on my private property, and I had to take my car elsewhere. If you can't enjoy the use of your own property, then what can you enjoy? I happened to catch the people doing it as they pulled away. I gave them a few choice pieces of my mind. They wouldn't even acknowledge me. The extent of their selfishness and narcissism was deeply troubling. Where I was raised, you learned to consider how your actions might affect other people. As the woman driver pulled away, I did manage to get a single sentence out of her. Not an apology, but: "We didn't mean to give you a hard time."

Well, sort of. When she parked on property she knew not to be hers, she wasn't considering at all the rights and wishes of the owner. There was a reasonable chance that I might show up and actually want the use of it. She knew this -- or at least reasonably should have known -- but she simply didn't care. What she really was saying was, "I'll park wherever I damn well please. I hoped you wouldn't show up to be troubled by this, but you did. Still, I'm not going to let that concern me."

George Allen may or may not in fact be a racist. I cannot look into the man's heart, nor can I judge the veracity of the many people who have stepped forward attesting that Allen has used racial epithets. But I do know this: (1) During his younger days, when the other kids rebelled by growing their hair long and listening to the Ramones, George expressed his individuality by sporting the confederate flag, even though he has no family connection to the South; (2) Well into his professional life, George hung a noose from a tree in his office; and (3) On the campaign trail recently, George called a dark-skinned son of immigrants a "macaca" and welcomed him "to America and the real world of Virginia."

OK, maybe the confederate flag thing really was just youthful silliness. Hell, I used to watch tons of "Dukes of Hazzard" myself. The noose? Well, maybe George wanted to show everyone how he earned the knot-tying patch in Boy Scouts. But the macaca moment? In this case, George called a dark-skinned guy a word he almost certainly knows means "monkey" and implies that he isn't part of the "real world of Virginia" (else why would hehave to welcome him to it?). I think it was reasonably foreseeable that a lot of people were going to be injured by this, so it should be treated the same as if it were willful. Sporting pitchers do not throw anywhere near a guy's head; a true non-racist would not even dream of calling a non-caucasian a macaca and welcome him to America.

I am a macaca. Jim Webb does nothing for me as a candidate, but I'll be damned if I vote for George Allen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bush Administration = 2001 Red Sox

Citizens of Red Sox Nation have begun the post mortem. Where did it go wrong? Why did this team roll over and die in August? How could we lose five straight games to the friggin' Yankees? What are we gonna do to keep this from happening again?

At least from where I stand, it seems that the Nation is taking things well -- unlike in New York, where subjects of the Empire have climbed out on the ledge and appear not to want to get down until somebody throws A-Rod off of it. The 2006 Red Sox were a decent, likeable team that just came up short. The injuries were catastrophic. Crisp broke his finger and wasn't right all year. Same with Varitek, who finally succumbed to the DL in August. Wells's knee couldn't hold up. Pena, Nixon, Loretta , Wakefield, all hurt to varying degrees. Ortiz had a heart scare. Lester got cancer. (Get well soon, man.) And every time the ghost of Keith Foulke surrenders a dinger, remember how he sacrificed his body in the '04 post-season, and his career may never be right again. Even whipping boy Matt Clement can't be faulted -- the man was trying even though his shoulder was mincemeat.

In a previous post, I noted that the August collapse may have had a big long-term benefit in that it allowed Theo to flip David Wells for an honest-to-God catching prospect, George Kottaras. I thought of another one: the Sox's early dismissal removed any need for debate about whether to shelve Jon Papelbon for the year after his shoulder flew out of its socket. Look at what the Twins did with Liriano and be thankful that's not us.

If you want a miserable end to a miserable season, think back to 2001. Christ that was awful. Duquette, in the crescendo of his wretchedness, fired a decent but incompetent man (Jimy Williams) and replaced him with an indecent and incompetent man (Joe Kerrigan). That 2001 team also featured the most loathsome and psychotic player in recent baseball history, Carl Everett. It was Duquette's duplicitous and senseless support for Everett that undermined Williams and destroyed what little clubhouse chemistry might have existed. Probably not such, since that team also featured a bunch of overpaid hacks (Bichette, O'Leary, Lansing) who simply mailed it in over the last months of the season. Things were so bad that Trot Nixon, to his eternal credit, had to call them out in the Globe -- but to no avail. The team cheered and streamed out of the dugout on the last play of the season: retiring an Orioles hitter to strand Cal Ripken on the on-deck circle for what would have been one last AB in his storied career. The 2001 Red Sox were an embarrassment and they deserved to lose.

So what does this have to do with the Bush Adminstration?

Every year, I want the Sox to win the World Series. Some years, however, this is not realistic. Some years, as in 2001, the team and its management are so spiteful and incompetent that the only hope for is to clean house and wait for next year. Mr. Bush, you currently preside over the political equivalent of the 2001 Red Sox. By saying I want you and your cronies gone, I am not saying I want America to fail, that I want the country to go bankrupt, or that I want us to lose the war in Iraq. It is precisely because I want those things that I want you gone.

I have been supporting the Iraq war from the start, to the point that my friends on the left began thinking I was deranged. The past 3+ years have done nothing to rehabilitate me in their eyes. I did and still do believe that we had just cause to instigate hostilities against Iraq. I did not know at the time, however, that you and your team would prosecute the war and its aftermath so incompetently, so disingenuously, and so dishonorably that we would have no chance of winning. Until 2001, I did not know that I could loathe a Red Sox team so thoroughly either.

The happy news is that the Red Sox did clean house and, a mere three years later, won the World Series.

The sad news is that my whole post is just a stupid metaphor whose flippancy cannot belie a deeper, awful truth. Baseball is a game, and people forget lost seasons because they don't matter much in the grand scheme of things. But due to your awful team, Mr. Bush, the country is going bankrupt, you are losing a war, and a lot of people have died and will die as a direct result of your failings. Your presidency will be a stain on the nation for a long, long time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Warming Up the Hot Stove

Winter came early this year, as the Red Sox missed the post-season for the first time since 2002. I'm still in the process of figuring out what happened to 2006 and what Theo & Co. can do to make it better in 2007, so please accept these musings as preliminary. There's a ton of time for us to ponder.

Looking Back -- Jason Varitek had a miserable season (.238/.325/.400) punctuated by a stint on the DL which either coincided with or was a primary cause of the Sox collapse in August. (Lots of hot stove debate there!) Josh Bard got shipped to San Diego when it became evident he wasn't cut out to be Tim Wakefield's caddy. Both Bard and Wake handled the affair like gentlemen, and Bard went on to have a very good year for the Pads. In return, we got Dougie M -- one of the 25 -- and a memorable first night ride from Logan to Fenway, which Longfellow could have set to verse. Unfortunately, we later got smacked with the realization that Mirabelli is no longer an effective big league hitter (.193/.261/.342). I love ya, Doug, but I gotta call 'em like I see 'em.
Looking Forward -- George Kottaras. Learn that name, because much of the future success (or failure) of this club sits on this man's shoulders. The total washout that was the last 6 weeks of the season may turn out to have one huge upside: it allowed Theo to trade Wells for a decent catching prospect. Kottaras, like any prospect, may simply wash out. That would be a shame, because Red Sox management would be negligent to expect that we're going to get 135+ productive games next year out of Varitek's aging body. In a best case scenario, we have the Yankees circa 1997-98, where there was an orderly transition from Giardi to Posada. (I know it's a huge stretch to even compare Kottaras to Posada at this point, but you're allowed to dream big in the offseason.) Oh yeah, George better learn to catch the knuckleball this season, so everyone will get off his back about getting rid of Mirabelli. More on the catching situation in future posts.

Looking Back -- Kevin Youkilis passed the test: he is a deserving big-league regular (.279/.381/.429). It makes you wonder what 2005 could have been had Tito not wasted all those ABs on the corpse of Kevin Millar. But we are not here to talk about 2005, friends -- just 2006 and 2007. Homeboy Carlos Pena defected from the Yankees system late in the year to sign with the Sox, and ended up hitting a walk-off homer in Fenway. Now, I know the season was already lost at this point, but goshdarnit it's stuff like this that makes me glad to be part of Red Sox Nation. He lived the dream every one of has dreamed at some point. I know somebody whose brother was friends with Pena in high school, which makes it that much more real to me.
Looking Forward -- Youkilis can start at either 1B or 3B next year, which gives the front office some flexibility this off-season. We should not expect him to carry the team, however, given his skillset. Youks gets on; he needs people around him to do the same. Pena should be back too. He's still young and has some upside. He's proven he can hit big league pitching in the past (27 HR in 2004). I believe he's motivated to be here. If he hits so much in a limited role next year that Tito has some tough choices about where to play him, that's a good problem to have.

Looking Back -- Mark Loretta (.285/.345/.361) and Alex Gonzalez (.255/.299/.397) fielded well (in Gonzo's case, very well) and were at least competent offensively.
Looking Forward -- That ain't gonna cut it if we expect to catch the Yankees (Cano .342/.365/.525, Jeter .344/.417/.483). In fairness to Theo, there's nobody he can find out there who's gonna match that. Still, some guys with upgraded skills would help, be it speed, power, or OBP. I could see signing Sea Bass for another year, but it should be made clear to him that his role could shrink if better options present themselves. As for Loretta, who is also a free agent, I haven't seen the goofy free agent rater thingy that MLB uses, but I suspect he'll be a Type A free agent (meaning the Sox get high picks if they offer him arb but he signs elsewhere). The Sox should offer him arb. If someone is dumb enough to sign him, they lose picks to the Sox. But I suspect what happens to Loretta will be like what happened to Graf last year. The Sox need to hope that Pedroia is ready to push one of these guys to the bench (or off the team) pretty quickly. Otherwise, the mediocre offense of 2006 is gonna carry straight over into 2007.

Looking Back -- Mike Lowell, the tax the Sox had to pay the Fish to get Josh Beckett, had as a good a year as could reasonably be expected (.284/.339/.475). The .475 SLG was nice, but the .339 OBP is what helped crash the team as the season wore on.
Looking Forward -- Hoping for another decent year out of Lowell is a stretch. The Sox need to upgrade by finding a genuine hitting threat at 1B or 3B, with Youks going to the open spot and Lowell moving to the bench. Don't get me wrong: Mike Lowell does not suck, but he's the kind of guy at this point in his career that you're more like to find on an 80-something win team than on a 90-something win team, which is exactly where you found him this year.

Looking Back -- Manny was Manny. He hit .321/.439/.619 and did his part to help create The Legend of David Ortiz. Was his knee really injured or did he just quit on the team this year? I'm willing to give Manny the benefit of the doubt.
Looking Forward -- I won't go so far as to say that the Sox are on crack if they trade him this offseason, because I'm sure he's given Tito and everyone in the front office ulcers at some point or another. But it's a lot easier to buy Rolaids than it is to find hitters with 1.000 OPSs.

Looking Back -- While the conventional wisdom trended toward thinking that Coco Crisp just didn't have what it takes to be a Red Sock, I believe the better view is that Coco just was never right after his early season finger injury. It's really really hard to play any sport at the highest level; it's incrementally harder when you're injured. Wily Mo Pena filled in capably after Tito decided that Willie Harris and Dustin Mohr didn't belong on a big league roster. Gabe Kapler helped keep the flame of '04 alive but didn't hit much.
Looking Foward -- Coco is still young, still extremely promising, and still pretty cheap. Memo to Red Sox Nation: forget about 2006 and give the guy a chance.

Looking Back -- Trot Nixon was a shadow of his former self, hitting .268/.373/.394. Wily Mo Pena hit just well enough (.301/.349/.489) to make most people overlook his adventures in right, although not well enough to make people forget Bronson Arroyo.
Looking Forward -- It is pretty clear that Trot is no longer good enough or healthy enough to man the field for a good team for a full season. If he comes back, it should be only for one year at a cheap rate. It should also be clearly explained to him that Wily Mo is the starter.

Looking Back -- David Ortiz's heroic season was almost completely obscured by the miserable collapse of the team in August.
Looking Forward -- Even if he slips a bit next year, Ortiz is still a top-eschelon hitter. If Manny goes, his numbers are going to look like Bonds's (at least in terms of BBs). I think Papi can still get better for another year or two. But when the end comes, it could come quickly. Guys with that body type can break down in a real hurry. I presume that everyone reading this remembers what happened to Mo Vaughn?

I haven't sat down and studied the free agent market yet, or tried to figure out who might be available via trade. I doubt that there's much out there though. So get used to the idea that growth will have to come from within, and that Crisp, Wily Mo, Pedroia, and later, Kottaras are going to struggle some as they try to live up to their potential. Immediate success is not our birthright, and this is going to take some time.

I'll talk about pitching in an upcoming post.

In the beginning...

I don't have TiVo. I don't have a laptop. I don't even have a cellphone yet. But it's time I started a blog. Even if there is no one around to listen, some things are worth saying... or at least trying to say. Writing helps me get my own thoughts in order. If anyone out there reads it and finds it interesting, that's just gravy.

Time permitting, I will endeavor to make useful observations about politics, philosophy, economics, and the Red Sox (and baseball generally).