Saturday, June 30, 2007

How to enjoy a miserable baseball season (National League division)

Strange couple of days.

Tried to nail down a time period during which Biggio would hit number three thousand. Secured tickets for Friday, Saturday, and Monday, and was given tickets for Sunday by a friend and former student.

(Wonderful thing about being so open about my baseball fanaticism. When friends have extra tickets, they often think of me.)

I had no idea Biggio would go nuts, have the second 5-hit day of his career, get to 3K on Thursday, and put me in the doghouse with Astro-Girl. Or that Carlos Lee would end the game with an 11th-inning, two-out, walk-off Grand Slam in easily the most exciting Astro game of the year.

Partial remedy came last night.

As Tom Boswell once said, baseball is at once democratic and aristocratic: enjoyable for anyone wishing to spend an evening, but self-revelatory to anyone who pays serious attention. And so it was last night, in the bottom of the ninth of a wild Astros-Rockies game in which (up to that point) one lead or the other had either been reversed, erased or won back seven different times.

The situation: 8-7 Rockies. Closer Brian Fuentes on the mound.

Up first, the Golden Boy, your Rookie of the Half-Year, Hunter Pence (and, really, the only reason to watch the Astros besides Biggio's 3,000-hit chase), who grounded out (with hints that the first slump of his major-league career may be in the offing). Lance Berkman, trying to tie the game with one swing, struck out mightily, twice nearly spinning himself into the ground, as Reggie Jackson often did.

Two outs. Carlos Lee. Fuentes threw ball one.

"They're walking him," Astro-Girl said--correctly. One ball was in danger of beaning the batboy. Speedy Chris Burke comes in to run for Lee.

Now, Mark Loretta, the steadiest Astro thus far (the sort of thing that can be annoying to a team, when a player slotted for platoon/utility/pinch-hitting plays so well they simply have to play him every day, never mind their previous plans).

Tense shift.

So, okay, a .330 singles hitter comes up as the winning run. Burke is fast enough to score on a double, or on a single if on second.

So: a few considerations.

1. Does Rockies first baseman Helton play behind the runner and guard the line? No. Helped in part by the knowledge that Loretta is a right-handed hitter, and thus unlikely to hit the ball with power to the right side, Helton holds Burke at first.

2. Does Burke attempt a steal? No--and with good reason. Burke has first-to-third speed, or (almost pointless here) hit-and-run speed, but not enough straight-steal speed. With two outs, he is be off on contact--enough, Garner reasons, to hold him, especially early in the count.

3. The rest of the infield plays . . . Easy, this one. Third baseman Atkins, hugging the line, is deep. Short and second are just in from the outfield grass. Anything hit to hard them is an out. Anything dribbled to them is a hit, but with Burke proceeding no farther than second. Anything hit past them, no worse than a single, with Burke at third, especially because . . .

4. The outfield plays . . . Talk about a no-doubles outfield. Albert Pujols doesn't command this kind of respect. Centerfielder Willie Taveras is at the pre-Tal's Hill warning track, 403 feet deep. (Were this Yankee stadium, he'd be standing beyond the centerfield fence.) Left fielder Matt Halliday nearly has his back leaned against the left field out-of-town scoreboard, which measures a uniform 315 feet across and fronts the inviting Crawford Boxes.

Rockie manager Clint Hurdle's strategy is clear. Anything hit to an infielder is out number three. Anything hit up the left field line (and thus at Atkins), out number three. Anything hit to the outfield is a single, with Burke stopping at third.

On-deck is Mike Lamb, red-hot but a left-handed hitter, a reduced risk against the left-handed Fuentes. The rational is to pitch to Loretta. If he makes out, game over. A base hit, the Rockies would still lead.

A good strategy. Except that right-handed hitters in Minute Maid, if you pitch them inside . . .

Loretta turned on the second pitch and sent it into the Crawford Boxes.

9-8 Astros. Ballgame.

Every team (that is, all but the best, like the 1998 Yankees) will lose 58 games. Every team (all but the worst, like the 1962 Mets) will win 58 games. Success or failure lies in the other 58.

The other 58 in 2007 will not treat the Astros kindly (witness tonight, a dreary 5-0 loss). But within the 58 wins--one-third of the season--one finds a reason to watch.

A's 7, Yankees 0

Well, that's more like it--for this season, anyway.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Yankees 2, A's 1

Two runs in the first stand up.

RBI, A-Rod; RBI, Georgie.

Seven strong innings from Moose.

Set-up, Kardiac Kyle.

Give it to Mo, lights out.

Wow. Thought they didn't play games like that anymore.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Biggio's night

Boy, did I pick the wrong night to stay home.

1. Bidge's 3,000th hit is part of a 5-for-5 evening, including an infield base hit with two outs in the bottom of the eleventh, setting the stage for . . .

2. . . . tyro centerfielder Hunter Pence getting the sweetest seeing-eye single you'd ever want . . .

3. . . . followed by a Lance Berkman getting hit by a pitch, leading to . . .

4. . . . a walk-off, grand slam homer by Carlos Lee, which sailed right to the left of our partial season ticket seats.

Astro-Girl isn't talking to me.

Biggio hits 3,000

Astro-Girl and I secured tickets for games on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, in the hope of viewing Bidge's 3,000th.

Bide came into this series three away: 2997 hits, all told.

So of course tonight, Bidge comes out tonight, goes 3 for his first 4, and wraps things up as we watch at home on TV.

It was a single he tried--unsuccessfully--to stretch into a double. I'm guessing the only 3000th hit that has resulted in an out.

Right now, 4-4 headed into the tenth.

Oh, and Bidge got 3001, passing--as everyone knows--Roberto Clemente.

The fans go wild

Lest anyone think the immigration bill was defeated by a GOP cabal, take a look at the first three Huffpost comments re the news:

1. YES! This is a victory for America's poor and low wage citizens.

Now can we please enforce the laws? Crack down on the employers? Build the wall? etc...?

2. Agreed. Cracking down on the employers is the most important step.

This is a heated topic. I often hear the refrain "they're only taking jobs Americans don't want to do." This is patently false. Do the research. Construction, landscaping, factories. Illegal immigration has only driven down wages. That's the INTENT.

My parents were forced to close their once lucrative business in Texas. They were electrical contractors, running a union shop. Now even the FEDS contract with non-union shops.

With so much outsourcing, Americans will be forced to compete for these low-paying jobs. The good jobs are drying up, folks. There's not much left.

3. Let's hope this bill and all others like it STAY DEAD.

Once Congress and the Executive branch have demonstrated a little credibility on their ability to enforce immigration laws they themselves write, then perhaps we can revisit this problem.

This would be a good place to start working on that credibility problem. . .

Immigration goes down

And for good reason. I can't think of a more cynical piece of legislation, outside of McCain-Feingold, in my lifetime.

During the past few weeks, a consensus has formed on left and right--on the left, for fear of suppressing the wages of low-skilled (AHEMblackAHEM) workers; on the right, for fear of an unchecked border as a portal for the next Mohammad Atta, as well as a porous border as a staging ground for the general flounting of the law.

It isn't government's inability to contain the border that enrages people, it is government's willful practice of looking the other way. The flashpoint was George Will's revelation of a California town that stopped issuing traffic tickets, as so many of those drivers stopped didn't have licenses, because they were illegal aliens, which then obligated the town in question to do something about it. This was James Q. Wilson's "broken window" theory: looking away from low-level crime only encourages worse.

That alingment of strange bedfellows had one repeated mantra: Patrol the border, then we'll talk. Patrol the border, then we'll talk. All week long, every time Huffpost would try to explain the bills collapse (and simultaneously stick it to the GOP), comments from the Bushitler crowd would come in along the lines of, "I've never voted for a Republican in my life, but they're right this time."

Kausfiles, which has followed the proceedings as much as anyone, had this supposed pearl of wisdom:

Obvious winner in today's vote: John McCain, who can now try to take the issue "off the table" in his presidential campaign.


Umm . . . no. Politics is about winning. Right now, McCain is (unfairly so) linked most closely to President Bush re Iraq. McCain-Feingold took a major hit in the Supreme Court this week. Now, immigration.

They say the state motto in Alabama is, "Thank God for Mississippi." This week, McCain's motto might be, "Thank God for Harry Reid."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Baltimore

Baltimore? Are you kidding me?

Two games. The season is very close to being over.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bio-fuels!

Every so often a Presidential candidate drops from sight for no other reason than he's become too much a figure of fun for everyone to be taken seriously.

In 1968: Governor Ed Romney of New York basically handed the GOP nomination to Nixon by making one cringe-inducing blunder after another (the joke, as George Will remembered, was that newspaper typesetters around the country kept the words "Romney later explained" intact for easy insertion).

1980: Jerry Brown, the progressive alternative to failure Carter and murderer Kennedy, gets tagged with "Governor Moonbeam" early. It sticks.

1988: People sometimes forget that Gary Hart, after dropping out of the race in May 1987, re-entered in December, with the slogan, "Let the people decide." Thing was, he opened in first in New Hampshire, at 27 percent, in part because the alleged Dem heavyweights (Mario Cuomo, Bill Bradley, Sam Nunn) were taking a pass, and Dukakis and the others had been nicknamed, with good reason, the Seven Dwarfs. Hart's lead lasted precisely one week, or until Carson and Letterman had spend evening after evening carving him up. (Carson: "He's back in the saddle again." Letterman: "Gary Hart? In? Out? In? Isn't that what got him in trouble the first time?" By the end of that week, Letterman would merely shout "Gary Hart!", and the audience would respond with cheers and gales of laughter.) Hart's final score in New Hampshire: 2 percent.

2000: After losing the 1996 nomination to Bob (next in line) Dole, Lamar Alexander basically takes up residence in Iowa and New Hampshire for four solid years. One 2000 shot of him, in his plaid shirt, playing his organ in a half-empty hotel board room, was enough to sink him.

2004: Howard Dean was probably sunk before his post-Iowa scream; Iowa had been his firewall, his key to the nomination. Had he won in Iowa, he probably would have won New Hampshire, and the race would have been over. He lost Iowa--to Kerry--and suddenly Kerry, a fellow New Englander, became the alternative. But that scream.

2008? Bill Richardson says a lot of stupid things, but never has a candidate so blatantly run for Vice President so early. Joe Biden has been smart and funny. Kucinich has been Kucinich. Hillary is a figure of fun, that's already been priced into her poll numbers, and--like Obama--she hasn't made any mistakes. (The problem for Obama is, he can't keep trading baskets with Hillary.)

Turning for a moment to the GOP: Ron Paul is a cuckoo, but never had a chance. Huckabee, Brownback--time to pull the limo around. Rudy has been erratic, but like Hillary's shrillness and both their ghastly personal lives, his temperament is already factored in. Thompson is too smooth. Romney . . . he might lose, but he won't embarrass himself.

Which leaves McCain and Edwards.

McCain won't be the nominee: my money, right now, is on Rudy, with either Thompson or Haley Barbour as Veep, to help hold the South (with the more likely choice being Thompson, in part because of his name recognition, and in part because Tennessee will be in play in '08. No freaking way the GOP loses Mississippi to Hillary). McCain will go down for some serious reasons, some deserved, some not. He is attached to Bush (ironically, a man he despises, and for whom he carried water for in '04, hoping to storm to the nomination in '08) on Iraq; this is unfair, as Bush's blunders are not his. But his name is also attached to two policy initiatives that are hugely unpopular with the GOP faithful: McCain-Feingold, which was gutted this very day, and the current Immigration Reform Bill, which has the true believers (think South Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire) ready to storm the Bastille. He will go down because (sincerely or not) he went all-in on a few serious but wrong-headed policy proposals that blew up in his face. He'll lose, but not shamefully.

And then there is Edwards. His latest gambit has all the echoes of a young man trying to get the girl: first humor, then flowers, then playing the buddy, then at-turns cruel--all in the hope that the right thirty or so words, strung together carefully, will get him laid.

His word of the week?

Bio-fuels!

Eh?, you say?

Bio-fuels, which we and Africa apparently have a lot of. So we sell to the Europeans, and the Europeans buy from us, and then we and the Euros pay to harvest from Africa, resulting in wealth, peace, wealth, and peace. And elections and stuff.

Because, um, quantities of value in Africa always lead to peace, prosperity, and democracy, yes?

COUGHdiamondsCOUGH.

As Steven Spreuill recounts, not even Edwards's own paid audience could take him seriously:

Maybe it’s the faintly colonial whiff given off by Edwards’s vision of Africa as the developed world’s compost heap, or maybe the preceding sequence of events was just too difficult to follow. In any case, Edwards is losing the crowd. Whenever he mentions the Europeans, a woman by the bar yells, “They’re way ahead of us.” Even the children of Africa fail to elicit applause.

Looking for a way to get back on track, Edwards concludes: “Think about the impact of American leadership, where instead of trying to expand American power, instead of this myth in Iraq, instead of the world seeing us as selfish, shortsighted, greedy, only caring about ourselves, all of a sudden, America is visionary again. All of a sudden, America is a force for good again.” This one gets loud cheering and sustained applause from the crowd. Selfless. Caring. That’s the America New Yorkers want people to see.

After the rush of noise dies down, it’s time to restore a sense of reality. “If you believe that the next president of the United States can do all these things alone, you are living in a fantasy world… Your country needs you,” Edwards says. “So, on that score, if you have your cell phone with you now, pull it out, and if you text the word ‘today’ — T-O-D-A-Y — ‘today’ to 30644…”


Bio-fuels, baby.

John Edwards. Laughingstock of 2008. Bank on it.

Okay, Politics

Could things be going any worse for John McCain? He's dropped to fourth in many states--single digits in some--the immigration bill he champions is tanking (in no small part because he refuses to admit what is written down on paper), and now the piece of legislation most closely tied to him has been gutted by the Supreme Court.

McCain's reaction here.

McCain-Feingold, the most onerous piece of anti-free speech legistlation to become law since the Alien & Sedition Act (which was passed during the first Adams administration), has been struck down. It was hard to wonder what was more prominent about the whole aorry mess: the blatant unconstitutionality of the bill or the cynicism of those who voted for it. In their unguarded moments, Senators, especially, would reveal their true purpose: shutting up their critics and continuing their reign in (to quote Mark Steyn) Incumbistan.

This, too, must be said: President Bush did not exactly drape himself in glory here: first (again) cynically signing it, hoping that the Supreme Court would take him off the hook; then, when it did not, needing a mulligan to place the deciding vote on the bench. With Roberts voting the same--or nearly--as his mentor Rhenquist, Alito's vote reverses O'Connor's.

Next up (one would hope): Kelso.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rod Beck

I occasionally take a passing interest on players for other teams. The endeavor can be worthwhile. When I was a college student in the 1980s, I would attend (sometimes alone, sometimes with my dad) Spring Training games in the greater Phoenix area. In those days, for ticket price, parking, sight lines, seating and beer, the best place to be was Tempe Diablo, then home of the Seattle Mariners. In those days, Mariner manager Dick Williams would send a skinny teenager out to center field to play the final two innings. There was no thought of the kid making the big club in those years; it was clear Williams was trying to give the kid a taste of major-league life in front of a receptive audience--and we were receptive.

We knew his father. The skinny kid, of course, was Ken Griffey, Jr., who--despite some troubles recently--went on to great feats.

Occasionally, since then, some player will snag at my attention. Rod Beck always stood out--how could he not, with that gut, that crazy hair, that goatee--but never so much as when, the best part of his career behind him, he accepted an assignment to Triple-A Iowa, purchased a recreational vehicle, and took up residence beyond the team's center field scoreboard. I remember him being interviewed on ESPN, and his descriptions of having the younger (sometimes teenaged) players over for cookouts after games made me think, Hey, not bad.

Well, now he has died at 38, and the outpouring from fans and reporters alike testify to someone who will be missed. RIP.

AFI Top Hundred

Something tells me that this is the last time for Citizen Kane at number one.

The complete list here.

The Godfather has been edging ever upward the past few decades. Now number two, it is poised to take over as number one.

It is a close call, and Kane is certainly a masterpiece. But . . . to pick at a masterpiece, a few things simply do not hold up. The whole premise of the movie, for one--what newsreel service would hold up news of the death of a famous person for an entire week while poor Thompson went out in search of the answer to a word? And, if a reporter for a newsreel, where is Thompson's cameraman and camera?

And--to repeat what struck me at 13, when I first saw the movie--is there anyone not cognizant of the fact that Kane whispers his famous word alone in his bed, completely out of earshot of everyone? Who in the world hears "Rosebud"? Certainly not the nurse, who enters from the other room.

Some--not a lot, but some--of the dialog is painful to listen to: "Looky out here in the window!" And some of it is simply purposeless: see Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane's conversation at the party introducing the stolen New York Chronicle staff, when they discuss whether the new staff will change Charlie or vice-versa. It's an interesting idea, but it goes nowhere, because the notion is simply dropped once Kane returns from Europe. In fact, we never see nor hear of this new staff ever again. (In fact, all account of Kane's career as a yellow journalist is simply dropped after the Spanish-American War, save for his brief attempt to gin up his second wife's opera career; the account of the last forty years of his life is given over to his domestic troubles, his run for the governership, Susan's singing career, and finally Florida.)

Understand: none of the above is to dislodge the film as a masterpiece. It is. In fact, I spent a half-hour last night arguing that very point with my new uncle in-law. Even now, when I see it, scene after scene prompts me nearly to applause. To mention just one eight-minute segment in the movie: Just about everything remembered in Thatcher's memoirs, starting with Agnes Moorhead in the cabin, to "Merry Christmas," to "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper," to twenty-five year-old Welles' first appearance on screen, the scene in the city room with Thatcher and Bernstein: "You provide the prose poems. I'll provide the war." Then the end: "You know Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place . . . in sixty years."

It's just, from a distance of thirty-five years, a little older than half the age of Citizen Kane, The Godfather is starting to hold up just a bit better. The characters are fuller, the screenplay richer. The music is better. The cinematography comparison is a wash, with Gordon Willis's use of colors, of darkness and sunlight, matched by Greg Tolan's tracking and deep focus. Directing, narrowly, goes to Coppola over Welles, on the basis of the performances Coppola was able to coax, uniformly brilliant from the Godfather down to Enzo, the baker's helper. (Trivia: what do Coppola and Welles have in common for their respective efforts? Neither won Best Director at the Oscars, though both did win, as a co-writer, Best Screenplay. Welles, who should have also won for Best Actor, didn't.)

Conclusion? The 2018 poll will have a switching at numbers one and two.

Giants 5, Yankees 4 (13)

I was thinking today about the play that--as much as any other--both led to and defined the Yankee dynasty of the late-90s.

Game 4, 1996 World Series, eighth inning, two outs. The Atlanta Braves had ran out a 6-0 lead (thank you, Kenny Rogers); the Yankees had cut that in half to 6-3 but were running out of outs.

Everyone knows what happened. With two men on, Jim Leyritz hit a home run off soon-t-be-former-closer Mark Wohlers (Joe Buck: "To the track, to the wall . . . we are tied!"), the Yankees went on to win not just that game but the next two, and the next 10 World Series games in a row after that, for a total of four rings in five years. The truly remarkable aspect about Leyritz's homer was how many other clutch hits were like it; this was a dynasty where comebacks such as the above were almost routine.

It is hard to remember but well to remember that the 90s Yankee dynasty almost ended before it started. In 1996, The Yankees were very fortunate they weren't swept in the ALDS by the Rangers (probably the best Rangers team ever); Games 2 and 3 of that series, both Yankee wins, were both late-inning comebacks involving about four flukey plays. And if Jeffrey Maier doesn't reach out catch Derek Jeter's fly ball, or if Rich Garcia makes the correct call on the play, New York starts the ALCS with an 0-2 deficit headed to Baltimore. And then of course there was Leyritz.

After a game like yesterday's, it is always remarkable to think back to those days, where it seemed every crucial cliffhanger fell the Yankees way. With one exception (Sandy Alomar's dinger in '97), a Yankee lead stayed a Yankee lead. A comeback--even to a tie--meant a victory. As for having a lead late, with the Hammer of God stretching in the bullpen . . . forget it.

In the 1998 World Series, there was the comeback from 5-0 in Game One, against Kevin Brown. In Game 3, Scottie Brosius's eight-inning homer off Trevor Hoffman. 1999: the late-inning magic against the Red Sox in the ALCS, followed by the erasure of two eighth-inning deficits against the Braves (and Maddux and Glavine, respectively). 2000: the seven-run, eighth-inning explosion against the Mariners, followed by David Justice's upper-deck smash in Game 6, followed by the World Series against the Mets, where in Games 1 and 5 . . .

You get the idea.

To many, the Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty (to quote Buster Olney) was that fateful Game 7 in the Desert. No elaboration needed. What always sticks out to me is Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, when, in the ninth inning, Ruben Sierra tripled home the tying runs against the Marlins. Millions--fresh from the latest Yankees-Red Sox war, with the memory of Aaron Boone still fresh--were on the same page: We got 'em. A victory, and a 3-1 Series lead, seemed inevitable. The dynasty would resume.

It didn't happen, of course, thanks to a cheap home run in the 13th, struck off a banished ex-starter while Mariano Rivera stood helplessly in the bullpen. I was upset of course, but I remember being also puzzled: Hmm. Interesting. Doesn't usually happen like this.

Nowadays, of course, it happens all to often. Tying homer in the ninth means . . . . tie game. Nothing more or less. The less comes later.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

Free Scooter Libby (back to politics)

Five months later, I finally learn to work the cut/paste mechanism on my new desktop..

Allow me to break out the mechanism thus:

Scooter Libby should not go to jail.

Christopher Hitchens (ta ra!)has the details.

Iraq, immigration, the coming '08 elections, Gaza, Hillary, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi--the political landscape is looking pretty dreary indeed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Yankees 8. Mets 2

A good end to a vanity interleague series.

When I first presented the reality of a forever Yankees-Mets series to Desert Rose, she responded as any Sun Devil would:

"Well, it doesn't count in the standings, does it?"

Bless her heart, Desert Rose was responding as any college football fan would. Conference games, non-conference, all differentiated as we work toward the Rose Bowl.

(Understand--Desert Rose had her own morality as regards sporting events. Eighteen years before Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball, my mother saw him basically end Ray Fosse's career with a collison at home plate during the 1971 All-Star Game. My mother's take: "That was wrong. That game didn't count in the standings." Her verdict, Pete Rose: Asshole. Turned out to be so true.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The last three days

Whoa, how time flies during a lifestyle change.

Sorry, Blue, one personal note.

In the past ten years, I have undergone one major lifestyle change as regarded my sleeping hours. From the time I tok my doctorate in English (May, 1996) to the time I bedded down for two weeks with the flu (January, 1998), my night life was spent in the following fashion:

Mondays: stay up reading until past midnight, sleep, struggle awake the next morning.

Tuesdays: watch my prime time shows, go to Blanco's Bar & Grill at 10:30, play pool and drink beer until they kicked us out at midnight, go with my friends to the Ale House or Cecil's until last call, go to bed at 2:30, wake up early the next morning for my 8 am classes, all in preparation for a thunderous nap Wednesday afternoon, leading to . . .

Wednesday: rent a movie, go to sleep early.

Thursday: watch my prime time shows (Seinfeld, et al), drive downtown at 10:30 to Warren's Inn (the original Houston businessman's dive), hang out with two colleagues, go home past midnight, in preparation for my 8 am Friday class.

Friday: Try to work until 10. Then go out.

Saturday: Try to work until 10. Then go out.

Sunday: go to bed early, be unable to sleep, watch cable on the sofa until 2 am, in preparation for, yes, my Monday 8 am classes.

This lifestyle ended nine years ago this past January, when I tumbled into bed at 2:30 at the tale end of one Tuesday night . . . and woke up four hours later, completely and utterly unable to move, to get up, to go to my 8 am class. Well, I did, anyway, and then spent the next five days fighting off what was coming, then a week indulging in it, in bed, unable to move. Ah: I was 33, and the party was over.

So? Lifestyle change.

Early to bed, early to rise, blah blah blah.

Only thing: I was never early to bed, nor, really, early to rise. In Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney wrote of the (I think) barely noticeable pivot of the club evening during which 9 pm becomes becomes 2 am (he wrote it well--it was the best line he's ever written). For me, it was more along the lines of when 10:30 (the end of the news) becomes 1:30: three hours, one-eighth of my day, frittered away. Oh, sure, I could tell myself I was, um, pursuing new endeavors, or polishing this or that assignment, or what-all, but the truth was I was feeding my old habit. At those hours, I would sit down, inspired--then fatigue would be it--enough to stop serious work, not enough to warrant sleep--and I'd be off to the bookshelf for my collection of Muyrray Kempton essay, or the best of Red Smith; or of to the videocassette library (or DVD collection). Or maybe there was a great Sidney Lumet on the cable version of The Late Show: Network, maybe, or The Verdict, or Prince of the City, or (dare I hope?) Serpico.

Result: oversleep or wake up groggy, get to work late or on time and cranky, slog through a day waiting for nap time.

Then nap.

Then jog.

The Devil sent me the internet, to read book reviews published in Detroit, or first-hand accounts of the Titanic sinking, or Roger Ebert through the years. All quite fascinating.

Well, with marriage behind me, this past week, I thought I'd turn things around.

Bed by eleven.

Up at seven.

At my desk by nine, my pencils sharpened.

So far, so good.

But I'm having to patch, patch, patch.

So: the last three days. The Yankees. Two wins, one loss.

I've been watching Oliver Perez for years, back when he was with the Pirates. I thought: Who in the world could hit that slop? The bony kid, with a fastball that wouldn't blacken your eye--nevertheless, when on, could make up for lack of velocity with location and movement.

His performance against the Yankees doesn't surprise me in the least.

But okay. Three-point-five games behind Detroit.

The hitting is hitting.

The starting pitching is suddenly a strength.

And, yeah, it's bedtime.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Yankees 7, D-Backs 2

A few things may be falling into place:

1. One may make the case that, all at once, the Yanks have their best starting rotation since 2003, their last World Series year: Moose, Rocket and Pettitte again, all four years older, and Wang standing in for David Wells--an upgrade.

2. The offense, a definite upgrade from '03. A-Rod has come back from his mini-slump, Posada is batting .358, Jeter has been solid, Matsui is coming around.

3. The bullpen. Well, we'll see.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Yankees 4, D-Rays 1

Five hundred!

Are Abreu and Matsui heating up?

More importantly, will Wang become boringly effective?

The last (I think) word on the 'Sopranos'

First, a comment from SunDevil Joe:

I have to agree with you that the ending was great and could go into all of the nuances and symbollogy that was there. However, what blew me away was, once again, was the familiarity I have with all of the locations in the show. For example, everytime there was a scene at Satriale's, my mind conjured up a picture of the entire neighborhood as I had passed that place hundreds of times as a child. So, when Carmela announced they were going to dinner at Holsten's (it's official name is Holsten's ice cream parlor), I turned to DesertRose and said "oh, that's in Bloomfield" as I had been there many times in my youth. That place was perfect for the ending but I can't vouch for sure that it has a pull chain toilet.

By the way, Tony K and Tom Shales both thought it was brilliant.


Then, there is this.

There has been no genre so exploited by Hollywood so much as the Western and the Gangster Picture. This was Chase's problem. Yesterday, jogging through River Oaks, I wondered: what ending hadn't been done to death, or done so well that we wouldn't need another? Without cribbbing, there was no way David Chase could pull off the triumphant all-out massacre (The Godfather), the what-profiteth-a-man-to-gain-the-world-if-he-loseth-his-soul (The Godfather, Part II), the deal with the Feds (Goodfellas), the going-out-in-a-blaze of-glory (White Heat), the antihero-killed-at-the-end (Public Enemy), the inadvertant death of the relative (Godfather III), the sloppy hit (Mean Streets), or everybody-kills-everybody (The Departed).

Finally, was was left fot Chase?

The answer is

Monday, June 11, 2007

The 'Sopranos,' one day later

Just finished re-watching the final Sopranos, convinced more than ever that we all witnessed a classic, something that held me (at least) spellbound for most of its hour. What I missed the first time--or forgot, actually--was the extent of Butchie's frustration with Phil, and the accompanying intransigence of Phil that becomes Phil's undoing.

The sit-down in the freezing cold, the performance of Hairy FBI Guy, the varied nuttiness of Paulie and Uncle June--these are things that approach perfection. Tony's last scene with the exasperating Janice, the bargain-basement variation of Micheal Corleone's changing relationship with Connie.

And, that final scene. One thing.

There was no hit. This piece of the puzzle comes courtesy of Dean Barnett, aka the Sainted Soxblog. Barnett posits that:

*If seven seasons (and the past few weeks) have demonstrated, hits are complicated endeavors. Writer Chase made a point of making Holsten's a last-minute decision made withing the small-f family (unless you count Rhiannon as a potential rat--anyone think so)? No way Butchie or anyone else could set up a hit that fast.

*Phil was whacked with the implicit approval of Butchie, who is due to move up to Boss. All quiet on the Hudson Front.

To which I would add:

*No way Bathroom Guy is the shooter, someone who would sit, stare, then go to the restroom. Tony's sixth sense would be too strong for such a risk. (The notion that the gun was in the toilet, ala Michael Corleone's take-out of Sollozzo, is prepostrous. For one thing, I'm guessing even Holsten's doesn't have the old-fashioned toilets sported by Louie's in the Bronx, and the whole point of planting the gun was that Michael was frisked by the crooked cop.)

*Cub Scout Guy and Girlfriend Guy aren't even worth mentioning. Old Guy, too.

*The two black guys at the end? A reminder of the second time Uncle June went after Tony (using, as Christopher wrote, "Boys II Men"), and the attempt was a disaster. The guys were more interested in the food than anything.

*Finally, the worst-kept secret in Jersey is that Tony is facing, finally, some serious legal problems. Why not let the Feds do your work for you?

So, then, the final scene.

My extended family comes not only from that region, not only from that state, but that extended series of metropoli; my father reports he passed Satriale's hundreds of times.

This series had its basis in Tony Soprano's psyche: his depression, his panic attacks; but also his sociopathology, his self-pity, his compartmentalization, his narcissism. (Does anyone remember its comparison with the long-forgotten film Analyze This?) Vito Corleone took to crime in desperation, only after being fired as a grocer's helper, and then took to murder only when a local crime boss threatened this new livelihood. He did what he did ("I don't apologize") to feed his family; the rationalizations came later. Tony Soprano was born into the life, brought in by his father and Uncle June when, as a middle-class white male, he was free to choose from a thousand different other professions. Something in him wanted the money, the big house in Jersey, the jewelry for his wife. Something in his sociopathic mind enjoyed what he did, and what it brought him . . . but at the same time, given his native intelligence, he could not escape the realization that his enemies were real, and armed, and that his victims were flesh and blood.

The first episode was Dr. Melfi, the panic attacks, and the ducks. The last episode was Holsten's. As an analogy, we proceed from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to A Beautiful Mind: from an external manifestation of psychotic disorder to an inside-out dramatization of the actual experience. Tony may serve a stretch on the gun charge--leaving, ugh, Paulie in charge. He may be killed tomorrow. What we saw in the last scene was a Tony's-eye view of the world, in all its paranoia and dread.

Bathroom Guy? Are you kidding me? But if you're Tony Soprano, something like Bathroom Guy is enough to make you physically ill, every time, for the rest of your life.

So, the blackout--for a count of ten--that caused tens of millions to jump from their sofas. Message: that's it. The crap is gonna come without warning.

Other obserevations, chronologically:

1. Again with the casket . . . organ music tinkling into classic rock; I'm more convinced than ever that Chase wanted to give us a few seconds, at the beginning of the episode, to think Tony was dead.

2. Darkness turning to light at the airport runway, illuminating Tony's face: shades of the first appearance of Orson Welles's first appearance as Harry Lime in The Third Man.

3. Carm (seeing Rhiannon come down the stairs, pull on a boot): "That bothers me."
Tony: "Who's she gonna tell?"

4. At the Wake: Vivaldi's "Winter."

5. Paulie; "You can take Two Thousand and Seven and give it back to the Indians."

6. Butchie, in the cold, on the same street used for the Italian festival in Godfather II, for my money the best sequence of either original or sequel: DeNiro's stalking, and killing, of Fanucci.

7. In the SUV, a demonstration--yet again--the Bob Dylan has done more damage to narcissistic youth than any Post-War American artist besides JD Salinger.

8. Line of the night. AJ: "We need to break our dependence on foreign oil!"

9. Priceless: The expression on Carm's face when she discovers that Meadow's loser girlfriend is in her second year of med school. Really? Great!

10. AJ roaring into the school parking lot with his Beamer. Guess he's okay.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ultimate 'Sopranos'

So . . . let the carping begin.

I think.

For whatever reason, series finales always come in for a lot of complaints. Run a regular, day-in-the-life-of-the-workplace episode (Hill Street Blues, save for Bundtz's firing), and everyone complains. Change the uber-reality of the show's world (St. Elsewhere), and everyone complains. Run a glorified clips show, complete with a curtain call for the extended over-the-years cast (Seinfeld), and everyone complains.

Go the it's-a-wonderful-life route (Dallas), and nobody cares.

So we have tonight. As soon as the opening credits ran, as soon as I read "Written and Directed by David Chase," I knew there was going to be no whacking ala the Christening Massacre in The Godfather, nothing like the post-Lufthansa massacre in Goodfellas. I started with the previous Sunday, where--for the first time, save in a musical montage in The Godfather--we were treated to the first actual witnessing of mob guys going "to the mattresses," a pathetic sight if ever there was one. All their big talk, all their swag, all their guns, and here they were: a collection of frightened, flabby old men hiding for their lives, then ordering pizzas like a group of 12 year-olds on a sleep-over.

My worst feeling was in the show's first few seconds, when Tony was asleep--adrift, perhaps--in what looked like a casket. I thought, Oh, no. Tell me the show won't go the Sunset Boulevard route, with Tony dead and all of us wondering: What Brought Him Here?

Because we know, damnit.

Okay. Crisis averted.

I've been thinking, these past few days, about the influx of great TV going on the past dozen years or more. Just counting the shows that made it: The Simpsons, The X-Files, The West Wing, The Gilmore Girls, Frasier, Seinfeld, Cops, 24, Lost, NYPD Blue, Southpark, The Restaurant, Grey's Anatomy, The Practice, Boston Legal, Friday Night Lights. And this doesn't even count a few other shows that came and went: A terrific reality-based high school show called Yearbook, just this past year the black Groundhog Day on ABC, that lasted six weeks. Anyway, just thinking. What these shows had, in large part, was a sense of the intelligence of their audience, the idea that things could be said but not explained. So tonight, when Tony complained that AJ was taking something and "Making a molehill out of it," when of course he meant the opposite, we were meant to catch on without being told.

In the first half, three things:

1) The FBI guy (the Flonaze dude), himself with marital problems, treating Tony almost as a moral equal . . . than showing us why, as he has his own girlfriend, in the person of a hottie armed Special Agent; and goes out of his way to basically allow Tony to set up Phil, whom both families now realize is at the heart of their problems.

2) AJ, constantly thrown into the presence of women who, in the normal course of events, would be untouchable. A month ago it was his literature professor (but of course Chase went Russian Dude on us, and dropped her without comment); then a 15 year-old fashion model, then another hottie psychologist. So he gets Rhiannon (on which, more soon).

3) This was Astro-Girl's catch. Patsy's wife, played by . . . Donna Pescow*!, whom John Travolta dumped for the Manhattan chick in Saturday Night Fever, and who we now, at this late date, we catch checking the service on the bottom of the plates. Class with a capital K.

Now, three last things from the second half.

1) AJ in the Army, then not. Those who thought AJ would go the way of Fredo weren't watching the past month (mei culpa). It now appears the pool scene of a few weeks ago was the metaphor for his life; perpetually, AJ will be fished out of trouble. After a season of whiney self-pity, followed by a torching of his SUV, he has A) a movie job; B) a Beamer; C) A horny fashion-model girlfriend. Some people fall upwards.

2) The Jersey FBI office, which--thanks to the Middle East? the Stockholm Syndrome?--has gone from Tony's rival to his friendly rival to practically his ally, announcing, "Damn it, we're going to win this thing!" This is the Stockholm Syndrome writ large.

3) The one killing: Phil. This was a delicate matter, with Phil's captain Butchie finding what was, to him, a delicate middle--essentially, giving up Phil, conceding that New York will not lift a finger if Phil dies, but not going that one extra yard and revealing his location.

4) Finally, the last scene. I thought the show would go out one of two ways: either a blaze of glory, or else everything back to normal, with Carm dishing out the baked ziti in the dining room with Janice and the kids and Rhiannon in tow. What we had was a strange, wonderful, middle: Tony with "Don't Stop Believin'" on the jukebox; Carm in after him; then AJ with his pissing and moaning; then Meadow with her parking space. An indictment over a stupid gun charge hanging over Tony. One menacing guy at the counter. Two black guys entering. Then . . . blackness, silence.

What a perfect evocation of the dread that has hung over this family, and this Family, since the first day.

Well, brilliant, anyway.

*(Update: Helpful reader corrects: Donna Pescow, not Prescow.)

Ninety minutes out

A few thoughts, as down the stretch they come:

1. There are a few consensus memes being thrown around radio, TV, and the internet as regards the final Sopranos. To wit: Tony does not die (no Gandolfini, no potential movie deal down the line; we have, in Gandolfini, an actor who has dominated an ensemble show as confidently as James Arness did Gunsmoke, as Daniel Travanti did Hill Street Blues, or as John Spencer did The West Wing, before medical considerations, and ultimately death, curtailed his participation). Meadow does not die (too close to the unfortunate Godfather III; comedian Larry Miller's greatest quote: "I saw Godfather III again last night, and it's still terrible.") Phil does not die, for the simple reason that evil triumphs (this seems the weakest of the three, but David Chase has made millions running away from expectations, so who knows?) To which I would add: Carm does not die (too close to the original Godfather, with Apollonia, and can anyone imagine a Sopranos movie without Edie freaking Falco? That would only leave AJ, so AJ dying would be too easy, so AJ doesn't die. The rest I leave to the passage of time: Sil, Paulie, the rest.

2. As I type this, Astro-Girl (aka Mrs. Texasyank) is cooking home-made lasagna. Wanted to throw that in.

3. Long-running television shows offer an advantage you won't find in movies or plays: the benefit of watching characters grow in real time, of actors aging along with their parts. The best example I can think of is Hill Street Blues, in which--over the span of seven years--we saw JD LaRue progress from a falling-down drunk to an amiable rogue, Belker from a self-loathing loner to a husband and family man, and Captain Furillo from a screwed-too-tight recovering alcoholic police captain to a more relaxed, still straight-as-an-arrow recovering alcoholic police captain. (I've always felt that Cpt. Furillo has gotten short shrift as a historical TV character; as a figure of restraint and moral ethos, he ranks with Captain Kirk, Marshall Dillon and the Fonz.) In The Sporanos we have watched the simultaneous ascent of Meadow and descent of AJ, the steadying presence of Silvio (as long as he wasn't asked to be boss), Junior's descent into madness, Bobby's (RIP) late coming-of-age, Christopher's demons, Paulie's Wal-nuttiness, etc., etc. With enough time to watch, absorb, and reflect over the years, the characters have become like, yes, the worst cliche, people we know.

4. So what now? Guessing at this point would be futile. So I'll just watch.

Yankees 13, Pirates 6

What a difference a week makes.

We've gone from "What's wrong with A-Rod?" to two home runs and 5 RBI in a Yankee Stadium that surely (I didn't see it) was in full meltdown all afternoon.

This Was The Week That Was.

And now we have a season, with the Yankees' sights on, in order:

1. .500.

2. Detroit, and that deep, young pitching staff. This is a team that, with the Yankee first base and bullpen problems, is probably more talented than New York. So, uphill.

3. Boston. If the D-Backs hold on, the lead is nine, with the Sox heading into the most brutal stretch of their season.

Not the best of scenarios.

But at least we have a race.

Yankees 9, Pirates 3

Roger's return--to, if all indications hold true:

1. A moderately successful year: say, ten wins.

2. At least one stint on the DL, either an aching back or a balky groin.

3. Five- and six-inning starts that will sap an already-drained bullpen.

Right now, Clemens is slotted as either a third or fourth starter, behind Wang and Pettitte for sure, and maybe Moose.

It is undeniable that the Rocket returns at a propitious moment. With 60 percent of the season still to go, the Yankees stand five games in the loss column behind Detroit for the wild card.

So, the season started yesterday.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Yankees 5, Pirates 4 (10)

All at once, some movement.

The important is the deficit on Detroit for the Wild Card: 5 1/2 games back.

Four in a row.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Yankees 10, White Sox 3

This is how one gets to .500, and hence in the wild card race.

This is not a Yankees team that will rip off 15 wins in a row. No, they'll have to two-out-of-three the opposition to death.

And for God's sake, it's the first week of June. A-Rod has 22 homers, including a slam tonight. He's heating up again. But. But: he dogged it out of the box last night, something neither O'Neill nor Tino nor Scottie would have been caught dead doing, which reinforces my opinion that the 1998 Yankees were the best team in history. When Scottie Brosius hit his home run against Trevor Hoffman in Game 3 of the World Series (a homer that sealed the game, with Mo-in-waiting; and the Series, with Pettitte, Wells, Cone and El Duque ready to go the full Monty, if needed) he was halfway between first and second when the ball cleared the fence.

He sprinted out that fast. It might have been a double off the wall.

Jeter plays this way, every at-bat, every inning. Posada does, as far as he can. And Damon. Melky is Boy Robin in the outfield. For Matsui, to play less than at his best would be a dishonor.

But the rest? Guys, would it kill you to run when you hit the ball?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Yankees 5, White Sox 1

Wow. A lights-out, put-you-to-sleep performance from the staff ace.

Imagine.

The team to chase is not the Red Sox. That ship has sailed. What made '78 possible was Gator throwing a two-hit shut-out every fifth day; ain't gonna happen, not with this bunch.

Eyes on Detroit--and, yeah, yipes.

The Tigers are a team resembling the A's of twenty years ago, a team so overstocked with good young pitching they're actually dealing pitching prospects. LaRussa's A's (this is 1986-87, not the World Series flops, and more in a minute) were so overstocked with young arms they basically gave away one who bit their ass in the World Series, Jose Rijo; and kept converting who was left to narrower and narrower specialties. It was LaRussa, remember, who basically invented the modern bullpen as we know it. Before La Russa, closers like Fingers, Sutter, and Goose would be expected to come in whenever trouble occurred--be it the seventh, eighth, or ninth--and finish the game. (This was actually a relaxation from previous decades; in the seventies, Sparky Lyle might be asked to get the last out of the sixth; in the forties, especially in September, Casey Stengel might bring in Joe Page in the fourth inning. Not for nothing, Page finished second to Ted Williams for MVP in 1949; had there been a Cy Young Award, Page would have won, and unanimously.)

So LaRussa had Rick Honeycutt, and invented the eighth-inning specialist, and he had Eck, who would pitch the ninth--and only the ninth, but in seventy appearances a season instead of the traditional forty.

Funny thing is, LaRussa was too clever by half. In converting Honey and Eck, in trading Rijo, in giving the likes of Todd Jones a sliver of an assignment, he left his lineup bereft of dominating starters. Baseball scholars will look back on the A's of the late eighties, at Carney Lansford, McGwire, Canseco, Weiss, Dave Henderson, Ron Hassey, Dave Stewart, Welch, Honeycutt, and Eck (and eventually, mind you, Rickey Henderson, at the peak of his powers), and think--wha? One World Series championship from that bunch?

Yes. Because LaRussa put so much stock in two starting pitchers, Stewart and Welch, and let the back end of the rotation languish, LaRussa killed his team's chances. It is significant that the only World Series his A's won was the Earthquake Series, in which the two-week lay-off allowed Stewart or Welch to start all four games.

Ahh, just thinking out loud.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Penultimate 'Sopranos'

"About halfway through (John Updike's) Rabbit at Rest, the reader will start to hear a horse whisper in the background. You may hear it is your own heart that is doing the murmuring (for the book is all about ageing, about seizure and closure: it is itself an ending). Later on, though, the noise becomes more raucous and more generalized: perhaps it belongs to the sports arena or the auditorium; there is something of the herd instinct in it, involving you in a pleasant loss of individuality. At last you acknowledge that this is nothing other than the sound of applause, American applause: the ows and yays, the stomp of feet, the vociferous whistling."
--Martin Amis


The above was the comment I sought out today, after sitting through the second-to-last-of-all-time Sopranos episode last night.

I pride myself on coming early to the Sopranos, going back to when I first saw the requisite HBO "Making of . . ." documentary.

Wow, I thought. James Gandolfini, who had served as background for a dozen mob films, and--in a bit of business here, a line of dialogue there--had revealed himself as an actor headed for something big. He had done good work (had overcome an unfortunate miscasting) as a meek-willed but good man in A Civil Action.

Now--as William Manchester said of Winston Churchill--the moment had met the man.

I remember looking over the rest of the cast: Michael Imperioli, who had played Spider in Goodfellas, here the upstart. Little Steven, last seen in Springsteen's "Glory Days" video, here as Silvio, with the greatest hairpiece not belonging to Rod Steiger. Paulie Walnuts, a dozen bosses in a dozen mob movies, here a captain.

Damn, what a cast.

I was married over the weekend; I said to my Aunt Peggy, "Okay. New York versus New Jersey, right?"

Easy, as it turned out.

The New York-New Jersey feud that has been brewing since Tony muscled Uncle June out of boss.

A thousand red herrings (one writer recently wrote, "The next person who asks me about the Russian in the snow gets kicked in the balls.") A thousand characters, dead or alive.

And it comes down to this.

Two great references:

*Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, from the opening credits to Raging Bull. On a special early 90s episode of Siskel and Ebert, just before the release of Goodfellas, Gene Siskel asked Martin Scorsese: What is the one scene you'd keep, if you could only keep one? Scorsese could have mentioned "You talkin' to me?" or the gun purchase or the climax from Taxi Driver; he could have mentioned "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" from The Last Waltz, or the gun scene from Who's That Knocking at My Door? Or he could have pushed Goodfellas, "What, like I'm a clown?" or the midnight supper at Mamma's, or the "Leyla" coda sequence. What Scorsese picked, as the one scene above all else, was the opening credits to Raging Bull, DeNiro in the ring. And I agree.

*The killing of Bobby. Saw this coming up I-95, but notice the use of the model trains. Shades of--is anyone with me?--The Bridge on the River Kwai--whose climactic seconds were thrilling even as they fell flat, because 1) the trains that tumbled over the bridge were clearly made of cardboard, and 2) well, that's it.

Anyway, that's what I got.

White Sox 6, Yankees 4

You keep waiting and waiting for things to kick in . . . .

And then, another three-run inning, another ground ball thrown to the stars, another multiple men left on base, another set of runners not brought home with less than two outs.

Three runs in the ninth. Meaningless.

Did I hear correctly? Damon to first?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Yankees 6, Red Sox 5

Eaily the best game of the year: good fielding, timely hitting, Mo.

Ballgame.

Wonderful way to start my first full day of matrimony.