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Monthly Archives: September 2010

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Ray of Hope?

Rays, Royals tonight out in the heartland…

[Picture by J. Parthum, Fort Greene, BK]

Beat of the Day

Puff n Schtuff

Slugg Rock

Over at SI.com, our man Cliff takes a look at how the Award season will play out. AL MVP?

1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (1)

Season Stats: .328/.419/.624, 38 HRs, 126 RBIs

September has been Cabrera’s worst month this season by far, but his extraordinary consistency is starting to win out as he has heated back up over the last week and enters Monday night’s action with an active six-game hitting streak during which he has gone 9-for-23 with four home runs. Cabrera doesn’t do much outside of the batter’s box and plays for a team barely keeping its head above .500, but no other American Leaguer has produced at such an elite level so consistently throughout the 2010 season. Cabrera has also started all but six of the Tigers’ games this season.

2. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (3)

Season Stats: .318/.379/.532, 28 HRs, 105 RBIs

Hamilton has far and away the superior rate stats, but due to their disparate playing time, Cano leads the injured Rangers’ outfielder in RBIs, hits, runs, and walks (!), and is just one double and three home runs shy of Hamilton’s season totals. Give Cano additional credit for playing a far more challenging position, striking out fewer times in more than an hundred extra plate appearances, and for simple reliability (he has started all but three of the Yankees’ games this year), and he slips past the former frontrunner in this race.

Taster’s Cherce

I’ve never been to a four-star restaurant. Might be fun to try one day if I ever win the lottery.

In the Times, Sam Sifton gives Del Posto, the coveted four-star rating:

GREAT restaurants may start out that way. But an extraordinary restaurant generally develops only over time, the product of prolonged artistic risk and managerial attention. An extraordinary restaurant uses the threat of failure first as a spur to improvement, then as a vision of unimaginable calamity. An extraordinary restaurant can transcend the identity of its owners or chef or concept.

And of course an extraordinary restaurant serves food that leads to gasps and laughter, to serious discussion and demands for more of that, please, now. The point of fine dining is intense pleasure. For the customer, at any rate, an extraordinary restaurant should never be work.

Spit it Out

Over at the Pinstriped Bible, Cliff, Steven and Stephani say Bring on the Rangers. Jay’s like, nah, bring on the Twins.

Mighty Bold

Another Hollywood Legend Passes: Tony Curtis, R.I.P.

Million Dollar Movie

Wednesday was a sad day for cinephiles — Arthur Penn, the visionary director of Bonnie and Clyde, passed away at 88. As well as being one of the great American filmmakers of the 60s and 70s, Penn also knew tremendous success directing for the stage, as well as television. Dave Kehr has a fairly comprehensive and thoughtful obituary in the New York Times. Roger Ebert also weighs in with a warm tribute. From Kehr’s piece, here’s a quote from Paul Schrader that nicely states what the fuss is all about:

“Arthur Penn brought the sensibility of ’60s European art films to American movies,” the writer-director Paul Schrader said. “He paved the way for the new generation of American directors who came out of film schools.”

Penn was not simply a stylist, but a director who got the best out of his actors: think of Gene Hackman in the brilliant, underrated neo-noir Night Moves, or Jack Nicholson, wonderfully underplaying to Marlon Brando’s outlandish dandy of a gunslinger in The Missouri Breaks.  (Heck, he even got something out of Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant.)

However, Penn will no doubt best be remembered for Bonnie and Clyde, a film usually attached to words like “seminal,” “revolutionary” and “watershed.” It not only indelibly altered Hollywood movies, but movie criticism as well. The vastly different reactions of old guard critics like the Times’ Bosley Crowther (who loathed it) to those of “young turks” like Ebert and Pauline Kael (in her first piece for The New Yorker) marked a new attitude in American film criticism to match the new films and younger audiences filling late 60s theaters. It’s also worth noting that it’s success essentially saved Warren Beatty’s career and launched Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder as movie stars. Looking back 40 plus years later, it’s easy to appreciate what a vivid and vital movie Bonnie and Clyde remains, if decades of copycats have taken away the shock that 1967 audiences felt.

It will be interesting to read more comments on Penn’s life and work as they roll in from his collaborators and directors he inspired (I’m especially curious to hear from Beatty and Martin Scorsese).  Now that 3D and CGI have too often become a substitute for substance in the cinema, it’s sad to see another master go.

Who’s Afraid of Vernon Wells?

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Bronx Banter Productions presents

JAVY & THE STRIKE ZONE:

Thin Chalk Line Between Love and Hate

(Rated R for scenes of extreme, graphic violence against baseballs thrown by Javier Vazquez)

EXT. ROGERS CENTRE, TORONTO, NIGHT.

JAVIER VAZQUEZ [34, fit, haunted eyes] stands on the mound, tossing warm-up pitches, listless. The STRIKE ZONE [ageless, flirty, too beautiful to trust] approaches, stands at home plate. Waits for him to notice. Vazquez looks over, flinches.

STRIKE ZONE: Hi, Javy. Good to see you. It’s been a while.

Long, awkward pause.

STRIKE ZONE: I’ve missed you–

JAVY: Don’t.

Behind the Strike Zone, FRANCISCO CERVELLI busily cleans the plate and pretends not to listen, embarrassed.

STRIKE ZONE: Oh, Javy. We were so good together – you know we were.

JAVY: It hasn’t been good for a long time now.

STRIKE ZONE: If only we hadn’t left the National League… we were happy there.

JAVY: Look, I just, I can’t be with you anymore. I don’t want to get hurt again.

STRIKE ZONE: How many times do I have to tell you that I’m sorry? Give me one more chance.

JAVY: After everything… how can I trust you now?

STRIKE ZONE: Please. Just come back, Javy. It’ll be different this time.

Vazquez looks at his shoes, at Cervelli, at the stands. Trying to control his emotions.

JAVY: Dave Eiland says–

STRIKE ZONE: Dave Eiland doesn’t know me, Javy. Not like you do.

JAVY: I need time to think.

STRIKE ZONE: We don’t have any more time! The playoffs start next week, and if you don’t want to be with me, I know Ivan Nova does.

JAVY: You wouldn’t.

STRIKE ZONE: Just look at yourself, Javy. What are you without me?

Vazquez stares deep into the Strike Zone’s eyes.

STRIKE ZONE: Come here, baby. Touch me.

[Vazquez looks for a long moment… sets, and hurls a fastball right down the middle. TRAVIS SNYDER, JOHN BUCK, and AARON HILL hit home runs. The Yankees lose to the Blue Jays, 8-4.]

Let’s all hope we don’t see Vazquez pitch in the playoffs, or I may end up writing a full-length horror film.

On the plus side:

-Alex Rodriguez hit his 30th home run – the 14th time he’s done so (tied for most all-time with one Barry Lamar Bonds), and the 13th consecutive season, which is a record.

-There was also a lovely-seeming pregame ceremony honoring outgoing Toronto manager Cito Gaston, who is retiring on his own terms and earned himself an outpouring of affection from Toronto fans. (I say lovely-seeming because YES didn’t show all of it, and I got home too late for most of what they did show). But I was especially pleased to see that many of the Blue Jays players, by way of a tribute, were wearing fake mustaches to honor their skipper — indeed, Travis Snyder was still wearing his when he hit his home run, which might have been a little insult-to-injury, if it wasn’t so awesome.

If Joe Torre had retired, and gotten a proper sendoff, I wonder what the team would’ve done to honor him. Hold cups of green tea? Look inscrutable? Signal to the bullpen for Scott Proctor?

So Let the Drama Slide

Javy and the Yanks look to catch the Rays.

Sic ‘em champ.

[Picture by Bags]

True Believer

Part One of “The 10th Inning,” Ken Burn’s two-part follow up to “Baseball” aired on PBS last night. “The Bottom of the 10th” is tonight.

I reviewed the show for SI.com. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. The Yankee Dynasty is represented nicely though I’m sure most of you wanted more (and there’s no sugar-coating Ken’s allegiance to the Red Sox, though it should also be noted that co-writer, producer and director, Lynn Novick, is a Yankee fan). The focus is on the ’96 Yanks, not ’98, a fair choice in terms of drama, though they didn’t mention Frank Torre.

There’s a ton on the Sox in “The Bottom of the 10th,” but Burns is never vicious–he doesn’t show the infamous slap play by Alex Rodriguez, for instance. I’d forgotten that David Ortiz won both Games 4 and 5 in ’04, man, totally blacked that out. This was the first time I’ve watched replays. Ortizzle’s name is noticeably missing from a list of stars associated with taking PEDS (Manny’s on it).

The baseball stuff is good. Plenty to debate, of course, but that’s fun part. Jonah Keri will be pleased that the ’94 Expos made the cut. I didn’t know from Mike Barnicle before watching the show and enjoyed his talking head interviews, even if they were ham-handed in spots. Then I read up on him and feel guilty for liking him so much.

But something felt off with the filmmaking. The Florentine films style—panning and fading over still photographs–is commonly known as “The Burns Effect.” I was talking to a friend recently who said, “How can you not jump the shark after you become a pre-set on iMovie?” I get his point but the Burns style doesn’t bother me because it works. You don’t look for every artist to be innovator, after all. I wouldn’t want Elmore Leonard to be anything but Elmore Leonard.

But I’m not sure that the Burns style  is ideally suited to journalism. Nothing is more frustating than the music. In “The 8th Inning” and “The 9th Inning,” Burns used period source music as a character in the story. But here, over and over again, I was distracted by the music selections. I thought they got in the way of the story. Most of the tracks aren’t bad pieces of music on their own, but they just don’t have much to do with the topic at hand. And they have nothing to do with what was on the radio at the time.

Burns does use James Brown and Tower of Power. This record from The Incredible Bongo Band opens the show:

P.E. and The Beastie Boys and the White Stripes are used but otherwise, there’s too much smooth jazz and strumming guitars, where songs like “Nothing Shocking,” by Jane’s Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of “Higher Ground,” or any number of radio hits would have been interesting choices. There’s cool cuts from the Red Garland Trio and Wynton Marsalis, but Burns misses out on using Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in the Mariano Rivera segment, an oversight than can only be excused by budget considerations And even when music choices work thematically like with David Bowie’s “Fame,” they are obvious, not to mention dated.

But that’s me. And I expect fireworks from Burns and company every time out. Still, “The 10th Inning” is certainly worth watching.

I’m curious to know what you think. Charlie Pierce weighed in this morning, and here is the Times’ review (which borders on being mean).

Oh, and over at Deadspin, dig this memoir piece I wrote about working for Burns back in the spring of 1994:

Ken got a kick out of turning people on to the things that moved him. When Willie Morris appeared in episode five of Baseball, talking about listening to games on the radio, I asked Ken who he was, and that was my introduction to Morris and his classic memoir, North Toward Home. I found a copy immediately and the book made a lasting impression on me. Ken was an avid music fan and hipped me to Lester Young and Booker T and the M.G.’s. During our car ride north, I tried to get him to dig some rap records — I remember playing him “Passin’ Me By” by the Pharcyde — but he couldn’t get past the lack of melody. Then, he took out a cassette and played what he called the best version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was Marvin Gaye, singing at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, and Ken was right.

[Photo Credit: J. Parthum]

Master of Disaster Start

Over at Baseball Prospectus, “Friend of Banter” Jay Jaffe looks at the “Disaster Starts” of A.J. Burnett:

Burnett is in a six-way tie for the major league lead in disaster starts, with eight. As originally defined by former Baseball Prospectus columnist Jim Baker, a disaster start is one in which a starter allows as many or more runs as innings pitched. It’s the ugly flip side of a quality start, one in which a pitcher goes at least six innings while allowing three or fewer runs—a disaster because teams rarely win such games, and because they often burn through their bullpens just trying to find enough mops and buckets to get through nine innings.

Occasionally, the disaster start definition is limited to allowing more runs as innings pitched, and because the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index makes querying the latter definition much easier than the former one, we’ll stick with that for the purposes of this dumpster dive. Here’s the 2010 leaderboard, the Masters of Disaster:

Rk Player Team DS Team W-L IP/GS RA
1 Paul Maholm PIT 8 0-8 3.3 19.91
A.J. Burnett NYA 8 0-8 3.4 18.67
Scott Kazmir LAA 8 0-8 4.5 13.38
Jonathon Niese NYN 8 2-6 4.4 12.99
Kyle Kendrick PHI 8 3-5 4.0 12.79
Justin Masterson CLE 8 0-8 4.8 12.08
7 Charlie Morton PIT 7 0-7 2.9 20.80
Joe Saunders 2TM 7 1-6 3.7 17.18
Kyle Lohse SLN 7 0-7 3.8 16.41
Brian Matusz BAL 7 2-5 3.3 15.26
Brad Bergesen BAL 7 1-6 3.8 15.19
Nick Blackburn MIN 7 1-6 3.8 14.70
Matt Garza TBA 7 1-6 4.2 13.04
Javier Vazquez NYA 7 3-4 4.2 11.83

. . . While it’s cold comfort to Yankees fans at the moment—perhaps less so now that they’ve clinched a playoff spot—the recently hapless Burnett rates as a pretty good pitcher in the grand scheme of things. Coming into this year, he’d put up a 3.83 ERA and 8.8 K/9 since 2004. He still misses bats at an above-average clip, his SIERA (4.42) is around league-average, but his BABIP (.323) is inflated; basically, he’s in a rut compounded by some bad luck. Thanks to the spaced-out schedule, he’s unlikely to get a first-round playoff start. He may just have painted his last disasterpiece of the season.

Drop a Gem on ‘em

Check out this lovely tribute to the late Paul Hemphill by Richard Hyatt:

I ended up at the Atlanta Constitution writing sports. A colleague told me about a former pitcher for the town baseball team in LaGrange. He had made Ripley’s Believe Or Not by pitching both games of a doubleheader — tossing a no-hitter in one game and a one-hitter in the other.

By the time I visited him in the old mill village in LaGrange, Scoopie Chappell’s baseball exploits were relegated to aging scrapbooks and stories he told at the beer joint down the hill. I wrote a feature story about him for the Sunday Journal-Constitution.

The article got me a phone call from Paul Hemphill. He wanted Scoopie’s phone number and directions to his house. Hemphill was researching a book about minor league baseball and he figured Scoopie was someone he wanted to visit.

The non-fiction book never materialized but Long Gone did. To me it is the quintessential baseball novel and equally good as an HBO film. It came out in 1987 and you’ll find Bull Durham — as good as it is — is a ripoff of Hemphill’s book.

Scoopie morphed into Stud Cantrell, played on the screen by CSI’s William Petersen. The character of Stud is as good as you’ll find in any work of fiction. In the movie, there’s even a speaking role for Teller — the small mute half of Penn & Teller.

If you haven’t read the book, do. If you haven’t seen the movie, find it.

Amen. William Petersen’s Stud Cantrell is closer to Paul Newman in “Slap Shot” than it is to Costner in “Bull Durham.” The ending of the movie is corny but the rest of it sings. And Hemphill’s novel is a beaut.

Million Dollar Movie

Bridges and the Coen brothers, together again.

Home Alone

The Rays are good, really good. But their park is empty. Ken Belson has the depressing details in the Times.

Clinched

When it comes to late-September series in Toronto that carry postseason implications, the Yankees have a mixed history. In 1985, the Yankees entered the season’s final weekend needing a three-game sweep of Bobby Cox’s Blue Jays to force a one-game AL East playoff. They won the first game but lost the second game and watched the Jays celebrate their first-ever playoff appearance. The next day, the season’s final day, Phil Niekro won his 300th game.

Ten years later, the Yankees were the ones celebrating. They swept the Blue Jays to complete a 22-6 September and clinch their first playoff berth since 1981. The image of Don Mattingly pounding his fist on the top step of the Rogers Centre dugout, knowing he was finally getting his chance to play in a postseason series, is ingrained in the memories of Yankees fans.

Tuesday night, Toronto was the site of yet another Yankees playoff clincher. Following Monday’s two-and-a-third degree burn from the Purple Pie Man, there was a sense of confidence and calm with CC Sabathia on the mound. CC was back to his ace-level self, powering through the first eight innings, allowing one run on two hits in that span.

Sabathia was pulled in the ninth inning after putting the first two runners on base and retiring Jose Bautista. With a 6-1 lead, manager Joe Girardi could have summoned anyone to get the final two outs — I’ll be honest, I was ready for any combination of Javy Vazquez, the inimitable Chad Gaudin, even the Meat Tray — but he put one over on those of us who thought he was mailing it in since last Wednesday by calling on Mariano Rivera to close it out. Six pitches later, it was done. If corks didn’t pop, sighs of relief were definitely released.

Two thousand miles to the south, the Rays’ ace, David Price, shut out the Orioles to secure Tampa’s spot in the playoffs and keep them a half-game ahead of the Yankees.

Now the Yankees have a decision to make: Be content with just reaching the playoffs and rest the aging veterans prior to the start of the Division Series, or go for the Division crown and home field? Two games separate the Rays, Yankees and Twins. Only two of those teams will open their first-round series at home.

Girardi has said he wants to win the division. He has four games to prove it. At the very least, though, it’s nice to see that “x” next to the Yankees’ place in the standings.

QUICK GOOFY GAME NOTE
The Yankees did a great job of plating runners with less than two outs. And none of those runners scored as a result of a hit. While the Yankees did muster two hits with runners in scoring position, five productive outs — three sacrifice flies and two groundouts — and a bases-loaded walk provided the six Yankee runs.

Served Fresh Daily

That’s how CC does it, over and over again.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

Beat of the Day

Break…even thelarmis can get with this:

Can Doo

Nice piece by Franz Lidz on form SI managing editor, Gil Rogin, in the New York Observer.

Rogin doesn’t pull any punches:

Unawed by reputation, Mr. Rogin assesses sportswriters with cool objectivity. “Frank Deford was very good, but not as great as he thought he was,” he said of the 1999 National Magazine Award winner, a fixture on NPR. “You’d ask for 3,000 words and get 5,000, all of them, according to Frank, ‘imperishable.’ In profiles, he’d pick out a psychological trait and use it like a magic brick to build a house. His stories were well thought out, but artificial.”

Mr. Rogin’s favorite sportswriter was George Plimpton, whose breezy copy required no editing. He also enjoyed Jimmy Breslin. He once bellied up to a bar with the tabloid fabulist after a prizefight in Las Vegas, and Mr. Breslin showed him his account of the match. Mr. Rogin scanned the first paragraph and said, “Jimmy, this never happened.” Mr. Breslin said nothing.

Mr. Rogin scanned the second graph and said, “Jimmy, this never happened, either.”

Mr. Breslin stared at him wearily and said, “Yeah, but how does it read?”

Taster’s Cherce

If you can ever find this stuff, do yourself a favor…it’s a treat not to miss.

Just ask David Lebovitz.

False Start?

Over at ESPN, Rob Neyer asks: Does A.J. Burnett deserve a playoff start?

The moment Burnett left the Blue Jays for the Yankees he went from excellent to (roughly) average. Why this happened, I don’t have the slightest idea. Regression to the mean. Normal wear and tear. Nerves. Something in that pristine Catskill Mountains drinking water. I don’t know. But Burnett’s just not the same pitcher that he was, not so long ago.

This was masked last season by the vagaries of luck and ERA. In 2008, Burnett posted a 4.07 ERA with the Jays. In 2009, he posted a 4.05 ERA with the Yankees. But there were definitely signs of regression, and aside from his ERAs, this season looks more like last season than last season looked like 2008. Last season, his ERA should have been — with just average luck, I mean — somewhere around 4.30; this season it should be somewhere around 4.60.

Essentially, what the Yankees have gotten for their $16.5 million per season is a league-average starting pitcher. Which wouldn’t be so awful, except when you’re spending $16.5 million you do feel compelled to let him pitch. Which wouldn’t be so awful, except Burnett’s signed through 2013 and if he regresses much farther he simply won’t be good enough to pitch for a team that needs to win 95 games every season.

Right now, though? If you don’t have to pitch him, don’t pitch him. If you don’t want to start Sabathia on short rest, tell Burnett you’re just looking for five good innings and then the bullpen will take over at the first sign of trouble. Because while he certainly is not good, neither is he bad.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver