Thursday, September 9, 2021

Why Don't You Buy A Ferrari? Or, Sports Hot Takes Are Stupid

He knows he sucks. You're not helping.

 I don't listen to sports talk radio very often and I figured out another reason why a couple of days ago. I was listening and a caller said he knew how to fix Cody Bellinger's swing. He said the dodgers should hire their old pitching coach from Cincinnati and then and I'm quoting here, "Sit Cody down for a week to figure it out."

This is mind-boggling on several levels. For openers, the first guy who knows that Cody Bellinger has a swing problem is Cody Bellinger. Because he's the guy who sucks! He knows that he is not hitting the ball very well and he is using all the opportunities open to him to try and fix his swing. If you think that he is not going and looking at video of every pitch of every bat as soon as possible you are nuts. He is looking on the flight, he is looking on the team bus, he is looking while he's at dinner, he's looking while in the Uber back from dinner to the hotel, he is looking instead of watching new Ted Lasso episodes. He is staring at his swing for hours and hours a week. He is trying to not swing at that inside pitch that is his kryptonite. But he does anyway. And then he stares at the video and wonders why. He wishes he could not do that.

If you think that fixing a swing takes one week, then you have never tried to fix a swing. If you think it takes a week to overhaul a swing, buddy, I have new NFT's for you and trust me these are gonna be great! It takes months to fix a swing. It takes an entire off season. It takes discipline. It takes breaking old habits and re-establishing new ones. Saying "It'll take a week to fix it" is the equivalent of saying "You should lose 10 pounds by Friday" and I don't care if tomorrow is Friday when you read this. It's impossible. And getting the old hitting coach- Turner Ward, if you're up on former Dodger hitting coaches- is not going to change anything just because Ward was his hitting coach during his MVP year.

This is an example of the problems I have with sports hot takes, which are all along the lines of "team x or player x should do this and it'll fix everything." Teams spend more time than you ever thought possible analyzing their team and the moves they could make to get just a little better. It is their job! How many hours do you spend at your job and how many hours do you spend thinking about how to fix "your" team at every position? Because every position change you make has consequences on the entire rest of the team. And then there is a whole new list of issues you have to deal with. Salary cap, locker room, how others feel about it. Good coaches, executives and players have left teams because of one move. One. I guarantee that a team has come up with the idea that you have come up with and have decided not to do it for one reason or another.

There are lots of things that teams do not tell us about decisions that they make. It is basically the equivalent of going to work. If I went to your work and looked at your job for five minutes and said well why don't you do it this way? And why don't you fire that guy, he sucks? And why don't you give her a raise? And why doesn't she get a promotion? Why do you not work for her?

At some level you're going to say yeah, but. And you're going to have so many reasons why none of that has happened. You're either going to say how none of that can happen or you're going to not give me a straight answer on why it can't happen. Because you often can't give me the real answer on why none of that can happen. It's office politics or seniority or people you don't want to tick off or any number of things that you simply don't want me to know about. They exist in every office, and they exist on every sports team. Your answer is the equivalent of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts explaining why they don't you bench Cody Bellinger for a week.

The other thing is that any sure fire suggestion to fix any team, whether that's benching Cody Bellinger or starting Trey Lance over Jimmy Garoppolo or trading CJ McCollum for Ben Simmons- is that it's the equivalent of me going to you, assuming you are my friend and I know you reasonably well, and saying...

Why don't you buy a Ferrari?

Because the truth is right now you probably could buy a Ferrari. RIGHT NOW. 

I reckon that if you have any sort of regular income and halfway decent credit you could go get an online loan right now from somewhere and find a Ferrari dealership that is willing to let you put a deposit down on a Ferrari and become a Ferrari owner within the hour.

So why don't you?

There are a lot of reasons why you don't. They are called "the consequences." The payments are the first big issue. I imagine a Ferrari on a payment plan is about $4k a month. Do you have an extra $4k a month to keep up with the payments for your new eggplant colored Ferrari? You possibly could- if you had no other responsibilities to pay for. If there are no kids or significant other you care for.

Let's say the money isn't an issue. $4k a month is no problem. Fine. Where would you park the Ferrari? Where does it sit overnight? Do you have a garage? Are you in an apartment parking lot? Is it outdoors? Or are you parking on the street? How's your neighborhood? Because that's where your Ferrari will be parked.

no worries parking this here, right?

Then you have to drive the Ferrari. If it's your only car, you have to drive it everywhere you drive to right now. Where did you go to this week? You drive it to work. You drive it to the grocery store. You drive it to the gym. How big is your family? A Ferrari seats two. Will your significant other be okay taking their car every time you go on a family outing? Will your significant other be ok giving up their space in the garage so you can park your Ferrari there? If your Ferrari is in the garage there's still everything else in the garage. Kids bicycles. Random garage stuff. Washer. Dryer. Skis. What if one of your kids bangs their bicycle into the Ferrari? What happens then?

You see, there are a lot of issues when I say "Why don't you buy a Ferrari?" So remember the next time you come up with these great ideas to improve your sports team, like benching Cody Bellinger for a week so he can fix his swing, it's as about as realistic as you buying a Ferrari.

You still want to buy a Ferrari?

photos courtesy: OCRegister/AP, Blog.Dupontregistry.com, Pixy.org, GlobalNews/AP

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Crowds Will Come Back, Sooner Than You Think

"It'll be a long time before I go to an event with a big crowd again."

First of all, that's a lie. The big crowds will be back, sooner than you think. And you'll be back, sooner than you think. While Alabama is planning on full crowds at Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall, The Texas Rangers are going to have no seating restrictions and potentially a full house at their season opener in a matter of weeks.

The proof of attendance jumping quickly after a pandemic is easy to find, because it's what happened 100 years ago during the last pandemic. I could go back to the plagues in the 1500's that are described almost off-handedly in the book I'm reading about the Renaissance and that the theatre continued most places, but sports attendance is the most relatable.

More stadiums were built in the five years following the 1918 pandemic then at any other time in American Sports History. There were dozens. Lots of them are still around, and most of them are considered iconic.

Yankee Stadium, Opening Day, April 1923
Yankee Stadium, Opening Day, April 18, 1923

Three of them, just for a start: The Rose Bowl, the original Yankee Stadium, and whichever other college football stadium is your favorite. You may think I'm being flippant in that regard, but 17 college football stadiums built between 1919 and 1924 are still in use. 

Among them? Ohio Stadium, LSU's Tiger Stadium, Neyland Stadium, the L.A. Coliseum, Spartan Stadium, Stanford Stadium, and nearly anything named Memorial Stadium (Cal, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, etc.). I didn't even count Solider Field and it was built in 1924.

14 more great college stadiums still in use were built by 1930. Legion Field, Bryant-Denny, Michigan Stadium, Kinnick, Sanford. The first proper build-out of Kyle Field to make it a stadium happened in 1927 and therefore counts here since I'm making the list. 

A mere 13 total stadiums still in use were built in the entire decade of the 1930's, including Notre Dame Stadium.

As a track and field fan I would be remiss not to mention Oregon's famed Hayward Field, originally built mostly as a football venue for the Ducks, but gaining more fame in the track world- that opened in 1919, too.

More great stadiums were built in that 1919-1924 era found the wrecking ball. In addition to the Original Yankee Stadium, there's Kansas City's Mulebach Field/Municipal Stadium, opened in 1923. West Virginia's original Mountaineer Field opened in 1924. The original Memorial Stadium in Baltimore opened in 1922. Minnesota's Memorial Stadium, home to the Golden Gophers during their glory years in the 30's and 40's, opened in 1924. San Francsico's Kezar Stadium, the original home of the 49ers and Raiders, took a year to build and opened in 1925. Pitt Stadium where Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino first garnered national attention, took less than a year to build and opened in 1925.

When the Yale Bowl opened in the fall of 1914, it was the biggest stadium in America at a 70,000 capacity. Hardly a venue in America even approached 50,000 spectators at that point and the biggest stadiums were all baseball parks. Consider the now-iconic venues built between 1909-1914- Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, Tiger Stadium, Forbes Field, Ebbets Field. None of them surpassed 40,000. Fenway was one of the biggest at 35,000, a number they are still pretty much at today and the park is considered small. 

1911 World Series at the Polo Grounds

New York's famed Polo Grounds was considered a huge ballpark at the time, and it was, size-wise, with its unique horseshoe shape resulting in a center field fence varying from 460 to 480 feet from home plate. Burnt almost completely to the ground in early 1911, it was completely rebuilt by that summer (permits? regulations? what are those?) and an "overflow crowd" was considered 38,000. The Yale Bowl blew by every stadium mentioned, in some cases double the capacity (or more than, as Comiskey Park's official capacity was about 30,000) and set the standard. The pandemic freaked people out about distancing, just like right now. Games were still played then, but attendance was smaller. The 1918 World Series didn't have one game with more than 20,000 people watching because of WWI issues and the burgeoning sickness. 25,000 were at the 1919 Rose Bowl but that was the max capacity of Tournament Park, the Rose Bowl's predecessor.

As soon as people could take off a mask, developers built stadiums, perhaps almost on speculation. Those builders were rewarded handsomely as crowds poured into their new concrete bowls, ushering in an era of massive attendance at spectator sports that still exists today. A crowd of 20,000 was considered really good anywhere in the 1910's. By 1924, five years after that pandemic, it was considered quaint- and still is to this day.

Stanford Stadium was built in 5 months in 1921 and and opening day capacity was 68,000, just under the Yale Bowl for biggest stadium in America at the time. Soon, 75,000 and even 80,000 was out there. The L.A. Coliseum opened at 75,000 in 1923. Yankee Stadium opened at 58,000 and got to 82,000 max by 1927. Nobody was concerned about social distancing by then. 

Considering how many minor league baseball teams there were in America, it would be reasonable to assume that lots of smaller minor league ballparks were built in the early 1920's. In 1922, according to baseball-reference, there were 31 minor leagues in the USA. At 8 teams a league, that's 248 teams. So it's not unreasonable to assume that there were 200 small ballparks in America, and a great deal of them were built during this stadium boom. 

But it's one thing to reason that and another thing to find proof. Wikipedia is not the greatest source for finding proper building dates for anything. And if that ballpark has been turned into something besides a ballpark, it may not be listed properly. Even baseball-reference is sketchy. Sure, they have the roster for the Western Association's 1923 Springfield (Missouri) Midgets, and even the roster and some stats- even if they link to improper biographies. But a stadium? No chance. Checking the Enid (Oklahoma) Harvesters, no stadium listed there but the Wiki says they played at Association Park, built in 1920. But there's no page for Association Park, nor does it make the "defunct baseball venues in the United States" category page. How many of these hidden former parks are there? How many were built between 1919-1924? Uh, I'm going to say a lot.

Indoor stadiums are much more difficult to find and verify. Any big venue that could hold a basketball floor was used as a basketball stadium. If a big barn was built between 1919-1924, it more than likely hosted a basketball game at some point. And then, if it saw an opportunity, it probably added pipes under the floor and hosted a hockey game. Of course an ice arena was built in Minneapolis at this time (the Minneapolis Arena, opening in 1924 and holding 5,500, and a second came in 1927). One of the oldest indoor arenas still going is Waterloo, Iowa's Hippodrome- opened in 1919. The actual Hobey Baker Arena opened for Princeton hockey in January, 1923.

More incredibly, one of the most famous golf courses, Pebble Beach Golf Links, opened in February 1919, meaning it was designed and built DURING the pandemic. But not much happened in the racing world.The Indy Motor Speedway, originally built in 1909, had 80,000 people at the first 500 in 1911, but those were spread out amongst a 2-and-a-half mile track, not 100 yards of a football stadium, and that capacity was relatively unchanged until after World War II.

Conservatively I'd say at least 100 stadiums were built in those five years from 1919-1924. Lots of them don't exist any more, but at least a quarter of them do. Five years after a major pandemic, more people were crowded together watching sports than ever before in America and hardly thought anything about it.

Simply, you'll be back, really soon. And so will everybody else.

photos courtesy: Library of Congress Bain Collection, LOC Prints and Photo Collection

Rose Bowl official opening, Jan. 1, 1923, USC vs Penn State

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

McCartney III, An Album From An Artist With Nothing to Prove

Paul McCartney has nothing left to prove.

He's a musical icon, not just a rock icon, so there's no reason he has to push the edges of music any more. Which is exactly why his latest album, "McCartney III," is solid but not spectacular. I listened to it and I can't find any reason to listen to it again, not because it was bad but because it didn't move me to listen to it again.

The issue comes from the title, "McCartney III." The only thing it has in common with the first two albums is that he plays all the instruments (the first two with an assist from Linda).

The most important thing that's missing on the new album is the energy that's on the first two. There's a push, a bit of "I'll show them" that's not there. It's not really a problem, it's just that with nothing to prove there's no edge. The resulting new album is completely decent, but it's missing what made McCartney great, what made The Beatles great, and even made Wings great. There's nothing as weirdly wonderful as "Temporary Secretary," there's nothing like the criminally underappreciated "Momma Miss America."

All three albums are connected spiritually because all three came about by accident. The first McCartney came about because he wondered if he could still be a successful musician without the Beatles, and he recorded a bunch of tracks in his house to see if he could. Only late in the process did he, with a big push from wife Linda, re-record some of them in a real studio, give them professional polish and release a album. The second McCartney came about because he was really intrigued by the new electronica and punk sounds of the late 70's and recorded a bunch of tracks in his house to see if he could adapt to the new sounds. Only late in the process, after being arrested in Japan for weed and the resulting dissolution of Wings, did he release an album. The third one? Stuck at home for most of 2020, just like the rest of us.

Take the first track on each album, still an important thing in order to declare the tone of where an artist is going to go musically for the next 40 to 50 minutes. The opening track of "McCartney" is "Lovely Linda," the very first thing he recorded when he bought a portable four-track recorder and began to try and make music by himself. It is like dropping in on a friend noodling with an acoustic guitar trying out chords. Linda opens the squeaky door to the room in the middle of the take and it ends with him getting the giggles. "McCartney II" opens with "Coming Up," a brisk, pop hit that started with Paul noodling around on the drum kit and building up the song bit by bit. He manipulated the hell out of his voice and every piece of instrumentation. It sounds like Paul, yet it doesn't. (John Lennon said this song, with the manipulated Paul voice, made him want to record music again, and he did.) The music video, by the way, is a big declaration that it's a solo work- it's a a band consisting of nine Paul McCartneys and two Lindas, pretty clever video work for the time. (And it starts with a spotlight on the drummer, a nod to how it began.)

The first track of "McCartney III" is "Long Tailed Winter Bird." It starts with an acoustic guitar playing a riff, and then a second acoustic guitar adds some rhythm to it. This goes on for a while, showing a sparseness. Other guitars come in and out. Then those drop out and an electric guitar does an eight bar riff before Paul comes in, repeating a vocal riff of "do you miss me." Then the drums and bass kick in, and the opening riff returns with some augmentation. It is clearly another kind of build up song for Paul, starting with a riff and a tempo and going on from there. But if you didn't know anything about how the album came about, you'd dismiss it almost immediately, for it's not incredibly memorable.   

The thing is, 50 years ago when he made the first "McCartney" it was weird for someone to make a record all by themselves. In fact, it was still a fairly new technology. Going back and adding guitars or piano or double-tracking vocals had been impossible to do for the first decades of recorded music. Adding a second track had only really been around since the late 1940's, but was not used as a regular thing until the mid-50's and was still looked down upon until The Beatles made it okay for everyone to do all the time. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"- made on an eight-track machine, meaning you could add at least seven different things, ushered in a time when people took it to the next level, and continue to increase those levels today. Heck, because of the ease of computer voice manipulation and the ability to do 256 or more tracks, some songs today, if not most, use a different take for every single word of the lyrics.

So while innovative to be completely solo in 1970 and 1980, in 2020 doing things by yourself is not only recommended during the Covid-19 pandemic but encouraged. Basically, if you are on social media you have more resources available to make music right now than Paul McCartney did as a professional musician unintentionally making his debut solo album in late 1969. So "McCartney III," technology-wise, is nothing that any amateur musician can't do by themselves. If you're still in doubt about that, watch this, which is perhaps the best stay-at-home music video of 2020, which makes it perhaps the best music video of 2020. 

"McCartney" came out of Paul wondering if he could still make music without John, George and Ringo. "McCartney II" came out of Paul experimenting with all the new sounds and showing how weird he could be. "McCartney III" came out of Paul being stuck at home in 2020. He doesn't have anything to prove except he could still make music, and in 2020 that's enough. It's not great, and you would probably have a better time listening to the first two, but it's here and that's enough.


McCartney album photos: paulmccartney.com

Friday, November 6, 2020

Vote By Mail Fraud Is Incredibly Hard To Do

"So I can vote"
Like clockwork, every four years there's a big to-do about "mail in voting is ripe for fraud" and every four years, there are no major cases of mail in voting fraud. This time around, with so many people voting by mail for the first time, it's a louder issue at the front, but the same thing at the back: no major cases.

In many cases, most vote by mail concerns can be attributed to the fact that the voter has only just now started thinking about the ways any ballot could be stolen or falsified. 

I'm here to tell you that the elections office and everybody who works there has not only already thought about those ways, they thought about a bunch more ways that you haven't thought of yet, and then they had to prove they could prevent that from happening before vote by mail was even allowed to happen.

A quick check of your state or your county for vote by mail rules will probably alleviate much of your concerns for vote by mail potential fraud. But since this is America in 2020 and very few people bother to take the time to look things up, let's go through some common vote by mail allegations and solutions.

They're adding ghost people to the rolls to vote!

Do you know how hard it is to add someone to the voting rolls? Have you ever really considered what it takes? It takes faking an entire person, a social security number, a driver's license with a photo and number and an entire paper trail for just one vote. If I'm going through all that trouble to add a fake person, it's to rent a storage unit to hold all my duffle bags of money for selling fake Baby Yodas on Ebay.

If you've ever moved, you have to prove you exist and really live there to receive a ballot. It starts with going somewhere in person- the DMV or the elections office- and proving you are living there by showing mail and turning in your old driver's license. Then they run you through a database to make sure you're not somebody else. Only then do they ask you if you want to register to vote.

When I moved out of state, I realized I hadn't registered to vote the day before the election, so I went to the county office and stood in line. I think I didn't have any of the other proof besides my driver's license so I had to go back home and get all the other stuff- mail and the like- and only then did they give me a provisional ballot. But it still took me going there in person, not doing it any other way. And that's how you still have to register to vote everywhere. At some point, you have to actually be in front of a person who will certify that you are also a person. 

Have you ever tried to fake a social security number? You might be able to fake one to illegally get a credit card or a rental car or maybe a souvenir towel at a baseball game (seems like an oddly specific example, doesn't it? Well, sometimes people need a towel but don't want to sign up for a credit card).  But to use a fake social security number in order to register to vote? That.... doesn't make any sense. Neither does going through all the trouble to fake a driver's license to vote. Unless you're in The Breakfast Club.

Andrew Clark (Emilo Estevez)What do you need a fake I.D. for?

Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) So I can vote.


The only argument people bring to this one is examples from the Chicago mob days or LBJ in Texas. Even those are pretty much anecdotal (most of the "proof" for LBJ comes from one article in the 70's after all the major players in the election had died). There's no evidence of it happening now, or enough to swing any election since then.   

My uncle's/cousin's/in-law's/friend's ballot was stolen! They never got it!

First of all, if this did happen, that is a terrible thing and whoever did that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. So, question number one: what did they do about it? (Usually, the claim fades away into nothingness after this question).

If a ballot does not show up, the voter absolutely has to contact their county elections office. The office will either issue a second, provisional ballot or tell the voter to go in person on election day and vote at the poll. Behind the scenes, the elections office will then try to find that missing ballot! If the vote was counted, it can be tracked and de-counted (I just made up a word). Then it can be tracked: where did it come from and how did it get counted? But it is highly unlikely that ballot was even counted. If it did, they can continue the tracking back to where it came from and arrest the person perpetrating the fraud.

And there we come to another section: The signature. Every mail in ballot requires a signature. That signature is checked against the one the elections office has on file for every voter. It's as simple as scanning that signature and having the computer do the checking. If there is a big enough discrepancy, the computer kicks the signature and the vote out, and it is hand-checked later.

So when you hear accusations of employees in rest homes taking all the residents ballots, filling them out and returning them.... well, first of all you need to stop hanging out with people who tell you those stories but can't tell you where that happened and which rest home.

First of all, rest homes are under enough scrutiny for killing thousands of residents due to absolute negligence during the Covid-19 pandemic that they sure don't want to be federally prosecuted for voter fraud on top of it. But sure, these stories were around long before the pandemic. Why, I remember hearing them as reasons for not having vote by mail be a thing back when I was a kid.

Let's go through the issues: Some resident in that home is going to know they didn't get a ballot, or their kid or granddaughter is going to ask them if they voted, and when they say no, the granddaughter is going to start investigating why. They may very likely call the elections office to check to see if a ballot was even issued. Point is, somebody or some relative is going to start questioning.

Second, the signature. Forging a signature is hard. Forging a signature to fool a computer that is comparing it to other signatures is damn near impossible.

Third: if it even gets that far, some worker in that rest home is going to blow the whistle on the scam.

Four: the elections office is going to be very careful with 400 ballots showing up from the same building on the same day. Hey, I think it's weird when I get two pieces of personal mail on the same day. How is an elections office going to react when an entire building returns its vote by mail ballots on the same day? They're going to flag them.

And then there's everything else. A database scan is going to be very cautious allowing votes of people over a certain age- probably 90. So those ballots may be rejected out of the machine immediately and subject to verification in other ways. When you hear about "dead people voting" nowadays, it's quite often that the database still had "John Smith Senior" in the roll and "John Smith Junior" voted his proper ballot and the machine saw "John Smith" and kicked the ballot out.

Vote by mail states have so much fraud! All their elections are fakes!

Um, no. I lived in Oregon for 15 years. Oregon has been entirely vote by mail since 2000. Every conceivable way someone could forge a ballot has been thought of and precautions have been put in place. In fact, Oregon is actually better at heading off vote by mail fraud because of it.

I remembered hearing about vote by mail fraud in Oregon during the 2016 election so I looked it up. They found ten cases. One was an 18 year old in college who was dumb enough to not realize what she was voting in two states, another was a woman who moved out of state to care for her fatally ill father and was not paying attention to voting twice, and one stupid mom who we'll call "Karen" that filled out a ballot for her daughter who was out of state at college.

10! Accidental and they found them all. 

Any other issues I haven't thought of? Let me know and I'll do an update!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

A Shorter #MLB Season Probably Won't Change the Postseason

As MLB and the players continue to argue about money and completely ignore how tone-deaf that sounds in today's world, the potential length of the season continues to decrease.

A July 4th starting date would not only have been a perfect way for baseball to jump-start its way back into prominence, it would have allowed nearly half the season to be played. 81 games would have felt pretty good but bizarre at the same time, considering until this season the last time nobody played at least 90 games was 1882. Or, in contextual terms, the year before the Giants and Phillies began playing.

Of course, that would have required negotiations and legitimate compromise on both sides, and since this is professional baseball in America, that is impossible. As a result, we're looking at 70 games as the likeliest possibility, with 60 very plausible and 50 certainly not out of the question.

So I began looking around for the seemingly inevitable story: How close have the 50, 60, 70, and 80 game marks looked compared to the teams that actually made the playoffs? Somehow, that hasn't been done. So I said the hell with it and looked myself, and here we are.

I discovered that since 2012, when the second wild-card team was added and the playoffs went to their current configuration, six times has a team *not* in contention at the approximate 50 game mark ended up winning the pennant. Two of them won it all.

2019 Washington Nationals (won WS)
2018 Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 Cleveland Indians
2014 Kansas City Royals
2012 Detroit Tigers
2012 San Francisco Giants (won WS)

So of the 16 pennants won, six have come from a non-playoff team at 50 games. Slightly less than half, which does seem a bit troubling. The '19 Nationals and the '12 Tigers are the only two teams who do not appear in a playoff spot at all in the 50/60/70/80 check. The '18 Dodgers and '14 Royals don't show up till the 70 game mark, while the '16 Indians and '12 Giants are in a spot at 60 games.

But there was no real reason for, say, the 2018 Dodgers to panic on May 25th because they had already won the NL West five straight years and this was only game 50 out of 162. They knew they had more than 100 games to play, and took advantage accordingly. The 2016 Indians not being in a playoff spot on May 25th is basically a fluke- on that date they were a half-game out of first in the AL Central and a half-game out of the 2nd wild-card. They took the division lead a week later and played nearly .600 ball the rest of the way. The 2012 Giants were two games over .500 and a game-and-a-half out of the second wild card on May 28th. They were in the 2nd wild-card spot by game 60 and ultimately won the division by eight games en route to the World Series title. 

Obviously these are the big guys. There are plenty of examples of a team being in a playoff spot at some point and not getting to the postseason. In fact, 28 of the 30 current teams make at least one of the spots in one of the chosen years. It can get a little depressing if you're a Seattle Mariners fan- in 2018 they would have made the playoffs easily if the season stopped at any of the 50/60/70/80 game marks- they didn't fall out of a playoff spot until August, some 110 games in. Even the Reds, Pirates, and yes, the Orioles even have made the playoffs since 2012. The Mets and Tigers have both won pennants. Anyway, the only exceptions are the San Diego Padres and the Miami/Florida Marlins, and you probably could have guessed that on your own.

But how much does it change? How many of the teams in a playoff spot at game 50 play a meaningful game in October?  The answer is about half the them, and usually about half of those end up in the same spot.

2012: 4/10 (2 correct)
2013: 7/10 (5 correct)
2014: 4/10 (1 correct)
2015: 7/10 (2 correct)
2016: 8/10 (5 correct)
2017: 8/10 (3 correct)
2018: 6/10 (6 correct)
2019: 6/10 (4 correct)

Yes, the playoff picture changes dramatically every year from the 50 game mark to game 162. Teams come in and out. But most of the time, the team that's going to win the pennant is already in a playoff spot at game 50. So while not ideal, it's likely to be accurate.

Looking for a silver lining, a compressed 50 game (or so) schedule will do nothing but create more urgency on the good teams to be good. The players should respond well, because you know players do not go 100% every game during a 162-game season. They are more likely to play like it's the final month of the season and they're competing for a playoff spot because, well, if the season is two months you'd better tune up pretty quick.

The good teams are also likely to be better because I guarantee you a third of the teams are not going to try. There is a group of about eight owners who don't want to play at all because they feel it is useless to even try because their team sucks so hard. In theory, any team can get hot for 50 games or so and make a playoff spot in bizarro 2020 land. But four teams lost over 100 games last year, and there's no way you can convince me that the Orioles, who lost an MLB-worst 108 games in 2019, can put together a good 50-game stretch. Hell, they weren't over .500 after April 4th, also known as seven games into the season.

I also suspect several teams claiming money problems will effectively sell their players to the contenders. Oh sure, it may be labeled a "trade," but the transaction will consist of will be picking up the complete salary those players are owed in exchange for some lower-level minor leaguers making nearly nothing, making the difference between the haves and have-nots even bigger.   

An expanded playoffs may add some of the fringe teams to create interest, but moving to eight playoff teams per league will make things very lopsided unless you do some sort of tournament for the lower teams while the top seeds get byes.

For instance, the 7th and 8th place teams in the leagues last year were Boston, Texas, Arizona and the Cubs. Texas was the only one of those who finished under .500, but I don't know of anybody who considered the Red Sox a true contender after August. A 16-team playoff will be interesting.

One other thing- I absolutely predicted a Universal DH would happen this season, as it almost happened for 2019 anyway. I do prefer the pitcher batting, but it doesn't make sense that the NL is the only professional league around that doesn't use the DH. It's also essentially an extra roster spot, so there's no way the players union is giving it up. It was coming soon. It's happening and it's not leaving.

(I'm not getting into COVID-19 or anything like that because the only thing anybody knows is that nobody knows how the disease will behave. If somebody really did know, we would have a real idea of what to do to prevent it and everybody would be behaving that way. As is, it's a haphazard mess right now.)

But I'm not going to complain about playoffs because that would mean actual baseball, even if it is after the shortest season since 1882. The game is still the game.


There hopefully will be a celebration, no matter the season length.

 photos courtesy: actionrush.com, Toledo Blade/AP

Friday, April 24, 2020

MLB Needs To Start With the All-Star Game

At this time we don't know when, or if the 2020 MLB season will start at all. There is only one professional baseball league playing in all the world right now, the China League in Taiwan.

It's a weird sports reality to consider. Normally by mid-April MLB is well underway and several of the high minor leagues have begun. There are of course the Japan and Korean leagues, there are leagues in Europe and there's the Mexican League.

Nobody else is playing.

So when MLB does come back, people are going to be itching to watch. The nationally televised "spring training" games will get the highest ratings they have in years- which means instead of the dashes ("-") that your usual A's-Reds game at Goodyear Stadium gets when it's on MLB Network, it might get a one or even a two, which is a lot (for what it's worth, the A's averaged a 0.88 rating for regular season games in 2019).

The first "official" game, therefore, is going to be highly anticipated. It may very well be the most-watched regular season MLB game of all time (if the NFL Draft ratings are any indication).

If MLB has any brains at all, to take advantage of this ratings bonanza to draw in even more viewers every game, the first game should be the All-Star game, complete with regular fan voting.

The voting would be the most logical it could be in the history of the game. The winners would be the 17 best players at each position (8 for each league plus the AL DH), and the pitchers would be all healthy and able to pitch. (How big is the total roster? Who the hell cares? Take 40 dudes if you want.) I would also make a rule saying this year all pitchers could only throw one inning at most... and we'll get to the tie-breaker in a minute.

This way, there's no chance that Mike Trout or Cody Bellinger doesn't get named a starter because some other dude is having a fluky-good first half. In fact, this will help the proper starting pitchers get named in each league (Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander). And it will let the proper representatives get chosen by managers without a lot of talking heads saying so-and-so should have gotten in before the other so-and-so (though that will happen regardless). Buster Posey is a legacy choice?  Well, of course he is! 
 
In addition, once the festivities get going it will allow more people to become fans of players who aren't on the team they normally follow because more people will be actually watching and paying attention. ("Say, this Josh Bell guy can hit!") ("Say, this John Means guy might really be the only Oriole that doesn't suck!" [shoutout to Olathe]) 

Because everything else is ridiculous about the season already, might as well institute some new rules for the All-Star game.  They're pretty basic and things I've been wanting to see for years.

1) Once you've used every position player, then all the position players are eligible to return.

Let's say Mike Trout started the game and left in the 3rd inning. Well, once the AL has gone through everybody, Trout is eligible to return. How'd you like to see him re-enter the game as a pinch-hitter in the 9th down a run against NL closer Kirby Yates? I think you'd like that.

2) I said it earlier, "pitchers can throw a maximum of an inning," but it's worth repeating. 

 It would ease the roster expansion. Instead of 13 pitchers, bring 18 (that's an average of two an inning). Nobody's gonna complain about warm-up time this year.

3) The tie-breaker, and a rule so obvious it needs to be implemented immediately: Instead of extra innings, it's Home Run Derby. 

3 batters per side, 9 swings each. Hit a ball over 430 feet, get an extra swing. (Vlad jr. would then bat all night). The issue here is how do you determine the batters? You could just stick with the lineup as is (and with the new substitution rule that would make things fun) OR do "managers choice." Either way, everybody on the roster has to bat before you can start repeating guys, like NHL shootouts. Or after the "15th inning" the pitchers get their turn. Regardless, this way guys who don't usually get to be in Home Run Derby get to be in Home Run Derby. Ketel Marte and Jorge Polanco get their turn! Whit Merrifield and Paul DeJong!

Frankly, it would almost be worth adding a second "not the big sluggers Home Run Derby" just to see it happen. Hell, we watched a second-tier NBA H-O-R-S-E competition, we can watch light-hitting shortstops take fancy batting practice.

Finally, where do we play it? Well, with no fans it doesn't really matter. If the "Arizona Plan" goes through, where all teams play the season in Phoenix, it would make sense to have it at Chase Field.

OR..... and go with me here... do it at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals football team and the 2nd-best bowl game, the Fiesta Bowl. It's a dome, they have natural grass, you can make the dimensions as wonky as you want to (removable field-level seating will allow that), and it's going to be an exhibition game without fans anyway.

It makes too much sense to start with the All-Star game... which is why it'll never happen. Oh well, we can dream.




photos courtesy: mlb.com, si.com

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Spinout, the ultimate Elvis 60’s movie


When I was a kid I watched a lot of Elvis movies. Some stuck with me more than others. When I saw "Spinout," I wanted the car he drove (a Cobra 427) and I wanted the life he led- a singing racecar driver who camped out in between races and shows, and, of course, the girls. It was #vanlife and Elvis and miniskirts rolled into one convenient, 93-minute package. I was hooked.

I realized that I might be the biggest fan of “Spinout” when Mike McCoy was named head coach of the San Diego Chargers several years ago and I didn’t hear any jokes about Elvis’ character in "Spinout," also named Mike McCoy. So I made one on Twitter, and nobody got it (this is not new regarding my jokes on Twitter). Then, every time I heard the actual Mike McCoy’s name for the four years he was head coach of the Chargers, nobody followed it up with a “Spinout” joke. Not even Chris Berman, who makes references to anything and everything. Chargers Mike was just “the real McCoy.”

"Spinout" is the ultimate Elvis 60's movie. It is, unintentionally of course, a combination of the best elements that continually showed up in Elvis' movies without some of the worst elements (there are a few things that are cringey, but for a 60's movie it's not bad) and deserves a better reputation than "one of the many movies Elvis made."

At the time, of course, it was just that. "Spinout" was the third movie for Elvis in 1966, after “Frankie and Johnny” (a movie based entirely on the plot of a song) and “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” (an atrocious attempt to re-capture the “Blue Hawaii” magic). Like all of Elvis’ movies, it made money (he is the only major film star in history to turn a profit every film), but it was quickly forgotten about.

Because in 1966, Elvis was yesterday’s news. The Beatles released “Revolver” that summer, and the Beach Boys put out “Pet Sounds” that same year. “Wild Thing” and “Summer in the City” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” all hit number one. At the box office, Elvis was competing with “Alfie” and “Farenheit 451” and “Blow-Up.” The same month “Spinout” came out Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded The Black Panthers.

A comedy about a singing race car driver was not going to stick.

To be fair, “Spinout” only sticks today because of Elvis. Anyone else in the main role and there’s no reason to watch it. But Elvis is good, even when the movie is bad. He’s often the only believable actor in his movies, because he would have preferred to be a dramatic actor than anything else. So why is “Spinout” the ultimate 60’s Elvis movie? Let us count the ways.

He’s a singing race car driver

rear projection tech has definitely improved

It's the stereotypical Elvis movie role, but he only played a singing race car driver three times in the 31  movies he made. However, one of those three times is in "Viva Las Vegas," which is the movie most people think of when they think about Elvis in the movies. That’s because of Ann-Margaret and the catchy title song and the fact that it’s in Vegas and that he re-gained his reputation as a tremendous live performer playing there and did I mention Ann-Margaret? Nobody considers that Lucky Jackson, Elvis’ character, is actually a con-man singing race car driver. After the money he needs to buy a new race car engine gets sucked down the pool (an awful, awful, plot point), Lucky tries everything. He tries to be a singing waiter, he tries to win a talent contest…. He tries to con people out of money to get enough to buy a new race car engine and eventually convinces Ann-Margaret’s dad to give it to him. 

What kind of redeeming character is that?

His other singing race car driver role is “Speedway”, which a lot of people get confused with “Spinout.” “Speedway” is the one with Nancy Sinatra as the IRS agent in charge of making Elvis pay his taxes because his manager, Bill Bixby, is a degenerate gambler who loses Elvis’ money but they’re still friends anyway (an oft-used plot point in Elvis movies- also true for “It Happened At The World’s Fair”). “Speedway” is brutal all the way through. Of course the teaming of Sinatra and Presley was way hyped, but they have about as much chemistry as a cardboard box and another cardboard box.

In “Spinout,” Mike McCoy is a singing racecar driver whose backup band happens to be his pit crew. There are no degenerate gamblers in the bunch.

He’s a gypsy

Is that the wire on the tent or a fold in the photo?
In most Elvis movies he doesn’t really appear to have a home. In “It Happened At The World’s Fair” he and his degenerate gambler buddy who loses all his money are cropduster pilots who just seem to go from field to field. In “Roustabout” he is a gypsy and a carnie in one fell swoop. “Follow That Dream” is an early #vanlife story. “Viva Las Vegas,” race car driver going from place to place. "Charro" is your standard Western wanderer. Even in "Jailhouse Rock" he has no real reason to stay anywhere.

“Spinout” takes this idea to the next ridiculous level by having Elvis and his team go from place to place in a historic 1929 Duesenberg towing his race car, a Cobra 427. When they get to somewhere they want to camp they all set up and the only girl in the group, Les, his drummer, also happens to be a gourmet cook and whips up a fantastic meal while the boys set up camp, complete with ridiculous individual pop-up tents that actually “pop up” when you pull a cord (and the stagehand in the studio pulls the guide wire that’s not seen because of the careful lighting attached to the top of the tent to raise it up).

Completely illogical, implausible, and impractical. And course, when I was 12 and first saw this movie, I absolutely loved it and wanted to live exactly like that.

Obviously the "man without a home" plot point was used countless times in films before Elvis and has continued to be used countless times afterwards. Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp was a wanderer. The idea really took off during The Great Depression when it seemed like half of America became itinerant wanderers- and usually ended up in California. It's why Route 66 is a thing. "It Happened One Night," "Sullivan's Travels," and so on. John Wayne, Randolph Scott and Clint Eastwood made entire Western careers out of being guys traveling without a home. "Shane" is an amazing example.

The interesting thing about all these movies is that they all came out before the genre-changing "Easy Rider" in 1969. Even Eastwood's tour-de-force "Man With No Name" trilogy was done before Captain America and Billy got on their bikes. But it made such an impact that you can't watch a "road" movie without thinking about it. This is a good and bad thing, because it both colors the earlier movies as "simpler," meaning more nostalgic, and as "unrealistic," because it doesn't show the real problems of being on the road. Of course, Kerouac's "On The Road," which came out in the early 50's in book form only showed that it wasn't easy even when Hollywood would have you think that it was. 

Bad puns, jokes, and sight gags

"I seem to be bumping your binoculars." (actual line in the movie)
Every Elvis movie has bad puns, jokes, and sight gags. Here, they might be the best because the writers actually did something with their careers. Theodore J. Flicker went on to co-create the great  "Barney Miller," and George Kirgo was a prolific sitcom writer who was president of the Writer's Guild union in the late 80's, during a big strike where writers wanted compensation for home video rentals and sales, among other things.

The names of Elvis' backing band members are Larry, Curly... and Les. Les is a girl, but the other two band members always say things like "you cook great for a guy," which leads to her running gag line of "I'm not a fella, I'm a girl." Curly is the dumb one and is constantly making mistakes. Today we'd cringe at the character for implying that he's slow, but back then it was funny for the dumb one to continually repeat somebody else's lines. In this case, Curly repeats nearly all of Larry's lines but with a more ridiculous inflection. He also at first refuses to eat chocolate mousse because he thinks it's made from real moose.

 The police officer is named Tracy Richards (which often flies by people because the comic "Dick Tracy" is not as popular as it was in the 60's... or in the 40's. And yes, even the 90's, because Warren Beatty's version was weird even then). There's a running gag where one of the characters faints whenever he gets excited or nervous or upset.  Whenever one of the three love interests tells Mike McCoy that she's going to marry him and they kiss... wedding bells.There's even a callback joke involving cars going into the water. Overall, it's enough wordplay and plotting to show that some thought went into this... not a lot, but some. And "some" means a lot more thought than most of Elvis' other 60's movies.
  
A cast of regulars

the three main people in this pic were in at least two Elvis movies
Elvis was in three movies a year from 1963-1969, and most of them were shot on the Hollywood backlots and surrounding areas one after the other. "Spinout" was shot in February, March and April of '66 and was released in October. For a full 90-minute movie, that's fairly quick to go from nothing to theatres in nine months.

Casting the parts, therefore, couldn't have taken long either. It's pretty likely that they just looked at who had played similar parts before. So all Elvis' movies, and especially "Spinout," are easy to watch because you've already seen these people playing this part before. Hell, it's true for Elvis' parts, so it makes sense for everyone else.

"Spinout" required a father and a daughter, three members of his backing band- one smart, one dumb, and one girl who could do physical comedy- a sophisticated love interest, a lawman who never used violence, and a quirky character.

So they cast people who had played a father and a daughter, one smart backing band member, one dumb backing band member, and one girl who could do physical comedy, a sophisticated love interest, a lawman who never used violence, and a quirky character.

Carl Betz and Shelley Fabares played father and daughter for years on the very successful late 50's-early 60's sitcom "The Donna Reed Show." Jimmy Hawkins played the smart backing band member in "Girl Happy" (where Elvis' love interest is... Shelley Fabares). Jack Mullaney played a dumb guy in "Tickle Me." Deborah Walley had done physical comedy as one of the many Gidgets.

Will Hutchins played the punnily-named Tracy Richards, the policeman reluctant to use violence or a gun. That's because he had starred in a TV western series called "Sugarfoot"about an Eastern lawyer in the Oklahoma territory reluctant to use violence or a gun. He got cast because after "Sugarfoot" was canceled in '65, he shot a pilot for MGM and although that didn't get picked up, he was already hanging out on the backlot...

Diane McBain played a sophisticated love interest because she played a sophisticated blonde potential love interest on"Surfside 6," one of the five zillion young-detectives series on teevee in the early 60's ("77 Sunset Strip" and "Hawaiian Eye" the two prominent others) which were all produced by Warner Bros., all shot on the Warners backlot, and all used interchangeable scripts, actors and production staff. She had also guested on "Sugarfoot," but since she had no real interaction with Will Hutchins in "Spinout" it didn't matter. The same year as "Spinout" McBain played Pinky Pinkston in "Batman," which may actually be her most remembered role any more.

The quirky character was played by Warren Berlinger, who you may know as a "that guy" who appeared in plenty of teevee shows and movies. Maybe you know him as one of the guys who drove the motorcycle in the original "Cannonball Run." Maybe you remember him from "That Thing You Do!" And maybe you just don't realize you've seen him in a thousand things.
Kind of like everybody in Elvis movies.

The three love interests were the three different kinds of girls in 60's beach party-type movies- a brunette, a blonde, and a redhead. Like most of those movies and typical for Hollywood then (and now, honestly), "Spinout" is very white. Watching it recently, I can really spot only two non-white people- a couple of black extras in the first nightclub scene. Elvis does stop and sing a verse of a song near them, but no words, no distinctive moves. "Spinout" is obviously not the first movie to not feature any non-white people anywhere in the major cast, and certainly not the last, but it's worth noting anyway. Of course it would have been better for at least one of the girls or one of the band members or anybody not the butler- or all three- to have been a non-white person, but that was the beach party 60's movie. At least there wasn't a "Stepin Fetchit" character. Can't change what was, all we can do know is acknowledge this bad-in-retrospect oversight and make an effort to be better when they remake this someday- and it could be great!!!
And one final note- "Spinout" was a "Donna Reed Show" reunion without Donna Reed. While Carl Betz and Shelley Fabares had played dad and daughter on that show for the obvious connection, Jimmy Hawkins guested on that show because he had played Donna Reed's son in the movie that Donna is most remembered for today- "It's A Wonderful Life."   

The cars

when is a Cobra not a Cobra?
These are the best cars in any Elvis movie, and that is an Elvis movie hill I will die on. The opening scene is Elvis and Shelley racing each other- she's driving a Ferrari GT and he's driving a Cobra 427.

(When he gets shoved in the water, as seen in the photo, they most certainly did not sink a 427. Instead, that's a bizarre combination of an Austin-Healey with a fiberglass body. And it's on display with other Elvis/movie stuff at the Hollywood Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. Road trip?)

Now, I was a burgeoning car buff when I first saw "Spinout" as a 12-year-old, and the Cobra fascinated me- and then his regular car is a 1929 Duesenberg? Get outta town. That's three crazy good cars in the first 10 minutes of the picture.

And then it gets better- Carl Betz is- of course a car manufacturer, and he wants Elvis to drive his new race car in the upcoming race (because how could Elvis be a race car driver if there wasn't a race involved?). So they go to the track to test drive the car, which just happens to be the first McLaren (a top Formula One race team) ever made intended for customers. Not one of the first production models- the first one ever.

Then, at the climactic race (which, for some reason, was partially filmed in the Dodger Stadium parking lot- maybe an easier way to get extras?), there are at least a dozen great cars involved in addition to the Ferrari, Cobra, McLaren and the Duesenberg. There are a couple other Cobras (289's), and various Stingray Corvettes- stock and modified- and an orange thing called a Cheetah. Of particular note is the blue car that Elvis eventually uses to win the race (not much of a spoiler). It was a one-off by the car racing stunt coordinator for the movie, a fellow named Max Balchowsky (also one of the stunt coordinators for "Bullitt"), and called the "Balchowsky Old Yeller Mark IV" because it was originally yellow (and I would imagine that Max is the actual driver in those scenes). (this car guy's blog has screengrabs from every car in the movie.)

And the music

 You didn't think I'd forget about the music, did you? Elvis soundtracks are nobody's idea of really good rock'n'roll, but the theme songs are usually fair. "Spinout" is actually better than most because it is super catchy (and it's a shame it gets no airplay, or internet spins, or whatever the term is nowadays).
One of the film songs was not written for the flick but was picked no doubt because it had a bit of a travelling vibe to it, "Stop, Look, and Listen," which was recorded before Elvis by both by (warning: these versions are terrible) Ricky Nelson and Bill Haley and His Comets during times in their careers that they would not be fond of. 

"Smorgasbord," delivers on two common themes in the movie- food and girls. It is, as you would expect, clever in that winky "girls are to be consumed like food" kind of way which today would be frowned upon. Still, for what it is, it's clever.

The other notable songs in the film are "I'll Be Back," the finale which no doubt still gets used as exit music at Elvis impersonator concerts, "Adam and Evil," an interesting lyrically Bible-tinged/beat poetry combo, (note the black extras are most noticeable starting here at the 1:06 mark) and "All That I Am," considered the ballad of the movie- though it gets my vote for worst song. All the movie tracks were recorded in two-day period just before filming began (and yes, since it was done in LA in 1966, the backing band is The Wrecking Crew).

It's the three songs that were additions to fill out the soundtrack album that are actually the best ones on the record/CD/8-track/whatever. In a vague, not-serious-at-all attempt to keep up with the "Revolvers" and "Pet Sounds" of the world released that year, they pulled three tracks from Elvis' recording sessions done later that year in Memphis for his gospel album, "How Great Thou Art."

The first of the bonus tracks is so far away from race cars and gourmet cooks that it stands out even more- it's Elvis covering Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is A Long Time," and even Dylan admitted that of all the covers of his songs, that one "impressed me the most." It is damned good at that.

The second is a great cover of a reasonably obscure Clovers tune (they of the original version of "Love Potion #9") called "Down In the Alley," which shows off Elvis' love of doo-wop and group singing.

And the third one you know if you've ever watched an Elvis concert film, especially "Aloha From Hawaii"- it's his studio version of Don Ho's "I'll Remember You," written by Kui Lee. "Aloha From Hawaii" was conceived as a benefit concert for cancer research because Lee had been diagnosed with cancer shortly before writing the song. Elvis' concert version from 1973 spurred an big interest in the song, but Elvis had clearly been taken with it almost a decade before, thus its inclusion on the soundtrack.

To show how much better the "throw-in" songs are, when Elvis' estate did the box set "The Essential 60's Masters," those three songs were on it, but none of the movie songs (though "Spinout,"  "All That I Am," and "I'll Be Back" are on Volume II).

Finally, the finish

the Italian poster got creative
In the end of most Elvis movies, he gets the girl. They either get married or it's implied they're going to get married. (At the end of "Girl Happy," Shelley Fabares is wearing a white dress and Elvis is wearing all black, a wedding implication if there ever was one.)

At the end of "Spinout," because there are three love interests, Elvis marries.... none of them! Instead he somehow magically becomes a preacher and does the marrying- and goes back on the road with a new girl drummer. It may very well be the only time that Elvis doesn't end up with the girl in any of his movies (and since Mary Tyler Moore is already a nun in 1969's "Change of Habit," he couldn't have ended up with her anyway, which just makes that movie even weirder).

Since Elvis has insisted throughout the movie he will never get married, this actually makes sense. But has he learned from this experience? Will he be more aware the next time? With a wink and a nod, the answer is.... maybe.

Mike McCoy, back on the road where he belongs. Maybe he'll head to San Diego and become the next coach of the Chargers when they move back there, where they belong as well.


all photos from the Spinout page at imdb.com