Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Best Worst Last Series of the MLB Season

do you really need a caption to tell you it's a Marlins game?

Everyone wants to go to the best games, the best matchups, the most important tilts. Nobody wants to go to the worst. Well, except me.

Consider all the MLB playoff spots that will come down to this final weekend. The Dodgers, Cubs, Brewers, Rockies, Cardinals A’s and Yankees all have something at stake.

But I don’t want to be at any of those series, because those are the obvious things to pay attention to. I have always thought it would be great- as a baseball fan that doesn’t need to have playoffs on the line- to go to the worst last series of the year.

This really galvanized in 2012, when the Astros and Cubs, when they were both in the NL Central, were both 100+ game losers and played each other to end the season. It was the first time two teams with 100+ losses had played each other in more than 50 years.

I thought that would have been a great series to attend merely to see who the hell else went to that series voluntarily. It was at Wrigley, so obviously it was well attended just because it was a Cubs game, but what the hell would that have been like in Houston, or anywhere else for that matter? I would like to go and talk to who's there. Is it parents of the 40th man on the roster waiting for his MLB debut? Is it all die-hards? Is it people making their ballpark tour and needed this one to finish the season? Who is there, exactly, and why? I think it would make a great documentary.

So now, every year, I check to see which would be the worst last series to attend. In truth, the worst last weekday series would be the “best” to attend because on weekends there’s generally some sort of crowd regardless. For the final Monday-Thursday series there’s usually not much of a crowd for teams well out of a playoff spot (for instance, the Padres-Giants series featured more seagulls than people).

I have rather simple rules to determine the best worst final series of the year. Obviously, it should not involve any playoff teams. It should also not involve any teams over 500. Thus, the 112-loss Orioles, who should be in the mix, are not an option because they are hosting the AL West champion Astros. Similarly, the 102-loss Royals are hosting the AL Central champion Indians. You understand how this works, there needs to be zero things at stake for either team. The White Sox have 96 losses and are hosting the 84-loss Twins, so there’s our first real option. The 94-loss Tigers are at the Brewers, who are fighting for the NL Central, so they’re out.

Side note, the AL Central has been abysmal this year. The Tigers have 94 losses and they’re likely going to finish 3rd.

On the NL side, the Reds have 93 losses but the Pirates are potentially going to finish 500, so forget it. The Padres have 95 losses and are taking on the D-Backs, who despite a horrendous collapse could still finish 500.

I’ll spare you going through the rest of the teams to say that this year’s “winner” is Marlins at Mets. Yes, they have the same exact records as the White Sox-Tigers series, so if you preferred that you could be there. There are actually standings in play, as the Tigers are two games ahead of the White Sox for 3rd, so there’s kind of something for both teams to play for, which goes against the entire idea of this.

So I pick New Shea because it’s a last place team (Marlins) versus a 4th place team (Mets).

For those of you who might argue that it’s a series with something to it because the about-to-retire David Wright will make an appearance, I say this:

Your argument for this series being relevant is that a guy who hasn’t played in three years is going to basically pull a Minnie Minoso and play like an inning just to say he did? Maybe you should re-think your thought process, because you just successfully pointed out why this series is useless. 

photo: si.com

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Case For David Beaty, 2018 Edition

Wanted: For Killing Kansas Football
You remember when the Penn State football team lost 20 scholarships for several years when that whole Paterno/Sandusky incredible example of power and corruption and disgustingness went down. You remember when most people said Penn State would be hard-pressed to recover anytime soon because they were limited to just 65 players on scholarship, out of a total of 85. You remember that people thought Penn State was done because they only had 65 scholarships to award to football players.

You also thought you were going to read about Kansas Football.

What does Penn State's scholarship reduction have to do with saving David Beaty's job?

In his first year as Kansas head coach, in 2015, David Beaty had 38 players on scholarship.

Thirty.

Eight.

It is only now, in his fourth year, that they are even close to surpassing 65 scholarshipped players. In other words, Penn State's lowest, NCAA-sanctioned level was still higher than anything David Beaty had to work with for his first three years at Kansas. 

That, my friends, is why Charlie Weis is still killing Kansas football. And it's why David Beaty has had no chance to succeed. And that is why the #FireBeaty hashtag is completely unwarranted. It should really be #FireCharlieWeisAgainAndAgainAndAgainAndAgain.
 
So when I hear that new KU Athletic Director Jeff Long says that the football program is constantly being evaluated, I can only hope it means that they are considering replacing it with an Ultimate Frisbee team and not considering firing David Beaty.

I imagine that not many of you have heard why David Beaty only had 38 players on scholarship his first year, or still is well below the maximum limit of 85, because if you are not in Lawrence proper or are not a subscriber to The Athletic, you may have not heard this story. Thus, when Kansas lost to Nicholls, the #FireBeaty hashtag sprang up around the country from various KU Alumni, including many who are my friends. Thus, this column.

My first argument when people use #FireBeaty is to say "and replace him with whom, exactly?"  Yes, somebody will take the job. But nobody wants the job as bad as Beaty, or his defensive coordinator, Clint Bowen. Anybody else would have quit by now because the circumstances are so stupid. Beaty hasn't. Neither has Bowen.

Which brings me back around to why the circumstances are so stupid for Beaty and Bowen and Long and Kansas football, and it is because Charlie Weis was the worst hire in Kansas football history. It might be hyperbole, but not by much.

When Charlie Weis was hired as Kansas football coach, he believed the way to make the program kind of competitive quickly was via transfers. It makes sense. Get some guys sitting on a bench somewhere prominent, or some juco guys who slipped through somehow, and use those guys to get a foundation going. (I didn't need a subscription to The Athletic to tell me that. What I learned in the story was the next part.)

So they brought in about 30 guys like that. By the time Weis was fired, he had given away 56 scholarships, and 12 of those players were still on the roster.

That is unheard of.

That, friends, is how you get to 38 players on scholarship.

Who could win with 38 scholarship players? Maybe Nick Saban, because he could get anybody. But no other football coach could win with those restrictions. And certainly not a football program that has been spiraling down like a man without a parachute for a decade. 

According to NCAA rules, you can only give away 25 scholarships a year. So even if Beaty had maxed out his numbers, it still would have taken two years to get to 85, even if all of those 38 guys had stayed on the roster. Of course, with graduation and expiring eligibility and so on, that's impossible.

Which is why, maybe, they're at 70. In year four. And, honest to Pete, Beaty is thrilled they are even approaching 70.

This is the quote:

"I'm excited about being 15 short. That's unbelievable. I'm so fired up about being 15 short which tells you where we came from. I would say it'll take a few more years. I'd say at least three, maybe more, to get to 85, because the attrition that happens naturally from medicals is what keeps you from being able to continue to make up those numbers."

What. The. Hell.

Penn State got cut to 65. Beaty might be at 65 this year.

You can't win with 38 players on scholarship.

You can't fire David Beaty.

Charlie Weis killed Kansas Football.

His horrid mistakes are still killing Kansas Football, four years after he was fired.

And now you know.

"I'm STILL HERE and I'm STILL TRYING"

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Summer MLB Weekday Day Games 2018


Where would you rather be?
It's post-All-Star Break, which means it's time to enjoy summer to the fullest. And one of the best ways to do that is by skipping work completely and going to weekday day game baseball. Frankly, this is also a good idea in April. But when the weather is good and the games can be a lot more meaningful, it's an even better idea.

There are more teams doing weekday day games this year because of a new rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement requiring "getaway day" games to actually be day games if a team has to travel more than three hours. For instance, last year the Braves scheduled a Thursday night series-ender against the Giants. That game was delayed due to rain and did not start until 9 pm Eastern. It ended after midnight, so the Giants didn't get out of Atlanta till close to 3 am and had a game at home the next night. They got shellacked, as you might expect. Now, you know if the Braves had been the ones heading west after that game they damn well would have scheduled a day game. Because it was the visitors the Braves didn't give a damn. Similar situations helped get the rule changed. This year, that game would be a day game.

The biggest issue regarding a day game is, what is a cutoff time for a day game? For me, it's a 2 pm start. Anything after 2, it's an afternoon game, which is different than a day game. 4 pm games are right out.

The Dodgers and the Orioles are notorious in my book for refusing to schedule any summertime weekday day games. I'll give it away right now, it's impossible to go to Dodger Stadium or Camden Yards for a weekday day game the rest of this season, unless they do a make-up game sometime.

 The Angels, Red Sox, Rangers, Pirates, Braves, Padres and Marlins rarely do summer day games. A few of those team you can understand why because of the summer heat, but the others... will we be able to get to them on this travel itinerary? Oh, the suspense!!!!

I used to have a rule saying "games on holidays don't count," but I allow for the Blue Jays to be home on Canada Day and the Nationals to be home on the 4th of July, because they're always day games. It would be a great trip, and it was again possible this year. So that's where we start this journey...  




Sunday, 7/1: Tigers at Blue Jays

Our lone Sunday day game qualifier, because it's Canada Day. (and also I really want one of these giveaway hats. Yes, I could buy one very similar and have it shipped to me, but that ruins the "I got it at the Canada Day game" idea). 
 
Wednesday, 7/4:  Red Sox at Nationals

I hit upon this idea of the "Independence Day Double" a few years ago and I think it would be amazing to compare how its done in both places. Last year probably would have been great, considering it was Canada's 150th birthday, and I wrote it up here. But really, it would be great any year. (Note that why the Blue Jays give away hats, the Nats give away zilch.)

Naturally, the team with the most day games is the Cubs. The number has been dwindling, but generally they have from 25-30 home day games, which is less than half of their total home games. But that's still twice as many as most other teams. The ballpark at 1260 West Addison also is the only place to have any Friday home day games, which means that it'll be easy to get to Wrigley.

I'll note all the Cubs home day games along the way, starting with

Friday, 7/6: Reds at Cubs.

Most weekday day games are Wednesdays. And so we'll kick off our journey in earnest on...

Wednesday, 7/11:  Nats at Pirates

I did not expect to cross PNC off the list this early, if at all. The Pirates, despite having a beautiful ballpark on the river, rarely have weekday day games. They attribute this to the tendency for summer afternoon thunderstorms, and they do have delays, but I'd rather be at the ballpark in the summer rain than a lot of places.

(other optional games on this day: Royals at Twins, Cubs at Giants, Tigers at Rays)

Thursday, 7/12:  A's at Astros

A back-to-back to get started, because if you're gonna go for it, you gotta go for it. About a three-hour flight, but the reverse time change makes it two hours and totally do-able in the morning. As World Series champions, the Astros have kicked up their slate of weekday day games, possibly because of the new CBA, but also perhaps because people are more likely to go see the champs no matter when they play. They could schedule a game for 6 am or midnight and people would go.... this year.

(other game today: Dbacks at Rockies)

Friday, 7/20: Cards at Cubs

Tuesday, 7/24: Braves at Marlins

Tuesday day games are weird, and two-game series against teams in the same division are weird, and Marlins day games are weird because they have attendance problems completely opposite the Astros. So this game should be weird.


Wednesday, 7/25: Padres at Mets

Now the day game that makes sense today, given that we're already in Florida, is Yankees at Rays. But because the Mets next and last home weekday day game doesn't fit, we're headed to Flushing for our first back-to-back.

(the multitude of other day games today: Dodgers at Phillies, Cardinals at Reds, Pirates at Indians, Nats at Brewers, Tigers at Royals, Dbacks at Cubs, Giants at Mariners)

Thursday, 7/26: White Sox at Angels

And make it back-to-back-to-back with our first cross-country flight in order to get the Angels on the list. Going from NYC to LA with the reverse time shift should make it a little easier.

(also today: Dbacks at Cubs)

Tuesday, 7/31: Giants at Padres

Another Tuesday day game, another two-game series between division rivals, and despite being in a great place to be in the daytime during the summer the Padres rarely have weekday day games. Or maybe that's why they rarely do. That's the only thing I can figure out.

Wednesday, 8/1:  Astros at Mariners

I originally had Reds at Tigers here, but I like to avoid flying cross-country as much as possible, which would happen if I kept them here. As is, the San Diego to Seattle flight is 1,000 miles, so about three hours, but perfectly reasonable.


(also: Mets at Nats, Orioles at Yankees, Indians at Twins, Blue Jays at A's, )

Thursday, 8/2: Rockies at Cardinals

 Back-to-back-to-back, part II. Seattle to St. Louis is closer to a four-hour trip with the time change, but you gotta do what you gotta do. For allegedly being a great baseball town, St. Louis rarely has summer day games. Of course, it's slightly humid there in the summer. But Stan Musial and Dizzy Dean played their entire careers in wool during the day in St. Louis, so what the hell?

(also: Royals at White Sox, Angels at Rays)

Friday, 8/3: Padres at Cubs

Tuesday 8/7: Astros at Giants

a Tuesday day game finishing a two-game series against a non-division rival- interleague, no less- makes sense. Any excuse to go to AT&T is a good one.




Wednesday, 8/8:  Phillies at Dbacks

an easy flight and we can be glad for domes in the desert in August.

(also: Reds at Mets, Mariners at Rangers, Pirates at Rockies, Tigers at Angels)

Thursday, 8/9: Padres at Brewers

back-to-back-to-back, part III. three hour flight, not bad at all from PHX to MKE (Milwaukee's airport code is MKE because Milan is MIL. Although Italy would be a good vacation, that's not keeping with our plan).

(also: Braves at Nats, Twins at Indians)

Friday, 8/10: Nats at Cubs

And our first back-to-back-to-back-to-back! (Yes, there will be another.) In my early planning into seeing day games a few years ago I realized that because Milwaukee and Chicago are so close it would be very easy to do a back-to-back with them. I even have the travel figured out: stay in Milwaukee after their day game and then take the morning commuter train to Chicago with the rest of the working stiffs, making them jealous.


Tuesday, 8/14: Brewers at Cubs

Wednesday, 8/15: White Sox at Tigers

I originally had Mariners at A's for today, but because tomorrow is going to be travel-heavy, I switched it to Minnesota hosting the Pirates, and then to Detroit because we'll get to the Twins. It seems like they have a lot more day games in Detroit this year, at least that's how I see it. Maybe that downtown revitalization thing is really working?
 

(also: Brewers at Cubs)

Thursday, 8/16: Rays at Yankees AND Mets at Phillies (4pm DH)

And here it is. The plan as it stands now: fly from Detroit to NYC, either early morning or late after the game (2-and-a-half hours flight time), find a good deli and hit Yankee Stadium for the early game, then train it to Philly for game 2 of the DH, which shouldn't start until 8 or so. This allows for a special night game exemption. And late-night cheesesteaks. Pat's and Geno's, let's do both because we've earned it.


Wednesday, 8/22: Twins at White Sox

Checking off New Comiskey. It'll be us and 50 other die-hards.

(also: Orioles at Blue Jays, Reds at Brewers, Rangers at A's, Astros at Mariners)

Thursday, 8/23: Indians at Red Sox

What a change that will be, going from empty Comiskey to full Fenway. should be a pretty good game as well.

(also: Phillies at Nationals, Padres at Rockies, Giants at Mets,- this is that Mets game I mentioned we couldn't get to earlier- and White Sox at Tigers, a rare case of two consecutive day games for a team and not involving the Cubs at all. That's because Tigers are starting a series with the White Sox in the daytime under the guise of "Grandparents Day," apparently to ensure you can make the game and the early bird special at whichever chain restaurant you like the best.)

Friday, 8/24: Reds at Cubs

Saturday, 8/25: Yanks at Orioles, split DH

our only possible Saturday exception to get in Camden Yards, a split doubleheader with a 1:05 first pitch. The Orioles never have weekday day games after Memorial Day, which I really can't figure out. It's such a nice park. 

Wednesday, 8/29: Tigers at Royals

the Kaufman/Arrowhead Stadium complex is out in the country but it's really well done. One of the best examples of 70's ballpark architecture. Actually, it is the best because it still exists. Very glad they had the land to build two parks and didn't do a Vet/3 Rivers/Riverfront type thing, since all four were built around the same time.


(also: Mets at Cubs, A's at Astros, Mariners at Padres)

Thursday, 8/30: Twins at Indians

and staying at least an extra day to visit the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Too bad the Browns aren't home.

(also: Brewers at Reds)

Monday, 9/3, Labor Day: 

this is the day to get to Dodger Stadium, even though it's a 5pm start hosting the Mets. I have to check it off if at all possible, and here it is possible. They have a Sunday day game, so maybe either. or both.

(day games: Cards at Nats, Phils at Marlins, Red Sox at Braves, Reds at Pirates, Cubs at Brewers, Tigers at White Sox, Twins at Astros, Giants at Rockies, Yankees at A's)

Wednesday, 9/5: Red Sox at Braves

Few fans realize that the Red Sox and Braves have a long history together, for they were both in Boston for more than 50 years. And for a lot of that time, both of them were terrible. Ted Williams is largely responsible for swinging loyalties to the A.L. team. Over the '52 off-season Braves were keen to move to Milwaukee, where the Brewers were their top farm team. Just weeks before the '53 season started, as soon as permission was granted to move to Milwaukee, they just flat left. Braves Field was supposed to host the All-Star game that year! (They hurridly gave it to Cincinnati.)

(After the Braves moved to Atlanta, Milwaukee also got the one-time Seattle Pilots in spring training, but even later- a week before Opening Day! The big rig hauling their equipment stopped in Provo, Utah, and waited to see what interstate he would take. The move happened so late that the new Brewers played in Pilots uniforms with the logo ripped off.)

(also: Royals at Indians)

Wednesday, 9/12: Dodgers at Reds

Cincy off the list!

(also: Indians at Rays, Astros at Tigers, Pirates at Cardinals, Braves at Giants)

Thursday, 9/13: Dbacks at Rockies

The Rockies tend to have a lot of weekday day games, so in making the schedule I always end up getting to them late. In a way it's their fault for having so many, but it's a nice problem to have.


Friday, 9/14: Reds at Cubs

Tuesday, 9/18: Red Sox at Yankees

You think we're not going to a Red Sox-Yankees day game with playoff berths on the line? Are you crazy? 

Wednesday, 9/19: Rays at Rangers 

Frankly, I don't blame the Rangers for not scheduling a lot of weekday day games in Dallas in the summer.

(also: Cardinals at Braves, Twins at Tigers)

Thursday, 9/20: Angels at A's

I don't like cramming in the Coliseum like this. But it almost makes sense because the light-rail to the Oakland Airport starts at the Coliseum Station. So easy in and easy out.


Friday, 9/21: Cubs at White Sox

because we are absolutely going to a Cubs/White Sox game at Comiskey. I don't care that we've already been to Comiskey, we're doing this.


Thursday, 9/27: Yankees at Rays

in the final week of the season, we're crossing Tampa off the list, even though we were really close when we saw the Marlins in July. Blame the Mets for not having more day games. Just another thing the Mets suck at.

(also: Phillies at Rockies)

Friday, 9/28: White sox at Twins (noon split dh)

Now, would it make sense to end this day game adventure at Wrigley, Cards and Cubs? Of course it would. But that would mean we'd have to re-engineer the schedule to get the Twins in there, and they have already scheduled a makeup of a rainout against the White Sox to be part of a split doubleheader on the final weekday of the season. So we're going to a doubleheader to finish this out.

So how many ballparks? How did we do?

For the first time since I've been making this proposed journey, we've hit EVERY PARK!!!!!

And we'll be seeing weekday day games in 28 of the 30 parks, the only exceptions being, as I told you at the top, Baltimore and Dodger Stadium. We'll be in Toronto on Sunday, but that's a special exemption for Canada Day.

We'll be at Wrigley Field twice (with plenty of optional stops), Comiskey Park twice, and Yankee Stadium twice.

The cost? Money is.... uh, not an object here. Weekday day game baseball is, and that's what we've accomplished. Let's do it again next year!

all photos by the author (while watching the Giants)


I'm here, where are you?








Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rooftop Tents Have Always Been A Bad Idea

note this is the most level piece of ground in the photo
Camping as a kid, I was always fascinated by the different ways people slept in the outdoors. I was absolutely certain that a monstrous 40-foot RV was the way to go, and that our little tent was for the uncool. I watched The Long, Long Trailer so much I had it memorized (that list also included Shane, Back to the Future, Spinout and The Maltese Falcon). I have since changed my mind about tents. (Because I realized I do not want to be anchored to an interstate highway and I want to camp in places that 40-foot RV's can't get to.)

how is a tent on your trunk a good idea?
The most fascinating thing looking through old camping books of the 50's and 60's was the cartop tent. The old versions were literally plywood boards with a tent attached- evidence in the photo from the "Ford 4 Seasons Adventure Library" book on the left. Some of them would even go on your trunk (which immediately meant you couldn't get into the trunk if someone was in the tent, or even once the tent was attached to the trunk, which is why I don't think those sold very well at all.) By the 80's they had disappeared, so I never saw one in the wild. I saw pup tents, Airstreams, tent trailers, Six-Pacs, Minnie Winnies, converted school busses, mega-tents and dozens of other devices, but never a cartop tent.

Cartop tents are back now, if you haven't noticed while thumbing through the latest issue of Outdoors magazine or looking at your REI email blast. They're everywhere you look, and they're still fascinating. The idea is still the same: a tent on the roof of your car. These new versions look like telescoping roof racks with a tent attached.

But the same major problems still exist. Number one is getting in the tent. Since it's still on the roof of your car, you still need a ladder or something that is not called a ladder but it structured awfully similar to a ladder. Problem 1A, closely associated to getting into the tent on the roof of your car, is getting out of the tent on the roof of your car. At night. In the dark. When you have to pee. After you've had a couple of drinks.

Yeah. 1A is an issue.

Issue 1B is getting your dog, who sleeps next to you- I'm assuming I am the only person who does not take a dog camping, because that's how it seems to be- up a ladder and into the tent on the roof of your car. If you have a small dog this is not a problem. But I have not seen too many people take small dogs camping. And if you're unsteady getting in to the tent on the roof of your car, how is your dog going to like getting there? 

Problem 2 is the same one you get with any sleeping arrangement on wheels. When you move, the RV, trailer, van, car- whatever- moves too. Now imagine you're in a tent on the roof of your car with your significant other and your dog, and you all move. You might as well be on a houseboat.

Problem 3? I go camping to not be attached to a car. I go camping to sleep outdoors near the river, not on my car in a parking space. I might as well sleep in my driveway.

Problem 3A? Your vehicle has to be on flat ground for you to sleep, and I mean really flat ground. I don't think you're going to want to take the chance of falling out of your tent- and five feet to the ground.

Which comes to the only bonus about sleeping on my car: when it rains, and there's mud, I'm not on the ground. That's it. But when it rains and I'm camping, I tend to pack up and head home.

So they can dress up rooftop tents or cartop campers as much as they want, and have them look as cool as they want.... but they're still a bad idea (unless you are running a safari in sub-saharan Africa on an expedition looking for big animals that could very well kill you if they found you while you were asleep. But let me remind you those animals can climb ladders).  Let me know if I haven't thought of a really good reason for sleeping in a tent on the roof of my car.

It seems to me the modern rooftop tent will go the way of the old cartop camper. Plywood not included.

photos courtesy: marquestra.com, a photo of photos in a book by the author, popularmechanics.com

wait, a tent... and another tent?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Will the New Han Solo Movie Ruin Han Solo?


 Look, I am going to see the Han Solo stand-alone movie and I never actually go to the theatre to see a movie anymore. So, let’s get that straight up front. But I am worried that the new Han Solo movie is going to absolutely screw up everything that we like about Han Solo.

Han Solo is awesome in part because he is mysterious. Where did he come from? How did he win the Millennium Falcon “fair and square” from Lando? What makes him able to shoot first and not have any problems about it? These are questions we have asked as a Star Wars watching people for more than 40 years.

He is a mysterious figure. He is one of the great mysterious figures of all time, like Clint Eastwood in 90% of his westerns, and the entire Steve McQueen filmography, and of course, Humphrey Bogart’s tour de force of Rick Blaine in Casablanca. It’s a great plot device to get you more interested in the character.

“We have a complete dossier on you: Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague.”

You bet it is, Major.

“I've often speculated why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Run off with a senator's wife? I like to think you killed a man. It's the Romantic in me.”

“It’s a combination of all three,” he replies, and thus you continue to wonder what makes the man tick.

Han Solo belongs in those same categories because we don’t know anything about him. We wonder, and it makes him more mysterious and therefore more awesome.

And very soon, in less than two hours, we will learn exactly what makes Han Solo tick and where he came from and what about the Falcon.

We will know everything about him.

And it will RUIN Han Solo.

He will be toast.

It would be like having a complete backstory about every character in The Great Escape. You know, the fantastic WWII prisoner of war breakout movie from 1963. We know bits and pieces about every character, but just enough to move the story along and create some drama. We don’t know everything. We do know that Charles Bronson’s Danny had a tunnel collapse on him so despite him being the best at digging tunnels he’s scared. That’s fine. That’s a plot device that’s key to the actual damn escape, so it’s part of the gig.

But we don’t know how James Garner’s Hendley came to be so good at scrounging. Nobody else does, either. It’s an aside. The guy the British know to be The Scrounger isn’t there, and they hear there’s an American named Hendley who’s very good. The exchange goes like this:
"It's on loan"

“What about Tommy Bristol?”
 “No, but there's an American – Hendley”.
“Is he a scrounger, blackmailer?”
“MacDonald says he's the best.”
“Good.”

That’s it.

We don’t know about Jimmy Coburn and why the hell he’s an Australian with no accent and why Sedgewick is the ace manufacturer. He just is. The best mystery surrounding Sedgewick is his escape. He gets into town, steals a bicycle that’s too small for him, and cycles away. We cut back to him a few times in between the chaos and he’s just cycling along. Then he just shows up in Paris.

As for The Cooler King, Steve McQueen has a conversation with Ives while they’re in The Cooler where he mentions riding bikes, and Ives says “bicycles?” and Hilts says “No, motorcycles.” So you know he can ride before he tries to escape on one. The confusion by Ives and Hilts’ emphasis on correcting him, by the way, is also an intentional screenwriter device to get you to notice the interaction. Even though you may not have any use for knowing that right then, when Steve McQueen starts hopping barbed-wire fences at 70 miles an hour, you go “Ohhhhhhhhh!!!!” It’s a device most used by mystery writers, for if you mention a candlestick on page one, it damn well better be important to the plot by the end of it all.

Anyway, imagine if they did a prequel to The Great Escape and showed how Hilts became so good at riding motorcycles, and Hendley got so good at scrounging, and Bltythe (Donald Pleasance) as a mild-mannered guy who discovers he has a tremendous talent for forgery. (Oh man, I just gave Hollywood an idea, didn’t I? Forget I said anything.)

That movie would ruin The Great Escape. Absolutely destroy it. You’d have to pretend it doesn’t exist, like Slap Shot 2.
"I do not want to see Slap Shot 2!"

I am also extremely worried about Han Solo because Star Wars already did a bunch of movies explaining what happened before, and they ruined all the mystery and awesomeness of the stuff they were trying to show. 

Before the prequels, when Obi-Wan said, “I fought with your father in The Clone Wars,” our imagination filled in the blank. This old man fought battles? With Luke’s father? How did they survive? What happened?

We wondered what kind of father Luke’s dad was. “He’s got too much of his father in him,” said aunt Beru. “Darth Vader killed your father,” said Obi-Wan. We wondered. We speculated. The mystery and the history made us want to know more about the story. When the big reveal happened, we realized what Obi-Wan meant. The mystery of how that happened made us want to know more.

And then the prequels happened, and we found out, and we immediately regretted it (well, I sure did).  Obi-Wan as a young man fights like Renton in Trainspotting. Luke’s dad is a stupid brat as kid, and an idiot as a young man.

We know about the Clone Wars and how clunky they are. The mystery, the off-hand remark of “I fought with your father in The Clone Wars” immediately reminds me of how bad the prequels are.

But that’s not all that worries me about the new Han Solo movie.

There’s also what happened when we saw part of the backstory of another iconic Harrison Ford character, and the terribleness that ensued.

"Junior, why are we in Fairfax?"

I’m talking about Indiana Jones.

The opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is everything the backstory of a mysterious and awesome character should be. It doesn’t ruin him, in fact, it makes him more mysterious and awesome. It explains a lot about him without coming straight out and banging you over the head with it.

The young Henry Jones is a Boy Scout in Colorado/Utah in the early 20th century. Boom, we have an explanation for his MacGyver-like tendencies and ability to survive in caves and desert areas. That’s where he grew up! And a Boy Scout nonetheless!

The sequence does not make a big deal out of the two major reveals to the Jones character. They come across as almost afterthoughts to the plot, and that makes them better. Jones falls through the top of a circus car and lands in a snake pit. Boom, revealed. Then he picks up a whip for presumably the first time, cracks it, and it cuts his chin, leaving a scar. Since Harrison Ford actually does have a scar right there, this was a little joke to make River Phoenix seem more like Indiana Jones.
 
It's just part of the scene.

The hat, given to him by the evil guy’s Jones-like assistant, is the only emphasized reveal. A little aside with Professor Henry Jones showing him obsessed with the grail is a plot point developed later in the film. But we don’t know everything. We know just enough to want more. The opening sequence was the most discussed and talked-about part of the movie when it came out, and I know this because I was there reading and talking about it. 

And that created the biggest problem with the Indiana Jones backstory, the ill-conceived and badly-executed (at least when it comes to storytelling and the like) “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV show of the early 90’s.

You only might remember this abysmal piece of garbage (when it comes to Indiana Jones’ story only, and I mention this twice because a friend of mine worked on the then-extremely advanced computer special effects) if you saw it when it came out. They have since tried to re-imagine it as something interesting, but every time they have tried, it has failed, and thank you fellow viewer for keeping this horrible trash where it belongs.

The Last Crusade sequence presented young Henry Jones as an adventurous Boy Scout in America, who became the great Indiana Jones when he grew up.

Young Indiana Jones presented young Indiana Jones as a globetrotting savant, interacting with world leaders and historical figures everywhere he went.

This is NOT how Indiana Jones grew up
You see the difference? Young Indiana Jones had the kid going on safari with Teddy Roosevelt and in Paris with Ernest Hemingway, falling for Mata Hari and helping the Red %&$#! Baron learn how to fly.

That is not who Indiana Jones is. Indiana Jones- at least the way I see it presented- is an American kid who studied archaeology to try and please his father and discovered that his adventure bug finally helped him instead of hurting him. And his Boy Scout training came in very, very handy.

Indiana Jones doesn’t pal around with celebrities as an adult because he finds them ridiculous, but as a kid he’s dining with Winston Churchill and painting with Pablo Picasso? Get the hell out of here.

There is a connection between the Young Indiana Jones and the Star Wars prequels- George Lucas developed them both. Yep, he wrote Jones’ entire history and that was the basis for the show. And he of course wrote and directed prequel number one.

Of course, Lucas did create both Solo and Jones and gave them their original mysteriousness and awesomeness, so we must give him plenty of credit for that.

And that gives me some hope for Solo. Because Lucas isn’t heavily involved with it. So maybe, people like me who want to preserve the history and mystery and awesomeness of Solo made sure of it.

Laugh it up, fuzzball. 

Maybe he’s not as toast as I think he is. We’ll find out soon enough.


 photos courtesy their respective, correct owners