The Dorkiest Thing I’ve Ever Done.

 

Oh, You Mean Daifugo?

 

The other day I came across a pack of brand new playing cards.  Bicycle.  Rider Back.  The good stuff.  There is something nice about a brand new pack of cards.  It’s a little like new car smell, if a new car cost $1.99.  When I open up a new pack of cards I also think about how nasty a deck can get.  I’m not sure this is a usual reaction, but given my unique and incredibly nerdy card playing history, I can’t help myself.  When I see a pack of new cards I also see a nicked up, greased up, discolored mess.

I’ve done plenty of dorky things in my lifetime.  And by this I mean things that make me look ten miles away from cool. I used to make up games to play by myself when I was growing up.  One of them involved throwing a tennis ball off our roof and then at my basketball net.  If you happened to be strolling through the neighborhood you could have seen me running around the front yard like a wild man, throwing tennis balls off our roof.  You probably would have thought, “oh look, the poor moron doesn’t have any friends.”  I did have friends, though.  But, sometimes we did some dorky things as a unit.

At the beginning of high school I suppose we all still had our innocence.  And, apparently we also had a lot of courage, because we’d spend our entire lunch period playing cards.  Sometimes we played Pinochle, which I’d say is just slightly less nerdy than playing Magic the Gathering, but what we played the majority of the time was a game called Daifugo. One of our friends introduced us to this game, and it immediately became a sensation.  We played with five people and literally there would be a big rush to get to lunch so you’d have a seat to play Daifugo.  We’d then spend the next 1/2 hour switching seats and merrily ignoring the judgmental gaze of what must have been horrified classmates.

Talk about girls?  Sports?  Actual school activities?  This new fangled instant messaging thing?  No, thank you.  We’re going to play Daifugo.  Every waking moment was about this card game.  Because of that it became important to have a deck of cards at all times, but playing at lunch…you can imagine what happened to the cards.  They became filthy.  Just disgusting, caked with Doritos dust and whatever else we were shoving into our pie-holes.  Eventually the cards would become a sticky, unshuffable mess that had the thickness of dinner plates.  This set the stage of course for someone to save the day by brining in a new pack of cards.  Instant hero status.  And, that is why till this day when I open up a new pack of playing cards I still think about my Daifugo playing days.

Of course, what makes the story a real classic and proves this was the dorkiest thing I ever did was that I had no idea we were playing the fabled drinking game, A**hole.  I couldn’t have been more clueless.  When I got to college, I heard people talking about A-hole, but at first I had no idea what the game was.  I was a little embarrassed.  I wanted to be among the A-hole players, but at the same time I was nervous if I didn’t pick it up quickly enough, I’d look like a total fool.  Finally, through some observation I realized this game with the wild deuces looked awfully familiar.  This was the game of my lunchroom freshman year.  After that I quickly assimilated into the A-hole culture, bringing a set of skills honed at the fiercely competitive cafeteria table.  I also managed to never say, even though it crossed my mind several times, when asked if I wanted to play A-hole, “Oh, you mean Daifugo? Sure.”

Quiz of the Day:  Dog Breeds.  Category: Dogs > Cats.  My Score: 30/36.

Since it is Monday, I’ll give you all a tip.  They accept, “hot dog” so you don’t have to wrestle with the spelling of Dachs????


The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

 

Protection From Who?

 

Lee Westwood is the man who replaced Tiger Woods atop the World Golf Rankings.  The fickle ranking system had always been able to point to Tiger comfortably on top as proof of its efficiency, but when Tiger slid from the top rung and there wasn’t a dominant player to replace him, many golf people wondered just how accurate the rankings really were.  Westwood, though unquestionably one of the least dominant #1s ever, probably took a little more heat than he deserved.  He didn’t crown himself, but people looked at his general failure in closing out majors and poor PGA Tour record as signs that he was merely a place holder.  On Monday, Martin Kaymer will replace Westwood atop the rankings, and for the first time since Tiger left the top spot, there will be a number one with the look of a player who might stick around for a while.

Kaymer lost Sunday’s match play final to Luke Donald, who played out of his mind all week, but he was the only one of the number one seeds that looked anything like the part.  Phil Mickelson was torched by Rickie Fowler in the 2nd round, and he’ll be out of the top-5 on Monday.  Lee Westwood couldn’t make the 3rd round either, but they both did better than Tiger who lost on the opening day to Thomas Bjorn.  Kaymer, who plays the majority of his golf on the European Tour where he’s been winning with regularity for the last 12 months,  has now won the PGA Championship and finished 2nd in the WGC match play in his last two American starts.  If it wasn’t for Phil Mickelson’s recent dominance over Augusta National, Kaymer would be a cut and dried, runaway favorite to win the Masters.

The odd thing about Kaymer is that, at 26, isn’t much older than all the young phenoms that the golf world has tried to force down our throats in recent years.  Kim, McIlory, Fowler, Ishikawa, Day, the list goes on and on, but the sum total of those careers barely equal what Kaymer has done in relative anonymity.  Since Kaymer is German, he’s been blanketed with the standard adjectives: precise, calculating, stoic.  This is Bernhard Langer 2.0.  And, there is some truth in that.  Kaymer doesn’t seem much interested in celebrity status or amassing Twitter followers.  The question is, is having Kaymer on top good for golf?

The default opinion is that Tiger needs to get back to number one, but right now Tiger is so far from being in the discussion, that you have to start contemplating a golf world where Tiger does not reascend to the throne.  The reason that McIlroy, Kim, Fowler and company get all the attention is because they are the players that look capable of carrying the torch.  Right now, Kaymer looks capable of winning a lot of golf tournaments, but past that, who knows?  I think Kaymer, because of his approach, is going to have to win a tremendous amount to capture the American golf audience.  And, even then he might only earn begrudging respect.

Since the Europeans have taken over golf (currently 4 of the top 5 players for the first time since ’92), it has been interesting for me to gauge reaction to this on various golf blogs and the like.  I think Americans have always liked to look down at the European Tour to a certain extent, and because of that attitude, European golf fans have developed an incredible chip on their shoulders.  They remind me a bit of Jets fans.  At their first chance they began hooting and hollering, but unlike Jets fans they actually have some real things to celebrate these days.  Your standard American golf fan, though, still seems unimpressed and disinterested in the Euros (I know they can play, just constantly root against them).  While I think a rivalry could be good, if it goes back and forth, I wonder what will happen if the Americans continue to lose their grip in the rankings.  Could golf be headed for a swoon like tennis faces in this country without a lineup of American stars?  I think in Europe they are accustomed to watching golf with just a sprinkling of players from their own country, but if that were to happen here, I wonder if we’d just as soon tune out for good.

 

With Expectation Comes Worry.

 

Has a Tendon.

The whole soreness story never made a lot of sense.  Chase Utley came into camp in great shape, and the 2nd week of workouts didn’t seem like a time when you’d suddenly get sore, but I’m sure the Phillies knew the words MRI and tendinitis would set off a wave of panic.  So, I guess they waited a couple days and hoped for the best, but eventually stonewalling the media becomes a secondary concern to the starting 2nd baseman’s health.  Utley had an MRI which revealed patellar tendinitis, and he’s labeled himself day-to-day.  I don’t think anyone knows for sure when he’ll make his debut, though, and I think that has probably planted a seed of doubt in the minds of many fans.  Utley is the tough, but recently fragile superstar, and there are better ways to start spring training than battling tendinitis.

It’s going to be a long year for this type of story, though.  People are holding their breath with this team.  It almost feels like the only way to go is down.  There isn’t a lot that can go unexpectedly right for this team.  Every time one of the aces pitches well, it comes with a nod of expectation.  Most of the offensive starters have huge seasons in their past to live up to.  So, considering all that, about the only thing to do is wait for things to go unexpectedly wrong or panic at everything that doesn’t go right.  Injuries like the one Utley has now will be a concern, there are probably people lamenting Dom Brown’s 3 strikeouts on Sunday.  It’s going to be that type of year, especially until the games start for real and people can start keeping score.

It was a pretty uneventful opening weekend against the Yankees.  All the pitchers you need to worry about looked pretty sharp.  I’ll admit that with all the hype surrounding Cole Hamels’ early form, I was expecting him to charge out of the dugout and start hitting Aroldis Chapman numbers on the gun.  As it turned out, Cole threw pretty well and hit the low-90s.  It’s more encouraging when you remember Cole has spent past springs trying to rally past 80 on his opening outing.  Joe “The Thumb” Blanton threw well on Sunday making it business as usual so far for the starting staff.  The mantra to repeat for the next week or so will always be, pitching is ahead of hitting.  That’s one of those old baseball adages that you hear so often that there is no choice but to consider it gospel.

I guess Ben Francisco’s big weekend will get him a little respect in the race for right field.  Francisco had a few extra base hits, has the Phillies’ only homer and if the season started tomorrow….maybe he’d be out there in right field.  The thing with this battle for right field is, the fans would probably prefer Brown out there, because he’s the hot commodity, but if Francisco takes charge they will latch onto him immediately.  If Francisco hits, there will be plenty of Phillies fans willing to pack Dom up for Lehigh Valley.

Nothing really else of note.  Halladay gets the Jays for a couple of innings on Monday, and I guess we should touch on Jayson Werth ruining his initial Pat Burrell reception with his “I hate the Phillies,” quote.  Sounds like the culprits are backpedaling off it, but I’d imagine they said it, and that’s all it will take for Phillies fans.  They might bury Werth when he comes back now, especially since it looks like Jayson is going to be talking all spring.  Expect a rash of Philly fans are a-holes stories come out during Washington’s first visit.  The city that booed Santa Claus boos its former All-Star right-fielder.  The horror.

 

Portrait of the Artist: An Anecdote.

 

Gucci Was Not Interested in My Skillz.

 

So, I guess fewer kids get to take a quality art class these days.  No money for it, and not enough time when you are pounding home the necessities for the standardized tests.  Luckily for me, I cruised through school in the heyday of the art class.  I think there were three art teachers at my high school?  Imagine that.  Anyway, all the way from grade school where the highlight of art class was wearing a smock up through my senior year I was without a doubt the worst art student in America.  Just terrible.

For some reason, I kept taking the classes, though.  I guess they were breezy to get through, but I had absolutely no interest in art.  In one of my high school classes we had this weekly “portfolio” or something that had to be turned in with our homework. One time I just straight up traced an old Phillies program.  It couldn’t have been more obvious if I ripped the cover off the thing.  Somehow, I escaped that incident.  One of the art teachers, who wasn’t really lenient on the old grading scale would write things atop my masterpieces like, “I know you are trying–C-minus.”  I think art really killed my high school GPA.  I was always scraping together a low-B or something because I was turning in things that proud pre-school parents hang on their refrigerator.

I guess there were just too many periods in the day, because there was no escape from these classes.  I took Debate (twice), Speech (essentially the same thing), Word Processing, I inexplicably stuck with Spanish for seis anos, and yet still there were holes in my schedule.  It made no sense.  And, since I certainly couldn’t build anything out of wood or metal without losing a few of my precious digits, and since I didn’t have any interest in learning how to program a computer device, I ended up taking some random art class time after time.  The only thing I didn’t get into was photography, but I think that had extra time commitments.  Warning!  Warning!  Effort required.

After the basic, run of the mill, “draw that apple over there,” art class that I took the first year or two they really opened up the curriculum.  You got to take this class that was basically Art Shop.  I want to say it was called something really strange like, “Art Contract,” but I might have made that up.  This class was very popular among students with actual artistic talent.  They got to paint, or do some pottery on the wheel which was like crack for these kids.  I mean, the pottery wheel might as well been a magic lamp the way people lined up to use this thing.  I had no interest in that.  You have to know your limitations.  And, who cares about pottery?

The teacher of this class knew I was suspect.  She knew I had no real business being in there, but early on we developed this kind of understanding where she could help the kids actually interested in art, and I would keep to myself.  I think it was after a few weeks of watching me shuffle papers around on my desk (perhaps I was sketching the idea for a sick watercolor or something?) the teacher suggested that I might want to do some leather work.  Oooh, leather.  A chance to become a real artisan.  I agreed to give the old cowhide a shot, having visions of creating a reasonable replica of a Rawlings Gold Glove.  Teach said I had to start with something simple…like a belt.

A belt?  The teacher appeared much more excited than I was when she returned with what looked to be a skinned cow. I hate to be graphic, but it was a giant roll of leather that was about 1/8 of an inch thick.  It was beastly leather.  There was nothing soft about this.  I think it went for about 10 cents a cubic mile.  She thought it would be great for a belt and so I hacked off a piece and got to work.  What I learned about the leather working was that I could waste an eternity of time.  I could “treat” the leather.  I could “dye” it.  I could do all of this crap that wasn’t actually doing anything.  I spent forever on the thing, and then never put a buckle on it.  Who can put a buckle on?  Impossible.

The belt really kindled the craftsman’s fire in me.  I loved the amount of time I could waste using leather, but after the belt I needed to step it up a notch.  It was wallet time, bitches!  It’s odd that I would choose a wallet, because I think there was about a 2-minute window where I thought wallets were hot.  This was before I actually carried one.  Then once I had one, I realized I hated wallets.  So, in this season of the wallet I decided I wanted to make one for myself. This time I got to work with actual leather, and I think my leather bill came to about 14 dollars (which I never paid). The wallet went really well until I had to start sewing the pieces together.  Total and utter failure.  Instead of wasting my time happily, it was taking me entire class periods to execute three stitches.

I want to say the wallet turned out better than the belt, simply because you could put a dollar bill in it and then put the wallet into your pocket, but that wouldn’t do justice to just how bad this wallet looked.  I’m kicking myself that I eventually tossed it, because if I could post a picture of the thing, you’d laugh right through the weekend.  I guess there is really no slick ending to this tale.  I eventually got to the point in my life where I was no longer required to produce visual art, and the world is a less horrifying place because of that.  If I had to stick a moral on this bad boy, I’d say, art is in the eye of the beholder, unless I made it, in which case–it’s trash.  And, there it is.

Quiz of the Day: Most Populated PA Cities.  Category: Home State Geography.  My Score: 13/14.

This quiz reminded me of a time in 8th grade Earth Science when our teacher asked us to name something like, “The 11 rivers that bisect the Appalachian Plateau.”  We rattled off four or five then he says, “Anyone else?  No? All right, figure them out before the test.”

 

Enough With The “Small Ball” Talk.

 

Whitey Herzog Isn't Taking Over.

 

Here’s a little Phillies related rant for everyone.  Can we stop it with the small ball talk?  It’s ridiculous.  I know the Phillies didn’t hit in the post-season last year and most of their regulars are creeping into their thirties, but to think they’ve suddenly become so hapless on offense that they will have to rely on “small ball,” is ridiculous.  The Phillies in a down offensive year in 2010, one that was riddled with injuries still scored the 2nd most runs in the National League. And, yes, their home run numbers were down, but the Phillies don’t need a change in offensive philosophy just because Jayson Werth and his monumental 27 bombs ended up in Washington.

People love to throw around the term “small ball.”  I think they think it makes them sound like they know something special.  Oooh…small ball.  Then they’ll say something like, American League style offense.  Well, the point of all offense, National or American League, is to score runs, and the truth is there aren’t really any teams in either league that truly play small ball.  No one is out there stealing 100 bases.  No one is bunting anyone over.  In the early 90s, when Pittsburgh was rolling up NL East crowns they would actually play small ball.  Someone would get on, Jay Bell would actually bunt them over, and then they’d try to get them in.  Bell had 39 sacrifice bunts one year.   You know how many Polly had last year?  The Phillies wizard of small ball?  He had one.  One sacrifice bunt.  The Phillies didn’t wake up with Mark Grace at 1st and Chico Lind at 2nd base.  This team still has plenty of power.

There is a difference between situational hitting and playing small ball.  The Phillies need to hit better in certain situations, but it doesn’t have much to do with playing small ball.  They aren’t going to be trying to pull off many hit-and-runs with Chase Utley up there, or anything like that.  The Phillies have to hit better with runners in scoring position, they have to do a better job getting the guy in from 3rd base, but that isn’t small ball.  That’s called getting any kind of base-hit with a guy on 2nd or 3rd–something the departed Jayson Werth couldn’t do to save his life last season.

Certainly there are guys that need a better approach to hitting and would benefit from putting a little more line drive in their swing, but again that doesn’t really have a lot to do with small ball.  Shane Victorino hit 18 homers last year and everyone thinks it is because he went brain-dead and tried to hit a home run every at-bat, turning his back on our beloved small ball.  The real problem was he couldn’t hit right-handed pitching.  Not a lick.  It killed his numbers, because that is 2/3 of his plate appearances where he has a .700 OPS instead of .875 right-handed.  So, Victorino needs a better approach…to hitting right-handers, but he doesn’t necessarily need to start drag bunting 10 times a month.

I guess I just want to be clear that the Phillies should have more than enough power to get by in 2011, and they’ll need to hit some home runs to have a successful season, because in some ways that is still what this team is…a lineup full of guys who strike out and hit home runs.  Just because you have an off power season doesn’t mean you show up in camp the next year and turn into Rod Carew.  And, that’s part of the problem with what Mike Schmidt was talking about.  It would be great if Rollins or Victorino had an approach like Pete Rose, but they don’t.  They have different sets of skills, and you can’t just decide to adopt Rose’s talents one spring.  These guys have decades of baseball behind them, for the most part, they are who they are as hitters.

Talking about small ball doesn’t make any sense, because the Phillies aren’t going to be playing it, and the fans don’t want to see it anyway.  Sure, now it’s fun to talk about sac-bunts and hitting it to the right side and sacrifice flies as far as the eye can see, but people are trying to talk themselves into it.  They know the pitching is good, so they think if they start winning games 3-2 and 4-3 and 2-1 that will be enough, but no one is going to settle for that.  They’ll want to do their share of banging, and believe me, the Phillies do too.  The Giants series was 6 games against one the best staffs in the league.  It wasn’t a death sentence, or a mandate to play small ball.

 

Movie Awards.

 

Forget the Oscars.

 

The Oscars are Sunday.  I think red carpet coverage starts Saturday afternoon.  Someone get on January Jones watch for me.  Anne Hathaway and James Franco are hosting.  Nervous.  I guarantee they do some type of musical number, and I bet Franco weirds out the entire audience at least five or six times.  He’s on another planet.  I doubt they live up to the glittering insults Ricky Gervais offered at the Golden Globes.  I haven’t come anywhere close to seeing all the right movies.  So, I can’t really weigh in on the Oscars.  I didn’t see King’s Speech, Black Swan, Winter’s Bone, True Grit…the list goes on and on.  Instead of that, I’ll just offer some observations in the form of awards that don’t exist. Everyone on board?  Great.

Non-Doomsday Documentary of the Year:  Catfish.  Why do all documentaries have to be such downers?  I like some of them, but it’s all the world is ending, look how awful the human race is, etc.  It gets tiring.  I snagged Catfish out of the Redbox machine not knowing a thing about it and was really surprised.  I don’t want to give anything away (there are twists), but it’s about social media and you really have to see it to believe it.  Also the winner of, “The luckiest documentary film makers of the year award.”

Easiest To Watch Movie of the Year:  Secretariat.  It may have been my favorite movie.  I’m serious. Keep in mind my odd bias toward horse racing movies and Secretariat in particular, but really they could have made this about 4 hours and I would have sat there with no problem.  Plus, you know the bow is coming at the end.

One Hit Wonder:  Jeremy Renner.  He was such a bad ass in The Hurt Locker.  There was something atypical about him, and you thought he was going to be great in everything.  Then comes The Town.  He’s essentially the same guy, but it’s a little hollow this time and his accent is borderline horrible.  Oh, well, it was a good run.

Skinniest Kid At Fat Camp Comedy of the Year:  Easy A.  I can’t believe I actually just typed that, but I just browsed a list of comedies to refresh my memory and this may have been the least humorous year in movie history.  Sorry state of affairs.  Easy A has some genuine laughs, mostly coming from Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Emma Stone’s parents.  Second Choice, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?

Comedy Tragedy of the Year:  Dinner for Schmucks.  A distinguished category.  I already tore this movie apart and questioned Steve Carell’s career, but it bears repeating.  Never, ever see this movie.  Along with Grown Ups, Get Him to the Greek, The Other Guys (by reputation)…just a tragic year for big budget comedy.  Will Hangover 2 disappoint in 2011 as well?

Three Movies That Could Have Been Better:

  1. Greenberg
  2. Ghost Writer
  3. The American

I liked all these movies, but there  was something missing in all of them.  It was the endings of The American and Ghost Writer that I didn’t like.  Especially Ghost Writer I think could have had more drama, or a better twist at the end.  It didn’t do the rest of the movie justice.  Greenberg, I don’t know, maybe I just couldn’t quite get on board with Ben Stiller.

Slightly Overrated Movies:

  1. The Social Network
  2. The Kids are All Right
  3. Cyrus

These were all pretty good movies as well, but I don’t agree with all the fawning and lavish praise.  The Social Network is a great movie for this time, but I don’t know that it is a great movie.  It has a great performance in it, and there are exceptional scenes, but I wasn’t blown away.  The Kids are All Right is a really sharp script, but I think it gets too much critical love.  I honestly think people still think it is cool and edgy to say they like a film just because it doesn’t have something like a traditional family structure.  You’ve got to bring more than that.  Cyrus is a comedy I had high hopes for, and there were some funny moments, but the word that kept coming to mind was slow.  It was a little slow.

Wanted to Hate, But Couldn’t:  Inception.  Inception was one of my favorite movies of the year.  It was very interesting, and I remember when I first saw the preview I scoffed at it and gave it some name like “The Dream Matrix.”  I had planned on not seeing it, but then I started to hear good things, sucked it up and went to the theater, and was rewarded with a really good movie.  That doesn’t happen that often.

Stick to TV Award:  Cast of Mad Men.  Jon Hamm was all right in The Town, but it was no Don Draper performance.  I see Betty is in this new Liam Neeson movie.  Doesn’t look good.  Roger has had a couple of roles, but they just aren’t clicking.  I’m sure AMC isn’t breaking the bank for these people, so we have no choice, but I don’t think there is a movie star in this group.

Favorite Movie of the Year:  The Fighter.

Least Favorite:  Whatever Twilight Movie came out.  Sight unseen.

All right, I’m out of steam, please feel free to leave your 2010 movie thoughts.  Tell me what I need to still see.

Quiz of the Day:  Movie Couples 2000s.  Category: Good Looking People.  My Score: 52/70.

I bombed this one.  Didn’t see a lot of these flicks.  And, it takes a bit longer than usual.  I suggest typing last names only if you try it.

Phils Start Thursday. (Kind Of)

 

A Chance to Stick it to Buster Posey's Alma Mater.

 

The Phillies will play Florida State on Thursday.  Florida State is ranked in college baseball’s top-10, and the Phils won’t be using many regulars, but I think the professional nine should still be slight favorites in this one.  It’s significant because at least it will be a game to talk about.  News is pouring out of Clearwater at a furious rate, it just isn’t that interesting.  The Phils weren’t accurate with their cutoff throws today.  Big story.  If the accuracy of their outfield arms is what brings this team down, well, let’s just say I’d be surprised if anyone bemoans cutoff inconsistency during the regular season.  No, there’s been a lot of non stories, and some that are worth maybe a fleeting bit of interest, like Chase Utley’s “body soreness.”  I used to get that too during the first week of baseball, but that was because I hadn’t thrown, fielded a ground ball or hit in about 9 months.  I guess Chase could empathize.

The biggest story I’ve heard and one that is actually good news is the reports of how good Cole Hamels looks.  He’s apparently shown up in Clearwater looking like the kid who hit puberty hard over summer break.  Everyone is raving about his condition, the command he already has of his pitches, and his velocity.  Cole’s velocity was a bit of a revelation last year, and this year they say he is already throwing harder in camp than he did all of last spring.  This is incredibly reassuring, because if you remember Cole showed up for spring training in ’09 throwing about 78 miles per hour.  I think we remember how that played out.  The new, beastly Hamels sounds intriguing and for all the talk about Blanton getting to face the bottom of other rotations, it could be Hamels that really benefits from facing his share of 3s, 4s and 5s.

We’ll get our first real look at the Phils and Hamels on Saturday.  They have a weekend home and home with the Yankees.  The Phils take Friday off to squeeze in an organizational golf outing.  Good times all around there.  I don’t know if you heard, but Ryan Howard’s WAR in a scramble is 14.6.  Pretty heady stuff.  I think the game on Saturday is on MLB network.  Don’t hold me to that, but if you are frothing at the mouth to see the Phillies, Dom Brown and a host of AAA players, give it a peek and try it out.  1pm Eastern.

***

If you follow the blog, you know I tried to motivate Tiger Woods when I saw him before the Super Bowl*, but clearly that isn’t working.  Tiger lost in the match play to Thomas Bjorn on Wednesday and Bjorn didn’t exactly have to play lights out to beat him.  Tiger just isn’t as good a putter right now as he used to be, and he isn’t as clutch.  You could link both these things back to confidence, but it is getting to the point right now, where it is almost sad to see how he is playing. And, the vultures are circling.  Rory McIlroy is talking about him coming to the end of his career.  Hank Haney is firing off snarky tweets and then acting like he’s surprised anyone is even paying attention.  It’s starting to bother me.

Here’s the deal.  I was never a Tiger fan.  I still am not.  I always liked to root against him a bit, because it was kind of a contrarian thing to do, but I never hated him like I hate a say….Ian Poulter.  And, what Tiger did off the course didn’t bother me or make me hate him either.  It didn’t impact me in any way.  Obviously, he’s a dirt bag, but what does that have to do with me watching golf?  Nothing.  And, it didn’t have anything to do with these other pros playing golf either, but now that Tiger is down they are all strong all of sudden.  It’s chirp-chirp and take your shots while you can.  And, honestly, it’s total BS.  Because, while Tiger the man may not deserve one ounce of respect, Tiger the golfer still deserves every bit of respect you can muster.  I think the people who played in Tiger’s era of dominance still get it. They know what is up.  Take Bjorn for example.  His comments after the round are pure class.

Q. What did you say to Tiger there at the end?
THOMAS BJORN: That’s between me and Tiger, really. But what I will say is that the game of golf needs him back at his best. And I’ve always been a great friend of his, and we’ve always had a good relationship. And I want to see him back at his best because I think it’s much more fun to go up against him when he’s absolutely at his peak. And so it was things down that line. But what was exactly said, that stays between me and Tiger.

That’s the gentlemanly thing to say, and the harder thing to say right now.  The guys running their mouths about his lost mystique should really be writing him thank you letters because they can have their careers where they win a couple of times, grab a top-10, fall ass backwards into 1 Major and they make about 50 million dollars.  If Tiger never came down the pike they’d be about as popular as the WNBA or bowling right now and still playing for 180,000 first prizes.  So, everyone should really zip a lip, and go back to picking out flat brim hats and green pants, because kicking Tiger while he is down takes no heart.  Show some class.

 

 

Afternoon Evens and Ends.

 

The Most Feared Name in Baseball.

 

Hasn’t been a February to remember for Cardinals fans.  No Pujols extension and now Adam Wainwright headed back to St. Louis with an elbow injury.  The club fears it may be serious, and things like “Tommy John” and “season-ending” are being thrown around.  I don’t think anyone needs to be clued in on what losing Wainwright would mean for the Cardinals.  They are in a competitive NL Central with the Reds and the suddenly pitching-rich Brewers.  Their deep rotation was their strongest asset, and without Wainwright a lot of pressure will fall on Jaime Garcia to compliment Chris Carpenter at the top of the rotation.  It won’t be easy to replace the 18-20 wins Wainwright has been good for the last couple of years.  The National League is all about pitching and more pitching, but it can be fleeting.  Scary reminder.

Mike Schmidt is not a big league manager for several reasons.  He likes to play golf.  He can make a nice living in a minute fraction of the time it takes to be a big league manager just by being Mike Schmidt.  He likes Florida.  But, also, it doesn’t seem like he can help himself.  He’s got opinions.  He shares them.  He says things that you could never say as a manager (unless you are Ozzie Guillen), and I think he likes that.  I imagine he likes the attention that comes with these sound bites.  He doesn’t want to give that up.  His latest nugget was that Jimmy Rollins should be more like Pete Rose. Or, another way of looking at it would be to say that he thinks Rollins is a underachiever and used Rose as an example of someone who did much more with less talent.  In some ways this is a good observation, but in others it is classic Schmidt just not quite having the pulse.  Oh, just be like one of the best contact hitters of all-time?  Sure, no problem.

How bad is Derrick Favors?  I’m just asking because it seems like the Nets were just dying to get rid of this guy.  Hurry up and trade him before he doesn’t even have “upside.”  Lot of basketball star power leaving the mountains.  I think this is a great deal for the Nets, and dare I say better than getting Carmelo?  Maybe not, but close.  Now they just need to start selling Dwight Howard on Brooklyn, or whatever the next part of the plan is.  Tough work to be an NBA GM these days.  You have to make big moves to set up other big moves.  One falls through, and poof…you’re right back in the hole.

Can someone tell me what umami is?  There is a different taste out there that I am not aware of?  Here I am thinking salty, sour, sweet and bitter, but now there is this Japanese word that loosely means “savoriness.”  It’s confusing as hell, because what is savoriness?  It sounds like the je ne sais quoi of food.  Apparently foods high in umami include fish, vegetables, green tea, and soy sauce.  Who’s dubious (waving my hands wildly)?  But, the reason I’m bringing it up is because there is a burger sensation going on right now in California called Umami Burger.  Now, if you tell me California has revolutionized a food I become a bit skeptical.  I could make the argument they ruined pizza, but this sounds pretty straightforward, putting all their money behind the secret sauce at Umami Burger which I suppose is loaded with umami.  I don’t get to California as much as I’d like, so I won’t be trying this anytime soon, but I think there is time to corner the east coast market if someone wants to rip off a version of umami sauce with me.  Look out Five Guys.

Quiz of the Day:  Popular U.S. Newspapers.  Category:  People Still Read Newspapers?  My Score: 16/20


Maybe This Will be the Year…

 

It Is Bracket-ally Possible.

 

I think golf’s attempt to catch some of the bracket fever that consumes people each spring loses ground every year.  It is, unfortunately, just another golf tournament.  It’s a unique format, but in the end it provides more boring weekends than epic battles.  There are plenty of intriguing 1st round match-ups, and this year is no different, but more often than not it is someone in the 2nd tier of stars getting hot and killing the field, see Ogilvy, Geoff and Poulter, Ian.  While some players have proven to be more adept at match play than others, this is mostly a golf lottery.  I guess we can still hope for a classic final, though.  At least until Wednesday afternoon when the 1st round is over and several top seeds have packed their bags for Florida.  My preferred finals, sticking to possible outcomes in the brackets:

Tiger vs. Phil.

This is the ultimate no-brainer.  International golf fans can go pound sand, this would send the ratings into the stratosphere and give the event a good 5-yr reprieve.  Both these guys have a brutal road to the final (everyone does), but Tiger in particular.  If he beats Thomas Bjorn (who already won this year) in round one, he faces the winner of Geoff Ogilvy vs. Padraig Harrington.  Ogilvy has the 2nd best record in this event (next to Tiger) and Harrington while always tweaking his game would be a very tough out.  Phil has a possible match against Ricky Fowler in round two, and has McDowell, Poulter, and possibly the most consistent American player in the world right now, Matt Kuchar in his portion of the bracket.   Neither of these guys is really on form, either.  Chances of this happening?  About, .01%.

Tiger vs. Westwood or Phil vs. Kaymer.

Really, I’d take any of the following Americans (Phil, Tiger, Dustin Johnson, AK, or Fowler) against a top European player Westwood/Poulter/Kaymer/McDowell.  The Official World Golf Rankings aren’t a real friendly home for Americans these days.  Phil Mickelson fell to 5th this week, which puts Euros in 3 of the top 4 spots.  I don’t know for sure, but this might be the first time this has happened since the late eighties when Europe was dominating the world scene?  Not only are Americans down in the rankings, but they’ve never done great in this event (aside from Tiger).  Poulter has done well, Casey, Stenson and an Aussie Geoff Ogilvy, but American stars have balked at this event, which is surprising considering their success in Ryder and Presidents Cup singles.  We need to salvage a bit of stars and stripes pride this week and avoid a situation like last year when the final rounds looked like European Ryder Cup practice.

Fowler vs. McIlroy.

I am really touting Fowler here, and I’d rather have someone else, considering Rickie looks like he was dressed by a Japanese animator and doesn’t own a PGA Tour win, but he’s proven to be pretty deadly in match play and  I am starved for a young American with some stones.  Someone that doesn’t curl up into a ball and play for the 2nd place check.  I’d like Fowler to be that guy.  McIlroy is quickly becoming one of my least favorite Europeans.  He seems awfully full of himself (for someone who also hasn’t won much), he’s too cute on Twitter (not that I follow, but golf websites have weekly updates about his Twitter goings on with Poults and Westy), and I honestly think he’s got a little buckle in him.  Don’t know if I trust the short game.  Fowler’s got the much tougher road, Mickelson in round 2 for starters.  McIlroy’s bracket, with Kaymer on top, looks the weakest aside from that, considering everyone’s current form.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rory or Kaymer make the Final 4 quite easily.

And, for fun my top-10 Nightmare Finals:

  1. Charl Schwartzel vs. Thomas Bjorn
  2. Robert Allenby vs. Mike Angel Jimenez
  3. K.J. Choi vs. Zach Johnson
  4. Ian Poulter vs. Rory McIlroy
  5. Ben Crane vs. Heath Slocum
  6. Y.E. Yang vs. Sean O’Hair
  7. Robert Karlsson vs. Peter Hanson
  8. Bill Haas vs. Nick Watney
  9. Mark Wilson vs. Ross Fisher
  10. Stewart Cink vs. Ernie Els

 

Don’t Like Sabermetrics.

 

Is One of These Guys Vorp?

 

In case there are any FJM fans out there, or slaves to the new metrics, let me just clarify my headline.  I am not someone who thinks Felix Hernandez shouldn’t have won the Cy Young because he didn’t have enough wins.  I know that OPS trumps RBIs, and any stat that can discount a Derek Jeter Gold Glove, I am a fan of.  I appreciate the way our approach to baseball stats is constantly changing and how much the game lends itself to numerical analysis.  Part of baseball is debating the numbers, I don’t think there is any debate about that.  As the new metrics take over, though, I wonder if we aren’t sucking a little bit of the fun out of everything.  Let me explain…

Thanks to various websites like Baseball Reference and Fangraphs it is incredibly easy to get your hands on all the statistics.  We’ve gone from people needing to be walked through what WAR is to having it be on everyone’s fingertips if they so desire.  What this has led to, in my opinion, is the emergence of a new type of sports column.  It’s completely drowned in stats and comparative figures.  There was one on Raul Ibanez a couple of days back.  Someone had quickly assimilated all this data for players in their 39-year old season.  How many players had this OPS, how much fall off from the 38-year old season, what about the next year at 40?  In the end you feel like Ibanez has no impact on his own results.  The clear historical blueprint for the season he will have is laid out in front of you.  The metrics don’t lie, it is reporting without bias.

There is some place for that information, but the problem I have is the backlash against people who don’t base everything on the metrics.  If you simply have an opinion, but the stats don’t agree with that opinion, you get killed for it.  If you have a feeling that Raul Ibanez is going to have a great season in 2011, you almost can’t say it without being ridiculed.  Even if you qualify it by saying something like, “the metrics would indicate otherwise…”  it doesn’t matter. The stats guys were ridiculed for so long, I guess, as soon as they got some momentum they flipped on the people who had always belittled what they did.  Metrics aren’t really new, they are just being much more widely accepted.

Sometimes I like to hear a hunch, though.  Isn’t that part of the fun of baseball?  It’d be like if you said before last season that you thought Carlos Ruiz had the chance to hit .300.  You would have gotten killed for that.  You’d be getting quoted numbers like batting average on balls in play, how many catchers hit .300, and everything else.  How is a career .250 hitter going to hit .300? Well, it happened.  And, it is the exception, of course, most times the statistics would have been right and Ruiz would have hit his usual .260, but I don’t want to get to the point where you can’t say anything unless you have the laundry list of stats to back it up.

Now, if I was a national sportswriter, and I wrote something like, “you can’t give the Cy Young to someone who has only 15 wins,” I’d expect to be hammered for that.  That makes no sense.  But, what if a writer with some exposure wrote, “I have a feeling Derek Jeter might have one of his best seasons in 2011.  Call me crazy, but I think Jeter has one more run at a batting title in him.  He’s come to Tampa looking like a changed man, and I think he has too much pride to not earn the contract he signed over the winter….”

It wouldn’t take long for someone online to say, “Look at this horrendous example of sports writing.”  They’d chop it up line by line.  Oh, you have a feeling?  Well, ok then.  Oh, we don’t have to call you crazy, anyone who reads this column will know that right away.  Do you know how many middle infielders have won a batting title at Jeter’s advanced age?  Zero.  Jeter will lead the league in Pride!

I think there is plenty of bad sports writing out there, and there are certainly spots where you should point out if someone is blatantly ignoring and refusing to understand the new statistics, but I hope it is all right to still just have an opinion on something, because really, what does Steve Finley’s 2004 season have to do with what Raul Ibanez does this year?  I know it provides that statistical reference point, but in the end, it will be Ibanez who produces his own numbers.

Quiz of the Day:  Corporate Logos.  Category: Feed the Machine.  My Score: 33/36