Just Baseball A Place to Discuss Everything Baseball http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball <![CDATA[ Baseball sprung eternal]]>
Baseball is so popular as a literary subject in part because of its unique relationship with time.  Baseball games are defined not by time elapsed but by milestones accomplished:  three outs per half inning, each team one turn at bat per inning, nine innings per game, and extra innings played until a tie is broken.  As Barry writes, a baseball game, even a single at bat, could theoretically last an infinity, and this game tested that theory to the greatest extent ever in its 33 innings and over 8 hours of play.

Another aspect of baseball time is the length of the gestation period of a typical career.  A player drafted out of high school or college may take three, four, five years or more to progress through the minors from rookie ball to AAA, establishing through the slow accretion of statistics over time the repeatability of his ability; Pawtucket manager Morgan used the term "consistency" to describe why the hero of The Longest Game never made it to the majors despite years of success in the minors.  Yet somewhere along that path the unstoppable accretion of time turns a young man old in baseball years and he must make the realization or accept the inevitability of retirement.  It is Barry's treatment of time that gives this the poignancy of the best books about this oddly timeless and time driven game.

But it is a game, an event, and Barry also writes a highly readable account of this game as it unfolds over hours and days:  the cold wind that chills the players hands and empties the stands as the game draws on, the plays and hits that resulted in scores tied at 1-1 and 2-2 (when each team scored a run in an inning in the 20s that raised and dashed hopes that the game may end soon), the attempts of players on the field and on the bench to stay engaged during the hundreds of at bats (and 60 strikeouts), and the reason why the game wasn't suspended at the typical minor league curfew.

Barry calls this a "non-baseball baseball book" and uses the framework of the game to write a history and a story of a time, place, people, culture, and language--and of the Christianity symbolized by the celebration of Easter Sunday and the faith professed and lived by several of the players.  Baseball does this to writers, and in this case, in a good way.  One tie to the timelessness of baseball and to its literary reach:  Steve Grilli who took the loss in the game, near the end of a career in which he had made the majors but would not reach them again, is the father of Jason Grilli, the aging relief pitcher who found new life as the closer for my favorite Pittsburgh Pirates.

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http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Bottom_of_the_33rd_Hope_Redemption_and_Baseball_s_Longest_Game-111-1725072-243099-Baseball_sprung_eternal.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Bottom_of_the_33rd_Hope_Redemption_and_Baseball_s_Longest_Game-111-1725072-243099-Baseball_sprung_eternal.html Tue, 31 Dec 2013 01:04:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ Worsts up first]]>


This is both the strength and weakness of this kind of list.  No matter how many stats Bondy uses  and how he uses them (not very consistently) these are always purely subjective lists based on the author's biases, sources, time, and place.  But with that caveat, this is a fun set of lists because of the bottoms up look.  No Rose vs. Cobb, no Ruth vs. Aaron here.  These are guys famous for their blunders (Merkle, Buckner), incompetence (Mendoza, Giambi), and general idiocy (Rocker, Finley).

Bondy does sometimes use sabre stats to justify the inclusion of names on the lists, but isn't consistent in using them.  As I said above, these are personal lists so that is his prerogative, but some consistency might have better proved his case in the arguments  these kind of lists invariably start.

But as a set of argument starters, this set is as good as any of the many that have been published about baseball.  For me the failure to include Bonds and Clements on the list of cheaters is an impossibly large blind spot.  You can read the lists and pick your own arguments.

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http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Who_s_on_Worst_-111-1879239-240380-Worsts_up_first.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Who_s_on_Worst_-111-1879239-240380-Worsts_up_first.html Sun, 8 Sep 2013 13:48:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ Picking the 50 in "The 50 Greatest Players in New York Yankees History" by Robert W. Cohen]]> The 50 Greatest Players in New York Yankees History is a 300 page book that opens with “Introduction: The Yankee Pedigree” before covering the top 50 players. The introduction covers the Yankee beginnings in Baltimore, the move to New York in 1905, the move to the Polo Grounds in 1915, and the storied success in the following decades. That history is brought forward to the super stars of today in an overview format before covering the author's decision making process in ranking players.

 

Three factors weighed into the author's decision making process. He considered the “Level of Dominance” a player achieved with the team such as batting tiles, pitching awards, or some other offensive or pitching statistic. That same type of information was considered internally to determine how a player ranked among his other Yankee players when factoring in the era the player performed in as clearly, over time, baseball is a very fluid sport with numerous changes in the players and the game itself over the years. Also important was how much the player impacted the team on and off the field and what impact his presence had on the Yankee legacy. It is worth noting that only the period a player was with the Yankees was considered for the above determinations.

 

By author Robert W. Cohen’s standards he determined that Number one is Babe Ruth with Dave Righetti coming in at number 50. In between are Yankee's such as Derek Jeter (number 6), Alex Rodriguez (number 12), Rich Gossage (number 36), Sparky Lyle (number 41) and many more. Each chapter covers the players biography while a Yankee as well as informative about the context of the player in history. Each chapter has a career highlights section that covers “Best Season” and “Memorable Moments/Greatest Performances” as well as “Notable Achievements.” The “Notable Achievements” section is in bullet point format and especially suitable for settling trivia arguments.

 

Starting on page 263 after the top 50 players, the author designates a starting team and pitching staff as well as a second team. Author Robert W. Cohen than goes on to list the next 50 players deserving of honorable mention. That includes such notables as Wally Pipp (number 52), Lou Piniella (Number 60), C.C. Sabathia (number 61), Tommy John (number 76), and Garry Sheffield (number 100). While not as comprehensive in detail as the main part of the book, each player has a listing of their stats with the team under the heading of  “Yankee Numbers” as well as their “Notable Achievements.”

 

Also included is a two page index of common baseball terms, a biography of the source material used in the book and a six page index. An author bio page detailing the author's baseball credentials and other accomplishments close the book.

 

While surprisingly void of any photographs at all, there is a wealth of information on the profiled players in The 50 Greatest Players in New York Yankees History. The book is a comprehensive educational resource for fans and non-fans of the Yankees. Those looking for scandalous details won’t find much, if any, in this book. Those looking to find more about the accomplishments of various players and the context of the time they played will find much to savor in this excellently done reference style book.

 

It should be noted that this is a reprint edition of a book released previously last year through another division of the same publisher. This 2013 edition of the book was done before the recent news regarding Alex Rodriguez came out regarding his use of performance enhancing drugs and other issues.

 

The 50 Greatest Players in New York Yankees History

Robert W. Cohen

Taylor Trade Publishing (The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.)

http://wwwrowman.com

2013

ISBN# 978-1-58979-815-1

Paperback (also available as an e-book)

300 Pages

$19.95

 

 

I received an ARC of this title due to my participation in the “LibraryThing Early Reviewers” group for my use in an objective review.  

 

Kevin R. Tipple ©2013

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http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-The_50_Greatest_Players_in_New_York_Yankees_History_a_book-111-1866163-240155-Picking_the_50_in_The_50_Greatest_Players_in_New.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-The_50_Greatest_Players_in_New_York_Yankees_History_a_book-111-1866163-240155-Picking_the_50_in_The_50_Greatest_Players_in_New.html Tue, 3 Sep 2013 01:32:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ Rip-roaring good times in 1920's Chicago.]]>
For long-suffering Cubs fans, reading about the glory days of their beloved franchise should prove to be a real treat. One of the most important decisions William Wrigley made when he became majority owner of the Cubs in 1921 was to tap a former sportswriter named Bill Veeck Sr. to become President of the franchise. Radio was in its infancy and the Cubs were the first team in baseball to see the possibilities. Sporadic broadcasts of Cubs home games commenced in the mid 1920's and before long all home games would be aired. Incredibly, at one point four different radio stations in Chicago were broadcasting Cubs games. This is pretty impressive when you realize that it was the late 1930's before all major league clubs were broadcasting their home games. It has been estimated that these radio braodcasts actually tripled the number of Cubs fans in the more rural areas of the midwest. The dynamic duo of Wrigley and Veeck then targeted women as a potential new audience for their ball team. The Cubs established the very first Ladies' Day promotion in 1928 offering free admission to mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and grandmothers on Friday afternoons. The idea proved to be a huge success attracting anywhere from 15000 to 20000 women on a regular basis. As a result of their aggressive promotional efforts the Chicago Cubs would soon lead the major leagues in attendance and by a wide margin.

But perhaps the most important decision that Bill Veeck Sr. made during his tenure as club President was the hiring of manager Joe McCarthy before the 1926 season. McCarthy had been managing in the bushes for nearly a decade at Louisville of the American Association. Hiring a minor league manager was virtually unheard of at the time but Veeck's move proved to be a stroke of genius. Over the next several years the Cubs would build a formidable ball club. With the acquisition of the future Hall-of Famer Rogers Hornsby before the 1929 season the Cubs lineup featured the famed "Murderer's Row" of Hornsby, Hack Wilson, Kiki Cuyler and Riggs Stephenson. Mr. Veeck was also responsible for quite a few other savvy player acquisitions throughout the decade. The Cubs would come tantalizingly close to winning it all in that 1929 season save for the historic collapse in the final two games of the World Series. Rogers Ehrgott provides all of the heartbreaking details. History teaches that this has become an all too familiar scenario for Cubs fans.

I found "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club: Chicago & the Cubs During the Jazz Age" to an especially well-researched and exquisitely written volume. You really do get a feel for what Chicago must have been like in those halcyon days of the Roaring 20's. More importantly, it is a superb addition to the literature of our national pastime. "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club" is terrific summer reading and would be a marvelous choice for sports fans, history buffs and general readers alike. Very highly recommended!]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Mr_Wrigley_s_Ball_Club_Chicago_The_Cubs_During_The_Jazz_Age-111-1872919-237451-Rip_roaring_good_times_in_1920_s_Chicago_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Mr_Wrigley_s_Ball_Club_Chicago_The_Cubs_During_The_Jazz_Age-111-1872919-237451-Rip_roaring_good_times_in_1920_s_Chicago_.html Mon, 15 Jul 2013 21:54:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Answer]]>
That's important, because the story of Jackie Robinson as told in 42 is very much the story of Branch Rickey, the man who took the chance of signing Robinson. Rickey actually receives a wee bit more character development than Robinson, as we get to hear the stories of why Rickey feels so strongly about signing a black man to a major league contract, we learn of his devout Methodism, and he's really the one pulling a lot of the strings. On the other hand, we don't learn so much about Robinson's past, and we don't even get any views on interpretations of Robinson's famous 1945 tryout for the Boston Red Sox - something the Red Sox only did to appease Civil Rights activists, after which they told Robinson not to call them, they would call him.

42 plays out as the story of Jackie Robinson's rookie year in 1947, when he won the Rookie of the Year award and led the Dodgers to the Pennant. That's the only year we get to see played out in 42, but man, is it ever a doozy. I know Robinson faced unfathomable racism of the worst kind, and seeing it placed right in front of my face was pretty jarring. I was born in 1981, and it's difficult for see how different everything was back then, and know that there are still a lot of people alive today who had to live through the kind of abuse Robinson faced. (My father was born in 1947.) A lot of the motivations for bringing Robinson up to the bigs had to do with money, something even Rickey even admits when he tries to sell the idea. Hey, if it worked!

The racism is the main theme of 42. Although there's naturally a lot of baseball played in the movie, 42 has very little to do with baseball. Yes, we get regular updates about how the Brooklyn Dodgers are doing, but 42 exists mostly so we can get a look at Jackie Robinson and get an idea of the way the rest of the world reacted to him. There are some famous bits and pieces of the year in the movie - Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman verbally undressing Robinson with a relentless onslaught of every racial slur he can think of, and Pee Wee Reese placing his arm around Robinson's shoulder as a show of solidarity as Robinson is lustily booed by a crowd in Cincinnati. A moment I would have liked to see would be after Robinson led the minor league Montreal Royals to their Championship, after which him and his wife, Rachel, were chased through Montreal by throngs of adoring fans who wanted to celebrate; the irony of that wasn't lost on Jackie or Rachel. Montreal is in fact covered pretty generically, and Robinson's Montreal Manager, Clay Hopper, barely has five minutes of screen time. That's a shame for an ornery southern segregationist who was completely transformed by the experience of having Robinson on his team and mentored more black players who came up through Brooklyn's system afterward.

There are some very powerful scenes in 42; Branch Rickey's declaration about wanting someone with the guts to not fight back is in 42, and his worry about facing the lord one day with an inexcusable answer to the question of why he didn't let black people play Major League Baseball are both in it. Hell, none other than Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, gave 42 her personal blessing and said they did a great job with it. However, there are far too many scenes in 42 awash in syrupy melodrama. First of all, there are some of those damned kids in the movie. I've long believed the use of kids who turn up during pivotal power scenes is a cheap directorial tool for hacks, and half the time I keep wishing the little ankle-biter gets run over by a train. During the scene in Cincinnati with Reese and Robinson, there's one of those kids, and he's seen taking after his father and screaming slurs, then being instantly changed when he sees Reese place his hand on Robinson's shoulder and chat him up. The scene would have been just as effective without the kid, especially since 42 is mostly melodramatic kid-free and this happens close to the finale. Gag me.

That's not all. The ridiculous score sounds like the insufferable music that always accompanied the Lesson of the Week on a terrible 80's sitcom. I get that such dreck is par course for movies like this, but there's virtually no other kinds of music heard throughout 42. What this does is give 42 a real after-school special feel, and after-school specials don't ring fond memories in people of my generation. By and large, we just started getting fed up with the things after awhile.

You can't have a sports movie without an army of cliches, and things were decidedly looking down after the scene where Jackie proposes to Rachel over the phone. Cliches are wildly abundant because of the nature of 42: A sports movie about racism. 42 takes its sweet time letting you know exactly what it's about. One early scene shows Robinson trying to use the toilet at a gas station but being denied for being the wrong color, then telling the attendant they would be getting gas somewhere else. Another scene is when Jackie and Rachel arrive in New Orleans for Spring Training and Jackie finds herself staring at a Whites Only bathroom, saying she's heard about them, but never seen them before. Annoying as those cliches were, they were at least important to the theme of the movie. The other cliches come through the baseball medium, and they're no good at all. Most of them revolve around people having their opinions of Jackie being changed on a dime because he makes some otherworldly athletic play. There are on-cue diving catches and home runs. There's a walk-off at the end of the Big Game at the finale.

What really confused me, though, is that 42 seems to place a big emphasis on Robinson's ability to steal. Yeah, we get that Robinson was very fast, but as this movie proves, that doesn't translate well to cinematic excitement. Not on a baseball diamond, anyway. That's not entirely absurd because Robinson was a two-time Stolen Bases Champion, but his stealing numbers in either of those years wasn't outrageous - 29 in 1947 and 37 in 1949 - and it's clear from the start of the movie that Branch Rickey wants him because he was a prolific hitter (.311 career average). So it seems funny to me that stealing would be given such an emphasis, even if Robinson did steal home in the 1955 World Series.

I won't begrudge 42 for its story or the fact that it shows us just how stupid we really used to be. The fact that it earned a ringing endorsement from Rachel Robinson says more about it than I ever could, and you should probably go see it for that reason alone - it is, after all, one of those stories that really needs to be told, and that you can't fully appreciate until you know something about it beyond the usual school textbook glossover. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a very good movie, though. At least Harrison Ford's performance is captivating enough to hold your attention between the after-school special parts of it.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-42_2013_film_-111-1861428-237312-The_Answer.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-42_2013_film_-111-1861428-237312-The_Answer.html Mon, 8 Jul 2013 14:19:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ Tabloid Man]]>
As far as tomes to the fallen baseball heroes we once loved and wanted to believe in go, A-Rod is even more egregious and angry-written than Jeff Pearlman's The Rocket that Fell to Earth, a biography of Roger Clemens in which Pearlman writes fed up. While I was reading A-Rod, I kept getting the impression that Roberts was not only airing the dirty laundry of Alex Rodriguez, but that she was doing so in a real hurry, as if she needed to finish the book before the A-Rod steroid story cooled down. She also seemed to be writing it out with an attitude reminiscent of a kid whose lunch money kept getting stolen.

When I read through the epilogue, my suspicion was basically confirmed. Roberts takes a first-person viewpoint and writes out a sizable retort to Rodriguez's personal attack on her on a news show. Now, I can grant her a free pass for writing that out at the least. After all, she's a reporter who doesn't even have her photo on the book flap while A-Rod is a universally known and beloved baseball superstar, so that left her with pretty much no choice but to defend herself against the things Rodriguez said about her on national TV. And lord knows that way Rodriguez has been acting in public lately places the benefit of the doubt squarely in Roberts's corner.

Selena Roberts seems to have wanted to shed a little light on the mysterious, veiled, enigmatic figure that is Alex Rodriguez, something which the New York City media has been cheerfully doing ever since his arrival in The Bronx. The Rodriguez facade had already crumbled to dust long before A-Rod was ever written because no one really wants to leave him alone these days. I find that the trouble with Roberts's book here is that it's a real rush job in that she just doesn't come off with any point besides trying to make Rodriguez look bad. Alex Rodriguez the sympathetic little kid is the subject of a couple of chapters, but once that's wrapped up, the bulk of A-Rod is a straight battering. So much of A-Rod focuses on Rodriguez's steroid use and contracts that the title might as well have been "Money and Muscles: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez."

A-Rod reads like the Hollywood tabloids. Rodriguez comes off as an anti-hero at the best of times, and a two-dimensional villain in the worst of times. Rodriguez's impressive accomplishments on the baseball diamond are minimized, and that allows us a full picture of Alex Rodriguez the cartoon character. It allows us to look at Rodriguez the same way Roberts writes about Rodriguez looking at himself: A man who believes his greatest accomplishments aren't his batting statistics or the impressive home run totals he hit, but his ridiculous contracts with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees. Rodriguez is written as a man who thinks his greatest feat is reaching the height of celebrity, and who looks at baseball as nothing more than the vessel that brought him up to it.

I think the scariest information I got out of A-Rod is about just how rampant steroids are apparently running in high school athletics. That is, according to Roberts, the time Rodriguez was first exposed to steroids. Now, I can admit I really don't give a crap about how many players use steroids, and I've said before that I believe they should be legalized. The scary part about high schoolers on steroids is the fact that so many of these kids are pressured into using them because they see baseball as their only possible way of life. Therefore, they feel an intense need to focus on and succeed in baseball, and things simply shouldn't be that way.

Throughout A-Rod, Roberts doesn't do much more than spew out the same information the tabloids and New York City media have been giving us ever since Rodriguez became a Bomber. She tends to draw out the information a little bit more, and give us more behind the scenes details: Things like how Scott Boras became Rodriguez's agent, how Rodriguez really felt about Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, and his taste in women leading him to both Cynthia Scurtis and Madonna. She writes him as a man who just isn't very good at getting swallowed up by the celebrity lifestyle once he gets to the Yankees, after years of playing the squeaky-clean good guy with the Rangers and Seattle Mariners so many people want popular athletes to be.

I didn't get anything out of A-Rod. It comes off as too rushed, too hostile, and more about the material things Alex Rodriguez wanted as celebrity coups than the man himself. Although Roberts writes that Rodriguez does have a good side, it doesn't crop up very often in this book. A-Rod feels flat, but if there's one thing a reader can really learn from it, it's that famous athletes frequently have sides they don't show to the public. Honestly, after the recent Lance Armstrong fiasco, nothing would surprise me anymore, so it's really time we quit lionizing these people as examples of how to live righteous lives. (I've written about my frustration over this, too.)

The biggest blow against A-Rod is the fact that Selena Roberts appears to be another person who believes fans care about steroids. Any fan being honest will admit he just doesn't, and that's why we still watch. In this respect, A-Rod can be taken as a condemnation of sports journalism, which is chock full of writers who think they speak for the fans, but who are, in reality, so out of touch that it's embarrassing.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-A_Rod_The_Many_Lives_of_Alex_Rodriguez-111-1393259-237060-Tabloid_Man.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-A_Rod_The_Many_Lives_of_Alex_Rodriguez-111-1393259-237060-Tabloid_Man.html Wed, 19 Jun 2013 01:08:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ Excelllent Reference Book!]]> This review is based on a free copy I received from At Home Plate.  I looked through this book and found it packed with a lot of great information, not only of the top 50 players but also players 51-100.  Most true Yankee fans know the top 10 (Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Jeter, etc.) but after that you get to know some great stats and milestones that were compiled by some you may not know a lot about (Earl Combs, Bob Meusal, Bob Shawkey are examples).  Several players that you think should be rated higher (Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ricky Henderson, Catfish Hunter) are not so high up on the list because their actual time in pinstripes was limited and they had several of their best years with other teams.

Each player has a couple of pages of biography followed by career highlights and notable acheivements.  This is followed by the all-time Yankee first teams and second teams (the second team is pretty formidable) and then players 51-100.  The book is good because the reader can pick and choose who they want to read about and it has so much rich information in one place.  Then there is CC Sabathia coming in at #61 who should move up as he puts in more time with the pinstripes.

I give this book 4 stars.  The only reason I do not give it 5 is because it is more of a reference book than one I would read cover to cover.

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<![CDATA[ I Loved This Film!]]>
There are a lot of fun moments in this film including the immortal line "There's no crying in Baseball!" Comes down to the two friends, Geena Davis and Lori Petty and how the game gets in the way of their friendship.  Nice to see the real life gals in the film as themselves.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-A_League_of_Their_Own-111-1023599-236000-I_Loved_This_Film_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-A_League_of_Their_Own-111-1023599-236000-I_Loved_This_Film_.html Thu, 2 May 2013 15:10:53 +0000
<![CDATA[ The resurrection of baseball and its most improbable savior.]]> "But in all eight of its markets, the Association was transforming the public's perception of baseball itself, turning it from a fading game stained by corruption into a lively, affordable, fun-filled form of entertainment, the perfect two-hour escape from lives circumscribed by hard toil." - p. 116

In 1879 the game of baseball was virtually dead and buried in the city of St. Louis.  A series of scandals had rocked the game in the mid 1870's and the fans were staying away in droves.  The National League St. Louis Brown Stockings folded after the 1878 season to be replaced in 1879 by a semi-pro team by the same name.  No one seemed to care.  If baseball was going to experience a renaissance in the Gateway City it was going to require a determined owner with an innovative new approach.  Enter one Chris Von Der Ahe, a German immigrant grocer and saloon owner who knew virtually nothing about the game.  But while Von Der Ahe knew precious little about baseball he was a very astute businessman.  He had become convinced that there was a great deal of money to be made from baseball and he set about to make his fortune.  His unforgettable story is woven into the pages of Edward Achorn's marvelous new book "The Summer of Beer and Whisley:  How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game."  When the American Association was founded in 1882 as a new major league, the owners adopted many of Von Der Ahe's ideas including Sunday baseball, affordable ticket prices and hawking beer at the games.  The new league would become a smashing success in relatively short order.

Now if you are one of those people who have read precious little about the early history of professional baseball then "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey" should prove to be a real eye-opener for you.  Just imagine playing the game without any gloves.  Consider what it was like for the catcher!  Instead of 4 or 5 man pitching rotations most clubs relied on just two starting pitchers and the pitcher was expected to complete just about every game he started.  And there was just one umpire!  Ed Achorn cites a number of examples where unscrupulous players would take advantage of this unfortunate set of circumstances and cheat.  The book largely focuses on the 1883 American Association season and an exciting pennant race that goes right down to the wire.  You will be introduced to some of the most talented and popular players of the day and be treated to a number of memorable stories from both on and off the field.  Make no mistake about it.  The rough and tumble men who played the game in the early 1880's were certainly not choirboys. You will also be treated to a description of the very first "hidden ball" trick, learn the origin of the term "fan" and discover how the venerable "Louisville Slugger" came to be.  Interesting stuff!  As an aside I was also surprised to learn just how popular black baseball was becoming at that time.  Blacks had a real passion for the game and teams like the Cincinnati Brown Stockings, Louisville Mutuals and the Geneva Clippers were drawing very respectable crowds sometimes rivaling those of the major leagues.  Ed Achorn also tells the story of a very talented catcher by the name of Fleet Walker who is credited with being the first African-American to play major league baseball.  I had never even heard of him!

Back in 2011 I snatched a copy of Edward Achorn's first book on old-tyme baseball called "Fifty Nine in '84" off the Amazon Vine.  It turned out to be the best baseball book I had ever read.  A few weeks ago I discovered that Mr. Achorn had written a second book on the subject.  I was all too happy to plunk down some of my hard earned dough to purchase a copy.  I couldn't wait to receive my copy and I read it in just a few sittings.  I was not disappointed. "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey:  How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game" grabbed my attention at the outset and simply never let go.  This is an exceptionally well-written and meticulously documented book that is equally suitable for baseball fans, history buffs and general audiences.  An important addition to the literature on our national pastime.     Very highly recommended!

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<![CDATA[ An important addition to the historical record but by no means a "must read".]]>
Much to my surprise I found very little in the way of new information in "Francona". Practically everything I read in this book I had seen in print or heard discussed on sports radio and TV at one time or another. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. This is by no means a bad book. Shaugnessy and Francona do a workmanlike job of chronicling Tito's eight year run as manager of the Red Sox. It was fun to read again about the antics of the so-called "idiots" on that '04 championship team and about "Manny being Manny". How Terry Francona survived seven seasons of dealing with that guy is beyond me. And you will probably shed a tear when Tito recalls hugging John Lester after he tossed his no-hitter back in 2008. It was such an emotional moment for both men. I was also very happy to see the recollections shared by former Sox GM Theo Epstein woven into the text. "Francona" spells out how it all started to unravel in 2010. Perhaps the key moment was when CEO Tom Werner suggested that "We need to start winning in a more exciting fashion". One had to wonder what the real priorities of the organization were. It seemed to be all downhill from there.

As I indicated earlier there is no denying that "Francona: The Red Sox Years" is an important addition to the historical record and will be enjoyed by generations of Red Sox fans to come. Dan Shaughnessy is an fine writer and Terry Francona proves to be a rather interesting subject. Terry saw it all during his eight years in Boston. Having said that, I cannot help but come away from this book feeling a little cheated. I simply did not learn all that much. According to the Amazon ratings system if you come away feeling a book is just "OK" then you are supposed to rate it three stars. For me, "Francona: The Red Sox Years" comes up a bit short. As such, I can only offer a rather lukewarm recommendation.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Francona_The_Red_Sox_Years-111-1852290-233388-An_important_addition_to_the_historical_record_but.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Francona_The_Red_Sox_Years-111-1852290-233388-An_important_addition_to_the_historical_record_but.html Thu, 7 Feb 2013 22:52:05 +0000
<![CDATA[Expanded Wild Card Format Quick Tip by CharlesAshbacher]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Expanded_Wild_Card_Format-111-1801870-230425.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Expanded_Wild_Card_Format-111-1801870-230425.html Fri, 7 Dec 2012 19:53:23 +0000 <![CDATA[ The Final Third No Longer Counts]]>
Here's how the new format works: Both leagues get an extra Wild Card team, meaning the two non-division winners with the best records technically make it into the playoffs. The two Wild Card winners then get to fight a head to head battle series to the death!!! What's at stake? The right to play against the division winners and possibly play spoiler in the playoffs, possibly on the way to a Pennant, and maybe even a World Series title! Why, think of all the wonderful random hijinks that could ensue from such a viciously competitive format! 

There's one minor little detail Selig and gang forgot to take into account, though: The fact that the baseball season already lasts for 162 games which run for six solid months, and that doesn't even include the postseason. Taking it out any more would mean possibly dragging the entire baseball season out into November, a concept which the players' union would never allow. November means dropping temperatures which are the only real weather constant in the year's most unpredictable climate fury. In the northeast and northern midwest, where baseball has its most rabid followers, that also means contention with howling wind, uncomfortably cold rain, and possibly endless delays. Bad weather was in abundance during the otherwise memorable 2006 postseason, when the ruling supernatural force of the world appeared to decide that it wasn't very fond of either the Detroit Tigers or Saint Louis Cardinals, who played in the World Series that year.

There were only two ways Selig could possibly go about expanding the baseball postseason: The first was to kick back the regular season. The second was to half-ass it as much as possible. Bud Selig being Bud Selig, you can guess which one he chose. Therefore, instead of a five-game series in which the winner would begin a real gauntlet of a postseason, we saw a single-game "playoff." This was disturbingly similar to those play-in single games which serve as tiebreakers for teams which hotly fought for control of the division all season, except in those games, teams had to earn the right to be there by actually being tied with each other. Now, the single-game "playoff" means teams one team that missed the division title has an opportunity to lose one more game, nothing more. I couldn't help but get the feeling that for the four Wild Card teams - the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles in the AL, the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in the NL - the regular season standings they had fought so hard for were suddenly moot. They put their energy and resources into a difficult divisional chase but just weren't good enough, so they fell back into a Wild Card spot which they were promptly robbed of by teams which may or may not have been worse. 

We spent the postseason seeing both possible scenarios as to how such situations can play out. In the AL, we got the worst case scenario with the Rangers losing to an Orioles team which was promptly upended in the real playoffs by a Yankees team with no pitching and bored players. The NL played out more the way the commissioner probably hoped, with the Saint Louis Cardinals upsetting the Braves and launching a near-Cinderella story when the twelfth clock chime was finally heard in game seven of the NLCS, awarding the Pennant to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants. 

The new Wild Card format is nothing but a common play-in. If Bud Selig wants to be serious about it, he'll have to swallow his pride and surrender a few games of the regular season - he can safely knock it back to about 156 games by my own estimation - and stretch out the playoffs so the Wild Cards can have a real, honest series. There's a very famous expression about baseball. I can't remember who said it, but the quip says every team is going to win a third of its games and lose a third of its games; it's what they do in the last third that counts. It's a shame to think that after that third that counts, a team can barely sneak into the playoffs now and have that third totally destroyed in one game. ]]>
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<![CDATA[ It's No Strikeout, but it's No Homerun, Either]]> Star Rating:


While harmless and well intentioned, Trouble with the Curve tells a story that isn’t worthy of the talent involved – star/producer Clint Eastwood first and foremost, but also Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Mathew Lillard, and even director Robert Lorenz, who produced several of Eastwood’s masterful directorial efforts, including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima. Given the strength of this creative team, defined in part by Oscar nominees and/or winners, it’s puzzling no one picked up on the fact that they were making such a conventional movie. The plot, while good hearted, plays like a rundown of uplifting drama clichés and is so predictable that, unless you’re new to movies like this, you should be able to figure out what will happen even before entering the theater.
 
The central character is Gus Lobel (Eastwood), an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. Macular degeneration is slowly but surely robbing him of his eyesight, although he doesn’t trust doctors and insists that he doesn’t need help from anyone. He’s stubborn, cantankerous, and old fashioned, believing that newfangled gadgets like computers cannot accurately measure a player’s instincts on the field. When it comes to his personal life, he has been emotionally stunted ever since the death of his wife nearly thirty years ago. He’s virtually estranged from his daughter, Mickey (Adams), who channeled her resentment at being sent away as a child into a successful career as a lawyer. She’s on the verge of being made a partner in her firm, a position a rival is also lobbying for.

                                               
                                                 
The plot involves Gus being given one last scouting assignment before his contract goes up for renewal. Given his age and his unwillingness to adapt to current business trends, it’s possible he will be out of a job within the next three months. Mickey reluctantly tags along at the request of her father’s boss and friend, Pete (Goodman), who knows something is wrong with him physically and believes he needs to be looked after. Gus is himself not too thrilled with the arrangement; he just wants Mickey to forget about him and move on with her life in Atlanta. We already know that this isn’t rejection so much as it is his way of wanting his daughter to have all he couldn’t give her. But convention dictates that she initially doesn’t see it that way, and therefore must spend the rest of the film trying to get him to lower his defenses and actually communicate with her in a way that doesn’t involve baseball.
 
Together, they scout a top prospect in North Carolina, completely unaware that the peanut vendor, who lives in a nearby motel with his poor family, has a decent pitching arm. It’s gradually revealed that Mickey’s first love is baseball, not law; not only does she know scores of facts and figures, she also possesses the same scouting instincts her father relied on for years. During the trip, we meet Johnny Flanagan (Timberlake), a former baseball player who was scouted by Gus some years earlier before his pitching gave way from overuse. He now works as a scout for a rival team, although there’s a broadcasting position he has his eye on. Mickey becomes his love interest, despite the fact that she has a man waiting for her back in Atlanta. That, coupled with an upcoming presentation that will determine her future in the firm, will repeatedly test her relationship with Johnny.

                                               
                                                 
If you can’t see where any of this is going by now, you obviously haven’t seen as many movies as I have. You might be better off. It will take you a lot longer to become jaded. It’s not so much that we’re watching a bad movie; it’s technically competent, decently cast, and adequately performed. It’s just that we’re watching a movie that has been made a thousand times before – and, in all likelihood, will be made a thousand times again. There’s nothing innately with telling the same story multiple times (God knows I’ve recommended more remakes and romantic comedies than most would in a lifetime), although perhaps it would be best to space them out a bit. At the very least, filmmakers shouldn’t have to rely on such high caliber actors, who can surely apply their talents to more ambitious projects.
 
If, however, you truly do have your heart set on seeing this movie, rest assured that no harm will come of it. Even I couldn’t resist the final act, which, were it not for the lack of a big game, would fit right with the final acts of most inspirational sports dramas. And although Eastwood has remained very active in Hollywood as a director, seeing him perform once again was a welcome experience. Nevertheless, there was nothing about the Gus Lobel character that said, “Only Clint Eastwood could have taken this role.” Any qualified actor could have taken it to more or less the same effect. From now on, he’d be much better off steering clear of movies like Trouble with the Curve. He should instead focus on movies like Gran Torino, which allow for more original plotlines and feature characters that are infinitely more complex and compelling.

                                                     ]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-_Trouble_With_The_Curve_Starring_Clint_Eastwood-111-1836485-228539-It_s_No_Strikeout_but_it_s_No_Homerun_Either.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-_Trouble_With_The_Curve_Starring_Clint_Eastwood-111-1836485-228539-It_s_No_Strikeout_but_it_s_No_Homerun_Either.html Mon, 24 Sep 2012 04:33:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ 'Trouble With The Curve' Predictable But Eastwood Makes It A Worthwhile Trip (Video)]]>
By Joan Alperin Schwartz
'Trouble With The Curve' is...a)corny...b)nothing you haven't seen before and c) totally entertaining.

Clint Eastwood is Gus, an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. Gus has more than a few problems...He's losing his eyesight, has trouble peeing, his contrat expires with the team in three months and might not be renewed.

Oh and did I mention that his relationship with his high powered lawyer daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams) is far from great.  In fact it sucks....


Amy and Gus are total polar opposites. Gus hates technology...Thinks computers are a ridiculous way of tracking a players stats and won't even consider using a cell phone.

Amy, on the other hand, practically sleeps with her laptop. They do, however, have on thing in common...Their love for baseball.

When circumstances arrive that forces Mickey to accompany Gus on a scouting trip through North Carolina, they both get one last chance to heal old wounds and maybe...just maybe, have a real father/daughter relationship.

Yes this film is old fashion, but it works. There's even a little romance thrown in and a moonlight swim thanks to Justin Timberlake. He plays a former pitcher who's now a Red Sox scout. Mr. T. does an adequate job at being boyish and charming. His chemistry with Amy isn't great, but it won't put you to sleep either.

Rounding out the cast is John Goodman, Gus's long time bff/co-worker and Matthew Lillard, an obnoxious jerk who wants to be the next...Gus.
.
'Trouble With The Curve' which opens in theatres Friday, September 21st.

The film was directed by Clint's long time producing partner Robert Lorenz and for a first time director, he does a good job with his cast. Randy Brown, also a first timer, wrote the script.

I gave 'Trouble With Curves' 3 bagels out of 5. Check out our video to see John's rating and for more of our banter.                                    

                                                               

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<![CDATA[ A Team for the Common Man]]>
Then there's the 1962 New York Mets. They're also a team that many Mets fans revere and see a lot of themselves in, and they're one of the legendary squads in modern baseball. That's unusual because the 1962 Mets weren't a good team, not by any stretch of the imagination. They stank up the baseball diamond something fierce, set numerous dubious records, and lost 120 games, a record so bad that it didn't even come under serious assault until 2003, when the Detroit Tigers closed their season just one game away from tying the loss record set by the Mets. Both of those teams actually had decent excuses; the Mets were an expansion club in their first season, while the Tigers were a case of implosion by design after a decade of playing resoundingly average baseball.

In 1963, Jimmy Breslin wrote an account of the Mets' terrible first year. Using a quote from manager Casey Stengel, he called it Can't Anybody Here Play this Game? It's a very quick-shot account of that bad but eventful season - it's only 117 pages long, but it's still considered one of the primary must-own books in Mets culture.

The Mets came along at a time when owners were trying to maximize revenue and monopolize sports by reducing every major league city down to one team. Until the 50's, two-team cities were common; the Boston Braves fought it out with the more successful Boston Red Sox; the Saint Louis Cardinals were forced to compete with the Saint Louis Browns for the hearts and souls of Saint Louis fans; the Philadelphia Phillies battled with the Philadelphia Athletics to see who could bottom out first; and the other cities go without saying. Baseball got greedy and started placing the less popular teams in every which city to corner the pro sports market, but in New York City, it didn't take very well. When two National League franchises leave and the people get nothing but the Yankees left, the people are going to feel a bit of wanting. Having just the Yankees didn't sit very well with a man named William Shea, who absolutely NEEDED a second option in New York City at the very least. So Shea decided to form the Continental League, a massive bluff meant to get MLB's attention. With help from the great Branch Rickey, he killed a bill in Washington which would have granted baseball exemption from anti-trust laws. Although the Continental League was a bluff, wiping out that bill made it a real possibility.

Can't Anybody Here Play this Game? is less a book about the how and more about the why of the Mets' first year. Breslin wrote it in a tone of bemused affection with a lot of smarm. He explains how and why the New York Metropolitans Baseball Club came into being and talks a little bit about the misfortunes that befell them upon drunkenly lurching across the baseball diamond for the first time in history.

The Mets, as it turns out, were a very unlikely team. Not only did they have to fight with the MLB brass just for their right to exist, they also went through an owner who believed a better team name would have been the New York Meadowlarks; an embittered National League fanbase which had lost both its teams not five years before; and a roster reshuffling in the National League which prevented the National League expansion teams - the Mets and the Houston Colt .45s from getting any real talent.

The original New York Mets have been compared, on numerous occasions, to a minor league baseball team. That's because with the American League expansion, the owners had seen the newly-created Los Angeles Angels do very well their first year - remembering this was written in 1963, Beslin even speculates that the Angels would be a thorn in the side of the junior league for years to come. The reshuffling made the owners ensure they wouldn't be losing any of their talent whatsoever in the expansion draft, and so when the Mets arrived, they pretty much WERE a minor league team in every way except their official status as a major league team.

Can't Anybody Here Play this Game? is subtitled The Improbable Saga of the New York Mets' First Year. Yeah, a lot of things about this particular 1962 team were improbable. The founding of the team itself was a real mess that got all of baseball up in arms. They blew their draft picks on a lot of bad players, they somehow received funding for a new stadium (yet another sign of just how old this book is - Shea Stadium wasn't even built when it was published!). As Breslin puts it, they were building a whole new stadium for Marvelous Marv Throneberry, the man who came to represent the Mets for those first few years.

This book is not a blow by blow account of a single baseball season. Very little of the season is actually covered. Only one of the chapters goes into any real detail about it, but it's fun while it lasts. We get the sense there was a lot of fun and comaraderie on the original Mets. At one point, the owner asks a prognosticator what spot the Mets will finish in, and it's predicted they'll finish in last. The prognosticator doesn't even make them any room for the new Houston team. Just last place, outright. At another point after the 1962 season, the owner says it would suck if the Mets lost another 120 games. So she sets a goal of losing only 119 games for an improvement! Breslin writes a little bit about the kinds of odd misfortunes and antics that summed up the Mets' season, but he also gives us this quote from Richie Ashburn: "Any losing team I've ever been on had several things going on. One, the players gave up. Or they hated the manager. Or they had no team spirit. Or the fans turned into wolves. But there was none of this with the Mets. Nobody stopped trying. The manager was absolutely great, nobody grumbled about being with the club, and the fans we had, well, there haven't been fans like this in baseball history. So we lose 120 games and there isn't a gripe on the club. It was remarkable. You know, I can remember guys being mad even on a big winner."

On this blog, I've made no secret of my loyalty to the Yankees, but on my personal blog which I write for my friends, readers know of my discontent for the Yankees. I've been poking fun at the Yankees a lot there lately out of a genuine contempt, and I've admitted to outright hating the Girardi squads as of late. They've been boring me to death, and they don't fit me at all as a person. I've in fact bickered about why my hometown is so loyal to them (and the Red Sox, too). We should all be Mets fans. I've always had a soft spot for the Mets, but it wasn't until I started reading about them that I began to understand their appeal. Now that I do understand their appeal, I'm very close to making the switch outright. Can't Anybody Here Play this Game? has been an instigator. It reminds its readers that wins are worthless without strong characters, emotion, and fan relationships. It's a quick read for anyone who relates more to the everyday image of the Mets more than the corporate image of the Yankees.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Can_t_Anybody_Here_Play_This_Game_The_Improbable_Saga_of_the_New_York_Met_s_First_Year-111-1551829-226902-A_Team_for_the_Common_Man.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Can_t_Anybody_Here_Play_This_Game_The_Improbable_Saga_of_the_New_York_Met_s_First_Year-111-1551829-226902-A_Team_for_the_Common_Man.html Sat, 21 Jul 2012 14:34:45 +0000
<![CDATA[Yogi Berra Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Yogi_Berra-111-1011096-224411.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Yogi_Berra-111-1011096-224411.html Mon, 28 May 2012 12:22:00 +0000 <![CDATA[ Calico Joe: A Home Run for John Grisham]]>
Calico Joe is a fantastic novel.

When Joe Castle comes up to the big leagues he has an unbelievable run, especially for a rookie, taking the league by storm and whacking homers at an unbelievable clip. Being from the small town of Calico Rock, Arkansas the press tagged him with Calico Joe.

Joe Castle, meet Warren Tracey, an average pitcher and a horrible human being. Mean spirited to his family and teammates, and seemingly embittered by his mediocre career, despite making millions and being one of the elite few in playing major league baseball.

And Warren Tracey lived by "the code" but and maybe a little beyond it, as he was known as someone who frequently hit batters, and often aiming for the head. One day Calico Joe hit a homer off Warren Tracey. His next at bat Tracey made in pay with a heinous act that ruined both of their careers.

Warren Tracey's son Paul was there that day. And he idolized Joe Castle. And hated his father. Years later he wanted to set things right for Joe Castle.

This novel is told from the point of view of Paul Castle and it is both nostalgic and sad. The entire novel is wonderful and the ending fantastic.]]>
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<![CDATA[ "I pay you to get on first, not get thrown out at second."]]> Moneyball is a movie that deconstructs the myths of America’s home-style game and shows how it becomes an exemplar of big business. By the time Moneyball is over, baseball’s traditions are as quaint as long underwear, the players have become work units, and computer analysis is still unknown by the fans as they munch their expensive hot dogs, slosh beer on their neighbors and scream joyously for the wrong reasons.
 
This might seem harsh, but the first third of Moneyball, as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, tears down traditions, rips the barnacles off the tradition-bound scouts and coaches, makes decisions that either are misunderstood or threaten the traditionalists, and gets rid of the players who don’t produce just as heartlessly as a surgeon lopping off a useless finger or two, is great fun and great movie construction. The pairing of Brad Pitt (looking his nearly 50 years) as Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as the young, round Peter Brand who doesn’t know much about baseball but does know logic and analysis, is inspired. The two characters make a rich combination. The two actors make a faultless team. As Peter Brand tries to explain to Billy Beane his concept of building a winning team, we begin to understand the movie and Beane.
 
Says Brand, “There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening. And this leads people who run Major League Baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs. …The Boston Red Sox see Johnny Damon and they see a star who's worth seven and half million dollars a year. When I see Johnny Damon, what I see is... is... an imperfect understanding of where runs come from. The guy's got a great glove. He's a decent leadoff hitter. He can steal bases. But is he worth the seven and half million dollars a year that the Boston Red Sox are paying him? No. No. Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions.”
 
Then there’s the middle. We learn about Billy’s sadness…his ex-wife, who seems a nice lady; his young daughter, who plays a guitar and sings awful songs of her own, I think, composing. The brightest spot here is a brief scene with his former wife’s new husband, played by Spike Jonz.  All of this is irrelevant, both to the story and to maintaining our interest.
 
Then there’s the last third: Final validation. An offer hard to refuse. A grand gesture. The loneliness of Billy Beane. A lot of driving around. Its all piece parts that writer Aaron Sorkin most probably couldn’t bear to cut or eliminate.
 
We start out with a superbly constructed and acted feel-good movie. The slow letdown into Hollywood predictability, earnestness and personal angst is disappointing. The movie runs 2 hours and 13 minutes. Slogging through the last half makes it seem longer.
 
Phillip Seymore Hoffman is unnecessarily cast as the Athletics’ head coach, an experienced baseball traditionalist who disagrees with Billy Beane. Any competent character actor could have effectively played the role. Casting Hoffman was indulgence on someone’s part, I assume, so that Pitt and Hoffman could have a couple of “acting” moments.
 
The first third of Moneyball was so good I wished the rest of the movie had kept up.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-219501-_I_pay_you_to_get_on_first_not_get_thrown_out_at.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-219501-_I_pay_you_to_get_on_first_not_get_thrown_out_at.html Sat, 21 Jan 2012 21:59:20 +0000
<![CDATA[ Some Good Lists But Not a Great Book]]>
Having read the book, I would have preferred a much more detailed history of the team and a lot fewer of the lists. Some of the greatest moments (the black cat by Ron Santo, the 10th inning of Game 6 against the Red Sox) are not even mentioned in the history and Game 6 of the 86 Series only got one paragraph in the Mets greatest games list.

Most of the important history of the Mets such as the day Tom Seaver was traded for Steve Henderson and three other players, seem to be only footnotes. I remember such great moments as the 1973 pennant chase and the drama of the game where Willie Mays was called out at home and both Willie and Yogi arguing vehemently with the home plate umpire. The excitement of Willie Mays coming home to the Mets and his dramatic first homerun seemed totally absent from the book.

The 50 All-time Mets listing was like the count-down on one of those MLB shows where they give you a list of the 50 greatest catches or 50 greatest games. Arguing about who was better between Tom Seaver and Doc Gooden is like trying to compare Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. Interesting for about a second but not too controversial.

The list of the best Met Games ever were all post-season games. Surely the writer could have done some research and come up with some regular season games. How about the game where the Mets beat the Cardinals to win their first post season berth ever? What about Mike Piazza's dramatic home-run (note it did get about two sentences in the history portion) against the Braves that lifted the City after 9/11? What about the drama of the Mets wearing the caps of the NYPD and NYFD at the game?

The book just touch on some of my fondest Baseball memories of the Mets but I wish that there was a lot more depth to this book and a little bit more research done by the writer.]]>
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<![CDATA[ A silent and warm journey through the field of professional sports. An act of courage and love.]]>
Moneyball was one of my most anticipated movies of this year. The simple combination between Miller, Sorkin, Pitt, Hoffman, and Pfister projected the prospect of a bomb movie. The clock was ticking faster and faster and as soon as I hit the comfortable seat in my theater I decided to let myself caught in this movie's bliss. Did I get caught in that web? Ehh... not really. Sadly, I was too hyped over this project that I left in a way disappointed even though I thought the movie was overall great. I do have my issues though. In a way, I consider this movie to be this year's The Blind Side because, let's be honest, it kinda follows the same receipt and uses the same tools to deliver it's story.

We all know what this movie is about. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of Oakland A's, who forced to reinvent his team with a small budget he outsmarted the richer clubs with the help of Peter Brand played by Jonah Hill, who was mainly dedicated to the study of players progress and skills through a mathematical pc program. These guys reinvented the way the trades were made, reinvented the job of scouting, and fought in their way against those who tried, consciously or not, to wipe the soul of this game. While I'm not familiar with baseball, while I don't even like it as sport, I couldn't invest emotions in the technicality and the progress of the team but I did care about Billy Beane and was impressed by his attitude towards the sport. Such a fighter and such a warm person that refused to let things fall around him. While he never got the title, while he always failed on the level of awards acknowledgement, he won as a person and as a man. He refused several contracts for big teams including the Red Sox because he wanted to achieve something and not buy it. The scope of achievement without a ridiculous amount of investments in the team held him back but also forced him to live as a dreamer. The movie doesn't really reflect too much action from the field, matter of fact, this is one of the things I was kinda disappointed with even if I understood what the director tried to show. There is a real lack of on-field action so ... even if you hear or watch Billy, you're still not cheering for the team. But what I'm talking about because this is exactly the point of the movie. Do not cheer for the team but cheer for Billy Beane, thing which Moneyball succeeds in doing. The story is really well written and developed around Billy. No real flaws in writing, no over the top sentimentalism, no over the top dramatic tips, it is a simple but beautiful story of sports survival.

Brad Pitt gives a wonderful, light, and chilled performance. Definitely an Oscar nominee but even as a big fan I can't consider him a possible winner at all. His sweet performance is still not what I consider an Oscar worthy performance, a performance that will melt your feet and freeze your brain, and leave you speechless in your seat. Jonah Hill did a good job, nothing spectacular though. He played -again- his usual self but in a more serious tone. Hoffman had like 2 minutes on the screen so I won't even bother talking about something that I barely can talk about in the first place. I have to admit though that I did expected more from Wally Pfister the DP. While the color palette was beautiful, while the contrast was so fresh and alive, I thought he'll give us more shots that will offer a larger perspective of the game for example. We did not get that and I was kinda surprised. The music thought fitted the whole silent atmosphere perfectly. The end could have been better since it feels like it just closes a chapter in someone's life and then tells you that it's all over. It makes you asking for more and at the same time raising stupid questions like "Is that all?" (like I did).

This movie is a dose of a silent journey through the field of professional sports, an act of courage and love. It's a light and warm film that talks about someone's particular progress in life. Successes, disappointments, fails, and moments of excitement, they are all hidden in this small cinematic charm called Moneyball.

Storyline/Dialogue: 9
Acting: 8.5
Technical Execution: 8.5
Replay Value: 8.5
======================
Overall: 8.5 ]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-216467-A_silent_and_warm_journey_through_the_field_of.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-216467-A_silent_and_warm_journey_through_the_field_of.html Mon, 19 Dec 2011 07:49:48 +0000
<![CDATA[ Always a Good Deal!]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-STL_Cardinals_Official_2011_World_Series_Championship_Film-111-1789869-216413-Always_a_Good_Deal_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-STL_Cardinals_Official_2011_World_Series_Championship_Film-111-1789869-216413-Always_a_Good_Deal_.html Sat, 17 Dec 2011 02:20:31 +0000 <![CDATA[ Feels Like a Fever]]>
I really don't see what the adaptors see in the Nick Hornby book that they just have to keep trying to turn it into a love story. There is a love story in the book, but that love is between poor Hornby and his beloved Premier League team, Arsenal Football Club. The first movie based on Fever Pitch got the soccer part right, but a good chunk of it revolves around a love story. Too bad I can't review it. The Farrelly brothers take Fever Pitch and make a story between boy and girl the very centerpiece, and the one question readers can think to themselves is, what the hell? There was very little of a boy/girl love story in the book, but there was a wealth of other material which could easily have had a movie created around it. Why try to turn it into a romantic comedy in which the girl basically gets in the way?

Well, okay. Again. That comment IS harsh. Lindsay is a pretty well-developed character, especially for a movie like this. She is a high-powered businesswoman with real concerns about how her boyfriend's obsession with the Boston Red Sox is going to get in the way of their relationship, and how her relationship overall might affect her career, and even a concern about how the difference in their income brackets could get in the way. Ben is supposed to be the main character - it's him the narration centers around, him who has the season tickets and overall obsession - but all we see him do through most of the movie is go nuts over the team. Even by the standards of the completely sold out fanatic, Ben is way over the top. Some of his scenes - his "Yankee dance" scene being one and his appearance on ESPN being another - are genuinely funny. But others, like the one where he argues with Lindsay about missing a great comeback game in lieu of going to a party with Lindsay, are just ridiculous. You can tell in some scenes that the Farrellys simply gave up trying to explain him.

The story is simple: Boy, a teacher, takes some of his best students to an office where he meets girl. Boy and girl get together and begin relationship. Summer begins and boy, with a ton of free time on his hands, spends it at Fenway Park watching the Boston Red Sox, who got him through a difficult period in his life. Girl questions relationship amidst his insanity. Boy is forced to choose between girl and team. This being a romantic comedy, I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying boy gets to keep both girl and team. Red Sox win World Series, since this movie was released in 2005, after they really had won the World Series.

In the middle of the eventful 2004 Red Sox season are Ben and Lindsay. And, well,... That's pretty much it. It isn't like they have an important role in regards to the team's fate that season. The team, on the other hand, definitely plays a role in theirs. Ben is a huge Red Sox fan, but even though his house is covered in Red Sox memorabilia, he's able to keep himself in check through the winter. But during the summer, he's a lean, mean, baseball-lovin' machine who has gone his whole life since the age of five without ever missing a game.

Lindsay meets Ben during the winter, so except for the memorabilia, she suspects nothing except that Ben is merely an extra-passionate fan. Once the income issue is behind her (read: brushed off to the side like she never had a problem with it), she accepts that she's found probably the greatest guy on Earth. But her friends think the same, and having had similar experiences in the past, they bring up the idea that Ben has some kind of weird problem. Why is he not off the market yet? Lindsay even lampshades the idea when he tries to go into exacting detail, months into their relationship, about how much he loves the Sox. Ben starts taking her to games, and she eventually decides to stop going to so many games so she can concentrate on earning a promotion.

If Fever Pitch played a romantic comedy from the strict angle of how close can a guy get to his team before it gets in the way, it could have worked. But it also relies on a lot of trite cliches, and it tries to wedge the common plot thread about the woman performing double duty between the man and her dream job, which - since Lindsay is a lot more developed than Ben - tends to make Fever Pitch come off like a romantic comedy about the woman torn between man and work with the baseball team just providing an extra wedge. Fever Pitch would have been a lot more tolerable - despite the cliched, overwrought, and downright silly ending - if it had just taken the baseball route.

The Red Sox only take a central plot role close to the end, when Ben throws a hissy about missing a big game against the Yankees which the Red Sox won with a spectacular ninth-inning comeback. Ben's explanation for his anger at missing the game is too nonsensical to come off as anything other than an obsessed, angry rant. Then the finale involves Lindsay running across the field at Fenway during a playoff game.

To the movie's credit, Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore are both lovable as their characters, but they lack chemistry and don't have the script material to work with. The Farrellys appear to have just wanted to force the story out, something which becomes flat obvious in the final act, when Ben misses the game against the Yankees.

Fever Pitch the book could inspire a mine of decent sports movies, so why people keep getting romantic comedies out of it is beyond me. The American version of Fever Pitch is just bad. The British version at least has a grounding in the original material and is more developed and centered around the main character. If you're a Red Sox fan, you might be able to find a little bit of redemption in this version of Fever Pitch; for everything wrong about it, you can tell the Farrellys - New England natives themselves - really did try to create a love letter, and their love for their favorite baseball team is genuinely heartfelt. But following your heart's desire is sometimes a risky proposition which leads to doing some insanely dumb things.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Fever_Pitch_2005_-111-1606494-215981-Feels_Like_a_Fever.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Fever_Pitch_2005_-111-1606494-215981-Feels_Like_a_Fever.html Sat, 3 Dec 2011 15:57:37 +0000
<![CDATA[ All the Good in Baseball]]>
Is that possible? Yes it is. Aspiring baseball fan, have I got the team for you!

The Cardinals are a smaller-city operation based in St. Louis, a blue-collar city which is only just beginning to solve its longstanding problems with a bad industry-based economy and a leaky population. They were founded in 1882 and joined what is now the National League in 1892. They were once run by Branch Rickey, who created the massive farm systems used by baseball teams today. You want talent and characters, ballplayers don't get much more talented and outrageous than Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Whitey Herzog, and Stan Musial. (Although being a Cardinals fan also involves accepting the fact that your team had Rogers Hornsby. Ty Cobb gets a lot of credit for his vicious personality, but his own brand of racism wasn't any different than any other Georgia native's of his time. Hornsby, on the other hand, was part of the fucking Ku Klux Klan.)

Cardinals fans are famously nice and devoted. I like to believe this is because they know how special their team is, and realize how lucky they are to have been blessed with them.

The Cardinals, for an operation based where they are and not having the necessary monetary resources to compete with Boston or New York, have done everything in their power to destroy the idea that winning baseball is about deep pockets. When Branch Rickey joined the team in 1920, he sold the team's ballpark and used the money to pioneer the minor league farm system that every MLB team uses today. It paid off big, and in 1926 the Cardinals won the first of their current 18 Pennants, then defeated the New York Yankees in seven games to win the first of their current 10 World Series titles. (As I write this, the Cardinals are in the World Series again.) The 1926 title was eventually joined by titles in 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, and 2006. That's ten titles, the most in the National League and second in Major League Baseball only to my New York Yankees.

The most famous and beloved of those World Series-winning teams is probably the famed Gashouse Gang team of 1934, a band of oddballs from working class backgrounds whose circus antics helped put the Great Depression out of peoples' minds. Dizzy Dean became the last National League pitcher to win 30 games in a single season that year, his brother Paul added 19, and the team featured five regular players who hit at least .300. They included famed baseball names like Leo Durocher, Burgess Whitehead, Joe Medwick, and Pepper Martin.

Later teams brought the Cardinals Lou Brock, one of the great base-stealers of all time; Bob Gibson, the intense, fiery pitcher who scared opponents and pitched the team to titles in 1964 and 1967; and backflipping Ozzie Smith, the Wizard of Oz, and his surehand glove at shortstop for the 1982 title. Currently, the team is led by strategic great Tony La Russa, one of the league's best catchers in Yadier Molina, and first baseman Albert Pujols.

In short, the Cardinals have done everything right and wrong in baseball that can possibly be done right or wrong. They had one of the great announcers, Jack Buch, whose life was tragically cut short by Parkinson's Disease in 2002. They play a large, essential role in Boston's Curse of the Bambino: They stopped the Boston Red Sox from ending the Curse earlier by defeating them in the World Series in 1946 and 1967, taking them to a seventh game both times. In 2004 they went to the World Series again, facing the Red Sox, and being favored by merit of greater depth, more talent, and a league-leading 105 wins during the regular season. Well, the Red Sox broke the Curse that year, completely flattening the St. Louis Cardinals in four games. Really, though, the Cardinals perhaps shouldn't have been favored as they were; after what the Red Sox accomplished, it was pretty clear to everyone watching that nothing was gonna stop them that year. The Cardinals were simply in the way, and they got mowed down.

The Cardinals share a fantastic territorial rivalry with the Chicago Cubs, one of the oldest in baseball. It's one of the few baseball rivalries people contend are better than the ongoing nuclear war between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Baseball writer Will Leitch - a lifelong devotee of the St. Louis Cardinals himself - describes it as a generations-old territorial fight spanning large tracts of adjacent land in the midwestern United States. This rivalry was cranked up to eleven in one of the most famous trades in baseball history: In 1964, the Chicago Cubs had an outfielder named Lou Brock for a couple of years, and I guess they didn't think he would ever be any good or they were otherwise just tired of waiting for his talent to blossom. The St. Louis Cardinals had a pitcher named Ernie Broglio who was a proven 20-game winner and, the season before the swap, had won 18 games. They traded, and Broglio went on to win just seven more games in Major League Baseball while Brock retired with over 3,000 hits, the then-record in stolen bases, six all-star appearances, and two World Series rings. This trade still gets a lot of heat in Chicago on the end of Cubs fans, but at the time the trade looked like a real steal for Chicago. In fact, it originally pissed off Cardinals fans no end, while Cubs fans were happy about finally having a pitching rotation as good as any in the league.

In 1964 (wow, that was a pretty extraordinary year for the Cardinals, huh?) the Cardinals were involved in another classic baseball event: The famous "Phold." That year, most teams in the National League - including the Cardinals - were under the impression they would be competing for second place. First place was taken all season by the Philadelphia Phillies. With twelve games left in the season, the Phillies had a six-game lead on the second-place Cardinals. As they only needed one more win to clinch the Pennant, everything was assumed said and done for the year. Which meant it was the worst possible time for the Phillies to go on a ten-game losing streak. Although the Phillies regrouped enough to win their two final games, it was too late. The Cardinals had leapfrogged Philadelphia and taken the Pennant which should have been Philly's. (Forgotten amidst the drama is that the Cincinnati Reds also pulled ahead of the Phillies and won second. That's right - the Phillies actually dropped back two spots after being one win away from a Pennant.)

A factoid people frequently forget about the Cardinals is that they once played a crosstown World Series. It was 1944 and Major League Baseball was facing depleted rosters because of World War II. The St. Louis Browns - who were the Mets to the Cards' Yankees, the Angels to their Dodgers, the Boston Braves to the Boston Red Sox - managed to take advantage of the lack of talent and won their only Pennant. That's how pathetic the Browns were - they could only win when other teams didn't have any talent. But they faced the Cardinals in the World Series and lost. Don't feel too bad for the Brownies, though - they eventually moved to Baltimore, where they became the Orioles and created a brand new identity littered with a respectable number of Pennants and titles. And in 1985, the Cardinals lost an all-Missouri World Series to the AL team at the other end of the I-70, the Kansas City Royals.

The only thing I dislike about the Cardinals - besides Rogers Hornby - is that they're one of those teams that insists on simply plastering their home logo over an ugly gray shirt and calling it a road uniform. Otherwise, if you're shopping for a cool baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the true beacons of light in Major League Baseball. To get an idea of how tall they stand, you should be reminded that one of the big steroid names - Mark McGuire - played for them during the great home run chase of 1998. He hemmed and hawed about steroids during the Congressional hearings. Yet, people have stopped identifying him as a Cardinal.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-St_Louis_Cardinals-111-1391361-214564-All_the_Good_in_Baseball.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-St_Louis_Cardinals-111-1391361-214564-All_the_Good_in_Baseball.html Sun, 23 Oct 2011 15:45:09 +0000
<![CDATA[ Moneyball is one of the best movies of the year.]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-214411-Moneyball_is_one_of_the_best_movies_of_the_year_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-214411-Moneyball_is_one_of_the_best_movies_of_the_year_.html Wed, 19 Oct 2011 09:29:58 +0000 <![CDATA[ Moneyball works]]> Moneyball, Michael Lewis's great account of how Billy Beane made the A's a winning baseball team by finding undervalued players, or that it took so long to do because of Hollywood's sausage-making machinery?  Perhaps what is most surprising is that the result is really, really good.

First, this isn't really a movie about baseball (yes, that's the second time I've used that phrase today--see my review of The Art of Fielding, the best-selling book by Chad Harbach)--but I have empirical (well, OK, only one data point, so its more anecdotal) proof in this case, because my son, a confirmed baseball hater but big Brad Pitt fan, says this is the best movie he's seen so far this year.  And some critics and baseball purists have said that both the book and the movie, but particularly the movie, overstate and oversimplify the value and uniqueness of Billy Beane's approach.  The point of this review is not to quibble about those fine points.  The point is this--every GM now users Moneyball techniques, and the movie and book are both valuable and entertaining introductions to the concept.

Brad Pitt perfectly captures Billy Beane as the  tortured and frustrated former can't-miss prospect as Lewis described him in the book.   Nervous tics, compulsive eating (Pitt seems especially adept at this; reference the Ocean's series!), refusal to watch the games, all make Beane a riveting character.  Jonah Hill plays the nerdy stat geek who crunches the numbers for Beane and finds him the undervalued players that fit the payroll.  Hill and Beane seem to develop a genuine relationship, to the point where by the end of the movie their banter seems so lose it could be unscripted. 

The traditionalist scouts play the bad guys attempting to thwart Beane's new approach, and they are such an easy mark that the movie doesn't quite ring true to life here, just enough to knock one point off my rating.  However, in defense of the movie, it is the case that the resistance to recognizing the value of new statistical analysis was very strong, and took years to overcome around baseball.  While the movie does stack the deck against them, the results are in, and Moneyball won, so the case can't be argued into the ground.  This is, after all, entertainment, not documentary film-making. 

And entertaining it is.  The movie moves at its own pace, not the driven or inevitable pace of most sports redemption movies.  It is much smarter than the usual type of the genre, and in fact does have somewhat of a documentary feel to it at times, but never strays from the story that it is determined to tell.  I would expect Moneyball to get nods for Best Picture, Brad Pitt for best actor, and Hill for best supporting actor, and all would be well deserved.  Moneyball isn't a loud drama driven by three-dimensional special effects, a star-packed comedy, or a blockbuster series.  Its just a good small film.  Go see it.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-214249-Moneyball_works.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-214249-Moneyball_works.html Fri, 14 Oct 2011 20:46:37 +0000
<![CDATA[Field of Dreams Quick Tip by CharlesAshbacher]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Field_of_Dreams-111-1510136-213956.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Field_of_Dreams-111-1510136-213956.html Mon, 3 Oct 2011 16:28:12 +0000 <![CDATA[Philadelphia Phillies Quick Tip by CharlesAshbacher]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Philadelphia_Phillies-111-1391357-213793.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Philadelphia_Phillies-111-1391357-213793.html Thu, 29 Sep 2011 02:06:41 +0000 <![CDATA[ The Men Behind The Oakland A's History-Making Season]]>
Director Bennett Miller’s (Capote) film has been blessed with screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and award winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) who had based the story on the 2003 book with the same name, so I have to admit I was a little more excited than usual when I found out this fact. The film takes the viewer to look at the game of baseball through the eyes of Billy Beane (Played by Brad Pitt), the General Manager of the A’s at the time; who was a former player who failed on his initial promise. The A’s had gotten through a near-miss season, and has been faced with their initial potential championship team being gutted by various other ball clubs; Beane is now faced with the challenge of rebuilding the A’s on a shoestring budget. By chance, he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who believes in the philosophy that players should be picked according to their statistical results and not according to their reputation or showboating. This gives Beane the opportunity to pursue players no one else wants, since they have been labeled as baseball misfits. It is a sort of poetic justice since Peter is a baseball misfit of sorts; he has a degree in economics and yet, he convinces Billy to pick a pitcher who throws weird, a catcher with a damaged elbow and a veteran past his prime. For Billy, this may be his last second chance for personal redemption…

                         Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball."

                         Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in ``Moneyball.''

                         Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg in ``Moneyball.''

“Moneyball” isn’t a movie that focuses on the history making season; rather it is the story behind that story. There is something more to its narrative, and while it may be something we’ve heard of before, it is no less engaging because of the way the story has been told. The film has themes about regret, about opportunities, perceptions, habits, unspoken contempt and what might have been. Much of the film occurs in the administrative offices, and the drama between Beane, the baseball staff, the new players, and the support staff takes central focus. Yes, this film is about baseball, but it barely shows any baseball games. In a way, it is a test of wills, as Beane develops estranged relationships with talent scouts and most especially with the ball club’s coach (Played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and how the two stubbornly butt heads to get things going the way they believe should be. It is also how Beane changes the perception of the game, as he and Peter show the drama in mathematics.

                   Brad Pitt as Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as Peter Brand in ``Moneyball.''

                  Brad Pitt and Kerris Dorsey in "Moneyball."

It was quite effective really. I mean the premise behind the film is very simple but it draws out a lot of emotion behind each scene. To get the viewer to be more attached to Beane, we see flashbacks from his past as a ball player; this helps the viewer understand what is going through his mind at that very moment. Miller keeps the shots simple; they made some scenes appear a little dry and yet, it feels real. He uses the camera to emphasize, and to get attention, rather than just stay put and examine. I also liked the way Miller brings the Beane character into a more meditative and fretful role; Pitt does step into the shoes of the movie’s hero, but someone who doesn‘t see himself as a hero. He does quite well, but I have to say that it was "Beane being portrayed by Pitt", rather than Pitt becoming the character (unlike Jaime Fox in "Ray"  and Sean Penn in "Milk"). In many ways, the character was very apprehensive in the results of his decisions (noteworthy scenes are when Billy doesn‘t even watch any A‘s game) and it speaks a lot for the character. Yes, Beane is a caricature in the way the character is drawn out as a general manager, but he is given more time to be human around his daughter (Kathryn Morris). Beane becomes that man who is tender and loving while in the workplace, he plays that unattached administrative manager. 

                       Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Moneyball."

                      Director Bennett Miller and Philip Seymour Hoffman on the set of "Moneyball."

The script and the direction may have taken much of the film’s burden, but supporting role kudos would have to go to Jonah Hill. I mean, he certainly embodies that quiet, and meaningful role since Brand obviously had everything to gain in this A’s season. Hill plays the character with an uncomfortable mood, almost uncertain, and yet the more he gets into character, the more the viewer becomes comfortable along with him. Robin Wright Penn was a little underused as Beane’s ex-wife, but I guess I could understand why, as the script needed to focus on Hill and Pitt, but there was a missed opportunity to flesh out the “true” Beane character. True, the script isn’t as polished as I would’ve hoped given its strong first half, the last act felt a little too neat and perhaps it did have some narrative showboating in mind to add an exclamation point.

So, once you see “Moneyball”, please do not be confused that it is a story about baseball, but rather it is the story ‘around’ the game of baseball. It is all about taking chances, and how one can perceive winning. It is not how the A’s season played out, but rather how it played out. It is a story of transformations, and how changes can mean a place in history. Like I said before, old habits die hard, but new ideas often become ignored….anywhere in this life.

Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]
 
Poster Art for "Moneyball." Poster art for "Moneyball."




 
 
 
 
 
 ]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213704-The_Men_Behind_The_Oakland_A_s_History_Making.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213704-The_Men_Behind_The_Oakland_A_s_History_Making.html Sun, 25 Sep 2011 17:38:48 +0000
<![CDATA[ A class act, a terrific manager, a stand-up guy and no longer the manager of the Boston Red Sox.]]>
I have been following the Boston Red Sox for more than a half century now and I am here to tell you unequivocally that Terry Francona has been far and away the best manager in the history of this franchise.  Unlike some big league managers Terry Francona never attempts to make himself the story.  He is known as a player's manager who over the years has taken a lot of heat for his troops, most notably one Manny Ramirez.  He is also extremely adept at handling the Boston media which has never been an easy task.  The fact is that Terry Francona is one of the most respected skippers in the game.  So what has gone wrong with the Bosox over the past few weeks and who is responsible?  Well for one thing the injuries have been piling up. Furthermore, the pitching has been simply atrocious.  And to add insult to injury the defense has been abominable.  It seems that right now the Red Sox are finding a new way to lose every night and the players must shoulder the responsibilty for a major portion of these shortcomings. Through it all Terry Francona has remained a tower of strength.  Although the pressure is mounting and his options are dwindling Terry is exactly the same guy he was when the Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.   If the Sox are able to weather the storm and sneak into the playoffs in my opinion It will because Terry Francona refused to panic. 

If you read the newspapers and listen to the sports talk shows around here many fans are calling for the Red Sox to fire Terry Francona at the end of the season.  I heartily disagree.  Does Terry Francona share a portion of the blame for what has been going on over the past month?  Of course he does and Terry  would be the first one to tell you that.  But I prefer to look at his entire body of work.  And when you do it is clear that Terry Francona deserves to remain as the Red Sox manager at least for another season.   Sometimes in sports it becomes clear that the tenure of a coach or manager has run its course.  The time has come for a new approach or perhaps the old way of doing things has become rather stale.  If this is the case with the Boston Red Sox then I believe Terry Francona would simply resign.  Regardless of what happens to the Red Sox in the next few days Terry Francona has my enduring admiration and respect. He truly is a class act!

UPDATE 9/30/11:   IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT TERRY FRANCONA WILL NOT BE BACK AS RED SOX MANAGER IN 2012.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Terry_Francona-111-1767202-213696-A_class_act_a_terrific_manager_a_stand_up_guy.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Terry_Francona-111-1767202-213696-A_class_act_a_terrific_manager_a_stand_up_guy.html Sun, 25 Sep 2011 12:55:33 +0000
<![CDATA[ Money Talks]]>
Moneyball is an underdog story, but a very different kind of animal in the underdog trope. The Oakland Athletics are a team now known for their lack of convention and disregard for what's considered standard and normal, and in this way it makes perfect sense that Moneyball is about them. If Moneyball were a fictional story, it would still revolve around the Athletics because no one would buy into the Yankees, Cubs, or Braves being underfunded small-market underdogs. As Brad Pitt playing Billy Beane says, "Here's the real problem: There are rich teams, and there are poor teams. Then there's 50 feet of crap. And then there's us." Moneyball is the story of how the Athletics bucked the traditional system and won as many games as the New York Yankees on a budget which might pay for half an arm of Alex Rodriguez.

In his review of this movie, Roger Ebert wrote that the real main character in Moneyball is the idea. This is true, but where I disagree with Ebert is in his insistence that the idea is the main character in the movie. The idea was definitely the main character in the book, which is considered one of the sport's classic pieces of literature. But the problem with using an idea as a main character is that it can go out in so many different ways, none of which will necessarily be taken to their natural conclusions. I read the book and found it to be inconsistent about its subject matter and too prone to jumping around to the point where author Michael Lewis seemed confused himself. He tries to do a million different things in Moneyball and so he ended up doing nothing.

This is the challenge of adapting a book such as Moneyball. Fortunately, Aaron Sorkin was one of the screenwriters, and so the movie does something traditional thinking would deem impossible: It takes an idea - a mathematics-based idea, no less - and creates a small group of fully human vessels to convey it through. Billy Beane was a once-promising draft prospect with the New York Mets who got up to The Show and blew it. We are given a series of brief flashbacks in Moneyball to give the tale. Unlike most other ballplayers who try to weather out their careers, Beane eventually accepts the fact that his baseball career will never amount to a Cooperstown resume, and so one day during his stint with the Oakland Athletics, he goes to the front office and asks for a job as a scout. The team owner is suprised by the request but complies. Honestly, I didn't like the flashbacks. They do explain why Billy seems so morose at times, but his divorce could have done that job just as well.

Anyway, after a long time as a scout, Beane lands in the General Manager's seat. It's the 2001 ALDS the first time we see Beane, in the deciding fifth game against the Yankees. Oakland loses, and their three big guns, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen, are of course off to free agency and big bucks. Beane needs a monetary break to replace that kind of talent which the front office just doesn't have. One day while he's in Cleveland trying to work out a trade, he meets Peter Brand and is impressed when the Tribe's GM takes his advice. He flags Peter down and picks his brain, trying to learn what make's Brand's baseball side tick. Peter, who is ostracized in Cleveland for his unconventional team-building views, finds his niche in Oakland, where he is exactly the kind of radical thinker Beane needs.

The relationship between Beane and Brand is the real crux of the movie. In humanizing an idea based on a subject few people understand, we come to learn a lot of essential character details about them both. Beane and Brand are played by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill respectively, turning Moneyball into an odd variation of the buddy movie. They bounce off each other and are one of the better duos to pop up onscreen in recent years. Beane playfully teases Brand a lot, but even at his worst he's still respectful of Brand's ideas because he knows Oakland's turnaround sits inside the supercomputer brain of his math-loving, Yale grad new Assistant GM.

The Athletics go from worst to first, as do so all underfunded, talentless teams from sports movies. In this respect, Moneyball is both definition and subversion of that particular storytelling trope: The Athletics have no funding or talent, and are just this odd bunch of folks who learn to come together as a team and surprise the entire league. But the only focus on the players is strictly on their presence as components of a bigger whole and not on their cute little quirks. It's the GM duo who have to convince everyone on the planet that their team can play well, most of all manager Art Howe, who refuses to play the players Billy suggests. When Oakland is sent home from the ALDS again, Billy feels it hard because he knows idiots like Joe Morgan are going to denounces him as a fluke, while a World Series win would get everyone to acknowledge the change he brought to baseball.

There's a certain somberness to Moneyball, probably because it's so grounded in Billy's failures as a ballplayer and his divorce. We do have to put up with a handful of slow, boring scenes which don't really include a whole lot of the main story. But even so, Moneyball is easily the best baseball movie of the last 20 years. If it weren't for a couple of technical issues, it would have dethroned Eight Men Out as my favorite baseball movie. Moneyball is an outstanding drama which shows us statistics in a humanized form. You can only hope Billy Beane will win the World Series after seeing it. Hey, other teams are doing well on his ideas.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213690-Money_Talks.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213690-Money_Talks.html Sun, 25 Sep 2011 00:57:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ A third base hit]]> MONEYBALL

Written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

Directed by Bennett Miller

Starring Brad Pitt, Johan Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman

 

Billy Beane: There are rich teams; there are poor teams; then there’s fifty feet of crap; and then there’s us.

 

These days, it seems that when it comes to conversations about the American economy, the focus is on the increasing divide between the rich and the poor. In MONEYBALL, that same gap is affecting America’s favourite pass time, baseball. How can a team that only has $40 million to pay its players possibly compete with teams that have three times that amount at their disposal? The answer is simple. Input everything you know about the players into a computer and let it do all the thinking for you. And once you have all your algorithms in place, you can apply them to the sport and rob it of all spontaneity and excitement.

 

Unfortunately, some of the fun and excitement that usually spills over from the sport itself into the baseball movie genre, has also disappeared from MONEYBALL. Bennett Miller’s second film after his incredible debut, CAPOTE, is a succinct account of how former Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), changed the way major league baseball teams were formed in 2002. Inspired by a concept that was brought to him by his new assistant (Jonah Hill), Beane began adding players to his roster who were notorious for getting on base. The logic was that these players cost way less and produced more consistent, if not necessarily showy, results. MONEYBALL then becomes a waiting game to see if his theory pays off and less about the actual success of the players themselves.

 

Pitt gives a fine performance as the frustrated Beane, choosing to play most of his struggle internally while presenting with great confidence to all who doubt him. As strong as his performance is, it is not as impressively nuanced as the turn given by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the unfortunate coach who has to play with Beane’s team of mismatched baseball rejects. Even Hill shines as a young actor who is showing more and more promise in dramatic parts. No, the trouble with MONEYBALL is not the acting but rather the thin subtext of the script. Having gone through three hands before going into production, it comes across as self-important but doesn’t have the gravitas to back it up. As a result, MONEYBALL is solid entertainment, but it never manages to crack it out of the park. 

Thanks for reading.
LUNCH rating is out of 10.

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http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213641-A_third_base_hit.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213641-A_third_base_hit.html Fri, 23 Sep 2011 21:51:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ Moneyball]]> There is a tendency in Hollywood for their movies to have a deeper meaning. If a movie were just about zombies it may be tough to get a broad audience into the theater. So what people tend to do is add a metaphor like zombies that really stand for consumerism or lack of individuality or some B.S. like that. Or they will put in a handsome lead to attract women who may otherwise not want to see a monster movie. Moneyball has every opportunity to do these things as well and while it may touch upon these ideas this is a baseball movie about baseball stats. If you like baseball, hate the Yankees, or find mathematics interesting you'll probably like the movie. That is what the movie is about and while it has a David and Goliath feel with a charismatic Brad Pitt in the lead this is a baseball movie. And how could you hate America's Pastime?

A big contributing factor to the success of the movie is the writing team behind it. When the source material is a look at stats and analysis you need strong writing to engage the audience and that is what Steve Zallian brought to the original script. Once the script was finished they brought over Steven Soderbergh to make the film and he made several changes to the script including interviews and having the players play themselves despite the age difference, the studio was not a fan. So they took him off the project and instead brought in Bennett Miller who has worked on dry material before and squeezed Oscar juice from it with Capote. Once they found a director who would make a more traditional movie (rather ironic considering what the movie is about) they brought in Aaron Sorkin to complete a fianl draft of the script. Usually with too many chefs in the kitchen you create a mess, here it works out and while it seems scattered at times, especially the end, I believe it works to make a compelling story.

As for the story I found some objection to it and what they left out. For those of you who don't know what Moneyball is about, it is based on the true story of the Oakland A's during the early 2000's while their team was good despite the lack of resources (read: money)that teams like the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Soxs have. Billy Beane the A's GM and a former player who had been highly touted coming out of high school abandoned the old method of scouting based off looks and feel and subscribed to an anaylytical, subermetric approach to forming a team. In other words he wasn't looking at batting average and speed like other organizations he wanted player who could get on base and could hit for power. The formula was basically the need to get people on base and keep your opponent off. In the movie they focus on getting men on base but during their run they had three of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound in Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson which is arguably a bigger reason they won then the batters they were able to scrap together after Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon left. I understand why they were left out of the movie as they were already on the team and had nothing to do with Beane's negotiations and front office moves, but to completely dismiss them from a movie about why the A's were winning is a little ridiculous.

Obviously nerding out a little there, but besides that the movie is strong. Sorkin writes a script as you would expect with plenty of great dialogue. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane perfectly in a mix of a confident businessman with plenty of self doubt. His character refuses to watch the games as he believes he is cursed. The need to win the last game of the season keeps his head churning and his confidence in check. Pitt is able to be a character that can walk into a room with a confident swagger then leave it with nothing but doubts and remorse in his eyes. They also choose to include his daughter in the story, in an attempt to humanize a man who needs to be vicious when cuts need to be made.

Beane's right hand man is Peter Brand who is based on Paul DePodesta and is played by Jonah Hill. Hill does fantastic opposite Pitt, and while known for his comedy is able to slow his performance down as a man who lacks the swagger that Beane has but believes that his system is right for the organization. He nails his deadpan delivery and is able to participate in a great give and take with the lead actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman also makes an appearance in the movie as a manager who still believes in the old way of doing things and often clashed with his GM. That dynamic could have been interesting to explore but I imagine that confrontation ended in real life once the team started winning. Chris Pratt also stars in the movie as former catcher and current first baseman Scott Hatteberg, Pratt is always all kinds of charming and he is no different in this movie.

There isn't a whole lot of baseball action in the movie as it is more about the front office moves but there is enough to wet your whistle. The scenes in which we actually do see baseball are shot in different manners almost every time we see it. But since this story is told from the perspective of the GM who doesn't watch the game we only get slivers of action. We also see different shooting techniques from when he is interacting with people to when he is alone which reflect his two states of mind. When he is with others they use normal shooting techniques but when alone, they show Beane's disjointed thoughts and constant questioning of his moves using quick cuts and close ups that help us to further get in the character's head.

Not everyone is going to like Moneyball, it moves slowly and there is not a lot of action to it. But the writing is compelling, the banter and interactions are funny, and the actors are all charming, plus it is a movie about baseball stuff. For all the reasons above I liked the movie, and even if you are not into baseball maybe you will like the movie as well. Much like the movie the producers were able to get the most talented people to play for their team and create a winning formula. B+
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http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213589-Moneyball.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213589-Moneyball.html Fri, 23 Sep 2011 05:10:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ 'Moneyball' 'Two Jews On Film' Only One Says This Hits A Home Run (Video)]]>

First thing I must say is...I basically know nothing about sports. I do watch the Super Bowl but only for the commercials. That said, I absolutely loved 'Money Ball'. Which goes to prove, that you don't have to be a baseball fan, to think that this film, written by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillan and directed by Bennett Miller, is absolutely wonderful.

Brad Pitt portrays real life Baseball legend, Billy Beanne. I'm sure there are many people out there that have no idea who Mr. Beanne is...I being one of them. But I do now. Beanne, once a promising baseball player, is the General Manager of the Oakland A's. But not just any General Manager.

When 'Moneyball' begins Brad Pitt says...'There are rich teams...There are poor teams...Then there is us'. 

The year is 2002. The Oakland A's has a payroll of 40 million dollars...while the Yankees's payroll is $126 million. More money buys better players. Billy Beanne has to find a competitive advantage when it comes to assembling a winning team.

He doesn't have alot of cash...but what he does have is...Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Harvard graduate with a degree in economics. So what the hell does Peter know about baseball?. Turns out plenty. Brand used statiscal data to analyze the value of a baseball player. He was able to see what the Scouts couldn't...What a player did last year, was not what he'd do the following year.  Sound boring? Trust me...It's not.

Billy Beanne changed the face of baseball. He went against tradition and turned baseball on its ear.

Billy and Peter's relationship is the heart of this film and Brad and Jonah are fantastic together. Sorkin and Zaillan's brilliant dialogue gives 'Moneyball' (based on Michael Lewis's book) its humanity...Making it a movie for sports lovers as well as non sports lovers.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is almost unrecognizable as the Oakland A's Manager, Art Howe. He totally transforms himself. You think you're watching an old man instead of an actor in his 40's. That's how good he is.

Jonah Hill gives a beautiful, subtle performance and for the first time, I really enjoyed watching him.

As for Brad Pitt, well when Oscar nominations come around, I know his name will be the first one called. That's how excellent his work is in this film.

I gave 'Moneyball' five bagels out of five with everything on them. As for the other half of 'Two Jews On Film', John, well he had a very different opinion. Luckily I get to write the reviews and therefore, I have the last word. If you'd like to know his bagel score, check out our video.

'Moneyball' opens in theaters Friday September 24, 2011. Do not miss this gem.

By Joan Alperin Schwartz
 

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http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213567-_Moneyball_Two_Jews_On_Film_Only_One_Says_This.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Moneyball-111-1748435-213567-_Moneyball_Two_Jews_On_Film_Only_One_Says_This.html Thu, 22 Sep 2011 01:00:50 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Better Name Would be "Screw You"]]>
Judging strictly on the reputation of Juiced, I can say that Vindicated is part epilogue to everything Canseco said in that book and part middle finger extended to all the journalist hacks who tried to write it off. It's a rub-in, a big I-told-you-so to the people who tried their hardest to keep their heads buried in the sand, oblivious for the sake of keeping the Great Keepers of America's Pastime deified. And you know what? Canseco has every right to say it. No one wanted to listen to him, but Uncle Sam landed on his side and now we don't have a choice. Jose Canseco takes some great satisfaction in telling us off, and he's earned the right to say it all.

Vindicated is an angry rant disguised as the story of what happened to Canseco after the publication of Juiced. Juiced is basically the focal point of Vindicated. Canseco writes about what he had to put up with and the things he did, including lie detector tests, to prove that he was telling the truth. He even covers the notorious incident in which he offered to keep Magglio Ordonez's name out of the book in exchange for something, going as far as to take a lie detector test for that too, and placing every question he was asked during every lie detector test into Vindicated.

Jose Canseco writes Vindicated with a huge chip on his shoulder, and that's apparent even from the first chapter when he writes about the hacking of Roger Clemens's name from Juiced. Disrespect is the recurring theme of Vindicated. Throughout the book, Canseco reiterates the fact that although the media and baseball tried to write him off, the fans loved him for writing Juiced. He also mentions fairly frequently that he wrote Juiced in order to get back at baseball for blacklisting him. Again, he has every right to do that because Juiced caused more controversy within the mighty halls of the reigning gods of Major League Baseball. But the fact that Canseco was blacklisted doesn't need to be constantly mentioned. It's more of a public secret than anything. People who follow baseball, whether they love or hate Jose Canseco, already know MLB forced him into retirement by blacklist. The same thing happened to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. If there are people who couldn't figure it out then, you bet your ass they figured it out when Canseco was voted down by the Cooperstown committee.

Speaking of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, Canseco is notorious for his almost rabidly promotional views on steroids. That's one of the few sections of Juiced that I did read. So it was a little surprising to find him taking such a repentant stance toward them in Vindicated. He acknowledges what he wrote in Juiced, saying that it may be that maturity got to him, and directly takes back what he said earlier. He doesn't come off as completely anti-steroid, but he does say that he wouldn't take steroids if he could do it all over again. He also brings up his days as the Godfather of Steroids, although he doesn't write at length about it.

Surprised I was again at the way Canseco writes about baseball itself. The final chapter of Vindicated, in fact, is a rave about how much he loves baseball and why. It does a lot to remind people who may hate Canseco that he, like most people, got into baseball because he loves it. It's Jose Canseco being sentimental, a mode of him we're not used to seeing, and he writes about his joining a Sunday league and a minor league just for fun after his time in Major League Baseball is over. Even when he writes about steroids, you can tell he has a deep love for the game and the way it feels to hit a home run. And when he writes about hitting home runs, he always mentions that he bulked up to be a home run hitter because the fans love home runs.

That's really all there is to say. Canseco writes in a very breezy, easy-to-read fashion with a matter-of-fact tone. Otherwise, Vindicated is a fun little story to read on a short airplane flight. It lacks meaningful substance, but it isn't bad. In order to get anything out of Vindicated, it would probably help if you look at it like an epilogue to Juiced. Of course, having not read Juiced, I'm not in a position to say that for sure.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Vindicated_Big_Names_Big_Liars_and_the_Battle_to_Save_Baseball-111-1267157-213368-A_Better_Name_Would_be_Screw_You_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Vindicated_Big_Names_Big_Liars_and_the_Battle_to_Save_Baseball-111-1267157-213368-A_Better_Name_Would_be_Screw_You_.html Thu, 15 Sep 2011 16:22:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Play ball!"]]>
My daughter turned 21 during the summer, and as a birthday gift to her (and an anniversary gift for my wife and myself), her uncles got us tickets to a game at Fenway, but not just regular tickets; "superbox" tickets! Going to the stadium was a treat, and I enjoyed reliving my acquaintances with other old ball parks I had been in, such as Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. It was amazing how close to the field these superboxes were. I was used to the superboxes in Veteran's Stadium in Philly, but they were high off the ground and quite a way from the playing field. Fenway made the spectators almost part of the action.

Having said that, this very well-written book describes the building of Fenway and its opening for the 1912 baseball season. The book describes in detail every little quirk about the stadium, and as the season progresses, tells how these things either hurt or helped the teams playing there. It's no secret that the 1912 Sox played the Giants in the World Series, and that momentous clash is covered in great detail.

The book also contains thumbnail sketches of the owners and players, and others associated with Fenway's first year, and the epilogue informs us what happened to them after the season. Now that the "Curse of the Bambino" has finally been put to rest, and the Sox are taking their place with the elite American League teams, it's good to know that Fenway will be around for many more years (hopefully), giving goose bumps and thrills to new generations. The Royal Rooters (read the book) are gone, but they remain within the confines of that place in spirit.

If you're a fan of the history of baseball (and even if you're not) I do believe that you will enjoy this book. Nuf Ced!]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Fenway_1912_The_Birth_of_a_Ballpark_a_Championship_Season_and_Fenway_s_Remarkable_First_Year-111-1763582-213104-_Play_ball_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Fenway_1912_The_Birth_of_a_Ballpark_a_Championship_Season_and_Fenway_s_Remarkable_First_Year-111-1763582-213104-_Play_ball_.html Fri, 9 Sep 2011 14:44:39 +0000
<![CDATA[ It's Okay to Mess with Texas]]>
They haven't fared any better in the player department, either: 50 years, one Hall of Famer inducted wearing the T shield. To be fair, though, that Hall of Famer is Nolan Ryan. But the list of Hall of Famers who played for Texas at any point in their careers looks like a small group of people seeking asylum - or perhaps exile - to the Rangers because they preferred it to retirement: Goose Gossage, Bert Blyleven, Gaylord Perry, and Ferguson Jenkins. (Note: They're all pitchers. Hm.) Their stars have included Jeff Burroughs, Rafael Palmiero, Larry Parrish, Toby Harrah, and Ivan and Alex Rodriguez. Many of those guys went on to greater glory with other teams.

When the Washington Senators headed for the plain of Minnesota in 1960, they were replaced on the spot with another team which was also called the Washington Senators. The new Senators apparently weren't quite as beloved as the older Senators; those old teams included greats like Bucky Harris, Heinie Manush, and the incomparable Walter Johnson. They lost tons of games, but in 1924 they were finally able to put it all together and win their first World Series title, and they took the Pennant the next year as well. Then in 1960, they moved to Minnesota and changed two things: Their name to the Twins and their legacy into a winning one, winning the World Series in 1987 and again in 1991. The new Senators lasted for a paltry ten years in Washington before Dallas beckoned. Tax breaks, ya know.

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The reappearance of the Senators in Washington didn't turn the expansion team into winners. Their move to Dallas didn't turn them into winners either. The team got really, really good at losing no matter what the circumstances. Even when Oates was winning division titles in the 90's, the team kept getting swept out of the ALDS in the first round.

The Rangers also have the distinction of once being owned by George W. Bush, who ran them (into the ground) from 1989 to 1994 before leaving the position to run the state of Texas and eventually the United States (also into the ground). Nolan Ryan is currently in the owners' booth. My assumption is that he must be doing something right, because the Rangers are finally winning consistently and last season, they produced all-star Cliff Lee and American League MVP Josh Hamilton on the way to their first-ever Pennant.

The team can easily be summed up as a study in wacky characters, at least for the 1970's. One of the very few things baseball fans unfortunate enough to be saddled with the Rangers can take pride in is the scathing, funny memoirs of author Mike Shropshire. He wrote the immortal take of his own years covering the woeful Rangers, including the final year of Whitey Herzog in 1973, when the team lost 105 games. He also caught the turbulence of Billy Martin. There is another book Shropshire wrote about those Rangers teams called The Last Real Season, which I haven't had the fortune to read just yet.

The Rangers are doing quite well for themselves this season and are currently holding onto first place in the AL West. They're certainly capable of at least winning the Pennant again if Boston doesn't stand in the way. They play at The Ballpark in Arlington, which was built during the recent retro ballpark craze. It's one of the better-loved venues in Major League Baseball, although it gets considerable knocks for lacking a retractable roof.

The Rangers are among the largest markets in the United States - they play in the greater Dallas area, and Dallas is the ninth-largest city in the country. But one thing Dallas isn't known for is its baseball fanaticism, and so the Rangers are forever the second or possibly the third banana. The Cowboys, one of the great football teams, will forever be number one in the city's collective heart, and the NBA's Mavericks have recently cut loose, weaving themselves into the city's character for good because they just won their first championship and are manned by a maniacal rogue of an owner. The Rangers don't have such a strongly defined character, like the Yankees, Cubs, or Braves. Or if they do, it's tough to pinpoint because the fans are so tough to find outside of Dallas. They're turning up NOW, mostly because the team is winning and winning sells.

The Texas Rangers have been around for 50 years and have virtually nothing significant to show for it. There's the Pennant from last season, Kenny Rogers pitched a perfect game for the team, Mike Shropshire is a wonderful writer, but… Well? The Rangers also have a hidden fanbase far away from any of the country's baseballvilles, no real blood feuds with other teams, no famously dramatic games, and they exist in a damned suburb. If you're a baseball fan in, say, Idaho, I can virtually guarantee you won't be looking for your reflection in the Rangers. Or if you are, well, good luck with that.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Texas_Rangers_baseball_-111-1391365-212923-It_s_Okay_to_Mess_with_Texas.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-Texas_Rangers_baseball_-111-1391365-212923-It_s_Okay_to_Mess_with_Texas.html Sat, 3 Sep 2011 21:31:48 +0000
<![CDATA[ Definitely Minor League]]> "Our ball club may be minor league
But at least it's triple a"
And there you go. The third installment of the popular Major League series really isn't aiming very high.

Back to the Minors does everything it can to broaden the audience for the first two movies. That sentence is read: They tried to make it family friendly. There are a couple of obscene words in the movie, and the manager of the parent club, the Minnesota Twins, has a cocaine habit. Okay, actually no one ever says or even lightly implies that Twins manager Leonard Huff has a cocaine habit. It is just a conclusion I deciphered completely independently, on my very own, from simply knowing what I know about the effects of cocaine and watching the skittish, manic performance of Ted McGinley, who plays Huff. Other than that, Back to the Minors smoothes out the rougher edges of minor league baseball, a grave mistake that the first two Major League movies both avoided. At least there isn't a romantic subplot and/or a kid in Back to the Minors.

The back of the DVD package trumpets the returns of five series stalwarts, but that's only five who appeared before out of, well, a lot. Roger Dorn, Pedro Cerrano, Taka Tanaka, Rube Baker, and Harry Doyle were the ones from the previous installments. The missing characters are felt: Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn, Willie Mays Hayes, Rachel Phelps, Jack Parkman, and Lou Brown are all nowhere to be found. Now we have a pitcher named Hog Ellis, a power hitter named Bliiy "Downtown" Anderson, a former ballet dancer named Lance Pere, and an aging outfielder-turned-first baseman named Frank "Pops" Morgan. Gluing it all together is a career minor leaguer named Sean Archer. Actually his name is Gus Cantrell, but he's played by Scott Bakula, who will forever in my mind be associated with the captain in the world's most regrettable Star Trek series, which forever brands him as Sean Archer.

Back to the Minors clearly takes place in the original Major League canon, but it also pretends the previous installments never existed. Tanaka, Dorn, Cerrano, and Baker all appear to have some kind of past with Cantrell which is never mentioned. Doyle was apparently demoted. And the Cleveland Indians, the team from the first two Major League movies, were apparently moved overnight to Minnesota and renamed the Twins. Oh, wait... Apparently the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins exist together as independent entities. My bad. So we have an entire player network which was lifted and moved from one team to another without any explanation whatsoever. This isn't addressed; the players are all in Minnesota's system now, the Tribe is never mentioned, and the players who know each other forget everything that happened before Back to the Minors took place. Okay, I'll work with that. But it's strange that a movie which came out in 2000 would choose the Twins over the Indians. The first Major League movie was a grandiose daydream written by a diehard, tortured Tribe fan (that's mentioned in the making-of documentary on the DVD) in 1989 when the Cleveland Indians were in one of the many nadirs they dropped into. By the time Back to the Minors came out, the Indians were beginning the last leg of a multiyear run as one of the most feared teams in the American League, which culminated in two Pennants.

Bull Durham got a portrayal of minor league baseball right because it was written strictly with a councilling of a player in mind. The managers cared about the team probably because they were always worried about their jobs. The players only cared about getting called up to The Show. Back to the Minors is your typical worst-to-first story about a sucky team that gets a new manager and begins to dominate the league with a gaggle of lovable goofballs and a little bit of teamwork.

Strange again, though, that the Buzz never get to play an actual championship. Major League: Back to the Minors is here strictly to embarrass fans of the Twins, it seems. The real championship in Back to the Minors is a game at Buzz Stadium against the Buzz's parent club from Minneapolis. This game, by the way,is taking place strictly because Minnesota's skittish manager had the Metrodome lights cut at the very last second of an earlier game against the Buzz which he was about to lose. Basically the second half of the movie is a redux of the first half of the movie because had they just used the first half, the whole thing would have ended well short of feature length.

Back to the Minors, to its credit, captures the quirks so revered in minor league baseball. But that's all they are. These aren't quirks developing naturally out of the characters. They're in the movie to be the defining traits of everyone while Gus walks around being a good old boy. Cerrano is still into his faith, Huff is some kind of arrogant speed demon lacking self-control, Lance eventually leads the Buzz through ballet training, and Tanaka is trying to find peace of brain. Harry Doyle, played by the great, funny, witty quip artist Bob Ueker, is up in the booth again.

The jokes really aren't that funny. Gus is first seen throwing a frozen ball, which is amusing, but there is a family atmosphere dominating the movie and so the raunchiness and vulgarity which made the first two Major League movies so much fun aren't anywhere. Ueker, playing Doyle, seems to be the only one trying to rescue the mediocre comedy. He reads his lines with verve and spirit, but also an intensity which is suggestive of the fact that he sweating through the movie knowing how awful it is. Doyle's comments in this movie aren't really funny, but a lot of his actions are just mean-spirited, and so Doyle just isn't very likable.

One of the few other credits I want to hand out to Major League: Back to the Minors is that it's so far the only Major League movie which doesn't get bogged down in a main character love story. Gus has a nice, beautiful dame on his arm named Maggie, but her standby role is done straight. There's no implications of leering, cheating, or relationship problems that affect the way Gus manages the Buzz. In fact, she gives him occasional good advice, which he sometimes takes, and so she would be his grounding agent if he had any issues which needed grounding. The movie doesn't get caught up in any issues between them, and the closest they come to a fight is when Gus punches out Huff at a dinner in Minneapolis.

People, I never was fond of the Major League movies. The first two are grossly overrated. Now, they both have funny jokes, are well-made, and have great heart and effort put into them. My problem is they ultimately get dragged down too much in cliches, especially the first one. But Major League: Back to the Minors is more like an exclamation point at the end. It's the kind of dumb exclamation that results in facepalms.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Major_League_Back_To_The_Minors-111-1016586-212856-Definitely_Minor_League.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/movie/UserReview-Major_League_Back_To_The_Minors-111-1016586-212856-Definitely_Minor_League.html Thu, 1 Sep 2011 16:27:53 +0000
<![CDATA[ How Many Stitches Are In Rawlings Official Major League Baseballs?]]>
Description
This baseball has 108 stitches that hold a small round ball center, made of a rubber cork casing with a latex adhesive that remains sticky to allow the next layer to stick to it. After the cork center is rolled in the latex, several layers of a four ply wool are applied. After this dries more adhesive is added for the outer layer of a figure eight shaped leather is applied and 108 double stitched are used to sew the cow hide leather to the outside of the ball. Each of these Rawlings balls weighs approximately 5.1 ounce and are approximately 9" in diameter.

Experience
I have experienced a lifetime of pleasure of playing ball with my kids and grandkids and even my pets. They have all at one time or another put their hands or mouths on a Rawlings baseball. There have been times that I have purchased these for the specific reason to get them signed by an exciting baseball player. These are great to have on your mantle or on you office desk with a signature like Ted Williams, you will amaze your friends with a signature like this.

I have even had pets that love to play with these balls for hours tearing the cover off and discovering the middle. It does not take long for my German Shepherd to tear through one of these. But, if you can keep these away from your pets they will last you for several years. I have purchased several dozen of these when I was coaching little league, but that was way back when gas was only 1.00 a gallon. It would not cost you an arm and a leg to play ball. These balls are recognized as the superior to all of the other brands on the market today. These are the only balls that the major league uses. You can purchase the cheaper made ones for your pets to chew on, but they will not last as long.

The cheaper types of balls have a synthetic outer covering instead of the real cow hide that is on the official MLB baseballs. The cheaper types also have a solid cork and rubber centers instead of the 4 ply wool  windings around the center. Rawlings produces about 8-10,000 baseballs a day, to keep up with the demand of the MLB teams and regular consumers. Hitting and throwing may not come easy to a lot of people, but Rawlings make it at least look easy because of the way that the ball will fit inside of your hands. The make these so they feel soft but yet you can hit these balls a mile.

Conclusion
I would highly recommend if you want to have a good time and keep these around for years, purchase the ball that only the MLB recognizes as the official baseball of all baseball teams. Even little leagues across the country will purchase dozens of these types of baseballs because of the reputation that they have. Years of perfect production have made Rawlings the best when it comes to baseballs.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Rawlings_Official_Major_League_Baseballs-111-1753910-211091-How_Many_Stitches_Are_In_Rawlings_Official_Major.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Rawlings_Official_Major_League_Baseballs-111-1753910-211091-How_Many_Stitches_Are_In_Rawlings_Official_Major.html Wed, 3 Aug 2011 19:07:20 +0000
<![CDATA[ This is an entertaining and inspirational autobiography.]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-When_Brooklyn_Was_Heaven_by_Stan_Levenson-111-1753443-210953-This_is_an_entertaining_and_inspirational.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-When_Brooklyn_Was_Heaven_by_Stan_Levenson-111-1753443-210953-This_is_an_entertaining_and_inspirational.html Sat, 30 Jul 2011 20:39:48 +0000 <![CDATA[ America's game invented]]>
Baseball had many antecedents in American, British, and even earlier history (George Washington is recorded as playing a game of wickets--an earlier variant using cricket wickets for bases--with the troops at Valley Forge in 1778!), and Thorn mines the most unlikely of sources as he untangles the family threads that lead to modern baseball.   He also details the history of the 1905 commission that established Doubleday as the dubious founder of the feast, relying on the commission's complete file of original research, missing for decades and presumed destroyed by fire, but uncovered and donated to the Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown, of course) in 1999.

But perhaps most importantly, Thorn talks much about why--
  • Why did a localized game witn many variants become dominated by a single version that became "America's" pastime? His answer doesn't reach back into a pristine past, but prefigures what we always assume is the more soiled present:  gambling, statistics, and publicity were the key drivers in Thorn's view.
  • Why was Doubleday the honored one, instead of more deserving men, some unremembered by the 1905 commission, some very much alive and in lively disagreement with the commission's membership and findings?   The intricate and sometimes speculative research (based on some fascinating artifacts from unlikely sources like ebay auctions of old memorabilia) had a hold on me as I followed Thorn through his mysterious trails like a hardball Indiana Jones.
  • Why was it even important to name baseball's founder and establish a sanctioned creation story for the game at that point in history?    Here's where things really get weird with tangled family relationhips and the mystical religious sect of Theosophy dominating many of the leading characters in the account.  

I don't want to reveal more of the answers and steal the reader's joy in following Thorn's honest love for the game transmitted through his classic style of restrained humor and hard-facts historiography.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Baseball_in_the_Garden_of_Eden_The_Secret_History_of_the_Early_Game-111-1753342-210945-America_s_game_invented.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Baseball_in_the_Garden_of_Eden_The_Secret_History_of_the_Early_Game-111-1753342-210945-America_s_game_invented.html Sat, 30 Jul 2011 16:09:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ Tim Wakefield: versatile and valuable pitcher, terrific teammate and a quality human being.]]>
Tim Wakefield began his life in professional baseball as a first baseman at Class A Watertown in the New York-Penn League in the summer of 1988. The Pittsburgh Pirates had selected him in the eighth round of the draft earlier that summer. It quickly became apparent to everyone that Wakefield was never going to make it as a position player. He simply did not have the bat speed that was required to be a big league hitter. But there is an old maxim in baseball that says "a guy with a good arm who plays a position and can't hit, you almost always try him as a pitcher before releasing him." Since he was a youngster Tim Wakefield had been fooling around with a pitch that his dad Steve had taught him. It was a knuckleball. One day in extended-spring training in 1989 Wakefield was playing catch with a teammate and mixing in an occasional knuckler. Unbeknownst to Tim his manager Woody Huyke was watching and he was intrigued by what he observed. Within a matter of weeks the Pirates organization made the decision to convert Tim Wakefield to a full-time pitcher. And the rest as they say is history.

After just a couple of years learning how to pitch Tim Wakefield was summoned to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of July, 1992. He had a terrific final two months for the Bucs and went onto to win two games in the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. But his success in Pittsburgh would be short-lived. In 1993 he simply could not get anyone out. By June he found himself back in Double A where he continued to struggle. Wakefield would spend the entire 1994 season at Triple A Buffalo. He continued to be unimpressive and the Pirates released him the following spring. Just a few weeks later Tim Wakefield was signed to a minor league deal by the Boston Red Sox. Thus began a long and fruitful relationship that persists to this day.

After signing Tim Wakefield, then Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette brought in Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro as a sort of mentor for Wakefield. Along the way Wakefield had discovered that when he was struggling most pitching coaches did not possess the wherewithal to help him. Phil Niekro spoke Tim's language and was intimately aware of the struggles he was experiencing. Niekro imparted a set of basic precepts to his eager young student that have served him extremely well throughout his career. And as a result Tim Wakefield rose from the scrap heap to have a long and productive career in a Red Sox uniform.

"Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch" presents a comprehensive overview of Tim Wakefield's entire baseball career. What I discovered along the way is that "Wake" has really been a much better pitcher than I had ever realized. Tim has done it all over 19 seasons in the big leagues and continues to be one of the games most respected players. With so many screwed-up celebrities and athletes out there it is quite refreshing to read about a man who is so generous and humble. Now as to the book itself I must agree with another reviewer who found it extremely curious that the entire book was written in the third person. Very strange. "Knuckler" was written by Tim Wakefield along with Tony Massarotti who is a sports columnist for The Boston Herald so you would expect that much of the book would be in the first person. Furthermore, at several junctures in the book you got the clear impression that Tim Wakefield has already retired from the game. Happily this is just not the case. Tim Wakefield continues to be a valuable member of the Red Sox pitching staff. In fact, this past Sunday afternoon I watched Tim post his 199th career win in a game against the Seattle Mariners. Whether you are a baseball fan in general or a Red Sox fan in particular my hunch is that you would enjoy "Knuckler". So pull up a chair, break open a brew and enjoy! Quirks aside this is still great summer reading! Recommended.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Knuckler_My_Life_With_Baseball_s_Most_Confounding_Pitch-111-1752065-210770-Tim_Wakefield_versatile_and_valuable_pitcher_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Knuckler_My_Life_With_Baseball_s_Most_Confounding_Pitch-111-1752065-210770-Tim_Wakefield_versatile_and_valuable_pitcher_.html Tue, 26 Jul 2011 21:53:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Without God Pujols might be like a Bentley without a key"]]> Yahoo.com sports columnist Jeff Passan seems to capture the essence of the man. Many consider Pujols to be the finest baseball player of his generation. But the way Albert Pujols sees it "Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior." In "Pujols: More Than The Game" authors Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth present us with an intimate look at the life of one of the most talented men ever to play the game. This is one professional athlete who seems to have his head screwed on straight and his priorities in order.

While a number of other biographies have been written about Albert Pujols, Lamb & Ellsworth wanted to do something just a bit different. In "Pujols: More Than A Game" you will discover that despite the fact that Albert Pujols grew up in the heavily Roman Catholic Dominican Republic religion had played virtually no role in his life prior to his arrival in the United States at the age of 16. Albert's father Bienvenido was a popular professional pitcher in the DR and had little time for religion. It was not until Albert met the love of his life and future wife Dee Dee that he would embrace Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Once this happened Albert's life would never be the same again.

Over the first ten years of his storied career Albert Pujols would lead the Cardinals to a World Championship and amass an impressive total of three National League MVP awards. He is a lifetime .331 hitter and has already stroked more than 400 home runs. Lamb & Ellsworth provide many of the details of his amazing prowess on the diamond throughout the book. But while baseball is extremely important to Albert the thing that he and Dee Dee are most proud of is the important work being done by the charity that they founded. Launched in 2005, the Pujols Family Foundation supports the work of two causes near and dear to their hearts, namely the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis and the Orfanato Ninos de Cristo orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The couple not only supports the Foundation financially, but also devotes a great deal of their very limited spare time to the organization. They feel strongly that they are doing the work God intended them to do.

Given his astounding numbers over the past decade many baseball fans wonder aloud whether Albert Pujols has ever taken Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Because so many of Major League Baseball's biggest and brightest stars have been implicated in the scandal I suppose it is only natural for fans to be suspicious of Pujols. The authors devote an entire chapter to the steroids question and this is without a doubt the most revealing chapter in the book. The authors present a very compelling case that Albert Pujols is the real deal and list chapter and verse why he would never allow himself to get involved with PEDs. Among the arguments they make is that Pujols has never once been implicated in the scandal and has displayed an amazing amount of self-control throughout his lifetime. And perhaps the most important reason of all is that Albert Pujols is a committed and God-fearing Christian. In 2006 Pujols told reporters who were continually hounding him about this issue that "They can test me every day if they want. I don't care". He steadfastly denies that he was ever involved. Although such unfounded allegations hurt him Albert Pujols seems very comfortable in his own skin and extremely confident in his God-given ability. All of the available evidence leads you to conclude that he is not the kind of individual who would ever resort to cheating to get ahead.

As the life story of Albert Pujols unfolds in "Pujols: More Than The Game" it becomes abundantly clear that despite the fact that Albert expects to have a long and productive career in professional baseball and is a slam-dunk first ballot Hall of Famer his chief priorities in life continue to be his family and more importantly his commitment to Jesus Christ. Pujols realizes that his baseball career will come to an end one day and he and Dee Dee are already making plans for a full-time life of service to others after his playing days are over. Furthermore, they are both looking forward to that prospect with great anticipation. Albert Pujols lives his Christian faith each and every day and serves as a shining example of how a professional athlete should conduct himself. After reading "Pujols: More Than The Game" I have nothing but respect and admiration for this man. Having said that I thought that the book was a bit long-winded at times and I wonder if this story could have been told in a 10 or 12 page magazine article.  As such I can only muster a somewhat lukewarm recommendation for this one.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Pujols_More_Than_The_Game-111-1749948-210585-_Without_God_Pujols_might_be_like_a_Bentley.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Pujols_More_Than_The_Game-111-1749948-210585-_Without_God_Pujols_might_be_like_a_Bentley.html Thu, 21 Jul 2011 22:16:34 +0000
<![CDATA[ Why I Hate the Chicago Cubs, Reason 103]]>
It's more or less a direct parody of Rookie of the Year, which is about a ten-year-old kid who breaks his arm, feels it repair funny, and is equipped with a 100 mph fastball which he uses to get signed by the Chicago Cubs and lead them to World Series glory. Seriously. Yes, there's a big deal made among baseball fanatics about how the final game revolved around the Cubs winning the division title, but there's also a very clear shot of a World Series ring sitting on the finger of main character Henry Rowengartner at the end. The Futurama episode was much better.

Movies about precocious kids were everywhere in the 1990's. Free Willy, Air Bud, Jungle 2 Jungle, and a whole host of other movies made by people who didn't seem to understand that kids fantasize about being courageous, heroic adults like Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones. I guess in a sense, Rookie of the Year does understand the mindset of children: Henry is a little kid living his dream of playing for the Cubs. In the clubhouse, he is awed by seeing his heroes up close and personal, and can't believe he'll be playing alongside them. But Rookie of the Year is a Kids' Message Movie, so we have to quickly be snapped back to reality by the fact that the other players don't like him and the fact that his newfound fame is taking a ton of time away from his friends.

Rookie of the Year takes on a mighty attempt at suspension of disbelief in order to justify the signing: The Chicago Cubs are in financial trouble and must sell out literally every game that season. In real life, this would be one of those "Come ON!!!" pronouncements, in which the team owner pats you on the back and goes "You're allllrrrriiiiiiiiggghhhhttt!!!" Cubs fans are an optimistic and sunny bunch; when the team is doing well, they don't believe in feeling the doom and gloom around every corner; when they're not doing well - which is more often the case - the fans revel in the beauty of baseball and the electric atmosphere of Wrigleyville.

As the Cubs lament their financial situation, young Henry Rowengartner breaks his arm. It heals with extra-tight joints or some such, as Henry learns when he engages in the opponent-home-run-return ritual which is such a sacred rite at Wrigley Field. He unleashes the most blistering fastball ever seen, is caught by the team owner, and signed as a reliever. To be fair to the movie, it is never really implied that Henry becomes the great team leader or even its great rallying player, but the Cubs' fortunes do change pretty quickly once he's in Cubbie blue. The movie is about Henry, his dream of playing for the Cubs, and how being a star interrupts the other aspects of his everyday life. It's not a rally-the-troops movie or a tame-the-wildmen-and-make-lots-of-friends-among-them movie. Unfortunately, it does contain one of those damned lessons, as is the wont in kids' flicks.

John Candy plays the blowhard radio announcer, and that's to the movie's credit. Candy was always good at roles like that. But one of the movie's anchoring jokes is the proper pronunciation of Henry's last name. The team manager is constantly saying it wrong, so much that when he gets it right during the climax, Henry lampshades it by saying "What did he call me?" Rookie of the Year also leans on Daniel Stern, who plays a bouncing ball of caffeine. Actually he plays the pitching coach, a guy so out there he makes Bill Lee look stuck in the lower depth of the Earth's mantle by comparison. Stern's lively, energetic, and entertaining performance is another one of Rookie of the Year's better qualities, but his character is just so annoying that Stern's talent does more to put a point on his annoyance than alleviate it.

Henry's personal story is one you know pretty well: He lives with his mother. His father is given a throwaway line about just what happened to him and never mentioned again. She's dating this hotshot business jerk who, when Henry becomes the new sensation of Chicago, milks Henry's name and image for everything it's worth. (He even tries to trade Henry to New York without his mother's permission.) When Henry is with the Cubs, he finds a mentor in his favorite player, Chet "Rocket" Steadman, who helps show Henry the ways of the big leagues and falls in love with his mother.

The problem with so many family films is that they so rarely bother to take chances. The definition of family has become so narrow that producers out for a quick buck have a grab bag full of go-to jokes they use whenever they're running out of steam - which, given said narrow definition of family, is quite often - and there's so little to use in it. Part of this is because the writers are writing strictly to entertain for the little kids and not necessarily the parents who are actually paying for the tickets. There is also the fear that some of the jokes might fly over the kids' heads or might be a little too off-color or offensive. This doesn't leave even a good screenwriter with a ton of material to work with, and so virtually everything he's able to get away with comes off as trite. Writing something that is completely inoffensive requires that a screenwriter be bland, and taking risks can frequently mean offending any number of people. Baseball is unfortunately one of those subjects which, being a piece of Americana, is tried to make as inoffensive as possible so it will be embraced by everyone, and not leave anyone offended. (Of note, baseball also allows the Cleveland Indians to use a red, smiley Indian as a logo. I'm not a politically correct person, but a Warner Brothers cartoon face is tasteless.) Baseball movies which see baseball itself in this light are prone to blandness.

Baseball movies are at their best when the family image is ditched and the crudeness, lewdness, and offensive locker room bravado is embraced. Bull Durham and Major League both understood this. Rookie of the Year does not. Would a group of jocks really tone it down for one little kid? It's funny how the worlds in movies like this always find ways to adjust to children.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Rookie_of_the_Year-111-1750881-210547-Why_I_Hate_the_Chicago_Cubs_Reason_103.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Rookie_of_the_Year-111-1750881-210547-Why_I_Hate_the_Chicago_Cubs_Reason_103.html Wed, 20 Jul 2011 13:50:17 +0000
<![CDATA[ Laughing with Sinners]]>
Well, perhaps "nothing" is a little extreme. The Rangers have the distinction of being the baseball team featured in Mike Shropshire's book Seasons in Hell, a jolly good fun insider view of the Rangers from 1973 to 1975, when they were pretty much the worst team in baseball.

Seasons in Hell has a very unique vantage point. Instead of just giving the history of the team in a third person viewpoint, sportswriter Mike Shropshire, who spent years following the Rangers, writes it in the first person viewpoint. Therefore, Seasons in Hell is less an insider chronicle of the 1973-1975 Texas Rangers than it is a book about journalism that just happens to be written by a guy who covered the worst team in baseball. Yes, Shropshire is in it to tell you all about the hilarious missteps taken by the Rangers of the 1970′s, but they are merely the focal point of what is ultimately a memoir of his earliest days as a sportswriter. Shropshire even writes about how and why he fell into the gig at one point, as his career until the Rangers consisted of fancy dinner interviews with celebrities.

Being more of a memoir than anything, Seasons in Hell gives us the story of the Rangers as Mike Shropshire saw it. That clause is important. It means our author is doing the narrating himself from his own point of view. He's telling it the way he saw it himself, which gives us insight on why journalists can be so inaccurate sometimes. You won't be seeing any interviews or reflections from team MVP and star outfielder Jeff Burroughs, third baseman Jim Fregosi, or manager Billy Martin except from the standpoint of Shropshire's memory. For each and every major, important happening in the book, Shropshire is giving us the thoughts of no one other than himself. And so instead of the usual platitudes of this player or that player cheating on his wife, Shropshire talks about the sportswriter groupies in Baltimore, the autograph he wanted but wasn't able to get, and the way the Rangers handled Cleveland's infamous ten-cent beer night promotion and what he thought happened.

The Texas Rangers at the time were a joke team. Being a part of the organization at that time meant you had been banished for some irredeemable sin. The team had a few bright spots – Jeff Burroughs being the primary of them, but Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins also drop into The Lone Star State for brief spells – but for the most part the Rangers were the penal colony of Major League Baseball. During the timespan covered in Seasons in Hell, they were managed by two of baseball's brightest: When Shropshire arrived to his post at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Whitey Herzog was in place. With Herzog helming the team, the Rangers lost 105 games and Herzog himself would be promptly fired, picked up by the Kansas City Royals, and fired again before riding those great St. Louis Cardinals teams of the 80′s into the Hall of Fame. He was replaced by Billy Martin, who would be guiding the Bronx Zoo Yankees to a World Series title by 1977 and later have his number retired in Yankee Stadium.

Seasons in Hell covers three seasons with the Rangers, but Shropshire only goes into real details with one. That one is the 1973 season, when the Rangers were fielding a team which Whitey Herzog said was "two players away from being a contender – Sandy Koufax and Babe Ruth." There's no real reason I can detect for this disparity. There are 237 pages proper in Seasons in Hell, including the afterword, and the first 158 are about the 1973 season. 1975 Opening Day doesn't begin until page 208. This arrangement certainly lends weight to the idea that people will always slow down to look at car wrecks. It's possible that Shropshire had the most to say about the 1973 season because he was new to the whole world of sportswriting, or perhaps it was intended to give a more in depth idea of the baseball hot stove.

While the last two seasons Shropshire covers don't go into a ton of detail about field goings-on, they do provide some amusing stories. The most notable is Shropshire's firsthand look at Cleveland's ten-cent beer night, one of the most ill-conceived and poorly thought out promotions in baseball history; it was the Rangers who played the innocent bystanders in Cleveland that night. The 1975 season is the shortest in the book and Shropshire's stories have a much more personal feel. Shropshire writes about, among other things, finding relief for an aching back and his departure from Fort Worth.

Shropshire writes a little bit about the prevailing political and cultural atmosphere at times, but Seasons in Hell mostly goes by completely unattached to any of it. Shropshire isn't trying to place baseball into the big picture of anything, and when he does talk about the country at large, it feels more like he's placing it into the context of baseball and Texas instead of the other way around. Shropshire's style as a writer is dry and cynical and he writes Seasons in Hell mostly with his tongue firmly in his cheek as he sits back and just soaks up the view, writing down what he sees and his thoughts on it all.

Mike Shropshire is the hero of Seasons in Hell. While some of the characters and personalities he encounters will stand out more than others – probably none more so than Billy Martin – you really can't pinpoint certain people getting more print time than others. This makes perfect sense because it is, after all, a memoir of his career with the Texas Rangers just happening to be the team he was covering.

I make no secret of the fact that I'm loyal to the New York Yankees. But one of the disadvantages of being a Yankees fan is that we don't really get the experience of rooting for the bad-but-never-actually-boring bands of outcasts and vagabonds who brighten up the diamond with hilarious ineptitude. After reading books like Seasons in Hell, we almost get jealous.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Seasons_in_Hell-111-1749944-210080-Laughing_with_Sinners.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Seasons_in_Hell-111-1749944-210080-Laughing_with_Sinners.html Fri, 8 Jul 2011 22:39:59 +0000
<![CDATA[Minor League Baseball Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Minor_League_Baseball-111-1394205-208890.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Minor_League_Baseball-111-1394205-208890.html Thu, 16 Jun 2011 17:41:40 +0000 <![CDATA[2009 MLB All-Star Game Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-2009_MLB_All_Star_Game-111-1394284-208888.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/sports_team/UserReview-2009_MLB_All_Star_Game-111-1394284-208888.html Thu, 16 Jun 2011 17:36:16 +0000 <![CDATA[Willie Mays Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Willie_Mays-111-1011085-208887.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/d/UserReview-Willie_Mays-111-1011085-208887.html Thu, 16 Jun 2011 17:34:05 +0000 <![CDATA[ Stephen King - Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle The Historic 2004 Season]]> Pros: player info

Cons: confusing writers ... who was who?

The Bottom Line:
 "Because I love that dirty water
Oh, oh, Boston, you're my home (oh, yeah)"
Standells



A few years ago I couldn’t spell baseball fan, now I are one … that’s the entire giddy up of Faithful by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King.

I’ll admit I don’t always understand all the rules and regs of baseball. Some of those rules just seem senseless to me [catch a fly ball in foul territory its an OUT, hit to foul territory, its not ... sigh] and are a basis for most arguments during a game when I ask the endless stream of questions all beginning with “Why…”. Diane just shakes her head and says “That’s the rule.” As if that makes it logical. And baseball is all about logic and statistics. The rules aren’t however [snicker]

Hope springs eternal
Certainly there is no fan that equals a Red Sox fan on the planet. When ‘we’ are doing good, ‘we’ are ‘we’ but when ‘they’ are doing bad, ‘we’ are no longer a ‘we’ but a ‘they’. But good or bad, the true Sox fan never turns their back on the team. They start the season each year with as much hope and determination as they show on the final game, always assuming that this will be the year. Well it finally was, in 2004, and it was a year that fans will remember for all of their lives.

Stew & Steve
If memory serves me right, neither man was born with a red sock as a pacifier, they were both considered new Sox fans. In other words, they had started elsewhere in life but ended up in The Nation. Perhaps I’m wrong on that bit of history but that was the feeling I came away with. Irregardless, born Red or born somewhere else, once the red begins pounding through your bloodstream, you are red until the day you die.

Since I am not a baseball historian, I did enjoy their input and background on players. As well, it was enjoyable to hear/read their own feelings of frustration when things didn’t go as planned or as they wished. I also enjoyed the fans perspective on players and the fact that, once they entered the ballpark, they were simple souls just like the rest of us vying for that fly ball or autograph.

Naturally I found Steve to be a more descriptive writer, actually imaging his scenes as he wrote them. He simply has that ability to take you there, even if it is just pacing around his living room. Uh, thanks for that underwear image Steve! Stew I found to be a drier writer and only toward the middle of the book did he cut loose a little and lighten up.

What I liked and didn’t like
It often was confusing trying to determine which writer was putting his thoughts down. I thought for a while that Stew was in light print and Steve in bold print, but that didn’t always hold true either. Mainly you had to fall back on prior knowledge to determine the style of writing to figure out who was who. Again, not that it really mattered because it was about being a fan and it didn’t matter if it was fan A or fan B that was writing.

The better scenario would have been a Sox fan and a Yankee fan co-authoring the book. Now that would have been quite the debacle. Of course, how could you get those two to collaborate on anything? Think of it though, each with their perspective leading up to the final inning and the final out.

I did like player information that they included as well as their own feelings about players. I also enjoyed the fact that they often seemed clueless about the rest of the baseball world and were proud to admit it. They acknowledged that there were other teams playing the sport but it didn’t really matter to them. Like, Barry Bonds who?

Their writing style was easy to read for the most part because it was in diary form and not a true sportscaster chronicle. Yes they often gave you play-by-play stats, but their excitement at those times added to that. And basically, that is what it boiled down to, their excitement.

What is a Sox fan?
Doesn’t matter if you are Stewart O’Nan, Stephen King, or Joe Blow in the stands. A Sox fan eats, sleeps, and dreams about their team. They replay constantly in their heads. They change the batters and the pitchers and raspberry the manager for his poor choices. They look with adoration at their player even when he is 0-22, just knowing that his next time at bat he is going to hit a grand slam. They give a standing O to their pitcher even when he hasn’t struck out the opponent for 13 games because this time could be the perfect game.

They also boo the players and ignore them. They get huffy and nasty and throw things at them. There is nothing as silent as a filled stadium when the home team is sucking all the air out of the room. And still, still, the next day they don their red shirts and cocky hats and pay their money to watch them again. Because they believe, they simply believe.

Overall impression
Actually I bought this for Diane because she said she would never own a Stephen King book. Now she is the real baseball nut in our house and, after the Braves, a Sox fan. Being born in New England, it is stamped on your birth certificate “Sox Fan”. So, basically, in her soul, she has never given up either. However, when I was looking for a book to read on my trips back to Ohio, I started this one. It was slow going at first, I just couldn’t get into it. Of course, it was winter, no baseball on TV either. It’s different when baseball is active.

Then I hit a groove and before I knew it I was laughing at the guys and chewing my fingernails right along with them. I was cussing the umps and the manager and the lousy pitching. I was wearing my hat sideways and the same socks for three days and trying to figure out who to leave in and who to take out and who the hell would be on the playoff roster.

I would recommend this book to anyone that has ever been a fan, of anything. Or to anyone that has ever faced an obstacle in their life they didn’t think they would overcome. Or to anyone that has lost faith in the slightest thing in their life. You don’t have to be a baseball fan, or fanatic, to get something from this book. It isn’t about baseball, although that is certainly full of baseball, it is about belief.

And, thanks to them, just for a minute, I believed too. Meet me at Foxwoods.

Thanks,
Susi

Publisher: Scribner, 432 pages, ISBN: 0743267524, hardcover edition

Recommended:
Yes]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Faithful_Two_Diehard_Boston_Red_Sox_Fans_Chronicle_the_Historic_2004_Season_Paperback_-111-1495006-208710-Stephen_King_Faithful_Two_Diehard_Boston_Red.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-Faithful_Two_Diehard_Boston_Red_Sox_Fans_Chronicle_the_Historic_2004_Season_Paperback_-111-1495006-208710-Stephen_King_Faithful_Two_Diehard_Boston_Red.html Sun, 12 Jun 2011 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ The most exciting Red Sox player of my lifetime.]]> Jacoby Ellsbury to play for the Boston Red Sox. Because they play in the friendly confines of Fenway Park the previous ownership of the Red Sox seemed to have an aversion to any player with speed. Stolen bases and daring base-running were simply not a part of the Red Sox philosophy under the old regime. Rather, Boston fans were treated to a steady diet of slow, lumbering power hitters hell-bent on taking advantage of that short left field wall. Speed and innate athleticism were always in very short supply. The result: 86 years without winning a World Series. Then in 2003 the triumvirate of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino purchased the Boston Red Sox. They hired a brash, young general manager named Theo Epstein and as they say the rest is history. The Sox won the World Series in 2004 and promised New England fans that the best was yet to come.

In 2005 the Sox drafted speedy outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury out of Oregon State. Here was a player unlike any I had ever seen in my nearly half century of watching the Red Sox.  Aside from the fact that he could run like the wind Ellsbury was also a very gifted defensive player.  In one fell swoop Theo Epstein had drafted Boston's future centerfielder and leadoff hitter. Jacoby was quickly dubbed a "can't miss" prospect and Red Sox fans waited patiently for his arrival in the big time.  Living in Rhode Island I had the great good fortune to see him play several games at AAA Pawtucket in 2007.  Towards the end of the season Ellsbury was called up to the Red Sox and immediately made his presence felt.  He hit a solid .353 in the final month of the season and was a key contributor in the postseason as the Red Sox went on to defeat the Colorado Rockies to capture their second World Series in 4 years.  These were definitely not my grandfather's Red Sox!

Jacoby Ellsbury had a solid rookie season in 2008 when he hit .280 and stole 50 bases. He had an even bigger year in 2009 when he hit .301 and led the American League in stolen bases with 70. As a frustrated Sox fan I was delirious. Jacoby Ellsbury is so much fun to watch!  Sadly,  2010 turned out to be a disastrous year for the young outfielder.  He collided with thirdbaseman Adrian Beltre on April 11 and suffered a hairline fracture to 4 ribs. He attempted to come back in May but the injury had not fully healed. Jacoby Ellsbury would play in all of 18 games in 2010. It was a totally lost season.

Well here we are in 2011 and after a horrendous start the Red Sox are back atop the A.L. East standings.  And all indications are that Jacoby Ellsbury is back on top of his game as well. He is once again stealing bases, spraying the ball to all fields and playing centerfield with reckless abandon. He is even hitting with more power. From where I sit the sky is the limit for Jacoby Ellsbury. He is the penultimate five-tool player who I believe will only get better with time.  In addition, he is a classy young man and a great role model for youngsters. I hope he plays his entire career in Boston.  He is a joy to watch.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/athlete/UserReview-Jacoby_Ellsbury-111-1392018-208047-The_most_exciting_Red_Sox_player_of_my_lifetime_.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/athlete/UserReview-Jacoby_Ellsbury-111-1392018-208047-The_most_exciting_Red_Sox_player_of_my_lifetime_.html Mon, 30 May 2011 23:05:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ This book shows how the lessons learned in baseball can be applied to life.]]>
This book also includes photos of Yankee legends like Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Yogi Berra. There are eighteen qualities that up make a champion. Yerrid devotes one chapter to each trait Some of these qualities are preparation, desire, attitude, courage, hard work and determination. Yerrid fills each chapter with motivational quotes from current and former Yankee players, but the some of the best quotes appear at the beginning of each chapter. There is a motivational quote from Abraham Lincoln about the subject of desire that I really like. There is another quote by Eleanor Roosevelt about gaining confidence by facing fear in the face that I love.

There are also very moving quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. throughout this book. I can apply these insightful advice any time I feel overwhelmed by the obstacles. The change in color in every chapter makes this book easy to read.

This book is also filled with photos of baseball players catching, running and hitting and celebrating. This book captures the spirit of team work in these photos. The Making Of A Championship Heart makes me a bigger fan of the sport of baseball]]>
http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-The_Making_of_a_Championship_Heart-111-1736178-207508-This_book_shows_how_the_lessons_learned_in.html http://www.lunch.com/JustBaseball/reviews/book/UserReview-The_Making_of_a_Championship_Heart-111-1736178-207508-This_book_shows_how_the_lessons_learned_in.html Wed, 18 May 2011 04:43:55 +0000