Make It Happen

The shadow of your smile

When you have gone

Will color all my dreams

And light the dawn

 

Look into my eyes my love, and see

All the lovely things, you are, to me

 

Our wistful little star

It was far, too high

A teardrop kissed your lips

And so, so did I

 

Now when I remember spring

And every little lovely thing

I will be remembering

The shadow of your smile

Your lovely smile

Some dear friends of mine are quite disconsolate over the chance that the New York Mets Apple won’t be making the trip from Shea to the new stadium. They’ve taken their pleas to the streets, in the form of an online petition, over at www.savetheapple.com and all Mets fans who have ever exulted at the majestic sight of the apple rising from it’s top hat should head over there immediately.

While it can be correctly pointed out that I have no affection for the Mets, I do care greatly for the preservation of certain traditions. This trait has been ingrained upon me from years of going to Wrigley Field. I understand the need for new stadiums, especially one as woeful as Shea. But there are certain aspects of every ballpark that are dear to the hometown faithful. Some of these (Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers) can’t be held forever, but the apple can be transferred. It’s delighted fans young and old and I don’t understand why there is even a sliver of doubt about it’s survival. I’d go on, but the case is made far better at SaveTheApple. One day the apple will fall, but it will not be this day! Today the fight begins!

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Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 4:25 pm  Comments (1)  

High Sierra Serenade

I like Camp Lo. This statement isn’t something that should surprise anyone who knows me or anyone who spent much time listening to rap music in the 1997-2000 “Everything’s fine, but trouble’s coming” era of hip hop. Back then, they were just another rap group who put out a hot album then went back to the studio, with big things expected of them. Sadly, they fell victim to the malaise that claimed a lot of groups of the era, putting out a mostly forgettable followup in 2002. While I initially intended this post to be a love poem to Uptown Saturday Night, Camp Lo’s 1997 opus, inspired by the shuffle on my iPod, some internet research expanded the scope a bit. They have a new album coming out soon, and by soon, I mean next Tuesday. Produced entirely by Ski, the man behind the boards on Uptown Saturday Night, it seems deliciously like the “return to form” record that their fans have been waiting a decade for.

It’s worth noting that Camp Lo has always been a group with a fully realized sense of aesthetics. Impenetrable slang, beats drenched in blaxploitation soundtrack cool and impossibly smooth, Camp Lo stood out. Even more so today they sound like nothing else. Aesop Rock, oddly, has come to closest to co-opting their sense of lyrical rhythm, exchanging the slang for cultural references and the cool with pretension. But has anyone else put out anything even remotely similar sounding? They’re a group that basically can’t be bitten, a rare commodity in the world of rap.

The quick snippets I’ve heard from their new record, Black Hollywood, have sounded good. Nothing as inspired as Luchini, but that’s a tall standard to hold anyone up to. The first joint is streamed of allhiphop.com and is real smooth. Possibly too smooth for the hard rocks out there who demand M.O.P. levels of intensity on every jam. I think it’s a good augur for the record.

‘Ticket for 2’ [allhiphop.com]

The second joint got posted today over at Straight Bangin’ and is titled Sweet Claudine. I’m fairly certain that the sample is taken from the Claudine soundtrack, where Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded songs written and produced by Curtis Mayfield. I’ll have to pull the soundtrack out and confirm this. Their raps, at least, reference the movie explicitly, so I think it’s a safe bet. The soundtrack is excellent, featuring the smash hit ‘On and On.’ The movie itself leaves something to be desired, however. It shows it’s age, but it’s a fairly cute little film. Claudine is a single mother with six kids, all of whom are predictably wacky. One is mute, the oldest daughter gets impregnated, the oldest son joins a nondescript black nationalism group and gets a vasectomy in a show of solidarity. The film also features an extended sequence where a robust looking James Earl Jones wanders around his apartment, post-sex, his nudity barely obscured. It’s all a little odd, but I am glad I sat down and saw it. (And by that I mean, I’m glad I continued to lie on the couch at 2 am when it came on.) The song is similarly cute.

‘Sweet Claudine’ [Straight Bangin’]

There’s another track posted at spinemagazine ‘Soul Fever’ is probably my favorite. It just sounds like it should. The rapping is a little less complex than back in the day, but it’s still the Camp Lo style that can’t be found anywhere else. The link is for the mp3 file, since I’m unsure of how to link to their news.

‘Soul Fever’ [spinemagazine.com]

While I wish one of these leaked songs was classic material, they’ve sounded nice enough for me to give the album a chance. This year has had some decent releases from rappers who were thought washed up (Prodigy, Redman) and I hope Camp Lo keeps it going.

For people in NY, I also caught a mention at spinemagazine of a show their doing on Monday the 23rd at Element. Free admission! Rich Medina and Bobbito spin to open, doors at 10 pm. Although, the website mentions ominously that the dress code is strictly enforced, meaning they reserve to right to not let you in if you look like your broke ass won’t be buying any drinks. I’ve never seen them before and the prospect of seeing Luchini performed live is fairly exciting. It might just be enough to get me to actually leave my apartment for once.

Published in: on July 19, 2007 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Next Link

I’m a huge fan of passive aggression. This site is so right up my alley. Hilarious.

An interview with DJ Too Tuff, of the infamous golden age Philly rap group Tuff Crew.

The definitive Rickey Henderson. I would have included the story from Moneyball, where a confused, minor league Rickey keeps stealing bases when his coach gives him the takeoff sign.

I’d just like to go on the record as saying that I find little levity in stories about drug dealing and street crime. Drug dealing midgets, however, are a different story. The first line of the article is absolute gold.

DJ PRZM, best known by me as the producer behind Camu Tao’s ‘Hold The Floor’ has passed away.

People in New York apparently have started throwing CD’s out because they don’t have any use for them. [Subscription required]

Tiny turtles are coming back! Huzzah!

Bun B is that dude. Great interview. Hopefully, one day, the UGK record will actually come out. He’s also started blogging.

The top ten videos of snakes fighting various creatures. As I typed this I noticed that there was a tiny bug inside the stylish clear plastic that comprises the base of my Apple keyboard. I killed it by using the spacebar with extreme prejudice.

Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature. I find this sort of thing interesting, but don’t put too much stock into it. Number 8, about why men have a mid-life crisis is pretty hilarious.

An interesting idea over at Games for Lunch. How much fun is the first hour with a game. Honestly, I think this might be more important than usual reviews, which tend to focus on a lot of things that the average player doesn’t deal with.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I’m sorry about the age of some of these links, but it’s been awhile since I started compiling them. I think they’re mostly still humorous. It can be trying to find good links sometimes….

Published in: on July 14, 2007 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

I thought you were made of sterner stuff….

Or “I would have waited an eternity for this….” My ability to remember dialogue from the animated movie continues to alarm me.

The combination of rainy weather and a day off made it virtually impossible that I would not see the Transformers movie on the 4th. Despite the unusual effort it took to get there, I was firmly settled into my seat at 6:30 as the film began to roll. I’ve got kind of a lot to cover here, I’ll do my best to keep it all organized. Forgive me if I get a little offtrack.

The most pertinent questions are the basic ones. Did I like the movie? The answer is an overwhelming yes. The answer, however, to the question ‘did I not like the movie?’ is also yes. It took me a few days before I had sorted my thoughts about the picture and in the end I find myself conflicted. There was a lot to like about the movie and a lot not to like. The root of this is in the movie’s director, Michael Bay. I, like many others more knowledgable than myself, was against the decision to give him a large hand in shaping the property. In interviews he comes off as not liking the original property or the ideas behind it. Beyond simply not being a hardcore fan of Transformers, he seemed to look down upon them as silly and stupid. This disheartened me because projects that involve fully realized mythos from another medium live and die on the ability of the creative team to understand what about the characters resonates with their fans. Sam Raimi seemed to have a good handle on how to fully integrate Peter Parker with Spider-Man and it shows in the movies. Michael Bay, the man who directed the video for the one hit wonder from the DiVinyls ‘I Touch Myself,’ finds Transformers to be beneath him.

The perplexing part about this is that his strengths as a filmmaker match up with the Transformers perfectly. Take an over the top Bay carchase and throw in the idea that the cars can transform into giant killer robots at any moment. Sounds pretty exhilerating. I’m hard pressed to come up with many other directors who look as good a match on paper. I’m also eternally grateful that Bay got it instead of one the terrible directors constantly pumping out movies based on videogames. They copy Bay anyway, but with none of his distinctive flair.

And his style is on full display in the movie, make no doubt about it. The action is everything you could have imagined. The opening scene, the attack on the air base, is perfectly done. The attack underscores a single idea, albeit one that was fundamental to the cartoon, that these machines are completely unstoppable. As the movie got going I found things that I didn’t care for quite as much, but the action onscreen stays fully unimpeachable throughout. If nothing else, Bay knows how to shoot a dynamic action sequence and his sense of movement combines well with the robots, who are constantly shifting between forms as they battle each other. Heady stuff, and something my inner six year old yearns for desperately. If you’re someone with no nostalgia for the cartoon who just wants to see an action pic, this is the movie for you. It delivers on the promise of gigantic alien war machines beating the living hell out of each other.

Where it gets bogged down is when the movie starts following people. Totally unnecessary. This was probably a concession to the film’s status as a summer blockbuster, that there had to be a narrative arc that the Transformers fit into, not the other way around. The cartoon spent almost no time developing human characters choosing instead to focus on the machinations and relationships of the robots. It’s understandable that this would happen, as a movie just about Transformers doesn’t receive $150 million budget. I would love a movie that was just two hours of Spider-Man beating ass, but that would never make real money outside of the geek community. So fine, let them throw some people into the film. To their credit they found really likable leads, who do a good job with the limited material given them. Shia LeBeouf is excellent playing the flustered but tongue in cheek lead that Nic Cage pioneered in The Rock. His bag of tricks is more limited than Cage’s, but it’s unbelievable what he does with make believe robots and the wooden acting of Megan Fox. (More on her in a minute.) It’s all the ancillary characters that kill the momentum. No one cares how the nerdy codebreakers at the NSA crack the Decepticon code and Rachel Taylor’s character, while pretty, is completely extraneous. Her only purpose is to introduce us to Anthony Anderson, whose character does even less. What the hell was John Turturro doing? Jon Voight? As if! I won’t even bother going into the plot points they were involved in because they were confused, poorly told and generally useless. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese chip in gamely, but their roles are so limited that it seems like they’re just part of the scenery for the big action setpieces.

Everyone has a crappy backstory, a cursory nod towards the “motivation” of these characters. While I like to pretend that they’re more than two dimensional line readers too, a movie like this doesn’t need that crap. Who cares why they do anything?!?! There are a dozen Transformers waiting to smash up the place! Josh Duhamel has never seen his kid, Megan Fox has a criminal record, blah blah blah. Frankly, the only character that needed any sort of build up is Shia and his is the only one that gets more than lip service. (In short, he wants to sleep with Megan Fox. Understandable and something that most people can relate to.) I wasn’t doing this intentionally, but I’ve been referring to the actors by their name, not their characters name. I think that says a lot about how forgettable the people were. But this isn’t Gosford Park, it’s Transformers. For all my bitching, it’s a minor, minor annoyance. Especially when you have the best special effects money can buy.

I’m referring, of course, not to the robots, but to Megan Fox. Oh man. I have no clue what kind of lab she must have been cooked up in, but please, make some more. Simply unreal. Her role in the movie mostly consists of staring upwards at robots and looking yummy. In my previous post on the movie I mentioned that Transformers was an amalgam of things I thought was cool when I was six and I think of Megan Fox in much the same way, except I’m 25 now. As I so often do, I’ve decided to enumerated on this with a numbered list. To whit:

1. She has a tattoo of a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Clearly I would be less excited about this if she was, you know, normal looking, but as is, it’s a definite plus. [Image of the tat from cityrag.com]

2. “I like the way getting a tattoo feels. If I’m depressed, it’s nice to get one and deal with the pain.” [justjared.com]

3. “I’ve done drugs. I didn’t enjoy anything other than marijuana.” [celebstoner.com]

4.

Seriously, add 1 through 4 up. Could she be any yummier?

She’s engaged to Brian Austin Green, which is severely uncool. Aside from releasing what’s generally considered the worst rap album of all time (with help from the Pharcyde no less) he seems like a douche, as the kids say. However, in this article it claims that the two started dating when he was 31 and she was 18. Well played, sir. Respect.

That’s probably more ranting about Ms. Fox than was absolutely necessary, so I’ll try to get back onto track. The real star of the show is the effects and the filmmakers do a wonderful job putting them on screen. The highest praise I can give is to say that I didn’t once, throughout the entire movie, think of the Transformers as effects. They were characters as much as any of the actors, with detailed animations and carrying real weight that most CGI characters don’t have. They look stunning. Some of the voices were a little off and I think they had Jazz breakdancing at one point, but these are tiny complaints. I didn’t mind the design changes to the robot forms because the cartoon designs would have looked, well, cartoony. I love the little details, like the gears moving in their feet as they walk. I had read in reviews before I saw the film that the effects were the next level in movie CGI technology. At first I didn’t understand, but as I thought about it, I think that’s accurate. The reason I didn’t immediately agree is simply due to the fact that they were integrated as seemlessly into the movie as they were.

I had more trouble with the Autobots than with the Decepticons. The Autobots are supposed to stand for something and they end up a little flat. None of them have much personality at all besides Bumblebee, who’s doing a Harpo Marx bit the vast majority of the time, and Optimus Prime, who they basically nailed. Ratchet has one good line then basically disappears. Ironhide barely gets any screen time. Jazz does, but there’s the aforementioned breakdancing and the “hood” accent, provided by Darius McCrary. Or, as most probably know him better, Eddie Winslow from Family Matters. What’s he been up to? It’s too bad, because I think the character had a lot of similar elements as the cartoon version. The cartoon Jazz surely knows how to breakdance, he knows not to is all. Bumblebee is well done, unsurprising considering that he had the most screen time to flesh out his character. Optimus Prime they figured out. He was the lynchpin in the cartoon and he remains so here. He’s the same tough leader, good soldier and protector that was twenty years ago. The aged voice of Peter Cullen, who voiced Optimus in the cartoon, lends an air of sadness to the role. Thankfully, they don’t screw Prime up.

Much the same can be said about the raging yang to Prime’s sober yin; Megatron. He doesn’t appear until 2/3 of the way through, but he really makes an entrance. While I would have liked more time for him, he’s done right too. He’s menacing, merciless and mighty. Just like the good old days. He also gets off a couple of classic arrogant Megatron lines, the one asking Shia if he was motivated by fear or courage being the best. The other Decepticons are a motley bunch, with only Frenzy and Starscream sharing much resemblence to their cartoon forebears. Starscream is sadly mostly mute, but he does have one of the best action scenes, when he attacks the other fighter jets. Awesome to watch. I don’t have much to say about Frenzy and saw him more as a device to move the plot forward. Barricade and Blackout make the most of their time onscreen, while the others mostly have limited roles. Overall, a decent lineup.

It was a little odd that the Autobots were so overpowered by the Decepticons. The bad guys have always been the better fighters, but no one on the Autobots can get anything done beside Prime and Bumblebee. There’s a certain rhythm to these proceedings that the movie ignores to an extent. The Decepticons ruthlessly execute a fiendish plan, beating up Autobots in the process. Then with victory in their grasp they are foiled, fly away and Megatron declares ‘I shall be avenged!’ The Autobots survive thanks to pluck, teamwork and a couple of big hitters. (The best sports analogy I can come up with is the 2001 World Series where the Death Star Yankees lost in 7 to the Diamondbacks.) Here the Autobots get beat on and show some pluck, but are outnumbered and outgunned. They slow down the Decepticons, but only Prime demonstrates much skill by himself. That Josh Duhamel and his band of buddies could do anything at all to slow down the Decepticon advance is totally silly. But again, the movie does as much right as it does wrong. The Megatron/Prime battle rules, as does Prime taking down Bonecrusher. The visceral thrills in these scenes sweep away most of my admittedly fanboyish nitpicking.

All of this prevaricating is indicative of my feelings towards the film. I compare the time I spent waiting for it to the saga of Oddyseus, who spent ten years fighting in the Trojan War and ten years getting back home, all to see his wife. When he got back, after twenty years, his wife wasn’t the same beautiful girl that he married. But it was still her. Sure, she wasn’t as soft and yes, maybe her face had weathered and worn like an old baseball mitt. But after twenty years, just seeing her was a victory. She was the same person Oddyseus loved and that was enough. I can’t go back to the cartoon that I watched so intently as a child. Just seeing it again, on the big screen, with all the bells and whistles befitting a summer smash in 2007, is enough for me.

Transformers Links:

Real life Optimus Prime battles real life Megatron

Old vs. New Character Designs

Megan Fox Links:

Megan-Fox.net

Megansafox.com

Published in: on July 11, 2007 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

the pieces are moving

God, I can’t wait. The excitement is percolating within me. It colors all experiences, good and bad, with the knowledge that soon, ever so soon, it will be time. I refer, of course, to the upcoming fantasy football season.

 

 

I have happily joined two leagues this week and am keeping my ear open about the possibility of a third. I have one draft scheduled for Monday, August 27th, a tantalizingly close 49 days from now. This is followed a week later by the second draft on September 3rd. 49 days = 7 weeks. Yes! Just the thought of drafting causes question to spring, unbidden, from the depths of my mind. How will I have my RB’s ranked? Is Devin Hester worth a late round flyer? Will Colston be TE eligible again? I find old complaints, like the massive 8 player benches of one league, returning to me with all the comfort of an old friend. Hi guys, I missed you. Did you miss me?

 

It feels good getting back in the saddle. Yahoo Sports is tempting me with articles entitled ‘Are You Ready for some Fantasy Football?‘ and ‘Kickers to the Curb‘. I’ll be okay. Luckily there is much work to do.

 

I’m going to start with the backbone of any fantasy squad, running backs. On Friday I received an email from X3D, the commissioner of one of the leagues I participate in with the following rankings:

1. LT
2. LJ
3. Steven Jackson
4. Frank Gore
5. Addai

Just missed the cut: Alexander, Parker, Johnson
Sleeper picks: Maroney, Benson, and A. Peterson (the rookie, not the Bears backup).
Busts: C. Williams, R. Brown, and W. McGahee

This is a good starting point, but our opinions diverge in certain areas. I began with a look at ESPN.com’s running back list. I look at RB’s from four different metrics, none of which are particularly scientific, but which I’ve found to be quite helpful. They are, in order of importance:

1. Likelihood of getting injured. Nothing is worse than your franchise guy going down for six weeks in the middle of the season, like Shaun Alexander did last year. Even though I rode him in 2005 to a second place finish, many times after a huge season RB’s regress to the mean. I personally had Alexander ranked third last year after LT and LJ. You can’t afford to have your big gun on the bench. I realize that football is a violent game and some injuries are unforeseeable, but older guys and workhouse backs have a real short shelf life.

2. Trends. Is a player getting better? With running backs it’s usually very apparent whether or not a guy has first round fantasy potential. Where the trends matter is your second string and bench depth. With older guys like Warrick Dunn you have to decide, did they have a down year or are they just getting old? With younger guys, will they get the carries? I take past production into account, but only to a point.

3. Situation. Bad teams are poison for RB stats, as their teams usually end up throwing at the end of games. Does the guy have a half decent line in front of him? As Edgerrin showed us last year, even a great back can’t do it himself. Does the team score a lot of points? Because TD’s are so important, you’re often better off taking a lesser back talentwise on a high octane offense than a great guy stuck on a poor team. Unless the RB in question is responsible for damn near all of the team’s offense, Earl Campbell style.

4. For the top guys, that’s all you really need. But more important than deciding who you’ll take if you get the third pick is where in the draft will you find quality depth to both protect against major injury or as a trading piece to use during the season? Make no mistake about it, quality backs are always in demand. Who are the sleepers you are going to target? Who are you staying away from? These are decisions that need to be made before the draft. Once the draft starts all it takes is a moment of distraction and you end up with Fred Taylor on your team. Work out your order and stick to it.

All of this is common sense and surely no surprise to the wizened fantasy football veteran, but it bears repeating. I’m certain I could increase the efficiency of my draft with some complex statistical analysis, but mostly I just want to get out of the draft with a solid roster. Every season there are guys who come out of nowhere and have big seasons; you can’t predict them. The point of my draft is to create a solid foundation that I can build with, whether through trade or free agent pickups.

As I think of it, I should include a fifth, running back only rule for looking at potential picks:

5. Never draft any Broncos RB, under any circumstances, for any reason. That sums it up. They went out and got two guys named Bell last year just to make things a little more confusing. Upon drafting a Denver back the team should send you an email with the subject ‘Welcome to Hell.’

Now, looking at X3D’s rankings, we have some tools to evaluate them with. Clearly, LT has to be the number one guy this year. Despite what I said above LT looks to have another good season, even with some regression to the mean. He still had real breakaway speed last year, one thing Alexander never had a ton of to begin with and the thing that separates the veterans from the over the hill guys. He’s on a good team, he gets tons of touches, and he reminds me of Barry Sanders in that he’s so elusive that he rarely takes huge hits.

The second spot, however, I disagree with the esteemed X3D. I like Larry Johnson, but I can’t in good conscience rank him above Steven Jackson of the Rams. Last year Jackson covered 2,334 yards of total offense with 16 TD’s and, at 23 going into his fourth year in the league, looks to just be coming into his prime. He has a good offense with him, is a huge part of the passing game (90 receptions!) and doesn’t have the question marks LJ has. Johnson totalled 2,199 yards and 19 TD’s, but ran the ball an ungodly 416 times during the season. I generally prefer high touch guys with a higher percentage of catches because catching passes seems to wear down backs less than continually pounding the ball. Again, if I was better at statistics I could try to prove that. LJ is also the only remotely threatening weapon on the Chiefs and has an aging offensive line that is getting worse rapidly. He’s 27, but has less wear than most franchise guys at that age because of the time he spent behind Priest Holmes. While I’d be happy with LJ at pick three, if I’m at two I take Jackson.

I’ve got no problem with Gore following the big three. Despite the near constant worry about his injury status on gameday he played all 16 and produced. The 49ers will be looking to put him in situations for success, so I wouldn’t worry about his opportunities to score. Addai also looks like he’s trending upwards. He’s all alone on the depth chart and, while not as talented as Edge, has a good chance to put up Edge like numbers. The Colts really broke Addai in slowly last year, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. A safer choice would be Willie Parker, who has a longer track record on an offense that is consistently among the most run oriented in the league. I never would have guessed it, but Parker had 1,716 total yards and 16 TD’s last season. He looks to equal or surpass that this year. Addai, however, could have a monster season.

So, in the end, my top five is fairly similar to X3D’s:

1. LT

2. S. Jackson

3. LJ

4. F. Gore

5. Addai / W. Parker

As for the next tier of guys, it’s mostly the usual suspects. Rudi Johnson is a solid selection late in the first round, Westbrook is worth it if you can handle the weekly will he play or not drama. I also like Maurice Jones-Drew, he had a great year on a team that runs a lot and Fred Taylor continues to get older. Though I must hand it to him, if you told me he would still be playing in 2007 a few years back I would have had a good chuckle. By 2007 I was sure Fragile Fred would be half cyborg technology. A robotic hamstring at least. Jones-Drew will only get better. Maroney is a player I disagree with X3D about, in that I don’t think he can be labelled a sleeper at this point. Corey Dillon is gone, opening up a lot of red zone chances and Maroney is in a good system that he should be able to thrive in. He didn’t show quite as much as Jones-Drew or Addai last year, which is why I have him bumped down a little. Ronnie Brown has all the talent in the word, even if his production doesn’t quite match up to his reputation. Still he had very solid numbers before getting hurt last year and will no doubt be gone before the first round is up this year. Kevin Jones may be on the PUP list this year, making him basically undraftable before the last couple of rounds. It’s too bad, because Martz had him looking like a fantasy monster out of the backfield. I personally will be looking to avoid Shaun Alexander if at all possible. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a better year than last, but the questions surrounding him are too worrying to ignore. He turns 30 before the season starts and he has a ton of carries under his belt.

Sleepers: C. Benson, D. McAllister, M. Barber III

Benson gets a chance to be a feature back behind a good offensive line. I’m not sure how he’ll fare against the unprecedented 11-0 defensive front teams will unveil against the Bears, daring Grossman to complete a pass to one of as many as four unguarded receivers. Deuce quietly had a real solid year and wasn’t drafted until the 4th round in my league. He’s in a prolific offense, he gets the red zone carries, and is not counted on to provide 25 rushes a game. He’s 28 with some mileage, but I think the reduced workload will keep him fresh as the season rolls on. Barber should supplant Jones as the starter, being a far better player than Julius Jones. And even if he doesn’t he should retain the title of Ultimate Vulture that he won last year. If he keeps getting red zone carries, he’s worth a roll of the dice.

Value Picks: M. Lynch, W. McGahee, E. James

Lynch looks like the real deal and he comes into a much more stable situation than Adrian Petterson in Minnesota. McGahee, as much as it pains me to say this, might be a good pick for a number two back. No, he can’t get into the end zone and that is unlikely to change. The Ravens, however, are going to ride him into the ground. He’s better than Jamal Lewis was a year ago and Lewis had a solidly productive if unspectacular season for them. James’ value lies in just how far his stock has fallen. Despite his struggles last year he remains a vital cog in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, at least on paper. If you can get Edge is a situation where he doesn’t have to start he could end up being a steal. If he doesn’t pan out, he’s a big enough name that you’ll likely be able to move him for something useful.

Be Wary Of: T. Jones, J. Jones, R. Bush, J. Norwood

Thomas Jones is a player I wouldn’t mind having, but he’s 28 and he has capable backups behind him. Julius is not long for the starters job. Reggie Bush is, right now, a slightly above average WR and a poor RB. Can he get it together? How quickly? Deuce is also looking to be the goal line back, taking away easy scores. Norwood has talent, but the ageless Warrick Dunn keeps chugging along eating carries and if Vick stays out of prison he takes carries away too. If Dunn goes down, I think Norwood turns into a top 10-top 15 guy.

Avoid: C. Portis, B. Jacobs, C. Williams, T. Henry

Injuries, Inexperienced, Overhyped, On Broncos.

I had written a much longer post, spending 4 hours in the process, but then managed to delete the last three hours of work. I hastily reconstructed what I had done in 45 minutes and here we are. I apologize for the general terribleness of this post, but as I mentioned, I’m really, really stupid. I was planning a monologue about how I was rededicating myself to blogging, but at this point I really don’t care.

Published in: on July 9, 2007 at 4:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Rest in Peace, Rod Beck

I went to the computer yesterday to find out the score of the Cubs game, but was instead confronted with the headline “Ex-Cub reliever Rod Beck dead at 38“. This is a sad day. While he only made 102 appearances out of the bullpen for the Cubs, he left a lasting impression on me. He was the kind of guy that I, and the vast majority of the Wrigley faithful, wanted to root for. A 240 pound closer with a handlebar moustache and an 86 mph “heater”. The Shooter, as Beck was known, wasn’t an athlete. He was a ballplayer. He seemed very much like the kind of guy who played baseball simply because he couldn’t imagine himself doing anything else. What I’ll remember most about him, however, was his part in the Cubs’ magical playoff run in 1998.

I didn’t expect much from the Cubs in 98. The highlight of sitting through a brutally cold opening day was the tribute the team made to a recently deceased Harry Carey and I had little inkling that the team would in the playoffs at the end of the year. But then, on May 6th, a rookie named Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros while allowing only two baserunners. Then in June Sammy Sosa started to heat up and completed his transformation from frustrated wannabe slugger to one of The Men Who Saved Baseball. While hindsight casts a pall on the whole thing, I’ll just say that to a high school kid in love with the Cubs, having Sosa was like manna from above. Beyond the big two there were a number of characters all of whom delighted me for different reasons. Mickey Morandini, who came out of obscurity to have his best season in the bigs. (Click here for a horrifying image of Mick. Imagine running to second with that mug staring you down.) Henry Rodriguez, whose home runs would prompt a shower of Oh Henry bars to rain onto the grass at Wrigley. Glenallen Hill, a man so strong he broke a bat on a checked swing and so terrified of spiders that he once fell through a glass coffee table in his house sleepwalking while having a nightmare about them. Mark Grace, the only player I still possess a Starting Lineup figure of. But Rod Beck stood out on the field and in the clubhouse. It was as if someone had called central casting and said ‘Get me a fat closer!’

The contrast between Wood and Beck was compelling. Kerry was a big, strong kid from Texas who, even at the age of 21, looked like a major leaguer. Someone who didn’t follow baseball would be forgiven upon laughing when told that Rod Beck was a professional athlete. Wood had an arm that scouts dream about; he threw 100 mph heat and sliders so nasty they overpowered hitters. Beck’s pitches had two speeds, slow and slower. Yet Beck’s career ERA is lower (3.30 vs. 3.68) than Wood’s. He saved 51 games during the 1998 season. He was all scowls and that dangling arm, every routine save threatening to turn into an adventure. The pressure never seemed to effect him. He looked the same with a three run lead and nobody on as he did during a bases loaded tie game. He was well suited to be a closer because of this. This was best illustrated during the last week of the season in two very different games.

The first was against the Brewers when Beck came into a game with a two run lead and left the losing pitcher. This game is more well known for being the game when Brant Brown almost killed poor Ron Santo by dropping a fly with two outs in the ninth. (The call Santo made will haunt anyone who has heard it. Noooooo! He dropped the ball! Nooooooo!) The Cubs remained tied for the wild card when they should have been up a game with three left to play. It wasn’t entirely Beck’s fault, but no one would have been surprised if he came out a little gunshy next time. Five days later he was out on the mound, getting a pop fly from Joe Carter for the winning out in a one game playoff against the Giants. The Cubs were in the playoffs for the first time in 9 years and I remember Beck running around like a madman, looking impossibly happy. One of the few genuinely good memories from a lifetime of Cubs fandom. Beck was rewarded with five points in the MVP voting, making him forever the 18th most valuable player in the majors in 1998.

Photo via chicagosports.com, taken after the last out of the one game playoff

After the Cubs Beck went downhill quickly, dropping out of the majors for two years, until he became a story again in 2003 as the closer for the AAA Iowa Cubs. He had a microscopic ERA and he lived in an RV near the park, a lifestyle that was well documented at the time. All he wanted was another chance to pitch in the majors and to enjoy the life of a minor leaguer in the meantime. When the Cubs finally released him I was glad that he was going to get a chance with a team. The Padres signed him and he immediately started saving games, getting 20 in all, despite having just 36 appearances on the year. I dutifully checked the box scores, looking for ‘S – Beck’ every morning. It made me happy that he got one last go around, something that a lot of players never get the chance to have.

And now he’s gone. Usually, when a pitcher dies a sordid autopsy report follows, but with Rod Beck it makes no difference to me. He played the game with, if not class, a blue collar pride and a winning attitude. He was a joy to watch pitch and I wish his family the best. He was respected around baseball, despite his pudgy appearance. (“I’ve never heard of anyone going on the disabled list with pulled fat” was his take on the matter.) Last December Ryan Dempster picked Rod as his favorite closer of all time in an article for mlb.com. While I never got to see him take an at bat (he went 4 for 19 in 13 seasons, with one RBI) he was a spectacle on the mound who played the game with his heart on his sleeve for everyone in the stands to see. That’s why Cubs fans loved him; because he cared. After game three of the NLDS, minutes after the Braves completed their sweep of the Cubs, a forlorn Rod stood in front of his locker answering questions with a frog in his throat and a tear in his eye. The game had gotten out of hand on his watch and he clearly felt terrible for letting his teammates down. Never mind that the Cubs were doomed from the second the series started and that they shouldn’t have been in the playoffs in the first place. That they wouldn’t have been there without Rod. Of all the certainly valid criticism you could level his way, one thing that no one said was that he didn’t care. It was moments like that when Rod Beck ceased to be a goofy looking reliever and became a person instead. He will be missed.

Rod Beck, 286 career saves 8/3/68 – 6/23/07

Did you know? Closer Rod Beck [SJ Giants]

Resilient closer used guts, guile [SF Gate]

When Rod Beck ruled the world [Deadspin]

Published in: on June 25, 2007 at 2:15 pm  Comments (1)  

Such Heroic Nonsense…

Well, it’s been a minute since my last post and I was having a hell of a time deciding what to write about. While I have dozens of ideas for posts about basketball, I can’t imagine anyone being quite as enthusiastic about them as I am. So I moved one rung down on the list of things I spend too much time thinking about, which led me to the soon to be released Transformers movie. [Transformers Official Site]

I must say, I’m excited. I’ve been known to say that all of man’s inventions in video technology, from Edison and Dickson’s kinetoscope to the cutting edge in high def CGI, have all been in service of this moment. That the Transformers movie will undoubtedly be the pinnacle of the form, a shining beacon that will level all competitors. These statements are, naturally, hyperbole. It is not an exaggeration, however, for me to say that I’ve literally been waiting twenty years for this movie. Since the moment the animated original ended basically.

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of guys in their mid to late 20’s are aware of the Transformers, if only on a subconscious level. They might not know or remember much about it, but they know what Optimus Prime looks like. For me, it was a little more intense than that. The very idea of Transformers resonates deeply within me. It’s like the creators went down a checklist of things that I thought were awesome when I was six. Giant war machine robots? Cool. Fast cars, jets, and a Walther P-38? Cool. The real innovation was in combining them. Put all together it was a show I found captivating.

I’ve grown up since then and while I still have a giant plastic bin of Transformers in a closet at my parents’ house I’ve stopped caring about the details of the show. What kind of jet Starscream is, who could smash who, even the plot in episodes of the cartoon. And still I feel my inner six year old asking, nay demanding, that I go see the Transformers movie. So the question I want to answer in this post is, why?

Clearly, the first and most obvious part of the answer is that warring factions of giant transforming robots is awesome. I’ve grown up, but not that much. Frankly, I’m not sure I want to be the sort of person who think giants robots aren’t cool. I’m slightly worried about Michael Bay overseeing the whole thing, but then again, I’m not too worried. The man directed Bad Boys and The Rock. Sadly, he also directed Armageddon and Bad Boys 2. But the robots look tight, the transformations are appropriately animated and Bay’s never been one to spend too much time on human interaction. Even without the license attached it’s got everything I’m looking for in a summer blockbuster.

To digress briefly, there’s a second reason that has nothing to do with the license. Megan Fox. Like I said earlier, I’ve grown and there are a precious few things that have become more important to me than giant robots. She’s gorgeous and is rapidly becoming my celebrity girl obsession du jour. She’s got everything I’m looking for in a summer blockbuster.

She looks like the sort of girl that would be a bad influence on me. How could you possibly get anything done with her around?

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. What is so great about the Transformers that twenty years after their moment in the sun I’m still geeking about this movie?

I thought about it and it comes down to the characters. And maybe not even the characters themselves, but the archetypes that they represent, that a little me absorbed years ago. I went back and watched a couple of episodes earlier this week and I was surprised by how well they hold up. Much better than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the like. This is because the two most important characters in the show, Optimus Prime and Megatron, are two of the more complex characters you’ll ever find in cartoon fare. The qualities they embody are intrinsic to their factions. Without Megatron, the Decepticons are destructive annoyance. He makes them evil. He’s smart, ruthless and the best warrior among their ranks. Optimus is much the same, which makes the juxtaposition between them so compelling. His compassion is what makes him a leader. While the soldiers on both sides underestimate the other, Prime and Megatron never underestimate each other. They have a grudging respect, knowing full well that, in the immortal words of Optimus “one shall stand, one shall fall”. There’s no in between for them, just a strange sense of honor when dealing with each other. You get the sense that they would lose their sense of purpose without their foil.

While I very much doubt that the movie will be able to bring this all to the screen, I hope it retains enough to keep them both from being one dimensional CGI robot versions of Jar Jar Binks. One aspect I’m sure will translate better to the screen is the relationship between the leaders and their soldiers. Prime is equal parts leader, brother, mentor and fighter. He’s always in control and has the unquestioned respect of every Autobot who’s ever served with him. Well, maybe not the Dinobots, but Prime always let them have a little more leeway, using them as a weapon to be deployed. Megatron, sadly, will have to do without the help of his loyal second in command Soundwave in the movie. I’m sure Starscream will be up to his usual tricks and Megatron will give Starscream his usual beatdown.

Another important factor is, quite honestly, nostalgia. The original animated movie was a watershed moment in my young life. I didn’t cry when Optimus Prime died but man, sniff, it was kind of hard to deal with. I’m sure there are thousands of other people out there who feel the same way as me. The Decepticon attack on Autobot City was everything I could have imagined, but left me feeling upset. The Autobots didn’t win; they survived and did that thanks to the sacrifice of their best and brightest. The tone was, in retrospect, exceptionally dark for a movie aimed at children. It was a war and the lesson was that war has consequences.

Certain parts have aged more noticeably, like the bizarre sequences set to the cheesiest 80’s musical styles you can imagine. No, I’m not referring to Stan Bush’s ‘The Touch,’ which is simply an intoxicating song that inexplicably STILL gets me fired up. But the parts with Daniel are interminable, as the parts focusing on humans always were. Galvatron sounds like Leonard Nimoy doing a cartoon voice, which is disorienting. (But not as disorienting as earlier this morning when I found out that James Avery, better known as Uncle Phil on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, was also the voice of Shredder in the TMNT cartoon. Worlds are colliding! It’s the sort of thing you would think I would know by now, having spent hundreds of hours of my life with both Shredder and Uncle Phil.)

Nonetheless, a little nostalgia combined with massive advertorial hype and a smoking hot female lead all adds up to I gotta see that movie. It’s two weeks away and all I hope is that it’s watchable. I desperately want it to be great, but even more desperately I want it to not be terrible. I suppose that’s all you can ask of a summer blockbuster these days.

Published in: on June 20, 2007 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  

Been slangin’ tapes since 1983

I’m going out of town this weekend, headed back to the Midwest. A simpler place without the hustle smell and bustle overcrowding I’ve come to expect from Brooklyn. My plans, however, have prevented me from spending too much time working up exciting ideas for Easy Mode. So I decided to take the easy way out. The last refuge of a lazy man, a video post. Happily, youtube mostly obliged by providing me some good stuff to embed. I decided to focus on stuff coming out of San Francisco, because that’s where my head has been musically this week.

Too $hort – I’m A Playa (1993) Great interview in last month’s issue of Wax Poetics. This isn’t the best Too $hort video ever, but I’ve had the song stuck in my head for a few days now.

San Quinn – Don’t Funk Wit Me (????) I’ve got no clue whatsoever as to where this track and the accompanying video originated. It appears as a bonus on the DVD that came with San Quinn and Messy Marv’s ‘Explosive Mode 2’ project. A thorough search of the internet reveals nothing of it’s provenance. If someone knows, for the love of all that’s holy, let me know. Great video, even though it’s clearly a VHS of some local tv in San Fran. It appears in the same form on the DVD, I wonder if there’s a cleaner copy out there somewhere.

Rappin 4-tay – Player’s Club (1994) More champagne Mr. 4-tay?

E-40 f. Celly Cel, Mac Mall and Spice 1 – Dusted and Disgusted (1995) This is one of my favorite tracks off of In A Major Way. The track features Tupac, but he was incarcerated during the video shoot, resulting in Celly Cel’s appearance and the ‘Free 2pac’ shirts.

Ant Banks – Parlayin’ (1994) Rated F.A.S. for Funky Ass Shit. Oh, for the days when rappers played Sega Genesis.

Richie Rich – Let’s Ride (1996) Richie Rich was signed to Def Jam when he put this out, meaning it’s a little more mainstream and a little less Bay Area, which is too bad but, sadly, unavoidable.

415 – Lifestyles of a Gangsta (1991) Sorry about the incredibly low volume on this one, I couldn’t find a better one. It’s a dope video, however.

Spice 1 – Welcome to the Ghetto (1992) There are other Spice 1 video’s on youtube. They are posted by Jive, however, which uncoolly restricts them from being embedded.

Dre Dog – The Ave. (1993) Dre Dog, of the group I.M.P., now goes by Andre Nickatina.

RBL Posse – Bammer Weed (1992) Finally, a serious classic. We don’t smoke that shit in the SFC!

Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

links links links

I spend too much time on the internet. Reap the bounty of my wretched wanderings!

Plunk Biggio – The statistical analysis on this blog is astounding. Each post must take hours. And that it is in the service of tracking and breaking down Craig Biggio’s march towards the all time HBP record just makes it sweeter.

The legend of Bo lives on. Has there ever been an athlete quite like Bo?

It’s a testament to my poor decision making that I would include a link like this. But if you’ve spent any amount of time at all in a store dedicated specifically to videogames you’re sure to hear some dingy stuff. PreOrderPushers is like Overheard in New York, except in EB’s and whatnot.

A look at the top athlete/rappers. I would have replaced the Andre Rison/Ghostface joint with the Ricky Watters/Method Man track as the obligatory NFL Jams track. (If Shaq Diesel is the Paid In Full of professional athlete rapper albums, then NFL Jams has to be In Control, Vol. 1) And why not include the odious K.O.B.E. by Kobe Bryant featuring Tyra Banks on the hook? Also, any post that mentions Roy Jones Jr. as a musician should be legally obligated to include a reference to Y’all Must Have Forgot.

If you ever come into work mad hungover, just watch this for about fifteen minutes. I assure you things will seem different.

I’m a simple man and, as such, it really doesn’t take much to keep me amused. The fun never stops over at www.hotchickswithdouchebags.com, the premise of which is self explanatory. Although, my friend over at Makeup Loves Me posed a salient question when she asked ‘Why would I want to look at pictures of douchebags?’ I guess I don’t have a good response for that.

A collection of No Limit album covers. I miss seeing Pen and Pixel art from the late 90’s all over record stores. And, proving that time heals all wounds, I kind of miss No Limit. Come back Silkk the Shocker, all is forgiven!

John Hollinger of ESPN.com ranks the ’96 Bulls as the top Finals team in the past 30 years. While I’m a little surprised at the ranking, Hollinger is a serious stathead and the Bulls had one of the most statistically dominent seasons ever that year. And they won 87 games that season. That probably had something to do with it too. What I was more surprised by was seeing four of the six Bulls title teams (’96, ’91, ’97, ’92) in the top ten.

Following a comment on my fantasy football post, I found fanprophet.com, which is currently featuring in depth fantasy profiles of AFC teams. Real good work, I hope he keeps it up.

Live in New York and want a new bag? Beers for Bags is your answer!

I hope everyone has an awesome weekend. I’ll be back next week with more fun and excitement.

Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thirteen Never Scared Nobody

I’m not entirely sure how many, if any, of my friends read my little postings here, but I am here today to deliver a message to them. Specifically, those among them who spend a large part of the year as my mortal enemies, heated rivals and obstacles to be vanquished. I am speaking, of course, about the teams in the fantasy sports leagues I participate in. The NFL season opens on Thursday September 6. (And, shockingly, registration for Yahoo leagues begins tomorrow.) Thirteen weeks from now. Thirteen weeks to prepare. Sure, maybe there’s not much scouting or draft work that can be accomplished this far out, but I’ve been working on instilling a winning attitude on all levels of the Party Crashers organization. From ownership to management down to coaches and, eventually, players. Everyone will know what will be expected of them. And it is in this spirit that I bring the following messages to my fellow managers.

I’m not going to get on my soapbox and start talking about championships and playoff seedings. Everyone wants them; everyone has the same goal. You can promise all you like, but a promise you can’t deliver on is just hot air. So this year I’m looking at myself, at my record from the past couple years to see if there are any lessons to be learned. Not just from my successes, but from my failures as well. As an organization there is a tradition of excellence that must be upheld, no matter how bleak the circumstances. (As evidence, I present two title game losses and a fourth place in the past two seasons.) While I would happily attribute most of my achievement to dumb luck in the draft (getting Shaun Alexander in ’05, LT in ’06) and avoiding freak injuries, fielding a consistency competitive team is more than just that. You need to work the free agent pool early, be smart with bye weeks, makes judicious cuts and, most of all, have a little luck. And while I won’t have Marques Colston starting at TE this year (a move that caused the commissioner of the league to demand I change my team name to Party Crashers*), I feel confident in my ability to get the most out of my team.

So what can I promise? What are the things that the Party Crashers will do that other teams can’t or won’t do? What sets us apart?

The Party Crashers aren’t superhuman. We will lose games; we will no doubt take a couple of thumpings throughout the course of the season. We might run into a team with a perfect storm of matchups. There’s nothing we can do about this. One thing we can effect, however, is ourselves. We might lose because we have less talent, but we will never, EVER lose because we get outworked. We will never lose because our opponent was more passionate. We will never lose because we were unprepared. So often in fantasy sports you find owners who offer lip service to winning, but don’t want to pay the price, whether on the field or in the front office. We are not one of those teams and I am not one of those owners. Thirteen weeks. That’s how long you have to put your affairs in order. The Party Crashers will be ready. Will you?

Published in: on June 4, 2007 at 6:38 pm  Comments (3)