Well, first of all, it’s been a tremendous season. Far beyond anyone’s expectations. Even I, ever optimistic, didn’t think it was possible until shortly after the All-Star break. But here we are, the second best team in all of baseball. One might even argue that we’re already number one by virtue of the fact that AL west teams get to feast on the Rangers and Astros so often. As it stands now, we’ll have to make up four games to overtake the Disneyland team for top seed in the playoffs. Not impossible, and let’s face it, we still get a series with Boston, so our competition from here on out isn’t the best either. The Yankees and Blue Jays are somewhat better, but not by as much as some think.
So I’m pretty confident going forward. Can’t see us losing a series, and lately we’ve acquired a taste for sweeps. We could very well roll through these next few weeks and close the season with nearly a hundred wins. Maybe more. Not counting that out. It’s one of the few things left, goal-wise. First of all, catch the Angels. Second of all, get to 100. I’m not even counting clinching the division because that’s a foregone conclusion. Other fun ways to relieve the boredom of winning include things like looking at run differential. Ours is nearing 100. We’d join just four other teams at that mark, three of whom have the aforementioned Rangers/Astros advantage. We could overtake two of these teams easily. Exciting!
It really is a bizarre experience being this good after all this time. As a fairly recent O’s fan (2003), this is my first all-in participation in this degree of success. 2012 was nothing like this, as we clawed and scratched our way into a one game playoff, miraculously won in true underdog fashion. We’re no longer the plucky underdog, but that gigantic (but friendly!) Great Dane down the street. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this is even happening. The days of Brandon Fahey and Ty Wiggintin and Steve Kline and Mike Jakabauskus… My goodness we were bad. We deserved to be bad, acquiring and “developing” what we put on the field for so many years. That’s almost the best part of this year. Knowing it’s not a fluke, that this has been steadily progressing since Buck Showalter’s arrival. That it’s gonna happen again. That there’s a foundation in place now for smarter and more effective scouting and decision making in general, as well as coaching at all levels. We’re not only really good, but we’ll probably be that way for a while.
Buck Showalter’s arrival. That’s when things got rollin’ here. Anyone would have looked like a genius after the parade of clowns filling the skipper uniform for so many years, but Buck… I think we all knew he was gonna be good, but what he’s done here is already among his greatest accomplishments, if not at the top of that list. The clubhouse culture and sense of looseness while never forgetting working hard and fundamentals, the astute use of the bullpen, the savvy manipulation of the Norfolk, Bowie, even Aberdeen and GCL shuffles… The man is unparalleled in baseball smarts, and he’s mellowed, become more grandfatherly, since the days of his being labeled a control freak. The players seem to love him, and what’s not to love? I can see a statue in the bullpen garden happening for Buck, among others.
I’m not big into predictions. I’m sorta just letting this season wash over me. In general terms I think we’ll end up with at least the second seed in the playoffs, insuring a home series against the winner of the AL central. KC or Detroit. I’m not even looking at that yet though. I think we can catch the Angels and get to play the stumbling corpse of whatever team wins the wild card game, as well as home field advantage for the next rung of the ladder. Whatever happens, I’m pretty confident we can advance to at least the ALCS, and I’m almost counting on being in the World Series. I wanna win it all, but also I just don’t want this season to end!
I’ll cut it short here, leaving it for future entries to obsess over playoff matchups and beyond. I hope as many people as possible will make it out to support the O’s on this final home stand. Attendance during the last one wasn’t what I’d hoped. Hopefully word is filtering down even to the normal people that something special is happening here and the yard might be a nice place to be seen. But I won’t rant about attendance beyond that. Too many great baseball things happening. I’m wallowing in every last pitch and hit as the 2014 season winds down. Why must it end? I guess if it has to end, we may as well win it all. These fellas didn’t dream of playing golf in October like the Sox or Yankees. Let’s watch their dreams come true! Go O’s!!!
- 1 week ago
- 2 weeks ago
Alright, I’ve been lazier than usual lately. Just catching up with life after that long, winning, far too sparsely attended last home stand. Things are looking good for the Birds. Despite dropping the first two, at least one a winnable game, Nelson Cruz’s heroics allowed us to avoid the sweep and conclude the brief road trip on an up note. See, we’ve got nothing but AL east opponents from here on out. Is that a good thing? I’m thinking it is. The concept of the Yankees and Red Sox as good teams is so deeply ingrained in us that we forget that they’re both not good. One of them is outright dreadful. Without dark magic/voodoo/witchcraft, the Yankees would be dreadful too. And the Jays? Please… No, I like that we’re playing these hapless teams. A lot.
Would we rather be the Angels, the lone team standing in our way for best record in baseball, by 4 games as I write this? I dunno… They do get to play the Rangers 6 times, but they also get 7 games with Seattle and 3 with the A’s, as well as 3 with the Astros, who seem to live to spoil the hopes of our nemeses. Go ‘Stros! That’s a fair amount of good to great pitching to face. I’ll take the Joe Kelly Sox or Chris Capuano Yanks over that schedule. The only good starters we’ll likely face from here on out are guys like Kuroda, Pineda, Dickey, Buehrle, Hutchison, etc. Not exactly King Felix or Lester. We may be able to overtake the Disneyland team yet!
Another thing I like about playing all these AL east teams is that each win seems like two. Not just in the standings, but emotionally. One O’s win over the Yankees or Sox especially, and even the Jays and Rays, is worth 2-3 wins over any other team in terms of satisfaction. Add to that the fun of keeping good ol’ Derek Jeter out of the playoffs for eternity… well, it don’t get better than that, does it? And the look on Girardi’s face! You just don’t get this kind of bliss by beating the Indians or Astros.
Will we actually get it done though? Will we be too focused on resting players and all that? I think we’ll exceed expectations in terms of wins, while getting looks at newer players and resting the core guys at the same time. Buck’s a detail oriented guy and he’s fully aware of the benefits of top seeding in the playoffs, as well as all the other factors to be considered going into the postseason. He’ll strike the right balance with the rest/win thing. Someone new will endear themselves to us all only to be left off the playoff roster. The core guys will keep doing what they do, with more rest than they want. The pitching will be well rested and freshly loosened (if need be) just in time for the first home playoff game. No detail will elude the attention of our meticulous and friendly skipper. We’ll be ready, and we’ll have won a lot of games in September.
All this optimism. I’m nuts, right? Well, it took me half the season to see it, but what we have here really is special. Once we got through that post-break west coast swing, I was feeling good. Once we rolled through the next home stand, I was ecstatic. Once we grabbed first place and didn’t let go, continuing to win both at home and on the road, I was convinced. Oh, we have our flaws for sure, well known by all and discussed daily. But we keep winning! It almost makes no sense if you analyze it. Still no ace pitcher, just a bunch of solid guys that can be great or average on a given night. A good to great bullpen, better than 2012, though not perfect, because after all, baseball. Hitters up and down the lineup that love to hack and hate to walk, with few (one?) exceptions. Defense that can be insanely great, and is pretty consistent when the core is on the field. We’re a team that ideally will pitch you tough and dong you to death, with the occasional manufactured run by accident.
Many claim that this will not play in the postseason but if the pitching stays strong who knows? Any one of our hitters could get hot and carry us. Games are likely to be close and low scoring. One or two dongs could win a game. We have that in our arsenal more than any other team. It will be up to the starters though, most likely Tillman, Chen and Norris. I’d probably go with Gonzalez over Norris, but it’s a nice dilemma. We’ll be well set for long guys in the pen should a starter struggle early. And all the starter needs to do is get us through 5-7 innings with a lead or close game. Barring unforeseen meltdowns by many, we’re gonna shut teams down in the late innings, and even in the middle should that need arise. I kinda like how our team stacks up. We’ve proven time and time again that we can beat or at least compete with the best pitchers in the game. Bring ‘em on!
A final note on the intangibles that have, for years now, defined the Buck Showalter era in Baltimore. It comes down to the fact that these guys like one another, learn from one another, respect one another. They want to be together. They want to win, for themselves, for their teammates, for Buck, and for Baltimore. They know the deal here, the decades of futility, the laughable parade of clowns that alienated generations of potential O’s fans. It’s no accident that so many players are active in the community. These are fine human beings. The culture of respect, fun, and above all, winning that began upon Buck’s arrival is only intensifying, getting better. Hell, even the addition of AL east troubadour Kelly Johnson hasn’t caused it to go kerblooey. No idea why, but that guy bothers me. Anyway, it’s gonna be fun watching this group of players celebrate as we move forward. They deserve everything they achieve. Could they be world champions? Only time will tell, but yeah, I think they could be. Go O’s!!!
- 3 weeks ago
8/26/14 Baltimore Orioles lucky praying mantis, arriving in section 374 just in time to shut down the Rays and inspire our offense from afar. Shot by my boss.
- 3 weeks ago
Hey, I’m sorta liking this writing about one song at a time thing. Laser-like focus on one thing, less scrounging around for links to embed, the chance to spout off at length while still not filling too many paragraphs full of tripe. What’s not to like? No annoying research or comprehensiveness to which to aspire, and the freedom to opine in a manner immune from fact-checking or the strictures of logic. And awaaay we go! (Jackie Gleason voice)
Today we explore one of the most dour and pessimistic tunes ever written. “The End of the Rainbow”, by Richard Thompson, from the “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” album released in 1973 under the banner of Richard and Linda Thompson. I’ll not waste time going into the history of this turbulent, talented couple. Use the Google. Suffice to say that Richard, the sole culprit here, Linda being completely blameless and possibly horrified elsewhere, was and still is a fantastic songwriter, often given to doom and gloom lyrically and thematically. Nowhere has he plumbed the depths of despair to greater effect than on this song however, in my opinion, and not for lack of trying. The man is not what you’d call happy and peppy, from a songwriting perspective. He’s a Muslim, now residing in southern California, so maybe that plays into it…
Anyway, this song is just about perfect. Not as well recorded as some of his later material, but still very nicely arranged and played, in a sort of restrained, champing at the bit way. Rhythmically it feels like it wants to break free but just can’t, as if mired in quicksand, which fits the song nicely. Lyrically it’s just plain gloomy. I mean, slit your wrists kinda shit. “There’s nothing at the end of the rainbow”, and here’s why, “you little horror”. Few works of art express disdain for humanity as a whole quite like this. It’s dourness you can dive into whole hog. Not feeling too perky about the boss? Listen to this tune and pretend you’re holding a “bread knife four feet wide” to HIS throat! It’s fun to wallow in this kind of inspired glumness. We all have those kind of days. Why not revel, at least for a few minutes, in unabashed hatred for your fellow man, or at least that dude that’s pissin’ you off?
This tune is sorta legendary among Richard Thompson fans. I’ve seen him live several times and it’s always one that gets called out during encores, but he’s never once played it. I’m aware of just two performances of it since this original recording. It’s like he’s embarrassed by the sheer volume and weight of the bile spewed towards life, love, humanity, etc. here. Can’t say he’s off base there if that’s the case. Not the kinda song you’d play for your kids before a certain age. Maybe 35 or so.
But it’s just a great song. Unequaled in its depiction of the human condition as utterly hopeless. Dirge-like in tempo yet festooned with guitar filigrees that crackle and buzz from above like circling vultures, that border almost on beauty, yet are there only as contrast and support for the overriding theme of angry dejection. There really is a certain beauty here. Musically this would be a magnificent song even if the words were less harrowing in intent, more (at all) upbeat. But the fact that Thompson has chosen to contrast the musical beauty of sorts with the sociopath lyrics makes this what it is. A masterpiece of gloom. A crowning achievement in the field of artistic thumbing of the nose to all that is good and lovely. The pinnacle of musical doom and gloom from the tomb, a phrase that serves, unsurprisingly, as the title of one of his bootleg collections.
Yes, Thompson succeeded early in his career here, at a young age, in describing just how awful life can be, just how little reason there is for optimism on a certain level, just how bloodthirsty and detestable a huge portion of humanity can be. Oh, what the hell… IS. All while writing, playing, arranging, and singing, a gem of a ditty. So here, without further ado or tapping of my internal thesaurus, is “The End of the Rainbow”. Hide the implements of self-destruction and enjoy, won’t you?
- 4 weeks ago
Yeah, I know things look bad right now. Swept by the Cubs, losing Manny, not hitting, aside from the occasional dong. It isn’t ideal. I’ll even look ahead to the Rays series and say that we may be lucky to split that one. By the time that series is over our hitting may appear to have come to a screeching halt in the face of the Rays’ starters. The so-called “contenders” in the AL east may even have crept back to 4-5 games back. But in the long run I’m not worried. Nope. Not a bit.
Here’s why. Let’s look at this Cubs series. A motivated team under zero pressure, with a few players with chips on their shoulders and inside information as to how to beat us (and some hungry and talented young hitters), beats us. Good pitching from their bullpen, plus Arrieta and Wada, who are, somewhat surprisingly, for real. Against us at least. Wada especially looks suspect, truth be told. Lots of fastballs up. Soft tossing lefty kryptonite. But with that funky Asian stop-start delivery, so who knows? Maybe he really is that good. So we ran into a bit of a buzz-saw disguised by their W/L record. No biggie. Not that we shouldn’t be able to beat teams like this, but if you watched the first game at least, the arbiters of baseball physics weren’t havin’ it. And the rain delay game was just a bunch of tweeners and bloops really. One well hit ball off Norris, then the deluge, then we’re into the bad part of the pen in a game that feels like a loss already. No air in that balloon once the rains came, and once it started again, their pen was great. Better than the lesser part of ours. Overall, we were just plain out-pitched, and not by much. Our hitting approach could have been better, but again, we are who we are and it’s worked well enough to get us to this point. Sometimes it doesn’t. No embarrassment in that. Baseball.
The hitting does look bad when this happens, but again, you need to look at how well the other guys pitch too. Jim Palmer was raving all weekend about how great Arrieta, the Cubs bullpen, and then Wada looked. Jim’s pretty smart. He researches even the nobodies with bad stats and sees the quality that’s often there, ramped up a notch or two against us. We play into that by swinging for the fences too much (Schoop especially looked awful in the third game), but when it works it’s a whole lot of fun. We’re gonna get there being who we are. Probably won’t be a lot of small-ball winning us games, and that’s fine. Too late to change now. Not gonna nitpick this Cubs series beyond wishing the rain delay hadn’t occurred, that Bud hadn’t served up that meatball, and wondering why Miguel Gonzalez had to throw a fastball outside to Rizzo. That RBI double sealed our fate in the final game as it turned out. Miguel was awesome aside from that, and we were able to rest the top bullpen arms for what I’m sure will prove to be a tough Rays series.
Another thing to keep in mind is that we’re now a “top dog” team. The little guy teams always get up for those. Remember what we did to the Sox in 2011? They shuffle their starters to put their best up against us and use their pens like it was a playoff game. It may seem odd after so many years of being the spoiler team ourselves, but we are now the spoilee. We’ll lose some games to lesser teams. I take some solace in the fact that our pitching hasn’t blown up completely, in fact it’s stayed pretty great. Even in the 7-2 middle game, it was such a bizarre baseball physics and then weather induced circumstance that I don’t really see that as a loss as lopsided as the score might imply. Bud throws one less meatball, we use our top end bullpen guys, and that was maybe the most winnable game of the three. Baseball.
Things can and will get better. Once we’re through the dangerous Rays, we’re into the Twins and Reds. I’ll become slightly concerned if we can’t at least win those series. I really think that coming home, seeing the crowds, eating home cooking, facing less skilled/vengeful competition, will get us back on track. Listen to me… “Back on track.” Like we’ve collapsed or something. Three games, all of ‘em winnable if not for some bad luck and weather! Still with a 6+ game lead on teams that are far worse than us! Still within reach of the best record in baseball! We just swept a road series! It’s baseball folks. We will lose consecutive games, even get swept occasionally, no matter what our success in those areas this year has spoiled us into believing. Getting a grip would be fine.
So yeah, not worried really. Marginally concerned? Maybe. More like the kind of petulant ire a little rich girl might feel when her tea party silver isn’t properly polished, or the stuffed unicorns aren’t lined up just so on the Chippendale miniature furniture. We’re winners, people! Don’t let that knowledge fall by the wayside under the weight of three measly and semi-fluky losses! So we didn’t cause Wada to whine. Magic will happen once more. The time to panic is not nigh. It’s all good. Most of it anyway. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. The silver will be polished once more, the unicorns properly situated. Worry not Birdland. We still got this. Go O’s!!!
- 4 weeks ago
I’m gonna write about one song today. Just one. Should be a short entry. We’ll see… The song is by Linda Thompson, the less heralded half of the somewhat obscure English “folk-rock” duo Richard and Linda Thompson. They were critic’s darlings in the 1970’s, but never really sold any records. Then they divorced in acrimony in the early 80’s and Richard went on to a semi-successful solo career which continues to this day. Linda made a few solo albums, but was stricken with a voice affliction, dysphonia, which rendered her career moot for the most part. Not sure of the timing or what ultimately happened with the voice thing, but in 2002, after an absence of 11+ years, she began to record again and the result was a fantastic CD, appropriately titled “Fashionably Late”, from which the song I present here is taken.
The CD itself is great overall, a family reunion of sorts, with Richard appearing an some tracks, and their children Teddy and Kamila on several as well. The track I’m featuring has the whole family on it, save Kami (I always thought it was her, but have since learned that it’s Kate Rusby on harmony), and that makes it all the more poignant. I’d go into some of the back story on their marriage, living as Sufi Muslims in an English commune of sorts as the children were being born, but I want to focus on the music here.
The song is called “No Telling”, and it’s a self contained piece written by Linda. It’s a simple melancholy tale of a “crazy old man” that finds his object of a lifetime of unfulfilled longing singing in a ballroom. Or does he? It’s a tale oft told, or similar ones at least, but the beauty of the lyric, the singing, the arrangement, everything about the way this song is rendered is flat out perfect. It tears me up (you can read that either way) every time I hear it.
First of all, Linda Thompson’s voice here is not perfect. She sounds like a woman who’s been unable to sing for years, newly freed from those shackles and unwilling to be too careful. There’s a tremble in her voice that conveys the emotion of the lyric and melody perfectly. Listen to how she phrases and plays with the melody when singing “He was weary of living…” at round 1:30 in… gets me every time. She’s not a great singer by some measures, but man does she have what it takes to sell this story. With the help of Kate Rusby on harmony, it’s spine-chilling by the time you get to the final verse with limited accompaniment. I dare anyone to truly listen to this song with dry eyes.
Speaking of accompaniment, that’s not to be ignored here. There’s the push-pull of suspended fourths going on throughout this piece, on the guitars. For non-musical folks, that’s just a device that adds a certain tension, an unresolvedness to the proceedings. It’s like you’re waiting for the perfect sunny resolution, but when/if it comes, there’s still some cloudiness happening. Fits the theme of the song perfectly and is something you feel viscerally even if you know nothing about music.
This is a song of bittersweet fulfillment, of a lifetime of hell perhaps made right by the object of the protagonist’s inner affections being found. But is she found, or is it just his inner demons playing tricks on him? It’s not spelled out clearly. It could be that his one night of bliss, coming in from the cold to a ballroom and seeing and hearing a dazzlingly beautiful chanteuse, has rendered him unable to deal with reality. Is he clinging to this night in a sort of alcoholic dream state? Maybe I’m reading too much into this song, but there you have it. That’s what great songs do. And when they’re sung and played this perfectly it’s hard not to wax enthusiastic and even a little kooky. Sue me, I love this song!
So here it is, before I go any more crazy long-winded irrational. From 2002’s “Fashionably Late”, Linda Thompson, with son Teddy and ex-husband Richard accompanying on guitars (maybe more), performing “No Telling”. Hope you like. Lemme know your reaction, won’t you? Thanks!
This has been an odd season for Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy. All his career he’s been known as a plus defender with a lot of pop for such a skinny, brittle lookin’ dude. I mean, just look at the way he runs. Like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. Not the most athletic or powerful looking baseball player. Which endears him all the more to me, truth be told. Anyway, Hardy’s had a few minor injuries this year, the key one being a bout of back spasms early in the year, the after effects of which may or may not have lingered even as he returned to the lineup. I have a feeling that that’s why his home runs are down this year. Normally a guy that hits in the 20’s, he’ll be lucky to get much above 10 this year. He’s also had a few spells where he’s made some uncharacteristic errors, also perhaps injury related. Odd year.
It probably sounds like I’m down on JJ, but you know what? I’m totally not. I LOVE the new JJ Hardy, the one with the higher batting average, the one that leads the team in doubles, the one that leads the team in clutch hitting. He’s apparently taken some steps to deal with the lingering back thing and adjusted, opting to get hits rather than hit lots of bombs. It’s admirable if that’s indeed what’s going on. It may be completely coincidental for all I know, but JJ’s such a great guy and scrappy competitor that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s doing this consciously, or at least was at first. Maybe the back thing made him cut down his swing a bit and he came to like it, seeing its value to the team. Who knows? All I know is that I like it and that it pays huge dividends in O’s wins.
In fact, Hardy may be my second favorite Oriole after Adam Jones. All he does is routinely, quietly (like Nick Markakis), make all the plays at short, hit pretty dang well, and anchor a young and historically great defensive infield. He’s the go to guy for Manny or Schoop or Flaherty, the mentor, the rock of stability. He’s in the right place at the right times and makes sure the others are as well. It’s like having an extra coach when you have a multiple Gold Glove shortstop with Hardy’s demeanor and love of Oriole baseball. He brings a lot of intangibles to the table and every player with whom he interacts is better for it. But you barely notice the guy, at least compared to Jones and Davis and Manny, even Nick.
I think that needs to change. Has there ever been a JJ Hardy t-shirt or bobblehead giveaway? If so, not in the last few years, not that I can recall anyway. I think we sorta take this guy for granted at times. He’s not flashy, he rarely gets the dramatic game winning hit, but he does quietly set the table for the others to shine, both defensively and offensively. There’s been tons of talk over the last year or so about who do we re-sign first. Matt Wieters? Chris Davis? Nick Markakis? My vote goes to JJ Hardy, the glue that holds our insanely great infield together. The guy that’s found a new way to contribute offensively without having to go yard all the time. The guy that brings his personality and work ethic each and every day for others to emulate. I’m no contract speculation kinda dude, but I’d try to lock him up for at least 2-3 more years, maybe more. And I’d do it before any of the others mentioned.
Because none of the others are as irreplaceable if you think about it. Maybe it’d be tough to find a guy as steady and reliable as Nick in right field, but he’s gonna demand a big chunk of cash probably. Not that I don’t want him back, but I want JJ first, and I bet Nick does too. Wieters? I’m not convinced that he has many more years left behind the plate, and he hasn’t proven to be a good enough hitter, to me anyway, despite the hot start before injury this year, to DH or play first base at the level his expected salary will make you want to see. I want him back too, but at what price? Davis? His year is making him more affordable with every passing day, and I’d lock him up for a few years ASAP, before he has another monster year that’ll jack up his price. But again, I’d get JJ signed first. Obviously I’m no expert on this kinda thing. Maybe none of these guys will sign for less than more years than I’d want to do. Just sorta opinionating in general terms here. The point being that JJ’s a key player, maybe more so than the others mentioned.
I’ve already gone into more detail and areas I’m not smart enough to talk about intelligently (contract terms), so I’ll get back to the theme here, which is that JJ Hardy is a pretty darned good baseball player that I believe flies under the radar even among die hard Oriole fans. I’ve seen people say that they don’t want him back, that he’s getting old and fragile, that the home runs aren’t there this year so he must suck. I disagree with all of this completely. I think he’s got plenty in the tank, maybe as many as 5-6 years of high level play. He’s never been fast, so that won’t decline. His power may stay down, but as outlined above, maybe he’s found a new groove. I think he’ll be able to hit for years to come at a respectable level. His defense will probably never become anything close to less than above average. He’s steady and reliable with great fundamentals and those skills don’t fade with time. He’s one heckuva valuable player that may never get his due from fans but will always have the respect and love of his coaches and fellow players because of how he does things day in and day out. He’s the ultimate lunch pail guy on a team full of ‘em. It would be a travesty to let him go.
And I don’t think we will let him go. Buck Showalter has made no secret of just how much he loves and values JJ Hardy as a player and as a human being, and I’m betting that JJ will be here until Buck’s contract runs its course in 2018 if not longer. That may be true of others too, but I think JJ is, again, the keystone, the one piece that makes so many of the others stand strong and unbreakable. Buck’s always valued defense, and rightly so. JJ and his work ethic are a perfect fit for that emphasis. Wieters and Markakis may be Buck guys, but JJ is maybe the Buck-iest. You can get by with an average outfielder or even a catcher that’s not an All-Star, but the shortstop that can and does teach and lead by example is a more difficult thing to find, and something you covet and don’t let slip away easily. That he hits pretty well is a huge bonus if you really think about it.
Alright, I guess I’ve beaten this dead horse to a pulp by now, so I’ll wrap this up by reminding the reader that, as is often my wont, I did no research whatsoever for this piece. Totally a stream of consciousness thing, inspired by a segment on the Wall to Wall Baseball postgame show with Tom Davis and Dave Johnson in which Tom went off on a JJ lovin’ spiel. It struck me just how right he was and I made a mental note to do the same here. So really there’s no originality going on here at all, just another guy that loves JJ Hardy making a case for his value to the Orioles and lobbying for maybe a t-shirt or bobblehead night for the guy. I’d even go so far as to implore the ladies to take a second look at him. He’s pretty dreamy if you’re into the sensitive, hard working, not particularly athletic type. The soul patch is pretty cool too. I’ll sum it all up by saying I love JJ Hardy, and I hope you do too. There’s nothing wrong with a hetero guy saying that, right? I know PA announcer Ryan Wagner likes him a lot too, as evidenced by his iconic “J… J… HARDY” introduction each time he’s announced. Why not clap a little harder and cheer a little louder next time you hear it? He may hear you even if you’re at home. He is a sensitive guy after all…
OK, we’ve just witnessed yet another bad outing by Ubaldo Jimenez (not using the labor-intensive “é” anymore because it’s not on his uniform). The blogosphere is predictably and reasonably up in arms. Buck is no doubt at the end of his rope. It looks right now as if our big free agent coup of the off season, the move that rallied even the pessimists back into hopefulness, may be a bust. The question looms: what does Buck do? The fact that we have six viable starters, if Ubaldo counts as one at this point, makes things harder, not easier. Poor Miguel Gonzalez is being shuffled from minor league level to level, staying ready for his inevitable and likely quick return to the rotation. But what to do with Ubaldo?
Well, it’s not an easy question to answer. Put him in the bullpen? Yeah, right. Everyone needs a reliever that immediately walks the first few batters he faces. I just don’t see that happening unless he’s relegated to the mop-uppiest of mop-up roles. Like the 12-2 game we’re on the wrong side of, the game that’s less likely to occur with him out of the rotation. DFA him? Sure, Peter Angelos would just love to kiss ~$50M goodbye just as the MASN deal is in legal limbo. Phantom injury or deliberate Gilooley-ing? This seems to me the best, if most comical and legally actionable option.
The thing is, there are only a couple more weeks until the rosters expand and we can afford to have Ubaldo taking up a spot that might be better used by somebody else. We’ll have Miguel back in the fold and won’t feel as obligated to use Ubaldo. Even if we do use him, we’ll have enough bullpen help, theoretically, to pull his ass outta there at the first sign of trouble. So it’s really just a two week issue. I honestly don’t know what Buck will do, but his body language and the looks on his face tonight lead me to believe that he’s pretty tired of all this crap. He’s bent over backwards already to accommodate Jimenez and it’s bitten him in the butt, at least this time. I know he hated sending Gonzalez down. I just can’t see him erring on Ubaldo’s side again real soon.
So I guess that means that I think Buck will find some way to hide Ubaldo from starting until September, and maybe beyond. Perhaps he’ll see a really favorable matchup on the schedule and surprise me, and thereby piss off the majority of the fan base, but I just don’t think Buck is in the mood for another walk walk dong kinda game anytime soon. I mean, this was Cleveland, in a relatively pitcher friendly park. Neither dong was of the cheap variety, They were hammered. The kind that leave the outfielders looking at their shoes rather than finding a route to the ball. No, Ubaldo’s been bad. Not always, and maybe not as often as it seems, but often enough that it seems to me that we shouldn’t roll the dice with him again if we have a choice.
I’ve sorta been an Ubaldo supporter. I was happy when we signed him I guess, but I would have opted for either Tim Hudson or Bartolo Colon. Both of whom haven’t been great great, but probably (definitely) better than Ubaldo. Mainly I think I was, like everyone else, shocked that we were willing to sign a pitcher to such a big deal, and then massaged the stats and writing about him into a belief that, yeah, sure, maybe this guy COULD be good. Look at what he did for a few months last year! Maybe that Callaway dude in Cleveland really did fix him! The first time I saw him pitch though, I was underwhelmed. I expected much better velocity, and having not really seen him pitch since the Colorado years, I’d forgotten just how nebulous his ability to throw a pitch to a location in the same zip code as the plate could be. In short, I was not happy.
And I’ve not really gotten any happier all year, even through the wins and almost wins and not awful starts. I’ve attempted to halfheartedly rationalize him being semi-decent by looking at his numbers in the second half (not a thing - total fluke last year), or at night (less of a fluke but still not enough to inspire confidence), but it always comes back to the eye test. He just doesn’t look good, whether he’s allowing runs or not. Way too many pitches, full counts out the wazoo, and baserunners galore in almost every start. When he puts pitches in the zone, they all too often end up being crushed in a zestful manner by the bad guys. When he doesn’t, he walks so many that he eventually has to exit due to pitch count if he hasn’t already been touched up. He has to be soooo perfect around the edges of the zone, with that delivery that just plain does not allow for pinpoint control, that the chances of his having an effective AND efficient start are virtually nil. It’s a shame.
Because he really is a likable guy that wants so badly to contribute to this O’s juggernaut in the making. You can see it in the dugout celebrations and hear it in his interviews. It’s obvious that the players like him and he likes them. He just can’t pitch well enough all too often to be a part of it. I’d love nothing more than for him to suddenly find it, become the pitcher he was last year down the stretch, start being a real factor in wins rather than a source of angst for fans, Buck, and probably even his teammates if they were speaking off the record. It just doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen this year, and that’s too bad. I feel sorry for him, but there are bigger things in play here than Ubaldo’s feelings.
The O’s have a chance to not only win the AL east, but to actually have the best record in baseball! To gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs! After squeaking our way in in 2012, and missing out despite a winning record last year, 2014 looks like it could be a magical, historic year for the Birds. We just can’t afford to keep running Ubaldo Jimenez out to the hill every 5-6 days to stink up the joint and tax our fantastic bullpen. Great guy or not, this is a business, and we’re in the business of winning for a change. I mean winning it all, not just getting that cute wildcard slot and having to win a one game playoff to advance. We have a chance to be the big scary best record team for the first time in forever, even if the national media and too many locals still think we suck, and Ubaldo ain’t gonna scare anyone. We must do what’s right and most likely to get us the most wins, loyalties and big contracts be damned.
What will Buck do? That’s the $64,000 question, to use a phrase whose relevancy has long since expired. I personally think he’ll do the right thing and opt for Miguel Gonzalez the next time Ubaldo’s turn comes around. I’d be very surprised if he runs Ubaldo out there again until September, and maybe not even then unless in that extreme mop-up role. I could be wrong, and often am (Ryan Flaherty’s offensive awesomeness), but I think that Buck knows what’s at stake here and how important it is to reward the Baltimore fans with as many home playoff (and even WS) games as possible. Winning the east and achieving the best record is the best path towards that goal and he knows that. He also knows what he’ll likely get if he runs Ubaldo out there again, as evidenced by his dugout demeanor tonight. Buck is nothing if not wise, and even his intense player loyalty seems to have been tempered this year. He will not Jim Johnson us with Ubaldo. This is my hope, this is my belief, this is what will happen. Unless I’m totally wrong. I guarantee it! Wiggle room is a wonderful thing.
OK, I haven’t written about the Birds, or anything else for that matter, for a while. Busy schedule, stress, etc. But it’s becoming hard to keep from foaming at the mouth on the MASN blogs via the comments about how well we’ve been doing, and rather than subject the unwilling to that, I figured I’d go all crazy long-winded here instead. The magic is happening before our very eyes, on a daily and nightly basis. In the face of injuries, bad seasons from key players, a brutal schedule, questionable umpiring at times, even the disbelief of some within the fan base, this team has managed to leap ahead of their AL east rivals by a comfortable margin. It’s fun to watch. Little guys stepping up, big guys doing what they do, every single player contributing to the cause. Magic!
To pick up where we left off last time I wrote about the O’s, we had just come off the grueling west coast swing, going 6-4 against three of the top teams in baseball, two of whom remain ahead of us for best record in baseball - the A’s by 3.5 games and the Angels by 1 game as I write this. Since that trip we’ve run the gauntlet of the Mariners and Angels again, the Nationals, Jays, Cards and Yankees, going 11-4. I was concerned about this chunk of the schedule, and the O’s just ripped through it like a hot knife through butter! I’m now utterly convinced. This is a team of destiny.
However, we now approach another potential roadblock between us and world domination, which is a stretch of games against lesser teams, most below .500, and even those above, not by much if at all by the time we play ‘em. The Indians, White Sox, Cubs, Rays, Twins, Reds and Red Sox are all deeply flawed teams, but they do have some great pitchers especially, and could and will present some challenges. The great thing is that we can afford to go .500 or so through this stretch without losing much ground in the AL east. That’s not good enough for me, and I’m certain it’s not good enough for Buck Showalter and his fellas. It’s 26 games against teams we need to feast on, just as the A’s and Angels have gotten to feast on the Astros and Rangers all year. I’m thinking 16-10, maybe 18-8 would be nice. Anything less and I’ll frankly be a bit disappointed.
Because for me the goal now is not just winning the division. That’s pretty much locked up if you look at how bad the Yankees and Jays are. No, I’m gunning for best record in baseball, and that means surpassing the A’s and Angels, who are both formidable. I believe we can do it. The carrot at the end of that stick is, of course, home field advantage throughout the playoffs and, dare I say, the World Series. I want to be at as many playoff games in Baltimore, at the insanely beautiful and too long under-filled Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as is possible. Well, I’d settle for series sweeps, but you get the idea.
The way we’ve been doing the winning is one of the most encouraging aspects of all this, and a big reason for my optimism with regard to our home field advantage chances. Like the song says, every night it’s a different star. When somebody goes into a slump, somebody else gets hot. Chris Davis keeps hitting under .200, yet somehow manages to have clutch at bats and hit important home runs. Manny Machado goes down and immediately Flaherty and Schoop step up with key RBI’s. Adam Jones just keeps being Adam Jones. It’s an honest to goodness team effort, and the guys all respect, like and learn from one another. And that’s just the position players, who, by the way, play defense pretty damn well, with minor and occasional exceptions, to boot.
That brings us to the pitching. I’m not gonna go all stat-geek on you here, but we’ve all seen what’s been happening. We don’t have an “ace” starter, just six guys that can easily shut down any team in baseball on any given night. Six! No ace, but we’re so blessed with starters that we had to send one down to make room for Ubaldo! Speaking of whom, yes, he’s a source of frustration, but he just may surprise us yet. And if he doesn’t, Buck won’t let him get in the way of our goal. He’ll pull the trigger quickly if he’s struggling and go to one of the guys in what has become a better bullpen than even 2012. Every single man in that pen has been almost lights out for the last month or so, and the addition of Andrew Miller may still turn out to be the best deadline move made. The fact is, our starters have been so strong lately that he hasn’t been used as much as I had anticipated! In any case, if the O’s can take a lead or close margin into even the 5th or 6th inning, the opponent isn’t very likely to score. It’s a secure feeling!
So yeah, everything’s coming up roses for our boys in orange and black, and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue. Some will worry that we’ll stumble against the weaker teams. Some will worry that without Manny for a little while, we’ll struggle. Some will worry, as they have all year, about Chris Davis’s bat. Some will worry just for the sake of worrying! I’m here to tell y’all, please don’t. We’re definitely making the playoffs, and might even get that number one seed and home field advantage. Let’s all try to enjoy the now. This orange and black locomotive of long awaited and well deserved destiny will NOT jump the tracks laid down by Buck, Dan Duguette, Andy MacPhail, even Mike Flanagan, and all the unsung scouts and others along the way, including the late Monica Barlow. This is historic, goddammit! This is magic. This is motherfucking Birdland! Go O’s!!!
I came of age at an odd time musically. Just before punk became the next big thing, as disco, corporatized, extremely shiny and heavily produced pop and rock were still topping the charts. Not that I was even a consumer of much popular music by that time really. My friends were into jazz fusion and funk, and I was mostly off on my own tangent with 20’s blues and anything with fingerpicking guitar. But I did buy Frampton albums and was even a southern rock fan for a while. Not ashamed. We all have our guilty pleasures, though there aren’t many Marshall Tucker Band or Outlaws tunes that hold up now. Anyway, I was right on the cusp, just a few years too old to be swept up by the new-fangled and angry noise coming from London in the late 70’s or the precursors like the Stooges, NY Dolls, Ramones, Velvet Underground, etc. All of whom I’ve tried to like at various times with zero success. Real early on I had an aversion to anything that depended on (or at least featured heavily) costumes, wacky names, or a carefully concocted look (Kiss, the Ramones and David Bowie as prime examples). I’m gonna try here to explain why virtually none of this stuff moves me.
Before I begin ranting, I’ll admit that taste in music, like in any other form of art, is subjective. Everyone’s allowed to love what they love, and we all have things that we’re not proud of liking. My objections here to what happened to music after punk took hold with the arbiters of taste (because it was never truly “popular” in a sales of records way) are based purely on musical merits, which themselves are subjective and debatable. There’s nothing wrong with loving any of this stuff, and that’s not what I’ll be trying to say at all. But I will be saying things that might upset people that love this stuff, so be prepared, or just don’t read. Just one idiot’s arrogantly, perhaps ignorantly “informed” opinion after all…
It comes down to pure musical value for me. The notes, the rhythms, the quality of production or lack thereof, the quality of the singing, musicianship, that kind of thing. When punk came along, it was largely a reaction to the pristine and overly produced shininess of pop music at the time. Punk rock took the cartoonish buffoonery and low-fi anti-musicality of bands like those previously mentioned precursors and amped it up, made it angrier, louder, added the fashion and behavior accoutrements that grabbed headlines and made the evening news for parents all over the world to be horrified by, and became a cultural phenomenon. But was it something one could sit down and listen to for musical enjoyment? Maybe for some, but not for me. Let’s face it, it’s mostly amateurishly played, sung with more emphasis on shock value than pitch or timbre, and there’s rarely if ever much melody or quality of songwriting, at least in a traditional way, going on. Nobody’s gonna be recording great American or English Songbook albums a hundred years from now and including “I Wanna Be Sedated” or “God Save the Queen”. Just a hunch.
What this early punk and its precursors stuff has going for it is anti-. It’s anti-musical. Music for people that want to have something to latch onto that proves how much they hate other music, which is understandable given how awful music had become by the late 70’s especially. Disco, corporate rock, a pop music landscape festooned with unctuous things like “The Pina Colada Song” or anything by Barry Manilow or even the somewhat defensible Billy Joel was all music that begged for a beat down on some level, and punk did that with gusto. There’s always the scare your parents aspect as well. Still doesn’t make it any more fun to listen to though, at least for me. I see the whole movement as a cultural one, a reaction to the staid and corporate nature of what the big record companies and their bought radio stations were shoving into our ears at the time, and with enough fun and shocking fashion and faux-anger to take hold with a pretty wide audience of disenchanted youth and fledgling rock critics eager to be on top of, even invent or at least influence the creation of through their advocacy, the next big thing.
And it worked! The musical landscape as the 80’s dawned and wore on was a much different one, with the birth of MTV and this new “New Wave” thing sweeping the populace in a big way, informed by punk and its attendant thumbing of the nose at what came before. New Wave even reached back a bit, in some cases, to once more value songwriting and quality. A select few bands like Squeeze or XTC, artists like Elvis Costello or Joe Jackson, all rode this new wave to minor success and critical adulation using elements that were once valued and exemplified by the Beatles and others. Most of what was produced however was awful, to my ears at least. Aside from islands of quality like Prince, the Police perhaps, even the kitchy-fun but musical Stray Cats or strangely popular due to genre UB40, so much of what topped the charts on both sides of the pond was drek like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Modern English, Flock of Seagulls etc. etc. The English pop music voice at this time took on a wimpy, arch, cry in the voice heinousness that I just can’t abide. Many can, and here I’ll say again that there’s nothing wrong with that. At least by now there was some songwriting and production quality going on. I just don’t like how most of it sounded. Many do. Subjective.
So it boils down to the fact that for me music should be musical, not anti. A cultural movement with its dances, fashion, attitude, all that extraneous yet marketable stuff, doesn’t necessarily produce great music. The music is merely a part of the bigger picture. It was the same I suppose in the 60’s when the British invasion bands were a part of a cultural movement that morphed into the summer of love and hippiedom and acid rock and all that, but I’d posit that there was a whole lot more musical merit in the best, even most popular examples of those myriad genres than in most of what punk rock or new wave or most of the rest of the iconic and chart topping 80’s music provided. Again, subjective, but I just have a sneaking suspicion that history will look more kindly on the Beatles, Kinks and Beach Boys than on the Sex Pistols, Cramps and even the critical darling, now almost mainstream, Ramones. And that’s not even getting into the hundreds of one hit wonder bands that provided the soundtrack to the 80’s and then disappeared forever in a cascade of ironic and laughable haircuts. Just a hunch.
That’s it. My “curmudgeonly oldster that doesn’t get it” take on all the music I don’t care for, at least a big slice of it. I also have little patience for most metal, rap, opera, and anything with -core or house in its name. Yep. Clueless and intractable am I, and hopelessly addicted to musical genres of the distant past. Occasionally I’ll hear something relatively modern and like it. I like Lady Gaga, Owl City, a few Maroon 5 tunes (well, one) and even that awful “Call Me Maybe” thing the first few hundred times. It’s not like I’m not willing to try new or different things. I’ve sat down and listened to a bunch of the stuff I rail on here, especially the punk and precursors stuff, because there was a time when I was swayed by critics, and they loved and championed a lot of that stuff, still do. Just doesn’t move me. Give me a nice melodic three minute pop tune with a bridge and some nice singing and production over any manner of purposeful and calculated anti-ness any day. Your mileage may, and will, vary. Just one idiot’s opinion. Subjective. But I’m right :=}
I won’t go too crazy here with length (yeah, right!), but I did want to write something about how fantastic a time I, and everyone involved I think, had at the recent School of Roch event organized by several commenters from that blog. It was originally planned, I believe, as just a way for a bunch of the long time participants to meet at last in person and take in an Orioles game. By the time all the planning was done, and with the addition of the plan to make the night a special one for long time commenter and nicest guy on the planet/heart transplant recipient/medical miracle Scott Fahs, it became so much more than that. Scott becoming the focus of this thing (NOT his idea - not in his nature for that to be true) gave it an urgency and depth of feeling above and beyond anything imaginable. It turned out to be one of the best social events I’ve ever experienced, and I wasn’t really even involved to any great extent beyond attending (not even sitting with the main group) and helping spread the word about one of the many surprises for Scott. It was, in a word, awesome.
To begin with, MASN’s Roch Kubatko himself made things extra special in several ways. I’m pretty sure it was he that helped arrange for Scott to throw out the first pitch before the game. Not only that, but he may have played a role in having high profile phenom pitcher Kevin Gausman as the catcher of this pitch, a step up from the typical low man on the totem pole that assumes that role. Nick Markakis, Scott’s favorite player, was also magically available for a handshake and a hug even, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Roch had something to do with that too. Mr. Kubatko also graciously made time to interact with everyone that wanted to from the crowd, which must have numbered in the 50-60 range and was just as nice and gracious as one would expect. Last but not least, he agreed to help with the finances for a lovely chair for Scott that will hopefully be permanent reminder of the high esteem everyone involved with the blog holds for him. That was the thing I was supposed to spread the word on and thereby help Mossy Mac finance, so naturally Roch ended up having to cover some of it… Oh well. I’m just not that popular or well connected!
So Roch was in many ways the centerpiece for this whole thing, and of course the reason that all of us know one another in the first place. The heartrending story of Scott’s medical saga has, however, long been a topic and focus of concern on the blog, and to be able to turn this event into a way to express love and support to a beloved friend, even one most had never met, made it even more special, as much or more for his supporters than for Scott himself. I doubt there was a single person that left that night without feeling better about humanity. Watching the humble joy on Scott’s face and hearing his sincere words of appreciation and thanks was almost too much to bear it was so satisfying. Rarely have I been involved in a project of any sort so infused with pure goodness and love. It was just a magical night all the way around.
The whole thing started with a meetup at Dempsey’s, a nice restaurant attached to Camden Yards, right on Eutaw Street. Some of the class members (blog participants and organizers) arrived very early, and by the time I got in right after the gates opened at 5pm, all preparations were in place, with name tags prepared, food being served, people already deep into conversation with friends newly met or not, and just a general atmosphere of happiness. Scott and family were at a table, and people were filtering in so quickly that it was a challenge to keep up with everything, to meet everyone, to have anything more than a brief “hello, I’m so and so” kind of conversation. Roch arrived on the scene after a bit, and there was a raffle with multiple prizes, gifts and cards presented to the “teacher” and to Scott, and group photos taken. Huge props to Kevin in Annapolis, who not only spent his own money on food etc, but arranged everything down to the right people at Dempsey’s (Leah was amazing!), and to Mossy Mac, who was the man behind the chair for Scott. I’m sure I’m not covering everything here, but there was a nice engraved “apple” for Roch from O’s Girl from Chesapeake, a card and ball signed by most for Roch or Scott or both… I sorta lost track of all the stuff that was going on and just went with the flow. Had to be dragged into the group photo even…
Right after Dempsey’s it was down behind home plate for all to watch Scott throw the first pitch. Kudos to the ushers in that section for not getting too upset with a huge crowd of weirdos just standing around waiting and getting ready to snap photos and shoot video. We were all amazed that Nick appeared and was available to Scott for some interaction, and that Kevin Gausman was the guy catching the pitch. Scott fired a sorta three quarter/sidearm pitch that did not bounce, and all was right with the world. Pretty amazing to watch someone you’ve gotten to know in text form and from seeing pictures of him recovering from a harrowing medical situation get on a baseball field and throw a pitch to a major league player like he’d been doing it all his life, and not been bedridden for much of the previous year or whatever. To a player that could conceivably become a pretty big star. Almost surreal to think that not too long ago Scott’s situation was fairly grim. Seeing a man with the strength, both physically and of character, to overcome what he’s overcome and throw that pitch so much better than any number of businessmen and assorted community goofballs that normally do it… well, life just doesn’t get better than that! So much joy at that moment, and throughout the entire evening.
After that, the majority of people sat in section 94 and took in the game together. I had tickets in another area for various reasons, but had fine company in the lovely and erudite Erin. We eventually made it over to 94 late in the game, but I sorta feel like we missed out by not getting to talk more with people as the game was going on. We did have some nice conversation (and food, mmmm… cheesesteaks!) amongst ourselves, but we already know each other. What made up for this partially, for me at least, was staying late after the game and heading to Sliders for continued conversation with some of my favorite people from the blog. I won’t name names here for fear of leaving anyone out, but it was just really nice and relaxing hanging out. Felt like old friends, even if I’d just that night met a few of ‘em.
I will mention a few of the people I most enjoyed meeting, again at the risk of forgetting anyone. I didn’t meet everyone that was there, and a few only briefly, so please don’t take it personally if I forget you! First of all, Baron61 is one of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. He’s been up to my section before, so I already knew him pretty well, but seeing him there was a really nice surprise, as he had come all the way from Canada! Also in the long distance travel category was osfan4life, who came from Roanoke, and who I didn’t meet until late in the game. Glad I did! O’sSkinsTerps, Fendersbenders, O’s Girl from Chesapeake, Theresa, the Umpire, Nathan, Redlionsteve, MustSeeHDTV, The Baseball Lady, and of course Kevin in Annapolis were all pretty much exactly as I expected, extremely nice, knowledgeable, friendly… just great folks! I’d already met Erin of course, JackieO’s, CatWoman, Pyro Girl, LibrarySteve and his lovely family, Mossy Mac and his buddy the Polish Prince Peter (a reader, not a commenter, yet), Chappy, O’s fan in Arlington, RoscoeBmore, ColumbiaSteve… man, I know I’m forgetting people here and I’m sorry! Pleasant surprise of the night was meeting the Angry Nerd, with whom I’ve had a few minor quibbles, always saved by his sense of humor. He was the lone African American participant at the event, at least as I recall, and that was cool. Cooler would be if there were more… He and I had a blast talking trash about a few of the folks that wouldn’t have been caught dead at this thing, and he was among those that went and hung out at Sliders. Again, I’m sorry if I met you and forgot, there were so many people there that it would be impossible for me to remember each and every person that I talked to. I’m just mentioning the folks that left the biggest impression on me, and even with that said, I’m sure I’m forgetting someone important!
It was just an insanely great night of fellowship, heart, human kindness… The baseball game result was truly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. As it turned out, the loss didn’t even matter, as the O’s rebounded nicely the next day to take the series from them Mariners, one of the worst team names in baseball aside from Padres, which at least has some surrealism value. I knew going in that this would be a fun night. What I didn’t know was just HOW much fun, just HOW heartwarming, HOW restorative of faith in humanity as a whole a night of baseball with friends newly met and otherwise could be. Scott’s role in all this was huge, as was Roch’s, but not to be understated was the plain old fellowship of Orioles fans from all walks of life and from different countries and places gathering together for a common goal. It was a night I’ll not ever forget, like just a few others in my life. Yet another HUGE Rex Barney style THANK YOOOOOUUUUU to every last person that was there and especially to Kevin, Mac, Roch, Scott, and everyone else that contributed to this thing being as special as it was. Let’s do it again real soon!!!
I’ve come to the conclusion that people that do fantasy sports are far more likely to be what I call “sports addicts”. That’s different than the typical baseball (or any sport) “fan”. These guys (always guys) are obsessed, needing a fix of some sort daily, be it minor league baseball, arena football, D league basketball, even poker played by celebrities on TV. But even that’s not enough. They need to also play GM in these bizarre ritualized “leagues” (with commissioners and everything!), trading players, poring over stats, becoming zealous about things and players that no normal fan of one team per sport would give two shits about. They immerse themselves in stats and go to games, fancying themselves experts because of their high degree of knowledge of all things sporting. Garnered from researching their fantasy teams for years, including farm systems and international drafts and independent leagues and stuff. Lots of material read by these guys!
But is it knowledge that means anything? Does anyone care that you’ve been to more AAA games and read more scouting reports than someone that covers that as part of his job? Does that give someone the right to go on a blog and, for hours, harass and harangue a reporter in a self-superior way? It screams of an emptiness of life, of a need to be right, or seen as right at least, and of course of a complete lack of respect for said reporter and his sources with the team. Organizational employees that might know a thing or two that some name scout dude may not.
I’m of course alluding to a specific incident here, initiated by a guy that has a history of not playing nice with others, of name calling, of just being a know it all generally. He knows his stuff, sports-wise. These guys always do, He’s immersed himself so deeply however that he hasn’t a clue how ridiculous and childish it makes him look to do what he does fairly regularly, though not often in as spectacularly bizarre and embarrassing a way as the incident that prompted this here post. What he and people like him - and these guys are all over sports blogs everywhere - do is to anoint themselves the sole repository of truth. No humility, no chance that what they say or think is an opinion. Nope. It’s a fact if they say it, and heaven help anyone that disagrees, because then the insults fly and the name calling begins. They know a lot of stuff that’s factually right, so they’re seen by many as good and reliable sources of wisdom, and when they’re insulting and name calling people that are in fact wrong it can be entertaining for some. It’s when they confuse fact with opinion that they run into trouble, and that happens fairly often.
Because a lot of sports commentary is opinion on the value of players. Stats are there to help, but there’s a ton of subjectiveness to this. Subjectiveness is a concept that these guys don’t get. They form an opinion, supported or not by facts or others’ opinions, and that’s that. Nobody else can possibly be right, and they will not back down no matter what. Even when things play out differently than they expect and they can be proven wrong, they either disappear, drop the subject, or try to paint things like that’s how they saw it all along. I’ve even seen folks (well, one folk) go back in time in Disqus and edit weeks of prior posts to change what ultimately would have been an embarrassingly bad take on reality. This person in particular (not the same guy that prompted this diatribe) is currently notable for rarely if ever mentioning Ubaldo (now that he’s been sorta bad mostly), after at first repeatedly saying “no way we need this guy”, then editing those posts to make it look like he did want him when the tide of public opinion on the high dollar move was positive. Not to get sidetracked, but the very fact that Ubaldo was signed to a big contract negated this guy’s whole “Angelos is cheap” shtick, and I think he, in a bizarre display of humanity, wanted to get on board and be positive about something just to confuse people and make ‘em forget that he’d been wrong all along about the frugality thing.
Anyway, to get back to the first guy, people that fancy themselves smarter than coaches, managers, reporters, or even other fans make me angry. It’s really not that hard to admit when you’re wrong. It feels good in fact! Nobody knows everything, especially with regard to sports, where forecasting future statistics constitutes a large part of the commentary by everyone involved. Players are humans. Humans are not machines. Even machines aren’t as predictable in performance as some of these sports addict guys make players out to be at times. Because they KNOW that so and so isn’t gonna amount to shit in the big leagues, that so and so will struggle against superior competition, that any number of impossible to predict things WILL occur. They’ve spent their entire lives and so much free time accumulating all this wisdom, they just HAVE to be right. Except they’re not, not always. They can’t be. Nobody can be. It’s impossible! But they’ll never ever own up to it.
They’ll let others know when they’re wrong though. Oh boy, will they ever! That’s another hallmark of this guy. The reveling in their own rightness as an adjunct to others’ wrongness. There’s no better feeling for these guys than to say I told you so. Let someone else say something contrary and then, after the fact, come along and be all high and mighty. When they’re right, and they are right fairly often, it’s irritating as hell. But when they’re wrong? It’s like they never said a thing. Someone calls ‘em on it? They weasel around and change the subject or framework of the issue in question. Because being wrong just isn’t something these guys can stand to be seen as being. I think they know they’re wrong sometimes, but their entire worlds revolve around how they’re seen by fellow sports addicts (to them that’s everyone), so they’ll fight tooth and nail to avoid their wrongness being revealed as such, in the bizarre ways I’ve mentioned and others. It’s just sad is what it is, but these folks are so goddamn pompous and self-righteous that it’s impossible to do anything but despise, and maybe on a good day, pity them.
I can see what some of you (both of you!) may be thinking already… “Hey, you’re an arrogant fuckhead that writes a lot about sports and comments like a madman on the blogs! Isn’t this sports addict guy pretty much you?” Well, maybe, to an extent. I do occasionally get hopped up on a player or issue to the exclusion of logic or good sense. Bartolo Colon, Ryan Flaherty, etc… But I also will happily admit when I’m wrong, and I try to at least be civil and humorous in my sometimes irrational opinions on things. I’m also quick to point out that what I’m saying is opinion, even when I try to support it with stats. So I may have certain characteristics of this guy, but I hope I’m not fully there. Another point for me here would be that I really don’t give a flying fuck about any sport aside from baseball. And even within that, I don’t pretend to be an expert on anything but maybe the O’s as a team, and then only the very recent history.
My world does not revolve around sports, or even baseball, though it is a larger part of my world in the last few years than it ever has been. I’ve mainly been a musician and music historian of sorts for most of my life, and that’s still my biggest area of interest. Along with classic cartoons, certain types of movies and TV and comedy, junk food of course, Linux and free/open source software, classic science fiction novels, even weirder things like rollercoasters and amusement parks and the related history. I’m a man of many interests, but yeah, during the baseball season, in recent years, I’m pretty engaged with it. Hell, I’m at the yard for every home game for chrissakes, most of you know why. So I do know more about O’s baseball than the casual fan, but no more than anyone with an internet connection and the ability to read and learn can know.
My hope is that I don’t come across as one of these sports addict guys. Even if I’m able to couch what I say in humor or pseudo-humility, I would genuinely hate to be seen by anyone as being even in the neighborhood of the level of self-righteous pomposity and lack of ability to see other points of view as these guys I detest. I’ll agree to disagree with reasonable people making points that I ummm… disagree with, but these extra high test fools with their lack of respect for others and lack of any semblance of even pseudo-humility make my skin crawl. I just leave when they show up. No talking to anyone, especially not to them. It’s how I deal with ‘em. I guess my hope is that others will too and they’ll eventually get tired of talking to nobody and go away for good. But I know that won’t happen. These guys know enough to have currency with which to work wherever they appear, and not everyone sees ‘em for what they are. They ain’t goin’ anywhere, and even if they do, another one will sprout in their place. It seems to be the nature of forums of any sort, in any area of interest. Human nature, or the lower end of that scale anyway.
And before anyone gets offended, the term “sports addict” isn’t meant here as anything but a useful variation on the “this guy” of previous diatribes. Used here, it refers to the extreme end of the scale of hyper-fanatical sports enthusiast, the ones that are sometimes jerks about it specifically. There’s nothing wrong with playing fantasy sports per se, or with being a huge fan of multiple or even oddball sports. I just sorta settled on the “sports addict” theme early on when writing this and I’m too lazy to edit now. In fact I never edit these. I just sit down with a bee in my bonnet and have at it really. That’s why they so rarely make sense! And get so long…
I’ll conclude by saying that I’m sorry for once more bitching and moaning about people’s behavior on sports blogs. It’s a ridiculous topic, and one which very few will find interesting. These semi-regular posts serve one purpose for me though, which is cathartic venting. I always feel better after writing these, even if I feel embarrassed at having taken this crap so seriously shortly thereafter. It’s therapeutic, and with some of the shit I’m dealing with relating to family members, I need all the therapy I can get. Thanks for reading or not reading or whatever. This one’s more for me than anything else…
The Baltimore Orioles have just completed what was, on paper and in reality, their toughest road trip of the year. A three team journey from Oakland to Anaheim to Seattle, and we come home with a 6-4 record in these games. This would be impressive even if these weren’t three of the best teams in baseball, with the worst of ‘em having perhaps the best pitching overall in the majors. The other two had great hitting and good to great pitching. Like best in baseball hitting. Historically great run differential hitting and pitching in Oakland’s case. The point is that these were arguably the best teams in baseball, at least two of ‘em, and we handled our business well, outpitching ‘em and hitting just enough to get the job done.
Winning these long road trips isn’t easy, even against lesser teams. 6-4 against even Houston, Texas and Seattle would have been acceptable. We got a break having the trip scheduled immediately after the All-Star break, but the fact remains that we beat great and very good teams, in their parks, despite not hitting much. And we could have won a few more if not for some bad breaks and bounces. It’s truly amazing and a testament to the gritty resolve of this team that refuses to refrain from maintaining hunger at all times. They grind even.
Our reward for all this? One day off, then a rematch with two of these teams in our yard, where we’ve not been as good, especially at hitting. Won’t be easy. Teams are starting to match up with us, holding back their best starters for games against us and just generally playing harder and stepping it up. We saw this from the starters in Seattle especially, with the last two pitchers (that we thought would be a welcome breather from King Felix and Iwakuma) not just doing the “unknown scrub pitcher looks like an ace against us” thing, but actually pitching well. This has been happening all year if you ask me. These guys that we look at as scrubs look at the O’s as a huge challenge and more often than not up their game, if any, to new levels. We’re good now! It’s hard to put ourselves as fans in the shoes of other teams facing us. Largely because they’d prefer to be running the other way.
So we get to play the Angels and Mariners again, at home, then what would have been a day off is a game in DC, then a quick trip to Toronto before coming home for the Cardinals and Yankees. Why they put a three game (now four with the DC rainout makeup game) road trip on the schedule is anyone’s guess. Anyway, that’s another block of tough tough teams to play, and the Jays and Yankees especially will be doing everything in their power to take us down a peg. They probably still think they have a chance to win this division, which is cute. Seriously though, this upcoming stretch could be every bit as grueling as the west coast jaunt, and just as important, maybe more, to our playoff chances.
Those playoff chances are pretty good though, in my opinion. Toronto’s faded already to a degree. They’re losing Encarnacion yet again, and watching Buehrle become himself finally. NY has only hung around by feasting on the likes of Texas recently and has limited voodoo time left on the nobodies and never weres that populate their lineup and rotation. Tampa? Maybe, but the law of averages and lack of offense says no. Boston? Don’t make me laugh! It’s really ours for the taking. Barring a collapse (and can you really see that coming in a team that hasn’t lost two in a row in like a month?) we should be in the catbird’s seat come October, whatever that means. It’s not exactly your dad’s AL east this year, but it isn’t as awful as people claim either. Take a look at the NL east or AL central, or the bottom of the AL or NL west for that matter… No shame in winning this division by default. We may even run away with it before all is said and done.
I don’t wanna go into too much detail here in this general overview, as that’s above my pay grade and intellect, but I’d like to look at some players that could impact the latter portion of this season. First of all we have Steve Pearce. We may have squeezed the last bit of juice from this guy already offensively, but I think I’d keep playing him for a little while at least to see if he snaps out of it. You never know, and he’s been pretty great on defense. Nelson Cruz has also cooled off, but he’s not going anywhere and will probably heat up again soon. Chris Davis? I think you have to keep playing him even if his average plummets into the .180s. A day off here and there perhaps, but he runs into enough clutch homers and plays good enough first base that it’d be tough to bench him. Manny Machado could be huge. He started hitting the bejeezus out of everything right after the suspension, then got hurt and slowed down in a sorta interrelated manner, but he could really be a force going forward barring further back issues. Adam Jones will always and forever be Adam Jones, as will JJ Hardy, which is awesome. Nick Markakis is struggling a bit right now at the plate. I’d consider getting him some rest. A few days at DH for him would allow us to play a guy that I think could really be a contributor if given more of a chance. That would be Delmon Young.
Yes, Delmon Young. I just have this hunch that he, David Lough, Caleb Joseph, Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop are all gonna play into this season story in a bigger way than they have to this point. Maybe not all of ‘em, but each one of these “little guys” has won us a game or two already and could do that and more down the stretch. Even Steve Clevenger, Jemile Weeks and Steve Lombardozzi could be helpful once September comes. Or others. We’ve got some depth between here and Norfolk that will hopefully allow us to avoid the pitfalls of guys playing too many games and becoming worn out as appeared to happen last year. Something tells me Buck and the other coaches are aware of this and will adjust accordingly.
As for the pitching, I sincerely hope we don’t do anything rash with the starters. We have six to choose from, including the conveniently still injured Ubaldo Jiménez, and I can’t see any way we can upgrade what we have without mortgaging a promising future. I like our guys here. I think I’m even OK with the current set of relievers. It wouldn’t hurt to add another arm that could get both sides out reliably, but Buck’s been able to mix and match with what’s here pretty well all things considered. If we can get an obvious upgrade for little cost, sure, why not? But Brian Matusz’s recent success, TJ McFarland’s emergence as more than just a mop up guy, and the relative reliability of Brad Brach and Ryan Webb makes it hard to want to see any of them go. Standing pat might be the smart play here as well.
So to sum up, we’re in a pretty good position as it stands right now. If we can negotiate this upcoming stretch of games against tougher opponents, we’ll get to play the Indians, White Sox, Cubs, Rays and Twins to close out August and head into a September chock full of games with our division rivals. By then we could have a big enough lead to be able to coast. If not, we’ll be playing the teams we need to beat to vault ourselves back into first by a comfortable margin. It’s there for the taking in this already magical year. Let the prestidigitation continue! October baseball at Camden Yards will be a wonderful thing. I can’t wait to be stuck in traffic on the way home from post season wins!
I used to be quite the Linux enthusiast, trying new distributions almost daily, keeping up to date with news and software versions, just generally participating in the whole scene, though as a technical know-nothing really. I kinda got tired of it after a while and decided to settle on one distribution that would be low on bandwidth needs, extremely stable, and able to do all the things, admittedly a rather limited array of things, that I need it to do. I had been playing with Debian GNU/Linux’s Wheezy iteration (yes, they use “Toy Story” character names) since late 2011, when it was still the “testing” version, and noticed after a year or so that it was in a frozen state, largely set for final release, which ultimately happened, in typical molasses-slow Debian fashion, in early May of 2013. So I guess I’ve been using it as my one and only OS for the better part of two years, rarely if ever booting into any of the dozen or so other distributions I still have installed or into Windows 7. I have it fine tuned to my liking and it does every single thing I need it to do. It’s been reliable and stable, exactly as expected.
Why did I settle on Debian? Many reasons really, but a big one is their philosophy of freedom. Free is a big thing in the Linux world, and it doesn’t just mean free of cost. It means liberty and lack of constraint. I firmly believe in this notion as it relates to software, and most things really, even when it leads to some oddities like not being allowed to use Firefox because the logo isn’t quite free enough for the folks at Debian. Who, by the way, are a world wide group of developers almost a thousand strong, collaborating in a highly organized and structured manner. They strive for stability in the officially released version, and at all times there are four versions out there for the world to use, ranging from oldstable to stable to testing to unstable, each with their own charming Toy Story character name. I went with the then frozen testing version, knowing that this would soon be the flagship stable version, supported for like a decade or two once released. Only a slight exaggeration. They don’t move quickly, these Debian people. Stable can become really really outdated by its end of life. But I liked what I saw in Wheezy and went with it, mainly due to the KDE version being mildly current at the time. It’s now out of date by a lot, but still perfectly functional and not lacking any important features. I’m also very familiar with Debian style package management - used by all the Ubuntu variants and other distributions, using both the command line apt-get and the graphical Synaptic Package Manager. So anyway, I went with Wheezy. No, I am not George Jefferson.
I built this install of Debian from a fairly pared down core, letting the net install do its thing and then adding my preferred Desktop Environment, KDE, on top, along with the rather limited number of applications and drivers required for my needs. I should note at this point that this is all on my main desktop machine, on which the majority of my home computer time is spent. The laptop and netbook also run Debian, but I find that no matter what I do I can’t squeeze enough battery life out of any Linux version to make it competitive with Windows 7 for day to day unplugged usage. Anyway, this main PC is an aging Compaq SR 5510F (Athlon dual core 5000+ processor), with 4GB RAM, an Nvidia GT 240 video card added, and an extra hard drive or 8 attached via USB (actually one extra is internal). Also in the mix is a Brother laser printer. It’s a pretty vanilla setup, handled well by virtually any flavor of Linux. I can summarize the hardware handling in one word: flawless. The biggest challenge was finding the printer driver, which was easy, and every so often I manually upgrade the proprietary driver for the video card (I know - not free, but I’m not as big a stickler as some), but mainly it all just works, and has from day one. I use a pretty Linux friendly USB-connected wireless doohickey, an Atheros AR9170 thing made by TP-Link, which works out of the box with just about anything these days. Not as easy an install as, say, Mint or Ubuntu, but not hard.
It’s been so long since I did the install that I can’t really even recall if I had any issues at first. Probably not if I was so certain that this was what I wanted to stay with long term. My repository setup is pretty standard, the usual main, contrib and non-free stuff enabled, and the Mozilla repo being the only non-Debian part of the equation, so as to keep current with Iceweasel, which is of course the uber-free Debian version of Firefox. I do recall that at one time I had to sorta manually grab the Iceweasel updates rather than apt-get automatically doing it, but that’s not been an issue for a while now. I may have just been doing it wrong earlier. Anyway, now I can pretty much just fire up Synaptic, still the best graphical package manager around for my money (or lack thereof), and do the periodic update thing there. I even let it do the kernel and other innards updating, and it’s never once gone pear shaped on me. Just the occasional reinstall of the Nvidia driver if I notice that desktop effects aren’t working after a particularly aggressive kernel update. But even that hasn’t been a problem for a while. Honestly not sure why…
So in short, all the hardware and related software updating works insanely well, even better than at first, which wasn’t bad at all anyway with a minimal amount of research. Easier and far less time (and bandwidth) consuming than Windows with its constant reboot, check for more updates, reboot again, ad infinitum thing, not to mention having to update all the non-native software separately in a piecemeal manner. With Debian (or any Linux really) I can leave the machine running for months, and do, with no issues at all, updating all throughout that uptime. Maybe I’ll reboot for a kernel update just to see if the video driver thing’s been mildly futzed, but as I said, even that’s not been happening for months and months now. It’s rock solid stable and reliable.
In terms of what I need this PC to do, it’s extremely simple. Web browsing (which also takes in my simple email needs - I’m a Gmail guy) is the vast majority of it, with a fair amount of music listening, video viewing, (I use VLC for both, with occasional Clementine used for cataloging and searching within a huge music collection - over 100,000 files) and some light use of LibreOffice on occasion. Actually I find that KDE’s own Kwrite does most of what I need for word processing, which is not much. It has spell-check, so that’s really it unless I’m working on something complex, which is rare. I don’t do much that’s out of the ordinary with spreadsheets or the other parts of any office suite, but when I do have a need I’m able to get it done in LibreOffice without issue. I should mention here that Debian is not exactly current with this kind of thing. If you need some esoteric new feature of almost any software, you’re probably better off with another distribution. But for basic (my) needs, it all works and works well.
The printer works flawlessly when needed, I can connect and disconnect the various USB hard drives or flash drives without problems, I can use Unetbootin to make bootable flash drives or KDE’s K3B to make bootable CD’s or DVD’s for use in the field, I can backup one drive to another easily, I can rip or burn DVD’s or CD’s, use the GIMP or KDE’s very nice Gwenview for image manipulation needs, etc… In short I can do every single thing I need to do, and really comfortably now. I’ve got all my tool bars in Dolphin (KDE’s fabulous multi-tabbed file manager on steroids) and other programs set to my liking, I have VLC’s equalizer massaged to my preferences, shortcuts to commonly used locations scattered everywhere, Iceweasel tabs set to the 18 I like, etc… It’s like a comfy chair, always there and contoured to my liking. I’m lost for a moment when I have to use other machines that I haven’t used before! Getting home to my own settings and preferences is a welcoming thing.
This piece is probably useless for most folks. My normal readers (both of you!) will find the topic completely uninteresting, even more so than usual, and hard core Linux people will find it lacking in hard data or specifics. Well, too bad. I just sorta wanted to write something about how much I’ve enjoyed using Debian for so long. Again, I was an inveterate distro-hopper until settling on Debian, and at first it really did feel like I was settling. Gone were the days of GB’s of updates to the latest and greatest versions of everything, like on Arch. Gone was the geeky joy of compiling KDE every few weeks anew on Gentoo. Gone was the rapt bliss of staring at a marginally new version of Ubuntu or Mint or Fedora or openSUSE every 6-8 months, with virtually no noticeable changes and yet another round of taming it into everyday usability. But as I got over the addiction to distro-hopping and got down to simply doing things besides configuring an OS to my liking, I found myself thoroughly smitten by the insane stability and robustness of the Debian experience. It just freakin’ works, once you get it installed. It stays out of your way and it won’t eat up your bandwidth cap in a week with updates. There’s a truly staggering amount of software, albeit often in not the latest versions, at one’s disposal. For my needs, it’s perfect.
I’ll just take a final few moments to mention how much I love KDE. Many Linux people find it too heavy and/or similar to Windows, which is a valid criticism. My experience however is that KDE can be pared down to using minimal system resources and RAM if you care to do so. I remember getting it down to well under 200MB of memory used at idle under Gentoo. The thing is, you probably won’t notice much of a difference unless you’re using a truly ancient and/or slow PC. I mean, mine was bought in 2008 and is no speed demon, and I have no problems at all with using KDE with almost all desktop effects enabled and a pretty heavy collection of stuff installed. I did disable all the semantic desktop and akonadi server crap, but even that doesn’t really add much overhead all things considered. I’ve run KDE on old netbooks with 1GB of memory without problems. It’s not that big a thing! I’ll always wonder at some hard core Linux users’ insistence on using bare bones Desktop Environments or Window Managers, if they deign to use even that much. Do you really save all that much time? Isn’t it just as hard/time consuming to learn all those keyboard shortcuts and stuff? Personally, I LIKE the convenience of a well-muscled DE that can be configured to within an inch of its life. KDE is that in spades.
Plus, KDE comes with (or at least can, if you get the whole shebang) an insanely large amount of its own software, everything from a large and really pretty great set of games to esoteric things like Japanese language tutors and periodic table learning aids. No other DE on earth comes with a Mr. Potato Head clone if you want it! I personally love Kbreakout, one of those paddle and ball games where you break the blocks and get stuff that falls down. My record is 109,083. There’s a nice bunch of card games, and several others that even I haven’t had a chance to explore yet. Basically, if it doesn’t come with KDE (in its full form) you may not need it at all. I like VLC and LibreOffice, but yes, there are KDE equivalents that are not that much worse (well, maybe they are - haven’t really used ‘em much).
This got much longer than I anticipated, with lots of repetition, so I’ll cut it short by concluding that I’ve found Debian, the now stable version known as Wheezy, to be a joy to use. Solid as a rock, reliable and unchanging, able to do everything I need. What more could anyone want, aside from better battery life on laptops? And it’s Linux, so it’s inherently more secure, less prone to a myriad of issues, and less irksome in general principle than Windows or the Mac. Just one idiot’s experience, your mileage may vary.
Most people are familiar with the heyday of Saturday Night Live. The mid to late 1970’s, when everyone from Chevy Chase to Dan Aykroyd to John Belushi to Bill Murray to Gilda Radner became household names and endeared themselves to millions. Many if not most of them went on to become huge box office draws as well. What many don’t realize is that many of these folks came from a Second City background, the same background that populated the lesser known but funnier, in my opinion, SCTV show(s), which began around the same time. I won’t go into great detail as to the history of the whole Second City thing, but suffice to say that it predates all this by decades, stretching back to the 1950’s. By the early 1970’s the improvisational comedy/theater entity had expanded from its roots in Chicago to a presence in Toronto. From here some of the various cast members and writers would be plucked for greater fame and fortune into the ranks of the SNL and SCTV television casts and writing staffs. Even today many of these same people continue to do quality work.
It’s the SCTV program that will be my focus here. It went through some extremely bizarre changes as it grew from a syndicated Canadian half hour comedy show to a 90 minute staple of NBC’s late night schedule, replacing the canceled Midnight Special on Friday nights. The whole thing started in 1976 with original cast members John Candy, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, and Harold Ramis. All were writers as well, the women uncredited initially, and Ramis was the head writer, rarely appearing in sketches. This was a Toronto based show, syndicated to parts of southern Ontario, but by the second season had grown to a wider audience, including some affiliates in the US. These older shows exhibit the talents of the core cast, and only Rick Moranis is missing from the group that produced the really classic SCTV material.
The show soldiered on from Toronto, with a brief hiatus in production, but then in 1980 a deal was struck to move operations to Edmonton, Alberta. Rick Moranis, the lone cast member NOT from a Second City background, came on board, budgets increased a bit, and the behind the scenes staff was newly and highly motivated. What else is there to do in Edmonton? The desolate location was said by all to have spurred an unprecedented growth in writing quality and quantity. By this time SNL had lost its cast and mojo and there was a real need for some quality comedy on late night TV. NBC decided to take a flier on this talented but decidedly unwilling to pander to the masses group of talented people. Finally free of the financial ties of syndication, and with a major network behind them, SCTV Network 90 began airing on Fridays and was an immediate semi-hit among many for whom SNL had once been must see TV. In fact, to my comedic sense, it surpasses SNL, even from the classic late 70’s years, for sheer creativity and outright hilarity. And they did it on a shoestring budget it seems. The production values are almost part of the hilarity. Most of the budget seems to have gone to hair, makeup, and wardrobe, which was brilliant. Not much more of the money shows up on screen.
This is the SCTV that is remembered by most folks today. It was comedy for comedians. No jokes, no studio audiences ruining timing or limiting what could be attempted. This was the humor of character, with subtlety allowed to breathe. Sure there were over the top performances and broad, scenery-chewing moments, but it was most often with an undercurrent of studied satire. They took on big names like Bob Hope and Woody Allen as targets, but they did so lovingly, in ways to which the targets themselves would be oblivious, and with enough surrealism in the writing to make it light years ahead of typical impressionist fare. The best stuff however, at least for me, is the completely original stuff. Andrea Martin’s Pirini Scleroso character, attempting to learn English, Catherine O’Hara’s Lola Heatherton, the prototypical Las Vegas lounge entertainer type, with elements of Judy Garland or her progeny, Dave Thomas’s Lin Ye Tang, Joe Flaherty’s Guy Caballero or Count Floyd, Eugene Levy’s Bobby Bittman or Sid Dithers… these are what made SCTV great. And John Candy, whether playing the incorrigible Johnny La Rue or Beaver Cleaver or Babe Ruth or Harry, “the guy with the snake on his face”, was always amazing. Rick Moranis too, as video jockey Gerry Todd or Michael McDonald or Woody Allen… You see what I’m getting at? All these people were able to slip into a huge array of fantastic characters with aplomb and subtlety, each with varying degrees of instant hilarity or even pathos.
I own a whole bunch of SCTV material ripped from a series of DVD’s released in the early 2000’s, and it’s all great stuff. Mostly from the early days, before Martin Short. Not that he wasn’t great at times too, but it’s the original cast that for me most often connects, and is the basis of my love for this stuff. It’s telling that, aside from John Candy later on, nobody from amongst that group really broke out or stole the spotlight. This was an ensemble cast in every sense, with much of the writing being done collaboratively on location in Edmonton, where after all there wasn’t much to do but spend the off hours working on the show. These DVD’s are chock full of great extras too, like interviews with the hair, makeup, and wardrobe folks, the originators of Second City itself, and a great reunion Q&A session hosted by Conan O’Brien with all the cast members sans the late John Candy and Rick Moranis, who was apparently ill. They obviously still love one another and the experience of doing the show, and even now are surprised that entire generations of comedy professionals look to the SCTV oeuvre as a bible of sorts. O’Brien talks of his entire writing staff quoting SCTV bits verbatim during his preparations for hosting this thing, and his own coming of age as a comedian, finding this oddball show and calling it his own. Just as Catherine O’Hara talks of finding Monty Python early in her career and thinking to herself “this is MINE… nobody else I know gets this stuff…”, Conan took to SCTV in a very personal way, as did hordes of future comedians, writers and actors. Virtually all sketch comedy since then owes a huge debt to SCTV, perhaps even more so than to SNL. Not much sketch comedy done for a live audience.
It’s the attention to detail, the ability to perfect things in post-production, rewrite things until perfect, throw away bits that don’t work, edit down movie or TV satires that fail into promos for same, etc… It all results in the finished product being very finely honed and layered with subtleties and references that reward repeat viewing in a way that’s extremely rare in comedy. Because, once again, it’s not jokes, it’s not one liners, it’s not catch-phrases. It’s people becoming characters, using the possibilities of the medium to the fullest to let the characters’ subtleties breathe. Letting the laughs come naturally, not waiting for the studio audience or having the natural timing broken. It’s natural. It’s exaggerated, it’s bigger than life, but most of all, it’s real enough to be that much more funny. And it’s its own self-contained universe. The town of Melonville, the SCTV network itself, the mayor, station owner, the various recurring characters that work there. They all get mixed up in surreal, creative and complex ways. It’s multi-layered and again, rewards careful attention to detail.
I’ll provide just a few clips here as a small taste of how great this stuff is. There are a whole lot of short clips on YouTube, but that sorta destroys the integrity of things. You really have to immerse yourself in this stuff for the little things to come through. Like Guy Caballero cavalierly rising from his wheelchair, used for “respect”. Like Pirini Scleroso’s appearance in a “My Fair Lady” parody, funnier due to previous sightings of this English-challenged character. Like the trials and tribulations of one Johnny La Rue, played by John Candy, as he goes from bully to lackey to bully depending on the situation. Like the use of musical guests in sketches. Like Joe Flaherty’s Count Floyd character also being newscaster Floyd Robinson. Like Robinson’s partner on the news Earl Camembert’s name ALWAYS being pronounced “Cannonbear”. There are just too many intricacies to list. The Sammy Maudlin Show alone…
So first up is a clip of Pirini Scleroso, maybe her first appearance. It’s her mannerisms that kill me. Just hilarious.
Next we have maybe the best game show spoof ever. Catherine O’Hara’s Margaret Meehan character here is just insanely funny, as is Eugene Levy’s exasperated Alex Trebel.
Here’s one of my favorite John Candy bits. Harry was hilarious. Look up the Babe Ruth sketch too, another of Candy’s best, as is his portrayal of Beaver Cleaver. Candy was larger than life in every way, and his movie work pales in comparison with what he did on SCTV.
Finally, here’s one with Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, most famous as Bob and Doug MacKenzie, duking it out verbally as a Scotsman and a Jew. This may be my favorite among these as a self-contained bit. The interplay, especially near the end, is priceless and fraught with subtlety beyond the broadness of characterization on display here.
There are just too many great bits and characters to list. Aside from those already mentioned, Thomas and Flaherty’s turns as Hope and Crosby, Levy and Candy’s Fantasy Island duo, with Candy as Tattoo, Levy’s spot-on take as Floyd the barber of Andy Griffith fame, Martin’s bizarre rendering of Anne Murray, Moranis’s Dick Cavett, Levy’s Perry Como… the list goes on and on, and that’s just a few of the celebrity impersonations. Many of the best characters are those invented for the show, like Guy Caballero, Earl Camembert, William B. Williams, Johnny La Rue, Edith Prickley, Lola Heatherton, etc. It may look dated, and you may have to be an old fart like me to get many of the references, but man is it great stuff. Nothing since has been as good, with only rare exceptions coming close. These folks were pioneers, taking what Monty Python, the Firesign Theatre, even SNL to a small degree, had already done and propelling it to heights previously unscaled. It’s been saving my sanity lately, and will continue to do so periodically for decades to come. Here’s to the genius of everyone involved with what, to me, was the funniest sketch comedy program ever televised.