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The WBC, a Popularity Contest

Bud Selig is not impressed.

Let me preface this by saying that baseball is the king of my brain .  Batman may be my noggin’s silent protector but Baseball reigns supreme.  It should surprise no one, then, that I really dig the World Baseball Classic.  That said, I’m no dummy.  Despite Bud “Sisterkissin'” Selig’s best efforts, using everything from Greg Maddux to Aviici’s ‘Levels’ to increase buzz, the WBC is not nearly as popular as the higher-ups had hoped (both Maddux and that song are probably past the point of ‘sexy’ relevance to most fans now, but beside the point.  Also an intriguing band name – Sexy Relevance & the Semicolons coming to a blues house near you).  The move from ESPN to the not-as-established MLB Network certainly accounts some for the average viewership dropping from 1.6 million to 252,000 per game,  but not all (thank you SB Nation).  By the same token, however, the WBC is certainly a bigger success than “This <retch> Time <urp> it Counts <vomit>.”  That’s what it sounds like when I say that phrase out loud.

The WBC situation seems perfect. As much as I love baseball, I have to be honest – unless I am there, in a stadium, I don’t last much past 2 or 3 innings of random Spring Training baseball games. If, say, there is a particular young pitcher I’ve never seen in real time, sure, I might tune in… But those games become well organized scrimmages in a hurry. And mean little to the players who are often QUITE LITERALLY going through the motions in spring. Pitchers work on repeating their deliveries or a new pitch. Batters are seeing uncharacteristic pitches and are themselves working out the kinks. Not competitive baseball.

The lack of intensity is fine. Truly, I get it. But I must say, these WBC games are a treat at the other end of the spectrum. Say what you will about who is on the teams, by golly do they play hard. Did you see Andruw Jones react after the Netherlands beat Cuba AGAIN?! He was pumped and trash talking like a champ.

Got the old man FIRED up!

There is a gleeful mix on many of these teams between grizzled vets (see Mr. Jones) and young players excited to be playing on this competitive stage – some who will no doubt be in an interesting position not knowing whether they have a spot with the Big Club, knowing their performance matters not only for their country, but immediate career as well.

I had this thought and the tone of this post was initially going to be a get-more-scrappy-scrubs tilt. But after looking at the US roster, I no longer think that is the issue.  Sure, some folks complain about the lack of superstars on the WBC roster but I’m not so sure that isn’t a strength  of the competition.  Many of the players worked their way through the USA Baseball Program, which is kind of cool if you think about it – it’s own little farm system. Furthermore, the team actually has a nice mix of recognizable stars (a tainted Braun, Wright who’s becoming a legend, Joe ‘Great Hair’ Mauer) and major leaguers you want to root for, folks only the more passionate baseball fans appreciate (I’m looking at you, Willie Bloomquist).

Currently on sale for $600,000.

I’m calling out those out there who say there are’t enough stars on the team or whatever crap like that and this lack of pull leads to the lack of popularity in the U-S-of-A.  Pitchers are creatures of habit, I understand why someone like Justin Verlander might prefer his routine.  That’s the only area I will acknowledge the US could attempt to bring in a few more names – their starters.  But seeing as the pitches are limited, why bother?  Lack of recognizable pitching names is not what is holding the WBC from really gaining traction.

So why isn’t the World Baseball Classic a National sensation?  It is our national pastime, right?  Well that last bit is wrong.  Baseball is more like soccer now, I would argue, in that there are seriously devoted pockets all around the globe.  Baseball has succeeded in their attempts to take the game global.  Back to the initial question, then: why don’t we like this tournament more, as Americans?   I mean this answer in the least cynical way possible: we need to win.

not helping.

This notion could be bastardized in a number of exaggerated anti-American ways.  I do not mean it in any of them.  I mean it very practically.  As a nation, we assume that since we have the MLB, that we should win the damn thing!  Losing is disheartening!  Despite the percieved lack of stars, we have more stars, right?  Where Italy has Lorenzo Avagnina (giggle), we have Adam Jones, heck we have Shane Victorino.  These guys are All-Stars!  How can Amurrrica lose to a bunch of Jabronies!?  Here is where those two initial questions tie together.  Baseball is played worldwide.  And guess what?  Unlike basketball, there are a BUNCH of countries that are really good at this sport!

So how can the World Baseball Classic truly catch on in America?  Simple.  As a famous American Philosopher once said, “Just win, baby.”

AL DAVIS

-V

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Handicapping the Oscar Races for Baseball Fans Part Two

With Oscar Day nearing, here are the rest of our inane, wildly important comparisons between Oscar nominees and their MLB counterparts. As Stanley Kubrick once said, “The Oscars and MLB go together like…” Who knows what he said, but the connection was there!

The Supporting Actors

 

Alan Arkin

 

Above: Everyone’s Grandpa. A man meant for the movies, and good for everyone he encounters.

Arkin won his first Oscar in 2006 for Little Miss Sunshine, but he also received two nominations in the ‘60s. He’s never been the It Guy at any given time, but Arkin has been giving memorable performances like this one in Argo since the Millard Fillmore administration, give or take. A Hollywood kid from a Hollywood family, Arkin’s been one of the good guys in the business for half a century. Can’t imagine he has an enemy anywhere. Alan Arkin is…Kevin Millwood. Looks like a really nice guy, and there’s no evidence to suggest he’s otherwise. A long career of solid, and at times All-Star, performances. He even deserves more than what I’ve just written. Oh well, for another time.

 

Happy where he was, and the baseball world better for it.

Robert De Niro

He’s actually asleep in this picture. It’s just how his face relaxes.

 

With a legitimate chance at winning on Sunday, De Niro will be seeking his 3rd win. This marks his 7th nomination (7th!). As usual, De Niro seems to be right in the midst of the big race as well, as Silver Linings Playbook is a favorite to snag Best Picture. He’s been turning in iconic performances since he was Vito Corleone and even before, but his role in Playbook was filled with real, pure emotion, perhaps marking a difference from many of his bigger, louder roles. A man who would have been a HOF lock two decades ago, De Niro has not shied away from expanding his repertoire at any point, even allowing his role to become a supporting one so as to allow young stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper to shine. De Niro is…Todd Helton. He still delivers remarkable performances, but still he allows for younger stars to shine as the franchise/films shift towards the next generation of talent.

 

Helton reacting to finding out he made it onto our blog. Wonderful to see such enthusiasm from such an accomplished man. The privilege is ours, Todd.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

PSH releasing Andrew Garfield from captivity, it would appear.

 

With his nomination for his work in The Master, PSH has now received nominations in four of the past eight Oscar races, with a win in 2006 for Capote. He’s a quirky man, to say the least, but Hoffman has been doing it right for a long time, including 2008, when he received two Golden Globe nominations. A true student of the craft, Hoffman has shown in recent years the ability to jump from biography to political drama to romantic comedy (HOW DID HE NOT GET AN OSCAR FOR ALONG CAME POLLY?!?!) without sacrificing his effectiveness. He does have a baseball connection, having portrayed Art Howe in Moneyball despite looking NOTHING like Art Howe! Not necessarily a late bloomer, but he has received well-deserved praise—at least from the Academy—only in recent years, as his prime seems to be dwindling. PSH is…Roy Halladay. Somewhat of a late bloomer, at least late to become a certified star. Also, both men are certainly quirky fellows trending towards crazy, “method actors” in their respective fields.

Can’t deny his talent…or the crazy eyes.

 

Tommy Lee Jones

 

BUT I AM SMILING!

Jones won an Oscar for The Fugitive in 1994, and this year marks his fourth nomination. He has a good chance this time around (in case you haven’t noticed, this category is WIDE OPEN, with 5 worthy nominees), and maybe a win would even get a smile out of Agent Kay. A wily, stoic veteran of the trade, Jones has been frowning his way through hits since Fugitive and then some. Lincoln was fantastic, and in this “credible” critic’s mind, the Picture race should come down to it and Playbook. That being said, I don’t think Jones should be bringing home a trophy of his own. Nevertheless, he has cemented himself as a staple of the industry and a stabilizing force amidst the chaos that is Hollywood fame. Tommy Lee Jones is…Michael Young. The workman of baseball, pure consistency over the course of a career, all accomplished without controversy or smiles. Epitome of professionalism as well as stoicism.

I’M SORRY, OK? I’m just not used to doing this.

 

Christoph Waltz

Just wanted to make sure more people got to enjoy this laudable facial hair/armor.

 

Having won a fully deserved BSA Oscar for Inglorious Basterds, Waltz has a good chance at making it two wins in two tries, thanks to his unique work as Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained. We naïve Americans unfortunately did not know of this Austrian treasure—the anti-Schwarzenegger—until recent years, but I for one am glad we have the chance to see what we can. A delightful presence onscreen and off, and a solid SNL host if you didn’t see, Waltz is a late bloomer to our country but is making the most of his time. Tarantino knows he has a keeper, and don’t be surprised to see Waltz lurking in this category a couple more times before he’s done. Christoph Waltz is… Ichiro. As soon as he got here, his presence was felt with MVP caliber performance and sustained excellence. We wish he had been here longer, but we should enjoy the time we have to admire his unique brand of individual brilliance.

Shame he has to wear that jersey, but still a talent to be enjoyed by all.

 

  

The Supporting Actresses

 

Amy Adams

 

I’ll be yah Doug!

Only 38 and now four Oscar nominations with her work in The Master? Damn, girl. Four nominations in eight years is quite the run. Adams also has a baseball tie, but we as a site have decided to deny the existence of Trouble With the Curve, shockingly not nominated for any Oscars. She’s been always entertaining for about a decade now, whether as a nun, Chahhhhhhlene, or Princess Giselle. Side note: I am not ashamed to admit that Enchanted is and always will be wildly entertaining, and I can only hope the rumored sequel will soon become reality. A talented and adaptable performer with plenty of time left to fill up her trophy case, Amy Adams is…Prince Fielder. The fact that they look like siblings aside, both are winners who we often neglect when considering the finest in their generation. Overshadowed by other talented people at times, both continue to deliver impressive work. Princess Giselle and Prince Fielder? You’re welcome, future lovers.

 

I I do NOT eat meat! ‘Cept for steak, ham, bacon. You know how it is.

Sally Field

Oh sweet, Sally Field. You’re just so casual.

 

Can’t say I’m a huge fan in general or of her performance in Lincoln itself, but I cannot deny that this is her third nomination, with two wins in her first two tries. Still find her a little annoying, and her barely bearable Oscar victory speech (NO, I will not provide a link. I’m not an enabler.) is, well, barely bearable. She’ll be remembered as a talented, successful actress who was recognized for her notable performances. Still, Sally Field, I really don’t like you. I really, really don’t. Sally Field is…Alex Rodriguez. He was great then he bottomed out, was sort of great, then plummeted again. He is a member of the I Could Have Been One of the Best Ever Without PEDs But Now My Career is Forever Tarnished group. Field has no known link to PEDs, but for me her career was tarnished when she seduced her way to earning Forrest Gump a football scholarship.

Which half is the ass?

 

Anne Hathaway

She can be happy! Be happy, girl. You’ve earned it.

 

The probable winner in this category, Hathaway now has two nominations for uber-depressing performances, for Les Miserables this year and Rachel Getting Married in 2009. A somewhat polarizing actress since her breakthrough in 2001’s The Princess Diaries (everyone loves it, so don’t be ashamed), Hathaway has confirmed her place among the elite performers of her generation, and she will undoubtedly be found on A-lists and Oscar lists for years to come. Forgetting Bride Wars, as I’m sure she has, Hathaway has built up an impressive body of work, including her great performance in last summer’s blockbuster Catwoman Rides the Batpod. She has her prime before her at only 31, and her talent is apparent. Anne Hathaway is…Ryan Braun. An electric young talent with nearly limitless potential, generally admired but with some polarizing feature. Hathaway perhaps acted with a chip on her shoulder following personal troubles. Braun’s middle finger to the world of a 2012 season was fun to watch and underappreciated.

He don’t look like he’s done proving himself quite yet.

 

Helen Hunt

Helen Hunt? Jodie Foster? Yes.

 

Real talk: no one saw The Sessions. No disrespect, and it’s nice for Hunt to receive a second nomination (she won for As Good as It Gets), but she will not be taking home the statue this year. She was in Twister, so there’s that. Certainly talented and respected by most everyone (me included, despite this mean take), Hunt is enjoying the ride as she nears 50. She had a solid ‘90s run as a go-to big name, but now Hunt is a solid performer winding down an All-Star, but probably not Hall of Fame career. She is… Edgar Renteria. He had some memorable moments around the same time of Hunt’s peak (see his 1997 World Series heroics), and he got a win as his career dwindled (2010 with the Giants), but in all truly a somewhat typical career. Sorry, you two.

Just happy to be here. Thank you. Red Sox fans wonder how he won two World Series.

 

Jacki Weaver

Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Jacki! Yes, she is actually that short.

 

Two nominations in three years ain’t so bad, and as you may have noticed, I unabashedly loved Silver Linings Playbook. She probably won’t win, but Weaver helped make a film that should not only be recognized as this year’s best, but as one of the best works in recent years. I’m not being mean about this one; Weaver actually hasn’t done that much work that anyone will remember. At 75, she seems content with the excellent performances she’s turned in the past few years. With great talent that most of us have only seen for a brief time period, Jacki Weaver is…the inverse of Rocco Baldelli. He came up as the prospect to watch and then burned out for reasons out of his control. She came to the forefront late but made an impact. She’s a little old for Rocco, but their careers kind of complete each other. Sounds like a movie waiting to be made…

HOW did I end up on your blog again?

Well, that concludes our biting Oscar commentary. Enjoy Sunday night and what is sure to be a memorable performance by Seth MacFarlane. Some have been alluded to, but here are our final predictions for the big ones:

Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis

Actress: Jennifer Lawrence

Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway

Director: Steven Spielberg (although David O. Russell would be a worthy victor)

Picture: Silver Linings Playbook

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WHAT IS GOING ON?!

There is little to be said about this video other than it is completely absurd. Welcome to the internet.

But like this video, the past few days of sports have been alarming- kind of. The NBA appears to be fixed? A baseball superstar took designer PED’s? My mock shock levels are at an all time high!

The NBA issue first; it is the worst kept secret in all of sports that the NBA is fixed worse than the WWE. Think about it: for years, nay, DECADES, the masses have griped and questioned the integrity of the officiating. Then an official gets caught betting on games. And for some reason (David Stern’s brainwashing machine?) we think this one poor guy, Donaghy, is the only official getting a little something on the side?!?  Am I that cynical or are we all that naive?  Donaghy deserves everything he gets not because he was the black sheep of the sport but because he was dumb enough to get caught when it would seem dozens of others have been running the same scam for years.

Which brings me to this Chris Paul trade debacle.  The NBA lockout was bad enough.  There is not enough space on the internet and airwaves to properly broadcast every fans’ grievances against a broken and stupid league.  Both sides come off as equally greedy, stubborn, clueless and wrong.  But someone realized – ‘crap, if we don’t have games on Christmas, we’re blowing a HUGE payday, and I love money more than sex!’  – or something of the like, it would seem.  The NBA’s new deal came together quickly and allegedly fixed all woes.  This was obviously a lie.  David Stern cited ‘the best interest of the league’ in his czar-like vetoing of the trade.  Please, if someone would, explain to me how it is in the best interest of the league, a league, may I remind you, that just locked out for 150 days over the disparity between small and big market teams (at least partially), for the commissioner to force a team to keep a player who wants out, will become a free agent, leave for a bigger market, and yield nothing in return for the small-market Hornets.

Go ahead… I’ll wait.

OY GEVALT!

It doesn’t make sense.  Stern can claim other small-market owners voiced concern, but I call bull.  Paul is 99.99999% guaranteed to leave for New York, an LA team, or some other big-time market after the season.  He wants out.  How is it in the best interest of the Hornets to keep him, lose him and get nothing?  The deal would have landed them Kevin Martin, a stellar player, though obviously not Chris Paul, Luis Scola, a legitimate forward, and Lamar Odom-Kardashian, as solid a bench player as they come.  And a first round pick!  Wouldn’t those pieces have helped the Hornets going forward?  Didn’t Stern just dissolve any illusion that Hornets’ “General Manager” Dell Demps (in quotations because he’s a GM like I’m a writer, apparently) has any real power?  Here Demps thinks he has masterminded just about as good a deal as a GM can muster when a superstar clearly wants to go and the commissioner comes along and stuffs him in a locker, metaphorically, obviously.  Stern couldn’t take Demps, no sir-ee-bob.

This whole business stinks to me.  Something is dirty in the NBA, something is not as it seems.

————

And now, for the continue-to-break-my-heart-baseball department…

this is just about the saddest picture google could find quickly. I do not know this poor, sad girl, but I imagine we are both distraught over the allegations.

 

Honestly, this bombshell couldn’t have come at a worse time.  Baseball was a a-buzz with the Marlins spending like drunken frat bros in a strip club, Pujols flippin’ Saint Louis the bird, and the Three Stooges-esque hijinks of the Red Sox (mis)management.  People were engaged and talking about the 2012 season with genuine interest.

Sigh.  This steroid crap again.

We had pushed it to the back of our minds.  We had convinced ourselves that this new crop of players had been subjected to legitimate and strict testing.  We thought this time was different.  But like a cheating significant other, we were wrong to trust.  And it’s not even important if the allegations of cheating stick (see the double meaning of ‘cheat’ there? Boy am I clever)- it’s the seed of doubt they planted.  Even if a perfectly reasonable explanation comes forward some genetic thing, an overdose of PowerBars, tainted meat in a 5-dollar footlong – we will always be stuck with that terrible and persistent devil, doubt.  Ryan Braun is forever tainted, whether he is truly guilty or not, because we as fans somewhere deep down know that basketball is not alone in shady dealings.  The suspicion of conspiracy will always live on, even if his name is cleared.  And if he’s dirty, and the reigning MVP has to serve a 50-game suspension for steroids?  Bad news.  It’s never just one.  Cheating is infectious.  If he can get away with it, so can I.  The chips will fall, and the goodwill baseball has built up by trying to bring back it’s ‘clean’ sport will go back to square one.

The NBA situation frustrates me.  I have little patience for dishonesty in general and even less when the liars have the gall to treat me like an idiot as they lie.  The Braun allegations truly unsettle me.  Maybe I was foolish and wanted to believe.  I should have known better.  It’s no different than business, because sports IS a business.  We saw all the banks fall and Wall Street crumble in a web of lying and greed.  With so much on the line, people do what they think they have to as a means to get ahead. Why should sports be any different?  In both isolated worlds, with enough resources you basically control everything.  So when the wall comes down, should we really be so shocked that those in charge abused that singular power? That people cut corners? That many are cutthroat, to get ahead?

There will be no “occupy the commissioner’s office” movement.  These issues, as they always are, will be pushed back in our minds and overwhelmed, as they should be, by larger, world-altering problems like Donald Trump and American Idol.  We will force ourselves to forget, then we will get burned again.

Maybe I’m wrong, and the cold weather is making me dreary, maybe I’m over-stating, but these situations got me thinking not just about sports, but about large businesses in general- just because these select few control so much and have a certain amount of wealth and power (Commissioners, Owners, Congressmen, Brokers all of them), why do we assume they will behave justly?  Most people do not.  And when these select few do not, it affects a much larger scale.

 

-w

 

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