Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pillow Talk for History Geeks, The Cup, The Sox, Genghis Khan and Guilty White Liberals

I am very territorial. In fact, I've been known to start growling and spraying on the wall when I'm in a public restroom and someone occupies the urinal next to mine. It's my own little cross to bear, and I suppose I'll deal with it some day.

Anyway, the other night, my wife's pillow was sitting partially on top of my pillow. My "growling and spraying" instinct nearly kicked in, but I tried to be civil.

"That's gotta go," I said.
"Why?" she responded.
"Because it's on my side, and I don't like it."
"No, I think I'll leave it."
"Okay, look, I'm Germany, you're France, and I'm about to re-enact World War II over this pillow."
"Why do I have to be the stupid French?"
"Because your pillow is going to move or be moved."

I paused, and considered my next move. I grabbed the pillow, put it on my side and said, "There, that's Alsace-Lorraine."

---

I mentioned to a friend of mine that there is a certain piece of protective equipment that most football players, amazingly, do not wear. He did not believe me. Fine. Here's your damn proof.

---

I hate the Yankees, but watching Johnny Damon sign with them was almost worth it to hear all the pissing and moaning of fans of the most overexposed team in American sports. Good God, do these people EVER shut up? Bill Simmons even emerged from his secret compound where he meets with Dick Cheney to give Sawx fans a place to vent, piss and moan. What happened to that five year grace period?

The sad thing? I used to like the Red Sox. I really did. I admired the loyalty and passion of their fans. But upon further review, they're passionate in the same way that a 3 year old child is passionate when he's screaming at the top of his lungs because he doesn't want to go to bed.

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You know how people love to stick supposedly inspirational quotes in their signature, from inspirational-like people, usually some dead musician or marginally talented writer like Maya Angelou or whoever? Well, here's my new idea: every day, have a different quote in your signature line from a different dictator in history. Start with King Herod, then work your way forward through history and see if you can get all the way to Saddam Hussein before getting a talking-to from friends and/or co-workers.

Think about this, which of these signature lines is a better description of life atop corporate America?

1. "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere."
-- Carl Sagan

2. "The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters."
-- Genghis Khan

I'm going with #2. In fact, I could see someone like Jack Welch or Al Dunlap engraving that on their office wall.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah!

Seriously, what's wrong with those holiday greetings? Why do some ultra-secular people get offended when those greetings are bestowed upon them? I mean, whatever your personal beliefs may be, you're being wished a positive greeting, so why get angry? This small minority of guilty white liberals, in their never ending effort to be all-inclusive, have managed to alienate probably 95% of the population with this annual effort to take the Christ out of Christmas. Nobody's wishing you ill will with a Merry Christmas greeting. Although I might if my Christmas greeting is taken poorly...

Phil: Merry Christmas, Guilty White Liberal friend!
GWL: Please don't say Merry Christmas, I find that insulting.
Phil: Okay, I hope you have a Miserable December 25th and a Crappy New Year. Feel better?

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah!

Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit From Coach Nicholas

(cross posted at http://www.finheaven.com/cms/255.html)

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the team
A 7-7 season (so far), was a lot better than it might seem.
The playbooks were stacked in the coach’s office with care
With the knowledge that Coach Nicholas soon would be there.

The front office was nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of Super Bowls danced in their heads
The assistants with their clipboards, and the backups their caps
Sat through an all-night film session hoping they could sneak in some naps.

They were content to watch film of Tom Brady getting sacked
And various parts of Chad Pennington getting cracked
When out on the roof, there arose a great noise
One jumped up and shouted, “Yo, check it out, boys!”

They ran to the window and threw back the curtain
And there saw a man they all knew for certain.
With his stringent demeanor (some called him a prick)
They knew in a moment it must be Coach Nick.

He was staging a scrimmage, hard at work on the ground game
He snarled and he growled and called his horses by name.
“Run Ronnie! Run Ricky! Up the middle, left and right!
Run over ‘backers and safeties! For every yard, we will fight!”

His defense was mighty, and nasty and huge
From this monstrosity, offenses could not take refuge.
From the middle, the edge and both sides they attacked
And opposing QBs had no choice but be sacked.

With Scott on the sidelines (he got kicked out of the booth)
Gus Frerotte ran his offense until they could develop a youth.
So with a green light to go deep, Frerotte heaved the ball high
Hoping to hit Chambers while he was running a fly.

High up in the air, the pigskin it flew
Chambers leaped for the ball, and was down at the two.
Then they were stopped on first down, and second, and third
But Coach Nick passed up a field goal, he thought it absurd.

“Why settle for three?”, he asked, with a smirk
“That sounds like the thinking of that old coach, Dave Wann-jerk!”
Brown dove over center, and came down in the end zone
Knocking over a linebacker like he was an orange cone.

The execution was perfect, “now THAT’S Dolphins football!
Now do that every week, and by God, we’ll win ‘em all!”
Saban ended the scrimmage, to plan for next season
And the weak and expensive feared him for this very reason.

“Don’t worry there, Reggie, on Christmas, no one gets cut
But come January the Second, out of here is your butt.”
The process had begun, Coach Saban he knew
But until the Dolphins were champions, there was work yet to do.

He’d cut out the deadwood, and build through the draft
He’d use his cap room wisely, for he had mastered this craft
No more wasted picks, no more silly trades
It would be a Dolphin Nation from the Georgia line to the ‘Glades

So he jumped in his car, to his team, gave a whistle
And to him they came, just as fast as a missile
He yelled, before going home to his holiday feast
“Merry Christmas to all, and next year, let’s win the AFC East!”

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Baseball Offseason So Far

Most of the big names on the hot stove have been moved. A few are still out there of course, the biggest being Manny Ramirez. But at this point, it’s fairly clear who’s coming out ahead this offseason, and who’s going into 2006 with big holes to fill. So, without further ado, here are the grades for the baseball offseason to this point…

Arizona – They were in a tight spot with Javier Vazquez, but got good value in return. Chris Young should be a keeper, even if he’s a couple years away. They got a decent reliever in Luis Vizcaino, too. I don’t think that Orlando Hernandez will help much, though. But trading two young pitchers for the very ordinary Johnny Estrada wasn’t a smart move. Grade: C+

Atlanta – Liked the Estrada trade for them; Oscar Villareal has a chance to be a contributor, and Estrada was nothing special behind the plate, but the Edgar Renteria swap will hurt. The Braves are paying roughly 60% of the remainder of his deal, which takes him from “outrageously overpriced” to merely “overpriced”. The cult of personality that surrounds Renteria is amazing. His defense was atrocious last year, and I refuse to believe that it’s entirely the Boston media’s fault. Plus, he’s not the hitter conventional wisdom seems to think. People think he merely struggled the last two years, when in fact his career stats are pretty darn close to what he did the last two seasons, and given his supposed age of 30 (I’ve always believed Renteria’s older than that, though I freely admit I have no proof to back that up), it’s not likely that he’s going to suddenly get better. For this, they gave up a top 10 prospect in Andy Marte. They’ve also lost Kyle Farnsworth, Julio Franco and Rafael Furcal, and aside from the shaky Renteria trade, haven’t done much to replace them. Meanwhile, their chief rivals, the Mets, have advanced leaps and bounds. Grade: D-

Baltimore – Nice move in getting Ramon Hernandez, who will platoon with Javy Lopez in a C/DH platoon. If that works out, it should keep both guys healthy and playing a full season. Neat “outside the box” thinking. Frankly, I’m surprised more teams don’t try that, although the scarcity of catchers that can actually hit probably forbids it. Letting BJ Ryan walk hurt a lot, though, because this team didn’t have much pitching to begin with. That must be addressed, and there’s not much left on the market to do it. Maybe they can land Kris Benson from the Mets, but for now, they get marked down for it. Couple that with the fact that the Blue Jays are clearly a better team at this point, and the Devil Rays are gaining, and the O’s haven’t done nearly enough. Grade: C-

Boston – For a team that was without a GM for a couple months, the Olde Towne Team has done a nice job. Love the Josh Beckett pickup, and the very quiet throw-in of Guillermo Mota in that deal will pay dividends for a horrible bullpen. Mike Lowell cannot possibly be as bad as he was last year unless he somehow has suffered from a bizarre Kevin Millar-like loss of ability. They screwed the Braves in the Renteria deal, too, although Marte’s probably getting flipped to some other team. Bringing back Mike Timlin, their one reliable reliever from 2005, was important too, and Mark Loretta should give them at least one good year at second. Of course, the Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon situations hang over this team, so their grade could easily be revised in the future, either up or down. Grade: B+

Chicago Cubs – They got Juan Pierre without overpaying, which was good. But Pierre’s plate patience has been in decline since his impressive .374 OBP in 2003. With Dusty Baker and his free-swinging ways at the helm, I wonder if Pierre will get back to that form. Still, he’s good defensively and doesn’t cost a ton compared to a guy like Johnny Damon. The additions of Bob Howry and Scott Eyre will help the bullpen a lot. Grade: B

Chicago White Sox – With the pickup of Vazquez, to go with the additions of Jim Thome and Rob Mackowiak, along with the retention of Paul Konerko, the White Sox have become the “it” team for big offseasons. I disagree. The Thome deal didn’t make sense from my point of view: why swap a valuable player (Aaron Rowand) to take on the majority of an insane contract for an injury-prone slugger in decline? If they really wanted one of those, what was wrong with bringing back Frank Thomas on the cheap and using some of those savings to add power somewhere else in the lineup? Retaining Konerko was their best move, even if I can’t help the feeling that he’s going to decline now that he’s cashed in. Can’t argue with the Vazquez trade, though. Grade: B-

Cincinnati – Good move in moving Sean Casey for Dave Williams, but they need to do a lot more for their lousy pitching staff. The acquisition of Tony Womack was silly, whatever the cost. Womack’s a terrible baseball player who will take at bats away from someone who could actually produce if given a chance. I’m reminded of the great Ben Jacobs, Red Sox fan extraordinaire, who rejoiced when the Yankees got Womack, and regularly toasted to Womack’s good health. Grade: C

Cleveland – Lost Bob Howry, but their bullpen is so deep they could afford it. What they do with Kevin Millwood will go a long way to determining their grade, but the Paul Byrd signing was a good start. Byrd’s a pretty solid pitcher, and they didn’t go overboard to sign him. Grade: B-

Colorado – Nothing of any consequence for what’s rapidly becoming the most non-descript team in baseball. This franchise has no discernable plan that I can find. What, exactly, is wrong with stockpiling as much hitting talent as possible and trying to win every game 10-8? They’re never going to have good pitching there, so they might as well take advantage of what they do have. Grade: C-

Detroit – They got Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers and paid through the nose for both. Missing out on Kyle Farnsworth was huge; that’s the guy they needed, not Jones. Grade: C

Florida – Well, they had a plan and followed through with it. That’s about the best you can say for the Marlins, who will be indistinguishable from many AAA teams this season. Dontrelle Willis must be counting the days until he’s expensive enough to get swapped. They got good value in return for just about everyone they moved, but all but sealed their fate as a lame duck franchise for the next few years. Oh yeah, and they raised ticket prices, too, which is about as ballsy as that guy who broke into someone’s house, got hurt in so doing, and sued. Grade: I suppose their grade depends entirely on your point of view; either they get a B+ for doing a good job of swapping veterans for prospects, or get an F for giving their collective fan base a giant middle finger and dooming themselves to Montreal Expos status (i.e. crowds of 5000 or so) until a new home is found.

Houston – I don’t like the Astros’ approach so far. The thinking appears to be that since they won the NL title, it’s all peaches and cream. In reality, the Astros were an extremely lucky team; from a Pythagorean perspective, they were no better than the Phillies or Mets and had the good luck to catch the Braves and Cardinals wounded in the playoffs. Now, their best pitcher is a longshot to return, and they’ve done nothing to upgrade a very weak lineup. Granted, they probably made the right call on Clemens, declining arbitration so as to avoid tying up about $15-20 million in resources, but they’ve done nothing to put those resources to use, and shown no signs that they plan to. Grade: D-

Kansas City – Classic Royals; sign a bunch of “name” veterans who can’t really play (i.e. Doug Mientkiewicz, Paul Bako, etc.) and try to win with the tried and untrue “veteran leadership” philosophy. Small market teams absolutely must make better use of their resources than this. If the Royals had pumped every available dime into scouting, scouring the Rule 5 and signing their draft picks, they’d be a hell of a lot farther ahead than they are. Only the solid Mark Grudzielanek signing saves them from an F. Grade: D.

Los Angeles Angels – Anaheim, Los Angeles, Orange County, Southern California, Western America, whatever you want to call them, it looks like Jarrod Washburn’s going to walk and Paul Byrd already did, so their rotation might be in a bad way, and it also looks like a Manny Ramirez trade isn’t happening, which will hurt more. I like the JC Romero pickup, although their bullpen was already loaded. Speaking of loaded, I think that’s what Bill Stoneman was when he handed Hector Carrasco $5 million a year. Or maybe Stoned, man. Wow, that was lame. Not good so far, but they’ve got a creative and well-heeled front office, so don’t count them out just yet. Grade: D+

Los Angeles Dodgers – Paid a ton for Rafael Furcal (3 years, $39 million), but better to overpay for quality than crap (see Tigers, Detroit). Furcal should help a dormant offense. Bill Mueller was a nice pickup, too, but they could use at least one more hitter. Grade: B

Milwaukee – They got good value for Lyle Overbay, who was a pretty ordinary hitter away from the friendly confines of Miller Park. More importantly, it freed a spot for Prince Fielder in the lineup. I also got a kick out of them re-acquiring Dan Kolb from the Braves for a fraction of what the Braves paid to get Kolb last year. Pay attention, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, this is how you run a small market team. Grade: B+

Minnesota – The Luis Castillo move looks nice and all, but his speed has all but deserted him (look at the declining number of steals, and his declining effectiveness in stealing). He can get on base and field, but how does that separate him from the much cheaper Mark Loretta? Castillo was a decent pickup, mind you, but a bit overrated, and certainly not nearly enough for the Twins to catch the White Sox. Grade: C+

New York Mets – They overpaid for Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner, and will find out the same thing the Dodgers and Marlins did about Paul LoDuca; he’s a fine hitter until the All-Star break. But here’s the thing: they had to make those moves. Even if LoDuca is a great hitting catcher for three months and an average one for three months; they’re still getting a better catcher than most teams have. And with Wagner and Delgado, they probably had to overpay, and as I said above, if you’re going to overpay, do it for quality, and the Mets certainly got quality. Most interesting of all: the payroll is the same as it was last year, because they’ve quietly shed a lot of cash. The Mike Cameron/Xavier Nady trade was questionable on value, but saved a lot of money. The same thing will probably happen if/when they swap Kris Benson. It’s that kind of fiscal sensibility that may allow them to take on Manny Ramirez’s contract, though who knows how that will play out. They still need to upgrade at second and add another good reliever, but for now, they’ve probably improved more than any other team. Grade: A

New York Yankees – The Yankees have done a decent job, and for once, done it quietly. They lost Tom Gordon, but gained Kyle Farnsworth, which will prove to be a huge upgrade. Mike Myers is a nice lefty specialist, and retaining Hideki Matsui was tremendous. Still, the starting rotation is up in the air, and they’re still missing a center fielder. Grade: B

Oakland – They get an A for heisting Milton Bradley from the Dodgers, and an F for the terrible Estaban Loaiza signing, which might be the worst free agent signing of the offseason. Let’s see what happens with Barry Zito before giving them a final grade, though. Grade: C

Philadelphia – I liked the Jim Thome deal; they got a valuable player in Aaron Rowand, didn’t get stuck with a ridiculous chunk of Thome’s deal, and cleared that spot once and for all for Ryan Howard. Unfortunately, they haven’t upgraded a starting rotation that was an Achilles’ heel last year (in fact, they hurt it by trading Vicente Padilla) and most importantly, are replacing Billy Wagner with Tom Gordon. This will have disastrous results. Gordon’s K/IP ratio has been in steep decline, and at age 38, that’s unlikely to change. That sweet curveball of his will fool NL hitters for a couple months, but once it’s clear the fastball that backs it up is gone, they will tee off on it. Grade: C-

Pittsburgh – Another small market team rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The Williams-Casey swap was terrible. No amount of “veteran leadership” can make up for Casey’s lack of power. Okay, great, he can give a hotfoot and a shaving cream pie in the face with the best of them. That’s useless if he’s taking up 600 at bats and hitting about one home run every 3 weeks. Oh yeah, and he’s getting $8 million to do that. Their other moves are basically just reshuffling the bullpen, another hallmark of small market teams that don’t know how to use money wisely. Grade: D-

St. Louis – The Redbirds have definitely taken a step back. Mark Grudzielanek was a good second baseman and gets replaced by Aaron Miles, who isn’t. I didn’t quite understand the desire to trade Ray King for Larry Bigbie, even if they were desperate for OF help, with Larry Walker and John Mabry gone. Adding Ricardo Rincon and Braden Looper will offset the loss of King, Julian Tavarez and Kevin Jarvis in the pen. Grade: C

San Diego – They kept who they needed to keep: Trevor Hoffman, Brian Giles and Dave Roberts. The Nady/Cameron swap will help them a lot too. Remember that Cameron is in a walk year, so he’ll be motivated to get a big contract. Losing Ramon Hernandez is a setback, but everyone pretty much knew that was coming anyway. Grade: B

San Francisco – I like the Matt Morris signing. I view Morris like Kevin Millwood; they both should be so much better than they are, but still, they’re pretty good. Pinch hitter extraordinaire Mark Sweeney will help, too. Grade: B

Seattle – They signed Kenji Johjima, who should be one of the better catchers in the AL. I’m particularly looking forward to watching Johjima try to talk strategy with and settle down pitchers on the mound, seeing as how he apparently speaks no English or Spanish. One of those pitchers will apparently be Jarrod Washburn, by today’s report. Two good moves, and the pickup of Carl Everett might pay dividends, since they apparently got him on the cheap. Grade: B+

Tampa Bay – The Sean Burroughs/Dewon Brazleton swap would have made Baseball America headlines three years ago. Now, it’s basically two teams trying to recoup a little bit on their original investment. The D-Rays have been all talk and no action so far, apart from that move, but then, with so many good, young players on the way, there’s no pressure to make moves. For once, this franchise is headed in the right direction. Grade: C

Texas – I’ve never seen a trade divide opinions like the Alfonso Soriano for Brad Wilkerson deal. I mean, opinions are absolutely running the gamut. There are baseball people on both sides whose opinions I greatly respect, some saying that the Rangers made a phenomenal deal, and others saying they got screwed. Put me closer to the latter category. I think Soriano’s a heck of a hitter, and I don’t care that his defense at second is subpar. His bat makes up for it several times over. Yes, his stats away from Arlington were not all that great, but with the Yankees, they were fine, and it’s not unusual to see stats split that way. I think the Rangers could have gotten more, and should have gotten some pitching. Grade: C-

Toronto – Remember what I said about the Mets and Dodgers? It goes triple here. You can make a case that Furcal’s and Wagner’s deals weren’t too bad, but no one, NO ONE will dispute that the Jays overpaid greatly to make Jays out of A. Burnett and B. Ryan…get it, A.J(ay), B.J(ay)? Wow, that was lame. Anyway, they definitely helped the pitching staff, and they had the money to burn, after raising the team’s payroll ceiling, but man, those are risky investments. Burnett is fairly injury prone, and almost certainly crazy, but his talent is such that this deal could look like a bargain if everything breaks right. As for Ryan, giving a reliever a five year deal is nearly unprecedented. The Lyle Overbay swap was another case of paying a bit too much for a good player. Nevertheless, they’re working their way into making the AL East a three-team fight, and that’s progress. Grade: B

Washington – See above for my thoughts on the Soriano deal, as the significance of everything else they’ve done pales by comparison. It could certainly backfire if Soriano continues refusing to play the outfield, but more to the point, why would you want to take a bat like that off second base unless he was absolutely hopeless defensively? I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Soriano or Jose Vidro got flipped to another team from this whole mess. I’d like to give the Nationals an A- or B+ because I liked the Soriano trade, in and of itself, so much, but they way they’ve mangled the situation forces me to knock that down. Grade: B

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Arrested!

It's all but a formality that FOX will be cancelling Arrested Development at the close of this season, and that's a damned shame.

For those who might not know (or care), FOX cut their order for the show from the standard 22 episodes to 13, for the third straight year. Considering Arrested Development narrowly escaped cancellation last year, it's all but a fait accompli now.

If you haven't watched the show, I'm not going to push it hard. I hate people who push shows relentlessly; it's the surest way to not get someone to enjoy it. Plus, one person's sense of humor may differ greatly from another's. That's the problem with Arrested Development. The show has never really found an audience. And unlike some people, I don't blame FOX for this. They started that show in the post-Simpsons timeslot, which is about the best thing FOX can offer. How else would King of the Hill have become such a huge hit? It sure helped the X-Files, too. FOX gave the show what I think was a fair shake. It's just never caught on.

Arrested Development has never caught on because it's not a standard sitcom. It's certainly not like any sitcom on network TV. That's part of the problem: sitcoms have had a cookie-cutter formula for decades, and they're not quite ready to break out of it yet. Look at the crap that's on CBS right now. My buddy Nick and I could get a case of beer, stay up all night and pen a half-season of a CBS sitcom while playing poker if we were inclined to do so. All you need is a loveable but dumb man, married to an attractive and intelligent woman who's clearly too good for him, with children or parents who spout sarcastic one liners every 3 minutes. Mix in a problem that snowballs because of the husband's failure to tell the wife something simple, and wrap it up in 23 minutes. Cue credits. How many CBS sitcoms does that describe right now? In the case of "Two and a Half Men", just substitute a ne'er-do-well brother for the wife.

The sad part is that people respond to this stuff, and that's why the networks do it. That's fine; I'm not opposed to that. If you've had a long day at work, the last thing you want is to use your head for anything more than a hat rack. Hell, I use to enjoy watching pro wrestling, so I'm chucking bricks in a glass house here. With Arrested Development, either you love it, or you don't get it. And since most people aren't inclined to use their brains after 5 pm, most people just don't get it. It's too bad, really, because it's almost certainly the most clever comedy in years; certainly since Seinfeld. In the end, I suspect we'll remember Arrested Development as just being a show that was a bit ahead of its time. Seinfeld shook up the sitcom genre, and Arrested Development could have done the same thing given the right circumstances (possibly Ray Romano and Kevin James dying in a car accident).

The good news, though, is that Arrested Development might live on. ABC and Showtime are both reportedly actively working to land it for next year. Maybe there's hope yet for the Bluth family. And for sitcoms.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

John Lennon

Yes, I know I promised to write more about health care. And I will. But today is apparently the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death. I know this because every radio station in town is playing "Imagine" over and over and over again.

Lennon, of course, was one of the great musical geniuses of our time. I mean that. Now, growing up in my house, there was a running battle: Rolling Stones vs. Beatles. Well, I was on the side of the Stones. My mom, the Beatles. I always felt that the Stones' early music had more heart and much more of a blue collar feel to it, not to mention a much darker edge. That appealed to me more than the Beatles work, though Elanor Rigby is probably as dark and creepy as anything the Stones ever did. Nevertheless, it's nearly impossible not to admire Lennon's music.

Lennon, of course, was shot on this day in 1980 by a small minded idiot who later said "I just wanted to get my name in the papers". My father, always a big fan of poetic justice, said, "they should have just wiped his name out of all the books that have been written about this." Accordingly, we'll call Lennon's killer "John Doe".

The interesting thing is that, in a way, John Doe made Lennon even bigger than he was; no small feat. We have a way of lionizing people like Lennon who die before their time, always assuming the absolute best. We assume that Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin would go on to write brilliant, inspiring music for the next 20 years. How do we know that Joplin (who I believe was overrated anyway) wouldn't flame out after another album? How do we know that Hendrix wouldn't become a self-parody like Bob Dylan (or, let's be honest, Paul McCartney)? How do we know that Kurt Cobain's ultimate destiny wasn't to blow his head off, and that if he hadn't done it the day he did, he'd do it the next?

I don't think it's wrong that we make these people bigger than they are, it's just interesting, that's all. In Lennon's case, his premature death has transformed him from musical genius to martyr for peace. I heard a radio host today say "it's ironic that this man of peace would be murdered like that." Hmmm...Jesus, Gandhi, King Jr., Lennon. Taking, for the moment, the GIANT leap of faith that Lennon should be lumped with Jesus, I'm not sure where the irony comes in, since mankind has been killing men of peace for about as long as we've had recorded history, but whatever.

In any event, I do wonder what would have happened had Lennon lived. A Beatles reunion would have been nearly certain by the 90s. Granted, Roger Waters and Pink Floyd never reunited, but it's hard to imagine Lennon and McCartney not finding their way back to one another if they could make that much money. Remember that Lennon's the guy who once said, "today, I'm going to write myself a new swimming pool." That would have been quite a spectacle. John Doe ruined that, too, of course.

I'd like to give you the line that I'm upset that I was robbed of the chance to hear the Beatles' music, and of the chance to tell my kids about it, but in reality, as with the Stones, the Beatles best work was done in the 60s. A reunion tour would have been great, but it wouldn't have been musically brilliant, at least not the way their old work was. When I'm playing music in the stereo years from now, it's probably not going to be the Stones "Voodoo Lounge" album, it's going to be "Hot Rocks". And the same goes for the Beatles. John Lennon's dead, but he lives on through his music. And that's probably how he would have liked it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

So Long, Bruins

I've been a Boston Bruins fan for about as long as I've seriously followed hockey, which is to say for about 20 years. As a kid, I lived and died with Bruins games on the rare occasions that they were on "Hockey Night in Canada". I'd sit at the kitchen table with my grandfather for hours and talk about the Bruins and his favorite team, their archrivals, the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens actually had a streak of beating the Bruins in the playoffs that, for a time, rivaled the one-sidedness of the Red Sox-Yankees series (you know, before the last couple years). When the B's finally broke through and beat Montreal in a playoff series the year my grandfather died, I was convinced, for a little while, that it was his way of passing his love of hockey onto me.

I've stuck with the black and gold for a long time, through thick and thin. I saw the Bruins players work their asses off, and cultivate a well-earned reputation as the hardest working team in hockey. I watched on TV as the old Boston Garden absolutely shook from the rafters to the basement with a big playoff goal. It was FUN to be a fan of the Bruins.

And then, sometime around the early 90's, things changed. The team began to go south, ever so slightly. As salaries went up, management tightened the purse strings. The team basically created an unofficial salary cap, allowing them to pay Raymond Bourque and Cam Neely, but shuffling the cast around them as costs dictated. I'd read that the Jacobs family (who live in Buffalo, not Boston, and are seen in Boston only on the rarest of occasions) didn't care about winning, just the bottom line. I didn't believe it at first, but evidence slowly built up.

By the mid-90s, it became apparent to me that Bourque, a player I idolized like no other except for Dan Marino, would never win a Stanley Cup in Boston. I was bitter at team management for not giving him a supporting cast, but never quite gave up hope. March 6, 2000, was at once one of the best and worst days I've ever had as a sports fan. Bourque was traded to Colorado, where he would ultimately win the championship that eluded him in Boston. At the same time, it was the ultimate white flag. The Bruins were admitting that they had failed Bourque.

There were other white flag moves over the years that signalled management's lack of interest in winning. The Bruins became the first team in NHL history to walk away from an arbitrator's award when Dmitri Khristich was awarded more than they thought he was worth. They bad-mouthed Adam Oates, then traded him to Washington for prospects. One of those prospects was Jason Allison, who was promptly traded for a paltry return when he got a bit too expensive. Kyle McLaren was the same story. Exceed your slot in the budget by a dime, and you're gone, whatever the cost to the team. The B's became notorious for taking full advantage of the NHL's arbitration system, which often led to acrimonious disputes with players. Watching every cent in the budget is a great way to run a business, but it's no way to win.

I've never quite understood how fans of a team, like say, the Arizona Cardinals or L.A. Clippers get by. How can someone cheer for a team that clearly has no interest whatsoever in winning? I'm sure those franchises are very profitable, but as a fan, what possible interest can you have in that? It finally became obvious to me that the Bruins simply had no interest in winning. They would rely solely on their ability to get young, cheap talent filled in around a couple name veterans, and hope for the best.

After the team collapsed in dramatic fashion in the 2003-4 playoffs, I almost threw in the towel with the lockout. However, there was a silver lining. The league's new economic system would, in effect, reward the B's for their decades of stinginess. With a salary cap and a salary floor, everyone would be on pretty even footing. The Bruins couldn't possibly continue their "win at no cost" mantra, could they?

Apparently, they could.

Joe Thornton, the 1997 #1 overall pick and face of the franchise, was traded to San Jose just a couple months after signing a 3 year, $20 million contract with the team. The Bruins didn't even get equal talent for him, not even close. When they traded Bourque, at least they got a lot back. This was a shameful example of trading a dollar for 45 cents. A lot of Bruins fans are furious about this. I was furious at first, but now I just feel empty.

I've stuck with the black and gold for a long time, and I don't think I can do it anymore. I don't know if this is the end of my love for hockey or just the end of my time as a Bruins fan. I suppose it's the former; I don't think I could bring myself to cheer for another team. This is the hockey team I grew up with, and I just can't bring myself to watch them anymore.

Thanks for the memories.