Thursday, August 17, 2006

BALCO, Brady and Bad TV

Maybe this explains how an unknown sixth-round draft pick rose to become a three-time Super Bowl champion. It probably makes me a bad person, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not feeling a little bit joyous from this. (In a related note, one of my fantasy team names is Puck the Fats.)

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I've complained about this before, and will continue to do so, but the amount of crap on TV now is absolutely stunning. And when watching TV with my wife, I'm exposed to even more of it. When I came home from the race, she was watching a show called "What's Your Sign Design". In a clear sign that the people at HGTV have simply run out of ideas, they came up with a show where an interior decorator works with an astrologer, who, apparently, moonlights as some sort of decorator. This guy, possibly after a few ounces of pot, gauges the type of decoration the person (or in this case, persons) would want based upon their astrological sign. Apparently, one of the victims was an Aries, which my wife thought was wonderful, because she is also an Aries. After watching for awhile, I said, "this is horse s**t" and grabbed a book.

But apparently, as a Capricorn, I'm predisposed to a skeptical state of mind.

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Another show we were watching is called "Miami Ink". Apparently, you can make anything really cool just by adding "Miami" in front of it. There's no show called "Peoria Ink", and for good reason. Long story short, it's a show about a tattoo parlor in Miami. So at least it delivers what it promises.

This show, at least, has some good qualities. For one, the scenery is first rate. As we all know, Miami is arguably the most appearance-conscious city in the country outside Los Angeles. This may make for some mighty shallow individuals, but the women who stop into the tattoo shop are, to say the least, easy on the eyes. For another, most of the customers on the show are a solid 90 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. One guy came in requesting a full sleeve of fire-breathing skulls on his arm. Apparently, he used to be hooked on dope, but now he's hooked on Jesus. Obviously, that's a major upgrade, but apparently he wants the full sleeve of fire-breathing skulls to remind him of his old life and how awful it could be. Said my wife, "why doesn't he just look down at the tracks on his arm?" After getting a full sleeve of fire-breathing skulls, this guy confided that he's on his way to dental school. I can't imagine what would turn off a potential patient more: the massive, frightening tattoo, or the story behind it.

Sometimes, like chocolate and peanut butter, or beer and cheese, the combination of unintentional comedy and pleasant scenery comes together to create a product where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Miami Ink is just such an example. Another scene featured an extremely attractive blonde come in and ask for an orchid to be tattooed on her ankle. We, of course, got the story behind it. Her grandfather died recently, and he raised her from a small child. And she's sad. So she wants an orchid tattoo. Did her grandfather have prize-winning orchids? Not so far as we know. Nor, for that matter, is there any indication he grew them or had any connection whatsoever to that particular flower. She just wants an orchid tattoo to remind her of her grandfather, despite the apparent lack of any connection whatsoever between the two.

Best of all, they showed photos of this young maiden with her grandfather, and her chest was at least two cup sizes smaller and her hair was brown. Sweetheart, the guy died to leave you an inheritance sufficient to pay for your mammary upgrade and first-class dye job, isn't that reminder enough?

Best of all, though, was a woman who came in the shop requesting a tattoo on her hip. The tattoo she wanted? Herself. Yup, this lady had pictures taken of herself, posing in her underwear, and wanted that picture on her hip. And then, she asked the tattoo artist to make the chest and rear end a touch bigger. I would be remiss not to mention that this woman was a 1 on the binary scale, a 10 on the 10 scale, and a 7 on the clydesdale scale. Added around the tattoo of herself were a wad of cash and a champagne bottle. My wife and I immediately agreed that this was the most shallow person we had ever seen on TV. This made Ralph Wilson naming the Bills' football stadium after him look downright humble by comparison. And this was before this woman said, "I just don't want to forget myself." Glasses, wallet, keys, I've forgotten all these things. But forgetting myself entirely? I can't say I've ever done that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Ralph vs. The Glen

Sorry for the long delay between posts. In keeping with my status as a member of Flyover America, I went to the NASCAR races at Watkins Glen over the weekend. The Busch race (this is what AAA is to Major League Baseball) was on Saturday, with the Nextel Cup race on Sunday. This was, in fact, the first time I've attended a race, though I've obviously watched plenty of them on TV. It struck me that the atmosphere had some similarities to the many football games I've attended at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo (actually, Orchard Park). So, here's the tale of the tape...

Accessibility: Both places are in the middle of nowhere. The difference is that The Ralph is just outside "somewhere". Say what you will about Buffalo, but people actually know where it is. The stadium is pretty easy to find, with several different routes to get there.

To get to Watkins Glen, you have to take I-390 to Nowhere, turn left at God's Country, go straight through B.F.E. and it's just past Where-the-Hell-Are-We, New York. You're never going to believe this, but we got lost a couple times on Saturday. On Sunday, we found a better, but only slightly better marked, route.

Edge: Ralph.

Food and Beverage: At The Ralph, you can pay a lot of money for a crappy steamed hot dog. At The Glen, you can pay a lot of money for a decent, grilled hot dog. At least, they looked decent; I didn't try one. Frankly, anything I cook in the parking lot is bound to be at least five times better than the food inside. Would you opt for freshly grilled Johnsonville bratwurst that's been soaking in a mixture of dark beer and diced onions for 12 hours, with grilled peppers and onions on a toasted bun, or a hot dog? Easy call there.

As for beverages, they're best described as "overpriced" at both places. I went up to a beverage vendor, and the sign said, "premium beer - $4". I asked for a Budweiser. He charged me $4. What, precisely, is premium about a Budweiser? I don't mind paying $4 for a beer if that's what the price is, but don't crap on my plate and call it ice cream. Call it what it is: "Beer - $4". By the way, my buddy Pete just hopped in his car to drive to Rochester and beat the crap out of me. Just thought you should know.

Here's the thing, though: at Watkins Glen (and apparently at all racetracks), you can take stuff in with you! So long as it's in a soft-sided cooler (i.e. something that, if thrown, won't reach the track unless you're a member of the Manning family) and it's not insanely huge, you can carry in a cooler full of beer, soda, snacks or whatever. Trying this at Ralph Wilson Stadium will go over about as well as wearing an Al-Qaeda t-shirt with sticks of dynamite strapped to your chest.

Huge edge: Glen.

Atmosphere: The thing about a football game is there's two sides. That's it. You're with us, or against us, dammit. There's a definite sense of finality to it. I like that.

At a race, there's 43 different drivers, and all sorts of different scenarios that come into play. For instance, I wanted Jeff Gordon to win, but as long as he finished ahead of a few other guys, that would be fine too. But I liked some of those other guys, like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., so one's interests can get a bit conflicted. As the race goes on, and contenders fall by the wayside, people tend to pick a side amongst the lead cars, and follow that.

Edge: Ralph.

Friendliness to All Things Phil: Wearing Dolphins paraphenilia at a Bills game is tantamount to putting a bulls-eye on your chest. Most Bills fans are decent people and knowledgeable football fans, but there's a definite Neanderthal element out there. Fortunately, my general good nature (and 6'4 frame) have generally kept me out of trouble. I am at best, an unwelcome, barely tolerated guest.

At some racetracks, wearing a #24 hat can invoke the same reaction. For the uninitiated, cheering for Jeff Gordon is a lot like cheering for the Lakers, or Duke basketball, or a baseball team that shall remain nameless except to note that they reside in the South Bronx; either you love them or hate them, and there's not much middle ground. However, Watkins Glen draws a very civilized crowd, particularly by NASCAR standards, and if there were a lot of folks who didn't care for Jeff Gordon, they didn't act like jerks.

Edge: Glen.

First Impressions: I don't remember the kickoff of my first football game. I'm not even certain I remember who played. I think it was the Bills and Patriots (this was when the Bills were good and the Patriots weren't, just to give you an idea of how long ago it was).

On the other hand, I will NEVER forget the start of my first race. 43 racecars revving up their 800 horsepower engines at the same time. That's 34,400 horses roaring to life simultaneously. Red state, blue state, purple state, whatever; if you've got even an iota of testosterone in your body, it's pretty damn cool, and something you'll never forget. As an aside, the engines actually don't all sound exactly the same. The Dodge engines were louder than the Fords, for example, but the Chevy engines were the nastiest sounding by far. Tony Stewart's car sounded like it had an engine forged in the depths of Hell, in a machine shop guarded by Cerberus.

Edge: Glen.

Watching the Action: A football field is 120 yards by 33 yards and even the farthest end of the field is clearly visible from any seat. If you don't know precisely what may have happened on the previous play, you've got a very good idea.

Watkins Glen is a 2.45 mile racetrack that winds around behind trees, grandstands and other stuff in the race infield. At best, 1/4 of the track is visible from any given seat, and one is resigned to watching the other 3/4 on one of the jumbotrons that's visible from your seat. It's still okay, but it detracts somewhat from the excitement.

Huge Edge: Ralph.

Following the Action: And no, it's not the same as watching the action. At a football game, there's a break in between plays, and it's clear where everything stands on the field and in the score. A referee will kindly explain any infraction to you, and the jumbotron operator will often replay the action...unless of course it goes against the home team, in which case, it never happened. Oceania is at war with Eurasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

At most racetracks, there's a scoring tower showing the field from 1 to 43. Except, at The Glen, there's only a scoreboard showing the lap count and the standings from 1 to 4. You can usually tell who's where in the field, but in a long, green flag run, it gets very difficult to tell who's where, as the cars get spaced out around the track, while some pit, and some don't. As for black flag infractions, the jumbotron will usually tell you what happened, but for yellow flags, you're on your own.

Edge: Ralph.

Relief: The Ralph has restrooms with a long trough, and you wait for a place at the trough. The lines are immense and could easily be the leading cause of kidney failure in Erie County. There are also private toilets for those who are either shy or need to relieve themselves of solid waste.

The Glen has port-a-potties, with a small trailer with a couple toilets for those who feel shy or require something more sanitary. I cannot imagine what would possess anyone to actually sit on a port-a-potty. I believe that forcing women to use these things violates the Eighth Amendment. The lines for the trailer are arguably longer than those for the restrooms at The Ralph.

As an aside, most stadiums have added more women's restrooms and have instituted handicapped restrooms, both of which are a good idea. But could someone please institute a special restroom for men prone to stagefright or prostate problems? Seriously, if you're standing at the urinal for more than 60 seconds, and it's not happening, swallow your pride and zip up. If we can't have minimum prostate standards for the men's room, let's at least make this a public service announcement during a break in the action.

Edge: Neither. Just hold it and use the trees that surround the parking lots in both places after the game/race.

Scenery: At The Glen, lots of women in the 18-29 demographic, generally attractive or at least not unattractive, all working desperately on their suntans, often concealing as little as possible behind a Budweiser #8 tank top.

At The Ralph, well, I don't want to be unkind, but one of the big advantages to cold weather football games is that the local women keep as much clothing on as possible.

Enormous edge: Glen.

"Children of the Corn" Factor: Not a factor at The Ralph, but at The Glen...well, I'll just relate this story:

On the drive back from Sunday's race, we saw a lot of people sitting in the front of their front yard, waving to the passing cars. Oh, okay, that's friendly of them. Well, as we kept driving, it became apparent that just about everyone in the towns along route 16 was in their front yard, or someone else's. We started seeing signs asking passers-by to throw hats and shirts out, always held by a small child. And this wasn't one little run-down house with grubby little kids, I'm talking about just about every house along route 16 had some little brat asking for hats. The farther we drove, the more aggressive these folks got. Some shirtless yahoo wearing a Budweiser 12-pack as a hat (presumably having consumed the contents already) was hooting and hollering, and of course, demanding an upgraded chapeau. Then there was a big sign that said, "show tits". There was another that asked for hats and had all sorts of nasty things written about Tony Stewart, which I won't print here. I happened to agree, but with a bunch of kids around, that sort of language seemed inappropriate. Then there was a giant "coin toss", which involved tossing your coins into a giant, hastily constructed box. Then, more requests for hats.

Apparently, the race at Watkins Glen is some kind of redneck Mardi Gras, except that none of the locals are showing mammaries in exchange for hats. Maybe they'd have had better luck that way. Then again, maybe not. Anyway, the creepiness factor was off the scale.

Edge: Ralph.

The Final Verdict: By a 5-4 decision, The Ralph remains the king of Upstate New York pro sports. But hey, I'll definitely be back to The Glen next year, and the year after, and the year after...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Standards Are Getting Low in Corporate America

Please read the following passage (from this article) and try to figure out which part of it blew my mind. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Inta Juice and Randy Moss Sponsoring Haas, Green at Brickyard 400: One of the nation's fastest-growing smoothie and juice bar franchises is heading to the nation's most prestigious speedway. Inta Juice has signed an agreement to sponsor Haas CNC Racing and the #66 Inta Juice Chevy driven by Jeff Green in this weekend's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Randy Moss, professional football player and Inta Juice executive, will grace the quarter panels of the #66 Inta Juice Chevrolet.


Am I hallucinating, or did that refer to Randy Moss as a corporate executive? I'd bet you $10,000 Moss can't balance his checkbook on his own. I'll go double or nothing that he thinks MBA stands for "Major Bad Ass".

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I enjoy Starbucks coffee. I really do. It's piping hot, stronger than hell and competitively priced with places like Dunkin' Donuts. Further, vis-a-vis Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks has the advantage of having counter people who just hand you the coffee and tell you to put your own damn cream and sugar in it.

You might think that's not so good, but I have yet to find a Dunkin' Donuts employee that can handle the words "easy on the sugar". When you talk to your dog, it seems like they only hear certain words. For example, you might say: "Petey, sit down. That's a good boy. Later, we'll go for a walk, okay, Petey?" And Petey hears: "Petey...walk...Petey". I think Dunkin' Donuts employees have the same problem. When I say "coffee with cream and very little sugar. Don't go nuts with the sugar this time, okay?", I am convinced they hear "coffee...cream...sugar...sugar", and think you want coffee with cream and a metric ton of sugar. And yet, I digress.

The coffee's great, but it's the Starbucks Experience I've got a problem with. First, you can cut the pretension with a knife. They can't use small, medium and large like the rest of Planet Earth. Oh no. I've been corrected before for my failure to use the word "venti".

Then, there's the music selection, which is best described as a collection of lame white people trying to be black. Hey, I'm white, I'm lame and I've come to grips with these facts. I listen to my guitar-heavy music and enjoy my life. But at Starbucks, you can get a wonderful variety of white people signing blues music, having little to no idea what it means to actually have the blues. As George Carlin once said, "What do white people have to be blue about? The espresso machine is jammed? Banana Republic ran out of khakis? Hootie and the Blowfish are breaking up?...White people don't get the blues, white people GIVE people the blues." The blues, I am told, are a state of mind. I don't have the blues, I don't pretend I do or even understand them, and I definitely don't take my thimbleful of musical talent and try to pass myself off as the next B.B. Freakin' King.

But no amount of lame attempts at playing the blues can compete with the CD I saw the other day. There's a guy named (I think) Matisyahu. Matisyahu is a rapper. An (by all appearances) orthodox Jewish rapper. If you want to know what he looks like, just remember Weird Al Yankovic during the "Amish Paradise" video, lose the wide-brimmed hat, and add a yarmulke and a serious expression.

Of course, after soaking in the faux snobby atmosphere and crappy music, there's the matter of waiting in line, as you may often do at Starbucks. You are waiting in line because there's an excellent chance that the person in front of you wants a half-caf, double-decaf, whipped, soy Tazo Chai tea, with a twist of lemon, a shot of raspberry and no foam. It takes longer for someone to complete their damn order than it does to consume the drink.

Finally, it's my turn to order:
Lady Behind the Counter (this "barista" nonsense must go): And for you, sir?
Me: Coffee. Super size it.
LBC: One venti regular!
*SIGH*

Upon leaving, I notice a little message on the coffee cup. Usually, they're a bit on the PC side, but I actually saw an enjoyable anti-gun control rant once, so I'm not upset with Starbucks for those little messages. What does bother me, though, is this disclaimer (paraphrased): "The opinions on this coffee cup do not necessarily represent those of Starbucks." Starbucks is a major, multinational corporation, not a singular person. A corporation is an artificial person created by statute for the purpose of doing business. It is, in effect, legalized fiction. A fictional person cannot have opinions!

But still, it's damn good coffee. And that's why, even with my inner blue-collar schmoe screaming all the while, I keep going back.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Wal-Mart Wears a White Hat

I was at my doctor's office recently and was looking for a magazine to read. I found the new issue of "Fortune", with the headline "Wal-Mart Saves the Planet".

Surely, you can't be serious.

They are serious. And don't call them Shirley.

Do they really mean to say that Wal-Mart, that embodiment of all that is horrible and wrong with American business, is working to become not just an environmentally-responsible company, but working to force others to become one as well?

Yup.

Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott announced an initiative including some ambitious environmental goals: increase the efficiency of its vehicle fleet by 25% over the next three years, and double efficiency in ten years. Eliminate 30% of the energy used in stores. Reduce solid waste from U.S. stores by 25% in three years. This appears to be more than just rhetoric, it's already gotten started, in fact: Wal-Mart says it will invest $500 million in sustainability projects, and the company has done a lot more than draw up targets. It has quickly become, for instance, the biggest seller of organic milk and the biggest buyer of organic cotton in the world. It is working with suppliers to figure out ways to cut down on packaging and energy costs. It has opened two "green" supercenters.

The whys and wherefores of this sudden transformation are, to me, unimportant. The article tries to play it up as some sort of personal religious discovery by Scott and other Wal-Mart honchos. Personally, though, I think this passage is far more telling, as it describes the outcome of a meeting between Wal-Mart execs and an environmental management consulting firm:

Fairly quickly, the environmentalists spotted waste that Wal-Mart's legendary cost cutters had overlooked.

On Kid Connection, its private-label line of toys, for instance, Wal-Mart found that by eliminating excessive packaging, it could save $2.4 million a year in shipping costs, 3,800 trees, and one million barrels of oil.

On its fleet of 7,200 trucks Wal-Mart determined it could save $26 million a year in fuel costs merely by installing auxiliary power units that enable the drivers to keep their cabs warm or cool during mandatory ten-hour breaks from the road. Before that, they'd let the truck engine idle all night, wasting fuel.

Yet another example: Wal-Mart installed machines called sandwich balers in its stores to recycle and sell plastic that it used to throw away. Companywide, the balers have added $28 million to the bottom line.

"Think about it," Scott said in his big speech to employees last fall. "If we throw it away, we had to buy it first. So we pay twice - once to get it, once to have it taken away. What if we reverse that? What if our suppliers send us less, and everything they send us has value as a recycled product? No waste, and we get paid instead."


Huh, I'll be darned, being green saves you green. Who knew that changing the environmentalist sales pitch from "you evil, tree-killing monsters!" to "by doing it this way, you'll save money, and as an added bonus, help the environment" would work?

What Wal-Mart has discovered, with the help of these pragmatic environmentalists, is that by pushing environment-friendly products, they'll ultimately help their own bottom line. Some other examples:

Packaging is another thorny issue. On my grocer's shelf are a bulky, 100-fluid-ounce, orange plastic jug of Procter & Gamble's bestselling Tide and a slim 32-ounce aqua plastic bottle of Unilever's "small and mighty" All.

Both contain enough detergent for 32 loads of wash, but the smaller package, made possible by condensing All, saves energy, shipping costs, and shelf space - a big win all around, right?

Not quite. Bigger packages command more shelf space, provide more surface area for advertising, and suggest to consumers that they're getting more for their money. Unilever executives voiced all those worries when they went to see Scott. He agreed to make "small and mighty" All a VPI (that's Wal-Mart code for "volume-producing item," and it means that Wal-Mart will promote it heavily). "That helps to increase their confidence," he says. You can now find "small and mighty" All in supermarkets everywhere.

And guess what? This fall Procter & Gamble will replace the bulky plastic jugs with condensed, slimmed-down versions of all its liquid laundry detergents - Tide, Cheer, Gain, Era, and Dreft - in a test in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to prepare for a likely national rollout.

We wondered if Wal-Mart had anything to do with that. "We've been doing sustainability for quite some time," replied a P&G spokeswoman. "And we're pleased to work with all our distributors, including Wal-Mart." You figure it out.

This is why Wal-Mart's eco-initiative is potentially more world-changing than, say, GE's. GE sells fuel-efficient aircraft engines and billion-dollar power plants to a few customers. Wal-Mart sells organic cotton, laundry soap, and light bulbs to millions. When shoppers see a display promoting "the bulb that pays for itself, again and again and again," they'll be reminded of their own environmental impact.

By buying CF bulbs they'll also save money on their utility bills, leaving them more money to spend at, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. The bigger idea here is that poor and middle-income Americans are every bit as interested in buying green products as are the well-to-do, so long as they are affordable.

Plenty of places sell fair-trade coffee, for example. Only Wal-Mart sells it for $4.71 a pound. "The potential here is to democratize the whole sustainability idea--not make it something that just the elites on the coasts do but something that small-town and middle America also embrace," says CI's Glenn Prickett. "It's a Nixon-to-China moment."


Personally, I believe they view benefitting the environment as a nice side benefit...which is precisely how I view it. I have no problems buying organic milk, but when it costs three times what regular milk costs, to hell with it. But show me how I can save money on my bottom line with some of these products, and I'm a happy consumer.

Of course, it seems not all environmentalists have come around to this sort of sales pitch:

Jeffrey Hollender is president of Seventh Generation, a Burlington, Vt., maker of nontoxic household products. Though Scott met with Hollender in Bentonville and offered to carry some of his line, Hollender declined. "We might sell a lot more products in giant mass-market outlets, but we're not living up to our own values and helping the world get to a better place if we sell our soul to do it," he says.


Right on, Jeffrey. Don't sell out to "The Man"! Or maybe his attitude's got something to do with the fact that it's a whole lot easier to sell that merchandise in hippie boutique shops near the UVM campus for 5 times what a Wal-Mart in Lawrence, Kansas would sell it for. Hey, maybe Jeffrey is more pragmatic than I'm giving him credit for, come to think of it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Trouble With Cars

Ever get the feeling that you're getting ripped off, and there's not a thing you can do about it? I had just such an occasion recently. On Sunday, I was changing the oil in my car. I do this because I'm reluctant to pay some high school dropout $40 to do something that I can do for about $10. It's also a good way to get some quality alone time and boost my testosterone levels. Grunts, motor oil stains and F-bombs are manly, you know. It was also a good way to break in my brand new DuPont Racing hat.

Unfortunately, I didn't change the oil on my car the last time it was done. I left that job to one of the high school dropouts at the service station up the street. I can't remember why I did this, to be honest. Anyway, the oil pan plug wasn't just tight, it was overtight, to the point that I wonder if some idiot savant used an air gun to tighten the damn thing. After doing my best He-Man imitation, I managed to get the plug off, and discovered a healthy crack in the oil pan. My suspiscions were (and remain) that this was caused either directly or indirectly by Forrest Gump choosing to practice for his next career with a NASCAR pit crew.

The last thing in the world that I wanted to do was take it back to the same guys who may have screwed it up in the first place. However, when one's car has no oil in it, and will not retain oil, location must take priority over competence, and so I went to the station up the street, and was ultimately informed that I needed a new oil pan (duh), and that parts, labor and oh yeah, an oil change, would cost me $440.

I spoke to the manager about this the next day. "Yeah, it was on there tight, but I've been doing this for 34 years, and I've never seen anything like that. I think you just hit something, and it caused the oil pan to crack."

The sad part is this: I can't prove that they screwed up. Certainly not to the satisfaction of a small claims judge. I can just see the line of questioning going like this:

Judge: How did you notice the oil pan was cracked?
Me: After I removed the oil plug, I saw it, and it continued to leak even after I replaced the plug.
Judge: Was it leaking before you removed the oil plug?
Me: No.
Judge: So, it wasn't leaking before you removed the plug, and therefore didn't appear to be cracked before you removed the plug?
Me: Uh, yeah.
Judge: So, it wasn't cracked before you removed the plug, but was afterwards?
Me: Judge, I'm going to object to your question.
Judge: And I'm going to overrule you, counselor.

Heck, maybe I did hit something. Maybe the manager's being honest with me. After all, they checked out a squeak in my left front and said, "it's really nothing to worry about, and certainly not worth dropping $600 to fix." Still, the whole episode leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

McLane!!

Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane has settled firmly into the spot of my second least favorite baseball owner. (#1, of course, is Kaiser Steinbrenner.) Apart from Jayson Stark's shameless hand-wringing over McLane's failure to OK a deal to send Roger Clemens back to Boston (when, of course, Clemens needed only to sign with Boston as a free agent 3 months ago), McLane apparently vetoed a deal that would have catapulted my beloved Mets from "best team in the JV league" to "honest-to-goodness World Series contenders".

The Mets, it seems, were set to trade Lastings Milledge and Brian Bannister for Roy Oswalt. McLane shot that down, apparently because the 3.4% chance the Astros have of making the postseason and getting thumped in round 1 outweighs the need to have a star outfielder around whom they can build their lineup for the next 5 to 6 years. Unbelievable. Even Peter Angelos isn't that stupid. Okay, that's not true, but still. Very frustrating.

As for the title, "McLane!!", it sounded like something that a member of the Gruber family would yell at Bruce Willis. (Except that his name was John McClane, but hey, I'm entitled to some poetic license.) Remember, there's a difference between not liking one's brother, and not caring when he gets dropped out of a window by some dumb Irish flatfoot.

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Nick Saban apparently declined to have dinner with President Bush. I feel torn, like there's a fight in my family, like the time my two aunts got in a snit stopped talking to each other for a year, except that one was clearly right and one was nucking futs. (Actually, I suppose more than a few people would argue that's the case here too.)

Personally, I think too much is being made of this. Could you see Jedi Master Parcells, or Sith Lord Belichick cutting out from training camp to have dinner with the President? I don't think Bill Cowher even stops camp to take a crap, which is why he looks so angry all the time.

On the plus side, this might be what Nick needs to finally push the Dolphins ahead of the Bears.

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Trade Deadline Winners and Losers...

Winners:
Yankees - I love what they did. They got two guys who dramatically upgrade their outfield (Abreu and Wilson) and a competent fifth starter (Lidle), for a collection of spare parts. Excellent work by Brian Cashman. I hate to anoint them as AL East favorites, but right now, they're better than the Red Sox.

Dodgers - Got Lugo and Maddux for a prospect they'd soured on and a couple spare parts. Only problem is that they're in a hole a little too deep to climb out of.

Rangers - Loved the Carlos Lee pickup. Nothing else they did impressed me, but when you get the best hitter on the market, that's enough. Could be enough to push them to the AL West title.

Royals - Got Ryan Shealy, who will be really good, for fairly cheap, though it's sort of like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic at this point.

Mets - They're winners...kinda. They didn't need Xavier Nady, who has an OPS of 761 since April, which is pretty weak for a corner outfielder, particularly one on a good team. In exchange, they got a good reliever and a headcase with a million dollar arm. If Perez pans out (or can be moved for Scott Linebrink after this year, as was rumored), it's a steal. If not, they still did well to fill the hole created by Duaner Sanchez's bizarre injury. Lastings Milledge is probably as good as Nady right now, so they lose nothing. I say they're only "kinda" winners because they really needed another starter and failed, though apparently not for lack of effort.

Losers:
Nationals - Jim Bowden outsmarted himself. There were plenty of good deals for Soriano, and he didn't grab ANY of them. This was a team in dire need of a tear down and rebuilding of the farm system. Now, Soriano will almost certainly walk, and the farm system rebuilding will be set back as the Nationals play dice with draft picks, as opposed to quality prospects.

Angels - Why did this team fail to make a move for Abreu or Soriano? They really could have used a real on base guy, thus making Abreu a perfect fit, but another power hitter would have also been welcome, thus making Soriano perfect. Instead, they did nothing.

Tigers - Another team that needed Abreu or Soriano. The Tigers instead got Sean Casey. In theory, that's not terrible, if they hit Casey second and take advantage of his ability to get on base. However, they needed a left handed power hitter, which Casey most certainly is not.

Red Sox - Rumors abounded about Andruw Jones and Roger Clemens, and the Red Sox instead got...nothing. With the Yankees greatly improved, and the wild card no guarantee, the Red Sox had to keep pace and didn't. I don't like their starting pitching at all and it looks more and more like they're content to just let Ortiz and Ramirez carry the offense as far as it will go without much help.