Saturday, April 30, 2011

Frequent Sips

Since my fairly regular feature about the albums I've been listening to is called Frequent Spins, I figured it might be interesting to write about the beers I've been drinking recently. I'm not sure that this is something I'll do on a regular basis—and I'm certainly not going to mimic the nerdy 2011.x title scheme—but for now, it seems that Frequent Sips is as good a descriptor as any.

Lagunitas Maximus
KJ and I had a small dinner party on Valentine's Day, to which we invited two other recently married couples that we're friends with. I went to the store in search of Southern Tier's 2XIPA and another milder beer to serve our friends, but came home with a six-pack of Lagunitas Brewing Company's Imperial IPA in lieu of the former. As is usually the case with these types of events, our friends also brought beer, so there were still five Maximus's in our refrigerator at the end of the night.

Since I don't really drink like I used to, and this is a pretty strong beer of which I can usually only drink one at a time, it was only recently that I finished the last of the bunch. While it's not my absolute favorite IPA, it's pretty darn close. Possessing all the characteristics that I look for in an Imperial IPA—full bodied, well balanced, and with a wonderful citrusy hop aroma—it's just slightly harsher than my favorites of the style. Still, a fantastic brew and probably the best I've had in a while.

Dale's Pale Ale
Since I've been on a canned beer kick since last fall, Dale's has been my most frequent go-to beer, which is pretty fitting considering it became America's first canned craft beer back in 2002. I've made the observation before that, while Oskar Blues Brewery considers Dale's a pale ale, stylistically it reminds me more of an IPA, but one that's much easier going down than Lagunitas Maximus. That, of course, is mostly a good thing, except when it tricks me into thinking I can have one more, and I find myself regretting the decision the following day.

Leatherlips IPA
Northeast Massachusetts' Haverhill Brewery produces one the rare IPAs that I really don't like all that much. I'd had it before on draft a couple times, and wasn't overly impressed, but a six-pack found its way into my refrigerator recently when some friends from my hometown visited and brought it with them. Of course, it's the thought that counts, and they obviously know my taste in beer pretty well. Unfortunately, it falls into the category of IPA that—in my opinion—is all about hop bitterness and has no other significant redeeming qualities. To me, the problem is the use of two types of high alpha hops, particularly Chinook, in a beer that is only 5% alcohol.

Porkslap Pale Ale
Another brew I've frequently consumed during the winter of canned craft beer is Butternuts Beer and Ale's Porkslap Pale Ale. While most of my standard beers are fairly high in alcohol content, Porkslap has filled the role of "session beer" for me lately. In case it needs explanation, a session beer is one that, due to its mild character and modest alcohol content, allows a drinker to consume multiple beers in a session.

Porkslap has nice malty character up front, and is easy going down, but its finish is a little lacking, in my opinion. I suppose that comes with the territory of a beer that refers to itself as an all-malt farmhouse ale.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Greatest Player Not in the Hall of Fame for Each Team

A while back, I was going to produce a list of the top 25 players who are not in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. I still haven't gotten around to that, but instead I decided to pick one player for each franchise who, to me, is their greatest non-Hall of Famer.

Of course, I limited this to players who are eligible for election, which means no Pete Rose, Joe Jackson or Eddie Cicotte. It also means this is limited to players who retired in 2005 or earlier.

I considered each player for the team whose hat would most likely be depicted on his plaque, if he were elected to the Hall of Fame. In most cases, this is the team he played the most years or the most games with, but in other cases, it has more to do with impact.

Let me make one thing clear. Back when I was looking at each team's greatest living retired player, I was only concerned with the portion of their career that they played for the team in question. In this exercise, since I'm interested in their Hall of Fame credentials, I looked at each player's entire career, but considered him only for the one team I felt he was most associated him with.

There are a couple teams who aren't represented here, basically because there wasn't a single player who fit the criteria. If you can name someone eligible for the Hall of Fame who played more years or more games—or produced more WAR—with the Arizona Diamondbacks* or Tampa Bay Rays, I'll award you with some kind of prize. But, addition to the team-specific criterion, to be eligible for the Hall of Fame, a player has to have played 10 seasons and retired before 2006.

*OK, I will admit I was able to identify one Diamondback who fits the criteria, but he falls way short of the type of player I'm looking to honor here. So, this gives me an opportunity to use him as a trivia question. Anyone out there in internet land care to venture a guess as to who I'm talking about? Here's a couple hints: he was roughly a .500 pitcher over his 10+ years in the majors, was worth less than one WAR per season, but had some pretty good postseason numbers, including one ALCS and one NLCS win.

There are also some potentially Hall of Fame worthy players not mentioned here as well, because they played in the 19th century for teams that no longer exist, and I'm only covering the 30 existing franchises here.

Atlanta/Milwaukee/Boston Braves - Joe Torre is my selection here, but I also considered Darrell Evans and Dale Murphy.

Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Browns - It's a St. Louis Brown, Urban Shocker, who gets the nod here, over fellow Brown Vern Stephens and Mount Vernon, New York's Ken Singleton.

Boston Red Sox - I bet Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant would be the more popular picks, but I think Reggie Smith is quite under-rated and he's the man who gets my vote.

Chicago Cubs - I'm going with Ron Santo, but it was a tougher decision than one would realize, taking him over turn of the century shortstop Bill Dahlen. Also considered were 19th century standout George Gore, and another one of history's many unheralded Cubs, Rick Reuschel.

Chicago White Sox - There's some stiff competition on the south side of Chicago as well. Minnie Minoso, though, is my man, with Billy Pierce and Robin Ventura the runners-up.

Cincinnati Reds - Barry Larkin is an easy call, but assuming he gets elected next year—as I hope he will—it's going to be tough deciding between Vada Pinson, Heinie Groh, George Foster and 19th century pitcher Tony Mullane to take his place. Dave Concepcion, you say? I don't think so.

Cleveland Indians - Not a lot of tremendous choices here, but I'm going with Albert Belle, over Rocky Colavito and Wes Ferrell.

Colorado Rockies - Larry Walker may just be worthy of being Colorado's first Hall of Fame inductee, in my opinion.

Detroit Tigers - This was definitely one of the toughest decisions of this exercise, but I'll take Alan Trammell by a nose over Lou Whitaker.

Florida Marlins - Charles Johnson is far from Hall of Fame worthy, but he won four Gold Gloves—as a catcher—and did appear on the ballot this year, although he received zero votes. So, to me, he's good enough to be considered for this distinction.

Houston Astros/Colt .45's - Well, this one might be just as easy as my Rockies pick. Jeff Bagwell, without a doubt. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, I'll be faced with the decision of who to replace him with. If Craig Biggio hasn't yet been passed over at that point, then we'll likely be looking at Jimmy Wynn, Cesar Cedeno or Jose Cruz.

Kansas City Royals - I really wanted to say Dan Quisenberry, because I truly believe the very best relievers are under-appreciated by modern statistical analysis. But, that's a discussion for another day, and the fact of the matter is Quiz's career started late and faded early. So, I'm going with Bret Saberhagen, over Quisenberry and Kevin Appier.

Los Angeles/Anaheim/California Angels - Bobby Grich is the obvious choice, although Chuck Finley and Frank Tanana deserve a mention.

Los Angeles/Brooklyn Dodgers - There are quite a few good candidates, including Willie Davis, Tommy John (who I'm not really sure whether to consider as a Dodger, Yankee, or White Sox), Orel Hershiser, Ron Cey, Gil Hodges, and Steve Garvey, but Kevin Brown—who played more years in Texas, but played his best for the Dodgers—is the closest to Hall of Fame caliber, as far as I'm concerned.

Milwaukee Brewers - Not a lot to choose from here. Their Hall of Fame worthy players have already been so honored. I'll take Cecil Cooper, with an honorable mention to Don Money.

Minnesota Twins/Washington Senators - I think his Hall of Fame case is over-rated by many, but my choice here is Tony Oliva over Jim Kaat.

New York Mets - Most people probably think of David Cone as a Yankee, but he pitched almost 300 more innings for the Mets. I'm not certain that means he would go into the Hall as a Met, but I'm taking him over Jerry Koosman.

New York Yankees - There are a lot of Yankee greats in the Hall of Fame, and there are also a number of borderline candidates who aren't, so this was a tough choice. But, to me, Thurman Munson is the best, with Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph not far behind. Don Mattingly? Back injury or not, he just didn't sustain it long enough. Pretty much the same goes for Ron Guidry.

Oakland/Kansas City/Philadelphia Athletics - As is usually the case with these types of exercises, I'm not passing judgment with regard to confirmed, alleged and suspected steroids users, so Mark McGwire gets the nod, with Sal Bando the runner-up.

Philadelphia Phillies -Gotta go with Dick Allen, although Sherry Magee deserves some recognition as well.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Dave Parker is really the only choice.

St. Louis Cardinals - I was torn on this one, so I informally polled the Cardinals bloggers I follow on Twitter, but their varied responses only confirmed how difficult a decision this is. Pitchers Hit Eighth was adamant in their support of Ken Boyer, and Ted Simmons also received a couple mentions, but I still find myself in the corner of Keith Hernandez.

San Diego Padres - There are only a few players who qualify for this distinction. Terry Kennedy is one. He appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1997 and received one vote. But—to me—Andy Benes, while far from a Hall of Famer, is better. Yet, for some reason, his name never made it on the ballot, which is kind of hard to believe.

San Francisco/New York Giants - I'll take Will Clark, over Bobby Bonds.

Seattle Mariners - Edgar Martinez. Is there anybody else?

Texas Rangers/Washington Senators - Man, I hate what a dilemma these steroid questions have created. Imagine having to actually be a Hall of Fame voter? To remain consistent, I'll go with Rafael Palmeiro, over Buddy Bell.

Toronto Blue Jays - This is a tough call, but I'm going to take Dave Stieb over John Olerud and Fred McGriff.

Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos - Tim Raines, of course.

I'll be the first to admit that many of these are debatable, and, of course, that's what made this exercise so fun. If you have any thoughts on any of these—particularly if there are any players I overlooked—I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Déjà vu All Over Again

Neil Young played in Boston last night, marking the first time he's played here since a three-night stand at the Orpheum Theatre in December of 2007. I attended one of those shows, although it didn't occur to me until now that, of the eight teams I've seen him, only two of those shows have been in Beantown. In fact, despite living here for the past 14 years, I've seen my favorite artist live just as many times in Worcester, of all places.

Last night's show was the first of two nights he'll be playing at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre. At least, I think that's what they're officially calling it now, although Neil's joke of the night—in obvious distaste for the concept of corporate sponsorship—was that it's now called the Kellogg's Corn Flakes Center.

Young's set started off with acoustic renditions of "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," "Tell Me Why," and "Helpless," at which point I was struck by a distinct feeling of déjà vu, and it wasn't because the latter song appeared on a CSNY album of the same name.

No, it was because Neil proceeded to perform the exact same set list at last night's show as he did the last time I saw him live, almost a year ago. OK, not exactly. The exception was that he ended things one "Heart of Gold" encore short this time.

This, of course, I considered disappointing, even though I'm a much bigger fan of the new material than I thought I would be when I heard it previewed last year. It's just that, being a huge fan of an artist with such an extensive and diverse catalog, I look forward to being surprised a few times.

Maybe I should have seen the signs coming. He brought along the same opening act—Scottish folkster Bert Jansch—and was touring entirely solo again. Maybe I was expecting too much from a 65-year old artist. I'm sure it's difficult enough re-learning songs that you haven't played in years, and it probably gets harder as an artist gets older.

So, perhaps I should have realized what was in store. Actually, I kind of did, in that I expected a similar format to last year's show. Just not an exact replica.

Regardless, Young played the material well, the venue's sound was good, and the rest of the crowd didn't really seem disappointed. But, I'm sorry to say that I was.

Friday, April 15, 2011

An Ode to the Record Store

My first favorite record store was Record World in the South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie, New York. As a young teenager, I also sometimes purchased records at department stores such as Caldor, but Record World definitely had the best combination of price and selection around.

It was at Record World that I'd flip through the discographies of bands like Blue Öyster Cult, Rainbow and Judas Priest, trying to determine which of their older albums were worth taking a chance on.

It was at Record World that I would purchase a mediocre EP by a band called Cintron, after seeing them as an opening act at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center. But, of course, purchasing records that didn't live up to your expectations was all part of the process back in the pre-internet days.

It was also at Record World that I hemmed and hawed over paying $8 for a full-length LP, rather than a more reasonable price of $5 to $7.

Record World is now a pet store, or something like that. It hasn't been in the South Hills Mall for years...actually, decades. In fact, the South Hills Mall has basically been rendered obsolete by the nearby mega-mall, the Poughkeepsie Galleria.

I've moved around a lot since those days, and I've had plenty of new favorite record stores, and eventually those record stores became CD stores, but I've continued to call them record stores.

Even long after I stopped buying new records—I'm not one of those music collectors who's remained a vinyl junkie, although I admire those folks—I still maintained a relationship with old-fashioned record stores.

First, I went through a phase where I scoured countless used record stores—fairly successfully, I might add—in search of every record that Neil Young never released on CD. Then, these stores became my destination for the purchase of albums so that I could frame and hang the covers on my wall. I suspect I own at least a dozen records that have, in fact, never been listened to by my ears.

But, over the years, there's only one record store that I've held in as high esteem as Record World. That destination would be a place called Rock Bottom Records in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I lived in New Hampshire for only one year—from spring of 1996 to spring of 1997—but after moving to Boston, it still remained a frequented destination when I was in the area or just passing through.

Long before music stores came up with the idea of in-store listening stations, Rock Bottom had an area with racks of hundreds of used CDs and a few portable CD players with headphones that patrons could use to preview albums.

I remember vividly in April of 1997 when both Son Volt's Straightaways—their eagerly anticipated followup to Trace—and The Jayhawks' Sound of Lies—their first album of the post-Mark Olson era—came out on the same day. I previewed and purchased both of them at Rock Bottom, and, for some reason, hearing them in the record store for the first time was a goose-bump-inducing moment.

On another occasion, I was going about my business, listening to various used CDs there, when the album playing on the in-house stereo system caught my ear and really grabbed my attention. I asked the store clerk what it was, and he responded with such enthusiasm that it was the solo record by Smashing Pumpkins' guitarist James Iha. Let it Come Down may never have become my favorite guilty pleasure album if not for Rock Bottom Records.

Another night, as I was leaving the store, I was overhearing a discussion between the store clerk and another customer, as he tried to explain who England, Dan & John Ford Coley were. He was trying to identify their most recognizable song, showing a little frustration as he admitted he was drawing a blank. As I opened the door to the street, I turned in his direction and said, "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight." After a several second double-take, he realized I was identifying the song rather than asking him out.

Unfortunately, Rock Bottom Records has been out of business for quite some time. Other than Newbury Comics, a regional chain of stores that remains a model of success in a fading industry, I haven't had a favorite record store since.

And, as that previous sentence reminds me, I really hope this post is more than just an ode to a dying breed.

Tomorrow is the fourth annual Record Store Day, an idea conceived by a few like-minded folks "as a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally."

If you're out and about tomorrow, make a little side trip to one of the many participating stores. If you're anywhere close to my age, in the very least it will be a chance to flip through a few stacks of albums and reminisce about the days when those wonderful vinyl discs measuring 12 inches in diameter were your musical medium of choice.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jason Varitek Catches Two-Hit Shutout, WAR Doesn't Care

Much has been made in the past about what a great game-caller Jason Varitek is, and with Josh Beckett pitching last night like the 2007 version of himself, I'm sure the calls for Varitek to be Beckett's personal catcher are not far off. In fact, the nonsense has already started.

I'm not trying to downplay Varitek's reputation for being good at handling pitchers. I'm sure it's warranted. I bet there are a lot of pitchers who love working with him. I just don't think it makes that much of a difference. Any pitcher with his head screwed on straight knows he's the one who decides what pitch to throw in what situation—the catcher can only suggest—and that it ultimately comes down to his ability to execute. So, I suspect the pitchers who stand to gain the most from a catcher who's a good game-caller are those who are not long for the major leagues anyway.

I'd like to see someone perform a statistical analysis of Varitek's catcher ERA in comparison to the other catchers who've played for the Red Sox during the same time frame. This would have to be a little more than just a look at the team's ERA with versus without Varitek, as it's possible that backup catchers might be at a statistical disadvantage, more often than not being called on to catch back-of-the-rotation starters. For example, when Doug Mirabelli was in Boston, he was Tim Wakefield's personal catcher. Wakefield had some pretty good years during that time frame, but I would still suspect he was below average relative to the rest of the team's starters.*

*EDIT: As it turns out, I'm wrong about this. Mirabelli spent six full or partial seasons with the Red Sox (2001-05 & 2007, catching 48-62 games in each), and Wakefield's ERA was below the team average in only 2004 & 2007. But, you get the point. Regardless of who's at a statistical disadvantage, the analysis would need to be properly weighted to ensure a fair comparison.

So, this would need to be some kind of weighted-average analysis that takes into consideration the quality of the pitchers throwing to each catcher. Who knows? If it's determined that Varitek improved his pitchers' ERA by as much as 0.2 runs per game, that translates to more than 280 runs over his 1423 games caught. Since, in WAR methodology, every 10 runs roughly equals one win, this could add 28 wins to Varitek's current career WAR of 23.1. Bringing his WAR total over 50 would put him in the class of rock-solid Hall of Fame catchers Mickey Cochrane and Gabby Hartnett.

But, seriously, I have no intention of taking on such a project. I don't have the time nor the motivation. Besides, I'm quite content in the knowledge that the closest Varitek is going to get to the Clark Sports Center podium is sitting in the invited guest seats when Pedro Martinez or, perhaps, Curt Schilling gets inducted.

I made my first visit to a major league park last night, witnessing Josh Beckett's masterful pitching performance in person. I always enjoy going to the ballpark, even if it means I have to contend with "Yankees Suck" chants and the drunks in the Fenway Park bleachers, as I did last night. I wore my Yankees hat, but maintained a pretty low profile, as there wasn't really much reason to do otherwise.

Highlights, while few and far between, included:
  • Attending a game with my pal DJ for the first time since our trip to Toronto for the World Baseball Classic two years ago, and discussing our new offensive player rating system, which I'll write more about at a later date, if it seems worthy.
  • Observing the cluelessness of fans around me, as no one seemed to notice that a run was erased when Kevin Youkilis was called out for runner interference on an attempted double play in the third.
  • Watching Carl Crawford continue to struggle. 
  • The fact that the game was over in just under three hours (2:58 according to the box score), which has to be some kind of record for a nationally televised Yankees-Red Sox game.
  • Witnessing the Yankees debut of Freddy Garcia. OK, not really.
But, as I may have said before, a night at the ballpark—even when your team manages only four base runners, and ends the game with 17 consecutive batters retired—is pretty much unrivaled by almost any other activity.

Friday, April 08, 2011

As if We Needed Any More Evidence That Wins and Losses Are Flawed Statistics

The old school types were up in arms over the fact that Felix Hernandez, and his 13-12 won-loss record, won the American League Cy Young Award last year. One of them actually went so far as to use some ridiculous argument about the morale of a pitcher's teammates when he takes the mound, and that when players make great defensive plays behind one pitcher and not another, it is not an accident.

Think about this for a second. The pitcher whose ERA—a measure of the number of earned runs per nine innings he allows, in case the author of the aforementioned article needs some reminding—was a half run better than anybody else in the league apparently didn't instill enough confidence in his teammates for them to play to the fullest extent of their abilities. Honestly, if this was the case—that his teammates were only playing half-heartedly behind him—then Hernandez was even more deserving of the Cy Young Award.

But, that's not really my point.

My point is we don't need to look any further than this afternoon's contest between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to see one of the worst applications of won-loss credit there could possibly be.

John Lackey pitched five innings, allowing six earned runs on seven hits and two walks, while striking out just two, and "earned" the win. Bartolo Colon pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing one earned and one unearned run on two hits and one walk, while striking out five, and was tagged with the loss.

Lackey spotted the Yankees two runs in the top of the 1st inning, just what an 0-6 team needed as a morale boost. When Dustin Pedroia cut that deficit in half with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning, Lackey promptly gave one back.

But, Lackey's teammates' increased confidence from seeing him on the mound resulted in a five-run rally in the bottom of the 2nd, giving the Red Sox a nice 6-3 lead and knocking Yankees starter Phil Hughes—I'll get to him later—out of the game.

What did Lackey do with this newfound advantage? He proceeded to squander it, one run at a time over the next three innings.

But, of course, his teammates were bolstered by the confidence of having him on their side, and scored the go-ahead unearned run in the bottom of the 5th. That development is what resulted in Lackey being credited with the first win of the 2011 season for the Red Sox. Now, if you look up clutch pitching performances following six-game losing streaks to start the season in Merriam-Webster, I'm quite certain you'll see a photo of John Lackey right next to its definition.

Bartolo Colon came into a game that his team trailed 6-3 after two innings, and were looking at needing seven innings out of their bullpen to have a chance to win the game. He proceeded to pitch shutdown baseball for four innings—allowing only an unearned run—and giving his team exactly what they needed to claw back into the contest. If not for said unearned run, the score would have been tied following his fourth inning of work.

But, I suppose we could make the argument here that Colon's three-plus innings of shutout baseball up to the point of the defensive miscue just weren't enough of a morale boost to his team. So, essentially the error was, in fact, his fault.

Then, to begin his fifth inning, he gave up a bunt single to the Red Sox third-place hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, a tactic employed by such a dangerous hitter due to the Yankees' use of an extreme shift to the right side of the field. When Colon was subsequently pulled from the game, with a runner on first and one out, that runner eventually came around to score, resulting in the only earned run Colon was charged with.

But, Colon gave up the run that put the Red Sox in the lead for good, and everyone knows that's the most important run of the game. Everyone also knows that great pitchers find ways to avoid giving up those runs, something that Phil Hughes did masterfully on this day.

Yes, that's right, Hughes earned the right not to be charged with the loss by strategically giving up a bunch of runs early and getting the heck out of there before a decision could be rendered. Hughes gave up six earned runs in two innings, and Colon gave up one earned run—one that easily could have been stranded by the pitcher who relieved him—in 4 1/3 innings, yet Colon is considered the losing pitcher.

But, of course, wins and losses are the true measures of a pitcher's effectiveness.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

MLB HOF Madness on 85% Sports

A site called 85% Sports, a fellow member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, has been running a March Madness tournament of their own for about a month or so now. They started out with 68 entrants, including a play-in round to narrow the pool down to four 16-team brackets.

This particular tournament involves the blog's quest to determine the greatest Hall of Famer of all-time. The 68-player bracket of Major League Baseball's all-time greatest has since been narrowed down to 16. Voting on 85% Sports' Slugging Sixteen runs through April 12th.

Here's my breakdown of the matchups and who I voted for:

Sparky Anderson Bracket

#1 Babe Ruth vs. #5 Rickey Henderson
As great a player as Rickey was, I'm not really sure that he even belongs in the top 16 of all-time. I voted for Grover Cleveland Alexander, who Henderson upset in the round of 32. This one's a pretty easy call...Babe Ruth by a landslide.

#3 Honus Wagner vs. #2 Stan Musial
This is a tough one, but I had to go with the greatest shortstop of all-time over the third best left fielder. Honus Wagner it is.

Leo Durocher Bracket

#1 Willie Mays vs. #4 Joe DiMaggio
Despite the fact that DiMaggio is my father's hero, there's really not much question that Willie Mays had the superior career and ranks #1 on my list of center fielders.

#3 Walter Johnson vs. #2 Ty Cobb
"The Big Train" ranks as probably one of the top two pitchers in history, and that beats out the #2 center fielder of all-time in my book.

Branch Rickey Bracket

#1 Hank Aaron vs. #5 Sandy Koufax
Koufax had a great peak, but he doesn't even belong among the top 16 pitchers of all-time, let alone the top 16 players. Hank Aaron wins this one by a wide margin.

Although Koufax, as the fifth-seeded player, making the final 16 is not a major upset, this bracket has featured the biggest upset in the tournament, at least by seeding standards (I completely disagree with Koufax being a #5 seed, obviously, but that's not my point). The guys at 85% Sports gave Josh Gibson the #4 seed in the bracket, but he was knocked off by #13 seed Nolan  Ryan in the first round.

Why? Because, not surprisingly, the majority of the folks voting in this contest have very little idea how to compare Negro League stars to their Major League Baseball counterparts. I'm not saying I do, but it would seem a no-brainer to me that perhaps the greatest player in Negro League history is better than Nolan Ryan.

#3 Mickey Mantle vs. #2 Cy Young
Along with Walter Johnson, Cy Young has to be considered one of the top two pitchers in history. I'm taking that over the #3 center fielder.

Casey Stengel Bracket

#1 Ted Williams vs. #5 Johnny Bench
It's tough being a catcher. Bench was the greatest of all-time at his position, but while that was enough to get him past Christy Mathewson in the prior round, it doesn't beat out Teddy Ballgame.

#3 Rogers Hornsby vs. #2 Lou Gehrig
This is another very tough call. Hornsby is debatably the best second baseman ever, but Gehrig is indisputably #1 among first baseman. Plus, he's Lou Gehrig, so he gets my vote.

So, if I get my way, we'll be looking at these matchups to decide who advances to the Final Four:

Babe Ruth vs. Honus Wagner
Willie Mays vs. Walter Johnson
Hank Aaron vs. Cy Young
Ted Williams vs. Lou Gehrig

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Frequent Spins (2011.2)

The Baseball Project - Volume 2: High and Inside
Of course, I've already written a couple posts breaking down the lyrics of two of this album's major highlights, "Buckner's Bolero" and "Fair Weather Fans," but there's much more where those songs came from. "1976" celebrates the year that Mark "The Bird" Fidrych's on-field antics captivated the baseball world. "Here Lies Carl Mays" tells the story of baseball's most tragic moment from the perspective of a man who would be forever considered a villain. "Twilight of My Career" actually sheds a bit of a sympathetic light on Roger Clemens. In fact, so many of these songs prove that heartbreak and tragedy not only provide the subject matter for better songs, but they also make for better baseball tales.

Bright Eyes - The People's Key
If Conor Oberst was trying to shed his pretentious image with the release of the more straightforwardly rocking Outer South (credited to Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band), this one's not helping his cause much. Interspersed throughout the album are the philosophical ramblings of Denny Brewer of Refried Ice Cream on subjects such as mankind's responsibility for the future, the Sumerian Tablets' depiction of lizard-like beings who invaded the Garden of Eden, and the naming of the pomegranate. Meanwhile, Oberst's lyrics ponder questions such as "...if it's true what we're made of, why do I hide from the rain?" In the end, the intersection of the messages is the theme of love and mercy towards your fellow man. Despite the overly philosophical nature of the album, or perhaps—in part—because of it, Bright Eyes' latest is one of my favorites of the year so far.

Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots
It's quite possible that I'll never grow tired of these guys. Go-Go Boots shows off a little more Muscle Shoals influence—not surprising, considering co-leader Patterson Hood's father David was the bassist of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section—than prior efforts, which have always been decidedly southern rock oriented. My personal highlight is a song that I described to KJ as being the equivalent of listening to an 8-minute Dateline episode, "The Fireplace Poker."

The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts
The Go! Team's schtick is that they're kind of an indie cheerleading squad. I pretty quickly dismissed their 2004 debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, as "not my thing" and didn't pay an ounce of attention to the band until one of that album's songs, "The Power Is On," appeared on the NFL Play 60 commercial featuring the Atlanta Falcons riding a school bus. So, I was definitely curious to check out their latest, and I wasn't disappointed.

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing
This band is one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years. In fact, they're probably at the top of the list, at least partially due to the fact that I discovered them all on my own. Don't misunderstand me, now. I like a good recommendation from a friend as much as the next guy, but there's something very satisfying about being your own influence. I'm not really sure why, to be honest. It's not like I did extensive research regarding my own personal likes and dislikes and developed an algorithm for determining what music is perfectly suited for my eardrums. In fact, I probably just got lucky. Anyway, it's nice to get into a band before they even have a recording contract and then see them a few years later show up in Curtis Granderson's iTunes Library. Well, sort of.

The Streets - Computers and Blues
Ever since A Grand Don't Come for Free, The Streets seem to have an alternating album thing going for them. That is, every other album is very good, but followed up by an effort with a few bright spots that has failed to come close to being as good as its predecessor. Computers and Blues falls into the latter category. Don't get me wrong. I've enjoyed listening to it, particularly "We Can Never Be Friends" and "OMG," the latter of which tells the story of a Facebook-induced relationship misunderstanding that ultimately has a happy ending. It's just that, it's not the swan song I'd hoped it would be. Did I mention this is supposed to be Mike Skinner's final album as The Streets?

Yuck - Yuck
When I wrote the first Frequent Spins of 2011, I decided that I would play the "name three bands they remind you of" game with each entry throughout the year. But, as you can see from the albums written up in this installment, I've already broken that trend. Still, when I heard the first song the first time I listened to this album, I was thinking Dinosaur Jr. The remaining songs don't really live up to that expectation, but if you like your Weezer with a generous portion of Elliott Smith and a dash of Pavement, you might actually enjoy this record.