Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Am I? (Father & Son Edition)

As father and son tandems go, we were hardly the Griffeys, but we both played over 10 years in the majors, so that's something to be proud of.

Father accumulated over 2000 hits and 50 wins above replacement (WAR) in his career. Son was a first-round draft pick (#3 overall), but never lived up to expectations, although he did show a few sustained flashes of his five-tool ability.

Continue reading, and maybe take a crack at guessing the answer, over on Pickin' Splinters.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Frequent Spins (2011.5)

Last year, I celebrated my discovery of Lala and then, a few months later, I lamented the end of the service. Well, it took over a year, but finally there's a legitimate substitute.

Spotify, launched in Sweden in 2008, became available to U.S. customers—without requiring an invitation—in the past few months.

Spotify requires a software installation, whereas Lala was web-based, and it doesn't make finding quality new releases as easy as Lala did, but it has one major advantage. Where Lala only allowed users one free listen to each song, Spotify allows unlimited previews.

So, if you're already a Spotify user, or you're interested in checking it out, the links to each of these albums would be a good place to start, as far as I'm concerned.

Beirut - The Rip Tide
An eclectic indie band that uses horns as an integral part of their sound? Seems like a Neutral Milk Hotel comparison is in order. But, those characteristics are where the comparisons end. This album is melodic orchestral indie pop at its best.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Add these versatile indie-folksters to the long list of artists whose first albums didn't hook me, but whose second completely reeled me in.

Centro-Matic - Candidate Waltz
As prolific a songwriter as Centro-Matic front-man Will Johnson has been over the years, it's kind of surprising this is the first album by his main band in five years. It's a short set—only 33 minutes total—but its brevity ensures it does not wear out its welcome, and despite the gap between releases, this one was well worth the wait.

Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
At $8.24 on eMusic, this is one of the more expensive albums I've purchased in a while. Because the price represents almost half my monthly subscription, and considering I wasn't blown away by my first few listens, I almost passed on this one. I'm glad I changed my mind.

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
Welch's appearance on The Decemberists' The King is Dead earlier this year was a bit of an appetizer for the release of her first album since 2003. Her return is a welcome one, although this record falls far short of my favorite material of hers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Have You Done For Me Lately, (or Can A.J. Burnett still make the Yankees' postseason rotation)?

Since, in hindsight, I was a little off in my recent assessment of the Yankees' postseason rotation situation, I thought I'd take another crack at it. Except, this time I'm going to look at each pitcher's average game score* over the course of their last four—or, in the case of Freddy Garcia, three—starts.

For an explanation of game score, see Baseball-Reference's Play Index Glossary.

Why am I looking only at their most recent outings? Because when a battle is as wide open as the Yankees' situation is, what's happened most recently tends to be weighted more heavily.

Why am I only considering Freddy Garcia's most recent three starts, while looking at the latest four for the other candidates? Because he's only pitched three times since returning from the disabled list on August 29.

What is the meaning of the sub-title of this post? Most blogs I've read recently on the subject—including this one—have already written off A.J. Burnett's chances of making the Yankees' postseason rotation. But, let's face it, the team's management has to be pulling for him, and if he's still being given the opportunity to start games in mid-September, they're not ruling him out yet.

So, let's cut to the chase and size them up based on average game score since August 21:
  1. Ivan Nova - 59.3
  2. C.C. Sabathia - 57.5
  3. Bartolo Colon - 54.8
  4. A.J. Burnett - 44.5
  5. Phil Hughes - 43.0
  6. Freddy Garcia - 37.7 (actually, even if we throw Garcia's August 7 start into the mix, he still ranks last at 41.0)
So, what does this tell us? Well, first of all, we all know Sabathia is the #1 starter regardless of what happens the rest of the way, so this exercise is really to try and size up the 2-4 slots.

Nova is looking as close to a lock for one of the remaining three spots as anyone. Will he be the #2 starter come playoff time? Not necessarily, but at this point, it's looking unlikely that he'll fall to #5.

That leaves two spots up for grabs. Colon seems to have the inside track on one of them, but take a look at #4 on this list. While I'm not trying to say that Burnett has pitched his way back into the team's postseason plans, is there any real reason to give Hughes the benefit of the doubt over him? I don't think so, although I'm not ruling him out yet either.

So, unless Garcia can turn things back around after scuffling of late, we could very well be looking at a postseason rotation of Sabathia-Nova-Colon-Burnett.

Of course, this is all speculation, but at this point I still think the competition is wide open and the much-maligned Burnett has at least as good a chance as Hughes and Garcia to earn a couple October starts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

King of Carrot Flowers Parts 1 & 2

Jeff Mangum is an indie rock legend. He's also a recluse. As the singer, guitarist and primary songwriter of Neutral Milk Hotel, he released two critically-acclaimed albums—including the seminal In the Aeroplane Over the Sea—in the 1990s, then disappeared into obscurity.

It was around this time I was living in Albany, with my pal Skip, who turned me onto The Velvet Underground. He also introduced me to the legend that VU's debut album sold only about 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it went on to form a band. More recently, I've heard a similar claim made about NMH's sophomore effort.

Of course, The Velvet Underground & Nico was released over a quarter century prior to that. I was a latecomer to the NMH bandwagon as well, but only by a few years. Which reminds me of a little list I've been thinking up five bands I discovered too late and, therefore, never got to see live.

First, let me qualify. This does not include artists who were before my time (e.g. The Velvet Underground). These are bands I missed the boat on because I either didn't fully appreciate them, or simply hadn't heard of them, during their heyday:
  1. Uncle Tupelo
  2. Neutral Milk Hotel
  3. The Replacements
  4. Pavement
  5. The Police
I thought I'd never get the chance to see Jeff Mangum, and that didn't change when I heard, several months too late, that he was playing his first tour in over a decade and a Cambridge show had sold out in a matter of minutes.

Then, a second Boston area show was added, but that too sold out in minutes. So, I decided it might be worth my while to make the trip to western Massachusetts on a weeknight, and I plunked down just under $66 (including fees) for two tickets to that show.

I recruited my good friend June, who had alerted me to the two added New England shows, to drive me to Northampton's Academy of Music Theatre this past Wednesday in exchange for the other ticket. I left work at 4:30 to take the T to Newton to meet up with her for the journey to the 8 pm show.

I got home around midnight, so that means I invested 7 1/2 hours of my time (in addition to shelling out the $66 for essentially one ticket).

But, it was well worth it. My brewing partner, AB (once again, not August Busch), had previously declined interest in the show, on the grounds that he'd be willing to pay $30+ to see NMH, but not Mangum solo.

Well, Mangum did take the stage alone, and would have been forgiven for being a little rusty, but he played his most celebrated material with more energy and enthusiasm than anyone could have expected.

He definitely exhibited the shyness that would be consistent with someone characterized as a recluse, but still had tremendous stage presence, joking with the crowd and encouraging them to sing along, particularly to the horn parts otherwise missing in this solo set.

June and I passed the time on the drive home, piecing together the set list from the notes she scratched on an envelope during the show, using my iPhone to help us with the song titles we didn't really know. Here's the final output of that process:

In case you can't make that out, here's the translation:

Oh Comely
Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two
I Love the Living You (Roky Erickson cover)
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Song Against Sex
A Baby for Pree/Glow Into You
Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One
The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three
Holland, 1945

Two-Headed Boy

Wouldn't you know it, but two nights later, I got a call, from the aforementioned AB, informing me that his band-mate's brother is the sound guy for the Mangum tour and could get us on the guest list for the Saturday night show at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. So, two shows in four nights it was.

The Boston show didn't differ all that much from the Northampton performance. Instead of Roky Erickson's "I Love the Living You," he covered Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End," and he was also joined onstage by members of opening act ACME, a string quartet who backed him for a stirring rendition of "April 8th."

The real highlight of the Boston show was that he played a legitimate encore. I'm not talking about the kind of encore that's come to be expected at concerts these days. What I'm referring to is a true encore, "a reappearance or additional performance demanded by an audience," according to Merriam-Webster.

That is, after playing the same two encores he did on Wednesday night, he said good night and went backstage. The hall's lights came on, prompting the audience that it was time to leave, but no one did. For ten minutes, the audience cheered, applauded and essentially begged for Mangum to reappear, which he eventually did.

Those who chose to stick around—which was pretty much everyone, as far as I could tell—were rewarded with hearing the last song Mangum is likely to play in New England for quite some time: "Ferris Wheel on Fire."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years After

In late July of 2001, my father traveled on a bus trip sponsored by the Hudson Valley Renegades to see the team play at the Staten Island Yankees. During that trip, Dad shot this photo of downtown Manhattan from across the bay:

I never was a big fan of the concept of the date stamp on a photo, but in this case, it says it all.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Teach Your Children

KJ and I attended our first Yankees-Red Sox game together on Wednesday night, and the occasion marked Little Chuck's introduction to the long-standing rivalry as well. Well, sort of.

It was also the first time I've paid to park in the Fenway neighborhood since my first visit there back in the summer of '88. Since KJ is under doctor's orders to take it easy, we decided to suck it up and shell out for parking at Fenway's most convenient location, the Lansdowne Street Garage. $44 later—and that's actually a competitive price, I kid you not—we arrived just across the street from the park.

This, of course, did nothing to change my perception of Fenway as the worst value in baseball, but in this case, it was well worth the price.

We also sat in the right field box seats for the first time ever, and they were actually pretty good seats by Fenway Park standards.

The game took place the night after the ridiculous Cervelli-Lackey fiasco, in which Francisco Cervelli broke the long-standing and well-known unwritten rule that dictates only pitchers—even when they're showing up their own teammates—are allowed to show emotion on the field. But, that's all I'm going to say about that incident. I may revisit it in another post, but don't count on it.

During the game, David Ortiz was intentionally walked in front of Jed Lowrie. The crowd, predictably, booed the move, prompting me to tweet:

Of course, this quick list was missing a couple other important examples that I thought of a little later.

So, since I'm soon to be a brand new parent, I thought I'd share my list of the five things you (and I) need to teach your (our) children about being a fan with a clue. Because, honestly, most fans at the ballpark are really lacking in that respect, and the Fenway faithful are no different from anywhere else.

Without further ado, I present these in my favorite list a top five countdown, even if I've already given a few of them away. I suppose you could call these my unwritten rules of fandom (otherwise known as the top five stupidest things baseball fans do that you should avoid).

5. Don't boo the opposition's attempted pickoffs.
When you boo the opposing pitcher for attempting to pick off your runner, you're basically complaining that the other team is trying to win. I know you're rooting for your team to win, but this is supposed to be a competition. I can, however, understand booing an excessive number of pickoff attempts against the same runner. I guess that's why this one is #5.

4. Don't boo when the opposing team makes a pitching change.
Again, what you're doing here is protesting the fact the other team is trying to win. I get that pitching changes drag out the length of the game, but if you're going to be a baseball fan, it's something you'll have to learn to deal with. Besides, if you're frustrated that the game is being delayed, why don't you boo your own team when they change pitchers?

3. Don't boo when one of your players is intentionally walked.
First of all, the intentional walk is generally a foolish strategy. This is not intended to be post about SABRmetrics, so I'm not going to over-analyze this one, but more often than not, the intentional walk improves the offensive team's chance of winning. So, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, alright. Also, since your opposition at least thinks they're doing it for their own benefit, see #4 and #5 above.

2. Don't yell "balk" at things that aren't balks.
First of all, you'll need a lesson about what is and isn't a balk. I once wrote a post—exactly three years ago today, in fact—that my pal Lee called the ultimate blog entry on balks. But, that's a little more detail than is necessary here. What I'm really talking about is when fans call for a balk when the pitcher fakes a move to second or third. News flash, folks...THIS IS NOT A BALK. It's legal for a pitcher to fake a pickoff throw to second or third, but not to first. OK, got that? I'm not even going to confuse you by explaining when it's legal to fake a throw to first. Concentrate on understanding this difference first.

1. Don't do the wave.
If I even need to explain this one, then I'm sorry, but you're a hopeless cause and probably shouldn't have little baseball fans in the first place.

Oh yeah, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 9-5, so our family tally now stands at Red Sox 1, Yankees 0...obviously.