Thursday, November 21, 2013

Back to Black Friday (aka "An Ode to the Record Store")

Next Friday (November 29) is, of course, Black Friday. Personally, I've never set foot anywhere near a shopping mall on that day, but judging by the hordes of people who descend on major stores to fight over fantastic deals, I guess I'm in the minority. Still, for those of you like me, here's an alternate way to spend Black Friday.

If you followed that link, you know it took you to a news item regarding a special "Record Store Day" Black Friday promotion. While we're on the subject, I thought I'd re-run the most viewed post in this blog's history (below, or click here to add to the aforementioned post's hit count).

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 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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Handicapping the Expansion Era Ballot

Last week, the Hall of Fame's Expansion Era Committee announced the 12 candidates (whose greatest contributions to baseball were from 1973 to present) who they'll consider for induction this year.

The list of names includes several who were passed over in 2010–when the committee last considered candidates–as well as some prominent newbies. 

The newbies include three managers who are virtual locks to get in: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre, the latter of whom's case is buoyed by a playing career that, at worst, was borderline Hall-worthy. 

In fact, thanks to these three, it's hard to imagine anyone else has much of a chance. Let's do the math. 

The committee consists of 16 members, each of whom can vote for up to five candidates. Assuming everyone uses up their full allotment (which is no guarantee), that's 80 votes to go around. It takes 12 for election, so that means a perfect storm of virtual consensus would result in a maximum of six successful candidates. 

But, of course, that's not going to happen. I could be wrong about this, but it's hard to imagine any more than 2-3 voters each not getting behind this trio of managers. That leaves approximately 40 for the remaining nine candidates. 

Assuming there's some support for each candidate–they wouldn't be on the ballot otherwise–at least two or three votes for each of the remaining nine seems likely. That brings the available votes down to low-20s at most, meaning two more could conceivably garner the extra 9-10 needed to be elected. 

That's a little far-fetched, though, but I'll back off my original contention and say there's an outside chance a fourth could get in. I doubt it, but it's not impossible. 

So, who has the best chance to be that potential fourth selection? 

Marvin Miller and Dave Concepcion both did fairly well in the last Expansion Era election in 2010–receiving 11 and 8 out of a possible 16 votes, respectively–so they're the most obvious candidates. Personally, I think Miller has the best shot, and is much more deserving than Concepcion, who I would rank as slightly more Hall-worthy than Mark Belanger, slightly less than Bert Campaneris and considerably less qualified than Alan Trammell, among his contemporaries at shortstop.

The remainder of the candidates I see as having little to no chance of getting in.

The committee must have been trying to stick it to Billy Martin by pitting him against Cox, LaRussa and Torre.

George Steinbrenner will probably make the Hall of Fame someday, but not this year.

Steve Garvey is a lost cause, and rightfully so. With so many years of hindsight, why anyone thinks he's a better candidate than Keith Hernandez is beyond me. 

Tommy John is just below the borderline to me. I don't think there's much hope for him, but he's a better candidate than all the players on this ballot except one. 

Dave Parker doesn't stand much of a chance either. I'm not sure why the selection committee thinks he does. I would have much rather seen Dwight Evans get a shot in his place. 

I really want to be able to make a case for Dan Quisenberry, and I think there's one to be made. He's arguably as Hall-worthy as Bruce Sutter and maybe even more so than Rollie Fingers. But, I just can't find enough there to make the case that any of these players and their peers–with Goose Gossage being the exception–deserve the honor. 

Ted Simmons, of course, is the most worthy candidate beyond the three aforementioned managers, but I don't give him much of a chance either. 

In fact, there are a lot of players I would have rather seen than most of these guys: Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, Thurman Munson, in addition to Evans and Hernandez, just to name a handful.

If I had a vote, I'd go with Torre, Cox, LaRussa, Simmons and Miller.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

It's November Already

November means a lot of things to this blog.

Of course, it signals the end of baseball season, which is the start of a difficult period of five months without any meaningful baseball games. 

On the other hand, the offseason also brings with it Hall of Fame season, the time period which culminates with the announcement of next year's Hall of Fame inductees in early January. Obviously, the ridiculousness of last year's writers' ballot, in particular, and the realization that the entire process is deeply flawed, in general, has made these announcements a little bittersweet, but it still remains one of my favorite baseball subjects to obsess over. 

November also is the calendar year's penultimate month, not that you needed me to tell you that. So, for the past 18 years it has meant the beginning of the time that I try to get my thoughts together regarding my top albums of the year. 

Frequent Spins appears to have gone by the wayside this year, but that doesn't mean I don't have my usual dedication towards the annual best-music-of-the-year countdown. It still remains to be seen what I'll do regarding the outdated CD compilation I've had less dedication to in recent years, but the albums-of-the-year list lives on. 

Last, but certainly not least, November is my son's birthday month. Little Chuck will be two this year, which brings me to my main point for writing this. 

This year has proven to be a bigger challenge than last year, in terms of finding time for my writing hobby. I'm not exactly sure why. I don't necessarily think the second year provides a tougher parenting challenge than the first. 

In some ways I think it's gotten easier, while in other ways, it's been harder. But, I think witnessing LC enter the stage where he's starting to express his own individuality has reinforced my own identity to some extent. That is, I'm simply putting less emphasis on making time for writing and more on my responsibilities as the patriarch of the family, so to speak.

That's not to say I'm phasing out the blog and/or the writing hobby. However, my goal for 2014 will be to decide how better to prioritize my time so I can continue to enjoy this part-time endeavor.

Speaking of which, next month–December 22, to be precise–actually marks the 10th anniversary of this blog.

Part of this refocusing of effort will be an attempt to recapture what it is I love about writing in general and this blog in particular. To that end, given that the blog's first entries were a countdown of my top ten albums of 2003, I'll be celebrating the tenth anniversary by returning to the blog's roots. 

Beginning on December 22, I'll be devoting one entry per day to one of my top ten albums of 2013, starting with #10, of course, and working my way down to #1 on New Year's Eve. 

It's not a major departure from what I've done in past years, I realize. The difference is the emphasis on the top ten, which is what the list was all about when this annual tradition began in 1996, and continued that way until 2004.