Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#1 The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

For the fourth time in five years, an artist's debut on my year-end list is my #1 album.

Adam Granduciel's brand of ambient Americana was this year's critical consensus album of the year, an opinion I'm totally on board with, despite the fact my #4 artist is not a fan [NSFW].

For those of you still reading at the end of this blog's slowest year in almost a decade, thank you and best of luck in 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best Music of 2014: #2 Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

If this album didn't make your list, you either don't put together an albums-of-the-year list or you have an irrational fear of country music. Or, perhaps, you simply didn't hear it.

Considering I'd never even heard of Sturgill Simpson until barely more than a month ago, the latter suggestion is a distinct possibility. If that's the case, and if you're open to country music at all, plan on adding this to your "best 2014 albums you didn't hear until 2015 list."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#3 Cloud Cult - Unplug

I've been saying for a long time live albums are eligible for my year-end lists, but I think this is the first time one has made it, or at least it's the first time one has been ranked so highly.

This album exposed me to older Cloud Cult songs I was unfamiliar with, offered most of the songs in a different format from their original versions, and was presented as a single one-off performance rather than a live compilation. 

Those are pretty much my three criteria for considering a live album as one of the best of the year. Unplug is clearly just that.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#4 Sun Kil Moon - Benji

The two artists with the longest streaks of consecutive albums in my top ten see those runs end this year, while Sun Kil Moon and one other band (to be revealed) join the ranks of acts with three top tens in my list's 19-year history.

On the heels of last year's #1 album, Mark Kozelek's fourth top ten overall puts him in pretty select company (more on that later, hopefully).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#5 Temples - Sun Structures

Speaking of retro-inspired music, this one goes back a little further than your typical classic rock reference point. Put simply (or not), this is 50+ minutes of incense and peppermints and McGuinnesque guitar jangle.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#6 Strand of Oaks - HEAL

It seems like there's a lot of indie rock inspired by classic rock in my top ten this year. Perhaps my taste has been trending that way for a while, but it seems more evident this year. I'd say three of the five I've revealed so far, including this one, fall into this category.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Music of 2014: #7 Anders Parker - There's a Bluebird in My Heart

Anders is a friend of mine, although I hadn't seen him in a year and a half until a mid-December show supporting Centro-Matic on their farewell tour. Still, I don't think of myself as biased when it comes to evaluating his music. I liked his album prior to this, but it didn't even make my extended list. His latest, in my opinion, is his best effort since his solo debut, 2004's Tell it to the Dust.

OK, perhaps I'm biased to the extent knowing Anders is what exposed me to his music in the first place, and I might be more willing to allow his songs to grow on me than with other artists. But, the latter point applies to all my favorite artists, and considering this is Anders' sixth appearance in my top tenthree Varnaline records, two solo and the New Multitudes projectI'd say he falls into that category.

Here's Anders and his band, Cloud Badge, playing four songs from the record on a live performance for Vermont Public Radio.

Best Music of 2014: #8 Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness of Dancers

Before I finalized these rankings, I felt like this was a year where artists who were new to my ears made a bigger impact than my old favorites. The final list doesn't necessarily reflect that, but Hiss Golden Messenger is the first of three artists I'd never heard of prior to this year and the second of six to crack the top tenDrew being the first, and Leithauser counting as a returnee because The Walkmen have been here twice beforefor the first-time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#9 Hamilton Leithauser - Black Hours

The Walkmen are on "...a pretty extreme hiatus," according to bassist/organist Peter Bauer, which perhaps means we've heard the last of them. That's too bad, and while this album is only capable of filling part of the void that potentially leaves, it did remind me how much my love for that band is tied up in Hamilton Leithauser's voice.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#10 Kevin Drew - Darlings

Last year, I paid tribute to this blog's roots by counting down my top ten albums for ten days beginning on the blog's tenth anniversary. However, I also ranked numbers 11-21 because ranking more than ten albums had been my thing for quite a few years.

This year, as my dedication to this blog and the hobbies that provide its motivation has waned a little, I'm fully returning to my top ten roots. Honestly, I've got several handfuls of additional records I enjoyed this year, but I don't have the time or the inclination to rank them any further.

Besides, ten is a good number and it's fairly representative of the number of truly frequent spins of mine this year. So, without further ado, let's begin this countdown of my favorite albums from this calendar year.

I don't love Kevin Drew's second solo effort for its lyrics, that's for sure, and it surely didn't get much, if any, love on critical year-end lists. Pitchfork practically referred to it as the Broken Social Scene frontman's Tunnel of Love. That's an interesting reference point, although the reviewer wasn't really comparing Drew to Springsteen. While "You in Your Were" leaves me wishing there was a little more Feist collaboration here, the album's standout track is its closer, "And That's All I Know."

Monday, December 08, 2014

Minnie Miñoso Belongs in the Hall

Circa 1995, I was on a work trip to South Bend, Indiana. One evening, I was in a retail store of some kind when an employee's voice came over the loudspeaker announcing a giveaway contest. They were awarding a prize to the customer who could produce evidence he or she had come the furthest to shop in their store.

South Bend is in western Indiana, bordering Michigan to the north and not far from Illinois to the west, so another customer was understandably convinced being from Ohio would prove good enough to win. That is, until I unearthed my New York driver's license with Albany address. (I suppose the fact I was from New York was enough, as I could've been from Jamestown and still won by a landslide.)

The prize was two tickets to a South Bend Silver Hawks game the following night. At the time, South Bend was the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the White Sox.

I don't recall if I successfully recruited a co-worker to accompany me to the game. In fact, my hazy memory is of going to the game solo, which is something I've done countless times without reservation.

I also don't remember much about Coveleski Stadium, the home of the Silver Hawks, which is named after Hall of Famer and 55-year South Bend resident Stan Coveleski.

What I do remember is that Minnie Miñoso was there signing autographs, for free. I've never been much of a memorabilia collector, but every once in a while I decide to seize an opportunity. This, of course, was one of those occasions.

I quickly popped into the nearest souvenir store and purchased a cheap Silver Hawks ball which, with Mr. Miñoso's gracious assistance, became this souvenir:

Of course, none of this, in any way, has anything to do with Miñoso's Hall of Fame case, which I admit I've come around on in recent years. That is to say I've gone from thinking he's borderline to believing he definitely belongs in Cooperstown.

Miñoso's chances of getting in seemed pretty close to zero after he fell short on the 2012 Golden Era ballot, receiving nine of 16 possible votes, three short of election. This came after he was passed over by the 2006 special election of the Negro Leagues Committee, which inducted 17 former players, pioneers and executives of black baseball.

Miñoso's Hall of Fame case is borderline at first glance, but when his late start in the minors due to segregation is factored in, I believe a strong argument can be made in his favor.

Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso played his first professional baseball in the United States in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Minnie signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League.

Minnie was signed by the Indians in 1948, but he was already 22, unproven at the highest level, and his road to the majors blocked by several veterans. So, he toiled in the minors for 2+ seasons, playing nine games at the major league level in 1949 and none in 1950, before being traded to the White Sox in early 1951.

In Chicago, he became an instant star, homering in his first at bat and finishing the year with a .326/.422/.500 triple slash line, a 151 OPS+ and leading the league in triples (16), stolen bases (31) and HBP (16), while scoring 112 runs. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and fourth in MVP voting that season.

Miñoso averaged 5 WAR per year from 1951 to 1959, 4.1 per year through 1962, his age 36 season. His 1963 season was a -1.7 WAR disaster, signalling the end of his career. I've said before I think 4 WAR per year over 15 years is a Hall of Fame career. Miñoso's productiveness falls three seasons short of that, but what do we make of his late start?

I normally don't cut a guy any slack for a late arrival to the major leagues, but the fact of the matter is Miñoso was already 21 years old when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut. Obviously, the majors didn't become fully integrated overnight, and we can't fault Miñoso for not being the guy Branch Rickey hand-picked to be the first.

So, it stands to reason that, given the opportunities white ballplayers had, Minnie would have been drafted younger and potentially would have fully broken into the majors 2-3 years earlier than he did.

Would this have been enough to make his Hall of Fame case that much clearer? I think so.

A lot of people my age know Minnie more for his distinction of being one of only two players in history—-Nick Altrock being the other—-to play in five different decades. Brief appearances with the White Sox, in 1976 at age 50 and 1980 at age 54, helped him achieve that notoriety. But, Minoso did put together what should be considered a Hall of Fame career.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Council Rock and the Hall

If you're still reading, you've certainly noticed this blog's output has dropped off quite a bit this year. I don't expect that to change anytime soon, but I'm still going to try to keep writing about what I consider the essential subject matter. 

To that point, I'm a little (as in way) overdue for an update on my annual trek to Cooperstown for induction weekend. 

Hall of Fame weekend was the last weekend in July, and we spent Thursday through Sunday in Cooperstown. Here are some highlights. 

A Thursday evening visit to Council Rock Brewery, a relatively new place on the outskirts of town. I wasn't expecting to be blown away, and I wasn't, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

I enjoyed a flight of five 5-oz. samples for $8.50, which included a few guest taps as well. In fact, I was just as impressed with the offerings from Hamilton, New York's Good Nature Farm Brewery (Bavarian Dream Hefeweizen and American Brown Ale). 

The Council Rock beers (Full Nelson Pale Ale and Vienna Lager) were very good as well, leaving me to wonder if this isn't already the second best Cooperstown brewery. More on that at a later date, hopefully. 

I was a little less enthusiastic about the one guest beer from a brewery I was already familiar with (Captain Lawrence Kolsch). 

Of course, this and future vacations will surely have an increasing emphasis on Little Chuck's entertainment, so this year seemed like a good time to check out the Farmer's Museum for the first time. 

Considering he still talks about it, I'd say the Farmer's Museum was a hit, although at one point we realized he thinks a farmer is what you and I refer to as a barn. We haven't really bothered to correct him—well, we've tried, but it hasn't worked—so we're leaving this as one of those cute toddlerisms that will correct itself eventually. 

Here's another reason the Farmer's Museum was a big hit. As I said earlier, I hope to eventually get around to writing something about the Cooperstown beer scene, including the area's history as a hop producer. 

Of course, there was Saturday night's parade of Hall of Famers down Main Street. No acknowledgement from Eddie Murray this year. He's still a family favorite, but Rollie Fingers is now LC's favorite player. Because of the mustache, of course. 

Last, but certainly not least, here are the induction ceremony high—and low—lights:
  • Greg Maddux made a fart joke.
  • Dumb Braves fans started the tomahawk chop/war chant (or whatever it is) during Tom Glavine's speech. 
  • Many dumb Braves fans left after Glavine's speech. Honestly, I suspect that's what the Hall of Fame wanted. Why else would they schedule Maddux, Bobby Cox and Glavine as the first three speeches. 
  • I missed most of Tony LaRussa's speech waiting on line to use the porta-johns. 
  • Frank Thomas cried. A lot. It was fantastic. 
  • Dumb Braves fans booed when Joe Torre referenced the 1996 World Series—his first in a career that spanned 18 years as a player and 16 as a manager to that point—during his speech. These are the first boos I've EVER heard at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, except those directed at Bud Selig.
Obviously, not all Braves fans are dumb, but the notion that only Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies fans are idiots has been out the window for many years, as far as I'm concerned. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Four for My Personal Hall

When we collaborated on our Personal Hall of Fame project last year, my (mostly) High Heat Stats pals and I never discussed if it was something we'd be updating on an annual basis, but that always was my intention.

Since there's a ton of Hall of Fame discussion surrounding the time of year the BBWAA voting is announced, I decided I'd unveil my "inductees" just prior to the actual induction ceremony. Since that's this weekend, I'd say it's about time to reveal my fairly predictable selections for the class of 2014. 

Greg Maddux
No big surprise that the pitcher who's 8th all-time in Wins and pitching WAR is the easiest choice here. 

Frank Thomas
Thomas will become the first Hall of Famer to have fielded a position in less than half his career gamesPaul Molitor came close, but still played the field more than he didn'tyet Edgar Martinez continues to be considered as less than a complete player. Perhaps The Big Hurt will mention Edgar in his speech. Don't count on it. 

Tom Glavine
Well, that wasn't much of a tribute to Thomas there, was it? No offense intended. I am putting him in my personal Hall, after all, so it should be pretty clear what I think of him. The same goes for Glavine, but, as with Thomas, his induction reminds me of another slight, this one perhaps even bigger than Martinez...

Mike Mussina
Mussina compares pretty favorably to Glavine. Sabermetrically speaking, he's actually a superior candidate (82.7 to 74 WAR over 850 fewer IP, 161 to 147 Hall Rating), while falling a little short by traditional standards (270 to 305 wins, 0 Cy Young awards to Glavine's 2). Glavine may very well be more Hall-worthy than Mussina, but this little comparisona compromise of sorts between old school and new schoolshows how truly close they are.

In my opinion, Glavine is perceived more as a Hall of Famer because he combined a couple dominant (i.e. Cy Young caliber) seasons with considerable longevity. I suppose Mussina is thought of as a guy who was just consistently very good, but the rate statsand those that consider contextshow he was a better pitcher than Glavine, just over a shorter period of time. 

Don't misinterpret this. I think Glavine is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. But, so is Mussina.

Of course, a bunch of guys who fell short on the actual 2014 ballot are already in my Personal Hall, but there are a few who I'd like to consider further, most notably Jeff Kent. However, I'm not dropping anyone from consideration. It's just that most of the rest of the eligible players won't be very high on my radar moving forward. 

Friday, June 06, 2014

The All-Yankees-Who-Never-Won-A-World Series Team

I've been working on the next entry in my All-Time Teams series for quite some time now. Actually, "working off and on" would be more accurate than "working on." Of course, since the last entry was the New York Mets, it should be pretty obvious who's up next.

However, at least partly inspired by Replacement Level's recent naming of The All-Never-Won-A-World Series Team, I'm going to allow myself to be sidetracked a little here.

This wasn't an easy exercise as it's pretty difficult finding significant Yankees who never won a World Series with the team. In fact, because of this, I decided not to hem and haw over the reserves and just go with a starting lineup, five-man rotation and relief pitcher.

Not surprisingly, the lineup is dominated by players from the deadball era, the pre-Steinbrenner years and the early-'80s to mid-'90s drought.

C - Mike Stanley
Stanley provided the Yankees with some good offense (134 OPS+) in a mostly full-time capacity from 1992-1995, but was let walk as a free agent, in favor of Joe Girardi, prior to their first World Series of the Jeter era. In August of 1997, the Red Sox traded him back to the Yankees, and he played a part-time role on their only late-'90s team that didn't win the World Series.

1B - Don Mattingly
Easily the most celebrated Yankee who never won a World Series, Mattingly also earned the most WAR for the franchise among players who fit the distinction. Of course, everyone knows Donnie Baseball played in his first postseason in 1995 and then retired fairly young, missing out on the 1996 celebration. He probably has a World Series ring earned during his time as a spring training hitting instructor, but otherwise his coaching and managing career has been similarly frustrating in terms of World Series victories. He became hitting coach in 2004 and left just prior to the 2008 season.

2B - Jimmy Williams
Williams was the franchise's original second baseman and served as the starter at the position from 1901-1907, providing good offense (116 OPS+) and solid overall play (20.7 WAR). He's also the only position player on this roster who played for the team before they were called the Yankees (1901-02: Baltimore Orioles, 1903-07: New York Highlanders).

SS - Roger Peckinpaugh
Peckinpaugh joined the team the year they became known as the Yankees (1913) and was a fixture at shortstop for most of that year and the eight seasons that followed. He played in the franchise's first World Series appearance, in which they lost 5-games-to-3 to the New York Giants in 1921. Following that season, he was part of a blockbuster deal between the Yankees and the Red SoxRip Collins, Jack Quinn, Bill Piercy and Peckinpaugh for Bullet Joe Bush, Sad Sam Jones and Everett Scottbut was subsequently traded to Washington three weeks later. In 1924, he was a member of the Senators' first and only World Series winning team.

3B - Home Run Baker
He had his best seasons with the Philadelphia Athleticswho won it all in 1910, 1911 and 1913 while he was therebefore being sold to the Yankees following a contract dispute over which he sat out the entire 1915 season. Like Peckinpaugh, he played on the World Series losing team of 1921. Unlike Peckinpaugh, he was also a member of the World Series losing team of 1922, his final major league season.

LF - Rickey Henderson
Henderson actually played more games in centerand reasonably wellfor the Yankees than in left, but the latter always seemed like his natural position. The mid-to-late '80s weren't as bad as most people remember, with 1989 being the only year they won less than 85 games. In fact, in Rickey's first and best year in pinstripes (1985), the Yankees won 97 games, but finished two behind the Blue Jays. Henderson played in 60 postseason gamesand won World Series in Oakland and Torontoin his career, but none of them were with the Yankees.

CF - Bobby Murcer
Getting back to our hard-luck stories, Murcer was with the Yankees from 1965-1974 and 1979-1983. You probably know what happened in the intervening four years...three trips to the World Series, two of them victorious. He never quite lived up to expectations (i.e. Mickey Mantle comparisons), but he enjoyed a fine career nonetheless.

RF - Dave Winfield
Little did anyone know when Winfield was dubbed "Mr. May" by George Steinbrenner following a 1-for-22 performance in the 1981 World Series loss to the Dodgers, it would turn out to be his last postseason appearance in pinstripes. He would, however, go on to deliver the game-winning hit in the Blue Jays' 1992 World Series clinching Game 6 victory.

DH - Jason Giambi
Giambi was on the 2003 team that lost the World Series to the Marlins, and I have to admit I didn't remember that he didn't play at all in the 2004 postseason. Judging by his seasons stats, he was injured and/or deemed ineffective when healthy, and I certainly recall watching Tony Clark and John Olerud play, but the Giambi circumstances aren't coming back to me.

RHP - Mike Mussina
Mussina, of course, began his Yankee years on the 2001 team that lost in seven games to the Diamondbacks, then retired following the first 20-win season of his career (2008). He surely could have been an integral part of the 2009 championship team, especially considering they tested the nerves of Yankees fans by getting through the entire postseason with a three-man rotation that included A.J. Burnett.

LHP - Tommy John
TJ's timing wasn't so great either, as he pitched for the Dodgers during their 1977 and 1978 World Series losses to the Yankees, then switched sides to be a member of the 1981 team that lost to the Dodgers. Those three losses would be the extent of John's World Series experience despite a 26-year career.

Mel Stottlemyre and deadball era pitchers Jack Chesbro and Russ Ford, all right-handed pitchers who might bump John if they were southpaws, round out the rotation.

RP - Dave Righetti
Rags never had a breakthrough season as a starter, but the decision to move him to the bullpen at age 25 epitomizes the team's mismanagement during the years between the two successful portions of the Steinbrenner era. I'm not saying letting him remain as a starter would've made the difference, but we never got to find out, did we?

Who did I miss?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Josh Beckett's Newest Fan

For as long as I can remember, every time I've been to a ballgame, the first thing I root for is a no-hitter. This, of course, means I'm rooting for both pitchers until they yield their first hits, but is only 100% true when I don't have a horse in the race. When my team's involved, I'd have a tough time rooting for them to get no-hit, but honestly that's never been an issue.

I can't really pinpoint when this personal tradition began, but my best guess is it started after I witnessed my first no-hitter in 1983. But, I do remember promoting this personal strategy of rooting for pitchers rather than teams to friends with whom I've attended games. 

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, I've been lucky that all the no-hitter flirtations in games involving the Yankees have been by Yankees pitchers: from Dave Righetti's no-no in 1983 to Mike Mussina's near perfect gem in 2001 to Chien-Ming Wang's 7 1/3 perfect innings in 2007. So, it pretty much goes without saying I'd be rooting for those pitchers to not allow hits or other base-runners. 

On Sunday, my neutral-game philosophy came to fruition for the first time. On the tail end of a Pennsylvania mini-vacation that included two days at Sesame Place with Little Chuck, KJ and I decided we'd visit Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia for the first time. It was also LC's first major league game and my first new park31st overall, including 20 currently in operationin five years.

It also happened to be IBEW Local 98 Ryne Sandberg Louisville Slugger Bat day, so the little guy came away with this nice souvenir:

Ryne Sandberg autographed bat
Don't worry, it's made of plastic.

I'd joked at every possible opportunity leading up to this game about how frustrating it was, as a Yankees fan living in Boston, that the pitching matchup we drew was Josh Beckett vs. A.J. Burnett. I had also decided, considering Burnett is relatively more likeable in my opinion, this was as good a reason as any to root for the home team.  

But, Burnett gave up a hit to Dee Gordon to lead off the game, so I quickly shifted allegiances.

It's at this point that most people start talking about when they began thinking about a no-hitter. I can honestly say it was on my mind throughout the entire game. However, I recall looking at the MLB At Bat app during the 5th inning and seeing Beckett was sitting at 73 pitches through 4 1/3 innings. That was actually mid at-bat, and one pitch later he got the second out of the inning. Still, 74 pitches through 4 2/3 projects to 143 to get the full 27 outs. Needless to say, I was convinced there was little chance he was going the distance, and combined no-hitters don't quite have the same luster.

It was a hot and sunny day, and we were all covered thoroughly with 30-50 SPF sunscreen, but I'll admit protecting my son's skin from the sun is one of my major neuroses as a parent. We also had a 3 1/4 hour drive (if we were lucky)through New Jersey to my Dad's place in New Yorkahead of us after the game and the boy's sleep schedule was already completely annihilated by our vacation.

So, I had it in my mind we were probably leaving early. Of course, I was also hoping I could rationalize I was doing it for my 2 1/2 year old son, not because I'm one of those guys who likes to leave early to beat the traffic. Besides, even if Beckett completed the job, leaving early wouldn't negate the reality my son's first major league game was a no-hitter. 

I feel like the beauty of the no-hitter has been torn down somewhat by the sabermetric community. Sure, it requires a certain amount of BABIP luck, and walking five or more batters can really detract from it. But, it's still a pretty special accomplishment and, honestly, short of a postseason series clinching game, I don't think there's a more exciting moment to witness live.

So, I was really torn between rooting for Beckett to give up a hit and stop teasing us already, and pulling for what seemed like a very outside chance of witnessing a little bit of history.

We left our seats after the 6th inning to get out of the sun and walk around the park a little. At that point, Beckett had thrown 90 pitcheswhich projects to 135 for the gameand the wife and I began to discuss whether or not we would stick it out.

After the Dodgers scored three in the top of the 7th to extend their lead to 6-0, Beckett's next two innings went by pretty quickly and economically, with him needing only 10 pitches to get through each. It was at this point that KJ eased my mind by emphatically stating, "We HAVE to stay!"

LC kind of wanted to leave, but other than a couple hat-throwing incidents, he remained well behaved, as he did for most of the trip. By now, you surely know the outcome. I'm hoping and expecting Little Chuck will better appreciate in the future that, at his first major league game, he witnessed a no-hitter.

Dodgers celebrate Beckett's no-hitter.
Yeah, I regret not pulling out the good camera for this one.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Long Live Daylight Savings Time

I adore Daylight Savings Time. OK, maybe adore is a bit strong, but I'm definitely a fan of the springtime practice of setting clocks ahead one hour, even if it does create a minor, temporary hardship for a day or two.

I learned this weekend on Twitter that I'm clearly in the minority, or at least those who don't like DST are much more vocal about it than those who do. And, considering my reason for liking DST, it's actually a bit surprising so many somewhat like-minded people hate it. 

First, I can understand some of the grumbling. If you work Sundays, or otherwise have somewhere to be in the morning, losing that one hour of sleep is certainly a drag. Also, if you have kids (as I do...well, I have a kid), modifying bed time can be a royal pain-in-the-ass. 

But, the reason I'm a fan of daylight savings time is baseball. Not Major League Baseball, of course. Not necessarily even organized baseball, for that matter.  

Adding an extra hour of daylight to each evening allowed me as a kid to play ball with my friends down the street until sometime around 8:30ish, when our moms would start calling for us to come home, or when one of us would totally lose a fly ball in the gray sky, or when the batter could barely make out the incoming pitch. 

That extra hour would also allow Little League games to start at 6pm, so dads (or moms) who were coaches could get there in time after work, or it simply would allow parents to feed their kids and get them to the game in time. 

That's what daylight savings time came to symbolize for me as a young baseball player, even if baseball was far from the reason for DST's existence. 

And that's also how I'll choose to think of DST as a parent. It will give me time to throw the ball around with my son after dinner and, if he chooses to play baseball (fingers crossed) to make it to his games in time. 

So, the struggle to move up bed time by an hour, while certainly not an enjoyable part of DST, is well worth it, in my opinion. 

Long Live Daylight Savings Time. Because...well, Baseball. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

All-Time Teams #18: New York Mets

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

The long overdue return of this all-time teams series brings us an installment away from the most difficult one of all.

Franchise History
New York Mets (1962- )

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Mike Piazza* (1998-2005)
1B - Keith Hernandez (1983-1989)
2B - Edgardo Alfonzo (1995-2002)
SS - Jose Reyes (2003-2011)
3B - David Wright (2004- )
LF - Cleon Jones (1963, 1965-1975)
CF - Carlos Beltran (2005-2011)
RF - Darryl Strawberry (1983-1990)

Alfonzo played more games at third for the Mets, but his two best seasons were as the team's starting second baseman, making it easy to justify this position switch.

Tom Seaver* (1967-1977, 1983)
Dwight Gooden (1984-1994)
Jerry Koosman (1967-1978)
Sid Fernandez (1984-1993)
Jon Matlack (1971-1977)

John Franco (1990-2001, 2003-2004)

C - Gary Carter* (1985-1989)
1B - John Olerud (1997-1999)
2B - Wally Backman (1980-1988)
SS - Bud Harrelson (1965-1977)
3B/SS/OF - Howard Johnson (1985-1993)
OF - Mookie Wilson (1980-1989)
OF - Lenny Dykstra (1985-1989)

The toughest omissions here were Ed Kranepool and John Stearns.

Kranepool is the franchise's all-time leader in games played, at bats and plate appearances, and is in the top five in hits, total bases and RBI, but Olerud had two of the franchise's 25 best seasons by a position player, and racked up more WAR in 1998 than Kranepool did in his entire career. 

Stearns accumulated more value in his 10 years with the Mets than Carter did in his five, the last two of which were the beginning of the end for the Kid. That made this a much tougher decision, but Carter had an MVP-type season in 1985 and was one of the leaders of one of the team's two World Series winners, so that edges him past his fellow four-time all-star.

In the pre-David Wright days, A Mets fan argued with me in favor of Ray Knight over Howard Johnson as the team's all-time third baseman. World Series MVP notwithstanding, that guy was out of his freaking mind. Knight didn't even sniff consideration for a reserve spot on this team.

Jesse Orosco (1979, 1981-1987)
Tug McGraw (1965-1967, 1969-1974)
Al Leiter (1998-2004)
David Cone (1987-1992, 2003)

The most accomplished Mets pitcher to not make it here is probably Ron Darling. I suppose an argument could be made for Billy Wagner, but his time with the Mets was a little too short to justify taking him over Orosco or McGraw, and I had to find a place for rotation runners-up Leiter and Cone.

Davey Johnson (1984-1990)

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

There are three players on this team who are in my personal Hall, but not the real thing. 

Mike Piazza played longer with the Mets, but most of his truly great seasons were with the Dodgers. 

Keith Hernandez, despite his status as one of the key members of the '86 Mets, is probably thought of as a Cardinal first. 

David Cone might be considered a Met, or he might be considered a Yankee, for the purpose of the cap depicted on his hypothetical Hall of Fame plaque. 

DwightGoodenSF 2
Image via Wikimedia Commons
So, my choice for the distinction of the greatest eligible player unquestionably identified as a Met, who's not in the Hall of Fame, is Dwight Gooden.

Gooden is a little short of Hall-worthy in my book, but an argument can be made for him based on peak. 

In fact, take a look at this short list of 20th-century pitching WAR leaders through age 23. Four out of six are Hall of Famers, while Gooden (100 ERA+, 18.9 WAR in 1628 IP from age 24 on) joins Frank Tanana as players whose careers could have been so much more. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

My Favorite New Beers of 2013

In 2012, I attempted to go the entire year without drinking the same beer twice.

Last year, I decided rather than deprive myself of the enjoyment of drinking a really great beer a second or third time, I would simply try to drink as many new (to me) beers as possible.

I don't know the exact number because it's not easy to determine, but according to my Untappd profile, I drank exactly 100 beers for the first time (since I started using the beer drinker's social network).

That last part is important because there certainly are a few I drank in the pre-Untappd days as well, but Untappd doesn't know that.

So, for the sake of this post, I'm considering only beers I know I tried for the first time in 2013. Here are my nine favorites:

9. Brown Angel (Clown Shoes)
It's my turn to decide what AfroDan's next brewing endeavor will be, and the thought that came to mind was Imperial Brown Ale. The idea is to make something that recalls my memory of my first favorite craft beer, Brooklyn Brown. Since my beer drinking standards have changed considerably in the past 20 years, that concoction would have to be a full-bodied and fairly aggressively hopped version of the American Brown. Fortunately/unfortunately, Clown Shoes beat me to it.

8. Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Co.)
Only the second-best new (to me) beer from Lagunitas this year struck me as a stronger, but less balanced, version of the first. We'll get to that one in a bit.

7. ISA (10 Barrel Brewing Co.)
Of course, it's virtually impossible to compare beers I tried early in the year to those near the end. To that point, it's difficult comparing beers I drank even a week apart. So, what I have to go on are the ratings I gave these beers in the moment. That can be problematic too, because my standards might change a bit from time to time, but this list is comprised of beers I gave 4.5 and 5-star (or cap) ratings. In January, I gave this Oregon session IPA a 5, which for some reason, I'm questioning a year later, but there was definitely something about how much IPA goodness was packed into a 5.5% beer that made a big impression on me.

6. One Boston (Trillium Brewing Co.)
I realize I'm mostly sharing anecdotal information about my experiences with these beers rather than telling you that much about the beers themselves. For this one, I wrote something that covers both angles.

5. Furious (Surly Brewing Co.)
After seeing some discussion between a couple Twitter pals about a beer bet, I took a chance (or so I thought) and placed a wager on a struggling Yankees team. Needless to say, they made me look like a wolf of a Yankees fan as they swept four straight from the Twins and earned me a @MightyMpls hand-picked Surly variety pack, which included this hopping mad IPA that had been one of my most sought after beers to that point.

4. Sahalie (The Ale Apothecary)
Sometimes setting, and a host of other characteristics, has a lot to do with how much I (and probably you) enjoy a beer. In this case, the setting was a brunch gathering in Portland, Oregon. My beer-drinking pal out there bought this wildly expensive wild ale especially to share with me, while the girls drank mimosas or some other brunchy alcoholic concoction. No, it didn't make this list because it's the first and only pre-noon beer I've drank since my son was born, but like I said, context matters.

3. Heady Topper (The Alchemist)
That's right, the highest rated beer on Beer Advocate, BeerGraphs and pretty much everywhere else was only the third best beer I tried for the first time this year. I've got to be honest here. This was the most pined for beerthe only one that comes close is Samichlaus, which was once known as the strongest beer in the worldin my personal history of beer drinking. Before I got my hands on it, I wondered if it could possibly live up to expectations. I've had some really great IPAs before. What characteristics could possibly make this one that much better? As it turns out, Heady Topper wasn't disappointing at all. The fact that I rank it third just tells you how truly fantastic my two favorites were.

2. Enjoy By 11-12-13 IPA (Stone Brewing Co.)
I'd pretty much given up hope of getting my hands on one of Stone's limited-release, guaranteed-to-be-fresh, IPA offerings, when I spotted this on the counter at my local beer store. It was their last one, and for $10a surprisingly reasonable price for a bomber of such a popular brewit was mine. I had only recently tried Heady Topper for the first time. Although that one was a little more unique in that it's hoppyness seems to linger longer than any other IPA, and although it's difficult to compare two beers consumed a couple weeks apart, I thought this was just a little better.

1. Lagunitas Sucks (Lagunitas Brewing Co.)
When I checked into this one on Untappd, I commented "If 5 star beers are first-ballot Hall of Famers, this one's more Willie Mays than Lou Brock." That's the understatement of the century. In reality, Lou Brock is more the equivalent of a 3.5 star beer, but that's beside the point. Sucks (aka Brown Shugga' Substitute) is definitely the Willie Mays of beers, arguably the greatest of all-time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 Playlist

As has always gone hand-in-hand with my year-end music list, I've put together a mix of my favorite songs from those favorite albums. Of course, the format of the mix has evolved over the years, from cassette to CD and now simply a Spotify playlist.

This is not to say I've completely abandoned the CD format, but considering how few I've handed out these past couple of years, and the fact it's become a bit out-dated, I'm shifting my emphasis. I also haven't ruled out other formatsa retro return to the mix tape perhaps?but these are negotiable. 

The playlist runs roughly in chronological orderI say roughly because it's based on when I was listening to each album rather than release dateso the entire thing kind of represents the soundtrack to my 2013. Also, a couple tracks  are added to the end to represent songs that I came to love later in the year. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

My Hypothetical Hall of Fame Ballot

If you weren't instantly put off by the title, and you've read even this far, it likely means you're one of the few who haven't already had enough of this subject for the year. That being said, I'll try to be as brief as possible.

13 of the players on this year's ballot are already in my personal Hall of Fame, and several easy choices are new to the ballot. So, obviously, the process of narrowing my selections down to ten creates some serious dilemmas.

I know this doesn't make me unique, but I've decided, if I had a Hall of Fame ballot, I'd use it strategically out of necessity. That is, unfortunately, I wouldn't simply vote for the ten players I consider to be the most worthy candidates.

Enough has been written about the glut of qualified candidates on the ballot, and the fact that situation is only going to get worse in upcoming years, so I'll not belabor that point. But, the thing that could help alleviate the situation, short of a change in the rule allowing each voter to vote for only ten players, is for some of this year's qualified candidates to get elected. 

So, to that end, my first priority would be to vote for the Hall-worthy players who have a chance of getting in:

Greg Maddux is the only player who's basically guaranteed to be a member of Cooperstown's class of 2014.

Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, also newcomers to the ballot, would be virtual locks in almost any other year. 

Craig Biggio came close last year. He probably won't get the boost needed to get in this year, but he has the best chance of all the returning candidates. 

My next priority would be to vote for the qualified candidates who are in danger of falling below the requisite 5% to remain on the ballot:

I think Larry Walker is in serious jeopardy of being the guy bumped off of many of the ballots that included him last year in favor of the first-timers. 

Based on last year's results, Edgar Martinez has nothing to worry about. However, I expect his support to take a bigger hit than most this year because of his status as a perceived fringe candidate. 

Mike Mussina is this year's wild card. I could see him getting nearly as much support as Curt Schilling received last year (probably not) or somewhere around the 5% borderline. I think he'll be OK, but I'd vote for him just to be safe.* 

That leaves me with three more votes to award to candidates who don't have a chance of getting in this year, but also aren't likely to fall off the ballot either. So, I've decided my third priority will be players whose candidacies need to continue their momentum towards 75%. 

Believe it or not, I considered not voting for Tim Raines. But, in his 7th year on the ballot, I don't think he can afford to take a major step back, although a slight reduction in support seems likely. 

Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza are going to get in eventually, I think. Basically, my final choices came down to them or the duo of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

So, Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Biggio, Walker, Martinez, Mussina, Raines, Bagwell and Piazza it is.

*As it turns out, Mussina has received 35 votes from among 101 voters who've made their ballots public to date. Last year, a total of 569 votes were cast, so it appears he already has enough support to remain on the ballot. But, I wasn't aware of this at the time of this writing, which technically was after the ballot submission deadline anyway, so I'll stand behind my methodology here. 

It's hard to believe this means I'm leaving Bonds, Clemens and Curt Schilling off. Schilling probably isn't in danger of dropping off, but he's my riskiest omission. 

Bonds and Clemens aren't going anywhere, but since they're the two best players on the ballot, it feels really weird to not vote for them. 

That leaves Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa as the Hall-worthy players I'm writing off as lost causes. The latter two or three are probably the weakest candidates of the 17 I'd like to vote for anyway. 

I'd also like to see Jeff Kent (who I'm still undecided about) get a longer look, but I just can't find a place for him on my ballot. 

Unfortunately, this is how progressive voters need to approach their ballots, in my opinion. Personally, I'm far from certain I've made all the right decisions here, but I feel pretty confident my top two selection criteria are the way to go.