Thursday, September 30, 2004


How many games can you win in the bottom of the ninth inning?

To paraphrase Dr. Strangelove, the subtitle of my 2004 Yankee season could well be "How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and Love the Ninth Inning Bomb".

The clincher comes in the wake of a condensed series sweep of the Minnesota Twins, the joy of which is somewhat mitigated by two factors: 1) the "tired shoulder" of El Duque, which has limited our confidence in the Yankees' best starter (Will Carroll over at BP assures us that this isn't cause for mass ritual suicide ... yet), and 2) the fact that the Twins are overtly in tuneup mode, not seeming to have any preference of which AL East team they face in the Division Series. In game 1 of yesterday's doubleheader, Johan Santana was pulled after five innings, and is scheduled to rest until the playoffs begin. In tonight's game, Brad Radke received a similar early hook. The Yankees came back to win against the bullpen in both games.

In this, the Twinkies are following the example of their 1987 World Series squad, which similarly viewed their post-clinch final week of the season as tuneup time. They lost big in the last week of meaningless games, contributing to their becoming the World Champion with the worst regular season record in baseball history.

[Ed. Note: The above is the analysis of the day as I best remembered it. Thanks to the magic of Retrosheet (support Retrosheet!) I've looked at the Twins' last week in '87, and damned if I could tell they were playing it low-key -- Viola and Blyleven started during the final weekend, and they seem to have been playing their regulars to the last.]

As for tonight's clincher, I was glad to see Bernie Williams end it with a ninth inning two-run blast. Williams has had a second straight bad season, one that's seen the Yankees start to come to grips with his limitations in the field and at the plate. Bernie's still a useful player -- he has what they call "old player" skills, still able to work a walk out of a pitcher and capable of taking a mistake out of the yard. It's just getting harder for him to do something with a pitcher that challenges him in the strike zone, and his defense in center is often painful to watch.

So he's still useful, but probably not worth the $15 1/2 Million the Yanks owe him for the rest of his contract. I'm not sure that Bernie's the type of guy that will continue playing baseball as just an "ok" player, so it's possible that we might not see him in pinstripes past next year.

In that case, I'm happy to see him get every moment of glory he can, while he still can. I remember when Bernie first showed up at the Stadium, in the bad old days of 1991. He was a rare beam of hope in an otherwise dreary time for the franchise. He was attacked on all sides, as someone not aggressive enough to survive in the Boogie Down Bronx, and for not being the basestealer everyone thought he should be. He turned out to be a rock, the foundation of the next good Yankee team, and the spiritual successor for Don Mattingly -- silent excellence.

One of my favorite baseball memories is of the 1996 ALCS, what would later be known as the Jeffrey Mayer Game. After Jeter's fan-assisted blast extended the game, Bernie's 11th inning walkoff provided the coup de grace. I remember the Upper Deck shaking as Bernie rounded the bases, and the echoing chant of "Bernie Baseball!" that never died down as I descended the ramps to leave the Stadium. A "12 year old kid" may have made Jeter an Aura and Mystique All-Star that day, but you'd have had a hard time convincing me that the shy guy from Puerto Rico wasn't the hero of the game.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Untitled Thoughts

Both Mike Lupica and Jack Curry invoked the imagery in their columns today. I'll just third the motion -- on behalf of walls everywhere, the Green Monster got revenge on Kevin Brown.

Brown was awful. Everything waist-high, every pitch straight and flat. I thought I might be having a Bill Gullickson flashback. Crazy Eyez gets one more start, but based on yesterday, I can't see a thing Brown could do in his next appearance to warrant a roster spot, much less a turn in the postseason rotation.

Ugh. Just bringing up Bill Gullickson gave me a Rich Dotson flashback. This pitching staff is bringing back my late 80's/early 90's Yankee PTSD.


Five weeks from election day, and we're still stuck on what the candidates did or didn't do during the Viet Nam war. Maybe we could speed things up a little bit, get through the 80s by Halloween.

Maybe the reason we're stuck in the 70's is because nobody thinks anything important has happened in the last four years. All I'm saying is that right now, John Kerry's pretty well set up to win a presidential election -- the one back in 1976, narrowly edging out Gerald Ford. Shame that was almost 30 years ago.


Michael Kay announces like a guy trying to pick a fight. Here's one from Saturday night's game, after the Yankees tied the game up, before the bullpen coughed things up (paraphrased): "This place is quiet. It shows you the difference between the fans here and the ones in the Bronx. Red Sox fans will cheer after something happens. Yankee fans will cheer before it happens, to try to get something going."

People complain that the Yankees announcers are all homers. But there are all sorts of homers. Phil Rizzuto was a homer, but of the best kind. He'd been in the Yankee organization his whole adult life, so being objective never occurred to him. Hearing the Scooter announce a ballgame was like watching a game with a chatty, benign, absent-minded Yankee fan. It sounded like amateur hour sometimes, but it was genuine.

Another kind of homer is Suzyn Waldman. Suzyn's a Red Sox fan by upbringing, but after more than a decade of covering the Yankees clubhouse, she's bonded with the players. Reason she isn't objective is because she doesn't have enough emotional distance from her subjects. Same thing happened to her when she covered the Knicks.

Other reporters tell you what the Yankees did or said, Suzyn talks about how they're feeling. When a Yankee acts stupidly, she gets mad at him; when one suffers a disappointment, she'll tear up with sympathy.

I know lots of people don't like Waldman, but in a city where dozens of people cover the same ball team in the same way, I appreciate her unique point of view.

A new species of homers, however, isn't biased in favor of the Yankees because of history or empathy. They do it because it's a smart career move. These fellows have realized that sucking up to Yankee fans -- and to Big Stein, who does listen to their broadcasts -- means they don't just get to keep one of the most lucrative local broadcasting deals in the business, but also opens up opportunities for endorsements and talk show gigs. Their own little world of pseudo-celebrity.

I'm not going to name any names, but there are some guys that just take the homer thing way too far. I don't need to be constantly reminded that Yankee fans are the best fans in all of sport, or that the Yankees are the most storied franchise in baseball history. I don't need to hear someone constantly put down the Yankees' opponents and their fans, in the most biased way possible. I don't need to hear "Theee-huh-huh Yankees win!" when the Yanks put a game away, in order to feel good about myself.

If there's one extraordinary quality Yankee fans do have, it's the ability to spot a fake.

I need to believe my broadcasters, trust that the things they're telling me are true. It's hard to see eye-to-eye with someone that's kissing your ass.


The whole suckup thing is a matter of taste, though. Maybe there's people that are into that sort of thing. What's objectively upsetting is when the broadcasters can't deliver some basic baseball analysis.

Saturday night, bottom of the 8th inning. Quantrill's given up the lead with a single, a walk, and a run-scoring double to Manny Ramirez. Men on second and third, one out, it's obvious Quantrill isn't going to face David Ortiz. Instead of bringing the new pitcher in, Torre has Quantrill intentionally walk the bases loaded, for CJ (Suck So Bad I Ain't Got A Cool Nickname) Nitkowski to face Doug Spelling Error.

During the intentional walk, someone in the booth mentions (need I say, paraphrases again), "Now, some people would have the new pitcher issue this walk..."

That thought never gets finished, because Kay instantly jumps in "That's a horrible idea, you're bringing in a new guy, you want him to throw strikes. Here he's throwing balls, and not even throwing at full strength..."

I kept waiting for whoever started this colloquy to challenge Kay, but it never happened. Not after Francona pinch hit Varitek for Mientkiewicz, not after 'Tek scorched a ground rule double off of Nitkowski.

You see, the reason "some people" bring in the new pitcher to issue the intentional walk is because the pitcher must face at least one batter when brought into the game. When using a hapless lefty like Nitkowski, you need to control who the guy is going to face. If he walks Ortiz, he doesn't have to pitch to Varitek -- a guy that hits 200 points of OPS higher against lefties than righties.

Now, maybe Kay had something when claiming that it's not fair for a new pitcher to have to throw four wide ones. But seriously -- no one saw that pinch hitter coming? It was only a one run game at that point. By the time Nitkowski was done, the bases were loaded and the Yankees were down by three.


Want a comforting thought? Right now, Tanyon Sturtze is the third-best reliever on the team. Yes, that Tanyon Sturtze. It's not like he's on a particularly hot streak -- his ERA is over 5.00 in the month of September. He's just better than the alternatives.

Why didn't we bring up Colter Bean again? On that same note, why did Andy Phillips have to wait for Sunday to get his first major league at bat? Sure made the best of it, though.


From an old favorite, the Score Bard's Random Diamond Notes Generator:

Anaheim may move Brendan Donnelly as soon as the right offer comes in, but GM Bill Stoneman is not going to move Bobby Jenks unless he can get a good prospect for catcher, and that's as unlikely as seeing seven caribous wandering into a Bakersfield, California karaoke bar and singing Immature by Bjork, because you know they really prefer to sing rap, just like Athletics phenom Rich Harden.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead

This is flat-out the most fun movie I've seen in a long time. An import out of the UK, Shaun of the Dead is the story of Shaun, a 29 year old slacker with a dead-end service industry job, a roommate who's an even bigger slacker than he is, and a girlfriend who's just about run out of patience with him.

Enter the living dead. Groaning, slack jawed zombies start lumbering through the streets of London ... which apparently isn't much of a change from Shaun's normal life. For quite a bit of the movie, Shaun and his roommate Ed walk right by people dropping dead, feasting on human flesh, or running for their lives, without it registering at all.

Now, Zombie spoofs are a genre all their own, with terrific entries such as Evil Dead (the films that made Bruce Campbell a cult favorite) and Dead Alive (directorial effort by a pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson) that almost outnumber the straight-faced horror stories (three different versions of Dawn of the Dead and counting, the recent Resident Evil series).

Shaun of the Dead succeeds by having something different to say. More than a spoof of horror movies, this is a spoof of normal life -- half-asleep people dozing through mindless jobs and numbing routines. It literally takes the end of the world to wake Shaun out of his stupor, and give his life some focus.

Along the way, Shaun of the Dead offers some genuine chills and powerful belly-laughs. Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Hideki, Terry, and Who's Your Daddy

"What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy."
-- Pedro Martinez (NY Daily News)

Another Yanks/Red Sox series, another Pedro/Mussina matchup, and another controversy over how long Pedro stays in the game. With the score 4-3 Boston going into the eighth, Martinez comes out to pitch. He'd already thrown about 100 pitches, and was facing his old pal, Hideki Matsui. Same Matsui that doubled off him in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the ALCS.

Hideki homered off some 85 MPH cheese. After Jorge Posada whiffed, Bernie Williams took a changeup to right for his second double of the game. Still no relief. Then Ruben Sierra singled off Pedro, to score Bernie.

Here comes the cavalry, as late as the cops in an episode of Batman.

Now, last year when Grady Little left Pedro in too long in the ALCS, the Boston bullpen had struggled during the regular season. This year Red Sox relievers have the fifth-best ERA in the league (advanced stats, like Baseball Prospectus' Reliever Evaluation Tools, rank the Sox pen a little lower). You'd think that this year Francona would have more confidence in his relievers, or less confidence in Martinez against the Yanks.

As for Pedro, he needs to make peace with the Ghost of the Bambino. Perhaps a nice seance back in D.R. during the off-season. But it has to burn the big talkers on the Red Sox that after starting 6-1 against the Yanks, the Yankees could tie the season series with a win tonight.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Linkin' Blogs

My first big set of technical difficulties here at the new Weblog That Derek Built. Time Warner Cable tells me that my high-speed connection is experiencing "packet loss", which made La Chiquita wonder "Where are your packets going? Who's getting them instead of you?"

So, while the dust settles (and while, as a side matter, I re-learn how to do tables in HTML) I'll throw some links out there.

Over at Futility Infielder, Jay Jaffe has completed his magnum opus, an epic three-part series on Gary Sheffield. Chronicling Sheff's career is a task well-suited to Jay, given his mixed Dodgers/Yankees allegiances, and he really nails this one.

Gary Sheffield Reconsidered
Part I
Part II
Part III

Over at Rich Lederer's website, he's been doing a fascinating edition-by-edition look at the Bill James Baseball Abstracts. The most recent one is part one of two on the 1983 Baseball Abstract.

Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT: Abstracts from the Abstracts -- a Twelve Part Series
Part 1: 1977
Part 2: 1978
Part 3: 1979
Part 4: 1980
Part 5: 1981
Part 6: 1982
Part 7a: 1983

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Brother Joe has a rare non-subscriber column on the Wild Card, in which he looks, year-by-year and league-by-league, at the effect of the Wild Card on pennant-race excitement.

Prospectus Today: The Wild Card

John Brattain, writing over at Larry Mahnken's Replacement Level Yankees blog, has an in-depth look at the career of Roger Maris, from Maris's first pro contract with the Cleveland Indians, straight through to retirement and a beer distributorship in Florida.

A Star Nobody Wanted to See Twinkle

Finally, speaking of Maris, over at ESPN's Page 2 Bill Simmons has reviewed the HBO film on Mantle, Maris, and the chase after Babe Ruth's single season home run record, "61*". Even though Simmons is a big Red Sox fan, he still gives 61* its propers. I pretty much agree with him about the film. One thing he didn't mention -- 61* shows us both the good and the bad of CGI in sports films.

The good is being able to digitally re-create Yankee Stadium -- the old one, with the monuments in the field of play, the one that could comfortably seat the entire population of Rhode Island. The bad side was when they decided to go for a cheesy CGI effect to stand in for Hoyt Wilhelm's Hall of Fame knuckleball. Billy Crystal, who directed the movie, brought in a real-life knuckleballer -- Tom Candiotti -- to play Wilhelm, and then he wastes the appearance by having Candiotti throw a special effect.

Sports Guy's Top Sports Movies: No. 39

[UPDATE: added links to the individual Abstract reviews]

Monday, September 20, 2004

Weekend with the Sox

This was the circled-in-the calendar weekend. This was the weekend, when my brother and I were putting together our season ticket plan back in January, that we wanted every little bit of.

At least that's how we planned it.

In reality, I work out in the boonies. So for Friday's game, I just accepted that I wouldn't get there in time. Since I hadn't had the chance to pick up my ticket, it was time to give someone else the honor of attending that game.

Not sure if I regret that choice.

Then, our younger brother came into town with his girlfriend ... a Red Sox fan. He asked to be able to take her to the game. My older Brother and I had to balance Yankee Fan Directive # 05324 ("Thou shalt not invite more friggin' Red Sox fans into the Stadium") with the fact that he's our little brother, and we love him, and therefore we're required to accept his interfaith relationship, even if we don't necessarily approve of it.

There was a huge chance I'd regret giving up that ticket. If the Red Sox won, dinner afterward might've been tense; if they blew Jon Lieber and the Yanks out, it was likely to be unbearable.

Thankfully, didn't need to regret that one.

Finally, I got to go to one. The grand finale. The rubber game, after the Red Sox force-fed the Sandman a blown save; and after Lieber took a no-hitter into the 7th on Saturday. Pedro "I'd Drill The Bambino In The Ass" Martinez against Mike "Obsessive/Compulsive" Mussina.

In many ways, this was the perfect way to enjoy a Yanks/Sox matchup (for a Yankee fan, that is). Through five innings, the game was close, 3-1. The Yanks did their damage early on a Gary Sheffield 2-run shot in the first. Sheff, holding off on a cortisone shot, which Sheff said he would only take if the Yanks won this series against Boston, was greeted by the fans with chants of "MVP!" in each of his at bats, and with great applause from the rightfield fans when he took his position at the top of the second inning. The Red Sox got their run on a gork double down the rightfield line by Orlando Cabrera, and an infield single by Johnny Damon.

It was obvious that the Yankees' book on Martinez was (at least in the early running) to get him early in the count. Seven out of the first ten Yankees up against Pedro swung at the first pitch, and the first three runs came on first-pitch hits: single by A-Rod, homer by Sheffield, rocket homer into the home bullpen by Jeter. The second time around, the Yankees seemed determined to make Martinez work, and Pedro worked his way out of a number of batter's counts.

Through all of this, there was a testy, but not quite nasty air at the stadium. Everyone in the Stadium was alternately cheering or booing, but the pitchers were doing such a good job that everyone -- Yankee fan and Red Sox fan alike -- was tense. They were waiting for someone to blink.

In the bottom of the sixth, Pedro Martinez blinked. It started with a four-pitch walk to Bernie Williams, followed by a home run to Jorge Posada that looked like a pop fly that just drifted and drifted. Sitting in the leftfield stands right behind where the homer was hit, I couldn't tell that it was out at first -- I figured from the crowd reaction that the ball had just gotten away from Manny. It took a few seconds to realize that Jorge was trotting, not running around the bases.

Now, this should probably have been the end of Pedro's day -- five runs surrendered, three homers -- you'd think Terry Francona comes out and gets him, right?

Nope. Not even after the four-pitch walk to John Olerud. Not even after Ruben Sierra doubled, to make it second and third with nobody out.

By the end of the inning, with the Yanks up 8-1, the Red Sox fans were silenced. The rest of the game belonged to the Yankees and their fans. And to Mussina. Moose's pitch counts looked pretty ugly in the first three innings -- he was throwing up about 20 pitches an inning, nibbling a bit, he looked like the pitcher most likely to get bit on the ass by the opposing offense. But somewhere along the line, Moose stopped trying to fool the Red Sox batters, and simply took the game to the them. The result was a lot of pop-ups, and seven impressive innings of work.

More important than the short-term gain of another series won against the Red Sox, is the fact that Lieber and Mussina showed they could hang in there with the Boston lineup. We all knew that the Yankees' offense could erupt, particularly in a series where they missed Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield. The question was, could any Yankee starter get the team through seven innings against the Sox?

To that extent, the Yanks have given the Sox something to think about.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Double Doughnut

Since last we spoke, the Yanks recovered from the Infinite Inning, and took the last two games of their series against the Royals in Kansas City.

Taking 2 out of 3 from the AL's best squad isn't news, but the way the Yanks did it, by the scores of 4-0 and 3-0, was special. Two of the Yanks' most enigmatic starters -- Mike Mussina and Javier Vazquez, got their stuff together and beat out the Royals like redheaded stepchildren. Mussina pitched 8 innings of 3 hit ball, striking out 11 Royals. Javy's start was just a shade less impressive (7 innings, 3 hits, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts) but maybe more edifying, given Vazquez's struggles of late.

Derek Jeter was the offensive key to both games, going 4-8 with 3 RBIs and a home run. Tony Clark also contributed a homer to Wednesday's game.

In more good news, Jason Giambi's made his comeback over the last two games DHing in both contests. Sure, Jason's rusty -- he's 0-7 with four strikeouts and one walk overall -- but at this point, it's just good to see him in uniform and on the field. Hopefully, the Yankees will know soon enough whether Giambi's ready to return to full-time work.

All of this is setup for the big contest this weekend, Yankees/Red Sox at the Stadium. The Yankees aren't playing at full strength -- the World's Dumbest Pitcher hasn't yet learned to pitch one-handed; Giambi's in early Spring Training shape, if that; Paul Quantrill is an Ichiro-style hit machine. Impressive starts against the 11th best offense in the league aside, Mussina and Vazquez have been time bombs for much of this season. As of this printing, Tanyon Sturtze and CJ Nitkowski are still vital cogs in the bullpen.

Ew. Let me just stop there before I get depressed.

But then again, the Red Sox aren't coming in at 100%, either. Trot Nixon and BH Kim have both suffered lost seasons; Pokey Reese's bat has been bad, even by Pokey standards; Scott Williamson is just returning from injury. But if the big turnarounds by Kevin Millar and Derek Lowe are for real, the Yanks are in for one hell of a series.

My brother and I have tickets to all three games, although I'm only likely to catch Sunday's Pedro/Moose tilt. The weather looms bigger than the Red Sox right now, with rain in the forecast for both Saturday and Sunday.

We'll keep our fingers crossed, both for the Yankees pitchers, and for playing out a full series. Hopefully, I'll see some of you on Sunday.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Infinitely Bad

I love the fact that baseball has no timer, that the game's progress is marked in outs, not minutes and seconds. It means that no team can just run out the clock, that every game, no matter how bad the blowout, has the theoretical chance of turning around.

But there's a downside to the outs system, which I noticed in the 5th inning of tonight's game against the Royals. You see, there's also the theoretical chance that an inning might never end.

It all started innocently enough. The Yanks had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning, behind an A-Rod walk and a Gary Sheffield double, and a hard-hit sac fly by Hideki Matsui. David DeJesus made an amazing play on Matsui's gapper, which at the time looked like the kind of hit that could crack the game open.

The game sure was about to break open, alright.

Brad Halsey walked his first batter of the inning, which earned him a visit from the embattled (at least on the Internet) pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre. As he talked slowly to Halsey on the mound, Stottlemyre looked like a man determined to bring Tanyon Sturtze into the game. Sturtze wasn't ready yet, so Stott got chased off the mound by the ump, and Halsey faced Angel Berroa. Berroa bunted to Halsey, who threw to Cairo ... who was not quite covering at first.

Of course, Tanyon Sturtze is just the guy you want protecting your 3-2 lead with men on 1st and 2nd and no outs. Abraham Nuñez tries to bail the Sturtzeter out by dropping another bunt, down the first base line. Olerud fields this one, and looks like his feet are stuck in cement as Nuñez simply runs around him to first.

That wasn't really Tanyon's fault. Walking Ken Harvey (26 walks all year) with the bases loaded was. Then there was the run-scoring wild pitch. And the run-scoring balk.

Seven more runs later, I was contemplating the possibility that an inning need not end. It could just go on forever, be called for darkness, and continue the next day. I figured that if the fifth inning threatened to go into Wednesday, maybe Bud Selig would have to step in. But then again, not being terribly good at the traditional fundtions of his job, he might not.

The Royals might not ever make an out again, pessimist fans Rob Neyer and Bill James be damned.

Luckily, the most unlikely hero of all -- CJ Nitkowski -- came to the rescue, got Matt Stairs out. The fifth inning was over score 12-2. Pretty much game over, too. Paul Quantrill who gets scarier with each outing (but look on the bright side: he tied the Yankee record for appearances in a season!) gave up a few more runs in the seventh, he was followed by Felix Heredia, who did his Run Fairy thing.

Final score? 17-8, thanks to a five-spot in the ninth inning.

Do good teams lose like this? Do good teams carry this much replacement-level pitching on the roster?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Where Would We Be Without El Duque?

The Yankees beat the Michelin Man (Sidney Ponson) yesterday. I didn't see the game, haven't even seen the boxscore yet. But once again, it's no surprise that the Yanks win a big game behind Orlando Hernandez.

The New York Post link up top reminds us that if the Yanks hadn't believed in El Duque, they probably wouldn't be the division leaders right now. Think about it: just about anyone in the Majors could have picked up El Duque for a bargain price. He probably would have accepted an invitation from the Marlins, or Devil Rays, since the Yankees couldn't guarantee him a rotation slot.

The decision to bring El Duque on was considered at the time another one of those "loyalty" choices by the Torre Administration, a waste of money by a franchise that can afford to waste money. But right now, is there anyone in this rotation you'd rather have pitching Game 7 of the ALCS or World Series?

Alex Belth has joined the list of bloggers who wonder if Mel Stottlemyre has the right stuff to be the Yankees pitching coach. I don't know -- the only Yankee pitcher who isn't a dyed-in-the-wool veteran is Javier Vazquez, so you can hardly tell how much influence Mel has, anymore. But aside from El Duque and the Bullpen Duo, no-one is really working out in this pitching staff. I'm officially not sure about Mel. What do you guys think?

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Movie Review: I, Robot

You knew that eventually, we would run out of Phillip K. Dick novels to turn into summer blockbusters, and someone would go looking for another author from Sci Fi's Golden Age to exploit on celluloid.

What am I talking about? Dick wrote something like 200 novels, novellas, and short stories! They can't have run out.

Then why on Earth is this summer's Will Smith film entitled I, Robot? Why is it "suggested" by the short story collection of the same name by Isaac Asimov? I mean, Asimov wasn't one of those action-type science fiction authors -- he was a philosopher. One reason he wrote the stories in the original I, Robot collection -- complete with three rules of robotics that were meant to keep robots from ever harming humans -- was because he was sick of seeing stories where robots turn on their masters.

Like this one. I, Robot is a competent enough entertainment product, but somewhat lacking in depth. The story in a nutshell: in a not-so-distant future, robots are commonplace household items, doing the work that humans can't or won't do. Del Spooner (Will Smith) is a cop with a robot problem. He's old-school, to the extent that he insists on driving his car manually, has a remote control for his stereo, and thinks that robots are "up to no good".

Spooner's called to the scene of the apparent suicide of a robotics scientist, where the "suicide note" comes specifically addressed to him. Like a space-age Mark Fuhrman, Spooner's convinced that a robot has to be behind the scientist's death.

Since it's not really a summer cop movie without a mismatched partner, Spooner finds himself saddled with "robopsychologist" Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynihan) who keeps on reminding him that the crime he has in mind is impossible because the robots are restrained from ever harming a human being, or even letting a human being come to harm (that "three laws" thing again).

Calvin may think it's impossible for robots to harm humans, but you can all bet that Will Smith ain't packing a gun for nothing. In the movie version of I, Robot, the three laws of robotics have more loopholes than the tax code, and the requisite action pieces ensue with the Fresh Prince feeding an immense number of CGI robots a diet of hot lead.

I, Robot works because of Smith, probably the best movie star on the planet. Smith has great timing, both comic and otherwise, and enormous screen presence that makes him a pleasure to watch, no matter how implausible the film's plot. We've seen this role from Smith before (Wise cracking cop with an attitude? You don't say!) but he puts us through the paces well, a good mix of edginess and charisma.

The big difference between a movie star and an actor is that the viewer is invested in a movie star, out of all proportion to how well the star's character is written. An actor tries to become the character, the movie star makes the character become him. Since we already "know" the movie star, we don't need the script to tell us how to feel about the character.

A lot of people complain that Ben Affleck is a bad actor, when in reality, he's just a lousy movie star. Give Ben a well-written role (an almost-theoretical rarity, I'll admit) and the audience will care about Affleck's character. In a badly-written role, you'll cheer for Colin Farrell to kill Bennifer off in the first reel, so that Farrell and Jennifer Garner can continue the movie undisturbed. At some very basic level, Affleck's not above the material the way Tom Cruise, or Denzel Washington, or Will Smith is.

Oh, I was talking about I, Robot, wasn't I? Bridget Moynihan, as the Scully-style platonic scientist/partner, shows in this movie that she is, actually, an illegal clone of Sandra Bullock. Moynihan's performance in I, Robot is a close copy of Bullock's breakout performance in Demolition Man. The cloners sacrificed Bullock's bubbly humor to get an actress that's hotter than Sandra was in her prime. Hopefully, they also tatooed a warning on her reminding producers never to give Moynihan Sandra Bullock money, no matter how well test audiences in Fresno say they like her.

I'm not hatin', it's just sound general advice, like "Don't start a land war in Asia."

The IMDB link at the top of this entry revealed an interesting detail about the making of I, Robot. In the "trivia" section, you find out that this was a generic sci-fi script that was altered after the producers got the rights to Asimov's book. You also learn that "[w]riter Akiva Goldsman came on late in the process to tailor the script to Will Smith."

This is the first time I've been able to attach a name to a mysterious figure in my personal mythos: the Blaxploitation Script Doctor.

I'm sure you've noticed before, that sometimes films are altered by their makers to accomodate a black star. The first timeI really noticed it was in the movie Rising Sun, which had been adapted from a Michael Crichton book. The movie starred Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes as LAPD detectives assigned to the Japanese beat. Connery is the mentor-figure who's lived in Japan, Snipes plays a newly-appointed liaison type who's a neophyte to Japanese culture. The tension between the two is that Connery's character is forced to serve as Snipes' tourguide to the customs and psyche of the Japanese, while the younger cop is suspicious of the older man's asian ways and connections (don't look at me, I didn't write it).

In the book, Snipes' character is white -- technically Italian-American, but that's really irrelevant. So in writing the screenplay, the writers decided to goose up the script because Snipes ... isn't white. This meant throwing in lines like "Sempai? Is that like MASSA?!?" and a ludicrous scene where Snipes and Connery are saved from the Yakuza (IIRC) by a South Central street gang (Snipes' obligatory one liner? "Tough neighborhoods are America's last advantage"). The gang, you see, is willing to help the cops because Wesley used to play ball in the 'hood.

Riiiiight. This is a film that came out about a year after the Rodney King riots in L.A. I'm sure the Crips were all about helping the police just then.

I hate this kind of conversion. Ninety five percent of the scripts in Hollywood, you could substitute the race or ethnicity of the leading actor without having to change the script in any way. Sometimes, this actually happens, and the term of art is "color-blind casting".

But color-blind casting doesn't usually work out. There are often changes, most frequently to the romantic subplots of movies. Hollywood works so hard to put a little sex in their movies that they were supposedly trying to squeeze a love interest into the submarine in The Hunt for Red October, yet black movie stars are mysteriously chaste in their summer blockbusters.

Denzel Washington's one of the sexiest men on the planet. But it's a rule: brother can't get laid in most of his movies, because his female co-stars are (by and large) white women. In the Pelican Brief, the moviemakers actually had to eliminate a romantic subplot that was in the Grisham book in order to protect middle America from the prospect of Denzel sweatin' up some bedsheets with America's Sweetheart, Julia Roberts. In The Bone Collector (which, quite frankly, sounds like a porn movie title) Denzel's permitted a romantic-type relationship with Angelina Jolie ... because he's a QUADRIPLEGIC in the movie. The character has, like, partial use of two fingers on one of his hands.

That's cold. C'mon people, we've really got to get over this bullcrap some time.

[To go off on a tangent to my tangent, the one exception I can think of to the Denzel Rule was the Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe Sci Fi thriller Virtuosity, where Denzel finally bags the white woman, Kelly Lynch. A few points about this: Lynch was in the decline phase of her career, having peaked in 1989 when both Roadhouse and Drugstore Cowboy were released. This ain't Julia Roberts, kids. Also, this was basically a B-Movie, just one starring what may turn out to be 2 of the top 3 actors of our generation. Wonder how many times something like that has happened?]

Getting back to the Blaxploitation Script Doctor, his role is to do the opposite of color-blind casting. He adds ethnic/racial touches and dialogue to make the black character more "authentic" and (not coincidentally) to give the movie crossover appeal for a black audience.

So in I, Robot (you knew I'd get back to the movie, somehow), the BSD gives Smith a sweet potato pie cookin' grammy (because extended family is important to those people, y'know) and a semi-comic scene with an plus-sized asthmatic african american woman (asthma's big with them, y'know). His manually-operated stereo blasts Stevie Wonder instead of the Rolling Stones. He invests in "early 21st Century footwear" -- a pair of black Converse. And, of course, he doesn't get jiggy with the white woman, Moynihan (if you consider that a spoiler, you're pretty naive).

None of these changes is offensive (aside from the "no white women" policy, that is). I'm not blaming Akiva Goldman or saying that these details detracted from my enjoyment of I, Robot, at all. It's just a process that stinks.

In both I, Robot and Rising Sun, rewrites by the Blaxploitation Script Doctor could have added a new layer to the story: Rising Sun was a movie about racism and xenophobia; I, Robot was about a paranoid, technophobic cop. Throwing a black character into those situations, in the place of a white character, could have been an opportunity to make a larger statement about the nature of prejudice. For the most part, the BSDs "adapting" these scripts passed up those opportunities, opting instead for superficial changes and marketing opportunities.

If they weren't going to add anything to the story, why change the script at all?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Twin Killing/Killed By Javy

The Yanks season continues to seesaw away, while the Red Sox are boring away behind us with Ritalin-like intensity.

As I'm writing this (no chances to write earlier) Javy Vazquez is making me rip my hair out by the handfull. Surrendering a homer to Miguel Tejada in the first inning is understandable, and predictable for our taterrific pal Javier. Less understandeable is Vazquez's meltdown in the 3rd, featuring 2 bases-loaded walks, and a bases-loaded HBP. Joe Torre didn't help things by bringing in CJ Nitkowski to "relieve". He relieved Javy of some ERA, is what CJ did.

Right now it's 10-5 through 5 1/2 innings. Not impossible, but not likely we'll come back.

Yesterday, the Yanks finally played that doubleheader, slicing up the Devil Rays by a cumulative score of 19-6. Game 1 featured another promising start by the Moose, who's shown some promise in his last two turns (not that he's faced the toughest opposition). Maybe he's finally ready to pitch like he's paid. Another pitcher on the comeback, The Run Fairy, managed a scoreless ninth. Sample size, I still say. Don't send your checks to Billy Connors, Pitching Guru just yet.

The nightcap featured a disappointing Brad Halsey looking shaky against the D-Rays, but getting rescued by two things: a) the Yanks' offense, which put up a seven spot in the second inning, and 2) Tanyon Sturtze(!) who came in in relief of the Admiral in the 4th inning.

The double header win, combined with a rare loss by the Red Sox to the United Confederation of Ichiro! put the Bombers 3 1/2 games up coming into tonight's action. The Yanks will probably need to get some more help from the U.C. of Ichiro! if they are going to keep that buffer in place.
The tendency has been to get depressed because of the Yankees' shrinking lead, because it was so damn big and has shrunk so quickly. But this article by Brother Joe (sub only, I fear) puts things into perspective. To put it another way, if I told you in March that the Yanks would be up by 3 1/2 over the Red Sox in early September, you'd probably say "that sounds about right". If you were a Yankee fan, you'd probably have been pleased with that lead. If you were a Red Sox fan, you'd maybe be a little disappointed, but you wouldn't be shocked. These teams were supposed to stay close this season -- one gets the AL East, the other the Wild Card.

That's where we are right now. The Yanks' July lead didn't really represent the relative talents of these two clubs. This race -- the race we expected in March -- does.

I'll end on a tangential note: is there a player in baseball making himself more money right now than Orlando Cabrera? His overall numbers (.259/.304/.377) don't scream "give me a raise", but he's this year's Shannon Stewart -- the guy that showed up just when the good team got hot. Sure, he's part of the reason, he's hitting decently and throwing up some nice leather, but he's not the whole difference between the team the Sox were on July 30 and the team they became by September 1. He's likely, however ,to get all of the credit come payday.

[UPDATE: I inexcusably didn't include the Link to Brother Joe's article, "A Lesson Learned," when I first published this post.]

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The One With the Stupid Questions

Is Jeter-Rodriguez-Sheffield 1-2-3 the way of the future? I'd like to see it in action against a pitching staff other than the Devil Rays', but the early returns are promising.

Think Bud Selig has a future as a travel agent after this baseball gig is over? Better question, think that Bud Selig has a future, other than fertilizing the soil, after his baseball gig is over? Personally, I think Selig's tenure as Commissioner may never end, that when he gets old enough, they might just put him in cryogenic suspension, for future groups of owners to awake in their time of need.

What would Yankee haters do if the organization were responsible for something important, like finding a cure for cancer? They'd bitch about it, obviously, but how would they bitch about something as benevolent as a cure for cancer? "The Jimmy Fund could have discovered a cure for cancer if only we had a salary cap"?

Why can't we bring over Jim Abbott, to teach Kevin Brown to field with his pitching hand? It'd probably get Crazy Eyez out of trouble with his teammates, since how can you stay mad at a guy that learns how to do that glove-flip thing just to get back on the mound?

Is there anything scarier than Tom Sizemore with a Moe-from-the-Three-Stooges hairpiece?

Does the bottom of the second inning of the White Sox/Rangers game look familiar? Does anyone think that Jose Contreras' problems were really Mel Stottlemyre's fault?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Nice Day, Stands are Full of Fans, Let's Play ... Huh?

Hurricanes suck, but then again, so does the D-Rays' management. The Yanks' latest series against Tampa was scheduled to start with a Labor Day doubleheader, which was supposed to start at 1:00. Then it was put back to 3:00 because the Devil Rays were running late getting out of Tampa due to Hurricane Frances.

The Devil Rays didn't reach New York on time for even this delayed start, and the Yankees are now pursuing a forfeit of game one of the doubleheader.

There was a firestorm of a thread over at the website formerly known as Baseball Primer.

On the one hand, the Commissioner's office told the D-Rays last week to come to New York over the weekend. On the other hand, Tampa's players had reasonable misgivings about leaving their families in Florida to face a hurricane alone. They decided to blow off MLB's instructions.

I can't really blast the Devil Rays players' decision, but then again, I didn't sit in Yankee Stadium for seven hours yesterday, waiting for a game to start.

How did it come to this? Why do the Yankees have to ask for a forfeit, here? After the D-Rays decided to stay in Florida over the weekend, why didn't the commissioner's office issue one of the following two statements?

1. "What the heck were we thinking? Of course you're not going to leave your families alone in a hurricane! Forget what I said about spending the weekend in New York. Just be there by 7:00 Monday night." Or

2. "I told you to be in New York friday, saturday at latest. You disregarded this office's orders. Now you've decided to jeopardize your series in New York. We'll push back the doubleheader's start time for you, but if you're not ready to take the field at 3:00 on Monday afternoon, you'll have forfeited one game. Still not ready to play at 7:05? You lose two."

This, of course, would only be the Commissioner's office doing its job. Instead, we get fans waiting around Yankee Stadium for the Rays, who simply didn't show up on time, and now a fight over what happens to the canceled game. Forfeit? Does the game get made up sometime in September? (Mind you, the D-Rays are already making up two games against the Tigers from this weekend.)

The real sucky part about this is that I think this was supposed to be a real Labor Day doubleheader: one ticket gets you into two games. That sort of doubleheader (since replaced by the necessity-only, two-ticket "twi-night" doubleheader) much like the cinematic double feature, has died out in my lifetime. Some day, in the not-so-distant future, I'll be stuck explaining to kids what the scheduled doubleheader, the rotary phone, and the public library were. Aside from the rotary phone, I don't look forward to explaining why those things no longer exist.

Yanks won the nightcap, 7-4. Alex Rodriguez batted second and drove in 3 runs. If I tell you the starter pitched well, you can probably tell me who the starting pitcher was.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

The Ship Be Sinking: BAL 7, NYY 0

Sidney Ponson -- Fat Sid -- blanked the Yankees, today. He ruined a pretty nice outing by Mussina: the Moose went 7 innings and allowing only 2 runs. The game was 2-0 until the 9th, when Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to keep it close, and got rewarded with Rivera's worst performance of the year: 4 runs, a homer to Raffy Palmeiro, and only one out.

The Yanks' impotence against Ponson, after only managing one run yesterday, and the Big Humiliation of Which We Shall Not Speak on Tuesday ... these are the bad times.

Stay tuned, and keep the faith.

I Told You He Was Crazy: BAL 3, NYY 1


Back in April, when I was in a nicknaming mood, I stuck Kevin Brown with the moniker Crazy Eyez Killa. It seemed appropriate, given the intense, hateful stare that Brown brings to the mound. He looks dangerous up there -- like he could snap at any moment, pull a gun, and bust a cap in the batter's ass. Or just fire wildly into the stands. Or the dugout.

Well, now he might just have snapped, and killed the Yankees' season. After pitching six mediocre innings against the Orioles last night (5 hits, 2 walks, 3 runs, 9 strikeouts), the dumb fuck punched a wall in frustration, and broke two bones in his hand. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

The only thing mitigating Brown's offense is that, taking Crash Davis' advice in Bull Durham to heart, he punched the wall with his left (non-pitching) hand. There is some hope he might pitch again this season. Hell, he "promises" that he will make his next start.

He might be able to do that. I've liked Brownie this season, because like Sheffield, he's played in a lot of pain, when he's played. But the fact is, he's just imperiled the season. As mediocre as Brown has been, the gap between him and Esteban Loaiza is pretty substantial. The strain that all the Yankees' short starts have put on the bullpen is so obvious that even mainstream press people have started to note it.

Maybe Brown's able to pitch, and he just has to end his outings early, because he sees stars whenever Jorge throws him the ball. Maybe opponents bunt on him more, and this injury hurts us there. Maybe this injury distracts him just a little bit, and makes him a little bit less effective.

The Yanks are just barely getting by on what Brown's giving them now. They can't take less than they're getting from Brown, not if they want to win in October.

Some reports have the Yanks looking to void Brown's contract, like they did Aaron Boone's, for self-inflicting this injury. I doubt it'll work, since Scott Boras would rather open and man a "free fellatio booth" at Riker's Island than forfeit his commission on the $15 Million the Yankees owe Brown for next season. Also, the Yanks would probably have to forswear Crazy Eyez Killa's services for this season, which they can ill-afford.

But I like the attitude. The Yankees have come a long way in the past ten years, by being the type of team that doesn't shoot themselves in the foot. This conduct can't be tolerated.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Grimsley, and Jorge Julio shut down the Yanks' offense, for a 3-1 win over the Bombers. Not a great idea while the Red Sox are riding a 10 game winning streak.

The lead is now 2 1/2. Thanks, Kevin. You idiot.

Friday, September 03, 2004

A Name for Giambi's Pain

Giambi Tumor is in Pituitary (NY Daily News, TJ Quinn): "The reason for his secrecy was simple, a source said: After testifying before a grand jury in the BALCO steroid-trafficking case and having to deny repeated rumors about steroid use, Giambi was worried that a pituitary tumor would take him guilty by association, according to a source.

"Pituitary tumors have been anecdotally associated with anabolic steroid and human growth hormone use, but medical experts say there has been no documented connection.

"'Can you blame him?' the source asked."

That hasn't stopped Giambi's detractors in the press before...

It's a shame, and possibly a violation of Giambi's HIPAA rights, that anonymous MLB sources would tell the world what kind of tumor he has. Then again, the fact that such a leak was pretty much inevitable is one of the better arguments for transparency in these cases -- revealing the nature of the illness yourself means not having to answer the question "what do you have to hide?"

Either way, our prayers are with Jason, not praying that he make it back with the team for the postseason (although I admit that would be nice), but that he be well, and be able to live his life.

On a side note, although the leakers at MLB might be schmucks for revealing Giambi's condition against his will, the Daily News is not being irresponsible in reporting the news. Giambi's physical state is news, and it's not the Daily News' moral or ethical responsibility to keep Jason's secret.

UPDATE: I corrected the authorship of the Daily News story, where T.J. Quinn is merely credited with an assist from Bill Madden (I originally had Madden writing the piece). I also wanted to note that the article featured some pretty good discussion of the difference between corticosteroids and anabolic steroids, and clarified MLB's position on players who need to receive steroids as part of medical treatment (like Giambi).

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Steve In, Jon On, Alex Over and Out: NYY 9, CLE 1

It must be hard, you make your long-awaited return to a Major League mound, and your very first offering is sent just shy of the four train in right.

But if you're Steve Karsay, and you've just thrown your first major league pitch in almost two years, you probably don't mind so much that Victor Martinez took you yard. Specially not when you're pitching the ninth inning of a 9-0 laugher.

Karsay's fastball was a zippy 92 MPH, and his breaking ball moved. The big question is whether his arm will fall off with each pitch. But then, he's in good company on this Yankee team.

Another guy with a suspect arm, Jon Lieber, pitched seven good innings. Alex Rodriguez cracked the game open with a three-run jack in the Yanks' five-run second inning. The Iron Sheff got three hits, and passed the 100 RBI mark.

The Red Sox kept on using the Anaheim Angels as if they were the girls at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. They remain 3 1/2 games back.

September 1, 2004: Yankees 5, Indians 3

How unsurprising is it that Orlando Hernandez is the guy to set things right after the Big Humiliation of Which We Shall Never Speak Again?

At a time when the Yanks really, really needed to win, El Duque twirls seven strong innings en route to a 5-3 victory at the stadium. Posada, Miguel Cairo, and John Olerud had homers, and Jeter had three hits.

Mariano Rivera again had to bail out Tom Gordon in the 8th inning, going four outs for his 46th save. If the Yanks keep messing about like they have, Rivera has a shot at the season saves record of 57, set by Bobby Thigpen in 1990. Rivera's already had two months with 11 save opportunities, and he actually converted all 11 opportunities in July. With just over a month's worth of games left (the Yanks play 3 in October against the Blue Jays), Joe Torre might have to make some choices -- let Mo go for the record, or rest the Sandman for the playoffs?

Hopefully, the Yanks will start winning some games by more than three runs, and make that choice moot.

In other news, the Red Sox chewed up the Angels to stay 3 1/2 games back. More on this later.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

August 31, 2004: Indians 22, Yankees 0

My yesterday was a blur.

I was in the middle of running to chase down my secretary (please, don't ask) around 8:00 last night, when I get a voicemail from my Brother, T.

"If you're not watching the Yankee game, don't. [Inaudible] Vazquez [inaudible]."

Luckily, I was nowhere near a TV set, because those inaudibles would have forced me to turn on the TV. It's like when you tell someone "Don't look behind you". The first thing they do is look over their shoulder, to see what they shouldn't be looking at. It's human nature.

Fortune was then to supply me a sizeable source of booze, and made me forget I hadn't really eaten anything that day (I'd actually ordered and started eating lunch, but was called away before I could get halfway through).End result? A nasty hangover and a sense of melancholy.

I'm not blaming Javy Vazquez for this mind you (well, maybe the melancholy) -- at this point, all I had was Brother T's cryptic and sometimes inaudible warning. At one point during my drinking binge a Red Sox fan comes up to me and says "You know, I don't actually hate the Yankees. They're a better team than this." I still hadn't seen or heard the score.

So it was only when I got home that I heard that the Yankee loss was historic. Then, in the "remember, alcohol is actually a sleep suppressant" stage of my evening, I caught some of the infamous game on replay. Ugh.

There was a moment in the fifth inning, that I think summed up the situation perfectly. Travis Hafner hit a groundball foul. CJ Nitkowski runs after it, but is blocked by Hafner running up the line. Nitkowski then got to helplessly watch as the ball spun fair, hugging the grass just inside the foul line. Base hit.

Sometimes, stuff like this is going to happen.But you can't just dismiss this loss as an inconsequential anomaly.

Here's Javy Vazquez, pre and post All Star break, before yesterday's game:
Pre: 10-5, 3.57 ERA, 118 2/3 IP, 105 H, 32 BB, 95 Ks
Post: 3-2, 6.39 ERA, 43 2/3 IP, 48 H, 10 BB, 25 Ks

I left out yesterday's outing so it couldn't be said that one bad outing was skewing the results. He's almost doubled his ERA, and he's lost 2 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched since the All Star game. Those are bad signs.

This is the anchor of the Yankee rotation, and he's looking rusted through right now. It's been masked by El Duque's performance, Loaiza's badness, and before that, Contreras's inconsistency. It would matter less if Kevin Brown or Mike Mussina were pitching like a top starter, but it's been a while since we've seen anything from those guys, either. But this Yankee rotation is completely disfunctional, and I don't see any cure for it.

I'm not panicking, or throwing in the towel (the Sox fans that threw in the towel in July are now trying to fish it back out of the ring in August), but suddenly the race to the postseason has gotten real interesting. It might be the fates toying with the Red Sox again, but they're 3 1/2 games back with just a little more than a month left to play.