Monday, February 28, 2005

Hog Heaven....

I'm in baseball overload, before a single exhibition game is played, I'm in so much baseball it's coming outta my pores.

The reason? This morning, on my way to work, I had enough time to stop at the bookstore in Penn Station, and there it was: Baseball Prospectus 2005.

Now, in this day and age, I think most hardcore BP folks buy through the Internet. The Amazon link at the BP website gets you 32% off the cover price. My Internet book shop of choice, Barnes and Noble, has the advantage of featuring same day shipping of certain items in Manhattan, and a deep discount also. For a fellow that's pretty into instant gratification, like me, that's a powerful feature.

But there's nothing that appeases instant gratification like purchasing a book in the store. Sure, you're paying full price. But there's no waiting for UPS or USPS to bring you your book. You get it in your greedy little hands immediately.

In the morning, I resisted. I knew I'd have a frustrating morning of waiting around the courthouse for a five minute conference--and I figured my employers would rather I spent that time working on my cases than puzzling in awe over the John Vander Wal player comment.

In the evening, with a snowstorm in full effect, my willpower was non-existent. When I took the book up to the register, I asked for a bag, because of the elements. She looked at the book as she bagged it, and said "Let the obsessing begin."

I was too pleased with my purchase to ask her if she was referring to the book or to the weather.
Now, while the arrival of BP 2005 is reason enough for baseball overload, when I got home things kicked into a whole new gear. Waiting in my mailbox was a copy of Lee Sinins's Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. I'd ordered it last week, for the first time, and quite frankly I expected it to take a lot longer to get here.

So I got home, "in single digits," as La Chiquita says (i.e., before 10:00 pm) and after all the hows-your-days and whatnot, I was at my computer, BP 2005 propped up on one side, a list of lefthanded youngsters compiling on the screen for one of my projects. Heaven.


On a mildly disconnected topic, there's more to the baseball overload than BP's book and Lee's CD. There's also been a good bit of baseball content put out on the Internet, and a changing scene in the blogosphere to match it.

It struck me as I went to Baseball, to look up an official definition of "sabermetric" for La Chiquita, who was asking about it both in terms of the SBE and the foreword to BP 2005 (you've gotta love a girl who's at least willing to read the foreword of your dorky baseball book). I remembered that I'd seen the definition on the BB Analysts site--by Bill James and quoted to Bill James by his interviewer, Rich Lederer.

BB Analysts is one of the more celebrated new baseball sites on the 'net, a collaboration between Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT fame (you might remember me going on and on about Rich's terrific "Abstracts from the Abstracts" book review series) and Bryan Smith, prospect maven and proprietor of the Wait Til Next Year blog. They're really doing a great job, and the site has hit the ground running with a three part story in which they asked baseball writers, bloggers, and a few others about their favorite players.

This kind of talent consolidation has been creeping over the baseball blogging scene. The trend setter here was Fabian McNally, who shut down his prospect-oriented Yankees blog (Minor Yankee Blog), to join Larry Mahnken's crew at Replacement Level Yankee. Last week, Cliff Corcoran, of Cliff's Big Red Blog, announced that he's joining Alex Belth at Bronx Banter.

In non-consolidated news, two skilled hands have also hung out their blog banners in the past few weeks. Steven Goldman, of Pinstriped Bible and Baseball Prospectus fame, has now gone dily on the YES Network site with the Pinstriped Blog, and John Sickels, who once wrote the Down on the Farm column for, is now online with the Minor League Ball weblog.

What does it all mean? Other than "Derek's gotta update his links," nothing much...for now.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

2004 In Review Part V: At Last, the Conclusion

You might remember this series, which I started in mid-January. If you want to review those long-ago postings, you can find them through the following Roman-numeraled links: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

What was the delay, you might wonder? Why bother posting a 2004 In Review once 2005 Spring Training is already underway? Why should anyone care now? Let me explain.

When I started my 2004 In Review series, it was a much less ambitious project. One thing that I was aware of, as I wrote the piece, was that 2004 had been one of the worst years to be a Yankee fan, in a long time. Why? There is a stench of negativity that hangs around the franchise these days. Last year featured many both inside and outside of the blogosphere not simply raging against the Yankees, with their big city ways and bottomless pockets, but challenging Yankee fans: how can you support this franchise? Don't you know that the Yankees represent everything that's wrong with baseball?

In an election year, being a Yankee fan felt like a political choice. Indeed, to this baseball fan, it felt like there was more debate about morally justifying support for the Yankees than there was on any of the genuine issues of the Presidential campaign.

But it was easy to blame outside factors, like the owners' anti-marketing campaign prior to the 2002 Collective Bargaining negotiations, to explain the franchise's fall from grace. Something had changed about the team. To look at what had changed about the Yankees, I felt the need to look at the past, at the Yankees throughout the time I've been a fan.

When it came time for me to write up a conclusion, I must admit that my longish look at the past left me in a powerful state of nostalgia. The Yankees weren't just soulful at one time, they were plucky underdogs, fighting to stave off a more than decade long postseason drought. They were an easy team to root for, compared to the 2004 edition.

So when I tried to write up a final word on the 2004 season, it was a total failure. I found that my main analogy, that the Yankees were now like a "straight A student..y'know, the one you thought would get beaten by his parents if he brought home a B" was not only a bit sour, but it had already been used--by the redoubtable Batgirl, as a throw-off line in an email exchange with Alex Belth, recorded at

I'm not a great writer or anything, but I do believe that if you have a piece that doesn't work, you don't publish it for the hell of it. You shelve the thing until you have something to say that's worth saying.

I think I have it now. The 2004 Yankees were like Jerome Eugene Morrow.

Don't go over to Baseball Reference to look up Morrow's stats--he's a character from the much-overlooked 1997 movie Gattaca. If you haven't seen it, go rent it and view it right now. I'm serious. I know it takes a while to get to Blockbuster, or update your Netflix waiting list and actually receive the DVD, but that's OK. I'll wait.


Wasn't that good? OK, so you probably didn't bother to go rent a film just in order to finish a lousy blog entry, so for those of you who didn't take my advice, I'll sum up Gattaca for you. The movie imagines a future in which genetic engineering has gotten to the point where most parents who can afford it have their children genetically modified in vitro--to eliminate unwanted traits, like a tendency toward disease or criminal behavior, and to improve the child's IQ and physical attributes. In this future, your genetic profile is your ID card and your resume; a job interview is simply a blood test where they determine how perfect (or imperfect) your DNA is.

The movie's protagonist is Vincent (Ethan Hawke), a "love child" naturally conceived and born with common genetic deficiencies. As a natural-born human, he's a member of an underclass, fit for nothing better than janitorial work. Vincent, however, has dreams of being an astronaut, so he enlists the aid Jerome "Eugene" Morrow (Jude Law), a top-shelf genetic specimen who's now a paraplegic. Vincent assumes Morrow's identity in order to get into the eponymous space agency, and land a spot on a manned probe of Saturn.

While the movie's about Vincent, I've always been more fascinated by Eugene. You see, Eugene's "perfect" genetics didn't guarantee him success--before he was disabled, he was a world-class swimmer, living down the "disgrace" of a Silver Medal at the Olympics. A "perfect" person isn't ever supposed to finish in second place.

This was the 2004 Yankees. They featured seven recent All-Stars in the lineup--basically, at all positions except second base and DH. The starting rotation had three recent All-Stars (surprisingly, Jon Lieber was an NL All Star in 2001, but Javy Vazquez only made his first All-Star team with the Yankees in 2004), and two more in the bullpen. They'd acquired the best shortstop in baseball, reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez, to play third base. It was readily assumed by most commentators that if the Yanks ran into any trouble during the season, they'd simply pick up an All-Star second baseman (the Expos' Jose Vidro) or another All-Star starter (current Yankee Randy Johnson) for the stretch drive.

This was the best team that money could buy, a $184MM juggernaut, considered by some to be undefeatable. Sure, the team had some flaws--no depth in the middle infield, old, injury prone players throughout the roster, bad outfield defense--but it everyone figured that the Yanks' giant wallet could overcome any such adversity.

At the same time, Yankee fans became like the genetically enhanced citizens of the movie world--obsessed with their perceived deficiencies. (Think I'm joking? At one point in the movie, a doctor who administers regular urine tests to Gattaca's employees comments on Vincent's "big unit": "Beautiful piece of equipment you've got there Jerome...Don't know why my folks didn't order one like that for me." Substitute "starting pitcher" for the veiled reference to a penis in that conversation, and you have every Yankee fan call to WFAN last season.)

Of course, the 2004 Yankees weren't invincible. Most of their hitters (with the notable exceptions of the Incredible Inflateable Firstbaseman and the reigning MVP) performed up to or exceeded expectations, but the starting pitching turned to crap. Still, they were good enough to finish in first place, before the Worst Nightmare Imaginable occurred. The "perfect" team with an "insurmountable" lead lost to their worst enemies--and the world cheered.

Surprisingly, the Yankees hadn't reloaded with more All-Stars at the 2004 trading deadline. Paradoxically, their division rivals had done the exact opposite, sending off their All-Star shortstop with the eight figure salary in exchange for a couple of Not-Quite-Stars, Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Both of those Not-Quite-Stars have World Series rings coming in the mail. Dougie Spelling Error owns a World Series game ball. What gives?

The Yankees' reaction to failure has been even greater obsession with their "genetic" failings. "Not enough starting pitching! Brown and El Duque were too old! Get the best on the market, and make a couple of them not too old!" Enter Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and Randy Johnson.

What's disappointing about this approach isn't the well-documented questions about Pavano and Wright's performance, or Johnson's age. It's the "sure thing" approach that they embody. The Yankees take no chances--not by trying to fix Javy Vazquez, rather than dealing him away for a more accomplished pitcher, not by handing the fifth starter spot over to a prospect rather than a guy that was waiver fodder a couple of years ago.

In Gattaca, society is in decay because a person's genetics are considered their destiny, the same way that some in baseball consider a team's payroll to be their destiny. If you know your destiny, if it can be read on a genetic sequencer or in USA Today's Salary Database, what's the point of any contest? Vincent's success in that society is that he shrugs off his destiny and takes risks--he could be found out as an impostor at any moment, but that doesn't deter him.

The Yankees used to take risks. In 1996, the year they finally won it all, the Yanks reluctantly handed the shortstop position over to an unproven 22 year old. It looks like a sure thing in retrospect, but Derek Jeter could've fallen on his face, he could've had an April and May like he did in 2004--lookin' up at the Mendoza line with no relief in sight--and the brass in Tampa probably would've sent him back to Columbus, or shipped him off to Anaheim for Gary DiSarcina. Luckily, he hit from the beginning--a homer on Opening Day, in Cleveland--and the rest is history. The Yanks got similarly lucky with Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada. But they deserve credit for taking some risks, rather than burying these prospects under an avalanche of "sure things."

Developing prospects is risky. Think about all the highly-touted guys the Yanks developed in the Exile Era that didn't quite pan out--guys like Ricky Ledee and Sterling Hitchcock are the good ones. Think about Brien Taylor, the Yanks' #1 overall pick in 1991. His career went down the tubes in the blink of an eye, in an off-season scuffle that wrecked his shoulder. Think about Ruben Rivera, top prospect turned memorabilia thief.

Is there a Ruben Rivera in the Yankee farm system right now? A Brien Taylor? Sure, they fell on their faces, but they were something to look forward to.

The bromide is that you have to court failure to achieve success. That's what the Red Sox did when they traded Garciaparra. I still think Boston's good results cloud the fact that it wasn't a good trade, but you have to give them props for having the cojones to take a chance.

I'm frustrated because the Yanks didn't court failure in 2004, and likely won't in 2005. I cheered for this team last year, and I'll do so again this year. They're not a bad bunch of guys. But somewhere inside I yearn for the time when the Yankees are willing to court failure again.

I really want to see that Yankee team.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Giambi, A-Rod, and the Curse of Ricky Bottalico

Chris, the proprietor of Red Sox blog From Back Bay to the Promised Land, had this to say about Jason Giambi earlier this week, in the comments section:
OK, so now that we've had a few days to chew on it, was it worth it for Giambi to show up last Thursday? I've tossed this around a bit on my blog, and with some convincing I can appreciate Giambi's need to protect his legal position. But if he can't say he's sorry, why should he be asking people for forgiveness? If he has nothing to give Yankee fans, he doesn't deserve jack shit in return.

Personally, I would go further to say that if he knowingly cheated the game, he doesn't deserve forgiveness even if he does properly ask for it. But that's just one Bostonian's opinion.

This, naturally, was in reaction to Jason Giambi's non-news conference last week, where he mysteriously apologized for wrongs he could not mention. The whole thing was kinda stupid and bizarre. Giambi's agent, Arn Tellem, was there to suggest that you could infer what Jason was talking about, even if he wasn't talking about it. Joe Torre was there to keep a straight face and lend an undeserved air of dignity to the proceedings. And Brian Cashman was there, I'm sure, to tear up Giambi's contract on the spot if the Giambino admitted to steroid use.

Didn't I warn everyone about this?

Was it worth it for Giambi to show up at this press conference? Sure. Jason got his first bit of public exposure out of the way, under very controled circumstances. Until last Thursday, Giambi was a guy that had "gone into hiding" after his grand jury testimony was leaked to the press. He was a coward, ducking the mighty New York media.

Now, he's gone on the record. Not that he's actually placed much on the record, but now the reporters know that he's not commenting on the grand jury story except to say that he told the grand jury the truth. (That's a really brave position to take, since the alternative is admitting you committed perjury.)

Still, this one silly, awkward appearance will pay dividends down the road. If some reporter tries to give him the Jim Gray treatment around the batting cage at Legends Field, Giambi can point out that he has apologized, and that he's not allowed to say anything further. It's not a solution to his problems, but it defuses the situation somewhat.

As for whether Giambi deserves forgiveness...not yet, anyway. Part of apologizing is acknowleging what you did wrong. Until Jason can tell us what the heck he's apologizing about, it's an empty gesture. Hitting some steroid-free home runs might also be a nice way of making amends, at least to Yankee fans.

Was being on the juice, pre-2003, cheating? MLB didn't have any rules against steroids, but they were, nonetheless, illegal drugs (on a lower restricted schedule than cocaine, if I recall correctly). Unlike the acclaimed chatterbox, Jose Canseco, you get the feeling from the leaked BALCO testimony that Giambi knew that what he was doing was wrong, when he was doing it. At the same time, Giambi seems to have received his punishment, in the form of tumors, patellar tendonitis, parasites, and staph infections of the eyes. So it's hard to sit in judgment.

Because of Giambi's non-apology last Thursday, the day of judgment has been postponed. We'll see what happens if Jason can ever admit what he's sorry for.


The off-season's big pasttime for Boston Red Sox players has been baiting the Yankees, and specifically Alex Rodriguez. First, Curt Schilling lit into Alex with some unprovoked negativity, and now Trot Nixon has gotten into the act.

It'd be easy to go into some rant on having class and acting like you've been there before. The fact is, I think that the Boys in Soxland have taken to picking on Alex because it's an easy applause line for their audience in the Red Sox Nation. In politics, they call this "pandering to your base."

Still, Trot's an odd choice to tear down A-Rod, particularly since Alex outhit him handily in the ALCS. At least Schilling had the whole "stigmata ankle" thing going, which pretty much entitles him to say whatever he pleases, no matter how silly it sounds, until the day of his retirement.

Just like with this rivalry after the Aaron F'ing Boone ALCS in 2003, some things, we'll just have to settle on the field. My advice to Rodriguez is to save the newspaper clippings, and take extra batting practice. Everyone talks big in February. We'll see where things stand in October.


Earlier, I posted with great pride a link to my PTP at Baseball Prospectus. Looking back, I see at least one detail that leaves me red-faced. In the Marlins section, comparing the 2005 Mets and the 2005 Marlins, I have Ricky Bottalico as the Mets' 3rd-best reliever.

That wouldn't be an undefendable proposition, if Bottalico hadn't signed with the Brewers in mid January.

We'll have to chalk this one up as E-10 (writer, bobble). Not the first, and certainly won't be the last.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Sunrise, Sunset

Kind of spooky: just as Spring Training opened, kicking off the renewal ritual which is baseball, the door slammed shut on the hockey season.

The loss of the 2004-2005 NHL season is a gut punch to a league that was already going under faster than the Titanic. For professional hockey's future, it's pretty scary that the overwhelming reaction has been indifference. Fans seemed disappointed, but resigned to the idea of losing this season. If I was a TV executive, seeing how well the NHL's fans are taking this lockout, I'd never invest a single red penny in the sport, ever again.

During the baseball strike of '94, you had people cursing and yelling and swearing that they'd never go to the ballpark again (ten years later, I wonder how many of those oaths have held?). Sure, it was anger and negative press, but at least you could tell that there was passion on the subject. Baseball fans had a pulse.

Now, part of the reason that hockey fans aren't rioting in the streets is because of a pretty good PR campaign, by the owners, about how completely unprofitable their business is. Lots of fans have been so keyed with stories of the NHL's financial woes, that they seem to be saying, "Well, if this is what needs to happen for hockey to survive, so be it. A plague on both their houses, for not getting this thing done."

I can see their point. Unlike baseball, I don't doubt that a good number of hockey franchises are really hurting, financially. Ten years ago, after the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, there was a wave of what Alan Greenspan would call "irrational exuberance" about hockey. I remember FOX getting all excited because they got the NHL's broadcast rights, and they were going to "change the game" with their glowing puck concept.

Please, don't ask.

Since then, the ratings tanked, and you now have a pretty hard time finding NHL hockey anywhere on the dial. There are a ton of culprits: the neutral zone defense, reckless expansion, and teams moving across the border as the Canadian Dollar weakened, to name a few.

But a plague on both their houses? It's nuts. This is a lockout, not a strike--the players didn't walk off the job, the owners simply decided not to open up shop until they'd wrung a few concessions out of the guys. According to reports, the players offered to cut back on their existing contracts by 24%, plus a salary cap. You remember that $4 Million contract we signed last year. Here, take a million back, I don't need it.

I've never heard of such a thing. Every other labor negotiation I've ever followed, the contracts that were already signed were grandfathered in (like Shaq's contract in the NBA). It's shocking that the owners were willing to turn that offer down.

For some reason, sports fans are cockeyed when it comes to labor problems. Unlike labor battles everywhere else, we sympathize with the owners (poor boys, having to pay all that money!) and we get angry with the laborers (probably because we mind when our peers get paid a few thousand times more money than we do).

Focusing just on our inexplicable good will toward management, I don't get it. By and large people don't suffer fools. But when a bunch of sports team owners screw up--expanding too fast, dishing out salaries they can't afford--we get watery-eyed. Those nasty players should give those nice owners a salary cap! Can't you see that otherwise they'll spend themselves to death?

This good hearted tendency to want to save people from themselves isn't generally applied to folks in bankruptcy or drug addicts or people on the dole, just to sports team owners. When our spendthrift friend (and generally speaking, if you don't think you have a friend who can't handle their money, then you are that friend) blows their whole paycheck on an insane shopping spree, we never say, "Macy's should give you a 24% discount on all that stuff you bought. Couldn't they see you can't afford it?" or "They should really have a limit on how much you can buy at their store, y'know, to keep stuff like this from happening!"

Every sports contract, no matter how stupid it seemed at the time or now in retrospect, was signed by a team owner willingly. Sometimes eagerly. It's not like the problem is that the minimum salary is too high, or that it costs too much to maintain the pension plan. Those kind of costs are set in a Collective Bargaining Agreement, and those obligatory costs are usually what labor and management are arguing about whenever they have a conflict. I'm talking about air traffic controllers, cops, and sanitation workers, here.

Not sports owners. The problem most of these guys face is discretionary spending--when given discretion, they spend too damn much.

Usually, when someone doesn't exercise control of their discretionary spending, we're not too tolerant of their behavior. A lot of talk about sleeping in the bed you've made. We make an exception for sports, and I just can't figure why.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

PTP'ing It

New Prospectus Triple Play up at Baseball Prospectus, today. In it, I answer important questions such as "What's a proper use for Tony Womack?" (sadly, "parking attendant", "doorstop" and "pet rock" weren't options I had the time to get into) and "What if Jason Giambi did relationship counseling?"

Please enjoy. I'm extra excited about this one, because--unlike my previous PTP's, which ran on the Baseball Prospectus byline, with no individual author credit--this time I'm credited as the author of the piece. Now, that's not the first time it's happened, but it still feels pretty good.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Triple Hearsay

New York Daily News - Baseball - Jason back in swing, trainer tells Sturtze

This one's courtesy McCarron at the Daily News. You know it's a slow news day when anyone--and I mean anyone--cares what Jason Giambi's trainer (the ever-controversial Bob Alejo) told Tanyon Sturtze about Jason Giambi's condition.

I mean, Alejo is Jason's trainer, and Sturtze is Jason's "close friend." What the heck are they going to say? "Jason's a washed up scrub"? "He can't even outhit his little brother anymore"? Of course they're gonna say he's coming back, better than ever. This is a non-story, on the same level as one of those "I heard from my hairdresser, whose cousin lives next door to Julia Roberts' accountant..."

By the way, as the personal trainer for an admitted steroid abuser, shouldn't Bobby Alejo disappear right about now? If Jason's really trying to turn over a new leaf, shouldn't a change of the personnel he keeps around him be in order?

Farther down in the piece Sturtze does have some actual news, revealing that even though he's a native New Englander:

"I'll never enjoy the Red Sox winning again," Sturtze said. "Those days are over for me and I'm very happy to say they're over."

Very touching. Very touching indeed.

Now, onto some possibly real news. Jason Giambi is now scheduled to address the media on Thursday, at the Stadium, his first public comments since the steroid story came to light. According to Tyler Kepner of the New York Times:

Late yesterday, the Yankees announced that [the press conference] would be at Yankee Stadium, with strict ground rules. They have invited each newspaper that regularly covers the team to send no more than two reporters.

Giambi will meet with the print media in one location, and Cashman and Torre may be in the room with him. After that meeting, Giambi will speak with television reporters in a separate room.

"No more than two reporters" per paper doesn't sound particularly strict (specially given the story's headline, "Yanks Script Giambi's Talk With Media") but the separate news conferences sound like a great idea, from the Yankees point of view. I would think that nobody knows how Jason's going to react to the questioning, or quite sure what he's going to say. If he does a bad job in front of the print guys, they could possibly cancel the broadcast portion of media day as a damage control measure. If he passes the grilling with the reporters, he gets to go in front of the cameras.

This is the first indication that the Yanks are circling wagons around Giambi, and are reconciled with the fact that they can't get rid of him. Hopefully, that commitment extends far enough that Jason can talk openly about his steroid use--without fear that any admission will be grounds for the Yankees to terminate his contract--and apologize for having broken the law, having lied about it, and having cheated. Because until he makes that admission, and those apologies, his life as a Yankee is going to be a living hell.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Anyone Speak Korean?

These cartoons are way cool...and would be even cooler, if I knew what they meant. First saw them over at Batgirl's site, and now they have a Primer thread where a number of Korean Primates--particularly "impatton" and "Cheng"--have been translating them to the crowd's delight.

They haven't gotten to the Yankee team page yet, and I'm just full of questions. Why is ARod watching a skin flick? Why is there a baby attached to the handle of Sheff's bat? I gots to know!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bullet Point Bowl Day

As we approach football's blessed exit from the American Stage, a few notes on a much better sport, Baseball:

  • Tyler Kepner has a nice profile of Brian Cashman up at the Times. It fits right in with Will Carroll's GM projects, in which he's called out to his public to 1) identify the qualities possessed by the current Major League GMs, and 2) speculate as to whom in the blogging or baseball writing arena might have the right stuff to get those jobs. If you have two cents to add to that conversation, drop a comment over at Will Carroll Presents...
  • The Yanks have given Buddy Groom a Spring Training NRI. The best quote on this came from Brian Cashman, who was definitely able to curb his enthusiasm: ``I just compare him to what we have,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. ``Is he better than some of our insurance? Yes, he is.'' (AP).
  • On Super Bowl Day, naturally the story is going to be about baseball. According to Michael O'Keefe of the Daily News, Canseco's busy outing everyone he's ever played ball with in his new book, "Juiced". I'm kinda curious about the chapter that covers his cup of coffee with the 2000 Yankees, when he was acquired as a defensive move, and the team really didn't want him, at all.
  • Saw "Hotel Rwanda" last night, and it's the best 2004 movie I've seen (bumping "Before Sunset" off the top of the list). Mind you, I haven't yet seen any of the big contenders. "Sideways," "Ray," and "Finding Neverland" are on the list of movies I want to see, "The Aviator" and "Million Dollar Baby," I'm not likely to see--the former because La Chiquita hates Leo DiCaprio, the latter because I've simply heard too many negative reviews of it.
Back to "Rwanda," the movie does a great job of taking a story we've seen before--"connected" guy with a conscience protects folks from genocide--and not making it seem like a "Schindler's List" derivative. The movie does a good job by not going into the root causes of the Rwandan conflict, instead focusing on the genocide itself: neighbors suddenly turning against each other, radio shows coordinating murderous militias, the international community standing to one side and letting the whole thing happen.

The movie hinges on the lead performance, and luckily, Don Cheadle nails it. Cheadle's the best-kept secret in Hollywood, a phenomenal actor strong enough to carry a lead role, with a character actor's resume. Cheadle's perfect as the manager of a four star hotel, a master of Western amenities, who comes to realize that the Western powers he idealizes will not save him from the hatred inside of Rwanda. He definitely deserves the Best Actor nomination, and Hotel Rwanda definitely deserves your attention.

As I've said before, the Super Bowl's a great day for me. It marks the end of football season, creates the lead-in to Spring Training, which is a little more than a week away. Enjoy!

Friday, February 04, 2005

What's My Name?

A quick entry to remind everyone I'm still alive, and that baseball still exists in the Super Bowl void...

Here's a couple of headlines, one of them Yankee-related:

Yogi Sues TBS Over Sex and the City Ads (Smoking Gun)

MLBPA Signs Over Fantasy Baseball Rights (Darren Rovell ABC News)

Two baseball stories this week, both on what we legal types call the Right of Publicity. In layman's terms, that's the right to control use of your name and likeness, and it's sometimes cast in terms of a right to privacy.

In Yogi's case, he's suing for $10MM for an ad that TBS put out for its re-runs of Sex and the City. The ad asked for a definition of one of the show's lamer catch-words, the "yogasm," giving as one multiple-choice answer "Sex with Yogi Berra."

Now, the problem is that under the law of New York, if you're going to use someone's name or photo in an advertisement, you'd better get their permission first. Nobody bothered to get a permission from Yogi before releasing this ad.

One of the top ways to protect your name and your right to it is to do a high-profile suit against anyone who steps over the line, even a little bit. Yogi's claim for $10MM over a stupid advertisement may seem like a petty stunt, but in this case, Yogi's name is his livelihood. It doesn't hurt that he might not be the biggest Sex and the City fan, or that the ad suggested Kim Catrall's character might've done something only Mrs. Berra is supposed to be doing.

Guaranteed, there won't be as many articles written when this case settles, as were written about the initial complaint.

The other bit is about baseball fantasy games (which sounds like something you might find on Anna Benson's website, but it just really refers to Rotisserie-style baseball roster games). For years, if you wanted to use the names of the various major leaguers in relation to a game, you'd have to license the names from the player's union. Ditto for the team names, which you'd have to license from Major League Baseball.

If you're a video game devotee, I'm sure you're familiar with at least one game that featured teams and player statistics that seemed pretty close to their real-life counterparts, but all the names had been scrambled, like a baseball Witness Protection Program. In other words, the Arizona Diamondbacks might be called the "Phoenix Snakes," and that tall, intimidating lefty might be called "Tommy Long" instead of "Randy Johnson." Oh, and because his likeness as well as his name were protected, in the video game, the Unit's avatar might be a black guy with a Fu Manchu moustache, instead of a white guy with a beard. Those were the unlicensed products.

What might not have been as intuitive is that MLB and the MLBPA were also licensing the use of names for online fantasy baseball games--and, by association, claiming the right to license your do-it-yourself local rotisserie league (do these things even exist, anymore?). The claim is that a player's stats are as much part of his "identity" as his name and his face.

This isn't an uncontroversial question. Lots of fantasy game providers have paid licensing to the MLBPA and MLB, probably because it's cheaper than litigating. But there is generally an exception to the right of publicity for news and newsworthy individuals. That is, if someone takes a picture Jason Giambi on the street, the New York Post wouldn't need to get Giambi's permission to run the photo--so long as it was part of a news item. One could argue that a player's major league stats are simply news items, and that any news outlet is free to report them without paying any stinking licensing fees.

The story I've linked is one about how MLB and the MLBPA have consolidated their rights with a single entity: MLB Advanced Media. MLB controlling these rights is a concern, because MLB Media offers a number of fantasy games online. The Major League teams being the little monopolists that they are, the worry is that might want to run every other Fantasy Baseball outlet on earth (like Yahoo, ESPN, and FOX Sports) out of business with non-competitive pricing.

It's not likely to happen, but if it does, these issues of publicity could start percolating through the Courts as early as this Spring.