Thursday, June 30, 2005

Deckchairs, Titanic

A short layoff, a bit of off-field action.

The organizational meeting held last weekend has cranked the rumor mill into overdrive. People are talking Mike Cameron, they're talking A.J. Burnett, they're talking Mark Kotsay and Preston Wilson and Randy Winn.

The big name you hear on the one side is everyone's favorite time bomb, Mt. St. Sheffield. While it sounds like I'm down on Gary from the nickname, you couldn't be farther from the truth. I like Sheff, as the team's most consistent hitter, as a guy with guts who plays it to the hilt on the field. I also really appreciate his candor, particularly that when the first of those rumored names came up on the front page of the New York Post, in a supposed trade with Sheffield, Sheff let it know that he would not go quietly amidst the noise and haste if traded:

I would go play for them. It doesn't mean I'm going to be happy playing there. And if I'm unhappy, you don't want me on your team. It's just that simple. I'll make that known to anyone.
Good for him. I'm not sure most people really think about how strange it is to be in a business where you can traded to another city against your will, and forced to accept the transfer. While, as a fan, I prefer when the ballclub has no impediments for making roster moves and improving the team, I'd be darn ticked if the only way I could practice my profession was by being subject to transfer on the company's whim.

In other news, Mike Stanton learned you can never come home again, and Paul Quantrill's passes onto the realm of Yankee trivia (I'll take "Yankees with a Q" for 400 Alex"). They'll likely be experiencing the annoyance of being traded, or the liberty of free agency, within the next 10 days, having been designated for assignment by the big club.

It's hard to begrudge the team either move: Stanton wasn't setting the world on fire (or rather, to reverse the metaphor somewhat, he was a firestarter); Quantrill had been useless for about the last ten or eleven months--never quite the same after A-Rod clobbered his knee in the opening series, and then Torre pitched him in virtually 2/3rds of the Yanks' contests early last year.

Given how far those two had fallen down the depth chart, this can't be described as a big, important move. The call-ups to replace those two pitchers--once and future Yank Jason Anderson, and lefty Wayne Franklin--aren't names, or likely to become names, that anyone would know. The extra roster spot shuffle continues, with Bubba Crosby taking the place of Kevin Reece, and perhaps being supplanted by Felix Escalona sometime this weekend in Detroit.

None of this is a center fielder who can...field center. Or a starting pitcher who doesn't suck. Or anyone who can remove Tony Woemack from the roster. Nothing to see here, yet.

Speaking of nothing to see, this story looks like BS (sorry for the third-generation link, but if you click through, you'll find the original gossip-column story). The idea that the two biggest baseball stars in New York could have a fistfight, in front of the media, and everyone would keep it's dubious at best.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


OK, I spent most of the game making a list of reasons why the season is over. They include:

  • First of all, and I can't stress this enough, Kevin (Millar, non-hitting first baseman) and Dan (O"Shaughnessy, a/k/a Curly Haired Boyfriend) have declared the season over. Obviously, what they say goes...even though I wonder how many times those two declared last season over?
  • We're down to Kevin Reese starting in a nationally-televised game? How badly did you plan if you get that far down the depth chart?
  • Once again: somehow, the Yanks' brass didn't think that at some point this season, they would want a superior defensive centerfielder somewhere on the roster. Where is that guy? It's not Bubba Crosby, apparently it's not Reese, and judging from tonight's performance, it's probably not Tony Womack.
  • Lefty batters are hitting Randy Johnson. I remember the day when those guys begged out of the lineup when he was pitching, and now everyone digs in. I don't think I've seen Johnson back anyone (lefty or righty) off the plate this season. He doesn't own the inside of the plate, so is there any mystery that batters are staying back and hitting it over the fences?
  • Bad defense! Bad defense! I can't bear to look at it!
  • The good fastball gets past Giambi.
  • Now that he's been tossed, I'm thinking that an eruption of Mt. St. Sheffield might be imminent. Sheff's never been a graceful guy to have on a bad team. Either he's going to gauge out one of A-Rod's eyes, or he's going to demand a contract extension...I don't know. Just something bad is going to happen.
  • Tom Gordon hasn't been as bad as he was in last year's playoffs, but he hasn't been as good as the 2004 regular season. Quantrill's a forgotten man, as is Stanton. Things hinge on Tanyon Sturtze. While I don't hate Sturtze like I did when he was acquired...this is not good.
  • I feel like Yul Brynner in the Ten Commandments. I want the names of Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Tony Womack to be removed from the history books, struck from all monuments, and I want merely mentioning their names to be a crime punishable by scourging.
  • The Mets are not a low-budget, "scrappy team." They went out and grabbed the two best (and, IIRC, most highly-priced) free agents out there. They have a nine-figure payroll. However, the negative feelings against this Yankee team have reached such a high point that anyone that opposes them is heroic, and scrappy, and fundamentally good.
  • Rivera's only had 26 appearances so far. Maybe this whole losing thing is a plan by the Yankees to try to save Mariano's arm...
  • Wow, Braden Looper sucks. How on earth did the Yanks lose the 2003 series, again?
  • Doesn't it feel kind of silly to celebrate this hard for the fact that the Yanks avoided a sweep? I mean, it beats the living daylight out of the alternatives, but it does feel kinda odd.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Too Little, Too Late

I think we may finally have discovered the theme for these 2005 Yankees. That's it at the top of the page: too little, too late.

This is a dangerous team. At any time, they can lay down a ten spot on you, in any given inning. But they're almost exactly as likely to get shutdown and produce only one run. Their starters can give up six runs in the early going, and never let the offense in the game. When that doesn't happen, their bullpen still has the skills to blow the game.

In the end, what you can see is that there is no sure thing about this team. They can get punked by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They can beat a good team (although they haven't done so in a while).

Last season, these were the comeback kids. They showed this week that the team still has that potential.

But you're more likely to get something like tonight's game--down 5-2 in the early going, bringing back a couple runs in the final frame, falling just short. This team tries to rally in the late going, but it's always just a little farther behind than it was last year, the offense is just a little bit less deadly. You might bring the tying run to the plate, doesn't mean you're going to score.

Too damn little. Too damn late. You could add too damn expensive, but I think that's a given.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dazed & Confused

Today, after a day spent feeling under the weather, the cable guy came by and fixed my TV, bringing me the gift of HD. The very first program I put on, on Time Warner Cable's HD Special channel, and there it was -- Yankees baseball in high definition.

Now, I'd been an HD skeptic. I'm not much of a an audio or videophile, in the sense that I'm someone who usually keeps the preset equalizer and color settings on my stereo or TV, and usually I'm pretty satisfied by the viewing or listening experience. Back when I had a 32MB MP3 player, I had absolutely no problem ripping my MP3s at the lowest quality, because the difference between radio quality and "near CD" quality didn't mean nearly as much to me as a few extra songs.

But this was different. I kept on flipping between the HD channel and the normal YES feed, and I couldn't get over how crappy and small the regular image was. I have no other way of explaining it. The regular screen covers about three quarters as much as the extra-wide HD image, and the detail is much higher.

The difference in screen real estate between HD and normal TV leads to some weird stuff. For example, in-game you'll notice that none of the graphics that YES puts up on screen reach the whole way accross the HD screen -- that's because they're formatted for the smaller screen. For the same reason, the "diamond" that most channels display in one of the corners of the screen--the one that gives you the score, the men on base, the count, and sometimes pitch velocities--is disconcertingly not in a corner of the screen, but closer to the middle. Also, the commercials--which are not made for HD, come with bars or distracting special effect on either side of the image.

I know, I'm probably rapturously describing something everyone is already familiar with and bored of. But it's new to me.

Anyway, I couldn't really enjoy the exciting new image, because of the disturbing crap that was going on on the screen. After the Yanks and AAA callup Sean Henn got pasted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Monday, you figured that Randy Johnson was going to get the team back on track...right.

Wrong. The Big Unit was getting smacked around like Zed's Gimp. He gave up a homer to Damon Hollins (7 HR in 175 or so MLB PA) in the second inning and immediately thereafter another homer to Kevin Cash (7HR in 328 MLB PA). After putting the D-Rays up 5-0 in the second, he gave up an opposite field shot to power prospect Jonny Gomes (his fourth career homer). After two and a half innings, Johnson had treated Tampa to a 7-1 lead.

This is not one of those situations where the extra screen detail is appreciated. And since I had to leave the house anyway, I left the game at this point.

I got home, to see a number of emails from a group you could call Internet Baseball Geeks Anonymous--Yankees Chapter. Mainly, the topic of interest was what forms of self-mutilation the members would subject themselves to if the Yankees traded Tom Gordon and prospects to the Florida Marlins for Juan Pierre. And in that thread of messages, there was a note from Brother Joe, mentioning that the Yankees had come back and were now up by nine runs.


Went to to check things out, and wouldn't you know: the Yankees put up a thirteen spot in the eighth inning. Four homers--Posada, Sheffield (his second), A-Rod, and Matsui (a black seat-job)--in that inning alone. The final? Yankees win, 20-11.

I mean, I love this. I'm also glad that Tampa Bay didn't beat the Yanks for a fifth straight time, a phenomenon which I think would officially make the Yankees their prison girlfriend. But 1) I'm kinda sad I missed the whuppin', particularly the chance to see it in high def, and 2) I feel a little sad for Lou Piniella. I mean, back in the day, this was a guy that took a single crummy at bat really badly. If there's any proportionality to things, you're not expecting an angry tirade or a closed doors meeting from Piniella--you're waiting for a killing spree.

Really, if Tampa reliever Travis Harper (9 ER and 4 HR in 2/3 of an inning of work) turns up dead tomorrow morning, would anyone be surprised? And while I'm sure that Piniella would be arrested and tried, I'm not sure there's a jury out there that would convict him...


Obviously, I didn't get to hear Tim McCarver's call of Saturday's game. But based on this transcript, Jetes might consider getting a restraining order against McCarver, who has clearly got a crush on the Yankees' shortstop. Unless someone intervenes now, McCarver might start getting angry about all of Jeters girlfriends and whatnot, and things might get scary.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld used to say.

But seriously, we know how Carl Everett feels about dinosaurs and gay marriage and whatnot, but has anyone asked him how he feels about this whole McCarver/Jeter issue?

In other news, let the record reflect that the Red Sox' honeymoon lasted almost exactly eight months. Longer than I expected, but still disappointing given the magnitude of what that team accomplished.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

PhotoBlog Recap: Cubs v. Yankees, June 18, 2005

Since the last time I wrote in, the Yanks won two more games--one against the Pirates (a gem of a performance by RJ, matching Mussina's effort on Tuesday), and the opener of this series against the Cubbies--to make for a four-game homestand winning streak.

Got an invite to attend Saturday afternoon's interleague tilt with the Futility Infielder himself, Jay Jaffe. Jay's a great fan, and a terrific person to find yourself with at the ballpark--he's knowlegeable and easy-going, and I would bet you will always learn something new about the game just by sitting next to him.

The crowd was a robust 55,248, and Cubs paraphernalia abounded all around. Where did all these folks come from? Are they from Chicago, deciding that this weekend was the ideal time to finally take that trip to NYC? Are they generic baseball fans, from a new era when MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV mean that you are no longer are geographically restricted in your rooting interests? I could see where, if someone could choose any team in the world to support out of the blue, the Cubbies would be an appealling choice. There's lots of history, a great ballpark, and a great "if they ever win the World Series I'll be a superstar" vibe, like all those Red Sox fans that received congratulatory phone calls, letters and emails after their team won the World Serious.

I'll let the photos take over from here...

This was the view from Jay's Tier Box seats (Sec. 18). We lamented that in the proposed new Yankee Stadium, this is the view that would be eliminated. The new stadium intends to get rid of the overhang that brings the front of the Upper Deck relatively close to the action. "It'll be like Shea, where no one in the upper deck ever catches a foul ball."  Posted by Hello

Chien Ming Wang has the old-fashioned windup and a slider that buries itself in the dirt. He was dominant, only allowing six fair balls in the air all game long (by my count). Posted by Hello

Bottom of the 6th, Yankees up 3-1. Starter Glendon Rusch has been chased after five-plus innings with some of the most inefficient pitching you'll ever see. Ex-closer Joe Borowski comes into the game to face the Captain, with the bases loaded and one out. Posted by Hello

Jeter entered today without ever having hit a Grand Slam in a 10 year Major League career. That wasn't bound to last terribly long, was it? Posted by Hello

Jeter adds another blast in the 8th inning, and Tanyon Sturtze gets an inning of low pressure work in the ninth to give us our final, 8-1 Yanks. Cue up Mr. Sinatra... Posted by Hello

Crowding like this in the Yankee Stadium subway station is the reason that some people think we need a new Yankee Stadium. Posted by Hello

Jay Jaffe loves the smell of Cubs fans in the evening. Smells like...victory. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Game Report: June 15, 2005

This one was a late-planned, late arriving type deal. Had to pick up our tickets, then rendez-vous with La Chiquita, and then head off to the Stadium, all starting from Long Island.

So anyway, when we got in, the Yanks had already drawn first blood on a Jorge Posada tater. Since I didn't score the game, I think I'll just photoblog the rest of the game.

This is Yankee Stadium as La Chiquita and I take our seats in Row S, Section 1 of the Upper Deck. It's the bottom of the third and the Yanks are up, 1-0. Things would go sour from here, before they improved. Posted by Hello

Here's the bases loaded, two out for the Iron Sheff in the bottom of the 7th inning. With the score 4-2, Sheffield would strand all three runners two pitches later. Posted by Hello

After a rousing ninth inning rally to tie the game against Pirates closer Jose Mesa, Jason Giambi goes upper deck to start Frank Sinatra singing. Giambi reaches home plate, and as you can see in the foreground, the high fives aren't just on the field! Posted by Hello

...And that's the final from Yankee Stadium. Drive home safely. Posted by Hello

Notes from Yanks/Pirates

Just a few notes on the ballgame, to flesh things out:

Funny how your perspective changes. The Pirates are one of the teams that I've covered regularly for the past seven months on Baseball Prospectus, so watching them get beat was a bittersweet process. I know this team better now than I've known most of the Yanks opponents in the past, so I was emotionally engaged when, for example, Ryan Doumit came to the plate, or watching a bit of intelligent hitting by Rob Mackowiak, or witnessing the jaw-dropping power that Jason Bay showed in the top of the 8th, when he tatooed a Tanyon Sturtze pitch on the line straight to center, and single handedly sent droves of Yankee "fans" headed for the exits.

Not that I ever forgot where my loyalties lie; it's just a dramatic change of pace from the Yanks/Sox or Mets/Yanks hatefests I often go to see.

Watching Kevin Brown pitch is excruciating. If he had a superior defense behind him, he might stand a puncher's chance. This is pure speculation, anyway, since "superior" ain't the word for the Yanks' defense. The Bucs' rally in the 4th was keyed by an error by Alex Rodriguez, which was called a base hit. (From where I was sitting, it looks like they applied the rule of "it can't be an error unless the guy gets some leather on the ball." Errors are a stupid, possibly outdated stat, for this and many other reasons.)

As it happened, I thought that the injury that got Brown off the mound was a fake, to buy time and get the bullpen into the game. Stottlemyre came to the mound in an obvious stalling tactic as Groom and a righty (Sturtze?) started warming desperately in the fifth. Stott then got chased off the mound, and didn't talk to the home plate ump as he went back to the dugout. A couple of (badly thrown) pitches later, Stott (or was it Torre at this point goes to the mound and bring trainer Gene Monihan with him. If Brown was hurting when Stott went to the mound the first time, why didn't Mel tell the ump? Maybe he did, and I just missed it, but the thing smelled of day old fish to me.

Word on Brown is that his back acted up. We are dry-eyed for him. Really, I wish the Yanks would eat all his salary, and find a willing trade partner in some baseball Siberia with no hope of getting into the first division. I don't just want Brown gone at this point, I want him to have to suffer with a bad team, with lousy infield defense.

A different bad team with lousy defense, at least.

Sadly, right now, the Yanks don't have five healthy starters without Brown. Heck, they don't have five healthy starters with Brown. Any way you slice it, they need this guy to take the mound every fifth day.

In the ninth, I have no idea what Alex Rodriguez was thinking, trying to score on the game-tying play. As Rodriguez rounded third, he held up. Whether that was the third base coach's decision or A-Rod's own, I dunno. But as soon as Rodriguez held up, the play was over. Matt Lawton made a great throw to the cutoff man, and the cutoff man (Jose Castillo?) made a nice throw to the plate, nailing Rodriguez by about forty feet.

By the way, judging from Alex's attempt to dislodge the ball from the grip of Pirates catcher Dave Ross, he has some work to do if he wants to cast aside his "Smacky McBlueLips" reputation. Weak attempt.

Some plays just kill a team. The Pirates had played some slick defense for much of the game, particularly the keystone combo of Castillo and Jack Wilson (Hey Jack! I apologize about the Jack the Wack Crack!). But in the bottom of the 10th, the Pirates correctly called a pitchout on a bunt attempt by Tony Womack, with Russ Johnson (pinch-running for Tino) at first. The runner was caught completely off the bag, a dead duck. Still, the Pirates blew the potential run down, and the runner got back to first base. Womack bunted him over, and then Giambi ended the game.

In the 10th, right up until Giambi ripped Jose Mesa to the upper deck, I was depressed about how far Steroid Boy had fallen. Giambi came to the plate and there was no longer any defensive shift, and Mesa pumped fastballs at him with relative impunity. I'm not convinced that the home run was the start of anything--just bad pitch that Mesa hung up where Jason could crush it. But I'm still glad that Giambi got this moment, if only because it's unlikely to be repeated.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Cardinal Crucible

We said this weekend's series against the Cards would be important. Friggin' Mike Lupica said this was an important series. The returns are in, and it's a mixed bag.

Friday, the Yanks lost, the manager ripped the team, people used the terms "unacceptable" and "rock bottom" for what seems like the thirtieth time this season. Saturday, Randy Johnson re-learned what the term "ace" means, starting a combined shutout of the Cards, 5-0. The Unit looked great, despite the occasional misfire that wound up nowhere near John Flaherty's target.

That meant another rubber game, in a season full of rubber games, Carl Pavano starting against undefeated Cards starter Matt Morris. Pavano continued his string of unpredictable performances by throwing six strong innings against the Cards. That's the good news. The bad news is, Tanyon Sturtze coughed up the game in the seventh, allowing four runs to throw away the series, 5-3.

Hard to get too far down about this game, since the Cardinals are the best team in the NL, and sport the second best record in baseball. Also, the Yanks were on their longest road trip of the year. Still, this team isn't helping itself, not at all.

So I guess the stream of "unacceptables" and "rock bottoms" will continue, until (and unless) the Yanks can turn this season around. The Yanks are home for the next two weeks, starting Tuesday with a three game tilt against the Pirates, followed by the Cubs, Tampa Bay, and the Mets. Unless the Yanks pick it up in those two weeks, they'll be behind the eight ball when they face the Orioles in Baltimore to end the month of June.

Hard to say about this team, but that series could be a must-win, if they don't pick up the pace.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Quatrociento Quadrangulares

When Alex Rodriguez gives, he gives a lot.

Last night, it was a 4-4, 2 home run performance. The second one was number 400 on A-Rod's career. He is the youngest guy to ever reach the 400 homer level.

And riding on that performance, the Yanks gave Mike Mussina 12 runs with which to hold off the Brewers, salvaging one game of the three game set.

A lot of different ways to feel about this. Optimists are taking this as a sign of life and a potential turn-around point. Pessimists think that the season is already over, in June. I'm stuck in between--I'd like to see how the Yanks do against the Cards before jumping to conclusions.

As for Alex, I'm super happy for him on this achievement. It's a shame that we can't have this without 1) someone asking about pursuit of Hank Aaron (just look at Alex's former teammate, Ken Griffey, Jr., to see how a perfectly reasonable pursuit of immortality can go wrong), or 2) without people claiming that it's meaningless because Rodriguez isn't "clutch."

Meanwhile, in the Daily News Brian Cashman tells the public what Yankee fans in the blogosphere have known for a while: there is no "flexibility" to this roster. The Yanks will live or die with what they have on hand, and Jaret Wright might not be one of the things the Yanks have on hand, at least not this season.

The Yanks may wind up paying $4.5MM per game pitched in Jaret Wright's Yankee career. If that happens, he will have a great case as the "Worst Free Agent Signing Ever" particularly since I doubt the Yanks were able to get Wright's shoulder insured.

A few sundries:

New one up at Baseball Prospectus, a Notebook piece about the Pirates. Enjoy.

The Devil Rays designate for assignment a DH with five homers, and it's a cause that launches a hundred ships. Dan Szymborski has a funny take here, Pinstriped Theologian Steve Goldman preaches that the Yankee way is to pick this boy off waivers here, and Brother Joe bodyslams the entire Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization, here. Since it's a subscriber piece, here's a short quote:

Maybe Tampa Bay is an impossible market for major-league baseball, but we'll never know until they actually get major-league baseball.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hump Day Bullet Points

A few thoughts while trying to comprehend the depths of suckitude to which the Yankees have fallen:

  • Danger, Don Mattingly, Danger! -- Saw last night's game at the pool hall, which meant I was mercifully spared listening to the announcers as Ben Sheets mowed the Yanks down (I'm not hatin', I just get tired of the YESmen trying to paint a positive picture of a stinking ballclub). I hadn't seen Sheets pitch in a long time, and I have to say I was amazed by how much life his breaking ball had--and considering the number of Yankees that were frozen by the pitch, so were they. The YES cameras kept focusing on Yankee hitting coach Don Mattingly during the game, no doubt speculating that Donnie Baseball is on the hot seat. The last time the Yanks scored more than six runs in a game was two weeks ago, when they murderlized the Tigers, 12-3. In the interim, they've managed to score six runs once (the win against the Red Sox), four runs three times (two wins against Detroit and one against the Twins) three runs four times, two runs twice, and one run three times (all losses). See the pattern?
  • It Would Be The Ultimate Suck-Up Move of All Time -- Y'know, if Jason Giambi wanted to endear himself to the fans--and it's looking right now like he's not gonna do it with his bat--he should make the brass the following offer: don't fire Mattingly as hitting coach this year or the next, and he'll make 2008 a team option year in his contract.
  • I'd Say the Greatest of My Amazing Skills is My Tremendous Modesty -- the Yankees first round pick in the 2005 amateur draft is a high school shortstop from Oklahoma, Carl "C.J." Henry. He's a big kid, reportedly very athletic, who, depending on whom you're talking to, draws comparisons to Vernon Wells, Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield. Here's a quote from the 19 year old himself: "I think I'm a five-tool player with a high ceiling and unlimited potential." Nice to see that one of those tools is modesty. Anyway, best of health and fortune to you, C.J. Get to the Bronx quickly, 'cause the parent club needs some help.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Opening the Notebook

As some of you might remember, for the past few months I've written a monthly piece on the Yankees, Florida Marlins, and Pittsburgh Pirates on the Baseball Prospectus website, as part of their Prospectus Triple Play series.

Well, I've got good news and I've got bad news. The bad news is that the PTP series has been canceled, and so my monthly column is gone. The good news is that I'm on board with PTP's replacement, the Prospectus Notebook. Like Triple Play, Notebook will be a regular free feature of the website. The biggest difference is that rather than do a whole column all by myself, now I'll be contributing several smaller pieces along with the other members of BP's free content team: John Erhardt, Tom Gorman, Dave Haller, and Paul Swydan.

This also means I'll have the opportunity to cover potentially any team in the Majors at any time. So if you have suggestions, send them over. My first piece under the new format appears today, it's the first segment, about the Yanks and the Rocket. Here's a sample:

With the Yankees on a losing skid, it is now open season for Yankee fans, New York media and mercurial team owners to start coveting the Next Big Thing. You will recall that the Yankees' current (if titular) ace, Randy Johnson, was the Last Big Thing. Prior to that, Javier Vazquez was the flavor that the Bronx Boys savored. Vazquez's failure on the big stage prompted the acquisition of Johnson, in a similar fashion to how the twin failures of Jose Contreras and Jeff Weaver prompted the acquisition of Vazquez and Pinstriped Dog House resident Kevin Brown.

By most reports, the Next Big Thing actually turns out to be an old Big Thing: current Houston Astro and future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens.
Please check out the article. I'm fascinated by the "grass is always greener" effect that the organization's big money (and the Boss's big willingness to spend it) has on Yankee fans: there is always some player out there that we yearn to acquire. The question for me is, when do we run out of objects to lust after. As it is, I've seen two of the three most dominant pitchers of my lifetime take the mound in pinstripes (we missed Greg Maddux--and it's too late now). If getting Randy Johnson isn't enough, who is there left for Yankee fans to lust after?

Something to think about as the Yankees lose, again, this time to the Milwaukee Brewers. Man, does it suck when $200MM isn't enough to beat the Brewers.

Friday, June 03, 2005

What Is It About French Chicks?

Listless. Stupid. Disappointing.

At one point in tonight's 6-3 loss to the Twins, there was a shot of Joe Torre on the bench. He was holding a bat, which is something I haven't seen before, but it was the look in his eyes that seemed utterly out of place.

He looked like he wanted to knock someone's teeth out.

We're not going to dwell on this. Instead, I'm writing about French, I mean, flicks. Actually, I mean both.

A Tout de Suite

Going to the Angelika in New York on a whim is a hit-or-miss proposition. The place is usually packed to the gills with arthouse film-wannabes (all, La Chiquita insists I add, on dates), and the lobby is plastered with propaganda for the films that are currently playing. Last weekend, with my first choice not playing for a few hours, La Chiquita and I wound up selecting our film based on these touts, which were among the strongest I've ever seen. Kevin Thomas of the L.A. Times was calling it "as flawless as a film gets." Stephen Holden's New York Times review called the film "nearly perfect." That's a lot of perfection that people are talking about, so we figured this film was worth a gander.

"A Tout de Suite" means "right away" in French; the title projects an urgency that I hope is intended ironically. It's the story of Lili, a bored art student from a well-to-do family whose parents are divorced and detached from her. The setting is Paris in 1976, and as Lili drifts through life--arriving at her classes an hour late, if at all--she finds the proverbial tall, dark stranger, who is portrayed by Ouassini Embarek (the character's name, according to IMDB, is Bada; I don't recall this ever being mentioned in the movie).

Since this is 1976, Lili and Bada segue quickly from disco dancing to taking a collective nap with one of Lili's girlfriends, to bumping uglies (sans girlfriend, as the French would say) in the morning. Almost as quickly as the couple meets and mates, Lili receives a phone call from her new love: he's robbed a bank, there are hostages, someone is dead.

Sure enough, soon Lili and Bada are on the run, along with Bada's violent accomplice, Alain, and his own bourgeois gangster moll (again, don't sweat the names, because no-one uses them in the film). The "on the run" portion is handled more realistically than in any film I've ever seen. The Bandits' (and Bandettes') pursuers are never seen, the pursuit itself is more an inchoate sense of dread than a series of shootouts and escapes.

While this approach is realistic (the film is based on a true story) it makes for one slow, boring picture, because nothing is happening while the foursome are dreading capture. That's not good for a film whose own website calls it "an erotically-charged thriller". That's maybe half-right.

Isild Le Besco, who does a fine job of portraying Lili, looks and acts like Scarlett Johansson, just with a generous side order of nudity thrown in (Lili gets unclothed a number of times in the film, which provides about 90% of the entertainment value). Like Johansson's break-out film, Lost in Translation, A Tout de Suite is very sparing on dialogue and extremely dependent on Le Besco's expression in repeated closeups.

The cinematography--which is in black and white--reminds you that film is still a photographic process. Many of the shots recall art gallery stills. Nonetheless, I can't really rave about the film's look--but that may have more to do with the projectors at the Angelika than with the film itself.

Can't really recommend this to anyone unless you're a big fan of the French New Wave, or of the film's director, Benoit Jacquot.

Look at Me

In the United States, the French are more an abstraction than an actual flesh-and-blood people. Francophobic Americans regard them as an embodiment of everything that is anti-American in the world: annoying, haughty, intellectually vain "surrender monkeys," hypocrites that are disdainful of the U.S.'s commercialism, but are always willing to whore themselves out for a dollar (or Euro). Francophiles, on the other hand ascribe magical powers to the French: they are pro-art, anti-bigotry sophisticates, amazing lovers and sensualists who are more appreciative of a full-figured woman, yet who themselves never seem to put on weight, despite each eating half a ton of butter and cheese per year.

Of course, neither side is "right". People are just more complicated than any series of narrow stereotypes. Nonetheless, Agnes Jaoui's Look at Me (en francais, "Comme une Image") takes the stereotypes for a spin.

It is the story of Lolita, a full-figured girl studying to be an opera singer. Despite the stereotypes, men don't seem to give Lolita the time of day, until they find out her dad is Etienne, the famous author. Etienne--more skilled than any other member of the gender at ignoring his daughter--is the stereotypical French intellectual. Bossy and mean, he is ready to dress down any of his perceived inferiors at the slightest provocation.

Just to make Etienne even more of a peach of a guy, he has a hot, fitness-conscious trophy wife, not much older than Lolita herself, and a young daughter Lolita is often asked to babysit.

As Lolita struggles to get her father's attention and approval, she enlists the aid of one of her voice teachers (played by the director) to help her amateur singing troup put on a show. The teacher balks at first--she bitterly complains to her husband, Pierre, that if she doesn't learn to say no "they'll have me working 50 hours a week!"--but her attitude changes when she realizes that Lolita is the daughter of her favorite novelist.

To make the whole thing even more incestuous, Pierre's a writer, also. He has all of Etienne's intellectual pretensions without any of his success. But when Pierre's novel draws Etienne's attention, Pierre is vaulted into the big time, and his artistic principles are put to the test.

There isn't a lot of suspense in this film, as questions like "will Pierre sell out" or "is Sebastien (the arabic aspiring journalist with whom Lolita meets cute in the first reel) the right guy for Lolita" tend to have predictable answers. The fun of the movie is in a character study, in which every character (excluding Sebastien, but surprisingly including Lolita) is a somewhat unattractive hypocrite. Recommended.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

It's a Long Season...

...a marathon more than a sprint, really. Actually, not really a marathon so much as a triathlon, or one of those Iron Man events.

Right now, the event at hand in the Yankee Fan Triathlon is the Chair Throw, for distance, accuracy, or damage to the interior of your home or local bar. The winners of the previous Remote Control Throw event don't have to participate in the opening heats of this stage of the competition.

Really. Ryan Jensen? The guy wasn't even in the majors last year! What does the feared Yankee offense do against him? Two frelling runs! That gives them six total runs scored over a three game series. Correction: a three-game sweep.

I don't know how many times you can get swept by the worst team in the league, and still remain in contention. Gotta hope that it's at least three, because the Yanks have already pulled this stunt twice...