Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Countdown to the Rugby World Cup

Suffice it to say that one should not turn to ESPN for rugby coverage. Nonetheless this preview should at least give Americans some sense of the favorites heading into this year's World Cup in France. The headline, "All Blacks, Les Bleus and Wallabies are the favorites" is a little misleading. New Zealand, France, and Australia are the top three teams in the world according to the International Rugby Board rankings, (with Australia ranked second, France, the hosts, third) but by most serious reckonings, number-four-rated South Africa is considered New Zealand's most serious threat.

Barry Bonds

This is undoubtedly funny. It's not exactly fair. But it's funny:

Look, we do not know who did what when. We do not know enough because Major League Baseball -- players, owners, the league -- did not want to know. Even if Bonds broke the law, it is highly doubtful whether or not he broke any of baseball's rules.

And don't give me this nonsense about the plausibility of Bonds growing in size as he aged. Every athlete, every guy, gets bulkier as he gets older. And the only people who argue against the possibility of gains in muscle mass as someone gets older have never spent any time in a weight room.

The most bothersome aspect of the Bonds situation is the rampant hypocrisy and the self-righteousness of it all. Barry Bonds is the greatest baseball player you have ever seen play the game. He may be unlikeable, and of course we may learn more than we now know about the steroids mess. But it is a mess to which baseball (and journalists) turned a blind eye. Post-facto hand wringing and finger waving does not change anything.

Still, the baseball card mock-up is pretty funny. Insensitive, crude, and unfair, but funny.

Hat tip to My Colleague, Chemistry Kyle.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Appetite For Destruction at Twenty

Can it really be that Guns 'N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction is twenty years old? The realization first hit me a couple of months ago when I pulled that seminal album out of my collection for the first time in a couple of years. It sounded as groundbreaking, as brilliant, as age-defining as ever, and then I realized that it was released in the summer of 1987, and for a brief, meteoric period they were the biggest, most exciting, most unpredictable, most rock and roll band in rock and roll.

It collapsed so quickly, and we've spent well more than a decade waiting for Axl Rose to release Chinese Democracy under the GNR name. Rolling Stone has a great cover piece on Appetite, which they excerpt here. It's almost impossible to believe that album could be twenty years old. It seems like just yesterday. And when the first vertiginous sounds of "Welcome to the Jungle" come directly at me from my speakers, it's the late 1980s, Axl & Slash rule the world, and the world is still ahead of me.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

dcat: In our last installment I wrote that we would be happy with a 5-2 week. But we had the chance yesterday to pull off the sweep against the Rays and to cap off a 6-1 week and what would have been a 9-1 run and the bats just did not show up. Still, let's assume for a minute that we have hit and survived the worst rough patch of the season. And let's assume that the trade deadline will come and go without a blockbuster. I know there are rumors that we might get Jermaine Dye, a nice acquisition if the price is right, but I am going to assume there is not a race-shifting trade coming down the pike. What that means is that we remain in the catbird seat, we are back to having the best rotation in the league, and the Yankees will appear larger in the rear view mirror than they actually are until they actually do recede and even the most paranoid among us can cease to concern ourselves with them.

Look: I'd like to hit more. I'd like to see us make a couple of comebacks in the late innings. But the reality is that we have lost twice in the last ten games. Once was a 1-0 shutout loss to the Indians the day after we had shut them out by the same score. Such a defeat may augment the worries about hitting, but it reaffirms our pitching capability. The other loss was to a Tampa team we had swamped this year, and realistically they were probably more desperate than we were needy, and the odds were that we were not running an 18-0 on them in 2007.

The week that follows will provide an interesting, and if we handle it well, perhaps decisive, test. The Orioles are decidedly not the same team that they were in April and May and they appear set to play the role of spoiler for the remainder of the season. We get them at home for three games. Then we have Seattle and the Angels out west. Seattle sadly swept us when I was in the Emerald City and in attendance back at the end of June. Anaheim is a chic choice to win the whole damned thing. This homestand followed by an immediate west coast trek should tell us a great deal about whether or not the remainder of the summer will be nail-biting time or a coronation for a team that, choppy as it has played from our blinkered myopic perspective, has spent a good hunk of the season with the best record in baseball.

Thunderstick: Well, despite a pretty lousy loss yesterday where the Sox got shut down again by their nemesis Scott Kazmir (nice trade there Mets fans!) the Sox are 8-2 in their last ten and have established an 8 game lead over NY. It's funny how the season twists and turns. At the beginning of the year we circled August as the toughest month of the year with a lot of games on the road, a west coast trip and teams like Anaheim and the White Sox on the schedule. About a month ago we said "doesn't look too bad with the ChiSox not really showing up this year". Today, it looks a lot tougher because rather than rolling over, the O's are playing good baseball and we've got a ton with them. So clearly, this is the month that will decide whether going into September we can start thinking about getting the rotation set and getting guys some rest, or if we are going to let the Yanks in and give them a chance.

The one big thing this week is obviously the trade deadline. I keep seeing Teixeira going to Atlanta (that's fine--move him to the NL rather than an AL contender) but it looks like there aren't a lot of players of any kind of caliber that are going to move. Thus, the most important acquisitions in the AL likely belong to the Sox and the Yanks with Schilling and Hughes coming back. I'd be more than happy to see most teams stand pat as we go through the deadline--we have the best record in baseball through a bit over 100 games, so if everyone stands pat, no reason to think that that would change over the last 60. Then we can see what Schill's got for us for the rest of the year. Hopefully it's enough bury the Yanks once and for all for the year.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Getting" Soccer

OK, for the last time, could we stop with the argument that Americans don't "get" soccer? Pick any definition of "get" that you like. We get it. A lot of Americans have chosen not to prioritize soccer in their sporting firmament. But the sport does not somehow elude us like some sort of somplicated puzzle, or Ulysses, or Benny Hill. Via Andrew Sullivan, however, we get more of this cant. Naturally it all derives from the David Beckham situation. Fortunately, Duleep Allirajah veers precariously close to the hoary stereotype:
It is an undisputed fact that most Americans don’t really like football. This failure to ‘get’ football is often interpreted by Brits as a sign of American insularity and philistinism. Exhibit A, m’lud, is that the Yanks don’t like draws. They want to see a winner. They want shoot-outs to settle games. Exhibit B is that Americans don’t like low-scoring games. The only thing that Americans hate more than 0-0 draws is Osama bin Laden. So short is the average American’s concentration span that, unless there’s a goal every two minutes, they’re trotting off to the catering stall to buy another chilli dog. Exhibit C is the fact that they insist on calling it ‘soccer’. M’lud, I rest my case.

And then he does a pretty good job of debunking it:
If we look beyond this kind of crude anti-Americanism we find a rich and sophisticated sporting culture in the US. American sports fans are every bit as knowledgeable and passionate about the sports they follow as European or Latin American football fans. Indeed, like it or not, despite our instinctive antipathy towards the Disneyfication of English football, there are some US sporting prototypes that have successfully made the transition across the Pond (and no, I don’t mean big furry mascots or cheerleaders).

This week, for example, a ‘personal invitation’ from Alan Hansen appeared in my email inbox to subscribe to the Daily Telegraph’s fantasy football league. These leagues, which have turned a generation of British football enthusiasts into stats-obsessed nerds, were originally invented by US baseball fans. Americans are also ahead of the curve when it comes to writing about sport. Long before Nick Hornby penned Fever Pitch, American writers such as Philip Roth, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo showed that serious writers could ‘do’ sport. Americans also make far better sports films than the Brits. They can produce works of cinematic splendour like Raging Bull while we just make rubbish like When Saturday Comes.

It’s not that Americans are genetically incapable of understanding the subtleties of football – enough of them play it at college in order to grasp the offside law. It’s just that they prefer other spectator sports. Principally, that means baseball and gridiron; but even sports like boxing, basketball, and golf rank above football. Invariably, if you browse through US websites you’ll find plenty of Americans sounding off about how ‘soccer’ is dull or too low-scoring or else that it’s a ‘girlie’ game unlike gridiron. These opinion pieces are a bit like my occasional tongue-in-cheek articles about sports that I don’t follow, such as cycling, curling or rugby – that is, they are, in part, intended to wind up aficionados of those sports.

Of course, if I applied myself, I’m sure I could learn to understand the laws of rugby or appreciate the finer points of baseball. Hell, if there’s a bottle of claret and some good cheese and saucisson on offer, I could even get into the Tour de France. It’s just that, well, life is too short and there are only so many sports you can watch before your missus walks out on you. So, for that reason, I limit my portfolio of sports to a manageable handful – football, cricket and tennis with the occasional foray into athletics or boxing. I’d imagine American sports fans are much the same. They simply don’t have the time or inclination to immerse themselves in yet another spectator sport. That doesn’t mean they’re too stupid to understand football, just too preoccupied with other sports.

Indeed, much as I love football, I think it’s a good thing if American sports fans don’t clamber aboard the Beckham bandwagon. It shows that ordinary Americans, so often ridiculed as dumb and suggestible, aren’t easily seduced by marketing hard sell. The US sporting public has doggedly ignored previous attempts to flog soccer to them, such as the ill-fated North American Soccer League and the big promotional pushes that accompanied the1994 World Cup and the 1999 women’s World Cup. The fact is that a football culture cannot be mechanistically transplanted or imposed on to other societies; it has to develop organically.

Let me add a bit more to the three basic critiques he outlines above:

We don 't like ties: Agreed. We do not like ties as a general principle. Or draws. Or whatever you want to call them. And it is telling that in the most important soccer tournaments on Earth, most notably the World Cup, NEITHER DO FOOTBALL FANS. When the rubber meets the road, we will never see a 1-1 World Cup Final. Because they have a shootout system. So apparently our anti-draw approach isn't completely anathema to the rest of the world inasmuch as once the games matter, they jump on finding ways out of ties like a chav on a free kidney pie.

We do not like or appreciate low-scoring games: I do not know if I buy this one either. This week the Red Sox and Indians played not one, but two games that finished 1-0. They were beautifully pitched games that any serious baseball fan loved. But also, our sports are simply engineered in such a way that there is more scoring. And so sports with very little scoring tend to throw us for a loop, I suppose. But there is another element to this, which is that especially away from the world class level, soccer is not necessarily a low-scoring game. At the elite levels it can be because the athletes are so skilled that they can prevent scoring chances. But in high school or college or even at the average club level? There will be plenty of 3-2 games. In other words, we can throw out the charge as specious.

As for calling it "Soccer": Look, there is no other way to put it. This is an irredeemably dumb argument. First off, remember the old Winston Churchill joke about Americans and Brits being two people separated by a common language? Well consider this exhibit A. We have a lot of words that are different to refer to the same things. Some Americans (and I place myself in this category) have spent enough time in the UK to develop fluency in both tongues. I'll call it football over there. I'll call it soccer over here most of the time. But the argument is silly for another reason. And that is that in other parts of the English-speaking world, it is not uncommon for people to call the Beautiful Game "soccer." South Africans call it soccer. The Australians? Here is a hint: In the 2006 World Cup when the Aussies made their nice little run, what did we discover was the team's self-anointed nickname? It was not the "Footballroos." It was the "Socceroos." How could this be? How could two countries with sporting cultures every bit as rabid and active as in the US and Britain choose the barbaric American nomenclature? Because these are countries that also have other games called "football" -- rugby is often referred to as football, and the Aussies also have their own game of football. Granted, the Brits have rugby as well, but football (soccer) is so dominant in the UK that rugby is rugby and football is football. Why make such a dogmatic stand on such a dumb issue? Don't you have some Irish Catholics (who have Gaelic Football and so, oftentimes, yes, will refer to "soccer") to oppress?

But above all: We do get soccer. More of us play it than do you. We have a Major League that is not up to the standards of the Premiere League or the Bundesliga or Serie A but that would probably play reasonably well when pitted against a lot of leagues in countries that like to scorn American soccer. Increasingly, furthermore, our best players participate in --sometimes shine, in -- the best leagues in the world.

Look: Many -- not all -- of us have chosen other sporting priorities. Baseball is a great game, which is why a huge swath of the world loves it -- in much of Latin America baseball is far more prominent than soccer. Basketball? I don't think I need to sell that game's popular appeal. So what it always comes down to is that we have one game -- American football -- that we love. Much of the rest of the world has rugby, a game I know and appreciate, and love. It's a pretty thin argument: Americans embrace a lot of sports, but we embrace American football more than we do global football, which we nonetheless embrace more than the rest of the world will acknowledge, so WE are the provincial ones.

Let's step back a little bit from the madness. Hopefully David Beckham will represent another step in the integration of American elite soccer into the global game. He does not come across as a savior because the game in the US does not need saving. It's doing fine. Now please excuse me. I believe there is breaking news from the Patriots' training camp.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Choking on Apples and Oranges

Over at Fire Joe Morgan, Ken Tremendous takes on an incredibly stupid column in which the author compares Phil Mickelson to the Red Sox in attempt to revive the "choker" meme that died a long time ago.

Kop Lob Pob a Job

Longtime reader and commenter GoodLiberal now has a blog, Kop Lob Pob a Job. I'll allow him to explain:
Allow me to explain the title of my humble blog. I love a good pun, and newspaper headlines often provide some of the best. A long time ago, before we all realised that Karel Poborsky was mediocre, he was one of the most coveted midfielders in the world. Rumours abound that he was to grace the Premiership. And so it proved. However, The ooh ahh Daily Star! guessed the wrong team. Perhaps it was simply for the love of the pun, but the newspaper splashed that Poborsky would have the massed ranks of the Kop in raptures when he turned out in Liverpool's famous colours. He may have ended up at arch-rivals Manchester United, but 'Kop Lob Pob a Job' has stuck in my mind as being at the very summit of tabloid transfer pun-ditry.

I hope that this blog will cover politics, culture, sport, music and the many other things that interest me, in due course. Mao once said that 'every great journey starts with a single step'. He may have been a mass-murdering psycho, but he was right in this case. Here endeth my first blog post.

Welcome GoodLiberal to the blogosphere and to dcat's blogroll.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Best. Episode. Ever. (Well, One of 'Em Anyway)

The Thunderstick sent me a heads up this morning alerting me to this Jim Caple article about one of the greatest Simpsons episodes of all time, "Homer at the Bat." The movie comes out tomorrow. I'll be the guy in line for the earliest showing at the Mayan Theater in San Antonio. Hopefully it'll be the Best. Movie. Ever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stuff That Barely Qualifies As News

Three newsflashes that will come as surprises to exactly no one: Bill O'Reilly is an insufferable bully hypocrite. This presidential administration may truly be imploding. Both of these stories come via Andrew Sullivan. The third assertion of the obvious, courtesy of Mark Harris at Entertainment Weekly: The Emmy Award nominations are a farce.

Jonathan Lester's Return

It's a little belated, but Nick Cafardo's story in The Boston Globe on Jonathan Lester's triumphant return from cancer is certainly worth a read. As last year's season fell apart, the realization that Lester had developed a rare form of lymphoma threw all of the temporal worries about an imploding ballclub into stark relief. The news in the offseason that he seemed to have fully recovered was a relief, but that left lots of baseball questions in addition to residual health worries. The standard measurement of remission is five years, so Lester is not out of the woods yet, but so far this is lump-in-the-throat, movie-of-the-week stuff.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Thunderstick on the NBA's Mess

The Thunderstick gives a Vegas veteran's take on the NBA's Tim Donaghy mess:

On the NBA officiating thing -- there are a couple of things of interest here. I think first and foremost, the big thing is that it highlights how crappy the officiating in the league is. When you can make arguments like Sportsguy where people were so suspicious of the refs before this and that this is going to heighten that suspicion greatly now, it just means it was bad to start with. I don't believe NBA officials are on the fix, I just think they are pretty incompetent.

The bigger question from the NBA side of things is when they knew about the allegations -- one report has them being told in January that this guy was being investigated, one report has the NBA not finding out until after the season was done. Clearly if this guy was officiating playoff games while he was being investigated by the FBI and the NBA knew, that's a huge black eye for the NBA. If they didn't find out until afterwards, then I think they can surely minimize this damage.

I always like to hit the Vegas newspapers and see what the take is from the gambling community and from what I read, there isn't a lot in the trails of the lines from the games he officiated to really pin him to a lot here, which they are saying is a sign that this is likely a rogue official. Apparently most game-fixing scenarios had been rumored long before they are exposed because more and more people get involved and then the numbers start to move a ton. Apparently this guy's games never saw numbers movements more than a point or two as the money came in, which is a bit high, but still pretty common. So the take seems to be that this was a very controlled operation -- 3 or 4 guys quite possibly working with him, betting good sums of money, but not sums that were going to set off alarms, and they were able to keep it very quiet. So we'll see if that actually holds up or if there were others involved.

The one issue with NBA smugness that I have is their strange relationship with Vegas. The NBA has their all-star game there, has their summer league there and has the national team training there and they talk frequently of moving a team to Vegas. But they are the only league that does not have official relations with the casinos. This the one thing I always find funny about these people who say that sports betting should be illegal in Vegas, blah, blah, blah. Less than 1% of the money bet on sports is bet in Vegas. You get rid of it in the casinos, it's still going to continue. So when games are fixed, the only place where you might know they are fixed is in the casinos. The casinos have relations with hockey, baseball, football, college football and college basketball so that if they see suspicious activity, they alert the governing bodies so it can be investigated. But for all the ties the NBA has to Vegas, they don't have them with the casinos because they are one of the leagues saying sports betting should be taken out of the casinos (mostly to take the holier than thou stance so that if it is abolished, they could put a team there). So while in this case it sounds like there wasn't a ton in the sportsbooks that would lead them to alert the NBA, if there had been, there would have been no way to do so. So hopefully the NBA realizes from this that gambling is going to happen regardless and to embrace the watchdog function that the casinos supply.

It will be interesting to see how it pans out. If gambling and corruption among officials is indeed widespread, that's the stuff that could bring down a league. But if it's isolated, hopefully it makes Stern realize how questionable the officiating is. Part of me though does wonder what Stern is supposed to say -- the officiating sucks, but how can he say "yeah, it's not very good, we gotta fix it because it is ruining games." I think he has to toe the party line on that, although he could be much less smug about it as you point out so that it just isn't so obnoxious.

Color me as hoping Donaghy represents an isolated case but skeptical of whether that can possibly be. If he has anything to say, though, one imagines that the FBI will get him to talk simply by the pressure they can apply in terms of the penalties he'll face. Nailing members of both the mob and a high profile professional sports league has to represent the G-man's version of a perfect storm.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

Thunderstick: Clearly there is one story overshadowing all else this week for the Sox and that's the return of Jon Lester tonight after a year-long trek back from first being diagnosed with cancer right about this time last year. While people across the country have developed strong feelings about the Red Sox over the past five years (both positive and negative), I'm sure everyone will be rooting for the kid tonight (except for Yankees fans who are heartless and cold). It'll be great to see him take the mound.

That said, what can we expect from Lester? I have no idea. He's had some very nice starts in Pawtucket but he's also had some that haven't instilled a lot of confidence. So we'll see tonight. My gut tells me that this is a 10 day trial for Lester. Gabbard has certainly done plenty since coming up from AAA, particularly in the last couple weeks, to warrant a spot in the rotation. Schilling had what has been described as a solid to spectacular rehab start over the weekend so I think we can expect to see him soon. So I'm guessing that the next 10 days and presumably 2 starts will help give us an idea of where Lester fits in for the remainder of the season. Is he a viable alternative if Gabbard stumbles or another injury befalls the team? Or is he just not quite all the way back and thus will be sent back down to AAA for the rest of the season to get more work in before presumably making a full comeback next year?

He doesn't get a patsie to start things off as he takes on the Cleveland Indians. The Sox have only played the Tribe once this year and I loved what I saw out of that team--good in almost every facet of the game and they have a gritty attitude. They look primed to be the latest incarnation of a potential champion to fall short in the postseason and break the hearts of many Ohio residents (and maybe it was just slow to get up here and everyone's heard it but I heard someone this weekend refer to going to the
bathroom as "taking the Cleveland Browns to the Super Bowl"--that killed me for some reason--I'll never be able to watch another Browns game again without picturing 11 little Mr. Hanky like turds running around the field).

To say the Sox have been playing mediocre baseball lately is an insult to all things mediocre (like Grey's Anatomy). They've been playing .500 ball for so long, it's hard to remember the feelings I had early in the season where if they scored 5+ runs you knew it was a win. But they do enter coming off of 3 wins against the ChiSox. So hopefully the runs continue to come these next four days. A quick glance at the Sox schedule the next two months sees a ton of games against Baltimore, Toronto and TB so while I still think it is unlikely that the Yanks can make up the 7.5 games they are behind, it is these 4 game stretches that will make things interesting. The Yanks have four with KC while the Sox take on Cleveland and while a 3-1 (or possibly 2-2) run through these games should keep the Sox handily in front, a 1-3 series opens up a door for the Yanks to get this down to a managable deficit with two months left in the season. So the Sox need to buck up here eventually and start playing closer to what they played like at the beginning of the year. Tonight would be as good a time as any to start that.

dcat:: The Red Sox in the last week have reminded me a bit of a boxer. They had a pretty marginal round, but in the end they finished off with a flurry of blows and landed a couple of big shots so they probably won the round. but realistically they went 4-3 last week, and if you add that to the series split against Toronto they have been 6-5. Hardly inspiring stuff. Now they get to face a Cleveland team that is something like 20 games above .500 in the Jake and that, Like you, I find to be a sound team that has postseason aspirations. Meanwhile I'm sure the Cleveland fans in the audience (Tom, Donnie Baseball) are going to love the "Taking the Cleveland Browns to the Super Bowl" line.

I'm going to propose a couple of options for the pitching rotation that will seem completely unorthodox, which does not make them either right or wrong. Obviously Lester's return is the driving force for a reconsideration of the staff:

The first possibility is a six-man rotation through August and into September. As long as we have them, why not give guys an extra days rest. We know that Dice-K is used to one more day from his japan days. Schilling certainly could be eased in when he returns. I cannot imagine an extra day hurting the other guys. Naturally when off days come we skip someone's turn to keep the rest days sacred (and not too extended) for the upper-echelon guys, and as we get a sense of who is pitching well, who is faltering, who is simply not up to snuff, we head toward september and pick a five-man rotation that is likely to become a four-plus rotation in October. It's unorthodox, but not too much so, especially with injury/wear-and-tear concerns for half the staff.

The second option might keep a five-man rotation but would do something equally unorthodox: Why not just start looking at Tavarez, assuming he even remains in the rotation, as a three-inning guy. We've all seen the numbers. First time through the lineup he is strong. second time around, they start feeling him out. By the third time around, he is a batting practice pitcher. Now the obvious answer is to get him in the role of long reliever, but we have seen that he does best when he is on a set routine. Why not look at him as a three-inning guy? And why not then have Lester be the next three inning guy? Why, in other words, not prepare for starter-by-committee from the five slot? It may be unworkable, but surely they are reaching a point where they have a short leash with tavarez anyway -- why not simply formalize that approach?

We desperately need a week when we reel off five or six wins. It's hard to envision a seven-game road trip providing that option, even if the last three are against Tampa. But the bats are beginning to come around, and if that continues, I like to think that we'll play better than we have, even though hope sort of flies in the face of lived experience for the last two months.

Still Feeling Smug, Mr. Stern?

The news that veteran NBA referee Tim Donaghy is under investigation for betting on and altering the course of games because of his involvement in gambling is the most devastating story in recent sports history. It is clearly bigger than drug scandals in sports such as cycling and track and field. It is bigger than Michael Vick's loathsome dogfighting allegations. It is bigger than all of the rampant crimiality in the NFL, in fact. The Donaghy story is more significant than the ubiquitous steroids in baseball story (which is inexplicably and unjustifiably bigger than steroids in football stories -- clearly we hold baseball to a higher standard) by a factor of multitudes. This is even a more significant situation than the Pete Rose betting scandal, as Rose was never seriously believed to have bet against his own team and to have intentionally swayed the outcome of games.

Sportsguy, whose abiding passion is NBA basketball, has the best column I've read on the Donaghy fiasco. It is the first must-read piece he has had in a while. When forced to focus on an important issue and get to the heart of the argument he removes the superfluous pop culture references (although the conceit of the piece is framed within a pop cultural possibility that he makes work), he does not name drop friends, and he makes few references to not-funny jokes. Instead he is smart and perceptive and gets to the heart of the matter:

Guilty or innocent, we will never watch an NBA game the same way. He's going to hang over everything -- every referee, every shaky outcome, every bad call -- in ways the average fan doesn't fully realize yet. Maybe they'll throw Donaghy in jail, maybe they won't, but he'll linger over every court like a black cloud. You'll hear his name more than you think. You and your buddies will make "that guy looks like he's pulling a Donaghy!" jokes every time a referee is making calls against your favorite team. Hecklers will gleefully play the Donaghy card after every bad call against the home team. For honest referees still working games, it doesn't matter what happens from this point on -- their collective integrity will always be questioned, their collective track record won't matter, and that will be that.

So that's one problem. The second problem is more complex. When news of the scandal broke on Friday, as J.A. Adande pointed out in his column that day, every diehard NBA fan had the same reaction. They weren't thinking, "I can't believe it!" or "Oh my God, how could this happen?" They were thinking, "Which one was it?" This was like finding out that your grandfather who smoked three packs a day for 50 years just came down with lung cancer. It was sad but inevitable. It was only a matter of time. These guys never made enough money (as we learned from the airplane ticket scandal) and struggled at their jobs consistently enough that there was no way to tell the difference between blowing a call and intentionally blowing a call.

And what if this is not an isolated incident? I have no information indicating that it is not, of course, but if Donaghy is not alone, this is the sort of revelation that destroys sports leagues. (By the way -- I've always believed that a ref throwing a game in any sport could be far more pernicious and subtle than Simmons implies. Why would a ref need to blow a call when all he would really have to do would be to enforce sporadically rules that are on the books but go overlooked? Let's use the NFL as an example. You know how announcers always say that you could call holding on every play? That would be the best way to turn the tables in an NFL game -- simple call those holding penalties. Similarly in the NBA, a few well-placed hand checking or traveling calls might be all it would take. It remains to be seen, and right now seems dubious, that Donaghy could be that discreet.)

But what keeps running through my head is David Stern. David Stern and his insufferable smugness. David Stern and his condescension in recent years toward anyone who dared question referees, or anything else about what increasingly came across as Stern's empire. David Stern who dismisses all who come before him because he has been told a million times that he is the smartest guy in the room (yes, I'm talking about you, Simmons. And let's keep in mind that Stern's business is basketball and that being the smartest guy in that room, while not insignificant, is also not the pinnacle of intellectual life.)

The memory I will take from the 2007 playoffs will be Dan Patrick's testy interview with Stern in which the still seemingly-Machiavellian commish referred to all of those questioning the travesty in the Phoenix-San Antonio series as engaging in "palaver." Stern could not possible have been more imperious, more patronizing, more hand-wavingly dismissive about serious criticisms. Guess who was one of the officials in that game? Tim Donaghy. Maybe, Mr. Stern, some charges were worth taking seriously. Apparently it wasn't all just "palaver."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Genarlow Wilson Case

There are significant developments in the Genarlow Wilson case, a circumstance fraught with racial implications, in which a then-17-year old was sentenced to ten years in prison for having consensual sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl. The Georgia Supreme Court has heard elements of Wilson's appeal dealing with whether the sentence is constitutional and whether or not Wilson can be freed on bond while the appeals process occurs. The tntransigence of the Georgia Attorney general's office in this case has been appalling. Not quite Mike Nifong/Duke lacrosse-case-appalling, but of a similar ilk of legal irresponsibility, personal arrogance, moral inexplicability and general unjustifiability. The racial implications merely add to what would still be an outrageous injustice.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In Defense of Joseph Wilson

Over at The New Republic Michael Currie Schaffer has a defense of Joseph Wilson. It may not be the defense any of us would want, mind you. But it largely rings true, and I love the subhead: "Joseph Wilson's selfless self-promotion."

Harry Potter Reviewed

In today's New York Times Michiko Kakutani reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows without giving anything away.

David Corn on Bill Kristol

In The Washington Post David Corn has ruthless takedown of Bill Kristol in an inaptly titled piece, "Why Bush is a Loser." The title is inapt because while Corn does go after Bush's policies he really takes aim at Kristol, one of the President's biggest cheerleader and a man who would lead me to pack my beach clothes if he told me a storm was coming. Kristol, as Corn only begins to reveal, has been so wrong about so much in the last five years. Amazingly, this nearly unbroken streak of wrongness has not reduced Kristol's smug sense of certitude even one iota.

Hat tip to Donnie Baseball.

Yao and China's Totalitarian Bent

In case there was any question that China still has totalitarian inclinations, there is this story about Yao Ming. Yao missed some of the Chinese national basketball team's practices because he was planning his wedding, making appearances for the Special Olympics, and helping promote China's own Beijing Games. The government is not pleased. According to The China Sports Daily, a newspaper owned by the government's All-China Sports Federation:
"No matter how lofty public welfare activities are, they can't be allowed to take first place in a player's life. No matter how sweet personal life is, it can't be compared to the exultation of capturing glory for one's nation,'' the article said.

The eerily phrased shot across Yao's bow serves as a chilling reminder of the fact that even someone as venerated and successful as Yao operates in a different climate from almost every other athlete in American professional sports when he goes back home.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

At The South Africa Blog

I've been busy over at the Foreign Policy Association's South Africa Blog where I have recently addressed Nelson Mandela's birthday, the possibility of a British invasion of Zimbabwe (which led to a rather, er, spirited exchange with a Mugabe apologist that I would encourage you all to read), the transfer of human capital, the 2010 World Cup, and much more.

An Indie Rock Road Trip

The travel section at The Washington Post recently had a story on indie rock and college towns. The author, Ben Brazil, focuses on three towns, Athens, Chapel Hill, and Charlottesville, with which dcat has more than a passing familiarity, though one might think that in terms of a confluence of music and universities, Austin, home of both South by Southwest and Austin City Limits would warrant mentioning, especially as Charlottesville, much as I love it, has as its claim to fame the Dave Matthews Band -- perfectly cromulent, but not exactly cutting edge infie fare. I'm sure others will have their favorites as well. The article is int he travel section, so the relative proximity of Charlottesville, Chapel Hill, and Athens was obviously a factor in its construction, but places such as Columbia, Missouri and Lawrence, kansas might warrant their own trip.

The Fred Thompson Phenomenon

Michelle Cottle has a fabulous feature on Fred Thompson over at The New Republic. Place me in the category of those who simply do not get the Fred Thompson phenomenon (nor have I ever gotten the gushing over Giuliani). And if Cottle's central point is true that Thompson's biggest appeal is his corn pone masculinity, drawn largely from his film roles, what the hell are his GOP supporters thinking in light of the fact that John McCain, who, whatever his flaws, certainly is second-to-none in this race in terms of whatever we define as masculinity? It's frankly frightening that so many seem not to be able to differentiate Thompson from his various screen personas. It is even more frightening that such a fundamentally unserious (or pseudo-serious) guy is being taken so seriously.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Gipper and John Wayne

Over at Amiable Dunce, RoJo, who is working on Ronald Reagan in his PhD program (excuse me: programme) has a well-done piece on Reagan and John Wayne. Here is a taste:
Reagan and Wayne are inextricably linked in American history thanks to their shared Hollywood careers, their similar public personae, their celebrity conservatism or even the fact that each shed midwestern roots for those dreamy Californian heights. Its a link reinforced, if not originally defined, by the superb historian Garry Wills, who has written books on each. Reagan's America is long familiar to me, and I picked up John Wayne: The Politics of Celebrity yesterday for £2.50 in a crummy little shop that despite its complete lack of charm continues to reward me with useful finds.

Please do read on . . .

More Simpsons

Courtesy of longtime reader Greg: "Doh! 180 Foot Homer Upsets Local Pagans." The movie event of the summer kicks off in ten days.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

dcat: The Red Sox have played four games since the All-Star break. Win-loss-win-loss. In the two wins they looked great. In the two losses they were frustrating as hell, revealing an inability to hit in the clutch and a noisome tendency to leave slews of guys on base in what turn out to be close games. What I’m trying to keep in mind is that even in 2004 the Sox had their frustrating periods – long, drawn out ones in fact – and that they never sat in the catbird seat like this year’s team does.

Still, it feels as if we have been hovering at twenty games above .500 for two months now. Largely because I believe we have. I have an impossible time believing that we are going to finish 91-71, but some days it feels like it. Now admittedly, for game series are like doubleheaders – they are hard to sweep and going 2-2 against the second-place team in the division is acceptable. But we need to get back to winning series. And the lineup simply has to start getting guys in from second and third when given (multiple) opportunities.

Thunderstick: Very disappointing loss against Toronto today. We're 3-4 in our last seven. Out three wins have been have been pretty easy victories and our four losses have been by 1 run. There's two ways to look at that--one is that good fortune needs to even out at some point and while we may have had a break or two falling our way when we got out to 21 games over .500 by mid-May, they are now falling against us and bringing our total record back in line with what it likely should be for this team. Or you could say that this team just isn't getting it done in the clutch and that's what it feels like to me a lot more than the other explanation. Once again we let a ton of opportunities go by and just couldn't get it done. Disappointing.

Teams that win in the playoffs win these one-run contests either by hanging on with great bullpen pitching or getting clutch at bats in the late innings--we've gotten the former when we've been leading close contests, but we haven't gotten the latter in a long time. Anyway, hopefully 3 with KC and 4 with the White Sox cure things this week. We need a 5-2 run here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Harry Potter Generation

One of the aspects of the Harry Potter phenomenon that has always struck me is that unlike any series of books or movies that I can think of, a certain generation of kids have grown up with this world and these characters, who have grown in something resembling real time, or at least real time in terms of each book representing a year in their lives. It is a remarkable accomplishment that nears its endgame on the written page, though one imagines that the world of Hogwarts has become the sort of instant classic that will endure for many generations.

In today's Boston Globe Matt Aucoin, a senior at Medfield High School in the suburbs of Boston, writes about "Growing Up With Harry."

The Potter books were more than entertainment; they formed an independent universe, peopled with characters to care for and worry about. In fact, Harry Potter has proven a much-needed constant in the lives of countless kids. I always had friends in elementary school with whom I could discuss and debate all things Potter, but I have also witnessed how Rowling's characters can provide companionship for lonely preteens.

I've always had the sense that Harry & Co. are going about their lives at the same time as we are, in a different plane at once unimaginably distant and accessible with the touch of a page. The time that elapses painfully between each new book is not merely however long it takes for Rowling to sculpt the next installment. These characters are living beings, and the agony of waiting is wondering what's happening to them now.

I'll admit to not yet reading the books -- that will be a project as soon as there is a box set -- but I am interested to know what happens to Harry and to his world and will not be avoiding spoilers in the hours, and likely minutes, after the book is released. I do, however, love the movies (and found the latest installment to be the darkest yet and, as Ron Weasley might say, "brilliant!") and wish that I had caught the zeitgeist of the books earlier. But the first ones were clearly aimed at children, and I was already too far behind once the series gained traction.

At least three times I have been in Ireland or the UK for releases of the books and so I feel that I've seen some of the phenomenon first-hand. I especially was able to get a sense of the way the founding generation of Harry Potter fans, as it were, experienced the Potter phenomenon. I was leading a group of high school kids to do various peace-oriented community work in Northern Ireland in 2000. The youngest were 14 and several were deeply immersed in the Harry Potter series. The newest book (the third, I believe) was on its way and these students were among the first in line at a bookshop in Cork. They read the books greedily within a day or so.

Aucoin continues:

I did not love Harry Potter the way I enjoyed other more transitory childhood pleasures. I loved Harry Potter the way I love literary masters like Shakespeare. Have my tastes shifted as I have matured? Absolutely. But this does not lessen the worth of my 10-year-old passion by one iota. Nor does it make me any less excited to wait in line with the rest when the seventh book is finally let loose to the world.

Today those young teens are college students, and I can imagine them feeling wistful as the last book finds its way to bookstores and almost assuredly into their hands. They have experienced this series in a more personal way than any generation of readers have experienced a literary world. I feel wistful for them too. But I also envy these Muggles who have grown from childhood to adulthood along with their heroes Harry and Ron and Hermione.

All Politics is Local: Simpsons Edition

In this global world I suppose it should not surprise me that I discovered that Springfield, Vermont will be hosting the premiere of the Simpsons movie from a South African newspaper, though the news initially was the result of a contest in USA Today (where you can click to see all of the video entries). I grew up about a half hour from Springfield, and played against them in sports, especially football (we beat them on a great defensive stop my senior year) and track (I won my first high school event at Springfield High my sophomore year; it seemed like we competed there three times a year). And now it is semi-world famous. In my mind this means Newport = Shelbyville (though I suppose in fairness Bellows Falls comes closest in geographic proximity and rivalry value to playing Springfield's foil).

Cutting Through (Some Of) The BS

Ever hear something and just know that it might be crap, but you don't have the exact data at your fingertips? Does a Google search for the errant information sometimes produce too much through which to sift, or too little of use in trying to determine why something that sounds fishy might be? Well FactCheck.org is here to help. It's a non-partisan, award-winning site from Penn's Annenberg Public Policy Center. With all of the misinformation and disinformation out there one would wish for them to update it more frequently, but FactCheck.org is the sort of site for which these tubes known as the internets were made.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Simpsons Movie: The Countdown Begins

In honor of the pending release of the Simpsons Movie, which opens on July 27, The Sun provides "Top Simpsons Rib Ticklers." This is far from a complete list as with only one or two exceptions it sticks to the Simpsons themselves, avoiding the minor characters who make the show so great. Nothing from Mr. Burns, Apu, Krusty, Police Chief Wiggum? Only one from Moe? Nonetheless, it's time to start gearing up for the movie event of the summer.

My favorite Mr. Burns moment, by the way, is the following exchange after Burns loses the election for Governor:

Mr. Burns: This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you.
Smithers: You are noble and poetic in defeat, sir.

Hat Tip for the link to the Thunderstick.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Athletes and Engagement

Will Leich of Deadspin has started writing for the New York Times' quarterly sports magazine, Play. He has a piece in the Play email newsletter today, "In Brand We Trust," that takes aim at athletes and their beliefs. He begins with their brand loyalty -- I'm a bit surprised that he does not address the true progenitors, the 1992 Dream Team, several members of which tried to cover the Reebok logo on their gear because they were under contract with other shoe companies -- but then squarely takes aim at LeBron james' unwillingness to sign a petition urging China to change its policies toward Sudan because of the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur. This is a tough line -- I'm not certain we want to be encouraging most of our athletes to be more politically preachy, but maybe it is not too much to ask them -- or any Americans -- to be more engaged. Underlying Leich's brief piece is an implication that athletes are mostly engaged only inasmuch as it plays to their bottom line.

All Politics is Local

Or if all politics are not local, we tend to try to find the local angle because people are, let's face it, solipsistic bastards. And I think it is no surprise that Texans tend to have established a sense of state and regional pride that is legendary even given that everyone thinks their home region is pretty special. Let's face it -- where else might an anti-littering campaign ("Don't Mess With Texas") become a pugnacious state motto ("Don't Mess With Texas").

But because Texas is so big and influential, national stories sometimes legitimately are also state and local stories. take, for example, the passing of Lady Bird Johnson earlier this week. Mrs. Johnson was an admired figure in the state and nation, and it is remarkable to think how she outlived her larger than life husband by more than three decades.

In her role as a member of the University of Texas' Board of Regents she took her commitment not only to UT-Austin, but to the entire system seriously. UTPB archivist Dr. Terry Shults passed the following along to the university community to show us a little local angle to a story that has received a great deal of attention nationally and statewide:

As someone who has only lived in Texas in this century, Lady Bird Johnson was only known to me filtered via national media. As archivist here, I was aware of many photo ops of her on campus and in town including a very interesting one with Mr. and Mrs. LBJ, John Ben Shepperd, and first UTPB President Billy Amstead at the opening of the Presidential Museum room in honor of JBS' son who had just died.

We also have "Lady Bird Johnson, Regent, The University of Texas System, Formally Accepting First Student of U.T.P.B., August 1, 1972."

But evidence that she was involved in UTPB in more than ceremonially, literally came across my desk just recently from the thirteen boxes of papers of late business and civic leader Dan Hemphill:

[A2004/05 Dan Hemphill Papers, Box 10, Folder #26 Item 9]:

Presidential Associates UTPB Development Committee from UTPB President V. R. Cardozier [cover letter for paper in answer to a question from Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson on what is being done to recruit students], May 21, 1976.

R.I.P. Lady Bird Johnson.

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

The All-Star Break represents the symbolic, if not precisely the literal, midway point of the season. Trade talks will start heating up until the deadline and pennant races will begin to take shape. The Thunderstick (which failed for the first time in my recollection in the atrocious series against Detroit) and I are ready for the second half. Here is our post-All Star Break edition of “Dirty Water: Sox Talk.”

Thunderstick: So we're back from the three painfully boring days known as the All-Star break. I watched exactly zero minutes of the Home Run Derby and about 5 outs (all involving Red Sox players) of the actual game. But we should point out that there was one important outcome and that is if the Sox get to the World Series, they'll have home field advantage. God bless this all-star idea of having the winning league get home field for the fall classic--at least until we reach the cyclic portion where the NL is better than the AL, but that looks to be 5-10 years away at best.

I'll keep it short about the Sox--they were 13-14 in June and they've been playing .500 ball for the better part of 6 weeks. I don't know if the Yanks have enough to make a run if we play .500 ball for the rest of the season, but I'd prefer not to chance it. Schilling's hurt. Guys in the pen are hurt. Ortiz now appears to be more hurt than we first thought. Tough. Nobody cried for the Yanks early in the season when they had their injuries (in fact, I'd say there was much more laughter and celebration amongst the baseball community), so nobody is going to cry for us. We are where we because of good pitching and guys like Lowell and Youk stepping up. Beckett's been great. Dice has been more than encouraging. Pap and Okie are holding down the pen. To me, it's time for Manny, Ortiz, Drew and Lugo (yes, I said Lugo--at $9 million per and with his numbers from previous years), to step up and carry this team for 3-6 weeks. I feel good if the Sox get to the postseason that they'll have a great chance with their pitching. But all teams need their big guns to carry them for a part of the season by mashing out some runs. We've been mediocre for a while now with other guys playing well. It's time for the big $$$$ guys to take us home here the next month. Do that and we'll be fine. Don't do it and the door is open (whether the Yanks can walk through it is another question).

dcat: The All Star Break marks one of the real down times on the sports calendar. The week after the Super Bowl certainly qualifies, as does the week before conference tournaments start in March. So like you, I cannot wait to see real baseball start up again. Of course LaRussa should have pinch hit Pujols, but that just goes to show that LaRussa’s reputation for being a genius might be the most overstated attributed trait in the entire sporting firmament. In any case, thank God he didn’t, just in case everything works out and we get a tight World Series and the Sox are in it and it goes seven games.

I figure I’ll go with a gimmick for the rest of this. Let’s try grading the constituent parts: offense, starting pitching, relief, fielding, coaching, management, and overall with a few additional comments at the end. These grades are not only based on some absolute standard, but also on expectations – how are they doing relative to how they should be doing?

Offense: We’ve made all of the lamentations. We are on a pace to score far less than we have in previous years. At the same time, what people seem to overlook is that the Red Sox from 2003-2005 (and much of 2006) were not only great offensive teams, they were historically great offensive teams. And so inevitably this team, with clear holes and some fairly substantial underachievement, inevitably pales in comparison at the plate. But keep in mind that the Sox are also on pace to give up some 100 fewer runs than in any of the seasons when they put up 900+ runs. And as you’ve said, some guys need to start pushing upward toward their mean, in particular Manny and Big Papi. Other guys need to step it up, like Lugo and Drew. Still others we hope will maintain what they have done in the first half – Lowell and Youks, for example. My concern is not even the run scoring per se, but rather this bizarre tendency to shut down at inopportune times. How many games this year have we left a dozen or more guys on base? Those sorts of squandered opportunities are vexing in the regular season. They are deadly in the playoffs. Grade: B-

Starting Pitching: This has undoubtedly been a strength, maybe the biggest strength, of the 2007 Red Sox for most of the season. But we’ve seen how tenuous this status is – injuries have a ripple effect that can turn a great staff sour quickly. We’ve lost Beckett to one trip to the DL and Schilling to some sort of mystery ailment for what is becoming a pretty big hunk of time. This is why I preached at the beginning of the year about never believing you have starters to spare. The sixth starter can go from a long relief guy without a real role to a fourth starter really quickly over the course of the season. Beckett has been an ace, clearly improving from last year when he had to adjust to the rigors of the American League. Our biggest worry about him is the skin issue on his fingers, whether you call it blisters or evulsions. If he stays healthy he looks to be the frontline guy we thought we were getting before last season. Dick-K has settled in nicely despite a hiccup before the break. For him it is a matter of avoiding that one big inning that seems to plague nearly every outing. But he’s the guy who brings the most excitement to the mound and has the highest “Wow!” factor. Schill has been injured and he has been spotty. Near no-hitter one time, utterly ineffective the next two, and I know that was largely because of the mystery ailment, but it still is not reassuring and stands as merely a more extreme example of his starts all season. Wakefield has been inconsistent too, but when he has been good he has been great. And really Tavarez has done a fine job eating innings and keeping us in most games. The key with him is that he needs a role, and he has one now. As for the rest (Snyder, Gabbard, etc.) we have to consider them works in progress and stopgaps, hopefully until Lester comes back. And let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but Clay Bochholz has people using names like “Clemens,” and we should get a glimpse of him in August when rosters expand. Grade: A-

Relief Pitching: A real point of concern at the beginning of the year, the relief corps has proved to be a real source of strength for this team. The biggest concern is not quality, as Papelbon continues to grow into greatness and Okajima has unexpectedly been the best Japanese import on the Sox pitching staff. He has been awesome, giving us a bridge from the starters to Pap that reminds me of the days when the Yankees were not abjectly mediocre and they had the best setup men and closer in baseball. The concern is depth, but Lopez has stepped up and local boy Manny Delcarmen has shown flashes of brilliance at 98 mph. Timlin has been a problem, and if one guy goes down it could really hurt. But turning a weakness into a strength is the way championships are won. Grade: A-

Fielding: Defense is both the hardest area of performance to measure and it is, I firmly believe, the most overrated. This is not to say that anyone wants a weak defensive team, or a team that commits lots of errors. But I have always said that of the major categories, I’ll take a bad fielding team over a bad hitting team. At the same time, having the midseason defensive upgrade in 2004 clearly helped make all the difference in the world. It’s a delicate balance and the Sox seem to be maintaining it. Youks has been great, as has Lowell, shoring up the corner infield sports. Lugo and Cora have been fine in their turns at shortstop and Pedroia is growing into second. Our outfield defense has relied on Coco who has had some utterly spectacular moments and who shows us the importance of range in centerfield, especially if you have a corner infield or two for whom range is a bit of a problem. Manny’s defensive troubles are the most overstated problem in the game, as while he is not great, he is better than people think, and by playing shallow he historically makes a lot of outfield assists. No qualms with what drew brings to the outfield, though if he and/or Coco are out it becomes an adventure. Grade: B

Coaching: You know what I love about Tito? He’s accountable. If he makes a move there is always a reason, and even if you don’t buy that reason, he explains it and shows what was going on at the time, and if it failed he stands up for it without pretending that it did not work. Contrast that with the idiot savant approach of Jimy Williams or the affable Gumpishness of Grady Little and you understand why Francona has been so successful. Yes, there are those who still insist on referring to him derisively as “Francoma,” especially with regard to pitching, but in all, how can we not be happy with what Tito has accomplished, especially if he keeps the guys thriving for the remainder of this year? The biggest question mark has to be with Magadan as hitting coach because it is hard to distinguish correlation and causality. Papa Jack was both popular and successful. Magadan thus seems like an interloper, and worse, the team’s hitting performance has declined. Most reasonable people would attribute that to personnel and some down years so far, but what among that falls on Magadan’s shoulders? My view is that any hitting coach needs some time. Boston is not exactly a market that allows for patience, but let’s ride it out. Grade: B+

Management: Theo and company have put together a team that has been the best in baseball for most of the first half. I wish they would cease the revolving door approach at shortstop. But they have taken calculated risks and this team looks very different from the one in 2004 even while maintaining some success, albeit not what we have come to expect. So far the rumor mill has been quiet as the trade deadline creeps up on us, and it is hard to identify a pressing need coupled with a viable solution. Management makes its bones at two times, during the Hot Stove League and in the month after the All Star Break. Tito can only play with the guys he has. If Theo chooses to stand pat, I’ll be fine. But if we experience another collapse like last year, someone is going to have to be held to account. I’m far from saying that a collapse means the end of his reign, but it would mean that he has to go back to clean paper and decide what this team’s approach is going to be. I was happy with the offseason, and we still have a lot of baseball to play, not to mention the postseason, which we expect to see. Grade: Incomplete

Overall: I suppose the play’s the thing. The Sox are 19 games above .500, but they should be at 25 or more above at this point. They have a ten-game lead on Toronto and the Yankees. They have sound starting pitching that looks to get better with the return of Schilling and, we hope, Lester. The bullpen has been a revelation. The question mark, which is still odd for Sox fan, is the top-to-bottom ability of the lineup to score runs. If the bats improve in the second half, the Sox will win 100 games and be the odds-on favorites to win the American League title. So the play has been good. We just would like for it to be better. Grade: B+

Misc.: I like two factors in the second half: One is the schedule. The other is mathematics. There has been a lot of talk about how the Yankees play almost nothing but sub-.500 teams in the next five weeks. But the Yankees themselves are a sub-.500 team. Even good midget wrestling is still midget wrestling. Plus, we get something like 18 more games against Tampa and Kansas City. Their schedule is moderately more favorable, but the Sox can beat anyone, and they have the benefit of playing with the lead. As far as math goes, the Sox have been disappointing for a month, playing .500 ball. Let’s say they do that the rest of the way, going 38-37. That seems unlikely and they’ll surely get crushed in the playoffs, but they’ll finish with a record of 91-71. To finish with a 91-71 record the Yankees, who are currently 42-43, would have to go 44-28. That seems unlikely, but so does the Sox only playing .500 the rest of the way.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Amiable Dunce

dcat's boy from the Oxford Armitage Shanks, RoJo (aka Roger) now has his own blog, Amiable Dunce. He introduces himself
What the internet really needs is a new blog

Hello, reader.

As you are probably aware, there is a dearth on the web of trite musings, ill-explained secondhand opinion, half-baked ideas and lengthy explanations of personal annoyances. I am here to fill that void.

I am a DPhil student at Sussex University studying Ronald Reagan, to whom this blog's title is a tribute. Hopefully this will act as something of a record of my work, as well as of my more inane distractions. Many thanks to dcat, the sometime host of my meagre ramblings, and to all the millions of my future readers.

I'm so proud. RoJo, consider yourself blogrolled. (And while we're at it let's also welcome Hot Ginger and Dynamite for the full Brit effect.)

Hamby on a Roll

Alonzo Hamby has recently published two typically insightful and important reviews of new books. One, of Amy Shlaes' The Forgotten Man, appeared in The Wall Street Journal last month. The other, of Mark Perry's Partners in Command appears in the current issue of The Weekly Standard.

Brown Back in the Fold

Troy Brown, who has done everything possible to help the Patriots win over the course of their run in the past few years, is on the verge of re-signing with the Patriots. Brown, the respected team leader, wide receiver, defensive back, return man out of Marshall has been as much of a vital cog in the Patriot machine as any of the bigger names. he made the key play against San Diego last season in the divisional playoff game when Belichick inserted him yet again to aid a tattered secondary. In the words of new Patriots acquisition Randy Moss, who has no history of modesty:
"I've always considered myself to be the second-best receiver to come out of Marshall. Being able to play with a Troy Brown and what he's done for the organization. Like I've always said, he's started the trend of guys going into the league from Marshall."

The Pats' wide receiver corps is jammed right now. Something tells me that there will be room for #80 when camp breaks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Making the Midsummer Classic Matter Again

Over at his blog Bob Ryan reminds us how the All Star Game once mattered and how, with a few tweaks, it could mean something again, even if it will never mean what it once did. I came of age during the transition period. When I was a kid, the All Star game was truly the Midsummer Classic. Sometime in the 1980s, though, the game, while still hyped, became a mere exhibition. I'm actually ok with the All Star game being an exhibition, but I would like to see the competitive luster return to this July interregnum in the baseball calendar.

But if it is going to be a lark, a spectacle, then I am going to be selfish about it. When I was a kid I lived for the appearances of the Red Sox, for the Boston starters to get multiple at bats, for Sox pitchers to get into the game. Now? I'd as soon see the Sox pitchers leave their cups in their lockers because they know they are not going to pitch. I don't care if any of the Red Sox players see the field. If they do, of course I want them to do well. But if Manny sits I won't lament it -- save it for the regular games. Or else play the All Star Game for real. I'd welcome a return to the spirit of the 1960s and 1970s. Maybe tonight an old-school manager like Jim Leyland will take an old school approach in a new school era. I doubt it. But I can hope.

I would love to see a home run from Big Papi, however. And an American League win would be nice, as it would give the Red Sox a shot at home field advantage if they make it to the Fall Classic, the seasonal classic that really matters.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Only In Boston

Boston, it has been said, has two overriding passions: Politics and the Red Sox. Not always in that order. And so perhaps only in Boston could the biggest daily newspaper -- and one of the most respected in the land -- use a quotation from a relief pitcher as an object lesson for politicians. In an editorial titled "Okajima's Civilizing Influence," a Boston Globe uses a quotation from Japanese import Hideki Okajima, who just received the fans' vote for the final American League All Star spot, as a springboard to wish for greater humility from our political leadership.

Upon winning an Internet election for the 32 d and last spot on the American League All-Star team, Red Sox rookie reliever Hideki Okajima, speaking through a translator, said he is "still the hero in the shadow." The pitcher who received 4.4 million online votes insisted that the real hero -- the teammate casting that shadow -- is his younger compatriot, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Much has been said and written about the lessons these two hurlers from Japan have had to learn about playing ball in the Majors and about American mores. But if Okajima's modesty may be considered as much a cultural quality as a personal trait, then it seems obvious that many Americans in the limelight -- and not merely that special breed, the millionaire athlete -- could stand to learn a thing or two from the gracious Okajima.

The possibilities seem endless. Imagine Hillary Clinton winning an early primary and saying she is still "a hero in the shadow of the greater hero," Bill Clinton. Like Okajima's bow to Matsuzaka, such a Japanese-style gesture from Hillary would derive its virtue from the widespread belief that it is true.

The editorial goes on from there, including speculation that an Okajimesque hunility might benefit Randy Moss as he tried to learn the Patriot Way. Is it a stretch? Absolutely. Does it make me love Boston all that much more? It sure does.

George Packer's Blog

George Packer now has a blog, Interesting Times, at The New Yorker's website.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

For the Parents in the Crowd

For all of you mommies and daddies out there, this week's Boston Globe Magazine has a special issue devoted to the theme of "parenting." There are several interesting articles, including an amusing piece on parental sex lives, an article on the lives of the growing numbers of single dads, one on childrens' diets, and much more. One paragraph in one article stood out to me and annoyed me to no end. In what I thought was an interesting piece questioning whether the increasingly prevalent idea of the over-scheduled child is something of a suburban myth, the authors (responsibly) went to the author of a book espousing the case of the too-busy child in response to a study by Yale child psychologists questioning what has now become the conventional wisdom of overtaxed children. Here is what he said:
"Baloney. Nonsense," says Alvin Rosenfeld, Greenwich, Connecticut-based coauthor of The Over-Scheduled Child. "You can come up with any statistical analysis that you want. But I challenge you to go to any upper-middle-class neighborhood and ask 20 moms and tell me I’m wrong. Ask any hockey parent."

Now I come neither to bury nor to praise the idea that kids may or may not be overscheduled. But if this is the best he can come up with, Alvin Rosenfeld, Greenwich, Connecticut-based coauthor of The Over-Scheduled Child, is a jackass. Obviously he has a dog in this hunt. He wants to sell more books espousing his theory. But look at the callous disregard of facts and evidence. Instead, he challenges you to gather anecdotes (anecdotal evidence, by the way, can be fine, but usually to supplement not supplant other data) to find out not how busy the kids are, but rather how busy the parents are. And his topper is to ask hockey parents. (Even in Boston, what percentage of kids do you think play hockey?) So forget those pointy-headed Yale guys. Rosenfeld believes in his argument. And he believes that parents will believe his argument. Even though a good number of those parents will have multiple children, and so they might be run ragged even if the kids are actually functioning in appropriately scheduled worlds. Plus, parents in any era would have answered that they were run ragged. How does that tell us that over time those parents are more harried. (Hint: It doesn't.)In any case, that bugged me and I have thus devoted much more time to it than it deserved.

But the article on parent sex amused me and for those of you with kids, the whole issue will surely be of some interest. (My own inordinate attention to the issue probably stems from the fact that we have our [!!] three goddaughters, 8, 10, 12, with us for the month, and so suddenly these issues are not just abstractions.)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hard, Rewarding Work

Job market got you down? feel as if you are sending your vita off into a black hole every time you place one in the mail? Fear that you'll be forced to go on the dole? Worry not. There are positions available for what some are calling the "best job in the world." Make sure you write a, um, probing cover letter.

The Onus is on Paul Pierce

Be careful what you ask for, Paul Pierce. That seems to be the message that Danny Ainge is sending via Dan Shaughnessy of the The Boston Globe's latest column. That seems like a pretty smart, if somewhat slimy, strategy. I still think it all comes down to the development of several of the young guys. If Al Jefferson becomes a superstar, that is going to do a great deal to bring this team into contention in an Eastern Conference that is, let's face it, not so good.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Cleveland '64 Lives!

Lo and behold, we have a Cleveland '64 sighting. Prepare for a combination of optimism and bitterness just as we've come to expect from our boy over there. I agree with him on much, disagree on some (it's hard to buy an argument that says that Phoenix was not the second best team in basketball this year just because they lost -- to the eventual winner -- before the Western Conference finals given that the seeding issues were on everyone's lips during the playoffs) but am mostly just glad he's back. Let's hope the Indians make the postseason so that just maybe we can get another post in a few months.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

In The Changer: Dee-licious, Dee-lightful, Dee-lovely eDition

I'm back for another installment of my semi-regular feature, "In The Changer," in which I provide capsule reviews of some of the stuff to which I've been listening of late. My latest conceit has been to organize the reviews alphabetically. This won't hold up much longer as naturally I have a slew of new stuff that I'll be trying to fit in.

It's frustrating to me to realize all of the books I'll never read and music I'll never enjoy. I have this recurring vision that I'll be buried alive under a pile of books and magazines and journals and cd's that constantly accumulate at a much faster (at least geometric, though sometimes it seems exponential) rate than I can ever truly consume them.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to commit the sort of crime that avoids prison but that gets me a nice year of house arrest. Then I'd get caught up on my reading. And cd's. And dvd's. But I'd probably still be so far behind that I'd have to break through the barrier toward the end of the sentence in hopes of getting another year. With my luck a serial killer would move in next door and I'd end up solving the case after putting the lives of me and mine in jeopardy and get my sentence reduced. And yes, I just rocked a Disturbia reference, because I am comfortable in my own skin.

Without further ado:

The Danielson Famile -- "Fetch the Compass Kids": This is weird stuff. I first discovered this bizarre Christian evangelical band through a long Rick Moody article in The Believer. Atonal and messy and sometimes almost unbearably shrill (intrigued yet?) these God-rockers (though I'm not certain "rock" is the word -- maybe "loud troubadours") don't sing overtly about God. In fact, had I not read the Moody article and still stumbled upon the Danielson Famile I more than likely would never have guessed that they were trying to help me get my Christ on, which really is the best sort of Christian music, and I mean that as a compliment to good Christian music. This is not comforting tunesmithing, but it is a compelling kind of discomfiting. Decidedly not for everyone. Good music often isn't. Grade: B+

The Darkness -- Permission to Land: Fuse bombastic heavy metal affectations with the transgendered showiness of glam rock with a sentimental attachment to the age of disco with Spinal Tap and what do you get? You get the Darkness, that's what. Soaring, screaming falsettos merge with monster guitar riffs and lyrics that aren't but ought to be about Valkeries (Valkyries?) characterize a band that in turn characterizes a mini-movement within modern rock. I'm not certain if this (the movement and the Darkness) is serious or a joke, but if its a joke it's a pretty good one, and if its serious, well, give me a double shot and a beer and turn that shit up. Grade: B

Death Cab For Cutie -- Plans: Once a band enters your pantheon everything they produce is likely to make you happy. At least until they put out the absolute dreck that pushes you toward an existential crisis. And even then you'll apologize for it rather than give it a lashing. Thankfully, Death Cab's latest (from 2005 -- let's get in the studio Mssrs. Gabbard, Harmer, McGerr, and Walla) is far from dreck. Gabbard's warbly-lovely voice is the driving force behind Death Cab's lush harmonics and melodic pop. Plans is not their best album. It is still a wonderful album. Grade: A-

Two Albums From: The Decemberists -- "Picaresque," The Crane Wife: I've fallen so far behind that I was still absorbing 2005's "Picaresque" when the prolific Decemberists released 2006's The Crane Wife and now I am catching up on both. Both are fine albums from a band that really ought to be annoying. Colin Meloy's voice is nasally and scratchy and his lyrics are hyperliterate and highly literary. Some might call him pretentious, because "pretentious" is probably the most overused and misused word among educated Americans. It is a word rarely used correctly because to call someone pretentious is to claim to have an insight into their tastes, education, and interests that few of us have. Meloy has a higher degree (I think and MFA, but it might be an MA) in English literature. He is a published writer. I also suspect that he is an incredibly odd fellow, but if the oddness of its creators disqualified us from liking the music we like most of us would probably cut our collections by about three fourths. In any case, by all measures, Meloy actually is both deeply literate and literary and so his lyrics are in keeping with what might be the smartest rock band this side of Radiohead. Coincidentally (and wholly unintentionally on my part, as I am a slave to the alphabet), the producer for both of these albums is Christopher Walla, Death Cab's keyboardist and jack of all instruments. What that means, I have no idea. in any case, since I've been listening to these albums together it is difficult to differentiate them. Both do a good job of flipping between upbeat and balldy numbers, with the upbeat outnumbering the ballady by an appropriate number. If you like The Decemberists, you'll like both of these albums (but if you like the Decemberists, you already have both of these albums). If you don't know the Decemberists, buy one and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. If you know the Decemberists but don't like them you are probably the sort of person who misuses the word "pretentious" and so I'll take your opinions with a grain of salt. Grade for both: A-

The Derek Trucks Band -- Songlines: This album inspires me to discuss three issues, which I will now do: 1) I have no idea how to alphebetize albums such as this one. Is it a "T" because of the whole last name first, first name last thing? Is it a "D" because of the fact that they are the Derek Trucks Band, and thus the formal band name starts with a D, assuming we skip "the"? I'm going with "D" but I can be convinced to go the other way if anyone has a strong opinion. 2) I bought this wholly on the advice of a rave from Stephen King in his regular column on the back page of Entertainment Weekly, from which I have now come to realize two things. The first of these is that Stephen King is an execrable writer. Yes, yes, I know, he's a zillionaire and he's sold a billion copies of his books. He's a more successful writer than I will ever be. And maybe his books, which I have not read since I was ten, are better than his essays in EW. But go and read at least five of these and tell me that most of them are not truly awful. The second observation is that Stephen King has taste that ranges from the merely uninteresting to the really dubious. Which brings us to: 3) This is a perfectly cromulent album. I thought it was wretched when I first listened. It has now grown on me to the point where I think it is simply marginal. Derek Trucks is a good guitar player. And when I turn this album off right now, the odds that I'll ever listen to any of it again except when the songs pop up on shuffle on my iTunes or iPod are pretty much zero. Grade: C+

Kevin Divine -- Split the Country, Split the Street: Here is what I wrote about his first album in a post reviewing various pop culture offerings at Rebunk (which, as I read through our June 2005 entries in order to find this excerpt I came to realize was really, really good):

Kevin Devine: Make the Clocks Move: Sublime pop with an opening song, 'Ballgame,' that makes you ache for the lead singer. Redolent of Elliot Smith.
"Ballgame" is the best song about depression and self doubt and, believe it or not, war (about which he is remarkably sad and smart and not at all what you might expect from an indie rocker), in the last decade. It is beautiful and aching and smart. It took the second album some time to grow on me, but whern it did I realized that in a just world Kevin Devine would sell ten million records. Instead I get to share him with you like a precious secret that I make clear is ok for you to share with anybody you meet. "Aftermath" (which is more clearly anti-war, revealing as much as anything changes in the body politic in the last couple of years) is this album's "Ballgame," but the whole thing, as was its predecessor, is transcendentally great. Grade: A-

Donnas -- Gold Medal: The Donnas are sassy thrash rock chicks who write about guys and partying and relationships and preparing to be pissed off and being pissed off and showing the consequences of their being pissed off. The songs are melodic but thrashy, punky but poppy. It's all dumb rawk, and dumb rawk can be good. Sometimes very good. The Donnas won't change the world. But you can drink beer while listening to them, and you'll enjoy both the beer and the Donnas, and there are certainly worse things than that. Grade: B+

Doves -- Some Cities: Sometimes lost in the Britpop deluge is the Mancunian trio Doves. All this tells me is that mainstream tastes are ephemeral and fame rarely allotted based on sheer value. Doves are a great band that produces uptempo music that sounds graver than it is. Some Cities is their third studio album, though they have also released a handful of ep's and one compilation of B-sides and ephemera. The production values stand out on this disc, bringing all of the elements of the trio to bear. The lyrics are up-front but not annoyingly so, and the instrumentation tends towards the lush, but not showily so. Grade:A-

Bob Dylan -- The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan: I have been on something of a Bob Dylan kick for the last year or so, which is to say that I've been trying to catch up on buying his vast catalogue. I have very little to add to the vast amount written about Dylan in the last four-plus decades. This elbum is among his earliest and captures him at his folk-rock apex that so many wanted to freeze him in before he went electric and all that well-known stuff. A story about this album that may amuse only me (and my friend Mike Stark): I was at Mike's house (his family were practically surrogates for me in college and a few years beyond) and his sister, who must have been eight or nine, had found a vinyl copy of The Freewheelin' . . . and a turntable. She thought the album was ok until a magic moment of discovery -- she played the album at 45 rpm and a new world opened up to her, with Bob Dylan sounding like a poetic Alvin Chipmunk. Grade: A-

Nick Drake -- Made to Love Magic: You know Nick Drake from “Pink Moon,” and you know “Pink Moon” from that Volkswagen commercial from a few years back, and if you say any different the odds are that you are lying. And that’s ok. Advertisers have gotten savvier about using good music, and oftentimes underheard or lost music, in their commercials, to the point where calling someone a sellout for letting their music be used in such a way is an anachronism. These are largely lost and unreleased songs from the late singer-songwriter’s career, which was cut short due to his death from an overdose of antidepressants. As with most such compilations, this one is uneven, but the best cuts show why Drake has become revered in some circles. The worst show why posthumous releases are problematic. Grade: B

Drive-By Truckers -- A Blessing and a Curse: DBT represent modern Southern rock at its best. Although largely guitar-and-drum-driven, it is DBT's lead singer, Patterson Hood, who helps set the band apart and make it a y'allternative/psychobilly stalwart. Patterson has a raspy moan of a voice that augments the intelligence of the lyrics that emerge from it. I first got to know DBT through their concept album, Southern Rock Opera, and have gotten to like them more with each passing listen to work such as this. Think Whiskeytown meets Wilco but different. Grade:A-

Taking One For The Team

The Huntsville (TX) Item has a story about one of my colleagues, Rob Worley, who has generously funded a memorial scholarship for students at Sam Houston State University, where he received his PhD in criminology. He worked his way through graduate school as a corrections officer in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for seven years, which served the threefold purpose of giving him credibility in his scholarly work, of fueling his research agenda, and, most prosaically but at the time most importantly, of paying the bills. Kudos to Dr. Worley.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

I'm not much interested in chest-beating patriotism, but I love my country. I'm not much interested in foolish assertions that America represents the world's last great hope, though I believe that fundamentally we offer great hope. Conversations of which countries are the greatest or the best bore me. But America is a great and good nation.

I wish you and yours a wonderful Independence Day. And now that the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating championship is back in American hands, there is plenty of cause to celebrate, and maybe even wave a flag or two.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick

You want it. You need it. You crave it. You haven't gotten it in a while. I am talking, of course, about "Dirty Water," our heretofore regular feature in which the Thunderstick and I assess the state of the Red Sox. Without further frustration:

Thunderstick: Nice to see you back from your honeymoon, DCat, and ready to get back to focusing on the important things in life, such as baseball. For the better part of the last month you were galavanting around the Pacific Northwest and Canada as I continuously reloaded the dcat blog every 2-4 minutes, praying for a new entry. Despite reading reviews of Ryan Adam's new album in Rolling Stone, Spin, Blender, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Globe, USA Today and the New York Times, I just couldn't pull the trigger and buy it until I got a dcat certified thumbs up. Thank god the dcatblog is up and running with regular posts so my life has direction again.

Today marks the official halfway point in the Red Sox season as they stand at 50-31 so it seems like a great time to take stock of where we are. What has the first half of the season told us? Barring catastrophic injury the Sox are going to win the AL East if only because the rest of the AL East teams suck, especially the Yanks.

As a (lengthy) aside, I see one positive sign for the Yanks long term prospects right now--after 3+ seasons of hearing about how ARod has not been embraced by Yanks fans despite the fact that he could very likely win his second MVP award in pinstripes this year, things seem about ready to turn around for ARod in NY. ARod's wife recently attended a Yanks game with a shirt adorned with profanity of the most vile kind. ARod's wife was clearly trying to show she, and consequently her husband, could fit in in NY by showing that they could be just as low-class as your typical Yankees fan. While there was much outrage from national media outlets and baseball fans from around the country, I imagine the typical Yankee fan walked by her at the stadium, pointed at her, smiled and said "nice shirt" all the while thinking "where can I get one of those?" I'm willing to bet that the next time we see ARod slipping into a strip club with his mistress on a road trip, he'll be wearing a "Fire Isaiah" t-shirt to show he really is a New Yorker. After that we'll just be one more blown double play by Jeter (and at the rate he is going that'll come by Thurs) and Yanks fans will be screaming for ARod to take over at short and as captain of the team.

Back to the Sox though--I think the easiest way to sum up the state at the midway point is to note that they are 50-31, but to also note that they were 19 games over .500 for the first time on May 27th. That tells you all you need to know. They are on pace halfway through to win 100 games, but if they continue to play like they have recently, than a 90-91 win season is what they will end up with. The last month has been very reminiscent of 2002 I believe it was when the Sox got out to a 40-17 start, only to play .500 ball the rest of the way and miss the playoffs. Fortunately this time around, there doesn't seem to be an AL East team to overtake them if they do this like the Yanks did that year. For the Yanks to do that, they'd need to go 54-29 and this Yanks team doesn't look like they'll be able to do that. The bottom line is that this Sox team has the pitching and enough other talent to win 100+ games (even during this recent stretch of .500 play, the pitching has been very good most nights with only a few clunker starts thrown in). However, if they continue to play at their current level, they will be a 90 win team and while that will likely make the playoffs in the AL East this year, it doesn't endear a lot of confidence in the average Sox fan to make us think that they will do much damage when they get there. This month features a lot of home games against a lot of bad teams and in fact 18 or their remaining 81 games (just over 22%) are against Tampa so there should be a lot of easy Ws left on the schedule. They need to start accumulating them tonight. And if they don't, well Mrs. ARod's t-shirt will pretty well summarize my attitude towards the Sox.

dcat: It’s good to be back and to read your insightful commentary, Mr. Stick. And I’m glad my review of Ryan Adams pushed you over the edge. Given that the recent news of the Spice Girls possibly getting back together made the Thunderstick tumescent I figured something needed to prod you toward good music.

I’m not going to kid you – the prevailing emotion for me when it comes to the Sox is frustration. I was at two of the games in seattle last week, the 8-6 slugfest on Tuesday and the extra-innings pitching duel on Wednesday, and almost every inning they left guys on base, failed to do the little things, and just generally gave games away. The same can be said for this weekend against the Rangers, a team against which we should never be happy to salvage a four game split.

Seeing the .500 play since late May reveals just how even the best teams experience palpitations over the course of a baseball season. But we are starting to deal with injuries – Schill being the biggest but not sole example. We are starting to see which guys might not work out – Lugo? – and which guys are hitting a rhythm, such as Pedroia. I have to admit, I’m beginning to worry a little bit about the (relative) underperformance of Big Papi and Manny, even though their numbers are hardly bad. Those two have provided a historically great 3-4 punch for more than three years now, but we need them to start stepping up again.

At the same time, we are in a great position because the East is mediocre (hey, for a long, long time it was the toughest division in baseball; I hardly feel as if I need to apologize for the AL East) and we have that most important of commodities: A big lead. We also still have a pitching staff that gives us a leg up on every other team in the American League. Like you, I’ve no doubt that we are going to win the east. But I am actually a bit concerned about our prospects ion a short series. An inability to drive guys in, leaving a dozen or more stranded per game, is bad in June. It is deadly in October.

July marks the midway point. It also marks the trade deadline. As frustrated as I have been in the last few weeks, I cannot pinpoint any specific needs. We could use a little bit of bullpen depth. Another bat would be nice as long as it is not someone who comes in expecting to start. But on the whole, the problems we have, or that we might have, should be ones that we address internally. This team needs to play to its potential. If the guys do that, we are a postseason force. If not, it could be another frustrating fall after the glories of 2004.

Oh, and yes, Yankee fans suck.