Monday, May 12, 2008

Inside Brody's world

I'm about 98.9999 percent sure that I'm smarter than Brody Jenner.

I'd also be willing to wager the college fund of my unborn children that I'm funnier and more personable than The Hills reality star. I'd probably be a better boyfriend, too, in that not-going-to-give-you-VD kind of way at least.

I'm not, however, better looking than Brody Jenner. And I'm certainly not as wealthy ... two things that are most certainly the reason why Brody was mobbed by young girls and paparazzi in front of The Ivy in Beverly Hills today while I was little more than a physical obstacle standing in the way of teenage hormones gone mad.

Los Angeles is a weird place. It's moments like what happened in front of The Ivy -- a notorious celebrity hotspot -- that makes this abundantly clear. On the surface, Brody Jenner seems like a nice enough dude. He posed for pictures with his fans and even gave the photographers in ill-fitting Pink Floyd T-shirts a smile or two. He also had on a really cool pair of sunglasses. But the girls on that sidewalk were squealing like The Beatles had just stepped on the field at Shea.

This is odd, of course, because Brody Jenner isn't really famous for anything at all. Seeing people go batshit crazy over someone so seemingly inconsequential is tough to wrap your head around ... this is especially so when you happen to see it in person.

Walking back to the car, I explained to a friend that Jenner passed my "Switch Test," that being, I would trade places with that person if given the chance. That decision was a rash one, naturally, as Jenner's celebrity status is a ticking clock, while my status as a non-chode will likely have a much longer shelf life.

And in that end, not being a chode is all that really matters. Suck on that, pretty boy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

23 is the loneliest number

I understand making the case for Don Mattingly as the unluckiest man on the planet is flawed on several levels.

Facts are facts, after all. He had a successful career as a professional baseball player, blessed with unique physical gifts that made him a multi-millionaire. His exploits on the field and humility off it made him a revered icon of the most decorated franchise in sports. He has three healthy children. He probably drives a Saab. The list goes on and on.

But when the Yankees passed on Mattingly to hire Joe Girardi as their new manager in December, true Donnie Baseball fans knew another chapter had been written in a story that too often has been star-crossed.

It wasn't just that Mattingly was the favorite to become the 34th manager of the Yankees -- the entire interview process seemed to be a mere formality. Four seasons earlier, it was Mattingly who had been handpicked by George Steinbrenner and tutored under Joe Torre to become the future Yankees skipper. It was a carefully scripted ascention to power, and the club followed it step by step until, of course, the time came to actually hand the reigns over. Torre's split from the club became bitter, and some in the organization began to view Mattingly as a sort of "Torre clone" -- a laid-back non-confrontational type who didn't have the edge to see the team through difficult times, particularly in October. Torre's measured approach to managing -- a style that helped guide New York to four titles and 12 straight playoff berths -- was suddenly out of vogue under the new Steinbrenner regime.

Enter Joe Girardi -- square jaw, crew cut, and said not to possess not an ounce of bullshit -- carrying a resume that included a Manager of the Year award for leading a young Marlins team to playoff contention in 2006. Nevermind the fact that he was fired at season's end for clashing with management, or that he had a bad reputation among some peers and the local media for a terse know-it-all attitude. "This man was stern!" Hank and Hal likely squealed in delight as a morose George sat meekly in the garden. In the eyes of the young Steinbrenners, the only thing separating the Yankees from first-round failure and World Series glory was a good kick in the ass. Right! Right?

To Girardi's credit, he aced his interview by all accounts. And with The Boss obstenibly out of the picture, Mattingly lost the front-office ally that mattered most. Talk about Girardi's expert pitch to club officials all you want, but this decision came down to timing. It was right for Girardi, and it cost Mattingly.

But hasn't bad timing always been the case for Mattingly? He came into the league in 1982, one season after the Yankees advanced to the World Series. New York then proceeded to suffer through its longest playoff drought in team history. By 1994, Mattingly's career was winding down, chronic back pain having rendered him a shell of the player once viewed as a surefire Hall of Famer.

When the strike wiped out the '94 season with the Yankees sitting atop the AL East in mid-August, Mattingly's postseason plight became a national story. "Good old classy Don Mattingly just saw his only chance at the World Series go by the boards. What a cryin' shame!" Even the most optimistic Mattingly fan had to worry.

But a sliver of fortune arrived a year later when the Yankees made the playoffs as baseball's first American League Wild Card. New York clinched in Toronto on the final day of the regular season, Mattingly going down on one knee and pounding the Sky Dome turf in joy after the final out was recorded. I still have MSG's postgame coverage on an old VHS tape, the image of a joyful Donnie running to the visitor's clubhouse, bats in one hand, glove tucked under his opposite arm, smiling like a little boy on Christmas. It was perfect.

Mattingly seized his once-in-a-career opportunity. Knowing his days in pinstripes were numbered, Mattingly treated his chronic back pain as an afterthought in what would be his only postseason, swinging like the perennial All-Star he used to be. Using a leg kick that generated more torque in his swing, Mattingly batted .405 in the series with a homer and five RBIs. Standing in the back row of the bleachers when his name was announced at the Stadium before Game 1, I had goosebumps that lasted minutes. When he hit a two-run homer off Andy Benes into those same bleachers in Game 2, I watched on television with tears in my eyes. It's not something I'm ashamed of. It was a touchstone moment of my childhood, a moment I'll never forget.

The Yankees fell in five games to the Mariners in a classic series, a devastating final chapter to Mattingly's playing days. With his contract up and under the realization the Yankees were looking in another direction -- Steinbrenner made that clear with cowardly leaks to the press -- he graciously gave the team an out, announcing he would not try to catch on with another team in 1996. It wasn't a retirement speech, because Mattingly didn't want to retire. But when the Yanks traded for Tino Martinez, Mattingly's future as a Yankee was sealed. He officially retired in 1997, his truncated career still impressive enough to put him near the top of several offensive categories in franchise history.

Everyone knows what came next. With Mattingly back home with his family in Indiana, the Yankees captured the World Series in 1996. And again in 1998. And again in 1999. And once more in 2000. It makes those titles forever bittersweet for any true Mattingly fan. He was out of the money again. In interviews, he always insisted that the timing didn't sting, but it's hard to imagine the competitor in him not dying a little bit each time the team celebrated another championship.

Mattingly rejoined the Yankees as a hitting coach in 2004, a historic collapse against the Red Sox that lives in on infamy in the franchise's history. And despite rave reviews for his talents as a teacher, the Yankees went on to suffer through a trio of embarassing first-round playoff knockouts. Even as a coach, Donnie Baseball couldn't make it to the World Series.

Of course, it would have been too perfect, too easy for Mattingly to get the Yanks skipper job and get that long-elusive championship ring. Classy as always, Mattingly refused to rip the Yankees on his way out the door, even if he may have had every right to do so. Instead, he thanked New York and its fans for all they had done for him and he simply moved on. It was a gesture of humility, the act of a true leader and a captain.

A new season has begun, and for the first time since 2003, Mattingly is nowhere to be seen on the Yankees bench. Hoping to keep his managerial aspirations alive, he took a coaching job with Joe Torre's Dodgers club, only to step down when marriage troubles went public by way of an ugly incident in Evansville that ended with Kim Mattingly's arrest for public disturbance. One can only hope these private issues get resolved without further embarrassment.

When you grow up idolizing a sports figure, it's natural to keep tabs on them after you've grown up. Even as their playing days fade from memory, that connection built over years remains hardwired in your brain. It's for that reason I'll always pull for Donnie Baseball, even if I don't have anything to tangibly "root for" anymore. We've never met, but the relationship is absolutely real and personal.

So wherever you are Donnie Baseball, I tip my cap to you. Fortune may not always be on your side, but I'm lucky to call you a true idol.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Thoughts on Santana-to-Mets

I sincerely love baseball. I respect the game so much I would ask its father for permission to propose marriage before I went down on bended knee, Boyz II Men-style. Did the tall, velvet-voice brother in that group use a cane for medical reasons or was it purely aesthetic? Do you think it kept him from getting ladies who were into dudes that jogged and played volleyball and stuff? I always wondered about that. ANYWAY, here's a few thoughts running through my mind after I heard the Mets' trade for Johan Santana went down.

Don't you find it odd that the Twins, realizing they would be getting 25 cents on the dollar, were still so adamant about dealing Johan before the season began? Why not keep him, see if Liriano regains form following his Tommy John and take your shot in '08? Worst-case scenario, your team doesn't play well and you trade him at the deadline in July to a club desperate for that "final piece of the puzzle"? Makes sense right?

Well, after doing some reading today, it seems this deal may have been on a fast track for a reason. Santana was scouted during the second half of last season by several teams and the reports were a bit scary. Decreased velocity and an unwillingness to throw his slider during the final two months was the word. Does this mean he's hurt? In decline? Or was he simply not sufficiently pumped up pitching for the also-ran Twins? This is an interesting subplot to take note of.

Add to that the fact that he's 29 on Opening Day and commanding a long-term deal at the highest salary EVER for a pitcher, and this is far from a slam dunk for the Mets. That said, this was probably a deal the Mets felt they had to do after the disgraceful end to their '07 season. It makes their team much better on paper, and they didn't give up their two best prospects or Reyes to get it done.

But trading for veteran arms remains a risky proposition. The Yankees made a similar move four winters ago when they acquired a reigning Cy Young Award winner named Randy Johnson. We all know how that turned out. The Mets' gamble is safer than that -- Johan is younger, doesn't have the injury baggage and is coming from the AL to the NL instead of vice versa. But it's still a gamble nonetheless.

It's a great deal if the Mets don't work under any kind of budget in terms of payroll (which they may or may not, I have no clue). But if a deal is deemed too rich by the freaking Yankees, it must be viewed as an ass-load of money by the league in general.

But, again, I agree with the trade for the Mets. They HAD to do something, especially coming off last season's disaster and with a new stadium on the horizon in '09. I'm glad my team -- and the Red Sox -- didn't get him. Hughes is regarded as one of the league's best prospects and Melky is a solid player, especially defensively. Like most Yankees fans, I'm excited to see my farm talent develop. It's how we became a dynasty 10 years ago. If I'm a Mets fan, my only worry is that they're paying Johan for what he did in his past as opposed to what he'll do in the future. Santana will likely be very, very good this season. But how about five seasons from now, when he's 34 with 120,000 miles on his odometer and still costing the team $20 million a year? Was it still a smart move? Maybe, maybe not.

From a purely business standpoint, I don't think the trade makes fiscal sense. But the Mets have the money to make this move, appease their pissed off fans, and get better in the short term. That's the good thing about rooting for a big market team. Having deep pockets is like having a Wolf from "Pulp Fiction." No matter how big the screw up, you can still clean it up without longterm damage.

Whether the Wolf's located in New York, L.A., Boston and Anaheim are good for baseball is an entirely different issue altogether ...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hope on low supply in Hollywood

For the second time in as many weeks, I saw a movie that completely and totally undermined the power of the human spirit. This bums me out.

Last week I caught "28 Weeks Later" on DVD, a sequel to the 2002 pseudo-zombie cult classic "28 Days Later." In the movie (note: Spoilah Alerts abound), the virus that turns otherwise affable English folk into flesh-eating beasts has returned, and we watch as a young family attempts to survive a brutal hunt by both the monsters and the U.S. military. They don't. In fact, the movie's final scene depicts the nu-zombies climbing the subway steps adjacent to the Eiffel Tower. Would you like your freedom fries with BLOOOOOOOD???? Nice.

And then there was "Cloverfield," a movie about a mysterious creature attacking poor, beleaguered Manhattan. New York County is having a rougher decade than Fred Durst, huh? I was very excited to see this flick, and for the most part I enjoyed it. It's kind of how I hoped the 1998 "Godzilla" monstrosity would have turned out. And it definitely was scarier watching it in New York City; many of the neighborhoods of Manhattan are artfully re-created, and the manner by which they are destroyed seems horrifically realistic. (The sight of the doomed Brooklyn Bridge's American flag disappearing into the darkness of the night was especially chilling.) By the close of the film, the protagonists (a bunch of obnoxious 20-something yuppies) bite the dust hard core, taking 35 percent of Arcade Fire's fan base with it.

In each case, the movies left me disheartened. By the time the credits role for each film, there is little reason to hope. I'm not typically good with horror films for this very reason. I like happy endings. Like Brett Michaels, I need something to believe in. It's an attitude that would lead Rob Zombie apologists to label me "a pussy." I would then tell them to move out of their mom's basement.

And no, I don't need a ridiculous "Ra-ra Go America!" ending like "Independence Day" (though Bill Pullman's final speech remains highly rad), but I do believe leaving the viewer with a smidgen of hope can be done artfully without disrupting the bleak nature of the work.

Of course, the case can be made that "bleak" is what people relate to in the aftermath of Sept. 11. When the Twin Towers were ambushed, a generation of Americans learned that sometimes terrible things happen without either reason or a silver lining. Sometimes a bad situation allows no escape. It's understandable why a filmmaker wants to tap into that uneasy psyche. That's why you have a scene in "Cloverfield" where a neighborhood of terrified East Villagers are covered in the white ash of destroyed skyscrapers. And it may be why a key aspect of "28 Weeks Later" revolves around the U.S. military losing control of a situation they shouldn't have been involved with in the first place.

Then again, dead hipsters and a zombie-infested Paris may not be such unhappy endings after all. Everything in life is a matter of opinion, I suppose.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Joy, apprehension in Yankee land

Remember that feeling you had the night before you went away to college? The pit located in the center of your stomach, a mix of anxiety and excitement that just ate up your insides? The packing, the preparation, the last dinner at Charlie Brown's when your parents speculated you weren't eating because of narcotics use? It was a stressful time to be sure. Luckily, that apprehension faded when you got to campus and adjusted, but until that time came, there was nothing to do but wait and hope that things would work out.

Well yeah, that's what it's like to be a Yankees fan right now.

I can't ever remember being more scared and excited about a team's prospects heading into a new season. On the one hand, you have a loaded roster of position-player talent and a pitching staff widely thought to be one of baseball's most promising.

But then there's Hank Steinbrenner. Crazy ole Hank Steinbrenner, a man who petrifies me on every level. He comes off in the media like an irrational version of his Old Man, if that's even possible. He looks like a mean person, the type of dude that would put razor blades in apples on Halloween. He hardly seems the patient and even-keeled type, a pair of traits you'd hope for when your organization is committing to any form of youth movement. Poor Brian Cashman must be spinning in his grave.

Wait. Cash is still alive? Is he still in baseball? Which team is he with? Best of luck to him wherever he is.

ANYWAY, this is an organization clearly at a crossroads. After a series of postseason misfires, the club made the right decision in parting ways with Joe Torre. Joe Girardi has quite the job in front of him, but it's one I believe he's well-suited for. In fact, for all his bluster -- and let's face it, playboy is a Wizard of Oz tornado-level windbag -- Hank hasn't pulled the trigger on any franchise-deflating moves since taking over day-to-day operations. He made the right decision at manager (with all due respect to the great Donnie Ballgame), played hardball and won (sort of) during the A-Rod contract saga, re-signed Mo and Posada (a PR necessity) and has resisted trading away his farm (so far) for Twins ace Johan Santana.

So no, the sky isn't falling in the Bronx. And here's the thing that a lot of people don't seem to realize ... this team was so to a championship run in 2007. Chien-Ming Wang's playoff meltdown completely obscured the fact that the Yankees were baseball's best team down the stretch of the regular season, a squad that clearly outplayed the world champion Red Sox in the second half. I'm not going to go sour grapes saying New York was the better team than Boston, but I will say the difference wasn't as vast as the playoff results seemed to indicate.

Can Wang be trusted anymore? It's going to take awhile, at least for me. In fact, Wang's Indians gag job has landed him in the unsavory position of having to wait until October to prove his true worth, a place more popularly known as the Alex E. Rodriguez Baseball Abyss. This is not a good place to be.

I don't worry about soft-spoken Chien though. Is he a true ace? Nah. We shouldn't be asking him to be something that he's not. The problem isn't so much Wang (assuming the ALDS was an aberration), but rather that we're asking the best No. 2 pitcher in baseball to be our No. 1. Round peg, square hole, ya dig?

NOW, if either Joba or Hughes pitch like the phenoms they're supposed to be and seize that ace role, this is a team that's going to be very difficult to beat. That, my friends, is the exciting feeling in my stomach.

But the nervousness remains. The bullpen is a major question mark. I love him more than 10 cent wings, but Rivera is clearly slipping, and I only envision those shaky outings increasing at age 38. LaTroy Hawkins was a poor signing and I CANNOT believe I have to put up with another season of the terminally-awful Kyle Farnsworth and his stupid Charlie Sheen "Major League" glasses. I hold out hope that Humberto Sanchez -- the hard-throwing right-hander acquired in the Gary Sheffield trade -- can serve as a wild card here. He missed all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery, but he could be ready by the All-Star break. And a little birdie told me that Mark Melancon (another Tommy John survivor) could be an impact player in '08. Melancon is a former University of Arizona closer who the Yanks selected in the ninth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. If healthy, the 22-year-old right-hander may get his shot sooner rather than later if (when?) the Hawkins/Farnsworth duo falters.

And then there's of course, Hank ... a figure in some ways more important to the Yankees' future than Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy combined. Will he remain under control and listen to his baseball people? For all his warts, Hank's Old Man eventually learned to let his baseball people lead the way (a suspension helped), paving the way for Gene Michaels and the Yankee Dynasty of 1996-2000. Did Hank learn from his father, or will Yankees fans live through the frustration of the 80s all over again?

It's all more stressful than meeting my pot-ingesting, Creed-adoring freshman roommate. Pass the Tums please.

Monday, January 14, 2008

In defense of Juno

My girlfriend and I went to see "Juno" the other night. We both liked it, making us part of a growing swarm of Americans pushing the film toward the $100 million box-office marker.

I thought the movie was smart and well-paced, and I really liked the performances, especially Ellen Page as the title character, Michael Cera in the copyrighted Awkward Michael Cera Role and Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as the troubled WASP couple. That said, I'm not here to provide another glowing review. Instead, consider this post a preemptive measure of defense of the film.

The attack has already begun, mind you, and it's coming from within these very walls. A dialogue-driven indie flick like "Juno" is geared to cater to the blogosphere, so when the mainstream grabs it and makes it their own (see: Dynamite, Napoleon), it's only a matter of time before bloggers revolt with great vengeance and furious anger.

An example of this disgust came from Apple Pop Life buddy and future colleague Bob over at the re-born My Blog Is Poop.
"[Juno] had a cute Dawson's Creek-ish response for EVERYTHING. I know she was supposed to be “quirky” and “original” but since when does quirky and original mean “could write for The Colbert Report at 16 while simultaneously pushing a baby out of her vagina”?"
Bob makes a fair point and I don't think he's completely off-base. Page's character may have been a little bit too whip-smart for the sake of realism, and the dialogue was indeed burdensome at times (it's been awhile since I was 16, but I'm fairly certain teens aren't talking on hamburger phones and saying things like 'Honest to blog' to each other.) In fact, it sounds more like a 29-year-old screenplay writer trying to think like a 16-year-old. Which is exactly the case here with Diablo Cody.

That said, the cutesy script wasn't enough to derail the movie. I know that's the main point of contention for the "Juno" haters chomping at the bit out there. I'm here to say that said haters should step off, yo. Is the chintzy dialogue a footnote that warrants mentioning? Sure. But it ain't worth throwing out Juno's baby with the bathwater.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Life in the mix

I've been on this Earth for 27 years, and I've been earnestly making compilations for 15 of them. I've successfully adapted with the technology, morphing from tapes, to CDs, to iPod playlists. My earliest incarnation dates back to 1992, a compilation that included contemporary hits by Technotronic, Boyz II Men, Vanessa Williams, Guns 'n' Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That's called "eclectic." Some would counter "gay." Whatever it was, to this day whenever I hear the final chords of "Under The Bridge," my mind skips to the opening piano chord of "November Rain," matching the track listing of my beloved first mix. That tape has literally hard-wired itself into my brain. I think I really liked that tape.

As a 12-year-old, my music inclinations only went so far. Ninety percent of thoughts at that point in my life were based upon Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly. Music was haphazardly dashed amongst the remaining 10 percent, included in a potpourri of food products, Christmas, wiffle ball and wrestling pay-per-views.

That dynamic didn't last for long, however. Girls soon took center stage and I soon realized that mix tapes could be used as a weapon of love. I quickly learned I could take a collection of songs and use the lyrical and symphonic message to procure dates to winter dances. I'd say this was manipulating the artist's original intent, but rock 'n' roll has always been about getting girls anyway. The only difference between me and Adam Duritz is the music he chooses is his own. My mix tape is his Counting Crows record. It's just a natural extension.

So the next time you make a mix remember the golden rules. Mix the message with the music. Pace is key. Keep it to 14 tracks or less. And provide some cover art. It's all about the cover art. Chicks dig the cover art.
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