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#25

Bonds25

Barry Bonds' last apparent at-bat as a San Francisco Giant came against San Diego ace Jake Peavy, on his way to winning his 19th game of the year. At that point, the score was 9-2, there were two outs, no one was on base, and my brother turned to me and said "Peavy ought to groove one."

Which he did. Don't suppose we'll ever know, but it sure looked like Peavy, the Padre catcher (and perhaps even San Diego manager Bud Black, a former teammate of Bonds) had decided to tell Barry the next pitch was going to be a fat one. Bonds hit it to the deep part of the park, close to 400 feet, for an out. He then gave Peavy a hug.

Right now, Jake Peavy is my favorite Padre.

Tonight was the night that haters weren't allowed. At other times during the last few years, there'd be a few donkeys in the crowd jeering rather than cheering at Bonds, but tonight, those people either stayed home or kept quiet out of respect. Bonds got one standing ovation after another. When he caught an easy fly ball, he got an ovation. When he grounded out weakly down the first-base line, he got an ovation. When he butchered a couple of plays in the outfield, he got an ovation. When a fan ran out on the field in the general direction of Barry, only to be escorted off by the cops, the crowd began chanting "Bar-RY! Bar-RY!" When he came up for the second time, and the most memorable of his various entrance themes was played ("The Next Episode"), everyone stood and cheered. He grounded to the pitcher, and everyone cheered. When he hit that last long fly, everyone cheered. He hugged Peavy, he pointed a farewell to Black in the Padre dugout, he walked off the field. We cheered. One by one he gave and received hugs from his teammates and coaches. We continued to stand and cheer. Finally, before the game began again, he stepped out of the dugout one last time. We clapped and cheered, and he returned the favor, clapping towards the stands and then pointing to various areas. He then left for the clubhouse, and the cheering died down at last.

There will be plenty of time for a post mortem of this awful season, and plenty of time to look towards what will likely be an awful future (in 1994, the Giants let longtime fan favorite and top-notch player Will Clark go, which wasn't completely stupid, except they forgot to replace him, and the team ran one nonentity after another out there for a few years ... hopefully we won't be seeing the 2008 equivalent of Todd Benzinger playing leftfield for the Giants). I will note that the only way dumping Bonds will work out for the Giants is if they know what they are doing (i.e. they don't replace Bonds with somebody crappy, and don't re-sign Pedro Feliz, and don't re-sign Omar Vizquel), and I don't think they do, so it's going to be a long couple of years.

I'll say this. When the Giants traded Willie Mays, he was 41 years old and hitting .184. When they sold Juan Marichal, he was 36 years old and coming off of two losing seasons. When Willie McCovey retired in mid-season, he was 42 years old and hitting .204 with 1 HR.

Barry Bonds is 42 years old. This season he hit 28 homers, including the one that made him the all-time HR champ. He led the league in OBP and walks. He made the All-Star team. He even stole five bases without being caught. He missed almost 40 games, but when he did play, he remained one of the best hitters in the game. So, when he played tonight despite an injury that should have kept him on the bench, when he went 0-for-3 with only one good swing the entire night, when he flopped around in the outfield, we weren't sad, the way people were sad watching Willie Mays at the end of his career. Barry had a poor game because he was injured, and yes, he's old, too, but the sucker was still performing at a high level at the age of 42.

And on this night, the haters stayed home.


powers on magic

My old buddy Ann Powers does an excellent job getting to the bottom of Bruce's new album:

There comes a point in most believers' lives where faith transforms from an inevitability to a choice. Something alters life's usual patterns -- a personal tragedy, perhaps, or an intellectual realization -- and what seemed so true suddenly can't be trusted. This isn't true just for God-fearing people; any creed is vulnerable to such a crisis. Getting past it can feel like an accomplishment or a sneaking betrayal, depending on whether you genuinely renew your convictions or just decide that credulity is the best way to survive.

Few artists must feel the obligation to keep the faith as heavily as Bruce Springsteen. For nearly 40 years, he's relentlessly returned to one great subject: that moment when an ordinary person confronts some higher power, whether it's love or death or the state patrol, and makes an ennobling if sometimes fatally wrongheaded commitment to act.

Springsteen's fascination with these personal epiphanies has earned him a massive cult, and why not? His lyrics blend religious and secular scenarios to describe the various apocalypses his fans might encounter in their own lives. Rife with Catholic imagery but attached to the kind of rousing rock that follows directly from American revivalist and black church traditions, Springsteen turns his tales into rituals. Each hearing allows the committed fan to renew her devotion, not just to the Boss, but to her own path.

What happens, though, when the prophet begins to wonder if it's all a hollow game? That's when choice comes in. On "Magic," Springsteen's 16th studio album and the latest to reunite him with the E Street Band -- his gospel choir -- he recommits fully to the uplifting oomph of his rock 'n' roll formula. But a sadder and wiser willfulness permeates these 12 tracks. It's present in the music, which removes all gunk from the formulas Springsteen's been using forever and gets them shining. And it's deeply embedded in lyrics that examine what happens after illusions are shattered, and life just goes on....

"Magic" unfolds beyond any reference point besides Springsteen's own body of work -- which makes sense, since it's a ritual object, with every song designed to fit into the arena shows where devotees will soon commune....

It's the way Springsteen injects his American bible stories with the air of disbelief that makes "Magic" a truly mature and memorable album. He knows his fans need that rush, that jump outside their own feelings of disappointment and limitation, that he's given them for so long. Yet more and more, he seems to realize that disappointment and limitation are his métier, and that sometimes a giant saxophone fill and a chorus about hungry hearts can't solve the problem. "Magic" bares its own devices beautifully, providing a kind of transcendence that allows for listeners to keep their feet on the ground. Believe in it, if you choose.

The main thing I've noticed about people's reaction to Magic is that whether they like it or not, they feel obliged to note that it sounds like a return to Bruce's past. The best critics, though, go one step further ... they ask why Bruce would take such a step, analyze the move beyond a simple "it's like 1980." Ann gets it just right, as usual.


women's world cup

I haven't written about the Women's World Cup, which has now reached the semi-finals. My reasons are probably lame, but here goes. I'm a longtime supporter of women's sports, and think in some cases, most notably tennis, the women's game is preferable to the men's. I had the pleasure of watching Mia Hamm and her teammates play on several occasions, and they are as good as advertised.

Having said that, I don't always find myself interested in women's soccer matches. The skill at this highest level is top-notch, but the play is slower, which I don't notice if all I'm watching is women's soccer, but which becomes obvious the minute I watch a men's match. And there are so many options for soccer viewers in the U.S. nowadays, that women's matches are always up against half a dozen other contests.

It's like with MLS ... when the Earthquakes exist, I follow the league and the Quakes are my favorite and I attend as many matches as I can, because they're "my" team, and that trumps all else (I am, for instance, a Giants fan first and a baseball fan second). But with the absence of the Quakes from MLS the last couple of seasons, I've barely watched a match. The quality of MLS matches is OK, certainly better than it was ten years ago, but they are nonetheless not up to the level of the other stuff I can watch. Given a choice between Liverpool, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Werder Bremen, Boca Juniors, Chivas of Guadalajara, and the Houston Dynamo, I'm going to be watching six other matches before I get around to MLS. Today, for example, I could watch matches from Italy, Spain, or Germany, I could watch an international club match featuring Chivas, and I could watch the Germany-Norway WWC semi-final match. The truth is, I'll probably watch the Italian match and record the Chivas match.

The point is, I'm not particularly knowledgable about the women's game, so I have little of interest to say. But I will be watching the USA take on Brazil tomorrow morning in the semi-finals, and I look forward to an entertaining contest.

All of which is a long-winded way to get to the following rather astonishing news. The USA women haven't lost a match in a bazillion years, and have only lost once to Brazil, ever. Team goalkeeper Hope Solo has been the #1 for three years now, and has been in the nets for the entire Cup so far, which includes shutouts in the last three matches.

Coach Greg Ryan has decided to start someone else in goal against Brazil.

I'm not sure it matters who he has chosen (it's veteran Briana Scurry, one of the finest keepers in U.S. history, who has done well against Brazil in the past). It's the idea: changing keepers for strategic reasons in the semi-finals of the World Cup. If you follow any sports at all, you can picture similar possibilities ... going with the backup QB in the NFL playoffs, benching your star center in the Final Four, leaving the fastest runner off the Olympic team. Solo is not the team's best player, Scurry is no slouch, as many have noted this match will be won in midfield, not in goal ... all may be true. But this is a remarkable move by Coach Ryan, one that leaves him pretty much out on the proverbial limb. We'll know tomorrow whether Ryan is Connie Mack with Howard Ehmke, or Dusty Baker with Salomon Torres.


in spite of ourselves

When this blog was barely more than a month old, I quoted these lyrics. Five and a half years later, they're more true than ever:

John: She thinks all my jokes are corny
Convict movies make her horny
She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs
Swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs
She takes a lickin'
And keeps on tickin'
I'm never gonna let her go

Iris: He's got more balls than a big brass monkey
He's a wacked out weirdo and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he's howlin' at the moon
He's my baby I don't mean maybe
Never gonna let him go

Both: In spite of ourselves
Well end up a'sittin on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
We're gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes


bruce tour almost begins, setlist spoiler version

The first Asbury Park Rehearsal Show was tonight. Don't read if you don't like to know what's been played.

He opened with "Radio Nowhere." Played seven songs from the new album. Three each from Born to Run, Darkness, BitUSA, and The Rising. Nothing from any of the albums between BitUSA and The Rising, nothing from Devils and Dust. Finished with "American Land," which I suppose is a bit of a surprise. Twenty-one songs total, of which I've only listed twenty. Can you guess what the big surprise was? It was the first encore song.

Last chance for the spoilerphobic to leave ...

"Thundercrack"


chuck

I watched the pilot for Chuck, a new series debuting on NBC tonight, a couple of weeks ago, and forgot to write anything about it. That's probably all you need to know. The reviews, which are mostly good (it gets 74 out of 100 at Metacritic, although it's not a good sign that the lowest rating by far comes from our beloved Tim Goodman), focus on the charming performance by Zachary Levi as the title character, and he is indeed charming. But the show is nothing special, and while "nothing special" combined with "charming actor in title role" might have been good enough once upon a time, there's too much good TV these days for a show like Chuck to be worth more than maybe a second look.

I'll watch another episode, because Robin liked it OK, and because the new trend towards what someone called "beta males" is interesting (all of the alpha males are women any more). I'm enough of a Guy that I prefer my men alpha … but then, I also prefer my women alpha, too. All else being equal, I'd rather watch a woman kick ass than watch a man not kick ass. Which is just my way of saying Chuck might turn out to be a decent series, but I doubt it's gonna be my series.


i don't need to say anything while joe sheehan is in the house

Back when I wrote for the Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan edited most of my work, which made me look a lot better than if I'd been left to my own devices. He remains one of the best things about BP, as is obvious, considering how often I link to his stuff. Here he is on the last days of Bonds the Giant, and yes, I agree with him:

Of course, the story about Bonds, for that crowd [the SF media], has never been about performance. It’s always been about Bonds’ disdain for the media, his refusal to provide access and quotes and make the media’s job easier. I have no doubt that if you have to deal with Bonds on a daily basis—if dealing with him is a major part of your job description—that it would make your life difficult. However, to allow that one aspect of the man to become the driving force for years of negative coverage strikes me, has always struck me, as just as unprofessional as his approach. The disdain for Barry Bonds among the local media is disproportionate to anything the man has ever done, amounting to a collective tantrum that has poisoned the man’s reputation among baseball fans nationwide. Bonds’ relationship to the media, and the media’s treatment of him because of it, queers the entire discussion about Bonds’ accomplishments and whether they may have been influenced by extra-legal actions on his part. He’s never been evaluated fairly because the world has been told he’s a bad guy, and we don’t like bad guys. The people who see the Bonds/public/media triangle as a racial matter miss the point; it’s not a lesson in how American treats black men; it’s a lesson in how the media can make or break men of any hue.


they aren't all republicans

Fucking dickheads, that is. Glenn Greenwald has the sad details:

[Dianne] Feinstein represents a deep blue state and was just easily re-elected to her third term last year. She won't run for re-election, if she ever does, until 2012, when she will be 80 years old.... She has as secure a political position as any politician in the country. Whatever explains what she does, it has nothing to do with "spinelessness" or fear. What would she possibly fear?

And yet, her votes over the last several years, and especially this year after she was safely re-elected, are infinitely closer to the Bush White House and her right-wing Senate colleagues than they are to the base of her party or to the constituents she allegedly represents. Just look at what she has done this year on the most critical and revealing votes:

* Voted in FAVOR of funding the Iraq War without conditions;

* Voted in FAVOR of the Bush White House's FISA bill to drastically expand warrantless eavesdropping powers;

* Voted in FAVOR of condemning MoveOn.org;

* Cast the deciding vote in August on the Senate Judiciary Committee in FAVOR of the nomination of far right Bush nominee Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2006, Feinstein not only voted in favor of extending the Patriot Act without any of the critical safeguards sought by Sen. Feingold, among others, but she was one of the most outspoken Democratic proponents arguing for its extension ("I have never been in favor of allowing any provisions of the Patriot Act to expire."). Also in 2006, she not only voted in favor of amending the Constitution to outlaw flag burning, but was, as she proudly described herself, "the main Democratic sponsor of this amendment."