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August 2008
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October 2008

giants 2008 post-mortem

Went to Fan Appreciation Day yesterday. The fans seemed to appreciate Tim Lincecum and Omar Vizquel. Their win gave them a final record of 72-90, which was actually an improvement over last year's 91-loss season. They have now had losing seasons for four straight years, which hasn't happened since the mid-70s.

I began the season quoting Joe Sheehan: "The problem isn’t that this is a bad team. It’s that it’s a bad and boring team, with veterans who weren’t good enough to win when they had Bonds as a teammate, and now form a lineup that calls to mind the waning days of the Rachel Phelps Era.... This isn’t an effort at rebuilding. Frankly, I have no idea what it is, and I suspect the Giants front office doesn’t, either.... Quite frankly, I’m astounded that a professional baseball organization could be so ill-prepared for injuries that upon losing one shortstop and one third baseman, it was left with waiver bait and a guy who was overmatched in A-ball as its best options."

Obviously, the absence of Barry Bonds was the biggest difference between 2008 and all the other years since 1993. (Bonds never retired, but no one signed him. When Kevin Frandsen, who missed the entire season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, got an AB as a pinch-hitter yesterday, it gave him one more plate appearance for the season than Bonds.)

Just as obviously, the team had one player who was light years ahead of his teammates. This time it was a pitcher, Tim Lincecum, who as of this writing is a legitimate candidate for the Cy Young Award. The Giants took that award far too seriously, working Lincecum hard late in the season ... whether you think pitch counts are proven markers of abuse, or just something that has yet to be decided one way or the other, there was something stupid about pressing the best hope for the team's future just to improve his Cy Young chances.

The team's pitching is supposed to be their strong point, but I'd argue it's not that simple. Lincecum is a stud, and if he wasn't around, Matt Cain would be better recognized ... Cain, who is actually even younger than Lincecum, has never had a bad season in the majors. But after that, the rotation struggled ... Jonathan Sanchez has yet to emerge past the potential stage, and the rest are young and mediocre, or named Barry Zito. Sergio Ramos looks good out of the bullpen, and while saves have little to do with quality, Brian Wilson and his 41 saves pitched better than his 4.62 ERA might suggest. My point, though, is that while the team clearly needs offensive help, the pitching isn't as deep as people think. In other words, shut up with those Let's Trade Cain rumors.

The offense sucked, but there looks to be help down the road. How far down the road is hard to say, but it's actually a good time to be a Giants fan as far as hitting prospects go, and that's pretty unusual in the Brian Sabean era. Sabean (or whoever makes the personnel decisions on this team) has a lot to answer for, and my fame as a Sabean Basher is known. But there might be light at the end of that tunnel. If Sabean was fired tomorrow, I wouldn't shed any tears, and I really wish the team had someone, anyone, who had a clue about modern statistical player evaluation. But having said that, by the end of the season, Sabean convinced me that he deserved another year to bring this team into the post-Bonds era. Some of the problems happened on his watch, so he's not off my shitlist yet. But a good draft and a couple of appealing young players make me feel benevolent towards the man. It would have been preferable if, when the team finally entered a youth movement, they actually had some young players worth playing. But the team's future offense looks better now that it did a couple of years ago, and when you lose year after year, that's nice to see.

Probably the most important thing about the 2008 Giants, from my perspective, took place off the field, although the play on the field surely affected this. I had partial season ticket plans for most of the years between 1984 and 1999, and when the team moved to China Basin, I went for the full package. I've now spent nine years sitting in the upper deck behind home plate, dumping thousands of dollars a year into the Giants coffers. The first year, I don't think my seats were empty one time ... either I'd go or I'd find someone who wanted to buy them. After a few years, it got harder to sell my extras, but I was still going to lots of games myself, and having a fine time in the process. In 2004, the last time the Giants had a winning record, I attended 35 games ... a little less than half ... don't know how many I sold, probably somewhere between one and two dozen ... the per-game cost was going up, but I was still having a fine time.

The problem nowadays is that no one really feels like going to the game. There's no Barry to watch, the team isn't much good, and I guess I don't have as many friends as I thought :-). But it was very hard to find someone who wanted to go out to the park with me this year. The result was that I only went to 17 games, and that includes several mid-week day games where I went by myself. I sold the usual dozen ... I have a couple of people who buy some before the season ... but more than half of the time in 2008, my seats were empty. Of course, I still paid for them.

To put this in concrete terms, while I didn't keep track very closely, a conservative estimate would be that I spent in the neighborhood of $170/pair for the games I attended, if you start with the money I spent on season tickets and subtract the money I made from sales. $85 a seat, and I was in the upper deck.

Being a season ticket holder has its advantages. You always know you can go to any game you want, and, while it hasn't mattered recently, you are guaranteed post-season tickets. I've also attended the last 29 Opening Days, which is a lot easier when you have season tickets each year.

But I can't justify spending $170 per game. I could cherry-pick 17 games during the season, buy tickets on the secondary market, and average less than $170/game while sitting in much better seats. Essentially, I'm spending an extra $2000 or so per year to guarantee that I can spend a bunch more money if the team makes the post-season.

I don't know. I'm 55 years old, and for all I know, I'll go to my grave without seeing the Giants win the World Series. But I spend that money because I don't want them to finally win, and I'm watching on TV because I couldn't get tickets. Life goes on, though ... you can't always get what you want blah blah blah ...

One day sometime in the later parts of the 70s, I realized I hadn't worn a tie during the entire decade. Once I figured this out, it became a pride thing ... I wasn't going to wear a tie no matter what. I pulled it off, too ... I can honestly say that I never wore a tie, not even once, in the entire decade of the 1970s. And I didn't wear one during the early parts of the 1980s, either. But then I had a new revelation: it was becoming more work to refuse the tie than it was to just put the damn thing on. And the whole point all along was that ties weren't important. I was making them important, though, by refusing to wear them. So one day, I wore a tie, and it was a relief. I don't suppose I've worn a tie more than 20 times over the last 20 years, but I don't think about ties anymore, either, and that's the way it should be.

Every year I go to Opening Day, mostly because I love Opening Day, but also because I define myself in part as The Guy Who Always Goes to Opening Day. I never liked wearing ties, but other than that, this is kinda the same: part of my enjoyment of Opening Day is lessened because of that little thing inside me that MUST attend the opener, no matter what. I'm spending an extra $2000 a year so I can define myself as a Giants Season Ticket Holder. The question before me is whether that money creates a burden that is greater than the joy I'd get from being at a Giants playoff game.

And you know, that secondary market starts looking pretty good when I think like this. I could spent $400 on four decent-not-great Opening Day tix, spend $200 a few times a year to sit in the best seats, grab a couple of nice upper box seats at $75 for the pair at other times during the year ... I could do this, attend 17 games, and still save $1500 or so compared to season tickets in View Reserved. I could probably attend a few post-season games with the money I saved.

And I know for a fact that more people would want to go to the games with me if I had the nice seats in the lower deck.

In the end, the 2008 Giants can be summed up like this: I just spent more time talking about renewing my season tickets than I did talking about how well the team played.

chris rock: kill the messenger

This one was as funny as his other outings ... if you like him, you'll like this one. I find him to be hit-or-miss, but with more hits than misses. But that's not what I wanted to mention.

Rock has a verbal tic that doesn't work for me: he likes to repeat himself. He'll say something, then he'll say it again, and sometimes he'll say it one more time. I usually heard him the first time, so I get annoyed at the repeats, which just prolong the wait until the punch line.

Well, Kill the Messenger was filmed at three different shows in three different countries. Rock has a different outfit on for each of the three shows, and the video blends all three of them, so in the middle of a bit on, say, George Bush, he'll start off talking about Bush to people in London, then he'll continue talking but he'll be in South Africa, and he'll finish his riff from New York. I have no idea why they did this ... didn't add anything to the show from my perspective, just distracted me from the things that were making me laugh, which is why I watched in the first place.

But ... and if you read the above you should be able to figure out where I'm going with this ... the one thing that is more annoying than repeating something three times is repeating it three times in three places wearing three different outfits. My vote is that next time, he hones his act on the road as he always does, and then they film one and put it on HBO like they usually do. No need for three concerts squished into one ... it was like reading a paper from a student who makes the word-count requirement by saying the same thing several times.

adventures in customer support, not-a-bot edition

Just spent a little more than half an hour with Comcast, just to make an appointment to have the cable guy come out.

I tried calling on the phone, but was directed by a recording to try the web site. So I did a support chat, at the end of which I did my usual test that won't convince anyone, I guess, but I keep trying. Here is the relevant excerpt from the chat:

Divina.33264 > Is there anything else I can help you with? I will be glad to assist you.

Steven_ > just one more question, with apologies ... my wife and friends always tell me you folks are chat bots, so I ask a goofy question to prove them wrong ... if you don't mind, could you tell me what color lemons are?

Divina.33264 > Yellow.

Told ya so!

more mixview

I imagine this changes pretty frequently in the early days, when you haven't yet gotten around to playing all of your favorites, or maybe that one song you hate snuck in and so the software thinks you love it. Anyway, here's my Zune Mixview as of this afternoon:


Otis is still there, as is my Zune Friend/Bruce Fan. Elvis is still around. But Pink has disappeared, which will please Tomás (she'll be back!). Hüsker Dü has arrived ... no surprise there ... along with Anna Nalick and Tori Amos, who are "recently played."

Here's one more thing. Zune asks you for 8 favorite tracks that it uses to calculate your preferences and to connect you with other listeners. These are the 8 tracks I chose:

Prince, "When You Were Mine"

The Velvet Underground, "Heroin"

Pink, "Don't Let Me Get Me"

Hüsker Dü, "I Apologize"

Otis Redding, "I"ve Been Loving You Too Long"

Elvis, "One Night" from the '68 Special

Sleater-Kinney, "Youth Decay"

Bruce, "Born to Run"

the office, season premiere

Welcome back. A great opening episode that even managed to keep to a high level despite the 60-minute time slot (which didn't always happen last season). There was so much to like, and no, I won't give any of the big spoilers, but, just for starters, I love Amy Ryan, and she is perfect as Michael Scott's slightly more socially appropriate nerd-mate (clips may not play outside the U.S.):

And I love Jenna Fischer, and she's on top of her game as well. Plus, they had some fun with the mostly-tired-by-this-point documentary camera thingie:

friday random ten, 1995 edition

1. The Tony Rich Project, "Nobody Knows." This is a seriously demented song. Beautiful, sad, lovely ... but demented. He wants the world to know that only he knows that he's lonely. Wrap your brain around that one. Or just listen, it's really pretty.

2. Joan Osborne, "One of Us." They got two seasons of Joan of Arcadia out of this song.

3. Tracy Chapman, "Give Me One Reason." The ultimate folkie makes a comeback with a 12-bar blues. Went higher on the charts than "Fast Car."

4. Bonnie Raitt, "I Can't Make You Love Me." I'm one of those people who thinks Bonnie Raitt has a lot of great tracks. This may not be the best thing she ever recorded, but it's likely the best ballad. The 1995 version is from Road Tested.

5. Smashing Pumpkins, "1979." This one stands in for all the popular songs by bands like Oasis, played so often they perfectly recall their era, but nothing I actually care about in 2008.

6. Bruce Springsteen, "Back in Your Arms." In my life, I've seen Bruce perform around 200 different songs. I've never seen him sing this one, though, and it's always #1 on my "what song do you hope he'll play" list. The version on Tracks is good, but the snippets from the Blood Brothers documentary are the best.

7. Luniz, "I Got 5 on It (Bay Ballas Remix)." This remix featured just about every Bay Area rapper who was living and in the area at the time it was recorded ... a true super-session. And I can play it over and over, because I love the riff, and I love the chorus.

8. Method Man & Mary J. Blige, "I'll Be There for You / You're All I Need to Get By." This one won a Grammy. Method Man's had a long musical career, but he'll always be Cheese from The Wire to me. "They killed my dog!"

9. Garbage, "Queer." I don't know why this surprises me so much, but Shirley Manson is 42 years old.

10. Better Than Ezra, "Good." I always liked this song, but there's something generic about it. I can remember trying to get someone to recall it and not being able to because all I could say was that the chorus had "good" in it a lot.

Bonus track ... once again, nothing on Wolfgang's Vault from 1995, so here's another Bruce cut, covering John Lee Hooker:

the big screen is here

It's big by our standards ... 47" ... not really big in today's world, I suppose. For the moment, it's on the floor ... for the moment, I'm using the speakers in the TV ... for the moment, I don't have a Blu-ray player hooked up to it. It's just fine, I'm not complaining. We watched Ugly Betty as the first show on the new set ... very colorful :-). It already feels like it's been here forever. Can't wait for Mad Men.

doug henwood on the crisis

Doug is an old colleague, someone I always look to when the subject turns to money. He's got a piece in The Nation:

This is the point where it's irresistibly tempting to call for a re-regulation of finance. And that is sorely needed. But we also need to remember why finance, like many other areas of economic life, was deregulated starting in the 1970s. From the point of view of the elite, corporate profits were too low, workers were too demanding and the hand of government was too heavy. Deregulation was part of a broad assault to make the economy more "flexible," which translated into stagnant to declining wages and rising job insecurity for most Americans. And the medicine worked, from the elites' point of view. Corporate profitability rose dramatically from the early 1980s until sometime last year. The polarization of incomes wasn't an unwanted side effect of the medicine--it was part of the cure.

Although we're hearing a lot now about how the Reagan era is over and the era of big government is back, an expanded government isn't likely to do much more than rescue a failing financial system (in addition to the more familiar pursuits of waging war and jailing people). Nothing more humane will be pursued without a far more energized populace than we have. After this financial crisis and the likely bailout, it looks impossible to go back to the status quo ante--but we don't seem ready to move on to something appealingly new yet, either.

it's a great day for america

I could join the thousands of other bloggers who are posting clips from last night's David Letterman show, where guest John McCain canceled because he had to catch a plane to return to Washington because of the financial crisis, and was then caught redhanded by Dave's crew doing an interview with Katie Couric at the same time he supposedly couldn't be on Dave's show. But if you didn't watch, you can hunt those clips down pretty easily ... my favorite part is when Couric starts asking McCain a question and Dave yells at the monitor, "Hey, John, I got a question – do you need a ride to the airport?" (Alan Sepinwall posted a partial transcript of the episode, which isn't quite as good as seeing/hearing Dave, but useful if you can't watch videos at work).

Craig Ferguson isn't as famous as Dave, and he has a worse time slot than Dave, but ... well, my man crush on Ferguson has been obvious here for some time. So here's a video that, far as I can tell, isn't quite as ubiquitous (although TVtattle is on it) ... Craig Ferguson's monologue from last night, during which he discusses McCain's diss of Craig's boss and, fine new American citizen that he is, rips McCain for trying to suspend democracy ... hey, if you're familiar with Ferguson's monologues, you know that he often gets from point A to point B in a rather roundabout, unscripted fashion, so just watch it and you'll see (best tangent: when he talks about falling so low that even the pants-pissing hobos feel sorry for him).