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rowand and tejada

The Giants have designated Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for assignment, good moves in both cases.

Aaron Rowand had some good moments for the Giants, including his great 9th-inning catch to save Jonathan Sanchez’ no-hitter, and some nice Opening Day heroics. But each season was worse than the last, no surprise since Rowand was 30 in his first year with the club. He was an example of the kinds of mistakes the Giants used to make before their World Series title transformed Brian Sabean from idiot to savant. Rowand was coming off of his best season, making the All-Star game and winning a Gold Glove, both for the first time. His previous two years hadn’t gone well, and a reasonable evaluation of Rowand in the 2007 off-season was that he’d make a solid 4th outfielder for a couple of years.

So the Giants gave him a 5-year deal worth close to $60 million.

I don’t blame Rowand for signing that contract. Which of us would turn down $60 million to play baseball? He had a reputation for playing hard, and he maintained that reputation with the Giants. His frustration likely grew as his playing time lessened, but, whatever went on behind the scenes, he was careful not to go public with his dissatisfaction. But as time went on, he was no longer even a 4th outfielder … he was a 5th outfielder. He wasn’t needed, and was taking up a roster spot better filled by others. The Giants still owe him the remainder of this year’s contract (around $2 million) and $12 million for next year. But they owe him that money whether he’s on the roster or not, so it is best to let him go. The mistake was made four years ago; the blame lies at Brian Sabean’s doorstep.

Miguel Tejada had precious few good moments for the Giants. At his best, Tejada was a much better player than Rowand, a perennial MVP candidate who won the award with the A’s in 2002, playing in every game at SS, hitting .308 with 34 HR. In fact, Tejada played in every game for six straight seasons. Two years after his MVP season, he went to Baltimore and led the league with 150 RBI. As late as 2009 with Houston, Tejada hit .313, made the All-Star team, and led the league with 46 doubles.

Last year, though, a return to Baltimore didn’t go well. Tejada looked like the 36-year-old he was. No longer at SS, he moved to third base. In mid-season, he was traded to the Padres for their failed pennant drive, and he looked better, moving back to short and hitting reasonably well.

The Giants needed a SS for the 2011 season, and as I recall, the options were limited. The primary shortstops on their championship team were Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, the hero of the World Series. Renteria’s two-year stint with the Giants had been disappointing, due partly to injuries, although he’ll forever be thanked for those Series’ home runs. The Giants had paid him $18 million for those two years, and, finally learning their lesson, they weren’t going to offer Edgar that kind of money a second time. He signed with Cincy, where he is struggling. Uribe had a couple of good seasons for San Francisco, but he wanted a bit more money and a bit longer contract than the team was willing to give up. The Dodgers signed him for 3 years and $21 million … so far this season, he is hitting .204 for them.

So, the Giants were smart to avoid those two. Brandon Crawford has a nice glove, but he’d only managed a .236 average in Hi-A/AA last year. Given 50 games to prove himself in 2011 for the Giants, he showed that nice glove, but hit .190 before he was sent back to the minors.

I may be forgetting some free agent they could have had. But, given the lack of options, I don’t know that one year of Tejada at $6.5 million was all that bad an idea. It didn’t work out well, but that’s hindsight.

So we’re left with Rowand, who gave us a few good memories (and far too many looks at that awful batting stance) but who was a bad signing from the beginning, and Tejada, who gave us few good memories and hit better than Crawford or late arrival Orlando Cabrera, but who also likely sealed his fate with his prideful, me-first attitude when asked to bunt a few days ago. Both are gone now, for good reason.

Tonight is the final episode of the Showtime reality series about the team, and whatever the quality of the show, one thing it accomplishes is turning big-stage athletes into regular people. Watching the show, it is hard to get mad at underperforming players … you can see how hard they are trying to recover their lost talents, can see them with their families, with each other, and suddenly it doesn’t feel as good ripping the Rowands and the Tejadas. And I’m not trying to rip them, now. But, particularly in the case of Rowand, I hope the Giants’ braintrust has learned something about handing five-year deals to average outfielders in their 30s.

technology meets the new paradigm

Every major-league baseball team relies on sabermetric analysis these days. The Giants may be less interested than most teams, although a World Series championship will calm a lot of fears. But even the Giants have the information. Their general manager, Brian Sabean, is an old-school guy, once a scout, who relies strongly on the scouts he has in his system, and someone, Sabes or someone he hired, gets credit for the fine job the team has done with pitching.

But progress doesn’t stop just because a new paradigm emerges. A general manager can make good use of the data now available, and I imagine at this point every franchise has a few statheads offering advice. But this is on the level of creating a roster. Things are happening elsewhere that are creating new situations once again.

Jayson Stark writes about this on the ESPN website today, and the subheading neatly encapsulates the story: “Technology -- namely the iPad -- is changing the way the game is played”.

This isn’t about someone crunching numbers and announcing that Player X would be a worthy signing. This is the players themselves using technology to improve their performance on the field. And, as the headline notes, the iPad is at the center of this.

Video analysis has long been available to players, but for many years, it was a clunky system (remember VHS?). Then, Stark points out, the iPod made it easier to carry information in your pocket for anytime-anyplace analysis. But the iPod screen was tiny, and the storage capabilities were not strong enough. Enter the iPad.

And now, most players carry their iPads with them wherever they go. “[T]he technological revolution has brought us apps and innovations that make it possible to load astounding amounts of video onto one iPad, link it to massive quantities of useful data, sort it a trillion different ways and allow these guys to find just about anything they need -- with one tap of their iPad screen.”

I’d foreground two points here. One way a new paradigm arrives is that the old school dies off. Most baseball players now have spent their entire lives with the kind of technology an iPad represents. They aren’t afraid of it; they embrace it. Which means they use it.

The second point grows out of the general direction of Stark’s article. Most of the examples he gives are of pitchers using data to refine how they will pitch to batters, and of managers using data to maximize the efforts of their defense. In all of this, the intended result is to prevent the batter from succeeding. As Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, an ardent proponent of the use of technology, puts it, “if there's any kind of football tenet that I want to draw, I want us to be aggressive on defense”.

Batters are frustrated by all of these combined attempts to make the batter’s job more difficult. And offense is down this season. Which leads to my second point.

I have long maintained that it is easier for coaches to impose themselves on a game through defense than through offense. You can’t coach the greatness of a Lionel Messi or LeBron James. What a coach can do, though, is try to build defenses that stymie the magical offensive talents of the Messis and LeBrons. Over the course of time, coaches will prove their usefulness by concocting brilliant defensive schemes, because they can’t really take credit for telling Leo Messi score a goal.

The result is that basketball and soccer are more low-scoring than they used to be. It’s not that the players of today are worse … it’s not that they lack fundamentals or are undisciplined … it’s that the other team has refined their ability to stop the players of today from scoring. Defense is what coaching is all about, at this point.

And now we have innovative baseball managers like Joe Maddon, who works with his iPad every morning as he enjoys his tea at Starbuck’s, trying to figure out how to prevent the other team from scoring.

I don’t know enough about the technology, or about the skills involved in hitting a baseball, to know how a batter could use the technology to counter the effects of the opposing pitcher, fielders, and manager. Stark states, “There are always going to be athletes so talented that there's no safe way to pitch them or defend them.” But for the rest? Perhaps the Giants, with their endless run of 2-1 and 1-0 games, are welcoming us to the new world of baseball. As Stark says, “It's incredible anybody ever gets a hit.”

steven’s spotify top 20

The weekly update has arrived, on Monday instead of Tuesday.

Steven’s Top List: 8-29-11

I’m still trying to figure out how they calculate these things. It appears to be some combination of frequency of times played, with more recent listens counting more. But I don’t really know, and I definitely don’t understand the list. The top eleven tracks on last week’s list are gone, in any event.

The top five tracks of the week:

  • 5: “Nobody But You Babe” by Clarence Reid, who might be better known for his Blowfly persona.
  • 4: “I Don’t Know Why” by Eric Clapton, from his 1970 solo debut album.
  • 3: “Bowling Green” by the Everly Brothers, the last time they would make the charts.
  • 2: “Hide & Go Seek” by Bunker Hill, featured in the most recent Music Friday.

And the #1 track of the week:

what i watched last week

Got caught up in finishing my Facebook watching, plus the semester started this week, which took up a lot of my time. So here’s all I’ve got:

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949). #5 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #29 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959). #4 on my Facebook list, #59 on the TSPDT list. 10/10.

the social me

There’s been a lot of noise today coming from the park a couple of blocks from our house. I’ve been out a couple of times, and had to drive a bit out of my way to get around. Plus, our entire block is filled with parked cars … I even saw one person waiting for someone else to leave so they could take their spot … understand, this is not normal, even when someone on the block has a big party, there is usually a space or two to park your car.

Being clueless, I had no idea what was happening at the park. I could have walked over there … that would be, oh, a two-minute jaunt. I could have driven by there when I was in the car. But no, I searched for the name of the park on Twitter, and found out that the affair in question was a Berkeley High reunion party.

Is the point of this anecdote that the modern era of social networking is a good thing because information is at our fingertips? Or is it that I am such a pathetic hermit I’d rather find out what’s happening in my neighborhood via the Internet than actually talk to a human being?

music friday: bunker hill, “hide and go seek”

Usually I post a video or three of a favorite artist, but this time is more like an archeological study. I heard of this track via Alex McNeil’s Lost and Found show on WMBR. It certainly grabs your attention, and I wondered where the hell it had come from. I didn’t know the track … heck, I didn’t know who Bunker Hill was.

I couldn’t find anything about Bunker Hill on Wikipedia. McNeil’s playlist tells me the song came out in 1962. AMG tells us that the track appeared on The Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 6 (they quote the liner notes, which claim that “Hide and Go Seek” sounds “like a gospel holler in a squash court”), and The Northern Soul Story Vol.2 (Golden Torch). The song appeared on the Billboard charts, #27 on R&B Singles, #33 on the Hot 100.

Such are the changing ways of social media that I never thought of looking on MySpace. Sure enough, Hill has a page there. He was born in 1941 and grew up around Washington, D.C. He sang gospel, and worked as a professional boxer, at one point being the sparring partner of Archie Moore.

Eventually, he hit the studio and recorded a few singles for a man named Vernon Wray. And that’s where I can connect with the story. Wray played in a band with two of his brothers. In 1958, they had cut one of the most influential instrumentals in rock and roll history, “Rumble,” under the name “Link Wray and His Ray Men.” Link was Vernon’s brother, and the late guitarist is a legend of rock and roll (I had a chance to see him in the late 70s when he teamed up with Robert Gordon).

So the band backing Bunker Hill on “Hide and Go Seek” is essentially Link Wray and His Ray Men, and that makes sense now that I'm aware of it. Nothing Wray ever did vocally matched what Bunker Hill had to offer, though … if you’ve ever heard the Little Richard clone, Esquerita, you’ll get an idea, or maybe a more current example, Barrence Whitfield. Or Gary U.S. Bonds back when he was being recorded in a shower stall, or whatever they did to make “Quarter to Three” sound like that.

As I searched for the lyrics to “Hide and Go Seek,” I found a veritable wealth of information about Hill (a good overview can be found here). I learned, for instance, that Joan Jett covered the song. She cleaned up the sound quite a bit, which tells you just how messy Hill’s original was, when Joan Jett sounds clean in comparison. I can also understand the lyrics, kind of like when Linda Ronstadt covered “Tumbling Dice.” Oh, and John Waters used it in Hairspray. Clearly, I’ve known about this song all along, and just didn’t realize it.

So, here goes. First, Bunker Hill’s original. This is Parts 1 and 2:

And here is Joan Jett:

Finally, because I can’t resist, a little something for people who read this far, and/or are fans of either Esquerita or Barrence Whitfield (another artist I had the pleasure of seeing many years ago). Here is Whitfield doing a podcast out of his kitchen, playing an Esquerita record, acknowledging his debt, and finally, bursting out of his chair because he can’t take it no more!

the continuing adventures of customer service

This will necessarily be vague, since I don’t think it’s a good idea to mention the service in question, and it’s not really relevant, anyway. I actually had a good encounter with customer service today.

It didn’t seem promising at the beginning. The number I called apparently sent me to an answering service. I kept trying to explain the problem, she never understood. Finally, she took my number and said someone would call me back. At that point, I was already composing this message in my mind, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Well, the return call came within a couple of minutes. It was the owner of the company in question! He was very nice, answered all of my questions, and was even charming in the way he slipped a little advertisement for his business into the conversation.

I know this is pretty much a nothing post, but I figure since I’m always bitching about customer service, I should say something when it goes well. If nothing else, I can use this as a point of comparison the next time I get the usual Customer Service from Hell.

50 movies

Today, I watched the last of the movies on the Facebook list of my 50 favorite movies, part of a group that started the project a few months ago. Tomorrow I will post #5 … we still have a couple of weeks to go, each of us posting twice a week … but I’m a bit ahead, and now I’ve seen and written about them all.

It has been a very interesting project, and my own participation has not been the most interesting part, at least for me. I haven’t had many oddball choices. There were some at the beginning of the list, when I felt a certain freedom to be goofy (#46: Evil Dead II). But my four most recent picks (#6-9) have been A Streetcar Named Desire, The Wild Bunch, Citizen Kane, and The Rules of the Game, not exactly risky choices. The best part of my own list has been reading the comments from the folks in our group. It’s safe to say that not everyone has liked all of my picks, but their comments were always enjoyable, and often showed me an angle I hadn’t considered.

The most interesting part has been seeing what turned up on the lists of Jeff Pike and Phil Dellio, the others who have made lists for this thing. Sometimes, they’ll choose a movie I don’t much care for (Elephant), while other times they’ll choose a movie that just missed making my own list (Chinatown). It’s been a learning experience seeing what they had to say about such movies, but even better has been the list of films I’ve never seen. I’ve been watching them, one by one, and it is a lot of fun seeing these movies for the first time, in the context of lists of someone’s favorite movies.

I’m thinking of running my own list on this blog, once we’re done on Facebook, maybe put up my pieces a couple of times a week. At this point, there are close to 50 people in the group, but most of them don’t comment, and I know there are people who read this blog but haven’t joined the FB group, and thus will have missed out on 150 fine short essays about some great movies. So I may cannibalize my own essays, starting sometime next month.

steven’s spotify top 20

The weekly update has arrived:

Last week’s #1, “When You Took Your Love from Me” by O.V. Wright, falls to #8. The Rolling Stones are the only artists to show up twice, at #9 with “Sad Sad Sad” from Steel Wheels, and “Jiving Sister Fanny”, an obscure late-60s track that turned up on the outtakes album Metamorphosis.

The top five tracks of the week (however Spotify calculates them) are:

  • 5: “Break You Hard” by Natalia Kills, from the debut album by the former British teen-pop star
  • 4: “Gently Tender” by the Incredible String Band, from The 5000 Layers or the Layers of the Onion (1967)
  • 3: “Liberation” by the Pet Shop Boys (1993)
  • 2: “Ski Bunny” by Boss Hog, from their mid-90s major-label debut

And the #1 track of the week: