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bochy and belt

Fair warning to the non-baseball fan: I make no effort in this post to appeal to a universal audience.

I was going to write something about Bruce Bochy today, but I slept in late, went out to brunch, and by the time I got around to writing, others had already said what needed to be said. So this will be one of those “sample other folks” posts.

To give context: first, stat analysts have long felt that the Giants are mistreating young first baseman Brandon Belt, who is still experiencing growing pains, but who is also already among the better hitters on the team. Nonetheless, the Giants continue to find reasons not to play Belt. They send him to the minors, they call him up and use him as a defensive sub, they sit him against lefties, they sit him in favor of the aging Aubrey Huff, they sit him for Brett Pill.

The more immediate context: yesterday, when Bochy announced that Belt would be sitting so he could get Hector Sanchez’ bat into the lineup … well, I’ll let Andrew Baggarly’s tweet speak for itself. “I asked Bochy if Sanchez's bat is preferable to Belt's. ‘Yeah, I think that's fair to say. Wouldn't you?’”

This is what inspired me to write today, but like I say, I’m too late to the game to add anything of interest. So here are a few columns inspired by Bochy’s thoughts on the relative merits of Sanchez and Belt:

Rob Neyer:

Uh, no. It's not fair to say. It's actually sort of stupid to say that Héctor Sánchez's bat is preferable to Brandon Belt's. Considering everything that's come before, it's pretty clear that Bochy simply doesn't like Belt as a baseball player. So the Giants should trade him. Because he should be playing, somewhere.

Grant Brisbee:

I feel like Rod Serling is narrating this. Because here's what Hector Sanchez has done better than Brandon Belt this season: He'll hit an additional single in about four out of every 100 at-bats. Belt is doing everything else better. He's hitting for more power. He's taking more walks. He's faster. When he's in the lineup, the defense is much better. …

[T]he burden of proof is on the Giants. Every year, they're at the bottom of baseball when it comes to runs scored. Every year, they're at the bottom of baseball when it comes to on-base percentage. Every year, they're at the bottom of baseball when it comes to players swinging out of the strike zone. Those three things correlate quite well. Which makes you think you're taking crazy pills when Bochy, or anyone else, says, "Hey, you know what will help us with this scoring-runs conundrum? A guy with an awful on-base percentage who swings out of the strike zone more than just about anyone else in baseball?" I mean, that's exactly what you've tried every year. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work.

Mark Reynolds:

Bochy has been in professional baseball longer than I have been alive. He has a World Series Championship as a manager on his resume. He also has more information at his disposal and more expertise than most baseball writers have.

Yet on this debate, Bochy is wrong. When Bochy sits Belt, he is weakening the Giants' ability to get on base, hit for power and prevent the opposition from scoring.

If Bochy isn't willing to give Belt the opportunity to play everyday, the Giants front office should find an organization that will give Belt that chance. Play him or trade him, because the current plan is hindering Belt's development and weakening the Giants.

Dustin Parkes:

Brandon Belt is a vastly superior batter to Hector Sanchez. It isn’t even close. At every level of professional baseball, Belt has outperformed Sanchez, including this season, wherein Belt has provided the Giants with their fifth highest level of offensive contribution in terms of batting runs above average despite far fewer opportunities than the teammates that surround him in the rankings. …

Given the numbers and his pedigree as a prospect, it’s quite obvious to any neutral observer that Brandon Belt should be playing more, not less. So how does Bochy continue to justify not handing him a job as a regular on the team? The latest reasoning centers around Sanchez having the hotter bat. …

Sanchez, indeed was coming off of a solid performance. He went 4 for 6 in the team’s last game against the Houston Astros, knocking in two runs including the winner in extra innings. However, the only reason the game went to extra innings was because of his dropped third strike and subsequent misfire to first base. Meanwhile, Belt spent the series avoiding outs in 40% of his plate appearances.

Sure. Sanchez played well in a single game, but Belt’s played well over the entire season to date, and over most a professional career. This doesn’t seem to matter to some, though.

If you’re still reading, I’ll just add that Bruce Bochy will always deserve our thanks for managing the 2010 Giants to a World Championship. But I feel sorry for Brandon Belt. He’s a solid contributor to the Giants, and I’d like to see him contribute for years to come. But for his sake, even though it might hurt the Giants, I have to hope that Belt gets traded to someone who appreciates what he can do. Because right now, he’s underappreciated.


the newsroom: i'll try to fix you

The Newsroom has gotten some harsh reviews, and while I agree with much of what is said, I’m fond enough of Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue that I’ve stuck with the show.

More than one person suggested that Sunday’s episode, “I’ll Try to Fix You”, was the worst one yet, and I avoided reading anything on Twitter to avoid spoilers. Now that I’ve seen the episode, I was able to go back and see people’s reaction, and I was surprised to find mostly positive comments.

Surprised, because there was something that happened in that episode that I found more than a little troubling.(If you don’t want spoilers, go away now.)

Most of the episode was typical for what we’ve seen so far. Plenty of witty dialogue delivered at a rapid-fire pace, lots of condescension towards the female characters, and a ton of speechifying where every character on the show serves not as an individual but as a mouthpiece for Sorkin. I agree with a lot of what is said in those harangues, but the soap-box aspect isn’t why I watch TV.

And so to the final minutes of the episode. All of the various possible men/women combos that are currently romancing, having sex, dating, or just working together, have come together so that the only people not involved in a stupid argument are the group that are listening to a boring story about Big Foot. Then, a news bulletin comes across the wires. (For those who don’t watch, The Newsroom takes place a couple of years in the past, and this episode began on New Year’s Eve, 2010, then moving into January of 2011.) Gabrielle Giffords has been shot.

Instantly, the newsroom bursts into action: there’s a story to cover. All of the romances and Big Foot stories are put aside, so the team can work together on the big story. It is, to be fair, inspiring … this is what Sorkin does well on this show.

But I couldn’t get one thought out of my mind: Aaron Sorkin was using the recent assassination attempt on Giffords, who eighteen months later is still on a long fight to regain something of what she lost in the shooting, Sorkin was using this as a plot device. I thought this was, at best, in extremely bad taste.

What made it worse was when all the networks were saying Giffords was dead, and one of the show’s network honchos was demanding that his network called it too, someone states that they are talking about a person, and doctors are the ones who call it when a person dies, not a news organization. Of course, she does live, and everyone can feel superior because once again, our heroes have Done the Right Thing as a news organization.

I just found it pretty arrogant that the moral high ground in the scene was taken by those who wanted to treat Giffords as a person, not just a news story. Because that’s the exact opposite of what Sorkin did. He used the shooting to move his story forward.

I’m not sure why this bothered me so. It’s not impossible to fictionalize real life events without condescending … Treme, which is a post-Katrina tale, never feels exploitative to my mind. But in “I’ll Try to Fix You”, I felt strongly that Giffords was being exploited in order to make for better drama. That this happens on a series with a heavy dose of sanctimony only makes it worse.

Alan Sepinwall, who disliked most of the episode, said that he actually liked the ending, and reading that, I thought I must be off track with my own take. But, having explained why he liked it, he proceeded to echo my own opinion:

The other thing that bothered me was the way the sequence eventually turned into an excuse for the characters to feel good about themselves, to turn this shooting — in which six people died (including a nine-year-old girl), Giffords suffered brain damage that has (for now) ended her political career, etc. — into something that's all about them and their problems. … I don't care that Jim's instincts were proven right, that Will is going to fight back against Leona, that Mac is just so, so sorry about the many ways she injured Will. That becomes irrelevant in this moment, and the show and its characters seem self-indulgent …

Is anyone out there watching this series? Am I completely off base?


manuel vázquez montalbán, “offside”

My review of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Pepe Carvalho detective novel, Offside, is online at Souciant magazine’s website:

Spain, the False Nine

Carvalho’s nostalgia is balanced by the fact that he had been a political prisoner under Franco. And many of Carvalho’s observations of Barcelona’s decline (in his eyes) are on target. He isn’t thinking back to a time when everything was good as much as he is bemoaning the negative aspects of “freedom” under a constitutional monarchy, where the strong can still swallow the weak. This is not the typical nostalgia for a better time, but rather the realization that there was a time when one could hope for a better future; now that the future has become the present, Carvalho knows that some things haven’t changed in the right ways.


giants hall of pretty good

I’m in the middle of reading a new book called The Hall of Nearly Great, which features essays on baseball players who weren’t quite good enough for the Hall of Fame, but who deserve to be remembered. Giants fans will note the presence of such Nearly Great Giants as Bobby Bonds, Reggie Smith, Kenny Lofton, Will Clark, Moises Alou, and Ellis Burks. I got an advance copy because I donated to their Kickstarter fund. Beginning on July 18, you can get your own copy (it’s an E-book) … the website is The Hall of Nearly Great.

The book inspired me to think about old Giants who aren’t remembered as well as they ought to be, which led me to Baseball-reference.com. I thought I should go one step beyond what’s in the book, since they’ve already done the Nearly Greats. So I decided to find the best San Francisco Giants who met the following criteria:

  • Played for the Giants since they came to San Francisco
  • Never made the All-Star team during their career

I used the B-R formula for Wins above replacement (WAR) to rank the players, counting only their stats as a Giant. Here’s what I came up with:

C: Kirt Manwaring. He doesn’t make this list for his bat. He won a Gold Glove in 1993 for the team that won 103 games.

1B: J.T. Snow. I admit I didn’t realize he’d never been an All-Star. He spent 10 years with the Giants, and for all my complaining, he was a useful hitter (.369 OBP with SF). He also won 4 Gold Gloves for the team.

2B: Tito Fuentes. Tito’s presence here is a sign that the Giants had some pretty good second basemen over the years … most of the people you could think of off the top of your head made at least one All-Star game at some point in their career. Fuentes wasn’t much of a hitter, and his glove was average. If he played today, people would complain, but as I tell my son, in the 1960s, a middle-infielder who hit for a decent average without any walks or power was considered OK. Tito finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1966, behind Tommy Helms and Sonny Jackson.

3B: Bill Mueller. Another case where I’m surprised he never made the All-Star team, not even in 2003, when he led the AL in hitting for the Red Sox. Mueller had a .369 OBP in over 600 games as a Giant, and his defense was serviceable.

SS: Jose Uribe. Like Manwaring, Uribe doesn’t make this list for his bat. His line for the 8 seasons he spent with the team: .241/.299/.316. (That’s an OPS+ of 76, for those of you scoring at home.) He had a nice glove, although never good enough to win a Gold Glove. Fans loved chanting his name, and I’d guess folks have fonder memories of him than they do for a lot of other players on this list.

LF: Ken Henderson. The Giants had so many Next Willie Mays guys in the first decade-and-a-half in SF. He had a good enough glove to play center, but Mays was already there. He would hit the occasional homer and steal the occasional base, but we’re talking mid-to-high teens … he was never going to be a 30/30 man. He had his best year with the White Sox, and managed to stick around another six years after that. And he hit pretty well from 1970-2 with the Giants.

CF: Andres Torres. This is a real surprise. The more obvious choice would be Garry Maddox. But Maddox played for the Giants at the beginning of his career, before all the Gold Gloves. Torres had his best years in San Francisco, and in 2010, he combined an OPS+ of 122 with 26 steals and excellent defense in CF.

RF: Willie Kirkland. The Giants had a lot of All-Star RF who don’t make this list, I guess. Kirkland began his career when the team came to SF in ‘58, and I remember him being fairly popular. He was an OK hitter, had 57 HR with an OPS+ of 112, and his defence, while nothing to brag about, didn’t reach the depths of his last years in the game.

SP: Ed Halicki. Big Ed was good enough to throw a no-hitter and a one-hitter while with the Giants, and he led the league in WHIP in 1978, when the Giants led the division for much of the season. But he never made the All-Star team … he had a losing record because he pitched for some crappy teams (he played in the majors for 7 seasons and never made the post-season), and his ERA+ tells the story effectively: 103, just a tad above average.

RP: Frank Linzy. As a 24-year-old rookie in 1965, Linzy saved 21 games and finished 13th in the year’s MVP voting. He had some fine years as a Giant, although he dropped off drastically in 1970 (7.01 ERA), which prompted the team to trade him away. He regained whatever he’d lost, and pitched well for another four years. He was not a closer in the modern sense. He saved 78 games for the Giants, but also won 48 (in 1969, he was 14-9 with 11 saves pitching solely out of the bullpen).

S/RP: Jim Barr. I had to figure out a way to work Barr into this conversation, because he exemplifies the Pretty Good Giant. While he was a rotation mainstay for a few years, overall he was whatever the team needed. He started 220 games as a Giant, and pitched in relief 174 times. He had moments of greatness, most famously when he retired 41 consecutive batters over two starts in 1972. 1974 was the template for a Jim Barr season. He made 27 starts and 17 relief appearances, won 13 games and saved 2 others, and led the league in fewest walks per nine innings. He didn’t throw hard (averaging only 3.2 strikeouts per nine innings), and he allowed more than a hit an inning. As a 23-year-old rookie, he pitched in one post-season game, allowing a homer to Gene Clines. He probably thought he’d be back in the post-season many times, but the Giants long drought began the next year, and even a two-year vacation with the Angels didn’t get him any October pitching.


by request: god bless america (bobcat goldthwait, 2011)

This one was recommended by Geoff-with-a-G, who I believe came across it while channel surfing and told me about it at a Giants game.

After watching the movie, I made a quick list of things to mention, and it says something about the derivative nature of God Bless America that of the seven things on the list, four were titles of other movies, one was the title of a TV series, and two were of TV/movie writers. I didn’t scribble anything about the plot, themes, politics, acting, etc. (Do we still say “scribble” when we’re typing onto a sticky note on the computer?) The setup sounds audacious: guy is mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take it anymore (hmmm, I didn’t have Network on that list of seven), so he gets a gun and starts blastin’. And for awhile, the film not only has the courage of its convictions, but also features some on-the-nose, vicious parodies of pop television culture.

But whatever point Goldthwait is making takes a backseat for much of the remainder of the film, which becomes an almost-sappy buddy movie, when a teenage girl, Roxy (played by Tara Lynne Barr), joins the malcontent on his killing spree. (Yes, the movie deserves credit for blending sappiness with killing sprees.) And it’s then that I started to count off all of the movie and TV influences. At first, Joel Murray’s character, Frank, comes across as a middle-class version of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm grouch, and when Frank takes it a step further than Larry ever did, you realize how even Larry David pulls some of his punches on occasion. The early scenes of Frank at work play like a grumpier version of Office Space. The pairing of Frank and Roxy is like a less-arty Badlands (others have mentioned Leon, the Professional, which is a good one, too, I wish I’d thought of it). When Frank can’t take it anymore, he is reminiscent of Michael Douglas in Falling Down. And the bang-up finale will remind you of Taxi Driver (there is even a scene of Frank with a gun dealer that is an almost exact copy of a similar scene in Scorsese’s film).

The problem is, most of those movies are better than God Bless America, and after awhile, you start wondering why you don’t just watch one of them instead. (I do admit to hating Falling Down, I don’t really want to see that one again.) It is true that filmmakers like Tarantino wear their influences on their sleeves, as well, but Tarantino writes better dialogue than Goldthwait, and he’s a better director, as well.

There is also the irony of Roxy’s screed against Diablo Cody … Roxy hates Cody’s characters (Frank calls Roxy “Juno” on more than one occasion), but in fact, her own character plays like something Cody would have written. And maybe it’s just on my mind with all the hoopla over The Newsroom, but a couple of times the film stops dead in its tracks so someone can give a Sorkin-esque soapbox speech.

It’s hard to come to a conclusion about God Bless America. I admire its nastiness, and it’s oddness, and I’m glad Goldthwait was able to get it made. I laughed a couple of times. But in the end, it was too obvious. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but it’s no Taxi Driver. 6/10.


blow me

Pink has a new single out, and she made a brief stop on The Today Show to promote it. She was asked how having a baby had changed her life, and she said it certainly had, but that it hadn’t changed her music. Well, she did admit that she was more aware of the cursing now:

Just in case you’re worried that this will slow Pink down, keep in mind that her new single is called “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”. The chorus features the word “shit” four times, and occurs three times during the song. Not to mention how often the phrase “blow me” appears.


what i watched last week

The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980). It’s like one of those big all-star musical revues from the 1930s and 40s, only with lots of car crashes. The plot is also reminiscent of past musicals … instead of Mickey and Judy putting on a show, Jake and Elwood put on a show (with lots of car crashes). The car crashes aren’t any more entertaining just because there are more of them, although admittedly, there are a couple that defy belief in a good way. But the music is what really matters, and Belushi and Ackroyd have excellent taste. So we get Aretha, and Ray Charles, and James Brown, and John Lee Hooker, and Cab Calloway, and the Blues Brothers Band is made up of studio legends. Unfortunately, just as with the Brothers’ recorded work, Belushi’s vocals aren’t up to the material. He seems to love the music, but it’s a mistake to have him singing in the same movie as Ray Charles or James Brown. It’s no coincidence that the best musical numbers are the ones with the least Jake and Elwood and razzmatazz. Aretha does “Think” in a small restaurant, Belushi and Ackroyd get out of the way, and voila: the best scene in the entire movie. Calloway’s performance of “Minnie the Moocher”, so popular at ball games, is wonderful, and again, the only reason he’s singing is because Jake and Elwood are elsewhere. (Landis cuts away from the number a couple of times to let us see what the Brothers are up to, and it’s a mistake … we don’t care, we want to see Calloway.) The final 20+ minutes are almost all car chases, and it gets tiresome quickly. But the music wins out. #623 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946). 10/10.


by request: notorious (alfred hitchcock, 1946)

This request comes from Jeff Pike … it went to the top of the list because I already owned it on DVD. It is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, and I looked forward to revisiting it.

I often say I am not a big Hitchcock fan, but that’s an exaggeration to make a point, which is that I think it’s silly to assume every movie he made is great. It does a disservice to truly great movies like Notorious to suggest that films like Rope or Spellbound are its equal. Also, by 1960 he had already made his best films. I like Psycho, but it’s not up to Vertigo, and movies like Torn Curtain and Topaz aren’t even in the conversation.

Having said all of that, I do find many of Hitchcock’s films to be classic, indeed. Notorious is one (Vertigo is my all-time favorite, making #16 on my Fave Fifty list). One of the best things about Notorious is the casting. Hitchcock wasn’t always the best director of actors, and he often seemed a bit casual with his casting, as if it didn’t matter who was in his movies (hello, Robert Cummings). But Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant aren’t just great screen actors, they are also screen icons, and Hitchcock makes good use of this. The two stars essentially play a prostitute and her pimp, and Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht play cleverly with this as they deal with the censors of 1946. But because Bergman is the whore and Grant the pimp, we never quite lose our affection for the actors, and thus we sympathize with the characters (who, after all, are performing their duty for their country). We experience their pain, because we know they are in love and we also know they must fulfill their roles as pimp and prostitute.

Added to this are several sequences worthy of the master of suspense, and the censor-skirting near-three-minute kiss that is actually a long series of three-second kisses. Notorious is an excellent example of what people mean when they say Hitchcock was a great director. It’s taut, it blends humor into the suspense, it’s fun to watch, and it hints at subtexts worthy of endless analysis. #81 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 movies of all time. 10/10.


music friday: lynyrd skynyrd, “free bird”

A couple of days ago, I got what I believe was my first senior discount. We were picking up some pizzas at Round Table, and after I handed the guy my credit card and he asked for my ID, he looked at me and spoke very softly, “I don’t want to embarrass you, but … well, are you old enough for the senior discount?” It was funny how he tried to keep it a secret. I told him no, I was only 59, but he announced that the senior discount at Round Table kicked in when you are 55. So I am officially an old guy.

I mention this because it was 35 years ago this week that I attended a Day on the Green headlined by Peter Frampton. Thirty-five years! My daughter Sara hadn’t even been born yet. In 1975, Frampton was third-billed on another Day on the Green, but during that time, he was recording the concerts that ended up on Frampton Comes Alive!, which means in 1977, he was the headliner. Here is some of what he played that day … be forewarned, “Do You Feel Like We Do” lasts more than 24 minutes:

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/peter-frampton/video/baby-i-love-your-way_494018002.html

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/peter-frampton/video/show-me-the-way_-1906710037.html

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/peter-frampton/video/do-you-feel-like-we-do_-239648688.html

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/peter-frampton/video/im-in-you_1297178366.html

The Outlaws opened the show, and played their big FM hit, “Green Grass and High Tides”. Next up was Santana, and I can give you a taste of their appearance:

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/santana/video/carnaval-let-the-children-play_-632869965.html

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/santana/video/soul-sacrifice_-41582472.html

All of the acts were good, but the highlight of the show for me was Lynyrd Skynyrd.

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/lynyrd-skynyrd/video/sweet-home-alabama_-2043603729.html

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/lynyrd-skynyrd/video/freebird_-2144376828.html

I never get tired of hearing “Free Bird”. So shoot me. If you want to know what I was like in 1977, well, I was out in that mass of people, going crazy for “Free Bird”. I’ve often thought this video was unsatisfying, because it didn’t show the guitar players enough. But I was wrong. The crowd is a necessary part of the experience. We listen to Gary Rossington’s slide guitar and Billy Powell’s piano, take in Ronnie Van Zant’s vocals, and all the while we are waiting for the moment when the song busts open and Allen Collins and his guitar take over. Watch the crowd when this happens: we know it’s coming, we can’t wait for it to come, and then there it is.