Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Puppy Bowl Post

It's February, more or less, and that means it's time to talk about the only good thing to happen in this most wretched month, the Puppy Bowl.

My Puppy Bowl coverage the last two years, while without question the best in all the Natmosphere, has been amateurish at best. A few poorly thought-out mentions at the bottom of posts whining about somebody who apparently called himself "Royce Clayton" was all it got in this quarter. Still, it wasn't without reason that I considered Distinguished Senators to be the internet's leading Puppy Bowl blog.

This year I planned to take it to the next level. That plan didn't last long, though, as my request for a press pass to the Puppy Bowl was turned down. It turns out that not only was the thing filmed weeks ago (which explains why there are already highlights up), but that the stadium doesn't even have a press box. So I figure, fine, at least I can score myself an exclusive interview with . . . I don't know, the Mayor of the Puppy Bowl or whatever. Or at least with one of those referees who has to clean up the puppy fouls using quality Bissell brand cleaning tools. But no, I was turned down again. Maybe it's because this is a baseball blog with the wrong name on it. Maybe it's because the front page, as it stands now, is about 40% me yelling at some dude on the internet.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad Animal Planet denied me insider access. I relish my outsider status, and I can't be compromised. I'm as big a Puppy Bowl fan as anyone, but I'm not afraid to use this forum to bring attention to the obviously destructive "Plan" Animal Planet is employing with this franchise. Some may call me negative, but as far as I'm concerned all those Puppy Bowl fanboys can save their blind adulation for the idiots at the Puppy Bowl Tailgate Party (to which I was not invited).

The Animal Planet front office is making it harder and harder to take the Puppy Bowl seriously as an athletic contest. The first year, it was all about the game itself. No interruptions, just puppies and soothing acoustic guitar music. Puppy Bowl II saw the focus shifted away from the athletes with the addition of a kitten halftime show. This year's installment moves further in the direction of frivolity; the halftime show is still there along with the previously mentioned Tailgate Party. They might as well have Scooter the talking baseball explaining what a puppy is.

A more serious issue is this: I hacked into Animal Planet's computers and discovered that they're allowing voting for the PBMVP days before the event has aired! This award just lost any credibility it ever had -- it might as well be the Gold Glove.

I also have issues with the participants. Look at Bess, a "13 week-old" competitor.

Puppy? Ha! Bess' breed is listed as "All American," but I'm thinking she's a Danny Almonte Pointer, if you get my drift. If AP is going to allow obvious ringers like Bess in the Stadium, why bother playing the game? A brave, intense puppy like Larry can match anyone in heart and determination, but the physical disadvantage is just too great.

Above: Viszla mix Larry shows the Eye of the Tiger

All these problems aside, there's still no greater event than the Puppy Bowl, even if you only watch it for the commercials. I'll be there with my beer hat and air horn cheering on Spencer, the Bowl's first ever Border Terrier.

Above: Spencer, well up on leg

I grew up with a Border and know firsthand their tenacity. They combine the terrier's inherent toughness and irritability with a long-legged athleticism that sets them apart from stumpy cousins. Border Terriers were bred to be able to go into holes and kill various smaller mammals while still being able to keep up with the horses carrying the effete Englishmen in their little red suits. That's a skill set that I think will translate well to the Puppy Bowl. Unless, of course, the powers that be have decided that a scrapper like Spencer isn't good enough for the ratings and hand the thing to Sonny, who looks like he came off a velvet painting.

Above: Sonny. Awwww.

The Puppy Bowl airs on Sunday, February 4, 3-6 p.m. ET with encore presentations at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET only on Animal Planet.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm Talking About Baseball and I Care!

For purposes of comparison, Jim Bowden's reaction to catching heat from teh intranets, via Nats 320:
“That’s what makes those websites so much fun, because of people like that--its like talk radio. They are not suppose to like anything you do. They are suppose to show both sides, but, they want to stir it up, so you will respond to it. They want you to get mad. They want to have fun. Its like wrestling, professional wrestling. Its not a REAL WRESTLING MATCH, ITS AN ACT, ITS DRAMA, ITS FUN TO BE WITH. Its really great. The good thing is—They are all talking about baseball, AND THEY CARE!!. Whether someone is ripping you or praising you, THEY CARE, and that’s what its all about. WE WANT EVERYONE IN WASHINGTON TO CARE ABOUT THE NATIONALS!!"
You have the Distinguished Senators guarantee that I'm being entirely non-sarcastic for the duration of this post except for the computer-hacking part: AWESOME! Seriously, this is the best possible reaction a guy in Bowden's situation could have. Bodes has taken a lot of crap over the years (Oh, sweet merciful crap, it's actually been years!), and I'd certainly argue that he deserved most of it. Does he get upset about it? NO! Does he revel in it? YES! Does he compare it to rasslin'? HELL YEAH HE DOES! No doubt my warmening to Bowden's actual work at managing generally is contributing to my appreciation of this sentiment, but still. Awesome. He's not even holding a grudge over the time I hacked into his computer and said he Googled himself.

Now to an issue that, while seemingly unimportant, elicits such strong reactions from fans that its utter unimportance just kind of makes everyone look silly: nicknames. Ryan Zimmerman is the only man on the 2007 Nationals who matters, so of course it's vital that he gets an appropriate moniker; more than one, if possible. I covered this ages ago, at the genesis of the widely reviled "Dutch" movement.

I'm man enough to admit that Dutch is dead, but there's another candidate. The Washington Post's Sports Bog (I guess I missed the explanation for the name, but I'm sure it's hella clever) is one of those things -- like Nats 320 -- that popped up while I was in hiding writing my Rickey musical. It (once again, like Nats 320) is a completely rad addition to the blogroll and, by extension, your daily surfing, which I trust consists of every site I have linked over there, clicked in order of alphabet within category. It's January, and you should be using the Bog at the very least to keep track of the coverage of Gilbert Arenas, who's like Livan with (a little) more talent and no language barrier. Seriously, I love that guy.

Anyway, the Bog posits a new nickname for Zimmerman: the RZA. And I'm all like, "Hell yeah the RZA!" Then I launch into my favorite RZA verse, which can be found on "Reunited," the first song on the Wu-Tang Clan's triumphant second album, Wu-Tang Forever. I quote:
The Riddla
Funny bone tickla
Freak Caligula
Bigger dick sex enigma
Pistil fertilize your stigma
Imagine that over the speakers as Zimmerman strides to the plate! And the great part is that, by giving him this one nickname, we're actually giving him about twenty. The RZA -- the rapper, I mean -- has, as does any member in good standing of the Wu-Tang Clan, a shocking number of reserve appellations: variations on his original name, Five Percent Nation weirdness, and what have you. Tired of calling him (Zimmerman this time) RZA? How about Bobby Digital -- after all, his loving is Digi. Perhaps Zimm has brough the Nats back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit -- he's the RZArecta! Hell, I'm tempted to start calling Nick Johnson the Method Man (his method at the plate is to wait for a good pitch!) just so I can also call him the Ticallion Stallion or Johnny Blaze or the Pantyraider. The starting lineup for you Washington Nationals . . .

The RZA
The GZA
Ol' Dirty Bastard
Inspector Deck
Raekwon the Chef
U-God
The Ghostface Killa and . . .
The Method Man

We could do worse.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Take Exception

A warning to the casual reader: the following post is really inside baseball. Well, not in the literal sense, because that would be fine and require no warning. It's a lot of blog drama, and I understand if you're not interested.

Farid at Beltway Boys just put up his interview with Bill Ladson, the Nats beat reporter for MLB.com. The neat part is that Ladson hates me, along with several other worthy bloggers. That's fine. I've come to terms with it. What I haven't yet come to terms with, though, is Farid's sycophantic attitude, his willingness to take Ladson' preposterous claims at face value, and his genuinely insulting generalizations about "bloggers."
Bloggers sometimes assume that we can write what we want with impunity because the only people that read our work are fellow fans who understand they are reading subjective rants, some of which we didn't believe ourselves when we wrote it.
Examples please. And not just examples from your writings, Farid. You're calling out "bloggers" here. I'm a blogger, and I assume that I can write with impunity because I'm protected by the First Amendment. And since Farid understands the inner motivations of bloggers, perhaps he can show me the stuff I didn't believe myself when I wrote it.

I'll summarize the next bit: "Ladson whined about some stuff and I agreed with him." Then:
I agreed that this wasn't good reporting - that is - printing assumptions as fact.
Like the assumption that we Nats bloggers make stuff up because we don't think Bill Ladson's reading? Seriously not good reporting.

Then we take a long break from the juicy stuff. There are actually some interesting questions and some interesting answers in the middle here. You might want to read the whole thing, even though it's gigantic.

Then Ladson resumes bitching, and Farid resumes enabling.
I assumed that a proficient writer like Bill Ladson wouldn't waste his time reading what hack-reporters like us wrote about the team.
You're doing it again, man. If you want to call yourself a "hack-reporter," fine. But keep your insults and your random hyphens away from me. Ladson:
"I do have a problem with some of the bloggers who act like they're in the know, in the locker room, and act like they know everything."
Huh. I had an anonymous commenter accuse me of that exact thing a while ago. I'm sure it's a coincidence. It was nonsense then and it's nonsense now.
I can't stand that fact that they get personal.
You know what's even worse than that? Anonymous commenters who get personal. But we could be talking about completely different things here, as Ladson has an idiosyncratic definition of "personal." Here's how I look at it, and tell me if you disagree.
  • Non-personal: "Bill Ladson's methods of evaluating players are incorrect."
  • Personal: "Bill Ladson's methods of evaluating players are incorrect and he is a bad person."
You see the difference, right? Ladson seems to consider a personal attack anything that contains the word "Ladson" and is not prefaced by email to him. Farid again:
The problem here is that bloggers are like journalists only in that we write words that end up being published somewhere.
Yeah, the free exchange of ideas is a real bitch. Why can't the government do something about this?
Unlike the mainstream media (at least those who are honest), we don't have set of rules to follow, we don't have an editor (other than our own common sense) to say, "Dude, that's going too far."
Right. And my common sense is doing a fine job. I don't need yours.
Now, I'm not talking specifically about any blog, but in general, we could do a much better job of being fair to those we write about.
You should start talking specifically about any blog, because if you don't I'll continue to assume I'm included as a target of all this helpful advice.
To us, talking bad about Ladson or Bowden or Kasten is like talking badly about our sister when she's in the other room. They aren't listening, so it won't hurt them.
There's that first person plural pronoun again. Don't tell me what talking bad about any of these guys is like, especially when your simile is so damn weird. I know Ladson reads my blog. I don't care if Bowden or Kasten does. I say the things I say because I belive them and because I can back them up, not because I think I can get approving howls from all the other unscrupulous lying bloggers.
I learned that bloggers have a responsibility to be fair to those they write about.
You just now learned that? What were you doing before?
Oh sure, we can haggle all we want about the "who's" and "what's" and "when's" of baseball, but when it comes to reporting, it needs to be fair and it needs to be accurate.
Fine. Whatever. I'm not a reporter. If I want a reporter, I'll go to Barry Svrluga.
It's easy to take a swipe at those in the public eye, guys like Ladson and Bowden and Kasten. To us, these are nameless, faceless men, which makes it much easier to be less than fair when writing about them.
If they were nameless and faceless, neither I nor anyone else would have any idea who I was making fun of. And as far as being fair, it's not like Bowden didn't sign Cristian Guzman. Or wear tracksuits. Or give fistbumps.
The difference, however, is that they are professionals, and this is how they earn their living. We can disagree with them all we want, and we can even be forceful in how we disagree.

But getting personal? Nah. That's just no good.

Since when does being a professional make you immune to criticism? You ever criticize the President? Well HOW DARE YOU?! He does that for a living.

The obvious response is that Farid isn't talking about any criticism, just the personal stuff. But given Ladson's ridiculously self-serving idea of what a personal attack is and Farid's sycophantic willingness to go along with it, it's clear what's meant. You agree with Bill Ladson, dammit, because he knows better than you.

And if that's going to be your attitude, you might as well quit. Farid is exhorting bloggers to stop providing an alternative to the baseball media and start providing fan sites, and I'm grateful beyond belief that the nature of blogging dictates that no one -- not Farid, not Ladson, not anyone -- has any authority over me or my writing.

Related Reading. The Ladson interview and my response to it have caused quite a stir in the sleepy winter Natmosphere.
  • Banks of the Anacostia, Capitol Punishment, and Oleanders have difficulty accepting Ladson's mystical theories of player evaluation.
  • Econo then thinks about it for a while and gently suggests that Farid's starstruck interactions with a superstar like Ladson may have led him to excess. Plus he yells at Boz, which is always fun.
  • Dave at the Triple Play muses, reflects, then reflects musingly on musing reflections. I can't help but picture him strolling along a lake on a crisp autumn evening.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Remind Me To Tell You About the Womackiad Someday

My most enduring memory of Tony Womack isn't a happy one, but it is tinged with a certain grudging respect. Matt Morris -- and keep in mind that here we're talking about pre-stoner beard/underrated ace/my favorite player Matt Morris as opposed to the hairy, crappy version that you kids today are used to -- lost his shot at some kind of minor immortality when Tony Womack won the 2001 Division Series for the Diamondbacks with a single in the last half of the last inning of the last game. Maybe you remember it. If you knew me personally at the time, maybe you remember me swearing and crying and drinking until the hurt was gone.

I relate this story to illustrate the real danger of this move: Tony Womack is kind of famous; more famous, at any rate, than anyone he's competing with, and that makes minor league contract the Nats gave him dangerous. He's a three-time stolen base champion, a playoff hero, Time's 2006 Person of the Year, and a veteran presence, and those are the kinds of things lousy managers fall for when they're filling out the lineup card. Womack is here as a trial for Manny Acta, the second in what will no doubt be a long string of them.

Remember Jeffrey Hammonds? His resume was similar to Womack's: hoary, veteran presence, Time's 2006 Person of the Year. In 2005 he was a National, and he couldn't do anything. He never could pitch, so I guess it's not right to hold that against him, but he couldn't hit or run or field anymore either, and that's fair game. Yet Frank Robinson played him, even started him. Why? Well, Frank hated (hates, probably) Ryan Church like he's a Japanese pitcher. Plus, you know, you can't let veterans sit on the bench and not play. It's not fair to them.

Frank failed the Temptation of the Awful Veteran, leaving his final record in the Manager's Challenge at 2-117, the 2 being his handling of Jose Guillen and the Brendan Donnelly Incident, which Angels fans are still crying about to this day (cf. Jim Edmonds). Acta is so far 0-1, having taken the easy but wrong path in the Temptation of the Fast but Terrible Centerfielder. He perhaps deserves some slack here, though; it can't be easy for a new hire to resist the organizational pressure that has for years been strangling Ryan Church's career like an anaconda. This, though, is the real test. There is no excuse for playing Tony Womack.

And that's the only interesting thing about the Womack situation. Worst case: he plays all the time, sucks, and the Nats lose 101 games instead of 100. It's at least as likely that he won't even make the team and become another long-forgotten Spring Training footnote like Jared Sandberg or George Arias. But it will be an indication of whether Acta's merely a 500 grand-a-year stopgap or a guy who deserves to be running the team when all those investments in the farm system pay off.

In other Frank news, he got himself a job. So can we stop crying about this now? Do you feel better now that we can be sure he won't be selling matchsticks on a street corner to pay for his Lakers tickets? I mean really.

Programming Note: Man, do I feel pretentious for having a programming note. For all the people who care, I might as well be working on my Nobel Prize acceptance speech (it starts and ends with the word "Rickey"). Anyway, in case you're wondering, yes of course my return to blogging was inspired by Ray Smuckles' return to advice-giving. My plan is to post weekly, on Wednesday or Thursday. So expect things to be excessively long and slightly out of date. For an example, see above, starting with "My most enduring memory" and ending right about here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Quarterly

Let me tell you, writing a musical about the life and times of Rickey Henderson is harder than you'd think. And getting financing for it is even harder than that. And getting Otis Nixon to star in it is even harder than that. So here I am doing this again.

Imagine my relief when, after several months hunched over a notepad stolen from my office trying to work the "tenure?! Rickey got 16, 17 years" gag into the libretto, I looked around and realized that the Nationals are almost identical to when I last saw them. There's really not that much to cover, so I'm not trying very hard. Because the last time I tried, Otis Nixon laughed in my face.

RATTY GOATEE OUT, PERM IN
Well, they fired Paciorek. I already miss him, his polo shirts, and his wildly popular trademark catchphrase ("Blargh!"). I also miss the sliver of faith in humanity that I lost when I perused fan reaction to his eminently reasonable sacking. The two things I learned: 1) Paciorek is the greatest color man that ever lived, and 2) There is no definitive way to spell "Wimpy." Or "Whimpie." Or "Whimpeey."

Now we've got Hall of Famer Don Sutton, whose chief claim to fame is as the background to countless TBS-fueled weekend afternoon naps. That suits me just fine, even though the mention of Buck Martinez -- a silver-haired, white-suited, kazoo-voiced god among men -- got my hopes embarrassingly high.

CRANKY OLD MAN OUT, CHIPPER YOUNG MAN IN
They fired Frank Robinson so long ago that I actually blogged about it. There's been some recent drama, what with Frank claiming he was promised one of those nice sinecures where he puts on a cap, shuffles onto the field, and waves to the rubes a couple times a year only to have it snatched from him by one or another lying piece of crap in the front office. Whatever. Don't care. Frank stole enough money napping in the dugout while getting paid to manage the Expos that I don't consider it an injustice that he'll be doing his whining about these players nowadays without the official backing of a major league franchise.

But enough of the Ghost of Lousy Seasons Past, and on to the Ghost of Lousy Seasons Present, Mr. Manny Acta! Some months ago I compiled in my noodle a list of things I was looking for in a new manager. I wanted a guy who 1) wouldn't cost a lot of money B) wouldn't be a bigger target for SportsCenter mentions than his players and III) would make sure Ryan Church got 500 at bats. I'm pretty sure he fulfills my first condition, and I know he's good for the second, but we're off to a rough start with number III. Nook Logan being named starting center fielder shows just how little things have changed with this team. My only wish is that Logan were from an exotic foreign country so that I could make an hilarious joke about how his name is the equivalent in whatever language it is they speak over there to Brandon Watson. As it is, I'm stuck with this.

CRIPPLED SECOND BASEMAN OUT, CRIPPLED AUSTRALIAN IN
This is tough for me. I was bagging on Jim Bowden before he was hired, and I sure didn't stop after he got here. He made it easy for me, too -- the Cristian Guzman signing alone is enough material for one of those one-note Fire [Sports Figure] blogs that Deadspin finds so amusing. But damned if he hasn't been on a roll lately. Remember when he ripped off the Reds so bad that their GM went crazy and started complaining that Freemasons were beaming mind control rays into his head? Or maybe that Gary Majewski was all torn up in the pitchological areas of the body. One of those. So, we won that one, and then he went and screwed Seattle so bad they almost had to move to Milwaukee again. I'm amazed that we managed to get anything for Jose Vidro plus Jose Vidro's bloated "what the hell we're about to get contracted anyway" salary. And we didn't get just anything; we got Chris Snelling, the Australian Ellis Burks. Plus some other guy. I'm not doing a lot of research here.

So what happened? Has Bodes, after 12 years or whatever on the job, gotten better? Or is it what I like to call the "Bowden's A Pimp. He Never Could've Outfought Bavasi" theory, along with the "But I Didn't Know Until This Day That It Was Kasten All Along" Addendum? Which is to say, Stan Kasten is actually running things and laying all these GMs out with x's where their eyes should be.

I certainly don't know. On the one hand, it's a lot easier to believe that someone associated with Bobby Cox and double-digit divison titles is competent rather than someone associated with tracksuits and Bob Boone. But on the other hand, the Lerner/Kasten administration has been so far marked by a certain . . . let's say thriftiness. Other than for laffs, why would they keep a well-compensated buffoon on the payroll? It's not like Kasten's afraid of the spotlight -- if he's willing to go on the John Thompson Show and be called a racist, I can't imagine he's nervous about facing Bill Ladson's soft tosses.

So I have to assume they're keeping Bowden around for some reason, and I further assume that that reason something to do with generally managing. Which leads uncomfortably to the assumption that Bodes is doing some good things. Not all good things, of course. The Nats starting rotation, as it stands today, is five reliable pitchers short of "solid," and the ¡Livan! trade is looking more and more like the result of a pretty severe misappraisal of resources. Like selling both your kidneys because you're pretty sure Mike O'Connor can filter the waste out of your bloodstream for a whole season. Nonetheless, it's no longer clear that Jim Bowden is the unadulterated force for crappiness he once was.

For the moment, therefore, I'm promoting Jim Bowden: having defeated Krivsky and Bavasi in single combat, he's now officially the best of the bad GMs. Like being the best Nats shortstop or cleverest celebrity gossip blog or the 2006 National League champions, it's not a huge accomplishment, but it's something, and there's plenty of room for advancement. I'm just trying to make sure I don't wind up like the guy who wrote this Hardball Times column, which stated that "It's too early to judge Jim Bowden's offseason, but it would appear that the last smart thing he's done was the midseason trade for Lopez and Kearns" the day before Bowden did something very smart. It is now the official position of Distinguished Senators that it actually is possible to underestimate Jim Bowden.

Stay tuned starting in April for my next quarterly update, when I'll discuss why it took them so long to bench Nook.