Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No Joy in Mudville

Liar. Cheater. Scumbag.
I remember when I was a kid, I loved to listen to my dad tell stories about all manner of his memories from when he was a kid.

He'd tell me about the amazing powers of The Green Lantern, and about playing pick-up basketball at the old JCC with the road teams who were in town to play the Cincinnati Royals, and about how he accidentally shredded his brother's foot in the spokes of his bike.

I loved all of them. I ate them up. I soaked them all in...

My favorite stories were always about baseball. Probably because I was utterly obsessed with the sport.

I made my dad help me recite the top home run hitters of all time. "Hank Aaron 755. Babe Ruth 714. Willie Mays 660. Frank Robinson 586."  He used to tell me that Johnny Bench could hold a million baseballs in his hand. He would tell me about how getting Joe Morgan for Lee May made the the Reds the greatest team of the 1970s and among the greatest teams ever.

I remember watching TV when Pete Rose came back to town to re-sign with the Reds. I was 4 years old and I remember seeing the footage of Pete's car coming across the bridge. I will never forget going with my mom to the game BEFORE Pete broke Cobb's record. I made a sign. Pete went 0 for 4.

The first poem I ever wrote was about the 1994 strike. The Reds winning the 1990 World Series still, 23 years later, counts as one of the 10 greatest moments of my life. Maybe that's sad, but I guarantee I'm not the only one.

 I would throw ball after ball against the wall of my grandparent's house. Always aiming for the small square my grandpa had drawn in blue crayon. Always pretending to be Mike Schmidt, who was, in my opinion, the greatest third baseman ever. I held that opinion even then, because some time in 1984 or 85 my dad and I were watching the Reds play the Phillies, and my dad pointed out Schmidt at the plate. He said "This guy is really good. He hits a lot of home runs.". Then Schmidt homered. It was like he could do it on command. It was like my dad made it happen. Baseball is magical, I guess.

No... I don't guess. Baseball IS magical. There's no 9 part Ken Burns documentary on Football... As much as we all love football, it isn't (and will never be) baseball.

And now, I'm not sure baseball is baseball.

Look... I realize I'm late to this party. The McGwires and Sosas and Bonds and Palmeiros and Giambis and all of those guys who stood there and pointed and pretended to not speak English and dissembled and claimed ignorance... they are the ones who put doubt in the mind of every fan. They are the ones who shattered the sacred records and spat on the legacies of Roger Maris and Hank Aaron and every other player who achieved their astronomical records legitimately.

Then... after all of those bombs dropped over and over... Starting with Raphael Palmeiro (outed while I was driving back from the Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend with my dad and the Brawny Hombre) and capping off with Barry Bonds, there were swaths of legends felled by allegations, assertions, and often direct evidence of their cheating. It was a dark time, to be sure. We had a single-season and career homer champion whose numbers are questioned.  In 1998 there was this incredible home run race to 62 homers by two separate men, often regarded (along with Cal Ripken's longevity streak) as the moment baseball resurrected herself from the ashes of a horrible players strike. Only 5 years later that same chase could arguably be seen as nothing more than a slap in the face to Roger Maris and his family.

Numbers we hallowed our entire lives were being surpassed by these hulking behemoths with clubs, and as quickly as they shattered the records, they were outed as being cheats. Baseball fans everywhere could no longer hold on to the one thing they'd always had as an advantage over the fans of other sports. The statistics. The beautiful, simple statistics.

I thought we were going in a better direction. Power numbers went down to more historically consistent levels in conjunction with new drug testing policies. More and more players were openly in favor of cleaning up the sport.

And yet... Here comes Ryan Braun. A player with prodigious power and offensive polish who'd tested positive late in his MVP season and insisted he was innocent. He dragged the name of the tester through the mud. He pulled out all of the legal stops on his league-allowed appeal, and HE WON. He won his appeal on some very nebulous technicality, and he returned to the field none-the-worse for wear the next season. Don't even get me started on the "coincidence" that the owner of the team for whom Braun plays also happens to be the commissioner of baseball. How that's not a conflict of interest I'll never know.

Now, today, he was suspended for the rest of the season based on some apparently damning evidence in some report and it must be pretty clear, because the Great Appealer isn't appealing. He's now admitting to some "mistakes".  

Apparently he's just the first domino in a long line of suspensions and bombs to come. Alex Rodriguez is on the list. A-Rod is currently 6th on the all time homers list, and was up until last year the single biggest contender to pass the other cheater, Barry Bonds for the record. It's very likely now that he'll never come close, and maybe won't ever play again.

You know... none of this is news. None of us are surprised anymore. I'm certainly not.

I'm just sad. I'm sad that the stories my dad told me as a kid are somehow laced with asterisks now. I'm sad that every number has to be questioned and scrutinized. I'm sad that heroes like Hank Aaron and Roger Maris are no longer the official holders of those iconic records. I'm sad that when the dads of my generation tell their kids about the great players they watched growing up, that the most exciting ones were cheaters.

I love Tony Gwynn and Greg Maddux as much as anyway, but the players who I pretended to be on the diamond, the ones who drew me to the game I love, were the mashers and the flame throwers and a lot of those guys are liars.

Baseball better figure it out fast, because this shit bums me out. It's gotta end. We've gotta have the purity of our game.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

2013 Oscar Predictions

I have all kinds of things I want to blog about, and as sometimes happens in those kinds of situations where I have a ton of stuff to say, I find myself not blogging at all.

It's very frustrating.

I decided that with The Oscars on tomorrow night, and me having seen an inordinate number of the movies involved this year, that I should weigh in. Of course, with only having until tomorrow to make the predictions, here's what I'm going to do... I'm going to get those out of the way, and then once I feel like I have the time I'll talk about things like:

"Why the girl from Beasts of the Southern Wild is the most impressive marionette in history, but decidedly not an actress."

"Why Les Miserables is a hugely impressive movie that had absolutely no chance to make everyone happy."


"How I'd be fine with 7 of the nominees for Best Picture actually winning. Also Hell is frozen over."

Those are for another, simpler time.

Without further ado, my Oscar Predictions along with who I believe should win.

Best Original Screenplay:
Should Win: Django Unchained
Will Win: Django Unchained

Comments - Tarantino is a master on the page. I love his turn of phrase. There will be people who are turned off by the profanity, but.. you know... fuck 'em.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Should Win: Lincoln
Will Win: Lincoln

Comments - I love Tony Kushner, and while some people didn't love how densely written Lincoln was, it takes an expert touch to write period dialogue that also conveys a lot of ideas without getting boring. Kushner nails it.

Visual Effects
Should Win: Life of Pi
Will Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Comments- A lot of folks didn't like The Hobbit, but the effects are great. They're also probably the only thing that doesn't suffer a little from the 48fps. Still... Life of Pi had a ridiculously lush feel, and also featured a CGI tiger that was extremely convincing. Also...a  better movie, by a lot.

Animated Short Film:
Should Win: Paperman
Will Win: Paperman

Comments: It's one of the most romantic shorts I've ever seen, and has a great visual style to boot.

Best Original Song:
Should Win: Skyfall
Will Win: Skyfall

Comments... c'mon.. It's Adele.

Best Score:
Should Win: Life of Pi
Will Win: Lincoln

Comments: It's a toss-up for me between the two, really, but I absolutely loved the Life of Pi music throughout, and John Williams' music from Lincoln is only the 10th or 11th best thing about that movie.

Best Foreign Language Film:
Should Win: I have no idea
Will Win: Amour

Comments... Think about it... The movie is nominated for Best Picture. It's not gonna win that, but doesn't that sort of automatically make it the best Foreign Language movie?

Film Editing:
Should Win: Argo
Will Win: Lincoln

Comments- I wouldn't be surprised if this goes to Zero Dark Thirty, because that movie has much snappier editing, but Argo was so well cut together, I don't think anything else was close this year. Heart-beating. Still... Lincoln's gonna take it, because I'm basically predicting that Lincoln's gonna take a lot of these close calls.

Documentary Feature:
Should Win: I dunno
Will Win: Searching for Sugarman

Comments: I have no idea... i'm a bad Cinema Junkie who didn't see any of these.

Should Win: Steven Spielberg
Will Win:  Steven Spielberg

Comments: Had Tarantino or Affleck been nominated, this might be a different discussion, but since they're not I have to believe Spielberg has this in the bag, and probably should.

Should Win: Django Unchained
Will Win: Lincoln

Comments: Look... this is very close, but I personally prefer the more stylish Django to the more epic/cinematic Lincoln. If Lincoln wins, I won't be bummed, but I'd be more excited about a Django win.

Animated Feature Film
Should Win: Wreck-it Ralph
Will Win: Wreck-it Ralph

Comments: If it was just about the animation itself, I'd be totally down with Paranorman or Frankeweenie, but I just found the story and writing of Wreck-it Ralph to be so well done, that it wins. It's not like it looked shabby, either. It was really beautifully realized. (PS... i loved Brave also, but no chance.)

Supporting Actress
Should Win: Anne Hathaway
Will Win: Anne Hathaway

Comments: Seems like this one is already done, because she's won (and annoyed) at every award show so far. I am a big Amy Adams fan, and I'd love to see her win for something some time, because I think this is now the 3rd nomination for her, but it's not her year. The Master was too bizarre, and Anne Hathaway just crushes too hard.

Supporting Actor
Should Win: Christoph Waltz
Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones

Comments: Man... what a field, huh? All former winners. DeNiro!! I liked all of these performances except maybe Hoffman (I just hated The Master, kinda). Still... the real show was Christoph Waltz playing a truly memorable character. I loved his performance. Tommy Lee Jones was great, too, though and for the bigger winner overall. I'd be shocked if he doesn't win.

Best Actress
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence

Comments: I'm fine with any of these women winning except for the kid. That's a whole other blog. Jennifer Lawrence is awesome, and definitely the best part of the movie. I kinda feel like she's got the momentum, and she's as deserving as any of these ladies.Except the kid. She's more deserving than the kid.

Best Actor
Should Win: Daniel Day Lewis
Will Win: Daniel Day Lewis

Comments: This one is tough for me, because I could definitely make a real argument for 2 of the other guys. Joaquin Phoenix was by far the most interesting part of The Master, and he is one of my favorite kooky actors out there. Hugh Jackman was almost unsung (ha!) in Les Mis, but as the Beefy Padre said "Oh yeah? Well YOU do it." That guy did a very strong job with an unbelievably difficult character. Still.. Daniel Day Lewis gave a performance that, if you ask me, is a one-in-a-generation performance. Years from now people will still talk about that performance in that movie.

Best Picture
Should Win: Lincoln
Will Win: Argo

Comments: As I mentioned at the top, I truly believe that 7 of the 9 nominees are excellent enough that I wouldn't be mad if they won. Any one of those 7 would have easily been the top choice ahead of The Artist last year. (The 2 others being Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of which just has no chance, and the other isn't really all that good respectively. ).

Still... When all is said and done, I say that the argument can truly only be made for 3 of these. Lincoln, Argo, and Django Unchained. In 30 years, these are the 3 that'll be debated as being "All timers". And if I'm being honest with myself I just have to go with Lincoln. It was affecting, beautifully acted, and tightly written. It was directed by a living legend, led by a performance by another living legend, and written by one of the great playwrights of our generation. It's as close to a no-brainer as I can think of, and yet...

I think Argo will win. It's got the momentum. It's a movie that gives a giant tip of the cap to the movie industry. It's exciting, smartly directed, and is just super in its own right. Do I think it should win? No. Will my feelings be hurt? No. It's awesome.

Now... Let's see how wrong I am tomorrow.