Saturday, April 28, 2007

Questionable content

Digging through the email box (and the cobwebs in my mind) to answer questions both real and imagined . . .

From reader Steve K.: The Sox just *****-slapped the Yankees again. They're on pace to win something like 110 games. I'm a believer. This team looks stacked, and Manny's not even hitting yet. So when do I get my playoff tickets?

You know, I like to pretend I'm the voice of reason around here, never too high after a big win, never too low after an agonizing loss, yada yada . . . but damn, it's pretty much impossible for even an accomplished cynic not to be sky-high about the 2007 Red Sox's long-term chances right now, isn't it? Just consider the positives in this 15-7 start: Josh Beckett is having an April matched only by Pedro and the Babe in Red Sox annals, and not only does he look like a pitcher who's found his groove, but he's talking like one, admitting he made the mistake of throwing "hard, harder, and hardest" during his first season in Boston . . . The expensive new guys, from Julio Lugo (he's been nothing less than dynamic) to J.D. Drew (their most complete player) to Daisuke Matsuzaka (who flashes an ace's knack for limiting the damage in the innings where his command goes on the fritz), have justified every zero on their paychecks so far . . . Papi is still Papi, god bless him, and the offense will find another gear when Manny finds his form any moment now . . . Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell look rejuvenated, suggesting that reports of their demise (ahem) were greatly exaggerated . . . The middle relief, in particular Hideki Okajima, has been far better than expected, and Joel Pineiro looks improved with each appearance . . . Jonathan Papelbon is doing a spot-on Goose Gossage imitation. All he needs is the fu manchu . . . and Terry Francona continues to be the most underrated manager in the game, especially considering all of the b.s. about bloody socks and the like that he has to put up with here. So, uh, yeah, we're pretty enthusiastic about the summer ahead. Does 120 wins sound unreasonable?

From Greasymustacheandastainedtanktop, Mom's extra bedroom, The Bronx: Yo, please tell me the standings are printed upside down. This ain't really happening, is it? My whole self-image depends on the Yankees' success! If they suck, why, that means I do too! YO!

It's all true, Greasystache, and can you imagine where they'd be without A-Rod's otherworldly start? Oh, right . . . last place. Heh. But I think we all know better than to write the Yankees off in April. Once the weather heats up and Hideki Matsui gets healthy, their lineup will be relentless enough that they'll win a lot of 12-9 games, and Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina should steady that wretched rotation with 30 or so wins between them. And you have to figure they'll add a few bullpen arms and whatever else they need at the trade deadline. However, and I hesitate to say this, but something feels different this time around, doesn't it? Maybe it's that Joe Torre already seems to be managing out of desperation at the expense of his bullpen's health, or maybe it's the fact that Mariano Rivera (zero saves) is 38 years old and suddenly looks very hittable, or maybe it's the fact that bringing up a clearly not-ready-for-prime-time Philip Hughes reeks of desperation . . . but these just don't look like the Yankees we've grown to loathe so much. Yeah, it's only the season's beginning. But from what we've seen so far, it's not out of the question that in the Bronx, it's the beginning of the end.

From reader Dave R.: I know it's pretty much impossible to guess what the Patriots will do in the draft. But you don't you figure they have to take a linebacker at either #24 or #28? It's their only legit weakness.

Knowing Belichick and Pioli, they'll probably take another tight end and a punter, thereby causing Mel Kiper's head to explode. (We're guessing his hair would remain intact, however). Actually, I think they will take a linebacker at 24 - I'm just not sure which one it will be, though if I were throwing together a mock draft, I'd probably go with Jon Beason from Miami, who's said to be fast, versatile, and devoted to football, all traits that would make him a nice fit in Foxboro. I do think it's entirely possible that they'll take two linebackers in the first round, since Michigan's David Harris has reportedly been climbing up their draft board in recent days and there might be other appealing alternatives such as Penn State's Paul Posluszny. All things being equal, though, I hope they add some depth in the defensive backfield with the 28th pick, though I have no idea whom they might favor from the Griffin/Houston/Meriweather group. Oh, and about taking another tight end: I was joking earlier, but if Miami's gifted Greg Olsen is on the board, I bet the Pats will at least give him some consideration, especially if Dave Thomas's injury is more serious than we know. Given the depth of their roster, they may be in Best Player Available mode from the beginning. So I guess what I'm saying is that we have no freakin' clue what will happen, though it's worth noting that Belichick, in a delicious bit of candor, revealed on WEEI this afternoon that there are players projected to go in the first round whom the Patriots have rated as late-round picks or free agents. Seriously, how cool is that? I'd pay good money to get a peek at their draft board. You know it looks like no one's mock draft.

From reader John W.: Chad: A couple posts ago, you said you weren't ready to pass judgment on Glenn Geffner. Ready yet? I am. I hate to sound like an old fart, but he suuuuucks. It's not that he's new or young... and although he's an internal hire, he doesn't come across as too obvious a homer. But he has no sense of pacing. He's constantly talking too fast, frequently tripping over his own tongue. He tries way too hard to fit nuggets of predigested data in between pitches. At its best, baseball on radio has a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Sure, you can get excited when there's a key play; but otherwise, you gotta take time to breathe. He almost... emphasize almost... makes me long for the Trupiano era.

Slowly nodding in agreement . . . Actually, I'm still trying to give Geffner the benefit of the doubt, if only because I was so anti-Trupiano that it probably wouldn't be good form to rip his replacement so soon. So I'll leave it at this for now: I think Dave O'Brien is outstanding, and I wish his ESPN commitments didn't keep him from doing all of the Sox games. As for Geffner . . . well, the less said the better, I suppose, and that goes for him and his excessive dependence on the media guide as well as me. Assuming settles down, talks slower and less often, and lets Castiglione lead the way, he should at least be tolerable. Hey, at least he's not Troop.

From SlappyVonPurplelips, Scott Boras's lair: Is Tom Brady the Derek Jeter of football? Because if he is, that means I'll have to hate his guts too, even though he's never made me change positions or hung me out to dry with the fans or borrowed my rouge without returning it or anything.

Well, no, because Tom Terrific's teams have won championship(s) since he became captain, so that's a major difference right there. But I get where this question is coming from: Pretty-boy Brady just signed a $12 million deal to endorse Stetson cologne. Pretty-boy Jeter has his own brand of cologne called, I believe, One-Step Range To The Left. (Whoops, Google informs me it's called Driven. Close enough, I say.) Anyway, here's the difference. Stetson goes for a rugged, masculine image, something out of the wild west. Driven is produced by Avon, which caters to girly-girls, blue-haired grannies, and Yankee infielders. Edge, Stetson, though if they make Brady wear a stupid cowboy hat or cuddle a friggin' goat like GQ did, we'll have no choice but to call it a draw.

From reader Kevin J.: Dreaming that there is some luck of the Irish with the ping-pong balls May 22 and we're vindicated for losing out on Duncan 10 years ago, who do you take? Oden, or Durant?

Oden, without a moment's hesitation. His presence would improve the Celtics' defense so much immediately that even Gerald Green might look like a competent defender with Oden watching his back. Listen, I love Durant and he'd be hell of a consolation prize in the No. 2 slot, but the claims that he's a once-in-a-generation player are more than a little hyperbolic. He'll be a great scorer in the NBA, a perennial All-Star who combines some of the best attributes of Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, and Dirk Nowitzki. But Oden is a game-changer on defense, an undeniable presence whom you can see eventually anchoring a championship team. He is the franchise player this franchise is desperate for.

From Petey M., Flushing, N.Y.: Where you been, man?

Hibernating. To be honest, I've been overwhelmed with some real-world stuff lately, including having a tree wipe out the power lines in our neighbor's yard, leaving us without power without 3 1/2 days. Let's just say I'm a lot more sympathetic to Nicholson's character in "The Shining" after that experience. The Fox column (latest edition here, if you didn't see it) also has interfered with my blogging productivity more than I thought it would. But now that we have lights and electricity and such, I vow to be a more consistent correspondent over the next few weeks, particularly since the affiliation/link should be starting up soon.

From reader Jeff P.: Keep running all the dolled-up pictures of Jenna Fisher [sic] you want, Finn. You'll never convince me she's anything more than plain, especially by Hollywood standards. She does do a good job on the show though ... so what do you think will happen in the final episodes? Will she hook up with Halpert or what?

First of all, People magazine disagrees with you, Steve, and yes, I'm glad to see they received all of my letters of nomination. Second, Stevie Wonder called, and he wants his retinas back. (I know, that's a comeback only Costanza could love. So sue me.) Anyway, here are a few predictions for the season's final three episodes:

Jan reveals she's pregnant with a Michael Scott spawn: Terrifying twist, huh? A couple of the cast members have mentioned that Jan will have a major life change soon, and I can't help but remember that she kept saying she felt queasy in the episode at the boss's house. I am a little surprised they'd play the baby card so soon, though.

Karen will be offered a corporate job in New York, and Jim will have decide whether to stay or go: The gorgeous Rashida Jones, who's done the near impossible by making Karen immensely likable as the woman standing between Pam and Jim, landed a lead role in a pilot on Fox, and reportedly will only be on The Office on occasion next year, if it all. Sending her to New York seems to be a convenient way for the writers to ease out her character while causing a compelling cliffhanger at the season's end.

Pam will tell Jim exactly how she feels: For all of Michael's antics and Dwight's beet-and-Angela-loving weirdness and Jim's prankster geniality, good-hearted Pam is the show's fulcrum, and the underlying theme this season has been her quest to overcome her fear of rejection and summon the strength to take some chances and get what she wants out of life. The show's savvy writers have a talent for taking us in a perfectly believable direction that we didn't see coming, but it's difficult not to assume that everything that has occured this season (the reconciliation and final breakup with Roy, her overhearing Oscar's snarky comments at the art show about her not being honest with herself) is setting up a situation in which she takes the ultimate chance and puts her heart on the line for Jim. In fact, given Jenna Fischer's habit of subtly tipping off her blog readers to upcoming crucial Jim/Pam moments, we can probably pinpoint the episode when it will happen, considering she recently wrote this: "The episode not to be missed is Beach Day [May 10]. Seriously. Don't miss it."

From my own simple mind: Anything else you wanted to add, dummy?

Just this: While I wasn't a Hardy Boys savant and never imagined that Mo Lucas and Billy Ray Bates were my friends (though I did feel a certain kinship with Kevin Kunnert), my experience with David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game" was remarkably similar to Hollywood Sports Guy's remembrance today. "Breaks," Halberstam's compelling, meticulous account of the post-Walton Portland Trail Blazers and the addled NBA of the late '70s, was one of the first grown-up books I ever read, and I love it as much today as I did when I was 13 years old. (The Swen Nater/Sidney Wicks airport scene is worth the cover price alone.) When I heard the terribly sad news that Halberstam, a far more accomplished writer and journalist than anyone who attempted to pay tribute to him, was killed in a car accident early this week at age 73, I immediately thought of "Breaks," my affection for that book, and my admiration of the man who wrote it. I'll make the effort to read it again soon, my own silly little flashback/homage. If you haven't read it yourself, please do, particularly if you've enjoyed Halberstam's other renowned sports books like "The Summer of '49" or "October, 1964." There's no book I'd recommend more.

As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Sparks was a pretty decent corner for the Giants and the Cowboys in the '90s, but mark these words: his 17-year-old daughter is going to be more famous and have a more lucrative and successful career than her pop ever did. While beatboxing Blake Lewis remains my boy on American Idol, I have to admit my wife was right all along: Jordin Sparks is the class of this year's underwhelming crop of contenders, and she deserves to win the thing, something Mrs. TATB was saying when Entertainment Weekly was putting Jordin's odds of winning at something like 100-1. The girl can sing the hell out of just about any song, and unlike some of AI's better vocalists through the years, she has the right look. Her old man - who, frighteningly, is only six months older than me - surely must be prouder of her than of anything he ever accomplished on the football field.

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