Monday, November 28, 2005

Sid's Scare Tactics Strike Again

Sid Hartman writes:

Memo to Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other politicians who are negative about building stadiums: The presence of the Browns in town to face the Vikings today is a reminder of how the Cleveland area lost the Browns to Baltimore when nobody thought it would happen, lost its pro hockey team in a merger with the North Stars and also would have lost the Indians to this area in the late 1950s if a lease hadn't prevented them from moving. I spoke with my friend Art Modell last week -- he moved the Browns to Baltimore -- and he talked of "how frustrated you get not being able to make it financially and finally you say to yourself, 'I've had it,' and make the move." Yes, one of these days Carl Pohlad will reach that frustration level and the Twins will be gone.

So Sid wants us Twins fans to be scared because the Indians almost moved (to either Minnesota or Milwaukee) about 50 years ago, and the NHL couldn't make a last-place expansion hockey team work in Cleveland in the '70s? Even by the standards of shameless scare tactics, that's really scraping the barrel.

OK, the Browns leaving Cleveland came as a shock; but the story is a lot more complicated than 'owner gets frustrated with uncooperative government officials and finally has to leave.'

For starters, that Modell quote about how he couldn't make it financially in Cleveland is a load of crap.

Modell had free rent in Cleveland Stadium, he owned the luxury suites, and he took the profits from sub-leasing the stadium to the Indians and other special events. The city had offered to build him a domed stadium as part of the Gateway Complex. He didn't want to be part of it. He liked his sweet deal in Cleveland Stadium, he just wanted the city to pay for improvements to the old place, but he got angry when he lost some profits from the luxury suites after the Indians and other events moved to Jacobs Field. Within a couple years of that happening, he broke his lease to go to Baltimore.

Art Modell was the bad guy. Everybody knew it, and the NFL recognized it by arranging the deal that let Cleveland keep the Browns name, colors, and history and gave the city a team in the next expansion. Is that a cautionary tale for Twins fans--vile owner takes team away, but state gets new team bearing the old team's name, colors, and history within a few years?

Anyway, Modell could bolt to Baltimore because he found a city willing and eager to fork over a stadium deal even richer than the one he had in Cleveland. There is nothing of the kind tempting Pohlad to move the Twins out of Minnesota right now.

Sid, your little games are not helping. Shut up.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NLBM Honoring Santana

In 2000, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum established its Legacy Awards to honor its picks for the best players in baseball for the year. The awards are not restricted by race. Bob Kendrick, director of marketing for the museum, says, "Some people often ask, 'Do we only recognize black players or Latin players?' No. It would be doing an injustice to those guys in the Negro Leagues not to recognize the very best." For this past season, the museum is awarding the Oscar Charleston Legacy Awards, its MVP picks, to Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

In recognition of the best pitchers in each league, the Negro Leagues Museum is
awarding the Satchel Paige Legacy Awards to Dontrelle Willis and Twins ace Johan Santana.

Minnesota athletics legend, and former Twin, Dave Winfield will also receive the John "Buck" O'Neill Award in recognition of his support of the NLBM.

Three cheers for these righteous picks. If you're in Kansas City, you definitely should visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. It's fun as well as informative, and you'll find some delicious soul food if you go eat at The Peach Tree down on the corner of the block, too. The awards ceremony will be held at the Gem Theater, across the street from the museum, on January 7. Dave Winfield is among those who have committed to attending the ceremony; but no word on whether Santana will be in the country then.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I Demand a Recall! ran a couple polls this week relevant to Johan Santana.

The first asks readers, "Which AL pitcher would you most want to anchor your team's rotation in 2006?" and gives the options of Santana, Bartolo Colon, Roy Halladay, Mark Buehrle, and Randy Johnson.

The response from 38,883 voters to date:

Santana, 61.2%
Halladay, 14.9%
Buehrle, 10.8%
Colon, 6.8%
Johnson, 6.0%

The second poll asks, "Who is the best pitcher in baseball?" and gives the options of Santana, Colon, Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt, and Dontrelle Willis.

The response from 43,272 voters to date:

Santana, 47%
Oswalt, 18%
Carpenter, 16%
Willis, 15%
Colon, 4%

Santana is the favorite in 45 states and the international vote in this poll, including Minnesota, of course, where he is the pick of 87%. Carpenter is tops in Missouri and Arkansas. Oswalt is king in Texas, carries a bare plurality of 33% to Santana's 32% in Louisiana, and also can claim 8 of 18 voters in Wyoming so far. Colon carries no states. Even in California, Colon only has 14% of the vote while Santana has a plurality of 45%.

This follows the Internet Baseball Awards poll at Baseball Prospectus, in which 61% picked Santana as the top AL pitcher this season.

It's too bad we can't vote to recall the Cy Young and bounce the bad BBWAA voters like Dover, PA, bounced its crazy rogue school board. I mean it--why shouldn't there be a fan review of the results on When the BBWAA voters are so clearly out of touch that they can't see what is obvious to nearly everyone else who follows baseball, why should their decision be allowed to stand without some formal review in the internet age?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The newsmen don't know, but the little geeks understand

Johan Santana's 2.87 ERA came within .01 runs of tying Kevin Millwood for tops in his league, and his 153 ERA+ was the best in the AL. He also led the league with a 0.971 WHIP and 238 strikeouts, while his 231.2 innings pitched was 2nd only to Mark Buehrle. The only AL pitcher who topped his 5.29 K/BB ratio was teammate Carlos Silva, whose walk rate of .43 per 9 IP shattered the modern record of .616 set by Babe Adams in 1920 and had not been topped by anyone since 1880--when a pitcher delivered from 50 feet and had to throw 8 balls to issue a walk. Carlos Silva deserves his own award just for that singular feat, but Santana just as clearly deserves the hardware recognizing the best pitcher in the AL. His 73 VORP score bears that out, as well: Mark Buehrle's 54.2 VORP is the next best in the American League.

But, Bartolo Colon racked up 21 Wins, so he gets the Cy Young Award with 17 of 28 first place votes. Santana finishes third in the voting, behind Mariano Rivera, with just 3 writers recognizing his superior excellence. But of course. Whaddya gonna do?

At least I had a voice in the Internet Baseball Awards balloting at
Baseball Prospectus, where Santana was recognized as the top pitcher in the AL by 61% of the voters. He finished 8th in the MVP vote there, too. It won't go on his Hall of Fame plaque, but just the same it's nice to see him recognized by the fans who really know the game. Someday a change is gonna come in the corporate media, and it can't happen too soon.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Pistol Hot Cup of Rhyme

Lifes Rich Pageant
IRS Records, 1986

This review of a record nearly 20 years old is written in response to SBG's thoughts on the Hindu Love Gods album at the Four Hoarsemen blog. Plus, this is infinitely more interesting to me right now than reviewing the Gold Glove winners, commenting on the trade rumors in Sid's column, or dignifying the "Vegas-resident Reggie Jackson would like to buy the Twins" story with any response here.

R.E.M. broke out of Athens, Georgia, in 1982 and charmed college radio listeners with the Chronic Town EP, followed the next year by the full-length Murmur. At a time when the commercial airwaves were ruled by wacky, New Wave pop acts from New York and England, or else bands like Journey and REO Speedwagon, R.E.M. came on like the shy, sensitive offspring of the Byrds and the Velvet Underground. These first couple records had an ethereal, ghostly vibe. Gothic and murky, with Michael Stipe's mumbling vocals layered low in the mix, interweaving with Mike Mills' vocal countermelodies, the music sounded very much outside of its time. Reckoning in 1984 had a brighter sound featuring Peter Buck's chiming guitar arpeggios which accentuated the Byrds influence and spawned a lasting genre of jangle-pop imitators. Still, what Stipe was apparently singing to himself, or what his cryptic lyrics were really about, often might be anyone's guess.

The next year the band travelled to England to record with Joe Boyd, producer of Fairport Convention and Nick Drake. By all accounts, the sessions were tense, the weather was dark and rainy, and the resulting music generally reflects that atmosphere. Addressing topics of Southern folklore and certain figures who had inspired Stipe, Fables of the Reconstruction often conveys a menacing sense of foreboding. While expanding the band's sound in some ways, the record perversely has the claustrophobic, even paranoid feeling of a group trapped inside, isolated in an alien land, and going stir crazy. To move forward, they would need to let in the light and get some air.

The band reconvened for the next record back in America with producer Don Gehman, who had been working with John Mellencamp on his American Fool and Scarecrow albums, and did them the favor of encouraging Stipe to project his voice, helping produce crisper arrangements, and unleashing the band to rock out.

Peter Buck opens Lifes Rich Pageant by playing a trademark jangly arpeggio, setting up the listener to expect the familiar comforts of R.E.M. only to be knocked back by the crack of drum, squaling feedback, and Stipe's burr of a voice growling, Birrrrdie in the hand/ For life's rich demands/ The insurgency began/ And you missed it.... It's an instant rush of adrenaline not unlike Honey Bunny jumping up on the table and threatening to execute every motherfucking last one of ya! just before Tarantino freezes the screen and wings a jolt of Dick Dale right upside your head. Throughout the record, from the get-go, the band sounds loose, confident, and thrilled to be having fun.

It's tempting to say that R.E.M. went back into the garage for this record--they even close with a rave-up cover tune with bassist Mike Mills on vocals--but this isn't the sound of a band regressing. The record still shows off Mills' melodic bass playing and some of the band's trademark of Mills singing a plaintive countermelody line behind Stipe's lead on the chorus--as in the single "Fall On Me." Mills plays some organ, accordian and piano on the album, Buck picks at his banjo and acoustic guitar, Stipe sings through a bullhorn on one track, and the final cut starts with a Godzilla toy warning the citizens of Tokyo of their imminent demise. ("...He is heading towards the city! AAAAARRRGGGHHH!") So they were in a mood to experiment and expand themselves.

Stipe is at the top of his lyrical game, often dealing with topical subjects with less cryptic imagery than before but still just evocative enough to only suggest at his intended meanings. Back in the day, I spent many an evening trying to decipher the codes of this record or else just smiling at the poetic sounds in the way Stipe strung words together. In later years, I wondered what the Michael Stipe of 1986 would have made of the lyricist who wrote "Everybody Hurts." Recoiled in horror, I would like to think.

The band on Lifes Rich Pageant seems incapable of anything so self-conscious and banal. Following their ordeal in England and possibly on the verge of breaking up, R.E.M. in '86 cut loose and went for broke. The group has cut several great records over the years, which may succeed on different levels, but none surpassing this one. If you care to go back to find R.E.M. at their hardest-rocking and most fun, start here.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Settling down for the night...