30 January 2011

2011 Preview - Second Base

I'm super excited for our second base situation next year because we picked up a guy this offseason with two (count 'em TWO) World Series rings. This means he's a winner. And winners win. And that's what we want. So therefore, Juan Uribe is Jesus.
That's how this post would begin if Curse of the Piazza were a division of the big Dodgers club. Thankfully, we at CotP HQ don't get a cut to be like this guy, so we're going to tell it like it is.

And Juan Uribe is a scary 3-year investment.

Becoming one of the richest players who didn't even have a regular job last year, Uribe inked a deal that has him here in LA through 2013 (or, God-willing, 2012 if the Mayans were right). Colletti absolutely loves his ex-Giants (I think we're still paying Jason Schmidt the equivalent to Bhutan's GDP this year), and Uribe was a big player in San Francisco's World Series campaign last year.

But he also comes with a lifetime .300 on-base percentage, meaning he makes an out 7 times out of ten. Many predict he'll be batting second and getting loads of at-bats. That spells out more hard times for the middle of the order, who will be coming up with more outs and less guys on base. Uribe does have 4 seasons of 20+ homers under his husky-sized belt, meaning he's but another example of Colletti sacrificing on-base percentage for power, while simultaneously sacrificing athleticism for rotundness. In a 162-game season, we've seen guys who have put on pounds unable to sweat it out. So signing Uribe, who has had disciplinary issues in the past with Colorado and the White Sox, to three years sounds like the kind of thing we'll be regretting when he's pushing 300 opening day 2012.

At the same time, it's not like we have many better options. Jamey Carroll showed last year why he's such a valuable piece off the bench, but he's another year older and too weak to be a starter. His OBP makes him an attractive fill-in though and I can definitely see him getting ample playing time as soon as one of the regulars gets hurt.

Among the infielder Spring Training invitees this year are Juan Castro (who has to have photos of Colletti in drag or something to have been invited back again), top prospect Dee Gordon, 24-year old Justin Sellers, the recovering Ivan De Jesus Jr., and Russ Mitchell (talked about him here).

Aside from Gordon, who is merely heading to the big league camp since he's got a definite future, De Jesus and Sellers are certainly the most interesting of the other candidates.

De Jesus was supposed to be a staple of the big team by now, but was derailed in 2009 by a broken leg that kept him out of all but four games. He came back with a decent, but unspectacular, 2010 in Albuquerque and fell off all the top 10 prospects lists. Still, there's no place left for him to rise and he's only 23. Even as he is now, he offers much more than the 38-year old Castro, who seems like he's been around as long as the other crappy Castro.

Sellers is less-known infielder who split time between High-A and AAA Albuquerque last season, showing off impressive plate discipline and decent pop. He plays both middle infield positions and could make a splash with a hot spring.

At the end of the day though, Uribe is our second baseman and he'll provide decent production as well as a good glove. He's a huge improvement over Ryan Theriot, who had no business being a mid-season acquisition by a team trying to make the postseason. Still, he's a glorified utility man being paid $21 million. He'll likely see some time at 3b to spell Casey Blake (and we may even see Blake in LF from time to time to spell both members of that risky platoon) and SS for Furcal. I wouldn't be surprised if our double play duo is as much Carroll/Uribe as any other, considering Raffi's nagging injuries.

I'll give De Jesus the nod for the 25-man roster since he's already on the 40-man and I feel like he'll have a solid Spring. I like him better than Mitchell because we already have power off the bench with the non-starting side of the LF platoon. Uribe is basically backup 3b, Blake/Gibbons are backup 1b, and I think De Jesus offers more with the glove than Mitchell.

Uribe - Starter
DeJesus - Backup
Carroll - Backup
Sellers - AAA
Castro - Euthanized
Gordon - AA
Mitchell - AAA

Predicted 25-Man so far:

Lineup
C - Rod Barajas
1b - James Loney
2b - Juan Uribe
3b - Casey Blake
SS - Rafael Furcal
LF - Jay Gibbons
CF -
RF -

Bench
C - Dioner Navarro
OF -
OF -
IF - Ivan De Jesus
UT - Jamey Caroll

SP -
SP -
SP -
SP -
SP -

RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -

26 January 2011

Schooling

I figure I'd share some of what I'm doing at school.

I'm taking four classes (would have been 5 but I was the only soul signed up for Intermediate German and LMU purged it from the schedule). I devote the time that would have been spent studying German for a grade simply studying German. I also find that I have enough time to read for pleasure, which is great.

I'm taking 4 English classes. RoadWrite is a course where we read literature about or based on things in the LA area and then do excursions or trips to explore the locations. We'll do a trip up to Big Sur in February and then a bus trip out to the desert in April. I'm really looking forward to this one. So far I've composed a fictional account of a fake Museum exhibit on the extravagant chess set collection of Ottokar II, King of Bohemia in the mid-13th century. Yup.

My only straight Literature class is Adventure in 19th Century American Lit, which looks to be good because there are some English department all-stars in the class and we have a professor who accepts no BS. I've already read ahead and look forward to getting through it. It fulfills one of my final requirements for graduation so it's not like it was my first choice as a class to take, since I prefer more recent lit to stuff I can't relate to as well, but I'm beginning to think this was a blessing in disguise.

I'm taking two writing courses - Fiction Writing (scene/dialogue) and Play Writing (One-Act, 10 minute plays). We haven't gotten too far in Fiction Writing, though I'm looking forward to improving my transitions between description and dialogue. I've already finished first drafts of two plays for Play Writing. One is called Baseball Diamonds are Forever and the other is the mouthful Rob and Robert Write a Play about Writing a Play.

I didn't end up getting the Fulbright and Bayreuth looks more appealing day by day. I'm putting off the application. I don't know why.

24 January 2011

2011 Preview - First Base


Read my catching preview here.

---

I should take the time early on to mention that I'm sure James Loney is probably a wonderfully decent human being who works very hard to be the best ballplayer he can be.

The problem is, quite simply, that the best ballplayer he can be isn't much use to a ballclub gunning for the World Series and lacking in the fundamental necessity for any serviceable first-baseman: a live bat.

Throughout his career Loney has often been compared to Mark Grace, the big Cubs/D'Backs first-baseman who finished his career with an impressive slash line of .303/.383/.442 (that's an OPS of .815, boys and girls). Grace, who played from 1988 to 2003, enjoyed his best season during a 1995 campaign that saw him go .326/.395/.516 - .911, to go along with his third of four Gold Gloves and a league-leading 51 doubles. The following year saw Grace hit .331. His season OPS wouldn't drop below .800 until 2oo2, when he was 38 years old and coming off a solid 2001 where he helped the D'Backs win the World Series. To cap all that, Grace hit .329 in 82 career postseason at-bats with two home runs.

But it was those home runs that kept Grace from being considered a truly elite player, for although he was without-a-doubt an excellent first-baseman, it's hard to stick him in a room with Bagwell, Thome, Thomas, McGwire, Palmeiro, McGriff, Delgado, Mattingly, Martinez, Helton, and Giambi, and then make an argument that you'd include Mark Grace in your top 5. While most of the other guys were hitting 30, 40, or 50 (or 70) bombs a season, steroids or not, Grace never hit more than 17 in a season. And, as the professor-emeritus of baseball so perfectly once put it - "chicks dig the long ball."

So, what we can conclude from all this is that, although he wasn't the best first-baseman of his era, Mark Grace was underrated and the Cubs/D'Backs certainly did not suffer by employing him rather than one of the other guys.

That brings us to the Dodgers' current situation with James Loney, Grace's supposed "heir-apparent." The power numbers are similar - Loney's season high in homers is the 15 he smacked in 2007. Loney has also developed an ability to reach the gaps. His 41 doubles were good for fifth in the National League in 2010. Loney has even been a stud in the postseason (.349/.414/.540 - .954) with three home runs (including one huge grand slam) in 70 plate appearances.

Unfortunately, that's where the Mark Grace comparisons end and the 00's-era J.T. Snow ones begin.

Loney finished 2010 with a dreadful .267/.329/.395 - .723 line. That is just plain awful. There's no way you can spice that up. It's just bad, bad, bad.

Like the rest of the Dodgers offense, Loney couldn't wait for the second half to end, hitting a Juan Castro-esque .211 after the All-Star Break (the Dodgers' reaction? Promote the hitting coach!). Loney barely managed 10 home runs for the season and saw his defense, his supposed best asset, hiccup into mediocrity. It's arguable he was one of the ten best defensive first-basemen in the majors, at best.

Wins above Replacement (WAR) is a statistic used to quantify overall value. I could give you a list of first-basemen who were more valuable than Loney last season, but unfortunately it's much easier to present the small list of regular first-basemen who were worse than Big James (1.1):

Carlos Peña (1.0)
Michael Cuddyer (0.4)
Ty Wigginton (0.3)
Garrett Jones (0.1)
Jorge Cantu (0.0)

That's it.

The top 5 are Joey Votto (7.4), Albert Pujols (7.3), Miguel Cabrera (6.2), Aubrey Huff (5.7), and Adrian Gonzalez (5.3). Right in the middle of the pack are guys like Teixeira (10th at 3.5), Gaby Sanchez (14th at 2.4), and Ryan Howard (17th at 2.0). That means that Ryan Howard is, according to these stats, a mediocre first-baseman when compared to his peers). If Ryan Howard is a mediocre first-baseman, what does that make James Loney?

And therein we reach our problem. If Loney were a right-fielder or a third-baseman or a shortstop, he might be seen as just decent enough to warrant a spot in the starting 9. But instead, Loney is competing against a class of truly exceptional ballplayers, many of whom provide their team with a power bat and potential game-changing skills. Loney simply doesn't do that. The fact that power hitting first-basemen come a dime-a-dozen and the Dodgers instead keep Loney around means that they are forced to fish around for that necessary piece in other places where talent is thinner and the price skyrockets for anyone among the elite.

Just look at the Texas Rangers and Adrian Beltre. Beltre doesn't offer anything with the bat that a decent first-baseman can't give you, but because Beltre plays third-base (and a nifty third-base at that), the Rangers basically bid against themselves and handed our old buddy Adrian $96 million over six years. Right now we're paying Casey Blake $7 million to provide what we felt would be decent power numbers for a third baseman. If Blake were a first-baseman he'd be Loney-esque compared to the rest. But because he provides veteran stability at the hot corner, he got 3 years and $21 million two offseasons ago.

A big reason the Dodgers overpaid (heinously) and gave Juan Uribe a similar contract this offseason was because Colletti felt he could provide some power from the second-base position. If the Dodgers had a guy like Adam Dunn (whose 4yr/56mil contract with the White Sox was a huge bargain) at first-base, they wouldn't have to overpay for minimal power upgrades at other positions. Simply put, James Loney handicaps this team.

I know this is supposed to be a season preview and not a tarring-and-feathering, but it's important to fully flesh out all the details of the Dodgers' depressing dependence on such an albatross. Loney will make around $5 million in 2011 after arbitration - about the same that Mark Grace made during his richest year. As he still has more arbitration ahead of him, Loney will only get more expensive in the future. It's hard to argue that the Dodgers can afford to give their first-baseman Mark Grace money (let alone real first-base money) if he can't even put up Mark Grace (or real first-base numbers).

It appears the Dodgers are stuck with Loney for the time being. Although he's gotten worse each year for the past several (.919 OPS in '07, .772 in '08, .756 in '09, .722 in '10), the Dodgers have continued to stand by him. Many of his past coaches have made it clear they believe his power swing will come around any day now. If any day now doesn't come in 2011 though, it's hard to believe the team will bother to re-up him for 2012.

Loney will most certainly begin 2011 as the Dodgers' first-baseman, as the team really has no other option (sorry, John Lindsey). The 40 man roster does include Russ Mitchell, who will be fighting for a spot off the bench. If he makes the team out of Spring Training (I don't see it happening), Mitchell would likely be one of the primary backups. Dodger coaches have taken a liking to Mitchell because of his versatility and ability to play most positions on the field. His debutant ball in September last year could have gone much better though, as he couldn't buy a hit for most of the month. In the past we have also seen Casey Blake serve time as the backup at first-base, as well as Jay Gibbons and Andre Ethier (albeit, for only an inning).

On the farm, the Dodgers have the amazing Jerry Sands continuing his meteoric rise from obscure 25th-round pick to the star of the system and making many believe he (along with OF Trayvon Robinson) will be the first Dodger farmhand to eventually secure a starting job since Kemp and Loney in '07. While Sands has seen a lot of time in the outfield, with some additional innings trying to adapt to third base, his final resting spot may be at first-base if his bat gets to the point where it simply cannot be left out of the lineup. He'll be the most important prospect to watch in Spring Training this season, as he and Robinson are likely to don their first Dodgers game jerseys sometime during 2011.

Perhaps the best option for the Dodgers - dealing James Loney while he has value - has come and gone. There are rumors that the Nationals lobbied hard to take Loney off Ned's hands before they finally settled on Adam La Roche (statistically better). What Loney might really need is a change of scenery. His career stats are much, much, much better away from Dodger Stadium - a fact that has always been an issue with Loney. It would have certainly been interesting if Colletti had managed to swap Loney for Mike Morse (would make me feel better about our LF situation) and either a prospect or cash, and then went after one of the big-name first-basemen on the market such as Dunn or old friend Paul Konerko (naturally Ned didn't take advantage of our protected first-round pick).

With all things considered though, Loney remains the Dodgers' best option at first-base. Although it feels like we've been dealing with his growing pains forever now, Loney is still only 26 and won't be 27 until a month into the season. The player who best compares to Big James at age 26 on Baseball-Reference, interestingly enough, is another large first-baseman, the sleeveless Cincinatti Reds great Ted Kluszewski. Big Klu's batting average jumped from .259 to .320 when he jumped from 26 to 27. Then, his 27 year-old season home run mark of 16 shot up to 40 in his 28th.

That may be the only silver lining in this entire Loney situation. While Dodgers fans are one-by-one losing their faith in Big James, there's always the hope that Torre and Mattingly are right and Loney will go bonkers in 2011. He did, you'll remember, smack 15 home runs in only 375 at-bats during that 2007 season that saw him sitting behind Nomar Garciaparra in the depth chart. The best-case scenario for Dodger fans (and Loney, really) is that he'll rediscover that power swing and put at least 20 over the wall in 2011. Most 2011 projections don't see that happening, but stranger things have happened out of the blue.

Spring Training Predictions (the Dodgers have no 1b non-roster invitees):

Loney - starter at 1b
Gibbons - starter in LF, backup at 1b
Blake - starter at 3b, backup at 1b
Mitchell - Albuquerque
Lindsey - Designated for Assignment to make room on 40-man
Sands - Albuquerque

Predicted 25-Man so far:

Lineup
C - Rod Barajas
1b - James Loney
2b -
3b - Casey Blake
SS -
LF - Jay Gibbons
CF -
RF -

Bench
C - Dioner Navarro
OF -
OF -
IF -
UT -

SP -
SP -
SP -
SP -
SP -

RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -
RP -

CURRENTLY (re)READING - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

----------------
Now playing: say hi - Lookin' Good
via FoxyTunes

20 January 2011

Ethier goes Hollywood

For all you Man vs. Food fans, Andre Ethier will be featured in a few episodes of that glutton's new show on Travel Channel.

Info here.

Once again, Vin Scully is My Homeboy has the scoop. That guy is unreal.

First-base post coming later today. It's taken me longer than I initially figured to go over how awful James Loney is...

17 January 2011

2011 Preview - Catcher



You know things aren't as you'd want them when your 2011 preview begins with a photo of Dioner Navarro from five years (and about 50 pounds) ago.

With Spring Training but a month away, I figure I'll do a position-by-position breakdown of the Dodgers as they look heading into camp. I'll go over each guy Ned has conned into signing on to this sinking ship as well as provide a list of the stiffs invited to Camelback Ranch in hopes of being this year's Garret Anderson.

Today we start with the backstops, a group of fellows so pathetic even Barnum would send them away.

Catcher

It doesn't seem too long ago that catcher was a no-brainer leading into Spring Training, with one of the league's most exciting young stars in Russell Martin manning the position with an impressive display of spirit and athleticism. But, alas, Martin is gone, having lugged his "distractions" to New York without even bothering to to make the customary pit stop in Miami.

While Martin was undoubtedly one of the biggest Dodger disappointments of the past few campaigns, his faults weren't nearly as bad as we made them out to be. Even though he wasn't the hotshot he had been from 2006 to the 2008 All-Star Game (when, ironically enough, he put on a spectacular show catching much of a marathon in the Bronx), Martin was still a lock to put up a .350 OBP (last season's .347 was the lowest of his career and one of the highest on the team) and is still only 27. He had regressed from being one of the top hitting catchers in the league to simply middle-of-the-pack but would have fit into our lineup well enough at the number two slot. Now it looks likely that Juan Uribe will hit there even though he has a legitimate medical allergy to getting on base.

This is not to say that I haven't pulled hair out of my head over Russell's awfulness. But who knows what might have been if Grady Little and Joe Torre had only discovered their balls and forced Martin to sit out a game or two every once in a while. Whether it was the distractions of a Hollywood lifestyle or simply the wear and tear of catching over 150 games per season, Martin lost whatever it was that made him a special player. We couldn't really waste $5 million on a player like him, seemingly in decline and coming off a season-ending hip injury, right?

Well, no - that wouldn't be advisable, but neither would be giving Rod Barajas, age 35 and fat, and Dioner Navarro, soon to be 27 and also fat, a combined $4.25 million instead. Now I've got nothing against fat people, but as you'll see as this preview continues, we've got an epidemic on our hands with this team and I don't see them as particularly resilient or athletic. Barajas, who provides a bit of pop to the lineup that Martin had long misplaced, compensates for this positive attribute with questionable skills behind the plate and a very negative sub-.300 career OBP. We'll get into how much the latter might hurt us later in the preview.

Barajas's new cohort Navarro, whose job as Dodgers catcher had originally been swashbuckled away by Martin himself, is coming off two seasons in Tampa Bay that make Juan Castro look like Ty Cobb. Not only is Navarro an abortion at the plate, he quit on the Rays last year after losing his job to John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach, electing to go home instead of staying on with the team as a potential emergency addition during their postseason series against the Rangers. Naturally Ned Colletti figured him to be an ample candidate for a guaranteed $1 million contract. I mean, why not? He only put up a .197/.270/.258 slash line last season, meaning his slugging percentage was a mere eleven points higher than Martin's batting average.

Signing two catchers for $4.25 million may seem like a good idea if you have a complete vacancy at the catching position. Despite Ned's best effort in ridding himself of valuable catching prospects, the Dodgers still have A.J. Ellis. While he may not be considered overly valuable, nor much of a prospect now that he's over 30, he does provide solid defense and a .363 on-base percentage. It's hard to argue that saving money on Martin was a good idea when Colletti is so willing to waste his resources on useless things like a spare Dioner Navarro. It's even harder to argue that Barajas/Navarro will be better than a younger Martin/Ellis duo. You can't underestimate the value of youth, considering our only real catching prospect looks to be a few years away from potentially taking a spot on the big league depth chart. Ned's moves have not even considered what we'll do in 2012. Hopefully he and McCourt won't be around by then to figure that one out.

From the sound of Mattingly's interviews the past few weeks, Barajas enters camp as the favorite to secure the starting job, though that's nowhere near set in stone and the switch-hitting Navarro is expected to put in some serious innings. Even if Ellis continues his streak of solid hitting from the end of 2010, I can't see this squad taking on a third catcher and both of the other guys have guaranteed contracts (dammit Ned) going into 2011. Still, I can't imagine Barajas and Navarro to both stay healthy the entire season, meaning that we'll probably see A.J. serve some insurance time at Chavez Ravine. That I'm excited at the possibility for A.J. Ellis to catch says all you to need to say about the state of our catching.

Note - there's actually one other catcher on our 40-man roster, 28 year-old Hector Gimenez. I know, right? Who the hell is that guy? Allegedly he saw two at-bats for Houston in 2006, striking out in one of them, likely grounding out weakly to the pitcher in his other. I assume he's just there to provide depth. You could make the case that perhaps he's on the 40-man as insurance for if Ned feels like he can get anything in a trade for Ellis. There were rumors last spring that KC was green on A.J., but Ned eventually traded the wrong catcher for a piece of garbage. Ellis may eventually be on the radar of a team that finds itself lacking depth or hurt by injuries during camp.

Also getting invites to Spring Training are former Rockie J.D. Closser, who has spent the last two years in the Dodgers' system as a Crash Davis type, and Damaso Espino, who I guess can catch and has a pulse or something...

Full list of Spring Training Invitees here.

Predictions for Opening Day
Rod Barajas (starter)
Dioner Navarro (backup)
A.J. Ellis (Albuquerque)
Hector Gimenez (cut)
J.D. Closser (Albuquerque)
Damaso Espino (cut)

Next post will be on the first-base situation, where the best option the Dodgers have at Camelback Ranch will be this guy.

13 January 2011

Dodgers Media Day


Roberto from 'Vin Scully is My Homeboy' has a whole bunch of stuff from the media day he was invited today. The Dodgers treat him very well, which is cool I guess.

His photos
His videos

Mattingly addressed the media's questions...

Highlights include:
-Barajas looks to be our starter with Dioner Navarro relegated to being fat guy on the bench.

-Left field will be Gibbons, Gwynn, and (sometimes) Casey Blake, who should be able to play out there all right. He spent time there in Cleveland and it would allow the team to play Jamey Carroll. Carroll may not be much when it comes to pop but he's the only guy on the team who can possibly get on base at a .375 clip like he did last year and that makes him incredibly valuable, especially when surrounded like guys such as Uribe. I still can't believe we gave that fatass 3 years.

-More fat guy news (boy, we're just inundated with flab this year) - Broxton will be the closer and Donnie Baseball expects him to do well.

-Davey Lopes was there and said he's going to work on Kemp. It's nice to see a legit Dodger on the staff again after the past few years of carpetbagging Yankees. I guess Mariano Duncan was a "legit Dodger" too, but he was also crazy. Dave Hansen is also with the team as a second hitting instructor, so we should at least have some good pinch hitting I guess.

-New bench coach Trey Hillman speaks Japanese. At least he can yell some interesting new things at umpires.

-Mattingly was asked by the snarky Dylan Hernandez quite bluntly, "are you going to be any good this year?" The new skipper seemed confident that, even though we're basically working with the same parts as we had last year, there is plenty of room to improve. A lot of that falls on the shoulders of Kemp, who needs to regain his 2009 form. The same goes for Ethier, who really needs to remember how to hit left-handed pitching, and Loney, who really needs to just not suck like he did last year.

-Furcal and Blake will get more rest this year.

-While not naming anyone specifically, Mattingly implied that some of the youngsters who were working out today could see time with the big club. Ivan DeJesus Jr. is ready for big league pitching and will likely get a call up when Uribe goes down for the season after pulling a muscle reaching for the last chicken wing. Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson could also see some time in the bigs next year when they realize that gaping wound in left field isn't going to stitch itself up (nor will a couple Hello Kitty Band-Aids do the trick). Scott Elbert has a chance of making the team out of Spring Training.

Overall it's nice to see Donnie Baseball confident and green with anticipation for his big debutant ball. It's nice to see that for the first time in a while we don't appear to have any worthless old veterans taking up roster spots that should be reserved for better youngsters. The pitching staff is impressive on paper and the bullpen shouldn't be any worse than it was last season, Broxton notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, those pitchers aren't going to score any runs for themselves and Colletti's big failing this winter was not improving the offense. He added Uribe, who can provide a little pop and supplies adequate defense, but he also doesn't get on base enough and wasn't even holding down a full starter role last year with the Giants. Giving him 3 years was the kind of move a general manager with Down's Syndrome would have made.

I can't say I'm hugely confident in the core players all returning to their 2009 form, but it's not unreasonable to expect significant improvement after last year's abortion of a season. Kemp ended 2010 on a tear and is now liberated from the management with whom he didn't connect, so he has no excuses. Ethier is healthy and in the middle of his prime years. Loney... well, Loney sucks but hopefully some new coaches can at least get him looking like a real ballplayer.

Expect to see a full Spring Training preview in the coming weeks.

10 January 2011

Uh-Oh

Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness on the Dodgers frightening offense... and not frightening in a good way.
Link

09 January 2011

One last hurrah

Winter Break is at an end. They stiffed me this year. The usual 4 week reprieve was shortened to a meager three. I think this is because we started a week later than usual this past semester but I'd much rather have the 4th week of winter over the 17th week of Summer. I'm excited nonetheless.

Few things... I've taken advantage of my ability to hermit it out this break and nearly fulfilled my reading quota of 5 books. I read all three Stieg Larsson Millenium books, Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer, I continued my trek through the treacherous badlands of Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon, and began Joan Didion's Play it as it Lays. That was before I came down with a bad bit of something or another - food poisoning or a parasite or a stomach flu or a benign tumor or whatever it may be - and decommissioned myself for a few days. There was one morning where I had delusions where I couldn't get a grasp of who I was... it was surreal, I felt like I assume insane schizophrenics feel. I was jumping between the minds of characters I had been exposed to during the week in books and movies - inspectors, journalists, ghost writers - it was awfully unsettling so I put my imagination on a leash for a few days.

Here are the movies I've watched since 2011 began.

Rumble in the Bronx - 6/10
A nice blend of cheese and adrenaline. It's so over-the-top and silly, with funny dubbed voices and outrageous stunts (like dropping a truck full of inflatable rubber balls from a 5 story parking structure). I miss movies like this, where the awe factor of the movie makers doing ridiculous stuff made the experience. Similar sequences with CGI just aren't the same. I want to feel like that stuntman was legitimately at risk. There's no danger in computers animation.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish) - 7/10
Lacking in some places, inspired and transcendent in others. It's a pretty good adaptation considering the book they were working with was a 600 page behemoth. The guy who plays Mikael Blomkvist is awfully stale. He didn't have much of a personality. I enjoyed spotting places I remembered from Stockholm and practicing my Swedish.

World's Greatest Dad - 8/10
I was surprised how good this was. It's iconic in my mind, haunting me still. It's certainly not what you'd expect, considering the way it was marketed and the fact that it's a 2000's Robin Williams movie (i.e. usually bad). Surprisingly dark, excellent black comedy, awesome Krist Novoselic cameo. The little shit from Spy Kids has a good role in this.

Zombieland - 7/10
Loads of fun. You can tell the actors had a good time putting it together. I appreciate a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and experiments with itself like this one did.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - 4/10
This movie is a waste of time. There's absolutely no point to it - its lessons (and boy, are there a lot of them) are weak, the characters are uninspiring, and you don't feel any sort of connection to anything. Hugely overrated. It's basically Forrest Gump without anything delightful.

The Ghost Writer - 7/10
Plenty of flaws but riveting enough to hold you in, with some good twists and a hell of an ending. It was distracting though because it's a Roman Polanski film set in Martha's Vineyard, and the fact that I knew they weren't anywhere near Martha's Vineyard took me out of the movie. Unique phenomenon.

Kick-Ass - 8/10
Really liked this. The insertion of some epic music from Sunshine and 28 Days Later, two of my top 10 movies of all time, lifted some scenes toward over-the-top emotional triumph.

on tap - Big Fish, SLC Punk, The Illusionist (2010)

05 January 2011

Finished Boys of Summer

I am overwhelmed with emotion after having completed "The Boys of Summer" this early morning, 3:11 a.m., the 5th of January, 2011. I, a life-long Dodgers fan, never knew how to qualify my emotions about my team until reading Mr. Kahn do just that with his.

This was a beautiful book about so much more than baseball - and that's just what being a fan is all about... there's something about one's love and devotion that extends further than just baseball.

I was in the womb in 1988 when Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser entered the canon of Podres, Robinson, and the Duke - I hope I will not have to wait 75 years to see my first World Series championship in L.A. But until then I have this gift, this wonderful book, to empathize with the fragility of baseball's seasonal crescendo.

So thank you, Mr. Kahn. The final chapter of the book may be the most amazing thing I've ever read. The book is certainly something that will affect me the rest of my life. It will always have a box seat in this aspiring writer's heart.

04 January 2011

Gil Hodges story

Thought I'd share a good story from The Boys of Summer. The author had been the reporter covering the Dodgers during the early 50s when the team was amazing - Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, etc. - but couldn't seem to manage a World Series victory over the Yanks. Years later he catches up with specific players and talks about who they became and the stories they remembered fondly.

On Hodges:

A sense of strength stays with a man. When Hodges managed the Washington Senators, he learned once that four players were violating a midnight curfew. Hodges believed in curfews and he convened his ball club and announced: "I know who you were. You're each fined one hundred dollars. But a lot of us are married and I don't want to embarrass anyone. There's a cigar box on my desk. At the end of the day, I'm going to look into that box and I want to see four hundred dollars in it. Then the matter will be closed." Hodges gazed. At the end of the day, he looked into the cigar box. He found $700.

01 January 2011

2010 in books and movies

Here's a list of every book I read the entire way through in 2010.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Carmen by Prosper Mérimée
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (second time)
Squeeze Play by Jane Leavy
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche
Are We Not There Yet? by Chuck Rosenthal
Friedrich Nietzsche by Ivo Frenzel
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Here are the three books I'm currently working on:
Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway
Beyond Good And Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

That's 22 read, 3 more almost done, and a bunch of others I only managed to get part of the way through (such is the life of an English major).

My goal for 2011 is to finish with 30 books read all the way through. I hope to be done with Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage and Stieg Larsson's The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by the time school starts up again in ten days.

I've also been keeping track of all the movies I've seen for the first time... I started the list about 5 or 6 months ago. My scale has 0 being awful, 5 being rather decent, and 10 being mind-blowing and amazing. For example, the three tens are three of my favorite films ever. The 5's like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back are fun but overall not that great. Anything lower than 5 is bad.

Mallrats - 7/10
Clerks - 8/10
Chasing Amy - 9/10
Dogma - 7/10
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back - 5/10
Oldboy - 8/10
The Losers - 6/10
Spirited Away - 8/10
Amélie - 9/10
Drunken Master - 6/10
Predators - 5/10
Office Space - 6/10
Strangers on a Train - 7/10
Farewell to Nostradamus - 6/10
The Castle of Cagliostro - 6/10
Inception - 10/10
Rising Sun - 5/10
(500) Days of Summer - 9/10
Let the Right One In - 7/10
Brick - 8/10
Princess Mononoke - 5/10
Death at a Funeral - 6/10
Swingers - 2/10
Bottle Rocket - 3/10
Cool Hand Luke - 8/10
The Two Escobars - 10/10
Legion - 2/10
Tangled - 8/10
The Social Network - 9/10
Exit Through the Gift Shop - 5/10
The Lookout - 7/10
Toy Story 3 - 8/10
Black Swan - 10/10