Monday, June 30, 2008

Should the Braves Trade Tex for Youk?

I found a wonderful blog while reading Peter Gammons on ESPN in the offseason. It is called Firebrand of the American League. It is a Red Sox blog with several authors, and Gammons says that even Red Sox brass pay attention to it & read it.

Well, I wonder what they think about this latest entry -- Should the Red Sox trade Kevin Youkilis for Mark Teixeira?

As a sports bigamist -- I am a fan of both the Red Sox AND Braves -- I am all about this trade. Since Firebrand has already addressed the Red Sox side, I'll briefly address why this makes sense for the Braves.

The Utility Value of Kevin Youkilis -- Youk can play first base, third base, and outfield. The Braves can immediately plug him in at first. Given the balky health of aging Chipper Jones, manager Bobby Cox could easily slide him over to the other corner infield position.

The OBP Value of Kevin Youkilis -- the Braves have struggled to find lead-off and #2 hitters for their lineup since the decline/departure of Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal. Youk could hit in either of these spots and get on base for the big sticks to drive him in.

Building for the Future -- This is Glavine's last hurrah. Smoltz may be done, too. Mike Hampton can't get healthy. Chipper doesn't have much left. 2008 was going to be the year where the Braves put everything in to making one last run with many of the older pieces. Its not gonna happen. Let me be clear about that: given all the bad injury luck this season, that one last run for the Braves is not gonna happen. Take Youk. Take young ace prospect Michael Bowden. It was exciting while it lasted with Tex, but its time to look to the future.

Get it done!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mourning Mom: 2 months out...

Its been a little over two months now since my Mom died. Here are some thoughts...

• It has gotten a little easier to reflect on & talk about her in public. There are still some sensitive topics that bring a hard lump to my throat. I still have a difficult time thinking about my grandmother, and how difficult a time she must have coping with the loss. That's a topic I can never get very far with.

Also, when I think of the suffering Mom endured (over the course of her 17 months fighting cancer, and especially in that week she spent in the Hospital after her seizure) it breaks my heart. Having cancer forces people to fight for their lives. You fight & suffer, and fight & suffer -- and sometimes you still come out on the short end. Sometimes it feels unjust.

• Mama had a cat that she brought with her from Alabama. It is literally impossible to see that now orphan cat without thinking about Mama. In a way, that cat is a personification of Mom's presence & the void she left all at the same time.

• I've always known about it, but I've recently rediscovered the musical genre of the dirge. And now I understand all the lyrics. They've been comforting to me.

• The other day I went through some old personal E-mails that Mom had sent me. I've kept most of the E-mails that I've received over the last 4-5 years, so I have a bunch of E-mails from Mom still sitting in my Inbox. Most of them are messages with her very wacky sense of political fanaticism (she was one of those "George W. Bush engineered 9/11" weirdo's). But it's still neat to have something to go to & read from her.

• Mostly I miss sharing life with her. Mom & I grew close in her final months. We'd never been terribly close before for a lot of reasons, but we were sure buddies toward the end. Things happen in my life that I just want to call her up and tell her all about it. All my life up until recently, anything that happened I could call her up to tell her about it. And like all Mom's, she'd be attentive & eager to hear every word. That is so precious I can't even begin to explain. There just aren't any other relationships like that in life.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My 5-Star Rated Films

This is my list of films that I would call "elite." I wouldn't call any of them perfect or flawless. But this is just the elite. So when I think a movie is 5 stars (like the one I just rated this morning), this is the company I think the film belongs in.

In fact, you could call this my "Philip's Film Hall of Fame." Because not everyone in the Hall of Fame is equal: there's no way that Bruce Sutter was on the same level as Babe Ruth. There is obviously an elite among the elite. But, today, I just list the elite to give an idea of what I think an excellent movie is. It's one of those movies that when someone calls it by name, my eyes light up & I go, "YEAH..."

BTW, this list does not include documentaries, mini series, or TV shows. Films only.

3:10 to Yuma
Batman Begins
A Beautiful Mind
Blood Diamond
The Bourne Identity
Cinderella Man
Clear and Present Danger
Dead Poets Society
The Departed
Dumb and Dumber
Evan Almighty
Field of Dreams
The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Forrest Gump
French Kiss
The Ghost and the Darkness
Good Morning, Vietnam
The Goonies
The Green Mile
Jeremiah Johnson
Legends of the Fall
Life is Beautiful
Lord of the Rings: Two Towers
Major League
The Matrix
Meet the Parents
The Negotiator
Ocean's Eleven
Office Space
Old School
Patriot Games
Pay It Forward
The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Red Dragon
Remember the Titans
Saving Private Ryan
The Shawshank Redemption
The Siege
Spy Game
Star Wars IV, V, and VI
Stranger Than Fiction
Thirteen Days
Top Gun
Training Day
You've Got Mail

REVIEW: Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction
Just Watched:
Stranger Than Fiction

My Rating:
5 Stars

You know, I don't suppose you really know whenever you're going to taste something truly marvelous for the first time: whether it be some new cuisine you've never tried, a book you'd never read, or a movie you've never seen. Sometimes those marvelous tastes have hype behind it; but usually the best, most marvelous tastes are the hidden gems that you discover almost by accident. And so it was the latter with this film.

Given the truths I just highlighted, I struggle with the idea of endorsing this film. Because I know that my enjoyment was so satisfying that my praise will be so effusive to the point that it might spoil the experience for those of you who haven't seen it yet. But I can't help it. I enjoyed it so much.

I defer to Wikipedia for a brief story introduction:

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a dull auditor for the Internal Revenue Service who is awakened alone each morning by his wristwatch. He is a compulsive counter and an obsessive time-saver. One day, Harold begins to hear the voice of a woman who is omnisciently narrating his life.

Harold's relationships are almost entirely with numbers, and with his watch that helps him keep track of time (which, to him, is just a number). Until, upon beginning to hear the woman's narrative voice, he is sent upon a journey of existential discovery that ultimately enriches his life.

Because one of the main characters of the film is a writer, it gives the actual screenwriter a lot of liberties to play with. For one, the movie makes you toy with the idea back & forth of whether Harold Crick will end up living or will be forced to die. It is a fun trip, and unlike another movie I saw the other day, the ending was supremely satisfying in tidily tying up all of the loose ends.

(BTW, the other movie: No Country For Old Men. The ending ruins the whole experience. It was worse than The Sopranos. Seriously, it was that bad.)

There's really nothing to criticize with this film. The writing is dazzling. The acting is pitch perfect from every player. And the pacing is just right. There is a little pre-marital funny business that I obviously think could have been scripted in a more innocent way. But it also wasn't overwhelming.

I fear saying any more. I've said what I hope will wet your appetite. Get your wife to add it to the Netflix or Blockbuster queue. And I think you'll be glad you spent part of an evening watching this one. Five Stars.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sports Luck & Me

There is something about being a sports fan that makes you inherently myopic & narcissistic. I recognize this and am aware of this, yet I cannot help but notice some strange occurrences that passively involve me in some way. Consider the following:

• On my Ballpark Pilgrimage, I usually rooted for the home team, but there was one game where I rooted for the Red Sox in an away game. Along the way, the teams I rooted for went 2-8 in ten games. In the first game I watched at Fenway, the Red Sox lost their first game at Fenway since May 1st.

• I showed up late to my game in Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park. When I got to the game, I spent an a couple innings just walking around and checking out the stadium from different perspectives. When I finally got to my seat, I realized that the Phillies pitcher was working on a no-hitter. The very next inning after I had sat down in my seat, the no-hitter gets broken up.

• Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis set a major league record for consecutive games at first base without an error earlier this year. When the error-less streak came to an end, guess who was there. Not only that, but he also committed ANOTHER error the next day. And, yes, I was also there for that one.

• Three days before I saw the Cardinals play, Albert Pujols injured his calf and went on the DL.

• Two days before I saw my first Red Sox game in Baltimore, David Ortiz injures his wrist and goes on the DL.

• One day before I saw the Cubs play, Alfonso Soriano broke a bone in his wrist and went on the DL.

• The night I saw the Indians play, Victor Martinez injured his elbow and went on the DL.

I thought of all of this tonight while I was watching the Red Sox/Diamondbacks game on ESPN. I had been watching the game in one particular room. I got up to go use the restroom, and then I began watching the game in another room in my home. All of a sudden the Diamondbacks scored two runs off of Red Sox ace Josh Beckett. I immediately went back to the original room, but it was no use. D'backs beat the Sox 2-1.

I wish I was making this stuff up.

Subversive Racism?

I've always wondered about a couple of crude phrases often used among men to announce the need to go to the bathroom. One is, "Well, I need to go drop the Browns off at the Super Bowl." Tame enough, I guess. But when this phrase is mentioned, a similar phrase usually has to be mentioned in turn: "Need to go drop the Cosby kids off at the pool."

Is this racist?

I had never thought it was until, in idle wondering while driving with the radio off yesterday, I just asked myself that very question. It could certainly be construed that way. Think about it: that the kids on Bill Cosby's sitcom are little more than like "pieces of crap." And that the only "pool" worthy of those "pieces of crap" would be a toilet bowl.

I've never used the phrase because I thought it to be sort of crude. And now I'm glad I didn't, because I'm now convinced that it's racist. And I'm going to discourage my friends from using it.

And I can sense the push-back. "Its just a joke." "Its all in good fun -- don't take it so seriously." I guess that's what everyone says when the joke isn't on them. Racism & discrimination are real. And I don't think that racist language has a welcome place in our culture's in civil discourse, much less coming from Christian lips.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sports: It Ain't What It Used To Be

There have been a lot of cool happenings in the world of sports lately. The Celtics & Lakers rekindled an old rivalry and had a great playoff series. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open with a torn ACL & double stress fracture -- all in his left knee. And, of course, I embarked on an epic Pilgrimage for two weeks in which I will always be able to brag about, as Bob told me, when gas prices were at their highest.

But nothing has happened in the last several weeks that is as big for my "sports worldview" as are the latest allegations from former NBA referee Tim Donaghy. The juiciest allegation is that NBA referees, who Donaghy calls "company men," made calls in such a way as to favor one team over another in order to extend a playoff series from the sixth game to seven games. The team that received the favorable calls won game 6, and even went on to win the series & eventually the NBA Championship.

This team was the Los Angeles Lakers -- perhaps the biggest draw in the NBA. The NBA makes more money if that series goes seven games, and they also make more money the further the Lakers advance into the playoffs. To add to that, Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban made a comment on "The Dan Patrick Show" radio program last month that in the past there were certain referees who, quote, "knew where their bread was buttered."

This is a huge paradigm shift for me. Just looking at this year's NBA finals -- were the Celtics & Lakers really the league's two best teams? Or did the league help steer those two teams to the finals? Just looking at the Celtics, they had to get through several tough series to make it to the finals...

And what about other NBA achievements? I certainly look at the final plays of the 1998 NBA Finals a little bit differently: Jordan's hack at Karl Malone to steal the ball, and his push-off of Bryon Russell (from another angle) on the final shot. Bryon Russell was recently interviewed (interview at, and he reminisced that other referees came up to him & told him that they would have called a foul on Jordan on that play.

There's also the shameful-looking case of the 1996 NBA Finals. Of the Bulls championship teams, this one was the best. Michael Jordan's father had died, and Jordan had spent a couple of years languishing away in the mediocrity of minor league baseball. The '96 season was Jordan's first full season back in the league, and the Bulls won 72 of their 82 regular season games -- an NBA record. But that's not the suspicious part. In the playoffs, the Bulls rolled through their competition, losing only one game in their first three series. When they got to the finals against the Seattle SuperSonics, they won the first three games with relative ease. But then, all of a sudden, they dropped two games in a row to the Sonics. Game six was to be on Sunday -- Father's Day. Of course, the Bulls won, and everyone got to see Michael Jordan show all of his emotion after winning his first championship without his father.

It makes me wonder: what am I watching when I tune in to watch sports? I used to think that it was reality TV. But now its beginning to look as scripted as theater.

I always wondered why Shaquille O'Neal wanted out of Orlando so bad & wanted to play for the Lakers. Is it because he knew he would be on the favorable end of calls if he played for L.A. rather than another franchise?

Or what about Major League Baseball in 2008. The Cubs have now not won a World Series in exactly 100 years -- since 1908. And guess who has the best record in MLB in 2008 to date? The Chicago Cubs. It would be a compelling story if the Cubs made it to the World Series. Perhaps umpires will be more inclined give the Cubs more favorable calls in tight spots because "they know where their bread is buttered." Who knows? It may go further than that. Maybe a "company man" from MLB was messing with the potassium in-take of Cubs division rival Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols so that he would strain a muscle in his left calf & be unavailable to play.

How far can you take it? How far does it actually go?

It used to be that the difference between professional sports & sports-entertainment (e.g. Pro Wrestling) was that only one of them was scripted. But how can I know anymore that what I'm watching when I turn on a ballgame is any better than World Wrestling Entertainment?

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Pilgrimage Playlist (With Reflections)

I finally finished my final game synopsis tonight. And also did a cute little run-down of my Pilgrimage "by the numbers."

But I also put together a commemorative song playlist on iTunes. A "Pilgrimage mix tape" to play on rainy days to remind me of my epic adventure. Here is how it rounded out...

1.) "Centerfield" by John Fogerty

I don't know what it does for you, but this song just gets me all geeked up for baseball. And I believe it should be played before the first pitch of every baseball game. I would institute that if I were Commissioner for a day...

2.) "The Gregarious Raconteur" by Theocracy

You have to be a faithful listener to the ESPN Bill Simmons podcast to understand this song. And it brought me a great deal of laughter & entertainment on the opening stretch of the trip.

3.) "Pork and Beans" by Weezer

Because its awesome. Because it just came out. Because Weezer has written the latest anthem for non-conformists everywhere. And because when I explained this pilgrimage to people, I always heard feedback like, "You're going on a trip just to watch baseball games?" -and- "You're going on a trip like this by yourself?" YES. I AM. And I did. Because I like baseball, dang it. And because I can meet cool people along the way & hang out with old friends in big cities. And it turned out to be quite awesome... haters...

4.) "So Afraid" by Bebo Norman

If there was one thing that I discovered & recognized about MYSELF on this trip -- for the first time -- was how afraid I was at seemingly every turn. I am a total weeny. No, really -- I am. I was afraid of all these big cities, of leaving my rental car in parking lots, of riding subways, of how bad my knee was when I first hurt it. Real, exhilarating-and-brings-a-rush-of-adrenaline fear. But I faced & conquered each of these fears one by one. Sorta proud of myself for that. I reflected on it in my considerable amount of time on the road, happened upon this song one day in my iPod's shuffle mode, and grew a new appreciation for the lyrics.

5.) "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" by Dropkick Murphys

Boston's best-loved Irish folk-rock band. Papelbon's tune. Watching Sox fans dance an Irish jig in the stands when Papelbon came in. I'll think of these things whenever I hear this song from now on...

6.) "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond

I haven't felt THAT much peace, joy, good-will toward my fellow man, et. al. warm fuzzies since I don't know when. Singing this song at Fenway was a warm experience that is difficult to describe. Part "fanhood rite of passage" & existential becoming mixed with part "Strange sense of Homecoming to a place I'd never been" (in a way that "this must be sorta like what Heaven will feel like one day" -- homecoming even though I've never been there) sensation. I know it sounds corny to say, but Fenway was sort of a religious experience for me. And I miss it. This even borders on sounding sacrilegious, but there's a yearning to experience that again, and a dull ache when I realize that it may be a long while. You know that line "I don't care if I never get back" (speaking of not returning home from the ballpark) from Take Me Out to the Ballgame? I feel that way about Fenway...

7.) "New York Groove" by Hello

I played this song as I was driving into NYC on Monday the 9th. I'll admit: it was an utterly cheesy moment as I sang along. But I was having fun with my first visit to NYC. And this cheesy sing-a-long song fit the moment.

8.) "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" by Bruce Springsteen

You just have to visit a big city on a hot day in the summer time to understand. Wow! If the word "eyeful" ever applied...

9.) "Your Hand In Mine" by Explosions in the Sky

I played a lot of Explosions in the Sky on my day driving through Pennsylvania. If you've never heard of them, they are the instrumental band that does the music for the television series "Friday Night Lights." You could listen to their music doing literally the most mundane thing in the world -- like, say, pooper-scooping after your dog -- and yet feel a melancholy sense of heroism. Great music.

10.) "Into the Fire" by Bruce Springsteen

Russert was apparently a big fan of The Boss, so they were playing his tunes in the background during MSNBC's coverage on that Friday in St. Louis. Especially this song, which is sort of a spirited dirge. So I downloaded it, and immediately clung to it. And I'll always think of Russert & St. Louis when I hear it.

11.) "Rise Above This" by Seether

When the Cards were getting blown out, and were bringing in a reliever, they blared this song over the speakers. I was intrigued, so I looked it up & downloaded it when I got back to the hotel. A fantastic rock tune! I sense some spiritual undertones, too; though, I had to download a "Clean" version since there is also apparently a "Restricted" version. A great song to sort of bring you back to a right frame of mind from depth of sorrow. I'll always think of Busch Stadium & the positive Cardinals fans when I hear this song.

12.) "Willow" by James Horner & The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra

This is a rendition of all the songs from the score of the film, "Willow," fit into a tidy little three minute & fifty-three second piece. I was in a soundtrack mood at one point on Saturday, my 12-hour driving day home from St. Louis. And I got stuck on this song for a little while. For one, it is a GREAT movie -- an epic tale of a little man who goes on a great adventure, plays a big surprisingly big role in the outcome of a great battle, only to return home again to his loved ones. Second, this was the first movie I ever went to see at the theater, and it was my Mom who took me -- just she & I. And, third, this was a GREAT, totally-underrated movie score that covers a wide range of emotions. And its a great song to end a playlist on.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Response to Bob

A buddy, Bob Turner, got fired up recently in a blog entry ("They Might Not Be Giants For Long"). No doubt, and understandably, that story of Plaxico Burress touched a blue-collar-rooted nerve. But I have a different perspective, and thought I'd re-print it here.

I definitely understand where you're coming from. But I see things a little differently.

Plaxico's "six year" contract is only binding on his end. If Plax breaks his neck tomorrow, the Giants can drop him & not owe him a dime. And that is exactly what they would do. This is not true in MLB, where teams owe a player at least half the value of his remaining contract. But in the NFL, contracts are meaningless from the team's perspective.

Not only that, but in said broken-neck scenario, the NFL's retirement comp. program is a joke. Johnny Unitas was bitter & angry at the NFL in his later years because they cheated him out of his comp. with some loophole. He had to go hat in hand & get help from fellow NFL players (which included Terry Bradshaw, as I understand it) to have some surgeries to keep his quality of life at a decent level in his post-NFL days.

So, if NFL teams can void a contract & re-sign a player to a lesser amount of money, why can't a player do the same thing? The labor structure of the NFL is SO weak. They have about the least powerful union in the world, much less professional sports!

Plus, we fans are biased. If a player gets underpaid for his performance for whatever reason, we say that our team got a bargain. And we don't think about paying him the next year to make up for the previous year's under-compensation. If a player gets overpaid for his performance, we say that said player is a leach on the franchise. But as much as we care about a player's performance meeting how much our team pays him, we never seem to care about the players' fair compensation. We are completely disloyal to players. And we wonder why they are so disloyal to franchises and fans these days...

Anyway, the NFL does a good job of keep that under wraps like any other powerful corporation or business. The common man may not be able to relate with NFL player, and vice versa. But that doesn't mean that corporate NFL isn't taking advantage of their labor like other corporations do with the common man.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Biggest Homer Call of "His or Any Other LIFE"

I was listening to the Dan Patrick Show podcast today, and they were cutting up about Yankee broadcaster John Sterling. You may remember that A-Rod started off last season scorching hot. Well, he had a walk-off homerun, and here was the call from Sterling:

So there you go. GREATEST month ever.

Sorry Jesus: A-Rod just trumped Passion week.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Pilgrimage is in Full Effect

Finally made it to Fenway (code name: "The Holy of Holies") in Boston tonight. I go back for one final game tomorrow. And then visit the Hall of Fame (code name: "Mecca") on Sunday, the Day of our Lord.

God may just smite me for that last paragraph...

Read all about that & my other adventures at The Pilgrimage

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Three Levels of MLB Druggies

I was listening to a podcast of Max Kellerman & Brian Kenny's radio show on ESPN Radio in NYC. And Kellerman mentioned that he had 3 levels of suspicion when it came to alleged steroid users.

I thought that that was an interesting concept. Here's my list, using his categories:

Level 1: "You juiced, I'm saying it, Sue me if you don't like it" [...] "I'm not accusing them -- I'm saying it as a matter of FACT"

Barry Bonds
Mark McGwire
Jose Canseco
Sammy Sosa
Rafael Palmeiro
Chuck Knoblauch
Bret Boone
Roger Clemens
Jason Giambi
Eric Gagne

Level 2: "I'm not saying as matter of fact that they did it, but I am saying that I'd like to play prosecutor in a case against them."

Lots of red flags around these guys, including radical weight changes, radical statistical changes, ridiculously amazing statistics, total career turn-arounds, and the like.

Ivan Rodriguez
Manny Ramirez
Miguel Tejada
Nomar Garciaparra
(Career went downhill with a wrist injury -- something about a split tendon & damage to the tendon sheath.)

David Ortiz
(Just hit the DL with a split tendon sheath in his wrist. Did they have this injury back in the 1960's?)

Mike Piazza
(Freakish numbers for a guy who played a rigorous position in pitcher's parks, and was originally drafted in like the 60th round of the MLB draft.)

Travis Hafner
(Great numbers one year, falls off the map the next year)

Level 3: Not saying they did it as a matter of fact, and not sure one could prove it in a court of law

Alex Rodriguez
(Canseco may be a snake in the grass, but he has a decent record when he points the finger.)

Pedro Martinez
(Had an awfully amazing fastball to come from such a scrawny body. And originally had a hard time getting MLB scouts to notice him.)

Who am I missing? I'll add them to the list.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

'Hi. I'm in Delaware'

Along my pilgrimage, I am traveling through states that I've never set foot in before. One of them today (on my way from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia) was Delaware.

I know literally nothing about Delaware. In fact, I often forget that it exists. The only thing that is remotely memorable to me about Delaware is this scene from Wayne's World:

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Pilgrimage Has BEGUN

As soon as this post hits the blogosphere, I will have embarked from Panama City onto my bold adventure to visit some of the cathedrals of America's pastime.

If you wish to follow my adventures, check my synopsis at:

The Pilgrimage