The "new" Noiseboy = the "old" Noiseboy

Notes from the past week:

1) Blogger apparently has a "new version" that will introduce a fresh template for editing, etc. Fellow blogspotters, have you made the switch and did you notice any bugs?

2) I saw a basketball doubleheader this Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. The Illini took on the Flames of UIC; then the Bulls hosted the Timberwolves. The first game was a poor one by Illini standards, yet filled with tension as the team blew a 16-point lead in the second half. The second game was a poor one by Bulls standards as well. I can't recall the last time I saw the Bulls shoot so poorly or look so dysfunctional on offense. They ended their 7-game win streak with a 10-point loss that wasn't as close as the final would suggest. I like watching NBA games live. They're much more of an entertainment event than a MLB game, which helps to distract from the fact that NBA games can be tedious due to their length. My favorite: the fan noise meter, which encourages the fans to scream their heads off for a couple minutes at a time.

3) Picked up some new furniture for the records room at IKEA. I've reached capacity on my LP storage on the old shelving system, so I picked up two new shelves/bookcases that will serve to house my stereo and my records, with room to spare for decorative items. I'll snap a photo of it once it's assembled. I'm excited by the new furniture (yes, I'm a geek in that way), because it also means that I'll be rearranging the furniture in the records room, swapping the walls where the couch/records currently rest.

4) I also picked up a pair of wireless headphones for use at home. Since I'm often in need of headphones, I'm hoping that having more freedom to roam will encourage me to listen to more music.

5) If you haven't yet, you may want to check out Japanese psychedelic band Yura Yura Teikoku, especially if you're into Krautrock with a slight pop twist. Jon turned me on to their "Soft Death" 12-inch. I'll post a song from that later this week.

6) My first acquired book, written by the only surviving Negro League arbiter, went to the printer on Friday. I'm happy with how it turned out. There's some entertaining passages on Satchel Paige and Buck O'Neil; stories of barnstorming bus rides gone terribly wrong; and plenty of information that will likely be "new" to researchers and historians of the league. In all, it's a story of one man's attempt to break the color barrier for umpires in the majors (he failed). We got a great endorsement from Ken Burns for the cover, too.

7) Thanks for your concerns, advice, etc. regarding my musical breakdown last week. I'm just at that mid-life crisis stage of my musical fandom, I think. It'll pass with time. I need more friends hanging around (both in person and in cyberspace) to share my passion with. A little of that goes a long way.

8) The three-disc Songs About Girls compilation is almost ready for mass production. Hopefully I'll be able to get copies out to the locals before you all leave for the holidays. For the non-locals, let me know if you'd like a copy, and I can drop one in the mail to you.


R.I.P. Noiseboy?

It's been months since I can last remember falling in love with a band or a record or a concert. I don't listen to much music at home anymore, or at work for that matter. I listen to more music in the car -- on the RADIO -- than I do at home. I had an offer to DJ at Mike & Molly's that I turned down. I can't get up the gumption to post anything on my music blog. And it's been several weeks since Joanna Newsom's new album came out, and I still don't own it. I LOVED her last record, my favorite of '04. In year's past, I would've rushed to the store the day it dropped to buy it. But, not so much any more.

Am I growing old, up, out of love with music? Am I just in a funk? What the fuck is going on with The Noiseboy?

I just don't know.


10 random thoughts on a chilly Sunday night

1) I'm stoked about the start of NCAA basketball this week. The man-child that Seth Fein referred to as "Greg Odom" was on the cover of the most recent ESPN magazine. I haven't skimmed the issue yet (the magazine is mostly a waste of ink and paper), but I have to say that the amount of attention that Oden is receiving is disgusting. The dude isn't even going to play a game until January, and he'll probably be leaving for the pros after just three months of college ball. THIS is what I have to be excited about thanks to the new NBA rules: three measly months of Greg Oden? Oh boy! It should be noted that Oden says he wants to stick around longer than a year. I just finished editing a book about him, and it seems like his desire to stick around college ball will depend mostly on two factors: 1) his mom, who really wants to see her son cash in; and 2) whether or not Greg feels as if he can step right in and contribute at the next level. If the answer to No. 2 is "yes", then he'll enter the draft this summer. By the way, many onlookers felt that Oden wasn't even the best player on his high school team, a squad that won three Indiana state titles in a row. That honor went to Mike Conley, who is also Oden's teammate at Ohio State.

2) M has taken to knitting. And talking to me about knitting. Kill me, please.

3) A surprise at work this week: my name was listed atop the bestsellers list for SP this week (I was given an author credit for the Cardinals book). That came a day after I asked for raise. Good timing!

4) It turns out that my friend Jon is starting a non-profit in my old stomping grounds of Peoria that will be dedicated to boosting the city's appreciation of live music. I don't know the details, but I'm glad he's working the promoter angle again. Jon booked many of the finest rock shows of my formative years, including Fugazi with the Make-Up.

5) I saw Babel this week. Best drama I've seen in months.

6) I saw Borat last week. Best comedy I've seen in months.

7) The local weekly released the "Best of CU" results this week, which only reinforced two things for me: 1) We need a non-campus weekly, as evidenced by many of the ridiculous categories/results (Q: "Best place to have a first kiss?" A: The Quad); and 2) I don't miss counting those ballots one iota (fuck ballot-stuffing restaurants and bar bands alike).

8) I've narrowed down my selections for the epic Songs About Girls compilation to 70 songs. I'm handing this sucker out for Xmas presents this year, instead of the usual "Best of 200X" CDs. (Sorry to all who liked those so much, but I didn't buy enough music from 2006 to justify doing one this year.) More on Songs About Girls at a later date.

9) Has anyone else discovered "The Tube", the random music video channel on our local digital cable package? I can't remember what station it is now that they've renumbered all the channels above 100, but it's worth flipping to during the commercial breaks during Bulls games. You're just as likely to get The Moody Blues as you are The Talking Heads, but at least it's all videos, all the time -- and no commercials!

10) Man, I miss the jukebox at Les' Lounge. I hate hate hate these new digital, internet jukeboxes. The one at Mike & Molly's is a rip-off with the worst songs/dollar ratio in town. Can we all agree that while it's convenient to be able to select "Trash" by the New York Dolls b/w "Look What the Cat Dragged In" by Poison as part of your "cock rock block", it doesn't excuse the fact that internet-aided automation equals laziness? Bars used to be defined by their beer selection and their jukebox. As a serious jukebox DJ, I prefer working around the limitations of a juke rather than having Napster at my fingertips. Fuck technology!


Hard to sleep last night

First of all, a hearty congrats to the Democrats for taking back the House!

When I went to bed last night, the race had just turned in the Dems favor in Missouri, and Montana was looking good with over 50 percent reporting. This morning, the news looks even better, although it appears were far from out of the woods in Virginia and Montana. Initial reporting says the Dems won in each state by the slimmest of margins, but we all know what can happen from this point forward (as they likely recount votes) is anyone's guess. Still, the Dems have almost regained control of the Senate, too!

Not to look too far ahead ... but if you haven't read Barack Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father, you most definitely should. I'm in the process of doing so now, and it's such a compelling read. Written over a decade ago, the book chronicles the life of now 45 year-old Obama, much of it dealing with his youth. It reads more like a work of fiction, in part because the writing is so good, and in part because Obama's story is so magnificent and foreign (he spent time as a youth growing up in Indonesia, for example). But mostly, it's because you get so far inside Obama's head that you find yourself wondering -- often -- why anyone with political aspirations would ever let you in there in the first place. How refreshing to read a book written by a politician that seems genuine. It's an engaging story of searching for one's identity and purpose, something I suspect will resonate with plenty of strivers on either side of the political fence. If you have any interest in the most-hyped man in U.S. politics, then this is a must read (not that you haven't heard that a thousand times already).


Mamas don't let your babies grow up...

...to be cowboys.

Good enough for 3rd place at the work Halloween party!

Complete with a 1985 Farm Aid t-shirt (from Champaign's Memorial Stadium no less) and a 6-inch doobie (not pictured) compliments of Chris. I even added a publishing slant to the costume, since I work for a publisher. Willie was on a book promotional tour for his new book, The Tao of Willie. He was dropping by SP to see if they had any interest in a new book he was hoping to publish, tentatively titled Golf After 60: Finding Zen on the Back Nine. I even said I'd take my advance in golf balls and Mary Jane, but alas, no takers.


Talking how much are we gonna miss Dee Brown blues

Big Ten Wonk stole my headline (and that of about 100 other would-be reporters) in his post today: "Where will the points come from for Illinois?" It's the question on every Illini fan's mind -- well, that and "Are we sure Dee Brown doesn't have another year of elligibility?" (I checked, and Dee is quite happy on the Jazz's inactive list, sitting beside The Rev. They've got the best seat in the house to watch Deron post 16 points and 8 assists a night for the up-and-coming Jazz.)

Last night's opening exhibition game against Lewis was quite possibly the most boring blowout I've ever witnessed (in stark contrast to the Bulls thrashing of the Heat on opening night). The lack of dramatic open-court dunks (Lewis fouled -- sometimes hard -- when those opportunities arose); the sloppy play (from both teams); the inability of Jamar Smith to ignite the crowd with a three-pointer (he was 0-for-8 following a 2-for-9 performance in the Orange/Blue Scrimmage); the whistle-happy refs (in particular one zebra who couldn't swallow his whistle over the game's final minutes as the other two had done); the Assembly Hall seats (gotta be the most uncomfortable seats in the Big Ten): it all made for one painful viewing experience. But the Illini still won 83-58 in a laugher against a team that didn't sport a player taller than 6-foot-6.

I think the bulk of what will trouble the Illini this season presented itself in plain detail last night against a mediocre, Division-II school. And here's a quick run-down:

1) Can this team shoot from beyond the arc if Smith's shot isn't falling? The answer as of last night is "NO!" Illinois converted just 14 percent of its three-point attempts. Sure, Rich McBride sat out on account of his (too light) penalty for a DUI. With him on the floor, the Illini have another three-point threat. Certainly, Trent Meacham (who shot 2-for-5 on threes) will be helpful from long range. But then you're left with, uh, Chester Frazier, Calvin Brock, and Brian Randle? I don't like those odds. Chet the Jet has shot 4-for-9 in exhibition from beyond the arc, but anyone who saw him shoot the rock last year has to question whether he can maintain that precision in games that count against quality defenders. Ditto for Brock and Randle, rebuilt shot or not. The troubling thing about Smith's inability to convert early on is that the defensive pressure is only going intensify on him this season. He's the new Dee Brown -- the guy who opponents' game plans will focus on. He's not going to get a lot of easy looks this year from beyond the arc. And that worries me.

2) Can this team rebound? They had a distinct size advantage over Lewis, and yet they were still outrebounded 40-37, including allowing the Flyers 13 offensive rebounds. That ain't gonna get it done -- especially when your guards are outrebounding your bigs (Frazier and Brock combined for 12 boards; War-ren Car-ter, Marcus Arnold, and Shaun Pruitt grabbed just seven). Lewis out-hustled the Illini on the glass, using quickness to get in a better position to rebound. That will have to change, and fast. For a team stocked with bigs, Illinois needs to own the glass. I hope to see significant improvement from Carter, especially, but also Randle.

3) Can this team defend without fouling the other team to death? At several points in the second half of last night's game, Coach Weber could be distinctly heard shouting "Don't foul!" to his players. Sure, the refs were breaking in their new whistles, but the Illini also gave them reason to blow hard. Illinois defenders were overplaying the perimeter players as typical, but then relying on their hands instead of their feet to help them out when the opposing player made a move to the hoop. They hustled their tails off on defense, but the team's inexperience showed in making some stupid fouls. Still, the defensive pressure forced 22 turnovers, including nine alone from Lewis' starting guards.

4) Can anyone sink their free throws? Last night, we shot 56 percent. If we shoot like that in the Big Ten, we're going to be a bottom-feeder. Frazier was only a 50 percent shooter last season from the charity stripe, and in last night's contest he was 1-for-6 after shooting just 4-for-8 in the team scrimmage. As primary ballhander, he's going to get some opportunities, and he needs to develop into at least a 65 percent shooter by Big Ten play. Pruitt will also need to greatly improve upon his 48 percent shooting from last season. As active as he figures to be on the offensive boards and as the team's primary low-post scoring option, he needs to develop some kind of stroke from the foul line. These two guys are going to shoot a lot of free throws this season, and if they're only hitting 50 percent of them, you can bet that Illinois is going to lose a few close games as a result.

Now, let's look at what I feel are this team's keys to success.

1) Brian Randle. We need him healthy and on the floor for at least 30-35 minutes a game. He's our best player, and more importantly our best defender on a team that will need to rely on defense and hustle to win games in the Big 10. There's been so much attention given to his offensive improvement; but to be honest, as long as he gets his four dunks a game, can hit the occasional open J, and improves his free-throw percentage (I'd be thrilled with 70 percent), that's good enough for me. I just want him on the court a bulk of the game, shutting down the opponent's best scorer. He'll have another offseason and his senior year to continue to make strides on offense.

2) Chester Frazier. The kid has really impressed thus far in exhibition games, showing an ability to hit a jump shot and get into the lane and to the rim. He's going to be a solid point guard, as he takes care of the ball and generally makes good passes and decisions. If he gives us anything as far as scoring is concerned, his teammates should be very thankful. We need him to make his defender play him honest, and I suspect he'll do that by penetrating often and dishing to open teammates. My prediction: fans are going to love this kid. By the time his Illini career is up, we'll be casually asking, "Do you remember that Dee Brown? Man, he was fast, but Chet the Jet, now there's a kid who can really get up and down the floor..."

3) The Illini bigs. We need our collection of tall boys to develop into a cohesive whole that is capable of becoming a strength each and every game. I don't mean simply in terms of scoring. Yes, some interior scoring will be helpful. But I'm more worried about neutralizing the opposing team's big men (and we have enough big bodies/fouls to do that) and getting it done on the boards. We need to post yet another top-notch points-per-possession number on defense, making sure that opponents get only one shot at scoring each trip down the court.

4) Rich McBride. He's been given a third chance to get it right, and the senior needs to take advantage of it. We need him to improve his three-point shooting from 40 percent to the mid-40s, and we need him to put the ball on the floor and drive into the lane with more frequency. Of our regulars, he's our best free-throw shooter by far, and we need him to get to the line at least five times a night.

Overall, I think we will live and die by our defensive effort each night. I don't think that we're a team that will be unable to score, but I do think that we'll need to remain focused on defense, forcing turnovers, and points off turnovers, if we're going to be among the Big Ten's best teams this year. We'll need to maximize our potential for "easy baskets" -- both in transition and at the foul line -- because I do believe we'll struggle (much as we did last year) through scoring droughts. The more we force the issue, on both ends of the court, and remain aggressive, the better our chances to return to the NCAA tourney.

I'm predicting a 12-3 pre-conference record, and a 9-7 mark in the Big Ten for an overall record of 21-10 heading into the Big Ten tourney. If we win a game in the tourney, I think we make the Big Dance.


It's baaaaaack!

For the time being, at least.

Why sportswriters suck

I really haven't had a chance to cut loose yet, and that sucks. But after working 28 hours of overtime in the past three days, the Carinals World Series book is finally at the printer. With my name on the cover. And probably full of errors that I couldn't catch because I was in a state of bleary-eyed hysteria after working two straight graveyard shifts, followed by four hours of sleep, and then a 14-hour day on Saturday.

But now that it's at the printer, I can finally catch up on everything I missed. I can celebrate during everyone else's post-celebration hangover. I'm going to re-watch Game 5 today, because my first screening of the game was interrupted several times by the printer calling with proofs to review. M made me put down the laptop for the final three outs, thank goodness, so I could experience some joy in a live setting. But I still haven't had that post-victory cry that I expect is welling up in me.

If I let that out this morning, it will look more like tears of rage, however. What is up with America's sportwriters? Not that this will be news to anyone who reads the sports section on a daily basis, but sportwriters are some of the worst writers on Earth -- and on top of that they're gutless sheep who spend about as much time thinking about what they're writing as they do improving their understanding of the games they cover. Far too little. They can't find the storyline -- or refuse to acknowledge it -- through their typical, juvenile snobbery.

Indulge me, please, as I itch my Midwest inferiority complex. The Cardinals were praised prior to the 2006 season as a team with a great shot at winning the NL Central and making it back to the Fall Classic. Why? They had the reigning MVP and Cy Young winners, and with Rolen and Edmonds they boasted a stable veteran core. But in truth, they were a shaky team on paper from the start, and things didn't improve in that regard due to in-season acquisitions. We were a team of castoffs solidified by two of the best players in the game today. When you put it down on paper, it's sort of startling. Eckstein was DFA'd by the Angels. Miles and Belliard were both traded by their respective clubs, considered less valuable than middling prospects and fat old relievers. Very few teams took any interest in Encarnacion in the offseason. Or Spiezio. Preston Wilson was cut by the Stros. Weaver was going to be cut, until we traded for him. And we didn't exactly have to get in a bidding war with any other club to land Taguchi three years ago. Our pen consisted of a dude who pitched in the indy leagues just a couple years ago (Kinney), two lefties that have never been on any scout's radar, a Reds castoff, a rookie in his first year of pen service, and a guy who got boo'd out of NYC. And don't forget about the Cardinals converted "outfielder" who prior to hitting 21 homers in 3 months was considered a nepotistic addition to the roster.

St. Louis played like crap for four months of the season, in part due to a ton of significant injuries (Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Eckstein, Mulder, and Isringhausen). But come October, the team was relatively healthy again. And they still had the reigning MVP and Cy Young -- both of which were gunning for to repeat in that department. But because a sportswriter's only memory is recent memory, those same critics who lauded St. Louis as "a good bet" now thought that the Cardinals were "a good bet to get swept" by the Padres, then the Mets, then the Tigers. Either they fucked up seven months ago when they said St. Louis was a great team, or they fucked up in October by failing to remember what they had written seven months ago.

Or maybe the Cardinals truly had become a crappy team in the meantime. But I don't think so. As much as I bitched this season about my team's performance, I did so because I'm a perfectionist that has been conditioned to a high standard. These Cardinals were not the NL juggernaut of their '04 brethren, but they were a far cry from the laughingstock of the playoffs. The Cardinals were built around the philosophy of their World Series MVP, the blue-collar Eckstein: flash isn't necessary, just hard work. They were a team led by veterans who had been-there-done-that in the postseason, but were still hungry for that first ring. And, I have to admit, they were led by a manager who just happened to be on top of his game at the right time.

Still, they can't get no respect. Not even after winning the whole shebang. Not even after beating three of the best pitching staffs in the Majors. Not even after overcoming a poor-by-his-standards postseason from Pujols.

Here's a sampling of the tone that's being adopted by plenty of columnists from around the country. This from Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times:
When historians recall the 2006 World Series, which mercifully ended Friday on another odd night of freezing winds and flocking birds, one word will come to mind.

It will not be Cardinals, who, let's face it, won a world championship by virtue of possessing a pulse.

It will not be Weaver, the Angels and Dodgers bust who blearily stumbled his way into postseason religion.

It will not be Eckstein, the wonderful little Series MVP who will live longer as a Bill Stoneman nightmare.

The word will not be a name, but a directive, one that defined a team and detailed an embarrassment.

The word will be "Duck!"

Here comes a short throw from a Detroit Tigers pitcher to the third baseman -- duck!

Here comes a throw from a Tigers pitcher to the first baseman -- duck!

You get his point. And unfortunately, it's the same point that is being made by a host of writers: St. Louis, an inferior 83-win team, lucked into a World Series title. While a certain portion of baseball is luck -- "a game of inches" -- a lucky team does not win 11 games in October. It takes a good one. It took a good one to beat the Mets, that's for sure. And it took a good one to beat the Tigers, too, a team that plowed through supposedly superior AL teams to make it to the Fall Classic. Even without those eight errors -- and last time I checked fielding is still a significant part of the game -- the Cardinals would likely at worst be facing a Game 7 today. Why? Because St. Louis pitchers manhandled a good Tigers lineup and tamed an even better Mets one.

Pitching wins ballgames in October. The Cardinals didn't bring the good stuff in June. Or August. Or September. But in October, they brought their A game against baseball's best teams. And that's why they are the '06 champions. You want a story to write, sportswriters? How about tyring out the real story. You may be familiar with it already: a talented Midwest sports team drowning in turmoil bonds at the right time to defeat Goliath. If you need a refresher, just rent Hoosiers.

In the meantime, I'm going to stop reading your slop before it kills my buzz.

UPDATE: Brian Gunn sings a similar tune (to me) over at Hardball Times. Worth a read if you're still not convinced.


The SWEET taste of victory!

In Year 30, it finally arrived.

More to come later. Unfortunately, tonight I will not be following in David Eckstein's footsteps. Instead, I'm working the second 18-hour day in a row in an effort to complete our World Series book on the Cardinals, which we'll send to the printer tomorrow morning. I'm actually writing a good deal of the text that will accompany this photo-centric book, for better or worse. I'm getting my first editorial byline on a cover as a result.


Woo-hoo!!! Win No. 2!

Take that Kenny Rogers. We'll beat'cha fair and square.

All that's left is for us to play .500 ball for the next 4 games and, well, I'm not even gonna say it.

Do you realize that the Cardinals have a 2.71 ERA this postseason, and that all four of their starting pitchers have posted ERAs of 3.00 or under? Do you realize that prior to tonight's start, Carpenter had the highest ERA of those four starters? That, my friends, is astounding. And that is why we're two games away from, well, you know.


Rogers does his best Eddie Harris

Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn: What's that shit on your chest?
Eddie Harris: [wiping his finger across his chest] Crisco. [wiping it across his waist line] Bardol. [wiping it along his head] Vagisil. Any one of them will give you another two to three inches drop on your curve ball. Of course if the umps are watching me real close I'll rub a little jalapeno up my nose, get it runnin', and if I need to load the ball up I just... [wipes his nose] ...wipe my nose.
Vaughn: You put snot on the ball?
Harris: I haven't got an arm like you, kid. I have to put anything on it I can find. Someday you will too.

Does that soundbite from Major League sound familiar after watching Game 2 of the World Series? Starring as Harris: The Gambler in a locker room full of 98-mph throwin'-24 year-olds.

I noticed the crap on Rogers' hand right before the Fox broadcasters brought it up. Maybe it was nothing intentional, but Tim McCarver -- if he knows anything -- surely knows what pine tar looks like. Having been a catcher, he knows how pitchers cheat. So why would he even bring it up if he didn't have a strong hunch? I suppose controversary sells....

Rogers: Er, what substance on my hand?
Ump: Why are you rubbing my shoulder with your hand?
Rogers: Oh, am I?
Ump: Yes, you are.
Rogers: Sorry 'bout that. See, there's nothing on my hand.

With or without a little help from a foreign substance, Rogers was dominant tonight. Still, if he was using something, I'm not sure why the umps didn't do more than ask him to wash his hands. (I'm not sure that's what actually happened. Fox's reporting on the subject during the game was vague at best. Maybe the postgame reporting will reveal whether Rogers washed it off between innings, or washed it off only after being prompted to do so by the umps.) If the latter was true, and he was guilty, then he should've been tossed from the game with a suspension pending. Them's the rules.

At any rate, I'm happy to be heading back to St. Louis with the series tied, our ace on the mound in Game 3, and Rogers out of the picture until Game 6.

UPDATE: ESPN has photographic evidence: Rogers is a cheat. In his start in the ALCS, he featured the same mysterious blob on his pitching hand. See the photo below to compare the two starts.

(click on the image for a close-up)


Cards take Game 1!

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Reyes can pitch. I told M to expect good things from the rookie prior to the start of the game, and now I can gloat. My game summary follows:






W-O-W! What. A. Game.

"Baseball is a game of inches." It's a cliché, for sure. But after watching Game 7 of the '06 NLCS, you can see why that phrase has stuck around. It's appropriate. Endy Chavez made one of the most spectacular catches I've ever seen, snowconing a ball that was over the fence after making a dead-run for the track and a mighty leap into the wall. Even if I forget the stage Chavez was standing on when he made that catch -- even if it was Game 101 of the season on a Wednesday afternoon -- it was still one of the best catches I've ever seen. So much skill -- and luck -- was involved in making that catch. It should have broken the Cardinals' back. It sure broke mine. Rolen and his bum shoulder couldn't buy a big hit in this series. And when he finally got a hold of one in a tight game, he was robbed. Poor guy. You had to feel sorry for him.

I thought the game was surely going to the Mets after that turn of events, and I'm sure every Mets fan felt the same way. Big Mo had shifted to them. In their next at bat in the bottom of the 6th, the Mets loaded the bases on a walk, a Rolen error (one of the worst errors I've ever seen, too), and another walk. Suppan was backed into a corner. Not one Cardinal fan would have blamed him if a run scored in that situation. He'd pitched a hell of a game, a hell of a series, up until that point. He could have folded. The Mets had Big Mo at their side, and two chances to score the go-ahead run. But Soup has ice in his veins. The cerebral Maddox wannabe knows how to keep his composure on the mound. He never looks too bothered out there. Even with the pennant on the line.

Everyone in Shea knew that the other Jose was going to see some curve balls from Suppan. Didn't matter. Soup threw him fastballs up in the zone to keep him off his Uncle Charlie. And sure enough, it worked. Strikeout. Two outs. It would be up to the man who made The Catch. But luckily for Cardinals fans, Chavez had already used every ounce of positive karma he had coming to him in the top of the 6th. He flied out to center to end the inning. Suppan swung Big Mo back in the Cardinals corner.

With Perez out of the game, I released a sigh of relief, because oddly enough it was the Mets relief -- touted by pundits before the series began as the Mets edge over the Cards (boy did they pick wrong) -- that we had our best shot against. We had touched up the Mets best reliever, Wagner, in this series. But we couldn't string much of anything together against the Mets starters. In the top of the ninth, Randolph stuck with Heilman, probably because Cards hitters had already proven their worth against Wagner. Rolen redeemed himself for a horrendous error with a one-out single. With that, our best playoff hitter -- who just happened to be our worst regular season hitter -- stepped to the plate: Yadi. Whack! Ballgame.


There was but one tiny hurdle left to clear: the bottom of the ninth. I told M heading into the top of the ninth, "If we're going to pick a time to score, now would be a good time." Not because it was, after all, the ninth inning. But rather because if we scored, the Mets had the bottom of their order coming up next. Their chances of scoring would be greatly diminished. Or would they?

Wainwright has been anything but Isringhausen-esque this postseason. He's been dominant, never clogging the basepaths with runners or flirting with disaster. But on this night, the NL's best offense would give this kid a true gut check.

Single. Single. Two on, nobody out. Wainwright can't locate his best pitch, the Hammer. Does Randolph bunt in this situation, moving both runners into scoring position? Nope. Does he send his best available hitter to the plate to pinch-hit for the pitcher? Nope. He bypasses Franco for Floyd. Bad call. The ump's strike zone is generous tonight, and Floyd goes down looking. The real Jose -- the guy it's hard to hate because of the smile, the chant, the youth, the passion, the talent -- digs into the batter's box and smokes a flat curve ball into center field. Edmonds is there. Like always.

All Wainwright needs to do is retire Lo Duca. Just get him out and Cardinals nation doesn't have to face its worst fears -- the man standing on deck, Beltran. Lo Duca works the walk. I let out a hundred half-intellible "fuck"s. The Cardinal Killer, at the plate, the Cardinals up by two runs, bases juiced, two outs, bottom of the ninth. This is baseball, folks. This is why we watch the game. This is why it's still the best game on Earth.

Strike one on a hittable fastball that Beltran doesn't offer at. Strike two on a curve that Beltran barely nicks. No way Wainwright is throwing another fastball to Beltran. Would he dare? He's been throwing a slider this inning, too. But that's his third-best pitch. He's gotta go with the Hook, right? Pull the string? It's one of the best curves in the business. With a sharp, downward break, it makes All-Stars look like scrubs. Even Cardinal Killers. Strike three, looking. Ballgame.


Will New Yorkers remember The Catch for years to come? I know I sure will -- because of how my team responded to it.


Rain rain, go away

Hats off to Jeff Suppan, who silenced the Mets' Murderers Row, and hit a home run himself in a stellar Game 3 performance. And hats off to the Mets Murderers Row, who awoke in Game 4 to remind me what a superior 3-4-5 looks like. With today's game rained out, I'll take a moment to reflect and predict. Considering that we're knotted up at two games a piece and the Cards have yet to get a maximum performance from either Pujols -- who is getting on base but not driving them in (because there hasn't been anyone for him drive in) -- or Carpenter, I feel pretty good about our odds to take two more games in this series. The home/road split now favors the Mets if the series goes seven. But we've got our two best pitchers slated to pitch in Games 6 and 7, and Mr. Weaver -- who all of a sudden has found his groove -- goes tomorrow. I think our pen will rebound well enough to keep us in games, and I hope that Pujols walks the walk against Glavine tomorrow (after talking the talk last week). La Russa says that Pujols is battling a sore hammy, and that is zapping some of his power. Hmmm ... not sure I believe that entirely, but whatever. The dude has been robbed a few times on hard hit balls this series; I think he's due.

In other news, the Cubs hired Lou Piniella to a three-year deal. Piniella, who just got his broadcasting partner Psycho Lyons fired, had been widely rumored to be taking over for Torre in New York. The guy was a Pro with a capital P as a player, a .291 career hitter for the Royals and Yanks. And he's been a successful Major League skipper, too, boasting a .517 winning percentage and World Series title. But more importantly, he's got a good record of turning around underperforming teams. In '90 he led the Reds to the title after the year's previous team -- much the same roster -- finished 14 games under .500. That team featured a lot of younger talent: Barry Larkin, Paul O'Neill, Eric Davis, Hal Morris, Chris Sabo, Mariano Duncan, Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, Jose Rijo, and Jack Armstrong -- all between the ages of 25 and 28. And under Piniella in '90 they gelled, burying the NL West competition by 9.5 games by July 1.

In '93, Lou took over in Seattle for a team that had won just 64 games in '92. The '92 club was near the league bottom in runs scored and runs allowed, but with Lou at the helm they improved markedly and finished two games above .500. After a set-back in the strike-shortened '94 season, Piniella's '95 Mariners won the division in a tight race down the stretch with the Angels. Again, Sweet Lou was working with several key younger guys like Griffey and Tino Martinez and some 19 year-old named A-Rod. The M's went on to greater heights -- including the remarkable 116-win season in '01 -- under Piniella.

After a great stretch with the Mariners, Piniella bolted for the money in Tampa Bay following the 2002 season, and here's where his managerial career takes a turn for the worse. But it's hard to blame Lou for the Rays woes, as no one could have done significantly better with such mediocre talent in a stacked AL West division. And Lou did get the most out of his young position players, as 21 year-olds Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford both had outstanding campaigns in '03.

Given his track record for righting the ship, and the Cubs solid mix of veteran and youthful talent, I expect good things from Piniella's new club next season. If he still has that fire in his belly -- his tirades against umps are legendary, and he once wrestled his own reliever in the clubhouse (and who can blame him considering it was Dibble?) -- then I expect the Cubs to find new motivation next season. Of course, a lot depends on what offseason moves they make. They have serious issues to work out in their pitching staff. And at 63 years old and shortly removed from the rebuilding Rays, one has to wonder if Piniella has the patience to handle a slow, youth-oriented makeover. It will also be interesting to see how his hiring affects the Cards-Cubs rivalry. It's safe to say that Baker and La Russa weren't best buds; but La Russa and Piniella are actually good friends who have bonded over their Tampa roots. Of course, they do have some history, thanks to Tony's stint in the AL prior to coming to the Cards. I wish I had the time to look up their head-to-head stats. (Oh, fuck it, here goes ... Take it for what it's worth, but Tony's teams have gone 40-32 against Lou's teams. But Lou got the best of Tony on the big stage, sweeping the A's in the '90 Series.)

Any Cubs fans care to chime in?


Cardinals win SOOOOOO satisfying

Illini Madness last night was a bit of a bore. Even Jeremy Piven couldn't raise the crowd from their feet -- at least not in the way he probably would have hoped. Piven only had the mic for a couple minutes, but in that time he managed to get the bulk of the Assembly Hall to boo him. In a bold -- but questionable -- move, Piven got political on a night in which a crowd of basketball fans just wanted to have a good time and forget about the fact that they had just lost the No. 2 recruit in the nation to Indiana. To paraphrase, he said that the kids in the building needed to stay in school so their brains could get bigger and they could overthrow the Republicans (he actually referred to the current administration and the hole they've got us in). I can't argue with the sentiment, but the timing was off and the conservative crowd let him have it. (Not sure what the UI donors who had a hand in getting him to attend thought about it...) He finished up by saying that Illinois was a blue state -- uh, Cook County is a blue county, but the rest of the state is up for grabs -- but on this night it was an orange state. That joke would have been all right on its own.

The evening on the whole only reinforced how white the crowd and school is: from the nearly all-white (one Asian) dance/cheer squads, to the pep band (please, at least bring back "Hey Ya!") to the Marching Illini drum line to the classic rock theme music that permeated the entire Madness event. Hell, even Coach Weber rode out on the court in a cop motorcycle side car sporting a leather Harley jacket (WTF?). We did get one taste of hip-hop culture, when an "up-and-coming" Chicago rapper named Renaissance performed (along with most of the Illini's black players), and the crowd responded much in the same way they did to everything else that night -- with silence.

Silence was exactly what filled up my household after the Madness ended, as M and I watched an incredibly ineffective Chris Carpenter struggle mightily against the Mets in the bottom of the first, much as he had in his last road start in the NLDS at San Diego. However, unlike he had done in the Padres start, Chris couldn't right the ship last night. He stunk, period. But luckily his teammates were not about to let him down. The Cards batters fouled off 26 two-strike pitches last night -- which culminated in spectacular at bats from Pujols in the 7th and Taguchi in the 9th -- and did almost all of their damage when their backs were against the wall. Once again, La Russa pulled the right strings, inserting Speez for Rolen, giving Carp a quick hook, and allowing the same rookies in the pen to carry the team in tight situations. After watching TLR flounder in previous postseasons (and regular seasons for that matter), I gotta give the guy credit this postseason. So far, he's managing the team like the Hall of Famer he will one day be.

I also need to revisit the Albert Pujols haiku I posted to the comments of Listmakers blog prior to the start of the series:

Brad Lidge fears me, true
Soon, Billy Wagner will, too
Mets fans will be blue

After last night's win, I need to write a new one for Mr. So Taguchi, the slayer of Billy Wagner:

As small as a flea
But you better respect me,
Mighty Taguchi!


This morning sucks, but today will ROCK!

A tip of the cap to the Mets, who took advantage of the Cardinals' one mistake last night and won, 2-0. The Mets got the seeing-eye hits (Lo Duca) and not the Cardinals (Belly twice was robbed, as was Pujols), and Jeff Weaver made one very poor pitch to Carlos Beltran. Ballgame. I like the fact that we held this vaunted offense to two runs (and really just two hard-hit balls), and that our pen did the job again. I'm feeling confident heading into tonight's game as we prepare to face the Mets less effective starting pitchers over the next few days.

Bad news for Illini basketball fans. Stud recruit Eric Gordon, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Indianapolis, is going to renege on his verbal committment to Bruce Weber and sign with Indiana. I won't bore you with the details -- which involve just about everything that muddies up the water of college recruiting -- but this is a HUGE blow for the Illini. Gordon was a Top 5 talent in the class of 2007. He was probably a one-and-done player anyway, but a team hoping to vault itself into the echelon of the Dukes/Arizonas/Kansases of the world can not continue to fail in recruiting top talent. Weber could coach a fivesome of circus monkeys into the NCAA Tourney, but without elite talent, Elite Eight runs are hard to come by.

Some will say, "Look at what he did last season after losing Williams and Head and Powell and Ingram..." But he still had two NBA players on that roster. Now, he arguably has none -- with no great prospects on the horizon. Still, I support the coach. He's honest, he knows his Xs and Os, and there are worse programs/coaches to model yourself after than Purdue and Coach Keady, who got the most out of the least year after year. The sad thing is, I strongly feel that if you give Weber just one stud, he'll give you an unforgettable team. It was true of Keady with Glenn Robinson, and the same would have been true of Weber with Gordon. Oh well, have fun at Indiana, EJ. Best of luck with Kelvin Sanctions as your coach.

I'm moving on. Tonight is Midnight Madness at the Assembly Hall, Jeremy Piven is the emcee, and I'm going to break the orange tee out of mothballs. Then there's Cardinal baseball to watch afterward (thanks DVR!). So today is looking up.

Plus, I just learned that Chavez's entire catalogue is being re-released by Matador on one CD. I own two-thirds of it already, but I may be getting the new release, Better Days Will Haunt You, simply to have my own copy of this video, which is included with the CD. I only saw this once on MTV back in the day, but I told everyone who would listen how it was the greatest music video ever. Sure enough, YouTube has a copy of it as well. It's still as great as I remember it being. That James Lo drum lick is the bomb. Enjoy.

Chavez - "Break Up Your Band"


20 things fans of the Pond Scum need to know about my Cardinals

(For the benefit of Listmaker and his readership.)

1. You didn’t intimidate us in ’86, we just felt sorry for ya. That’s all.

2. You got lucky against us in ’00; I wouldn’t hold your breath this time.

3. Don’t stray too far off of first, lest ye be picked off by the rifle that is Yadi Molina’s right arm. And be careful on your way down to second, Jose.

4. Beware “Belly”! He may be fat, but Ronnie Belliard is a gamer who likes to stick his tongue out of his mouth more often than His Airness, has been good in the clutch as of late, plays a deep second base, and makes the off-balance throw to first better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

5. Scott Rolen stinks right now, whether he (or his bum, surgically-repaired shoulder) wants to admit it. Pitch to him all day and all night, and watch him feebly pop up to short center field.

6. Chris Duncan (or “Chaw” as he’s called in my house) wears a skillet for a glove, but carries a mighty big stick, much like one former U.S. President.

7. Hollywood Jim Edmonds is suffering from “post-concussion syndrome,” whatever that means. He also has a tinge in his shoulder and an ouchy on his foot. Man, is he playing in pain. You will now cringe as the broadcasters remind you of this four times each game.

8. You do not want to face Chris Carpenter. Seriously, you better abduct him while he’s in St. Louis, otherwise you aren’t winning Game 3.

9. Don’t look Wainwright’s curve ball in the eyes — it’ll break your heart.

10. The only current Redbird to ever hit a homer off of Billy Wagner is … wait for it … a little longer … David Eckstein. (That just means Pujols is due.)

11. Speaking of the Big Guy, Albert the Great, he’s got two career hits against Maine in three at bats. Both of those hits left the yard. (Did someone say SEVEN RBI?)

12. That tuft of red hair on Speez’s chin is a year-long gimmick that won’t die. Please make it die. Pretty please?

13. I don’t like Tony La Russa. I think he’s overrated, so I guess we share something in common. But boy did he pull all the right strings in the NLDS. Too bad he has a habit of choking in the NLCS and beyond.

14. About the veggie lovin’, animal huggin’, former middle-infield scrub: He’s having a hard time deciding whether to start veteran Jason Marquis and his 6.02 ERA in Game 4, or rookie Anthony “Hey! Did you forget that I one-hit the White Sox this year?” Reyes. Them’s smarts. That’s what a law degree will getcha.

15. Soup — or Sooooooooooup if you’re really feeling it — is our version of Greg Maddux, minus the Hall of Fame credentials. Laugh all you want, but Delgado, Green, and Beltran are hitting a combined .172 against him in his career.

16. I don’t know why So Taguchi is on a Major League roster either, unless it’s to up our cute factor. (But isn’t that why we acquired Eckstein?)

17. Juan Encarnacion collected ONE RBI in his first 19 games this year. Everyone hated him. Then he had a game-winning triple in Game 4 of the NLDS. Now everyone loves him.

18. Jeff Weaver is one ugly motherfucker.

19. We will not let Braden Looper beat us. He’s been relegated to mop-up duty, unless the rest of our inexperienced pen implodes. (Very doubtful: we’ve got Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Brad Thompson, Randy Flores, and Josh Hancock on our side — all names that strike fear into the minds of opposing batters.)

20. Those who pitch around Pujols are pussies. Smart baseball, my ass!


Changing my tune

So I'm a little more interested in the NL playoffs now. Cards vs. Mets has the makings of a good series. More on that in a second.

First, let's review my playoff predictions. I missed out on the A's and Mets, and really screwed up in having the Dodgers going all the way to the Series. They were my Big Mo team, the team no one was talking about that I felt had a good shot to ride a wave of momentum into the Series. Their pitchers did keep the ball in the yard -- allowing just two homers in three games -- but unfortunately the ball was sprayed all over the yard, especially with runners in scoring position. I was also wrong in the AL, calling the A's-Twins match up the "series to watch". The A's really stepped it up a notch, especially their starting pitching.

I was absolutely correct, however, on the Cards and Tigers. Detroit's pitching was too much for the Yanks, just as I predicted. Did you see Zumaya hitting 103 on the gun? If The Gambler has any mojo left, look out A's. I like the match up of two deep, talented staffs in the ALCS.

I was also dead-on with the Cards. The Cards scored runs early in their victories, making the Padres pen a non-factor. Surprisingly, however, they also did a great job of keeping the Padres from scoring. Part of that can be blamed on some fluke-ish poor hitting in the clutch from San Diego. But honestly, that lineup is not going to put the fear of god in any opposing staff this side of AAA. Sure, they were a good hitting club in the regular season, but they lack big boppers and they are a far cry from the Cards next opponent: the Mets.

I'm taking infield grounders this week before the start of the NLCS by reading Jeff Pearlman's tribute to the rowdy, skirt-chasing, assholes of yore, the '86 Mets. Sadly, there's been no definitive tome written on the White Rat's Runnin' Redbirds ... yet.

I wonder what Listmaker is doing to ready himself for this sure-to-be-classic NLCS slugfest? Growing a playoff beard? Wearing the same, smelly Mets cap to bed every night? Asking the baseball gods to locate Sidd Finch and rush him to the Mets rotation? Or maybe checking to see if Seaver and The Doc still have live arms? Inquiring minds want to know. Would Listmaker be up for posting an NLCS preview of the Mets on my blog, in exchange for me giving him a post to his blog on the Cards?

I guess I just needed to warm up to the idea that my Redbirds were good enough to win a playoff series, and now that I am, I'm ready to watch some NL baseball. On the wall of my office at work, staring at me all day long, is a shrine to Cardinals past. (Sure, that may sound cheesy, but I do work at a sports publisher, so it also makes some sense.) Nine framed black and white photos adorn the wall: The Dean brothers, Gibby, Rajah, Flood, Country Slaughter, the Gashouse Gang, Brock, and The Man. But the ninth in particular has caught my eye right now: a photo of Boyer, Gibson, and McCarver hugging on the mound after the '64 Cardinals knocked off another New York team, the Yankees, to win the Fall Classic. Fans are spilling over the 12-foot-high outfield fence at Sportsman's Park, preparing to storm the field. Maybe, just maybe, this'll be the year...


My new favorite band

Meet Black Lips, who hail from Atlanta. They puke on stage. They play their guitars with their dicks. They drop-kick each other. They love feedback like no other. They play with the shittiest equipment money can buy. They're fucking stoopid. They've been banned from a slew of clubs and stiffed by an army of promoters. They don't shower and they refer to themselves as "Flower Punks". And they covered one of my favorite obscuro garage rock tunes of all time -- Jacques Dutronc's "Hippie Hippie Hoorah" -- on their 2005 full length Let It Bloom.

Greg Shaw signed 'em when they were still in their teens. Then they went to In the Red and now they're on the hip Vice Records and are opening shows for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Who knows how long they'll be this good. See for yourself...

Black Lips - "Fad"


Who's excited for the NL playoffs? Not I.

We've been hearing all about it for the past few years: the AL reigns supreme over the NL. The point has been driven home in All-Star games and World Series alike. ESPN is the leading booster, making certain we know it's so by pumping as much AL-related content down our throats as possible. (We must have deep throats, too, considering all the fucking Red Sox-Yankees-White Sox games we had to choose not to watch this year.)

But the truth is, well, the truth: the AL is superior to the NL. This year's playoffs will surely cement that point as Fact No. 1 in baseball's collective conscious. Think about it: In the AL you've got four supremely talented teams paced by exciting players (yes, even the Tigers have Pudge, Jonesy's handlebar stache, and a 100-mph-throwing phenom named Joel Zumaya, who you will know soon enough); in the NL you've got, uh, Pujols? Do the Padres get your blood pumping? No, not even in their camo jerseys. Not even when Trevor "The All Time Saves Leader" Hoffman toes the rubber to unleash a nasty 74-mph change up. Not even with Mike "Tight Pants" Piazza batting clean up and Brian "I Will Walk 500 Times" Giles in the two-hole.

What about the Dodgers? Sure, they've got Nomah (when he's healthy enough to play) and JD Drew (when he's healthy enough to play) and Kenny Lofton (when he's healthy enough to play) and Brad "my career highlight came when I struck out the side in the '06 All-Star game" Penny. But they've also got at least one player who is nearly impossible to root for -- Jeff Fucking Kent -- and a legion of no-name, good-play rookies.

How about the Mets minus Pedro? They've still got Glavine and El Duque and Wagner and a scary lineup ... but you gotta admit that without Pedro, you find yourself doing a huge double-take before handing over the NL pennant to the Mets. Pedro had been unhealthy and ineffective for the entire second half of the season, so the Mets won't really miss him. (They were 54-35 at the break this year, and just a tick worse at 43-30 after, even as Pedro posted just two wins and an ERA north of seven.) But still, this is Pedro we're talking about. You can't really believe New York's chances will improve by inserting a rookie into Pedro's spot in the rotation, or needing to count on a strong start from the likes of Steve Trachsel.

And then there's my Cardinals, who finished the year doing their best impersonation of a ticking time bomb. I know ya'll are sick and tired of hearing me babble on about Sir Albert Pujols, but if you really don't think that he's deserving of the MVP Award, then you don't know jack about baseball. He ended our most recent 7-game losing streak just in time with yet another walk-off homer to ensure that we had a fighting chance of fending off the reigning NL pennant-winners, those pesky (steroid using) Astros. The Cardinals suck, folks. I mean, they suck bad. Only in this weak-ass NL playoff picture do we actually stand a chance at winning a division series, even if no pundit on Mother Earth will put their rep on the line and pick us to do so.

So, am I excited by the prospects of watching my Cards fall behind early and often to the Padres? Am I anxious to see Greg Maddux face off against Tom Glavine in a battle of 40-something ex-teammates? Uh, FUCK NO. The only thing worth watching in this year's playoffs is the play of Jose Reyes, who is the best player in the NL not to have his name thrown into the MVP voting ring. (When was the last time your team's leadoff hitter smacked 66 extra-base hits, drove in 81 runs, and swiped 64 bases?)

For once, I'll be much more interested in watching the AL, where I will take pleasure in watching the Tigers embarrass Joe Torre's crew (one can hope) while the playoffs best series -- Twins v. A's -- develops one for the ages. And by the way, a big FUCK YOU to Major League Baseball for having Santana v. Zito be the fucking NOON game on Tuesday. Why, you ask, would baseball be so dumb? Oh, so the Yankees can have primetime to themselves. ESPN, Fox, and MLB needs to grow some balls and kindly do what's right for baseball fans around the globe whose teams aren't in the hunt -- whom their new playoff advertisements are oddly enough targeting -- instead of worrying only about the ratings. Give us a chance to actually watch some exciting baseball this October. Better yet, allow Oakland fans to actually watch some evening playoff baseball instead of sticking them with the early morning game every time out.

Okay, moving on ... I've got one last tidbit to tidy up from earlier in the season. Way back at the end of April, when Pujols was ripping the cover off the ball much as Ryan Howard did in Half Two, I made the following prediction as to how Albert's season would finish up. Of course, I didn't foresee the oblique strain that would sideline him for 15 games, permanently altering his season when he was in peak form. But, for comparison's sake, let's see how he ended up.

My April prediction is listed first, followed by his actual production (asterisk denotes career high).

Plate appearances: 675/634
Walks: 140/92
At-bats: 515/535
Hits: 182/177
2B: 36/33
HR: 52/49*
RBI: 123/137*
Runs: 148/119
On-base %: .487/.431
Slugging %: .753/.671*
Avg: .353/.331

Conclusion: While he missed my high marks overall, Pujols still posted some career highs in key categories. But the Cards' lack of punch hurt Sir Albert, as his run total was down this year despite homering at a career-best rate. For the first time in four seasons, he won't lead the league in runs scored.

We also know that opposing managers were foolish. Given his 24 game-winning hits (tying Willie Mays for best ever) and the fact that he killed with runners in scoring position, Albert should have been walked more frequently. He was intentionally walked a career-best 28 times, but that was less than Ryan Howard's 37 IBBs. Given Howard's lack of productivity with runner's on, that difference is a bit perplexing. Pundits love to point to that stat in affirming why Howard should get the nod over Pujols in MVP voting, but that's just silly. Why put such stock in a number that is essentially based on reputation and not in the player's immediate control? There's no shame in Howard being the NL MVP, but it won't make it right should it happen.

To wrap up this post, here are my postseason predictions...

Howard, PHI (I'd give it to Pujols, of course)
NL Cy: Carpenter, STL
NL Manager: Girardi, FLA
AL MVP: Jeter, NYY (although I'd give it to Mauer or Morneau)
AL Cy: Santana, MIN (for shits and giggles, compare him to Wang, who also finished with a 19-6 record)
AL Manager: Leyland, DET

Cardinals over Padres in 5
The Padres have learned the hard way to walk Pujols late in games, but for once the Cards offense will jump on top first, allowing Pujols to do enough damage early in games and negating the Padres solid pen.
Dodgers over Mets in 5
Gutsy call, and not a popular one. Penny and Maddux didn't fare too well versus the Mets in the regular season, and Penny specifically has stunk it up since the break. But I like LA's chances with a staff that keeps the ball in the yard. And something just tells me that this isn't the Mets year. (See: Pedro)
Dodgers over Cardinals in 5
Unless Pujols suddenly becomes Babe Ruth and toes the rubber, I don't see the Cards advancing any farther in the playoffs. They were 7-0 against the Dodgers this year, but they're going to be 1-4 against them when it counts most.

Twins over A's in 5
I think this is the series to watch. Too bad I won't get to see much of it thanks to TV scheduling. On paper, this is the weakest of Beane's Moneyball teams. They struggled all season long offensively, but the Twins rotation is paper thin beyond Santana, so I see lots of offense in this series, despite two solid pens. Slight edge to the Twins.
Tigers over Yankees in 4
Great oh-fence for the Yanks, but can they keep their opponent from scoring? The Tigers offense pales in comparison. Still, I like the Tigers deep, consistent rotation and lights-out pen. Choke time for Torre and Co.
Tigers over Twins in 7
Great matchup, but will anyone pay attention to two northern midwest teams? Unless Santana figures out a way to start four games, I don't see the Twins taking out the Tigers. Mauer keeps 'em in it until Game 7, when The Gambler blanks 'em through seven and Zumaya, his arm ready to fall off, slams the door shut with 102 mph fastballs at the knees.

Dodgers over Tigers in 6

So what if no one else saw this coming? The difference maker here is that the Dodgers are the fresher team, having taken care of the Cards in five. Takashi Saito pitches five scoreless innings of relief to notch three saves, and everyone in the country learns how to correctly pronounce his name. Meanwhile, Jeff Fucking Kent hits a game-winning home run, and Nomah, wincing in pain after every swing, delivers his own walk-off home run in the clincher against Todd Jones, who curses his handlebar stache after the game as having betrayed him for the last time!

Am I nuts? Rob Neyer agrees with me regarding the Dodgers, so maybe so. Just a hunch. After all of my earlier talk of the AL's dominance, I think this may be the year the NL gets even. Ever the optimist, I suppose.

What are your picks?


Dead Moon rising on Sub Pop

One of my favorite discoveries of the past few years is getting a proper retrospective on Sub Pop: Oregon garage rockers Dead Moon. They're one of the truly great unknown rock bands in the land of liberty, and now that their songs are readily available via a mega-indie, you have no excuse for not falling in fucking love. I say they sound like Love if Arthur Lee and the boys had huffed a mighty dose of Radio Birdman. Or, more to the point, they sound like a trio of crusty punks, each with a broken, bleeding heart tucked under a tight, sweaty T. It doesn't get any more sincere than Fred Cole and company. If anyone knows squat about maintaining his cool, it's Cole, whose pushing 60.

My only complaint about this 49-song comp is the omission of my fave Dead Moon song, "Crazy to the Bone". It would have been a fitting 50th song. Here's a synopsis from their Sub Pop bio to get you up to speed, followed by some tunes:

Clackamas, Oregon’s Dead Moon is truly one of the most independent and revered Northwest underground bands of all time. With Fred Cole on guitar and vocals, his wife Toody on bass and vocals, and the indefatigable Andrew Loomis on drums, Dead Moon have been churning out their own indescribable brand of rock and roll for nearly 20 years now. Their dedication and love for each other and what they do make it unlikely they will be stopping anytime soon.

Fred began his recording career in 1964 with The Lords, releasing the single "Ain't Got No Self-Respect." Fred’s next band The Weeds released a 7” before being renamed The Lollipop Shoppe to avoid confusion with The Seeds (with whom they shared a manager). Their 1968 burner “You Must Be a Witch” was released on 7” by MCA subsidiary Uni Records and eventually landed on the first Nuggets anthology box set. The Lollipop Shoppe / Weeds configuration went on to play with the likes of The Doors, The Seeds and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin before disbanding in 1969.

Fred and Toody met in Portland in 1966 after The Weeds ran out of gas on their way to Canada where members of the band were planning to wait out the Vietnam War. They were married in 1967, and when The Lollipop Shoppe disbanded in 1971, the couple spent some time homesteading in the Yukon, briefly lived in LA and finally landed back in Oregon, just outside of Portland, in Clackamas.

In 1987, after years spent playing in and releasing records by a dizzying succession of bands, Fred and Toody recruited Andrew Loomis to play drums for a new rock and roll band that would be stripped to its rawest essentials: electric guitar and bass with no effects, simple, powerful drumming, and tough, impassioned vocals (from both Fred and Toody). A red moon Fred and Toody saw on the way home from one of their many trips to Reno spawned the name for the new band, and Fred’s desperate, intense and haunting lyrics fit perfectly...

Dead Moon - "Dagger Moon"
Dead Moon - "A Miss of You"
Dead Moon - "Walking on My Grave"


You can beat the Cardinals...

...But you can't beat Pujols. It's a saying that started in Cardinals nation last year, gaining significant momentum in the playoffs when Albert crushed that game-winning home run against Brad Lidge. It's been true ever since then, including last night when Pujols collected his 23rd game-winning hit of the season -- 18 of which have been homers. Last night's was merely a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth against Lidge. With that hit, Pujols probably halted the Astros run at the postseason.

Talk of the MVP race is heating as usual in September. Ryan Howard has grabbed a bulk of the headlines with his barrage of home runs, and deservedly so. The kid is having a monster second half. If you look at his core stats -- 56 HR, 138 RBI, .316 AVG -- he's hard to argue against. I don't buy into the argument that if the Phillies miss the playoffs he shouldn't receive as much consideration in voting, because he's carried his team this far -- to the brink of a playoff spot. There are too many other factors that will ultimately decide if his team makes it or not. But we can be certain that they wouldn't be in the hunt this late in the season without his lumber.

However, I can't give him the nod over Pujols -- despite the traditional stats in his favor. Pujols only leads Howard by the slimmest of margins in OPS, and trails him by a considerable amount in homers and ribbies. But I can't get beyond those Major League-leading 23 game-winning hits. Where would the Cards be without even half of those? The answer is in second place -- or worse. I shy away from the term "clutch" because so much of baseball is pure luck. But in Pujols' case, I make an exception. The man is capable of willing his team to victory, and he's proven that fact time and time again this season. His typical Pujols numbers (he's on pace for a career-best 51 HR, 137 RBI, and 121 runs) coupled with his stellar play in the field (a Gold Glove is not out of the question) give him the qualities one looks for in an MVP candidate. And his name recognition alone will probably give him the slight nod. But this year, maybe more so than any other, he truly deserves it, with key injuries to Edmonds and Eckstein (his protection and lead-off hitter) and our pitching staff's ineffectiveness causing this team to stumble throughout the season. This is weakest Cardinals team of the Pujols era.

Of course, just because he deserves it doesn't mean that he'll get it. He'll have to battle Howard, set to break 61 homers, and fabulous seasons from Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Alfonso Soriano, and Miguel Cabrera, the latter of which right now is what Pujols was to Bonds four years ago. But for my money, there's no one else in baseball that I want at the plate with the game on the line and runners on base. And that, to me, is one true way to measure an MVP.

I'll leave you with these splits, which illustrate that sometimes the numbers don't give you the whole truth. RBIs -- of which Howard leads Pujols by 18 at this point -- are a function in part of the effectiveness of the lineup around you. Anyone who has watched more than a handful of Cardinals games this season can tell you how poor our 7-8-9-1-2 hitters have been this year at reaching base. Pujols has simply had fewer opportunities to knock in runners than Howard: Albert's had 150 plate appearances with runners in scoring position; Ryan's had 197. What Albert has done with those opportunities, however, is why he gets my vote for MVP.

With runners in scoring position, Albert is hitting .383 and slugging .766 to Howard's .248 and .517. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Albert is hitting .405 and slugging .703 to Howard's .230 and .473. Howard narrows the gap in close and late situations -- Albert's at .306/.742 to Howard's .293/.646 -- but the fact remains that Albert does his damage when it counts the most. Hard to argue with that.

UPDATE: Apparently, I should write for ESPN. I noticed this article was posted today, but I had no advance knowledge of it before penning the above. Funny, we're making a lot of the same points.


The absolute worst baseball uniforms of all time: Part 2, 1950-2006

It's been a while since Part 1 of my countdown of the worst fashion baseball has had to offer. Without further ado, here's the second half of the list. I'm skipping odd one-off unis that have appeared, like those camo jerseys the Padres occasionally trot out in honor of the troops.

Baseball unis from 1950 on are, for the most part, a bore. I had a hard time finding anything from 1950-1970 worth including on this list. Uniforms were plain Jane, to a fault. The same can be said for 1990 onward. The years inbetween, especially the flamboyant '70s, make up the bulk of this list thanks to uniforms featuring lots of color. Enough color to blind you. Colors that grown men should never wear from head to toe. And that makes their selection almost too easy. Or, maybe too hard. It's difficult to fault those who tried to stray from the norm. But instead of interjecting just a splash of color, these uniforms go overboard. Here's the losers...

No. 10
1969 Seattle Pilots (64-98; last in AL West)

Ah, the one-year losers that gave us Jim Bouton's Ball Four and these sickly road unis. The Pilots got the trend started: yellow as an accent color on powder blue unis. Upon relocating to Milwaukee in 1970 and renaming themselves the Brewers, the team continued this terrible tradition well into the '80s. But back to the Pilots, led by a group of grizzled vets, including two-time batting champ Tommy Davis and the aforementioned Bouton, the Pilots stunk it up and would be all but forgotten if not for Ball Four, easily one of the top five baseball books ever published.

No. 9
1983 New York Mets (68-94; last in NL East)

From 1962-82, the Mets home uniform looked pretty much the same. Pinstripes, blue caps and stirrups, and "Mets" scrawled across the chest in cursive. In 1983, they added a small embellishment -- an orange and blue stripe -- down the shoulders and up the sides. In a word: overkill. Why add stripes to a pinstriped uni? The Mets had been sucking for years, and this change to their uni's trim did little to turn that around in their first season in revamped unis. However, in the following season Davey Johnson came on board as skipper, Darryl Strawberry blossomed, and a young kid named Doc Gooden toed the rubber in his rookie season. Needless to say, they did alright despite their uniforms.

No. 8
1977 Atlanta Braves (61-101; last in NL West)

In case you haven't noticed the trend yet, teams playing in ugly uniforms haven't fared so well. The '77 Braves didn't buck that trend, finishing a distant last to the Garvey-Cey-Lopes-Russell Dodgers. Red pinstripes should never be an option. Ever. This was the first of four years the Braves tried this look for their home jerseys, and they won an average of just 69 games per year over that time span. The '77 Braves featured one of my favorite-named players of all time, catcher Biff Picoroba, as well as slugger Jeff Burroughs and a second-year outfielder soon to break through, Dale Murphy. A couple other points of interest about this team: 1) Phil Niekro tossed 330 innings that year, the first of three-straight years of 330-plus innings; and 2) media mogul and hands-on team owner Ted Turner took a turn as manager one day in the '77 season. It was his first, and only, turn as skipper, and the Braves did him the honor of losing. About managing, Turner said, "Managing isn't that difficult, you just have to score more runs than the other guy". On this day, he didn't, as they lost 6-2 to the Big Red Machine.

No. 7
1971 Baltimore Orioles (101-57; won AL pennant)

The '71 O's bucked the losing trend of the other teams on this list with their third-straight 100-win season. Earl Weaver's boys were led by sluggers Frank Robinson and Boog Powell and a vacuum cleaner at third, Brooks Robinson. And in this particular year, four 20-game winners: Cuellar, Dobson, Palmer, and McNally. Helluva team; still surprises me that they only won one World Series in three successive attempts. Anyway, in 1954 the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. For several years, the O's kept the Browns brownish unis, eventually morphing from brown to a dull orange. For one year only, they tried an alternate uni at home that featured an orange jersey and pants. I think it speaks for itself -- not the best look. It must've gone over with a dud, as they used orange only as an accent color the following three years before going back to orange jerseys for a long stretch. The question on my mind is: Does Listmaker have this vintage orange uni, and if so would he kindly model it?

No. 6
1975 Cleveland Indians (79-80; 4th in AL East)

Everyone knows the Indians sucked in the '70s. Matter of fact, they pretty much defined mediocrity throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s, until Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez rescued them in the mid-'90s. That '75 team was managed by 39 year-old, rookie skipper Frank Robinson, who took his turn in the field as well. Was it Frank's idea to make one of the Indians' two road unis feature red pants and jerseys? (Maybe he was inspired by the success of the '71 O's? After all, Boog Powell played on this Cleveland team, too.) They sort of look like ketchup bottles, especially if you imagine the unis without the blue undershirts. The unis stuck around throughout Robinson's three-year stint as manager, and then promptly disappeared just as he did. So maybe he did have something to do with the bold look?

No. 5
1963 Kansas City A's (73-89; 8th in AL)

In the '60s, the KC A's were continuing their proud tradition of being a farm team for the Yankees. The A's roster was like a turnstile during this time. They would ship their best talent to the Yankees and other winning clubs in losing trades time and time again. Their stability was so poor that the team actually used 11 managers in the decade of the '60s alone. This particular team featured a bunch of who-dats: Bobby Del Greco, Gino Cimoli, Jose "Father of Danny" Tartabull, Ed Charles, and the like. Five years later, owner Charlie Finley would move the team to Oakland. But in '63, Finley had other changes in mind, namely to his team's unis. This was the beginning of the colors green and yellow for the A's. Finely ditched red and blue for the more vibrant scheme, which surely shocked his players as much as the fans. At least he had some restraint: Upon moving the team to Oakland in '68, Finley decided to make the socks yellow, too. It would have been easy to select any of the '70s A's unis for this list, but this is where they all got their start.

No. 4
1972 San Diego Padres (58-95; last in NL West)

Speaking of yellow, how about this variation on a theme? Ugh. Coupled with the brown, doesn't this scheme sort of resemble cat diarrhea? The Padres have had some ugly uniforms since their inception in '69, but none top this uni, which somehow survived for two seasons. I don't know how anyone could get geared up to play when part of the process involved slipping into this uniform. Sure enough, the Padres won just 37% of their games while wearing these colors. In '72, they were under the guidance of rookie manager Don Zimmer, who had an anemic offense and an abysmal pitching staff to name as scapegoats. But I'd still blame the unis.

No. 3
1975 Houston Astros (64-97; last in NL West)

Seriously, are you keeping track of how many of these teams suck? How can you possibly ignore the threads when considering how poorly these teams performed? The Astros went radical in '75 with the debut of these famous jerseys, which they wore both at home and on the road. Never has any team tried something so odd. I was tempted to put this uni on the good list, simply because it's such a ballsy design. But let's be honest, do bands of orange and yellow stripes do much for hiding the gut of a major league player? I think not. But the Stros kept these jerseys around until 1987. And throughout those years, they did have some flashes of brilliance, three times winning their division. But in '75 they stunk. Fireballer J.R. Richard, then 25, had yet to strut his All-Star stuff, and veteran Larry Dierker was at the end of the rainbow (and there was no pot of gold). But over the next four seasons Richard would win 74 games and strike out 1,044 batters while his team slowly rose in the standings.

No. 2
1979 Philadelphia Phillies (84-78; 4th in NL East)

Well, pick your poison with this one. I hate all three of these uniforms. The Phillies had been sporting the maroon pinstripes at home for years. It's the easiest one to swallow of the bunch, but still makes my stomach turn due to the lack of an accent color. So you would think adding another color would help. But when that color is baby blue, well, puke. Those road jerseys had been around for several seasons as well. But the all maroon solid color look, that was new in '79 with the arrival of Pete Rose, and it didn't last a year longer. I'm guessing that Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton approached ownership after the season and said, "Either the alternate unis go, or we go." And the Phils chose wisely.

No. 1
1977 Pittsburgh Pirates (96-66; 2nd in NL East)

Chuck Tanner's "Fam-a-Lee" sure played the game the right way; too bad they were wearing the wrong unis. The Pirates needed to fire their creative director. I mean, who came up with one of these unis and then said, "You know what? We need four more uniforms to complement this one. I'll get to work." All five of these unis debuted in '77, even though they were popularized by the '79 World Series winners. I've got an image of Dave Parker in uni No. 4 emblazened in my mind from my childhood, and I don't think I could shake it if I wanted to. The worst part of these uniforms was the hat, with its piping wrapping around the skull several times. U.G.L.Y. But the ridiculousness of Pittsburgh's uniforms coincided with the excessiveness of the Disco era, and in part I can excuse such blunders in design as a result. Still, large adult men simply should not wear bright yellow uniforms. M and Chris may disagree, but they're just allowing their childhood emotions to get the best of 'em.

On turning 30

I believe it was former Giants outfielder Chili Davis who said, "growing old is mandatory; growing up is not." Mark Twain may have put it better when he said, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." But I prefer the ageless wisdom of Bob Hope, who said, "middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle." So by adopting that philosophy, I'm still in my 20s.

But who am I kidding? The 20s sucked. They were so ... you know ... 20s. At any rate, they're over. Ain't no going back. I woke up one day last month, and I was 30. I even took a picture to prove it.

My 30th just happened to fall on a Sunday, and not just any Sunday but the Sunday that the Cards went for a sweep of the Cubs. To celebrate the potential broomstick I headed to Mike & Molly's with my peeps. There, I met up with the MVP of the '82 World Series, Mr. Darrell Porter, and we enjoyed a cold one. (Left to right: Cold One, Porter, a kick-ass homemade B-day card.)

Later that night, I was given plenty of fabulous gifts. Gary Bennett hit a walk-off grand slam to secure the sweep of the Cubs, and my friends chipped in a stack of old baseball cards (including some Fleer!), several mix CDs, a gift card that turned into Willie Nelson's new book The Tao of Willie, a collection of Cardinals DVDs showcasing their World Series years from the '40s to the present (thanks M!), and the following stellar shirt from D&A (keeping me in the coolest threads as I enter my 30s).

Of course, no birthday at MnMs is complete without an Irish Car Bomb (or two). Bombs away!

I'm not sure that Amy -- who turned 30 just one month prior -- approves of all this drinking.

I leave you with this, a salute to beards and Hall-of-Famers with the baby blue Birds on the Bat. Bet you wish you got this for your b-day, huh?


For all of you that may have missed...

The Cards delivered the best 30th birthday gift possible -- a sweep of the Cubs thanks to a 9th-inning, walk-off grand slam by back-up catcher Gary Bennett. His second game-winning hit in two days! Seriously, I screamed my ass off in Mike & Molly's tonight. Thanks to all who were there to share my 30th with me. You will not be forgotten; nor should you find shame in taking a back seat to Gary Bennett on this night. (I kid.) Unforgettable!


Birds prepare to migrate south (in the standings)

Another day, another rant. I haven't written about the Cardinals in a while. And the reason is simple: they haven't been an inspiring team as of late, as evidenced by their recent sweep at the hands of Listmaker's Big Apple darlings, the Mets. Of course, I saw that one coming from a mile away. With the pitchers we are running out there on a nightly basis, it's a miracle that we win more than 1 out of every 5 games. Outside of Chris Carpenter and his 3.05 ERA, we don't have a single starter in our current rotation with an ERA under 5.00: Suppan, 5.03; Weaver, 5.74; Marquis, 5.77; and Mulder, 6.77 (!). Reyes, who we recently sent back down to AAA to allow space for Mulder to suck ass as he "rehabs", had a 4.73 mark (with a 1.31 WHIP) upon being sent down. In his first start in AAA -- finally outside of the harmful influence of pitching coach Dave Duncan -- he threw six shutout innings and struck out 9. Poor kid just needs a chance to be himself.

The offense hasn't really been the problem, as we saw in the Mets series. Everyone is performing at or above career norms, with the exception of the injured Edmonds. Yes, we have a pathetic bench; sure we have little pop in the bottom third of the order; yes, our leadoff hitter is weak. But we've got the best hitter in baseball in the third-hole, and a mighty fine clean-up hitter behind him. The offense is producing at a good enough clip to keep us in most games, and that's about all you can expect. Could they improve in close-and-late situations? Yes. But is the offense the reason we stink this year; the reason our lead in the Central has evaporated as of today? No.

That fault lies on a pitching staff regressing to its norms. After banking on another awesome season from every member of the rotation -- including Carp, who was just nasty for 5/6 of last season -- every Cardinal pitcher has reverted to his norm, or something close to it. And the signs -- a quick glance at the peripherals, the poor K/9 especially -- were all there. Management fooled themselves if they thought otherwise. Izzy is toast. He's done. He can't accept that his cut fastball ain't cutting like he wants, and so he won't stop throwing it and get back to the basics, what made him a good closer in the first place: a 95mph fastball and a deadly curve. He doesn't even throw the curve with any frequency nowadays. Why not? Cause he's constantly behind in the count, due to a cutter he can't locate.

Izzy's problem is stubbornness, which is unfortunately ingrained in him on a daily basis by his pitching coach and manager -- possibly the two least flexible beings in baseball. I could spend an entire post speaking to the ways in which La Russa and Duncan have ruined their stud youngster, Anthony Reyes, by demanding that he pitch to their style versus the style that has garnered him success throughout his career. But I'll save you those details. The coaching staff's stubbornness is the stuff of legend among Cards fans this year. It's why they continue to trot out Izzy to close games, when anyone -- even Braden F'in Looper -- would be a better bet at this point. It's why they continue to give starts to Marquis and Mulder instead of allowing Wainwright or Reyes -- both obviously more capable pitchers -- to fill in at a time of dire need. It's their instinct to trust veterans over rookies that is killing us right now.

That stubbornness is going to cost us a trip to the playoffs. But they're not entirely to blame. The GM and ownership also should receive a healthy wag of the finger. Jocketty set us up for a dud of a season by failing to make any impact moves in the offseason. The lone impact moves for this season were: 1) a spring-training roster decision made by La Russa, allowing Wainwright a role in the bullpen (he quickly advanced from long-relief to set-up man on the strength of his stuff, and he now owns the pen's best ERA at 3.14); and 2) allowing Chris Duncan some PT around mid-season (he's since become our BEST hitter this side of Pujols). Imagine that: two youngsters coming up big. Huh. Go figure. We've essentially stockpiled a collection of DFA-worthy veteran scrubs this season: Aaron Miles, Deivi Cruz, So Taguchi, Larry Bigbie, Gary Bennett, Randy Flores, Sidney Ponson, Junior Spivey, Timo Perez, Jeff Weaver, Preston Wilson, Jose Vizcaino, and Jorge Sosa. Those last five names were all acquired around or since the trading deadline -- all of them DFA'ed by their former teams. Ponson, Perez, Cruz, and Spivey have all since been DFA'ed by the Cards. This was our attempt to improve our roster in the offseason.

Then there's the owners perceived greed this season. They opened a new ballpark, sold-out the entire season, created several new sources of revenue, and have refused to budge payroll up in a significant manner. They claim its not how much you spend, it's how you spend it, which is true. And look at how we've spent our money: on a long list of DFAs. Why? Jocketty claims it was a better decision to roll the dice on them rather than spend on proven talent. Of course, for him, proven talent means Juan Encarnacion. So I sorta get his drift. But I'm not buying into it.

Point being: Cards fans got a bum deal this year. We're not going to make the playoffs on the pace we're on now -- and even if we do, we'll probably be drop our first postseason series. Coming off of a trip to the World Series and a trip to the NLCS, that's simply not good enough. Sorry.

The result is that we may just turn into the Cubs: pack the park every year and watch a mediocre team take the field. I'd look into a new coaching staff first, and a new owner second. That won't happen, of course. But it doesn't mean it shouldn't.