Finally, an evening of "sports" worth watching

The Cardinals ended their 8-game losing streak -- the team's longest since 1988 -- in rather Cardinal-like fashion: by the skin of their teeth. After the bullpen again coughed up the lead -- this time for Carpenter, who redeemed himself after a horrible previous start -- the Indians basically handed us the game in the bottom of the ninth. The following sequence of events gave us the "W": A two-base error on an infield pop-up that was dropped by the backup catcher, followed by a sacrifice bunt, a game-tying double, a ground out to advance the runner to third, and then an error on what should have been a game-ending groundout to short.

The latter error was unbelievable. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta's throw to first base one-hopped the first baseman, in this case everyday catcher Victor Martinez, who hasn't played but a few innings at first in his Major League career. An adequate first baseman digs that ball out, and the game is over. But Peralta's throw scooted past the bag into foul territory, and just like that the Cards were winners once again. As the team burst onto the field to congratulate itself on winning a game it didn't really deserve to win, Cardinals fans showered the field ... with seat cushions. It was a giveaway night, and as the rally mounted fans began slapping their complementary seat cushions together as if they were those annoying thunder stick thingamagigs. When Aaron Miles crossed home with the winning run, cushions were thrown up into the air in graduation cap style, with many landing on the field. It was that kind of a relief to finally win a game.

Every flaw the Cardinals have -- and there are plenty -- was exquisitely showcased in this 8-game trouncing at the hands of the American League, clearly the better league. Weak pen. Check. Inability to strike batters out. Check. Tendency to give up the gopher ball. Check. Lack of ability to hit the gopher ball. Check. No timely hitting. Check. A threadbare rotation. Check.

The sad fact is, there isn't likely to be much help on the horizon. We don't have the assets to fix both the rotation, pen, and lineup. And what assets we have -- namely young studs Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright -- to fix one of those areas is not going to be traded. So, we're kinda floating aimlessly up shit creek, left to stare at our warts for the rest of the season. Once the postseason begins, it's anyone's guess. The NL is evenly matched across the top of each division, with the Mets possibly having a slight edge over the competition. Maybe the Cards make it to the World Series. But even if they do, I expect them to get their asses handed to them by whichever superior AL team survives what will surely be a thrilling two rounds of AL playoffs. It should be a repeat of the '04 Series, in which the Sox handed the Cards their hats with a steaming pile of poo inside. Fuck. I thought I was going to be optimistic this season, too. But that was before this 8-game skid. Maybe I just need to find a seat cushion to toss into the air?

In addition to the thrilling ending of the Cards game last night, the NBA draft went down. I'm a sucker for the draft, even though I don't really much care for the NBA as a whole. (I love playing fantasy basketball, but I'm not the sort who watches a lot of NBA games.) I do love NCAA ball, though, and that's probably why I'm always so interested in the draft. I want to see where the kids I watched all season long end up going in the draft.

To that end, the NBA draft is often a frustrating experience, seeing as how so much weight is placed upon "potential". Take a kid like LSU's Ty Thomas, who went fourth in the draft (to the Bulls via the Trailblazers). He was a redshirt freshman this season, and didn't even begin the year in LSU's starting 5. However, he was a big reason why LSU made it to the Final Four, and since he has freakish athleticism, he gets tagged as a "project" who will someday be the sort of player who can disrupt on defense and give you some high-flying dunks on offense. Taken right after him -- and widely criticized for being taken so high -- was Duke's senior power forward Shelden Williams. The Landlord is the only Duke player in the Coach K reign to average a double-double for his career. He's played against the NCAA's stiffest competition for four seasons. Yet, according to experts, he's a little undersized to play the 4 in the pros and isn't blessed with amazing hops. Translation: he's seen as a typical workman who will adequately fill a role, but doesn't have much potential to become an elite player -- despite being one for four years in college.

Now, I understand -- and to some degree agree -- with that assessment. However, that doesn't change the fact that I think the NBA places way too much stock in "potential". As has begun to happen with baseball, at some point shouldn't a scout pay as much attention to past success and statistical evidence as "tools" like vertical jump, standing reach, etc.? Shouldn't the fact that Williams found a way to be a consistent elite player in college basketball's toughest league be worth more than Thomas' brief, albeit bright, success in the NCAA Tourney? I'm all for potential and recognizing players who can still develop, but I'd choose to find that potential in player's who have proven their worth time and time again, instead of in players who simply carried their teams for two-week stretches. Thomas may turn out to be a success due to his athletic gifts and desire, but to me that doesn't mean that he has more potential than, say, Williams. If Williams continues to play at the same level in the pros, he's likely a 17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks a night kinda guy. And while that's not All Star material, it's consistent production that most teams would surely bend over backward to get. Teams spend so much time searching for a star that they often miss the sure-things, and end up with a dud.

I'm even more baffled by the overseas players who are selected. Sure, these kids play in an NCAA-like environment in their European leagues. But they are being drafted after accumulating little-to-no playing experience. The Blazers took a 7-foot British kid who has only been playing competitive ball for one year. One. I know you can't teach height, but it doesn't seem reasonable to me that the Blazers would choose to bank on this kid's development rather than take an experienced, polished player like, oh, Michigan State's Paul Davis, who went four picks later in the second round. One would think that's especially true when considering that the kid will be kept in Europe for at least a couple years of "seasoning", playing for a coach who will not necessarily be teaching this kid how to improve -- or giving him the game minutes to do so.

NCAA success does not translate to high draft picks. Just look at the second round of the draft, which is littered with college kids who starred for their respective programs: Davis, Dee Brown, Craig Smith, Daniel Gibson, Leon Powe, Guillermo Diaz, Will Blalock, and on and on. These kids are all flawed, for certain. Dee Brown is too short; his shot is inconsistent. But I guarantee he's a ten-times better baller than Joel Freeland, the 7-foot limey. Just look at what he acheived in college ball, winning well over 100 games for two different coaches and playing for a championship-caliber team. Now I've said on multiple occasions that I think Dee Brown will have a hard time sticking in the NBA, but I would still draft him before I'd take a British kid who's spent more time bagging groceries over the past few years than ballin'.

By the way, the Jazz were very smart to draft Dee Brown. He'll make their roster -- he's just got that sort of fortitude and determination. But even if he doesn't pan out this year and is released after the season, he'll still have aided the Jazz in the long run by providing their top point guard, former Brown teammate Deron Williams, with a best bud to hang out with. He'll help Williams continue his transition to the NBA on a personal level, and will probably challenge Williams on the practice court -- just as he did throughout their college tenure together.

As for my Bulls, the verdict is out on Ty Thomas. To me, he looks like the second-coming of Tyson Chandler, minus a few inches. He's got a bit more offensive upside, which is good, but I'm not convinced he'll end up being any more valuable. Their other first-round pick went to a 22 year-old from Switzerland. (No, I'm not making that up.) Thabo Sefolosha, who was born in South Africa, is a lanky, tall 2 guard. Much like Thomas, he's made his reputation on the defensive end of the court. Not a bad gamble, but again, we could have had Rodney Carney (a better athlete and scorer), Ronnie Brewer (again, a better athlete), or Shannon Brown (ditto Carney). Time will tell, as always.


Mix #1: Drugs to Take Summer to

Here's my first attempt at a mix for mass consumption. This goes best with warm weather, late nights, and as the title suggests, an altered state of mind. Enjoy. (But be warned, it's a large file. It'll take about three minutes to download using a cable modem. But it's worth it!)

Drugs to Take Summer to

Track list:
00:00 Funkadelic - "Maggot Brain"
05:10 Brightblack Morning Light - "Everybody Daylight"
10:58 My Morning Jacket - "Sooner"
14:30 The Action - "Brain"
17:23 Dungen - "Sjutton"
20:07 The Congos - "Can't Come In"
25:51 Charles Mingus - "Moanin'"
33:46 TV on the Radio - "Staring at the Sun"
38:34 Brian Eno - "Golden Hours"

I'll be on vacation for several days. See you next week sometime.


Madison, I think I love you

So last weekend M and I went roadtrippin' with four of our friends -- Amys 1 and 2, DF, and Chris -- to Madison, Wisconsin. As promised, here's a long, photo-heavy post about the coolest "small city" in the Midwest. (Thanks to Amy2 for lending some of her photos.)

After settling into our Red Roof on the outskirts of town on Friday afternoon and dusting off a couple adult beverages, we took up a recommendation to drink beer on Lake Mendota, one of two large lakes that surround Madison. Drinking on a large body of water was nothing new for me. But this opportunity was unique, and not just because I live in landlocked Champaign-Urbana. You see, we were going to drink beer at the University of Wisconsin students' union, which overlooks the lake.

The union features a huge outdoor seating area which serves a variety of good beer -- some local/regional. Turns out, they've been doing so since 1933, making this union the first of its kind. The atmosphere was refreshing, and not just because of the abundance of water and warmth. The union was a destination for old folks and young folks alike, a place for the community at large to gather; try saying that about any particular portion of the UI campus. M and I enjoyed our New Glarus Spotted Cow.

It was at the union that we unearthed "kilt man", who was preparing to send some people out on the lake in canoes. In his free time, he drew attention to himself, as pictured to the right. DF spotted him the following day as well, still sporting the kilt. Every campus has their own version of kilt man.

After the union, we headed back to State St., which if you've never been to Madison is essentially the main campus thoroughfare where one finds retail, bars, restaurants, etc. State St. was under construction, so it was a bit of a bitch to traverse through it at certain intersections. But nonetheless, the amount of retail and nightlife was impressive, especially compared to our campus. We had chosen an Afghan restaurant for dinner based on another recommendation, and it didn't disappoint. We ordered a variety of appetizers, and my chicken and lamb kebab was delicious. (The Turkish pilsner was even good.) We skipped to a rooftop bar after dinner before heading back to the hotel at a reasonable hour, as we had an early start planned for Saturday. On the way home, we missed our turn off, drove out of town a couple miles, and by pure chance ended up at Hoepker Road. My namesake. There's a few Hoepkers living in Madison, some of which took up residence on Hoepker Rd. As we were a little bit lost at this point in the evening, we decided to take Hoepker Rd. as far as it would go. Luckily, it led us back to our hotel, in a roundabout fashion. Thanks Hoepkers of Madison for looking out for us!

On Saturday morning, we left for Madison's "legendary" Farmer's Market, which borders the capital building. Despite some frustrating foot traffic concerns at the market (everyone moves in the same direction, and the aisle is narrow), it turned out to be a fun way to kick off the day. The amount of pastries for sale was astounding -- from donuts as big as my head to tasty scones -- and, of course, there was plenty of cheese. M, DF, and Amy1 even stumbled upon the rare, coveted Black Krim tomato plant, which was snatched up for their garden.

After our hour-long trek around the capital was complete, we piled back into the rental mini van and headed West, for the centerpiece of our trip to Wisconsin: Taliesin and the House on the Rock. Taliesin -- the longtime home and office of architect Frank Lloyd Wright -- sits on a pastoral hill overlooking a small lake, just a few miles outside Spring Green, Wisconsin (see picture at left). The large home is fairly typical of Wright's organic designs, and I don't want to bore you with all the details. I'd rather bitch about the tour, which we dropped 50 bones on. (No shit.) Once you get beyond a $16 tour -- which doesn't show you Taliesin itself -- every tour offered is about $50 and up. For $50, one would expect to see a lot of the home itself. But all the information in the tour pamphlets was rather vague, it turns out, because you can only view about six rooms in the home. A good deal of the home is not viewable, because it's occupied, by whom we never really found out.

Anyway, I was fine dropping that kind of money on the tour -- before the tour. Afterward, I had mixed feelings. Our tour began with a somewhat thorough look at one of the other buildings on the Taliesin property, the school house, office, students quarters, and theater -- all housed in a huge L-shaped building.

As with most any Wright building, the building looks drastically different depending on the perspective you're viewing it from. A look from the West or the South would provide an utterly unique perspective. The offices were added on to house the architecture students who studied under Wright beginning during the Great Depression. The students lived on the grounds, often doing far more than simply studying, including farming, construction, and other manual labor. In the winter, when temperatures dropped, the students and the Wright family moved to Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

This secondary building, like much of the Taliesin estate, is in less than ideal condition. To put it simply, it was easy to see that my $50 was going toward upkeep of the very building I was touring. But that said, it was not without its charms, like this tree, that grew into the house with age. (Instead of chopping down the tree, the nature-minded Wright simply trimmed the roof to accommodate it.)

Taliesin itself was a bit more awe-inspiring, as evidenced by the massive stone staircase that eventually led to the home's entryway. It's hard to tell by the following photograph, but the stairs, which seem to naturally sprout up from the earth, lead up to landing, turn at a 90-degree angle to the left up to another landing, turn another 90-degrees to the right and lead to a final landing. On that landing, you can go straight into a garden, turn to the left to go to another portion of the house that houses (amongst other things) a small kitchen, or turn right to enter the main portion of the house. The point: the staircase is spectacular, but the home's actual entrance is hidden, an architectural detail that is in stark contrast to most home construction (but one that Wright adhered to in many of his homes).

Once inside the home, where we couldn't take photographs (a sad fact considering the tour's $50 price tag; on expensive tours of other Wright homes, you can sometimes do so), we were asked to place little booties over our shoes, which made the home's stone floors sorta slippery. The main (I suppose "living") room in Wright's Taliesin is widely considered one of the most compelling interior designs in architectural history, and this older photograph just doesn't do it justice. To the photographer's back in that photo are wall-to-wall windows that showcase the view outside. It's that view that in part demonstrates the genius in Wright's design. Anyway, the room was as impressive as advertised. Something you just have to experience in person, I suppose.

In addition to the living room, there were a few other aspects of the home's interior worth mentioning. First, this portion of the home features but one interior staircase. Again, unlike other architects of his time (or any time, for that matter), Wright chose to not make the staircase a focal point. In Taliesin, it was a narrow, plain, stone staircase hidden behind a drapery. Second, there was a lovely "bird walk", essentially a 30-foot long terrace extending straight off the side of the home. It was designed for Wright's wife to be able to walk among the tree tops, amongst the birds and nature. Finally, the master bedroom, a small room (Wright thought bedrooms were for sleeping, and nothing else), included a raised platform (a sort of miniature balcony) above the bed. The platform was only accessible through a tiny door in the wall above it, no bigger than the doors on a cupboard. The door led to an upstairs hallway, and Wright's children would enter through the tiny door to gain access to the platform, where they could visit with their parents and put on puppet shows. Truly, an odd, compelling piece of design.

It was disappointing to not be able to view more rooms in the home, which snakes through the hillside like a creek. The grounds outside were gorgeous, though, featuring gardens, small wading pools, fountains, and the like. Here's a few photos.

From Taliesin, we headed down the road a few miles to the House on the Rock, which featured fifty times the guests. That says more about the visitors than it does the attraction, unfortunately. The House on the Rock was designed by a man who was rejected by Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture school, and later built by his son. The house is built on a rocky bluff overlooking a valley. But the house itself, which was never actually lived in, is only a small part of the attraction. It's essentially a grouping of rooms -- most unlivable by normal standards -- that wind around in an almost maze-like fashion. In each room, two things can surely be found: 1) deep red carpet, which is everywhere, from the floors to the walls to the ceilings; and 2) lots of "sofa benches," cushions lining wooden benches.

Then there's the "Infinity Room", which juts out of the house as if Mother Nature had rammed a giant glass hallway into the side of the bluff. It continues on for over 218 feet, unsupported by anything. Once inside, it gives you the appearance of a room that continues on indefinitely, although you can only walk out a certain distance, admittedly farther than most feel comfortable going. At the stopping point, there's a window in the floor which lets you know just how high up you are. Here's a good shot of the Infinity Room from the inside.

The house itself -- which from the outside appears to have an Asian influence, completely lacking on the inside -- is hardly more than a starting point for the "museum" aspect of the House on the Rock. Each room in the home contains a hint of the collection of oddities that lie beyond the house in large buildings that are navigated to via outdoor ramps, some thirty or more feet in the air.

I hadn't visited House on the Rock since I was a kid. I was curious to see whether or not the bizarre images I had stored in my memory were accurate, or merely warped by time. They were, to a T, dead on. We opted to tour two-thirds of the huge House, at a cost of $22. It was money well spent. I can't fully explain the collections that exist here, or why Alex Jordan, the man who built the House, ever began collecting such things. Suffice it to say, they are without a doubt the strangest collections of antiques and artifacts I'll ever stumble upon, especially when taken as a whole. Things you will see include, but are not limited to: a 200-foot sea creature; what has to be one of the world's largest collections of doll houses; animated, automated music machines and gigantic pipe organs, including the world's only mechanically-operated symphony orchestra; a 35-ton, 35-feet tall carousel that you can not ride, which features mythical creatures and exotic animals, but no horses (instead, carousel horses line the walls of the room in a fashion that eerily resembles taxidermy); a collection of miniature, built-to-scale circus models; ancient weapons galore; crown jewel replicas; and model airplanes. As weird as the items are in and of themselves, it's the presentation that's truly bizarre. It's a collage affect that seems completely nonsensical, which only adds to the jarring affect. It's overwhelming, to say the least. Here's a couple photos that truly do not do the place an ounce of justice. (Although the second photo, a close up of one of the carousels, hits the nail on the head.)

Okay, so what does one do after viewing the House on the Rock? Per DF's suggestion, we headed through the Wisconsin countryside to find the Forevertron. Dr. Evermor, a welder/sculptor with a connection to the House on the Rock, has amassed a collection of sculptures which amounts to one of the country's oddest roadside attractions. For free, you can tour his own personal museum, nestled right next to a scrap heap. What, oh what, is the Forevertron? Feast your eyes on this, the world's largest (there was a lot of "world's largest" during our day) metal sculpture.

Chris was brave enough to speak to Dr. Evermore, who was hanging out in a lawn chair by his lonesome. Turns out, he believes the Forevertron will one day transport him to outer space. (Keep in mind, he's not making any money off this museum, so why just make shit up?) He began building the sculpture in 1983, following his early retirement from the large-scale wrecking and salvage business. To compliment the massive sculpture, there were plenty of smaller metal sculptures, including many ostrich-like birds, of which there were probably 30-40, some standing as tall as eight feet. They were a little intimidating, to be honest.

Music plays a big part of Dr. Evermor's world as well. Each of the birds incorporated a musical instrument, be it french horn, clarinet, trumpet, or tuba. Then there was the massive, three-story tall violin.

Sadly, we had but 15 minutes to spend at The Land of Evermor, as it was closing time at 5 p.m. So we drove back to Madison. That evening, we enjoyed dinner at the Great Dane Brew Pub, then wandered the streets in search of a bar. We ended up at Genna's, which for you C-U folks was a lot like Mike & Molly's, only with a bit more effort expended to spruce up the place. After a few beers of the regional variety, we called it a night.

On Sunday, we had a delicious brunch at Sunroom, and on our way out of town stopped by Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor. As it turned out, Ella's was the perfect conclusion to a trip full of sights out of the ordinary. We each enjoyed some hand-dipped ice cream (I had a turtle sundae, but DF and Amy1 braved the grilled homemade pound cake sundae), while the restaurant's House-on-the-Rock-ish collection of animated displays whizzed, twirled, and teetered above. (A soaring Mighty Mouse trekked above our heads.) Post dessert, we jumped at the chance to go for a ride on a carousel, finally.

The trip home was so mundane by comparison, even with a tornado warning in effect for part of the drive. All in all, Madison was plenty of things that Champaign-Urbana will probably never be. It had the feel of a big city in certain ways, but the humbleness of a small one. The breadth of retail and restaurants should be a model C-U aspires toward. (At least three independent record stores is a hell of a start!) Also of note was how effectively Madison seemed to bridge the gap between campus and community. Part of that is simple geography, as the campus is walking-distance close to the capitol (and what I presume they would call "downtown"). But that doesn't entirely account for a sense of oneness that is sorely lacking from Champaign, Urbana, and the UI campus.

Of course, the landscape, with hills and water, was pleasing on the eyes, too. And we'll never be able to overcome such a deficiency here. Also, the extra population -- Madison is roughly twice the size of C-U -- and employment opportunities doesn't hurt Madison's cause, either. But still, we shouldn't focus on the excuses for why we're not in the same league; the town was a model that I feel we could achieve with some dedication. It takes getting the campus and the community on the same page, for starters. And we're a long way from that happening.

In the meantime, it's nice to know that a town so lovely is just a four-hour drive away.


Why focus on the negative?

When you have such a surprising positive to celebrate. I was going to write about the Cardinals implosion against an obviously superior ball club, the Chicago White Sox, in interleague play. Surrendering 33 runs in two games was a gut check I sure wasn't ready for, even knowing that our four-fifths of our starting rotation was suspect at best. Since 1957 -- which is just a random date that happens to be the extent of Retrosheet's searchable database for box scores -- no Cardinal duo of starting pitchers has surrendered more runs in back-to-back games than the 22 given up by Mulder and Marquis.

But instead of focusing on a sky-is-falling attitude, I spent yesterday channeling all the positive energy I had to last night's starting pitcher, 24 year-old Anthony Reyes. I begged M to stay home (she had plans) and watch the game with me, and even convinced my fellow Cardinal coworker to think positive thoughts all day long. Now, I'm not saying that I had anything to do with the kid throwing a one-hitter against the Sox (and still losing -- damn Jim Thome!), but I will say this:

St. Louis, meet this season's savior.

We aren't going to get a better player via trade (we don't have the resources, and best not be thinking about surrendering our newfound savior in a trade), so we better all just jump on the Anthony Reyes bandwagon and enjoy the ride. This means YOU, Tony La Russa.

(P.S. Some guy named Pujols returned to the lineup last night after sitting out just 15 games. He's a bum, though. He went 0-for-4.)


My kinda game show

Pitchfork reports:

...The Showbox club will host "Iron Composer #13", a raucous comedic and musical competition featuring "Saturday Night Live" comedian (and former Trenchmouth member) Fred Armisen taking on Martin Crandell and David Hernandez of the Shins in a battle of extreme absurdity.

According to a press release, during the "Iron Chef"-inspired game show, Armisen and the Shins "must compose a song in 45 minutes based on a random interview with an audience member, while being distracted and confused by the outlandish characters behind Iron Composer, the audience, five ‘Mystery Turmoils', and consuming five mandatory shots of vodka in 45 minutes." The competition will be judged by comedians Cross, Todd Barry, and Jon Benjamin.

The Game Show Network is turning the concept into a TV series. Hopefully, they'll stick to "cool" indie bands instead of, say, Metallica. Actually, Metallica may be cool in this setting, too.


Summertime blues

I've neglected the blog as of late, and when assigning fault I choose work. It's been a busy month, as is true each and every summer. While my friends -- many of whom are in grad school or teachers -- enjoy their summer on their own schedule, work becomes a big headache for me. The summer months are deadline months for our fall titles, which means I work my ass off from April through August, with emphasis on June and July. To complicate matters worse, I was assigned to work on the Dallas Mavericks championship book, which as you know today is no longer happening since the Mavs lost to the Heat in the Finals. But that book not only disrupts my regular schedule, as it takes priority over everything else I'm currently working on under deadline, it also disrupts my non-work, evening schedule. Why? Well, I have to actually watch the NBA games, so I have a clue as to what to do with the book the following day.

I don't normally watch many NBA games throughout the season. When it comes to basketball, I'd much rather watch college games, and when baseball starts up in April, I'd much rather give my evenings over to the Cardinals than the NBA. (Sorry, Chicago Bulls.) This year the NBA playoffs were actually exciting, although I partially agree with M when she says you can watch the last five minutes of any NBA game and just skip the drama-less 43 minutes prior. While the playoffs as a whole were fun to watch, the NBA Finals were a let down. Sure, three of the six games were nailbiters, including Game 6. But for some reason, the matchup just wasn't that compelling. I'm a Mavs guy, partially because I like tall, dorky-looking, blonde-haired German men who shoot ugly -- albeit unblockable and often deadly -- jump shots. The Mavs were just a far more interesting team than the Heat, a collection of aging former All Stars and perceived selfish players coached by a guy I can't stand. By comparison, the Mavs feature a younger, less defined group of guys, and a rookie coach who has reshaped the team in his image (or at least attempted to). I suppose it's easy to root against the Heat and Shaq, and so maybe that should have made for a more compelling series from my point of view. But I just couldn't muster much energy in that regard. (Although I do know now what it must have felt like for anyone forced to root for a team playing against MJ in the playoffs. D-Wade is a phenomenal talent.)

My main reason for rooting for the Mavs wasn't the fact that they, like the Heat, had never won an NBA Championship. Nor was it the fact that one of the first books I edited here was on the Mavs, so they hold a sentimental spot in my memory. It was their diminutive coach Avery Johnson, whom I liked as a player. You see, it's been over 20 years since a black coach won an NBA Championship. Sad, but true. It was 1985 when KC Jones won the title with one of the best teams ever assembled, the Celtics of McHale, Parrish, Bird, Ainge, DJ, and Walton. It was KC's second title in three years. I still think Avery Johnson will get his title eventually. He's just too good of a coach, and as long as he sticks with Cuban, he'll likely have the players necessary to make a run at the championship.

But enough about basketball. (Well, almost. I just want to mention that I'm thankful that Game 6 was on last night, so that I could choose not to suffer through the Cardinals 20-6 loss to the White Sox. Man, what a fucking ugly game that was.) It's time to appease the readers of my blog who speed read through my sports posts. (You know who you are.) I'm going to post on my trip to Madison, but I'm not ready just yet. Instead, I'll update you on some good news. But first, the bad news: Younger Than Yesterday, my radio show, isn't long for this world. But don't fret, as I intend to keep up a twice-a-month schedule from the comfort of my home. I took the old two-channel mixer for a test drive this week, and I'm happy to report that it appears I'll soon be able to post DJ sets in mp3 form on the blog. To keep things interesting, I welcome any themes that people would like to see me explore in an hour-long set.

It's 90 degrees outside today, although it feels muggy and oppressive. I'm planning on going for a run after work, and I'm anxious to see how I hold up in the heat. Luckily, my 1.8 mile route includes a lot of shade. I skipped softball this week (another loss for the Sluggers) in favor of recovering from a long weekend, so this will be my first exercise of the week. Prior to this lapse, I had been doing a good job of keeping up on my every-other-day schedule of running. I hope to get a basketball game going this weekend as well, plus a nice, long bike ride. I'm a far cry from the conditioned state I need to be in to make my summer-end goal of a 25-mile bike ride. But hopefully I can get back into the swing of things. The problem is that my weekends have been so busy as of late, and weekends are the ideal time for biking. I guess I'll just have to force myself to make time.



More to come on my fun weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, later in the week after photos become available. But in the meantime, here's a little teaser.

For real.


The absolute worst baseball uniforms of all time: Part 1, 1900-1949

Humor me. I know I'm probably taking things a bit too far by breaking down my analysis of baseball uniforms into a four-part post. Sure, two parts could probably suffice. But after I looked through the first 50 years of baseball uniforms, I found the process of trimming possibilities too difficult. Plus, comparing uniforms from the 1920s to uniforms from the 1980s is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. With that in mind, I'll keep uniform eras grouped together in a rough sense. To begin, let's look at the worst uniforms from baseball's younger years.

No. 10 (tie)
1929 Boston Braves (56-98; last in NL)
1902 Pittsburgh Pirates (103-36; won NL pennant)

The Braves weren't the first team to try their logo on the back of the jersey; they actually ripped that idea off of the '28 Tigers. It looks ridiculous, which is probably the reason why the Tigers got rid of it in '29. Coupling the chief logo between the shoulder blades with the mustard and ketchup coloring is a recipe for disaster. A disaster is exactly what the Braves were on the field under skipper Judge Fuchs, who lasted just one season at the helm despite the colorful uniforms and his colorful name.

The striped undershirt sleeves on the 1902 Pirates uniform has a bit of a Kurt Cobain feel to it. The Pirates of this era were quite good, winning three straight NL pennants before the World Series had been thought up. Led by a dazzling outfield -- Ginger Beaumont, player-manager Fred Clarke, and Honus Wagner -- and Hall of Fame hurler Jack Chesbro (who once won 41 games in a season), Pittsburgh ran away with the NL by 27.5 games.

No. 9
1942 Chicago Cubs (68-86; 6th in NL)

After winning the '38 NL pennant with just 89 wins, the Cubs were swept in the World Series by the Yankees, and then endured a string of mediocre to poor finishes interrupted by their '45 Series loss to the Tigers in seven games. The '42 team was a fairly weak-hitting bunch devoid of much star power, save for outfielder Bill Nicholson and starting pitcher Claude Passeau. I don't know what star would want to play for the Cubbies when they had to wear this uniform on the road. A precursor to the baby-blue unis of the Swingin' Seventies, this uni debuted in '41 and lasted just through the '42 season. Note the patriotic patch above the logo. Most teams added the patch to the sleeve, but the Cubs jersey was sleeveless.

No. 8
1904 Chicago Cubs (93-60; 2nd in NL)

If ever there was a time when a Cubs team wanted to be known, it was the nineteen-oughts and early teens. Too bad their 1904 uniform didn't feature their name or logo anywhere, a concept that actually appealed to a few other teams in the olden days as well. The Cubs were a force at this time, winning a pair of World Series titles and regularly topping 90 wins. Led by a pair of Hall of Famers, first baseman Frank Chance and hurler Three Finger Mordecai Brown, Chicago finished second in the NL to the unstoppable New York Giants, who won 106 games under John McGraw.

No. 7
1911 Chicago White Sox (77-74; 4th in AL)

Possibly, the 1911 White Sox just wanted to fit in with their fans. At this time, crowds at baseball games often dressed up as if it was a Sunday morning. But the necktie look just doesn't do much for me, especially on such a plain uni. Brooklyn actually was the first to use the down-the-buttons logo in 1910, so the Sox can't take credit for a bad idea. But Brooklyn didn't utilize a stripe of color down the buttons like the Sox, so their design didn't make the team name appear to be printed on a tie. Both the Sox and the Dodgers abandoned the design in 1912.

No. 6
1925 Chicago White Sox (79-75; 5th in AL)

The 1920s were a miserable decade for the White Sox (but for that matter, so were the '30s and '40s). After the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the 1920 squad won 96 games and finished second. But following that season Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned from baseball, and the team went South in the standings. This ill-fated uniform choice for their road games -- which has a distinct train conductor look to it (or possibly prison inmate?) -- was the most black the White Sox donned for decades. A little tough on the eyes, wouldn't you agree?

No. 5
1931 Chicago Cubs (84-70; third in the NL)

By now you may be sensing a Chicago theme to the list, but alas the Chicago baseball clubs had some poor fashion sense it seems. In the case of the '31 Cubs, it's not so much that their uniforms were ugly, rather they were suffering from split-personality disorder. Four uniforms -- each with a different logo -- makes for poor branding, but I suppose great jersey sales? Led by player-manager Rogers Hornsby, who replaced Joe McCarthy as skipper at the very end of the 1930 season, these Cubs featured a potent, league-best offense that included catcher Gabby Hartnett, outfielder Kiki Cuyler, and slugger Hack Wilson. After posting his still-record 191 RBI season in '30, Wilson was a complete bust in '31, having one of the worst declines in production in the history of the game (possibly the bottle let him down). From '30 to '31, Hack's OPS dropped 380 points. No matter, the '31 Cubs were no match for Gabby Street's Cardinals, who won the Series that year.

No. 4
1918 Chicago Cubs (84-45; won NL pennant)

Oh, stop picking on the Cubs already! Okay, I promise this is the last one ... at least for the first part of this series. I don't know what the worst aspect of this uniform is: 1) the slightly pink hue; or 2) the "C" in the logo, which looks as if it was designed by an elementary school kid (no knock on kids, just the Cubs). Only two things of note concerning the '18 Cubs: First, they lost to Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox in the World Series; and second, they featured a pitcher with one of the best names in the history of baseball -- Hippo Vaughn.

No. 3
1906 St. Louis Browns (76-73; 5th in NL)

Ah, the Browns. It's hard to hate them. They were truly baseball's first lovable losers. In '06, they wore this bland -- yet somehow ugly -- uni at home. It resembles the outline of a sewing pattern that might have been used to make an actual uniform. It's as if the wardrobe manufacturer forgot to fill in the lines with color. Truly a gross uniform. The Browns only claim to fame from this season -- other than boasting a pitcher, Barney Pelty, who went by the nickname The Yiddish Curver -- is that a young catcher by the name of Branch Rickey debuted for the team, hitting .284 at the plate.

No. 2
1915 Kansas City Packers (81-72; 4th in Federal League)

The Federal League was the last serious attempt to establish a third league to compete with the National and American leagues. After its debut season as a "major league" in 1914, the FL slapped an anti-trust lawsuit on the AL and NL. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis -- who just six years later would become baseball's first commissioner, but at the time was still an actual judge -- urged the two sides to negotiate and delayed a ruling. In the meantime, the FL couldn't support itself due to poor funding and went belly up following the 1915 season. Several of the Federal League team owners were allowed to purchase stakes in NL or AL clubs, allowing their FL rosters to merge with established but struggling franchises. The KC Packers weren't so lucky, however. They went bankrupt following the 1915 season, and were finished. Also of note, the 1915 FL season featured one of the tightest pennant races in baseball's history. The Chicago Whales won the league by a single percentage point over the St. Louis Terriers. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Rebels had to settle for third place, just a half-game in back of St. Louie. As for the Packers, they finished 5.5 games back in these tough-on-the-eyes unis. The team name is so hard to read on the jersey that it reminds me of a stereogram, those odd flash cards used by eye doctors.

No. 1
1916 New York Giants (86-66; 4th in NL)

I'm shocked that John McGraw's boys didn't stage a player revolt after getting a look at their new uniforms in 1916. It's no surprise they improved by 12 games to win the NL pennant the following year, after these unis were tossed in the dumpster. I imagine the Giants commissioning a hip NYC fashionista to take a crack at a uniform overhaul. Flash forward to spring training, and "Laughing Larry" Doyle, the team's second basemen, is standing in front of his teammates in his new uniform. They're all laughing at him. Doyle spits out some tobaccy and says, "The hell if I'ma gonna wear this." Indeed.


I don't recall my feet hurting me...

...when I ran cross country in high school. What the hell is it about athletic activity nowadays that causes my feet to hurt? I don't mean blisters or anything of that sort -- I mean that the muscles in my feet ache. I just played a fairly carefree hour-long softball game, and my feet are sore. Ugh. The Sluggers are now 0-for-the-season (0-7 I think) and in the four games I've played in, I'm still hitting .500 after going 1-2 tonight. The upside: I knocked in a run, my first RBI of the year. The downside: it was our team's only run. The deep downside: We lost 20-1. In the bottom of the third we came to the plate down 20-0. Two outs later, we had runners on 1st and 3rd with the game on the line. Make another out without scoring, and we lose by the 20-run rule (yes, there is such a thing). It was my turn at the plate, and I lofted a line drive hit to center to score the run and keep the game alive for another inning. Oddly enough, we almost recorded a 1-2-3 inning the next frame, easily our best effort of the night on the defensive end. I guess we needed the pressure of having our backs to the wall, er, nevermind. It's a sad day for the Sluggers when I can say that on two occasions I've scored our lone run, and on another I collected our lone RBI.

In other athletic news, Game 2 of this summer's mini-golf season went to ... me! I can't really brag, since I edged M out by a single stroke. Still, I'll take my wins any way I can get them. We went bowling the same night -- the first time in several months for either of us -- and we each took a game. Game 1: me-156 (with 4 strikes); M-111. Game 2: me-131 (with 4 strikes again); M-142. M is good at picking up spares, which is more than I can say for myself. If they don't all fall the first time, it's not likely I'm going to pick up the spare.


Weekend at the 'rents

My mom was just involved in a car wreck. Some dude in a one-ton truck (with no insurance) slammed into the rear of her car while she was waiting to pull into the driveway. She was stationary, and he was going 60 mph. Luckily she was okay, but the car was totaled. So I drove my parents to pick up their insurance check, and then took them car shopping. As is typical for my parents, they bought the exact same car -- different color, year newer, but otherwise exactly the same. My parents are in their early seventies, so anytime death takes a whiff of them, I get sorta creeped out and insecure about just about everything. Mostly I fixate on the fact that I haven't made much of an effort in my life to get to know the 'rents. Hell, I'm only a few years removed from the rebellion stage.

But I realize time is of the essence, so I took the cue upon hearing of my mom's accident to skip out on the final day-and-a-half of the work week and head home to spend time with them. I actually had a good time, which was, yes, a surprise. Between my mom's horrible hearing (I said BETWEEN MY MOM'S HORRIBLE HEARING) and my dad's complete ignorance about the internet (I spent the better part of an hour on the phone with AOL, and then explained to my dad for the fifth time in the past six months how to use his Yahoo e-mail account), one would think that I may have been a bit, uh, frustrated. But I'm actually growing to enjoy my parents' quirks, which makes spending time with them more enticing. In an odd way, I feel like I have a leveling affect on them, as if I'm providing some perspective for them that's sadly lacking from their day-to-day life. Or maybe that's just what I'm telling myself after cooking four-cheese tortellini with vodka sauce for them, and having my dad ask in classic Wendy's commerical form, "Where's the meat?"

To change subjects, the radio show has turned into a bit of a drag. I'm just not enjoying it all that much. A lot of peeps want to hear the show but can't because they don't live in town. (Okay, that's actually more like five people, but they're important people!) And since there's no longer a Web stream, and there's no easy way to record the show in studio, I have no way of archiving the show for them. On top of that, there's plenty to dislike about the station's membership and its chosen model of decision-making. So I've been thinking about just recording at home. I've got the means to do hour-long shows that I could burn to disc and save as mp3s, and in doing so I could do shows on my own schedule, have an archive of each (a big deal for me), and be able to share with my friends who aren't within earshot. The idea is growing on me. Just think! With a few spare days, I could teach my dad how to download each radio show to his desktop, and soon he and mom could be rockin' to the oldies!


Music, beer, grillin', chillin'

My streak of cookouts/potlucks ended last night at three. After spending Saturday night at Jon's enjoying some tasty edamame salad and listening to records on his patio, and Sunday night at Amy and Chris' smoking cigars and enjoying an Italian potluck prior to The Sopranos, I headed to Jonathan's on Monday for pork & beans and a screening of the new Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me. As far as documentaries go, I thought it was excellent, as it culled together some interesting, I'm sure never-seen-before footage and some compelling interviews. While the film ends on a downer, it also does a commendable job of showcasing Townes' unique humor and wit, which often is lost when listening to his pensive songs or discussing his tragic death.

Anyway, I've already blogged exhaustively about another documentary related to Townes, Heartworn Highways. (Many thanks to Zac for turning me on to it.) Be Here to Love Me borrows a small amount of footage and some outtakes from that film, including a brief segment of the following performance of "Waiting Around to Die". But the new documentary also sheds light on the song's origins. Turns out Townes wrote "Waiting Around to Die" shortly after marrying his first wife, who of course found the song's subject matter a bit perplexing considering that they had just married, and Townes was in his early 20s. Three cheers for YouTube for having this available. Enjoy.


YouTube: The Jam on Marc Bolan's TV show

So I've fallen for YouTube. Hanging with my friend Jon this weekend, we spent an hour or so checking out a variety of music videos and live footage from an array of bands. It's amazing what you can find on there -- and the amount of rare footage is sure to go up as YouTube gains popularity -- so I'm going to share some of my favorites with you.

Here's The Jam performing "All Around the World" on Marc Bolan's after-school variety show. I'm guessing this dates back to late spring/early summer, 1977, just a few months after The Jam's debut album In the City was released, and a few months before Bolan died in an automobile accident.

What better way for Marc to get the kiddies attention as TV host than with a leopard-print jumpsuit? And you gotta love the synchronized kick between Bruce and Paul. Also note that drummer Rick Buckler fucks up the ending of the song by coming up empty on a drumstick toss.

In a word: motherfuckingcocksucker

I was planning to post today on the Cubs continued manhandling of the Cards this season (bet they wish they could play us another 40 times this year), and the agonizing 14-inning game on Friday night that turned on a key Scott Rolen double, and then a key Scott Rolen error (through the wickets, no less). But in light of yesterday's news -- that Pujols is heading to the DL for an undetermined time due to an oblique muscle tear (that's in the lower back, yo) -- all other discussion seems irrelevant. I'm pissed on so many levels: Pujols loses his shot at a season for the record books; the Cardinals offense will surely take a HUGE hit; the team's chances to make the playoffs are in serious jeopardy; and the team is now even more likely to deal Anthony Reyes or Adam Wainright for help. Pujols has never been to the DL, playing through a variety of pain in the past to achieve such consistency. But Superman has finally met his kryptonite.

Viva El Birdos has an insightful post up about the impact of this injury on the team. As far as I'm concerned, having just watched the Astros sign Clemens to push their team payroll over the $100 mil threshold, Cardinals owners better open their wallets and get this team a boost of confidence come July. They owe it to this team. They owe it to the fans. They owe it to Pujols.


50 cents a pack: Moose Haas

Glancing at Moose Haas' 1986 Topps card (#759 in the set), one thing stands out: the baby-blue uni. Man, those uniforms were ugly, but especially accented in the complimentary bright yellow. Whoever thought up the idea of baby-blue uniforms should be locked in a closet for the next six months and forced to watch nothing but Miami Vice reruns. (Or possibly the Jamie Foxx-Colin Farrell remake that's due to hit this summer.) Even though I identify the baby-blue unis with the '80s, they got their start in the '60s. A quick search turns up the 1964 White Sox as the first team to adopt the blues. Possibly they felt pressure to keep up with trendy cellar-dwellers, the Kansas City A's, who went from this look in 1962 to this look in 1963. No other team dared to don the blue until the expansion Seattle Pilots took on the challenge in 1969. Oddly enough, that year the White Sox tossed out their blue unis and reverted to a more traditional light grey road jersey. Meanwhile, the other expansion team, the Montreal Expos, also went baby blue in '69. And much like the Pilots, they finished dead last in their division. Matter of fact, the two teams combined to finish 81 games out of first place that year. (Montreal kept the blue unis the following year, though, as did the Pilots franchise, which packed their bags for Milwaukee after drawing just 678,000 fans on the season. Montreal fared a bit better, drawing over 500,000 more peeps to the park. Oh, the days when the Expos actually had fans!)

Anyway, in the '70s baseball enjoyed a color explosion, as if the rainbow suddenly decided to barf up its contents on the proud men of baseball. The Orioles went to a sort of dull pumpkin orange, the White Sox reverted back to their blues after two horrible seasons without them, the A's remained bold in their yellow unis with green sleeves, the Padres began a downhill stint in brown and yellow, the Phillies took a cue from the White Sox and went blue and red on the road (and pinstriped at home), the Indians and Braves began exploring with the colored jerseys on white slacks look, the Astros dropped acid, the Pirates said "fuck you, we can one-up that", and on and on. By 1979, you were out of step if you didn't have some sort of colorful ensemble, and baby blue was the summer fashion as no less than 10 teams adopted the color for their road unis. Even my beloved Cardinals flirted with disaster.

But enough about unis. I could write an entire post on the topic. Actually, I'll do that down the road, posting my Top 10 Favorite Unis of All Time. But for now, back to Mr. Moose Haas, who of course I loved simply for his fucked up name. He was born Bryan Edmund Haas, which is far more bland, and since he was going to be wearing a baby-blue uni, I'm glad he adopted a nickname with a bit more pizazz. Haas -- one of six Haases in the history of the game -- was drafted by Milwaukee in the second round of the '74 draft, and was already in the majors two seasons later at the age of 20. By 21, he had earned a spot in the rotation as a pin-point finesse pitcher, going 10-12 with an above-league average 4.33 ERA. If only the Brewers knew it then: his rookie campaign would pretty much represent his entire career. Moose was a slightly below average, .500 pitcher. He peaked at age 24 in 1980 with a 16-15 record, 252 innings pitched, a 3.10 ERA, and 146 strikeouts (all career highs). In '82, when the Brew Crew lost in the World Series to my Cardinals, Haas benefited from a league-best offense that featured five hitters with 23-plus homers (Ted Simmons, Robin Yount, Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper, and Gorman Thomas) -- hence the nickname "Harvey's Wallbangers". Moose went 11-8 that season with a robust 4.47 ERA, but the staff was anchored by another of my favorites, Pete Vuckovich, who went 18-6. (Fucked up side note: the Brewers five starters averaged just 3.9 strikeouts per nine innings that season, a ridiculously low rate for a modern pitching rotation.) In the World Series, Haas coughed up 5 runs in Game 4 to give the Cardinals a commanding lead, but the St. Louis pen surrendered 6 runs in the sixth to give away the game. In Game 7, Haas entered in the sixth in the middle of a Cardinals rally, replacing lefty Bob McClure. Whitey the Rat forced the move by pinch hitting for lefty Dane Iorg with righty David Green. With Keith Hernandez at third base and two outs, Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn went to the righthanded Haas, and the chess match was on. Herzog pinch hit yet again, this time switching back to a lefty in Steve Braun. The winner of the match: Haas and the Brewers. Braun grounded out. But Kuenn made the mistake of sticking with Haas with his team down 4-3. After pitching a scoreless frame in the seventh, Moose gave up a leadoff double to Lonnie Smith in the eight, and Smith later scored after Haas left the game. The Cardinals held on to win 6-3, and the World Series title was theirs.

Moose was traded to the A's for prospects in 1986 after nine full seasons of service with the Brewers, and retired after the 1987 season with 100 career wins and a shot arm. His claim to fame? He went three consecutive starts in 1987 without striking out a batter, an Oakland record that stood until Joe Blanton did the same in 2005. It's not as bad as it sounds, however, as Haas only pitched 11.1 innings over those three starts. (Blanton's three starts lasted just 7.2 innings.)

And that, folks, is Moose Haas in a nutshell.



With the season finale of The Sopranos and Big Love coming this weekend, and the season debut of Entourage and Deadwood the following weekend, it's quite an exciting time for TV watchin'. M and I just finished watching Season 2 of Entourage, which I know is old news for a lot of you. I really enjoyed the first 21 episodes of the show. At first I was skeptical of how interested I would be in a "Hollywood" sitcom, considering I could care less about movie stars and don't read Entertainment Weekly. I still don't give a fuck about any of that, but the characters, particularly the supporting characters, are quite entertaining. Johnny Drama works wonders as the butt of all jokes, Turtle is a delight, Ari has the best line I've heard in years ("Let's hug it out, bitch.), and Eric is a well thought out foil to Vince. I was pleased to see that Jeremy Piven will be sticking around for the next season, as his flawless interpretation of a super agent really separates the show from normality. And maybe there's hope for Vince and Mandy? (I doubt it. They're probably going to just skip the Aquaman filming altogether. They surely can't afford anymore of Mandy Moore and James Cameron's time.)