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.


Fixing the Fork

As I sit here sipping on my Fuze White Tea and listening to The Gongettes "Gong Gong Song" -- one of the best '60s girl group songs you've never heard -- I'm pleasantly reminded of how I'm just soooo much fucking hipper than you. I may be turning 30 in less than a week, but I'll be damned if I'm not still going to be cooler than you -- all because of the music knowledge in my noggin. And thanks to such knowledge, I can tell you plainly that Pitchfork's recent countdown of the top 200 songs of the '60s is total bullshit. Complete, utter crap. A total waste of time. An exercise in jacking off. Good for several hearty laughs. Et cetera.

Okay, kidding aside (about me, not the Fork), the list is a ridiculous attempt to catalogue the best decade in rock music history, and flawed through and through. Pitchfork provides us with no real reasoning for how they selected the songs, other than stating they limited the list to five songs per artist, entirely fair to bands both prolific and superb like the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. We don't know if they polled their writers (as they've done in the past) for a ranked list of 100 songs and then tabulated the results to give us an overall ranking. Although, it's pretty clear by looking at the list that they did not. (They couldn't have possibly had enough critics vote for Ennio Morricone's theme song "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" for it to end up ranked No. 32. No fucking way. And if they did go this route -- wherein someone on their staff of, say, 30 peeps, selected that tune No. 1 or 2 on their list which in turn gave it enough "points" to earn a No. 32 overall rating -- then once again we're seeing a clear flaw.) So, we have to suppose then that they simply had some sort of a roundtable discussion, with certain people spearheading the decision making about how high certain songs should be ranked. And of course, that's what I think they did, especially considering how tailored and snobby the list ended up. Then there's the staff's obvious desire to be genre inclusive; instead of sticking to rock and excluding other genres, they attempt to incorporate jazz, country, electronic music, R&B, and other genres, which only leads us to contemplate apples and oranges. A bad decision I think.

Anyway, humor me while I debate some of the more, well, suspicious selections. The list is suspect from the start. Before we even make it out of the bottom 10, Nos. 200-191, we find trouble: Johnny and June's "Jackson" is No. 193. A song that is clearly considered by plenty to be among the finest tunes in Cash's catalogue -- and no I'm not just sentimental a year after seeing the flick in the theater -- and it barely cracks the list? Pa-lease! Or, how about song No. 200, The Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon", from their unfortunately overlooked 1966 masterpiece Face to Face? Sure, it's a good song. But name me a person with ears who finds it a more valuable asset to society than its record-mate, "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home", and I'll show you a red-faced liar. Sure, this is all up for grabs -- and my opinion shouldn't hold more weight per say -- but listen to the Fork's explanation for why this song made the cut: "While already rightly revered as bratty garage rockers by the time of this track's release, the Kinks truly excelled when singer Ray Davies took a more observational, wry approach to songwriting -- and "Sunny Afternoon" is one of his wriest on record." Oh, okay, so it's more wry than the rest. Gotcha.

Debates aside -- cause I could debate plenty on this list -- how does one reasonably say that "Sunny Afternoon" is a cut above "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" or "Tired of Waiting for You" or "David Watts", none of which made the list? And while we're on the subject of The Kinks (okay, fuck not debating this shit), what the hell is up with "You Really Got Me" at No. 88? Oh, let's just neglect the song that spawned punk and hard rock with one mighty swing of Dave Davies' axe. Eighty-eight? Gimme a break.

There's plenty of additional WTF moments throughout the list. MC5's "Kick out the Jams" at No. 176 when it was an anthem for rebellion in the anti-government climate of the late-'60s? The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" at No. 154? Oh, sure, cause it didn't kickstart a national garage rock phenomenon or anything (and besides that fact is a bitchin' song). John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" at No. 130? Sorry, but the song defined the man's greatness on so many levels. (And there's only three other "jazz" tunes ahead of it on the list -- Miles at No. 125, Ray at No. 52, and Vince Gauraldi at No. 43. Must've been a slow decade for jazz, eh?) Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" doesn't break the Top 100? Neither does Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" (which has no business on this list since it was originally recorded in the 1920s), or Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces". Simon & Garfunkel's classic "Mrs. Robinson" peaks at No. 94. Why, cause it's too popular?

Speaking of popular, "staples" like the Stones' "Satisfaction" and The Who's "My Generation" are totally absent. Meanwhile, did you know that The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus", "Tomorrow Never Knows", and "A Day in the Life" were the best three songs they ever recorded? Tis true! That's not eye-opening enough for you? How about this: there are four Beach Boys tunes in the Top 21, including "God Only Knows" at No. 1. Now that's a damn fine tune -- and works perfectly as the theme song to HBO's Big Love -- but I can't even say it's the best song on Pet Sounds ("I'm Waiting for the Day" or "Wouldn't It Be Nice"), let alone the best song of the entire decade.

As for how I would change this exercise: For starters, stick to one genre, like rock/pop. Adding in jazz and country (while mysteriously snubbing blues) just muddies up the water. (It's clear Pitchfork's intent was to focus on rock/pop, so do so exclusively.) Not to mention, each genre is worthy of their own list. You can't do any of them justice by sprinkling a few singles in amongst the majority of rock/pop cuts. And considering the decade, it's not like country tunes were competing on the charts with rock singles. So, keep 'em separate. That opens up slots on the list for obvious MIAs like Captain Beefheart, Wilson Pickett, the Small Faces, the Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Doors, more early rock & roll artists from both sides of the pond, and more of the deserving (albeit one-off) garage rockers.

The big change I would make is to own up to the fact that your list is going to have a lot in common with Time-Life compilations: you can't get around selecting songs like "Satisfaction", "Purple Haze", "Mr. Tambourine Man", and "Blowin' in the Wind" simply because they're ingrained in our fabric. A song's timelessness is one of the biggest clues as to whether it warrants inclusion. So stop trying to inform people of how "under the radar" you can fly and instead try to create the best list, period. At least, that's my two cents.


50 cents a pack: John Henry Johnson

I've been meaning to post a link to this article about the demise of baseball cards for a while. Sadly, I came up in the same era of collecting as the author. I still have about 40 too many Bobby Bonilla rookie cards. Sigh.

At least I still have my 1987 Topps John Henry Johnson card to keep me happy. This particular year of Topps cards has to be among the ugliest baseball cards of all time. I mean, wood grain? C'mon. I'm sure they were going for a retro feel, but they failed.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the man with three first names -- other than, what the fuck is up with that hair? Seriously. White boy fro! It looks as if someone gave poor Johnny the Wooly Willy treatment.

Johnson's eight-year career was so forgettable that the amazing factoid Topps provides on the back of his card is ... drum roll ... wait for it ... "John Henry participated in Little League ball." Well that surely distinguishes him from the pack.

To be fair, there were a few high points to his career. For starters, he was traded along with seven others by the Giants to the A's to acquire Hall of Fame hurler Vida Blue (who may have his own 50 cents entry later). He debuted in the majors the year of the trade ('78), and had a decent rookie year: better-than-average 3.39 ERA, 11 wins, and 186 innings pitched. He was actually seventh in the league in hits allowed per nine innings. He stunk it up for the A's the following year and was traded mid-season to the Rangers, where he continued to stink. In 1980, the Rangers said "to hell with you starting" and moved him to the pen, where he posted a sparkling 2.33 ERA and better than a K per inning in limited duty, probably saving his major league career in the process.

I'm guessing injuries did him in in '81, as he only pitched in 24 games and missed all of '82. Interesting side note: Johnson went from striking out 1.2 batters per inning in '80 to 0.3 in '81 -- probably due to an arm injury that caused a drop in velocity. Texas dealt him to Boston, where Johnson regained his K-form and became a serviceable reliever. Again, he missed an entire season in '85, however. I'm not sure if it was injury again, or what. He was released by the BoSox in April of '85, and signed ten days later by the Pirates, who then released him in late July without him ever taking the mound. Must have been another injury or a rehab gone wrong. But a month later, Johnson was signed by the Brewers -- his third team in one season despite never playing in a major league game. Hmmm...

Johnson (and his hair) was healthy enough to pitch in 19 games for the '86 Brewers, in which he posted a 2.66 ERA. For his services, he netted $60,000. The following year he got bombed to the tune of a 9.57 ERA in 26 innings, and his career was over. John Johnson never pitched for a division winner, so there's no postseason stats to examine. Oh well, maybe he won a championship in Little League.


Sorry it's been a while

I'll pick up the posting pace once work settles down in, uh, well, sometime in the future. In the book publishing business, the summer months are the busiest, which sucks for a long list of obvious reasons. While many of my friends are taking lengthy jaunts across the country, sipping adult beverages on the beach, or simply going out 'til 3 in the morning and sleeping in 'til noon, I'm busting my ass at work.

I've worked close to 40 hours of OT in the past two weeks alone. Since we release about 70% of our list in-between July and September, that means I'm on a perpetual deadline from about May 15 through late August. This year our production department also downsized, causing the well-oiled machine to get gummied up. And my entire department (all 4 of us) had to move our offices this week to a new part of the building. In the process, I lost my: 1) ceiling; 2) door; and 3) window. I gained a few square feet in the shift, but now I'm in a loft space with tall walls, but no way to keep the sound from traveling. Worse yet, I'm about 10 feet from a printer that squawks and squeaks every time it's asked to do its thing.

To remind me once again that I'm overworked and underpaid, a new project was conveniently dropped in my lap a few weeks ago. It's a 300-page coffee table book on a certain NYC neighborhood that I shall not name for Googling purposes. Let's just call it "America's most diverse ethnic neighborhood," a claim that I don't endorse, but nonetheless one that we're considering for the book's subtitle. We're to receive all of the materials for the book by Aug. 21, and the book needs to go to the printer 11 days later. Not 11 "work" days, mind you, but by Sept. 1. In other words, it's what we call an "instant book".

The short of it with these instant books is that the source providing us with the photos and text needs to be on top of their game. We know how to put these suckers together and without fail hit our deadlines. And we usually receive adequate cooperation from the source, because that source is typically a newspaper. Obviously, they have experience in hitting deadlines, too. But this time, the source is a Chamber of Commerce, and while they're working in tangent with NYC's second-highest circulating daily, they are not used to working on deadlines of this nature. They also lack some common tools, like the ability to follow simple directions that I give them. I ask them for chickens, and they give me monkeys. Woe is me. The short of it is, to all my NYC friends, I would highly recommend NOT purchasing this book.

Outside of work, I've been busy on the weekends. Two weeks ago I soaked through two T-shirts in the 90-plus degree sunshine at the Pitchfork Festival. I was excited about the lineup, but I think the weather clouded my enjoyment by providing a lack of cloud coverage. Still, it was great to see the following bands, in order:

1) Jens Lekman: We got to the festival on Day 2 a song or two into Jens' early-afternoon set, but what we saw was just FUN FUN FUN! Jens had a 6-female backing band of Swedes, including a three-person horn section. He's such a great performer, and he proved me foolish for wondering how the intimate club performance I witnessed a couple years ago would transfer to the big stage.

2) Destroyer: I love Dan Bejar, and his set, featuring almost exclusively songs from his latest album, Destroyer's Rubies, met expectations for my first live encounter. His was one of the only sets that I camped out up front for, quite a feat considering he was on during the beastly late-afternoon sun. But the lead guitar blasting into my left ear was a thing of beauty.

3) Mission of Burma: Plenty of late-'70s/early-'80s bands that are reforming as of late have no business playing their old material, let alone recording new stuff. They come across as second-rate cover bands, in part because they're missing original members and in part because they've simply aged and lost their spunk. However, MOB's new material is full of punch, and their old songs -- like my personal fave "Academy Fight Song" -- still sound spectacular. (On a related note: Os Mutantes didn't do much for me. They sound little like their original selves, and they were missing original frontwoman Rita Lee. Boo!)

4) Devendra Banhart: With a bearded, long-haired lookalike backing rock band (think: Skynyrd), Devendra came across much different than on record. For having three electric guitarists on stage, he was still very mellow. And his in-between song banter was a bit befuddling and longwinded at times. (He actually invited some guy from the audience on stage as a lark, I presume, to perform a song. The kid gets up there, straps on Devednra's guitar, and the band leaves the stage, bottles of Jack in hand. The kid, obviously influenced by Banhart, plays an original song that was not embarrasing given the circumstances, much to the crowd's approval. Unfortunately, this stripped about 10 minutes from Devendra's set.) All in all, a mixed back from Banhart. I wish I would've saw him do a solo gig two years ago, when I had the tickets in hand.

Bands I missed or ignored while laying in the shade/eating tamales/drenching myself in the misting tent/waiting in line for Ben & Jerry's/camping out in front of the opposite stage for the next band: Yo La Tengo (sounded more rockin' from a distance), Spoon (the usual), Ted Leo (heard he bloodied his forehead by headbutting the mic), Art Brut (snore), The Mountain Goats (man they were quiet), and The Futureheads (sounded good from a distance). Bands I didn't have the patience for: The Liars (too hot for that shit), The Silver Jews (too tired for that shit), and Man Man (too far away for that shit).

All in all, the sound quality was poor again this year. I'm guessing they can only crank it up so loud due to the surrounding neighborhoods, but at a festival with 15-20,000 peeps in attendance, you don't want to have the wind fucking with your ability to hear the music when you're standing a football field away from the stage due to the massive crowd. The weather was again unbearable, making my mood and energy level -- and hence my enjoyment -- of the festival a wash. Despite the affordable tickets, food, and drink, I won't be going next year unless they raise Syd, Jimi, Stiv, and Arthur from the dead.

Last weekend, I spent time with my family in celebration of our many August birthdays. Mine is included in that list; I turn 30 on Aug. 27. More details to come on what, if anything, I'll be doing locally to celebrate another year of living.

Now, since it's a gorgeous 73 degrees outside, I'm going to go for a long bike ride to make up for a couple weekends spent drinking beer instead of peddling.


Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or

What's up with all of my favorite cult rock figures from the late-'60s passing as of late? First Sir Barrett, now Arthur Lee of Love. If you haven't heard the news, Lee died yesterday after fighting a mighty battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The man was an eccentric for sure, with prison terms to his credit, but he was also a true artifact of the '60s that was blessed with a gorgeous voice and one of the best backing bands of all time. If you haven't stumbled upon Love yet, I'll hook you up with some additional mp3s later. I feel like running home right this second to throw on my Love tee shirt. Not sure what the co-workers would think, but fuck 'em. 'Tis a sad day.

Love - "Alone Again Or"