Saturday, October 28, 2006

Great Random Moments In Rock History

#2: Prince at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards ceremony in 2004, Prince was inducted and George Harrison, who had recently died, was honored. During the "all star jam," which has become a tradition of the ceremony, the usual suspects of honorees (as well as Dhani, George's son) paid tribute to Harrison with a rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." One by one, the guitarists on the stage, including Tom Petty, took turns taking solos. For the most part, they offered tasteful renditions of what they probably felt was an appropriate homage to the style of George.

And then came Prince. Cool and confident, he strode to the front of the stage, and one can almost imagine him thinking to himself, "all right, time to show these motherf------ how it's done." He proceeded through a solo that ripped a hole through everything that had come before it - one that was so incendiary, so exciting, so vital, that it seemed amazing that it was played on the same instrument that had produced all of the sounds that had preceded it.

But what made the moment truly special was the look on Dhani Harrison's face: he broke out into a huge grin that lasted for the entire time that Prince was in the spotlight, at one point leaning over to Tom Petty and perhaps commenting, "can you believe this guy?" No doubt, he knew that this was the purest tribute offered to his father that evening.

It Had To Be The Cardinals?

I'm sure that fans of the Cardinals and Tigers would disagree, but overall this year's postseason seemed strangely devoid of drama and excitement. It happens - there are years like 2003 where you had two of the most dramatic series of all time going on concurrently (Marlins v. Cubs, Yankees v. Red Sox), and years like this one where there just didn't seem to be a lot going on. The Tigers-Yankees series probably came closest to generating "postseason drama."

Since I don't like the Cardinals or Tony LaRussa that much, I was rooting for the Tigers; but their magic just seemed to run out. We learned a thing or two about the importance of momentum in the postseason. It isn't that important. The hottest teams heading into the playoffs were disposed of with ease; meanwhile, the Cardinals and the Tigers staggered through September and nearly played themselves out of the postseason. Didn't seem to bother them much. As Bill James and others have said on numerous occasions, in a short series the best team doesn't always win, and the pitching usually makes the difference.

Now the long off-season begins, with thoughts of spring and hope eternal for all teams far off. It will be enjoyed in St. Louis, and mourned in Detroit.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Bleat Goes On

James Lileks is a genius; of that there can be no doubt. It is quite possible to spend hours at a time browsing through his website, laughing uproariously the entire time. But today's Daily Bleat is an example of Lileks at his best: friends, family, history, and a whopper of a punch line. Yet another reason why should be near the top of everyone's bookmarks.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ho Hum. Never in Doubt.

Roll on, you Bears...

Watching this game was not an enjoyable experience, and I don't look forward to playing Washington in the next few years. Tyrone Willingham may not have been good enough for Notre Dame, but the guy can obviously coach. Don't be surprised if the Huskies contend for the Pac-10 title, and perhaps more than that, next year or shortly thereafter.

But this was the game the Bears were destined to have, and they survived it. I would be shocked if they are not 9-1 heading into the showdown with USC on November 18. Having the game in hand, and then ripped from their grasp, and still winning it in overtime, that's got to be good for the psyche.

Pasadena on January 1. Start looking into plane reservations now, before it's too late.

"Look Into My Heart And You Will Sort of Understand"

Random thoughts from my first Bob Dylan concert:

- The oldest concert crowd I've ever seen. Around me there were several couples that had to be well into their 60s, if not their 70s. It wasn't the most energetic group I've been a part of, but you could see that people were moving and definitely into it for the entire night.

- At 65 , the man still has it. Though this was my first, I knew from reading about Dylan concerts over the past decade that what keeps the songs fresh is their reinvention - the titles and the lyrics of the old classics may be the same, but for all intents and purposes, these are new songs. Part of the fun is to listen intently at the beginning, and then realize at some point, "oh yeah, this is "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)!" This could easily turn into a joke, but at the hands of Dylan and his magnificent touring band, the "updated, revised versions" of chestnuts like "To Ramona," "Tangled Up in Blue," and "Maggie's Farm" leaves them sounding just as vital today as the eras in which they were originally recorded.

- Did I mention that the band was magnificent? Denny Freeman and Stu Kimball on guitar eased the pain of not being able to hear Dylan himself strumming (he sticks with the organ exclusively these days), Donnie Herron on a variety of stringed instruments (from mandolin to steel to violin) may have been the MVP, and Tony Garnier and George Recile on bass and drums leave one thinking "oh, that must have been what Danko and Helm sounded like 30 years ago). If any band in existence is rocking harder right now than this one did on "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Summer Days," I definitely want to be there to hear it.

Overall, a terrific show.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Out of the Rubble

The Ferry Building in San Francisco stands as a testament to the fact that something good can come out of a natural disaster that leads to human tragedy.

Seventeen years ago today, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck Northern California shortly after 5 p.m. For many people in the region, the day is ingrained in their memories because they were sitting in front of their televisions, waiting for Game 3 of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants to begin. One moment, Al Michaels was telling Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer, "you know what!? we're having an earthquake!," and the next thing you knew, Michaels (who was very familiar with the area) was narrating a visual tour of the wreckage that resulted from the 7.1 temblor. The Bay Bridge; the Cypress Freeway across the Bay leading into Oakland; the raging fires in San Francisco's Marina District. It was days before the human toll became fully known; in the end, hundreds lost their lives.

And yet, today San Francisco is a greater city because of something that came out of that dark day. It signaled the beginning of the end of the Embarcadero Freeway, one of the most hated structures in modern American history. Take a close look at the picture, and then imagine, instead of those palm trees, a lovely double-decker freeway that did little to efficiently transport people in and out of San Francisco, but did a wonderful job of completely separating the city proper from its waterfront.

The freeway was built in 1958, probably right around the time that Vertigo was being filmed in the city, and began what came to be known in San Francisco as "the Freeway revolt." San Francisco residents hated it from day one, and over the course of the next decade, began one of the few (only?) successful efforts in the modern transportation era to halt the construction of freeways within the limits of a major city. Had all of the freeways that were planned for San Francisco been built, the Panhandle leading into Golden Gate Park would no longer exist as we know it today, and a freeway would have tunneled under Russian Hill, effectively bisecting several historic neighborhoods. And, the Embarcadero Freeway would have kept on going, right past Fishermans Wharf, all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to demolish the Freeway a couple of years before Loma Prieta, but had the earthquake not occurred, it is arguable whether the Board would have had the political will to see the demolition to its end. Even after the earthquake, the demolition was strongly opposed by the merchants of the downtown and Chinatown areas, resulting in the defeat of Mayor Art Agnos in 1991. But by that time, the heavy equipment was doing its work, and the freeway was coming down.

Today, the Ferry Building is a wonderful place to shop and gather; the area also hosts a Farmers Market that brings in people from hundreds of miles away. The area stands today as an appropriate monument to those who lost their life in the earthquake.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tower Records, R.I.P.

Tower Records, which announced last week that it would liquidate and close up shop, has played a big part in my life. I remember shopping at the Watt Avenue store (see left) with my dad when I was a kid , and also how cool the neon sign looked at night. Most of my large record (vinyl) collection was bought at one of Sacramento's Tower stores, either at Watt Avenue, Broadway, Sunrise Blvd., and even a handful from the Florin Rd. shop. In the pre-CD era Tower, I swear that you could walk in and smell the new records. Most of the new releases were stacked in the middle of a big aisle that went straight down the middle of the store, and it was always fun to browse, searching for something that looked good. Back in those days I was buying a couple of albums a week, and would sometimes grab something just because the cover looked cool - I clearly remember buying the Pretenders' first album that way, without ever having heard it or having heard of them.

I hadn't been to Tower much in recent years, partly because there wasn't one conveniently located near my house or my place of work, but also because other record stores had filled the void. After the advent of CDs, Tower never really quite duplicated its old atmosphere, and suffered by comparison to its old glory days as a result. Still, it is sad to see it go, and it leaves a hole in Sacramento that probably won't be filled.

You had a good run, Ross Solomon. You should be proud.

"The Ominous Dread of Looming Collapse"

A great post by Michael Totten on his recent drive across the Great Plains. Here in California we have a stretch of I-5 that heads down (or up, depending on your point of view) the Central Valley that might challenge the midwestern interstates for dullness, but we have nothing to compare to what Totten came across in Kansas - entire rural areas where people are just leaving, to the point where they're giving land away. Totten:

Some of the people who live in ghost towns to-be feel the ominous dread of looming collapse and depopulation. So they will give you free land. That’s right. It’s free land homesteading all over again. All you have to do is build a house on the land. If you like living in the middle of nowhere, if you don’t mind harsh weather and a lack of topography, and you’re looking for the cheapest deal in the country, Kansas just might be your place. Go to and take a look.

There's something about the pictures in Totten's post that are downright haunting. The ghost bridge that leads to nowhere; the ghost houses that are slowly rotting...sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel.

The Alltime Argument Starter

“A great baseball disagreement,” writes Tom Verducci in the article accompanying the selection by Sports Illustrated of the Alltime All-Star team, “generates more disagreement than resolution.” Verducci could have added that those disagreements have fueled countless bar discussions over the years, not to mention heated arguments on fantasy/rotisserie baseball draft day.

SI tags the following as their greatest of all time, and there are few selections worth quibbling about. The ground rules they followed: 25 players; seven starting pitchers; two relievers; two catchers; seven infielders; seven outfielders; one manager and two coaches.

First Base – Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial
Second Base – Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson
Shortstop – Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez
Third Base – Mike Schmidt
Catcher – Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench
Outfield – Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth
Starting Pitchers – Warren Spahn, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson
Relief Pitchers – Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Duncan
Manager – John McGraw
Coaches – Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel

My only quibbles, immediately minor, would be with the selections of Alex Rodriguez (too early), and Jackie Robinson – my guess is that his historical importance vaulted him onto the list, but strictly based on what happened on the field, Joe Morgan would have been my second selection. But in the end, it’s hardly worth arguing about.

Starting to put together my own list, I decided to change the ground rules and make it a list of the greatest players that I’ve seen since I began watching baseball, and who had their primes begin after that time – about 1968, in other words. So Willie Mays and Hank Aaron aren’t on the list, as well as other luminaries who I saw but enjoyed their primes before I began to pay attention. With that in mind, and without further ado:

First Base – Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray
Second Base – Joe Morgan
Shortstop – Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith
Third Base – Mike Schmidt, George Brett
Catcher – Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza
Outfield – Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr., Kirby Puckett
Starting Pitchers – Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson
Relief Pitchers – Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Duncan
Manager – Earl Weaver
Coaches – Joe Torre, Tony La Russa
General Manager – Billy Beane
Consultant – Bill James

I wish I could have found a place for Paul Molitor, always one of my favorites; but this is a tough crowd to break into.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"It's Just Good Investigative Journalism"

There's a scene in The Big Chill where Jeff Goldblum, who plays a reporter for People Magazine, is asked by his old classmate's husband, "where do you come up with those stories?" Perfectly deadpan and serious, Goldblum replies, "it's just good investigative journalism."

For some reason, I thought of that scene today when reading the AP report on today's tragic plane crash in New York City, which killed Cory Lidle, New York Yankees pitcher. Right in the middle of the account, this paragraph appears:

The crash came just four days after the Yankees' embarrassingly quick elimination from the playoffs, during which Lidle had been relegated to the bullpen. In recent days, Lidle had taken abuse from fans on sports talk radio for saying the team was unprepared.

I don't know - there's just something about that which feels wrong.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Memo to George Steinbrenner: Please, dear God please, just go ahead and fire Joe Torre and hire Lou Piniella. I'm sure this will result in many World Championships for your ballclub. Most importantly, it will mean no more stories on ESPN Sportscenter about the decision. Thank you.

31 Years Ago Today

Greil Marcus' review of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run appeared in the October 9, 1975 edition of Rolling Stone magazine. It is a review worthy of the album that it describes, and it is a review that you would never see in any major publication today, including (and especially) Rolling Stone. My favorite part of it is the introduction - Marcus has not yet begun to describe the record, but in setting the stage he creates a sense of drama that provides the perfect canvas on which to fully paint his account of the record's greatness:

As a determinedly permanent resident of the West Coast, the furor Bruce Springsteen's live performances have kicked up in the East over the last couple of years left me feeling somewhat culturally deprived, not to mention a little suspicious. The legendary three-hour sets Springsteen and his E Street Band apparently rip out night after night in New York, Province-town, Boston and even Austin have generated a great tumult and shouting; but, short of flying 3000 miles to catch a show, there was no way for an outlander to discover what the fuss was all about.

A bit of a dig at East Coast elitism, perhaps even directed at his friends Robert Christgau and Dave Marsh, neither of whom ever had much use for most of "the West Coast sound."

Certainly, I couldn't find the reasons on Springsteen's first two albums, despite Columbia's "New Dylan" promotional campaign for the debut disc and the equally thoughtful "Street Poet" cover of the second. Both radiated self-consciousness, whereas the ballyhoo led one to hope for the grand egotism of historic rock & roll stars; both seemed at once flat and more than a little hysterical, full of sound and fury, and signifying, if not nothing, not much.

Truth be told, Springsteen's first two albums have major flaws. I'm a huge fan, but anyone who listens can hear the problems in the production and the fact that Bruce hasn't quite yet figured out where he is going. Fun to listen to today, but neither holds a candle to what was to come.

A bit guiltily, I found anything by Roxy Music far more satisfying. They could at least hit what they aimed for; while it was clear Springsteen was after bigger game, the records made me wonder if he knew what it was. Whether he did or not, with two "you gotta see him live" albums behind him, the question of whether Springsteen would ever make his mark on rock & roll -- or hang onto the chance to do so -- rested on that third LP, which was somehow "long awaited" before the ink was dry on the second. Very soon, he would have to come across, put up or shut up. It is the rock & roller's great shoot-out with himself: The kid with promise hits the dirt and the hero turns slowly, blows the smoke from his pistol, and goes on his way. Or else, the kid and the hero go down together, twitching in the dust while the onlookers turn their heads and talk safely of what might have been. The end. Fade-out.

Goosebumps. It is now very clear what is at stake. Con-tender, or pre-tender?

Springsteen's answer is Born to Run. It is a magnificent album that pays off on every bet ever placed on him--a '57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records that shuts down every claim that has been made. And it should crack his future wide open.

Beautiful - "A '57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records..." A perfect description of how the record sounded, and a climax worthy of the review's buildup. But read it all. After all, it's only one of the handful of greatest rock albums of all time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Last Time, Bert Campaneris Threw A Bat

The only time I attended a postseason baseball game in person was in 1972, when the Oakland A's took on the Detroit Tigers. The two teams were passing each other in history - the A's, the famous "mustache gang" edition, were on their way to the first of three consecutive World Series championships, and the Tigers, still holding onto the relics of their 1968 World Series win (Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich, a handful of others), were headed straight towards the basement, beginning a period of general awfulness from which they wouldn't emerge until Sparky Anderson came on board years later.

Back in those day's, the A's were an awful draw. We were able to drive down to Oakland the day of the game, and easily buy decent seats. The game wasn't even close to being a sellout; in fact, they had trouble selling out the World Series games that year. I remember bits and pieces of the game, which the A's won in extra innings, in dramatic fashion - the Tigers had scored a run off of Vida Blue, who was pitching in relief, in the top of the 11th inning, and the A's mounted a rally and scored two in the bottom half. I remember a very old man leaving his seat and yelling quite loudly about what a bum Blue was, and then returning with a big sheepish grin on his face in the bottom half of the inning, when the rally began. For some reason, I also remember hearing "Burning Love" on the radio during the drive home.

The next day, the fireworks really began when Bert Campaneris, the A's crafty shortstop, was nicked with a pitch (and I do mean nicked - it barely touched him) and responded by flinging his bat straight at the pitcher. It was such an unexpected moment that it seemed to catch even the umpires by surprise. They tossed Campy, but they also tossed the pitcher, which set manager Billy Martin into a rage that lasted for close to twenty minutes. Good stuff.

The A's went on to win, but it wasn't easy - after taking the first two in Oakland, the A's lost two in Detroit, and were faced with a Game 5 in a packed Tiger Stadium (in those days, the team with the better record didn't automatically get home-field advantage). They pulled off a nail-biter, but lost their best player, Reggie Jackson, to injury. That set up what turned out to be a classic battle with the mighty Big Red Machine of Cincinnati, who were about as big a favorite as one could possibly imagine. More on that later.

This year's A's-Tigers series should be a great one - maybe not for Fox, considering that few people can name a player on either team, but for baseball. Proof once again that you can win without having the biggest paycheck in your pocket.

Maybe George Costanza Is Available?

Although I was inwardly cheering just as loudly as anyone in Comerica Park yesterday, it's times like this that I get close to feeling sorry for the players on the Yankees, but also for Joe Torre and Brian Cashman. The bottom line in these short playoff series is that the best team doesn't always win. The Yankees had great teams in the late 1990s, but they also had a remarkable run of luck, which is an absolute necessity if you're going to win 4 out of 5 World Series, as they did.

And it's already begun. If you believe this, then Joe Torre's job is in jeopardy, and Brian Cashman needs to begin thinking about ways to get out of the no-trade clause in Alex Rodriguez' contract. But my favorite line in the article is this:

But, clearly, these last couple of postseasons would be failures on anyone's scale.

I suppose so, but perhaps it makes more sense to laud the Yankees for being the only team in the American League to make it to the postseason for the past two postseasons. That will never happen, but it goes a long way towards illustrating the reason that the Yankees deserve an extra bit of credit when they do go all the way - who in their right minds would want to put up with this all the time?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Can Anyone Say Pasadena in January?

OK, so the gold jerseys didn't exactly set the world on fire. It's BLUE and Gold, not the other way around...but other than that, it's hard to find fault with the Bears' dominating victory over #11 Oregon. Nate Longshore, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and especially DeSean Jackson. There aren't many teams that have those kind of weapons, and with Tennessee's resounding victory over Georgia tonight, that opening day loss to the vols doesn't look so bad after all.

With this win, the Bears will be closing in on the top ten, and all signs are pointing to a November 18 showdown with the evil boys of Troy - who haven't exactly been setting the world on fire.

Stay tuned...

Friday, October 06, 2006

You Really Can't Make This Stuff Up

Terrell Owens is publishing a series of childrens' books.

Just in case you didn't catch it the first time: Terrell Owens is publishing a series of childrens' books.

The first in the series is "Little T Learns To Share." The second will be titled "Little T Learns What Not to Say," to be followed by "Little T Learns To Say I'm Sorry."

Words fail me. One can only imagine what titles might follow in this series: "Little T Mixes His Meds and Learns a Valuable Lesson," "Little T Takes His Ball And Goes Home"...the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Great Books #3: The Baseball Encyclopedia

In 1969, MacMillan published the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Official Record of Major League Baseball. It was under the Christmas tree for me that year, and it has been a constant companion ever since. The encyclopedia included several major sections, including year-to-year standings, a Player Register with complete statistics for every player that had ever set foot on a major league diamond, a Pitcher Register, and a Manager Register. My favorite section was The World Series, which included the game-by-game record and statistics for every World Series played up to that point, along with the highlights of each game. So, for 1954 Game 1, you would read:

With the score tied 2-2, Mays makes a back-to-the-plate catch of Wertz's 440-foot fly with two men on to send the game into the tenth inning, when Rhodes delivers a pinch-hit homer with two on to end the game.

I used to read these and walk around the house imagining the games, much to my dad's annoyance, who was always wondering what the hell I was doing (thinking, I would reply). It also allowed me to memorize details of Series that I'm still able to scare people with today, which can be a fun thing.

Even though it was "just" an encyclopedia, it was an important book - in his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James credits it for being one of the reasons that baseball's popularity exploded in the 1970s. For the first time, there was one source of pure, unadulterated statistical data for baseball fans around the world to obsess about.

New editions were published every few years, but none of them ever topped the first, which still sits on my bookshelf at work today.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

In October, It's All About the Baseball

I've bored my sports fan friends for years with my elegies on October being the greatest month of the year in sports. In the NFL, the games really start to matter; you begin to see the sweaters and coats come out and the players start getting into "mid-season form." The same can be said for college football - there are always a handful of critical matchups that go a long way towards determining who will be in BCS contention at season's end; last year, the October Notre Dame-USC matchup was one for the ages.

But October is really about baseball. As fun as the Super Bowl, NBA Playoffs, and the majors in golf and tennis can be, there is really nothing in sports like October baseball. Of course there is a lot more at stake, but it is more than that - the games just feel different. And look different - during the day, the shadows come into play in a way that they rarely do in the spring and summer. You see the bunting; you see the fans in the stands huddling up, for warmth and to alleviate the sheer tension of the moment. You hear an edge in the announcers' voices that you don't during the regular season.

These games are not fun to watch when your favorite team is involved. The tension at times is almost unbearable - every moment is magnified; a dropped routine fly ball that you can shrug off during the regular season becomes the moment that sends your team home for the long off-season. There are moments of incredible joy (for Giants fans, that would be Will Clark's dramatic single to send the Cubs home and the Giants back to the World Series for the first time in 27 years), and moments of utter despair (for Giants fans, that would be the aforementioned dropped fly ball by Jose Cruz Jr., and just about everything associated with Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against Anaheim). These moments stay with you for the rest of your lives. Out of the blue, you will ask yourself what might have happened if Dusty Baker had gone with Russ Ortiz for one more batter; what might have happened if there had been one more runner on base when J.T. Snow hit that home run against the Mets in 2000.

There will be moments like that this year. Someone will cry tears of joy, and someone will wake up in the middle of the night despairing over what happened in that day's game. That's October baseball.