Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Baseball Blog - It's Mighty Casey's Turn

Casey at the Bat
A poem by Ernest Thayer (from baseball-almanac.com)

"The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat."

Those are the first five stanzas of "Casey at the Bat", a poem by Ernest Thayer that is many, many, many years old and known, at least as far as the ending is concerned, by many more baseball fans.

What recently became known to many of those baseball fans is that the Nats were last night able to sign Steven Strasburg, a college pitcher who seems to be almost as legendary as Mighty Casey himself.

The tales of Strasburg's baseball exploits while he was in college range from a fastball that clocks in around 100 mph that he throws with good control to a strikeout rate of nearly 2 per inning, an almost unreal number matched only by someone playing as an ace major league pitcher in a video game on the easiest difficulty (and even then, it can be pretty difficult).

The problem facing Strasburg and the Nats is that there is a really low success rate for pitchers (or any players) taken anywhere in the draft. According to espn.com, every single pitcher taken with the first pick in the draft, where Strasburg was taken earlier this summer, has been essentially a bust when it comes to actually playing at the major league level.

To make matters worse, the Nats signed Strasburg at the cost of $15 million, the largest contract for an amateur baseball player ever. At that cost, there is going to be a ton of pressure on him to succeed, or else be certified "The Biggest Draft-Pick Bust Ever" by baseball folks for years to come.

So at this juncture, you are probably thinking that this is all well and good, but wondering where the poem I put in above comes in to play.

Well I assure you it has a point.

Strasburg's being drafted by the weak-spending Nats was something Nats fans were doubting would happen, much like the people of Mudville in the poem doubted that the weak-hitting Flynn would deliver in the clutch.

Then, once Strasburg was signed, Nats fans doubted a deal would happen because the much-hated super-agent, Scott Boras, was negotiating on his behalf and was rumored to be demanding an unbelievable $50 million for his wonder-client. This one sounds an awful lot like the much despised Jimmy Blake, who Mudville fans also had little faith in.

However, much to the Washington and Mudville fanbases surprise, both of those elements came through in the clutch, leaving Mudville with Mighty Casey and the Nats with Strasburg to be their saviors.

Now it is up to Strasburg to save the worst franchise in baseball just as it was up to Mighty Casey to save Mudville that day.

As baseball fans familiar with the poem know, Mighty Casey ultimately didn't deliver and Mudville lost that day.

Time will tell if Strasburg will share Mighty Casey's fate.

I'm hoping he won't, but I'm also a pessimist, hence the comparison.

What do you think will happen?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Short Movie Blog - Five Things You Should Know Before You Watch The Watchmen

Last night, I went to the midnight showing for "The Watchmen" and I walked away very impressed with the job director Zach Snyder did with bringing the "unfilmable" comic book story to life, but I do have some suggestions for people who intend to go see it just so they know what they are in for.

The first thing you ought to know about Watchmen is the graphic novel. No, seriously. Read it. I can't stress this enough. The film does not spend a whole lot of time building familiarity with the characters or the atmosphere so you will feel much more connected to the movie if you are familiar with the characters in it. For this I whole-heartedly suggest you go read the graphic novel, or for those of you dead-set on seeing it tonight, getting a very abridged version through several bits of background teasers at the very least online. Without any background information, you will find yourself in a long movie (more on that later) that moves slowly (more on this as well) so please heed my advice and don't ruin a great story by going to see the movie unprepared.

The second thing you ought to know about Watchmen is that it is absolutely NOT for the kiddies and it takes the "R" rating to the fullest here. Blood, sex, and violence can be found in copious amounts here so be very mindful to not bring impressionable young minds to the theaters unless you are absolutely certain that they will not need therapy afterwards. Seriously people. We are talking severed limbs, a very naked blue man, and a few action sequences that involve bones breaking through skin. Not one for the kids. Not even close.

The third thing you ought to know about Watchmen is that, contrary to the ad campaign, the story moves along slowly, but surely. For those who read the graphic novel, you will feel right at home because it unfolds very similarly, but for those of you who haven't (READ THE FIRST POINT AGAIN), this movie will feel like it is 4 hours long and you have scratched your head through most of it. Now, it is not actually that long (it clocks in at just under 3 hours), but it will feel that way so be prepared. It is not the Dark Knight. You will not be on the edge of your seat for the entirety, or even the great majority of it. Think of it as "The Godfather" as far as pacing is concerned.

The fourth thing you ought to know is that there is a high level of paranoia that is meant to be felt in this film that isn't built up because it assumes that you know all about it. The graphic novel has a subplot in it that builds the tension of the Cold War circa an alternate 1985 that isn't found in the film, but will be touched on when the DVD is released. The film touches on this paranoia a little bit, but it just doesn't reach the level that it does in the graphic novel without the right anticipation. Again, READ THE GRAPHIC NOVEL.

The fifth and final thing you out to know about Watchmen is THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. I seriously cannot stress this enough. It is the only graphic novel on Time's Top 100 novels of all time and it very much deserves the praise. I read it last semester and I cannot say enough about how great it was. Every character is brilliantly touched on. Every bit of background in the story is fully explained. There is so much detail and depth to the graphic novel that just will not be found in the film unless you are already aware of it. Do yourself a favor. Don't ruin a great story for yourself. Read the graphic novel first. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Nats Blog - Getting Back Up To Speed

So over the weekend while snow pummeled the Washington D.C. area, the Nats took no notice and proceeded to make big baseball news. Sunday saw a personal dream come true for me as Jim Bowden "stepped down" from his Vice President and General Manager positions atop the Nationals organization, but rather than go gracefully with his head percieved to be held high, he instead thought it better to subject himself to being kicked repeatedly on his way out (not that it wouldn't have happened anyway, seeing as the majority of Nats fans/bloggers that I have come across are not too supportive of JimBo) by blaming the media for his need of an exit.

First of all, I'm not too sure that Jimmie-B decided to step down so much as many people in the organization pressured him to do so. There had been a few rumors that I linked to in some previous posts that the Nationals were considering replacing Bowden with Tony LaCava from the Toronto Blue Jays organization and though the Nationals had denied doing so, those rumors still have not gone away. If an organization is already considering your replacement days before you submit your letter of resignation, I'm inclined to belive they had a hand in pushing you out the door if only for the simple reason that it seems that they had prior knowledge of your departure from the position.

Second of all, though Jim leaving is certainly big news and his shot at the media wasn't exactly classy, he's not the biggest news article or item of speculation for me. That distinction belongs to his replacement.

Despite the rumors of an interest in bringing LaCava in to be the new GM, the prevailing notion in the media has always been that Assistant GM Mike Rizzo would be named to the position in the interim should Bowden be ousted. However, the Nats took an interesting course of action that caught me and most of the bloggers in the Natosphere by surprise.

Nationals President Stan Kasten annexed the title and duties of the GM for a very brief (we are talking a day, tops) time before giving the majority of those duties over to Rizzo (and here's the interesting part) without giving the title over to him officially, not even in the interim. Basically, this means that Rizzo is the GM without actually being the GM.

It is a very intriguing move to me because, though it initially doesn't make sense, it is actually quite an interesting way of testing Rizzo's GM merit without letting him get too big to hold on to if he isn't the right guy.

You see, and mind you this is all speculation, if they promote Rizzo to interim GM, but he doesn't have a knack for the job, the likelihood of him returning to the team in a smaller role, like his Assistant GM title, is not that great. However, by keeping him in the Assistant GM role for "the foreseeable future" while giving him the majority of the responsibilities belonging to a GM, they keep him in a position where they can still hire someone (like LaCava) from outside to be the GM full time if things don't work out for whatever reason without losing his incredible expertise for scouting talent (see Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Dan Uggla, Brandon Webb, and Jordan Zimmermann) to another team.

I may not do it often enough, but I am definitely singing Stan Kasten's praises on this one. He's allowing the Nationals to get the very best replacement for Jim Bowden that they can with as little harm done to the organization as humanly possible.

After all, hasn't Jim done enough harm?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Short Football Blog - Haynesworth Worth The Money?

I'm taking a small break from Nats blogging today to focus on the big news in football camp. DT Albert Haynesworth signed with the Washington Redskins this morning on the first day of NFL Free Agent Signings for a reported 7-years, $100 million with $41 million guaranteed, but is this another classic Redskins over-paying job? My initial reaction was "yes".

Names like Bruce Smith and Jason Taylor immediately jumped to mind when I heard the news, and it shouldn't be surprising. The Redskins have a long history of making these sort of big market, big headline deals that have a tendency to blow up in their faces, especially when you consider that Haynesworth's best years have come in the last two when he was essentially playing for a new contract both years. Now he has his retirement fund paid for courtesy of Dan Snyder and Co., so what am I supposed to think?

Well, rather than dwell on whether or not we overpaid another big free agent, I got to thinking about how we could insure that we get our money's worth from Big Al and I came to a conclusion that Danny Boy might even be in favor of: spend more money! Oh boy, I can hear it now. "Matt! What could you be thinking?!? It is this type of rampant spending that has got the Skins into trouble in past years! How can you possibly be for that?!?" The quick answer is actually pretty simple. I am supporting "responsible" spending, a term not frequently heard of in DC when talking about football. How so? Well, it is pretty simple really. Sign more players that will help this franchise win where they really need it the most.

I'm looking at WR T.J. Houshamagillagorilla (I was never really all that good with names) for starters. He's an elite WR from the Cincinnati Bengals and the only reason we haven't been hearing more about him in the free agent discussions is because Big Al was still on the board. It is no secret that the Skins have struggled terribly at the WR position in recent years, Randle El is average at best and the two WRs we got in last years draft have done jack squat to prove they belong. My advice to the Redskins is land yourself a big gun on the other side of the ball that will open up options and give Big Al something to play for, a shot at a Super Bowl ring.

Real quickly, I got to wrap this up so I can catch my bus.

The Skins now have to sign TJ and then look to the draft to get younger on offensive and defensive lines.

That's the bottom line.

Short Baseball Blog - A New SCREECH?

According to Chico Harlan over at Nationals Journal, Screech, the beloved, overweight, and wobbly Nationals mascot is under going a transformation, though only being a few years old and beloved by most fans for being as overweight and ridiculous as some of the Nationals players those fans came out to the ballpark to see. Now I've heard of cleaning house, but when even your mascot gets the axe, this "Smiley" Gonzalez scandal is getting a little out of hand. I'm kidding of course, but I know the mascot change is interesting in the very least to my girlfriend, who really wanted that beloved creature to serve her a free Papa Johns pizza at a baseball game. Tough luck, babe.

Short Baseball Blog - Bowden On The Way Out?

According to some rumors being passed around the Internets (yeah, I said "Internets"), the Nationals are looking into the possibility of hiring Toronto Blue Jays Assistant General Manager Tony LaCava to replace their often-criticized and currently-under-federal-in
vestigation current General Manager, Jim Bowden. The rumors have been spreading around several blogs that have been collectively nicknamed "The Natosphere." Now normally, I scoff at blogs that aren't on washingtonpost.com, espn.com, or mlb.com, but at least 3 of the blogs that I visited (federalbaseball.com, firejimbowden.blogspot.com, and farmauthority.dcsportsnet.com) are listed on washingtonpost.com's Nationals Report blog and farm authority has even been able to sit down with big name, big league reporters like ESPN's Keith Law to get their information together. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that they could be on to something here. Tony LaCava is very well respected in the industry and has been considered for a couple of recent GM openings in Seattle and Pittsburgh to go along with these rumors. Don't believe the blog hype on Tony's resume? It is all backed up by Baseball Prospectus here. So far the whispers are little more than just that, whispers.

To be fair to the other side of argument, that these are unfounded and untrue rumors, Washington Post writer Chico Harlan recently refuted another rumor that the Nats had contacted MLB Commissioner Bud Selig about allowing them to forgo a rule that requires the Nats interview minority candidates here. The earlier reports that the Nats were making this request did not come from any of the 3 blogs I mentioned earlier, but were mentioned on them with links to the site where the news broke, so there still is a possibility the rumors on the 3 sites above could be accurate, just not about this one.

True or not, if you read my post a few days ago, I am all about running Jim Bowden out of town, so I may just be hopelessly optimistic that the Nats are going to do something about this, but until told otherwise, this is big news to me.

**EDIT: Legitimate (albeit Candaian) newspaper The Star has also acknowledged the rumors on LaCava, which therefore legitimizes the rumors.**

Short Baseball Blog - Welcome Back Spring, Welcome back baseball

I was cruising across the internet today and came across this passage from the Song of Solomon which apparently used to be read over the radio before the first Detroit Tigers Spring Training baseball game of the year, so I thought I would share it with you all.

"For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

Welcome back, baseball. I missed you.

P.S. - "The voice of the turtle is heard in our land" tonight. Go Terps. Beat Duke.