Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Do the Yankees have to worry about the Mets taking over this town?

We had quite the spirited debate on my Facebook page this past weekend about whether the Yankees had anything to fear from the Mets when it comes to being the big dogs in New York. After all, while it still sometimes seems like it was just a dream, the Mets did make it to the World Series last year!

People think that the Yankees have owned this town forever. But if you look back at attendance figures, the Mets drew more crowds in 1964-1975, and 1984-1992. Not so coincidentally, the Mets had the better team in town in many of those years.

Look at the charts I posted to see the new stadium attendance trends. The Yankees have been trending down, and the Mets have been trending up. And, traditionally, a team that gets to the World Series after being a hot mess before that sees the biggest attendance gains the year after, the way the Kansas City Royals saw a huge jump in attendance in 2015.

It's been a good 20 years since this was a Mets town. But is it possible that they can start outdrawing the Yankees again? I think it is. Or at least they can make things competitive again.

When it comes to TV ratings, the Mets are already giving the Yankees a run for their money. The New York Daily News' Bob Raissman reports that the Yanks averaged a 2.76 rating on YES in 2015, with 259,223 total viewers per game. The Mets averaged a 2.63 household rating on SNY, with 242,434 viewers. However, that doesn't tell the full story. After the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes at the end of July, the Mets averaged a 3.21 rating (304,706 viewers) for the last two months of the season -- getting better ratings than the Yankees!

Raissman recently pointed out that the Mets bringing back Cespedes should continue to be good business not just for the team, but for their ratings.

"In 2015, before the Mets acquired Cespedes from Detroit, SportsNet New York was averaging a 2.25 household rating, 202,911 total viewers, on its Mets telecasts. Once Cespedes arrived in Queens, the average rating increased by nearly a full point and over 100,000 total viewers.

Raissman wonders:

"Who on the current Yankees roster can produce those kind of results? Alex Rodriguez? That’s doubtful. Last season, on the comeback trail, A-Rod was a curiosity. This season, his story is not as compelling, unless the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network uses him in the booth when he’s not playing."

I agree. With the addition of Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees' bullpen is the best in baseball. But is that going to translate to more fannies in the seats, as George Steinbrenner would say? Or eyeballs on the televised games? I kind of doubt it.

The Mets have real star power now -- something that has been missing from Queens for a long time. Matt Harvey is the type of figure who transcends baseball. He even made it onto Andy Cohen's "Watch What Happens Live" a few weeks ago, where he talked about manscaping and threesomes and other assorted shenanigans. Then there's Thor, deGrom, David Wright, and the rest of the Mets, who many people in this town got to learn about during the postseason last year. The Yankees just don't have that same sort of buzz any more.

A big question, though, will be if the corporate money in this town heads to entertaining clients at Citi Field as opposed to Yankee Stadium. I think that trend has already started. Heck, I got invited to be in a Citi Field box twice this year -- once with work -- something that hadn't happened before. And if the Mets are contending this year out of the gate, this trend will accelerate.

The dirty little secret about sports fandom is what really moves the needle is not the diehards but the frontrunners. For the last two decades, the Yankees have been the more compelling team for the casual fan. Now it looks like the Mets are going to be the better story, as long as they continue to excel. And Citi Field is the nicer ballpark, with the better food -- something casual fans will discover when they show up.

It will be interesting to see how Yankeeland reacts if the Mets become the team to beat. The powers that be have been so arrogant in assuming that the good times will last forever, that I don't think they will know what hit them!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Is Cam Newton's history's greatest monster for not putting on a happy face after Super Bowl 50?

Shocker: I wear my heart on my sleeve. As Squawker Jon would say, all you need to do if you know me in real life to sense my mood is to look at my face! I can't hide my emotions, whether happy or sad or angry. So I have great empathy for other people who also wear their heart on their sleeve. Especially when they are professional athletes. Thus, my affinity for Cam Newton.

In addition, pretty much nothing makes me happier than when I have something to crusade about -- especially when it goes against conventional wisdom. And especially when it involves sports. Call me the president of the "He's Not Bad, He's Just Misunderstood" school of athletes. After all, so much of our perceptions of sports stars are based on what the media tells us. And the journalists have their own biases and agendas. (As do I, but at least I'm up front about them!)

So I have to admit to rubbing my hands with glee this afternoon, ready to take on the post-Super Bowl Cam Newton controversy! I did feel bad for Newton after his and the Carolina Panthers' ignominious defeat in Super Bowl 50. Think about the worst defeat of your life -- getting dumped, getting fired, getting humiliated -- only in front of hundreds of millions. Oh, and having to talk about your feelings just 30 minutes later, and answer question after question on it. And if you don't act like a phony, and put on a happy face, people will call you a sore loser. Come to think of it, if you do put on a happy face, then people will think you don't care. (Ask Jay Cutler about that!)

True, that's what athletes get the big bucks for, but let's not forget that they are human, too. And although I do think Newton should have stayed longer at his postgame press conference, just because these reporters get mad if they don't all get to ask questions, I can understand the way the Panther felt. Heck, I was miserable myself after the game, and I'm just a fan on the couch! I can also get the notion of walking away before saying something you regret. I have also had to do that a time or two in my life!

What kills me, though, is the way the media acts like Newton's some sort of phony now. Wow, somebody who gets excited and jubilant during good times looks completely miserable during adversity. Shocking, I know! What, did we expect stoicism? Especially given that Newton could hear Denver player Chris Harris over the partition of Newton's own presser talking about beating him. (Thanks to my friend Brent for the tip on that video!)

As Scott Gustin of Tribune Broadcasting aptly put it, Newton acted like one of us fans would:
You scream at your team, tear off your jersey and threaten a kicker over a missed field goal. Cam dabs when he scores touchdowns, collapses on the sideline when his team loses and is unable to put on a happy face immediately after a devastating loss. He has highs and lows, just like you. And like all fanatics, his highs are the highest and his lows are the lowest.
One of the many writers who criticized Newton was Chris Chase of Fox Sports. Chase insinuated Newton was a fake because he was so unhappy talking after the loss. "That laughing, smiling, carefree quarterback we've watched all season?" Chase wrote. "Evidently he was just an act, a byproduct of an undefeated record and an easy schedule." He also called the QB "childish, sulking" and "petulant."

Then Chase says that Newton should have...pretended not to be so miserable, even though he acknowledged that the QB's "attitude, while untoward, is the kind a fallen champion needs to get back up off the mat." But Chase thinks he should have faked it:
"No one expected much from him, the same way they don't expect much from any losing quarterback. Put on some clothes, walk out, answer some stupid questions by expounding on the concept of 'we played hard but they played better' and then get out of there. He could have been in front of reporters for the same three minutes, but if he had given real answers, looked them in the eyes and didn't act like it was the greatest burden of his life to be sitting there at that exact moment, he wouldn't have the PR disaster that's currently befalling him."
Funny thing is, though. Chase had no problem when another quarterback was miserable after a big loss. When Peyton Manning lost to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, and left the field without shaking Brees' hand (let it be noted that Newton congratulated Manning and shook his hand), Chase wrote the following:
"Walking off the field without congratulating Drew Brees may go against our misguided notion of what sportsmanship should be, but it wasn't at all disrespectful or bitter. It shows how much Peyton Manning wanted to win the game. And who can argue about that?"
Chase also wrote then that "the great ones make their job their passion. Hall of Fames don't tend to include guys who can't care. The desire to win is what sustains greatness." He also said then, "The great ones are competitors and competitors can't flip a switch immediately after a devastating loss and act like it didn't matter." You mean like how Cam Newton looked like this after losing Super Bowl 50? Just saying!

Give me Newton's real reaction over the most devastating loss of his career -- even if he looked like a hot mess up there -- over Peyton Manning's promoting binge drinking Budweiser (!) twice after the game. Here's what the legendary QB said when asked by CBS' Tracy Wolfson if he were going to retire:
"I’ll take some time to reflect. I’ve got a couple of priorities first. I want to go kiss my wife and my kids. I want to go hug my family. I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, Tracy, I promise you that."
Yes, folks, those are Peyton's priorities:

1) Kissing his wife and kids
2) Hugging his family
3) Drinking a lot of Budweiser

And Cam Newton is the bad role model here, according to the media, and some of the fans out there?

Manning, who also mentioned Budweiser while on the podium after the game, and on TV the next morning, just happens to have an ownership stake in two Anheuser-Busch distributorships in Louisiana. So that was about as calculated a mention as the way he was shown drinking Gatorade in the locker room (with a ton of bottles around him) when he was introduced as a Super Bowl MVP during that pre-game ceremony.

And really, let's face it. You're a millionaire many times over. You just won the Super Bowl. And with all of the great craft brews out there, you're going to drink Budweiser? That's about as tasteless as kissing Papa John on the field after the game!

Can you imagine if Newton had won the Super Bowl and done what Manning did? Do you think it might have been a little controversial? I sure do. I also think that if Manning had lost, and had the same reaction as Newton did, the media would be talking about much he cares. You know, the way Chris Chase did in the quotes I posted above. Shocking, I know!

Anyhow, I know I'm biased in favor of Newton. I am honest about that. If only the media would admit to their bias against Newton, and in favor of Manning.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why I'm rooting for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to win Super Bowl 50 -- and why you should, too!

I am basically a free agent football fan. I root for both the Giants and the Jets, but I am not a fan of them the way I am the Yankees. And, of course, I hate the New England Patriots with every fiber of my being!

Me dabbing before the Gridiron 4 Mile
 running race in honor of Cam Newton.
This year, I've been rooting for Cam Newton and the Carplina Panthers (Cam was my workplace fantasy football team's MVP, and got me into the playoffs. I ended up losing in the finals during the week of the Panthers' sole loss, but I wouldn't have made the postseason -- or gotten my second-place victuory -- if it weren't for Newton.)

Anyhow, I'm very excited about the Panthers this year for the Super Bowl -- about as excited as I can be on any game that doesn't involve the New York teams (or rooting against the Patriots!) I think Newton is the best, most dynamic, and most interesting player in the NFL right now. It's been fun to watch him grow up and become a leader. Who couldn't like him giving the game ball to little kids in the stands, too? I also like his positive attitude, his million-dollar-smile, and his dabbing and dancing, too. And I don't understand why some are against it.

What do we always hear about sports? That they're playing a kids' game. So what's wrong with acting with the joy of a kid? Why was it okay for Brett Favre to act like a kid out there, as broadcasters always said about him? Or for Aaron Rodgers to do the wrestling belt move after touchdowns (the move that became the Discount Double Check)? But Newton gets criticized for dancing? Really?

And yes, I do think the criticism is, at least partially, a racial thing (and a cultural thing.) As Tony Gonzalez said on CBS Sports, Peyton Manning is George Strait, and Cam Newton is Jay-Z. Some people prefer black athletes to be humble (or to at least act humble, like Derek Jeter) and to be quiet. They don't like the brashness of Newton. They also don't understand what the dabbing or the "hit dem folks" dance moves are all about. Me, I love it!

Incidentally, Newton has gotten way more grief for showing joy at a game than Peyton Manning has for being named in a PED scandal. (Even the Washington Post reporting that Manning's goon squad showed up at that pharmacist's parents home has been greeted with radio silence from the mainstream media. Not to mention that Peyton has admitted to that Al-Jazeera report saying that his wife did get a shipment from that anti-aging clinic. My friend Eric Wilbur of the Boston Globe notes the hypocrisy in this issue, and he's right that if this were Tom Brady, it would be a much bigger story. Many people's outrage over PEDs is based on who is doing them!)

Anyhow, back to Newton. Human emotion -- whether it be Carlton Fisk motioning for his home run to go fair, or George Brett having a meltdown, or Jose Bautista flipping his bat in the playoffs -- is what makes sports interesting. So what's wrong with Newton enjoying doing well, and having fun out there? He's earned it!

This is a great matchup tonight between one legend, and the best player in the game today. Here's hoping that in the battle between Denver's Sheriff and Carolina's Superman, that No. 1 is No. 1 at the end of the game. Go Panthers!

P.S. I am hoping the game ends with a 6-9 Broncos/Panthers score, or a  0-0 or 7-7 score for the last digits. That's because I'm in a $250 winner-take-all office pool in which those are my digits!

Monday, January 25, 2016

See classic Bruce Springsteen photos in NYC

I recently got to see the opening of an exhibition on famous photos of Bruce Springsteen from his prime creative era. (Most are from the mid to late-1970s, back when he was doing great albums like "Born to Run," "The River," and "Darkness on the Edge of Town." my personal favorite. These  photos are taken by some of the top rock photographers of the era, including Lynn Goldsmith. You can see them for free at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Manhattan until February 9.

"The Ties That Bind" gallery exhibition opening was co-sponsored by Macari Vineyards. And it was packed! Lots of great Springsteen photos on display. If you go to the exhibition, you'll see the original photos that became the covers for "Darkness" and "The River." 'Here are some of my favorites. Go to Morrison Hotel Gallery's website to see more and read more about it :

"Corvette Winter," Bruce Springsteen, Haddonfield, NJ, 1978
© Frank Stefanko, 1978

Bruce Springsteen, Asbury Park, 1979
© Joel Bernstein, 1979

Fast Food, Bruce Springsteen
© Jim Marchese, 1981

Bruce Springsteen At the writing table in his bedroom, Holmdel, NJ, October 1979
© Joel Bernstein, 1979

Bruce Springsteen
© Joel Bernstein, 1979

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mets finally stop pulling snow job with return of Cespedes

We've been hearing how close the Mets are to overcoming any financial concerns for years now. First it was getting rid of Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez and not re-signing Jose Reyes. A couple of years later, it was the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay. Finally, it was increasing revenue by getting to the postseason.  But while even the Kansas City Royals raised their payroll to $130M, the Mets were content with no major signings and a below-average payroll of 115M.

And then the Mets finally put their money where their mouths have been.

Without Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets would not have made the World Series last year. If you're not going to sign him, you need to find another way to make up the lost offense. Before yesterday, all the Mets had done was reshuffle their infield, and for the outfield, add Alejandro de Aza. 

In 2015, de Aza had seven HR and 35 RBI in 325 at bats while playing for three teams. Cespedes hit 17 HR with 44 RBI in 230 AB after joining the Mets. For the season, he hit 35 HR with 105 RBI and a .291 BA for the Mets and Tigers. That might have been a career year - or it might have been a star player from Cuba reaching his potential in his fourth season in MLB at age 29.  It's worth a three-year deal to find out which one it is.

Kudos to Sandy Alderson and the Mets front office for apparently getting Cespedes to leave a lot of money on the table. Kudos to Mets ownership for finally getting the payroll back towards where it was the last time the team was good. And kudos to local columnists and fans for putting on the pressure to get something done.

Now the Mets have gone from a team in danger of reverting to mediocrity - Fangraphs had just projected them to win 83 games in 2016 - back to a playoff contender. The revamped Cubs still look formidable, but at least the Nationals won't have Cespedes and Daniel Murphy flanking Bryce Harper in their lineup.

On the day of the biggest local blizzard in years, the Mets finally stopped trying to pull their financial snow job.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Mike Piazza and the days when the Mets reached for the stars

Mike Piazza reached the pinnacle of the baseball world this week when was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On Friday, I had the opportunity to be there when Piazza stood at the pinnacle of New York, on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, talking about what makes the Big Apple so special to him.

Piazza found it "euphoric" to be "back here in New York as a Hall of Famer, the way people just honor you, hearing the 'way to go Mikeys' when you’re walking around. It’s a lot of fun."

He praised the "passion of the fans" in New York, noting that, "as a player, you can choose, it can really be a lot of pressure – some guys don’t respond well to it, or you can use it as a catalyst to get better, and for me it was the latter. I was blessed to do that."

Met fans were blessed that management traded for Piazza during the 1998 season, eventually jump-starting their offense. Then the Mets gave Piazza a big contract after the season even though they already had someone at his position (Todd Hundley). Within two seasons, the Piazza-led Mets were in the World Series.

In 2015, Sandy Alderson made a midseason trade for Yoenis Cespedes, eventually jump-starting their offense. At the end of the season, the Mets were in the World Series. But if Cespedes ends up in the Hall of Fame, it doesn't look as if he'll be wearing a Mets cap.

There may be valid reasons to avoid giving Yoenis Cespedes a long-term deal, but spare me the excuse that the Mets have no room in the corner outfield. Even if Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto perform as hoped, (which is no sure thing given that Granderson turns 35 in March and Conforto has just a few weeks of MLB experience, during which he was primarily a platoon player) Granderson's contract has just two years to run, so the Mets will soon need to fill a void regardless.

I'm glad Alderson is doing better, but I don't want to hear him say that the Mets are spending again because their payroll has gone up $35 million since 2014 when their payroll dropped $50 million just two years before that.

What would the traditionalists say
about using a bat as a selfie stick?
This has been a special year for the Mets - a trip to the World Series and a trip to Cooperstown for a player who considers himself first and foremost a New York Met. Seeing Piazza in person and hearing him praise teammates John Franco and Al Leiter made me nostalgic for 2000, a year I generally try to forget because of how it ended.

I've been a lot more able to appreciate 2015, since the Mets' success was so unexpected and it didn't end with a loss to the Yankees. But it would be nice to experience another world championship at some point, and unless 2016 Mets management starts acting more like the 1998 version, it may be a long time before we see another title - or another Hall of Famer in a Mets cap.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Paul DePodesta would rather work for the Cleveland Browns than the New York Mets

The Jets ripped my heart out yet again Sunday, but at least I could take solace in the fact that I was not a fan of the Cleveland Browns. As ESPN notes, in a little over three years, crazy owner Jimmy Haslam will have had four coaches, four GMs and three team presidents/CEOs. What NFL executive in his or her right mind would want to work in such an environment? Apparently none, since Cleveland's latest hire is none other than the Mets' Paul DePodesta.

At first glance, it seems insane to leave a team that just made the World Series for a team in another sport that last won a title during the early days of Beatlemania. A team whose troubled quarterback reportedly put on a disguise to party in Vegas last weekend when he was supposed to be recovering from a concussion. Maybe DePodesta wants to be the next Theo Epstein, who brought a championship to the title-starved Red Sox and is well on his way to doing it again with the Cubs. Maybe he thought he was going to the Cleveland Cavaliers. More likely, before too long it will be DePodesta who will feel like wearing a disguise.

The last time a prominent member of the Mets organization left the team after a World Series appearance for a surprising destination, Mike Hampton claimed it was because of the school system.  Perhaps DePodesta will claim that he just wants to be closer to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

But what if DePodesta simply decided that the time was right to leave the Mets? That his marketability would never be higher after the 2015 World Series, because that was as far as this franchise was going to go? Maybe DePodesta saw a franchise still unwilling to spend and figured that there was no place for the Mets to go after last season's unexpected success than down. Every article about DePodesta talks about how smart he is, and he knows what is really going on behind the scenes, as opposed to people like me who continue to naively hold out hope that the Mets will upgrade their offense before the 2016 season starts.

In the meantime, let's see who the Mets pick to replace DePodesta. I just hope it's not John Idzik.


The Baseball Bloggers Alliance is holding a parallel vote for the Hall of Fame. Here are the players I voted for, in alphabetical order.

Jeff Bagwell
Ken Griffey Jr.
Trevor Hoffman
Edgar Martinez
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Alan Trammell

Unlike Squawker Lisa, whose ballot is here, I am not ready to support Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. While Bonds would have been a Hall of Famer without steroids, it is far less clear with Clemens. At age 33 in 1996, Clemens had come off four straight mediocre years with the Red Sox, who were happy to let him leave. According to Baseball Reference, Clemens was statistically most similar in those years to Dwight Gooden. But while Gooden failed to realize his Hall potential, Clemens went on to four more Cy Young awards and 162 more wins with the help of his, uh, workout regimen.

What I find particularly galling is how many people refer to Bonds and Clemens as among the greatest players of all time. I concede it could be true with Bonds. Let's say he didn't do steroids and ended up with 625 homers instead of 762. Still pretty amazing.  But would a clean Clemens have topped 300 wins, let alone make it to 354?

With all the statistical analysis in baseball, it would be nice to see someone speculate on how Bonds and Clemens would have done without the juice before we start considering them for GOAT.

When I first heard about the Mike Piazza rumors, my reaction was to cover my ears and start yelling out nonsense syllables. Based on everything I've read and heard, I'm a lot more confident in giving the PED label to Bonds and Clemens than I am to Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. But I'm admittedly a biased Met fan.

And even if Clemens eventually gets in, at least let it not be alongside Piazza. Clemens has ruined enough special Piazza moments already.

Mike Mussina was a very good pitcher for many years, but he was never considered close to being the best pitcher in baseball, much less even on his own team. Mussina never won a Cy Young, finishing second once, and never finished higher than 19th in the MVP voting. 

Curt Schilling may have won far fewer games than Mussina did, but he was a more standout performer in his best years, particular in the postseason. Schilling also never won a Cy Young but finished second four times. He had two top-ten MVP finishes and finished 11th and 14th two other times.

Most of all, Schilling was sensational in the postseason, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.968 WHIP. Schilling was the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series, with a 1.69 ERA and 0.656 WHIP in three starts. In the 2004 ALCS, Schilling and his bloody sock earned one of the most famous postseason wins ever.

I also voted for Alan Trammell, who, according to Jay Jaffe's JAWS analysis is more worthy of the Hall among shortstops than future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and current Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.


Squawker Lisa, I'm glad you resisted temptation when you saw the complete ballot -

Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Luis Castillo, Roger Clemens, David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Troy Glaus, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Trevor Hoffman, Jason Kendall, Jeff Kent, Mike Lowell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Randy Winn.

- and did not cast  a vote for Luis Castillo. You could have specified that his Hall plaque be sturdy enough that it would not break if he dropped it.

I'm also glad you did not vote for Billy Wagner, knowing that I would not be able to forgive his 16.88 ERA in the 2006 NLCS. But while Wagner's regular-season numbers are actually worthy of Hall consideration, his overall ERA in 14 postseason games was 10.03.

As for Hampton, at least his induction ceremony would make for a nice Colorado school trip.

Let the arguments begin: Here is my MLB Hall of Fame ballot

Jon and I are proud members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. And each year, the organization votes on their choices for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While our group's votes don't actually count towards the real HOF, they are nonetheless instructive as to how baseball bloggers' choices compare with the ones from the Baseball Writers of America.

Anyhow, these are the 32 names on this year's ballot: 

Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Luis Castillo, Roger Clemens, David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Troy Glaus, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Trevor Hoffman, Jason Kendall, Jeff Kent, Mike Lowell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Randy Winn.

And here are my 10 choices, in no particular order:

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Ken Griffey Jr.
Curt Schilling
Mike Mussina
Jeff Bagwell
Trevor Hoffman
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Edgar Martinez

I have changed my mind on some of these candidates over time, like the BBWAA writers have. (A few years ago, I would not have voted for Mike Piazza or Mike Mussina; now they are on my ballot.) I also can't do like the Murray Chasses of the world and only vote for Ken Griffey Jr., due to the steroid issue. (And what a joke is it that Chass still has a vote, when he hasn't written for a newspaper in eight years, and is now a blogger just like yours truly!)

And yes, I did put Curt Schilling, arguably the greatest Yankee-killer of all time, on the list. So sue me! I also voted for Bonds and Clemens. You can't have a real HOF without them.

I debated whether or not to include Mark McGwire, but left him out. If the ballot had 12 spots, though, I would have included him.

Anyhow, these are my choices. Who are yours? Comment below!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

If you want to be uplifted, entertained, and inspired, go see 'Creed'!

Hope our readers are having a great holiday season so far. I will write my thoughts on the state of the Yankees soon (spoiler alert: they're not positive!) But in the meantime, I wanted to talk about a really great movie I saw last night. I went to see Creed. It was fantastic, and I say this as a longtime Rocky fan (click here to read my recent review of Rocky, when I watched it again to see if it still held up.) Anyhow, here are my thoughts on the movie. Warning: there are some mild spoilers, equivalent to what you might read in a typical movie review.

Basic story is this: Apollo Creed (who was killed in the ring in Rocky IV)  had an illegitimate son, Adonis, born after his death. The kid grows up in group homes and keeps on getting into trouble. When he's about 12 or so, Creed's widow, Mary Anne, gets him out of juvie hall and gets him into the lap of luxury. He then finds out for the first time who his father was. Adonis, nicknamed Donnie, grows up, gets a job in finance, and seems to have a great life. But he wants to box like his father. Long story short, he quits his job, goes to Philadelphia, and seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him. He also gets a girlfriend, who has problems of her own. Donnie ends up getting a big boxing challenge.

Anyhow, what I want to talk about is the real theme of the movie -- overcoming adversity, being the best person you can be, and getting support from others to do that. And to do it one step, one punch, one round at a time. The three main characters -- Donnie, Rocky, and Bianca -- all have problems that need to be resolved. They're flesh and blood characters who you can't help but root for.

Some of the best scenes in the movie involve Rocky training Donnie, which harkens back to Mickey and Rocky in the original movie.  Seeing Donnie running made me want to get out and do some training of my own after the film! (When I ran four miles this morning, I couldn't help but think of scenes from the movie.)

It's nice to see an inspiring film that has people with relatable problems. What's also cool about the movie is that it has its own twist to the Rocky tale without being a rote imitation. Anyhow, go see Creed.  It really motivated me this weekend!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What happens when this "Star Wars" non-fan finally watches the movie again? Read on!

I recently watched the original Star Wars movie for the first time since I saw it back in the day. This was a big deal for me, because I am one of the few people in America who has been very meh, as the kids say these days, about Star Wars. So what made me do this? Because of fantasy football. Let me explain.

I wrote this October on Facebook about how I didn't care about Star Wars: The Force Awakens:
"Shocker: I'm one of the few people who has zero interest in the new Star Wars movie. Does that make me un-American?"
Lots and lots of my Facebook friends were stunned and dismayed by my admission. It was as if I said, "I like to eat babies for breakfast. Deal with it!"

Now, I had seen the first three Star Wars movies when I was a kid (I think it was a requirement if you grew up in the 1970s and 80s, along with reading Dynamite magazine and knowing what the words are to "Conjunction Junction.")  I found the movies okay. Never felt the need to see them again, as I noted in that Facebook thread, and they were never like The Godfather or Goodfellas to me. Also, I argued that there was way too much hype about the Star Wars flicks, given that only two or three out of the six installments are considered good.

I didn't even get into how the Star Wars fanatics in the world kind of scare me. Wearing clothing of characters they like? Playing with toys related to the film? Indoctrinating their children into their creepy cult? Watching certain parts over and over? Lining up for tickets? Too weird. Oh, wait, aren't many sports fans guilty of all of those things?

Now, some FB friends did agree with my assessment of the movies, but most of the responses I received were negative. Very negative. My running club compadre and fellow blogger Josh Pesin was particularly peeved, and wrote this impassioned response to my negative comments:
"George Lucas based the whole Star Wars universe on Greek mythological archetypes using the writings of mythology expert Joseph Campbell. There are deep Oedipal and psychological meanings throughout the films that reflect the weaknesses of the human condition. Unrequited love, a thirst for power, innocence lost, and betrayal are just some of the themes of human frailties dealt with throughout the films. And Lucas created a distant future full of dystopian imagery where robots are banged up, dirtied and worn, aliens are tired of working their 9-5 jobs, and humans still have trouble making ends meet where their crops on farms of far-away planets are just not growing. While the cinematographic images, costumes, score, special effects, and fantastical aliens and creatures all add to an amazing visceral experience throughout all the films, critics who only judge Star Wars from this superficial level are missing the point. Star Wars deep down is a film series that focuses primarily on the nuances, challenges and realities of the human condition."
Then he delivered the kicker. "I would never say I had zero interest in any of your passions. There would be no point in me stating that." Ouch!

That particular comment made me feel extremely guilty. And I wondered how I could make amends.

Josh is able to leap tall buildings in
a single bound. But setting a fantasy
football lineup? Fuhgeddaboudit!
You see, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, I roped Josh into joining our running club's first-ever fantasy football league because we needed ten players, and only had nine. (His team's name? The 10th Guy.) I initially thought he would have football knowledge because he is a real badass, as you can see from this picture. Josh does Spartan Races and marathons (including running the NYC Marathon six times!) and adventure races and road races and polar bear plunges and mountain biking and all sorts of manly stuff.

But that's the thing. He is a sports participant, not a spectator. He likes to play football, not watch it. Let alone pay attention to the intricacies of fantasy football.

Even though I helped Josh every week with his team, fantasy football just wasn't his thing. As he put it to me a few weeks ago: "Me doing this 15-week fantasy football is like you following Star Wars for 15 weeks and being expected to maintain and know your Star Wars characters every week."

Here Josh exclusively re-enacts for Subway
Squawkers his facial expression
when hearing me explain

how NFL bye weeks work.
Ouch again! Josh was totally right in his comparison, and I felt terrible. Here he did me a solid in agreeing to be in my fantasy football league, something that was important to me, and how did I repay him? By dissing a movie that was important to him. What a heel I was. Why didn't I try to learn about his interests, given that he spent a whole season trying to learn about mine?

So I knew what I had to do. And that was watch the original Star Wars again. Maybe he and the many millions of people who love the franchise were right, and I was (gulp!) wrong. At the very least, I could sit through this for two hours, considering Josh sat through a whole season of fantasy football.

Last weekend, I took the plunge on watching Episode IV: A New Hope. The first 15 minutes were slow going; Carrie Fisher's weird accent, dumb hairstyle, and tacky makeup job grated on my last nerve. So did C3PO's manner of speaking. (Why in a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, do they speak in a plummy faux-British accent? Annoying!) I did like the way Tattooine looked, but that was about it.

I really wanted to quit watching at this point, but I decided to plow through it the way I plowed through the Staten Island Half-Marathon with a hip and leg injury. So I gritted my teeth and kept on watching.

And then a strange thing happened. I found myself entertained by the movie. Luke Skywalker doesn't show up until 17 minutes into the movie, but when he did, things started getting interesting, even if he was a little whiny. Alec Guinness was a great actor, so it was fun to see him as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I liked seeing the stormtroopers on the giant lizards. Then the road trip begins with Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids, and I'm always a sucker for a good road trip.

By the time the cantina scene started, I thought "Hey, this isn't so bad." And then the best part of the movie showed up: Harrison Ford as Han Solo! Oh, my. I thought he was so handsome and dashing in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I never thought of his Star Wars character that way; that could be because I was still four years away from puberty when Star Wars debuted. Anyhow, his appearance in the film, 47 minutes in, made the whole movie for me. Han Solo was just such a great character; one of the original lovable rogues, before that became a cliche.

I also liked the camaraderie with him, Chewbacca, Luke, and Leia. Especially the banter with Leia. And the way Han Solo decided to do something selfless to help the rebels. The ending awards scene reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, and when the movie was finished, I thought, "Hey, this was pretty good entertainment!"

Is Star Wars going to make my all-time favorite movies list? The answer is still no. But I did enjoy watching the movie, and I...was..wrong in my earlier assessment, as much as that pains me to say! I was initially going to just write my review of the film for Josh, but he talked me into writing a blog entry on this. Even thought it would mean I would have to publicly admit that I was wrong about something. "People like honesty and those who keep things real," he said. So even though Squawker Jon thinks this whole blog entry is an all-star effort in navel-gazing, I figured I had to write this up. Who knows? Maybe I'll even go to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But I'm not wearing a costume!