Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

Posted: December 31, 2012 by Raul Parra in Sports

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 32,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 7 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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By: Matthew Kohl
Email: virtualsportsman@gmail.com
Twitter: @virtuallymatt

The baseball off-season can be fraught with peril for some. Especially if you don’t care for many,
or any, of the winter sports. Baseball fans who aren’t content to follow the free agent game or the trade rumors have a few options to scratch the baseball itch. For example, I like to take a trip through my childhood baseball card collection. My card binder is one of very few things I have left from my youth and it’s the oldest thing I own that I purchased with my own money. It’s interesting to see who I thought was worth putting in the book versus who got clipped into the bike spokes since I only collected cards from players and teams I liked. I didn’t care if they were stars, though many were, and I didn’t care if they played for a rival team. Sometimes a card would get promoted from the box to the binder and sometimes they would get demoted, a practice which accounts for entire pages with only a single card on them in some instances. I don’t change it these days even though the order of cards and grouping of players is ramshackle at best and absolutely maddening when I’m looking for something specific.

Whenever I go through the book, I’m reminded of cards I had that would be worth having today or in the future had I kept them. I didn’t care enough about the players at the time to do so. Allusions of monetary gain be damned as I firmly stand by those edicts that decided what or whom was worth keeping, mysterious as they were. Mariano Rivera’s 1992 Bowman rookie card may disagree with me tossing it aside, but what kid keeps a baseball card featuring some twit standing in khakis and a polo shirt in his collection? Besides, he played for the evil empire. Sometimes though, I get confused as to why I kept something in the book.

WHO THE HELL?

“Who in the hell is Mariano Duncan?” That’s usually the first question I ask myself whenever I peruse the book. He’s on the first page. He was a 2B/SS and career .267 hitter who is currently the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs AA affiliate Tennessee Smokies by the way. I learned that from Wikipedia just today! Even though his career may have been a bit underwhelming, I don’t dare take the card out. For one reason or another an eight year old me thought it belonged in the book and I don’t doubt that reason was a good one. Its placement on the bottom right corner leads me to believe it’s one of the first nine cards I ever put in there. It’s possible it could even be from my very first pack of cards.

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I probably kept him because he had good fundamentals.

Another player who I have several cards from that also has a Cubs connection is Pat Listach, though I know why I kept his cards. He was second place to only Kenny Lofton in stolen bases and won Rookie of the Year honors in 1992. All but one of the cards I have from him are from that season. Coincidentally, he didn’t do much else the rest of his playing career. He’s currently the Cubs third base coach and was voted Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2008 for leading the Iowa Cubs to the postseason. So he has that.

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These are great looking cards though.

THE WEIRDNESS

There are also some strange phenomena that permeate my card binder. One of which I call the “Doc Strawberry Page.” It’s weird that two players who got famous in two different decades that both practically ruined their respective careers through drug use ended up grouped together. I knew about the drug problems they had even as a kid. Maybe I thought if I kept them together, but segregated from the other cards, the other players couldn’t do drugs with them. I really loved Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. I was disappointed to see their careers go downhill for such stupid reasons when they both had such great natural talent. I never really gave up on either of them though. That’s probably why I’m so unforgiving of players today.

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Another bit of weirdness is what I like to call the Eric Karros Quartet. I’ve grown to dislike him even more as an adult due to his lackluster commentary but I absolutely hated Karros as a kid. Why I kept any of his crap let alone four of the same card is completely unexplainable. In hindsight though, he looks a lot like my cousin Gary. Maybe I thought he was just moonlighting as a police officer.

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Fuck you Eric!

I don’t have a name for this one but probably the strangest thing that appears in my collection is the random presence of a Damon Berryhill card every other page or so. It begins on the tenth page mysteriously adjacent to Mike Scioscia. Then he appears again on the very next sheet next to Gary Gaeti, another player whose inclusion I have no explanation for. This continues on for another 15 pages until the second to last one where a wall dedicated to Ryne Sandberg ends the curse. I don’t really think I liked him as a player and I can’t imagine I would have liked anything about him other than the fact that he was a catcher, but even that’s a sketchy theory. I didn’t even really care for the Cubs too much until later in 1998 or 1999 so it’s weird that I would have so many of his cards let alone put them in my binder. I can’t figure out why they’re so scattered either. Unless somebody else can come up with a reason, I’ll just have to leave this mystery to future generations.

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A selection of Berryhills. Maybe I liked his name?

THE HEROES

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One of the heroes of my youth.

Still, there are some cards that really do deserve to be in my collection. In fact, one of my favorite pages in the book is the Bo Jackson page. I loved everything about Bo Jackson when I was young. I loved him so much I even picked up a Raiders hat when I had no connection whatsoever with football. In fact, Bo Jackson was the reason I began watching football. If it wasn’t for Bo, I would have entirely missed the final years of Joe Montana’s amazing career (another player I idolized as a child) and the best days of Steve Young’s. I was excited as all hell when he came to the White Sox, and now that I really think about it, he was the reason I started paying any attention at all to my local sports teams. Well, he and Mark Grace, who I was never lucky enough to get a card of…

…but whatever.

One of the stranger memories of Bo Jackson was the cartoon with him, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan. It was called Pro Stars and it was ridiculous.

Of the stranger memories regarding Bo Jackson was the cartoon with him, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan. It was called Pro Stars and it was ridiculous.

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An animated look at who was left from the 2005 White Sox World Series Roster.
Better version:

wsox14

Here’s a preview of what I’ve been working on for 2 months. The initial finds will be up at WSD.

Wookie Cookies: All The Flaovor, None Of The Hair

Posted: December 11, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Misc

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What it is this cookie?

It’s a “Wookie Cookie.”

It looks like a regular chocolate chip cookie.

Oh no, there’s more to this cookie than meets the eye! There’s a subtle flavor to it that clearly draws it’s inspiration from Kashyyyk culture. I mean look at it, it’s clearly reference 1st era Woo-

Stop bullshitting

Fair enough.

Background

I got my friend a Star Wars cookbook from the Air and Space museum in Washington DC a month ago. This was purely a gag gift. It was clearly intended for little kids as an arts and crafts project they can work on while some poor parent desperately looked to tire their progeny out.

I never thought she would actually make something from the cookbook.

Alas, a gag gift turns itself into real cookies which in turn becomes a fake scouting report on said cookie and the inside joke advances itself to a fairly ridiculous level. At some point this joke will go to far and all parties involved will deeply regret the day I passed up other gag gifts and said, “Hey, you know what would be REALLY funny?”

Anyway. All this will be on the 20-80 scale.

Criteria

For me there are a few key factors that make a successful cookie.

  • Contents
  • Texture/Chew Factor
  • Concept
  • Presentation

Contents:

This is essentially a chocolate chip cookie. This is already coming out ahead in my book. I love chocolate chip cookies. It’s perhaps the most basic of cookies, but it’s also the workhorse of the cookie rotation. You can always fall back on the chocolate chip cookie, you can depend on it to eat innings for you, even if it isn’t solid.

This cookie had an interesting approach. My friend used two types of chocolate chips. Sweetened and unsweetened. At first I didn’t like the idea. After thinking about it I started to appreciate the nuance of using two different sweetness levels in one cookie.

Haha just kidding, I still hate the idea.

Grade: 40. Needs milk to play up to average.

Texture/Chew Factor:

I don’t like thin cookies, so this one was already behind the 8 ball. I heard it from a source that the recipe was flawed. The source indicated that the cookies ended up being larger than they looked in the picture and that they thinned out too much even though the proper amount of ingredients was used. I think we can just hang the L on Lucas on this one and move on.

The texture was fine. I was put off at first but it played well. The chew factor was present, surprisingly. The center retained moisture and had a decent feel to it.

Grade: 55. Can play up to a 60/65.

Concept:

Dude, it’s a fucking Wookie Cookie. I’m only slightly disappointed there wasn’t more gimmick.

Grade: 70

Presentation:

It came in a plastic container topped with aluminium foil.

Grade: 30/80 This has elite potential though. If you got really creative with it you can theoretically have an elite tool here.

Overall:

60 grade cookie, first division starter, teases with elite potential. Needs to refine the approach to become elite, but the potential is there.

Also, it’s pretty fucking amazing that someone made me any cookies, so that certainly adds a lot to the final grade.

Failure

Posted: December 9, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Sports

I think Bobby Hill was the first prospect that broke my heart.

I became vaguely aware of who Hill was in the 2001 season. I think Chip Caray mentioned him in a mini minor league report during some game that is forgotten to me. Obviously, I can be wrong about that.

That was the first time I looked up minor league statistics. I was enrolled in an all boys school at the time and I was using my computer time to scan for this Bobby Hill guy. The internet statistical age was still in its infancy at the time.

I’m pretty sure I typed “Bobby Hill” into Lycos or Ask Jeeves and hoped for the best.

Eventually I found him on some archaic Java site that tracked Cubs minor league players. That’s when I discovered that he stole 81 bases in A ball.

That’s when I fell in love.

I was 15 going on 16 at the time. I didn’t have a solid grasp of player progression at the time. In my mind, if a player was solid at the minor league level it had to mean he would be able to replicate the success at the Major League level. I had big hopes for Hill because of this mindset.

Bobby Hill was really good at baseball, relative to his age group, at one time. Hill was good enough to be drafted in the 2nd round of the amateur draft in 2000. Bobby Hill was one of the best amateur baseball players in the country. Bobby Hill at one point in his life, was better than 99.9% of the population at his craft. Hill was so good at baseball that three different teams drafted him in three different years. The then California Angels drafted him in ’96. He didn’t sign and went to Miami. The White Sox drafted him in ’99. Hill once again declined and decided to play Independent Ball. The Cubs drafted him the next year and Hill finally signed and started his professional career with a Major League Baseball Organization.

I was never in the top .1% of anything.

But I was a photographer with a lot of potential and pedigree. My uncle is an AP photojournalist. I desperately wanted to follow in those footsteps. I picked up the camera and after 6 years I finally started making good images. I worked a lot then. I forced my way onto the Student newspaper, showed up one day and didn’t leave until they paid me. I had the right connections so I did three outstanding internships in three years.

My visual literacy was high then.

I was improving in my craft every year, and I could feel it. It’s hard to explain that feeling, especially in the photojournalism world. At some point during that development I felt, connected. I felt connected to a community of visual communicators whose purpose in life is to record the history of our shared existence. By that extension I felt connected to all of us. There were times when I was sitting at my computer, looking at World Press Photo, and I felt a greater sense of purpose. I felt like I belonged, and that I was going to continually improve until I stood out.

At a certain point Bobby Hill stopped hitting.

He was long forgotten in my mind by that point. Hill had potential, and he was expected to be a piece of a very important Chicago Cubs team. Hill came up in 2002 and didn’t hit enough. The skills that were so evident in minor league ball were not translating to the big league level. Bobby Hill eventually was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a package that sent Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs. Apparently the Pirates liked Bobby Hill too.

Hill played 165 Major League Baseball games for the Pirates.

Bobby Hill’s last at bat as a major leaguer came on July 20, 2005. It’s not noted by anyone, it’s not special for any reason. It was an event, a game in the middle of a long season for a lost franchise. Bobby Hill hit a deep fly ball off Chad Harville that was caught by Eric Bruntlett out in center field.

And then his dream ended.

At a certain point my career crashed.

I’ve had good jobs. I still freelance for a few publications, but the big names don’t call anymore. Not consistently. Not like they used to. The never-ending line of progression that I envisioned for myself did not happen. At a certain point, I plateaued and now the improvements don’t come in big chunks. They are small gains.

That’s on me. I failed because I was afraid to fail. I never challenged myself the way I should have and I’m paying the price now. It’s not all over, but it’s pretty close.

It wasn’t sudden. It didn’t come loudly, it didn’t announce itself with fanfare. I didn’t get a farewell tour (I didn’t earn one).

One night I woke up at 2 am and realized I didn’t get to where I wanted to be.

It was a quiet thing.

I think there is a real disconnect between what we expect and what the reality is.

I was mad at Bobby Hill.

I didn’t know it, because I stopped caring about him, but I was pissed. I had expectations for Bobby Hill. He was supposed to be an All Star second baseman. He was supposed to steal 40 bases in the show. He was supposed to hit .280 with decent on base skills and ok gap power. He was supposed to be good.

Bobby Hill didn’t do any of those things. He failed at the MLB level. Bobby Hill didn’t become what I expected him to become.

Instead Bobby Hill became who he was, and I was mad at him for it.

Well, I was mad at me.

I don’t sleep a lot.

There’s a running joke with my friends that I’m always awake. It’s true. Chances are really good that I’m going to up at night and I will respond to a 2 AM text. I have a lot of excuses for this. I say I’m reading, scouting, listening to music, I’m doing something.

Sometimes it is those things.

Mostly, these days…

I can still hear it. My face is itching, a test my mind runs to make sure I’m on my way to some sort of sleep cycle. I get close most times, but I can still hear that voice in my head. It’s the one that keeps asking “What’s next? What happened to you, and your dreams? Why aren’t you pursuing what you want?” I don’t have a good answer for this voice. Instead of listening to that I try to concentrate on the whirl of my ceiling fan, and in vain I count the RPM’s until I can trick myself into going to sleep.

…it’s that

I can see it in Brett Jackson

There’s a look that I used to associate with being a pouty bitch. We’ve all seen it on a failing athlete at one point. It’s a look that screams “WHY ISN’T THIS EASIER?” Sometimes we interpret this as a spoiled athlete who is crying that it isn’t going their way.

I see it differently now, depending on the situation. Reading body language is awful in almost all cases. I’m not reading it as a future predictor of outcomes for that reason. When I read it it’s as a reaction to what has just occurred.

I’m willing to guess you’ve gotten pretty good at tying your shoes over the course of time. You might even be an elite shoe tier. It would be pretty damn frustrating if all of a sudden one day you weren’t that good at tying your shoes anymore. And people were booing you for being bad.

You see, every player that is in a Major League organization was the absolute best when they were growing up. Baseball was easy for them. Then they hit rookie ball, and it all goes to shit. They aren’t the best anymore. Now there’s a whole league full of guys that are as good as they are, and they have to fight through it to advance. It gets harder as they get older. Somewhere along the way a light clicks on for them and they survive the war of attrition and make it to the show, where they usually get kicked square in the balls for at least a year and a half.

Sometimes it lasts a career.

I was in between Whiskey Sours when I admitted that I didn’t hit my intellectual ceiling.

Poor girl.

It was Halloween on the north side of Chicago, the women were scantily clad and willing to indulge your sloppy advances if you brought them a drink from an overcrowded bar. The lights were dim, the distractions were plenty. The last thing that should have been on my mind came to the forefront eventually. I’m pretty sure I steered it that way. Usually when something is on your mind you steer conversations to either avoid it completely or you end up running right into it.

Sometimes it’s both.

She was leaning in close when she started talking about her schooling.

And that’s when it hit me. And that’s when I finally said it out loud. To her. On Halloween. At a club.

The response was nice enough, but that was pretty much it for me that night. It festers now, inside my brain during any down time. It nags at me and never really lets itself go.

I’m in transition now.

I’ve spent a lot of time laboring over what I didn’t become.

I’m trying to devote time into becoming who I am.

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Cubs sign Nate Schierholtz to a one year deal – He’s guaranteed 2.25mm with 500k in performance bonuses. Last year Schierholtz posted a .728 OPS with a triple slash line of .257/.321/.407. He lacks plate discipline and he has minimal pop, but the main reason the Cubs went after him was his defense. The Cubs have average pitching right now, one way to cover up average pitching is to surround it with above average defense. The Cubs won’t miss many bats, but if they combine their defensive shifting philosophy with good defenders the Cubs can pump some decent value out of so-so starters. In the end that’s what really matters, getting a good return via the trade.

Schierholtz is a league average player, and he’s likely to either be dealt at the deadline or gone after this year. Don’t look for him to provide pop or be a great offensive player. He’s here to help the pitching staff.

Center Field Options – David DeJesus is likely to be pushed to center as a result of this move which sets up an interesting possible rotation in the OF. The Cubs have said that Brett Jackson will start the year at AAA, which is the right move. There are rumors swirling that Jackson has changed his swing which he hopes will cut into his K rate. If the Cubs are unable to move Soriano prior to Opening Day it is possible that both Dave Sappelt and Tony Campana see burn at CF with Soriano, DeJesus, and Schierholtz all rotating off days and positions. Soriano is a player that will need rest as he transitions into the final stages of his career.

Needless to say, this is the best opportunity Brett Jackson is going to have at becoming a Major League regular.

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The Cubs selected Hector Rondon from Cleveland in the Rule 5 draft – Rondon threw 7 professional innings in 2012 as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Before he went down he featured a good fastball and good command. The breaking stuff had yet to develop and had 3 starter ceiling pending his recovery. This is another move to acquire pitching talent for the Cubs, something that has been noticeably lacking in the past.

The White Sox selected Angel Sanchez in the Rule 5 – Angel has seen some playing time at the MLB level, he has 628 career MLB Plate Appearances. It appears that the White Sox are going for high contact guys this offseason. Sanchez is a bit of a utility guy, he has logged innings at 2B, SS, and 3B. It’s looking more and more likely that Gordon Beckham is on his way out of town. Rule 5’s have to be on the MLB roster or else they are returned to their previous team.

Cubs are pursuing Jason Grilli – Grilli has put together two solid years in Pittsburgh with acceptable WHIP #’s and high K/9. Grilli was always a guy who could miss bats but would inexplicably get hit. He slashed his BABIP numbers which could be luck or it could be that he’s not getting hit as hard. Regardless, Grilli is a serviceable reliever. – via Peter Gammons

 

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White Sox signed Keppinger to a 3 year, 12mm deal – Keppinger’s deal opens up some new possibilities for the White Sox. He has some positional flexibility, although it is assumed that he will play third, and he is a contact hitter that can hit second in the lineup. Diversifying the batting order is something the White Sox have struggled with in the past. The 2012 White Sox struggled in September and seemed to be overly reliant on the HR ball. Keppinger is an upgrade over whatever position he takes, he’s better than both Morel and Beckham (UZR, a defensive metric, also likes his defense over Youk’s at third. UZR is still in it’s infancy, however, so take that with a grain of salt).

The move also indicates that they have perhaps moved beyond Youkilis which might free them up to add other pieces. Merkin thinks they go for another INF or a Catcher, assuming AJ is gone. There have been some rumblings that they can be dark horse candidates for a big name starter, like Greinke, but I think the dollars are too high for that to be a real possibility. Greinke is likely to get over 160mm.

My hunch is that AJ is gone, the Sox trade for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and add a smaller name free agent pitcher like Anibal Sanchez or even Brandon McCarthy. Either way, the White Sox rumor mill is heating up and we will keep you guys posted.

Demp might be back after all – Rumors are swirling that Dempster might be back on the north side in 2013. Dempster turned down a contract from the Royals and the Brewers are playing a bit of hardball with him. The Cubs are looking for starters and if they are left out on the names they’ve been chasing, McCarthy et al, there is a real possibility that Dempster returns.

The Cubs are also looking at free agent 3B like Mark Reynolds. He’s a high risk, high reward play but he is an upgrade over Ian Stewart. The Cubs won’t be adding big names until they feel ready for contention, so guys like Reynolds are going to be the norm for a while.

Urlacher could miss the rest of the season – A hamstring injury could cut Urlacher’s season short and there’s the very real possibility that he has played his last game as a Chicago Bear. There is no clear replacement on the current team either. Awful news. – via Suntimes.com

Derrick Rose is running and stuffz  PLEASE DON’T GET MORE HURT – via CBS Sports

Kevin Youkilis has several offers – Given the weakness of the 3B market this shouldn’t be too surprising. Yanks are kinda in, Phils, White Sox, and Indians are more serious contenders. – via Hardballtalk

In related news, the White Sox are looking at Keppinger – As one of their backup options should Youk sign elsewhere. – via MLBTR

Brewers, Demp, at a standstill – Dempster is looking for a third year in any contract and the Brewers are balking at it. – via MLBTR