Thursday, December 27, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

I don't know why, but I have a strange obsession with this movie.

It's kind of like the strange obsession I have with the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, Kyle Boller.

I shouldn't have such an unhealthy obsession on something so crappy as Kyle Boller, but I do. I root for the kid every week, hoping that this is the week he suddenly turns into John Elway or at least Jay Cutler.

After all, Boller was a high draft pick, so there were high expectations when the Ravens selected him in the first round. But since he was drafted, Boller has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.

The same can be said of Live Free or Die Hard.

When the film was finally announced (it had been rumored for years), I was excited to see John McClane back on the big screen. Yet when I saw the film, I couldn't help but be let down, like I was watching Kyle Boller play.

For one, the theatrical release of the film was PG-13. It was a slap in the face of Die Hard fans. The first three films had been prototypical R-rated action films made for adults but aimed directly at the G.I. Joe generation. And I grew up on these films, watching them back to back late one night while the parents were asleep. So when I heard about the PG-13 rating, I was instantly let down, the same way I was when I heard that Aliens Vs. Predator was going to be PG-13.

And as I walked out of the theater upon first viewing the film, I came to the following conclusions:

1. This wasn't a Die Hard film. First, it wasn't rated R and second, McClane had been turned into an invincible action hero. He threw cars at helicopters, jumped off spiraling-out-of-control F-35 fighter jets, and even worse, became CGI likeness of Bruce Willis at one point in the film. I felt like I was playing the old PlayStation game Apocalypse again. If ever there was a flesh and blood action hero that could be killed, it was John McClane. But not here. It was like he grabbed the star from Super Mario Bros. and ran with it for the entire movie.

2. The plot was lame because computers aren't scary. If my Mac freezes up (which it does all the time), it's a pain in the ass. I reboot. If my bank's computers went crazy and I lost all my money, I'd expect it to be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. So when LFODH is about computer hackers trying to bring down America's computerized infrastructure, excuse me if I'm not thrilled. Handled differently, I think it could have been effective, but as it was, it sounded like a lot of techno-babble and nothing as immediately dangerous as any of the threats in the first three films.

3. Too much time was spent on characters who are useless. Cliff Curtis is an excellent actor. He's been great in more movies than you probably realize. But here, he is wasted as some government suit, barking orders at his subordinates. If he ever joined in the action the way that Al Powell did in the original film, his character may have become something other than a way for the writers to explain what was going on to the viewer. Instead, he came off like an unwanted Greek chorus .

4. The villain sucked. Timothy Olyphant, like Curtis, is a solid actor. He's got a great deadpan delivery that makes you wonder if he is joking or serious. But as Thomas Gabriel, he comes across as a stubborn geek who doesn't like it when McClane messes with his plans. And we know, right off the bat, that McClane can kick his ass mano y mano.

That said, LFODH still manages to be a fun ride. And it has a lot of good things going for it.

Justin Long is serviceable, if not likable, as McClane's techno-wiz sidekick, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead manages to inject that McClane moxy into her character in limited screen time. Her character should have been expanded. The movie also looks, and sounds great. And despite being a PG-13 film, the body count is high and there are still some good one-liners.

But it all still managed to come up short in the end.

So did the Unrated version of the film help things? Yes and no.

For one, there is a lot more language in the unrated version. I counted about a dozen and a half F-bombs. And while that might sound trivial, cussing is what made John McClane who he is -- someone who would rather be anywhere else than where he is, and he'd let you know it with a well-placed blue streak. Thankfully, this comes across better in the unrated version.

Second, there is more violence, but it's mostly CGI blood bursts when someone is shot. In my opinion, this was added after the original release was completed to satisfy the fans who complained upon hearing of a PG-13 rating. And after seeing I Am Legend, where all the zombies were needlessly computer generated, I can't help but look back on the good old days when blood squibs were used for gunshot wounds and make-up artists earned their paychecks instead of opting for cheap and easy CGI.

But in the end, all the extra violence and cussing in the world can't save a Die Hard film that was flawed from the beginning. Even though Len Wiseman tries to inject some old flourishes of the series into this new installment, LFODH just comes across as a modern-age action movie with the Die Hard stamp affixed on it's movie poster and a few references tossed into the script to keep fans loyal.

Is it a fun film? Hell yeah. And the DVD is put together nicely. The sconces on my wall sounded like they were going to shatter or break off the wall when the action began.

But in the end, it just doesn't feel like a Die Hard film the same way that Kyle Boller doesn't feel like an NFL quarterback.

And I'm still disappointed even thought it could be worse.

FILM SCORE (out of ****): Theatrical Version **1/2, Unrated Version ***
BEST SCENE: Apartment shoot-out.
FILM STATUS: Die Hard film in name only, but still worth a watch.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Year of Lows

I don't normally write about the Ravens on this blog, but after today's embarrassing loss to the winless Miami Dolphins, I can't help myself.

So here goes...

A Year of Lows - My Experience of a Baltimore Sports Fan in 2007

2007 was a year full of promise for Baltimore sports fans.

It started off with the 2006 Ravens finishing up at 13-3, and clinching a first round bye in the playoffs. The “no-defense” Indianapolis Colts were coming to town in such a fitting twist of fate, since the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis 23 long years ago, and Baltimore fans were still bitter. Ravens fans turned out like never before, wearing “Beat Indy” shirts with Johnny Unitas’ number 19 emblazoned on the back. I even dropped $15 to own of these shirts myself.

But the January playoff game was a massive let-down to say the least.

Steve McNair, the Ravens QB, who played so well over the course of the season, played like crap, throwing two costly interceptions. Combine that with head coach Brian Billick’s “play not to lose” gameplan, and you have a recipe for a Titanic-sized letdown.

End result, Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6 and my "Beat Indy" shirt in the trash can as soon as I got home from the game.

To add insult to injury, the Chargers, the top-seeded team in the AFC, lost the day after the Ravens lost, which would have guaranteed Baltimore the AFC Championship game had the Ravens beaten the Colts.

But from there on out, Baltimore fans could do nothing but root against the Colts as they hosted the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. And when the Patriots got out to a large first-half lead, Baltimore fans could at least rest assured that the Colts would continue their Super Bowl drought after moving to Indianapolis.

But the impossible happened. The Colts mounted a huge second half comeback and beat the Patriots.

And the nightmare for Baltimore fans became a reality: the Indianapolis Colts were going to the Super Bowl after all. And for the next two weeks, Baltimore fans cried into their Natty Boh’s as Peyton Manning’s mug was plastered all over the TV, and not just on commercials.

The Colts rolled over the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl and once more, salt was poured into the collective wound of Baltimore fans everywhere as Jim Irsay hoisted the Lombardi trophy above his head and thanked the fans of Indianapolis, 23 years after his father moved the team.

Next up were the Orioles, hardly a beacon for hope in Baltimore, having undergone nine consecutive losing seasons. And after those nine long losing seasons, Orioles fans were looking forward to a .500 season. After so much ugliness, even mediocrity started to look good.

The Orioles made the requisite mediocre signings in Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton. And when Kris Benson went down with an injury, the Orioles signed his clone, Steve Trachsel.

The Orioles got off to their usual teasing start in April, actually resembling something that looked like a major league baseball team. But then the bottom fell out as usual. Sam Perlozzo mis-managed the Orioles night in and night out, the starting rotation started to drop like flies, and the Orioles sunk back into their old losing ways.

Perlozzo was later dismissed and interim manager Dave Trembley immediately breathed some life back into the team. Meanwhile, Peter Angelos turned over what looked like a new leaf by handing over the team to esteemed GM Andy MacPhail who had success as GM in Minnesota and Chicago. One of MacPhail’s first moves as GM was rewarding Trembley’s instant success with a contract to be the full-time manager for the remainder of 2007 and 2008.

And what did the Orioles do that very night, before the ink on Trembley’s freshly signed contract had time to dry?

They went out in the first game of a double header against the Texas Rangers, a team as bad, if not worse, than the Orioles, and lost 30-3. That’s right. 30-3. They allowed the most runs in the history of modern day baseball against a weak-hitting line-up that resembled their own.

The Orioles followed up that terrible loss with massive losing streaks (yes, that's plural, as in more than one) that placed them in their old familiar sport – fourth place – with a 69-73 record, cementing their 10th consecutive losing season in a row.

Next up were the Ravens again.

After an off-season of licking their wounds, the Ravens let RB Jamal Lewis go to the AFC North perennial cellar-dwelling Cleveland Browns, who had a knack for picking up the Ravens’ leftover scraps. To replace Jamal Lewis, the Ravens traded for a stud in Willis McGahee from the Buffalo Bills. The stabilizing veteran QB presence of Steve McNair was back as well, ready to lead his team to the playoffs and beyond, having spent a year learning the Ravens playbook.

But the Ravens came out in their first game against the Cincinnati Bengals and laid an egg on national TV that would foreshadow the rest of the season.

The Ravens turned the ball over half a dozen times and Brian Billick decided to abandon his running game when he needed only one yard late in the game. End results, Benagls 22, Ravens 20.

However, the Ravens bounced back in the following five weeks, managing to end up at a respectable 4-2 record after six games, all without showing much on offense as usual. Fans thought that they would eventually start to gel, but then the worst happened.

And it has yet to end.

A massive eight game losing streak, the longest in franchise history, that continues to this very day. The losing streak is made up of spare parts injuries, bad play-calling, poor execution, and a tough schedule.

The losing streak contained heart-breaking losses, such as the close loss to the currently undefeated New England Patriots, and a blow-out loss to the Colts that forced fans to leave before the first quarter was even over.

But the game that sticks out the most in this losing streak was the overtime loss at home to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns and their high-powered offense had gotten off to a big lead early in the game, but the Ravens rallied back in the second half, tying the game and eventually taking the lead.

But in the closing seconds, the Browns drove down to their end of the field and kicked a field goal. Initially, it was ruled no good by the referees, as it looked like the ball had hit the goal post and fell to the ground. The officials even officially ended the game, which sent 70,000+ fans happily headed towards the exit, myself included, thinking that the Ravens had won the game.

But some ten minutes later, after the referees discussed the field goal and ruled that it was good, the game was sent into overtime. The referees called the teams back on the field, and the Ravens, having thought they won the game, came out flat as the Browns won the coin toss and drove down the field with ease to kick another field goal which would win them the game.

Had the Ravens won that game, they would have been sitting nicely at 5-5. Not exactly playoff contenders, but a team that still had something to play for. Instead, the loss sent them spiraling into the ground.

But the icing on the cake has to be the loss to the winless Miami Dolphins this afternoon. When the losing started, the one thing Ravens fan could say was “at least we have Miami”. Well, the ironic thing was that Dolphins fans were saying the same thing about Baltimore.

And they were right.

The Ravens lost another close one in overtime, and again, Brian Billick’s play-calling cost the Ravens the game. With twelve seconds left in regulation and the ball on the one yard line, Billick decided to tie the game by kicking a field goal instead of pounding the ball into the endzone for the win. The field goal instead forced the game into overtime, where Matt Stover missed a long field goal and the Dolphins scored on a long TD pass in the following drive to win the game and end their winless season.

Meanwhile, the Ravens are sure to turn into the butt of national jokes, and most of them will be well-deserved. Fans are calling for Billick to be fired, which owner Steve Biscotti has said won’t happen, and the several veterans on the team are looking their age. It’s a crossroads for the Ravens, who were pre-season favorites to win the division and now sit at the bottom, looking up at everyone else.

My, how the mighty have fallen.

As the year comes to a close, I am thankful. From a sports fan perspective, 2007 has been a disaster from start to finish. Us Baltimore fans are usually hard on ourselves, and we are surely wallowing in despair today, waiting to see what people will have to say about the lowly Ravens losing to the winless Dolphins.

But as sports fans, no matter what city we’re from, we have to remember, “there’s always next year”, and thankfully, New Year’s Day is only sixteen days away.

Maybe I'm being too optimistic. Maybe it's the eggnog. But no matter how jaded a fan I may be, I wouldn't be a fan if I didn't think it were true.

There is always next year. There is always next year. There is always next year.


And don't forget to breathe.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitchell Report

As expected, the Mitchell Report (released today and available for download here) hit the Orioles hard, linking many Orioles from the past and present with steroids.

Even the Bad Oriole himself, Manny Alexander, was named in the report.

The impact this report will have on trading Brian Roberts (who is named in the report) remains to be seen, but with Miguel Tejada having been linked to steroids for years, and getting traded only a day before the report was to be released, one must think that it won't effect Roberts' trade value all that much.

What troubles me, however, is the amount of players from the Orioles named on the list. I don't know if it's because the Orioles are an easy target because of their years of losing and the amount of stars they've had on their rosters over the last few years, or what.

But I can't help but wonder if winning teams have less players mentioned in the report. So I have the call the objectivity of the report into question.

Here's why.

Senator Mitchell is associated with Boston Red Sox ownership, and as fate would have it, no one from the Red Sox current roster is mentioned in the report.

Not one.

I find it hard to believe that man-beasts Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are 100% clean.

Anyway, no one knows what the Mitchell report means for baseball. If suspensions are levied for all players mentioned in the report, April 2008 could look a lot like the 1995 season could have looked like with replacement players filling in for the striking players.

What the report will probably do is force the MLB to ramp up their testing policy, which is still pretty weak.

But overall, the Mitchell report hasn't told us anything we haven't already known. Baseball players take steroids and have taken them for years.

In other breaking news, the North has won the war, man has landed on the moon, and Y2K was a hoax.

Turning a corner?

Last week I speculated that Peter Angelos may have been losing faith in Andy MacPhail after John Heyman of Sports Illustrated reported the rumor.

I think the Tejada trade puts that rumor to rest.

Miguel Tejada was the star of the Orioles, and the most identifiable and marketable player on the team. Over the last 10 years, Angelos has been very hesitant to trade away his most familiar players. And with wins coming at a premium in Baltimore, identifiable players were one of the few reasons to see the team play in person.

But by trading Tejada, it proves to us that Angelos is at least open to a rebuilding process, as Erik Bedard and Brian Roberts have been attached to several trades as well, and will probably be traded this offseason.

That said, it's going to take more than just trading Tejada to make me believe that Angelos has turned over a new leaf. Maybe once Brian Roberts -- the most fan-friendly player, and one of Angelos' favorites -- is traded, I might start to believe. Angelos has done too much damage for me to forget 10 years of constantly overruling his baseball people and running quality baseball people out of town by approving one trade.

But trading Tejada is the best sign to show fans that Angelos finally sees the light. He's tried to do things his way for 10 years, and maybe he's finally admitted that his way was wrong.

Now back to MacPhail.

Since coming to Baltimore in the middle of last season, MacPhail took time to review the organization and evaluate the way things were done. He made moves he thought needed to be made. He extended manager Dave Trembley. He fired pitching coach Leo Mazzone. And hired young-pitcher-friendly pitching coach Rick Kranitz.

He has a vision for the future of the Orioles, and he's making the moves that fit in with that vision. Mike Flanagan, Jim Beattie and Jim Duquette used to say one thing and then do the other. Not MacPhail. Everything he has said since coming to Baltimore has been backed up by his actions.

His trades alone are proof.

When he traded Steve Trachsel last season, many fans just wanted Trachsel gone so youngsters like Garret Olson and Radhames Liz could take his spot in the rotation. But MacPhail traded Trachsel to the Cubs and actually got some value in return in Scott Moore, who projects to be the starting 3B if Melvin Mora is traded or moved to another position, and Rocky Cherry, a decent arm in the bullpen.

His Tejada trade yesterday started out as a decent one, but got even better the more one thought about it. MacPhail traded Tejada, still a great player, but one who is starting to decline in physical skills. His range at SS is now average at best. His power numbers have declined since 2004. There are rumors floating around baseball that he might be older than 32. And he is supposed to be linked to steroids in the Mitchell report, which will be released today.

And MacPhail did all of this without paying any of Tejada's salary, all while getting back 5 talented players who could all become solid MLB players one day. Sure, some are more likely to succeed than others, but each player received in that trade fits into what the Orioles are trying to do:

Get younger and get better.

So while there are still a lot of question marks surrounding the Orioles' future right now, at least some things are starting to become a little clearer. For one, MacPhail looks to be the right guy for the job. And most importantly, it looks like Angelos is letting him do it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tricks of the Trade

An hour or so ago, Orioles traded Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros for 5 players. More on them later.

First, I'd like to celebrate Tejada's time in Baltimore. He was perhaps the greatest free agent signing the Orioles have ever made. In 2004, he arguably had the best offensive season an Oriole player has ever had, knocking in 150 RBI (a club record).

It's a shame the Orioles never followed up Tejada's signing with anything else that helped turn the O's into a contender, because Tejada would have been the perfect centerpiece on a winning team.

He's energetic, passionate, gets along with everyone, and loves the game. He was at one time, one of baseball's on-field ambassadors. However, when the Orioles fell back into their usual ways of losing, Tejada became frustrated and it showed. He failed to run out ground balls and demanded to be traded. His alleged involvement with steroids didn't help either. But in short, Tejada had a very good career in Baltimore, even though it has been short-lived. And for that, I thank Miguel and wish him the best in Houston.

Now, back to the trade.

Andy MacPhail promised changes when he was hired and this is the first hard evidence we have of him following through on his word. On the surface, this trade could be somewhat of a disappointment, as it appears to be quantity over quality. Especially when you consider some of the rumors that had "can't miss" prospects coming back to Baltimore in a Tejada trade.

But we can never really be sure who was on the table in a trade for Tejada. Rumors are what they are, rumors. But what we can look at is who we got back in this trade, which is what we will do right now.

Troy Patton is a 22 year old LHP who dominated in the MiL, but people question his ability to log 180+ innings as he has never pitched more than 151 innings in his career. At any rate, he is the most promising piece of the deal. He is young and MLB ready, as he logged 12 innings in Houston last season.

Dennis Sarfate is a 26 year old RHP bullpen arm. He throws hard and could fill in as closer until Chris Ray is healthy again. He's only logged 17 innings at the MLB level, and walks a lot of people, but his career 3.67 MiL ERA is promising.

Luke Scott is a 29 LH OF. He's essentially Jay Gibbons. He slugged a lot in the MiL, and in his 668 AB at the MLB level (a little more than a 162 game season), he's totaled 28 HR, 105 RBI and an .882 OPS. At 29 (30 next June) Scott doesn't factor into the Orioles rebuilding plans. If the Orioles keep him, Scott could be a stop gap in LF until hot prospect Nolan Reimold arrives, and he is head and shoulders better than Payton, but his best value to the Orioles should be in another trade.

Michael Costanzo is a 24 year old LH 3B. He's a little old for AA ball, which is where he's topped out, but his 27 HR and .858 OPS there in 2007 sounds like he could be ready for the MLB in 2008. At any rate, he'll challenge Mora (if he's still here in '08) and Scott Moore for 3B, but like Moore, Costanzo strikes out a ton.

Rounding out the bunch, Matt Albers is a 25 year old RHP. In 125 IP in Houston over the last 2 years, he's had a scary 5.87 ERA and control problems. In his MiL career, he's been pretty accurate with nearly a 3 to 1 K/BB rate and a decent 3.62 ERA. At present, Albers projects to be a bullpen arm, and if his control improves, perhaps a back end rotation starter.

Patton, Sarfate and Costonzo appear are the best candidates to become key players for the Orioles in the future. None of them are sure things, but their numbers are promising. Scott should be traded to a contender who could use him now, and Albers is an extra arm for the pen.

While some people would have hoped for a better return for Tejada, perhaps just one sure fire prospect (Brandon Wood of the Angels or Felix Pie of the Cubs), at least there are a few players in this bunch who could turn out to be solid MLB players. And that is where quantity over quality helps. If Wood or Pie is a bust, the Tejada trade is a bust. At least we have 5 shots to make this trade mean something other than a salary dump, as Tejada was owed $26 million over the next 2 years.

So at first look, it appears that the Orioles' first trade of the offseason is a success. But as with most trades, time will tell.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


The worst news to come out of the winter meetings so far is not that the Orioles have failed to pull the trigger on any trades. And it's not they have made a bad trade.

No, the worst thing to come out of the winter meetings are the rumors swirling around that Angelos is not happy with Andy MacPhail.

John Heyman of Sports Illustrated wrote this yesterday...

Word among intimates is that Angelos already is questioning MacPhail behind the scenes. Word around the town is that Angelos is upset that MacPhail hasn't kept him in the loop on every detail (if true, I couldn't blame MacPhail for that).

Now, MacPhail hasn't done much since he arrived in Baltimore, but he has said all the right things and has laid a good groundwork for building this team into a contender. He's even gone as far as saying that the Orioles won't be competitive until 2010.

Hey, he's just stating the obvious. And could you imagine former GM's Mike Flanagan or Jim Duquette uttering those words?

At any rate, MacPhail has been a good fit for the Orioles, who were desperately in need of someone who could tell it like it is, and not simply tow the company line. But now it looks like even MacPhail could be ruffling some feathers in the warehouse.

And the most troubling thing is that we were told all along that Angelos and MacPhail worked well together, and that Angelos had given the team over to MacPhail.

But now comes this rumor. And if it's true, it does not bode well for the Orioles.

It would just prove that no matter how "comfortable" Angelos is with anyone, he's still going to be the same old meddling owner he's always been.

I would cast this rumor off as heresay, but then think of this. The Cubs reportedly had an offer on the table that would send 2 LHP SP's (Rich Hill and Sean Marshall) to Baltimore in exchange for Brian Roberts. The pitchers aren't clones of Erik Bedard (who is), but they both had sub-4 ERA's last year, and are both still highly touted even though they are 26 and 28 years old. It's a deal that should/could have been done.

But we all know Angelos' feelings on Roberts. He vetoed a deal that would have sent Roberts to Atlanta last offseason in exchange for 1B Adam LaRoche and 2B Marcus Giles. At the time, it felt like a fair deal. LaRoche was an up-and-coming slugging 1B and Giles would have been a slight drop-off from Roberts. But Angelos stepped in and said "no." Since then, it has looked like Angelos made the right decision, but for all the wrong reasons.

So it would come as no surprise to hear that Angelos vetoed yet another deal involving Roberts, this time to the Cubs. And in the era of MacPhail, a man who had supposedly been given free reign within the Orioles organization, this is the worst news that could come out of the winter meetings, or any meeting..

It's sketchy, yes, and one must make a few jumps in logic to make the connection, but we know Angelos. We know his past.

Would this really surprise you if it turned out to be true?

Let's pray it's not.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Winter Warz

And so it begins, the most nerve-wracking part of the Orioles offseason.

The Winter Meetings.

This week, O's fans usually have their sights set high, hoping for that one blockbuster trade that can hold them off until spring training. But most times, it's a week of never-ending frustration where a lot gets discussed, and nothing gets done.

These meetings are mostly a hype machine to get fans thinking about baseball again, a little more than a month after the end of the World Series as the NFL season heats up. There have been some big-name trades and signings made at these meetings in the past, but those have been few and far between.

Usually our perception of what goes on at these meetings aren't far from the truth. Baseball GM's get together, talk, drink coffee, play some golf, and then go home. It's likely no different than a vacuum cleaner sales convention. I wouldn't even be surprised if strippers were somehow involved. Maybe it gets the ball rolling for trades and signings later in the offseason, but overall, the meetings are nothing more than a hot-air balloon. Full of hot air.

OK, the bad puns end there.

Most GM's are content to play the waiting game at the winter meetings, and Andy MacPhail, in his first winter meetings as VPOBO of the Orioles, is no different. The are rumors flying around cyberspace as fast as you can type "LOL". But less than 1% of those rumors are bound to become reality. The same can be said of all other teams in the MLB too, so paranoid O's fans can rest assured and say "it's not just us" this time.

The one sliver of believable news that has been reported is that MacPhail has been aggressive in his trade offers, and at the same time is asking for too much in return, especially for Miguel Tejada.

I don't know if I am supposed to be happy or worried about this. On one hand, MacPhail is setting the bidding high, and can still come down from his mountain to get a valuable return -- but on the other hand -- he could be scaring potential suitors away with his high demands. The Orioles history of incompetence when it comes to trades surely doesn't help either.

But at least MacPhail sounds like he knows what he wants, which is more than we could ever say about the Flanagan/Beattie/Duquette regime. And when they did know what they wanted it usually ended with .500 baseball as the goal. Laughing that notion off was one of the first things MacPhail did when he came to Baltimore, and it instantly made me respect him. More props for AM when he said that the O's were far away from competing. Burnt you, Flanagan! But even more important, MacPhail apparently has the full trust of Peter Angelos.

So I do believe that O's fans can have some faith in Andy MacPhail, where we've had none before. But the winter meetings are nothing more than the device that is used most during the winter season. Heaters. They blow out a lot of hot air.

OK, so I lied.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Extra Credit

Take a look around most message forums concerning the Orioles and you'll find people falling all over themselves talking about how good the personnel moves have been thus far.

Some people are even going as far as wondering if "The Oriole Way" is back in Baltimore. I wonder if the girlfriends and wives of those same people complain about them being premature, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, the moves look good in theory, as they appear to streamline the organization from top to bottom, but it's not known how well the moves will turn out or how fast results will be produced. There is a lot of work that needs to be done throughout this organization.

And besides, this isn't the first time we've seen some personnel get shuffled around.

During the last 10 years, we've welcomed several different personnel moves, only to watch as they fizzle like an Alka Seltzer tablet being dropped into a glass of water.

And while it's good to be pleased with the moves the Orioles have made as opposed to questioning them, it's still too early in the game to give out credit to Andy MacPhail and company like it's candy.

Halloween was more than a week ago.

At this stage in the game, after 10 losing seasons of watching the Orioles sink to the bottom of the ocean and come to a rest next to the Titanic, it's going to take a lot more than some good personnel moves to get fans back to the Yard with hope in their hearts.

Wins are about the only thing that can change fans' opinion of the team right now, with Angelos selling the Orioles at a close second. And putting "Baltimore" back on the road uniforms comes in at third.

So while these moves may be the first step in a long process of getting the Orioles back to respectability, don't expect any credit for it until said respectability is actually achieved.

Like I said, it's been a week since Halloween, but the Orioles are still so ugly you'd swear they're still wearing a costume.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Benedict Millar

In case you haven't heard by now, Kevin Millar has become a cheerleader for the Red Sox.

No he hasn't donned a short skirt and pom-poms just yet, but don't give him any ideas either. After watching this video, I don't know if a short skirt and pom-poms are far off.

During the ALCS, in which the Red Sox were down 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians, Millar appeared in a commercial that called for Boston fans to not give up, citing the 2004 ALCS in which the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Yankees and ultimately win the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

He went on to list the reasons Boston fans should not give up saying "we've got Curt Schilling, we've got Big Papi, etc..."



Then, Millar threw out the first pitch at game 5 in Boston. Then he went on record saying that his #15 is "on loan" to Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia.

Well, Millar's cheerleader routine must've helped because the Red Sox came back to beat the Cleveland Indians and return to the World Series. I wonder if Millar will be available during the World Series to personally warm up Red Sox players during games at Colorado in a sleeping bag.

What's next? Millar as Red Sox team fluffer?

Apparently, Andy MacPhail gave Millar permission to throw out the first pitch and appear in the commercial. So shame on BOTH of them.

As much as Millar talks about the concept of team and as light as he apparently keeps the clubhouse during the season, one has to think that this changes things.

Millar went out of his way to root on the Red Sox in the ACLS not just privately, but for the entire world to see. It's now been discussed on sports talk shows across America and has yet again brought more negative press to a city and team that doesn't need any more. If I am Nick Markakis or Brian Roberts, someone the Orioles are the only thing they've ever known, I am not appreciating the quickness with which Millar decided to jump ship to cheer on the Red Sox, a bitter division rival, while the Orioles are reminded yet again, that they are not even close to making the playoffs.

I also don't know what Andy MacPhail was thinking. By comparison, the Red Sox asked the New York Mets if they could "borrow" Pedro Martinez for the series too, but the Mets gave the right answer. They said "no."

What did MacPhail think the Orioles would gain from this?

And one has to question MacPhail's agenda, too. It's been no secret that MacPhail is a favorite for Bud Selig's chair as commissioner once Selig retires. Is this move somehow connected to his plan to become the next commissioner? Does MacPhail want people to see that he broke down the barriers between teams to allow players to cheer on their former teams for the good of baseball?

That may be a stretch, but when the Orioles are known for being such a disgraced organization, I don't know how MacPhail could think that allowing Kevin Millar to publicly cheer on his former team helps the Orioles' reputation. If anything it reminds people who see Millar cheering on the Red Sox that he plays for the Orioles, one of the worst teams in the league year after year.

And all of the above doesn't even factor in the most important aspect of all this: the fans.

How are they going to cheer on Millar next season when he has openly cheered on the Red Sox?

I don't blame any fan that decides to boo Millar next season.

I just hope they don't forget to boo MacPhail for allowing it to happen.

Going, going... Mazzone

A few weeks ago, the Orioles released/fired famed pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who still had one year left on his original 3 year contract. This came after the Orioles finished second to last in team ERA for the second consecutive year.

Makes sense, right? Think again.

Mazzone dealt with a lot of injuries to the starting rotation this season, and at one point, 4/5 of the Opening Day starting rotation was on the disabled list. However, by the time this happened, most of the damage had already been done. The Orioles were 20+ games out of first place and getting dangerously close to the 100-loss border. So one can't blame the Orioles for letting Mazzone go.

And once Sam Perlozzo was fired, one had to immediately question Mazzone's loyalty to the team that had just fired his good friend, and lone reason for coming to Baltimore.

Also, it has been said that Mazzone picks and chooses his projects while ignoring other pitchers almost completely. The same thing happened to Rodrigo Lopez, who openly talked about Mazzone's neglect once he was traded to the Colorado Rockies.

It's also been said that he doesn't work with the bullpen very often, which may have lead to this year's pen being one of the worst overall bullpens in the history of major league baseball.

But with all that said, one still can't avoid the stale taste in their mouth after the Mazzone firing. Here's why...

Mazzone was universally known as the best pitching coach in baseball, having overseen a pitching staff in Atlanta that at one time lead the team to 14 consecutive first place finishes in the NL East. So when the Orioles fire someone of Mazzone's stature, one can't help but think that it's the Orioles who are to blame, given each of their respective reputations.

But even if the Orioles made a mistake in releasing Mazzone, at least they replaced him with another well-respected pitching coach in Rick Kranitz, the former pitching coach of the Florida Marlins, and a guy who may be better suited for the Orioles.

Kranitz is used to working with young pitching prospects, whereas Mazzone had veterans in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz anchoring his rotation for many of his years in Atlanta. Add to that, Altanta usually brought in veteran pitchers like Mike Hampton, Paul Byrd, Jared Wright, Russ Ortiz, Jon Burkett, Andy Ashby and Tim Hudson when a spot opened up in their rotation. Not exactly spring chickens who need to be taught a lot at the major league level.

That isn't to say Mazzone had an easy job in Atlanta. He coaxed mediocre veterans like Jared Wright, Russ Ortiz and Jorge Sosa to the best seasons of their careers, something he failed miserably to do with Wright and Ortiz in Baltimore. And after Mazzone left Atlanta, Sosa reverted back to his former 5+ ERA self.

But there is a big difference between working with veteran pitchers who may just need some minor tweaking to recapture their success and working with raw pitching talent like the Orioles have.

And as we've seen time and time again, the Orioles pitching prospects have dominated the minor leagues and then come to Baltimore, leaving behind their ability to throw strikes. And while Mazzone's patience and aptitude with young pitchers may never be exactly known, at least the Orioles know exactly what kind of pitching coach they are getting in Kranitz. He's worked with young pitchers before in Florida and he'll be doing it again in Baltimore.

When it's all said and done, the biggest impact the Mazzone firing may have is with Orioles ace enigma Erik Bedard. Bedard, a man of few words, never avoiding praising Mazzone during his stay in Baltimore, and it's no coincidence that Bedard had the 2 best seasons of his career under Mazzone. And with rumors of Bedard refusing to sign an extension with Baltimore swirling around the city like an old newspaper page, the prospect of Bedard signing an extension with Mazzone gone become even more dim.

We may never know exactly what happened during Mazzone's time as pitching coach in Baltimore. But one thing is for sure...

When one looks back over Mazzone's coaching career, Baltimore will be a blip on his resume, one that most people will chalk up to Baltimore's shortcomings more than Mazzone's.

Whether they are right remains to be seen. But at the moment, I'm going to side with Mazzone on reputation alone.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Nightmare is over, but I'm still dreaming...

The Orioles finished 2007 the same way they entered it, with a loss.

How fitting?

With a 69-93 record, the Orioles have continually gotten worse since 2004's "high-water mark" of 78-84.

At this rate, the Orioles will be lucky to win 65 games in 2008.

Ironically, 65 games is all we should win in 2008 because it means that we've likely gone through a rebuilding phase where Erik Bedard, Miguel Tejada and Brian Roberts are traded for good young talent.

But this is the Orioles we're talking about. They could increase payroll and win 65 games next year and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. Not after this season.

OK, let me take a deep breath. The season is over, after all.

Andy MacPhail made the usual "this is what we need to do during the offseason" speech the other day in the Sun and said all the right things, unlike in years past where the front office opened their mouths and we didn't believe a word of what they said.

With MacPhail, it's different. He at least deserves some benefit of the doubt based on his past success in Minnesota and Chicago. That doesn't mean that everything he says is perfect, either.

MacPhail said that he's still in the process of determining what path the team should take in the offseason and that a total rebuilding process is not out of the question.


But how long is it going to take MacPhail to know in which direction this organization needs to go?

MacPhail was hired in what, June? That's been 4 months, more than enough time to be able to see the writing on the wall. This organization needs a shake-up from top to bottom. The "middle ground" way of running the team has gotten the Orioles nowhere. If anything, MacPahil has had the perfect strategy laid at his feet when he was hired: Do the complete opposite of what has been done over the last 10 years.

A drastic path needs to be taken, now more than ever, or else the losing will continue.

And those drastic paths are: Either spend more on quality free agents every year like the Yankees and Red Sox do, or hold a fire sale and start from scratch with the few good young players they currently have.

We all know that the Orioles don't have it in them to hang with the Yankees and Red Sox, nor should they, especially when considering this offseason's lackluster class of free agents.

And singing free agents only cost the Orioles draft picks, something that has become more valuable with Joe Jordan at the helm of the draft. The last few draft classes have been very good, at least on paper, and it's the best way to stock the farm system with promising players.

The challenge, however, is developing them into solid major leaguers, which is something the Orioles have been absolutely horrible at doing. Injuries, lack of control, you name it, the Orioles' younger players continue to run into roadblocks on their way to the majors.

And that is what makes MacPhail's mission even more challenging. Not only does he have to get the team younger, cheaper and better, he needs to address the organizational issue of failing to develop players in the minors.

In my opinion, everyone except for maybe a few coaches here and there need to be sent packing and then implement a new Oriole Way. Something different than what's been done these past 10 years.

So, the only way to make the Orioles any better is by trading away valuable players and going young.

It'll be a big change for the Orioles, since it's something they've never been able to do. But after 10 years, I think the fans will accept losing the likes of Bedard, Tejada and Roberts if it means that they might actually have a chance to root for a winning team. Besides, players like Nick Markakis, Adam Loewen and Jeremy Guthrie are easy to like and cheer for. Definitely easier than Tejada and Bedard.

Roberts will just be collateral damage.

So there it is. The season is over, but the real challenge, begins.

Gotta love hot stove baseball. Only, the pilot light went out years ago.

Friday, September 28, 2007

La Dolce Vita

With a trip to Italy approaching fast, I decided to check out some Italian cinema. It is something I desperately need to see more of, since Cinema Paradiso and Suspiria have been the extent of my limited Italian cinema experiences.

Having seen Cinema Paradiso back when I was in high school and loving it, I tried to rent it, but to no avail. So after a friend from work recommended Frederico Fellini's La Dolce Vida, I decided to check it out from the local library since, let's face it, there's no chance it'll be at the local Blockbuster store.

And at the risk of sounding like a brainless movie-goer, I found La Dolce Vita to be extremely boring.

The movie is divided up into 3 or 4 segments, mostly independent from the other, each involving the main character, Marcello, and his quest for "the sweet life", or the "la dolce vita" of the title.

Marcello is a journalist in Rome, circa 1960, where the jet-set crowd has created the need for 24-hour coverage by the exploitive media, thus creating the paparazzi. Interestingly enough, the film actually invented the term "paparazzi", as one of the characters in the film is a cockroachy photojournalist named Paparazzo who is everywhere, flashing his camera into the face of his target.

The problem is, Marcello doesn't know what he wants. He has a girlfriend who is suicidal, thanks in part to Marcello's endless mind games, he has another girlfriend who he likes to hook up with in the bedroom of strangers he meets in the city, and he lusts after an American actress who comes to Rome to shoot a movie.

Marcello also enjoys time with his elitist friends who like to spout poetry, making themselves feel "creative" all while getting hammered or stoned. His good friend, Steiner, seems to have found the sweet life, as he is married with children and gives Marcello good advice on how he too can find la dolce vita. But Marcello's idea of the sweet life is turned on its ear when Steiner kills his children and then himself.

The plot, on paper, sounds interesting, and if it had been handled in a chronological way, it might have been. But Fellini divides the segments of the film into almost independent parts, which feel like unrelated chapters in a book.

Just as Anita Ekberg's American actress Sylvia heats up the screen and starts to create some chemistry with Marcello by dancing in the Trevi fountain, her character is gone for good. Then we're given a disjointed scene where Marcello covers a "miracle" as two children have just seen the Madonna standing beneath a tree in a desolate field outside Rome. Then we meet Marcello's father who on the surface is a happy person but ultimately turns into a sad and distant man. Then there are endless parties. And by the time the final scene on the beach occurs, and Marcello surrenders to the life he leads, we realize that we have come to the end of a fruitless journey ourselves, and have thereby wasted 3 hours of our life.

Fellini may be a genius, but I wouldn't know, since this is the first of his films I've seen. And if his work isn't for every one, I can understand.

Cut down to 2 hours or maybe even a little less, La Dolce Vita would have felt like a more manageable movie. And while the film is dated, it does speak to the modern times of the paparazzi in America and around the rest of the world. But with that said, La Dolce Vita is a meandering film of separate parts that never adds up to anything urgent or timeless. I know I will get blasted for saying this, but it's the way I feel.

Believe me, I wish I could have enjoyed this film. It's a critically acclaimed film (Entertainment Weekly's #6 best film of all time) and I can't help but feel like I am missing something I should have picked up on. But I understood the basic themes and got most of the imagery. I guess the sweet life is just too sour for my tastes.

FILM SCORE: ** (out of ****)
BEST SCENE: Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain
FILM STATUS: Overrated Italian "masterpiece."

The Lovely Bones

When I heard that Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) was going to direct the film version of Alice Sebold's critically acclaimed book, The Lovely Bones, with Ryan Gosling, Rachel Weisz, and Susan Sarandon rounding out the cast, I decided I might as well see what all the fuss was about. After all, The Lovely Bones has been a book-club favorite since it's release in 2002.

The plot centers around Susie Salmon, who is raped and murdered by creepy-but-seemingly-normal-neighbor George Harvey, before the book begins. From Heaven, Susie watches her family and friends cope with her death for the next 10 years in a coming-of-age Wonder Years/Ghost mash-up kind of way. Sebold paints a family portrait with small, delicate strokes, giving us even the smallest details of the Salmons and lets them grow until they become something that resembles a real post-tragedy family:

Mother Abigal deals with her sadness by having an affair with the detective assigned to their case and father Jack is the penultimate family man, holding the family together, even while he seeks revenge. Sister Lindsey finds a boyfriend and doesn't let herself crack under the stress. Meanwhile, friend Ruth and boyfriend Ray become friends when they find a connection with the dead.

It'll be hard for Jackson to translate the book to the silver screen. After all, Susie is a character who watches life on Earth from a gazebo in Heaven and occasionally appears to family and friends as a ghost or a figment of their imagination. I especially can't wait to see how he handles the controversial scene where Susie comes back to Earth, having possessed her friend Ruth to settle some unfinished business. Handled the wrong way, the film could become a corny ghost story instead of the raw human drama that it really is. But Jackson deserves the benefit of the doubt. He flawlessly updated The Lord of the Rings and his remake of King Kong was an ambitious film with as much heart as special effects.

One thing is for sure, bring tissues to the theater. The beauty and the sadness of The Lovely Bones is sure to create some lovely tears.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tell Me You Love Me

HBO’s new show, Tell Me You Love Me, is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Its graphic depictions of sex are garnering a lot of "can they really do that on TV?" responses, but what the show really succeeds in doing is presenting the awkward parts of relationships.

The show, created by Cynthia Mort (Roseanne), centers around 3 couples, who are experiencing problems in each of their relationships. On the surface, it sounds like your usual drama. But being on HBO, you know there has to be a spin.

And boy is there a spin.

The show is uncensored, very uncensored, and at times comes off as soft-core porn. During sex scenes, you’ll be wondering if the actors involved are really having sex. But rest assured. Even though it looks for real, it’s not. And that’s what makes TMYLM different from any other drama to be on television. It doesn’t hold back at all.

And even when there aren’t any on-screen hand-jobs being given to the point of ejaculation (even though it’s a prosthetic penis), the show remains very raw.

David and Katie are a long married couple with children. They also haven’t had sex in almost a year. David is a loving husband, but he just doesn’t want to have sex with his wife. Instead, he’d rather wait until his wife is in the shower and pleasure himself. Katie, meanwhile, is teetering on the edge of depression because of this lack of sex, even though David is a perfectly capable husband in every other sense of the word.

Palek and Carolyn are married and having lots of sex, but only because Carolyn wants kids. Bad. So much so that she’s turned Palek off to sex. It may have been cute on Friends when Monica badgered Chandler into having sex with her when she was ovulating, but here, it’s downright disturbing to see Palek go from horny 30-ish man to someone who realizes he’s being used and that all the fun has been drained from sex.

And rounding out the trifecta of depressing couples is Josh and Jaime who are having lots of sex too, but they are not married. They’re engaged. But when Josh is brutally honest with Jaime, admitting that he’ll more than likely be attracted to another woman during their marriage, Jaime freaks out and calls off the wedding.

Even more disturbing than some of the graphic sex scenes is the emotional wasteland that most of these characters live in. David and Katie are most uncomfortable couple to watch on screen, their faces showing their feelings, but their mouths unable to speak them. So instead of talking through their problems before they go to bed, they simply turn their backs on one another and fall asleep unsatisfied in more ways than one.

And that is something that we all can relate too. Watching this show I couldn’t help but relate to some of the situations on screen, and feeling guilty that I have allowed my feelings to fester at times, instead of talking through them with my wife. And because of this, I’ve experienced some uncomfortable mornings before work. No marriage is perfect, but there is always room for improvement, whether it’s on-screen or in real life. And if this show gets one couple to address its problems, it's been a success in my opinion.

And that’s what makes TMYLM so good, it doesn’t hold back in any area. It addresses relationships head-on, whether it is a subtle facial expression of hurt that says more than words could ever say, or a no holds barred sex scene.

It may make some people uncomfortable. The sex scenes are shocking, but even more disturbing, is the sadness that these couples constantly wallow through. TMYLM is very relatable, very personal. And like the couples featured on the show, hopefully the couples watching, can survive it.

SHOW RATING: *** (out of ****)
BEST PART: Unflinching look at couples' lives, ie, the sex.
STATUS: Shocking, yet relevant show. It's definitely not porn.

Mad to sad

I’ve run out of energy to hate the Orioles. They are, after all, my hometown team. I grew up listening to most games because I didn’t have HTS. However, as they continue to get their asses handed to them night after night (18-6 last night), I can’t help but feel like the kid who watches the bully beat up the nerd in the schoolyard day after day. After I’ve seen it enough I’m going to start feeling bad for the kid.

Just don’t expect me to jump in and save the nerd just yet.

The Orioles put themselves into this position. They deserve every loss they’re racking up. Whether they did it knowing (cutting back payroll from 1999 – 2003) or unknowingly (trying to revamp the bullpen by throwing $42 million at the problem), they are where they are because of their own actions.

Unlike Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, Baltimore is a mid-to-large-market city, even with the Nationals 45 miles down the road. There is no excuse to have 10 consecutive losing seasons. They have the fan-base to support a team, as we have seen from 1992 up until a few years ago, despite all the losing. But Peter Angelos ran the team into the ground on purpose in an attempt to keep the Nationals away and that drove fans away. And now he and his people have no clue how to improve things even though they may be trying.

19 teams have a better record than the Orioles, even with a lower payroll. And the Orioles have the worst dollar per win ratio in the major leagues. It currently stands at $1,559,131.10 million per win.

We’ve been over it before, but the Orioles are going to have to spend money a little wiser if they are going to get better.

They spent $32 million on Aubrey Huff when they could have gotten similar production from any number of lesser-known players who would have been paid a minimum salary. As a matter of fact, they passed on Carlos Pena to sign Huff. And Pena is now the second-best player in baseball this season, while Huff is finally earning a paycheck in the last 2 months of the season.

The Orioles fell into the trap of paying a lot for Danys Baez, because he was a former closer with a lot of saves on his resume. They doubled what they needed to pay to get Paul Bako, who shouldn’t have been on the team even if he came for free. And they spent $9 million on Jay Payton, who will be on the books for 2008, whether he is here or not.

There’s a saying around baseball that goes “Most mid-level free agents can be replaced with unknown talent who can put up similar numbers for a fraction of the cost.”

The Orioles need to embrace this theory. All too often they spend money on the name, instead of the actual production, thinking that fans care more about the names on the back of the jersey as opposed to the name on the front.

When the O’s say “We signed Jay Payton!” We know what we’re getting. We can wrap our heads around it immediately. It’s not exciting. But if the Orioles committed to someone like Jon Knott in LF for 2007, it would have been more exciting. There was no built-in ceiling. We didn’t know what to expect. And the potential for reward is much greater.

And even though Knott has been wrongfully DFA’d, he would have been hard-pressed to put up worse numbers than Payton this season. But the Orioles refused to play Knott, instead opting for Payton as the everyday LF, as well as any number of slap-hitting “defensive” players like Brandon Fahey or Luis Hernandez.

It all comes back to Andy MacPhail. He’s either the savior of the O’s or just another name in a long line of GM’s who failed to improve the team’s record.

We know what MacPhail needs to do. But the question is, does he? Will he jump in and save the nerd from the bully?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Perfect 10

You may have missed it, and you probably did since no one seems to care about the Orioles now that football season has begun, but with last night's loss, the Orioles have officially cemented their 10th straight losing season in a row.

I wonder if the Orioles are going to have a night at the Yard to commemorate this great achievement. A decade of losing! What more could you want?

Because let's face it, 10 straight years of losing is hard to do. I feel like Vern from Stand By Me when he couldn't find the jar of pennies he buried beneath his porch... I don't whether to laugh or cry.

I was fresh out of high school the last time the O's were winners, when they were making their wire-to-wire run for the pennant in 1997. I was still playing organized baseball during the summers and I was driving a 1995 Dodge Neon. Bill Clinton was the President but he hadn't put his cigar into Monica's mouth yet. And Titanic, the biggest movie of all time, wouldn't be released for another 6 months.

That feels like a lifetime ago. And that's because, well... it is.

A lot changes in 10 years. I am rapidly approaching 30 and married. I haven't thrown a baseball in years. Clinton has been out of office for 8 years and Bush is about to leave as well. Now Bill's wife, Hillary, may be the next President. The Neon I once drove is now someone's can opener. And the 13 year-old girls who saw Titanic in the movie theaters a million times are now getting married and having children of their own.

A lot changes in 10 years. But not the Orioles.

As you probably guessed, with 10 straight losing seasons, the Orioles are now qualified to rank up there with the teams who have had the longest consecutive losing seasons. Let's take a look at where the Orioles rank with these other perennial losers...

Team                       Years   Start    Finish
Chicago Cubs 16 1947 1962
Philadelphia Phillies 16 1933 1948
Boston Red Sox 15 1919 1933
Philly/KC A's 15 1953 1967
Pittsburgh Pirates 15 1993 present
Milwaukee Brewers 14 1993 2006
Seattle Mariners 14 1977 1990
Philadelphia Phillies 14 1918 1931
Philadelphia A's 13 1934 1946
St. Louis Browns 12 1930 1941
Detroit Tigers 12 1994 2005
Boston Braves 11 1903 1913
Browns/Orioles 11 1946 1956
Chicago Cubs 11 1973 1983
Cincinnati Reds 11 1945 1955
Brooklyn Dodgers 11 1904 1914
Washington Senators 11 1901 1911
Boston Braves 10 1922 1931
Montreal Expos 10 1969 1978
Philadelphia A's 10 1915 1924
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 10 1998 present
Baltimore Orioles 10 1998 present
That's some esteemed company right there. And unfortunately, there is no end in sight.

The Orioles are unable to sign free agents worth a damn, they are still hesitant to make trades (although hopefully that will change this offseason when Tejada, Roberts and perhaps Bedard are dealt) and the minor league system is still too sparse with talent to supplement the Orioles with enough talent to compete.

So how are they going to get better?

That is the $64,000 question.

So next year at this time, it's very likely that we'll be in the same spot, chalking up year number 11 and wondering when it will all end. And if they are going to get to 13, 14... they might as well go for 17. After all they already have the record for consecutive losses (21) and the record for most runs allowed in a modern era game (30).

Why end there?

Hopefully, Andy MacPhail can make some trades, acquire some cast-off talent from other organizations (like Jon Knott and JR House -- but actually play them!) and essentially raise the Titanic that is this organization.

But that is too steep a task to expect one man to do in just one offseason. So the best we can hope for this offseason is a plan -- a real plan -- put in place, which allows the Orioles to actually progress in the standings, instead of regress, as they have done since 2004.

And isn't it sad to see 2004, a year in which the O's finished at 78-84, to be the high-water mark for this on-going stretch of ineptness.

Anyway, I, and many fans like me, can take more losing if there is improvement... if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the way the team is run now, the light is only getting smaller.

And just when we thought things would get brighter a few years ago, now we find ourselves shrouded in complete darkness. Just like Leo's character Jack, in Titanic, a movie we used to think was among the best ever a lifetime ago, and now we can't stand.

Yep, things change. But not the Orioles.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Every so often a movie comes out of nowhere and pleasantly surprises you so much that you just want to grab its head and pull it in for a nice wet kiss.

That's what I wanted to do with Disturbia.

When it came out last April, I knew little about it except that it had the kid that was going to be in Transformers (Shia LaBeouf) in it and it looked kinda lame.

However, the reviews were positive and the movie stayed at the top of the box office list for a few weeks. So I admitted I could have been wrong and made a mental note to check it out when it came out on DVD.

So the wife and I popped it in and watched it tonight, buzzing from the good word of mouth surrounding it, and I must say, it was well deserved.

The film starts with a shocking set-up that realistically explains why LaBeouf's character, Kale, is under house arrest. It also takes time to establish Kale's surroundings, when most movies want to get right to the action. The main plot of the film, for instance, doesn't begin until about 45 minutes in, and I was vibing off the characters so much that I almost wasn't ready for it to begin.

Anyway, the plot centers around Kale getting bored under house arrest and spying on various neighbors and realizing that the creepy guy next door who likes to bring club chicks home with him could possibly be a serial killer. The possible killer is played by veteran actor David Morse who ironically comes off creepier than Michael Myers ever has in any of the Halloween sequels, and probably even the remake.

What is so good about Disturbia is the streamlined professionalism it contains in every aspect of the film. LaBeouf is charismatic as always. Morse is creepy. Sara Roemer is sexy. And Carrie-Ann Moss is the anti-Trinity as Kale's concerned but absent mother. Director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives) just lets the actors go to work, but drapes a suspenseful curtain over the film, so that anything can happen at any time. Again, it's nothing we haven't seen before, but do cheeseburgers cease to be good even though you've had those before?

In the end, Disturbia won't win any awards that aren't out by MTV, and it will probably be completely forgotten about in a few months. But it is a fun movie to watch with a date, who will no doubt be clutching your arm during the numerous tension-filled scenes toward the end of the movie.

Plus it gives us another look at LaBeouf, who will play Indiana Jones' sidekick in the new Indiana Jones movie coming out next year. LaBeouf will no doubt bring a youthful energy to that film, picking up where Harrison Ford left off.

FILM SCORE: *** (out of ****)
BEST SCENE: Tension filled climax.
STATUS: Professional thriller for teens and adults.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

False bottom

I created this blog to track the ineptness of the Orioles over the course of a season. I thought it would be funny, to laugh at the team as a way to comfort myself from the losing that continues year after year.

Never did I realize that it would be this painful.

I originally tried to post after each game, but before I knew it, days and weeks passed by before I could find the words to express my feelings about this team. Even the most minor things, like doing laundry, became more exciting than watching this team night after night and then writing about them.

And just when you thought that they couldn't sink any worse, the bottom fell out again and the O's invented a new low.

In fact, two more new lows have occurred since my last post, only a week ago.

1. Clay Buchholz, a rookie pitcher for the Red Sox who was making his second major league start, threw a no-hitter against the Orioles last Saturday.

2. After being swept by the Devil Rays at home last week, the Orioles dropped 2 out of 3 to the Rays in Tampa this week, including a 17-2 embarrassment that included an 8-run inning that seems to be becoming a normal thing in Baltimore.

When will the bleeding stop?

Trembley was supposed to be the savior of the team. He knew how to get the most out of his players. But since he was officially announced as the 2008 manager, his Orioles have won a grand total of 2 games, losing 13, all while looking completely lifeless.

Still think the Orioles made the right decision?

I'm not saying that Trembley isn't a good manager, or the right manager for the Orioles. I do, however, believe the Orioles were too aggressive in extending him when they should have waited until the end of the season. After all, we know how the Orioles like to finish their seasons.

And isn't that just like the Orioles, to be aggressive when they should wait and then wait when they should be aggressive.

In the front office, Andy MacPhail has his work cut out for him this offseason. Tejada, Roberts, Bedard and others, including all of the dead weight, need to be traded or released. Tejada, Roberts and Bedard alone can bring back 7-9 prospects who would instantly be among the best in the farm system, and contribute in the major leagues right away.

Other than Markakis, who I would even shop in a trade, I can't think of a player who should or deserves to be back next season.

And so it goes with the Baltimore Orioles.

It's just getting hard to find the words to write about them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Superman Returns

Superman Returns in HD on HBO...

*does best Superman wielded powerless by Kryptonite voice*

Can't... look... away...

Like Ang Lee's Hulk, Superman Returns received some so-so press that I felt was undeserved at the time. Hulk was definitely a fumbled mess, but it was an ambitious fumbled mess, and that's something that most comic-book movies are not -- ambitious. And being a huge Ang Lee fan, I was willing to give him a benefit of the doubt with his film.

Plus I have a soft-spot for ambitious fumbled messes, which explains why Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula is one of my favorite films.

Superman Returns, however, had some bigger red boots to fill.

I grew up with these movies, as did millions of others like me, and Superman plain and simple, is the penultimate superhero. And after a 17 year hiatus, his return to the screen better be something special.

Unfortunately, Superman Returns is not very special in any way. However, that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate it for what it is. All too often, movie fans get caught up in black or white reviews of films. In their eyes it either sucked ass or was awesome.

Superman Returns was neither, but it was still a solid film.

Brandon Routh will never be able to fill out the tights like Christopher Reeve did, but let's face it. Anyone who filled out those tights was not going to surpass Reeve as Superman. Routh, however, did fill the red boots out nicely. I was worried he'd pull a Hayden Christiansen with the role, but other than a few wooden lines (Routh still doesn't seem too comfortable with "I'm always around), Routh does fine.

And can you imagine the oft-rumored Nicholas Cage or Josh Hartnett as Superman? I can't. Unless it's a comedy.

Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane was a misfire in the casting department. Bosworth is too young and too young-looking to fill in for Margot Kidder who looked old even in the original Superman film. I would have preferred Keri Russel (who was rumored for the part) in the role. Russel would have been better suited to portray the pissed-off-but-I-still-love-you emotions that Lois Lane was going through in the film after her role as the neurotic main character on Felicity.

Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was an inspired bit of casting, but something still didn't feel right with the performance. Too much humor was missing from Spacey's Lex and he came off too mean. Gene Hackman will always be Lex Luthor in my mind, like Reeve will always be Superman. Spacey didn't do bad though, but he's still looking for that post-American Beauty comeback performance in my opinion.

The special effects are amazing, but even they are nothing we haven't seen a million times before. Plus Supes looks too cartoony at times. A minor qualm, I know, but it's a trend that unfortunately has taken over special-effect laden films -- cartoony-looking action scenes .

The plot was kinda trite as well. I enjoyed most of the Supes/Lois storyline, and I was confused as to why most people weren't understanding how Supes and Lois had a child together when the film first came out. Does anyone remember their romp in the Fortress of Solitude during Part II when Supes became human? That might also explain why the kid only has traces of Superman's strength.

The kryptonite continent was a nice idea, but I don't see how Superman could have lifted the thing out of the ocean. I know it almost killed him but still.... I ain't buying it. A small kryptonite necklace would have drowned him if it weren't for Miss TessMACHER(!) in Part I.

So overall, Superman Returns wasn't quite the return we all had hoped for, but it does give me hope for further sequels. And like sports, there's always next season.

Seems like it applies to popular film now too.

FILM SCORE: *** (out of ****)
BEST PART: Action packed airplane rescue.
STATUS: Superman does indeed return, just not as grand as you may have expected.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Pulling up lame

9 straight losses.

The worst 10-game homestand in team history.

Outscored 100-44.

What else is there for the Orioles to do this season? Lose 100 games? Break the losing streak record set by.... the Baltimore Orioles in 1988?

Just when you think the O's can't sink any lower, they go ahead and completely prove you wrong by doing something that was previously thought to be impossible.

At the beginning of the year we though this could have been a team to break .500 and end the 9-year losing streak that draped itself over the city like a black cloud. But that didn't happen. Instead, the cloud started raining the baseball equivalent of frogs, a sure sign of the Armageddon.

So as the season comes to a miserable end, get the younger players (Reimold, Olson, Knott, House) some regular playing time, even if they don't necessarily deserve it (Fiorentino, Majewski).

Then in the offseason make the trades that need to be made (Tejada, Roberts and Bedard) and release the dead-weight. Pay for your mistakes for once. Don't allow them to take up roster spots. That costs more than any amount of money at this point.

MacPhail has a daunting task ahead of him. He's got to take the worst organization in all of professional sports and turn them into something respectable again.

Think he's stressed out at all?

Thursday, August 30, 2007


I was getting worried there for a bit.

I saw that Stars would be coming to the 9:30 Club on October 20th on the band's website, but when the 9:30 Club released the calendar for their fall shows, the Stars show wasn't listed.

Finally, I got the e-mail last night. Stars will indeed be performing at the 9:30 Club on October 20th, so I bought 2 tickets faster than you can say "Your Ex-Lover is Dead."

What can I say, I love this Montreal-based alt-pop band and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Amy Millan's voice is like a soft-spoken seductress whispering in my ear and Torque Campbell hits all the emotions a man feels while in a relationship but never dares confess. And while they can get a little corny every now and then, Stars usually hits every note they aim for.

For people not familiar with the band, Stars will be the "oh, that's who does that song" kind of band.

Their first album, Nightsongs, I never bought, but from what I can tell from listening to the 30 second snippets from iTunes, it sounds like their weakest album. I'll get around to buying it eventually.

Their next album, Heart, was hit or miss, but when they hit, they hit the bullseye. The opener, "What the Snowman Learned About Love" is an epic track, beginning with a simple techno-esque drumbeat intro that instantly does a 180 and becomes something completely different. Slowly, one-by-one, more musical layers are added and the lyrics don't kick in until about 2 minutes into the song.

"What the Snowman Learned About Love" is where Stars begins for me and it's the album opening track that I compare all others to.

But wait, it gets even better. "Elevator Love Letter" is a bouncy, yet melancholy ode to one's job getting in the way of love.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album fumbles over itself a bit, before being salvaged by "Time Can Never Kill a True Heart", "Look Up" and the tragic "Don't be Afraid to Sing."

And while I may be a little hard on Heart, it's still an amazing album, which would have been hard to top, but Stars did just that with Set Yourself on Fire.

Simply put, Set Yourself on Fire is one of the best albums to come out of the alt-pop scene in the 2000's. It's chock full of amazing songs, from the death of a relationship in "Your Ex-Lover is Dead" to the optimistic epic "Ageless Beauty."

But the real zinger on the album is the title track. Usually, title track songs are muddled attempts at saying something important. I don't know... all I can say is that I usually find them to be letdowns.

Not here.

"Set Yourself on Fire" is hands-down Stars' best track in their history. At first listen, the song may appear to be a jumbled mess, with too many musical layers and too many sound changes. But this is the kind of song you let yourself sink into like quicksand, slowly making yourself aware of what's going on around you. And in the end you'll be asking yourself "what is that one thing?"

SYOF was such a hugely successful and popular album that the album was re-released in 2007 as Do You Trust Your Friends, with each song being covered by the band's closest friends, mostly indie-Canadian alt-rock bands.

So after SYOF, I didn't expect Stars to top that album with their next release, In Our Bedroom After the War, but I was pleasantly surprised when it was released. Currently listed with a release date sometime in mid-September, the band opted to release the entire album digitally -- get this -- only 4 days after the album was completed back in July.

Is that cool or what?

Rather than let the album get pirated and downloaded illegally in the time before its release, the band allowed people to purchase the album from iTunes and other legal music download sites.

IOBATW was an initial disappointment. I thought the Stars sound was too stripped down. I thought they sorely missed the synthesized sounds that engulfed most songs on SYOF. But as I listened, the album continued to grow on me. "The Night Starts Here" is an excellent song to have on in the background before a night on the town, "Take Me to the Riot" is Stars at their mid-relationship argument best and "Life 2: The Unhappy Ending" is a slick tale about yearning for the life-affirming feelings of pain and loss instead of numbing suburban happiness.

I'd probably put IOBATW between SYOF and Heart as Stars' second best album. It's more consistent than Heart, but it doesn't come close to the grandness that is SYOF.

At any rate, I could sit here all day and tell you how great this band is, but you just need to experience the band on your own if you haven't already. At first you may dismiss them as hokey-sounding, pussy-rockers, but take another listen and shed the pretentiousness you may carry around with you as a music fan.

I can't freaking wait to see this band live. And while I think Stars may be the rare band where it will be hard for them to duplicate their complex sound on stage, I am eager to find out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

American Beauty

The year was 1999.

Star Wars was back. Y2K was upon us. And late in the year, after the summer buzz surrounding The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense wore off, the Oscar season began, and American Beauty, the movie that would eventually win Best Picture, and for good reason, was released. And with a growing fervor that lasted until after the awards, American Beauty won the hearts and minds of the American movie-going audience.

I re-watched this movie last night, and I must say, it's held up.

Kevin Spacey is amazing in his performance as Lester Burnham, a family man in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Spacey's facial expressions, delivery and body movements are all perfectly telegraphed. For me it's a toss up as to which is the better Spacey performance: Lester Burnham or Verbal Kint.

And the excellent cast doesn't end with Spacey.

Annette Benning is also perfect as Carolyn, a failing real estate agent who is desperately trying to one-up Lester in her own mid-life crisis. Chris Cooper is effectively creepy and then oddly sympathetic as the ex-military next-door neighbor. Wes Bentley is cool as the calm but mysterious Ricky, Thora Birch as Jane is full of repressed angst, and Mena Suvari is naively seductive as the object of Lester's misplaced desire.

Director Sam Mendes hasn't yet lived up to his debut, although both Road to Perdition and Jarhead were both solid follow-ups. Instead of using fancy tricks, Mendes just points and shoots and his simple directing style heightens the tension that is always taking place between the characters.

But what is probably the most memorable thing about American Beauty is this, the humor. It's wickedly funny. Spacey steals the show as a man with nothing to lose, blackmailing his boss all the way down to working at a burger joint and Benning scores huge with her hysteric outbursts in response to Lester's antagonizing ways.

At age 20, this movie had a huge impact on me, and it still does. Watching it last night it reminded me not to take the people I love for granted, and to appreciate the things I have, but not let them control me.

And that's hard to do sometimes.

FILM SCORE: **** (out of ****)
BEST PART: The whole thing.
STATUS: Millennial classic.

Snakes on a Plane

With the wife out of town and nothing to do last night, I turned on HBO and saw that the infamous Snakes on a Plane would be coming on next. I shrugged my shoulders, grabbed a Yunegling and some Wheat Thins, and plopped down on the leather sofa to be entertained for 90 minutes.

Maybe I should have had a few more Yuenglings, perhaps all 6 of them, because damn this movie was horrible. I understood the internet hype surrounding the film before its release. The title alone is B-movie awesomeness. But as most things with a built-in hype machine go, SOAP was a massive let-down.

First off, the film takes itself too seriously. David Ellis is no Spielberg, but he has directed decent movies before (Cellular, Final Destination 2). Maybe New Line should have gone with a real B-list director. Someone who could have really upped the cheese-factor like Fred Olen Ray (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) or Brian Trenchard-Smith (Leprechaun 4: In Space).

Ellis makes the film too polished, too pristine. A B-movie needs a dirty picture and lots of grain. Make this movie look like it was shot on a shoestring budget (not the $35 million it was made with) and make it look like it should have debuted late at night on the Sci-Fi Channel on a double-bill with Octopus.

The acting is a problem too. It's too normal.

Sam Jackson hams it up the best he can when the script lets him, but even he turns in a standard performance. Yes, his "I've had it with these muthafuckin snakes on this muthafuckin plane" line is great, but we need more, dammit! We need semi-flubbed lines! We need actors staring off into space when they're supposed to be looking at one another! Too bad that SOAP came out before Grindhouse, because done right, SOAP could have easily trumped that film in it's purposeful badness.

Yes, the gore is rather plentiful, and as you can expect, there are plenty of snake bites on rather unpleasant body parts. But as it stands, SOAP, while a bad film, is just too good and too serious to be the bad B-movie it wants to be. There's a reason this thing was a failure after it was released. I'm just glad I didn't spend a cent on this "phenomenon."

FILM SCORE: ** (out of ****)
BEST PARTS: High heel in the ear (not even snake related!)
STATUS: Failed B-movie phenomenon and for good reason.

Set your watch

The Orioles have become so predictable that it's not even funny anymore. You could set your watch by them.

April: Get off to a decent start
May: Continue that decent start to give fans hope
June: Be lucky to win 7 games all month
July: Bounce back a little, give fans reason to watch
August & September: Suck relentlessly.

And here we are again. It's late August, and the Orioles are in the middle of a 7-game losing streak.

Ironically, the Orioles haven't won a game since they removed the interim tag from Dave Trembley and announced that he would be the manager next season.

I wonder if they wish they would have waited until the end of the season.

Ya think?

I'm not saying that Dave Trembley is the problem. Even Connie Mack wouldn't be able to get this team to perform better. But the Orioles should have waited until the season ended to review the field of available managers and go from there. Now they've tied themselves to Trembley for a year, and contributed to the Orioles horrible play these last 7 games.

As for the team itself, they ought to be ashamed like a child who has returned home after being caught stealing. Especially the bullpen, which is shaping up to be the second worst bullpen in baseball for the second year in a row. Whatever Flanagan and Duquette did last season, it didn't work. Maybe the Orioles should have a "See what we did with the bullpen" night where they flush $42 million down a toilet during the 7th inning stretch. That'll get me out to the yard.

This offseason, changes better be in order. MacPhail needs to offer up everyone in a trade. Even Markakis. (Waits for gasps to end) It's time to change the make-up of this team and start over.

Maybe they shouldn't even be called the Orioles anymore.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I went to Philadelphia last week for a Wolf Parade show at the Theater of Living Arts. My friends and I missed out on tickets for the D.C. show at the Black Cat, but coming from Baltimore area, the it really makes little difference.

Philly is a little less than 2 hours from Baltimore and the downtown area is a breeze to get to from I-95. To get to D.C., one must brave the perma-jammed Beltway and then navigate their way through numerous back roads riddled with stoplights in order to get to the Black Cat or 9:30 Club. And in the end, the difference in drive-time between D.C. and Philly is smaller than one might expect.

Once we got to Philly, we didn't even need a map, since the city is laid out in a grid-like fashion, with numbered streets running north and south. So we took our exit intending to head straight for the venue, but decided last minute that some Philly cheese steaks would hit the spot before the show. So we drove to the approximate place we remembered Geno's and Pat's to be located, and after making one simple right hand turn, we found the cheese steak capital of the world, no problem.

Since we had been to Pat's the last time we were in Philly, we opted for Geno's this time. And I'm glad we did. The lady at the window was nice and patient while my friends made up their minds. The cheese whiz was used sparingly and the bread was soft. Surprisingly, the sub was smaller than I expected and my stomach was still roaring with hunger after I was finished. So we shrugged our shoulders and headed across the street to Pat's, agreeing that the only way to definitely decide which was better was to eat them both back to back.

At Pat's, the guys working the counter were your standard Philly guys. They had no patience for menu gazing while in mid-order, but they rang you up and gave you your sub in record time. I also enjoyed the signs that read "Speak English when ordering" next to the window.

As I sat down, I was amazed at the amount of cheese whiz dripping from the sub. Not a good sign. Also, the bread was a little tougher than at Geno's.

Overall, I give the nod to Geno's for less cheese whiz and softer bread, but if you like cheese whiz, then Pat's will be the spot for you.

Little did we know we'd regret the decision to slam 2 cheese steak subs in a row later on in the night.

Anyway, we parked the car in a garage near the TLA and headed toward South Street, the cultural center of the city. We had a few drinks at a bar where another typical Philly guy was throwing a fit. I don't know what it was about but he purposely slammed into some stacked chairs while going to the bathroom and didn't bother to pick them up. Turns out he was the bartender's girlfriend or something.

After being frozen out by the wind from a rare mid-summer rainstorm whipping through the open doors, we headed to an Irish bar with a closed door across the street and watched the first quarter of a pre-season NFL game. Barely paying attention to it, we shot the shit as our stomach's punished us for drowning them in cheese whiz, grease and now Yuengling lager.

After nearly puking, we headed over to the TLA at 9 p.m. Perfect timing. The second opening act, Plants and Animals, was about to start.

The lead singer looked like he belonged in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but they were just standard retro alt-rock hipsters from Montreal, the city where all the new bands seem to come from nowadays. Anyway, they filled the time and space with decent music for about 40 minutes and got off stage fast enough so that Wolf Parade could set up their instruments.

A half an hour later Wold Parade was on-stage, opening with "It's a Curse". They proceeded to play a lot of new stuff, which sounded great. I can't wait for the rumored new album. As a matter of fact it can't come out soon enough. My list of favorite bands is a constantly changing one, and after seeing them live, Wolf Parade now sits atop that list.

I was surprised to see a mosh pit by the stage, as Wolf Parade hardly screams MOSH!, but after all, this is Philly, so I guess people are used to beating up on each other, shaking hands and then buying each another a beer. The highlight of the moshing culminated when a kid was crowd surfing and then opened an umbrella while the band played "Shine a Light."

Pretty cool.

My friend joked that Dan Boeckner looked like death personified. I thought he looked like a fish singing into the microphone. Regardless, he rocked the fuck out of the joint, has a hot wife and is currently a member of one of the hottest indie-bands out there today.

Meanwhile my friends are I are pasty middle-class drones working our lives away in offices. I don't think Dan will mind our feeble attempts to make ourselves feel better.

In the end, seeing Wolf Parade, one of my favorite bands, in person was definitely the highlight of the trip. But just being back in Philly was the second. I just love it. And even though Philly doesn't necessarily love me back, I still love it anyway.

And maybe that's what they mean by brotherly love.