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Give me a little time to process what I just saw…

I finally got around to seeing Supersize Me, the documentary film where the filmmaker ate three meals a day at McDonald’s for 30 days to see what would happen.I need to think more about what I saw. But here are some random thoughts that occur to me after seeing it.

The first thing that comes to mind is Rod Carew. Carew was the second-greatest hitter of his era (since I’m a Kansas City Royals fan, of course he can’t be as good as George Brett). Early in his career, Carew was slumping. He asked his hitting coach what was wrong. He happened to be eating ice cream. The coach ripped the container of ice cream from his hand, threw it in the nearest trash can, and told Carew to quit eating junk. He tried it. He quit eating junk food and quit drinking soda. He was 38 before his batting average dipped below .300 again.

I know I’ve read several times on John C. Dvorak’s blog the comment, “Someone wants us fat.”

When I worked in fast food, if we didn’t try to “suggestive sell”–that is, when someone ordered a soda, ask, “Is that a large?” or something similar, we could be reprimanded. I didn’t upsell unless the manager was in earshot. I was always in trouble. I know for a fact the reason I didn’t get fired was because they didn’t want me talking–I knew lots of things that company didn’t want getting out. (None of that matters now; the company folded in 1993.)

In the film, Morgan Spurlock visited a school of troublesome kids. The school served healthy lunches–fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that were prepared fresh, rather than out of a box. The behavior problems largely disappeared. Television and video games get a lot of the blame for the rash of ADD and ADHD. And maybe kids do watch more TV and play more video games than we did 20 years ago when I was a kid. But kids today do eat a lot less healthy than we did. We ate out a couple of times a month, generally. Kids today eat out a lot more than that, and there are a lot more convenience foods in the grocery stores now than there were then.

Spurlock experienced depression. Depression is almost an epidemic. All I have to do to get hits on my web site is write about depression. In college I became a hero when I wrote about depression in my weekly newspaper column–professors were asking me to lunch, asking me to guest-lecture classes, and students I didn’t know from Adam were stopping me and thanking me. I thought I was the only one who ever felt depressed. Turns out it was the people who didn’t ever get depressed who were weird! And every time I write about depression here, I get tons and tons of hits. People are desperate enough to solicit advice from some guy they never met who isn’t a doctor and hasn’t so much as taken a biology class since Gulf War I–me. Maybe the problem is what they eat.

But hey. There’s big, big money in depression. I did a quick Google search, and 90 tablets of the low dosage of Paxil (let’s see what ads that gets me) costs $189 in Canada. Of course, in the United States, we pay more. Assuming 90 tablets is three months’ worth, that’s $2.10 a day. I know what GlaxoSmithKline’s saying: ba-da-ba-ba-ba, I’m lovin’ it!

And of course the fast-food companies want us fat. When we’re fat, we order more. We eat larger portions more frequently. The less healthy we are, the more they benefit. And the more the drug companies benefit.

Another symptom Spurlock experienced was fatigue. That’s another common problem. And who benefits from that? Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Starbucks, mostly. Who can function anymore without that jolt of caffeine in the morning?

I’m not saying it’s a big conspiracy. I’m not real big on conspiracies. I’m perfectly willing to believe the fast-food phenomenon happened and the companies that sell drugs and caffeine were the lucky beneficieries.

I’ll tell you something: I gave up fast food at 25, when my dad’s cousin started having serious health problems. That was a reality check for me: my closest male relative died at just over twice my age, and then when another one of my closest male relatives reached that age, it was just a lucky break that he didn’t die also. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, asked myself if I wanted my life to be half over, and started eating turkey sandwiches from Subway (with just veggies and mustard–hold the fatty crap) for lunch pretty much every day.

And a lot of times when things have started going wrong, I haven’t been eating as well. I know that’s true for me right now.

I’ve seen Dr. Mark Himan on TV a couple of times the past few months. The things he says make a lot of sense. My wife and I have one of his books and another one on order. I think it’s time for me to read the one we have. I’m 31 now, and sometimes I feel like I’m losing my edge. Maybe I should do what Rod Carew did, and see if I get it back.

It’s hard to know what to make of Jose Canseco’s steroid allegations

I remember back when the words "Jose Canseco money" meant something, even among people who weren’t really all that interested in baseball.

You see, Jose Canseco was a huge name. He hit long home runs in large quantities, and people paid him huge amounts of money to do it. For a time, he was the most popular and highest-paid player in the game.

Today, the money’s gone and he can’t get a job, and reading about his tell-all book is pretty sad.Terry Steinbach, a former teammate of Canseco, summed it up pretty well. Canseco worked pretty hard his first couple of years, and he actually got better during those first few years in Oakland. He worked on improving his outfield defense and got promoted from left field to right field. He worked on improving his speed and became the first man to ever hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season.

But something happened. Steinbach says he stopped taking extra outfield practice, and it showed. The player who once was lauded for his defense became a full-time designated hitter. In one notorious incident after the Athletics had traded him to the Texas Rangers, a catchable fly ball bounced off Canseco’s head and into the stands, turning a long flyout into a home run.

And if you look at Canseco’s numbers, it’s almost like you can tell what years he was trying. Take 1998 for instance. That year, he stole 28 bases. But he stole 8 bases the year before and 3 bases the year after. He was out of baseball after 2001. He made some comeback attempts but to no avail. He complained about a conspiracy. Conspiracy? By 2001, he was good for a .250 batting average and 15 home runs per year. Why should anyone break out the Jose Canseco money a guy who can’t field and who puts up Steve Balboni-esque numbers at the plate?

So I think part of it is jealousy. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro came up about the same time Canseco did, and they played longer and put up better numbers. Both seem destined for the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to believe now that in 1987, Canseco was by far the most complete player of the trio. But both McGwire and Palmeiro worked on improving their defense, and Palmeiro worked on improving his power numbers and McGwire worked on his contact.

Meanwhile, Canseco was plagued by legal troubles. Speeding tickets (like 120 in a 55), allegations of spousal abuse, financial troubles… Seems he may have learned a thing or two from Pete Rose.

So, he’s likely a bit short on good character references.

But who better to recognize steroid users than another steroid user? And while much has been made of Barry Bonds’ transformation from a lanky guy into something that resembles a professional wrestler, a look at Mark McGwire’s 1987 Topps rookie card shows he made a similar transformation in the years between his 49-homer rookie season and his 70-homer binge. Was it just the andro?

It’s been said so many times that it’s cliche that taking steroids won’t help you keep up with Randy Johnson’s fastball and it certainly won’t make you able to hit a curveball. Whether you’re juiced or not, it’s a lot of work to stay in the big leagues. That’s why Canseco played his last game at age 37 while Julio Franco is still in the big leagues at age 45.

But the steroids will change long fly balls into homers. They may turn a hooking foul ball into a fair ball, or a broken-bat grounder to short into a broken-bat single.

And while the conspiracy that Canseco alleges may very well not exist, there’s no question that owners and the players’ union like the effects that steroids have. Fans like home runs, so more home runs means more fans, which means more money in the owners’ coffers. And the players’ union loves home runs, because nothing drives a player’s salary more than his ability to hit a long one. Ozzie Smith may have saved two runs a game with his glove, but he never made as much money as the guys who averaged a homer every 3-4 games.

Like it or not, regardless of how much truth there is in Canseco’s book, there’s a problem in baseball, and Canseco’s loud mouth is only a symptom. The bigger problem is that a drug that’s illegal for you and me to use is getting used by these professional athletes. The risk to their health is enormous, but worse yet, these men are idolized by millions of boys. Most of them are anything but good role models for children anyway, even without the steroids, but the steroids make it even worse.

In 1983, the Kansas City Royals realized they had a problem. A good half-dozen of their players had massive cocaine habits, including nearly every core player aside from George Brett. One by one, the Royals traded or released every last one of those players except for leadoff hitter Willie Wilson, who spent the first couple of months of the 1984 season in rehab. The Royals knew they were decimating their team–which had finished second the year before, and the same basic team had been in place since 1976 and been a contender every year–but they did it anyway. Surprisingly, the team of castoffs and rookies did well that year, winning its division.

Will any team have the guts today to purge itself of its steroid abusers?

I doubt it. But I guess I can hope.

I miss my rivalry

So, the St. Louis Cardinals are traveling across the state for a much-anticipated series with the Kansas City Royals. Even when the series was meaningless, it could always be counted on for at least a few potshots, or something.

Not this year. I was born a Royals fan and I’ll die a Royals fan, but this year, I find myself agreeing with the St. Louis columnist.The Kansas City press has barely even noticed the Cardinals are coming to town. I can’t link directly to the stories because the Kansas City Star requires registration, but they’re all talking about Carlos Beltran.

Carlos Beltran is arguably the most talented human being to ever wear a Royals uniform. George Brett, as great as he was, didn’t have Beltran’s abilities. Bo Jackson did, but he spent less time in a Royals uniform than Beltran, thanks to an injury suffered in his unusual hobby. Maybe Amos Otis had them, but few people outside of Kansas City know much about A. O., and he didn’t have Beltran’s durability. Beltran got better as the season progressed, while A. O. generally got worse.

Now, the Royals deserve credit for getting something for Beltran, which is more than I can say for what they got for Kevin Appier or Jermaine Dye when they sold them off. The Royals pried a starting pitching prospect out of Oakland, who seems to have a knack for developing pitchers without destroying their arms. They also got a line-drive-hitting third baseman who bats left-handed. If he’s half as good as the last one of those the Royals had, they’ll be happy. They also got a catcher who can hit. The last one of those they had was Don Slaught, but Slaught made his name in Pittsburgh. The last one of those they had before Slaught was Darrell Porter.

Getting the first-round draft pick from whoever signed Beltran would have been nice, but this deal gives the Royals the catcher they need now, as well as a starting pitcher they need now, and the third baseman they’re going to need next year.

Only time will tell whether that first-round draft pick would have been another Carlos Beltran or another Jeff Austin, and only time will tell if one of these guys is going to be another Jermaine Dye or if all of them are going to be A. J. Hinch.

I have a hard time not blaming the Royals for not wanting to pay Carlos Beltran $18 million. The Royals would be much better served by six slightly above-average players, each making an average of $3 million. Besides, injuries are a funny thing. The Royals are still stinging from giving Mike Sweeney a lucrative long-term contract, only to see him struggle with injuries the past two years. When you’re the Yankees, you can afford to take that risk. When you’re the Royals, you can’t. Right now, Carlos Beltran looks like Willie Mays. But he’s only an injury or two away from being Andre Dawson. A major injury could turn him into Mark Quinn.

So what’s Jeff Gordon saying here in St. Louis?

He’s lamenting that back in the 1970s, the Royals were baseball’s model franchise while the Cardinals languished. And today, the Royals are able to develop star players but unable to keep them, while the Cardinals field a team of perennial All-Stars. Both teams have their problems, but the Cardinals’ problems don’t push them into last place, and while they disappoint fans, they don’t alienate them.

The sad thing is, the worst thing the Royals could do to the Cardinals this year is trade their best player to one of the Cardinals’ Central Division rivals.

Wait. That’s exactly what they just did.

And maybe, just maybe, after age and media pressure catches up with Carlos Beltran and he turns into more of an Andre Dawson than a Willie Mays, maybe once again, the Royals will be able to afford him, and maybe a little bit of sentiment and nostalgia will kick in, and maybe the more enduring half of dos Carlos who captured the imagination of Royals fans in the late 1990s will decide it would be nice to end his career where he started.

Thanks for the memories, Carlos. I know this doesn’t have to be goodbye.

And I hope you don’t take this personally, but in the meantime, I hope we don’t miss you too much.

My contributions to the Wikipedia

When I was checking up on some facts on Joe Jackson, I found the free Wikipedia to be of use. In the very well-done account of the Black Sox scandal (to which I made some minor edits, replacing a couple of odd word choices and fixing some commas), I noticed a link to a non-existent biography of pitcher and ringleader Eddie Cicotte. So I whipped out my Baseball Encyclopedia, opened it up to Cicotte’s statistics, did a couple of Web searches to grab some more detail and check my own memory, and based on those references, I wrote one.
Cicotte was a knuckleballer, but I found the Wikipedia didn’t have an article on the knuckleball either. So I wrote one of those too. Along the way to writing that, I found the Wikipedia had a biography of Hoyt Wilhelm, which I didn’t touch, but didn’t have one of Phil Niekro, the most notable pitcher from my lifetime to throw the pitch. I didn’t write that biography.

I also found there’s no biography of Jimmie Foxx. That wrong will have to be righted by yours truly very soon. As will the criminal exclusion of Mike Sweeney, and the embarrassingly sketchy history of the Kansas City Royals. (The George Brett biography was reasonably complete; I made a few minor additions.) I can see how this can get addictive fast.

I read a while back some astronomical statistic about the Wikipedia’s size, but that it wasn’t yet as big as the Encyclopædia Britannica. I visited it, ready to contribute an article or two, but couldn’t think of anything. I figured I’d write about technology but found all the articles in my area of expertise were already very impressive.

So my contribution to this fount of knowledge is in the area of baseball instead.

Hey, it’s good that it’ll go somewhere.

Will today ruin baseball?

Well, it’s strike day. I haven’t talked about it. I was hoping if I ignored it, it would go away. That strategy rarely works, but there’s always a first time.
Let’s face it: This is the Crybaby Billionaire Boys’ Club vs. the Crybaby Millionaire Boys’ Club.

Players complain about how they used to be treated as slaves. Well, they aren’t anymore. The league minimum–the minimum is more than some doctors make. Baseball players work nine months out of the year, counting spring training. They have to travel a lot, but they don’t have to work full 8-hour days, usually. When they do work, they do things I do for fun (and usually have to pay to do).

Yes, in the 1960s, there was a problem. Those problems have been solved for a very long time. Players’ greatest fears are that their salaries won’t necessarily double at the same rate they did before. Well, boo-hoo. Today a decent utility infielder makes what George Brett made at his peak, and George Brett isn’t hurting.

Now, the players talk down about the fans. Even Neifi Perez talks down to the fans. Neifi Perez! The worst everyday player in the majors. Mr. .257 on-base-percentage. Mr. Where-have-you-gone-Donnie-Sadler?, for crying out loud! “They’re just fans,” Neifi says. “What do they know?”

Who cares what the fans know? (What I know is that Felix Martinez isn’t the worst shortstop in Royals history anymore.) They pay your salary. Though it’s certain Perez won’t be back in Kansas City next year, and questionable whether he’ll be playing baseball at all. Serves him right. He’s a lousy player and a jerk. Kansas City deserves better. For that matter, Baghdad deserves better.

I don’t have any sympathy for the players.

The owners complain about competitive imbalance and salaries rising too quickly. The problems are largely their own making, but at least most of them recognize there is a problem and are trying to solve it. As recently as ten years ago, there was no way of knowing who was going to be a contender. You could take a good guess, but several teams would always surprise you. Is anyone really surprised the Yankees and the Braves are the teams to beat this year?

Now Oakland and Minnesota have proven you can create a winner on a budget. They spend smart. That’s good. Not every small or medium-market team spends smart. But when New York can spend five times what a small-market team spends, there’s a problem. Oakland lost Jason Giambi to the Yankees; in a few years they won’t be able to afford to keep both Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada either. Who cares about the players or the owners–that’s unfair to the fans.

Most of the owners are on the same page. Even Tom Hicks, who can’t seem to spend his way out of last place but not for lack of trying, wants a luxury tax and revenue sharing. He sees the need for rules to follow. George Steinbrenner won’t be happy until every team but the Yankees is bankrupt and the second-best team in baseball is the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees’ AAA affiliate. But he’s in the minority.

The owners are being the more reasonable of the two. That feels weird to say. Isn’t that kind of like saying Ayatollah Khomeini was reasonable about something?

A lot of people are saying if there’s a strike, they won’t be back. Some of them will make good on that promise. I know I’ll be back. Baseball’s broken. I see this strike like a car crash to an alcoholic. You don’t wish the car crash on anybody, but if the car crash leads to the person finally seeing the problem and doing something about it, then the car crash can do some good. With some people, it takes a car crash. But with some people, even a car crash isn’t enough.

And the players and owners are just like that drunk behind the wheel–not giving a rip who gets hurt as a result of their irresponsible actions. Who cares about the people who make their living selling concessions at the ballpark? Not the players and owners. That’s an established fact.

I’ll be mad if they can’t come to an agreement before the deadline. But I’ll be madder if the strike doesn’t accomplish anything. There’s only one thing worse than a drunk, and that’s an incurable drunk.

I know what we need. A few good men who love baseball–who love baseball more than money–need to step up to the plate and do the right thing. And no, I don’t really care if that happens tomorrow, or if it happens during a lockout in spring training while Jason Grimsley and Johnny Damon and Todd Zeile and Steve Kline sit at home.

I think it might be refreshing to watch a bunch of guys who’ve never touched steroids, who are actually glad to be getting paid to do what we used to do at recess, and who play every inning like it’s the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, don’t you?

But there are no promises. So we wait. And I’m fully aware that if the worst happens, I might be the only baseball fan left.

That’s OK by me. I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. I’m used to being alone.

St. Louis just lost more than a great catcher

Darrell Porter went out to get a newspaper, and he never came home.
That night, it rained in St. Louis. It was as if the earth was weeping. As it should. Now a catcher has gone home to play baseball with late Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. But when this world lost Darrell Porter, it lost more than a former MVP and three-time All-Star. It lost one of the finest examples of a human being who ever played the game. Porter overcame drug and alcohol addiction in 1980. Today, people hold your hand when you’re famous and addicted. In 1980, they just looked down on you.

Darrell Porter didn’t let that stop him. In spring training in 1980, former Dodgers pitcher and recovered alcoholic Don Newcombe paid the team a visit. He asked 10 questions, and said if you answered yes to three of them, you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Porter answered yes to all 10 questions. So he checked himself into a rehab center. He cleaned up. He started going to church and got right with God. And he dedicated his life to trying to keep others from making the same mistakes he made. He figured he became famous for a reason, and he ought to use his fame and name recognition for something.

So he quietly went out helping people. In 1984, he wrote a book. We’re not talking a tell-all book like Jose Canseco plans to write. Don’t get me wrong, Porter told all. But he told about the person he knew best: himself. With brutal honesty. It’s been years since I read it, but I remember him talking frankly about getting together with his buddies and snorting cocaine through rolled-up $100 bills and drinking like tomorrow would never come. He talked about checking into rehab in 1980, and he talked about lapsing once, stopping at a gas station on the way home one day, and buying a beer. He left the empty bottle in his car. Part of him wanted his wife to find it. She did.

He was candid about what drugs and alcohol did to his career. In 1979, he had the finest year a Royals catcher ever had, batting .291 with 20 home runs and driving in 112. Those aren’t just good numbers for a catcher, those are good numbers for Johnny Bench. But that was the end of the road. He peaked at age 27. He played another 8 years, but his career numbers were much more pedestrian. For the rest of his career, he was an average defensive catcher and an average hitter who could occasionally pop one out of the park. His old self only surfaced when the game was on the line. He often told people his drug and alcohol abuse destroyed his career. That’s a bit harsh–he played for 16 years, eight on drugs and eight off–but it’s easy to see that something kept him from being everything he could be.

Porter spoke to one of the Christian groups on campus at the University of Missouri while I was a student there. I’d thought about going, because Porter had been one of my heroes growing up. For some reason I didn’t, and I don’t remember the reason. It might have been that I had a test, or a story deadline. Or it might have been something stupid. Like a story deadline.

That was what Porter’s life after baseball was like. He quietly volunteered his time wherever he was needed. He didn’t go looking for more fame.

A fan recounted meeting Porter recently at a game on a St. Louis Post-Dispatch discussion board. He asked Porter to sign an old poster. He signed it, and then the fan asked him to write “1982 World Series MVP” under his name. The fan recalled that Porter was very flattered to be asked to write that, maybe even flattered that the fan remembered that. Porter wasn’t one to advertise his three All-Star appearances, or the two MVP awards he won in 1982.

Since Porter didn’t go running around, looking for chances to make appearances and introducing himself as “Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals,” not a lot of people remember him. But the people who do remember him will miss him.

Porter showed up at the Royals’ spring training this year, some 22 years after he left the team and 15 years after he retired from baseball. He wanted to learn broadcasting. Broadcasters Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre spent some time with him and he impressed them. He worked hard, bought his own equipment, brought it with him, and learned as much as he could from the professionals. If he was going to go into broadcasting, it was going to be because he was a good sportscaster, not because he was Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series MVP and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals. Matthews and Lefebvre wanted to put him on the air this year.

Nobody knows exactly what happened. Porter told his wife he was going to get a newspaper and go to a park to read it. That I understand. If you’re interested in broadcasting, you keep up on the news. I use the Internet to do that, but if you’re a 50-year-old retired baseball player, you might not want to use the Internet. Besides, it’s hard to get Internet access in a park. Why would someone go to a park to read a newspaper in 97-degree heat? Remember, Darrell Porter was a catcher, and he spent most of his career on Astroturf. At Royals Stadium and Busch Stadium in the early 1980s, it could reach 110 degrees or more on the playing surface in the summer. Porter was bearing that heat with all that padding.

And once a baseball player, always a baseball player. He probably just wanted to be outside, away from telephones, away from everything else. If you’re not a baseball player, you don’t understand. I understand.

What I don’t understand is which park he chose to visit. He lived in Lee’s Summit, but he drove to a park half an hour away. Maybe he just couldn’t make up his mind. I remember driving around for half an hour one night back in March looking for someplace to run sprints. But I ended up at a park about five miles from home. I guess it sort of makes sense. But only sort of.

Porter got to the park, but he ran his car off the road. There was a tree stump alongside that wasn’t visible in the grass, and his car got stuck. At 5:26 pm, someone drove past, saw the car on the side of the road, and saw a man lying next to it. The driver alerted police. Police arrived soon afterward and found Darrell Porter, dead. The coroner speculates he was trying to free his car and was overcome by the heat.

He left behind a wife and three kids: a 20-year-old daughter and two teenaged sons. They’re going to have a hard time dealing with this. Their dad was just 50. He was supposed to have 25 years left in him. Now he’s gone, and no one knows why, and although they might not want to admit it, they’re at the ages when they probably need him most. I was 19 when my dad died at 51.

There are a few people out there like Darrell Porter. Genuinely nice people, real people, honest, down-to-earth people. People who want more than anything else just to make a difference, who come in and take charge of a bad situation and leave it a better place when they move on. You have to look for those kinds of people, but they’re out there.

It’s a shame to lose people like that, especially at such a cruelly young age. You can never have too many of those.

Darrell, I’m sorry I didn’t hit that home run for you tonight. I was trying too hard. I’m sure you understand. But I’m going to pay you the highest compliment I know, and when I say this, I mean it, with everything I’ve got.

We’ll miss you.

This year, Selig outshines even Steinbrenner

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. –Proverbs 17:28
Bud Selig has once again opened his mouth and is calling the Minnesota Twins, despite their raging success this year–and not-so-shabby last year–a candidate for contraction.

Translation: Twins owner Carl Pohlad loaned me money a few years ago, even though it was against baseball’s rules, but that’s OK because I enforce the rules, and now he can sell the team to the rest of the owners and I can make them pay more money than he could get by selling the team outright, so I’m going to do him that favor, no matter how bad it makes baseball look.

They talked during the All-Star Game about how Bud Selig once sold Joe Torre a car. That’s appropriate, because Selig is still spewing as much crap as a used-car salesman and he doesn’t know where to stop.

I really don’t understand is why Selig, in this era of corporate scandal that destroyed Enron and WorldCom and Martha Stewart and now threatens the AOL Time Warner empire, is willing to do anything that has even the most remote appearance of corruption. But maybe Selig’s like a 16-year-old with a red Lamborghini, an attractive girl riding shotgun, and a fifth of whiskey. The worst possible outcome always happens to the other guy, right?

And the ironic thing is that in 1995, Carl Pohlad’s company loaned Bud Selig money, because Bud Selig’s Milwaukee Brewers needed money.

Hmm. The Brewers ran out of money. The Brewers’ owner went to the Twins’ owner for money. Interesting.

The Brewers last went to the World Series in 1982. They lost in seven games. The Twins went to the big show in 1987 and won. They went again in 1991. They won. In 2001, the Twins went 85-77 and finished second in their division and even finished second in the wild-card race. The Brewers finished 68-94 and did what they almost always seem to do best: prop the Cubs up in the standings.

I know of a team in the northern midwest that seems like an excellent candidate for contraction. And that team would be:

The Milwaukee Brewers.

Leave the Twins alone.

But don’t get me wrong. Selig isn’t a complete waste. Selig is doing an outstanding job of frustrating George Steinbrenner. You see, before Selig became the most hated man in baseball, Steinbrenner had been the undisputed champion, for about 30 years. But don’t get me wrong. Steinbrenner’s having a great year. Why, last week he accused Major League Baseball of conspiring against him. He wanted superstar outfielder Cliff Floyd. Floyd went from Florida to Montreal to Steinbrenner’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox. Now it’s conspiracy.

That’s the way Steinbrenner thinks. A few years ago, George Brett had dinner with George Steinbrenner. Back in Brett’s heyday, the Yankees and Brett’s Kansas City Royals were big rivals. They met in the playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980. The Yankees won three of four years. At some point in their conversation, Brett noticed his view of Steinbrenner’s face was blocked by a menu, so Brett moved it. Steinbrenner put it back. “I can’t stand looking at you,” Steinbrenner said.

“Why?” Brett asked.

“You beat us too many times in the playoffs,” Steinbrenner said.

Brett asked if beating the Yankees once counted as “too many times.” Steinbrenner said yes.

Now you know why I rooted for the buy-a-championship Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series last year. Yeah, I wanted the Cardinals to go. But I wanted Steinbrenner to not get what he wanted.

But Steinbrenner’s not just an immature little kid who’s not willing to share his toys. Two weeks ago, Roger Clemens was making a rehab start at Class A Tampa. The home-plate umpire was–horror of horrors–a woman! Well, Steinbrenner was horrified. They were mishandling his pitcher.

Earth to Steinbrenner: A rehab start is about throwing pitches to real-live batters to see a few things. First and foremost, does it hurt? Second, can you throw seven innings? Third, does it hurt?

Earth to Steinbrenner, again: Gender has nothing to do with the ability to see, to know the rules, and call balls and strikes.

Earth to Steinbrenner: The male umpires who call balls and strikes in the major leagues seem to have never read the rulebook, because they never call a strike above the belt. So if your theory that women don’t call balls and strikes the way men do happens to be true, having a woman behind the plate was probably a very good thing, and I eagerly await the day when we see women umps in the Big Leauges.

Then Steinbrenner said Ms. Cortesia should go back to umpiring Little League. “She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t that good,” he said.

Clemens’ assesment: She did great.

So tell me who’s a better judge of an umpire’s ability: a loud, rude, obnoxious baseball owner, or a 40-year-old pitcher with 18 years’ experience in the major leagues?

Yep, Steinbrenner’s been in rare form these past couple of months. But he’s been eclipsed by Bud Selig. Pete Rose and Don Fehr are back and spewing as much garbage as ever, as well, and Ted Williams’ kids are doing their best to make everyone forget their dad’s Hall of Fame career. And Reds GM Jim Bowden made the mistake of invoking the memory of Sept. 11 when talking about a possible player’s strike. (He was wrong, of course. Sept. 11 destroyed two towers, but it didn’t destroy New York and it didn’t destroy America. A strike could destroy baseball.)

Yes, they’re all valiant attempts to look stupid. They’ve even managed to drown out baseball’s one-man wrecking crew, player agent Scott Boras. But none of them can hold a candle to Bud Selig.

It’s kind of like 1941. Joe DiMaggio had a great year in 1941. So great, he even won the MVP that year. But nobody remembers that anymore, because 1941 was the year Ted Williams batted .406. DiMaggio was the better overall player, and DiMaggio was the far bigger celebrity, and DiMaggio handled the limelight a lot better. But 1941 was Ted Williams’ year. Nothing could eclipse him. Not Luke Appling. Not Jimmie Foxx. Not even The Great DiMaggio.

2002 is Bud Selig’s year. Steinbrenner and Rose and Fehr and the rest of baseball’s repulsive bunch will be remembered for a lot of things, but saying the most stupid things in 2002 won’t be one of them.

They don’t make ’em like Lyman Bostock anymore

Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly:
Wouldn’t you love to see, just once, before you die… a major league player call a press conference to demand the club negotiate his contract — downward? “I’m barely hittin’ my weight,” he’ll say, his agent nodding by his side. “Either start paying me a whole lot less or I’m leaving for Pawtucket right now!”

That almost did happen. In 1978, a young, hard-hitting outfielder named Lyman Bostock became one of baseball’s first big-money free agentsRead More »They don’t make ’em like Lyman Bostock anymore

A tale of two catchers who became managers

Two former catchers made headlines yesterday. Both went on later in life to become big-league managers.
And that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

Tony Pena. Tony Pena is the new manager of the Kansas City Royals. He was a popular catcher during his 17-year-career and pitchers liked working with him. Late in his career he went to the mound and smacked the pitcher with his glove and told him to pay attention.

The downside: He was a notorious free-swinger at the plate, which isn’t what Royals’ hitters need.

The upside: He made some gutsy moves yesterday. The Royals lost, but they hung in there against a talented pitcher they’ve never beat. Down by two runs in the 9th, with two men on and two men out, Tony Pena did something. Actually, he did the last thing anyone would do in that situation: double steal. They pulled it off. The two runners didn’t score and the Royals still lost by two, but they didn’t roll over and play dead.

And he was upbeat. He smiled more in those 9 innings than Tony Muser smiled in his whole managerial career.

Johnny Oates. While Tony Pena prepares for the beginning of his managerial career, Johnny Oates prepares for the end of his life. He has a rare form of brain cancer and a rare attitude about it.

“I don’t think you really understand my situation,” Oates says to the [telemarketer] who called and interrupted his story. “Five minutes is a lot of time to me now, and I’m trying to share it with as many people as possible.”

Oates was most recently the manager of the Texas Rangers. He had previously managed the Baltimore Orioles.

My Klez adventures

Today should have been a happy day. After all, the Kansas City Royals finally wised up and sent the worst manager of its history, Tony Muser, packing. And there was much rejoicing. It was all over the front page of the Kansas City Star. In other news, Boeing 747s are having a difficult time avoiding pigs, and Royals utilityman Donnie Sadler is hitting .265.
Unfortunately, a serious development in my life quickly jarred me back into the real world. An e-mail message arrived. I had Klez! I guess I shouldn’t have double-clicked on that attachment titled “Hot young 32-year-olds dressed like middle-school cheerleaders want you!” at work. But since everything on the Internet is true, and since the kid who mows my friend’s cousin’s neighbor’s lawn says his uncle told him e-mail travels over the Internet, I thought I’d better check it out. Opening that unexpected attachment from a complete stranger seemed like a good idea at the time.

The evidence that I had the Klez virus pointed back to a really old e-mail account I had, back in my days at the University of Missouri. So this must not have been the result of me opening the last “Hot young 32-year-olds dressed like middle-school cheerleaders want you!” e-mail I got. It must have been the result of a “Hot young 32-year-olds dressed like middle-school cheerleaders want you!” e-mail I got sometime in 1997 or 1998.

That’s really scary. Klez had the ability to trigger itself FIVE YEARS before it even existed, yet lie dormant until such a time as it did exist. Very powerful stuff. Very scary stuff. This is even bigger than the firing of Tony Muser. I think I should leak this discovery to The Register. Or maybe The Inquirer.

Then I looked at the headers more closely, and I noticed that even though it referred to that really old account, it also had a reference to my new Verizon account.

Then I realized I don’t have a Verizon account. So there’s only one possible explanation. Klez signed me up for a Verizon account! The nerve of it! And I’ll bet it’s using that e-mail account, and possibly also the cell phone that goes with it, to make marriage proposals to one of my ex-girlfriends. Probably the closet homo sapien. I’ll be in even more serious trouble after it realizes that all of my ex-girlfriends are closet homo sapiens and it proposes to all of them. This is bad. Really bad. I don’t think I’ll be able to blame this on Tony Muser.

I sure hope those cheerleaders know my new address in St. Louis. After all that scary Klez stuff, I could use some cheering up. They haven’t shown up yet, but that message never said when they’d show up.

When I went to lunch on that wonderful Tuesday, there was a TV in the lunchroom. There are always TVs in the lunchroom when important, newsworthy events of national impact occur. It was there so we could watch the latest developments of the Tony Muser firing as they unfolded on CNN.

I don’t think my coworkers believed me when I said that. So instead we talked about what I had learned about Klez. They were all really excited to hear about it. One of them asked if it had really neat graphics. I said sometimes. Another one asked if it would run on something as ancient as a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz with GeForce4 Ti4400 video. I said it probably would. They all wanted copies.

When I got back from lunch, there was something else waiting for me in my e-mail: an invitation to a meeting to standardize our virus delivery to one or two tools and formats. I thought this was a great idea, because when we limit our clients’ abilities by forcing them to use limited tools–tools that were designed for another purpose entirely, of course–of our own choosing rather than their choosing, they are always much more productive and they thank us for it. Ideally, these tools should cost a lot of money and should require expensive outside consultants to set them up, so that these outside consultants can later go to the clients directly and do what consultants always do, which is this: Tell people what they already know. In this case, what they already know is how this overpriced, clueless consultant can do the job much better without our involvement. Next thing we know, we’re out of the picture, the clients are happy, the consultants are happy, and I’m happy because there’s not as much work for me to do, and if this kind of thing happens often enough, I’ll find myself without a job and then I’ll have something in common with my longtime hero, Tony Muser.

So of course I was falling all over myself to attend this meeting.

I asked the person who invited me if his new laptop has a DVD drive. He said it did. I told him I’d bring a copy of Office Space to the meeting. He said he didn’t have the drive configured to work in Linux yet because he hadn’t yet had the need to watch a movie on his work laptop.

Obviously, he needs to go to this meeting even more than I do, if he’s too busy doing real work to waste time watching DVDs really loudly on his work laptop and disturbing the rest of us in the office. It’s all due to the lingering effects of the decisions Tony Muser made during his tenure as Kansas City Royals manager, of course.

I’m sure a few scenes from Office Space will help us to prove our point. And, besides, if you read User Friendly, you know it’s fun to violate the DMCA.

Tony Muser will have a lot more time to do that kind of thing from now on.