Awarding Pitching Success


Quick question, how many Cy Youngs has Nolan Ryan won? Most people associate Ryan with his strikeout achievements and 7 no-hitters and thereby assume maybe 1 or 2? Astonishingly enough, the answer is 0. Despite being an 8-time all-star, leading the league in strikeouts 11 times and being a 2-time 20 game winner, Ryan only managed to finish as high as second place in Cy Young voting. Granted, there can only be 1 best pitcher in each league, and deservedly so. However (to borrow a line from Talladega Nights), it seems like “if you ain’t first, you’re last”. There is little hardware or recognition given to pitchers who consistently pitch well and/or are among league leaders every year.

Therefore, I propose MLB introduce a new award (name TBD) that honors the best 5 rotation pitchers in each league every year. This would be akin to the NBA All-NBA team, except MLB choses to have separate league awards. Since there is already a Relief Man award given out, we can eliminate relievers from this honor. A Cy Young winner is therefore not guaranteed to win this award (think Dennis Eckersley, Eric Gagne). Hitters already have supplementary awards like the Silver Slugger honoring the best at each position and Hank Aaron award given to the best offensive player. It’s time to give pitchers some additional love. This new award would highlight pitchers who consistently perform at a high level (think Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson), while also calling out the 1-hit wonders (think Jake Peavy, Barry Zito). Having multiple pitchers from the same team win the award could help debate who had the greatest rotation of all-time (think Braves from the mid-90s).

I would also argue the award should have no association with team success either. This allows individual pitchers to stand out without regard for run support, and ultimately, wins. WAR (Wins above Replacement) and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) can certainly be more advanced metrics used to identify the purest batch of top pitchers each year (think Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez this year). That being said, let’s keep it simple and leave subjective biases out of the mix by simply picking off the top 5 starting pitchers in recent years from Cy Young voting:

AL: Price, Verlander, Weaver, Felix, Sale
NL: Dickey, Kershaw, Gio, Cueto, Cain

AL: Verlander, Weaver, Shields, Sabathia, Wilson
NL: Kershaw, Halladay, Lee, Kennedy, Hamels

AL: Felix, Price, Sabathia, Lester, Weaver
NL: Halladay, Wainwright, Jimenez, Hudson, Josh Johnson

More notable historical resumes would be updated to look like this:

Pitcher Awards* Cy Youngs
Roger Clemens 12 7
Greg Maddux 9 4
Randy Johnson 9 5
Jim Palmer 8 3
Tom Seaver 8 3
Pedro Martinez 7 3
Roy Halladay 7 2
Steve Carlton 6 4
Fergie Jenkins 6 1
Tom Glavine 6 2
Nolan Ryan 6 0

*Newly proposed award distinctions based on Top 5 Cy Young Award voting

Sure, Ryan does not stack up to any of those above him, but at least it gives the man some honorable accolades for an otherwise standout career.

In software, a wise man once said, “There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things”. Ok, so the former doesn’t really apply here, but settling on a name would warrant it’s own blog post. Here are a few potentials, each with their own flaw:

  • Best Rotation (too plain jane?)
  • Golden Arms (too close to Golden Gloves?)
  • All Starter (too close to All-Star?)
  • Top Hurlers (too much double entendre?)
  • Mound Mounties (too Canadian?)

I’d leave the final call to the people… as long as I get royalties if this award comes into fruition, got it Bud?

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The Popovich Decision

Nov. 29 2012 will be a day forever remembered for a decision with severe consequence. The San Antonio Spurs were set to play the Miami Heat in a nationally televised game on TNT in a perennial Finals preview. However, a few hours before tip, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided to send stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green on a commercial flight home to rest up at the tail end of a 6-game road trip. At the time, I was up in arms, questioning the character and motive of the decision and was shocked to see the plethora of support behind Pop from experts in the industry. Supposedly this came down to an argument of “what is best for the team” vs. “what is best for the game”. Fast forward 4 months and that fateful day continues to spark controversy. In the March rematch, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to sit stars Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in Miami. Let’s recap the sequence of events and try to look into the ramifications that not only affected the teams involved, but the league, fans and ultimately the character of the game.

Gregg Popovich

– Popovich’s decision to sit his stars vs. the Heat was supposedly justified by the duration of their road trip. The truth is, the Spurs’ previous 2 games were cakewalk wins vs the Wizards (118-92) and Magic (110-89) where Duncan (23, 27) and Parker (22, 30) were already seeing limited minutes.

– Accepting of the decision also came from the notion that this is what Popovich does year-to-year. While this may be true, it certainly doesn’t happen in November when the playoff race is still taking form. No one dares question (4-ring) Popovich’s resting techniques however if we look between the lines, has the strategy truly paid off in recent years during the supposed aging process? Since the 2007 Championship, the Spurs have yet to make it back to the Finals and on three occasions, have been ousted by the 2nd round. Clearly, endurance has not been the deciding factor.

– Let’s call a spade a spade at the end of the day. Popovich a) didn’t want to show his cards against a potential Finals match-up and b) would not have pulled off stunt this stunt at a home game. Even he knows there is much backlash that would come from fans and realized he could get away with it in a road game.

– For those supporting Popovich’s decision and ultimately agreeing that a coach can pull starters at his discretion, let me paint a picture… Christmas Day 2004: Shaquille O’Neal returns to LA as a member of the Heat to square off against Kobe Bryant on ABC. If then coach, Stan Van Gundy decided to bench Shaq for rest purposes in one of the most anticipated games of all-time, what would be the general consensus from the pro-Pop side? NBA schedules games with national television/sponsorship opportunities in a strategic manner. At some point, you have to realize that you are part of a larger enterprise. The league is in the business of making money and each team needs to understand their role in supporting this initiative as “what is best of the league” ultimately pays dividends for everyone involved.

– The decision also lead to Popovich/club being fined a hefty sum of $250,000.

– Outside of the business aspect, let’s look at this from a fan’s perspective. Tim Duncan was scheduled to play in Miami a total of one game in the entire season. Not only were potential fans denied this opportunity, the opposing stars were removed from the game completely, thereby eliminating any potential fan interaction. As an adult, I can try to understand Pop’s decision from a holistic standpoint, however if you were to explain this to your kids, how can you preach the notion that taking days off from work at will is acceptable in the grander scheme of things?

– We also saw a cat-and-mouse game play out from Erik Spoelstra’s end when the Heat coach benched superstars, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade in the rematch in San Antonio. Given Spoelstra’s previous claim that resting his stars was only going to be considered in the last week of the season, this move had the all the stench of retaliation. One has to question if resting the stars would even have been considered had the Heat still been riding their win streak. Lebron had played 72/72 games leading up to this match. In the end, the fans once again suffer as Lebron’s sole visit to San Antonio this season was taken away (clearly an anticipated game where average ticket prices were close to $140).

– With the Heat stars bench, the Spurs actually had a chance to gain ground for overall home court advantage however they came out lethargic after halftime and could not close out the Heat down the strech, leading to a Miami win (sans Lebron and Wade). This no doubt has to leave a stinger on Popovich if his potential group of champions cannot put away a depleted East contender at home without three of their starters.

There are too many losers in this circle of events: the fans, the league, television networks, potential sponsors, and evidently the Spurs. Once the dust settles, I hope Popovich takes some time to rethink the decision and ask himself, was it worth it?

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Strasburg Decision a Debate No More

Stephen Strasburg

Stick a fork in it, the Stephen Strasburg debate is over. With the benefit of seeing how the Nationals season ended, there is a fairly strong case that his participation on the team (had the team allowed him to keep pitching in the 2012 season), would have no bearing on the outcome and thus, shutting down the phenom to preserve for the future was ultimately the right call. I was always in support with the decision Mike Rizzo and the Nationals organization made during the course of the year as it seemed like the ‘right’ thing to do for a young superstar coming off major reconstructive surgery. This story had been dissected a million different ways and there is no question, folks will still have their doubts about the decision. There will never be a concrete conclusion here but with hindsight being 20-20, my approval has some backing as we shall review how the Nats season played out.

This was a classic case of risk vs reward. Should the Nationals potentially risk the long-term health of a top flight pitcher coming of Tommy John surgery in order to win in the moment, with the team sporting the league’s best record? The argument folks will have for years to come is that, this was perhaps the Nationals best chance at winning the championship given the situation of the team. To me, the Nationals were a great regular season team but its roster had very little postseason experience. Outside of 4th starter, Edwin Jackson, the Nationals’ starting pitching staff (Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler) had 0 posteason games under their belt heading into the LDS vs the Cardinals. Of their top offensive threats (LaRoche, Zimmerman, Desmond, Harper, Morse), only Adam LaRoche had been to the posteason in the past. It would be wild to think that a team could might a leap into the calibre of a championship team this year alone. What ended up happening, to me, was probably the next best scenario, with new found experience and a realization of what it takes to win in the postseason (playing against the tried and tested St. Louis Cardinals no less).

Dropping the best pitcher from your postseason roster on the outset seems like an illogical move on any level but by no means, should that be the be-all/end-all reasoning for an argument. Let’s look at a few scenarios from the 2012 LDS playoffs alone where conventional wisdom would have led you to believe one thing, but ended up in another.

Orioles lead Yankees 2-1 in the 9th in Game 3
Facts: Orioles sported a 76-0 record when leading after 7 innings, had won 16 straight extra-inning games and sent out their MLB leading, 51-save closer who had converted 20 consecutive save opportunities.
Outcome: Raul Ibanez, pinch hitting for the 5th all-time HR leader (ARod), hits a homerun in the bottom of the 9th off closer Jim Johnson and adds another in the 12th to win it for the Yankees.

Reds take a 2-0 series lead against the Giants with 3 home games pending
Facts: No National league team in history had blown a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five LDS series and the Reds sported the NL’s best home record at 50-31 while also never having lost 3 consecutive home games in the regular season.
Outcome: The Giants cap an improbable comeback winning 3 straight road games all the while not starting a single game by 2-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and win the LDS, overcoming a 0-2 series deficit.

Tigers lead the Athletics 3-1 heading into the 9th in Game 4
Facts: 35 save closer Jose Valverde had not blown a 2-run lead since the first game of the regular season and came in having given up 1 hit in his previous 6 outings (79 pitches).
Outcome: In 14 pitches, Valverde gives up 4 hits and coughs up the lead by allowing the Athletics to score 3 runs and walk-off with a victory in the 9th inning.

Nationals lead the Cardinals 7-5 with 2 outs in the 9th in Game 5
Well, we all know how this ended…

The point to these recent anecdotes is that there are no sure things in baseball, especially in the playoffs; case and point in the Nationals-Cardinals LDS to illustrate further. SP Jordan Zimmermann came into Game 2 at St. Louis with the 2nd best road ERA in the entire MLB. What occurred in reality was a shoddy outing, yielding 5ER on 7 hits in 3 innings of work. Even ace, Gio Gonzalez never made it past the 5th inning in either of his 2 LDS starts with nerves leading to 7BB in Game 1, and then proceeding to give up 3ER/4BB in 5 innings of work in Game 5. I can’t see a scenario where pitching Strasburg in this series would have made any difference. His replacement, Ross Detwiler actually pitched admirably giving up 1ER in 6IP in a critical Game 4 win. His performance would have ultimately been dropped from the rotation. The Nationals don’t score a run in Game 3 against Chris Carpenter in any scenario and still have to deal with a shaky Edwin Jackson performance at some point in the series. This all the while, not knowing how Strasburg would have battled the emotions, nerves and pressures of postseason play.

To me, there is no rational conclusion here to indicate that pitching Stephen Strasburg in the LDS would have led to an alternate ending. There simply is too much uncertainty in the sport and what happened to the Nationals I think will ultimately help them in the long run. If we see Washington raise a championship banner in the next 1-3 years, this argument will all go for naught. Here’s to better times ahead for them Expos, err, Nats!

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Verlander is Most Valuable

Justin Verlander AL MVP

While the AL MVP won’t be announced until Nov. 21, I didn’t want to go an entire year without writing a blog post and so I felt it necessary to get something out before Nov. 15 hit. As I’ve indicated in the past, there are no bigger frustrations in my life than those dealing with the decisions of the BBWAA. This year, I’ve let my guard down some and fully expect some irrational votes to take place that question the integrity of the game. I also want to decree that I’ve become a big proponent of the WAR* stat (Wins Above Replacement) which allows any player to be judged against another regardless of position. That being said, I wanted to state my case for the most contentious award of the season in my mind; AL MVP.

We’ve learned throughout the years that the MVP is historically regarded as an award rewarding batters. In all fairness, pitchers already have an award to compete for amongst themselves. However, unless the committee comes and declares pitchers ineligible for the award, it’s fair game to me to include pitchers in the discussion for MVP. The last such winner came in 1992 in the form of RP Dennis Eckersley. I may have been too young at the time to fully justify that decision, however I’ve been witness on at least a couple of occasions in my active viewing lifetime where pitchers were robbed of the award (primarily from voters taking it upon themselves to decide whether pitchers were worthy of the award).

1995: Greg Maddux 19-2 (Braves 103-59 NL best), 1.63 ERA, 0.811 WHIP, 23 BB losing to Barry Larkin despite a +2.8 WAR and keeping the lowest ERA in a modern era season (8 voters felt Maddux wasn’t worthy of a top-3 vote)

1999: Pedro Martinez 23-4 (Red Sox 94-68 wildcard), 2.07 ERA, 0.923 WHIP, 313 K losing to Ivan Rodriguez despite a +2.3 WAR and garnering the most 1st place votes (2 voters inexplicably left Pedro off the ballot completely)

This year, the honor of AL MVP should be awarded to Justin Verlander. Numbers alone don’t tell a lie… 24-5 (1st, no other AL pitcher having won 20 games), 2.40 ERA (1st), 0.92 WHIP (1st), 250 K (1st), 0.192 BAA (1st), 8.5 WAR (T1st, +1.7 from next best pitcher) all the while leading the Tigers to an NL Central division pennant. The rest of the Tigers pitching staff had ERAs in the forms of 4.43 (Scherzer), 4.47 (Coke), 4.75 (Porcello) and 5.30 (Penny). Other regular season highlights include a no-hitter May 7 vs. Toronto, June AL Pitcher of the Month, and a 12 consecutive game (decisions) winning streak in the July-September stretch run. Even 4 of his 5 losses were considered MLB termed ‘tough losses’ having allowed 3 ER or less in 6 or more innings of work.

The argument one has to make should be evaluated against the previous benchmark of starting pitcher MVP numbers. That being Roger Clemens in 1986. Being similar power pitchers, we can compare:

  Team Record Finish W-L ERA WHIP K BAA WAR
Justin Verlander 95-67 Central pennant 24-5 2.40 0.92 250 0.192 8.5
Roger Clemens 95-66 East pennant 24-4 2.48 0.97 238 0.193 7.9

Pretty similar lines however some obscurities from that year include the fact that Clemens’ WAR was not only not the best pitching WAR in the league (Teddy Higuera, 8.4), it wasn’t even the best WAR on his own team (Wade Boggs, 8.6). Two other AL pitchers also won 20+ games that year (Jack Morris [21], Teddy Higuera [20]). Mark Langston even had more strikeouts (245) which meant no pitching Triple Crown achievement. Verlander’s season has to be considered most valuable than that.

The competition this year comes from a variety of candidates:

  • Jose Bautista .302 avg (11), 43 HR (1), 103 RBI (T10), 1.056 OPS (1), 8.5 WAR (T1)
  • Jacoby Ellsbury .321 avg (5), 32 HR (T5), 105 RBI (T6), 0.928 OPS (5), 39 SB (4), 7.2 WAR (3)
  • Miguel Cabrera .344 avg (1), 30 HR (T10), 105RBI (T6), 1.033 OPS (2), 7.1 WAR (4)
  • Curtis Granderson .262 avg (45), 41 HR (2), 119 RBI (1), 0.916 OPS (6), 5.2 WAR (12)
  • Adrian Gonzalez 6.9 WAR (4), Dustin Pedroia 6.8 WAR (5), Robinson Cano 4.6 WAR (16) all put up solid seasons but unlikely to win

Ellsbury to me had the best shot at challenging Verlander for MVP. However, that was lost when the Red Sox let their playoff hopes slip away in an epic September collapse. No MVP should be part of that. Even Cabrera puts up a good argument with his average alone. However, the power numbers are a bit suspect and ended up playing second fiddle to Gonzalez for 1B Silver Slugger honors. Bautista is an interesting case given the MLB-high WAR and batting average improvement over last year (in lieu of a slight decline in power numbers). Without him in the lineup, the Blue Jays finish 5th instead of 4th in the AL East? Doesn’t seem like justification enough given the rest of the field. MLB awards history indicates that no AL MVP has had a batting average as bad as Granderson with the closest being Roger Maris in 1961 (.269) when he also belted 61 homeruns. Cano and CC also greatly diminish Granderson’s chances.

Factors that could go against Verlander include: Cabrera being an MVP candidate on the same team, Jose Valverde being perfect in save situations helping close out games (49/49), or the fact that the Tigers played in the worst division in baseball. None of these cases is strong enough to dissuade the ultimate decision however. Let justice be served BBWAA writers and have the best man win (otherwise, you’ll be seeing another hate post from me in one year’s time).

* WAR values picked up from Baseball Reference

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BBWAA fail NL ROY voting

Accountability. Does this concept exist in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA)? Reading up on their web site, the mantra for this group is as follows:
“Its purpose is to ensure proper working conditions in press boxes and clubhouses, and to ensure its members have access to players and others in the game so members’ reporting can be accurate, fair and complete.”
For this discussion, I am most concerned with the latter statement and the irony that plays out from the message.

Few things in life bother me as much as seeing the fallout from MLB award voting breakdowns, voted on by the BBWAA. Each year there seems to be abnormalities that make me question the integrity of this group and wonder if accountability ever comes into play. Nothing was more disturbing than last year’s NL Cy Young voting when 2 writers decided not to place Chris Carpenter on their ballot. Apparently pitching for a division winning team, ranking #1 in {ERA, WHIP, W%} and #2 in {CG, W, QS%} was not sufficient enough to garner Cy consideration. While placing Carpenter may not have ultimately altered the outcome, the lack of reasoning to substitute Dan Haren/Javier Vaquez on the ballot is mind boggling.

This year, the screws have come loose even earlier with the voting breakdown for the NL Rookie of the Year (ROY). Again, the final outcome is not the contentious issue here; Buster Posey was a deserving winner (over Jason Heyward) and my pick for the ROY. The problem comes from 2 writers who decided to not place Posey or Heyward on their ballot; both for reasons that are not satisfying to me. The first culprit was Dejan Kovacevic, a beat writer for the Pittsburgh (hint hint) Post-Gazette who decided that Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, both of Pirates fame, were more deserving of a ROY vote than Jason Heyward. Let’s just look at the numbers for comparison sake:

  • Heyward = .277AVG, .456SLG, .849OPS, 18HR, 72RBI, 11SB, 95.2RC, 33.3VORP, 4.8UZR
  • Walker = .296AVG, .462SLG, .811OPS, 12HR, 66RBI, 2SB, 68.4RC, 29.8VORP, -10.8UZR
  • Tabata = .299AVG, .400SLG, .746OPS, 4HR, 35RBI, 19SB, 56.8RC, 14.9VORP, 7.8UZR

Walker could be argued for based on his strong hitting numbers, however he was widely considered a defensive liability. Tabata on the other hand was a strong defender but paled in any significant hitting category outside of average, most notably in the modest power numbers. Hewyard’s value over replacement player topped even Buster (32.5) all the while helping Atlanta secure a wild-card spot in the playoffs.

Kovacevic has been defending himself all afternoon on Twitter however most of his responses appear defensive in nature, almost pleading for others to find justification in his picks. Another gripe I have with his selection is the callous feeling that voting beyond Buster was inconsequential, as interpreted from this tweet:
“Feeling always has been with voting that broadest variety of perspectives bring best results. Few can argue final overall tally, I’d think.”
Writers would be allowed 1 vote if that were the case. 2nd/3rd place votes can make a difference, in this case, if others had thought more highly of Heyward. This careless train of thought leads me back to integrity, or lack there of for writers in the selection committee. It’s not a coincidence that the 2 Pirates were only placed on the ROY ballot by Dejan, leading me to wonder how he can keep his vote in Association. This fellow would be working for Billy Beane in Oakland if he has the vision to recognize talent others overlook. Otherwise, it seems as though the Pirates’ misfortunes since 1992 have made some in the area delusional and desperate for any form of success.

The second delinquent coming out of the voting saga is Yasushi Kikuchi, of the Kyodo News in LA-Anaheim. This guy appears to be getting less flack for his selections due to his otherwise genuine choices in Gaby Sanchez, Jason Heyward, and Jaime Garcia. 2/3 ain’t too bad? How about forgetting to include eventual winner Buster Posey on his ballot! This is arguably more blasphemous than Kovacevic’s Heyward slight. How can one take this guy seriously if he is unable to place the winner on his ballot? In my opinion this should be cause for revocation or at minimum, suspension of membership. His reasoning is reckless and selfish:
“To me, Rookie of the Year is the best rookie player throughout the whole season”
Yasushi should not be judge of who deserves rookie consideration. If MLB confirms a player is eligible for rookie status, that player should automatically be taken into account by all writers. Posey’s 406AB still tops Ryan Howard’s 312AB from his 2005 ROY season. Kikuchi’s tunnel vision did not appear to recognize Buster’s contributions which included a 21-game hitting streak, and ignition to the Giants’ unexpected NL West pennant. This, to compliment NL rookie leading AVG (.305), SLG (.505) and OPS (.862) numbers (forgive Buster for falling 1HR short of Gaby’s total of 19 in 166 less AB).

Let’s revisit the BBWAA’s 3 pillars in their foundation:

  • “accurate” = writers can omit the eventual winner from their ballot altogether
  • “fair” = writers can vote for local talent who are not recognized by anyone else
  • “complete” = writers can omit players with league leading numbers from their ballot

I’m as big a Blue Jay fan as anyone, however I would not place Jose Bautista for AL MVP, over more deserving candidates (Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano). Sometimes common sense has to supersede inbred bias. I think it’s time this Association takes a look at the voting history and start holding its writers accountable.

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NBA Season Preview 2010-2011

NBA 2010

It’s been awhile since I’ve been this excited for an upcoming NBA season (probably not since 2000-2001 when Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill were supposed to lead Orlando to the promised land). However, this year the excitement is not entirely fueled by good intentions. Sure the Magic are in the running for the title, however there is a part of me that simply wants to see the Miami Heat fail after months of media frenzy and hype surrounded by the “3 Kings” signings over the summer. There are plenty of other subplots involved this 2010-2011 season including the Lakers’ quest for another 3-peat and possibly the last hurrah for the Celtic Big Three. Let’s take a dive into some of the contenders with polarizing appeal followed by unbiased predictions for the upcoming season.

Orlando Magic
I’ve certainly deemed last year’s result a disappointment having coming off a 2009 NBA Finals appearance. Losing 2 heart-breakers at home and then going down 0-3 to Boston was a sour way to end the season. Most experts have noted that not much has changed since last year, although I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. While I’ll never approve of Vince in favor of Hedo, Carter has shown signs of improvement this preseason averaging 17.2 points in 24.2 mpg, while shooting 60.7% (!) from the field. This can be associated with better shot selection, including stronger drives to the rim, leading to higher percentage shots. Rashard Lewis will have to become more of a scoring factor after basically falling off the map last year, most notably in the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston. BasketballProspectus offered an insightful breakdown of moving Lewis to SF to allow for a bigger frontcourt (Anderson/Bass/Gortat), which would pay dividends against Boston or LA. As for Dwight, let’s just say off-season workouts with Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon can only be considered a good thing and so I’m expecting a strong MVP caliber season.

Boston Celtics
Just when everyone was ready to write these guys off last year, they pulled together and came within a quarter of sealing up another NBA championship last year. Rudy Tomjanovich said it right, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of champion!” This group of aging vets appear to be giving it one last shot this year with the core team. Signings of Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal make the Celtics incredibly deep down the middle (along with Perkins) allowing for combat ammunition against Dwight Howard in Orlando and the Gasol/Bynum duo in LA. With the starting five average age at 32+, I would imagine more of the same as last year with the Celtics coasting in the regular season by winning the meager Atlantic Division and saving their best for last in the playoffs.

Miami Heat
Unless you’ve lived under a rock this summer, it’s no secret the biggest buzz heading into the season is around this Heat team. Vegas has made Miami the odds on favorite to win the NBA championship and Jeff Van Gundy predicted this team would beat the Bull’s 72 win mark from 1996. Both couldn’t be farther from the truth. While there shouldn’t be much emphasis put on the preseason, it did illustrate that this team is incredibly thin on the bench and are a significant James or Wade injury away from simply being above average. It should also be noted that the Heat lost their last 4 games against NBA opponents in the preseason including a highly contested game against Atlanta where James and Bosh played 38+ minutes. After the 3-pack of all-stars, the team is reaching on the bench with castoffs: Eddie House, Juwon Howard, Jamaal Magloire and recently signed Jerry Stackhouse. The Miller injury was huge considering he would have been the beneficiary of plenty open looks with James and Wade driving to the rim. When healthy, Miami can surely reel off double digit win streaks however playing in a division with Orlando and Atlanta, I’m capping the win total at 60. Having played all of 3 minutes together in preseason, it is going to take time to gel together as team. Furthermore, the Heat aren’t built to beat bigger teams and I don’t see how they have an answer to Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol. They are more than likely to draw Orlando or Boston in the 2nd round and I’ll side with either of the latter leading to a “disappointing” 2nd round exit for Miami. Eventually, this team may come around to winning championships, however I don’t see it happening this year.

Los Angeles Lakers
There’s not much wrong I can find in this team and there is plenty of motivation this year with a 3-peat looming and Kobe’s hunger to stay ahead of Shaq in the championship race as well as tying Michael for a 6th ring. The addition of Matt Barnes adds another feisty defender to an already top tiered defense. The Lakers should be able to cruise over the Western Conference once again and then test its hand against a formidable East opponent. With this in mind, I would consider resting Kobe or limit his minutes on back-to-backs to ensure he is fully healthy for a long playoff run.

Oklahoma City Thunder
Many experts are ready to crown this bunch as the biggest threat to the Lakers in the Western Conference. While they may be a strong team, I’m not convinced they will reach that level this year. There is no doubt in my mind Kevin Durant is the MVP favorite however his big jump to primetime was last year (25.3 to 30.1ppg). This mirrors Michael Jordan and Lebron James’ ascent in their 3rd years where each posted their highest career scoring numbers. However, neither the Bulls or Cavs made much noise in the playoffs until they took a few more punches. I can’t imagine Durant’s numbers improving much beyond the 30.1ppg-7.6rpg-47.6fg% posted last year however with him and Westbrook leading the way, along with a playoff series under their belt, the Thunder should be able to make progress. I still see them falling to a bigger team like the Dallas Mavericks. This team needs to add another veteran value player and strengthen up front beyond Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic before making a push to the big time.

Eastern Conference Predictions
1. Orlando Magic*
2. Miami Heat
3. Boston Celtics
4. Chicago Bulls – can’t imagine Boozer to give much beyond 19/10 so the success of this team will revolve around Derrick Rose in a pivotal year 3
5. Atlanta Hawks – same core as last year eventually will lead to the same results. It’s too bad Shaq couldn’t come around
6. Milwaukee Bucks – Salmons was a great pick-up last year and caught a tough break with Bogut’s injury prior to the playoffs. Still this team is capped at a 1st round series win
7. Washington Wizards – what’s not to like about John Wall? should provide a strong dynamic in the backcourt with Arenas with Blatche/Yi to work with up front
8. New Jersey Nets – call me crazy, but I’m convinced this team massively underachieved last year. Harris/Lopez/Favors should be enough to squeeze out a playoff spot over the Knicks

Western Conference Predictions
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Dallas Mavericks – you can’t go wrong with this team in the regular season. Playoffs on the other hand are always a toss-up although they should be able to put up a better fight than last year
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Houston Rockets – hated dealing away Carl Landry however Luis Scola came into his own. Hoping to see Courtney Lee turn the corner however the extent of success depends on Yao’s health
5. Portland Trail Blazers – team managed 50 wins last seasons sans Oden. What’s not to think they could only be better if Oden is healthy
6. Utah Jazz – Al Jefferson is not a bad replacement for Boozer however this team is lacking in depth on the bench and has a roster prone to injuries
7. San Antonio Spurs – I’m as big a Tim Duncan fan as anyone out there however, even with Hill and Splitter providing youthful spark, the window is closing on the core
8. Denver Nuggets – this is provided Carmelo sticks it with the team. I also expect some inspirational ball with Coach Karl back at the helm

* this is not a biased pick. To be fair, I’m still at odds who will come out of the East b/w Orlando and Boston.

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Michael Scott leaving ‘The Office’

Steve Carell

The biggest fear among ‘The Office’ fans came to reality when Steve Carell announced in a recent report that he would leave the successful NBC show when his contract expires at the end of the 2010-2011 season. This has spawned some interesting conversation amongst the tabloids to see which direction the show will take. After all, the rest of the cast is signed on for 1 more season (through 2011-2012) which leads many to believe that the show will go on. Before we discuss the replacement strategy, let’s examine the situation at hand.

I’m not going to directly question Steve’s statement made last month that ‘I just think it’s time,I want to fulfill my contract’, however it would be naive to believe there isn’t more at stake here. Is it not fair to ask if this announcement prior to Season 7 filming is more strategic in nature and a ploy to induce a juicer contract when the existing one expires? It would be hard to imagine the show going on without the “World’s Best Boss” considering how many episodes solely reply on Carell’s improvisational skills and shenanigans to carry an episode. We saw how Charlie Sheen’s threats to leave ‘Two and a Half Men’ netted him a sweet new contract (2 million per episode!) in the 11th hour of contract negotiations. Come April, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to have NBC execs reconsider priorities and empty their pockets to try and lure Steve back for at least 1 more season, especially considering ‘The Office’ is one of the top demographically targeted shows on the network.

From Carell’s perspective, TV is easily his most successful platform in show business. While many of his movies have done well, his movie career hasn’t exactly taken off to superstar status. It almost seems like a hit-or-miss with hits like ’40 Year Old Virgin’/’Get Smart’, but clunkers in ‘Evan Almighty’/’Dan in Real Life’. In fact in a non-animated lead role, his movies have netted an average of < 100M gross per film. We saw a similar story with Jennifer Aniston where the desire for big screen success did not necessarily translate to box office earnings. Steve's best work has come on the small screen starting out on the 'Daily Show' as a correspondent to Jon Stewart. Recognition here earned Carell the position as bumbling Dunder Mifflin middle manager Michael Scott on 'The Office' for which he has won a Golden Globe and been nominated for 5 Emmys. If status quo holds true and Steve plays out his contact at Season 7's end, NBC would likely keep the show going for at least 1 more season with the rest of the staff still under contract. After all, none of the employees have had much success outside the show, save for Jenna Fischer ('Blades of Glory', 'Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story'), Ed Helms ('The Hangover') and Craig Robinson ('Hot Tub Time Machine', 'Last Comic Standing'). In this scenario, who has the inside edge as new Dunder Mifflin boss? In a real office environment, a promotion would likely come from within. Considering the downsizing of the company, their are limited options as to who would be the likely candidate. If the show decides to go the route of hiring from outside, there are some solid candidates available as well. Let's discuss the lucky 7:

  • John Krasinski (Jim) – in the current state of the show, Jim is considered the #2 and has even held a co-manager position in season’s past. He would make for the most logical candidate to replace Michael, however from a creative standpoint, we have already seen Jim in power and perhaps many of the story lines have been played out. John also lacks the charisma to hold this role on a weekly basis.
  • Rainn Wilson (Dwight) – from the get-go, Dwight’s character has strived for power, however has never been in a position to execute many of his rudimentary and militant tactics. There is plenty of potential here to create obscure story lines while also serving as a great battle for the alpha-male (vs Jim) position along the way.
  • Craig Robinson (Darel) – we’ve seen Darel rise from the warehouse to landing an office upstairs and so could the next step be to a promotion to office manager? There is plenty of back story to develop here and it would give writers an opportunity for Darel to rehire ex-warehouse worker Roy. After all, the happy-go-lucky couple (JAM) is due for some tension.
  • Melora Hardin (Jan) – it could be in the show’s best interest to bring back Jan and create a fresh change of pace with a new female manager in the forefront perhaps even creating some tension between Kathy Bates, as head of Sabre. We’ve already seen a glimpse of ‘crazy Jan’ during Season 4, however there is more the show can do to back fill her character.
  • Ricky Gervais (David) – this almost seems like the perfect option with the original ‘Office’ boss (UK) coming back to assume the role in the American version. The writers would likely have to tie in some type of crossover to bring David Brent over from England. We’ve seen Ricky shine in the role already and has a strong improv background.
  • Conan O’Brien – ok, I’ll admit this might be wishful thinking however there is no doubt in my mind Conan could do hilarious things in a boss position. Ofcourse there would be that small little hurdle of coming back to NBC, a network that exiled him from late night, but this is show business and all can be forgiven by flashing around some green.
  • Will Arnett – we’ve already seen excellance in this type of role as the power driven GOB on ‘Arrested Development’ (Come On!) and the flamboyant, vindictive Devon Banks on ’30 Rock’. There is no reason Arnett cannot stretch the character as new office manager however his new pilot on FOX (‘Running Wilde’) would have to fizzle out to be made available.

It will be interesting to see which direction the show goes. Considering the quality of remaining shows on NBC’s slate, there are very limited sure fire hits and even the critically acclaimed series (’30 Rock’, ‘Parks and Recreation’) are deadbeats in the ratings game. In my honest opinion, the show is too important for NBC to let go and pockets will surely empty at season’s end to keep Michael Scott hired for a few more seasons.

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Emmy Nominations 2010

The 62nd annual Emmy awards take place on Sunday August 29, 2010 this year at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, California and will be televised on NBC from 8-11 PM EST. New late, late night king, Jimmy Fallon will take on the hosting duties. Nominees will be announced by Joel McHale, Community and Sofia Vergara, Modern Family alongside Academy Chairman and CEO, John Shaffner.

This year’s talent pool for Best Comedy is deep with many new series poised to take a run at 3-time defending champion 30 Rock. Last year’s list included 6 potential hopefuls and if the Board keeps at that, my predictions include: an up and down but still better than the rest 30 Rock, a rebirth of Arrested Development in Modern Family, following in The Office’s footsteps Parks and Recreation, Seinfeld themed Curb Your Enthusiasm, best traditional comedy Big Bang Theory and best new pop culture favorite How I Met Your Mother (although it sounds like Glee is the critic’s darling).

Check back Thursday July 8 at 8:35 AM EST for all the Comedy nominees
Check back Sunday August 29 for all the Emmy award winners 2010

The Comedy nominees as announced by the Academy are as follows:

Best Comedy Series

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Glee
  • Modern Family
  • Nurse Jackie
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock

Best Lead Actor (Comedy)

  • Jim Parsons, Big Bang Theory
  • Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Matthew Morrison, Glee
  • Tony Shaloub, Monk
  • Steve Carell, The Office
  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock

Best Lead Actress (Comedy)

  • Lea Michele, Glee
  • Julie Louis-Dreyfus, New Adventures of Old Christine
  • Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
  • Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Toni Collette, United States of Tara

Best Supporting Actor (Comedy)

  • Chris Colfer, Glee
  • Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
  • Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
  • Ty Burrell, Modern Family
  • Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men

Best Supporting Actress (Comedy)

  • Jane Lynch, Glee
  • Julie Bowen, Modern Family
  • Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
  • Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
  • Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
  • Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
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How to get tickets to Saturday Night Live

SNL Standby Tickets

Trying to obtain tickets to a live Saturday Night Live taping has often thought to be an impossible task and from my most recent experience, I can definitely see why. NBC certainly does not provide the necessary direction to make things easy for you. Before I go on, I should heed warning in noting the irony of my blog title as I was unsuccessful in my endeavor, however, I am hoping my personal experience will help others down the line.

It is often claimed that the most effortless route to get a guaranteed SNL ticket is to send an e-mail to NBC in August and try your luck in the lottery where the reward nets you two tickets to a random taping (I have my some thoughts and skepticism on this). Keep in mind, a lottery ticket may only grant access to the 8 p.m. dress rehearsal and not necessarily the live 11:30 p.m. show.

The other option to attend an SNL taping is by means of stand-by tickets. This involves lining up in front of NBC Studios on the day of a taping and obtaining a stand-by ticket (dress or show) on a first-come, first-serve basis. These tickets only come into play when guaranteed ticket holders are no-shows. Guaranteed tickets are not confined to just lottery winners; in fact, tickets won via lottery represent a small percentage of guaranteed ticket holders. The majority of seats are reserved for VIP, which includes friends and family of the host, musical guest and cast members. The number of VIPs varies largely from show-to-show and in essence determines how many stand-by ticket holders eventually make it into a live taping.

Having been unsuccessful in the lottery, my friend and I decided to try our luck in stand-by on Saturday, April 24 for a show hosted by Gabourey Sidibe with musical guest MGMT. It was a very calculated move having selected a taping that involved an uncelebrated host and relatively unknown musical guest. This duo seemed to offer a better chance at attracting less of a crowd than say the Tina Fey/Justin Bieber combo from a few weeks earlier.

Upcoming Saturday Night Live Hosts

Our day started off leaving from Bristol, CT at 3:45 AM on Saturday morning. We arrived in NYC at 5:30 and made it to 30 Rockefeller Plaza around 5:45. A fair number of folks were already lined up on the W 49th street side of NBC Studios (later we learned there were 130 people in front of us). The majority of people in the front of the line had camped out overnight. An estimated 200 total people were in line by the time we obtained our tickets.

On a quick side bar, I have to mention an offbeat character who was in line right behind us with an unhealthy obsession with SNL. He claimed to own “over 20 episodes on VHS tape,” boasted in finding a site that listed every member who had stated the line “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” and passed along an anecdote where he “froze” when having met Jenny Slate. It was an onslaught of questions from the get-go ranging from “Who is your favorite Weekend Update anchor?”, “Who was your favorite host,” “What is your favorite skit of all-time?” While my friend was a little more engaging, I phased him out when it got to a point where he was not the type of energy I was intending on soaking in early on a Saturday morning. I’ll give the kid an “A” for effort but an “F” for the ability to detect human discomfort in social situations.

Back to my story, an NBC player (call him NBC-1) came out 10 minutes prior to 7 a.m. to indicate stand-by tickets (numbered from No. 1 onwards) are available for the dress rehearsal or the live show. He was generally approachable and the obvious question people were asking involved the chances of getting into either show. His advice was to choose the show ticket with the lowest number (while this makes sense logically, it was obviously a false claim as we found out the hard way). NBC-1 told us that only four stand-by tickets made it into the live Tina Fey/Justin Bieber show; definitely not offering a hope of confidence.

Another NBC player (call her NBC-2) distributed the tickets. By the time we got to the front of the line, we were faced with the decision to take tickets Nos. 63/64 for the live show or Nos. 69/70 for the dress rehearsal. To get a better idea of our chances, we asked how many people typically make it in and what was the most number of stand-by tickets ever earning admission. While being fairly open to questions, NBC-2 played the naive card and didn’t give us much to work with. She claimed that 40 standbys made it into a live taping during a snowstorm a few years back in a studio that holds roughly 330 people. We were able to extract the fact that “30,000 people apply for the lottery and less than 5% win.” Playing the numbers game, we ended up taking tickets 63/64 for the live show.

Over breakfast, we replayed our questions and information obtained from NBC-1 and NBC-2 and determined that we had made the best decision possible. Still, we knew our chances of making it into the live show were pretty slim. Regardless, we agreed to go back later that night to try our luck. With no shortage of things to do, we were easily able to make a day of it in NYC, surprisingly without feeling the crash and burn from the early morning mission.

Our stand-by tickets indicated that we arrive back by 10:45 p.m. for the 11:30 live show. We made our way back to NBC Studios to line up with our stand-by tickets around 10:15. This time we waited inside the GE building. We saw a line for the roughly 30 lottery winners. Another batch of folks, the VIPs, were coming from an exclusive back-door entrance. At this point, promptness is not a factor provided you arrive before 10:45 since standbys are admitted by the number on your ticket.*

In line, by means of an unknown NBC Player, word spread that “around 70″ stand-by ticket holders made it in to the dress rehearsal. Our hopes were immediately raised and an excitement spread among others in our line. What was thought to be a long shot earlier in the day appeared to be a possibility. At 10:30 p.m., the guaranteed ticket holders were ushered past security and to their seats. Then, NBC Player (call her NBC-3) had us line up based on our stand-by number. NBC-3 definitely appeared to be “in-the-know,” actively communicating with whatever activity was taking place in the studio above.

It was noted that any stand-by ticket holder arriving after 10:45 p.m. would have to go to the back of the ordered stand-by line regardless of number. To follow-up on the asterisk from earlier, this was obviously not strictly adhered to as two sets of female groups came in a bit tardy. The first two girls followed instructions and moved to the back of the line (which benefited us since they were #s 61/62). The next set came in closer to 11 — apparently the rules are slightly relaxed when you sweet talk an NBC PA wearing five-inch heels and a short skirt because the girls were allowed to retake their stand-by ticket number in line (which hurt our chances since they were about 10 numbers ahead of us).

At 11 p.m., 30 people from our line were instructed to clear security, yet were informed that this did not guarantee a seat (eventually these 30 did make it in). That left us 32 people away from glory, building anticipation. The element of unknown was painful to endure. NBC Players did not offer any indication of how many seats remained. We saw VIPs continuing to come in sporadically. Around 11:10, two more standbys got in; followed by two more at 11:15. At this point, it seemed unlikely the openings would jump from two people at a time to 30, which is where we were in line. At 11:20, one more stand-by was asked to go in. Finally at 11:22, our hopes were dashed when NBC-3 informed us that no more folks would be allowed in. In the end, 35 standbys made the cut for the live show.

As a last ditch effort, we loitered in the lobby hoping for any last minute offers. When we heard the audience noise from above, we knew the show was underway and there was no hope left. I decided to speak with another approachable NBC Player (NBC-4) in the vicinity to try and obtain further information. She claimed to not know how many people actually made it in that night’s dress rehearsal, however did state that it is always better to take your chances with the dress show since more VIP are inclined to attend the live taping. While not stated directly, it was implied to be almost a 2:1 ratio.

Earlier when we got in the building, we had actually spoke to standby #35 (the last to make it through). He mentioned that he had arrived in line at 2 a.m. and was offered either ticket number 35 in the live show or 56 in the dress rehearsal (this should give a perspective on the number of people already in line by 2 a.m.). Remembering that NBC-1 had harped on the notion of going with the lowest number, clearly folks earlier in the line knew that the dress rehearsal offered a better chance at admission than live show. Whether this tip came from prior experience or from NBC-2 remains to be seen.

What makes our experience even more intriguing is that if “around 70″ truly made it in the dress rehearsal, we could have potentially made it in had we chosen dress show ticket Nos. 69/70. Of course, if it were rounded up to 70 or even 69, that would have made for an uncomfortable situation; our pact was always both of us or none of us.

It seemed as though the four NBC Players we encountered played a villainous role throughout our endeavor. NBC-1 offered some misdirection with the “lowest number policy.” NBC-2 did not shed any perspective on the numbers game nor gave any inclination that taking No. 69 in dress is infinitely better than taking No. 63 in live. NBC-3 seemed to have the inside track on the seating arrangement inside, however never disclosed any information throughout the night to indicate our chances, potential or otherwise. NBC-4 appeared to have knowledge of general trends week-to-week yet did not offer any hard numbers to support the claim.

On some level, I believe they are instructed by execs to yield as minimal information as possible. Other shows like “Daily Show” and previously “Conan” are fairly up front with their ticket issuance policies. The “Saturday Night Live” ticket policy is very closed off and often leads people on to false hope. Why NBC chooses to go down this route of secrecy baffles me. The show is not good enough to be taking fans on an emotional roller coaster. Its ratings are consistently on the decline, and only Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin has kept “SNL” on the map in recent years. This isn’t the ’90s anymore when NBC was on top of the world and the show was consistently funny. The fact that people still want to come out and watch a live taping of any NBC show should be received with open arms and full disclosure.

I also wonder if it makes sense for the fan to decide whether to take the dress or live show stand-by ticket. From our conversations with folks in line, a large majority indicated that they would be satisfied attending either with no preference to the live show. Perhaps NBC should consider a “best ticket” number policy where stand-by tickets are simply distributed from No. 1 onwards with no distinction between dress and live shows. That way, fans who wish to attend only the live taping can skip lining up for the dress show earlier in the night. Those who simply want to get in either show can line up for the dress and if cut-off, come back later for the live show. Obviously a ticket can only be used in one show. I haven’t explored the full ramifications of this process, but it is something to consider.

The lottery system itself should also be investigated. The ticket info page on hasn’t been updated for three years, and it’s a mystery if the process is still active. I’ve applied for the past three years and have never heard back from NBC either confirming receipt or otherwise. I shouldn’t be too bitter considering NBC-2’s earlier claim that “30,000 people apply for the lottery and less than 5% win.” To crunch the numbers further:

  • At a 5% hit rate, 1500 people are lucky enough to win the lottery each year.
  • Given a 22 episode season, 68 tickets are available per show, of which half are presumably distributed evenly between the dress and live show. This leaves roughly 34 lottery tickets at hand for a given live taping; clearly slim pickings going this route.

I would be even more skeptical of the process had my friend (then living in NY) not won a dress rehearsal lottery ticket back in 2008. A few other folks in our stand-by line mentioned they knew friends in NY who had also won the lottery. Are locals more inclined to attend tapings and thereby given preference vs. say, someone from Idaho?

At the end of the day, it came down to more questions than answers:

  • If a high of 40 people got in during a winter storm a few years ago as NBC-2 claimed, did we pick one of the most opportunistic shows in recent years considering 35 standbys made it in the live show? Seems doubtful.
  • Is there no counter to know how many seats remain unfilled? In the closing minutes, it seems devious to call people in numbers of one or two, especially if you are with a group and concerned if others behind you are going to make it in.
  • Why not full disclosure with how many standbys make it in the dress and live show each week? Clearly these numbers are available and would offer guidance to fans hoping to attend the show by analyzing weekly trends.

The fact that we potentially could have made it in the rehearsal show with tickets Nos. 69/70 leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I still haven’t watched the Gabourey Sidibe show from 04/24, which I had recorded on DVR, primarily out of spite. I’ll probably come around at some point. I urge folks who decide to participate in the stand-by ticket process to ask plenty of questions to NBC players and also comment on your experience so as to help others in the future. Until then, stay classy NBC.

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‘Bull Durham’ Movie Review

Bull Durham

So I may be 12 years late to the game here, however there is always a young generation of baseball fans that could benefit from this review. I happened to stumble upon this movie only after a friend at work recommended it with high praise and scolded me, a baseball fan, for not having watched this apparent classic. After giving it a go, let’s just say, the movie truly belongs in the minor leagues. While I won’t give away enough information to ruin the movie, I should offer a spoiler alert as relevant pieces of the plot may be discussed.

I was astonished to see how well received the movie was around the internet world. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a whopping 98% approval rating while many lists tabbed the film as one of the greatest sports movies of all-time. One of these lists comes naturally from my employer, ESPN, which gave ‘Bull Durham’ the #1 spot. While it is unconventional wisdom to argue against The Man, I would have to kindly disagree, noting that in my opinion, the movie does not even rank as the greatest baseball movie of all-time (outranked by ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘Major League’). The fact that one has to question whether ‘Bull Durham’ is a sports movie or a romantic comedy drops it down a notch in my books. Too much of the focus was put on the romantic triangle, which took away from the essence of the movie (supposedly baseball). No other movie in the ESPN Top 5 offers that type of genre ambiguity. You basically get what you pay for with the others.

Before I start sipping on the “haterade”, I should mention the positives that came out of the movie. I thought the character of Kevin Costner, “Crash” Davis was perfectly executed throughout the movie. A washed up, aging, veteran catcher whose only role at this stage in his career is to help the growth of others. It made complete sense for the team to go a different direction when “Nuke” was called up. As Crash closed in on the all-time Minor League homerun record, the underlying negative connotation associated with it made it understandable why he did not want any spotlight shone on the milestone. Many of the lessons passed onto Nuke (including how to throw a punch in a bar fight) were very believable. I also thought Susan Sarandon was well cast as Annie Savoy, the passionate middle-aged fan and unofficial trainer of the Bulls. She executed her scenes well playing the Bulls groupie and lusting after the men she truly desired.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s harp on where the movie went wrong. I think it started with a horrible miscasting of Nuke Laloosh. Tim Robbins really did not seem to be the right fit for a flashy, young kid with a rocket arm. In fact, his rambunctious pitching motion was pathetic to watch as a baseball fan. As a Hollywood actor, one would think that he could train for the role. While I may be slightly biased against Robbins having seen him in more serious roles like ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘Mystic River’ before watching this movie, he didn’t exude the essence of a cocky young kid trying to make it in the big leagues. Perhaps Woody Harrelson back in the late 80s could have worked better? It also didn’t make sense for the character to be exclusively pining after Savoy, a clingy 40+ year old. One would think that a guy in his position would be a bit more promiscuous with less attachments.

Another problem I had with the movie was the aspect of realism. Ron Shelton, the director, was a former minor league baseball player and in the DVD commentary mentioned how he wanted to genuinely portray life in the minor leagues. While some elements worked well, others I think started becoming evident of a Hollywood movie. I may be especially acute to observation here given the timing of Stephen Strasburg coming up in the ranks. It was uncomforting to note that pitch count was never an issue with Nuke in his appearances. The 18 K/18 BB debut seems downright unbelievable. Later, we find Nuke going the distance, working on a 2-hit shutout in the 9th inning in a game that is well out of hand. It just didn’t seem natural for the development of a young pitcher. Strasburg has been on tight pitch count limitations throughout his minor league starts. In 5 Double-A appearances, Stephen pitched 22 innings and in his Triple-A debut, was pulled after 6 innings of 1-hit ball in just 65 pitches. I also found it hard to believe that a pitcher could jump from Single-A ball straight to MLB, especially considering how Nuke wasn’t exceptionally outstanding in his minor league stint. Strasburg, often considered the top pitching prospect in over 20 years has paid his dues in Double-A and is working his way up from Triple-A before inevitably getting the call up from the Washington Nationals.

I may be harder on the movie simply based on the hype coming in. Had I watched it on my own, independent of recommendation, there is a good chance I wouldn’t have even bothered writing a review. While I expected absurdity from ‘Major League’, I expected a more sophisticated portrayal of real life in ‘Bull Durham’, and the movie failed in that regard. What else bothered me were the rave reviews and high acclaim that I feel were not warranted for an otherwise romance filled sports movie. The baseball scenes were often limited to the battery interaction between Nuke and Crash with little emphasis shone on other aspects of the field/players. While I could easily watch ‘Major League’ once a year on TNT, I wouldn’t be shocked to find ‘Bull Durham’ on Lifetime and would pass on the opportunity to watch a second time.

Rating: C

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