Friday, September 22, 2006

Movie Review: "Mr. 3000 "

by Matt Sandler
"The Critical Fan"

The cynic in me often gets the feeling that the entire attitude that baseball players present—just wanting to win, not caring about individual statistics, jumping like a Little Leaguer when a teammate hits a walk-off home run—is a big fat charade. On the inside, they’re looking out for #1, just as, frankly, so many the rest of us are. If they care about padding their statistics, so be it. For those of us that work for large corporations, how much do we really care about the bottom line, versus making sure we advance in our careers? The intermittently funny Mr. 3000 (2004) is about a baseball player who has the courage to admit that he’s a self-centered bastard.

The movie opens in 1995, as longtime Brewer Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) is closing in on the 3,000-hit plateau. He has played his entire career for the hapless Milwaukee Brewers; I was surprised that the Brewers allowed their uniforms and names to be used, as they are shown to be quite a pathetic franchise. (One minor detail that the filmmakers get wrong, I believe, is that the players are shown in the uniforms that the Brewers currently use, which I believe the team was not using in 1995.) Everyone in baseball universally dislikes Stan, except—a la Barry Bonds—the home fans, who he does not treat with the greatest amount of respect. Teammates, opponents, the media, umpires—to Stan, these are all impediments in his goal to make the entire world revolve around him. He is single, and carries on an off-and-on relationship with ESPN reporter Maureen “Mo” Simmons (Angela Bassett).

Stan retires the night he achieves his 3,000th hit, showing his true colors as a player who only really cares about individual statistics. He then spends his retirement opening up a Mr. 3000-themed shopping mall in the Milwaukee area, and continuing his rotten, self-infatuated existence.

Here comes the hardest part to believe in the movie. After nine years out of the game—in other words, four years of Hall of Fame eligibility—Stan has not been elected to Cooperstown. I have to believe that no matter how rotten a guy he was, and how badly he treated the press, the Baseball Writers Association of America would vote him into the Hall of Fame into his first year of eligibility for achieving 3,000 hits. But perhaps I’m becoming churlish, because then there would be no movie.

Anyway, in 2004, a Brewers official discovers that there has been an error in the books—something not that likely to happen—and Stan really has 2,997 hits. Determined to reclaim his designation as “Mr. 3000,” at the age of 47, he works his way back into shape to try to capture the three hits that he thinks he needs to keep his good shot at making the Hall. Along the way, the game has caught up with him—more players are selfish, including the Brewers’ new best player, Rex “T-Rex” Pennabaker (Brian J. White). As he tries to achieve the milestone again, and becomes a national laughingstock due to his age (imagine Julio Franco last having played in 1997, and now being a regular), he also tries to become a better teammate. He becomes somewhat of a role model for T-Rex, who could use some counseling in the modesty department.

The problem with the movie is that for a comedy, it is just not funny enough. There are some clever lines, and certainly the premise is a good one. I think part of the problem stems from the fact that Bernie Mac is almost too successful in creating the portrait of a miserable S.O.B. It is hard to root for this guy (he doesn’t bring the joy of being cocky that Rickey Being Rickey did), so it just comes off as churlish. Skip Mr. 3000, and start rooting for the next real-life Mr. 3000, Craig Biggio, instead.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan", appears alternate Fridays.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Welcome to the Baseball World: Joshua and Sean!

Scott Silversten’s column, "Age of Reason" will not appear this week because he became a father on Tuesday! He and his wife Jill welcomed Joshua and Sean Silversten. They were announced as "the newest Yankee fans," although as the boys’ aunt and uncle, we will do our best to tear them away from the Evil Empire. We have very little confidence that it will work. But baseball fans are baseball fans, and we are thrilled to have these two new little additions in our life.

Congratulations Scott!

-Auntie Sarah/The Fanatic’s Wife and Uncle Doug

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", normally appears every Thursday and will return next week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Shock and Awe: September 18, 2006, Padres vs. Dodgers

by Doug Silversten

This week's Wild-Card Wednesday is going to be short, because I am in awe and I don't know what to say. Given the circumstances, perhaps the greatest regular season game EVER was played on Monday night, and I feel it is not getting the attention it deserved. After a great regular season game, my father always comments to me, "If that was played in the postseason, they would be talking about it forever." Well folks, if Monday's match-up between the Dodgers and Padres was played in the postseason, I honestly think it would immediately become the greatest postseason game ever. The Buckner game? Kirk Gibson? Carlton Fisk? Aaron Boone? Eh, great games, but second class citizens to this gem.

As for regular season games, the only one that immediately comes to mind is the Bobby Thomson game in 1951 (which was technically a regular season game, even if the last of a 3-game playoff). And considering it sent the Giants right into the postseason, I guess that would still be tops.

I guess. But I am not so sure.

Think about it. 1/2 game division lead. 2 weeks to go. The home team, who trails by that 1/2 game, trails by 4 in the last of the ninth. Then this results:

Bottom of the 9th:
Jon Adkins pitching:
Jeff Kent: Ball, Kent homered to center.
J.D. Drew: Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Drew homered to right.
Trevor Hoffman relieved Jon Adkins.
Russell Martin: Martin homered to left center.
Marlon Anderson: Anderson homered to right.

8 pitches. 4 Homeruns. The last three coming on three consecutive pitches. Shock. And. Awe.

But wait! There's more. Hoffman settles down, gets out of the inning. Padres score in the top of the 10th and take the lead. If the Padres win, the 4 HRs become a footnote.

But the baseball gods don't have any of that.

Bottom of the 10th:
Rudy Seanez pitching:
Kenny Lofton: Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Strike swinging, Ball, Lofton walked.
Nomar Garciaparra: Ball, Strike looking, Ball, Ball, Garciaparra homered to left, Lofton scored

Absolutely amazing. I feel this game isn't getting the attention it deserved. It should still be the lead story on Sportscenter. If you were there, keep your stub. I have a feeling we will be talking about this one for, well, forever.

Is baseball the greatest game in the world or what? Wow.

"Wild-Card Wednesdays" appears alternate Wednesdays

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Inside the Mind of a Mets Fan

by Alan Eliot

The instant the Mets clinched the NL East Monday night, it occurred to me that the last time they had done so, I was 10 years old.

1988. A lifetime ago.

This time around, I was equipped with a cold beer, which lay in wait for the championship moment. The crowd roared with each passing out. Shea was crazy. The fans wanted the win in the worst way. The players wanted the win in the worst way. You could feel it.

It seems strange that something so imminent as the Mets winning the division in 2006 would suddenly take on such meaning. I mean, we all knew they would win it. It was a forgone conclusion well over a month ago. No team in baseball has dominated quite like the Mets.

Woodward. Wright. Milledge. Floyd. Heilman. Minaya. Wilpon and Willie. Glavine. Delgado. Trachsel. Wagner. Peterson. Reyes.

A procession of Mets, both players and owners/managers came on camera to give their take after the win, and I gobbled up every word.

No, this was not the World Series. But you have to understand- as I've said before, of all teams that existed in 1988, only the Mets, Tigers, Brewers and Royals had not finished in first place at least once since.

For fans of other teams, this may seem hard to understand. In fact, having the best record in one's division doesn't seem like that big of a deal. The way it is set up, 20% of teams - 6 of 30- end up in first-place every year.

First-place is a big deal for Mets fans.

Consider this: yes, the Mets have been to the postseason since 1988. In 1999 and 2000, they made it as the Wild-Card, because they were unable to unseat Atlanta perched atop the NL East. 2nd in their division. But those years were not complete victories. In 1999, they had made it to the NLCS only to lose to the Braves in six. Still 2nd in their division. In 2000, they made it to the World Series- supposedly "NL Champions"- but did so without beating the Braves in the playoffs. Being ousted in the World Series didn't help. 2nd in their own city!

Mets fans watched, helpless, as the Braves won 11 straight NL East titles from 1995-2005. Since three-division format started, the Braves have been the only NL East Champion. No one else.
Well, until last night. And that period of domination was matched by the Yankees, who themselves made the playoffs every year from 1995-2005. For years, the Mets had to contend with an unbeatable dynasty both in their division, and across town. Can't even be first in our own division. Can't even be first in our own city.

Many of those years though, Mets were first in something- first in payroll in the NL. And yes, I understand there is more than a bit of silliness to being so excited to win a division of five teams when you pay more than anyone else. You should win. True. But consider just three years ago, the Mets finished 66-95 with an ungodly payroll of $117 million. Ty Wigginton led the Mets that year with 71 RBI and a manly .714 OPS.

This year, of course, is a different story. Three Mets have 100+ RBI, and every starting position player has an OPS above Wiggy's 2003 mark. This year has been a year of unheard of dominance on the Mets' part. And even when it seemed so obvious to everyone else that the division would belong to the Mets, years of disappointment since the strong team of the 80's have trained fans like myself not to ever get too excited.

But the NL East does belong to the Mets. Phew. It's great to see in writing. And it was great to see the Mets elated, celebrating, champagne-soaked, champions. An unbelievable feeling. And it's been a long time coming.

And from comments on the Mets message boards immediately following the game ([sic] should be assumed):
"ITS SO DAM SWEET...I am all tingly";
"Oh man..Im speechless. I though Id have something poinient to say when it was done..but nothing. Im simply speechless...";
"YESSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"great is not even the word - great does not equal this feeling -god I am a kid again like in '86 and '88"

Yes, I know the feeling.

Edit: BFT column written Aug. 8, demonstrating the inevitability of Mets winning their division in 2006- here. Still, a month and a half of that inevitability, and yet the thrill of actually winning it is even more sweet than anticipated. Man, I love baseball.

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, September 18, 2006

Beane Does It....Again

by Doug Silversten

Awhile ago, I wrote a column stating that the best GM in the game is Billy Beane, and it is not even close. I’ve been accused of being a “Billy-Lover,” “Beane-Obsessed,” etc. However, how can you not be in awe of a guy who puts winners on the field every year, makes incredible moves- and does all this with none of the advantages that the perennial contenders enjoy? This year, he has maybe outdone himself. With (almost) as many injuries as the Red Sox but with half the payroll, the A’s are looking good for a playoff birth. And a big reason for that is an off-season acquisition which has turned out to probably be the year’s best. And, I hate to toot my own horn, but I called it.

Obviously, there are a lot of ways to judge a GM’s effectiveness. However, in general, unless money is not an issue at all (which only concerns the Yankees), it is all about getting the biggest bang for the buck after player development, drafting, etc. Now imagine getting a top to HR hitter in your league for….pretty much nothing. Let’s take a look at the top 11 AL HR hitters through Saturday’s games:

All things equal (which they never are), you want to have one of the top 2 players on this list – A) David Ortiz or B) Travis Hafner. However, it doesn’t take too many GM skills to figure out that having Ortiz or Hafner would be a good thing for your club. The key is to find value where others don’t. Let’s keep moving down the list.

C) Jermaine Dye - Great player, excellent signing by Ken Williams of the White Sox last year. However, not exactly cheap.

D) Jim Thome - Another great acquisition by Williams. He took a chance, and boy did it pay off. But then again, how many other teams could afford to take on $14.2mm in payroll?

Let’s skip E, the year’s best off-season acquisition. For a mere $500k, every team could have had him.

F) Jason Giambi - The exact opposite of player E. Who else but the Yankees can afford that salary? Not surprisingly, the highest paid player on this list belongs to the Yankees. “Bang for the buck”-wise, the lowest ranked person on this list. Does that make it a bad move? Of course not. Giambi is super valuable for the Yankees, but it’s like play money from them. If you spend almost $100 million more than your nearest competitor, it’s very easy to put together huge offenses, something the Yanks do every year.

G) Carlos Lee – Started the season in the NL, where the Brewers had to trade him because they knew they had no chance to sign him. Give credit to the Rangers for making a good trade. We’ll see where he winds up next year.

H) Manny Ramirez – Second only to Giambi in salary, although he is a better player. Like Giambi, if you can afford him, doesn’t take many brains to decide it’s a good move.

I) Troy Glaus – Good signing by Riccardi, but again, not exactly cheap.

That leaves us with the two clear standouts on our list:
J) Justin Morneau – Bang for the buck, the best player on this list. Terry Ryan’s organization deserves credit for drafting him and when Morneau reaches free agency, he’ll be a Yankee.

K) Alex Rodriguez – No comment necessary.

So, who is left, and the move of the offseason?

E) Frank Thomas - For $500,000, now here is a guy every team in baseball could have had. Actually, that’s not quite true. For the most part, he can’t play the field anymore, so it had to be an AL-team. How many AL team’s have a DH with better numbers than the Big Hurt? I count 4 – The Red Sox, Indians, White Sox and Yankees. That’s it. They all have big-money players…something that most of the other 10 AL teams cannot afford. They all could have had Thomas though. Most GMs looked at his injury history and shied away. But a closer look at his numbers the previous two years showed that, when healthy, he still performed. The best GM in baseball saw that and took a low-risk gamble that Thomas could stay on the field. If it didn’t work, no big deal. Even for a small market team, $500,000 is not a back-breaking sum.

Once again Billy Beane, take a bow. You are in a class by yourself.

Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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