Monday, April 30, 2007

Stay classy, NASCAR fans ...

Wow, NASCAR fans really have gone out of their way to prove all of the stereotypes about them to be correct with their tempered reaction to Jeff Gordon winnning back-to-back races to tie, then pass the late Dale Earnhardt on the all-time victories list. When he won in Phoenix on April 21 to tie the Intimidator with his 76th career win, Gordon went so far as to do a victory lap while holding a flag adorned with Earnhardt's No. 3. Some in the crowd reacted by pelting Gordon's car with beer cans and other assorted flotsam, a scene that was repeated after Gordon took his 77th checkered flag at Talladega this past Sunday.

Maybe it's appropriate that these shenanigans took place around the same time that fellow Nextel Cup racer Tony Stewart accused NASCAR of being fixed like professional wrestling, because their fans are sure acting like the brainless brutes you see ringside at WWE events. It's no secret that a lot of NASCAR devotees have never taken to Gordon for a variety of reasons, among them that he's from California and doesn't have a Southern accent and can read and has all of his teeth. (OK, those last two things were just mean. Sorry.) In the wake of the fan display, several articles have pointed out that Earnhardt and Gordon were friends when Dale Sr. was alive, and that Dale Jr. - the most popular of the current drivers - condemned the anti-Gordon actions and thanked Gordon for honoring his father in Phoenix. And, of course, there's the irony that the throwing of beverages at an athlete is the same business that started the infamous NBA players-vs.-spectators brawl in Detroit a couple of years ago. Of course, Jeff Gordon is not Ron Artest, which is a good thing since driving a car into a crowd is frowned upon in most societies.

A better analogy may be to compare Gordon to Alex Rodriguez. Both men are two athletes supremely skilled at their respective sports who nevertheless continue, through no fault of their own, to fall short in the eyes of the people who watch them. It's a toss-up who has it worse, because A-Rod has to content with the city (and the newspapers) of New York City, while Gordon only has to deal with a bunch of loud, alcohol-dipped spectators who have decided that he is the devil incarnate. It wouldn't shock me if someday Gordon, after winning a race, stops his colorful DuPont car, jumps onto the hood and yells at the 100,000 or so in the stands, a la Russell Crowe, if they are entertained. He'd just better wear his helmet when he does it.

(Full disclosure: Some of the pelters were arrested after the latest incident in accordance with NASCAR's warning against a repeat of the trouble at Phoenix. Glad to see the warning made a difference.)

Watch the video below for a taste of the great sportsmanship Gordon faced in Alabama on Sunday.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Torii Hunter picked a bad week to give up champagne ...

The bottom line is that it sucks to be Torii Hunter this week. First the Minnesota Twins' All-Star outfielder landed in hot water after it came out that, to thank the lowly Kansas City Royals for sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the last weekend of the 2006 season - thusly giving Minnesota the American League West title over Detroit- Hunter recently the Royals four bottles of champagne. What's the problem, you make ask? What's a few bottles of bubbly between players? Why not throw a bone to the Royals, who haven't have a champagne-soaked celebration since the year 5? Turns out that Hunter was in violation of an obscure baseball rule that bans such gift-giving - specifically, Rule 21-b:

"Any player or person connected with a Club who shall offer or give any gift or reward to a player or person connected with another Club for services rendered ... in defeating or attempting to defeat a competing Club ... shall be declared ineligible for not less than three years."

It appears that Hunter will not face the ultimate penalty, but most likely will be fined. So may the Royals, who returned the unopened bottles to Hunter and the Twins. (Hey, those players can afford their own Dom - well, most of them can.) Still, it's a big ouch for Hunter - but not as big as the one he got in today's game when he was hit in the mouth by a pitch. The outfielder thought briefly about charging the mound before collapsing in pain. He left the game and ended up with some stitches inside his mouth, but the last word was that all of his teeth were still intact, and he may play as early as tomorrow. But he likely won't be sipping any of his own champagne any time soon.

Oh, and who were Hunter and the Twins playing this afternoon. Why, the Kansas City Royals, of course. So much for gratitude.

Food for thought ...

* The number one R&B song in America is "Lost Without U," and it has spent 10 weeks straight at the top of the charts. It is performed by Robin Thicke - and, yeah, he's the son of the whitest man in North America, Alan Thicke. Who knew such soul existed in those genes?

* Speaking of white guys with no soul:

* Starting today, Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in California must post warning messages stating that a chemical used to prepare their mashed and fried potatoes may cause cancer. Er, has the Colonel's troops ever thought about removing the chemical as well? "Yeah, I like my spuds with extra carcinogens - gives them a kick!"

* There's a warrant in India for Richard Gere's arrest for kissing an Indian actress in person while promoting HIV/AIDS charities in that nation. Makes you wonder what would have happened if he had eaten a Whopper while there. Seriously, though, the court that issued the warrant called the kiss "an obscene act." Strange - I would think that having 5 million Indian citizens who are HIV positive would be the larger obscenity.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The best and the brightest ...

It could be said that the word "tragedy," just like "hero," is thrown around too loosely these days, but there are times when it is very apt. Virginia Tech is an obvious example of a horrible tragedy - and so, in my mind, is the death yesterday of David Halberstam in a car accident in the Bay Area. He was 73, which counts in most books as a full life - but for Halberstam, one of the most vital writers of the last 40 years, there was so much more to do. He was one of those artists of the word who wasn't going to retire until he was six feet under - indeed, his book on the Korean War is due out later this year, and he was in San Francisco to, among other things, interview Y.A. Tittle for a tome on what may consider the greatest pro football game ever played, the 1958 NFL championship between Tittle's New York Giants and Johnny Unitas' Baltimore Colts. That we will never read what Halberstam would have written about that sports classic is its own little sadness.

Halberstam won a Pulitzer for his reportage on the Vietnam War for The New York Times in the early and mid 1960s - he was so good that John F. Kennedy unsuccessfully tried to get him kicked off his beat. He went on to write some of the best historical non-fiction of the era about Vietnam (The Best and the Brightest) and the media (The Powers That Be) and the aftermath of 9/11 (Firehouse). But he also wrote a series of acclaimed, wonderful sports books that could almost count as his hobby - his wife called them "his way to take a break" - but nevertheless were a delight to read and digest. Indeed, I have read two of Halberstam's books about baseball multiple times, and each time it's like I was reading them for the first time. Summer of ’49 is a blow-by-blow account of the 1949 American League pennant race between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, with a particular focus on Ted Williams and an injured but still noble Joe DiMaggio. Read that, and you'll know that the current Red Sox-Yankees blood feud has roots deep in the historical soil. And October 1964 (which I started reading yet again a few weeks ago) deals with the Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals as the two powerhouses rumbled and stumbled to a titanic World Series matchup in that year of transition, both in baseball and society in general. Even if you don't like baseball, I recommend both books to you as examples of some of the best sports journalism around. And it's work like that that will make you miss Halberstam all the more - though you know the first thing he'll do in heaven is demand an exclusive one-on-one with God Him/Herself.

Monday, April 16, 2007

If you need a laugh ...

... on a day that has been really, really crappy so far (just turn on the news if you don't know what I'm talking about), here's a short film for you. It features the work of a comic genius, plus Will Ferrell.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The more, the merrier ...

As reported here and at other places, Sunday is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson crossing the color line in Major League Baseball. April 15, 1947 can with great legitimacy be called the most important date in modern sports history, if not in 20th Century American history, because the moment Robinson ran onto the the grass at Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger, everything changed - everything. And that's why the Powers That Be in MLB are allowing any player or manager who so desires to wear Robinson's previously retired number 42 for Sunday's games. It was the idea of Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who went to league officials with his personal request to wear 42 for one game. As of now, the number of players wearing 42 on Sunday has grown to more than 150, including five entire teams. You would think everyone would take pride in such a large turnout, but that wouldn't be the case. Torii Hunter, the star outfielder for the Minnesota Twins who was one of the first to jump aboard the 42 bandwagon, told USA Today that he thinks something will be lost if so many 42s are out on the diamonds of North America:

"This is supposed to be an honor, and just a handful of guys wearing the number. Now you've got entire teams wearing the number. I think we're killing the meaning. It should be special wearing Jackie's number, not just because it looks cool."

Of course, Hunter is entitled to his opinion. Of course, he's also talking out of his ass.

For one, why can wearing Jackie's number be both special and cool? A large part of me wouldn't have minded one bit if MLB had dictated that every uniformed player and manger wear 42 on Sunday. Yeah, it would have been hell on the scorekeepers (and it still will be to some extent for those handling the games with multiple 42s on the field at the same time), but so what? They'll live. It wouldn't be anything compared to the hell that Robinson went through during that first year when entire teams were conspiring against him, spewing racial invective at him during games. What he did was so special, so huge, that anything done to mark his importance to the game and beyond can and should be done, and it still wouldn't enough.

I especially love the fact that five whole rosters will bear 42, including Robinson's former team, the Dodgers. It's worth noting that two of the other teams that will be going all-Robinson all the time will be the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. At the time Robinson broke the color barrier, the Cardinals were the South's favorite baseball club, including large numbers of fans living in Jim Crow states such as Alabama and Mississippi, where the Klan thrived and blacks were third-class citizens. There was even an alleged foiled plot by several Cardinal players, including future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter (who always denied it, to be fair) to strike the games against the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Phillies in 1947 were led by manager Ben Chapman, a through-and-through racist who ordered his players to call Robinson a "nigger," among other things, during a game against Brooklyn just a week of Robinson joined the team. Ironically, that episode may have done more to solidify the rest of the Dodgers behind Robinson than any other event. To have both St. Louis and Philadelphia saluting Robinson's legacy six decades later speaks volumes.

The most uncomfortable part about Torii Hunter's assertion that too many players will be wearing 42 on Sunday is what he's not really saying, but is implying - that only African American players should be allowed Robinson's number. Yes, it's true that today's black players gained the most from Robinson's sacrifice - but so did the Latino players who dominate today's baseball, and so, for that matter, did the white players. The whole game is better overall thanks to what Jackie went through, as is all of society. And if a child of any color asks his parent about why there are so many 42s out on the field on Sunday, and the parent explains who Jackie Robinson was and why he's such an iconic figure - why, that's called knowledge. And that's also a job well done. So chill out, Torii, and enjoy the view on Sunday.

The players scheduled to wear Jackie Robinson's number on April 15 (as of April 13)
Arizona: Orlando Hudson, Tony Clark, Eric Byrnes, Chris Young, Scott Hairston, Bob Melvin, Lee Tinsley
Atlanta: Andruw Jones
Baltimore: Corey Patterson
Boston: Coco Crisp
Chicago Cubs: Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd, Derrek Lee, Daryle Ward
Chicago White Sox: Jermaine Dye, Harold Baines
Cincinnati: Ken Griffey Jr.
Cleveland: Josh Barfield, C.C. Sabathia
Colorado: LaTroy Hawkins
Detroit: Gary Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames, Lloyd McClendon
Florida: Dontrelle Willis
Houston: Entire roster
Kansas City: Reggie Sanders, Emil Brown
L.A. Angels: Gary Matthews Jr.
L.A. Dodgers: Entire roster
Milwaukee: Bill Hall
Minnesota: Torii Hunter, Rondell White, Jerry White
N.Y Mets: Willie Randolph1
N.Y. Yankees: Mariano Rivera2, Robinson Cano
Oakland: Milton Bradley, Shannon Stewart, Tye Waller
Philadelphia: Entire roster
Pittsburgh: Entire roster
St. Louis: Entire roster
San Francisco: Barry Bonds
San Diego: Mike Cameron
Seattle: Arthur Rhodes, Jason Ellison
Tampa Bay: Carl Crawford
Texas: Ron Washington1
Toronto: Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Mickey Brantley
Washington: Dmitri Young

1One of only two African American managers in Major League Baseball
2Rivera was wearing 42 at time it was retired throughout the big league, so he's grandfathered in.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

No-mas ...

The announcement that CBS has canceled the Don Imus radio program ("effective immediately, on a permanent basis," the network says in its bulletin, as if it couldn't put enough emphasis on its decision) marks the near end of what has been one of the swiftest falls from grace for a media personality in recent memory. (And remember, this is a nation that loves to tear down its darlings, for reasons both justified and not.) I say "near end" because further developments can always happen here. There's the chance that some outlet may actually hire Imus up - perhaps satellite radio, where anything and everything goes. There's the chance that Imus will send himself to character rehab a la Gibson, Richards, Washington et al. And, of course, there's the likelihood that some variant of the Imus story will end up on one of the three Law & Orders between now and the end of May sweeps - ’cause, you know, that's how they roll. Of course, Dick Wolf would have to throw in a murder or two, as well as paint the story with enough enhanced detail so as to keep the "ripped from the headlines" credo while making the episode not exactly about Imus. And who would play the character of Imus (Not Imus)? Is Rip Torn out of prison yet?

Oh, and there is one other matter that needs to be dealt with - what the hell were all of the politicians and reporters and authors and other reputable figures from both sides of the political spectrum thinking whenever they agreed to be booked on the Imus in the Morning program, knowing that their marbled-mouthed host had the reputation of spewing all sorts of hatred onto the airwaves? I mean, everyone from Dan Rather and Tim Russert to John McCain and Barack Obama had done Imus' show? Didn't their participation signify a tacit affirmation of his persona? How many of them are looking in the mirror and shaking their heads at themselves in shame - that is, when they aren't backing away from the corpse of Imus' career and (rightfully, if belatedly) condemning him for the bigot that he is? And what of CBS and MSNBC, who only canned Imus when the advertisers took their money and went home? Are the big bosses there proud of themselves for doing the right thing, or kicking themselves for doing it at least a decade too late? "Nappy headed hos" was far from the worst thing Imus ever said about someone during his years in broadcasting. And say what you will about Howard Stern, who often challenges his former colleague (and current nemesis), but at least he has never tried to sell himself as a serious radio host who was a clear destination for the best and brightest.

It's fitting, perhaps, that Imus got his comeuppance just hours after one of the great minds of the 20th century, Kurt Vonnegut, passed away - and on the 60th birthday of one of the greatest comic talents of his generation, David Letterman. Both Letterman and Vonnegut possess more class and talent in their pinky nails than Imus has in his entire decrepit body and soul. They will live on in our hearts and minds, while Imus is swept away into the landfill of obscurity. That is, until he gets a new job - or at least until L&O turns him into a victim or a suspect or whatnot.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tainted Angel ...

As earlier reported on the blog, Jackie Robinson is important. So important that next Sunday, on the 60th anniversary of his breaking the color line in major league baseball - and 10 years after the #42 he wore with the Brooklyn Dodgers was permanently retired throughout Major League Baseball - several prominent African American players, along with the entire L.A. Dodgers roster, will resurrect the number 42 for one day. Among the black players who will sport Robinson's 42 in lieu of their regular jersey numbers are Ken Griffey Jr. (whose idea this tribute was in the first place), Barry Bonds, Derrek Lee, Gary Sheffield and Torii Hunter, along with Mets manager Willie Rudolph. Not joining them will be Angels outfield Garret Anderson, who apparently doesn't want to be a follower in this case:

"It wasn't my idea, and I'm not the type of person to jump on the bandwagon because someone else is doing something," Anderson said (to the Los Angeles Times). "If I did it just because someone else was doing it, it would seem kind of empty to me."

Er, Earth to Anderson - since you don't like to be one to jump on the bandwagon, perhaps you should report to your manager and turn in your uniform*. Because, guess what - you are on a bandwagon. You're on Jackie Robinson's bandwagon, bub. You owe your stardom and your millions to the blood and sweat that man left on the diamond. And when Barry Bonds has a better grasp on history than you do, maybe it's time for some personal re-evaluation.

Garret Anderson is a pig.

*Oh, and give back the millions you've made playing baseball while you're at it - you know, so you can be your own man.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"That quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

Most of my friends know that I think Bud Selig is an idiot, not to mention the worst baseball commissioner in history. There are many reasons for my feelings toward Selig, reasons that can be enumerated at a later date. But one thing I will give Selig credit for is recognizing the achievements and the importance of Jackie Robinson. Robinson was not the best player in baseball history, but as the man who broke the color line in the major leagues on April 15, 1947, at a time when African Americans still were considered inferior by a large portion of white people in this country, the Brooklyn Dodger likely was the most important player in baseball history, if not sports history. More than once, in fact, I have called Robinson the originator of the American civil rights movement, starting his campaign when Martin Luther King was still in college.*

Ten years ago, at a ceremony in New York's Shea Stadium marking the 50th anniversary of Robinson joining the Dodgers, Bug Selig declared April 15 to be known as Jackie Robinson Day throughout baseball, and permanently retired Robinson's #42 throughout the big leagues, an unprecedented act for any major sport. Since then, only players who were already wearing 42 at the time have been allowed to sport the number. (Today there's just one player, Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, wearing #42.) But now, to mark the 60th anniversary, another idea - Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who wears #3, went to Selig to ask permission to change his number to 42 for one day, the 15th, a week from this coming Sunday. In a somewhat surprising move, not only did Selig approve Griffey's request, but he subsequently announced that any player who wanted to do the same would be allowed to do so.

As a result, there has been a flood of superstars who have revealed plans to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson's legacy by bearing the jersey number he wore with pride six decades ago. The players who will make the one-day shift include the Cubs' Derrek Lee, Minnesota's Torii Hunter, Detroit's Gary Sheffield, San Diego's Mike Cameron, Boston's Coco Crisp and Washington's Dmitri Young. So will New York Mets manager Willie Rudolph and even baseball's active home-run king and active grump, San Francisco's Barry Bonds. Oh, and the entire Dodger squad will sport #42, which could give the official scorekeeper at that game a major headache.

It pains me to give Selig props for approving all this, but really, what choice did he have. If he had turned down Griffey's request, word would have leaked out and he would have come across as the myopic muckymuck that he is eight times out of 10. And once he said yes to Griffey, that opened the floodgates, so he decided to go with it. I also won't be surprised to see "Griffey 42" and "Bonds 42" jerseys being sold at for a pretty penny. But if this huge gesture gets more kids asking about why their favorite player is wearing that strange number - and parents telling the story of the man who changed his sport and his world - then I can live with the extra commerce.

*Strong words? Perhaps. But if you don't believe me, then believe Dr. King, who told Robinson's teammate Don Newcombe that they - along with another African-American Dodger, Roy Campanella - made it "possible for me to do my job." King told Newcombe this one week before his assassination in 1968.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Oooooooh ... fuuuuuuuuuudge ...

Much of the local news shows in L.A. this morning were devoted to covering a grisly car accident that closed down the Pacific Coast Highway for several hours. At the time all viewers were told was that two men were killed in the accident and that they appeared to be father and son. Now it's been revealed that the deceased victims were film director Bob Clark and his adult son Ariel. In the early hours of what was a very foggy morning, Clark's sedan was hit head-on by a GMC Yukon that had swerved into their lane, PCH being a two-lane road for much of its stretch. The driver of the Yukon faces serious charges, including vehicular manslaughter, as he was driving under the influence at the time.

The name Bob Clark may not resonate with a lot of people, but not unlike many people in the business of show, his work speaks louder volumes than his ID. In fact, he has the distinction of being at the helm of two of the most iconic films of the 1980s - two films that couldn't be further apart in genre and tone. In 1982 Clark made Porky's, a sex comedy about 1950s Florida teens obsessed with losing their virginity. The movie was a surprise commercial hit (indeed, it is the highest-growing Canadian film in history, having been financed and produced by Canucks) and opened the door for a new wave of R-rated fare in the days before softcore dominated Fridays nights on Cinemax. And along with the nudity and juvenile behavior (including an infamous sex scene that featured a very young and very loud Kim Cattrall), though, was a large dose of nostalgia and even a bit of poignancy and drama, as the sex-obsessed high school students also learned lessons about friendship and racism when they weren't concerned with getting their knobs polished.

Those sweet moments in Porky's also set the stage for Clark's more enduring movie, the 1983 holiday comedy A Christmas Story, based on the stories of the humorist Jean Shepherd. It didn't do much at the box office, but today the charming tale of little Ralphie's fervent campaign to get Santa to send him that precious air rifle has become a holiday staple, to the point where cable channel TBS has aired a 24-hour marathon of a continuous loop of the movie for the past several Christmases.

Bob Clark was not a filmmaker on the same level as a Spielberg or Scorsese. But how many directors are lucky enough to make one movie whose reputation endures long after their careers or even lives are completed. Clark has two. That's a life well lived, at least in professional terms.

P.S.: For the sake of this post, I'll ignore the fact that Clark also directed both Baby Geniuses flicks. Hey, no one's perfect.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Daddy's Little Helper ...

Rolling Stone guitarist and gilded member of the living dead Keith Richards has revealed to the world that, sometime after his father's death in 2002, he did what all dutiful sons aspire to do with the remains of their paternal units - he snorted him up his nose:

"He was cremated and I couldn't resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn't have cared," [Richards] said. "... It went down pretty well, and I'm still alive."

Honestly, wouldn't you have been just the tiniest bit disappointed if Keith hadn't cut a stash of Colombian gold with a smidge of his dearly departed da? The only question left, really, is who will sniff up Mr. Richards with his pact with the devil expires and his desiccated corpse loses its re-animation spell - which we hope happens during a Stones gig. Not because we wish him any ill will, ’cause he's really a cool bloke. But just because the video of such an event will be killer, and may actually cause Mick Jagger to stand still for a minute.

UPDATE: Ah, fudge - it turns out the whole daddy-snorting thing was just a joke. Why did Richards have to blow a great story with the truth?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Isn't it ironic?

And with one simple song, Alanis Morissette instantly makes herself relevant yet again.

I present to you Ms. Morissette and her cover of The Black-Eyed Peas' "My Humps". Listen, watch and thank God that Alanis walks the Earth among us.

The guns weren't shooting green slime, either ...

This made the celebrity-slash-police blotter this morning:

LOS ANGELES - Suspected gang members opened fire on a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards after-party early Sunday, wounding three and scattering 200 mostly teenage attendees, police said.

Now there are shootings after the Kids Choice Awards? Oy vey. But really, where else could the East Coast-West Coast, Abigail Breslin-Dakota Fanning feud go but to the gunplay?


My friends ... our long national nightmare is over. Because ...

THE CUBS ARE FOR SALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As of the end of 2007, the Chicago National League Ball Club will no longer be under the aegis of the treacherous and evil Tribune Company. Finally the team will be available to the highest bidder who is not Tribune Company. Already names as varied as Bill Murray and George Will have been brought up in terms of potential buyers, though it's unlikely that either of them have $600 million lying around. My preference is for Mark Cuban, the eccentric owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. His name has been linked to any possible Cubs sale for a couple of years now, largely based on his own words, though he always denied actually approaching Tribune, and Tribune always denied any interest in spinning the team off. Well, all o that has changed now, because Tribune has been sold to real estate magnate Sam Zell, and as a result of that ....

THE CUBS ARE FOR SALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THE CUBS ARE FOR SALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THE CUBS ARE FOR SALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Actually, it would be need if a consortium of prominent Chicagoans - Murray, Will, the Cusacks, etc - could pool their money together to make a run at the franchise. But at this point, all that matters is that the owner will not have "Tribune" in his or her name. Unless the new owner's name happens to be John Tribune or Tribune Jones or something, of course.

Now watch the Cubs win the World Series in the team's last year under the Yoke O'Tribune. Eh, I could live with that.

THE CUBS ARE FOR SALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!