Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Co-Sign Charles Hamilton

I'm usually pretty good at staying up on new music, but I've realized recently there's a couple of new rappers that I hadn't heard of, and may be more famous than I expected. I don't read music publications really anymore - there's only so much media one human can consume, and with all the sports and news shows I watch...well there are only so many hours in a day.

That being said, I got this mixtape the other day and have listened to it 3 times already. This kid Charles Hamilton is very original and apparently pretty prolific. I share because I love:

Download torrent file here

Ninos del Infiernos, Negative Zero and I'm Good are probably my 3 favorite tracks on the album.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I Choose Sports

In journalism school, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Ever. In any sense of the word.

This isn't to say I didn't like many aspects of my experience there. At the risk of exposing vast dorkiness, I will openly say my favorite parts of the whole thing were the lectures and debates we had in classes regarding ethics, newsworthiness, and journalism's place in democracy. I always thought the faculty was great, and many of them I will admire for a long while to come. It was the vast majority of the students I encountered there that I found completely arrogant and insufferable.

Saying this doesn't worry me, because 1) nobody will read this anyway, and 2) my J-school friends should know who they are, and I'm not worried about alienating them. If I like you, you're aware of it. If not, you're aware of that too. One of the most ferociously aggravating things I experienced there was the perception many people there had of sports, and the people who cover them.

Oh, sports are cute. They're not important. They're what you do if you aren't chiseled and intelligent enough to cover hard news. Sports fans are empty-minded, moronic and slow-witted. Those interested in working in sports media for a living are an extrapolation from those who consume them, meaning they're equally incompetent and immature.

Well, at least that's what it seemed like they were saying. This forced me to feel the need to constantly defend sports, mostly to no avail, amid a sea of silver-spoon-fed, utterly disconnected individuals unlike any I had ever met in my life. Clearly, I had come from a different past than these people. My favorite analogy describing the experience was this - they grew up reading the New Yorker, I grew up reading the Houston Chronicle's sports section. And they knew it.

The truth is, I CHOSE to work in sports for a variety of reasons. I was never forced or obligated to. I don't idolize athletes or coaches. I'm not transfixed by the primal desires of money, fame and glory that often come in sports. My tiny brain can handle more than a baseball box score - and for the record, partisan politics are much simpler to decipher than a zone blitz. There are a myriad of other reasons I would rather talk about the stronger points of running a Tampa 2 defense than to a politician putting the spin cycle on the day's minutiae.

The most significant and pleasing difference between sports and the rest of the world is FINALITY. There is a concrete element in sports - whether it be statistical or at the conclusion of a season - that does not exist in other facets of news coverage. For example, in politics, any facts or figures can be spun to adhere to a certain perspective. Regardless of what the numbers are, they are all relative, and can be presented in a manner that supports a certain viewpoint.

To a smaller extent, this exists in sports - but the bottom line is always WINNING and LOSING, a definite, polarizing outcome in competition that separates success from failure. There is no line of winning and losing in art, culture, politics, or even war (particularly the one we're in now) - just events that blur together in an endless calendar of cause and effect. Merits of a war are debated for decades; elections and political tactics and discussions thereof inevitably reach an unwavering standstill of partisanship. Sports give us the definite, the conclusive - finality.

This finality is so much more appealing to me than going to city hall and being lied to everyday. The conclusiveness of a season is the closing of a book - one that will always have another volume added that next spring, fall or winter. The characters and human interest stories generated from athletics represent all facets of society, and engender some of the most inspiring writing and journalism in America today. Sports give you definitive context, endless story lines, human drama, captivating rivalries, and the excitement that can be utterly void from many other forms of journalism.

And that's why I choose sports.

For the record, I'm proud to have graduated from the Mizzou J-School. And when I go back, I'll visit with my professors. I'll also go to a football game and grab a beer at Harpo's. But you people I never liked are better than that, so I won't have to worry about seeing you there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

C.C. 2008 vs. Unit 1998

I have long been a fan of C.C. Sabathia. I was a fan of David Wells, Rich Garces, and other large pitchers, but Sabathia is easily my favorite of the group. This most likely stems from my experience as an un-svelte right-handed pitcher with back problems, a mediocre fastball, and self-created slurve that I threw 75% of the time.

My favorite comparison between Sabathia's success this season as a Milwaukee Brewer, coincidentally and happily, is Randy Johnson's 1998 stint with the Astros. Less you forget, Johnson was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia and John Halama. He proceeded to mutilate the National League for the remainder of the year, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts, making the Astros (*cough*) presumptive trendy World Series picks entering the post-season. Unfortunately, they ran into roid-raging Kevin Brown and the best performances of Sterling Hitchcock's life - losing to the Padres in the NLDS.

Here's the tale of the tape between Sabathia and Unit entering Carsten Charles' start against the Fathers tonight in SD:

Through first 7 starts:

2008 C.C.

W-L: 6-0
ERA: 1.58
CG/SHO: 4/2
K/BB: 52/12
Opp BA: .200

Height: 6'7"
Throws: Left
From... AL to NL Central

1998 Unit

W-L: 6-1
ERA: 1.17
CG/SHO: 3/3
K/BB: 71/14
Opp BA: .183

Height: 6'10"
Throws: Left
From... AL to NL Central

I am Justin Ray, supreme baseball dork.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Welcoming the NBA's Craziest Player

Let me begin by saying, I like that my favorite NBA team has never been afraid to make a big splash.

The Rockets have a history of making large, aggressive moves. Look at the names they've dealt and dealt for in just MY lifetime: Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, and now Ron Artest. This ain't roleplayer-for-cash-considerations swaps we're making here.

Owner Les Alexander, former GM Carroll Dawson and now Dawson's heir apparent, Daryl Morey, see the Houston Rockets as a premier NBA franchise - and as a fan, you have to appreciate that, especially when you're from a city that is sizable in populace but largely ignored by the national media.

I love this move on several different levels. For one, he only has a one year deal. If Certifiably-Insane-RonRon skips his Paxil dosage and throws a shit-fit or two, we can Bonzi Wells him and trot out the same team that copped a 4 seed last year despite significant missed time from Yao and T-Mac. That's the WORST case scenario.

Best case, he adds the additional wing scorer that Tracy so desperately needed (see: Game 2 of the Utah series this year, when nobody but T-Mac could create their own shot), a third banana to our two mega-stars. He allows McGrady to take the number 2 or number 3 offensive option on defense, dependent on whether or not Battier AND Artest are on the floor with him together. Tracy will be more refreshed on O, consummate team player Battier becomes Bruce Bowen without Satan horns, and both Yao and Tracy face fewer double-teams.

Also, if and when McGrady's back flares up, Artest gives us another seasoned primary scoring option. This isn't even taking into account that Luis Scola improved offensively as he adapted to the American game, Rafer Alston took a leap forward last year under Adelman, and Carl Landry will only get better in his 2nd season. Oh, and they added veteran depth with Brent Barry signing in the off-season.

Look at it this way: who do you want in a matchup with the Lakers (who the Rockets beat in the season series 2-1 last year) - Baby Bynum and his knee, or Chairman Yao and his recovering foot? A soft Gasol, or a 2-headed forward tandem of Landry and Scola? Lamar Odom or Ron Artest? I would ask Kobe or Tracy, but that answer's obviously #24. Derek Fisher, one year older, or Skip with another year of seasoning? A bench of Battier-Barry-(maybe Mutombo, Francis)-Head, or Walton-Sasha-Farmar? The matchup now is certainly closer than yesterday.

Could we win a title with Ron Artest? Hard to say - but we did win with Vernon Maxwell. And he was fucking INSANE.

At least there's a precedent.

Friday, July 04, 2008

An Open Letter to Missouri Basketball

Dear Mizzou Basketball,

I, as a man-law-abiding sportsman, aknowledge that you, as my alma mater, represent the college basketball entity I am obligated to devote my fandom to. However, it seems like you've done everything in your power to shoo me from staying with you.

Like it or not, we've been thrust into this relationship. Since I began my courtship of you in the Fall of 2004, though, you haven't seemed to show the slightest interest in wooing me. My emotional investment in you has been somewhere between marginial and thorough; my expectations realistically grounded, my hopes hovering slightly higher. You've flashed a sheepish smile in the form of a home win against Kansas, or a flirtation with pushing the envelope of a winning season, but invariably, you've given me more shame than pride.

A timeline since our first enounter:

October 23, 2004
My new team, a new era, a new stadium. The Tigers get their first shot at playing in front of a crowd in their new Paige Sports Arena in the Black and Gold game. We'll be in rebuilding mode this season - but hey, we've got sparkling new digs, so that will make things far more bearable.

November 4, 2004
Mizzou and the NCAA announce sanctions that include the loss of scholarships for two years, a one-year off-campus recruiting ban, and 3 years of probation. The discipline stems from an incident that preceded us meeting each other, yet I was fully aware of: a saga simply referred to as "Ricky Clemons." I elect not to delve further into this, because most of it preceded when we first crossed paths. I don't care about your exes; I'm more concerned about today. So, a rough start, but we're looking forward.

November 26, 2004
Paige Sports Arena is renamed, cleverly I may add, "Mizzou Arena," amid accusations that the Wal-Mart heiress it was named after cheated her way through college. Bill and Nancy Laurie had donated $25 million to launch the original arena project, and in exchange recieved naming rights and other perks. Paige Laurie, the besmirked namesake, never attended Missouri - she recieved a bachelors degree from USC. These are not positive omens.

March 15, 2005
Quin Snyder's second consecutive nightmarish season concludes as his team loses to DePaul at home in the first round of the NIT, 75-70. This is the second year in a row the team ended their season in the second tournament's first game. The Tigers finish 16-17, their first losing season since 1996-97.

November 14, 2005
The Tigers lose their season opener to Sam Houston State, 80-77, in a game that I contend should be called The Justin Ray Classic. I did not anticipate that I was transferring to the weaker basketball school when I left this Southland Conference powerhouse for the land of Stormin' Norm.

December 21, 2005
In the annual Braggin' Rights showdown, no. 6 Illinois, a final four team the year before, demolishes Mizzou 82-50. I learn it is the worst loss in the history of the series for the Tigers. Hilariously, yet somewhat sadly, an enraged Missouri fan dumps popcorn over Quin Snyder's head after the game.

January 16, 2006
In what was easily the high-water mark for my Mizzou hoops fandom, the Tigers shock the Kansas Jayhawks in Columbia. The team is showing signs of life - 10-5 overall, 3-1 in conference, and what will be a quality win on the possible tournament resume. The Tigers begin reeling me in as a full-fledged fan.

February 7, 2006
Five consecutive double-digit conference losses later, I am far less enamored. The streak of futility includes the worst home loss in 25 years (82-58 to IOWA STATE) and is capped off by a 26-point loss to previous 1-win juggernaut Baylor. Our sparkling arena remains sparkling because nobody is coming to see this monstrosity in action.

February 10, 2006
The Quin Snyder era ends, as he "resigns." Resign is the word used by Mike Alden in a structured, well-rehearsed statement, and reeks of falsity. Quin had seen much better days before my arrival, but unfortunately my perception of him is dominated by the basketball I saw first hand while I was there. That being said, his career record with the Tigers was 126-91, and he did take the team to the NCAA Tournament 4 times, including once to the Elite 8. I never even sniffed that kind of action, though.

March 9, 2006
The season ends in round one of the Big 12 Tournament at the hands of Nebraska, 71-64. Seven people watch this game.

March 26, 2006
Mike Anderson is named as the new coach. After watching a bit of UAB the season before, I'm excited that we'll be playing a faster, more aggressive brand of basketball that emphasizes a kinetic defensive style and push-the-rock mentality. This has got to be a step in the right direction, I say to myself.

February 17, 2007
Mike Anderson Jr. is arrested for a DWI. Yes, he is our head coach's son. No, he is not a valuable member of our team. Carry on.

2006-2007 Season Recap
Amidst the lowlights of my time as a fan, the '06-'07 season was a shred of promise. Stefhon Hannah emerged as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, flourishing as the point man of Mike Anderson's fluid offensive scheme. Matt Lawrence, Kalen Grimes and Leo Lyons emerged from nowhere to be extremely valuable contributors. J.T. Tiller emerged as a personal favorite of mine because of his tireless defensive efforts. Even Jason Horton flashed glimpses of mild competency. The on-court product, despite finishing 18-12 and missing the NIT, was flush with effort and fire. Add the promise of transfer DeMarre Carroll coming in the season ahead, and Mizzou basketball looked like something I should at least not write off in its entirety.

July 5, 2007
Highly regarded transfer DeMarre Carroll is shot in the ankle outside of Tropicana Night Club in Columbia. Details of the fracas are sparse, yet all reports imply Carroll was an innocent bystander trying to break up a fight. Carroll ends up being alright, and I chalk it up (optimistically) to a kid being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

July 10, 2007
Kalen Grimes is accused of striking a man in the face with the butt of a shotgun in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen in Florissant, Missouri. I wish I was creative enough to make this shit up. Grimes is formally charged the next day with second-degree assault. On July 17, Grimes is dismissed from the team altogether. Apparently the fight that led to the climactic act of Grimes Barry Bondsing someone with a pump started in a Jack in the Box parking lot, before spilling to DQ. Good to see Kalen was making smart dietary choices, as well.

2007-08 Preseason
Despite the Grimes and the Carroll incidents, excitement seems to be renewed for Mizzou hoops. The school is riding high on an incomprehensibly successful and surprising football season, a fraction of which would bring elation to Tiger basketball. People have not forgotten the promise brought forth by Mizzou's fresh look last year - energy, tenacious defense - and another year of Coach Anderson instilling his system and working his guys into the program can only bring more reward. DeMarre Carroll is even named Big XII Preseason Newcomer of the Year, and Tiger alumni Thomas Gardner is (shockingly) getting minutes for the Chicago Bulls.

October 18, 2007
That didn't take long. A few weeks before the Black and Gold game, Darryl Butterfield is suspended from competition following an arrest for allegedly punching his ex-girlfriend during a domestic dispute. Darryl returns to practice a few weeks later, after issuing a public apology.

November 18, 2007
At least something from the team's past can make us feel better: Norm Stewart is inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. I am aware of his success and stature in Tiger lore - his name is on the court, after all - but am inspired to learn a bit more upon this announcement. He won the Tigers' only national championship, in baseball in 1954, and was named national coach of the year twice, leading his team to the NCAA tournament 16 times. So the rumors are true! We were good at one point.

December 2, 2007
The Tigers drop both games in a crucial pre-conference road swing. First, a heartbreaker in Arkansas, followed by a less inspired effort at Cal. Either win would have glimmered a bit on a potential post-season resume, especially for a bubble-at-best looking team like Mizzou. Disheartening, but conference play is still yet to start.

January 29, 2008
Five (FIVE!) players are suspended after being involved in a brawl outside of Athena Night Club: Marshall Brown, Stefhon Hannah, Butterfield, Jason Horton and Leo Lyons. Hannah, the team's leading scorer, gets the worst of it - he suffers a broken jaw in the melee. Hannah will never play again for Mizzou.

Coach Anderson's hard stance is commendable, but it's getting tough to even take the team seriously at this point.

February 12, 2008
Stefhon Hannah is formally dismissed from the team. In every press release regarding the dismissal of a player, one line always exists:

"We will continue to support (insert player name) through this difficult time and his health continues to be our primary concern." I think the S&I director has a template for these releases saved in a Word file on his computer.

March 13, 2008
Missouri loses to Nebraska in the opening round of the Big XII Tournament. We finish 19-11, and miss the NIT. I am several states away, and have stopped paying close attention.

June 27, 2008
Keon Lawrence tells Coach Mike that he will be transferring. Lawrence boils it down to personal problems and unhappiness, not blasting the coach or program. All things considered, I would probably transfer, too. Keon had taken on a leadership role when the wheels fell off the season post-Athena-fight, and correspondingly elevated his play. Lawrence, in my eyes, was usually the most talented player on the floor any time he came into the game.

So how does that riot act look, Missouri basketball? I've tried and tried to love you, but have gotten nothing but shame in exchange for my efforts so far. I'm not going to bail out completely, but if you were a thinking entity with reasoning abilities, I'm sure you wouldn't blame me if I did.

You're running out of time and chances,

Young Alumni

Monday, June 30, 2008

Jay-Z at Glastonbury, Parts 1-8

"If you break it, people ain't gonna go. I'm sorry, but Jay-Z? ... No chance," said Oasis songwriter Noam Gallagher, who has headlined Glastonbury twice with his band. "I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. No way. No. It's wrong."

So days after Gallagher called the notion of a hip-hop act headlining the colossal British music festival, "wrong," Jay-Z walked on stage singing "Wonderwall." He then put on a fantastic show, apparently to the surprise of many.

Below is his set in its entirety (If the video links below aren't showing up on Facebook, click the "view original post" link at the bottom of the page, and it will take you to my blog page with the videos).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Worst Moments in Astros History

There are dark moments for all professional sports franchises. Typically, a player choking your general manager would qualify as such. The events of the past few days have not put the Houston Astros in the best of lights, but there have been more ominous tones heard in Astroland. So before you cast this as the worst moment to face the Dis-Astros, here's a history lesson on moments where the skies seemed darker.

5. December 7, 1988
Nolan Ryan signs with the Texas Rangers

After the 1988 season, the Astros began a string of significant personnel changes. Manager Hal Lanier was dismissed after the team suffered consecutive disappointing seasons following the NL West crown in 1986. What amounted to a fire sale ensued, as well, the zenith of which being the iconic gunslinger heading North up I-45 to join the Texas Rangers. Called "too old" by then-owner John McMullen, the Ryan Express went on to throw 2 more no-hitters for the Rangers - one more than he did in an Astro uniform.

4. April 8, 1964
Jim Ubricht dies of cancer

Jim Umbricht pitched just two seasons out of the Colt .45's bullpen, going a combined 7-3 in 143 innings of work. However, he would be better remembered in the Houston area for his resiliency, returning to pitch for Houston in 1963 after undergoing surgery to remove a malignant tumor in his leg in March of that year.

On the eve of the 1964 season, Umbricht succumbed to lymphoma at the age of 33. The club immediately retired his number 32, and the Astros' MVP award was subsequently renamed in his honor.

3. June 13, 1999
Manager Larry Dierker suffers seizure in dugout

One of the more bizarre, frightening moments in recent baseball history happened inside the Astrodome during a game between the Astros and visiting San Diego Padres. Larry Dierker, the Astros' manager at the time and former player and broadcaster, suffered a grand mal seizure during the 8th inning. The game was postponed and resumed July 23rd.

"''I was getting ready to step in, and the umpire said, 'Hold on,' '' Jeff Bagwell said. ''I looked around, and everybody was running to the dugout. Larry had collapsed. He couldn't talk. He was shaking violently. He was shaking the whole time. It was shocking. We're all stunned.''

Paramedics in an ambulance rushed to the dugout from center field. Dierker's wife, Judy, left the stands and went to the dugout. As the ambulance was driven off the field, accompanied by a motorcycle escort, Astros players huddled in group prayer. Dierker underwent brain surgery to repair malformed blood vessels two days later.

Thankfully, Dierker returned to the dugout just a month later. The Astros went on to win the National League Central that season.

2. January 5, 1975
Don Wilson dies in his Houston home

Wilson pitched 8 full seasons with the Astros from 1966-1974, going 104-92, making the All-Star team in 1971, and throwing 2 no-hitters - one as a rookie in 1967, the other in 1969. He is also is one of only 12 pitchers to ever strike out 18 or more batters in a start of 9 innings or less. On January 5, 1975, Wilson died at his Southwest Houston home he shared with his wife, daughter and son. Wilson was found in the passenger seat of his brown Ford Thunderbird inside the garage with the engine running. The garage was attached to the house, which caused his son, Alex, to die also and his daughter, Denice to be hospitalized in a coma. The official cause of death states that Wilson's death was accidental.

1. July 30, 1980
J.R. Richard has stroke

In 1980, J.R. Richard was widely considered to be a front-runner for the National League's Cy Young Award and was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. The flame-throwing righty had a 10-4 record and an ERA of 1.73 on July 30, 1980 when he suffered a stroke before a game. In the days and weeks previous, Richard had complained of a "dead arm" and shoulder and neck pains. Additionally, in his last start on July 14, he said he was unable to read the catcher's signs. Richard's concerns fell on deaf ears with Astros management, and several in the local media perceived Richard to be whiny for making such claims.

While playing catch before a game on July 30, 1980, Richard suffered a major stroke and collapsed in the outfield. A massive blockage in his right cartoid artery necessitated emergency surgery that evening. A CAT scan of Richard's brain later indicated that he had suffered three separate strokes from the different obstructions in his arterial system. Richard underwent rehab, but missed the remainder of the season. J.R. underwent a lengthy comeback attempt over the next couple of years, but was never able to regain his old, dominant form, and never pitched in the major leagues again.

Though the team still managed to go on to win the NL West that season, long-time Astro fans maintain that had something so colossally tragic not happened to one of their aces, the Astros would have won the World Series that year. The Astros lost the NLCS, 3-2, to the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Richard's personal struggles outside of baseball in coming years make the story much more tragic, though. He lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in unsuccessful business deals and two different divorces. In 1994, a local Houston news outlet aired a story revealing that the former diamond hero was living under a Houston-area bridge. Richard has since regained traction in his personal life, finding solace in the church and becoming a Christian minister and stalwart for youth baseball programs.

The Astros have yet to retire Richard's number 50, an issue that remains a tedious one with the franchise and long-time fans.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

What I Learned In 1200 Miles

Yesterday, I dragged my life and a U-Haul 1200 miles from Orlando to Bristol, Connecticut. As you know, Bristol is famous for the world-renowned Pequabuck Golf Club. It's also home to a large row of satellites and some large sports television network. The following are some of the things I picked up on my odyssey from exotic and secluded Central Florida to the bustling metropolis that is my new home.

1. Never over-fill a U-Haul
I rented a U-Haul to drag behind THE Silverado, and elected to go with one that was the same size as the one I rented when I moved to Florida. As it turns out, I underestimated the amount of crap I purchased while living in Orlando, and bought a U-Haul trailer that was a size or two too small. This was no matter to a longtime veteran of the back room at Foot Locker, where I became thoroughly experienced in the art of cramming boxes into spaces where they should not fit. When I got to Bristol, however, this became a bit of an issue, when I was unable to get the back gate open of the U-Haul. In all my brilliance, I did not anticipate the contents inside shifting and rendering the opening of the back gate impossible. I then tried the following methods to get the gate open:

1. Pull on handle repetitively
2. Kick back door in frustration
3. Try to accelerate truck, slam on brakes trying to shift content
4. Fail
5. Kick back door in frustration
6. Borrow crow bar from apartment complex
7. Use crow bar to try and pry gate open
8. Fail
9. Kick back door in frustration
10. Call U-Haul hotline, where they offered to send someone out there, per my expense, to try and open gate with crow bar.
11. Tell U-Haul guy what I thought of his idea.
12. Detach U-Haul from trailer hitch in an attempt to move stuff forward
13. Fail
14. Kick door in frustration
15. Get back at it with crow bar
16. Work back gate open, millimeter by millimeter
17. *Time elapse = roughly 30 minutes*

The lesson here, children: never over-fill a U-Haul. That, or hire a moving service. Also, never give in to your own stupidity or the suggestions of help line operators.

2. Dragging a U-Haul up the east coast is PRICEY
When I started my journey, I had 70 in cash in my wallet. When I arrived in Bristol, I had 4. I didn't pay cash for anything along the way EXCEPT TOLLS. At one point, I spent 29 dollars in 30 minutes paying for the NJ turnpike and the George Washington Bridge. I'm convinced the booth operators saw my Texas plates and made up a number. I'd also like to thank Google maps for the expedient, affordable route they provided.

3. New Jersey is Depressing/Confusing
I've driven through New Jersey twice now, and maybe it's because a slow drizzle and yellow/gray sky has been the backdrop each time, but I really can't imagine living there and not needing a Prozac IV. That, or a lot of whiskey. Why is everything so rusted there? Maybe someone can help me out with this.

Also, this is the only place I have ever been that I've seen nothing but full service gas stations. I had never even seen a gas station with an attendant in my life before I drove through there last summer. I thought this was so bizarre, I told the dude that he didn't need to pump my gas and I did it myself. I explained to him that I was from Texas and had never seen a full service gas station before. He responded in a jumbled lexicon I was unable to distinguish and waddled away.

4. Delaware
What is the fucking point of Delaware? Have you ever met anyone from Delaware? No, of course not. This is because nobody lives there. The woman in the toll booth who charged me 10 dollars for driving through their county (ed. note: state) actually lives in Pennsylvania. Because of this egregious toll I was subjected to, I will always hate Joe Flacco.

If this was a publication of significance (another ed. note: a publication at all) I would now have 2 states that would hate me.

5. Wale's new mixtape > Tha Carter 3
I had only heard Wale in bits and pieces before I put "The Mixtape About Nothing" on my IPod the other day (his feature on the new Roots joint, "Nike Boots," sporadic listens on, etc.). Maybe it's because he might like Seinfeld as much as I do, but dude's new mixtape is really, really good.

His assessment of how fans shoulder the blame for hip-hop's declining health was smart and refreshing. His metaphors are subtle and rolling, harder to detect but smarter than the blatant verbal presentation of most emcees today. He also has a keen ear for beats, something that distinguishes young emcees from their peers and can lead one to superstardom. The format of the mixtape was creative and brilliantly executed, and I liked the intermittent clips from "Seinfeld." I give it a solid A-.

The Perfect Plan (FuLL) - Wale

Don't get me wrong, I LIKED Carter 3. I'll probably be playing several of the tracks all summer, if not off and on for years to come. I think it's remarkable that he had this many gems in the bank after the epidemic of net leakage that the project suffered (which was either brilliant modern marketing or just incidental). The singles are singles - the Babyface feature is the obvious next of which (I'm guessing the T-Pain track is already on radio, 'Lollipop' and 'A Millie' leaked months ago... I wouldn't know, I haven't listened to mainstream radio willingly in years.

'Mr. Carter' is unmistakably dope, but it's obvious to me that Wayne was so geeked about having his idol on the album that he put on 2 extra verses that really didn't need to be there. 'Tie My Hands' was unexpectedly my favorite song on the album. The Fab and Juelz feature song was thankfully remastered, and thumps quite well. 'Mrs. Officer' has good replay value, and '3-Peat' is a near-perfect opening number. I give it a B overall, and a B+ if you factor in the watered-down, Adderall-needed crappiness of this current era of hip-hop.


So that's what's good with my venture to the WWL. I drove through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, circumvented DC, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and finally Connecticut. I start work Monday.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tiger Is The New Babe Ruth

Much has been said in the past week since Tiger Woods' victory waltz through the Accenture Match Play championship about his place among the most dominating athletes of all time. I don't know how he could be anything but number one.

On the course, Tiger can hardly be compared to his modern-day peers. What's most telling though is that he really never was - since he won the 1997 Masters, he has been compared almost solely to historical figures: Palmer, Nicklaus, Snead, et al. Essentially, even in his youth, his pedestal was being crafted for him. His immediate, permanent ascension to the top of the golf world solidified this practice.

To say he is bigger than the sport would ignore the significant cultural, socioeconomic and historical ties that golf has around the world. However, to say he is bigger than the PGA TOUR would be a transparent fact. Events Tiger skips usually don't warrant a mention on SportsCenter, or on the front page of USA Today, or get play on (unless Phil manages to stumble into a win, then it's a 50-50 shot, at best). He is a breathing mythical icon - the unequivocal mark of greatness in his sport - and he's just now entering his prime.

It's telling that his name is constantly brought up during European Tour broadcasts as a benchmark for greatness - meanwhile, he's literally half a world away, either playing in an event that matters, preparing for an event that matters, or savoring the spoils of previously winning an event that matters. These events matter, of course, on a relative basis, because to most of the sports world, the only golf tournaments that matter are the ones in which Tiger Woods is an active participant.

A microcosm of Tiger's absolute cultural dominance comes in Tiger's video game with EA sports. In Madden (also an EA publication), one player every year is singled out and given the privilege of being on the cover. Yet, the star of the game is the NFL shield - the league, and the game play, is far bigger than one superstar. NBA Live is the same way. T-Mac or Dwyane Wade or Carmelo Anthony is made the game's poster child, yet does not carry the burden (or financial benefit) of the game's entirety on his shoulders. This is the polar opposite in golf. The GAME ITSELF carries Woods' moniker, because he as an entity is such a stronger sell than anything else remotely associated with the game of golf.

(John Madden's moniker is on the NFL game, but his presence in the game itself is minimal, and one can argue that the Madden video game franchise has surpassed anything else John Madden as a man has accomplished in terms of impact on American culture.)

Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, and legends of the past exist in TIGER WOODS 08, but serve as auxillary pieces in the grand scheme of things. Note that the actual game is incomprehensibly addictive, as any gamer will tell you. In turn, the video game consuming public, who for the most part are either passive golf fans or have no interest in golf at all besides this game, see professional golf AS Tiger Woods. If I went to my buddy's apartment, we would 'play T-Woods' not 'play PGA.' This may seem like a small thing, but years of inundation makes this repetitious practice have a lasting impact on the perception of professional golf.

(Somehow, the impact of video games on culture is lost on many, which is a tangent that could have a book written about it someday, since they have been inundating the brains and social patterns of youths since 1970-something.)

Elite TOUR courses are no longer modified or updated, they are "Tiger-proofed." Cognizant players hit weight racks, treadmills, pilates classes and supplement stores because Tiger treats his body like an elite athlete would instead of a frat pledge or accountant or middle school teacher.

One mention of his name makes you into a temporary star. Ask Rory Sabbatini. Or Ian Poulter. This is a fascinating topic in and of itself, that strikes me as most akin to the relationship between unknown emcees beefing with rap stars. In the circles who follow your sport or musical realm closely, you are granted 15 seconds of notoriety if your words strike a strong enough chord. Quickly, the party of lesser power rescinds his notion of superiority, for fear of the wrath they feel in said sport or musical realm. Either that, or their comments fade into the abyss of obscurity within a matter of weeks, and maybe days. So if Jay-Z is Tiger, Ian Poulter would be on par with Agallah. This analogy works, because unless you either follow golf or rap music very closely, you haven't heard of either of them.

Michael Jordan is the most common sports analogy to Woods because he's the most recent, but I have always thought of Tiger most comparably to an American cultural icon who dwarfed his peers, fellow competitors, and historical precedents, in and out of the playing arena: Babe Ruth.

In 1927, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. The Philadelphia Athletics, who came in 2nd in the American League standings that year, hit 56. AS A TEAM. Ruth was a force unlike anything ever seen in what was then a station-to-station game catered more towards singles and doubles than the long ball. Ruth's star power that came from his larger-than-sport presence and talent did more to alter the way baseball was played, viewed and marketed than any one person ever did to that point. There are also Ruthian anecdotes buried into American nostalgia, both on and off the field, like his famed called shot, or strong penchant for vices of the flesh. Because of all of these wonderful things, he has grown into a mythical American superhero, like Paul Bunyan, John Wayne, and possibly Optimus Prime.

But even Ruth had statistical peers eventually, when Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx arrived. Tiger doesn't really have any yet. Phil Mickelson, a legendary talent and competitor in his own right, would have been a sporting hero had he shown up 15 years earlier. Unfortunately, he didn't, and his prime coincided with Tiger's total eclipse. Els, Goosen, Singh, Garcia, Scott, and others all have appeared to be on the precipice of entering his atmosphere, before either 1) drifting back down to earth, or 2) watching Tiger click his afterburners and return to his own galaxy.

Babe Ruth was the ultimate sum-of-all-necessary-parts needed, during his day, to become the American legend he will always be. He played in our Rome, for the greatest franchise in the history of American sports. He was big in stature, bigger in personality, and biggest in skill. The three biggest draws in sport during his day were baseball, boxing and horse racing. The sports media landscape was unsplintered, focused, and carried a boys' club aura that made pressers chummy with players - this permitted the idyllic imagery of all that was majestic and right with Ruth to permeate coverage of him.

Tiger is, essentially, a perfect storm for his day, too. He is a youthful in appearance and articulate behind a microphone in an age that demands aesthetic perfection from its idols. In a time where every celebrity's breath, word and burp is recorded and posted online, his demeanor and persona is just about flawless in the public eye. He is covered by a sports media that is very splintered and user-specific, but because he plays golf, and is not tied to any particular media market, he will never be limited by what city he plays in. His youthfulness and greatness makes him appealing to young people, while his respect for history and greatness make him appealing to older people.

Tiger Woods has hit some Ruthian shots in his day. But, now that I think of it, it's more accurate to say Babe Ruth was pretty Tigerian.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Today: 10 Years Since Harry Caray Died

When I was extremely young - like, 5-and-6-years-old young, I was a Cubs fan. This was predominantly because they were on television every afternoon when I got home from kindergarten. Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, and Shawon Duntson were my favorite players, and the late Harry Caray called games. Of course, I came to my senses by second grade, fully embracing my hometown Astros, but the impression left by the living soundbite Caray has held to this day.

To me, he was the proverbial friendly old coot down the street, who your mother was leery of because he oogled the other Moms and perpetually clutched a Bud longneck. At the same time, the kids loved him because he gave out the best Halloween candy, and didn't care when the football landed in his yard.

Caray has also been immortalized in one of the best SNL sketches of all time.