Lately you can't swing a dead "I Can Haz Cheezburger" cat on the internet without hitting a "Favorite X of each state" map of the US.  Favorite musical act (as an aside, I believe that the version I saw had someone or something called "Young Jeezy" as the favorite musical act in Michigan.  The obvious response to which is obviously "you're an idiot."), favorite movie, TV shows set in each state, blah blah blah.  Today Slate has a "United Steaks of America" map.

So, in that spirit, I present the "Favorite State Names of the US" map.

usa-map.jpg

There.  Now can we please shut the hell up about it?

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Day 4, a few more podcasts

  • Studio 360 - usually good, sometimes great, but like some other podcasts I find myself deleting without listening.
  • Fresh Air - ditto.
  • 60 Minutes Audio - I subscribed specifically because I don't always watch, but if I don't see it, Camilla does, and if a story sounds interesting I watch it online.
  • Beyond The To-Do List - a pretty obscure one that I only found via a specific episode featuring Merlin Mann, which was great but not really representative of the overall quality.

I do tend to fade in and out of podcasts, so the first two will probably show back up someday.

Day 5:  I used to follow and use a website called freecycle, the idea behind which was simple:  you have stuff you don't want, and you don't want to just throw it away, because someone could use it, but you also don't want to go to the hassle of trying to sell it.  So you offer it, free, to someone else, using the freecycle website.  I've gotten rid of tons of stuff this way...old patio furniture, leftover building materials, some old records and 8-track tapes, a garden hose...but I've given way, way more than I've gotten.  A stove, a dining table, shelf brackets, a dishwasher, all sorts of useful things.

One of those useful things is a working stereo system (this is back in the days before the iPods and bluetooths), but I don't use it any more, and it just takes up space in my armoire and under my bed.  This one is going to CompRenew, which is our local electronics recycling resource (and which is awesome source for various gadget-type bits and pieces like cables, and plugs, and other ephemera.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

My top bookshelf:

photo.JPG

I haven't looked at any of this stuff in years and years.  An Indiana Jones box set of VHS tapes, one of Jimmy Buffetts's novels...just a bunch of old junk.  To Salvation Army we go, with one exception:  "Deconstructivism:  A Student Guide," which I purchased in grad school during a brief flirtation with "look at me" architecture.  Ah, youth.  I was going to donate this one as well, but I did a quick look at Amazon, and it's selling for over $45, used!  Other than that, it's all gone.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Today's candidate is Mr. Marc Maron's WTF podcast.

I was first exposed to Marc Maron via the old Air America radio network.  He was funny, sharp, and a generally insane liberal flamethrower.  Which I like.  Later, I was a very early adopter on the WTF podcast.  I have no idea how I found it, but I would guess I found it within the first half-dozen episodes.  His background as a standup means that he knows lots of interesting and funny people and is able to have some really interesting conversations with them.

Anyway.  Maron is cool and funny, and it's a good show, but I find myself deleting 90% of the episodes without listening.  I will probably check in again from time to time to see his guest list, but I'm giving it up for a while.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Read the original "Culling the Herd" post *here*.

These things get all mixed up.  I think some of these came from the SXSW batch, but I honestly have no idea any more.

Badly Drawn Boy, "Is There Nothing We Could Do?" - 2 stars.  Dump it.

It's not *terrible,* or anything, just anonymous.  Navel-gazey mopey Britpop that I might like if I were in the right mood.

Basia Bulat, "Heart Of My Own" - 2 stars.  Dump it.

Precious and quiver-ey.

Bassnectar, "Art of Revolution" - 2 stars.  Dump it.

Electronic dance music.  Makes my head hurt.  Good god, I'm old.

Bebe, "Se Fue" - 3 stars.  Hold it.

Ah, the benefits of hanging on through that first listen.  I had no idea what I was in for, and it starts...inauspiciously.  But you stick around, and it builds into this absolute confection of spanish (I guess) pop

.  I don't know the lyrics and can't sing along, but it makes me happy.  What else can you want from a song?  Seriously!

Ben Harper and The Relentless 7, "Fly One Time" - 4 stars.  Dig it.

I have to say, I didn't have high hopes.  I used to work with a stoner / frisbee dude that, once he found out I dug Donna the Buffalo, was constantly suggesting jam band types to me.  At one point, he loaned me a copy of a Ben Harper CD, and I was not terribly impressed.  My recollection is that it was a pretty disjointed, unfocused record.  You know, a jam band.  But this particular song is pretty terrific - tight but inventive.  I'm inclined to just stick to this song and not disappoint myself.

Ben Sollee, "A Few Honest Words" - 1 star.  Dump it.

The album cover is a guy, forlornly standing on a dock, holding a cello, and the song is exactly what you'd expect.

I'm hoping that the dock collapsed into the lake during the photo shoot.

Bill Frisell,  "I Am Not A Farmer" - 4 stars.  Dig it.

A lovely song.  Allmusic's review - "A pleasant recording to listen to if not hang on to. It floats and hovers about the room as a peaceful backdrop" - is as dead-on as a review can get.

Billy Boy On Poison, "Drama Junkie Queen" - 3 stars.  Hold it.

I honestly have no idea what to do with this.  I sorta hate it; it's cartoonish and pose-ey.  On the other hand, so is the Cult, and I really like them; as a matter of fact, this really could be a lost outtake from "She Sells Sanctuary," which is a real guilty pleasure.  I guess I'll keep it?  I guess?

Bleached, "Searching Through The Past" - 4 stars.  Dig it.

A power-pop girl group.  Is there anything better?  I think not.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

I'm something of a lapsed Catholic. Grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools, graduated from Catholic high school, briefly considered a Catholic college. I've drifted away over the past ten years or so, for a variety of reasons, but I've always done the 'give up something for Lent" thing. One year I gave up meat (I ate more cheese), another year it was sweets, another year it was soda (drank a lot of juice. And beer.). Like a lot of Catholic stuff, the ritual of it appeals to me.

This year I've decided to do something different. I'm going to give up something every day, but not in the sense that I'm going to go without it - more in the sense of throwing it away. Some clothing to go to Goodwill, some object that I don't want any more, or (and here it relates to my 'Enough' post from a few days ago) a website in my reader. A movie in iTunes that I'll never watch and whose very presence makes me feel bad for its neglect. The idea is that I do have "enough." Way too much, actually, and the attachment to my stuff lessens me.

Today is Ash Wednesday, so it starts here.

First up - a website that I follow in my RSS reader. I love The Onion. They do a side-site (I guess) called the AV Club in which they do TV reviews, music, movies, pop culture, etc. And sometimes it's pretty good - it's pointed me to some good stuff. But the RSS feed: dear heavens, it's like drinking from a firehose. In the last 24 hours, they've posted FORTY NINE items, and I may have actually read one or two of them beyond the headline. But - as my old boss used to say, "is the juice worth the squeeze?" Today, I'm going to say that it isn't.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

I always have headphones in my ears, or at least one ear...often, they're not even playing, but I feel like I need to have something cued up and ready to go, and it doesn't really even matter what it is.  Probably 75% of the time it's a podcast, maybe 20% music and 5% audiobook.  But *something*.  I can't be separated from my gadgets for too long.

This.  Is a problem.

 

I subscribe to 36 podcasts - some sports (PTI, Olbermann, Tony Kornheiser, Bill Simmons), some news / pop culture (Slate stuff, the Bugle, NPR, Marc Maron), some technology, and whatever Merlin Mann is doing.  They're great - I've learned a lot, laughed a lot, all the things that you might get from listening to NPR 24/7.  But there's also a burden...I refresh my feeds every morning, and find out that I've got 14 hours of new content to listen to, and who the hell can listen to that much, and I guess I have to delete that episode, but I might miss something and then what?

I suppose it's similar to how I would feel if I had a TIVO - all those shows that I want to watch so that I'm hip to what's happenin', but I'd have to stay up until 2 AM every night to keep up.  Same thing.

 

I don't generally "surf" the web.  I use a service called Feedly to track websites that I want to keep up on.  Again - Sports (MGoBlog, Every Day Should Be Saturday, Grantland), Apple stuff, Running (Runners World, several runner blogs that I like), News / Opinion, Productivity stuff, Design / Architecture - if I think a website is interesting or important to follow and they have an RSS feed, I add them to my list and I see all of it, whenever it's updated.

I have over 90 websites in my list.  Some update once or twice a day, but some do it...like, 20 or 30 times a day.  I'll open feedly at lunchtime, and see that I have 200 new items to read.  So I spend 20 minutes grinding through the list reading headlines and possibly a paragraph (at most) and saving the interesting ones for later reading and / or regretful deletion.  When something newsworthy happens in the Apple universe, I literally see the same damn headline five times, and it's rare that I read even the first full article on the subject.  It's all too much.

Then, I'll get home and open up facebook to see pictures of food.  Pictures of dogs.  "Biff likes a page."  Political screeds.  Lousy grammar.  Oh, there's a cool photo of my niece, that's cool...aaaaand, back to dog photos.  I realized a few days ago that I had spent 20 minutes on facebook and gotten literally *nothing* of value out of the experience.

Meanwhile, here I am posting to a blog that only gets intermittent attention.  I have an idea for some nature / math-ey design / printmaking / photo work.  I've got a dozen different things I need to do at my house.  I don't get enough sleep, like, ever.

These things are not unrelated.

 

I was going through my RSS feeds this weekend, making sure that I actually wanted to stay subscribed to each, and I came across a new post from one of the U-M sports blogs entitled "You Can't Go Home Again."  It's a good blog in general, well-written and with a slight bent towards my beloved Michigan Marching Band.  It's also not a 'daily' blog, and the rarity means that I look forward to new posts.  In this case, though, I saw the title and thought "oh good, maybe they're going to quit the blog and I'll have one less thing I have to read."  That I HAVE to read.  HAVE TO.

That initial thought is about as good a indication that I'm beyond my limits as anything.

 

I guess there's no point to any of this, except to say...what?  I have no idea.  A change is gonna come.  One way or another.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

As I pick this up again, I realize that, to maintain my A to Z approach, I have to go back and pick up some stuff.

Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls” – 5 stars.  Dig it.

I think I first heard Alabama Shakes on the Sound Opinions podcast, which is where I’ve found a bunch of really good stuff.  The hosts are…well, they’re rock critics, so sometimes they take it all too seriously, but they also just love music, and it shows.  They brought Alabama Shakes in to their studio for an interview and live session, and before they started playing the guys started referencing Janis Joplin and noting that the band members are all under 25.  "Great," I thought, "ironic hipster posing."  Was I ever wrong, proving once again that it doesn't hurt to, you know, actually listen to the music.  To my surprise and shame, I kinda like Katy Perry.  Same thing. 

Anyway, the first song - "Hold On" - immediately grabbed me, and I bought the album before the interview was over.  I have no idea what the specific references are (blues has never been much of my thing), but there's a serious, honest grit, bluesy and funky, and they sound like they've been playing together for twenty years.  "Hold On" is the high point, but there are half a dozen other terrific songs ("Rise To The Sun" has gotten the high praise of me hitting 'repeat' on my iPhone, as has "Be Mine").  Just a fabulous record.  Buy it.

Alejandro Escovedo, "Big Station" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

I don't know if I've written this before, but Los Lobos is one of my two favorite bands ever.  REM's high points were probably a bit higher, but for a shorter period (if 20 years can be considered "short" in rock and roll), and Los Lobos has been putting out spectacular records for almost 30 years, going back to "Will The Wolf Survive?" in 1984 (by the way, sweet Christ but I'm old).  My love of Los Lobos has taken me down some unexpected paths, one of which is Mexican / Latin music.  I have absolutely no idea what half the lyrics mean, but something grabs me when I hear it.  A post for another day.

My Aunt Diana is latino, and somehow during a long-ago family party we started talking music (Diana is something of a pop culture freak like me) and Los Lobos came up.  Now, when I post something Los Lobos-related to facebook she immediately reminds me that I have to work on my...um...cumia?  I'm so sorry to say that I've forgotten what it's called.  The falsetto "ah, ha-ha-ha!" trill that you hear in some Mexican music.  Diana is great.

All of which has almost nothing to do with Alejandro Escovedo, except this:  last summer Los Lobos toured (which they happily do, constantly) with Los Lonely Boys and one Alejandro Escovedo.  I think I'd heard the name, but knew nothing more than that.  When I posted that I wanted to see them, Diana reminded me that I definitely needed to practice my...cumia?...which made think that Escovedo would be pretty latin-ey.  Man, was that wrong.  Turns out, it's a straight-ahead alt-country / indie rock record (an aside, the genre and sound of his voice made me think he's in his mid-thirties.  Nice try, champ - he's 62).  A fantastic one, front to back - it just drives and drives and drives.  Think Lyle Lovett songwriting with a musical edge.

To my regret, I eventually missed that Los Lobos / Los Lonely Boys / Escovedo show, and I'm not sure why.  I will definitely not miss him the next time he comes around, though.  Good stuff.

The Allman Brothers, "Jessica" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

We subscribed to Newsweek when I was a kid.  The way I remember it, my mom got to read it first, then my dad, then me, then everyone else.  I vividly remember getting one issue that my mom had redacted, cutting out a photo in the 'Newsmakers' page of celebrity news and such.  As you might expect, this absolutely obsessed me.  What could I be missing?  Mom had no idea how resourceful a 12-year-old could be when he's chasing something forbidden, and this was a really a simple problem, solved by...going to the library, which I constantly did anyway.  The photo turned out to be this one:

Pretty tame, obviously - not sure why mom was so nervous about it, especially when I remember seeing another photo on the same page of a different issue of Newsweek in which I could actually see...a nipple.  Sort of.  Possibly.  But when you were 12 in 1977 that was a Big.  Deal.  That I can remember the photo above (and I do, in pretty remarkable detail) is proof of that.  But I digress...in any case, I think that photo was my first exposure to Gregg Allman or his Brothers.  Gregg popped up again, briefly, in the late 80s (?) with "I'm No Angel," which is a pretty good song that John used to play at parties.  But they fell from my consciousness for another 20 years.

They Might Be Giants did a song called "Jessica" on one of their EPs (as a side B to "Why Does The Sun Shine?"), and I loved it...I knew I recognized it, but didn't know what it was.  A quick google search later, and suddenly Cher and Gregg Allman are groping each other in Newsweek.  The internet is neat.

The original version here is pretty great - classic southern boogie, goes on too long.  A definite keeper.

Amy Winehouse, "Frank" - 4 stars.  Dig it.

I love "Back to Black," so I went back to Amy's debut album, recorded about three years earlier, and it's also terrific.  The songwriting is very similar, and Winehouse's voice is sharper and fresher; the mileage she'd put on between the two recordings is remarkable when you listen to them back to back.  It's also less R&B and more jazzy - she used Sharon Jones' backing band The Dap Kings for "Back To Black", and it shows.   Her voice is front and center, and what a voice it was.  So sad.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

It’s a new year, which means it’s again time to talk about the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I won’t recreate my deep dive into last year’s candidates (which can be found here, here, here, here, and here) - since none were elected, most of what I wrote at the time still applies.  Regarding the guys who were carried over to this year's ballot:

In:  Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds

Close, but not quite:  Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling

Out:  Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Dale Murphy, Sammy Sosa

Obviously, it’s a mixed bag of PED guys there.  My approach on those guys is pretty simple – if, in my opinion, they were valid HOFers before they hit the juice, and would have likely made some major milestones with ‘normal’ career decline, they’re in (Barry Bonds is the clearest example; he was in the HOF years before he bulked up.  Ditto for Clemens).  If the juice made them great players (Sammy Sosa), or allowed them to extend their careers long enough to become candidates (Mark McGwire), then they’re out.  As always, results may vary.

On to the “clearly out” first-timers for 2014, comments where they pop into my head:

Closers:  See my thoughts on closers in general here.  Neither Todd Jones nor Armando Benitez were ever really considered to be elite players, but the ridiculous use of closers over the last 20 years allowed them to pile up some big numbers (they are 16th and 17th all-time in saves, respectively).  Mike Timlin didn’t even do that much.  Greg Gagne is a slightly different case from the other three; he at least won a Cy Young and finished in the top seven two other times and got some MVP consideration.  He was as good as there was for three years there, which makes his case only slightly better than Willie Hernandez’, and he ain’t gettin’ in.  Plus he was a juicer.

Hideo Nomo:  Won a Rookie of the Year, got some Cy Young votes, but was essentially a spare part by the time he was 28.

Kenny Rogers:  Had a nice long career, but his peak was never all that high and didn’t get a single CYA vote until he was 41 (!).  Plus he was a legendary a-hole.

Jacque Jones

Paul LoDuca:  Paul LoDuca lasted for 11 seasons?  I can’t honestly say I remember any of them.

Ray Durham

J.T. Snow

Sean Casey:  Was a pretty good hitter for average, but not much power, was deeply, deeply slow, and didn’t walk.  A good player, but clearly out.

Richie Sexson:  I was expecting to dismiss Sexson as a classic home run or strikeout guy, and surprised to see that he had a lifetime OPS of 851, which is about 50 points higher than I expected.  Couldn’t run, but had really good power, drew a bunch of walks.  Better than I remember, but still clearly out.

Next, the grey area guys:

Moises Alou:  I remember thinking he was pretty overrated while he was still playing.  I think that’s true, but he did do a few HOF-type things.  Got some meaningful MVP consideration a couple of times (in the aborted 1994 season, he was the lead dog for the best-in-baseball Expos, but he finished behind Bagwell, and in 1998 he was third behind Sosa and McGwire.  Not sure if that one is meaningful or not).  Made a bunch of All-Star teams.  Still, his comps are guys like Magglio Ordonez, Ellis Burks, and Shawn Green, good players all but also all clearly out.  Verdict – Out.

Luis Gonzalez:  I have no idea if he was ever fingered as a user, but it’s pretty easy to see when he started taking them.  His per-162-game averages until age 30, when the Tigers traded him for Karim Garcia during one of their “what the hell are we doing here” seasons:  .341 OBP, .432 Slugging, 16 HR, 80 RBI.  A decent player, but nothing special.  He’d keep his job on most teams.  His next five years in Arizona:  .405 OBP, .564 Slugging, 34 HR (including a completely ridiculous 57 in 2001), 115 RBI, four All-Star teams.  Go ahead, tell me the PEDs didn’t get him there.  Verdict – Out.

Jeff Kent:  The flip side of Moises Alou, in that I remember thinking he was way underrated, despite the fact that he consistently showed up in the MVP voting during his 6-year peak and won in 2000.  Terrific numbers, especially for a second baseman - .550 to .600 slugging, solid .290 average with some walks, solid 850 to 1000 OPS, didn’t strike out a lot.  Good home run power, but very good double / triple power.  Reached 2400 hits, 375 HR (most ever by a second baseman) scored 1300 runs, knocked in 1500.  Similar to some others, though; if he’d gotten to 2500 hits and 400 HR he’d probably be in, but he just missed both.  I don’t generally like to do the “this guy first” argument, but in this case, Craig Biggio, Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich were better players who should go in first.  Verdict – Out, barely.

Mike Mussina:  I loved Mike Mussina, even before the Yankees got him.  The guy just never seemed to have a bad year, cranking out 18-6s one after another.  That made him extremely valuable – the “problem” was that he had all those good years, but never had a truly great one, up to and including his final season, the only time he topped 20 wins.  What he did do was fire out 220 innings, striking out 180 with a 3.54 ERA and winning 18 and finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting, just about every single season (by the way, I totally pulled those numbers out of the air and they are almost exactly his norms per 162 games during his 10 years in Baltimore).  Drumbeats, over and over, with enough depth in the numbers to put him in relatively easily.  Verdict – In.

And the big names:

Frank Thomas:  An easy one, and a personal favorite.  Thomas was as devastating an offensive player as there was for about eight years there.  Consistently hit .320 or so with 120 walks and 40 doubles and 40 homers, scored 100 and knocked in 120, just generally put an absolute shitload of runs on the board.  Won a couple of MVPs, probably could have won a couple more without if everyone hadn't been juicing around him.  “Only” 2468 hits, primarily due to the fact that he was taking 100 walks a year; he almost certainly could have gotten to 3000 if he’d been more aggressive at the plate, which seem silly, since he was a hugely intimidating hitter.  What he did was work the count until he got a pitch that he that he could smash to bits.  Couldn’t run much, not a great fielder, but man…what a hitter.  Verdict – In.

Tom Glavine:   Easier than Frank Thomas – won 2 Cy Youngs, finished top-3 four other times.  Won 20 five times, leading the league each time.  Was also terrific in the World Series, unlike some of the other Braves pitchers – went 4-3 (including a 1-hitter in the 1995 clincher) that included 3-2 and 2-1 hard-luck losses.  An easy one.  Verdict – In.

Greg Maddux:  Even easier – won 355, despite having only two 20-win seasons (by the way – I know it’s unfashionable to cite wins as a statistic, but despite my love of the new numbers I’m still an old fart), which is mind-boggling for a couple of reasons; first, because I could’ve sworn he had at least six 20-win seasons.  Second, because it’s 355 freaking wins.  The current active leader is Andy Pettite, with 256, followed by Tim Hudson and CC Sabathia at 205.  Anyone think any of those guys will get to 300, let alone 355?  The highest guy under 30 is Felix Hernandez.  With 110.  It’s just a huge number that might never get reached again unless the current approach to starting pitching takes a 180-degree turn.  Thing is, he didn’t do it by dominating anyone, ever.  What he did was hit every single spot he tried to hit, and then he’d push it outside an inch, and then another inch, and before you knew it you were swinging at balls that were hitting the fungo circle.  When he was on, it really was a beautiful thing.  Between Maddux and Clemens, it’s pretty obvious that the greatest right-handed pitcher of the last 50 years is on the current HOF ballot…but I have no idea which one that is.  Verdict – In, obviously.

SO.  My ballot this year:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Fred McGriff
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Craig Biggio
  • Mike Piazza
  • Roger Clemens
  • Barry Bonds
  • Mike Mussina
  • Frank Thomas
  • Tom Glavine
  • Greg Maddux

Yes, that’s 11 guys.  Apparently the Hall limits voters to ten per year – in that case, I’d probably drop McGriff...and probably Palmeiro (I'm starting to pull back from that one, but i'm not all the way there).  I suspect that Biggio, Thomas, Glavine, and Maddux will make it, along with Jack Morris.  

The hall is rapidly approaching a tipping point on the PED era:  there are probably 18 guys who can make a legit case this year, and Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz come on next year.  I don't know if they'll ever reach the "put him in, just put his steroid use on the plaque" stage, and I've generally rejected that argument, but I'm starting to come around.  If they only let Maddux and Glavine in this year I think I'll swing to that side of the fence.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

ANN ARBOR - "Yeah," Brady Hoke said, "I thought we had more of a shot than most people thought we did."  His Michigan team had just finished one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Michigan - Ohio State rivalry, 24-20, before a Michigan Stadium crowd that had conspicuously more red-clad fans than usual.  "I thought we might be able to stuff them defensively a little bit - Greg Mattison has been rotating guys in to the front seven all season long, which gave us a little more versatility and fresh legs out there.  Ohio likes to pick up the pace, so we needed to be able to play strong into the fourth quarter."

Michigan had been struggling to find its offensive identity for two months, and this game was no different.  The running game plodded for only 74 yards on 27 carries, and Devin Gardner - clearly not at 100% for the last month - was 13 of 29 with two interceptions.  But he connected on two long passes in the third quarter - one a 64-yard bomb to Devin Funchess to set up one score and a 41-yard catch-and-run by Jeremy Gallon to set up another - and chipped in with a  key 14-yard scramble on 3rd and 12 in the fourth for a key first down in the fourth quarter that kept Ohio State off the field just a bit longer.  Michigan ended the game with only 14 first downs and 220 yards of total offense.

But the key was the defense.  Carlos Hyde was held relatively in check, with 27 carries for 109 yards (well under his season average of 7.7 yards a carry) and fumbled twice.  One was recovered by Michigan on the Ohio State 21 and led to a field goal, and another was recovered by Ohio State but stalled a long second quarter drive.  Braxton Miller was effective early as Ohio State scored the game's first 10 points but a critical fumble on a huge blindside hit by Jake Ryan - unlike Devin Gardner, finally at 100% - recharged the Michigan Stadium crowd and led to a rumbling 17-yard touchdown run by Derrick Green.

Michigan now waits to see where it will be going for the holidays, while Ohio State goes on to the Big Ten Championship game next week, now considerably less interesting with Michigan State losing to Minnesota in yet another down year for the Big Ten.

(ed. note - do I think this will happen?  Ehhhh, not really.  We're just not very good.  But if it does  happen...yeah, I think this is how it might.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

So, it was at this point that I came up with a new plan; instead of assigning a rating to each and every one of these fucking songs, and more miserably writing about each one,  I made up categories and dropped every furshligginer song into one of them.  I may return to some of these, but don't hold your breath.

2012

Stuff that makes me hate music:

  • Black Tusk - "Set The Dial To Doom"
  • Blondes - "Wine"
  • Ceremony - "Hysteria"
  • Deafheaven - "Violet"
  • G-SIDE - "NAT GEO"
  • Grimes - "Oblivion"
  • Mind Spiders - "Wait For Us"

Stuff that actively annoys me with pretension or some other form of annoyingness:

  • Adam Arcuragi - "President's Song"
  • Apparat - "Black Water"
  • Emma-Louise - "Jungle"
  • The Front Bottoms - "Maps"
  • Horse Feathers - "Fit Against The Country"
  • Lower Dens - "Brains"
  • Nicholas Jaar - "With Just One Glance"
  • Reks - "Autograph"
  • Royal Thunder - "Mouth Of Fire"
  • Spoek Mathambo - "Put Some Red On It"
  • STS - "Here Tonight"
  • THEESatisfaction - "QueenS"
  • Zola Jesus - "Vessel"
  • Kendrick Lamar - "Ab-Souls Outro"

Stuff that I forget is playing:

  • Firehorse - "Our Hearts"
  • Heartless Bastards - "Parted Ways"
  • JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound - "Everything Will Be Fine"
  • La Vida Boheme - "Nicaragua"
  • Lost Lander - "Cold Feet"
  • POLICA - "Lay Your Cards Out"
  • Young Prisms - "Floating In Blue"

Stuff that just doesn't do it for me:

  • The Men - "Open Your Heart"
  • Milagres - "Here To Stay"
  • Milo Greene - "1957"
  • The Milk Carton Kids - "There By Your Side"
  • Patrick Watson - "Into Giants"
  • SBTRKT - "Wildfire"
  • Seryn - "We Will All Be Changed"
  • Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - "Rise"
  • Sharon Van Etten - "Serpents"
  • Tanlines - "Brothers"
  • We Are Augustines - "Headlong Into The Abyss"
  • Y La Bamba - "Squawk"

Stuff that I kinda like, but it also kinda ends there:

  • Bear in Heaven - "The Reflection of You"
  • Ben Howard - "Old Pine"
  • Brendan Benson - "Bad For Me"
  • Girl In A Coma - "Smart"
  • Kishi Bashi - "Bright Whites"
  • La Sera - "Please Be My Third Eye"
  • Nada Surf - "When I Was Young"
  • Now, Now - "Dead Oaks"
  • Quiet Company - "You, Me, & The Boatman"
  • Shearwater - "You As You Were"
  • Shimmering Stars - "Sun's Going Down"

Stuff that I like and which makes me keep my ears open for more:

  • Allen Stone - "Sleep"
  • Amy Bezunartea - "Doubles"
  • Big Deal - "Chair"
  • Bright Moments - "Travelers"
  • Caveman - "Old Friend"
  • Chappo - "Come Home"
  • Cloud Nothings - "Stay Useless"
  • Daughter - "Landfill"
  • Dry The River - "New Ceremony"
  • Eleanor Friedberger - "Last Summer"
  • Emperor X - "Erica Western Teleport"
  • Hospitality - "Friends Of Friends"
  • Of Monsters And Men - "Little Talks"
  • Young Buffalo - "Catapilah"
  • Yellow Ostrich - "Marathon Runner"

Stuff that I REALLY like and which makes my buy more music

  • Best Coast - "When I'm With You"
  • Great Lakes Swimmers - "Easy Come Easy Go"
  • We Were Promised Jetpacks - "Act On Impulse"

2013

Stuff that makes me hate music:

  • Big K.R.I.T. - "Shine On"
  • The Coup - "The Magic Clap"
  • Foxygen - "San Francisco"
  • Killer Mike - "Untitled (feat. Scar)"
  • Le1f - "Coins"
  • Metz - "Headache"
  • Robert Raimon Roy - "Le Tigre Blanc"
  • Sean Rowe - "Joe's Cult"
  • Skeletonwitch - "This Horrifying Force (The Desire To Kill)"

Stuff that actively annoys me with pretension or some other form of annoyingness:

  • Alt-J - "Tesselate"
  • Dana Falconberry - "Lake Charlievoix"
  • Dusted - "Property Lines"
  • Indians - "I Am Haunted"
  • Marnie Stern - "Year Of The Glad"
  • Micah P. Hinson - "Take Off That Dress For Me"
  • Olafur Arnalds - "Old Skin"
  • Quiet Company - "The Emasculated Man And The City That Swallowed Him"
  • Thomas Dybdahl - "But We Did"
  • MTMTMK - "Yoshua Alikuti"
  • Wild Child - "Tale of You & Me"
  • You Won't - "Three Car Garage"
  • Youth Lagoon - "Dropla"

Stuff that I forget is playing:

  • The Calm Blue Sea - "Mary Ann Nichols"
  • Brown Shoe - "Late Nights"
  • Daniel Bachman - "With Signs Following"
  • Frightened Rabbit - "State Hospital"
  • Hurray For the Riff Raff - "Born To Win (Part One)"
  • Joe Banfi - "Nomads"
  • Ken Stringfellow - "You're The Gold "
  • NO - "What's Your Name"
  • Telekinesis - "Ghosts and Creatures"
  • Whirr - "Sandy"

Stuff that just doesn't do it for me:

  • Andy Stott - "Numb"
  • Blaudzun - "Elephants"
  • Bronze Radio Return - "Shake, Shake, Shake"
  • Caveman - "In The City"
  • Cheyenne Mize - "Among The Grey"
  • Chic Gamine - "Days and Days"
  • Dessa - "The Beekeeper"
  • DIIV - "How Long Have You Known"
  • Elephant Stone - "Heavy Moon"
  • Empress Of - "Don't Tell Me"
  • Field Report - "I Am Not Waiting Anymore"
  • Gaby Moreno - "Que Voy a Hacer"
  • Imam Baildi - "De Thelo Pia Na Xanarthis"
  • The Milk Carton Kids - "Snake Eyes"
  • Mother Falcon - "Dirty Summer (7" version)"
  • My Education - "Roboter-Hohlenbewohner"
  • Night Beds - "Ramona"
  • ON AN ON - "Ghosts"

Stuff that I kinda like, but it also kinda ends there:

  • Air Review - "America's Son"
  • The Away Days - "Dressing Room"
  • Bajofondo Tango Club - "Pide piso"
  • Cayucas - "High School Lover"
  • The Eastern Sea - "The Match"
  • Haley Bonar - "Bad Reputation"
  • Hannah Georgas - "Ode To Mom"
  • Hey Marseilles - "Bright Stars Burning"
  • Hundred Waters - "Boreal"
  • Jesca Hoop - "Born To"
  • Jonathan Boulet - "You'rre A Animal"
  • Josh Ritter - "Joy To You Baby"
  • Josh Rouse - "Julie (Come Out Of The Rain)"
  • The Joy Formidable - "This Ladder Is Ours"
  • Line & Circle - "Roman Ruins"
  • Lucius - "Turn It Around"
  • The Mowgli's - "San Francisco (Little Daylight Remix)"
  • Quiet Company - "The Emasculated Man And The City That Swallowed Him"
  • Rhye - "Open"

Stuff that I like and which makes me keep my ears open for more:

  • Emma Louise - "Boy"
  • Ex Cops - "James"
  • Fierce Bad Rabbit - "Matter Of Time"
  • Guards - "Silver Lining"
  • Ivan & Alyosha - "Running for Cover"
  • Kopecky Family Band - "Heartbeat"
  • La Santa Cecilia - "La Negra"
  • Lydia Loveless - "Can't Change Me"
  • Mikal Cronin - "Shout It Out"
  • Parquet Courts - "Stoned and Starving"
  • Said The Whale - "Loveless"
  • The Staves - "Mexico"

Stuff that I REALLY like and which makes my buy more music:

  • Air Traffic Controller - "You Know Me"
  • BOY - "Little Numbers"
  • Jenny Owen Youngs - "Love For Long"
  • Kelly Hogan - "Plant White Roses"
  • Lianne La Havas - "Is Your Love Big Enough?"
  • The Lone Bellow - "Two Sides Of Lonely"
  • The Soil And The Sun - "I Know It (I Feel It Too)"
Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

This one has been percolating for a long, long time.  See, right around the time I really got into a stride with this little endeavor, I was listening to "All Songs Considered," and they were doing a review of South By Southwest musical acts.  Since I had found some really terrific music from a previous 'Best of SXSW' segment (Fitz and the Tantrums, Surfer Blood, Harlem), I felt duty-bound to download the whole damn thing.  All 100 (or so) songs, by 100 different artists.  As I've said before, it kinda stuffed me up.  Suddenly, the project seemed insurmountable.  Oh, and miserable.  Then I downloaded the 2013 version...100 more songs, 100 more artists...just to make myself more miserable.

Well, I made it through, and I've got another post coming shortly, but this is my original draft of the first group of songs.  Here goes.

Adam Arcuragi, "Presidents Song" - 2 stars.  Dump it.

Sort of an Americana backwoods thing.  Like the Avett Brothers, it seems self-conscious and affected.  It's not "bad," per se, it just doesn't do anything for me.  Pretty sure I can live without it.

Allen Stone, "Sleep" - 3 stars.  Hold it.

I found Allen Stone a few months ago through the following video:

 

As I tweeted / facebooked at the time, if you don't get chills at the 3:30 mark, well, I just don't want to know you.  Man, what a voice.

Which makes me really  disappointed by this particular song.  The call / response break between Stone and his backup singers at the midway point is just completely cringe-worthy.  But I'm keeping the song, completely on the basis of the video of the other song, until I hear otherwise.  He tours quite a bit, and I?m anxious to see him in concert.

Amy Bezunartea, "Doubles" - 4 stars.  Dig it.

It's interesting.  Amy Bezunartea and Adam Arcuragi are cut from the same cloth in some respects - retro, hipster-ish, possibly over-earnest - but where I find Arcuragi off-putting, Amy Bezunartea seems inviting.  It might be the quality of the voice, which is lovely.  It's also easy for me to imagine her doing this type of music whether or not it's popular - I don't have that same feeling for Arcuragi.  For that reason it seems more "genuine" to me - and i realize that my 'logic' is a complete and utter fabrication.  Whatever.  I like it.

Apparat, "Black Water" - 2 stars.  Dump it.

Again, not "bad," it just kinda lays there and doesn't grab me.

Bear in Heaven, "The Reflection of You" - 2 stars.  Dump it.

A shout-out to 80s Britpop - I could swear it's New Order, or Orchestral Manoevures in the Dark.  The thing is, while I liked those albums when I was 20, they really really don't do anything for me today.  Some of the songs, yes, but the albums really don't hold up.  This song would be the fourth song on side 2 - which means I would be looking through my stack and figuring out what the next album would be, wondering if I had the stamina to listen to this one all the way through.  Nope.

Ben Howard, "Old Pine" - 3 stars.  Hold it.

I had a feeling that, by listening to a mix from SXSW I would get a good sense of what's hot and what's not when it comes to the music scene of 2012.  Six songs in, it seems like earnest retro Americana is the thing.  This is the third song where we have some...oh, how should I say this...affected vocals with unusual phrasing, acoustic guitar, probably some artisanal amps (ooh, I like that phrase - gonna have to remember that).  Again, it's not bad, but I've heard it.  This one stays, just because I kinda like the guitar work and I wonder if he might turn into something.  But it's on a short leash.

Best Coast, "When I'm With You" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

...and just like that, all the hipsterism is washed out by a fab, straight-ahead power-pop girl group.  Reverb, a bit of feedback, the line "Yeah, when I'm with you I have fun," classic verse chorus verse chorus bridge verse chorus.  Terrific.

Big Deal, "Chair" - 4 stars.  Hold it.

...but then we veer back in to retro earnestness, boy-girl harmonizing a capella before we get a smear of scratchy guitar work.  The contrast between the elements is nice.

Black Tusk, "Set The Dial To Your Doom" - 0 stars.  Dump it.

I work with some college kids that sometimes listen to brutal, terrible, unlistenable, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs shit just like this, and I just.  Don't.  Get it.  Really, Junior?  This is enjoyable?  You make me sad.  If I wanted to get yelled at I'd go back with my ex-wife (ooh, that's another good line to remember).

 

And that's where it left off.  Stand by for the speed round...

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

I had my best running year ever in 2012.I had run my first sub-5:00 marathon in Grand Rapids in Octover 2011, then I built and built and built on that throughout 2012…I ran a couple of half marathons (first the inaugural Lansing Half, then the Park2Park in Holland), ran PRs in both, ran a PR in the 5/3 River Bank Run, and ended my racing year by knocking over 50 minutes off my marathon PR in Grand Rapids.A 4:06!

That got me thinking about qualifying for Boston, and when I looked it up I saw I’d need to run a 3:25…or about 40 minutes below the PR I had just run (AKA over an hour and a half over my previous PR).“Hm,” I thought, “I’m getting faster, maybe it’s not outside the realm of possibility.Might take me a couple years to get there, but someday.”Ah, hubris, thy name is Matt.

Fast forward to April.Camilla and I had decided to visit Whitaker in San Francisco, and I used the trip to do the Big Sur 21-miler.We got in a huge fight the day before, I slept about 2 hours, and I proceeded to have the worst race of my life.Hills, hills, hills.Just a miserable experience.I chalked it up to a tough course and all the other ‘stuff’ swirling around that weekend.

Memorial Day weekend, 2013, and the Bayshore Marathon.I knew I wasn’t going to run my Boston qualifier that day but hoped to match my 4:06.Nope.Made the halfway mark at 2:01 but faded late to a 4:20.Slightly disappointing, but I knew that Grand Rapids was my goal race for the year.PR’d the River Bank Run again, PR’d the half at the Seaway Run…I thought that a sub-4:00 was still a possibility.

Turned out that Grand Rapids was out – we had a wedding in Chicago that weekend.So I searched for another fall marathon and found Philadelphia.My sister lives there and I’d run it before, so it was an easy choice.Ran all summer and fall prepping, including a pair of 20-milers.One of them was troubling, however…Gazelle sponsored a 20-mile ‘final’ long run for GR Marathon participants, and I joined in.I ended up doing some walking.Not much, but some, and at the end I essentially collapsed.Usually I will walk it out at the end of a run but this time I couldn’t go another step.I laid down on the grass for 20 minutes, staggered to my car, laid down for another 10 minutes, and threw up in the parking lot (for the first running-related time ever).SO weird.But did another 20 miler a couple weeks later and everything was fine, so I chalked it up to a queasy stomach I’d had all day.

Which brought me to the Philly starting line.I’d had another lousy prerace night’s sleep (maybe 4 hours, tops), and post-Boston security stuff meant we needed to leave my sister’s house at 4am to get to the line on time).Had eaten fine, knee felt fine, stomach was fine, weather was perfect.

I held back for the first 6 miles or so, and still felt okay…but at 9 miles it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be doing a 4:00.Or a 4:20, probably.I wasn’t laboring (yet), but I wasn’t gliding, either, and if you’re already looking for mile markers at 9 miles, the next 17 are not going to go well.They turned out to be terrible.I was taking longer walk breaks at 12 miles and passed the half at about 2:10 (or so…I honestly have no idea).I threw up at mile 16.At 19 I was dizzy and lightheaded and seriously thinking about finding medical attention and dropping out, but I walked it out for a half mile or so and labored on.From that point, I was trying to run half miles and walk tenths between, which I did for a while, but I was totally cooked.

I finished in 5:02.A total disaster.

Ah, aftermath. How I hate you.I had read a Runner’s World column entitled “Bask First, Analyze Later” this summer, and I tried to do that on Sunday.Tried really, really hard…sorta succeded, but not entirely.The sheer misery and hardship of the race kept me from feeling too good about it in the immediate aftermath.Camilla is telling me that I should stick to the half (which, it should be noted, she did…her first ever.She’s pretty awesome).It’s more manageable, training-wise, and I simply don’t get as freaked out mentally before and after a half.

She’s wrong, or, rather, I’m not going to do that.I may or may not continue to do one or two marathons a year, but I know one thing for certain; after my great 2012, there is no damn way that my last marathon will be THAT one.It was just too much of a failure for me to finish my marathon career that way.And honestly?A half just doesn’t motivate me the same way…not that it’s for wimps, or anything like that, but it’s simply not as much of a challenge.I’ve seen people completely waddle through a half, but it’s simply not possible to do a marathon that way.On some level, that’s ego talking, but it’s also a recognition that I need major motivation to keep moving.

Dad died at 52.I might, too, but it won’t be because I was out of shape and didn’t take care of myself.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Guess I was wrong.  I still have one more 'B.'  Sigh.

The Buddy Holly Collection - 5 stars.  Dig it.
It's not the entire record - I got it from the library and didn't burn the entire thing:  "Cryin', Waitin', Hopin'", "It's So Easy," "Not Fade Away," and "Oh Boy!", "That'll Be The Day."  They're all fantastic songs - when I listen to them, I almost always think of what it must have been like to hear this stuff for the first time, before everything that followed.  It's not a gigantic exaggeration to say that Buddy Holly invented rock and roll.  Okay, yes it is.  But still - it must have been a huge adrenaline jolt to hear this in 1957, when the charts were dominated by Perry Como and Frank Sinatra.  And they still hold up.

Everyone should have them some Buddy Holly.

Cake, "Frank Sinatra" - 2 stars.  Dump it.
Speaking of Sinatra.  I guess I should like this song, but it just doesn't do anything for me.  I think it's the autotune / electronically manipulated lead vocal at the beginning...it then goes into more of a raw feel, but even so, it doesn't really go anywhere.  Dump.

Calexico, "Garden Ruin" - 5 stars.  Dig it.
I used to subscribe to this service called "Scrobbler" that would keep track of what I listened to and make recommendations for stuff that I didn't have in my library.  One of the artists that seemed to come up all the time was Calexico - possibly based on my attachment to a couple of Latin artists that I was listening to at the time (Los Lobos, The Iguanas).  Not sure.

In any case, I didn't get any of their stuff at the time, probably because due to their relative obscurity I couldn't find them using my then-method of getting music (more later).  A few years later, I stumbled across them at the library and burned the "Garden Ruin" CD.  Oh, my...what a record.  "Cruel" starts it off simply enough, basic guitar guitar bass drums, plaintive vocal; your basic singer / songwriter fare, and adds layers of backing vocals and horns and becomes something much more evocative, of southwestern landscapes and melancholia and longing.  Not to say that it is some sort of navelgazing elegy; far from it.  Every time it seems to turn that way, it turns up the tempo just enough to keep me interested and happy to listen to it.

Or maybe that's all just mood when I turn it on.  Whatever, it's a real gem of a record.

The Call, "Reconciled" - 3 stars.  Hold it.
I've spent much of the last ten years trying to gather digital versions of my old college favorites.  One way I did that was by digging out my old cassettes, reminiscing about that one time at that one party when I was almost (but not quite) able to pick up that one girl while we heard that one song, then I listened to the cassette during all-nighters in the architectural design studio.  "Man," I'd think, "that was a great record, I wonder why they never made it big."  Then I'd try to find a CD, or some downloadable version.  There are still a few records that I've never found, but not too many.

One thing I found, though, is that many of those great old records are, you know, not that great.  They've gotten a lot bigger in my head in retrospect, these lost gems of punk and new wave that I hold ever-so-close to my heart as examples of my great taste and their misunderstood genius...The Call is a good example of that.  They were sort of a non-angry, slightly spiritual version of U2, all chimey guitars and fist-rising anthemy (is that a word?).  But there's a reason U2 is still around and the Call isn't.  They weren't as good, not even back then...and when I found a digital version of their entire album, I only burned four songs:  "Let the Day Begin," "Everywhere I Go," "I Still Believe," and "The Walls Came Down."  They're okay.  I've already culled the rest.

Camper Van Beethoven

St. Andrew's Hall, Detroit, 1988, about to see R.E.M. again.  Their openers were the really strangely-named Camper Van Beethoven.  They were as weird as the name might imply; they mixed surf punk, and ska, and country, and straight punk...just a stew of all sorts of stuff.  they wore tie-dies and had dreads, and someone played the violin.  In the middle of their set - as openers, mind you, which is typically not a receptive audience - they did this long (probably at least ten minutes, although it felt longer) 'wall of noise' jam session.  That is not an exaggeration, either - they literally just played essentially one long note.  For ten minutes.  They got booed off the stage, as I recall, although I think that was what they were trying to do in the first place.  something had clicked, though.  The ska, the willingness to just throw stuff out there and see if it jelled, some clear pop sensibility - I don't know what it was, but I bought their first record the next day...

Camper Van Beethoven, "Telephone Free Landslide Victory" - 4 stars.  Dig it.
...and of course, it's weird, and absurd, and wonderful as hell.  The first song is "The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon,' and it stays right in that sweet spot of odd.  There's a self-conscious randomness here, sure, but there's also some discipline, even as they go off on weird lyrical and musical tangents to heaven knows where.  "Where The Hell is Bill," "Skinhead Stomp," "Club Med Sucks," and the brilliant "Take The Skinheads Bowling,"  I still listen to this record, which is a little surprising given my ongoing disdain for some of my old favorites from the 80s.

I did delete a few songs that didn't appear on the original release, however; the digital version includes a bunch of outtakes and ephemera that isn't all that great, or at the least hasn't been grooved into my brain via hundreds of previous listens and just doesn't stick with me.

Camper Van Beethoven, "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart" - 4 stars.  Dig it.
More of the same, although it does reflect the switch from an indie label (IRS) to a...less indie one (Virgin).  They still take flights of surfer-dude fancy, and they like to just throw random instruments together, but it's' a bit more disciplined.  Songs are a bit tighter without sacrificing the loopy attitude.  And there are a couple of just terrific pop songs (well, sorta pop songs) - "My Path Belated," "Tania," and "Life is Grand," in which David Lowery tells all the "they went commercial" complainers to suck it.

"Tania" lends the entire record a laid-back California vibe, recounting what it must have felt like in the Valley during the Patty Hearst saga.  Although it's late in the record, it seems to be the centerpiece and sources the album title.  All in all, still a good album.  Still!

Camper Van Beethoven, "Key Lime Pie" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

More of the same, still weird, still prone to druggy flights of fancy, still chock full of historical and SoCal geographic references, still able to find a hook in the patchouli.  'Jack Ruby' is a good example.  David Lowery was probably only a few years old when Kennedy was killed, but writes a personal, intimate account of the televised shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.  Go ahead, write a song about that, I dare you.  And he still finds space to write lovely songs of love and attachment ("All Her Favorite Fruit" picks up on the little things we see in our true love - mashed potatoes, holding the phone against her ear, whispers - inside a languid alt-country groove).  Or maybe I'm just feeling clingy at the moment.  Regardless, I still pick this record and listen to every song.  I can't think of a better thing to say about a 24-year-old album that I've listened to a thousand times.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Culling the herd.  It lives!

A couple weeks ago we had a meetup for the community that has grown around this blog.  Okay, it was me and my friends Jim and Paula going to a Marshall Crenshaw concert in a dive bar on the west side of town, but it was a meetup nonetheless.  By the way – hi Paula!

We three have seen Marshall several times over the years, starting with a drive through a driving ice storm to Washington DC in 1994, and while I still love his music, his concerts have gotten…oh, how should I say this?...well, they’ve gotten slower.  Really slower.  I mean, the guy’s 60 now – of course he’s slowing down.  But we’ve seen him a couple times where I just wanted to shake him, or at the least take over the drums and pick up the damn PACE.  This time, he was billed as Marshall Crenshaw with the Bottle Rockets.  I assumed that this was just what he was calling his backup band.

Boy, was I wrong.  The first indication of this was Jim telling me that his friend Boyd had said he' be more excited to see the Bottle Rockets.  Wha...?  Turns out, the Bottle Rockets are a band in their own right, and they're a good one – a glorified bar band, yes, but they’ve been doing it for 20 years, and it shows.  They blasted away at our eardrums for an hour or so, (I bought five songs from iTunes as we watched) and as they took a break, I thought that the rest of the night could go two ways.  Either Marshall would prove once and for all that he’s done, or they’d push him back into some semblance of his youth.  So, of course, he came out, said something about a friend that had just died, dedicated the first song to him, and absolutely drag-assed his way through about three songs, including “There She Goes Again” (I think that was the one, I don’t remember).  He just sucked every bit of energy out of the room.  All I could think was that I’d had some good times at his concerts over the years, but that this was going to be just about enough, thanks.

But then something clicked, and he spent the next 90 or so minutes doing terrific, sometimes loose and possibly boozy renditions of some of his best songs, including “Something’s Gonna Happen,” which I don’t believe I’ve ever heard live.  It was like he was 50 again (ha!).  The Bottle Rockets, it turned out, were exactly what he needed.

As he finished, he said he would come back out in a while to sell merchandise and sign stuff, and while we waited, my reading public (again – hi, Paula!) talked about my “blog” and where it went.

So?  Where did it go?

The answer is multifold, and one my readers and I discussed at length in that bar while we waited for Marshall.  My original premise was (and kinda still remains) that I listen to everything I own, in alphabetical order, rate it and either keep it or dump it, and (most importantly) write about it…but No More New Music until I’m done.  And that was just silly, for a variety of reasons.  First of all, it assumed that I wouldn't get bored with it and quit.  And duh.  Second, that the urge to buy something wouldn't override the urge to finish the project.  Another duh.

But something else, happened, too.  For each of the last two years, NPR has picked out songs 100 new or emerging bands at South By Southwest and dumped those songs on to the listening public.  Well, I can’t resist free downloads, so I got them, then realized that a) the music was all over the map and wildly uneven in quality and b) holy shit, what can I possibly say about 100 different bands, all at once?  It seemed overwhelming and completely blocked me.  My readers told me to lighten up and write.  Don’t worry about the alphabetical thing, don’t feel like I have to do every single damn song, just write.  Write.  My readers were right, of course.

All of which is just another preface to this:  time to pick up the old pen once again.  With new rules…well, “rule” – that rule being, “shut up and write.”

Okay, fine.  For whatever it’s worth, I do want to do this in some sort of systematic way, but I reserve the right to completely dump the system in favor of making sure that my fingers keep making the clicky noise on the keyboard.  As the question goes – how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time, of course.

Anyway.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Well, it turns out that this one was pretty easy to write.  There are three guys left, all of whom have some stink of PEDs on them, to varying degrees.  Just as a reminder, my criteria with these guys is pretty simple:  If they would have been Hall of Fame-caliber without the PEDs, or if they were really, really good before the PED explosion, they're in.

An aside - I couldn't stand a single one of these guys.  Not sure if that says more about them or me...probably me.

Mike Piazza - Kind of a pretty boy, and an absolute butcher behind the plate, but man, could he hit.  He was, famously, a 62nd round draft pick, made as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, which is weird because it really didn't take him long in the minors to show that he could hit; in a Low-A season at age 20 he hit .268 but slugged .444, was so-so in his first year in High-A, but had a good year at 22 in Bakersfield (.277, 29 HR, .884 OPS) and tore the living hell out of the Texas League and the PCL in 1992 (.350, .587 SLG, 1.000 OPS).  Those are big-number leagues - the PCL particularly, and especially in the 80s and 90s (it was chock full of guys like Luis Medina and Dave Clark and Ryan Klesko, guys that would pile up big AAA offensive numbers that only marginally translated to the bigs) - but he could clearly hit.  His major league numbers are a perfect progression of his minor league numbers - and given that Dodger Stadium at that time was one of the great pitcher's parks, that's really saying something.  Unless he found the PEDs when he was in low A-Ball (which is entirely possible), there's no real "leap" evident like there are with some oft the other guys (cough...sammysosa...cough)

Putting that aside, and wading back into his (possibly inflated) career numbers, his first six most-comparable players are all HOF Catchers: Bench, Berra, Carter, Fisk, Hartnett, Dickey.  The next two are Posada and Duke Snider.  That's pretty good company, right?

Or, how about this - he never won an MVP, but he finished in the top 10 seven times and had a career MVP share of 3.16.  That's 30th all-time, also pretty fast company...the only guy not named Pete Rose above him not in (or a guaranteed lock to get in) is Dave Parker.  Manny Ramirez and Vlad Guerrerro are just behind him and might not make it, but his neighborhood is full of HOFers.

I don't know that he'd be in those neighborhoods without PEDs.  I do know this - while he was active, there was talk of whether he was the greatest-hitting catcher ever.  I don't think he was (I would actually go for Ernie Lombardi) - but the fact that we could even have that conversation puts him in for me.  Verdict - In, and it's not all that close.

Roger Clemens - another legendary douchebag, pretty much from the time he showed up.  I won't recount it all here, it's all out there.

 before, after.

before, after.

What I will recount his what a freight train he was early in his career (and man, but do I love this shit).

I started to write this the way I always do - by pulling up a player's baseballreference.com page to see what jumps out at me...and in Clemens' case, the first thing I notice is that he won back-to-back CYAs in 1986 and 1987, then finished sixth in 1988.  Then he didn't get a vote in 1989, despite going 17-11 with a 3.13 ERA, 3 shutouts, 230 Ks in 253 innings.  Not his greatest year, but still - that's an ace season, right there, no question - so who won the Cy?  Bret Saberhagen went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA.  Okay, fine.  Dave Stewart won 20 again.  Mike Moore went 19-11 and finished 3rd (classic misunderstanding of "value" there - nobody expected him to do it, so he was "valuable."  Grrrr), Blyleven, Nolan Ryan, fine.  But you know who got 3 votes?  Jeff freaking Ballard, going 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA and a grand total of 62 strikeouts in 215 innings.  I remember articles about how Ballard had "finally figured things out"; those same writers then wrote the "What's wrong with Jeff Ballard" articles in 1990, when he went 2-11.  Ah, baseball writers and award voters.  Your stupidity never ceases to amaze...three separate writers looked at the landscape of 1989 American League pitchers and made a CONSCIOUS CHOICE to say that yes, Jeff Ballard is a better pitcher than Roger Clemens.  Duh.

Whoa, got off on a tangent, there.

I don't know when Clemens started doing PEDs...but I don't think it was early  in his career.  It wasn't when he was 20, when he went 7-2, with 1.33 ERA and 95 Ks in 81 innings in AA and AAA, or when he was 21, when he went 2-3 with 1.93 ERA and 50 Ks in 46 IP in AAA, or in any of his early 24-4 or 21-6 / CYA seasons - it's hard to look at his body at that point and think he was juicing, unlike in his later seasons.  My guess is he started around 1997, coming off four so-so seasons...and when he started another dominating stretch.

So look at his career through 1996:  192-111, 3.06 ERA, 38 shutouts, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP, 2590 strikeouts.  That's a fringe candidate if he never pitches another game, and he would at already be in the conversation as having the highest peak of any right-handed pitcher in history.  Then add four more Cy Youngs, another 162 wins, another 2000 strikeouts, and he's one of those guys that's actually overqualified, that would ordinarily get a flurry of "how can Roger Clemens not be a unanimous selections" articles written later this week.  He killed any chance of those articles being written via his rampant assholery, but still:  Verdict - in.  Obviously.

Barry Bonds - Another legendary douchebag, and not to get all anticlimactic here, but honestly?  The less said about Barry, the better. 

 also before, after.

also before, after.

The simple fact is that he was probably a HOFer long before he, famously, saw McGwire and Sosa getting all the publicity with the Maris chase and decided he wanted some of that action. 

He was on track for the HOF at 28, coming off three MVPs and a 2nd place in four seasons, 222 HR, 280 SB, 801 runs, .391 career OBP, .536 career SLG...he was still at his peak, and was probably a 90% chance to make it with a normal career progression from that point.  Take it out four more years, and he's probably in if he never plays another game - at that point he had 374 HR, 417 SB - and was still pounding out .300 seasons with 1.000 OPS.  In Barry's case, the PEDs just killed his normal decline and launched him from "ordinary" Hall of Famer to all-timer (his comps are, in order:  Mays, Aaron, Ruth, Robinson, Griffiey, ARod, Ott, Palmeiro, Ted Williams, Manny.  Wow.)  Verdict - In.  Now let us never speak of him again.

My final ballot:

  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Mike Piazza
  • Craig Biggio
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Fred McGriff
  • Rafael Palmeiro

Note that I don't necessarily think that this is what will happen, just my own personal ballot.  At a guess, I don't think that McGriff or Palmeiro will make it (not yet, anyway), Bagwell is probably iffy, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Jack Morris get in.

This has been fun - as I said above, I really do love this stuff.  I've written about my love of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia before, and it was and is a wonderful book.  But baseballreference.com?  Man, that's a scary, dangerous place.  I could spend hours and hours and hours there; when I'm writing this stuff I invariably have twenty separate tabs open in my browser.  Thank god for break time at Apple and late nights at home with my iPad.

And I got it done, in time for the announcements!  Yay me!

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

I was in Michigan Stadium for opening day 2009 against Western Michigan. After a completely demoralizing 3-9 in Rich Rodriguez' first season, Tate Forcier had already, on Michigan's first possession, shown the fans what the spread 'n' shred could do. It was quick, it was scary...it worked on the ground and through the air. During that possession, Forcier faked a give, rolled left, and, improvising, waved his receiver up the sideline and hit him on the numbers. "That," I said to anyone around who would listen, "is what a spread can do with a guy that can run it."

Sometime in the second quarter, Forcier came out with Michigan somewhere around the WMU, and in came a skinny kid with dreadlocks. The scuttlebutt was that the kid, while raw, could fly, and it didn't take long to show it off. Shotgun snap, a self-recovered fumble, and he was in the end zone, and it really seemed that quick. Later that season, my friend Chip would make fun of me for saying that Denard Robinson had "electrifying" speed, and you couldn't really blame him; he was obviously very fast, but he was so raw, and struggled so much with the offense and basic reads in the running game, that he never got in the open field enough to really see it. There were flashes - with Forcier injured (or was he ineffective?) against Iowa, Denard nearly pulled it out before throwing a killer interception during a last-ditch drive late. He was clearly #2, though.

The next season - Rodriguez' third - Robinson played well in the spring game, and it was hard to not wonder if he might be turning the corner. He was - his coming out party was a 200/200 game against Notre Dame. His reads had improved, and once defenses realized that they had to commit a safety to stop him, Michigan also had wideouts open all over the field. His occasional lack of accuracy didn't hurt when his guy had ten yards on anyone on the field. He ran, he passed, he was electrifying.

The best part? He seemed to be a genuinely nice kid; always smiling, never a single whiff of trouble, an enthusiastic teammate. He, famously, showed up for basketball games and jumped in to the student section with both feet. Wore the "Maize Rage" T, did the ridiculous arm waving, and smiled and smiled and smiled. He was a poor African-American kid from semi-rural Florida, and he went to HOCKEY GAMES. Seriously, he was impossible not to love.

The partnership with Rodriguez seemed a perfect marriage of system and player. Rodriguez offense never, EVER just ran a play - it was constantly poking at the defense for weaknesses or, for that matter, strengths that could be exploited. Keep your end inside to hawk Denard? Fine - hand it off to Brandon Minor inside and take the DE out of the play. Crash your OLB inside to cut off Minor? Okay, here's an inverted veer, and you're dead. It was a thing of beauty, and Denard was a perfect trigger. But Rodriguez had no idea how to hire a defensive coordinator, and he had to go.

Enter Brady Hoke, and enter Al Borges. Hoke would never run a spread, but maybe...well, Borges was OC for Jason Campbell, right? And he was a black guy who could run a little bit, right? Maybe it will work out.

It didn't. Borges (and probably Hoke) could never stop themselves from putting Denard Robinson under center and having him TURN HIS BACK ON THE DEFENSE. They had one of the best runners the school has ever produced, and they had him running backwards two steps to hand off to...who? To Thomas Rawls. To Stephen Hopkins. To Vincent Smith. To Fitzgerald Toussaint. None of them are terrible, per se (and all are guys that Rodriguez would have turned into serious contributors), but none of them, not one, will ever be remembered as runners once they are gone. I love Vincent Smith - he will always be a favorite of mine - but every time they gave it to him instead of letting Denard run it was like setting a possession on fire.

Which isn't to say that the years have been bad, or that Denard hasn't been a pleasure to watch. He has been, every single play he has been on the field. He will always be one my favorite Michigan players. Always, always, always. I just wish we'd gotten to see him do what he do a bit more often for the last two seasons.

And now I settle down to watch his last game in maize and blue. He might play in the NFL, he might not, but I can't say that I care that much. I will look back on his time in Ann Arbor with some sadness about what might have been, but mostly with fondness. That smile, man.

So long, Denard, and good luck. Thanks for being a Michigan Man.

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Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Sammy Sosa - A warning - this one is going to really piss me off.

After he signed with the White Sox at age 17, Sammy Sosa spent parts of four seasons in the minor leagues.  His career highs in those seasons:  .285 AVE, .336 OBP, .429 SLG.  11 HR (ELEVEN).  59 RBI.  42 Walks.  Look, I get it.  He was a skinny kid from the Dominican.  Fine.  But there was zero indication that he would turn into a major power hitter.

In his first six years in the majors, he hit .253, had an OBP of .300, and slugged .437, with 95 HR and 304 RBI.  Per 162 games, to that point:  82 runs, 24 HR, 75 RBI, 35 BB, 144 SO.  At that point he was generally described alternately as "disappointing" and "frustrating."

Then, in 1995, he turned the corner and became a big-time hitter for the next 9 seasons:  .289 / .369 / .595.  54 HR / 138 RBI per 162 games, with constant and consistent appearances in the MVP voting.  The guy could flat-out hit, and the numbers say he absolutely belongs in the Hall.

But to me, Sammy Sosa - like Mark McGwire - is a guy whose HOF case is based entirely on the performance boost he made after he started on PEDs, and I honestly don't know how you can say otherwise, although I should say I can see the case for him possibly turning in a HOF career:  if you take his first six seasons, and project them, you can probably get to 350-400 homers, maybe .280 lifetime, really good SB totals, maybe 2000 hits.  No way you get to 600, but that's a fringe candidate.

sammy-sosa-corked-bat1.jpg

But there's more to it than that - I put the line for his leap at his first All-Star season...if you put it 2 years earlier, his career high in homers was fifteen.  FIFTEEN.  Project that out, and you're probably under 200 homers and done by 32.  No damn way he's in, not on my ballot.  Verdict - out, out, out.

Curt Schilling
Another warning, I may stray into personal attacks here.

At his peak(s) Schilling was as good as there was, just superb.  A hoss when healthy, he struck people out, ate up innings, shut teams down completely, had very good control for a strikeout guy, and was fantastic in the postseason...some say he was as good a postseason pitcher as anyone, ever (they overstate, but not by as much as I would usually suggest), including a great performance on a just-surgeried ankle in one of the guttiest performances ever.  Won 20 three times.  Had 20 shutouts, which isn't a lot historically but matches Roy Halladay - the active leader's - total.  A terrific pitcher, no question about it.

The career numbers are not spectacular, but it should be noted that baseball, throughout its history, has asked starting pitchers to do less and less and less.  Every generation's pitchers do less than those from the previous, and this has never changed, not once.  So Schilling's career totals - while very good - simply don't match up to most HOF pitchers.  I used the "when healthy" caveat earlier, and Schilling did lose a few seasons to injury, which hurts him, too...But his totals aren't elite, really, not by most measures, although his 216 wins would put him 3rd among active pitchers.  So far, so good.

So - with all that out of the way, Curt Schilling is a colossal douchebag.  A self-righteous loudmouth, way too in love with this sound of his own voice, not nearly as clever as he thinks, and, worst of all, not a great teammate (his chickenshit face-hiding while Mitch Williams pitched in the 93 World Series is classic, and typical, Schilling).

I also have major doubts that the infamous sock is legit.

schilling.jpg

And, with all THAT out of the way - what keeps him out on my ballot is not the career record, not the relentless nonstop douchebaggery, but the crappy years.  As a starter, he had several great seasons - 16-7, 17-11, a great 15-14 (he might've won a Cy Young with his line in another season), 15-6, 22-6, 23-7, 21-6.  But he also had seasons of 2-8, 7-5, 9-10, 11-12, 8-9, 8-8, and 9-8.  There are very few truly great pitchers who've had that many lousy-to-mediocre seasons.  Verdict - out, barely.  Just barely.

Craig Biggio - an obvious Hall of Famer; the "wow, he never struck me as a HOFer" people are being willfully ignorant.  3000 hits (plus another 1400 times on base via BB and HBP), 1800 runs, 400 SB, 650 doubles, almost 300 HR, four Gold Gloves...the guy did everything, and as a second baseman.  Of his top ten comps, seven are in (Jeter will be, of course, and the other two are Lou Whitaker and Johnny Damon).  He's almost over-qualified.  Verdict - In.  OBVIOUSLY.

Next up?  The Arguments.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

On to the first-timers with more of a case...probably should have included Kenny Lofton on this post, but whatever.

Shawn Green - a weird case.  Had some pretty good numbers that, had he stuck around longer (he was done at 34), might have piled up and gotten him in, particularly during the PED era.  As it was, he looked on track for a HOF-type career at 26:  He was coming off a 972 OPS season in Toronto with 45 doubles, 42 homers, 123 RBI, 134 Runs, 20 stolen bases, Gold Glove...and went to the Dodgers as the #1 free agent in his class, where he was just average for a season, at the worst possible team.  Had he been great in that first Dodger season, he would have stayed in the public consciousness, but fans kinda forgot about him at that point, as they sometimes do.  He then had two really terrific seasons, but that was essentially the end of his time as an elite player.  His HOF case boils down to 4 seasons, which were undeniably fabulous, but that's it.  He always seemed like a reluctant star, somehow, which feeds into a pet theory of mine.  So, so many players would have been better served by staying out of the huge markets and would have had better careers by staying out on the fringes a bit.  Who knows - maybe Toronto would have served his makeup better, and he could have flogged them past the Yankees or Bosox once or twice, and he'd be a mythic player in their history.  Instead, he's just another guy that played for some so-so Dodger teams.  Verdict - out.

Julio Franco - Another weird case, to an absurd degree.  Julio Franco was a really, really good hitter, but he was never great...he never had much power, (not even doubles power), had good but not great speed, never had a lot plate discipline so wasn't a great leadoff hitter and wasn't much of a run scorer or RBI guy.  What he did was put his bat on the ball.  For a really, really, long time:

  • After the 1994 strike, at 36, he signed to play in Japan for a season.  Seemed like he was done, but he hit like crazy, won the Japanese Gold Glove, and came back to Cleveland.
  • After he hit .241 for the Brewers as a 38-year old, he again signed in Japan, and again seemed like he was done, but he hit .423 in Mexico as a 40-year-old, then played a season in South Korea and another in Mexico. 
  • Seemed like he was done, as in "41-year-old-done."
  • But he signed with the Braves in 2001 as a 42-year-old, and played for seven more seasons - and hit in every one of them - until he "retired" at 48.  I suspect he's still playing in Turkey under an assumed name.  I really hope that's true.

In any case, the guy could always hit, and because he stuck around so long was able to get to almost 2600 hits (it should also be noted - counting his time in Mexico and Korea and Japan, he's well over 4000.  FOUR THOUSAND), but that just isn't enough to get him in.  Verdict - out.

David Wells - was also pretty good for a long time, and paradoxically, his career W-L (239-157) would probably get him in if he'd played less...but it took him 21 seasons to get there.  Had a couple of certifiably great seasons - 18-4 with 5 shutouts for a World Series winner, 20-8 with 9 complete games for a good Blue Jays team.  Looked like he was done at least twice but revived enough to pitch until he was 44.  Didn't strike many people out, but didn't walk them, either.  Durable, a real inning-eater.  Had a perfect game, but was never really dominant, even at his very best.  He's got the surroundings of a HOF career, but he just never had the meat.  Most-comparable are Andy Pettite and Kenny Rogers, both of which seem about right.  Verdict - out.

 Not a Hall of Famer.

Not a Hall of Famer.

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler

Kenny Lofton - Again, he never struck me as a HOFer. A terrific, championship-level player, yes, but Hall of Famer, no. Could run like crazy, drew a walk, an excellent center fielder (although I was surprised to see he'd only won four Gold Gloves - in my head, he was one of those every-year, automatic winners. Guess it was hard to do it with guys like Griffey and Devon White and Kirby Puckett around). He did get 2400 hits, which is a lot, and stole 600 bases, which is A Lot. He also played for ELEVEN teams, which tells me that, while he was good, nobody ever really saw him as completely indispensible. If they didn't, I don't either…Verdict - Out.

On to the first-timers. As always, it's easy to make fun of some guys on the ballot...guys who are so clearly not HOFers that to even make a case of them seems silly. But hey, you play 10 seasons, you get one last mention. Some I'll quickly skip, because I frankly don't have much to say about them:

  • Todd Walker
  • Mike Stanton
  • Jeff Conine
  • Aaron Sele
  • Rondell White
  • Woody Williams (an aside - I had absolutely no recollection of this guy...he actually pitched for 17 seasons. A classic LaRussa guy, a mediocre inning-eater with a 4.00 ERA and 14 wins.)
  • Jeff Cirillo
  • Royce Clayton - got struck out by Dennis Quaid in The Rookie, which I liked quite a bit. Other than that, meh.

Two deserve mention as part of larger conversations: Jose Mesa and Roberto Hernandez saved, respectively, 321 and 326 games, good for 13th and 14th all-time. That they are among the best all-time in anything is a) annoying as hell and b) points out how weird relief pitching has become. Neither of these two guys - both profoundly mediocre pitchers who had a single great year and milked another dozen seasons out of a bunch of teams - should ever, ever, ever have been considered the best pitchers in baseball...but because of the way they were used, they piled up flashy stats in non-critical situations: small lead, but nobody on base and no more than a single inning. Blech.

A few guys were good players for a long time but were never really considered elite players:

  • Ryan Klesko
  • Sandy Alomar (I remember him being a higher-profile player, but only had four seasons of over 100 games played. Weird.)
  • Reggie Sanders
  • Steve Finley (although I will say this - as I wrote this, I had him confused with Chuck Finley, who was also pretty good but never great...so I looked him up and, once I realized who I was talking about, I gave a look, and STEVE was a really, really good player.  Scored a bunch of runs, could run, excellent fielder, had some pop, very durable, showed up in a couple of MVP votes.  Closest comp is Vada Pinson, who was also pretty good.  He wasn't great, but you could definitely win a championship with him playing center field and leading off...he's not a HOFer, but he's closer to it than anyone on this list.  Thanks, Steve.  You done good.)

Okay: next up, the first-year guys worth an argument...

Posted
AuthorMatthew Riegler