Cup of Coffee: August 12, 2021

Hope tomorrow you'll find better things. In the meantime, today's newsletter is pretty damn good.

Good morning! And welcome to Free Thursday!

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A lot went down around the league last night, including two pretty fantastic pitching feats, a massive blowout, and a big walkoff homer that put a team into a first place tie. I also offer some equal time for a “Field of Dreams” rebuttal but, because I gotta be me, I spend more time rebutting the rebuttal. We also talk ticket prices for tonight’s game in Iowa again, note a couple of injuries, and MASH the retweet button on an Onion story about Barstool.

Speaking of Barstool, their college bowl game is losing funding because some sensible county commissioners realized that the company’s a cesspool, I talk about the “ethnic” aisle in grocery stores and about how I think “Jeopardy!” blew it, share a profoundly affecting story about grief, contemplate “Mambo No. 6” and tell Dave Davies that I hope tomorrow he’ll find better things.


And That Happened

Feel like those skies would be more appropriate over Citi Field or Fenway than Philly, but the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cardinals 4, Pirates 0: Back in 2012 subscriber Jason Lukehart invented the stat called “The Maddux.” The Maddux is a game in which a pitcher tosses a nine inning complete game shutout and needs fewer than 100 pitches to do it. The Maddux has gained enough widespread acceptance to where a lot of people refer to it without, I suspect, knowing who coined the term. That might be frustrating for Jason but it is the sign of a successful invention, I think.

Back when Jason first wrote his post about the Maddux, he had identified five guys who had done it in 80 pitches or fewer: Jon Lieber (78), Aaron Cook, Bob Tewksbury, and Kevin Brown (79) and Doug Drabek (80). He identified one game in Greg Maddux’s magical 2006 with the Dodgers in which Maddux himself had 68 pitches through eight shutout innings for L.A. before Grady Little pinch hit for him in the top of the ninth in what was then a 0-0 game against the Giants (James Loney did not come through). I assume there’s been at least a couple of Madduxes with ultra-low pitch counts like that since, but given the decline in complete games and the increase in Maddux-complicating walks and strikeouts, probably not too many. The ones I remember off the top of my head have been 95-99-pitch affairs. There are only a few each season.

I offer all of that as context for Adam Wainwright's evening against the Pirates last night in which he shut them out on 88 damn pitches. It was a two-hit shutout, with a pair of singles by Colin Moran in the second and fifth innings being the only damage. No walks. No errors. He retired the final 15 batters he faced. On top of that he hit a single and a double and drove in a run. Just otherworldly dominance for the aging starter. And yes, the Associated Press game story mentioned the feat’s name:

Wainwright was happy to finally record a "Maddux," which consists of throwing a shutout in under 100 pitches, for the first time. It is named after Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, once teammates with Wainwright in Atlanta and whose brother, Mike, is the Cardinals pitching coach.

"I didn't look at my pitch count all day," Wainwright said. "I knew it was low, but I didn't want it in my mind. I thought I had a chance at a Maddux, but I didn't want to think about. I just wanted execute pitches."

No mention of Jason Lukehart, sadly. But that’s the ironic price one often pays when one invents something truly useful. As for “execute pitches” — a term which is used in that same gamer THREE times — whoever came up with that phrase had best not be identified because if I knew who it was I’d put a bag of flaming dog poop on his front porch, ring the doorbell and run.

Twins 1, White Sox 0: Twins starter Bailey Ober shut out the White Sox for five and a third innings — he needed 82 pitches for that, so no Maddux was ever in play — and Jorge Polanco homered. The homer came after Ober was out of the game and so reliever Caleb Thielbar got the win. If my sci-fi/fantasy fiction lexicon was as good as my Old Hollywood/40s detective/hobo lexicon I’d weave great tales about Caleb Thielbar wielding weapons of divine providence to smite his enemies on some dwarf/elf/orc-infested battlefield or something, but I feel like I’d not do the genre justice. I do know that whenever his career comes to an end it’ll likely be due to his being incinerated by a dragon as opposed to, like, a shoulder injury. At least I hope so, because that would be a badass way to go.

Brewers 10, Cubs 0: Corbin Burnes struck out the side in the second, third and fourth innings to set a Brewers team record at nine straight Ks and then struck out Frank Schwindel to lead off the fifth to tie a major-league record with 10 consecutive batters. Tom Seaver did it in 1970. Aaron Nola did it earlier this season. In Burnes’ favor for his feat being the best among the three: all 10 of his strikeouts came on swinging third strikes. A factor pushing Seaver and Nola ahead: Burnes did it against a barely MLB-level Cubs lineup. I suppose it’s all a judgment call.

Mets 8, Nationals 7: This was the continuation of the suspended game from Tuesday night. Pete Alonso had come into the game in an 0-for-21 slump but had three hits, including an RBI double which pulled the Mets to 7-6 in the seventh. The Mets tied it on a throwing error in the eighth and then Brandon Drury hit a pinch-hit RBI single to break the tie. The Mets snapped a season-worst four-game slide and won for only the third time in 12 games. Then the game actually scheduled for Wednesday night got rained out. Oh well.

Astros 5, Rockies 1: Aledmys Díaz had three hits and drove in three while Framber Valdez allowed one over six. Díaz has has 19 hits and 14 RBI in the last 13 games, by the way. I can’t remember where the current state of thinking is on “the hot hand” but if the once-debunked, since-revived line of thinking on that is in doubt, someone had best throw Díaz’s recent work into the database.

Yankees 5, Royals 2: The Yankees scored three in the first — two coming off the bat of Luke Voit — while six pitchers combined to allow two runs on seven hits. The Yankees take two of the three in Kansas City and have now won 12 straight series against the Royals.

Marlins 7, Padres 0: Lewis Brinson hit two home runs and Bryan De La Cruz hit another while Sandy Alcantara tossed seven shutout innings and the Padres notched only four hits in all.

In related news, yesterday, at the cajoling of Ben Higgins, Steven Woods, and producer Paul Reindl of the Ben & Woods show on 97.3 The Fan in San Diego, I changed my Twitter profile from a photo of me wearing a Dodgers cap to one of me wearing a Padres cap (I own lots of caps, folks). The photo was taken before this bad loss, but the profile was not changed until after it, so it’s not my fault. Know, though, that if the Padres now go on a skid and get overtaken by Cincinnati, Atlanta, Philly or someone for the second Wild Card slot, it’s Ben, Steve, and Paul’s fault, not mine, because I personally do not believe in jinxes.

If they DO get jinxed, though, I will start taking bribes from fan bases on whose caps to wear in my Twitter profile going forward.

Dodgers 8, Phillies 2: Cody Bellinger hit two homers — one of them a two-run shot on the 13th pitch of an at bat in which he fouled off nine pitches — and drove in four. Bellinger, who had been horrendous all season long, now has an eight-game hitting streak in which he’s 10-for-30 with two doubles, four homers, and seven RBI. The Phillies, meanwhile, fell into a tie for first place in the NL East with Atlanta's win over Cincinnati. 

Tigers 5, Orioles 2: Miguel Cabrera hit his 499th career homer in this one. It came in the fifth off Matt Harvey. Niko Goodrum would hit a two-run double after that and Cabrera would hit a sac fly in the sixth, making it a 4-0 Tigers lead at that point. Tarik Skubal didn’t need that much support given his six shutout innings but I am sure he is happy to have it. Cabrera now goes home to Detroit with homer number 500 in his sights.

Athletic 6, Cleveland 3: Cleveland took a 3-2 lead into the eighth when Elvis Andrus hit a solo shot to tie it up and then Jed Lowrie hit a three-run homer to give Oakland some breathing room. The A’s extend their winning streak to six games and maintain their one-game lead in the AL Wild Card race over Boston.

Red Sox 20, Rays 8: Well that was an ass-whuppin’. The Red Sox began the first inning with three straight doubles and had innings in which they scored six, five, four, three and two runs. Bobby Dalbec drove in five runs, Xander Bogaerts and Hunter Renfroe each drove in four. J.D. Martinez got four of Boston's season-high 19 hits. There’s not much you can really say about games like these without going to hacky football metaphors involving missed extra points and things. And no, I am not above those hacky football metaphors.

Atlanta 8, Reds 6: A Joey Votto two-run homer in the ninth — his second of the game — tied it up and forced extras and Kyle Farmer put Cincinnati up 6-5 in the top of the 11th with an RBI single. Lucas Sims began the bottom half by retiring the first two Atlanta pitchers he faced, but Joc Pederson drew a walk and then Ozzie Albies came up and crushed a 2-1 pitch for a three-run walkoff homer. A walkoff homer that, thanks to Philly’s loss, put Atlanta into a first place tie for the first time since late April.

Blue Jays 10, Angels 2: The Jays rode four homers — two from George Springer, a grand slam by Teoscar Hernández, and one from Lourdes Gurriel — to cruise to an easy victory. Blue Jays rookie Alek Manoah struck out 11 while pitching into the 7th. Shohei Ohtani hit his major league-leading 38th home run but the Angels lost badly, but I suppose we’ve all heard that song before.

Giants 7, Diamondbacks 2: Buster Posey, LaMonte Wade Jr., Brandon Crawford and Alex Dickerson all homered for San Francisco, which has won its fourth straight. won their fourth straight. They are 14-2 against Arizona this year. Good teams feast on the bad ones and win the games they’re supposed to win.

Mariners 2, Rangers 1: Luis Torrens with a walkoff single that went all the way to the wall. It was one of those deals where there was a runner on third and the outfield was playing in so it didn’t matter how far he hit it as long as he hit it over the outfielder’s heads. That always has to be weird if you’re the outfielder, ya know? To tell yourself before the play “if it’s over my head the game is over, so no sense breaking back for the ball.” I’d ask how one suppresses one’s instincts to not chase the ball, at least for a second, but then again, I have zero instincts in that respect, so me thinking that that’d be hard is kinda laughable.

Nationals vs. Mets — POSTPONED:

🎶A misty shadow spread its wings
And covered all the ground
And even though the sun was out
The rain came pouring down

And all the light had disappeared
And faded in the gloom
There was no hope, no reasoning
This rainy day in June
🎶

Yeah, I know it’s August. Just in a Kinks mood today.


The Daily Briefing

A “Field of Dreams” rebuttal

Kevin Kaduk of the excellent Midway Minute newsletter wrote a whole article subtweeting me, entitled “Field of Dreams is still a great movie.” Hey, equal time.

I’ll just make two rebuttal points.

First, Kaduk says that the people who don’t like “Field of Dreams” are “contrarians and cranks.” Nah. I genuinely dislike it in objective terms, not because I’m going against the grain for cool points or something.

Indeed, that very framing is such a damn tell. It assumes that to not like “Field of Dreams” is an inherently contrarian point. That the baseline is not neutrality, from which position one can freely decide to praise or disparage the film based on its merits. Rather, the baseline is to love the movie with all conflicting opinions being performative or disingenuous. This does not really surprise me, though. It’s not enough, I have found, for admirers of “Field of Dreams” to simply enjoy the movie. Rather, they must cast dislike for it as somehow illegitimate, irrational or impossible. That’s not a legitimate basis for criticism. That’s the basis for fandom, and that’s generally not how we talk about art. Or, at the very least, it’s not how we should talk about art.

The second point is one I touched on in my review of the movie. Kaduk sets me up:

If your first instinct after seeing John Kinsella play catch with his dad while the sun sets and the music soars is "meh?" Well, that says more about you than it does the Field of Dreams.

Well, yes, it kinda does, but not for the reasons Kevin thinks.

I will fully admit that a story about a father and son repairing a longstanding rift over a game of catch — with or without the magical realism elements — could form the basis of a MAJOR chills moment in an absolutely fantastic movie. The problem, as I’ve said in the past, is that “Field of Dreams” does not earn its chills moment. It is lazy in that it does not sketch out the dispute between Ray and his dad in anything approaching realistic terms — it’s dashed off in the rushed intro with almost no details — and it does nothing to explain why Ray’s moving the Earth and the Heavens to bring his dad back to that ball field is so important or why it serves as the “penance” Ray must pay for whatever reason. With no buildup or backstory, there’s no payoff.

If you do get chills in that scene, it’s likely because you had your own issues with your dad or you miss your dad because you are estranged or because he has died or something like that. This, anyway, is what a great many people have told me was their reason for loving the scene and the movie. And that’s totally fair! I will not, for a moment, slight your feelings for that scene and what it means to you if you are genuinely moved by it.

The problem is, what if you don’t have those issues with your dad? What if you’ve always communicated well with him and resolved your problems with him reasonably? What if he, like my dad, lives four miles from you and you talk to him every other day? What if, alternatively, your dad was a sonofabitch and you wanted nothing to do with him as an adult and still don’t?

Which is to say: what do you do if you don’t bring into the movie theater the conflict, drama, and backstory that the makers of “Field of Dreams” totally neglected to put on the actual screen? You’re left with, well, not much of anything, right?

And no, I am not saying that the audience has to have a personal connection to a movie in order for it to work. Quite the contrary!

I have never sacrificed being with the woman I love for the greater good of a world at war, but the ending of “Casablanca” works because the characters, the story, and the stakes have been well laid out. I have never fought in an intergalactic war against a genocidal Titan, but the end of “Avengers: Endgame” works for me because the people behind the MCU sketched out a character arc and story that presents Thanos’ threat and gives Tony Stark’s victorious sacrifice weight and resonance. Any good movie has to be a self-contained thing which provides all of the essential elements of a drama or comedy or whatever. Indeed, maybe it’s best to think of it in terms of comedy. If you watched a movie and it was all punchlines but no setups, would you laugh? Probably not.

If the only reason the BIG MOMENT and, indeed, the entire point of your movie works is because your audience brings its own baggage into the theater, you have not made a movie. You have made Rorschach test. And that’s the primary reason “Field of Dreams” does not work.

The price has dropped for the Field of Dreams Game!

Earlier this week I wrote about how the average purchase price for a single ticket for tonight’s Field of Dreams Game was $1,413.63, the “get-in” price was $1,316, and the most expensive ticket available was $3,972. That was steep, but thank goodness, everyone, the price has dropped!

  • Average Price: $1,326.19

  • Get-in price: $1,220

  • Most Expensive Ticket: $3,972

What a bargain!

But hey, that’s all on the secondary market. It’s unfair to slam MLB and the Field of Dreams Game organizers for that, right? Can’t help supply and demand! Except the original face value was $375, you had to buy two tickets, and play for a parking pass, so the original face value outlay was gonna be nearly $800. MLB was gouging people too.

It’s money they have and peace they lack. So let’s fleece ‘em with the promise of peace, Ray.

Carlos Rodón placed on the IL

The Chicago White Sox placed Carlos Rodón on the 10-day injured list with left arm soreness, the team announced yesterday. Rodon is 9-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 19 starts this season and could be out longer than the required 10 days, Tony La Russa said.

You never want one of your top starters hurt, of course, but sometimes these things can be blessings in disguise, at least if the injury is not serious. The White Sox are poised to go on a deep postseason run and that always tests the stamina of your pitching staff. If a couple of weeks off now get Rodón back to 100%, the rest he’s gotten in the meantime may pay dividends in October.

Again: if he’s not seriously hurt.

Another Yankee is on the COVID list

Pretty soon it’s gonna be easier to list the Yankees players who don’t have COVID. For now, though, let us note that New York has placed righty Clay Holmes on the COVID-19 injured list. Holmes has a 2.18 ERA and 7/1 K/BB ratio in 8.1 innings since being acquired from the Pirates in late July.

At this rate I feel like we’re just days away from finding out that, in lieu of a postgame spread, the Yankees players are feeding each other by regurgitating food into each others’ mouths like mama birds and baby birds or something, because that would explain the spread in that clubhouse just as well as anything else.

*Craig mashes the retweet button so hard he breaks his laptop*


Other Stuff

Hey Buddy!

I was on the “Hey Buddy!” podcast with Ari Ecker & Joe Yakacki yesterday morning talking about the state of baseball, with special emphasis on the Mets, and a few other things. One of the other things was a quiz they made up: “Bob Dylan or Dylan Bundy.” I did pretty poorly on the quiz, but I had a good time anyway.

Defunding Barstool

In July my friends at Barstool made news by becoming the named sponsor for the Arizona Bowl. On Tuesday the Pima County, Arizona Board of Supervisors voted to cancel all funding it provides to the Arizona Bowl due to Barstool Sports being a cesspool.

Specifically, the Board voted 4-1 to cancel the funding it provides to the bowl in direct response to the past conduct and statements of Barstool employees, including founder and president Dave Portnoy. The Board’s Chairperson, Sharon Bronson:

“I feel that the current sponsor does not represent who we are as a region or as a community. I don’t see how we, in good conscience, can give financial support to an organization with a documented history of offensive and inappropriate statements.”

The Board is also asking Arizona Bowl to remove the county's name and logo from Barstool's website.

As of yesterday, Barstool had no comment. Probably because they had not yet decided whether to go with more sexist-based slurs or something with more of a regional flair with their response.

The “ethnic” aisle

I don’t know about you, but where I shop we still have the “ethnic” aisle. They don’t call it that — it’s now the “international foods’ aisle” and, to be fair, it has way more stuff in it now than it had even 20 years ago — but it’s not all that different than the old “ethnic” aisle from a long time ago in structure. All the Indian, Korean, Thai, and to some degree even Mexican foods and ingredients crammed together as opposed to being dispersed throughout the store.

I’ve often wondered why we haven’t grown beyond that. I mean, Mexican foods have been so thoroughly integrated into so much of America that it’s almost comical for them to have their own special space. Less so Indian and Thai, perhaps, but if you’re putting a sauce over some meat and rice or noodles or something, how is it any different than the Italian pasta sauces that are not so segregated?

Except, as this New York Times story on the “ethnic” aisle makes clear, it’s not so simple.

While an “ethnic” aisle is a ghettoization, it also serves, in some cases, as a way of preserving food traditions. For example, there is a temptation to Americanize names of certain things and to dilute the foods’ identity in the effort to sell it to a wider audience. And there’s the simple matter of simplicity and accessibility. If someone taking baby steps into Thai cooking finds something in the ethnic aisle alongside some complementary Thai items they may be more likely to dive in and begin cooking some basic non-American cuisines that can serve as a gateway to more complicated things. If the canned coconut milk is, instead, over by the almond milk, maybe it gets overlooked? I dunno.

Overall I think the story is about more than food, really. It roughly tracks the same patterns of all aspects of cultural assimilation in America. The push and pull between preserving traditions and becoming a more integrated part of the fabric. It’s so much more complicated than most of us who don’t have to think about it all that often tend to make it out to be.

“Jeopardy!” blew it

After months of celebrity tryouts, “Jeopardy!” has chosen a replacement for Alex Trebek. Well, two replacements. Sorta. Replacing him on the main, daily syndicated edition, which has been around for like 36 years is the show’s current executive producer, Mike Richards. The actor Mayim Bialik on a primetime series and new spinoffs of the show.

It’s been a long time since I was a regular “Jeopardy!” watcher, but from what I have gathered from my hardcore “Jeopardy!”-watching friends is that Bialik was one of the best fill-in hosts, if not the best. She had presence and is a clever and charming person as a baseline but she also presented the requisite seriousness and businesslike demeanor that made people love Trebek. Above all else, she had what, I think, Ken Jennings said that people liked the most about Trebek: you got the sense he knew all the answers even without the cards in front of him yet he was not smarmy about it.

Richards, in contrast, was probably the least-regarded of them all and a lot of people thought he had a cheap quality to him (and that’s before you get to some of the more unseemly things being said about him). Like, they could see him hosting “Family Feud” or something, but not “Jeopardy!” Was there some snobbishness in that assessment? Hard to say, as I did not watch him, though I could see that being a thing to which people who are seriously into “Jeopardy!” react, however.

I think the bigger problem is that he already was the damn executive producer and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the fix was in from get-go and that a person who runs the show had a big hand in calling his own number. Kinda like when Dick Cheney chaired the committee to look for George W. Bush’s running mate and, lo and behold, the best man for the job happened to be Dick Cheney!

I’m not gonna go to the mat over this because, like I said, I don’t really watch the show that often anymore and thus don’t have a vested interest in it. I feel, though, like this is gonna piss off a lot of people who do. And, hell, hiring Bialik is gonna piss some people off too. Overall you just get the sense that they blew what should’ve been a fairly easy thing.

What Bobby McIlvaine left behind

Jennifer Senior of The Atlantic has written an astoundingly affecting story about a family's processing of grief and search for meaning in the two decades Since 9/11. It’s not, like so many 9/11 stories you’ll see over the next month, a mere rehashing of the attacks and the immediate moment of loss suffered by so many. Yes, it has some of that for context, but this is a more universal story about how people process grief. How some use anger to fuel them and others rush toward a false normalcy and denial. How people deceive themselves and comfort themselves, among other things.

There are so many great insights and observations in the piece, both from Senior herself and from her subjects, who even 20 years later are still learning new things about how they have processed a shared loss. The biggest takeaway, though, is how that the loss never really goes away and not everyone — indeed, hardly anyone — goes through a set “grieving process” which implies an ending in acceptance.

A key passage early in the long piece:

Early on, the McIlvaines spoke to a therapist who warned them that each member of their family would grieve differently. Imagine that you’re all at the top of a mountain, she told them, but you all have broken bones, so you can’t help each other. You each have to find your own way down.

It was a helpful metaphor, one that may have saved the McIlvaines’ marriage. But when I mentioned it to Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychology professor at UC Irvine who’s spent a lifetime studying the effects of sudden, traumatic loss, she immediately spotted a problem with it: “That suggests everyone will make it down,” she told me. “Some people never get down the mountain at all.”

As I said, over the next few weeks there will be a lot of 9/11 exploitation pieces out there. Those should probably be avoided as much as possible. This is not one of them.

Just forget about it

Sometimes sequels are better than the originals. Like “Godfather II,” “Babe: Pig in the City,” and “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.” Most of the time they are ill-advised.

In related news:

Santana and Rob Thomas’ 1999 single “Smooth” was one of the biggest hits of both the ’90s and ’00s and remains emblematic of the era today. Now, over 20 years later, Carlos Santana and the Matchbox Twenty leader are reuniting for a new song, “Move.”

The song is set to be released as a single on August 18 and comes from Santana’s new album Blessings And Miracles, which is set for release on October 15.

“Smooth” has been so thoroughly processed through two decades of irony-drenched pop culture reception and criticism that it has gone from popular to derided to ironically liked to (I think) genuinely liked and back again so many times that I’ve lost track of what we’re supposed to think of it.

All I know for sure is that if we’re rehashing 1999 bangers, why aren’t we getting a “Mambo No. 6?” Feel like we’re due.

Better Songs

From Twitter yesterday:

I’d like to think that if I wrote songs as transcendent as "Strangers" and "Living on a Thin Line" — each of which are accomplishments greater than almost anything any of us will ever achieve — that I’d be content late in life. But then I remember that our peace and happiness is not necessarily, or even usually, a function of our accomplishments. We’re all humans feeling a bunch of things every day, trying to do the best that we can, and we don’t always do the best that we can. As we meet others along the way, it’s important to remember that.

Hope tomorrow you’ll find better things, Dave.

Have a great day, everyone.