Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Howard and Ibanez Playing the Grand (Slam) Old Game

April 28, 1921: Ralph Miller and Lee Meadows.
August 18, 1997: Billy McMillon and Mike Lieberthal.
Sept. 9, 2003: Tomas Perez and Jason Michaels.
April 27, 2009: Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez.

In more than a century of Philadelphia Phillies baseball, today's 13-11 victory over the Washington Nationals marked only the fourth time that the club has hit two grand slam home runs in the same game. The wild game saw the Phillies continue their nail-biting habit of playing behind for most of the game until making the late-inning comeback.

Ryan HowardImage by Dinur via Flickr

At first, it looked like it was going to be the Ryan Zimmerman Show, as the Nats third baseman connected for two long, looong home runs in the third and fifth innings, helping put Washington in front 6-2. Ryan Howard batted in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded, and connected for a blast to straightaway center field that tied the game.

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 05:  Raul Ibanez #29 of t...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Phillies pitching has been haunted all season by the long ball, and that ghost raised its head again when Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn both blasted two-run homers off of Scott Eyre in the eighth inning, giving Washington an 11-7 lead. The Phils weren't dead yet, though. After plating two runs and loading the bases in the bottom of the eighth inning, Raul Ibanez continued to prove himself to be an outstanding addition to the team by parking the ball in the right field seats to cinch up the 13-11 win.

Neat to see this bit of Phillies history unfold tonight.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #8

Wall of Voodoo, 1982 lineup (left to right): J...Image via Wikipedia

I have always thought it a great crime that, for most people, the only thing they see in their minds' eyes when they think of Wall of Voodoo is Stan Ridgway's face emerging from a pot full of baked beans as he warbles on about being on a "Mexican Radio." This band was so much more than just a one-hit wonder!

When you talk about Wall of Voodoo, you really should talk about two bands: Wall of Voodoo with Stan Ridgway and Wall of Voodoo without Stan Ridgway. WoV's history can be traced back to Acme Soundtracks, a mid-to-late '70s company dedicated to creating film scores, founded by Ridgway. The company did not do well, but the location of its offices - across the street from The Masque, a revered punk club in Hollywood - helped Stan drift into the New Wave scene. With a few changes in lineup from the musicians he employed at Acme, Wall of Voodoo was born.

Those film-score roots are audible in this first version of WoV: spaghetti-western guitars, moody effects, and Stan's knack for storytelling. However, herky-jerky rhythms and Stan's sing-speak vocal affectations saw to it that they were lumped into the "New Wave" category. Their songs were intelligent, witty, and oddly catchy; their sound was unique and earned them praise as "the thinking man's Devo." This version of the Wall released a fantastic self-titled debut EP in 1980, followed by two excellent albums, 1981's Dark Continent and the following year's Call of the West, from which their lone "hit" came.

Ridgway left the band in 1983 to pursue a fairly successful solo career, and it seemed that would be it for Wall of Voodoo. It wasn't.

In 1985, a revived version of the band released Seven Days in Sammystown with new lead singer Andy Prieboy. The album is incredibly good, largely because Prieboy was wise enough not to try to mimic Ridgway's style. The sharp angles in the band's music were now sanded off, although that spaghetti-western feel remained. The Devo comparisons no longer held sway; if anything, the sound now veered closer to the recently successful Athens, GA sound of bands like R.E.M., Pylon, and Love Tractor.

Sadly, this version could not keep up the quality of work of the original band. In 1987 they released Happy Planet, which had a cover of a Beach Boys' tune and not much else to offer. Two years later, a live album appeared and disappeared just as quickly, and the Wall crumbled.

For those who only ever knew "Mexican Radio," I recommend getting any of the three Ridgway-era records, as well as Sammystown. All are fascinating, challenging albums well worth your time. As a sampling, I present this week's New Wave for the New Week, a clip from each version of the band. From the Dark Continent album, "Call Box 1-2-3" features Stan Ridgway's yelping song-talk. Andy Prieboy leads the band through a dissection of assassins Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley Jr., the excellent "Far Side of Crazy." Compare and decide:

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Subtle Art of Misdirection

OK, OK, I know...been a full week with no posts. Mea culpa, mea culpa! The good news is, I've actually been busy with income-producing work!

Fear not, though, posting will resume shortly. In the meantime, perhaps I can distract you with something so you'll forget I haven't posted....


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Monday, April 20, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #7

Classix NouveauxClassix Nouveaux
(via last.fm)

One of the more popular sub-categories of early '80s New Wave was the "New Romantic" scene. Embracing both music and fashion, the New Romantics were direct descendants of the mid-'70s Glam rockers; indeed, Bryan Ferry, Marc Bolan, David Bowie and the like were the icons the New Romantics often aspired to replicate. Think of bands like ABC, early Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant and Culture Club as examples of the New Romantic scene who most successfully reached mainstream ears. But there were many, many more New Romantic bands flying beneath the radar.

One of the earliest was Classix Nouveaux. Formed from the Poly Styrene-less ashes of legendary punk wailers X-Ray Spex, Classix Nouveaux recorded three albums between 1981 and 1983; as is often the case, their debut (self-titled in the US, called Night People in the UK) is far and away the best of the three.

In fact, it was their first single, "Guilty," and the corresponding video that first brought them to the attention of the music world. The breezily danceable keyboard pop and nearly gothic vocal style were quite agreeable, but oh the visuals!

It's hard to take your eyes off of singer Sal Solo: tall, thin, pale and bald, Solo underscored his naturally odd appearance by presenting himself as a glammed-up version of Nosferatu. It's a not easily forgotten sight. The overall look of the video would be aped by many a New Romantic to come, from the colorful hazy soft-focus effects to the "Seinfeld's puffy shirt" costumes worn by the oh-so-serious looking extras doing their best Mummenschanz dances. All in all, it's giddy fun, and the song really is fantastic.

And here it is for your viewing pleasure. Your New Wave for the New Week, Classix Nouveaux's "Guilty":

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Friday, April 17, 2009

The Tea Party Guests Who Aren't Being Served

Rolfe Winkler hit a bullseye with the article he wrote at Option ARMageddon about the recent Tea Parties, "CNN Misses the Tea Party Point."

Wasn't just CNN who missed the point, it was virtually all of the Left Wing. CNN just happened to have the most egregious example of "if it doesn't fit our view, we ain't gonna report it" party-line journalism - the type of unbalanced reporting I'd expect from either Fox or MSNBC, depending on the party line. (The video is included in the article, and it is a sad commentary on the state of journalism and news reporting today.)

But the point here isn't the obviously biased reporting - that's merely a symptom of a larger issue; an issue that many are not yet recognizing in their zeal to mock the Tea Parties. Winkler notes,

"The lefties and the righties are still so blinded by their hatred of each other, they don’t see the emerging super-majority in the middle. They don’t see (yet) that they are actually in violent agreement, incensed as they are with nonstop government spending, in particular the bank bailouts.

Anger over the bank bailouts unites virtually the entire country. And how very ironic that this inchoate union of right and left is forming in opposition to Mr. Post Partisan himself, Barack Obama."

This observation is supported by the first reader comment, which in part reads, "...there is a building of all the people in the middle that are sick of the business as usual regardless of Rep or Dems." Indeed there is - I know because I am certainly a part of that ever-growing political demographic.

The party that best addresses the concerns of this middle-ground group will have the strongest position gong forward - assuming either party gets their heads out of their behinds and begins to address these concerns instead of spending all their time and energy in this ongoing political pissing contest.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

On the Passing of Harry Kalas

In my notebook are the beginnings of a post I was going to put together for this blog talking about how the game of baseball and, more importantly, the experience of being a baseball fan has changed since my childhood. Today, the baseball of my childhood truly ceased to be. Harry Kalas passed away this afternoon.

Baseball first became a big part of my world view towards the end of the 1977 season. At the age of 10 I was swept up by the excitement of the Phillies' run for the NL East pennant. I discovered that I loved this game and I loved the Phils. I voraciously read every book my elementary school library had about baseball; when that library was exhausted, I began reading through the baseball shelves at the Lancaster Public Library. In the spring of the next year, 1978, I started buying baseball cards the moment they became available, and studied those scraps of cardboard more diligently than my own schoolwork, learning all the active players on every team. And, either by commandeering the family TV or with the aid of a scratchy hand-me-down AM radio, I watched or listened to every Phillies game. Every single game.

Harry Kalas had been in the Phillies booth for six years by the time the 10-year-old me discovered baseball. Harry's play-by-play and Richie "Whitey" Ashburn's color commentary brought the games to life. They were knowledgeable and professional, but they were also unabashed fans. They loved the game and they loved the Phils, and were never afraid or ashamed to let their emotions show when the team won a big one or defied the odds in a come-from-behind victory. They had a great friendship, and that came through as they shared stories and laughs during slow innings. And, they loved the fans.

For twenty years, until Ashburn's passing in 1997, I listened to them calling games. To this day, Harry and Whitey are, to me, what baseball should sound like. When "His Whiteness" left us in September of 1997, I remember wondering whether Harry would keep going - and for how long.

Keep going he did, never losing a stride. Harry Kalas was among the last of his breed of baseball announcers: a voice that was instantly recognizable and also the envy of anyone who ever has had anything to do with broadcasting at any level. (Joe Buck, who calls games these days for FOX, was once quoted as saying, "If I had that voice, I'd just walk around the house and talk to myself!"), and a style that was often imitated but never quite copied.

His midwestern nasal twang and just-this-side-of-staccato delivery was perfect for some of the classic Phillies names: "MI-chael Jack Schmidt," "Mick-ey Mor-an-DI-ni," "Ma-ri-AH-no DUN-can" and others became almost melodic, and his home run calls were the stuff of legend. You'd hear the crack of the bat and suddenly Kalas' voice would raise in both pitch and volume. "Swing and a long drive, watch this baby!...could it be?...yes! It's OUTTA HEEEEERE!" You felt as if you were riding along on the ball's flight out of the park. Even something as mundane as a Phillies pitcher striking out an opposing batter was given the special Kalas treatment: "Struh-keem-out!"

In recent years, talk of Kalas' retirement would bubble up now and again. He no longer called full games, and he'd occasionally miss a game. But with each new season, Harry would be back, and all would be right with the world.

This afternoon, I was skimming through article titles in my Google Reader when I was caught off guard by an entry from the Phillies Nation blog: "BREAKING NEWS: Harry Kalas Rushed To D.C. Hospital." That was shortly after 1:30. Within half an hour, he would be gone. It was too sudden almost to process. I posted the news - what little detail there was - here and on Twitter, but to say I was shaken would put it mildly.

I never met Harry Kalas, although I did sing along with him at Veteran's Stadium in August of 2002 as he led the sold-out crowd on Harry Kalas Day in a chorus of "High Hopes." But Harry had been a part of my life - had been, to me, the voice of baseball - for the past 32 years. My father said it best in an email to me this afternoon, "...it's as if we have lost a friend." I know that so many Phillies fans feel that way today. That's how much Harry connected with us.

You can read the black and white facts about Kalas' life and career many places. I didn't want to just recite them here, I wanted to try to find the words to express how Harry's passing has affected me. Perhaps those words are really this simple: baseball will never be the same.

Harry and Whitey are back together again in Heaven. I hope I live my life well enough that I may get to hear them calling games again when my time comes.

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RIP Harry Kalas

Longtime Phillies announcer Harry Kalas passed away moments ago at a hospital in Washington, DC.

Source: Phillies Nation

I am shaken. I will have words later. For now, my condolences to the Kalas family.

BREAKING NEWS: Harry Kalas Hospitalized

Word just reaching the wires that legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas was rushed to a Washington, DC hospital aftre being found unconscious approximately one hour ago. No further details at the moment - more to come.





Updates from Philles Nation:

UPDATE (1:41 p.m.): Statement from David Montgomery: “I think it’s serious. Our thoughts and prayers are with Harry.”

UPDATE (1:29 p.m.): Allegedly Kalas was found passed out in the press box at Nationals Park. Kalas recently recovered from heart surgery, missing spring training but joining the team for the season opener.

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New Wave for the New Week #6

Following up on last week's entry, here's another from the "where'd they go?" file. Horizontal Brian released one top-notch album, Vertical, in 1983 on the Gold Mountain label. From it came this fantastic single, "Practicing First Aid."

A witty, hooked-filled confection with some sly wink-wink lyrics, "Practicing First Aid" bounces along, giddily stringing out it's lyrical euphemism ("playing doctor" didn't scan as well, I guess). And just in case you don't follow the metaphor, the video's imagery underscores it plainly enough.

The rest of the album stays pretty much in the same ballpark as the single, which is in this case a good thing. But Vertical remains Horizontal Brian's lone artifact. Indeed, finding information about the band is no easy task - the long-out-of-print LP was not ever reissued on CD to my knowledge, the Gold Mountain label morphed into Gold Castle by the end of the '80s before disappearing altogether, and the only band bio I've found online is this brief entry at Trouser Press.

So, not much else to tell you - just sit back and enjoy a true cult classic - this week's New Wave for the New Week, Horizontal Brian's "Practicing First Aid":

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Great Egg Debate FINAL RESULTS: The Greatest Egg!

The polls have closed, the votes are counted, and in our highly scientific and utterly irrefutable manner, The Great Egg Debate has conclusively determined the best Easter Eggs in the world. You have spoken, and the results are final:

(Drumroll please...)

With 33% of the vote, the best Easter Eggs in the world are:

Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs!

These delicious confections outlasted a last-minute vote run that saw both Cadbury Eggs and homemade peanut butter eggs finish with 20% of the vote each.

Cadbury Mini Eggs took third place with 16%, white chocolate bunnies took 9% of the vote, and a write-in candidate, deviled eggs. finished with 2%.

And so it is decided. My thanks to all who participated in this very important poll.

I wish you all a very Happy Easter! Time to gobble down some of those Reeses Eggs...

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Monday, April 6, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #5

Medium MediumMedium Medium (via last.fm)

While many of the bands who were a part of the New Wave scene went on to have long, productive careers (The B-52s, Devo, Blondie, Talking Heads, Siouxsie & the Banshees, etc.), many, many more made only the briefest of splashes in the pond, falling under the radar of all but the most devout scenesters (The Shivvers, Insect Surfers, The Problem Dogs, and so forth). But there was also a middle ground - the bands who hit the ground running and seemed sure to succeed, but never did anything more than one great song.

One such band was Medium Medium, a British post-punk/dance band who showed up in 1981 with a truly fantastic single, "Hungry, So Angry". With a pulsating rhythm and propelled by a funky slap-bass, the single was made to fill the dance floors of clubs everywhere. It did not disappoint, even reaching the lower rungs of the American dance charts. Trying to parlay this cult hit into something more sustainable, a full album (The Glitterhouse) appeared later that year.

Immediate comparisons were made to bands like Gang of Four, thanks to the rather angular song structures and alienated vocals; more than a little bit of Talking Heads influence can be heard here as well. Given the success those bands saw, one would think Medium Medium had hit upon winning formula. It wasn't to be. A few more singles found their way to record store shelves, but that was it. No follow up, no swan song, no goodbye, nothing but this one wonderful song to remember them by.

Here, then, is your New Wave for the New Week, Medium Medium's "Hungry, So Angry":

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Great Egg Debate Great Home Stretch Update

Eggs of cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera ...Image via Wikipedia

Only a week to go until Easter, which means only a week more of official voting in The Great Egg Debate, by which we will determine once and for all which are the absolute, inarguable BEST Easter Eggs.

At press time, the standings are as follows:

Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs lead with 30% of the vote.

Cadbury Eggs and homemade peanut butter eggs are tied for second with 23% of the vote each.

Cadbury Mini Eggs carry a respectable 13% of the vote.

10% of voters agreed with my assertion that white chocolate bunnies beat them all.

The "Other" category has 3% of the vote, with the suggestion that deviled eggs are in fact the best.

The race is close enough that a few votes could decide it, so if you have not voted yet, let your voice be heard! The winner will be announced right here on this blog on the morning of Easter Sunday.

Which are the best Easter eggs?
Cadbury Eggs
Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs
homemade peanut butter eggs
Farmer's Market peanut butter eggs
Cadbury Mini-Eggs
candy robin's eggs
Doesn't matter - white chocolate bunnies beat them all
Other (describe your choice in the comments)
pollcode.com free polls

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Buy Me Some Peanuts and Crackerjack...

CBB InfieldImage by adamr.stone via Flickr

Two of the four sweetest words in the English language are "Opening Day". The other two? "Play ball!" All four will resound tonight as the 2009 Major League Baseball Season gets underway at Citizen's Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. My beloved Philadelphia Phillies, defending "World F---in' Champions"(in Chase Utley's words)host the Atlanta Braves in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN at 8:00PM EDT.

This is one of my favorite times of year. The beginning of a new baseball season marks a time of renewal: it is the one day when every team in either league is on equal footing. It means Spring is really upon us (despite the whipping winds and occasional temperature plunges we're still experiencing in my neck of the woods) and Summer is not far away. The sense that anything can happen and anyone could possibly win their division and go all the way to become World Series Champions crackles the air with excitement.

I've just finished one of my annual rituals: each year, during the final week of Spring Training, I re-read Jim Bouton's classic book, Ball Four. Written in 1970, Bouton's book chronicled his life during the 1969 season. What made the book a classic was not only Bouton's surprisingly engaging and conversational writing style, but the fact that Ball Four was the first book to break the code that hung in every baseball locker room: "What you see hear, what you say here, when you leave here let it stay here." Whereas most sports books before this painted the players as heroes, with a flair for the dramatic homerun or near-impossible game-saving catch, Bouton revealed the human beings behind the heroes in all their glory and shame. These weren't role models in the traditional glorified sense. They were ballplayers who spit, swore, got drunk, smoked dope, took amphetamines and chased women. The curtain was pulled back to reveal a bunch of regular joes, not all of whom were the most likeable. You know - like in real life.

CoverImage via Wikipedia

The book holds up today, 40 years later. The names may have changed, the substances of choice to abuse may be different, but you get the sense the clubhouse of 2009 probably isn't all that different from the clubhouse of 1969 in personality or in vulgarity. And that's what makes the book so wonderful. It's timeless, it's funny, it's real. And I have long contended that to call it a "sports book" is to do it a great injustice. It's a book about a guy learning to enjoy what he does within his own limitations and at the hands of the limitations of others. Baseball just happens to be the vehicle to tell the story.

If you've never read it, please do. Were I in charge of such things, I would make it required reading for everyone in the country, despite it's rough language and frank approach. It really is a classic.

As I write this, the 2009 Opening Day game is about seven hours away, and I'm counting down the hours and minutes! For the first time in 28 years the Phillies are entering the season as defending champions, and I would love to see them repeat. I think they have a good chance to. In fact, let me close by giving you my picks for the 2009 season - check back with me in October and see how I did:

AL East - Boston Red Sox
AL Central - Cleveland Indians
AL West - Texas Rangers
AL Wild Card - Minnesota Twins

NL East - Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central - St. Louis Cardinals
NL West - Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Card - Chicago Cubs

I'm predicting a Phils/Bosox Series with the Phillies repeating as champs. OK, it's a combination of prediction and wishful thinking, but it's what I'm going with!

How about you? Who are your picks?

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