Thursday, May 10, 2012

MOVIE RANT: Moneyball

Moneyball was a hit. It made a killing at the box office, it garnered an Oscar nomination, and most importantly, it restored some much needed dignity to the baseball movie genre. After being subjected to out-of-touch flops like Summer Catch and The Scout, Moneyball was a breath of fresh air for baseball fans, and personally, I loved it.

With regard to baseball, the film was authentic. I deem myself a stickler for attention to detail and Moneyball passed the test with honors. Everything was just right, from the baseball lingo to the elephant logo-ed BP hats - Brad Pitt even packed a few dips for good measure. The film reeked of baseball accuracy - for once, my nit-picking skills sat idle and I was able to simply enjoy the show.

As a movie itself, I found it entertaining from beginning to end. The writing was witty, the acting was spot on, and the story was balanced in a way that enabled both baseball fans and those foreign to the game to follow and enjoy. The film also shed light on the front office side of baseball, a perspective never truly featured or explored in the past (sorry Little Big League).

The movie, anchored by the chemistry and banter of Pitt and Hill, was an all-around success - but really, what fun is that? Here are some thoughts that went through my head while watching Hollywood's latest take on baseball.

World's sexiest GM: Seriously, how cool do you think Billy Beane tried to play it off when he found out Brad Pitt was playing him? Probably acted all nonchalant like he didn't even know who he was: Brad Pi...Pitt? Oh yeah, I think I know that name. He was voted World's Sexiest Man in 1995 and 2000 or something, wasn't he? Yeah, I guess he'll do - I mean whoever you guys think best captures my essence, I'm good with.

Perfect role in jeopardy: I was legitimately upset that Philip Seymour Hoffman played Art Howe in this movie because I have been saying for years that he would kill it as his voice twin, Buck Showalter. With the blond hair he's already a spitting image of him, but the voice similarity puts it over the top, it's uncanny. If having already played a manager in a baseball movie prevents PSH from taking a future role as Buck I will be devastated.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Cole Hamels does the unthinkable!

I still can't believe it. Premeditated, unwarranted, just disgusting. For those of you who haven't heard, Cole Hamels recently launched a harpoon from the pitcher's mound at rookie sensation Bryce Harper, piercing the slugger's right shoulder and placing him on the DL indefinitely. The wound will likely keep Harper out for the rest of the season and sources are saying his future in baseball may be in jeopardy.

In light of the incident, Hamels has been reviled by both local and national media for such a reckless act of cowardice, and rightfully so - there is no place for such violence in Major League Baseb...

Wait, what? You're saying Hamels just hit Harper with a pitch? Well still, it was probably gruesome. You heard what he said, there was clear intent - where'd he hit him, in the head? See, that's what I thou- wait, in the back??? Hm - but I mean, it knocked him out of the game, right? I'm sure he was real banged up, no way he stayed in the game and felt healthy enough to steal home just minutes later, that obviously goes without saying.

Having worn out my use of the sarcasm font, I'll cut to the chase: the entire Hamels-Hits-Harper situation has been blown way out of proportion. It's baseball - pitchers occasionally throw at batters, it's part of the game. Hamels, for whatever reason, wanted to knock the 19-year old off his high horse. Perhaps he was annoyed with the praise and attention the young player has attracted since his call-up, or maybe he took offense to Harper's blowing a celebratory kiss at an opposing pitcher after a home run last summer - whatever it was, he decided to send a message, and that message was delivered right between the 3 and the 4 on Harper's back, right where any coach tells his pitcher to hit a guy. No intent to injure, nothing scary - simply put, and I quote Hamels: "Welcome to the Big Leagues."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Foul Ball Etiquette

Fans go nuts over foul balls. It's how it's always been and it's how it will always be. Even if you're hanging on the game's every pitch, you can't help but get mesmerized by a foul ball's mystique. With each ball that goes up into the seats, we wonder which fan will defy the 1 in 30,000 odds and win the Foul Ball Sweepstakes. The errant hit has a power over fans, and while we may not know where it's going or who will catch it, we do know that the play will result in at least one of the following: 1) A priceless souvenir... 2) An inconsolable child... 3) A fistfight... 4) A SportsCenter Top Play... 5) A SportsCenter NOT Top Play... 6) A trip to the hospital... or last, and most definitely least: 7) Adults acting like schoolgirls.

Balls hit out of play are a real life piece of the game that suddenly become available to the fans. In the matter of seconds, a baseball went from a Big League pitcher's hand to a Big Leaguer's bat, and now it's finally come to rest, in your hands. You can't help but feel a connection - you were part of a play with major league ballplayers. It actually is pretty cool. 

But some fans simply cannot handle the foul ball experience. The instant a ball enters the crowd, they lose their minds. They want that ball - they need that ball. It's not even a ball anymore - it's a Honus Wagner rookie card, a Wonka golden ticket, and the final Horcrux all rolled into one. The survival of mankind relies on their tracking down this prize - it's the reason they were put on God's green earth. And so, like a crackhead desperate for a fix, they hunt it down, refusing to be denied and terrorizing rows of helpless fans in the process.

But fortunately, in the minds of other - dare I optimistically say "most"? - fans, foul balls are simply a fun side effect of a baseball game. These fans are at the ballpark to enjoy nine innings of America's Pastime - if a foul ball comes their way, sure they'll go for it, but you won't find them rolling around on the ground or pulling another fan's hair for the souvenir. To these more sane fans, the foul ball itself dictates who will take it home. They respect the role that luck and chance play in the foul ball experience, as well as the skill and courage that go along with actually catching it. And if it bounces off the chosen fan's hands, it simply changes direction and presents another opportunity to a different fan. As for those balls that find their way under a seat? If it's under you, reach down and grab it. No diving. No pig-piling.

Friday, April 13, 2012

SMALLS TALK: The One Ear Flap Helmet

Nothing says Big Leagues like a one ear flap helmet. It's unmistakable. Turn on the TV and see one of these babies, you know you're watching the world's very best. Its unusual lop-sided style is revered by all who play the game, not so much for its looks but its exclusivity. It's the helmet that my generation saw on the heads of our favorite players growing up, and it's the helmet that every young ballplayer dreams of some day wearing.

If I were to make it to the Big Leagues tomorrow, priority number one would be getting myself a one ear flap helmet - I firmly believe that's the first step to being taken seriously as a Major League hitter. When a guy steps to the plate wearing a normal double ear flap helmet, what half the crowd sees is an at-bat long window to run to the bathroom or grab a hot dog. Nothing is expected from Mr. Double Ear Flap - he doesn't wear a Big League helmet, why should fans give him Big League attention?

It's Little League stuff. I compare the Big Leaguer who wears a double ear flap to the college player who still wears his hat underneath his helmet. It doesn't mean they're not a good player, but until they look the part, they'll never be fully treated as one. It sounds ridiculously superficial - mainly because it is - but it's true. The one ear-flap helmet is a privilege, something that represents more than just head protection. It's the helmet reserved for the best. Not in the Majors? Sorry, nothing we can do - Big Leaguers only. It's an honor. Ahh, what it must feel like to track a fastball while the wind tickles my liberated left ear.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

SMALLS TALK: O's lose to college team - big deal?

It's not out of the ordinary for a Big League team to face college competition at some point during Spring Training. It's a tradition that several clubs have honored for years as both a showcase for fans and a special treat for the college kids. It is out of the ordinary, however, for a Big League team to lose to college competition. Enter the Baltimore Orioles.

The O's lost 2-1 in a charity game against Miami Florida Florida State State College of Florida on Tuesday and, just as you'd expect, a media frenzy ensued, resulting in two very different spins on the game. First came the more obvious take: your classic doomsday predictions of an 0-162 season. The O's couldn't beat Little Leaguers, nevermind a college team! Or my favorite: Playing the Orioles will kill SCF's RPI! There were also plenty who chose to downplay the significance of the event. After all, it was a charity game, and the bulk of the Baltimore starting lineup was out of the game by the 5th inning. Who cares? They probably just wanted to get their work in and get out of there.

It's a classic "story vs. non-story" debate, and having heard both spins, I was prepared to form my opinion on the matter. But then another factor was thrown into the mix that changed everything: since SCF is already into their season and wanted to save some pitching, there were a few innings that featured Orioles pitchers and catchers playing for the college team. And just like that, what had become such a hot and lively debate got flipped on its head. In my mind, the Oriole vs. Oriole matchups negate the entire story - case dismissed. 

But just for fun, let's say the teams played straight up. Now is it a story?

At this point in the Spring? Absolutely. I've played the game, I know the difference in competition, and while baseball is the only sport that offers a college team a realistic chance to beat a professional team, I believe the Major League club should win this game 99 times out of 100. The only exception would be a lights out pitching performance by the college squad's ace (sometimes you just can't beat good pitching). But that'd only be if the game actually meant something and the college team was pitching their stud, playing to win. In today's world of Spring Training exhibition games, the MLB club should win every time.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Terry Francona on Baseball Tonight

Kurkjian can't even watch.

I love Terry Francona. I think he's a great manager and an even better guy.  I agree that it was time for him to part ways with the Red Sox, but his managerial career at Fenway will be argued as the best of all-time for years to come. As a broadcaster, however...

To put it delicately: the guy needs work. Alright forget delicate - I'd rather watch an NIT play-in game than listen to Tito interact with the rest of the Baseball Tonight crew.

Tito displayed his "gee, gosh" fumbling way of speaking and his funny voice over the countless interviews of his career, and the baseball world ate it up. What a down to earth guy... A real player's manager!... I'd love to play for a guy like that! ... And yes, that's all great and true, but not once did I hear a Tito presser and think: "Professional broadcasting, here he comes!"

Again, I like Francona, I really do, but it's downright painful to listen to him sometimes. He just feels so out of place, the second-hand embarrassment can get unbearable. He's that uncomfortable even-my-colleagues-know-I-stink level of bad. Every time he speaks, Karl Ravech's face reads, "Is this guy frickin kidding me? Do we pay him?" And the best part is, he doesn't even try to hide it.

Now maybe I'm being a little rough on Tito. I realize he's new to this gig, and the regular season has not yet even begun, but at this point I honestly expect more. This is his job now, after all. This is his profession - shouldn't he have had to display some qualifications before getting hired? (Aside from achieving success as a manager and being a good guy, of course.) But then again, what are Shannon Sharpe's broadcasting credentials - a Windsor tie knot the size of a New York pizza slice?