Thursday, May 18, 2006

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Since my last post, the Royals have tanked every game and are back on track to be one of the worst of all time. Their poor performance elicited this comment from an anonymous reader:

"Why can't we have a discussion about how baseball as a professional sport is an absolute joke due to the fact there is no salary cap whatsoever (and don't even give me that crap about the luxury tax) and parity is non-existent. if they don't fix this, baseball can be in serious trouble, not only in KC but in many towns across the nation."

My reaction is this: Yes, the financial structure of Major League Baseball is a joke. It is a situation that desperately needs to be fixed. And there have been numerable suggestions on how to go about righting the ship.

For instance, I've seen proposals where both a salary cap and a salary *floor* are put into place. This would force teams to spend a minimum amount of money on salary while keeping teams from grossly outspending the competition. It would be a way to keep stingy owners from pocketing their revenue sharing money rather than re-investing it back into the team. But it would be tough to regulate. Spending $50 million on salaries doesn't mean your team is going to compete (see: Kansas City Royals, 2006). If you could regulate that a certain amount was spent on player development, competent front office personnel, etc., that might improve teams to a certain degree. But, as in the Royals' case, it doesn't matter how much or how little money you spend if the decisions on how to spend it are ill-informed or misguided.

Look at the Baltimore Orioles as an example. Peter Angelos has spent significantly more money than the Royals over the last several years (the Oriole's average payroll over the last decade was $66 million, ranking 9th highest overall in MLB) and what does he have to show for it? Only two playoff appearances in the last 10 years and a .475 overall winning percentage.

How about last year's Mariners? They went out and picked up two big ticket free agents. The result? A payroll of $88 million and 69 wins. Is that what the Royals should be striving for? I hope not.

We all know how successful the Rangers were after giving Alex Rodriquez his otherworldly contract. They averaged 72 wins per season and finished last in their division every year until they traded him to the Yankees.

Also, I don't buy the parity argument. Here is a list of the World Series winners since the latest Yankee dynasty ended in 2000:

2001: Arizona Diamondbacks
2002: Anaheim Angels
2003: Florida Marlins
2004: Boston Red Sox
2005: Chicago White Sox

That's five different winners in five years. And two of those teams hadn't won a championship since World War I.

Additionally, 17 *different* teams have made the playoffs in that same time frame. Over 50% of the teams in the majors have made it to the postseason at least once in the last five years. That sounds like parity to me. Or should we reconstruct the playoffs to look like the NHL or NBA where nearly everyone gets in every year? Maybe we should ask the 12 people who actually watch the NHL playoffs or the three dozen who get excited for the NBA playoffs.

My point is this: Yes, the system baseball has in place is flawed. Seriously, in fact. But teams that don't make smart decisions with meager payrolls shouldn't be expected to make smart decisions with increased payrolls.

I'm not sure exactly what the best solution is. The NFL has a "hard" cap, the NBA a "soft" cap. Each of those leagues is thriving. But so is MLB. Attendance has never been higher. Same with overall revenues. It's just certain teams within MLB that are barely treading water. Of course, the same could be said for Portland, Golden State, and Atlanta in the NBA. Or Detroit, Arizona and New Orleans in the NFL. Are those teams hampered by the system? Not likely. They're just poorly run organizations.

So, fix the system in baseball! I'm all for it! Unfortunately, it isn't going to help teams like the Royals until someone can manage them competently.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Halley's Ballclub

Uh, where did this come from?

After doing their best to challenge the all-time mark for futility in a season, the owner threatening wholesale changes throughout the organization and calling up one of their best prospects for no other reason than to rot on the bench, the Royals have done the unthinkable: They swept a 3-game series from the Cleveland Indians. Now, this may not be as impressive as last year's sweep of the Yankees, but we'll take what we can get. Usually, when a sentence contains the words "streak" and "Royals", there's a high probability that the words "extended" and "losing" are included as well. A three-game winning streak is as common as an Alex Gordon rookie card.

Does this mean the Royals are finally starting to figure things out? Absolutely not! Over the course of a 162-game season, even the worst of the worst manage to pull off the occasional miracle.

But we shouldn't shrug off this accomplishment, either. In fact, this time should be cherished. That's right; I said CHERISHED. Why on earth would I say that? Because there will be relatively few opportunities to revel in the Royals' success this year. This is quite possibly the hallmark of the season. Can you see this team sweeping another series against a quality team like Cleveland? I certainly wouldn't wager my next paycheck on that improbability.

But that's not the only reason to be excited about this juncture of the season. The fact that David Glass is finally looking to blow up one of the most inept and long-tenured front offices should bring at least a smug grin, if not a full-blown smile, to your face. I realize that the chances of competent front office personnel being hired by incompetent ownership are slim, but, as my favorite fortune cookie scroll told me, "Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation." If you want better results, you have to change something.

So, rejoice Royals fans! Two good things are happening simultaneously. It's like seeing Halley's Comet: A rare and fleeting bright spot that won't come around again for a long time. Only, we get two viewings in one week!

Thursday, May 04, 2006


I've been thinking for a while now about writing some reviews of my favorite movies. Not your run-of-the-mill Ebert & Roeper reviews, mind you, but reviews with a little more meat to them. At least, meat that's significant to me and quite possibly to you. I'm not real sure how I'm going to format these as of yet, so bear with me for this first one and I'll improve as I go.

One of my favorite love stories is "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". It's not your typical love story, which is why I like it so much. I rented it within the last year and I finally purchased it recently and added it to my DVD collection. And since it reminded me of my desire to start the movie review series, it gets the honor of being the first film reviewed.

So, as I said before, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is not your typical love story. In fact, it's quite odd. The basic premise is that Joel (played by Jim Carrey) meets and falls in love with Clementine (played by Kate Winslett of "Titanic" fame). As their relationship progresses, they become tired of and irritated with each other. Clementine decides to go to a company that provides a service wherein they can erase any and all memories of a specific person from your life.

Joel finds out that Clementine has had the procedure and, in a final act of frustration, decides to have Clementine erased from his memory as well. But, while he's in the middle of his brain alteration, he realizes that their relationship wasn't all that bad and wants to stop the procedure. Unfortunately for him, he is in a sort of coma-like state and is unable to "wake up" and tell anyone to stop the mindwashing.

Instead, he follows the advice of the Clementine that still resides in his head:

"What if you take me somewhere else, somewhere where I don't belong and we can hide there until morning?"

Thus, the pair travels through the unmapped areas of Joel's brain in an attempt to escape from the forces that are trying to wipe her completely free from his skull.

Again, strange and atypical.

At the same time, though, it is sweet and redeeming.

To see why, let's look a little deeper into who Joel and Clementine are. Joel is a quiet and introspective guy who prefers to live within his own world and finds it difficult to deal with those around him. He's not totally antisocial, but he seems to fear the process in which people open themselves up to one another, particularly when it comes to a relationship with a woman. His hair is unkempt and his clothing is colorless and drab.

Clementine, on the other hand, is colorful in nearly every way. When we first meet her, her hair is dyed bright blue and she's wearing an orange sweatshirt. She's outgoing and willing to share just about anything about herself with just about anyone. She's almost intimate to a fault.

When they first meet, their personalities shine through. Clementine is somewhat pushy and overbearing while Joel is doing his best to just survive this encounter with this stranger. But things change. Joel goes out on a limb and offers Clementine a ride home, an act he would never normally do. Then, when they arrive at her place, he accepts her invitation to come up for a drink. Again, totally against the grain. She makes him promise to call when he gets home. He does and they end up going out again. They end up walking out on a frozen pond with Joel once again warily waving off his insecurities, his journey out onto the ice an obvious metaphor for the mini risks he's been taking in the early stages of his relationship with Clementine.

That's one of the first things that I really appreciated about Joel's character: His ability to finally put his fear aside and act on his feelings. That's definitely something that I've struggled with and continue to try to improve in my life, so I find it reassuring in this instance that he finds that the risk is worth taking.

There are a couple of other lessons that are somewhat interrelated:

-- People are unusual and cause each other pain.
-- People make mistakes, but love overcomes them.
-- It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.
-- Things are usually more complicated than they seem.

The first one is a message you don't often get in your run-of-the-mill Hollywood movie. It seems that you'll usually find some gorgeous person who falls for another gorgeous person and ends up going through some minor conflict or miscommunication but they end up with each other in the end. That's really not how life works. People are weird. Everyone has some idiosyncrasies. Often times, those idiosyncrasies cause other people to hurt.

But true love finds a way to overcome and accept those oddities, which is the second lesson. People screw up. All the time. And people get hurt by those screw-ups. But true love deals with those mistakes and moves on. True love is the effort that people put out to get past those unintentional (or sometimes even intentional) wrongs.

The third point is a ridiculous cliche. But one that has weight. As the characters in this film demonstrate, they would rather have both good and bad memories of a relationship than no memories at all. And, honestly, you learn more about yourself and others from the lousy memories than the blissful ones.

The last message is a truth that goes largely unrecognized. There are many circumstances that play into how people interact with each other. Some are direct and some are VERY indirect. But it's unfair to judge a person or circumstance just by its outward appearance. There is usually a great deal going on behind the scenes that lends credence to what is actually happening. Just think about any regular situation in your own life. Then think about all the factors that have gone into why it has happened the way it has. Rarely do things occur in an isolated fashion.

So, there are my observations about "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. If you have seen it, I recommend seeing it again through the goggles of this review.

And now for a couple of random observations from the movie that I enjoyed, but didn't really fit into the theme of this essay:

Clementine had a collection of potatoes that she dressed in miniature human clothing. One was a nurse smoking a cigarette.

Random quote: "I'm making a birdhouse!"

Fantastic song that totally relates to the sweetness of this movie: "Somewhere Only We Know," by Keane.

Look for more reviews to come in the future. Until then, have fun!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Snack Attack

I officially started boycotting my snack machine yesterday. I had started to boycott it earlier when they upped the prices from $.85 to $1.00, but I caved in to the sweet satisfaction of the giant honey bun.

Then, last week, I went downstairs to get a snack and the stupid machine had a light on that indicated that it couldn't accept bills, only change. No matter that half the items in the machine are priced at exactly $1.00. So I went back upstairs to my office, got some change and went back down to purchase my morning sugar jag. But when I put the change in, the machine immediately spit it back out. I was not pleased.

I came back upstairs and perused the machines that are actually in our office. But, as is typical, the machines were nearly empty because the guy who stocks them rarely does his job.

The next day, I went back downstairs to see if circumstances had changed. Lo and behold, the machine was re-stocked, which must mean that the guy added some change so that the dollar bill slot would work. I looked down and that flipping light was still on. I futilely tried toget it to accept my dollar to no avail. Change was rejected just as ithad been before. My irritation level leapt at least 2 more degrees.

So, this morning my boss informs me that the machine downstairs works again. I asked him if there were any cinnamon rolls or honey buns (which were the target of my hunger last week). He replied in the negatory. That was the final straw. The machine was nearly fully stocked last week and nothing could be purchased. The guy finally fixes the change issue but switches out the only worthwhile inventory. So, I am now boycotting that machine forever. Just my little way of sticking it to the man.