The 2013 Angels, or how I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept that Buttercup Might Be the Name of the Season
To paraphrase Lou Brown, easily one of the best fictional baseball coaches ever to grace the cinematic Majors: OK, we won a game Saturday. And we won Sunday. That’s called “two in a row”. And if we win again tomorrow, that’s called a “winning streak.” It has happened before!
Now, clearly, quoting the infinitely quotable Major League in reference to the 2013 Angels is hardly an original thought and I’m not even the first to sling this particular gem around this week. However, I would dearly love to be one of the last because, much like Lou Brown in his follow up comments to this bit of awesomeness, I would like to believe that the Angels are heating up. Really, I would. But this season?? Always there is the Big B…what a Buttercup!
Let me ‘splain (and, you know, see if I can throw in any more random movie references from the depths of my crazed brain while I’m at it!). Towards the end of the sad, sad debacle that was Wednesday night’s pitching implosion, abandon all hope…no, no, wait, here comes the Angels offense!…Nope, just kidding, more LOBsters than a large seafood chain could handle…Waaaaaiiiit, just kidding again, check out that offense!!…*facepalm* Nevermind, more LOBsters…emotional whiplash of a game, I tweeted, ‘This is such a buttercup game. And the Angels have just buttercupped all over the buttercupping thing. Blah.’ And, you know what? Even though the Angels have a proto-winning streak going on here – potentially their third of the season, talk about *facepalm*! – that sentiment actually sums up the whole season so far for me. Because, yes, I was in part being cute and trying to interject some much needed levity into the situation by using the name of the Angels’ much hated – at least by, let’s call it, all fans in their right mind; the rest of you are highly suspect – 7th inning stretch ditty as a stand in for the long, drawn out f-bomb that most of us were feeling at that point. However, my word choice meant so much more as well. Let us review the lyrics of the song, shall we?:Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’ You know that I have from the start So build me up (build me up) Buttercup, don’t break my heart
Forget all of the perfectly rational, ‘who in the hell thought that this song would be an appropriate rooting-for-the-home-team-at-a-sporting-event song and would they please turn their marketing card in…right now!’ thoughts you’re having at this moment because, sadly, this season they’re beside the point. Thus far the 2013 Angels are the Buttercup Angels — always building us up, just to let us down again for another inning, another game, another streak, of the ‘you don’t want one’ kind. Offense starts coming back. Starting pitching blows a herd of goats. Starting pitching gets it done. Offense goes to sleep and/or the Angels bullpen decides to go all “flashback” on us and turns Arson Squad. Sweep the Tigers. Lose the next 5 – yes, count them, 5! – series. And so on, and so forth. So this proto-streak? I want it to be the real thing. Dear God I want it to be the real thing and the start of something great, but I just…I just don’t know.
But if you’re about to throw the B word at me, you just zip your lip right there. There is no bandwagon. There never was. Seth and I are bleeding red fans who have nothing to jump off of. We love this team, even if this season, like oh so many in the not so distant past, it’s a heavily frustrated, profanity laced, shouting kind of love. We’re still watching every game we can on TV. We’re still buying tickets to the Big A though, being less excited, we’ll probably attend closer to 15 games than our customary 20 – 25. It’s just the focus that has shifted. In another tweet this week, I confessed to fellow Angels fans that, even though it makes me feel like a bad fan, at this point I’m just hoping for the team to straighten up enough that they’re at least fun to watch play again…you know *cue hope and optimism yet again* like the last two games were! Anything more than that seems so farfetched that I just can’t bring my brain to contemplate it without the Angels themselves providing significantly more incentive. But the minute they do? (And, so help me, I can feel it starting already.) Well, I’ll let them build me up once more, praying the whole way that, this time? This time it’s real, and they don’t let me down…again.
I’m still enjoying the post season immensely and I’m rooting hard for the Cardinals and the Tigers to win tonight. Rooting for the Tigers and the Cardinals? Could it be that what I really want out of all of this is epic trash talk on Red State Blue State? While that interpretation of the facts certainly makes for an entertaining story, it is not an accurate statement. Hmmm…could there be a better segue for my review of Moneyball? I think not:
So I saw Moneyball a few days back (Didn’t we all?) and, eh, I didn’t love it, but I did like it. Look, when not stressed beyond capacity I read voraciously, have done so all my life. Given the number of movies based on books out there, the vast majority of them quite loosely indeed, this means I either had to stop watching movies or learn pretty early on to view movies as a completely separate entity from books. …And from history actually because for every cinematic crime against literature, there are at least three against history. Yes, I was a history major. Why do you ask?
Looking at Moneyball strictly as a movie, I thought it was good. Enjoyable. A little overlong in parts – namely the Brad Pitt moping, and worrying and moping some more parts. Some of the scenes with Brad Pitt’s family were forced and trite. On the other hand, the acting was excellent, some of the dialog was genuinely stirring and the story was appealing. I love underdogs. I love upsets. Heck, I was rooting for the movie A’s by the end of it. From a story telling standpoint, especially knowing that Aaron Sorkin was one of the final script writers, I felt it was missing a big, gorgeous, eloquent mini-speech about baseball or two. Also, once the decision was made to concentrate on the 2002 major league team rather than the draft class the book actually focused on, I wish they had also decided to incorporate more of the players’ background stories as presented in the book – especially when given the choice between including 20 extra minutes of Brad Pitt brooding in a car or 10 minutes each of the story behind Chad Bradford’s unusual even for a submariner style and Scott Hatteberg’s need to socialize. A little sarcastic dialog from a 1st base conversation or two would have been a nice way to break up the montages.
So I enjoyed Moneyball as a movie, but what about as a cinematic glimpse of baseball history? Well it wasn’t that at all, actually. Notice I refer to Brad Pitt as Brad Pitt above, not Billy Beane? That’s because the characters in Moneyball were just that, characters in a fictional movie, loosely based on something that actually happened and, truth be told, a loose interpretation of the book as well. The mischaracterizations and inaccuracies were pretty epic. The movie completely forgets to mention non-Moneyball players, even though a Cy Young performance from Barry Zito and an MVP performance from Miguel Tejada might have contributed to the A’s 2002 success, you know, maybe just a little, along with strong performances from the rest of the non-Chad Bradford pitching staff and other returning A’s players. And as for the Moneyball stuff, Carlos Pena wasn’t traded to force Art Howe to play Scott Hatteberg. Hatteberg was already playing more games than not as a DH because, yes, he didn’t just walk a lot, he could actually hit. He also grew into a decent fielding first baseman. And I could go on and on. All of these creative licenses were clearly taken with the intent to make Moneyball into a better story. And, in that sense, I believe that the creative team behind the movie succeeded. But what happens when we change the truth to make it a better story, especially so much of the truth? Exactly.
Okay, so it was entertaining but took creative license to the extreme with the history. So what about all of the folks who don’t know any of the history behind the movie? Are they going to start running around quoting Moneyball as fact? I don’t really see this happening to any degree that should concern. Look, here’s the thing with movies. They rarely if ever get it right and when they do the authenticity usually lies more in the feelings than the actual facts. And for a movie based on history, touting “based on a true story” in the ad campaign means roughly the same thing as using the author’s name in the title of a movie adapted from a book – what appears on screen bears only passing resemblance to the source material. And I think that most savvy movie goers understand this.
What’s that you say? The typical movie goer may not be savvy? Maybe these anecdotes will quell a few fears:
A few weeks ago, a casual baseball fan friend of mine told me about this great looking movie he just saw a preview for, Moneyball. After describing the gist of the plot he had gleaned from the preview he said, But here’s the weird thing. Did you know that they’re using the Oakland A’s for this movie? I mean, using the Cleveland Indians made sense in Major League. But I can’t figure out why anyone would want to use the Oakland A’s for a feel good comeback story movie. My apologies to A’s fans everywhere. These were my friend’s words, not mine. But I relate them here to demonstrate that some folks with more distance from the game than we lot kind of gloss over the “based on a true story” angle and just assume the whole thing is fiction.
And the non baseball fan’s perspective? I was chatting with a good friend a few months back who grasps the concept of baseball and goes to the occasional Dodger game when tickets fall into his hands as they are wont to do from time to time if you live and work in Los Angeles County, but who would not describe himself as even a casual fan. I mentioned enjoying chatting and snarking with a couple of Tigers fans at the Big A on 4th of July. He gave me a really confused look that typically means, “Explain?” So I explained that the Angels were playing the Tigers that night. He repeated the confused look and I gave him one of my own. I mean, what more could one explain?
(Close your eyes Michael David.) I am sorry to say that he then asked The Tigers? That’s not a team I’m familiar with? Okay, this is a very smart man. And he’s up on current events and popular culture. And he grew up in Maryland and went to a few games at Camden Yards as a child so this isn’t some sort of weird west coast bias thing. Apparently if you aren’t really a baseball fan, any team that isn’t the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, your local team(s) or a few isolated others, then that team could be a completely fictional movie team for all that you know…and seeing as fictional movie team comes pretty close to describing the 2002 Oakland A’s as depicted in the film Moneyball, maybe in this case that’s a good thing.
So, if this movie still hath offended think but this and all is…well…if not outright mended, perhaps a bit more in perspective. Those who are close to baseball know how weak and idle this particular theme was from a historical standpoint and those who are not close to the game are very likely to think it’s fiction for a completely different reason. And as for the folks who believe it to be gospel…well…they probably believe almost everything the movies tell them anyway, like the Da Vinci Code is word for word real…and that the 300 Spartans went to war in nothing but teeny, tiny leather speedos…and, and that Nicolas Cage has a broad acting range and can deftly insert himself into the leading role – and accent! – in any action movie.
* * * * *
Notice that I reviewed Moneyball without ever once offering my opinion on Moneyball philosophy and/or sabermetrics? Yeah, I thought I’d be a little different. Besides, there is enough fodder there to declare Moneyball an entertaining movie but a bad “based on a true story” without ever touching sabermetrics. However, for the record, I think that sabermetric stats are one of many great tools available for assessing baseball players but they are just that, only one tool in the belt. I also think that traditional stats, paying attention to a player’s intangibles and also just plain old gut feel, instinct and observation are important tools for assessing baseball players. I think that it makes the most sense for baseball teams to use every tool available. Completely ignoring any of the tools in favor of one particular tool might work on an occasional player by player basis. But you can’t build a team that way…nor, if you read Michael Lewis’ original book was he initially theorizing that you could. He…a…got a little carried away there by the end of the book and strayed from his own premise. But I’ve got a whole post about that back in the archives if you’re really interested in reading my thoughts on the book.
Scott Kazmir – The Final Chapter?
A final decision regarding Kaz came even sooner than I thought. On Tuesday, the date of my last post, Angels GM Tony Reagins and former Angels GM Bill Stoneman attended a Salt Lake City Bees game to assess Scott Kazmir’s performance and it was terrible. Six earned runs on five hits, three walks and one hit batsman in 1.2 innings terrible. Wednesday morning, the Angels put Kaz on waivers with the intention of unconditionally releasing him if he remains unclaimed. While I’m sad that a young pitcher who had a lot of early success lost all speed and control and seemingly can’t regain it, I think this was a good decision. The Angels have been patient, but it was time to release him. More than time.
However, I had not anticipated the rumors that the Mets are considering claiming Kaz or signing him after his release. I suppose it makes sense, if it is indeed anything more than a rumor. Kaz was the Mets draft pick. Maybe they think they can get him back in the proper headspace to pitch like he used to again? If they can, more power to them and best wishes to all involved, but I don’t see any improvement happening for a very long time if ever.
Mike Scioscia is taking advantage of this off day to adjust the starting rotation slightly, flipping Dan Haren and Tyler Chatwood’s starts in order to push Chatwood back and give him a little more rest. The Angels are starting to monitor Chatwood’s innings count and do not want to see it climb much over 170 innings for the season. Future off days are likely to be used in a similar fashion. I think the Angels should use the innings count as a guideline and monitor how Chatwood himself seems to be performing and how his arm is wearing through those innings more than a setting a strict numerical guideline. There is ample anecdotal evidence both for and against such handling of rookie pitchers and I really think that in the end the personality, physical makeup and style of pitching of the individual are what determines if such an innings limit is beneficial or detrimental in the long run.
The Moneyball trailer is up, and included below. It passed the goosebumps test for both my husband and me, and after seeing it I am jonesing for the movie release even more than before. Goosebumps test you ask? I tend to get goosebumps whenever I see something I love done beautifully, wonderfully right, such a movie adaptation of a book I adored that absolutely nails the book. Thus trailers must pass the goosebumps test in order to ensure my complete anticipation. The trailer for the Shawshank Redemption where I could tell exactly what it was they had adapted from second one when the warden slaps the bible on the table? The scene from the Watchmen trailer where Jon Osterman becomes Dr. Manhattan? The first glimpse of the Ents in the Two Towers trailer? Or, more recently, pretty much every split second flash in the American remake of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I was planning on passing on as unnecessary until I saw the trailer)? Killer goosebump generators all.
So, Moneyball the movie. Is it going to contain factual inaccuracies, oversimplifications and overly romanticized details? Yes. Will some scenes frustrate the historically knowledgeable baseball fan? More than likely. Will it leave some non-baseball fans with the mistaken impression that the Oakland A’s have gone on to sweep the division time and time again? Actually, I have some hopes on this front. Aaron Sorkin did work the modern consequences of Charlie Wilson’s War into the end of the movie in a poignant way, so maybe not. But, alas, it is possible.
However, will Moneyball include Aaron Sorkin’s typically gorgeous dialog waxing poetic about one of my favorite subjects? Absolutely. And this, more than anything else, is the reason I am dying to see this movie. The baseball equivalent of the ‘Two Cathedrals’ soliloquy, the “May we have it back please” debate sarcasm, or Gust Avrakotes’ rant? I’m getting chills just thinking about it. Old baseball scouts and other staff discussing how they first fell in love with the game (the ‘how did I get here’ speech being a Sorkin staple)? Oh. Yes. Please. …And the by now de rigueur Gilbert and Sullivan reference? I have absolutely no idea how Sorkin is going to work one into a baseball movie, but somehow I am sure he will manage. (Yes, Seth. They’re all about duty. ;) )
I am so enjoying MLBN’s 20 Greatest Games series. I haven’t seen them all but, with my very Dodgers childhood, I definitely could not miss this evening’s episode: 1988 World Series Game One! I remember that evening vividly. It was a Saturday night, date night for my parents, so my sister and I were enjoying a small Domino’s pizza and had the beginnings of a truly epic Lego castle complete with maze winding its way across the den floor in front of the TV. I may have been too old for a lot of toys at that point but if you’re ever too old for Legos, well then, you’re just too old.
We were so disappointed, my sister and I, when they announced that Kirk Gibson wouldn’t be able to play. New to the Dodgers that year, He was already one of our favorites, right up there with Mike Scioscia, Orel Hershiser, Alfredo Griffin and Mickey Hatcher – is it any wonder why I say watching the Angels for me now is like watching the Dodgers of my youth, my Dodgers? Now, if my friends were any indication, pre-teen girls in Los Angeles were supposed to prefer Steve Sax in those days – Sexy Saxy as one young lady who may or may not have really understood her own nickname, called him. I didn’t dislike him at all, but I wasn’t seeing it.
As you can tell, this was quite the fun trip down memory lane for me. Hatcher’s improbable home run. My first real exposure to baseball’s unusually intimate relationship with the flying fickle finger of fate when the broadcast team felt the need to put “Joe Canseco has never hit a grand slam before” among his stats as he came up to bat with bases loaded. Ouch! The looooong tense wait for something, anything good to happen for the Dodgers. Scioscia scoring Mike Marshall in the 6th to bring the game within one run. Two and a half very tense innings, plus two outs and then hearing Vin Scully say “And look who’s coming up…” Oh that hopeful, long drawn out at bat. The pitch Gibson fouled off and watching him stagger towards first on two bad legs. And then, the hit. What a hit! Pandamonium. Legos flying everywhere, as we jumped up and down and cheered. I only know Vin Scully’s famous call of the hit from all of the replays afterwards. We were too loud to hear it when the homerun actually happened.
Dave Stewart, the A’s starting pitcher from game 1 was a very entertaining narrator. I had no idea that he hit Sax in the first inning because of some trash talk the day before. I no longer think I was being fanciful when I thought maybe Sax tipped his helmet a bit at Stewart before he took his base. It was great to hear about the famous hit from the man himself, interviewed via satellite from Spring Training in Arizona. The fact that Bob Costas, host of 20 Greatest Games, was present for Game 1 and played a few interesting roles in both that game and the Series gave this episode a nice touch. It was Costas who emphatically announced that there was no way Gibson could play at the beginning of the game. Later, standing in the hallway ready to walk out onto the field for postgame interviews, Costas overheard Gibson’s painful warm-up session in the batting cage in those last moments of the bottom of the 9th. Costas also reminded about how he accidentally inspired Tommy Lasorda’s “Kill Costas” rallying cry to the team with one of his pre-Series broadcasts about the A’s. I had completely forgotten about this detail, though it amused me to no end at the time.
Back in 1988, I remember getting goose bumps all up and down my arms when I watched Kirk Gibson hit that ball, knowing even then that I had just seen one of the great hits. Watching it all over again in a full game highlight reel format, I still get goose bumps.
Monday nights are extra busy in my house so I have managed to miss the first four games in the MLB Channel’s 20 Greatest Games in the last 50 years series. But the stars aligned tonight and I caught the program on game #16 – the Twins/Tigers one game playoff to determine the 2009 AL Central champion. I was surprised that MLB.com chose such a recent game, but I remember that one very well and, indeed, what a game!
I “watched” that one, which is a completely different thing from watching a game. In 2009 I was still working in the Mortgage industry for a bank recently purchased from the FDIC. If you know anything about the Mortgage meltdown in Southern California, you can probably figure out which one I am talking about and if not, well, suffice to say I had more of a front row seat than I wanted for the whole thing.
Anyway, my department was full of Angels fans and a department both pumped for the game and divided on who to root for…divided over who would best serve the Angels by beating the Yankees in the playoffs, that is. The Twins never beat the Yankees in the post season but they were just so scrappy that it was hard for some of us, myself included, not to root for them. The rest were sure the Tigers had the best chance. The problem was that my department always worked really late, especially at that time, and this was a Midwest game so there was no way any of us were getting home to see any part of it.
So, I was sneaking peaks at the game on my Blackberry as I worked, per my habit in those days, and a couple of my colleagues were checking in from time to time to get the score, per their usual game day habit. The other baseball fans all had company Blackberries, you see, while I only had my personal Blackberry, and company Blackberries had all sports sites blocked. Everything was calm through the 3rd inning with the Tigers comfortably in the lead, but then the Twins started to catch up. Suddenly people are working less and less and checking in more and more and then my boss came striding out of his office and up to my cubicle…no worries, this was standard procedure as well. He just wanted to know the score and get a quick play by play on the last inning.
As you probably remember, it was a heck of a game. The Twins tied it up then, in the 9th, the Tigers pulled into the lead and the Twins tied it up again. By the time the game went into the 10th inning, all pretense of working was gone and everyone had switched to rooting for the Twins. We moved into one of the larger cubicles by playing off of the Minnesota pride of one of the generally non-baseball fan team members and were alternately biting our nails and yelling and cheering as the score seesawed from 4-4 to 5-5. Around the 11th inning, we became refresh monkeys – the 15 second auto refresh rate on the Gameday site was no longer sufficient. When the Twins pulled it off, it was a good thing we were the only team left in our wing because it sounded more like a sports bar than the headquarters of a mortgage bank…and then we went back to work. We repeated this routine for the east coast playoff games until the Yankees took the Angels out of the mix and it was a blast. (I don’t regret rooting for the Twins either, even as things turned out. I don’t think the Tigers could have stopped the 2009 Yankees either. That team was tight and seriously on a mission.)
I do not miss my old job. I worked with good people and had a great run of it but I don’t have the stomach to deal with the volatility of the Dread Pirate Mortgage Banking Industry anymore – Goodnight Blithescribe. Good work. Sleep well. We’ll most likely lay everyone off in the morning. I really love my newer job and I work with great people here too…they’re just more basketball and soccer fans. But sometimes I really do miss the baseball season camaraderie of a department full of Angels fans. However, the job change is part of the reason I started lurking on MLBlogs and eventually blogging myself. It’s funny how well things work out sometimes.
It’s the end of November, the house is all put back together from the Thanksgiving holiday, the trade/acquisition speculation on the Angels sites has reached the silly stage – in many cases, intentionally so – and I could not bring myself to feign interest in USC vs. Notre Dame. So, what’s a baseball fan to do? It was definitely time for Bull Durham…especially because I hadn’t seen it in months!
Bull Durham is my favorite baseball movie by far and one of my favorite movies period. Shocking given the title of my blog, right? There are a number of excellent movies that depict baseball players, coaching staff and other baseball insiders and their crazy passion for the game. Bull Durham is certainly among them. It’s well written, perfectly paced, filled with memorable characters and it does an excellent job of balancing all of the hope and promise of talent with the hard reality that a real career in baseball is unlikely for all but a very few and ephemeral for the majority of those few. What pushes Bull Durham over the top for me is how well it also shows the crazy passion of baseball fans. Besides, it’s infinitely quotable. What’s not to like?
A few months ago I found an older interview with Ron Shelton, the writer and director and a former second baseman in the Orioles farm system. Apparently, he has toyed with the idea of making a sequel several times but didn’t know where to take it. If Crash goes back to the minors or gets the managing job in Visalia, he either leaves Annie behind or takes her with him away from the life she’s created in Durham which is such a part of her character. Either way, the character dynamics are ruined on top of having lost Nuke and the cast of engaging background characters. Shelton said he just couldn’t do that to his creation, a measure of restraint I applaud and wish more artists had the option to employ (because, like baseball, creating art is also a job and I realize there are many practical factors aside from the artist’s wishes that go into such a decision).
Watching the Angels this year, however, in particular the dynamic of veteran pitchers interacting with a rookie catcher, I wonder if there isn’t a different way to approach a Bull Durham sequel. Watching Hank Conger make his major league debut was a bright spot for me this season, even though he was shaky at times. I remember the pregame show before his first start, catching for Jered Weaver no less. Victor and Gubie showed video from an exchange with Weaver earlier in the warm-ups. So, I understand Hank’s had a lot of questions for you. Gubie said with a knowing smile. Do you think he’s going to be okay? Weaver laughed and said, I think we have Hank breathing normally now. He’s going to be just fine. Weaver pitched a great game that night so Conger didn’t have many reasons to visit the mound or work to calm him down. However, I also remember a later start for Conger where Weaver did run into some difficulties. He started to get flustered and pace around the mound before he finally gestured toward Conger seeming to indicate, hey kid, this is the part where you walk out here and talk me through this.
Until I saw that interaction, I had only thought about veteran catchers training rookie pitchers, never the other way around. But think about it, a wiser and somewhat bitter Nuke at the end of his major league career, trying to rehab his aging arm in the minors for one more shot at a major league season, works with a rookie catcher. But because he’s Nuke, older and wiser is still far from wise. Make the rookie catcher inexperienced but talented and significantly more intelligent than Nuke, like Crash might conceivably have been at the beginning of his career, and suddenly you have what I think would be a very interesting dynamic where the catcher clearly does have a thing or two to learn from the pitcher’s experience but can’t imagine learning anything from someone who plays the buffoon so often. You would also have an easier time setting this story line back with the Durham Bulls where it wouldn’t be unlikely that the Larry character – easily my favorite supporting character – could have worked his way up to the manager’s position. Leave Crash and Annie out of it all together or have the characters make a cameo appearance attending the games, Annie still teaching at the community college and Crash probably a hitting coach for kids in the community and you would have…well…the closest I will probably ever come to writing fan fiction at any rate, LOL.
I don’t know what resolution the Angels have planned in 2011 for the increasingly crowded catching situation. But if Hank Conger can keep improving on his batting average and on base percentage – he looked a lot better by the end of the regular season but then didn’t do so well in winter league, so who knows – I would prefer seeing him as the back-up catcher with Mike Napoli in the lead catching role over a lot of our other options.