Midseason MVP

National League

I have one large and personal stipulation for the MVP award in the NL:

I have higher standards for Clayton Kershaw MVP than any other candidate. It’s patently unfair, but this is my ‘that’s baseball.’ Until the guy wins, and wins consistently, on a nationally televised basis, I can’t fully endorse his success. Don’t get me wrong – this run he’s been on for a half-decade? It’s likely unparalleled.
And my pops texts me about once per month to reiterate something like this:
Inline image 1
So I love and appreciate what he’s doing; I just think he needs to overshadow the rest of the league to get my MVP ‘vote.’ So what he’s doing this year is amazing, but it’s typical Kershaw – and unless they win the division, I can’t support the candidacy. Yet. Even with a 11-2 record on a mediocre team and a 1.79 ERA, 145 K in 121 innings.
Regarding Kris Bryant – those are some numbers for sure(.278, 21 bombs, 57 RBI). But that entire offense is solid – Rizzo, Zobrist, Fowler are having good years – and the pitching is what’s really carrying the team. He’s a great candidate, and that game last night didn’t hurt, so let’s see this one flesh out while we review the other candidates.
Daniel Murphy is one step away from being a Curt Schilling-caliber PoS, but he’s finally manifesting those early career Don Mattingly comps, and .350 is a gaudy number, especially for a team that is disappointing overall offensively despite high expectations.
Marcell Ozuna (.320, 16 dingers) deserves outside consideration as well for leading the Marlins offense in the wake of Stanton’s (Sherman Oaks, Notre Dame HS) first half slump, but unless they overtake the Nats he’s not going to merit a top three finish. Kudos to Mattingly though on that managing job. Wow.
Jose Fernandez (10 wins, 2.28, 0.99 WHIP, 138 K’s in 94 innings) and Jake Arrieta (12 wins, 2.10, 1.02 WHIP) are both second-tier candidates, but I can’t vote for either in good faith if I won’t vote for Kershaw.
Matt “this guy really, really irks me” Carpenter is leading the league in OPS (.989) and if that club does some special things, he’ll nab a few votes.
Brandon Belt (.301, 10 jacks, 38 RBI) and Madison Bumgarner (1.02 WHIP) will both receive some votes. And here we go again how damn good is Bruce Bochy, wow.
American League
Jose Altuve pops out for me. I love the way he plays the game, I love his spirit and what that does to his ballclub. And his numbers are sensational – we’re looking at a Hall of Fame career here, and at .348 with 13 bombs in the first half of his age 26 season, he’s only getting better. The Astros will likely win this division, and I’ll likely ‘vote’ for the sparkplug.
Big Papi is playing phenomenally, OPS 1.108. Definitely gets a look, but in that lineup I’m hard-pressed to single out one major bat.
Manny Machado could take the award if the Orioles hold on – .328 with 18 bombs and a .993 OPS. But they won’t win the division; that pitching is too thin and Manny will have to wait; he’ll have plenty of chances.
Ian Desmond, who has a great story with the offseason shunning forcing a position change just to essentially stay on a big league roster, is putting up great numbers in Texas – and playing a mean outfield. Great story of redemption and I hope somebody gives him a long-termer after the season. .321 14 bombs and 13 steals.

Francisco Lindor is turning all kinds of heads in Cleveland, and as a Gold Glove caliber shortstop with .314 avg and 10 dingers & 12 steals, he deserves consideration for another Francona-led division leader.
Chris Sale and his 13 wins are eye-popping, but his ERA is half a run higher than Steven Wright (!!!) and Marco Estrada (!!!, Sylmar HS) has the same WHIP. He’s doing nice things, but not MVP nice. Not with this team in a freefall.

TLOP, and the Underrated Mastery of Mr. West

I’ve been thinking about the polarizing ‘Kanye Issue’ intensely since The Life of Pablo. This album is a great listen. It’s uplifting, it’s energetic, it’s interesting. His lyrics are completely scattershot – in one realm, he’s talking about bleached assholes. In another, he’s lamenting not knowing the names of his friend’s children and calling himself selfish. One thing he is, throughout, is completely selfaware – of his vulnerability & weakness as well as his monstrous ego: “I’m a 38-year old eight-year old.”

People may not like Kanye, but he’s honest. And sometimes that jolts the listener, which is exactly his intention. Musically, this album is curated beautifully by mood & phase. Spiritual, nasty, introspective, chaotic, and moody. It’s a aural journey, and it’s a really fun experience. It’s not entirely polished, but it’s a good manifestation of his life at this point, and it sounds genuine. And that is something that people always underestimate about Kanye – love him or hate him, he speaks from the heart. I also feel that the album is composed of four distinct chapters: the soulistic, gospel-inspired opening chapter encompassing tracks 1 – 4; the more rugged, grimey stretch from tracks 5 – 9; the haunting & introspective 10 – 14 (perhaps the most ‘beautiful’ portion of his work); the concluding, musical and ‘fun’ closure of the album from 15 – 18. Really interesting to hear the album in this context.
Also regarding Kanye‘s previous work. I’m a bit more vested than most because he literally came from the Chicago underground scene in the late 90’s, and his affiliations with Common (Sense) when he was at his dopest, and influences of the post-Panther/educated african-american second city sound was clear through his sampling, soul undertones and ability to intertwine ‘song’ with real hip hop. Some of his early work with Little Brother remains on my radar, simply because he was one of the first Chicago producers to gain universal acceptance underground. Through the Wire remains inspirational, and actually foreshadowed his career – always fighting through self-inflicted wounds, yet ultimately succeeding through the might of his own will.
The early albums were laden with pop hits, but these hits – think Gold iIgger, Jesus Walks – have a brooding, layered complexity that enables them to have staying power. They’re real music, they’re not just pop formulas. When 808s and Heartbreak was released, it was truly a revelation. Again, the sound was melodic, melancholy & visceral. Yet it still maintained commercial appeal. For a hip hop album, this is nearly unprecedented. To this day, it contains some of his best work. The maligned My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is probably my ‘favorite’ album of his, incorporating his early ‘true hip hop’ sound with the modern Kanye braggadocio and immaturity. His life was just beginning to spiral into the 000.1% of American royalty, and he chronicles every step with a huge middle finger, yet knowing his limitations enough to not try to do more than he can on the mic. He lets his guests shine, and if that’s not ego suppression. . .With Game of Thrones Yeezus, Kanye could have easily sleepwalked through the sessions and produced mediocre material, but he didn’t. Both are laden with unique sounds, interesting composition and deceptive insight.
Again, Kanye talks about pussy as much as he talks about anti-depressants, but they’re both equally relevant to his life, and you can’t fault him for that. Because that’s his Life. The Life of Kanye.
 Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.01.28 AM

Corey “The Kid” Seager

Corey Seager reminds me SO much of Clayton Kershaw in his approach, composure, poise, maturity, overall grasp of the game and awareness of his role & importance on the team. I’ve been reserving my enthusiasm for what seems like such an obvious superstar (and thus potential bust) but he really seems to understand the game and his role. And his approach is beautiful. Relaxed swing – he chokes up! – and literally goes oppo with ease, and power. His glove has surprised me as well, and damn – I’m genuinely excited for his future. Clayton has anywhere from three to fifteen (Randy, Nolan) years of dominance remaining, and Corey has about four years until he hits his prime – but he’ll be a superstar by next year. Could be really fun times at the Ravine for years to come.

cool early-season baseball thoughts

18% of the season has elapsed, so a quick look around the league from YKI:
*Bryce. Now that master strategist Joe Maddon implemented baseball’s version of Hack-a-Shaq (10 walks, 1 HBP in last 12 plate appearances) – and it worked! four game sweep for the Cubs – does this legitimize Harper as the game’s scariest threat since Mr. Bonds?
*Bryce, at one point this weekend, went 37 consecutive pitches without swinging the bat, per Mike Ferrin on MLB XM this morning.
*the Cubs are 24-6?!?!?! WOW. And Heyward (.212), Soler (.181) and Russell (.242) still aren’t hitting.
*That wacky, wacky NL West. We’re seriously looking at an 85-game winner taking the division. Every time I think the Dodgers fritter away any momentum, the remaining teams in the division lose right along with them.
*White Sox, 22-10. Big surprise to everybody that underestimated the Frazier acquisition, or didn’t realize that Quintana – well, that creep can roll. And Sale is the AL Kershaw.
*The Yankees are a really tough story this year. Basically, the deal that they made the playoffs last year was a bad thing. Everybody thought they’d breakdown in ’15, forcing them to make wholesale changes and give their kids the shot to see if they’d be Bombers (Judge, Refsnyder, at the time Bird). But the seniors played & played well and they trotted out the same bunch for the ’16 season. Now they’re seeing the ramifications and it is a really bad – and old – team that we’re watching out there.
*Houston, 12-20, is going to be fine. They have too much talent and Jose Altuve is a winner.
*Kind of unbelievable how awesome David Ortiz really is, even at the tail end of his career. I’m pretty sure it’s not unfair to consider him a Reggie Jackson-type of character, historically.
*Everybody knew the Braves would be lousy (7-23), but the Twins were last year’s wunderteam and they’re only 1/2 game ahead (8-23). What gives there?
*The Angels are garbage. Dull pitching and two watchable players (Trout, Calhoun). I hope they don’t waste Trout’s career, because it definitely looks like that’s the direction they’re headed.
*Some wanksters on this ERA list, but we’re in a pitching-forward era. Latos, Colon, Tyler Chatwood, Tanner Roark all under 3.00 kinda funny to see, though.
RK Player Team W L ERA G GS SV SVO IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG WHIP
1  Zimmermann, J DET 5 1 1.10 6 6 0 0 41.0 35 7 5 2 8 25 .224 1.05
2  Arrieta, J CHC 6 0 1.13 7 7 0 0 48.0 26 7 6 2 16 44 .159 0.88
3  Quintana, J CWS 5 1 1.38 7 7 0 0 45.2 36 8 7 1 9 42 .217 0.99
4  Wright, S BOS 3 3 1.52 6 6 0 0 41.1 25 10 7 2 16 38 .172 0.99
5  Lester, J CHC 3 1 1.58 6 6 0 0 40.0 33 7 7 4 9 38 .228 1.05
6  Maeda, K LAD 3 1 1.66 6 6 0 0 38.0 26 7 7 3 10 35 .191 0.95
7  Sale, C CWS 7 0 1.79 7 7 0 0 50.1 29 11 10 3 10 47 .165 0.77
8  Hammel, J CHC 4 0 1.85 6 6 0 0 34.0 25 7 7 1 14 28 .212 1.15
9  Salazar, D CLE 3 2 1.91 6 6 0 0 37.2 18 8 8 1 16 43 .142 0.90
10  Walker, T SEA 2 2 1.97 6 6 0 0 32.0 30 11 7 3 3 29 .242 1.03
11  Roark, T WSH 2 2 2.03 7 7 0 0 44.1 34 14 10 1 17 41 .210 1.15
12  Kershaw, C LAD 4 1 2.04 7 7 0 0 53.0 38 13 12 3 3 64 .199 0.77
13  Pomeranz, D SD 3 3 2.12 6 6 0 0 34.0 21 10 8 2 16 41 .176 1.09
14  Kennedy, I KC 4 2 2.13 6 6 0 0 38.0 28 9 9 3 13 35 .209 1.08
15  Chatwood, T COL 4 2 2.15 6 6 0 0 37.2 34 10 9 3 8 27 .239 1.12
16  Velasquez, V PHI 4 1 2.17 6 6 0 0 37.1 25 12 9 3 11 44 .188 0.96
17  Gonzalez, G WSH 2 1 2.19 6 6 0 0 37.0 29 11 9 2 10 28 .216 1.05
18  Hernandez, F SEA 2 2 2.21 6 6 0 0 36.2 28 15 9 3 18 29 .204 1.25
19  Tanaka, M NYY 1 0 2.29 6 6 0 0 39.1 29 11 10 2 7 35 .200 0.92
20  Richards, G LAA 1 3 2.34 6 6 0 0 34.2 31 16 9 2 15 34 .238 1.33
21  Strasburg, S WSH 5 0 2.36 6 6 0 0 42.0 33 11 11 1 9 47 .220 1.00
22  Estrada, M TOR 1 2 2.39 6 6 0 0 37.2 27 10 10 3 14 36 .196 1.09
22  Hill, R OAK 4 3 2.39 7 7 0 0 37.2 28 13 10 2 16 46 .206 1.17
24  Happ, J TOR 4 0 2.50 6 6 0 0 39.2 37 11 11 4 10 25 .253 1.18
25  Syndergaard, N NYM 2 2 2.58 6 6 0 0 38.1 33 11 11 1 8 49 .234 1.07
26  Martinez, C STL 4 2 2.61 6 6 0 0 38.0 26 11 11 4 11 30 .190 0.97
27  Latos, M CWS 5 0 2.62 6 6 0 0 34.1 31 10 10 4 10 19 .238 1.19
28  Hamels, C TEX 4 0 2.68 6 6 0 0 37.0 28 11 11 4 17 36 .217 1.22
29  Smyly, D TB 1 3 2.72 6 6 0 0 39.2 23 13 12 5 8 47 .167 0.78
30  Colon, B NYM 3 1 2.82 7 6 0 0 38.1 39 12 12 4 4 33 .271 1.12
30  Sanchez, A TOR 2 1 2.82 6 6 0 0 38.1 33 13 12 3 12 34 .228 1.17
32  Griffin, A TEX 3 0 2.94 6 6 0 0 33.2 24 12 11 2 14 28 .195 1.13
33  Porcello, R BOS 5 1 2.95 6 6 0 0 39.2 30 13 13 6 8 41 .207 0.96
*Baseball’s back. Glad to see this particular HR leader list. 90% legit guys, and some great names. When the stars are strong, the game is strong.
RK Player Team Pos G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
1  Arenado, N COL 3B 31 121 27 39 6 1 12 29 14 14 0 1 .322 .397 .686 1.083
1  Cano, R SEA 2B 31 128 20 39 6 0 12 33 9 17 0 0 .305 .355 .633 .988
3  Cespedes, Y NYM LF 26 97 19 29 4 1 11 30 11 24 0 0 .299 .376 .701 1.077
3  Story, T COL SS 30 125 23 34 5 3 11 24 13 46 2 2 .272 .338 .624 .962
5  Carter, C MIL 1B 30 107 20 30 10 0 10 22 12 33 0 0 .280 .344 .654 .998
5  Harper, B WSH RF 31 98 21 26 6 0 10 27 30 25 5 2 .265 .432 .633 1.064
5  Rizzo, A CHC 1B 30 111 26 30 8 1 10 28 22 18 2 1 .270 .413 .631 1.044
5  Stanton, G MIA RF 28 100 17 26 4 0 10 24 18 34 0 0 .260 .375 .600 .975
9  Altuve, J HOU 2B 32 123 30 40 14 0 9 19 16 16 13 1 .325 .415 .659 1.074
9  Donaldson, J TOR 3B 33 123 30 33 8 1 9 21 20 33 2 0 .268 .379 .569 .948
9  Machado, M BAL 3B 30 123 24 43 15 0 9 22 10 20 0 2 .350 .403 .691 1.094
9  Ortiz, D BOS DH 29 107 17 33 12 0 9 27 15 21 1 0 .308 .393 .673 1.066
9  Trumbo, M BAL RF 30 117 16 38 3 1 9 24 8 34 1 0 .325 .378 .598 .976
9  Walker, N NYM 2B 30 112 14 29 1 0 9 19 6 24 1 0 .259 .297 .509 .806
15  Davis, C BAL 1B 30 110 22 22 2 0 8 19 18 40 0 0 .200 .323 .436 .759
15  Frazier, T CWS 3B 32 124 17 24 4 0 8 21 13 26 2 1 .194 .273 .419 .693
15  Kemp, M SD RF 31 122 15 34 8 0 8 23 3 24 0 0 .279 .291 .541 .832
15  Semien, M OAK SS 32 100 13 21 1 0 8 15 13 27 1 0 .210 .298 .460 .758
19  Braun, R MIL LF 29 109 19 40 6 0 7 24 12 17 2 1 .367 .430 .615 1.044

End of a Hair-a

Prior to 1994, I really didn’t think much about haircuts. My barber, Roger Lovett, was down the street in North Hills, and my dad would usually accompany me, as Roger was actually his barber. Good guy, old school barber shop, but really the only thing I remember was that everybody in there was older, and the place was moderately grubby. He was a good dude, and frankly I didn’t really care how my hair turned out. I was a kid.

As high school approached, and my friend Juice introduced me to his cousin, Bryan the Barber. Bryan was 24 years old and had his own shop in Reseda (nee, Lake Balboa), which he’d inherited from his father. The age proximity and my wont for independence encouraged me to give Bryan a shot at a haircut – a fade, if I remember correctly – and thus a relationship was born.

I previously never understood Barbershop Culture; in fact, I’d never even thought of the concept up to that point. But inside Russo’s Hair Styling, I found a barber that could seamlessly transition between discussions about the Lakers, Juice’s Toyota MR2 and the ongoings of the Reseda Neighborhood Council while making sure that my hair would taper just right.

As I continued my monthly appointments, our banter grew more in-depth; religion, local politics, girls – everything was on the table. And not just between myself and Bryan. The shop was always a nexus of characters, some from as far away as San Diego (“who the heck would drive up from San Diego just for a haircut,” I remember thinking at the time), some from right down the street.

Some of his clients were, like the shop itself, inherited from his father’s old client base. Dudes in their 50’s and 60’s would be mingling with collegians, and the conversation was as varied as the clientele. Blacks, whites, Jews, hispanics, Italians – men of all persuasions ambled in and out of Russo’s. Chauvinistic? Perhaps a tinge, but Cyndi owned The Back Studio, which was a shop for women tucked away in back – and the adjoining door was always open, so she made sure that conversation never crossed that line. It really is a great setup.

At times, I’d see the same people from my last haircut; other times, I’d meet interesting characters. Some sold cars or motorcycles, another played in the NFL, one ran numbers, many worked in real estate. Bryan himself was slowly entering that field as well, carefully and craftily investing in properties from Pasadena to Silver Lake to Sherman Oaks. He was always willing to share information but understood when something was private or personal. He had advice – only sometimes solicited – because he dealt with such a wide swath of the populace and had a tremendous memory that he was always able to have input on the topic. Always.

And what I liked best were that his haircuts were always on point. As my fade evolved into Timberlake-ian curls, a ‘newscaster’ adult cut and finally my closely cropped, modern look, he took care with each clip (“don’t move,” he’d have to tell me about a dozen times per cut), shave and edge. There were times the cut wasn’t perfect (“come on in, I’ll fix it – I told you you shouldn’t have been bouncing around in the chair”), but most of the time it was incredible.

And that massage. Dude had a hand massager on the counter ready to relax your neck, upper back and shoulders after each cut. I mean Bryan literally knew how to make this experience awesome. I contend that half of his clients came to him just for that luxury.

But Bryan was the whole package. Now that he is moving on into more lucrative offerings, I reminisce on the end of an era and what it means to lose my barber. My wife changes hairstylists every year or so, but I’m going on 22 years of never having anybody else touch my hair – even when I lived in Seattle, I’d coordinate my appointments with trips back to Reseda/Lake Balboa to grab a cut and some conversation at Russo’s. So yeah, I became that San Diego guy, only further. That’s how important it was to have the experience, to share the culture of a true Barbershop.

And now, as places such as Sport Clips & Floyd’s exist as ersatz Barbershops, the artifice is evident as these spots are just trying to be the local spot. But they can’t do it; it comes from years, decades, generations of experience, conversation and camaraderie that can only develop when a man has his hand on your skull for a half hour at a time.

And for me, this man was Bryan – whom I’m going to miss dearly as my barber, and I suspect I won’t be the only one. Thanks for the cuts, B.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 9.07.21 AM

Russo Hair Styling, still in its original location, opened in 1956 by Bryan’s great uncle. Ownership transferred Bryan’s father in 1964. It was one of the first shops to specialize in Men’s Hair Styling. Bryan began in 1991 and closed his 25th year on March 31, 2016.

Ranking eMCees: the Naje Scale

This is a project about 17 years in the making.

I’d previously toyed with methods to rank rappers/eMCees/lyricists, and most efforts were either too simple (who are the dopest rappers!!!) or too complex (in college, I included 14 categories such as ‘heart,’ ‘message,’ etc this was really way too much & too corny).

I want to thank Naje for introducing me to the beautiful simplicity that is the Naje Scale. First off, Naje’s gauge, which encapsulates my view as well:

I know this is a bullshit gauge, but it is always one I refer to. If I feel like I can do what an emcee does then I can go crazy for they’re (sic) work. Like I cannot do what Aesop, or Eminem, or Kweli, or Redman, or El-P does.
completely agree. And that’s basically exactly what I look for in an eMCee. Somebody that exceeds what I think I could do if I gave my life to the craft.
For me, a reformed eMCee with dozens of lousy demo tapes and a current freestyle fetish that’s lasted for 20 years, I included myself on the chart (also, because I have a big ego). I quite realistically overrated myself, but allow me the ego trip on this one.
Without further adieu,  the chart is pretty self-explanatory other than to say the colors represent coastal association.
Red is West Coast
Navy is East Coast (I included Philly/Boston/Long Island)
Baby Blue is Midwest
Green is the Greater South
Brown is Bay Area
Slick Rick is in Black
eMCees that ‘tie’ are included on the same line with a slash. There is no association necessary between the rappers other than to say I deem their skills exactly similar regarding this axis.
Also – rappers such as Eminem and Nas with a widely disparate catalog (I’m looking at you, Oochie Wallie) are essentially averaged on their own work.

Naje Scale

*bold lines represent a 5, or average

I think my ‘favorite’ observation is the logjam of West Coast rappers between 4-5.5 (Skill) and 2-4 Content.
Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 8.46.08 PM
These are the rappers closest to average in all four quadrants: Jean Grae, Masta Ace & L-Roneous above average in both – but barely:
Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 8.46.16 PM
Another observation: there is only ONE West Coast guy (and two Bay Area) is above average in both, and it’s Acey – who’s barely over the skill line in my book – otherwise lotta Navy in this (coveted) quadrant.
Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 8.46.22 PM

In short, I’m sure there are criticisms, critiques and methodology concerns. It’s all conversational and in fun. . .and I do tend to value awesome, awesome flow. It’s one of the dopest things in the world.