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.

 

NBA All-Star Weekend

I had the proverbial foot out the door on this NBA All-Star Weekend, anticipating more flash than substance. . .

three point contest – AWESOME. A 27 from Klay, including EIGHT IN A ROW to pull the title away from Steph? Holy moly. And this after a three-way tie to get into the qualifying round with 20? 20 used to win rounds!!!
Dunk contest – I could not have had lower expectations. That last one that even registered was Blake Griffin, and the previous contest to ‘matter’ was Vince Carter in 2000. That’s 16 years ago. I saw the texts coming in from various sources and decided to check in. LaVine? Amazing. Gordon? Spectacular. Literal unprecedented dunks – Gordon went under BOTH legs?!?!?!  LaVine did a windmill from the free throw line!?!??! And both guys hit the dunks on their first shot!?!!??!?! – with an amazing page. Unbelievable. I don’t think this can be replicated for years but:
a) best one-on-one since Jordan vs. Dominique. Seriously.
b) I don’t think you have 10 dunks stronger than the top 10 from Saturday in ANY contest. Ever.
Game itself – sure, no defense. . .but the west almost drops 200 points?!?!?! Cmon 196!!!! I don’t give a heck, that is amazing. They shot 80 3’s. EIGHTY. Really fun just to see the chase, here.
What a weekend for the NBA. Wow. ‘Fantastic,’ if you will.
Honestly, and I am NOT a Zach LaVine fan (despite UCLA), but man he can soar – not just leap, but SOAR – and Gordon. . .Gordon honestly had the best singular performance since Vince. Look at this

to recap: he jumped OVER the mascot AND went under BOTH legs. reminder = when Isaiah Rider went under ONE leg, it was mindblowing. Wow.
secondly,I’m not a HUGE fan of gimmick dunks – but the timing, smoothness and execution on this are amazing. Great, great dunk. WOW. again.
lastly, and unbelievably, and probably the MOST amazing technical dunk of the night was Aaron Gordon’s final dunk, which only scored a 47. He went tomahawk AND between the legs in the SAME dunk. Judges, admittedly, did not have the benefit of instant reply so they didnt get to score it accordingly. But it was astounding
and just to recap Zach LaVine:
yep. kid can soar.
here’s a full recap on that
Oh – and for the record, a dunk by Andre Drummond which featured Steve Nash doing a behind the back soccer/fútbol kick to set up the dunk didn’t even make the top 8.

Ethier, Donnie & The 2016 Dodgers

So regarding whether Andre Ethier was mad at the umpire, missed a bunt sign, or was just f-bombing an invisible entity, the Dodgers petered out of the playoffs following the in-game, public outburst. Apparently he’s been simmering since the beginning of his Dodger tenure Spring Training when he asked not to play Centerfield despite previous success in Center for the Dodgers. He’s very passive aggressive, and has notoriously bottled his feelings until a blowup at the manager or the front office, or simply in the press. He’s not quite a malcontent, but he’s on the border. 

Bottom line is, that was the most demonstrative I’ve seen him in the realm of the field, and to have that kind of blowout in an elimination game speaks to both Ethier’s (somewhat understandable) general unhappiness with his role as a Dodger, despite a great career (top 15 in HR, hames, hits career as a Dodger) in L.A., as well as the general frustration within the clubhouse regarding Mattingly’s lack of consistency and clear strategy.
I believe that Friedman is going to clean house as much as possible, building the team around Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig. I think the entire coaching staff is gone, Wallach finds a big league job somewhere, but 2016 begins with an out-of-house manager that changes the culture (Jason Giambi is a dream, but doubtful). It’s not like it was a horrible season. . .it was a stopgap season and they finished in line with (my) expectations, unfortunately.
It’s worth noting that I personally believed Puig needed to be jettisoned to end up more like Adrian Beltre than Raul Mondesi, but seeing a Puig-less lineup, even with Puig deservedly not starting, was painful. We’ve seen Puig’s talent and he needs to be supported & coddled to perform the way he can. It’s obviously not certain, but in my opinion, Puig is one of the top talents in baseball, so with him along with Kershaw and Seager, you have one of the best cores possible to compete with the Cubs & Mets for the next decade.
I also discussed something last night with my brother from another: those wacky ’25 cabs for 25 guys’ Red Sox winners were somewhat despicable, but the Dodgers seem more like ’25 iPhones for 25 guys.’ The difference is there was an emotion – passion? hatred? loathing? – amongst the Sox that made them hatable, but these Dodgers inspire. . . ambivalence.
Adrian Gonzalez is a great hitter, but he’s very dull. Joc Pedersen should be the awe-inspiring, young talent, but he’s shown only regression since June – and definitely doesn’t play with emotion. Jimmy Rollins & Chase Utley are awesome – but they’re old. So Seager, a promising young rookie, is easily to be excited about but these playoffs (I’m calling them his Kobe ’97 performance) dampen the expectations. Puig is a potential cornerstone, but would it shock anybody if he ended up like Mondesi? Or worse? Kenley Jansen is a great closer, but who gets excited about closers? Alex Guerrero? Jose Peraza? Who cares? Justin Turner turned into a gem, and could be the type of player that the Giants would LOVE, and the Dodgers just might look to improve upon, furthering the disparate chemistry issues. Really tough team to root for, and  I’m a die-hard.
I will say this, though: watching Kershaw is amazing. As my dad said via text during his final (301 K) start of the regular season:
“remember that you’re watching a Hall of Fame pitcher every time you see Kershaw pitch”
Either way, Go Dodgers in 2016. Should be a completely new team.

Joey Bats

I hope you have two minutes to watch the Jose Bautista highlight (full sound needed).

Here

His homerun last night is now in my Top Ten Baseball Moments of All-Time. The sheer emotion of an entire nation that has been baseball-starved, mired in a (22-year!!!!) playoff drought culminated with that monstrous homerun and unprecedented glare/bat flip. I am not a bat flip monger, but this one was raw, unadulterated and completely appropriate.

The drama that led up to that moment:
*an elimination game
*2-2 pitcher’s duel heading to the 7th
*the Martin throw that richocheted off of Choo’s bat (I’ve never seen that in 35+ years) that led to the potential game-winning run
*followed by, in the bottom half of the inning, THREE consecutive Rangers errors (first time that’s ever happened in an elimination game)
*followed by a misplayed weak pop-up
*followed by Joey Bats
Listen to that crowd. That was a wholly cathartic release of emotion for a deserving city, and a franchise that has been maligned for the greater part of two decades. Really awesome.
Also, here’s a beautiful pictorial breakdown from Patrick Dorsey of ESPN and this is the takeaway image, the ‘Moment’ after the Moment.
joeybats
Pretty awesome stuff. . .and these playoffs are just beginning.