Archive for the 'Movies' Category

30 for 30: Silly Little Game

ESPN took a break from its coverage of the NFL draft to acknowledge the National Pastime in Silly Little Game, a part of its 30 for 30 series of films. Silly Little Game is a documentary about the founding parents of Rotisserie baseball. The story is re-told through the magic of interviews with scions and gauzy reenactments.

Both Eric and I are on the heels of reading and discussing Fantasyland, a book about fantasy baseball from ancient times through this very second, so this recent renaissance of the history of Rotisserie just seems to keep going and going.

I’m not totally up on the public’s view of the 30 for 30 series, except for the occasional bout of extreme praise that I’ve heard here and there. I’m not much for college sports or Al Davis stories, so I haven’t made a solid effort to watch any of them until Silly Little Game predictably caught my eye. I consider it a success when long form storytelling makes it into the popular culture.

The production value of Silly Little Game is a few notches above the typical Behind the Lines or whatever crappy Fox Sports docudrama of the week that they used to show after I got home from baseball practice. The goofy, improvisational dialogue and fast and loose historical reenactment style definitely owes something to the drowsy recreations of Drunk History. And I am surprised at how funny this film actually is. I haven’t–since the days of Olbermann and Patrick riffing on highlights on Sportscenter–associated ESPN with laughter.

The many interviews with the founding fathers and mother are the highlight, though. Dan Okrent and his compadres reminisce about the first draft, the unanticipated obsessions that developed around Rotisserie baseball, and the labor involved in gathering statistics. They are joyous reminisces, too, which for some reason the film decided unnecessarily to sour by including the subsequent failure to monetize the game. I’d have been happier with the narrower story scope, and Okrent himself admits near the end–refreshingly–that it was probably better off that they made no money, as they had only started out to have fun.

The film not only tells the story of the first Rotisserie season, but it also addresses the challenge of visualizing fantasy baseball in a creative way. Floating numbers and actors playing Bill Buckner and random relief pitchers, and the film gleefully cheesifies the mental life of a Rotisseries baseball addict. A little self-consciousness can go a long way, and it separates this cheerfully schlocky dramatization from, say, an episode of Rescue 911. Directors Adam Kurland and Lucas Jansen don’t truly believe that a mad rotiserrieman spun madly at his gyrating poultry as Dan Okrent narrated the nascent rules of the game that would rule the world, but it makes for good documentary.

I’m a sucker for nostalgic gatherings of intellectual types, so this is all right up my alley and I could listen to these folks tell stories all day long.

Ellis, D. Watch This Right Now.

I don’t normally just post random stuff here, but this is more than worth it. It’s a rendering of the famed Dock Ellis LSD-no hitter, with narration by Dock himself.  The killer animation is by James Blagden. Thanks to RBI artist Mark Penxa for passing this along:

Weekend Reading: Twitpocalypse Now

Whoah, it’s a Weekend Reading post. Without further ado, your weekly dose of Robert Duvall and some nice bullet points:

  • Matt Wieters!
  • Dan Quisenberry!
  • Fernando Perez, new Tampa Ray call up and old school South American poet, has penned a very nice, but slightly sentimentalist essay for Poetry Magazine. Me? Jealous? Nah (via the scoop stealers over at Walkoff Walk)
  • Lions in Winter: Former Situational Essayist Reeves shares three fantastic  profiles of over-the-hill baseball gods over at Meanderings. Go over there, then guess which of the recommendations was mine, then fill up his comment section with odes to my taste when it comes to long form journalism.
  • Craig Calcaterra has written a moving essay on growing up with Ernie Harwell, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. I really believe that nobody can shape a baseball fan’s experience more evocatively than a broadcaster.
  • A silly press release arrived in the PnP inbox this morning from the union representing Aramark stadium concession employees.  I’d have deleted it right away, but I think they merit attention for creativity, finding the first practical explanation of Pythagorean Luck.

In a comparison between teams with home stadiums that use Aramark and teams with home stadiums that do not, Workers United found that non-Aramark teams’ average luck is 40 and Aramark teams’ average luck is -1.93.”

And some bad news: I accidentally deleted the Pitchers and Poets twitter account. It was a mistake and it should be back up soon.  Please don’t tell Ted.

Update: Twitter is back. Still don’t tell Ted.

Romancing the Zone (Rating System): Bonnie and Clyde, Digital Eyes, and the Impending Death of Conversation

I watched Bonnie and Clyde this past weekend, starring Warren Beatty and the ridiculously radiant Faye Dunaway. As is my natural inclination, it got me thinking about baseball. The classic film follows the likable but slightly bananas “Barrow Gang” as they rise to prominence as hold-up chiefs and brigands, then rise to mythology in the course of a few years.

Early in his career (in the movie, anyhow), Beatty’s titular hero would rob a small-town convenience store and bellow, “I’m Clyde Barrow, and this here is a hold-up!” No Nixon mask, bandana, or low-slung ball cap; no Unabomber sunglasses or hoodie. Just Beatty’s bedazzling grin and a doff of the fedora and he was off to the next town, to pull another job. Might as well hand out business cards, or an eight-by-five glossy. What struck me was that such a thing was possible back in those days. There was no concrete photo evidence of an act in progress, no surveillance cameras, no holograms on photo-IDs. When something went down–a bank robbery, for example–the sources that the wider public drew upon for enlightenment were subjective, first person accounts and witness testimonials. And those, we know well by now, lead to some crazy shit.

Bonnie and Clyde does a fine cinematic job of rendering this very phenomenon, the distorting effects of such unreliable sources. The Barrow Gang tracks its own progress through the lens of the media, reading newspaper articles to each other as they rumbled down country roads and picnicked beside lakes (with a few kidnappings and moy-dahs speckled in between). The newspapers, in bombastic prose, chronicled Barrow Gang bank robberies from Texas to Chicago, St. Louis and Missouri. According to the media, the Barrow Gang was a continental army, cutting the legs out from under the national economy. The American public was swept up in it, filling like the fabric of a hot air balloon with the flame heat of the newspapers’ bloviations. You can’t check facts, after all, if facts don’t exist.
Which brings me to the baseball hook. This week,word came down from the New York Times of the new digital eye technology, blowing open the Internet baseball conversation like the Barrow Gang bursting in on the local savings and loan. The multi-camera set-up will reportedly track anything that moves on the baseball field, in real time, and display the results as jauntily as a flash game. Every fielder’s speed and steps-taken will be counted, every square foot of a fielder’s range calibrated, every spat sunflower seed’s trajectory vectorized. Basically, the Great Unkowns of baseball analysis will soon be known; the White Whales will be poached. What lies just over the horizon–so close I can hear its mechanized joints lurching like Bigfoot screaming in the night–will strip the ballfield of its mystery. Players will be tracked like so many cod, caught, geo-tagged, and released into the wilds of free agency, emboldened by these oceans of data, or defenseless in the face of ’em.

If there’s one angle of the game that has eluded quantification and incited spirited consternation, it has been defense. Physics layered upon physics, the movement of the ball and fielders, range factors and expectations, good jumps and bad angles: it keeps sportscasters in business. This guy has the best first step in the game, that guy has a nose for the ball, this other fellow grows roots. Derek Jeter being the prime example, as old schoolers sing his praises and new-schoolers bemoan that praise. It’s a great argument, veritably political in the polarization, the play of regionalism and power structure. He’s a winner, screw the stats. Fielding stats are bunk anyway, I’ve watched him, I know. He’s the most overrated fielder in baseball history. Colorful threads in the loom of baseball discourse.

This new system could be the theory of everything, the unification of the big and the small, the micro and the macro. All questions could be answered, unraveling the textiles, the complicated, the confusing, but–to the human eye–the sublime and the satisfying tapestries that clothe of the National Pastime. Who belongs in the Hall of Fame? Just ask four-eyes over there in the corner with the dazed look and the reams of dot matrix print-outs spilling out on his lap.

Computers have taken over the world in part because they are mesmerizing tools, just fascinating to watch, and they answer questions that once seemed unanswerable. So that’s another kind of human majesty right there, and some of that may replace the emptiness that results from all of our questions getting answered. I love computers. I could watch the little digital eyes demo for hours.
But Bonnie and Clyde would never fly today. To be a bank robber in this modern world, you need a brain like a computer. Get cocky, holler out your name to a shopkeep, and you’re done before you started. To rob a bank today, you have to look into the Matrix, decipher its patterns, decode it, and deconstruct it; you’ve got to be postmodern. Braggadocio used to fill newspapers and books. Now it fills prisons (I know this because I’ve watched seven episodes of The First 48).
We may soon say the same of the general manager. Heck, we already do. But this next thing, this camera system, it’s the fucking Pinkertons, and the message board debates, the Jeter-gabbing and the Adam Dunn-bashing and all of that, those passionate unfounded conversations, they are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, telling stories and bathing in canyon pools while something smart and unstoppable tracks them, day and night, across the plains.

Bonnie and Clyde’s Hideout. Go nuts on this collection of photos and info.

Weekend Reading: Gaping Sinkholes And El Duderino Edition

The horrifying near-death of a Portland Oregon area girl has resulted in perhaps the funniest baseball related headline I’ve ever read. The lead ain’t half bad either:

Ground Swallows Girl As She Plays Baseball

A 9-year-old girl playing baseball on city land Wednesday was suddenly swallowed by a sink hole and was rescued by the children playing with her.

The child’s grandmother said it’s a miracle her granddaughter is alive after she fell through the top of an old septic or cesspool system in a vacant lot owned by the city of Portland.No one knew it was there and the city filled the hole Thursday afternoon. City workers said the hole was anywhere from 16 to 20 feet deep.What seemed like a carefree game of baseball Wednesday turned scary for three children when Paje Wiklund, 9, disappeared under the ground as she was running to first base.

Meanwhile, ESPN The Mag has a nice profile on the gaping sinkhole that may or may not exist inside Manny Ramirez’s head. As usual, the story’s best insight comes from Russell Branyan:

When Manny talks to mere mortal hitters, his advice can be as frustrating as it is enlightening. “When I was playing with him in Cleveland,” says Branyan, “Manny was trying to help me, and he asked, ‘Why do you swing at inside fastballs when you can’t hit them?’ I’m thinking, Because I’m geared up, and by the time I realize it’s an inside fastball, it’s too late to stop. And Manny would say, like it was easy, ‘I don’t swing at that pitch unless I’ve got two strikes. And then I just try to foul it off.’ So, basically, he’s playing a different game.”

One time, Ramirez laid it all out for Branyan, gave him the whole hitting equation. “He told me that he put 70 percent of his weight on his back foot and 40 percent of his weight on his front foot. And even though I knew the numbers didn’t add up, I thought for a second, I’ve got to try that.”

And most importantly, Josh Wilker at Cardboard Gods shines a light on the internet’s newest sensation: Big Lebowski Baseball Cards:

I may well have this wrong, but I believe the project got its start at Achiever Card Blog and Cheese and Beer and then got a boost from the photoshop master at Punk Rock Paint along with other contributions from Tastes Like Dirt and White Sox Cards.

Anyway, if anybody sees an Arthur Digby Sellers card sitting around, please let me know. I’m in the market.