Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Searching for Optimism Part 2: Oakland A's

That big old football stadium nobody likes
Despite garnering massive amounts of attention for Moneyball, the successful major motion picture (starring Brad Pitt) all about their franchise, and winning the bidding war for one of the offseason's most sought-after young players, the Oakland Athletics aren't in very good shape these days. Even with the expanded gate into the playoffs, Baseball Prospectus approximates that this year's team has barely a 1 percent chance (1.3% to be exact) of making it into the postseason.  

It's safe to say their team doesn't look all that great. Aside from that, two of their key opponents look amazing. Half the teams in their little four-team division beefed up during the winter and look like they're ready to compete for the World Series for the next who-knows-how-many years. Their home stadium is now officially the crappiest ballpark in the majors. I've seen analysts predicting the team to lose 90 or 100 games in 2012. Not very encouraging news for an A's fan.

Well, I'm an A's fan (although not a deep-rooted one) and I refuse to subscribe to all these graveyard scenarios for my favorite American League team. After all, I only started to follow the green-and-gold so I could have a competitive team to root for while my New York Mets were languishing during the early aughts. Now the A's haven't been in the playoffs since 2006 and they've been stuck around 75 wins every year since.

Continuing my short series of analyzing three teams of low regard (Mets, A's, and Padres) to try and find some glimmers of hope and optimism, let's now delve into these Oakland A's piece by piece. To reiterate, my aim is to discuss these teams through the eyes of an incorrigible optimist who is trying to remain as objective as possible. Since we're talking about the hapless A's, that makes me this guy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Searching for Optimism Part 1: New York Mets

Breathe, Mets fans, breathe.
The 2012 baseball season is at least a week away from opening, but my three favorite teams---the Mets, A's, and Padres---have already been written off entirely.

While a bunch of teams (the Reds, Angels, Marlins, Tigers) loaded up for a run at the newly expanded gates into the postseason, my three favorite teams have stayed put for the most part. As a result, they aren't being talked about as anything except cellar-dwelling losers biding their time until prospects are ripe.

The Padres, with the best farm system in baseball, are supposed to be building up for a competitive run in 2013 or 2014. If the A's get to escape their dumpy stadium, they'll start to compete by 2014 or so. The Mets are their usual bumbling selves having lost their best player to a division rival and now suffering a bunch of injuries already this spring.

Frankly, all three teams are supposed to suck this year. That's what the experts (and sane, reasoned, objective baseball fans) say, at least. For the purposes of this series, though, we shall reach for some semblance of optimism for the 2012 season. There must be something we can root for as fans of these crappy teams. After all, each year it is inevitable that one or two teams completely blows away its preseason predictions led by surprise (if flukey) performances from a player or three. Why not the Mets? Why not the Padres? As for the A's, well..... why not the Mets!

So let's take a look at each team through the eyes of an incorrigible optimist doing his best to stay objective. We will use the 2012 projections generated by both Baseball Prospectus and Clay Davenport (as they appeared on March 23rd) and try to find where each of these teams might be able to best the system and squeeze out a few more wins. We need something to hope for after all. I'm far too hyped up for this baseball season to just give up on my team(s) already.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Satisfying Baseball Fix With Classic Clips

As the baseball season slowly approaches I find myself hungry for actual game footage. The Spring Training highlights are boring so I've found other resources.

The men in charge of Major League Baseball's media department have been notoriously strict about letting any game footage (whether from the past or present) appear on YouTube or anywhere else not owned by them. This is not only a major pain in the ass for devout fans of the game but it's also a huge missed opportunity to promote their product. There are nearly 100 years worth of World Series footage and an unthinkable mass of regular season video material in their vaults and yet nobody ever sees any of it.

Thankfully, YouTube does have a surprising amount of old World Series films. You can see clips of the 1937 Fall Classic between the Yankees and New York Giants; regular TV footage of the 1961 Series with at-bats by Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra; highlights from the '55 World Series when the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the Yankees; Cardinals legend Bob Gibson defeating the Red Sox at Fenway Park in Game 7 of the 1967 World Series and plenty more similar clips.

(More after the jump...)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Potent Quotables: Self-Reliance

From Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance":

"A man should learn to detect and watch the gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this...
Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thirst for Knowledge Thursdays: Jung's World-View-Flipping Memories, Dreams, Reflections

"A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to his own house. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force."
- Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections pg. 277

In the midst of a conversation with my girlfriend the other day, the subject of which escapes me now, I was led to pick up an old favorite book of mine from the bookshelf and talk a bit about it to her. The book was Carl Jung's autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I went through a phase of closely studying Jung's writings and nothing came close to the powerful impact of that book. A highly influential psychologist with stacks and stacks of fresh ideas and insights, Jung never seemed to go deeper than he does in this book.

As is perfectly fitting for the man who coined the term "synchronicity," Jung's book suddenly popped up in my atmosphere again that same night as I was reading a recently-discovered blog called Brain Pickings. Seemingly out of the blue, there was Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections at the top of the page with a little blurb and even an illustrated diagram summarizing the book's story. This, of course, prompted me to start piecing together ideas for a blog post and I faintly remembered taking copious notes on the book when I had first read it in early 2009.

It was in November of 2009 that I initially started writing this blog, but before I ever decided to start sharing my own thoughts on the internet I had been practicing my writing privately in notebooks for a few years. Digging up my old notes for Jung's book I came across not only a dozen or so pages worth of quotes I had copied down from it, but even a thorough, glowing 8-page review I wrote for it. Looking back at the review, I'm glad to see that I meticulously documented the strong effect the book had on me because I've only read it once but I recall that it struck me powerfully. As I wrote back then, "Upon first rendering, it's a glorious flash of light but it is necessary to approach the material again and sit in its glow for a time. This is extremely powerful, illuminating stuff."

More Links: Madvillain Edition

Catching up with a growing stack of new hip hop material...

Let's start with the legend known as MF DOOM, one of my favorite word weavers. The quarterly publication Frank 151 will be primarily featuring the Doomster in their upcoming Spring 2012 issue. The booklet will feature illustrations, photos, articles, and more, all revolving around that most enigmatic and mysterious metal-masked lyricist. Should be awesome. Stones Throw will carry copies of it once it's available.

Any basketball fan of even the most basic hip hop knowledge could've probably seen this coming: now that the Lakers' Kobe Bryant has to wear a face mask to protect his broken nose, DigitalGravel has created a cool-looking tee shirt showing Kobe rocking an MF DOOM-style mask (pictured above). If I can rub a few nickels together, I might have to acquire one of those.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lots o' Links: Roundball Edition

Following a sudden shift of surroundings when I moved (for the 5th time in 4 years) four weeks ago, I seem to have fallen off the blogging groove. I try now to climb back onto it as the baseball season approaches, the NBA season runs on by, and I absorb books and music much too fast for me to stop and compose reviews about them. So, in the interest of getting the ball rolling, today we'll do what any good blog does and take a look at some other people's work that I've enjoyed around the web.

First, I've got a little treat for you:

Not very long ago, a large conglomerate of talented bloggers and sportswriters gathered together to launch a new website featuring interesting, perhaps "high-brow" pieces on sports and its surrounding culture. Led by Free Darko mastermind Bethlehem Shoals, the site (called The Classical) seemed a perfect rival to Bill Simmons' recently launched Grantland project. As someone who prefers Shoals' writing style to anything Simmons could possibly devise, I had very high hopes for this endeavor but The Classical has, in my eyes, gotten off to a slow start. In the meantime, Grantland has gathered awesome writers (Jonah Keri, Rany Jazayerli, Bill Barnwell, Katie Baker, Jay Caspian King) covering every sport and I can't help but check out their content almost every day.

With the locked-out basketball season finally starting to get its wind and a fresh baseball season showing its first signs of life, The Classical is responding with some excellent pieces. I don't want this post to turn into a collection of nothing but Grantland and Classical pieces but... they've written a bunch of great stuff lately. These works in particular have really grabbed my attention:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Supernova 1987A

Spotted this beauty on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website. The ring in the center is Supernova 1987A which, as you may have guessed, is a supernova witnessed by astronomers in the year 1987. There are numerous theories for why it appears this way with two hoops surrounding it, but "their origin is still largely unknown."

Supernova 1987A remains one of the brightest stellar explosions we've witnessed since the birth of the telescope 400 years ago. These gigantic explosions occur as the final event in a massive (larger than our dwarf Sun) star's life. For an unfathomable length of time, a massive star maintains a delicate equilibrium between the strength of its outward-pushing nuclear explosions and inward-pulling gravitational force. At the end of its life, a star stops producing the nuclear energy at its core and the entire thing compresses in on itself through the violent process of gravitational collapse. As all of the matter and energy collapses into a tiny dense sphere, it suddenly bounces back outward and creates an incredibly luminous explosion. They are often so powerful as to outshine an entire galaxy (which is approximately 100 billion times larger).

I don't quite understand this stuff thoroughly enough to explain much more than that but I do want to mention neutron stars which are one possible final scenario after a supernova event.

A neutron star is an extremely condensed little star that, as its Wikipedia page attests to, squeezes 500,000 times the mass of the earth into a sphere smaller than Manhattan. These sci-fi-sounding spheres are scattered throughout the universe.

For more incredible astronomical stuff to look at and ponder, go check out THIS page with a time-lapse image of Supernova 1987A's shockwaves smashing into surrounding debris.