erik lundegaard

Wednesday October 22, 2014

Breaking Down the Walkoff, Series-Ending Home Runs of Baseball's Postseason

I should've posted this yesterday, before Game 1 of the World Series last night, but, you know, life intervenes, as the Kansas City Royals, losers of Game 1 to the San Francisco Giants 7-1, must certainly feel by now. Instead, we get it here. Apologies.

So Major League Baseball tweeted this pic the day after Ishikawa's homerun on Thursday that gave the Giants the pennant. But there's an error. Can you spot it?

Walkoff, series-ending homeruns

OK, there isn't an error. I simply thought there was. I tweeted back about Ortiz. I assumed they were talking ALCS, when his walkoff homer in Game 4 simply kept the Sox alive, as did his walkoff single in Game 5. But Ortiz hit the walkoff in the ALDS against the Angels. Why didn't I remember that? 

Probably because, as walkoff, series-ending homers go, it was fairly inconsequential. He hit it in the bottom of the 10th in a 6-6 tie to give the Red Sox the series three games to zero. Even if he hadn't hit it, even if the Angels had somehow come back in that game, the Red Sox still had a better-than-good chance of winning it all.

Let's break down the rest of these, shall we? (I'll highlight in red what's wanted in terms of excitement. Do-or-die games, for example, being more exciting than a team, like Ortiz's Red Sox, about to sweep another team):

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
1960 Mazerowski WS 7 of 7 9th 9-9 0 0 1-0
1976 Chambliss ALCS 5 of 5 9th 6-6 0 0 0-0
1993 Carter WS 6 of 7 9th 5-6 1 2 2-2
1999 Pratt NLDS 4 of 5 10th 3-3 1 0  
2003 Boone ALCS 7 of 7 11th 5-5 0 0 0-0
2004 Ortiz ALDS 3 of 5 10th 6-6 2 1 0-0
2005 Burke NLDS 4 of 5 18th 6-6 1 0 2-0
2006 Ordonez NLCS 4 of 7 9th 3-3 2 2 1-0
2014 Ishikawa NLCS 5 of 7 9th 3-3 1 2 2-0

What else do we notice?

First, all of the die-or-die games involved the Yankees. They won two of them and lost the big one in '60. 

And isn't it amazing how many of these games were knotted up in divisibles of three? Three of them were 3-3, three were 6-6, one was 9-9. Only Carter's (5-6) and Boone's (5-5) weren't.

Carter's was the only one where his team was behind, too. For all the others, it was a tie game. Surely, that's more exciting.

He was also the only guy behind in the count: 2-2. Nobody else even had a strike on them. (I still haven't found Pratt's count. Anyone know it?) That's also more exciting. Two strikes, a swing of the bat, and, boom, his team goes from behind in the game to ultimate victory. 

Carter's homer is highlighted in red three times in the above charts. So why don't I think of it as the most exciting of all? Why do I think of it as ... kinda dull? Off the top of my head:

  1. It wasn't the final game of the Series; it was just Game 6 of 7.
  2. There was only one out. 
  3. The Blue Jays were going to win it all anyway.

This last one is an intangible, not much talked about by statsheads, but it's huge to me. I was watching that game in '93, and once Mitch Williams started walking guys and giving up hits you knew it was over. His only out that inning was a fly ball to deep left by Devon White. The Blue Jays, back then, were the bad boys of baseball. They'd won it all in '92 and the Phillies seemed monumentally overmatched against them in '93. It's a wonder they won two games.

Who's the underdog? That's the intangible. That's why Aaron Boone's homer in '03 was more annoying than exciting. Sure, his team came from behind in the bottom of the 8th against one of the best pitchers in baseball history to tie it; but his team was the New York Fuckin' Yankees. In the previous seven years, they'd been to the World Series five times, and won it all four times. They're the definition of the overdog. 

Chambliss' in '76? A little better since the Yankees hadn't been to the Series since '64 and hadn't won it all since '62. But that team was already annoying. They were Billy Martin's bulliles. No one outside of the Bronx liked them. Plus the Kansas City Royals had never even been. And there went their first shot. Instead, Chambliss' shot. 

That's why, of the above, Mazeroski's is still the ultimate walkoff homerun. It was the do-or-die game for both teams, and his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the massive underdog. And it was in the World Series, not the ALCS or the NLDS. Discussion over.

But how does Mazeroski's shot rank with Bobby Thomson's “Shot Heard 'Round the World”? And why isn't that one included in the above?

Because it wasn't officially the post-season. It was a best-of-three playoffs that was considered part of the regular season. Cf. Twins-Tigers in 2009, Mariners-Angels in 1995.

But if you did count it, it would look like this:

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
1951 Thomson n/a 3 of 3 9th 2-4 1 2  0-1

Do-or-die game, his team's behind (by 2!), he's behind in the count. Plus the Giants were underdogs. They'd been way behind in the standings all year, made a great run (with some telescopic help), and hadn't won the pennant in 14 years. Although, yes, just how much could the hapless Brooklyn Dodgers, Dem Bums, be “overdogs”? Not by much. Pennants in '47 and '49, but no titles. Ever. They were hardly the Yankees. And they'd integrated baseball.

It's close, though. Maz or Thomson? Who would you choose? My gut says Maz, since it was in the World Series and against the effin' Yankees. But that game was tied, while Thomson's team was two runs behind. Plus there's Russ Hodges' call—the greatest call of all time

What would the ultimate walkoff, series-ending homer look like? It should be for some hapless team, like the Mariners, against some powerhouse, like the Yankees or Cardinals. Extra innings would be great but not necessary. Maybe something like this:

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
2015 Busick WS 7 of 7 9th 1-4 2 3  3-2

Touch 'em all, Mr. B!

Posted at 08:54 AM on Oct 22, 2014 in category Baseball
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Monday October 20, 2014

John Oliver Has Dogs Reenact U.S. Supreme Court Arguments

The Scalia dog is a no-brainer but I thought the Ginsburg was inspired.

Not only hilarious but a real public service in a country where two-thirds of its citizens can't number one member of the high court.

Posted at 11:26 AM on Oct 20, 2014 in category Law
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Google Reviews ... the U.S. Supreme Court?

I came across this last week during a Google search on SCOTUS and did a double-take:

Google reviews the Supreme Court of the United States

Um ... 3.5 stars? Because? Well, because the justices have no idea about the Constitution! And they're a bunch of ring-wing religious nuts! No wait, it's because their [sic] not Christians!

America, sometimes you make me long for censorship. 

The bigger question is why Google users even have the option of reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court.

Well, it turns out, they're not reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court. They're reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court building. At least, that's what they're supposed to be reviewing.

It's via Google+/Local. You see some sight, post your thoughts. But among the Google+ review policies is this: “Reviews aren’t meant to be a forum for general political or social commentary or personal rants.” Which means no one's policing this thing. They're just placing it all prominently next to any Google search on the topic. No biggee.

Here are a few other famous sights, ranked, along with “reviews.” Basically if it's a political institution, people aren't refraining from political talk:

  • The Lincoln Memorial: 4.7 stars
  • The Empire State Building: 4.5: “Also WTF with making people climb 6 stories to reach the observation deck.”
  • The U.S. Capitol: 4.3: “Dear Congress. You suck. Re-elect NO ONE!”
  • The White House: 4.2: “I don't think I will go back since the current administration is balls.”
  • The Space Needle: 4.2
  • Experience Music Project (Seattle): 4.1
  • The Smith Tower (Seattle): 4.0
  • The Wells Fargo building (Minneapolis): 3.2

One of my favorite parts of this supreme waste of time? Finding Google's tips for writing great reviews. Apparently you're supposed to be “informative and insightful,” and you should “write with style” and “keep it real.” Sadly, nothing on “avoiding being obvious.”

Posted at 09:49 AM on Oct 20, 2014 in category Technology
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Movie Review: Kill the Messenger (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Why is it flat? Why doesn’t it quite work?

“Kill the Messenger” was directed by Michael Cuesta (“L.I.E.”), and written by Peter Landesman (the underrated “Parkland”), and it tells the true story of Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a good investigative reporter for a small newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, who stumbles upon a huge international story: that during the 1980s, in the middle of the “Just Say No” decade, the CIA ...

OK, what was the accusation again? Maybe that’s part of the problem. Even after seeing the movie, it’s still a bit murky.

Let me try. So while the Reagan administration was trading arms for hostages in order to illegally fund the Nicaraguan Contras, the CIA ... turned a blind eye toward Latin American drug suppliers who were funding the Contras? Abetted Latin American drug suppliers who were funding the Contras? Funneled cocaine into the U.S. in order to fund the Contras? I was never quite sure the extent of CIA involvement.

But at the least, blind eyes were involved. Vast hypocrisy was involved.

Too true to tell
The movie starts out not bad. Webb is doing a piece on drug forfeiture law—how property can be confiscated by the government without anyone being charged with a crime—when he gets a call from Coral Baca (an impossibly hot Paz Vega), whose boyfriend, Rafael Cornejo, is being prosecuted on drug charges. Kill the MessengerHer charge? “He sold drugs for the government.” She shows Webb a redacted court transcript and points him to Danilo Blandon (Yul Vazquez), a former drug supplier/Contra supporter, now DEA informant. But when Webb mentions Blandon to federal prosecutor Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper), the charges against Cornejo are quickly dropped—as Baca knew they would be. Webb has been used. But now he senses a bigger story in Blandon.

He follows him to the trial of L.A. crack kingpin Ricky Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams, doomed to play such roles), and convinces Ross’ attorney, Alan Fenster (Tim Blake Nelson), to delve into Blandon’s background during cross-examination. On the stand, Blandon admits that the U.S. government, or at least the CIA, was aware that he smuggled tons of cocaine into the country. This testimony leads Webb to drug kingpin Norwin Meneses (Andy Garcia) in prison in Nicaragua, who points him to Swiss banker Hansjorg Baier (Brett Rice), also in Nicaragua. Then Webb goes to D.C.

There, he gets the usual warnings away from the story from low-level bureaucrats and shadowy agents. The best exchange is probably this:

CIA official: We’d never threaten your children, Mr. Webb.
Webb [stunned pause]: What did you say?

That’s nice: the denial of the threat serving as the threat. But the big line of the movie comes from government official Fred Weil (Michael Sheen), who tells him the story won’t get out, adding, “Some stories are just too true to tell.”

So what happens? Webb returns to California, writes his story anyway, and it goes national. He’s slapped on the back by his contemporaries. Then his life falls apart.

All the Insider’s Men
A quarter of the way through the movie, I thought, “This would be so much better if it had been directed by Michael Mann.” Three quarters of the way through, I thought, “Oh, it was. It was just called ‘The Insider.’

In “The Insider,” “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), helps draw out a corporate vice-president, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), to go on the record about a Big Tobacco scandal. But then CBS Corporate gets cold feet, Wigand is besmirched, and the news story becomes petty shit about Wigand. Bergman has to betray friends and associates in order to not betray Wigand. The two men win a battle that is everywhere else being lost.

In “Kill the Messenger,” Webb is both Bergman and Wigand, reporter and besmirched. He becomes the story. Because the L.A. Times is jealous it got scooped? Because the Washington Post, the newspaper of Woodward and Bernstein, is too close to the CIA? Both accusations are implied here. Webb’s editor gets cold feet. Corporate is called in. Lawyers are called in—to protect the paper, not Webb. He’s shuttled off to a smaller newspaper. Does his wife leave him? Does he leave her? All of this is murky, too.

What isn’t murky enough is our faith in Webb. The Mercury News doublechecks the story after the accusations, and Meneses denies he spoke to Webb while Baier can’t be found. But we saw Webb talking to Meneses, and we see Baier being kidnapped, so we know everyone else is wrong. Maybe if we’d been kept in the dark, too, or a little, it might’ve made the movie more interesting. We would’ve had something to wonder. Instead, Webb comes off as blandly forthright and heroic. He drinks a bit, smokes a little pot, had an affair in the past. But he’s a decent husband, a decent father. To be honest, it’s not a great performance by Jeremy Renner. It’s one of the few times I’ve found him dull.

I did like his reaction after the story was first printed. He didn’t act triumphant; he almost acted guilty. Because his family had been threatened if he ran with the story, and he ran with it anyway? As if his family didn’t matter? Not sure. But it added a touch of mystery to what was generally obvious.

Or familiar. I kept getting flashes of not only “The Insider” but “All the President’s Men.” Maybe this was inevitable. Or maybe the filmmakers were too enamored of these movies to properly make their own. But the courtroom scene with the CIA revelation from Blandon, with Webb the only reporter present? That’s like the courtroom scene with the CIA revelation from McCord, with Woodward the only reporter present. Or when Webb feels like he’s being followed into the parking garage? Compare with Woodward’s paranoia after the parking garage, or the nighttime golf-range scene in “The Insider.” Here it’s: “We got a call from corporate this morning.” There it’s: “Corporate has some questions.”

Who wins?
Too bad. Its subjects are worth contemplating: the War on Drugs; the national-security state; the back-biting, sensationalistic nature of the national media, which seems to hinder more than it helps. Early in the movie, Webb is asked for the secret to his reporting, and he responds, “I don’t know ... Don’t let the assholes win?” Here, they win. And they haven’t really stopped winning.

At least “Kill the Messenger,” set almost 20 years ago, about crimes almost 30 years old, opened my eyes to a contemporary danger: the NSA spy program. All along, I’ve basically given the scandal a post-9/11 shrug: “You’re one in 300 million. There’s safety in numbers. They won’t focus on you unless you need to be focused on.” Or—the movie made me realize—unless you’re Joe Wilson. Or Jeffrey Wigand. Or Woodward and Bernstein. Or Gary Webb. 

Posted at 05:51 AM on Oct 20, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday October 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

“No. Because nobody has ever proved to me that the second guess would have worked.”

--Dick Howser, who managed the Kansas City Royals for six years, including their 1985 World Series champion year, before dying of brain cancer in 1987, when asked, in '85, if he ever second-guessed himself. As reported in Dave Anderson's New York Times column today. Anderson adds, “Has any major league manager, from Connie Mack and John McGraw to Casey Stengel and Joe Torre, ever dismissed the second-guessers’ criticism so simply and so sensibly?” I post this as someone who constantly second-guesses himself, as anyone who knows me knows. 

Posted at 10:22 AM on Oct 19, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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The Second-Best Scene of David Ayer's 'Fury' is One of the Best Scenes of the Year

Here it is:

Bye-bye, John Wayne.

Patricia and I saw the movie last night. Review up soon. 

Posted at 08:10 AM on Oct 19, 2014 in category Scene of the Day
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Saturday October 18, 2014

No Reasoning with Conservative SCOTUS

I love the lede to (if not the import of) Adam Liptak's story today:

The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to use its strict voter identification law in the November election. The court’s order, issued just after 5 a.m., was unsigned and contained no reasoning.

The dissent, at least, was signed by Justice Ginsburg, and condemned the Court's conservative branch, as well as Texas, for actions that risk “denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.” It's actually more like half a million, she says later in the dissent: 600,000, or 4.5 percent of all registered voters.

Texas' 2011 voter I.D. law went into effect after SCOTUS, in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), struck down Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of disenfranchisement to, as Liptak writes, ”obtain federal permission before changing voting procedure." Since then, the South has been all yee-ha about changing its voting procedures. But legitimately, you understand.

Their argument: voter fraud is so rampant (despite no evidence, and particularly not in-person at the polls) that voters should be required to show a photo I.D. at the polls. Sadly, 600,000 registered voters in Texas don't have a driver's license, gun license, passport or military I.D. But ... SOL. Most of these folks, of course, are minorities. 

But it sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Until you realize that, for example, no one in Washington state has to show a photo I.D. to vote, since we're entirely an absentee ballot state now. We must be crawling with fraud. 

To me, what Texas and many southern states are doing these days is Jim Crow dressed up. It's James Crow. Too bad the Court doesn't see it that way—or give a reason why they don't.

U.S. Supreme Court

Conservative court backs James Crow laws in Texas. No reason necessary. 

Posted at 11:26 AM on Oct 18, 2014 in category Law
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Friday October 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

From my friend Chris Nelson, an RN getting his MPH and heading for the Ph.D., on the news today about Arizona and Wyoming:

When Massachusetts granted gay people equal marriage rights, I cried buckets. When Iowa did the same, I just gasped “Iowa?” When New York had four Republican state senators vote in favor of gay civil rights, I cried again. Then California got their rights back, and I cried. When Edith Windsor got to legally call herself “widowed,” I cried.

But then FIVE STATES at once were ordered to give equal marriage rights—including Utah and Oklahoma? I cheered. Nevada and Idaho? I was so happy to mock Butch Otter. Alaska??? Oh, yes, I laughed and cheered. And today, Arizona?

I ain't cryin' no more, I'm too thrilled!

And that, my friends, is what proves that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Sometimes the right thing to do is recognized as the right thing to do, bigots be damned.

P.S. Jan Brewer must actually have had her poor shrunken head explode ... and Sarah Palin must have flipped her wig! Fab. U. Lous.

Chris Nelson

Chris Nelson last year in Copenhagen.

Posted at 01:42 PM on Oct 17, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

At first I thought: “Oh, they’re doing ‘Groundhog Day.” Then I thought: “Oh, it’s like a video game.” At the end I realized: “It’s like a movie. But not because it is a movie.”

More on that later.

First, why it’s like “Groundhog Dog” but not as good as “Groundhog Day.”

“Groundhog Day,” co-written and directed by Harold Ramis, took a shallow weatherman, Phil (Bill Murray), and forced him to live the same lousy day over and over until he became a decent person. It’s about the growth of the soul. It’s funny and inventive.

“Edge of Tomorrow,” directed by Doug Liman, takes a shallow PR exec, Cage (Tom Cruise), and forces him to live the same lousy day over and over—the day he dies, actually—until he becomes such an expert soldier that he saves not only himself but all of humanity from an alien attack. It’s often funny and inventive. But it’s less about the growth of the soul than about getting good enough at soldiering (leaping and dodging and shooting) to make it to the next level.

Which is why it’s like a video game. You play until you die and then you start over again.

For some people—gamers, hipsters, folks trying to monetize the popularity of video games into the movie business—this is a plus. Not me. I got bored. Tom Cruise is the avatar, Liman and company are making him jump and dodge and shoot, and I’m just sitting there. Hey, watch out for the ...! Right. GAME OVER. Reboot.

Sci-fi Normandy
As the movie starts, we get news reports of a meteor landing in Germany. It turns out to be an alien attack. Edge of TomorrowThese aliens are like sand worms mixed with the Tasmanian Devil, and they spread out from Germany, even as the United Defense Force, under the command of Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), readies a counterattack from Britain called “Operation Downfall.” So it’s basically a sci-fi version of World War II. It’s sci-fi Normandy. Because that’s cool? Because that’s the only way we can comprehend it? Because the filmmakers are lazy?

We first see Maj. Cage on cable news, promoting the “Angel of Verdun,” Rita (Emily Blunt), a super-soldier who stopped the alien attack in northern France. “We fight,” he tells the camera with authority. “That’s what we do.”

Well, he doesn’t. Gen. Brigham wants Cage to film “Operation Downfall” but Cage wants no part of it. “I’m not a soldier, really,” he says. “I can’t stand the sight of blood.” Brigham doesn’t take no for an answer. So Cage tries to blackmail him. For that he’s arrested, tased, and wakes up on some duffel bags at Heathrow airport. “On your feet, Maggot!” a sergeant yells at him. This will be the reboot point for the rest of the movie. The START OVER point. 

It’s a nightmare point for Cage. He’s been busted to private and assigned to combat in J Squad, none of whom like him particularly. Why should they? Suddenly they’re fighting next to a guy who can’t fight. Why would the general even do that? Doesn’t he like J Squad? And why doesn’t anyone recognize him from TV?

In an inspired bit of casting, the Master Sergeant for J Squad is Bill Paxton, the original “Game Over” dude, who gets off some good lines. Asked if he’s American, he replies, “No, sir, I’m from Kentucky.” Before the mission, he tells Cage, in words that echo, “Tomorrow, you will be baptized. Born again!”

The invasion, of course, is a trap, the soldiers are slaughtered, Cage dies. Ah, but because in his panic he kills an “Alpha,” an alien that can reset time, and its blood mixes with his, he develops this ability. For a while he doesn’t know it. For a while, he’s merely experiencing a massive sense of déjà vu. But eventually, in the third or fourth incarnation, the Angel of Verdun herself tells him what’s going on. She had that ability for a while. Thus Verdun. “An enemy that knows the future can’t lose,” she says. Now Cage has that ability. So what will he do with it?

(BTW: For a race that can know the future, they do an awful job of keeping this ability out of the hands—or the blood—of the enemy, don’t they? And isn’t that a fairly easy security breach? “We’ll be fine in this war as long as no one bleeds on anyone.”)

Here’s what Cage does with the ability to reset time. He trains and trains and trains. He goes from PR flak to supersoldier. Then he has to make it off the beach and into the countryside. Then he and Rita have to leave this farmhouse and attack this mountain. Then ...

Right. Different levels.

The end game is the Omega, the aliens’ “hive mind.” But the Omega isn’t in the equivalent of Berchtesgaden, as originally thought; that was a ruse. It’s under the Louvre, man. So that becomes the fight. Except in one iteration, Cage isn’t killed but merely wounded. And he’s given a blood transfusion. And there goes his power to reset time.

A quick aside. Years ago, I tested video games for Microsoft PCs and Xbox; and one night we were testing, I believe, “Midtown Madness,” a car racing game, and we went late, 2 or 3 a.m., after which I drove home. And it was odd. I had to remind myself, “Oh, this is real.” I’d been crashing and dying and rebooting without consequence for so long that I had to consciously remind myself that life had consequences.

It would’ve been nice if Cage, after losing his reboot abilities, had had a similar epiphany.

Instead, he and Rita and J Squad simply team up to attack the Omega, and they all die in the process. Including Cage. But then—because he killed the hive mind?—he’s reborn earlier than at his reboot point, before his encounter with Gen. Brigham, who informs him that the aliens have died off on their own. He did it, Cage did it, but no one knows. Except him. And us. Hoorah.

We've seen this hero before
So here’s why this movie is like a movie. And why it’s disappointing in that regard.

In the beginning, Cruise’s character, Cage, is somewhat shallow and cowardly. He doesn’t have special abilities. He’s like us entering the darkened theater with our tub of popcorn. Then as the movie progresses he becomes the wish-fulfillment fantasy, just as we, munching our popcorn in the dark, transfer ourselves into this heroic character on screen.

The process that Cage goes through in the movie is the process we all go through watching movies.

And that’s why I was ultimately disappointed. The shallow, fearful Cruise at the beginning? He was refreshing. The hero he became? We’ve seen that guy a thousand times. 

Posted at 08:24 AM on Oct 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Wednesday October 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

“I don't like that word: 'Unbelievable.' Don't use that word. Nothing is unbelievable.”

-- Buck O'Neil (1911-2006), former Kansas City Monarch and all-around baseball saint, to Joe Posnanski, which Pos posted on his Facebook page this afternoon after his and Buck's team, the lowly Kansas City Royals, 29 years removed from the postseason, swept the Baltimore Orioles to win the AL pennant. The Royals have now played eight postseason games in 2014 and won them all. They make me believe that anything can happen. (Well, except that, Mr. B.)

The American League Champion Kansas City Royals, 2014

“Please don't interrupt, because you haven't heard this one in a while. Kansas City Royals, champions of the American League. Honest.” (With apologies to Shirley Povich.)

Posted at 03:40 PM on Oct 15, 2014 in category Baseball
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