Wednesday May 05, 2021
M's Game: Means to an End, or My First No-Hitter
The view from Section 325, as the Orioles celebrate something that hadn't happened since 1969; and something I'd never seen in person.
We noticed how good he was immediately. First Mariners batter in the bottom of the 1st, Mitch Haniger, whom we’d just seen in a between-innings video talking about his first call up to the bigs (in 2016 with the Diamondbacks), as well as his first hit (a 2-run triple off Noah Syndergaard), saw three pitches and sat down. Then Ty France got to 3-2 and K’ed looking. Then Kyle Seager with a dribbler to first.
“All first-pitch strikes,” I said to Jeff.
We were 300-level behind homeplate, shaded first-base side, row 9, very close to the season-ticket seats I share with a group of great baseball fans led by a close, personal friend of Raquel Welch. Jeff and I spent the bottom of the 1st riffing off that Haniger video. He was impressed that the triple was off Syndergaard; I was impressed that it was a triple. “The most exciting play in baseball,” I said, repeating the aphorism. “Play at the plate,” Jeff said, as his choice for most exciting play in baseball. “Close play at the plate,” he amended. “Well, sure,” I said, “if you add context. I mean, really, the most exciting play in baseball is a close play at the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning of the 7th game of the World Series. Context-less, I’ll take a triple.”
Top of the 2nd was a little rough for M’s starter Yusei Kikuchi and the M’s defense: single, fielder’s choice, stolen base, strikeout. Two outs, guy on second, and it’s the bottom of their order, the .100 hitters—of which, by the way, the M’s have a lot. That was the conversation before the game began: How many guys in our starting lineup are hitting in the .100s? Turns out: four. And hitting over .300? Zero, of course. This is Mariners country.
Anyway, the O’s number 8 hitter, D.J. Stewart, blooped one to shallow left, just past shortstop J.P. Crawford, who mistakenly threw home to try to nab the beautifully named Ryan Mountcastle, allowing Stewart to go to second. Then their number 9 hitter, Ramon Urias, hit a liner to left and same deal. But this time the throw home was cut off and Urias was tossed at second. But it was still 2-0, Orioles.
“Should’ve been one run if we’d played that right,” Jeff said.
The Orioles pitcher, John Means, began the game with a 1.70 ERA, much better than Kikuchi’s 4.40, and in the bottom of the 2nd he kept throwing first-pitch strikes and getting outs; line out, pop out, strike out. I don’t think he threw a first-pitch ball until he faced Sam Haggerty, ol’ #0, in the 3rd. He struck him out anyway. Except the ball broke early and got past catcher Pedro Severino, and Haggerty, a speedy kid, made it to first.
“Hey, a baserunner!” I said.
Next pitch, Haggerty was thrown out trying to steal second.
“Or not,” I said.
We didn’t know how big a moment all that would turn out to be.
This was my second game of the season—and thus my second game since the pandemic shrunk all of our lives. First game was Sunday, a beautiful sunny Sunday against the Angels. For that one, I sat 100 level, hoping to get close-up looks at the Angels’ triumvirate of great stars (Shohei Ohtani) and future Hall of Famers (Mike Trout and Albert Pujols). Trout began the game hitting .400-something and went 0-3 with a walk. Pujols began the game at Mendoza and went 0-3 with 2 Ks. Ohtani got hit by a pitch in his first at-bat, promptly stole two bases, but also went 0-3. Meanwhile, the M’s scored two runs on an RBI single by Dylan Moore who was hitting something like .137, and two sacrifices following a leadoff double by a backup catcher hitting .190. We won 2-zip.
“That’s baseball,” Jeff said, shrugging.
I got Ivars fish-and-chips and a beer, Jeff got a soft pretzel and a beer. We talked kids (his), podcasts (Marc Maron), and the Beatles. He mentioned a recent biography of the Beatles he’d read called “Tune In” by Mark Lewinson, which was the first volume in a three-volume series on the Beatles. A deep dive.
“The first volume ends in 1963, when…” Jeff said, then blanked.
“When they got their first UK No. 1?”
“I think so.”
“So before ‘She Loves You’ and Beatlemania hit.”
“He’s Robert Caro-ing the Beatles.”
“LBJ biographer. Been writing about him for the last, whatever, 40 years? He’s done four volumes, I think, and now LBJ is in the White House, and people are worried Caro won’t finish before he dies.”
“This guy’s younger than that,” Jeff said. He looked him up on his phone. “Oh. He’s 62. And the second volume was supposed to come out last year but didn’t. So maybe he is another Robert Caro.”
All the while, Means was blowing away the M's. “He’s still has a no-hitter going,” Jeff said in the 4th (two pop-outs to short and a K), and the 5th (foul out to first, line out to SS, K) and the 6th (K, ground out to catcher, fly out to center). I'd never seen a no-hitter in person before, and I kept expecting something to eventually get through. Didn’t that always happen?
In retrospect, the 3rd inning was our best chance. Not only did we get our lone baserunner (for one pitch) but the other two batters actually hit the ball out of the infield. In the entire game, only four ball were caught by the outfield: two in the 3rd (center, right), one in the 6th (center), and one in the 8th (left). Everything else was dribblers, popups and strikeouts. Twelve strikeouts in all, without a walk. Twenty-five first-pitch strikes.
“Are you rooting for a no-hitter?” I asked Jeff at one point.
“Why not?“ Jeff said. ”Even if we get a hit, it’s not like we’ll come back.”
“What do you mean? We’re only down 2-0.”
“3-0,” he reminded me. In the 7th, Pat Valaika had rocketed one into the left-field bleachers. A minute later, after the beautifully named Ryan Mountcastle hit a 3-run shot, it was 6-0 and seemed out of reach.
Actually I was wrong earlier. Our best chance to break up the no-hitter was in the bottom of the 8th. That’s when Kyle Lewis rocketed one to left and for a moment I thought it might be gone. And I had mixed feelings. I know. I still feel bad about it. It’s like when you’re watching a U-boat movie and suddenly find yourself rooting for the Germans, and you’re like “Oh man, this is wrong,” but you keep doing it. Same here. I found myself rooting for the no-hitter against my team. When Lewis’ rocket to left was caught at the warning track, I felt disappointment. And relief.
“I don’t think I’ve been at a game that went this long into a no-hitter,” I said. Then Murphy struck out swinging (on 3-2) and Evan White struck out swinging (on 1-2), and we were onto the 9th.
The second-best chance we had to break up the no-hitter was our last chance. In the 9th, after Dylan Moore fouled out to third, and Sean Haggerty struck out swinging, J.P. Crawford came to the plate. He was batting ninth even though he’s hitting .250-ish, which is third-best on our team. For this team, he’s basically the equivalent of Edgar Martinez on the 1996 Mariners. And on the first pitch from Means, he lined one to left and I thought it might get through. But then their shortstop Urias was there, and it was over, and the Baltimore Orioles were suddenly celebrating the team’s first single-pitcher no-hitter since Jim Palmer blanked the Oakland A’s in 1969. (They had a combined no-hitter in 1991.) Apparently it was the longest single-pitcher no-hitter drought in baseball.
You’re welcome, Baltimore.
It was also baseball history. Jeff and I watched something that had never happened before.
Yep, just that dropped third strike.
I am worried about my guys. According to Art Thiel, they began the game hitting the Seattle area code (.206) and they ended it near the Mendoza line (.201). I know this is a rebuilding year, but I didn’t think we were rebuilding back to 1979.
Thiel uses the phrase “the profoundly unheralded John Means,” but we knew going in he would be tough: 3-0, 1.70 ERA. Now he's 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA, and 50 Ks against 10 walks. And one complete game. Which is the first complete game of his career. That’s right. John Means’ no-hitter, his near perfect game, was also the first shutout and the first complete game he’d thrown in the Majors.
Here’s more on the man of the moment.
Friday April 30, 2021
“If this can happen to the former president's lawyer, this can happen to any American.”
-- Andrew Giuliani, Rudy's son, after an FBI raid on his father's home earlier this week. He seems to think the above line is documenting an abuse of power when it's the opposite. It's documenting how rule of law is supposed to work.
Wednesday April 28, 2021
Bruce Willis vs. Kong
I meant to mention this in my review of “Godzilla vs. Kong” but there's a moment early on, in their first big battle, when Kong senses Godzilla is ready to let loose his fire breath and cut in half the aircraft carrier Kong is standing on, so he leaps off it. And the leap reminded me but exactly of Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.”
The above doesn't even do it justice. It's same slow-mo, same arms in the air, and Kong's leg even goes up like Willis'. I'm sure someone will compare and contrast on video shortly. I posted to Twitter and got nothing ... until like a week ago. Someone else had seen the film, thought of “Die Hard” during this scene, and searched Twitter to see if anyone else noticed.
So: homage or ripoff or coincidence? I'm going homage. But too bad the movie wasn't as good as “Die Hard.”
Tuesday April 27, 2021
Oscar's Great Depression
My wife and I watched the Oscars Sunday night and we were in the minority. According to the Nielsen company, the previous ratings low for an Oscars telecast was last year, right before the pandemic, when only 23.6 million Americans tuned in to see “Parasite” win best picture. This year, with “Nomadland” winning, it was less than half that: 9.85 million. We're basically at Game 3 of the World Series territory. Which I also watch. I'm becoming like William H. Macy's character in “The Cooler”: whatever I gravitate toward, it's on the way out.
Not that I don't get it. We just went through a mostly movie theater-less year when we were all sheltering in place. And while we wound up watching a lot, it wasn't the movies that were nominated. To be honest, I was kind of with the mass on that one. My wife saw each of the nominated films but I kept begging off. I know: me. I'd see part of a movie (“Sound of Metal”) and think “Nah. Not now. Can't deal with this now.” In a year of great loss, it was a tough sell to get people to watch someone lose their hearing, or their home, or their mind. In the midst of the Great Depression, the movies gave us Cagney, Gable, Harlow, Astaire: rat-a-tat, romance, top hat and tails. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movies gave us a great depression.
I did wind up seeing five of the eight (I still need “Promising Young Woman,” “Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Sound of Metal” to complete the set) and I'm glad “Nomadland” won. It's a beautiful film about a tough subject, and Frances McDormand rocks. I would've also been happy with “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which, of all the nominees, seems the most accessible. It's got punch, and it drives its story forward, and Daniel Kaluuya rocks. “Minari” is a slice-of-life about a Korean family in Reagan's America making a go of it in the Deep South. It's a gentle film, kinder than I thought it would be, although you're still waiting for disaster to happen, and it does, but the disaster isn't a disaster. It's a binding force. Nice thought for these times. “Mank” was a disappointment, while “The Father,” brutal to watch, intrigued with its unreliable narrator. And Anthony Hopkins rocks.
Whoever made the decision to put best actor last, perhaps anticipating a win for the late, great Chadwick Boseman, well, that was a bad call. Never make that kind of call on an unsure outcome. Boseman didn't win, Hopkins did, and the usual noise machine went at it on Twitter. Mark Harris gave the tweet of the night with this one:
Hopkins is the oldest Oscar winner ever, at 83, and wasn't present, so the presenter, last year's winner Joaquin Phoenix, said the Academy accepted it in his absence and g'night. That also rubbed people the wrong way—the quick exit—but I didn't mind. I have a friend, Jim, who tends to end phone calls: “Are we done? We're done.” Rip that Band-Aid off. Be like Hitchcock, not Spielberg. But best picture should always go last. I don't care if the second coming of Jesus is up for best actor, put picture last.
McDormand is now a three-time best actress winner, second only to the late great Kate Hepburn, and it's all so deserved. She is no bullshit, as John Mulaney said a few years back. Youn Yuh-jung is the second Asian woman to win an acting award, and her great, crazy riffs from the podium made everyone's night. (For more on Oscar trivia, see Nathaniel, the master on the topic.)
I wasn't a fan of the in-house trivia contest—which songs by Black artists were or weren't nominated for Oscars, and finishing up with Glenn Close doing “Da Butt” from the old Spike Lee joint “School Daze”—and overall I miss hosts. I miss comedians. I missed someone looking at the camera. Steven Soderbergh produced the Oscars this year and most presenters presented to the room, like we weren't there, and it was a little weird. As with most things in the world now, too many cooks are stirring the Oscar pot, saying it needs to be X, Y and Z, and you can't please everyone, and you wind up pleasing no one and getting less than half of the lowest rating ever, but a lot of it isn't the Academy's fault. In the past, there was a kind of popular, human-centered, middle-ground film that could get nominated, like “Jerry Maguire” or “Apollo 13” or “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and now that middle ground barely exists. Now it's either the Marvel Noise Machine or someone losing their hearing, or their home, or their mind. Even when a middle-ground movie gets made, like “Ford v. Ferrari” in 2019, and it gets nominated, well, it's not really part of the discussion, is it? For Oscar or box office. It had Batman, Bourne and cars, but people didn't flock to it the way they would to any of the “Fast & Furious” films. It wasn't dumb enough. It was too rooted in reality.
Is there a way out? Nominate something like “Avengers: Endgame” for best picture? Produce more story-driven indie films? Even that might not work. Hollywood keeps getting kicked every which way for crimes real or imagined. When the Star-Tribune tweeted about the bad Oscar ratings, commentators real or bottish blamed Hollywood for its longtime treatment of Blacks, gays, et al., and for not caring about “regular people.” No matter what Hollywood does, it's hated.
Well, not everywhere. I'm glad we watched. It was a nice evening. After a year away, it was nice seeing everyone again.
Sunday April 25, 2021
Photos from Near the End of the Pandemic
I took these shots last weekend. The Mt. Rainier one is from last Friday afternoon when I went for a walk down to Lake Washington on a surprisingly warm, sunny day.
This has been a frequent walk for me during the pandemic. I live on First Hill, and I know most Capitol Hill and downtown and ID neighborhoods (north, west and south of where I live), but not much of the neighborhoods to my east, which is the way to Lake Washington. And since north, west and east weren't any great shakes during the pandemic lockdown, I tended to walk east while listening to podcasts. You go through Seattle U, past small houses and bigger houses, and through a small woods at the edge of the lake. On clear days you get the Cascades and Mt. Rainier. I always feel better after doing this walk.
The second shot was the following day, another warm, sky-blue day that felt like an opening up after a year of lockdown. Because of last week's Mariners digital ticket fiasco, I biked down to the stadium to get my tickets in person but arrived a half hour before the ticket window opened. So I kept biking around. Saw this beauty about 6-8 blocks south of the stadium on the back of a nondescript warehouse on Occidental Ave, and I had to stop and take a picture.
It's Dave Niehaus' greatest hits, circa 1995. A few of them are from Game 5. One of them inspired the Mariners alt magazine that I spent years writing for, and which is now run online by my friend Tim.
Saturday April 24, 2021
Walter Mondale (1928-2021)
Carter and Mondale and the spirit of '76.
Here's my Walter Mondale story. I believe I've told it before.
In the summer of 2004, I was given an assignment for a new legal pubication. I was to write features on two Texas attorneys/politicos: one a Republican in Houston, the other a Democrat in Dallas. For the Republican attorney, besides the principle, I interviewed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Karl Rove; for the Dem, former vice president Walter Mondale. It was a heady week. I interviewed some of the most connected, most powerful people on the planet and then on Friday I went down to the unemployment office to explain why I hadn't found a job yet. Such is the life of a freelancer. Oddly, or not, the work I was doing the week I wasn't getting a job wound up becoming my job. The magazine expanded, I was hired as a senior editor, and in early 2005 I moved back to Minneapolis, where I'd been born and raised. I'm now the magazine's editor in chief.
That's not my Walter Mondale story, of course. That's just background. Here's the story.
The week after I moved back to Minneapolis, my then-girlfriend/now wife Patricia came from Seattle to visit and we went to see the movie “Downfall” at the Uptown Theater. That was my old arthouse theater; I saw a lot of classic movies there growing up. While she went to the bathroom, I found us seats, and a moment later another couple came in and laid their stuff in the row in front of us, then departed. When Patricia came back, my eyes were sparkling.
“Guess who's sitting in front of us?”
She gave me a quizzical look. “Adam?”
“No. It's no one we know.”
“Then how can I guess?”
“It's a famous person. Think of the most Minnesota person ever.”
She perked up. “Prince?”
“No, not ... that kind of famous. Think politics.”
“Just tell me.”
I just told her: Walter and Joan Mondale. After the movie was over, I trailed after Monday as he made his way down the aisle and then introduced myself as the journalist who had interviewed him the previous summer about his former advance man Boe Martin. He was gracious, we talked for a bit—Joan had already gone out into the lobby—and I was probably rushing to keep the conversation going when he reached past me to shake Patricia's hand and introduce himself. I'd just been standing there like a doofus, not introducing the woman behind me, but he had better manners. Then we all talked a bit about the movie. It was about the best welcome back to Minnesota I could imagine.
I thought of this again when hearing the news that Walter Mondale died on Monday, age 93.
Most of the obits said the same thing: he was a decent man who suffered a “crushing defeat” when he ran for president against Ronald Reagan in 1984. Few try to parse those two points, but it was one of the great lessons of my young life: decency loses, lies win. In her remembrance, Jane Mayer writes that “He was the last Presidential nominee of either party to respect the American public enough to tell it the hard truth about economic realities.” And you see where it got you. Or where it got us. She remembers Mondale deflating a raucous college campus crowd by talking about the services they'd need when they got old; she remembers him at the 1984 Democratic convention telling the electorate he would have to raise their taxes to ensure those services and a more just society. America half-listened, said “nah,” and went with the guy with the Hollywood career and the slick “Morning in America” campaign commercials. America went with the lies. And the lies only got worse.
He was the son of a Lutheran minister from a small Southern Minnesota town, Ceylon, who became mentee to Minnesota's great rising son, Hubert H. Humphrey. He got out the vote for him in '48, did the same for Orville Freeman in the 1950s, and was appointed state attorney general in 1960. In '62 he was elected to the post. In '64, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the Humphrey vacancy and in '66 he was elected to the post. He was re-elected in a landslide during the year Nixon was re-elected in a landslide. He transformed the vice presidency into something more substantial and wonky, into a working partnership with the president. After '84, he returned to Minnesota and a law practice in downtown Minneapolis at Dorsey & Whitney. He helped Minnesota business thrive. He was U.S. ambassador to Japan, and following the sudden death of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone a few weeks before the 2002 election, he was drafted into the campaign. He lost to another liar, Norm Coleman, during a Republican year. I have trouble forgiving Minnesota for that one.
His death wasn't unexpected but I was surprised by how much it hurt. After I heard the news, I kept pressing my palms against my chest. I, with no rights in this matter.
He left a lovely final note to staff members: “Well, my time has come,” he wrote. “I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side! Together we have accomplished so much, and I know you will keep up the good fight.”
Monday April 19, 2021
NY Times Buries Lede on OAN
The New York Times ran a good article yesterday about OAN, the right-wing network run by Robert Herring, but under a lousy hed/sub:
One America News Network Stays True to Trump
A recent OAN segment said there were “serious doubts about who's actually president,” and another blamed “anti-Trump extremists” for the Capitol attack.
Why is that lousy? This is the fourth graf:
Some of OAN's coverage has not had the full support of the staff. In interviews with 18 current and former OAN newsroom employees, 16 said the channel had broadcast reports that they considered misleading, inaccurate or untrue.
First: Not the full support of staff? I guess that's right. I guess 12% isn't full. Second: The 88% who disagreed with their own news coverage didn't do so lightly. It was vehement. Some even hoped that Dominion Voting Systems, which has sued Fox News for defamation, will do the same to OAN, since “maybe if they sue us, we'll stop putting stories like this out.” Which gets to the larger point: It feels like the Times buried the lede, while its headline missed it entirely. OAN staying true to Trump isn't exactly news. But OAN staff disagreeing with OAN coverage? And hoping it'll get sued? That's news. I don't know why you wouldn't highlight that. I don't know why the Times keeps softening its coverage of how off-the-rails the right-wing has become.
Actually I do know why. Goes back to Agnew. They're scared of being labeled “liberal news.”
This was the JFC moment in the piece for me:
Assignments that the elder Mr. Herring takes a special interest in are known among OAN staff as “H stories,” several current and former employees said. The day after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr. Herring instructed OAN employees in an email, which The New York Times reviewed, to “report all the things Antifa did yesterday.”
Herring is another rich old codger holding America hostage with his delusions. Great.
Here's another word missing entirely from the Times story: propaganda. It's like when they couldn't bring themselves to call Trump's lies lies. C'mon, guys. Plant your feet and tell the truth. Do your job. Don't pretend you don't know what you know.
Sunday April 18, 2021
Bette Davis' First Days in Hollywood
An excerpt from “The Lonely Life: An Autobiography,” by Bette Davis, published in 1962. The book began slowly but I skipped ahead to the NY theater years and it's been interesting ever since. The voice is definitely hers. This is from her first days at Universal Studio lot.
On Monday I drove to the studio. I was whisked through the gates. Word had spread that the “Davis girl” had arrived and one by one studio executives found reasons for wandering in and out of the reception room to get a glimpse of the “find.” I waited and waited and, at last, Mr. Laemmle opened his door and I was ushered into his office. I was wearing no makeup except lipstick. I had never plucked an eyebrow. I had never even seen the inside of a beauty parlor. My hair was worn simply, with a knot in back. Mr. Laemmle's face was a study. He was immediately convinced that I was not right for Strictly Dishonorable. That was apparent to me. Mr. Laemmle later said, “She has as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville!” ...
After a tour of the lot, I was photographed in the still gallery, introduced to officials and one actress, Genevieve Tobin, and saw a few others I recognized. I was told the studio would call me tomorrow and arrange for some tests. It was rumored on the lot that Bette Davis was “a little brown wren.” I think Mr. Werner [the man who signed her] was sent to Siberia. The rest of the week was spent making what they called photographic tests. They supposedly found out your good angles and your bad angles. All I wanted to do was act!
The following week I was sent for and told I was being tested for a part in a picture. I was not given a script for the test, which I thought odd. I was simply asked to lie on a couch. Vague doubts assailed me as one male after another bent over me whispering, “You gorgeous, divine darling. I adore you. I worship you. I must possess you.” He would then make ardent love to me and end lying on top of me. “O.K. Cut!” I would hear the director say. “Fine. Who's next? Who's next?”
The most compulsively dedicated harlot never had a morning like mine. No less than fifteen men—all of them well-known names—repeated the scene. Only Gilbert Roland had the sensitivity to see how shocked I was. Before he started that awful monologue, he whispered, “Don't be upset. This is the picture business. We've all gone through it. Just relax!”
I didn't understand. Was it like going across the equator the first time? Was it an initiation? Relax? My ancestors were revolving in their graves.
And thus began the career of the woman who wound up with more best actress nominations than anyone not named Meryl or Kathrarine. At this point, she and Humphrey Bogart are at Universal, so i'm curious how they wound up with Warners. And can you imagine signing both Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart and losing them? That's worse than Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock. It's the Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees.