Thursday, December 17, 2009

Russell's Muscle Could Provide Miracle on Broad Street















The inevitable happened in South Philadelphia last Friday as Flyers head coach John Stevens got the axe. At 13-11-1, the Chris Pronger–led Flyers—expected to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this season—had plummeted through the Eastern Division standings, losing eight of their last nine games before Stevens' firing. Replacing him is former Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette, who led the Canes to a Cup victory in 2006. But the maddeningly inconsistent and perenially underachieving Flyers promptly got blown out in their first game under Laviolette, surrendering eight goals at home to a Washington Capitals squad playing without Alexander Ovechkin. Now a bewildering 2-5 since the coaching change, the wheels have completely come off this Flyers team, and it needs nothing short of a miracle to turn its fortunes around.

So I can't understand why Flyers brass didn't just replace John Stevens with Kurt Russell instead of Laviolette. Yes, Laviolette has solid credentials, but the Flyers clearly aren't responding to his direction and have proved themselves overmatched in nearly every game over the last month. Kurt Russell, however, worked a genuine hockey miracle in getting a down-and-out, listless long-shot to win Olympic gold. Who cares that he did it in a movie and likely knows nothing about actual hockey strategy? The Flyers would probably skate their butts off for a Hollywood celebrity—certainly more than they're currently doing for a legitimate head coach. Kurt Russell not only brings both star power and the inspirational aura of the late Herb Brooks to the Philadelphia bench—he also brings the survivability of R.J. MacReady, the machismo of Snake Plissken, the ruthlessness of Todd 3465, the courage of Bull McCaffrey, the persuasiveness of Rudy Russo, and the leadership of Captain Ron.

Once a proud and feared franchise, the Flyers, both this season and over this decade, have become an object of derision and predictable failure. But Kurt Russell could reverse all that by utilizing his rugged on-screen personas to lead this reeling squad to a surprise Stanley Cup victory. Not to mention—considering the long line of unimpressive, and sometimes absent, coiffures of such former Flyers coaches as Mike Keenan, Bob McCammon, Wayne Cashman, and Craig Ramsay—Kurt Russell would provide the franchise with, unquestionably, the greatest head of hair ever seen behind its bench, especially if he grows it back to Escape From New York length. Sure, Peter Laviolette possesses an admirable hairdo, but we're talking about the most lustrous mane in Hollywood. Let's face it: a coach with great hair is going to inspire confidence in his players—and the rudderless Flyers are playing right now like they're led by Colonel Kurtz.

And, as Hollywood's foremost eye-patch actor—he's worn an eye patch for two separate roles in three different films—Russell with one eye behind black vinyl would be the most intimidating head coach in hockey. No Flyer would dare take a lazy shift with a maniacal-looking coach prowling the bench as if it were the deck of a man-of-war, and all other coaches throughout the league would shudder impotently in his presence.



For good measure, Russell could even hire long-time squeeze Goldie Hawn as assistant coach. Not just nepotism—Hawn proved herself able coaching material in Wildcats and knows how to reach testosterone-laden jocks.

All a wild-haired, eye-patched Kurt Russell need do to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to the Cup is to look good, act mean, and reprise his words as Big Trouble in Little China's Jack Burton: "[I] feel pretty good. I'm not...uh...I'm not scared at all. I just feel kind of...feel kind of invincible," and they'd follow him through the depths of hell.

It ain't Fred Shero's "Win now and we walk together forever"...but the Flyers need a miracle-worker.

(Photo of Kurt Russell in Miracle copyright Buena Vista Pictures.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Ambition Meets Meat: There Will Be Gravy

I'm not sure what the story is behind this photo...but I'm fervently hoping that it's a promotional still for an upcoming sequel to 2007's fascinating drama, There Will Be Blood. Is that not Daniel Plainview (compare to below) ecstatically bathing himself in his latest gusher—a mushroom-gravy well? I can only imagine how There Will Be Gravy takes up the story...

...After beating Eli to death with a bowling pin, the unstable and reclusive Daniel Plainview craves a new endeavor to satisfy his greed. With the Roaring Twenties in full boom and the American standard of living higher than at any point in its history, Plainview realizes that people can afford to eat better than ever before. And eating better means eating wetter—why have turkey dry when they can afford succulent gravy? Why gag on leathery beef when they can soak it in broth?

As unscrupulous and relentless as ever, Plainview devises a piping system to siphon off gravy boats and corner the California gravy market. And now even the Golden State's richest families must come to him, lest they endure the unpalatability and indignity of dry meals.

"I drink your gravy. I drink it up!" he mocks a Los Angeles magnate before beating him to death with a drumstick.*

* This idea based loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1929 novel Gravy!

Let's hope that I'm right and that, just in time for Thanksgiving...There Will Be Gravy!

(Gravy photo copyright Picture It Now; photo of Daniel Plainview copyright Paramount Pictures.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Come and Knock on Their Door—And Bring the SWAT Team!

Last night, The Discovery Channel aired a fascinating program called Jack the Ripper in America, in which a former police detective and "cold case" expert proferred strong evidence that the infamous serial killer continued his grisly spree in New York and other American cities in the 1890s. The program made a convincing argument that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, James Kelly, one of the original suspects in the case, whom the London police lost track of after the Ripper's last confirmed victim. Kelly, who had escaped Broadmoor Insane Asylum shortly prior to the first Ripper killing—incarcerated there for stabbing his wife to death in the neck—strangely showed up at the asylum forty years later and offered a detailed account of his whereabouts during the previous four decades. His travels took him to many cities and locales throughout America where various prostitutes had been horribly mutilated during the same time frames that Kelly documented. Additional forensic evidence makes for a strong case that James Kelly was indeed Jack the Ripper.

However, Ripper "experts" have never asked for my theory of Jack's true identity. And I believe I know whose it is.

Are you ready, Scotland Yard?

The real Jack the Ripper must be none other than...














People's Exhibit A: Jack Tripper → Jack Tripper → Jack T. Ripper → Jack the Ripper.

People's Exhibit B: Many of the females with whom Jack Tripper consorted vanished without a trace:

» Roommate Chrissy Snow
» Roommate Cindy Snow (Chrissy's cousin)
» Lana Shields, his flirtatious middle-aged neighbor
» Linda Page, Jack's one-time girlfriend
» Helen (and Stanley) Roper, his original landlords

People's Exhibit C: Jack Tripper achieved a degree in the culinary arts. As a chef, Jack Tripper was an expert with knives and had unlimited access to them.

People's Exhibit D: Posing for years as a gay man, Jack Tripper would not have been perceived by women as a misogynistic threat, some of his eventual victims possibly even befriending and confiding in him. Such an elaborate ruse would, in the eyes of many, remove Jack Tripper from the realm of suspects.

People's Exhibit E: Jack Tripper had a criminal record and spent an unknown amount of time in jail. Even though those bars look as flimsy as a garden lattice, the fact that Jack Tripper was previously incarcerated lends support to a tendency toward violence and a complete disregard for civil behavior. His argyle jumper further suggests that Jack Tripper may have visited Great Britain—and possibly even the Whitechapel district of London, where the murders occurred.

People's Exhibit F: Like the Ripper's fifth victim, Mary Kelly, roommate Chrissy Snow's face was horribly mutilated...albeit with pie ingredients, which caused no permanent injury or disfigurement.




People's Exhibit G: Jack Tripper frequented the Regal Beagle. The modern beagle is an English breed and was highly prized as a hunting dog in 19th-century England—note Darwin's HMS Beagle as an example of the breed's status. As a quintessentially English pub, the Regal Beagle surely was a hangout for expatriated Brits in Santa Monica, a gathering place where English gentlemen could enjoy a pint of bitters while discussing the latest cricket match or ghastly murder. That Jack Tripper spent much time at the Regal Beagle lends strong credence to his possible English heritage.

Now I'm not saying that I've made an airtight case and that the file on Jack the Ripper should once and for all be closed...but I am saying that Vanessa just walked by my office in a thigh-high skirt and black leather boots, so I'm going to have to end this entry to make low, groaning noises...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Death From Above: No Laughing Matter

This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dr. Peter Barss’ landmark paper, “Injuries due to Falling Coconuts,” published in Journal of Trauma 1984;24(11):990–991. Although this paper received an “Ig Nobel Award” from the Annals of Improbable Research in 2001, its “ignominy” should not overshadow the fact that it stands as possibly the most recent literature to deal with this isolated, yet dangerous, phenomenon. Sadly, the very antiquity of Dr. Barss’ article reflects the medical discipline’s unfortunate neglect of such tragic injuries.

As Dr. Barss noted, considering the Cocos nucifera’s normal height (24–35 m) and its fruit’s weight (1–4 kg unhusked), a coconut falling at 32 ft/s2 can exert a crushing force exceeding 1 metric ton.1 With an annual yield of anywhere from 50 to 80 nuts per tree,2 it is evident that to stand in the general proximity of a coconut tree is to stand in a death zone. Personally, I wouldn’t get within half a mile of a coconut grove without donning a steel army helmet and the very latest in foam-insulated crash pads. It is a wonder that Pacific Islanders have managed to survive for millennia under such potentially lethal bombardment. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from combat soldiers at Bougainville states that the devastating effect of coconuts plunging on the enemy had as much to do with taking the island as did armored infantry. (“It was like the Japanese were sitting in an upside-down minefield,” recalled one GI. “They never had a chance.”3)

My concern is that the potential increase in coconut-related injuries and fatalities since Dr. Barss’ paper has yet to be addressed. The present population of Papua New Guinea—a segment of which on whom Dr. Barss based his data and case studies—is now 5.67 million inhabitants.4 Furthermore, the current total population of Oceania is approximately 31 million.5 Dr. Barss’ 2.5% rate of hospital admissions in Papua New Guinea for coconut-related injuries2 may seem trivial at first glance, but when extrapolated across the whole of Oceania, a region thick with coconut palms, the numbers of potential dead and injured become alarming—even pandemic.

This is not a hazard indigenous only to a far-flung corner of the world. The southern and western United States, of course, is rife with coconut trees, as is much of the Western Hemisphere in general. Transplanted coconut palms have even become abundant in such unlikely locales as Ireland, continental Europe, and Canada. Untold millions now live in close proximity to the coconut palm’s murderous canopy.

We stand at a critical juncture in the treatment and prevention of coconut-related head trauma. Perhaps for the first time in the history of medicine, we not only possess the understanding of such a natural threat to human existence, but also hold at our disposal the armamentarium to effectively strike at the root of this threat.

But to do so, we need more research into the mechanics of free-falling coconuts and their high-speed impaction into the human body. We need more awareness so that government offices will fund these studies, and so that they will educate the public as to the dangers of the apparently tranquil coconut. We need warning signs adequately lining coconut groves and, at bare minimum, first-aid stations close enough to treat unfortunate victims.

We can render nil a lethal threat in our lifetime—a medical rarity for any era. We can save untold lives and preserve life for those few who still fall prey to coconut-inflicted tragedy. But we cannot do so if we allow twenty-five years to elapse between studies and permit such threats to fade into the background until wide-scale calamity illustrates our ignorance. Let ours be the generation that stamps out once and for all the carnage of the coconut.

REFERENCES
1. Barss P. Injuries due to falling coconuts. J Trauma. 1984;24:990–991.
2. Chan E, Elevitch CR. Specific profiles for Pacific Island agroforestry: Cocos nucifera (coconut). April 2006, v.2.1. Available at: http://www.agroforestry.net/tti/Cocos-coconut.pdf. Accessed November 2, 2009.
3. Franks M. Personal communication, June 2009.
4. WorldAtlas.Com facts and figures. Available at: http://www.graphicmaps.com/webimage/countrys/oceania/pg.htm. Accessed November 2, 2009.
5. Caldwell J, Missingham B, Marck J. The population of Oceania in the second millennium. Paper from the Australian National University, Canberra. Canberra, Australia, September 26, 2001; p 1. Available at: http://htc.anu.edu.au/pdfs/Oceania%20manuscript.pdf. Accessed November 2, 2009.

(Article cover page copyright The Williams & Wilkins Co.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Say Po-tay-to...I Say Not-Hot-o

I watch a lot of Man v. Food, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and similar shows featured on The Travel Channel. The hosts of these shows journey across the United States and to all corners of the world to consume unique delicacies that whet the appetite of some and make others dry-heave in disgust.

Well, I stumbled on my own unique delicacy this morning: Having purchased too much for dinner last night at my local Wawa, I refrigerated the surplus, which included a medium "loaded potato" soup. As you can imagine, a thick, cream-based soup congeals quite a bit after sitting all night in cold air. Refrigeration highlighted the flavors, with each seasoning tasting nearly as strong as the potatoes themselves. The smokey bacon flavor wasn't gamey at all, and the fire-roasted onion provided enough early morning bite to really wake me up. Aside from the succulent chunks of potato, the soup itself had a texture more grainy than Icelandic skyr, yet smoother and less chalky than nutria gumbo. I quite liked its pasty consistency and wished I'd had a bagel on which to spread it. Soup on a bagel? It might sound gross to some, but it would be heaven to me. The soup's color remained an off-white, dotted with specks of black pepper...not unlike stewed tuna eyes and lemon ants over pickled lamprey, so prized by the hardy residents of St. Petersburg, Russia. As you'd expect, the soup's aroma possessed that earthy, potatoey scent common to a tuber, but I also detected hints of coriander, which may or may not have been mold. All in all, my refrigerated, semi-solid soup was a delicious surprise and speaks to the power of cold leftovers.

Officially known in their native tongue as Waw'a ("Children of perpetual convenience"), the people of Wawa possess a zest for life that's reflected in the culture of their surroundings and the foods they prepare. Just because you don't have to travel thousands of miles to get to one doesn't mean that their cuisine is run-of-the-mill. My loaded potato soup, so good fresh out of the crock pot, was even better the next morning. If you love food, you really need to visit Wawa, take home some of their culinary masterpieces, and put them in the fridge. Great food, friendly inhabitants, and an ATM that doesn't require a service charge. Is it any wonder I hope to return to Wawa again and again? So remember: If it looks good enough to eat...refrigerate it!

(Photo of Andrew Zimmern copyright The Travel Channel; photo of soup copyright Wawa, Inc.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Caught With Their Pants Down

It has become disgustingly fashionable for Major Leaguers to wear their baseball pants as low as possible on their legs, often with pants that are one size too big to begin with. I don't know which diamond genius first thought this chic, but it's caught on like wildfire and transformed the game for the worse. Not showing any stirrups—one of the classic elements of the baseball uniform—is bad enough; some players take even this horrible look to the extreme: pulling the pants leg past the top of the cleat, nearly to the heel, completely covering the ankle and the back half of the cleat itself. Not only does it not look baseball-ish...it looks retarded. Whereas baseball pants hiked just below the knee, exposing plenty of stirrup, looked so good on old-timers, current players such as David Oritz, Manny Ramirez, Ryan Howard, C.C. Sabathia, Josh Beckett, and—perhaps the worst offender—Prince Fielder look like fat kids wearing footed pajamas.

See how Fielder used to wear his pants—traditional, classic, stylish. But since he began covering up his stirrups and cleats, Fielder looks like he belongs in a sack race, not the batter's box. Sure, it's more important to play well than to look good—and these players do—but it's more important to look good than to look asinine—and these players don't. They simply don't look like athletes.

In fact, the frumpy full-pants look makes the already-rotund Sabathia resemble the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.















Why has baseball turned its pants on such a vintage and unique feature of its apparel?

Observe how much Brendan Ryan (left) and Juan Pierre (right) look like ballplayers. Sleek. Classy. Graceful. Had Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle worn their pants in the aesthetically laughable manner of Prince Fielder or David Ortiz, they never would have become everlasting icons—because they would have looked too ridiculous to fit the part of their legendary achievements. The stirrup is akin to the hockey sock, another definitive uniform component—and remember how bad the Philadelphia Flyers and Hartford Whalers looked in long pants in the early 1980s. Long pants were an affront to the sport, and the NHL wisely outlawed them. Well, this cleat-covering movement is as big an embarrassment to baseball as the steroids scandal—it just hasn't left its mark in the record book.* I almost prefer the 1976 White Sox' short pants, which remains baseball's darkest hour—but not by much. If Commissioner Bud Selig wishes to salvage any shred of his legacy during his scandal-stained administration, he needs to outlaw this preposterous practice of pants-to-the-heels.

*I encourage the Elias Sports Bureau to henceforth denote in the Official Record Book the annual statistics of any player who collected said statistics while wearing his pants legs at his cleats, so that his achievements—however lofty—will be tempered by the fact that he looked stupid while attaining them.

Say what you will about The Babe. Sure, in later years, he was, like Sabathia and Fielder, a blob from the waist up—but at least he still looked like half a ballplayer.


(Photo of Babe Ruth copyright NY Daily News.)

They Have Finally Begun to Fight!

Somali pirates attacked the French navy's refueling ship La Somme yesterday after mistaking it for a commercial vessel. The 3,800-ton La Somme easily repelled the attack, capturing one of the two marauding skiffs and its crew of five pirates. This marks the first time in history that the French military did not immediately surrender to an attacker. Speaking through a translator, a spokesman for the French Minister of Defence called the captain's decision not to surrender "courage on par with Admiral Spruance, in this, France's Battle of Midway." He concluded that a massive tickertape parade down the Champs-Élysées is being planned to celebrate this "great victory for the people of France" and warned, "Let no one ever again call the Arc de Triomphe an empty boast!"

The spokesman later surrendered to the translator.

(Photo of warship copyright Associated Press; photo of captured pirates copyright ECPAD.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

No Naming Below the Belt

Vitali Klitschko (left) retained his WBC Heavyweight title last night with a 10th-round TKO of Chris "Nightmare" Arreola in Los Angeles.

Klitschko.

Arreola.

Professional boxing—especially the heavyweight division—is at a low ebb, thanks to the ascent of mixed martial arts and a dearth of charismatic fighters capable of rekindling interest after the pathetic end to the Mike Tyson era. But has the sport sunk so low that it now relies on cheap sexual references to garner popularity? Boxing is the manliest of sports...and one in which sex should not be involved. It's about anger and violence—not innuendo and titillation. Boxing doesn't need Klitschko and Arreola turning its heavyweight bouts into episodes of Real Housewives of Orange County, lest the glorious memories of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey be usurped by such inevitable contenders as Esteban de la Labia, Sugar Walls Wellington, Tommy St. Taint, and Joe "The Chicago Cameltoe" Wyzniewsky.

Let's leave the Klitschkos and Arreolas to the ring card girls...


(Photo of Klitschko-Arreola bout copyright Associated Press.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We'll Always Have Parisian Bob

Pedro Martinez lost his first game as a Philadelphia Phillie tonight, dropping his record to 5-1. Tonight's loss also marks the 100th defeat of his career—a dubious milestone remarkably long in coming, considering that Martinez entered a regular rotation in 1993 and has started 475 games in his amazing career. He has reached double figures in losses only twice—each time with the minimum of 10—which, against 219 wins, makes his career winning percentage a dizzying .687.

With his loss tonight, Martinez falls out of very select company. Since registering his 200th win during the 2006 season, Martinez had accompanied long-forgotten 19th-century great Bob Caruthers as the only pitchers in Major League Baseball history with at least 200 wins and fewer than 100 losses. Now Caruthers once again stands alone in that club.*

*Albert Spalding, the man who co-founded the famous sporting-goods company and the great-great-grandfather of the obnoxious twerp from Caddyshack, registered an off-the-scale career pitching record of 253-65; however, the vast majority of his hurling occurred in the National Association, an embryonic 1870s league recognized neither by Major League Baseball nor the Baseball Hall of Fame as a true major league because of the primitive state of play and rules (e.g., players often played in overalls and workboots, a strikeout was a triple, base-stealing frequently resulted in a hanging, etc). Ironically, Spalding was inducted into the Hall of Fame as an executive/pioneer, both for his paramount role in organizing and promoting baseball to new heights of popularity, as well as inventing the position of first-base coach, which provided slews of washed-up ballplayers with high-paying jobs that required no effort beyond standing.

"Parisian Bob," as Caruthers was known (ostensibly because he once conducted contract negotiations via telegram from Paris, but more likely because of his collection of rare French medals of bravery—so rare, in fact, that he never actually found any), racked up a 218-99 career record in which he twice won 40 games in a season and led the American Association three times in winning percentage. Although he possesses the fourth-highest official winning percentage in history (.688), Caruthers is not a member of the Hall of Fame; this may result from confusion over the current rule that, to be eligible, a player must play at least parts of 10 seasons—Caruthers only pitched for nine, from 1884 to 1892; however, he did play 14 games as an outfielder in 1893, which makes him an eligible candidate. Even so, some Veterans Committee members refuse to vote for Caruthers because they believe that he's been snubbing Major League Baseball since his death in 1911 ("The guy doesn't respect the game!" one Veterans Committee member huffed in 2005 after a letter to Caruthers' last known address went unanswered).

As dominant a hurler as was Caruthers, he actually played more games as a position player. Caruthers twice hit well over .300, and he led the American Association in on-base percentage and OPS in 1886, a year in which he propelled his St. Louis Browns to the "world" championship.† Browns owner Chris von der Ahe called Caruthers "my club's best player...and the only one of those stockinged reprobates who pronounces my name correctly!"

†Interestingly, "Parisian Bob" received his nickname the same year that France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States, and many St. Louisans, jealous of haughty New York and giddy from their Browns' recent championship victory over the Chicago White Stockings, proclaimed the popular Parisian Bob as their gift from France, forcing Caruthers to stand on the banks of the Mississippi, holding a torch, on the very day that the Statue of Liberty was being dedicated in New York Harbor. A mere 5-foot-seven, the diminutive Caruthers could offer a better life to no one, as not even the tired, the poor, or anyone part of a huddle mass wanted the refuge offered by a pipsqueak, and after four hours with no takers, Caruthers threw off his robe and crown in disgust. When he was sold a year later to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Caruthers visited the real Statue of Liberty and kicked it.

After four successful years in Brooklyn, Caruthers returned to the Browns. Sadly, not only was his arm gone, but so was his wallet, which Caruthers had left at a Coney Island hot-dog stand and was, at that very moment, being picked clean by local hoodlums who were about to stuff their bellies on his dime with more frankfurters than Joey Chestnut would 120 years later. Caruthers hung on in the minors for several years, before becoming an umpire in the early days of the American League.‡ He died at age 47, never having replaced his wallet.

‡Notably, Caruthers was the first umpire to toss himself out of a game, when an extra-inning contest between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Beaneaters threatened to make him late for the very first Ford Model A 0.01% APR factory-incentive blowout.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sleek Shall Inherit the Turf

Football head coaches are strict disciplinarians. It’s their task to ready 50-plus players to smash the opponent each weekend, and they do it by getting their players to adhere to their rules, conduct, and strategies. Head coaches often look upon themselves as father figures, trying to instill their boys with the desire and discipline needed for success.

Yet how many of football’s head coaches are undisciplined messes? Sidelines throughout the country are prowled very slowly by head coaches who clearly have no self-discipline when it comes to food. What kind of example is being set by such butterballs as Andy Reid, Rex Ryan, Tom Cable, Eric Mangini, Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, and Kansas University's Mark Mangino?

Wade Phillips may be a nice guy, but his Dallas Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game under his chunky command and have instead acquired the reputation as an undisciplined bunch that crumbles like cornbread at crunch time. Well, it’s Wade Phillips’ crunch time that’s the problem. Hearing him wolf down a rack of babybacks in his office can’t be imbuing his players with respect for him. I wouldn’t be listening too closely to a guy with a Michelin Man midsection who’s yelling at me about dedication and discipline. The fact is that, in seven years as a head coach, none of Phillips’ teams have ever won a playoff game.

Contrast the fortunes of "America's Team" under trim Tom Landry: The spartan Landry and his 195-lb frame earned the respect of every one of his players by putting his money, rather than food, where his mouth is. In not being mistaken for the blimp sent to cover every game, Landry led by example and guided the Cowboys to five Super Bowls, winning two of them.

Sure, portly head coaches occasionally steer their teams to the championship: turducken connoisseur John Madden won a Super Bowl, as did roly-poly Hank Stram. Even the great Vince Lombardi won NFL titles between meals. But as the chart below clearly demonstrates, the scales of success tip strongly in favor of the lighter-weighted. Paul Brown—slim, slender, and seven (AAFC and NFL) championships. Fit even into old age, Curly Lambeau won six NFL titles. Guy Chamberlin, 6-foot-two and 196 lb, collected four NFL crowns. Trim Bill Walsh took the 49ers to a trio of Super Bowl titles, and his successor, the even leaner George Seifert, followed with a pair. Rock-solid Chuck Noll—four Super Bowl trophies. And the all-time leader in coaching victories, svelte Don Shula—a record six trips to the Super Bowl, winning two, before he grew doughier with age and the Dolphins fell out of regular contention.

“What about the pudgy Bill Belichick,” you say? “He’s the greatest head coach of his generation, forging a dynasty in the era of the salary cap while pacing the gridiron with a jelly belly.” Yes, but Belichick is smart enough to wear loose-fitting sweatshirts and track pants. He knows better than to let his players see the spare tire he’s gained from clam chowdah, lest they lose respect and tune him out. Forget X’s and O’s—baggy clothing may be the secret of Belichick’s genius.

But most football coaches don't possess such smarts. Really, what Notre Dame player is going to be inspired by Charlie Weis? His utter lack of physical discipline can't help but negatively influence his players. It was under Weis's corpulent helm that the Fighting Irish suffered its worst season in school history—the first of two consecutive unranked seasons during Weis's tenure. Previously, Notre Dame had lost consective Fiesta and Sugar Bowl appearances under the blubbery head coach. (Sure, Weis led Notre Dame to victory in the 2008 Hawai’i Bowl...but that's really the Pity Bowl and nothing for the Fighting Irish to hang its buckled hat on.)

Former Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren provides the perfect empirical model: He began his head-coaching career with the Packers in excellent shape. Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 1996. He put on enough weight over the ensuing off-season that the Packers couldn’t repeat, and then grew to full rotundity as head coach of the Seahawks, who were unable to win a championship during his ten hefty seasons in Seattle.

While the Jerry Glanvilles and Rich Kotites wheeze and gasp their way to mediocrity, championships are seized by head coaches whose hunger for victory runs deeper than their hunger for Big Macs and cookie dough. Joe Gibbs, Mike Shanahan, Tom Flores, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin, Dick Vermeil, Brian Billick, Tom Coughlin, Jon Gruden—all well within their recommended weight range. All respected for practicing what they preach. All Super Bowl winners.

Monday, September 7, 2009

For the Stick, It Should've Been Automatic

We ate dinner last night at a Red Lobster in Long Branch, NJ. I had parked the car in the only available space in the main lot: at the end of a row, where stood some large bushes on the adjacent curb. Several of the bushes' branches protruded to within about a foot of the car. Upon returning to the car after our meal, I discovered a four-inch-long stick insect perched motionless on the driver's-side window.

Over aeons, stick insects have, of course, evolved as masters of camouflage. Most species' primary defense is to look so much like a twig that hungry predators never detect them. Obviously, it's worked well for millions of years.

Needless to say, I was surprised to find a stick insect on the car window—a surface that offers no visual protection and fully exposes such a large insect to both predator and perturbed human. Now, I have respect for life and gently shooed the creature off the window. But many people—especially after the adrenalin rush of cracking open a crustacean—would have reacted harshly and swatted, slammed, or squashed the stick insect to death. Frankly, the stick insect's behavior belied its reputation for cleverness, and it was lucky to have survived such a stupid decision.

In all fairness, a stick insect possesses a brain of, maybe, half a nanogram—but such foolish behavior should be an instinctual no-no. Like opening an umbrella stand in the middle of the Sahara...it's something you just don't do. So even though they have carved out a highly successful ecological niche across the ages, it's no wonder that stick insects have failed to evolve beyond their twiggy exoskeleton: they're simply not that bright. According to fossil records, stick insects have been around for at least 23 million years, so you'd figure that, following the normal pattern of evolution, they would have made something of themselves and, by now, at least resemble trees...or have even progressed toward something of higher intelligence—I daresay, perhaps even a bipedal form. I'm no genetic entomologist, but a simple change of diet from leaves to meat would have—as in early humans—enlarged their microscopic brain and put stick insects on a much more rewarding evolutionary course. Even noshing on a katydid once in a while could have made all the difference. Is biophysiological improvement so unpalatable? Instead of being stuck as the pansies of the bug world—playing dead or remaining perfectly still whenever a predator enters the neighborhood—stick insects perhaps could now be our evolutionary counterpart:Although this theory* has met with criticism ranging from "That's impossible" to "Stop calling, you idiot!" we've all seen what a switch to a protein-rich meat diet did for Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull. You don't get the Oscar for Best Actor by eating privet leaves.

*For a detailed analysis of this theory, see Why the Steak at Red Lobster Is Pretty Good and Other Thoughts: A Text Message to the Corporate Office (personal communication; September 6, 2009).

But that's not all for the animal kingdom.

I further posit that the llama—long believed South American in origin—in fact migrated to South America from Wales. My proof? Did you ever look at a map of Wales? The double-l—so characteristic of the llama—is found all over the Welsh nation: Llandrindod Wells, Llangollen, Llandovery, Llangefni, and at least 267 other towns and villages. True, the digraph ll as the first two letters of a word or place-name is also charateristic of Spanish and several of Spain's regional dialects, and a multitude of villages beginning with Ll are found throughout South America, but Spanish and related dialects have only been spoken in South America since the arrival of the Conquistadors, whereas the llama has been roaming South America for several million years.












So how did the llama migrate from Wales to South America? Similar to Beringia, a land bridge between Wales and the east coast of South America may have existed during ice ages, when sea levels dropped dramatically. Admittedly, my calculations show that for the extreme distance between Wales and South America to have been exposed, the Atlantic Ocean would have had to dissipate to the volume of a half-gallon container of Deer Park, but I may just be remembering the tables of measures incorrectly.

Further supporting this claim is the not-insignificant fact that Episode 9 of Monty Python's Flying Circus begins with "The Llama Sketch," in which John Cleese sings (in Spanish) about the virtues of the llama, backed by Eric Idle and Terry Jones. Terry Jones (on right) is from Colwyn Bay, Wales. That the three Pythons are singing in Spanish about the llama may be irony far over the heads of anyone not in the know.

And if that weren't enough evidence, the final twenty seconds of the opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which were completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute) are replete with llama references. The Holy Grail was directed by the Welshman Terry Jones, and since he had final say in the content of those llama-laden credits, I can only surmise that Jones has a strong affinity for the animal that is ostensibly native to his land.

In phase II of these studies, empirical data will be collected from my couch with the aid of a six of Buckleys Best Bitter.

Future anthropological topics on Mount Drinkmore may include the cantaloupe's evolution to the antelope as well as a review of back pain in invertebrates.

(Second photo of stick insect copyright National Geographic Society; photo of llama copyright National Picture Library; photo of "The Llama Sketch" copyright Python (Monty) Pictures.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Not Gonna Let Bruntlett Take the Brunt of Anti-fans' Wrath

On August 23, Philadelphia Phillies reserve 2nd-baseman Eric Bruntlett executed an unassisted triple play. The fifteenth unassisted triple play in Major League history, this was only the second such defensive lightning bolt to end a game (the other instance occurring in 1927). With the Phils leading the New York Mets 9-6 in the bottom of the 9th, Angel Pagan and Luis Castillo both reached base on errors (including one by Bruntlett, himself, whose miscue cut Philadelphia's lead to 9-7). Then an infield single by Daniel Murphy put runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. With the winning run at the plate, Jeff Francouer ripped a line drive up the middle. But with both runners going on the pitch, Bruntlett, who was dashing to cover 2nd base, found himself in perfect position to snare the sure hit. He quickly stepped on 2nd to double off Castillo, then lunged at the backpedaling Murphy to end the game, leaving a raucous New York crowd in stunned silence.

Two days ago, Mount Drinkmore's Pat directed me to an "Eric Bruntlett Sucks" anti-fan forum that he stumbled upon (http://www.talk-sports.net/mlb/sucks.aspx/Eric_Bruntlett). Although all of the posts predate Bruntlett's unassisted triple play, some are particularly cruel and leave no doubt as to how low these anti-fans regard him.

Sure, in seven seasons as a utility player, Bruntlett has hit a paltry .231. Sure, his fielding percentages at the middle-infield positions are below league norms. Sure, he's barely cracked .200 in two seasons as a Phillie, and fans—rabid for another World Series run—have no tolerance for a player who literally can't hit his weight this year.

Yet the fact remains, Eric Bruntlett anti-fans: Eric Bruntlett is now only one unassisted triple play away from becoming the all-time leader in unassisted triple plays.

Don't you think he's earned a name-change to the "Eric Bruntlett Doesn't Suck That Much" forum?

(Photo of triple play copyright Associated Press.)

Morning Redwood

This photograph was recently e-mailed to me. Not only is it a fine example of reproductive phenology, but it proves the common myth about sequoias.

I've been trying to determine where this photo was taken. I figure either Sequoia National Park...or on the set of the porn film, Lord of the Cock Rings, since this shapely lass appears to have been a fluff girl for the Ents.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thou Shalt Not McCovet Thy Neighbor's First Baseman

Willie McCovey was the most fearsome left-handed power hitter of his generation, smashing 521 home runs, which, at the time of his retirement, was the National League record for lefties. He achieved this despite playing much of his career in cold and windy Candlestick Park, as well as during the 1960s, when pitchers usurped the balance of power and batting averages plummeted. "Stretch"—as the 6-foot-four, rail-thin McCovey was known—was a classy and gentle giant who won the 1959 Rookie of the Year Award though he played in only 52 games, commencing a career that saw him collect three home-run titles, twice lead the Senior Circuit in RBI, and earn the National League MVP in 1969.

A San Francisco mainstay for fifteen years, McCovey was traded to the San Diego Padres after the 1973 season. He hit well in southern California for two years, but after a miserable, injury-plagued summer of 1976, McCovey was purchased by the Oakland Athletics on August 30. He played 11 games for the A's during the remainder of that abortive season.

Or so say official records.

As a long-time baseball aficionado, historian, and collector, I know my stuff when it comes to the history of the sport. I can recite every World Series participant since 1903, I have a disturbing penchant for statistics, and I'm familiar with players of whom the casual baseball fan has never heard. But in all my years of watching, reading about, and collecting all things baseball, I have never once seen a photograph of Willie McCovey as a member of the Oakland Athletics. Their dynasty of the early 70s crumbling, the 1976 A's, sans Reggie, Catfish, and Ken Holtzman, still had enough left to nearly win the AL West. One would think that a team in the pennant race right up to the last week of the season might garner a little more attention from shutterbugs, especially for a newly acquired star who had belted 465 home runs, which, at that time, ranked second only to Hank Aaron among active players. But I've searched high and low, Googled until my fingers turned blue, and leafed through page after page—there seems to be no proof beyond statistical entries that McCovey ever donned an Oakland uniform. Sure, after the season, he rejoined the Giants as a free agent, so, if indeed McCovey had been in Oakland at the end of the 1976 campaign, he need only have walked over the Bay Bridge to neighboring San Francisco. But I question whether McCovey ever was an Oakland Athletic. What do 24 measly at-bats in the record book really prove? It's baseball hearsay. I need tangible evidence.

As in the case of Dave Kingman. Perhaps the most one-dimensional—and most jettisonable—player in baseball history, Kingman experienced a season unique in the annals of the Major Leagues: In 1977, Kingman played for no fewer than four teams. The New York Mets traded him in mid-June to San Diego, yet the Padres put Kingman on waivers in September, upon which the California Angels claimed him. But Kingman hit a putrid .194 in Anaheim, and the Halos traded him nine days later to the Yankees, where he finished out the regular season (never appearing in New York's World Series run). Kingman's stopovers with the Angels and Yankees were even briefer than McCovey's alleged cup of coffee in Oakland, but there's plenty of proof he suited up for them, as you can see.

Even Norm Cash, who was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Cleveland Indians after the 1959 season and then traded by Cleveland to the Detroit Tigers before he could even get into a regular-season game for the Tribe, bears proof of his brief encounter in the Forest City.

So where is the incontrovertible proof that Willie McCovey wore kelly green and Finley gold? His plaque in Cooperstown denotes his stay in Oakland, but why did McCovey make no mention of those 11 games in his Hall of Fame induction speech—not even the three walks he supposedly coaxed out of opposing hurlers? The record book shows that second-place Oakland parlayed McCovey's five RBI-less singles in those 24 at-bats into picking up 5½ games on Kansas City, only to fall 2½ games short at the wire. Why do middle-aged A's fans never lament that McCovey wasn't acquired a week earlier, since another week of .200 hitting could have provided the wins needed to eventually overtake the Royals? And why is there no "McCovey Cove" equivalent in Oakland Coliseum?

I've a hunch the McCovey acquisition was the concoction of A's owner, Charlie Finley. Even as Oakland was winning three consecutive World Series from 1972-74, the team never drew well. Oakland's highest finish in attendance during its dynastic run was only fifth in the league, and, pathetically, during its championship 1974 season, only the thoroughly mediocre Minnesota Twins fared worse at the American League gate. It's no secret that Finley was desperate for attendance—and who could blame him? Fielding a juggernaut that few came to see certainly hit him in his wallet and his pride. And with free agency about to turn baseball upside-down—ultimately forcing Charlie O. to break up his dynasty—the temptation to heighten appeal for his club must have been irresistable. So why not pretend to have acquired a superstar for your franchise, one who could bring in paying customers with his tape-measure blasts? After all, by 1976, the A's had sent their own superstars packing—Reggie traded to the Baltimore Orioles, and free-agent bucks reeling Catfish into New York. A fan favorite for 15 years in neighboring San Francisco, Willie McCovey possessed built-in star power that could get people into the seats. Clever enough—but the shrewd Finley may well have taken it a step further: Oakland announces it has purchased McCovey's contract from San Diego...fans flock to see the great slugger...but it never actually happens, allowing Finley to reap the proceeds while not having to pay McCovey, or pay for him.*

*Not to mention that same 1976 Athletics team that supposedly purchased McCovey also allegedly enjoyed six plate appearances from burnt-out Padres slugger Nate Colbert—again, no photographic evidence exists.

This is not unprecedented in Oakland. The official record book shows that, in 1972, the A's acquired fading slugger Orlando Cepeda from the Atlanta Braves. Cepeda—another popular, long-time San Francisco Giant who would be instantly welcome in Oakland—supposedly played three games for the A's that season. Yet, as with McCovey, I have never seen, nor can I locate, a single photograph of Cepeda in green and gold. Furthermore, Cepeda was traded to Oakland even-up for Denny McLain...yet, even though McLain had been washed up longer than Cepeda, Topps produced a baseball card of McLain's transaction without printing a counterpart card for Cepeda—further evidence that Cepeda, a big-time player as late as 1970, came to Oakland only in the twisted mental machinations of Charlie Finley.

After all, this was the mind that installed Harvey the mechanical rabbit, which popped up from a hole behind home plate and delivered fresh baseballs to the umpire.

Not to mention the mind that proposed orange baseballs...

So until someone produces visual proof of Willie McCovey in an Oakland Athletics uniform, I ain't buyin' that he ever played for them.

(Baseball cards copyright Topps Inc.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yo! Pedro! Philly's What Your Plaque Should Show

With three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles, and the highest winning percentage of any 200-game winner of the modern era, Pedro Martinez is a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame. He dominated batters in a Koufaxian run from 1997 to 2003 with a combination of power and finesse that decimated opponents' batting averages. And after a decade of mediocrity, the Boston Red Sox finally began their ascendancy when they acquired Pedro in 1998, culminating in the 2004 World Series championship, the franchise's first in 86 years.

Sure, Martinez's greatest years were spent in Beantown, where he tossed more than half of his career victories and won a bewildering 76% of his decisions. A Red Sox cap is the logical choice for Pedro's Hall of Fame plaque. And yes, Pedro initially achieved superstardom in Montreal, where he snared his first Cy Young Award, set numerous franchise records, and pitched a perfect game for nine innings before surrendering a hit in the 10th. Hence, perhaps a sentimental case can be made for immortalizing him as an Expo. So, although the Baseball Hall of Fame selects the induction plaque's logo "based on where that player makes his most indelible mark," I urge Martinez to choose—and the Hall of Fame to permit—Pedro's plaque to feature a Philadelphia Phillies cap.

After all, for a pitcher whose lowest career winning percentage with a franchise is .582, Martinez now sports a perfect 1.000 for the Fightin' Phils. But more than mere statistics, Martinez should go into the Hall of Fame as a Phillie—even if he never wins another game—because baseball needs to ensure the continuation of scandal and controversy. Our national pastime has seen plenty of ignominy in the last few decades—from the Pete Rose imbroglio to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series to the continuing steroid fiasco. Major League baseball has taken a bigger black eye than Tony Conigliaro thanks to the sordid doings of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Raphael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, Kirk Radomski, Brian McNamee, Bud Selig, and many others.

But these disgraces won't last forever. Baseball has taken steps that have virtually rid the sport of current steroid use, and although steroids has irrevocably distorted the record book, fans seem to have forgiven and forgotten. Baseball needs scandal and controversy—each successive generation thrives on its layer of sludge that sullies baseball's history: the Black Sox, Steve Bartman and Jeffrey Maier, Hall of Fame cronyism, cocaine and amphetamines, the designated hitter, the spitter, interleague play, the 1951 Giants' sign-stealing, 1992's The Babe, and on and on...

What would we fans do without scandal? Take scandal out of baseball and what have you got? A bunch of guys running after a ball hit with a stick—an act dangerously close to that borefest known as golf. So if Pedro Martinez's plaque is mounted in the Hall of Fame Gallery displaying a Phillies cap, a juicy brouhaha is guaranteed circa 2016. And it won't come a moment too soon, sandwiched between the inevitable uproar over robot pinch-runners and the discovery that 600-HR slugger Manny Ramirez had been corking his dreadlocks.

I further suggest that the official language of Pedro's plaque read:

PEDRO JAIME MARTINEZ
Los Angeles, N.L., 1992-1993
Montreal, N.L., 1994-1997
Boston, A.L., 1998-2004
New York, N.L., 2005-2008
Philadelphia, N.L., 2009

A promising pitcher who reached peak late in career, winning a seven-run blowout in Phillies debut. Debut victory for Philadelphia saw him achieve ERA 0.07 less than 46-year-old teammate he replaced. Garnered several major awards and a World Series title earlier in career, but most of the opposing batters had stayed out late the night before or had flu. Brilliant tenure with Phils vaulted team from 1st place to 1st place and made him one of the most beloved figures in Phillies history to wear No. 45. Made as many hits in first game with Philadelphia as he had in seven years with Boston. Debut victory gave Philadelphia 63rd win of season, enabling team to later achieve 64th—a feat impossible without his victory.


(Graphics wizardry courtesy of Mount Drinkmore's Dave.)