Monday, October 31, 2011

Will the Hall Call or Was LaRussa a Juice-a?

Just 17 home runs shy of 600—still the rarefied realm of only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays in 2001—and owed $30 million on a contract extension, Mark McGwire received plaudits for limping away from baseball on his own terms. Hindered by bad knees, he still smashed 29 round-trippers in his swansong season, remaining a productive and popular player. Little did we know that McGwire’s exit was a less-than-virtuous getaway from the steroid scandal about to break—a lie that he lived for a decade, until finally confessing last year.

Now Tony LaRussa, still shaking confetti from his tawdry hair, stuns the baseball world by retiring days after his St. Louis Cardinals capture the World Series. A mere 35 managerial wins shy of the legendary John McGraw, LaRussa has carte rouge to rack up as many more victories in Cardinals red as he desires. On the cusp of cementing certified greatness, LaRussa’s retirement smacks of another quick getaway.

So far, no one has asked the question: Did LaRussa juice while managing? Let the numbers decide:

Third all-time in wins, with a whopping 2728, LaRussa piloted 5093 regular-season games over 33 seasons (each of the latter figures second most in baseball annals). In addition to three World Series titles, he won Manager of the Year four times, including the first award, in 1983, and most recently in 2002. That 19-year span of dominance in a major category is equaled only by Roger Clemens’ 18-year bookends between Cy Young Awards—and we all know how Clemens achieved his. Pacing dugouts for 5214 games (including playoffs) means, conservatively, that LaRussa paced for almost 47,000 innings. A younger man might manage such mileage, but half of LaRussa’s managerial career occurred after age fifty. As the oft-recited baseball maxim states: the first thing to go is the legs—so is anyone buying that LaRussa logged so many innings on his feet without artificial help?

Like McGwire and Barry Bonds, whose bodies ballooned during the steroid era, LaRussa began tipping the scales (albeit less dramatically). His 1981 Fleer baseball card, issued three years into his managerial career, listed LaRussa at 185 lb; however, Baseball Almanac currently denotes him at 190 lb. Sure, this shocking transformation of his body could result from weightlifting—as asserted the unrepentant Bonds—but let’s not kid ourselves.

And is not batting the pitcher eighth—an occasional LaRussa strategy—the reasoning of a mind muddled by performance-enhancing chemicals?

On the numbers, LaRussa was a good manager for a long time and deserves Hall of Fame election. But like McGwire and other juicers, should he—if guilty—be made to wait a decade or more? LaRussa's mediocre record as skipper of the Chicago White Sox, which predates the steroid era, is decidedly not Hall of Fame caliber. Only when LaRussa moved to Oakland—where he teamed with McGwire and Jose Canseco, two players at the core of the steroid maelstrom—did he begin amassing the numbers that led LaRussa near the top of career lists and seemingly warrant his induction.

One is left to wonder...

Thus far, no evidence has come to light—and maybe there is none to find. But Mark McGwire once, too, was pure.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scorsese Got Lazy with Living in the Material World

I finally viewed Martin Scorsese's latest film, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. As an admirer of Scorsese's work and a long-time devotee of George, I expected a real treat for the eyes and ears. Much of the 3½-hour documentary please-pleased me, but I must confess that Scorsese's direction bored me to tears. For instance, the segment chronicling Harrison's 1999 stabbing at the hands of a mentally unstable intruder lacked any sort of Scorseseian drama. Scorsese glossed over the entire incident with nothing more than talk.

Whereas previous Scorsese films, such as Goodfellas and Gangs of New York, were chock full of graphic knife work meant to convey the visceral brutality of their characters' worlds, in the case of George Harrison, Scorsese strangely opted for empty, inert monologue. Why not recreate the moment—perhaps with a Daniel Day-Lewis cameo—and let the audience in on one of the most dramamtic moments in George's life? (Sure, Harrison's assailant probably never uttered anything about "rib or chop...loin or shank" as he attacked the Quiet Beatle, but the supremely talented Day-Lewis surely could sell such a recreation.)

This is not an oversight limited only to Scorsese's latest rock & roll biopic. One need only labor through The Last Waltz and witness the first indication that the music documentary is decidedly not Scorsese's milieu. Beyond Emmylou Harris tousling her gorgeous mane and the crazily attired Van Morrison high-kicking his way through "Caravan," the film is devoid of action. Sure, the musical performances are top-notch, but, overall, The Last Waltz is a snoozer. Where is the Joni Mitchell car chase? Where is Neil Young beating the daylights out of Rick Danko with a baseball bat? Where is Dr. John putting on 60 lb for the concert and punching a wall until his hands break? How could Scorsese permit the film's finale—The Band, Ringo Starr, and Ronnie Wood backing Bob Dylan as he performs "I Shall Be Released"—to progress as nothing more than a soulful sing-along when he could have turned it into an epic bloodbath? It's no surprise that The Last Waltz is one of Scorsese's lowest earning films—even the box-office flop Kundun outgrossed it almost 16-fold!

I haven't been this disappointed in a Martin Scorsese film since the stale popcorn in The King of Comedy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finding a Founding Father Lacking in Accuracy

So you know those Citizens Bank ads featuring Alexander Hamilton. Most people don't have any idea of Hamilton's role in the founding of our federal banking system. In fact, a large part of our oblivious populace is not aware that it's Hamilton gracing the $10 bill (I've met some of this lamentable demographic personally).

But what's the one thing practically every school child is taught about Alexander Hamilton? That he was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, the Vice President of the United States.

So why doesn't the actor in the Citizens Bank commercials have a big, bloody bullet hole in his lower abdomen? I mean, can't we have some concession to historicity?

It doesn't even have to be overt. Perhaps Hamilton, in touting the virtues of Citizens Bank, explains to his Federalist colleagues, "Some people get shot...a good bank gets that," as Hamilton rolls his eyes downward and motions his brow toward his damaged torso, before collapsing in agony from his mortal wound...then cue the fife-and-drum jingle as his colleagues clumsily administer a poultice and brandy in vain.

Otherwise, Alexander Hamilton is just another Founding Father, as anonymous as Nicholas Gilman or Gunning Bedford, Jr.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why Wait for the Shake?

One never knows how one will react in moments of great stress or risk. The meek might summon unanticipated strength, and the strong may cower like a frightened dog. Either way, character is often defined at such flash points.

Just such an experience found me today when the 5.8 Virginia earthquake that shook much of the East Coast rumbled through the Philadelphia area—the first true earthquake I, and most in this neck of America, have ever endured.

I was sitting at my desk when the temblor struck. Truth be told, I was looking at porn on the computer and in the midst of self-satisfaction when the ground began shaking. Feeling the floor move and seeing the walls sway, I realized almost instantly that an earthquake was taking place. It felt a lot like when I suffered vertigo ten years ago, my sense of balance once again awry and my body momentarily helpless. Hardly in a state to rush out of my apartment building—what with my manhood exposed—I felt no such compulsion anyway. Rather than overcome by fear, I remained completely calm, as the curious novelty of the moment suppressed any trace of panic. Frankly, all I could think about once the shuddering ceased was finishing what I started. Why should plate tectonics rob me of an orgasm? Besides, if my death is imminent, I can't think of a better way to go out of this world than blowing my top to high-resolution pics of a nude, glistening Ariana Jollee spread-eagle at pool-side. Would it really make a hell of a difference that my lifeless body will be uncovered from the rubble with my pants open and my dust-covered pride hanging out? That I got right back to business instead of checking for damage, turning on the news, or escaping a potentially crumbling structure probably doesn't speak to my legacy, but I was operating on primal urge—and I remain steadfast that I did the right thing!

So much so that, like taking shelter in a basement during a tornado, perhaps I have proven that masturbation is the safest course of action during an earthquake.

Frankly, I found that the shaking so added to the pleasure—perhaps in a fashion similar to how autoerotic asphyxiation reputedly heightens orgasm—that I'm now wondering if it might pay to move to a more earthquake-prone country, such as Indonesia or Turkey, to enjoy this newfound enhancement more regularly.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hate Baiting in Fishtown

Forget the Hulk—this is one angry banner...

The building upon which this vitriolic banner flies (this photo has not been doctored in any way) is located on the 1100 block of Earl Street, in Philadelphia's Fishtown section. The Bank of America to which this certainly refers is located around the corner, on Girard Avenue.

Now, I'm just wondering what Bank of America could have done to elicit such hatred that someone went to the time-consuming, costly, and probably perilous trouble of making this banner and affixing it to his or her home (notice there are no windows from which to easily hang it).

Did Bank of America turn down this resident's loan application for a start-up banner company? Has Bank of America slashed its business hours to 9:00–9:10 AM, Mondays only? Are Bank of America's tellers laughing at this customer's balance every time (s)he comes in to make a transaction?

Banks can be very intimidating entities with which to deal. A bank most likely has more money than you, which can make you feel inferior and disadvantaged. So this could merely be a case of fiscal jealousy; however, such rage would be misplaced, because the guitar shop, the burger place, and the realty office a few doors down from the Girard Ave. Bank of America surely also have more money than this resident—so (s)he may well just be venting at the most readily recognizable symbol of financial superiority.

But even in these economically frustrating times, in which tempers toward the well-to-do are boiling over with increasing regularity, such ire as drapes this building must certainly result from a particular action.

So I'm betting that Bank of America slept with this resident's wife...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Valdez as Slick on the Mound as in Prince William Sound

A 19-inning marathon between the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds ended at 1:19 this morning, with 2nd-baseman Wilson Valdez earning the victory after Philadelphia had exhaused its bullpen. Valdez became the first player since none other than Babe Ruth to start a game at a position other than pitcher, move to the mound, and record a victory, which Ruth did on October 1, 1921.

Now that Valdez is in the company of baseball royalty, doesn't he deserve a snazzy nickname? I think so...and, based on Wilson's hair, I suggest "Exxon," because Valdez's coif quite resembles the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster, with his beard standing in for the pooled spillage that washed ashore in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

All in favor...?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Two About Killebrew

This morning, Minnesota Twins great and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew succumbed to a six-month battle with esophageal cancer after choosing to end unresponsive treatment and die at home. I never saw him play (or if I did, I have no recollection, owing to young age and the fact that he was long past his prime and bore no resemblance to an all-time great whom I would remember), so a platitude-filled eulogy would be misplaced.*

*Sadly, as an employee for a sports-memorabilia company in 1989, I met many great baseball players but did not work the day that Killebrew came into the office to sign items—a missed opportunity that I've long regretted because he has always been known as a gracious and classy gentleman, as was confirmed by my then-coworkers.

However, two aspects of Killebrew's great career bear mentioning:

» Signed as a "bonus baby" in June 1954 by the Washington Senators, had the Sens given Killebrew a regular spot in the lineup earlier instead of allowing him a mere 254 at-bats during the first five years of his career, he may well have taken a run at Babe Ruth's mark of 714 home runs. Instead, Senators brass wasted Killebrew's first two years on the bench—for awful second-division teams going nowhere—and then sent him to the minors (under "bonus baby" rules, Killebrew had to stay with the parent club for two seasons before he could go to the minors). After three seasons climbing his way up the minor-league ladder (during which the Senators failed to play even .400 ball and clearly had nothing to lose by giving Killebrew more playing time), Harmon came up for good in 1959...and promptly smashed a league-leading 42 home runs (earning the first of six home-run crowns). That he did this while playing his home games in Griffith Stadium, one of the most unforgiving pitcher's parks in Major League history, is a testament to his brute strength—and Washington management's five-year short-sightedness. The Senators soon moved to the Twin Cities—and Killebrew would quickly lead the Twins to the World Series—but had foolishly deprived Harmon of at least several years in his early twenties when, with a full season to swing the bat, he could easily have hit at least 100 home runs before what eventually became his breakout year (based on the 11 HR he hit in those 254 AB, over five 650-AB seasons). Without question, Killebrew would have reached a minimum of 600 career home runs (he retired with 573)—placing him in "baseball immortal" territory...possibly ahead of Willie Mays—and within reach of Ruth, of whom he fell 141 homers amount for which he was almost exactly on pace during those first five years that the Senators squandered his talent. In any event, Killebrew would have retired a household name rather than a "second-tier" great.

» It has long been rumored that the official Major League Baseball logo designed in 1969 was based on Harmon Killebrew's batting stance (and perhaps it was no coincidence that Killebrew was in the midst of his greatest season in '69, eventually winning the AL who better to "represent" baseball in tumultuous 1969 than the quiet, ever-respectable Killebrew?). This rumor was finally quashed by the logo's creator, Jerry Dior, in a 2008 Wall Street Journal story...but did it even need to be? That ball is coming right at the hitter—a hit-by-pitch for sure. Baseball, always staunchly conservative, obviously viewed the hit-by-pitch as a symbol of self-sacrifice in the overindulgent, anti-war '60s. Yet Harmon Killebrew was hit by a pitch only 48 times during his career, which ties him for 429th on the all-time hit-by-pitch list—hardly the emblem of the hit-by-pitch. And what pitcher would want to? Killebrew, although only 5-foot-11, was regarded as one of the most powerful men in baseball because of his many tape-measure blasts. No pitcher in his right mind would throw at Killebrew, even in that rebellious, anything-goes decade. Sure, Harmon led the AL in hit-by-pitches in 1964, but that was a season during which a lot of young and disillusioned American League pitchers were still shaken and angry over the Kennedy assassination (1964 was, in fact, the AL's highest year in hit-by-pitches since 1915—like John F. Kennedy, the season after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which surely affected many politically aware pitching staffs).

No, he didn't get to 600 home runs and beyond. No, he didn't serve as the model for Major League Baseball's official logo. But the humble Harmon Killebrew lived, and died, with dignity and grace.

(MLB logo is a registered trademark of Major League Baseball.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Interstate Love Sign

At the entrance ramp of Exit 1D on I-76 West in Gloucester City, New Jersey, stands one of those oft-seen, blue “Sponsor a Highway” signs. (There are actually two types of these signs: the “Sponsor a Highway Program,” in which the Adopt A Highway Maintenance Corporation performs the actual litter removal, and the “Adopt A Highway Program,” in which the interested party leasing the sign “adopts” its mile of road and physically maintains it, in much the same way as did Cosmo Kramer—although widening the lanes is frowned upon). These signs are rented by local establishments such as Cracker Barrel or institutional corporations such as Blue Cross for high-profile advertising in heavily trafficked areas. However, the particular sign of which I speak was leased to Club Risqué, a gentlemen’s club in nearby Philadelphia.

I don’t have a problem with this. I've frequented Club Risqué on a number of occasions and found it to be a pleasant and enriching experience. With what I do have a problem is that Club Risqué opted for the “Sponsor a Highway” program rather than “adopting” its mile. When I’m stuck bumper-to-bumper on an interstate and feeling angry and frustrated, what could better ease tension than watching the Club Risqué dancers cleaning up their mile of median and roadside? Club Risqué’s mile also contains numerous light poles upon which its employees could be performing their mesmerizing art. Instead, the frankly unattractive and hirsute Adopt A Highway Maintenance Corporation is out doing the job.

Club Risqué missed a great opportunity both for product demonstration and for helping out beleaguered commuters. As a motorist, I find this distressing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

You Can Take That to the Bank...But You're Better Off Using Your Mattress

TD Banks registered logo is America's Most Convenient Bank. Youve surely seen one of its numerous television ads featuring Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa. But Ive been banking with TD Bank since it took over Commerce Bank, and I contend that TD Bank is perhaps Americas Least Convenient bank. For instance:

On Monday, I queued up in one of my local branch's four drive-thru lanes to deposit a check. After stuffing the check and deposit slip into the container and sending it to the teller, I sat and waited for more than ten minutes as five customers who had entered their lane and began their transaction after me received service and drove away while I continued to wait.


The very next day, I drove to the same branch to obtain some temporary checks because I was still awaiting the arrival of my new ones. The customer-service representative informed me that they did not have any temporary checks and that I would have to go to another branch to get them.


These are inconveniences occurring just this week. Theres also the $4.00 maintenance fee that TD Bank charged when my savings-account balance fell below $250.00. I didnt even know this fee existed...and they charged me for it four consecutive months. I accrued 75 measly cents in interest on my savings in 2010...yet TD Bank took $16 for maintaining my account! What did that maintenance require? Leaning over to shift cheeks while sitting on their fat asses staring at the sun and waiting for 5:00 so they could run to Prospectors and down a martini with my money? Okay, so I have Web access to my account, which could have alerted me earlier to this hidden fee—but I rarely used my savings account in 2010 and seldom had need to check it. Bottom line:


And if I had a nickel for every time a TD Bank ATM was out of service when I needed to use it, Id have just enough money to open another TD Bank savings account and lose $4 a month in maintenance fees...

Quite inconvenient.

Further making its customers lives more difficult, TD Bank used to allot to account holders two money orders a year without charge. A TD Bank money order now costs an account holder $4.

Extremely inconvenient!

TD Banks advertising campaign further boasts about its legendary service (as seen in small print in the ad above). I would very much like Regis and/or Kelly to explain whats so "legendary about it. Banking, in one form or another, has existed since antiquity. Certainly, the banking families of Renaissance Italy introduced practices that are still in use today, and Alexander Hamilton proved to be one of the greatest banking minds in modern history, organizing the first bank of our fledgling nation. But TD Bank as an operating unit only dates back to October 2008—hardly a history with which to achieve legendary service. Now, had TD Bank lent substantial sums to Charles V so he could finance his wars against the Valois kings of France, or perhaps had it provided coin-counting machines and safety-deposit boxes to the Pilgrims, then a claim of legendary service might be justified. But TD Bank reviving the tradition of offering free lollipops at its counter doesnt cut it. Finance a crusade or two... Provide home-equity loans in gold ducats... Offer a 700-year CD so youll have a viable past by the time it matures... At least give out free quill & inkwells instead of those cheap pens... Something to legitimize your claim...

Most convenient?

Perhaps TD Bank should drop Regis and Kelly in favor of the Church Lady so as to make more obvious that its claim is a goof.

Besides, Dana Carvey needs the work...


The checks I ordered more than three weeks ago still have not arrived.

Ludicrously inconvenient!


As of October 2012, TD Bank no longer sells postage stamps through its ATMs.



May 31, 2014: Once again, the ATM is out of order, necessitating that I stand in a long line for counter service while staring at the AMERICA'S MOST CONVENIENT BANK slogan—the banking world's version of the Warren Report—all-too-proudly mounted on the wall behind the tellers.



July 30, 2014: Again, the ATM is out of order. Standing next in line, one teller occupied and the other teller busy doing apparently nothing, a customer-service employee, seeing me growing visibly frustrated, walks across the bank floor, goes behind the counter, and asks the unoccupied teller whether he informed me that his line is closed. The teller responds affirmatively despite never having even looked up to see me standing at the head of the line about ten feet away, let alone never uttering a single word to me. A brazen and shameless lie that would have Alexander Hamilton spinning in his urn—made without even attempting to conceal his fallacious claim from my ears.



October 14, 2014: The TD Bank in Lake Worth, Florida, has a line of customers almost out the door, yet only a single teller is working the counter. Making matters worse, at least for me, of the fifteen (15!) slots of transaction slips available at the front-door counter, exactly none (0!) of them contain withdrawal slips. Apparently, TD Bank doesnt want you to have access to your money.



December 26, 2014: As the fifth car in the drive-thru this afternoon, more than ten minutes passed without a single transaction being completed by the unconcerned teller, who instead found it more important to wave at, and inquire about, the crying infant in the lead vehicle. Finally, I pulled out of line, parked, and conducted my banking inside.

When the drive-thru is slower than going inside, its time to look for another bank...


October 5, 2015: Brought $174.15 of coins to TD Bank to deposit in their coin counter. (I painstakingly hand-counted every coin last evening, logging each one with a tick mark, by denomination, on a white-lined sheet of paper, because more than a few reports exist of banks deliberately miscalibrating their machines so that they can shortchange you and bilk you out of even more of your money.) Sure enough, the TD Bank machine produced a total of $167.41more than $6 short, putting this far beyond the realm of an innocent margin of error. The bank manager didnt count on me producing the hand-logged inventory of coins and, after ten minutes of awkward fumfering on her part, my account was finally credited the full amount. However, I still did not receive the $1.99 bonus for guessing within $2.00 of the pre-count total (I input the exact amount, of course).



November 28, 2015: More than two weeks after closing out my safety-deposit box (going into my local branch, removing my property, and signing the forms to officially terminate the account), I received a late notice for safety-deposit box renewal. TD Bank is demanding $43.00 in 2016 fees for a deposit box I no longer rent. To add insult to buffoonery, TD Bank is still sending my mail to my old address, which I updated in its system more than a month ago.



January 13, 2016: My debit cardwhich is good thru April 2016, has virtually no wear on it, and has never before given me a problem either at an ATM or accessing one in a locked TD Bank lobbyfailed to unlock the door of my local branch tonight, I had to sit in the dark parking lot until another customer entered the lobby, so I could stand outside and wait until he exited. If you think that was vexing enoughand it wasunderstand that the $1.5 billion Powerball drawing is tonightand with ticket sales ending, by local law, at 10:00, I was fighting the clock to get cash. Sure, I could have gone to a non-TD Bank ATM, but the galling surcharges tacked on by both the host bank and good ol' TD would have amounted to anywhere from $6 to $8. After paying nearly half a billion dollars in federal, state, and local taxes on my Powerball jackpot winnings, thered hardly been anything left thanks to TDs grubby little hands...


(TD Bank ad copyright TD Bank; Church Lady photo copyright NBC.)