Monday, August 31, 2009

This Should Be the Indians Lineup Next Season

All right, so I'm full of crap. My self-imposed exile from baseball hasn't been much of an exile at all. I still check the scores, know the stats, read the articles, even listen to an inning or two here and there. Oh, I'm still mad, mind you, mad as hell. I'm mad about steroids, mad about the balance of power, but in the wake of all my fist shaking and tsk-tsking, I still love my Indians, and I wanna talk about about next season for a minute without spewing too much invective.

I have no idea how the Tribe's rotation or bullpen is going to shape up next season. Combine the worst salary structure in all of professional sports and owner Larry Dolan's miserly ways and you end up being a tad short on consecutive Cy Young award winning pitchers. However, as the season progresses and certain players begin to distinguish themselves, it becomes increasingly easy to determine who should comprise the everyday lineup for 2010. Assuming that the bullpen will as usual implode the season by late April, here's what makes up a pretty intriguing batting brigade for another likely 70-80 win season.

1) CF Grady Sizemore - The lone superstar on the team is destined for another city by the time his contract ends. His elbow troubles were part of what ruined that many experts predicted would end with a world series ring. After off-season surgery, expect Grady to come back hungry and ready to have the type of year that has made him one of the best all-around players in the AL. He has been the leadoff hitter for the past 5 seasons. A drop in the order may be imminent.

2) SS Asdrubal Cabrera - Probably the Tribe's MVP of the 2009 season, Asdrubal has been the team's best hitter and best fielder all year long. A genuine star in the making, he will be the shortstop until the Indians can no longer afford him. By the time he reaches his prime, the Yankees will be awarded with a seasoned and top shelf replacement for Jeter.

3) LF Shin-Soo Choo - No more questions about whether this guy can play. Choo is a line drive machine at the plate, fully capable of clearing the fences but smart enough to shorten his swing with two strikes. He also is a gem in the field and possesses far and away the best outfield arm on the team. How about baserunning? 18 steals in 20 attempts. Choo excels in every area and should be a fixture in the outfield for the foreseeable future. The best thing? Choo is still getting better. Could be an all-star one day.

4) 3B Jhonny Peralta - The perpetually undervalued member of the Indians lineup is good for .280/20/80 every single year. You don't just toss something like that away, yet his critics always seem ready to do so. Sure he radiates all the electricity of a bowl of oatmeal, but he's dependable in the field and more than competent at the plate and, at 28, he is an affordable and reliable veteran presence among a gaggle of rookies.

5) DH Travis Hafner - Hafner has been bad for two and a half seasons. I'm not sure what that indicates, whether he's off the juice and we're seeing the real Hafner, or if his shoulder has indeed been that messed up. Either way, it does not bode well. Healthy, the guy is simply one of the scariest hitters in the AL. That guy, the one who finished third in MVP voting in '06, has been largely MIA since 2007. If a major rebound to form to the tune of .300-30-100 doesn't happen next season, it may be time to close the books on what should have been a magnificent career.

6) C Kelly Shoppach - As a hitter, Shoppach is all raw power, a strikeout artist that makes enough contact that 20+ homeruns are a realistic yearly output. He is also steady behind the plate, and, when on his game, has a nice arm vs. would-be base stealers. However, as a starter he is merely keeping it warm for Carlos Santana, who will most likely have his first cup of coffee in September 2010. In the meantime, Shoppach is adequate.

7) RF Matt LaPorta - The brief glimpse we have had of LaPorta has been fairly impressive, and, given his accomplishments in the minors, I see no reason not to throw him out there in 2010. Let him get 500 ABs in the bigs and see if he was worth the price of C.C. Sabathia. If LaPorta's potential as a middle of the order power hitter does not come true, it could mean GM Mark Shapiro's head.

8) 1B Andy Marte - A third baseman by trade, Marte is finally beginning to assert himself at the big league level since his most recent call up from the minors. I (and everyone else except himself apparently) wrote this guy off long ago, mostly due to his .219 batting average over 4 seasons. To me he had what appeared to be a long, loopy, uncontrolled swing that most often resulted in weak grounders to the shortstop. However, after a year of sustained play during which he completely tore apart AAA pitching, perhaps he has figured it out. Lately his swing looks under control, shorter, and, most shockingly, clutch. The recently jettisoned Ryan Garko opened up room at first base. Let's have Marte plug the hole for a season and see why scouts were once so high on him. If Marte doesn't work out, and odds are he won't, prized prospect Jordan Brown is waiting in the minors.

9) 2B Luis Valbuena - Ideally, Josh Barfield would fill this spot, but since his arrival in 2007, Barfield has displayed little aside from the inability to hit the ball out of the infield or ever get on base. Valbuena, on the other hand, has shown a decided knack for hitting for extra bases. His glove is marginal, but he has exhibited enough prowess with the bat to justify letting him man second base next season while providing some pop at the bottom of the order. He's only 23, so perhaps there is room to improve on that .240 batting average, too.

UT Jamey Carroll - This is what you want in a utility player--versatility in the field and competence at the plate. That's Carroll, who has been nothing but consistent in a backup role. He will not hit for power, but he's a nice contact hitter who seems to excel in situational at bats. He could form one half of a very productive platoon, should Valbuena prove incapable against left-handed pitchers.

Is this the lineup of a playoff-bound team? Probably not. And even if it is, I doubt there is enough firepower to compensate for the annual bullpen flameout that has been the signature of the Shapiro/Wedge era. Still, I like what I've seen since the all-star break, and hope to see more of the same next season.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

White Men Can't Dance

Or at least this white man can't:

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to my wife, who for 10 years, bless her, has endured this imbecilic form of dancing. I have no idea what I'm trying to do here, but it's not working. Not at all.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The McBone Beer Journal Get-Off-My-Lawn Edition; Pabst Blue Ribbon

Ah, the American macrobrew. Guzzled by millions, reviled by snobs. Who's right in the epic and never-ending battle between the thirsty masses and the insufferable, effete, snot-nose little shits who demand to know how many International Bitterness Units a hop infusion has imparted into their $18.99 six pack? I used to count myself in the latter camp, but not wholly. Bad beer, I was taught, is better than no beer at all. So very true (except when it comes to the scourge of light and low carb beers, which should be wiped from the face of the planet!). Still, I regret to say that all too often I turned my nose up at a perfectly drinkable Budweiser. These days I'll quaff a Miller Genuine Draft without thinking twice.

This brings us to the beer in question. Founded in 1844 (when it was actually made in Milwaukee and it was known as Best Lager), Pabst Blue Ribbon is unquestionably one of the seminal American beers, and I had been craving a PBR ever since watching Walt Kowalski spew racial epithets while draining case after case of the stuff in Gran Torino. For my own similar experience I figured I would need 3 things:

1) Pabst - check!
2) A cooler - check!
3) Asian neighbors

Two out of three ain't bad. So I'll have to forego the bigotry this time and crack open a can. And let me make this perfectly clear, in case there's any lingering questions from my last post. I LOVE beer in cans. If I had it my way, more premium beers would come in cans. There's just something about a frosty-cold cylinder of aluminum that can't be duplicated with glass. The late John Updike once wrote a short essay pining for the days before the 'inane gadgetry' of pull tabs, when beers required two perforations with an opener. You know what? He was right. Novelists usually are.

But I'll forgive this can of Pabst for its failings and pull the tab anyway. I take a whiff. How can one describe the bouquet of a Pabst? What else can I say except that a Pabst smells like beer? Good old, reliable, divine, run of the mill, American beer.

I refuse to do anything to do anything outside of drinking straight from the can, (which is pretty shamelessly imitative of a Budweiser, by the way) and so I can only go with the presumption that PBR is pale, yellow and fizzy.

The remarkable thing about a mass produced lager is how smooth and mellow and easy to drink it can be. I used to consider those qualities negative. No longer! Taking a sip is a virtual impossibility, and I find that, each time I raise the PBR to my lips, at least three gulps go down, and soon I'm reaching into the cooler for a second can, a third. The taste is minimally hoppy--very slight floral notes, and then a pretty decent dose of barley malt. But listen to me talking like an asshole. PBR is great! That's all you need to know. It's crisp. Refreshing. Exactly what I'd crave if I was mowing the lawn right now, or watching the Indians beat the Baltimore Orioles on Andy Marte's clutch, ninth inning two-run home run, or berating some Asian neighbors for standing on my lawn.

So, beer snobs, I say to you: stop being so pretentious. Of course there are better beers in the world. And yes it's annoying that hipsters and indie kids are into PBR. But this stuff tastes good, makes you feel good, is cheap and unassuming. Hey, if it's good enough for Clint Eastwood, it's good enough for you.

Official McBone Rating: 3.5 McBones.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Viticulture at McBone

Here you have a picture of me with our newly-planted member of the Vitis labrusca family, the Concord grape. A native of Concord, Massachusetts, the Concord is widely used for making juice and jelly, and is also gaining increased popularity as a wine grape. It may not look like much now, but with the proper care and attention this humble vine will one day yield a vast and limitless bounty of fruit.

And someday when I am lounging supine in my harem on a sweltering summer day, I will allow my favorite wife (Alex) to feed the grapes to me one by one as I rest my head in her lap.

That won't happen overnight, of course. It all begins here, with a vine, a little dirt and that McBone can-do attitude.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Meet the Newlyweds

You know, I've always been one to play favorites. That's probably going to be bad news for a relationship or two with my future children, but hell, I can't help the way I am. I don't believe people can change, so why bother to try? In fact, I'm going to get it over with right now. If I have two children and one of them is a boy, the boy will be my favorite. I love you, son.

Anyhow, I have a favorite when it comes to cousins, too. The rest is something of a faceless rabble with whom I happen to share common ancestral roots. Other than that, they're pretty much indistinguishable, one from the other. I'm sure they all have names, but I can never seem to remember them. Mostly I'm forced to interact with these people on holidays and special occasions, but I usually spend that time imagining I am somewhere else, far, far away.

Well, one of those special occasions was just a couple of weeks ago, when my favorite cousin Abby got married, and believe you me there was no other place I would have rather been. The man to whom Abby has bound herself for all eternity is Silas, a genial fellow who shares Abby's commitment to protecting the Earth and whose laugh is vaguely reminiscent of a mad scientist's. Best of all, he has a beard! This was my first time meeting Silas, but certainly not the last. By default he is my new co-favorite cousin. Or maybe I'll call him Cousin 1-a. Silas, I look forward to getting to know you better. I would say what a wise decision you've made in marrying Abby, but by now you know better than me how awesome she is. Welcome to the family and let me take this chance to offer you both a hearty McBoneulations!

The marriage itself was an outdoor affair that took place at my aunt and uncle's sprawling, 40-room lakeside palace in New Hampshire (imagine all the opulence of the Shining combined with the rustic charm of Camp Crystal Lake), the very spot where Abby and I spent an amazing summer together back in 1994. In those days the living quarters consisted of a humble cottage--straw mats to sleep on, and, with no functional cooking apparatus, can after can of cold beans and franks. But Abby and I had each other, and I know that when she told me at the end of those three months that she never wanted to see my stupid face again, she was only half-serious.

Well, Aunt Gail and Uncle Don have really spruced up the old place since those days. Gone is the roofless cottage (though, curiously, the outhouse remains!) and on this glorious Sunday afternoon friends and family converged from far and wide on this woodland Xanadu. By noon the place was infested with countless half-breed Armenians and, I swear, you've never seen so many unibrows in your life.

After a ceremony that was lovingly written by the bride and groom themselves and featured a slobbering dog with whom the obliging bride managed a quick game of fetch, it was time to celebrate.

Music was provided by the outstanding bluegrass group, the Goodtime Stringband. Beer and wine were in abundant supply, but Dad, Jeff, Graham and I raided the liquor cabinet for bourbon. What's a wedding, after all, without getting blind drunk?

Aunt Gail took care of the food herself. Armenian was the logical choice, so we feasted on cracker bread, rice pilaf, homemade tabbouleh with fresh cut garden herbs, and utterly scrumptious kebabs made from a lamb raised and slaughtered by Silas and Abby themselves. Perhaps most amazing was the authentic Armenian guacamole!

Speeches were made, and the food was devoured. Dancing followed, and then came the inevitable game of King of the Dock, where it's every man and woman for themselves and no holds are barred.

Fortunately, death and serious injury were avoided on this happy day.

Well, I'd be lying if I said I could remember any more. In all, it was one of the finest times I've had in my life, worthy of remembrance and certainly the start of a long, happy, loving union between two beautiful people. The marriage of Abby and Silas certainly merits the official McBone Seal of Approval, which I stamp here most ardently: McB.

Photos reproduced without permission.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Pretenders, Cat Power and Juliette Lewis at the Vic!

I've been waiting to see Cat Power in concert ever since I decided that Chan Marshall was about the best singer this side of, um, Chrissie Hynde. But when loyal McBoner Darin informed me that I had the chance to see them both in concert on the same night and in the same place, I almost crapped. When he told me that the sometimes marginally decent actress Juliette Lewis would also be part of the show, I sort of rolled my eyes and stopped needing to crap. Even so, Immediately I got online and scored a pair of tickets at the Aragon Theater in Chicago.

Me and my no. 1 gal made the Aragon in time to find out the venue had changed. Luckily the McBonemobile is tricked out with the latest in satellite technology and a newly-installed 460 horsepower engine that tore up the streets of the Windy City and got us to the Vic Theater with time to spare. We threw down 6 dollars for a glass (cup) of wine and a very reasonable 15 clams for a martini (no twist or olive, but whatever) and found our seats, three rows back in the balcony, which was practically right above the stage. Squirming with anticipation, I downed my Bombay Sapphire and was pleasantly buzzed for the show.

Juliette Lewis was the opener, and I found her much less obnoxious than expected. Yes, she was decked out in cliche rock-star garb (funky t-shirt, tattered red tights and roller-girl kneepads) and singing punk like she was an actress singing punk, but she's got a pretty strong voice and a hell of a lot of energy. She warmed the crowd nicely for the person I had come to see.

And how was Cat Power? Well, let me tell you that the awesomeness level was high, but not as high as I'd hoped. Drawing mostly from her Jukebox album, she sang versions that were relatively faithful to the record. I suppose that's fine and all, but one of her strengths in my opinion is her Dylan-like ability to reinvent her own songs. There was very little of that here. Another complaint is that she seemed to defer to her band a little too much, and her voice was often drowned out by these players who are competent, yes, but certainly not what I had come to hear. I found myself wondering why someone with such a lovely, rich, textured, cigarette-smoking voice would want to, well, blend in. Nobody is coming to see the band at a Cat Power show. Cat Power is Chan Marshall and vice versa. Chan needed to be front and center, spotlight fixed firmly on her, with her singing rising above all else. All else is immaterial, really. The lights were so low on this stage, that all was a murky, blue wash.

That said, there were many highlights, none better than Metal Heart, which was the one instance she really seemed to open up and let it fly. Also outstanding were Song to Bobby, The Dark End of the Street, and I Lost Someone. She closed with Angelitos Negros, the poem by Venezuelan scribe Andres Eloy Blanco (memorized by Alex in 3rd grade, interestingly enough). While her accent is always spotty, the song isn't, and she does it justice because she's so fucking cool.

Chan left the stage to loud applause and she spent several minutes shaking hands with the crowd. As she walked off, I found myself craving more, and looking forward to her forthcoming album and tour. I don't know how long the wait will be, but it will be worth it, I know. Chan! You're a singer. You have a gift. Use it.

A half hour passed and The Pretenders took the stage. Chrissie Hynde is one of my all-time favorites not simply because she is from Akron and attended my alma mater, Firestone High School. She happens to be one of the great rock stars of all time. The moment she launched into her first song, Break up the Concrete, the competition was blown to smithereens. For a good hour and a half she destroyed this little venue, kicking and strumming and, at its closing apex, blowing harp. At almost 60, her voice has never sounded better, and she's never been as sexy or self-confident. I mean, just get a load of this woman's arms. And the boots! I defy you to not have a crush on her.

Her band, replete with guitar, bass, drums and lap steel, was also awesome, the perfect compliment to its leader. This was a woman in command of everything, from her singing, her musicians, the crowd--every atom in that theater belonged to her.

The ultimate highlight of the night was Back on the Chain Gang, which simply has to rate as one of Rock 'n' Roll's great anthems. The rest was a generous mix of old and new: Kid, Middle of the Road, Angel of the Morning, Love's a Mystery, Night in my Veins, and millions of others, too numerous to count.

Official McBone concert rating: 4.5 McBones. Oh, how I wanted a perfect 5.0 on this night, but why split hairs. Thanks to all three for a rollicking good time.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Welcome to Falling Rock National Park, Year Four

Friends, I've been singing the praises of Welcome to Falling Rock National Park for years now. Clearly the influence of McBone isn't such that you are able to open your local newspaper each morning and read my friend Josh's daily comic, nestled snugly between the biting political commentary of Doonesbury and the no-nonsense wisdom of Mary Worth. That's because, while McBone has the police, a network of judges and several prominent congressmen in its pocket, we have yet to gain control of the major syndicates responsible for the distribution of comic strips. I've tried all the usual tactics: threats, intimidation. I'm pretty sure there are a few people that ended up on the bottom of the river. Nothing seems to work.

That's where you come in. I'm asking you to pledge your support for the official comic strip of McBone. Season four is here. Read a month's worth of comics, get to know the park and the creatures who live there. I know you'll love Falling Rock. In fact, I'm so sure you'll be hooked, I'm offering something I don't hand out lightly: the McBone Guarantee. When you're ready, send a quick email to the editors of your daily rag and ask them in the kindest possible words to put Falling Rock in their goddam worthless paper.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This is What Passes for a Moustache 'Round Here These Days

Times are hard for everyone, and things are no different at McBone. Turbulent economic waters have taken a toll on about anything you can name, including moustaches. Who can afford Clubman wax or expensive electric trimmers in a recession? Not us! These days even the NOML is cutting corners, with both its members currently barelipping it.

Still, with a little resourcefulness and $1.99, we can make things happen in a pinch:

If you squint and stand twenty feet away from your computer screen, you'd never know this baby was a fake. McBone and the NOML, keeping the moustache alive any way we can.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Five Things You May Not Know About Wine

Lately my work has taken me away from the realms of fiction and blog writing and into extensive writing in the field of wine. Yet with McBoners thirsting constantly for that olde-tyme brand of McBone wisdom, I thought, why not combine the two? Fascinating subject, wine. Here are some wine facts you may not know, but should.

1. The cradle of grape growing was located not, as you might suppose, France, Italy or Akron, Ohio, but deep in the heart of the Caucasus mountains, most likely in the area that comprises modern-day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Old Testament states that, upon landing his ark on the slopes of Mount Ararat (in Armenia, yo), Noah planted grapevines and made wine. Then one day homeboy got stone drunk and passed out in his tent wearing naught but his birthday suit. His son, Canaan, embarrassed by this unseemly set of circumstances, covered his father's junk with a blanket. Noah, not caring for the presumption shown by his youngest son, cursed Canaan, proclaiming: lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers, thus making Noah kind of a jackass, if you ask me.

2. North America is home to about 30 species of grapevine. Asia has another 30 or so. In Europe, there is but one native species of grape, the legendary Vitis vinifera. All told, V. vinifera accounts for more than 90 percent of all grapes grown in the world.

3. In the 1860s the United States, perhaps in a fit of jealousy over the precious and superior vinifera plant, "inadvertently" imported the tiny root louse phylloxera to France, nearly wiping out V. vinifera and the European wine industry altogether. European vines were only saved by grafting Old-World vines on top of louse-resistant New-World rootstock. To this day, European vines grow on American roots. The phylloxera epidemic is one of the earliest, but not the last, examples of US foreign policy run amok. 100 years later we would be import another destructive form of louse, this time to a South American wine producing country.

4. The first successful commercial winemaking operation in the United States was in Indiana in the early 1800s. After years of trying and failing to grow V. vinifera in the United States, Swiss viticulturist John James Dufour brought his knowledge of grape growing to the Midwest, that Americans might, as he put it, have wine by the produce of their own labor from the very ground they tread. Using hybrid varieties of grapes, Dufour succeeded in establishing a wine trade. However, the early Indianan wine industry did not last, most likely because of unfriendly growing conditions and wine that tasted like absolute shit.

5. Moderate daily red wine intake promotes not only a healthy heart, but improved digestion, circulation and kidney function. Red wine can prevent cancer, senility and Alzheimer's disease. Now, get this: in France, average annual wine consumption is over just 15 gallons per capita. In the United States, where we are one-third more likely to suffer a heart attack, average wine intake is around 2 gallons. The Bible Belt, where wine consumption approaches nil, is also known as "Stroke Alley." The moral? Drink wine or die!