Monday, June 8, 2009
AN UNEXPECTED SLAM AND A DOMINANT PERFORMANCE
-I'm not a huge Clete Thomas guy, but I do like his originality with the 'one batting glove' approach at the plate. Most everyone in the league opts for both hands to be gloved, and there are a rare few that go totally bare knuckles (Vlad Guerrero, Craig Counsell). But Thomas chooses for just the one, and Sunday afternoon it paid off with a tie-breaking grand slam in the bottom of the 8th to clinch a much needed series win over the Angels. Clete went the other way with the pitch, as he often does when he drives the ball. The guy aint a #3 hitter, and he probably isn't a leadoff guy either, but on this team that lacks a ton of pop right now, his ability to occasionally spray the ball around the yard for extra bases is something the Tigers desperately need.
-Edwin Jackson reminds me of Jim Bibby. Now I wasn't alive when Bibby (Mike's uncle) was pitching in the 70's, but I do recall reading about him in a book a few summers back. The book focused on the horrendous Texas Rangers teams in the mid 70's, of which Bibby was one of the only respectable hurlers. The author described Bibby's pitching tendencies on certain nights when he realized his fastball was unhittable. He would simply strut to the mound each inning with his intimidating 6'5 frame and let loose with the letter-high gas. The hitters knew it was coming and they still had no chance. Edwin Jackson's complete game dandy on Saturday night was Bibby-esque. Into the 9th inning, Jackson was still firing seeds to the dish upwards of 99 MPH. The Angels batters were well aware that the heater was on the way, and they were just as aware that they weren't going to touch it. One of the season's special moments thus far...
Suddenly, the late night talk show slot on NBC has transformed into the "Straight Face Hour." As in, when you watch an actual episode of the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show, there is a good chance your facial expression will not change for the entirety of the 60-minute program. Not a grin, not a smirk, definitely no genuine smiles. Yeah, it's that bad. Somehow, the higher-ups at NBC failed to realize one simple truth when searching for Conan O' Brien's replacement: the host should be funny. Unfortunately, that's never really been Fallon's strong suit. It was one thing when we were watching Magic Johnson ham it up in the mid 90's and fall flat on his face night after night. Of course, it was a miserable program and he was so uncomfortable as a host that it really defies any type of written description, but he had a legitimate excuse; he was a point guard masquerading as a talk show host. He was not a comedian, and thus you found yourself cutting the guy a little slack for his horrid performance. Fallon has no such reason for his struggles. The man was on Saturday Night Live for a number of years. You'd think that would translate to a sharp sense of humor and an ability to make others laugh. You'd be wrong.
To be fair, it is still relatively early in Mr. Fallon's late-night career. It might take time for a host to refine his delivery and create a style all his own. Unfortunately, Fallon has too steep a hill to climb. He seems to be trying new ways to better himself, but the ideas are so amateurish and poorly thought out that you wind up feeling sympathy for the man. A few weeks back, he decided he would burst onto the stage for the opening of the show with a whoosh of energy. He sprinted onto the set, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Not a bad idea, Jimmy. But as usual, it did not turn out well for our boy. He liked the unusually raucous applause so much that he proceeded to continue running in place, shadow boxing, and mock jumping rope for the next few minutes. This led to an exhausted Fallon panting and wheezing through his monologue, often having to pause mid-joke just to get some of his wind back. It's not every day that you see a talk-show host completely run out of gas in the show's first few minutes by attempting to impersonate Billy Blanks. But when Jimmy Fallon is involved, really nothing is impossible (not necessarily a good thing).
It only gets more and more uncomfortable as the night goes on. Fallon will routinely follow up a bombed joke by awkwardly staring at the camera for a few seconds, wondering what to do next. He'll then proceed to mime 'throwing a bowling ball down the lane,' and a few seconds later, someone backstage will play a sound effect of glass shattering. I'm never sure why this is supposed to be funny, but there's Jimmy laughing his head off at his own "brilliant" display of improvisational comedy. And yes, I know that Letterman will occasionally do something similar by throwing a pencil or a paper airplane or something, but Fallon is different. He'll do that bowling gag like seven or eight times in a row...the exact same thing. Trust me, you'll get at least 20-30% dumber watching this show. And that's only in the first 15 minutes.
Normally a weak late-night host would not be such a source of consternation here at the High Socks Legend, but when you are trying to uphold the glorious traditions and legacies laid down by past greats such as Craig Kilborn, there's a certain standard you must uphold. And Jimmy Fallon is not getting it done. We tolerated him on Saturday Night Live. We started giving him respect after his above average performance in Fever Pitch. But it all got taken away in the last few months. Fallon has resorted to desperate tactics of late. When another one of his jokes is met with silence from the live audience, he reacts the way a hack comedian does at your local weekly Open Mic Night. Fallon will feebly lash out at the crowd, shouting in a half funny-half scolding voice, "You can't boo...it's a free show. Who boos at a free show?!?" It's time Fallon takes the silence and the boos as his cue to exit stage right and pull the plug on himself, ending this train wreck. The sooner, the better...for all of us.
REMINDERS OF A CLASSIC
Sometimes a matchup can look like a giant mismatch on paper. One side is experienced, the other is raw. One has been through numerous wars, the other is just getting its feet wet. Such was the case Saturday night when former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski took on the undefeated, yet unproven Brett Rogers. Rogers was the bigger man coming in by about 20 pounds, but his sketchy list of previous opponents and unsightly mohawk made it seem like he was not quite ready for primetime. Even his nickname, "The Grim," left a lot to be desired, mainly the word "Reaper" at the end of it. My brother Gabe, the resident High Socks Legend boxing and MMA aficionado, pegged the veteran Arlovski for the easy win. However, in the lead-up to the fight, the announcers brought to light a crucial point that would trump any type of strategic analysis being discussed. The youthful Rogers had convinced himself heading into the bout that the only way he would be able to afford a new home for his family would be to shock the world and take down Arlovski. Talk about motivation. When you're dealing with a personal determination on that level, the odds are thrown out the window.
Take the Hambone Busby-Honey Roy Palmer fight in the boxing film classic, Diggstown. Honey Roy was the big-time favorite in the clash, but that was before Bruce Dern went to work. Dern apprehended Busby's younger brother and threatened to hang the kid unless Ham went out and defeated the much more polished Palmer. Ham proceeded to fight with such reckless abandon and unbridled passion that you couldn't help but root against Lou Gossett Jr., even though he was the movie's main character and hero. It was an epic bout, but ultimately, the rugged Hambone got knocked out. He sprinted back to the dressing room, but it was too late. It's approximately 17 years since the movie came out, but I still vividly remember sitting in the Water Tower Theater in Chicago watching that scene in sheer horror. One of the toughest cinematic moments in history.
Back to Saturday night, Brett Rogers was set to battle Arlovski with his family's shelter on the line. Even before it got underway, you could see the intensity practically oozing out of Rogers' pores. Arlovski wanted to win...Rogers had to win. The bell rang, they circled for about 15 seconds, and then Rogers uncoiled like a King Cobra out for blood. He unleashed a rapid three punch combination, each landing flush on Arlovski's jaw, and the Belarusian crumpled to the mat like a man that just had his leg muscles replaced by grape jelly. The referee jumped on the scene immediately to stop the action, and in all of 22 seconds, Rogers had went from relative unknown to household name in the fight game. You can break down all the tape you want. You can look at the resumes of each guy until you're blue in the face. But sometimes, it just comes down to sheer will and the knowledge that you are fighting for something bigger than just a W on the ledger. Hambone Busby almost did the impossible on that memorable evening in Diggstown years ago. Saturday night, Brett Rogers finished the job with a flair, and for that, he gets to show his family a new home. One he most definitely earned.
I THINK WE'VE ALL SEEN THE TRAILER NOW...A BILLION TIMES
The Hangover dropped in theaters this past Friday, and while I haven't actually seen the movie, it feels like I've already seen it two or three dozen times. That's what happens when a movie preview gets played over and over and over to the point where you know all the jokes and punchlines without having stepped foot in your local AMC 20. I'm not saying it's a bad flick, I'm not saying I might not see it sometime down the road, but I think I've just had enough for a while. If you watched any amount of NBA or NHL playoffs over the last few weeks, you know what I'm talking about. I haven't been this familiar with a movie before seeing it since War of the Worlds threw their trailers on NBA coverage non-stop for like 36 months prior to its actual release. I felt like I knew Dakota Fanning personally by the end of that campaign (Or maybe I just wanted to...only kidding...umm). I'm almost sure that Worlds never even came out in theaters. The trailer wound up getting played on loop so many thousands of times before Opening Day that the studio just scrapped the release and moved right on to work for The Hangover over-commercialization project. Give us a few 30-second previews, mix in a couple solid jokes, and let us make up our mind. We're more than capable of doing so. As Adam Sandler once said in the classic sketch Right Field, "You get it over the plate! We'll take care of the rest!"
POSSIBLE CLOSE OUT GAME...AND A HISTORIC RULE CHANGE
-According to Larry Brown, this Stanley Cup Final has not even started yet. Brown always recited the longstanding credo that a playoff series does not start until a team loses on its home court (or ice, in this case). Through five contests, each game has been won by the home squad. And while it's been an exhilarating series with tremendous performances from both sides, I can't help but wonder how much better it would be if the NHL were to finally adopt one of my most passionate rule change suggestions. I understand that the game is played on ice, and because of this, the players have to wear ice skates to get around. I get this. But do all of the players have to be wearing the skates?? My slight alteration to the game would be to force each team to play one player at all times in his shoes. We all used to play hockey on our driveways growing up in our shoes. Let's get back to our roots. The shoes in question can be hi-tops, cross trainers, tap shoes, whatever. One guy, no ice skates. Shoes. Imagine the possibilities. That guy would be the ultimate wild card. He'd be vulnerable to a monster body check at all times with his struggle to stay balanced, but he might also be able to use the unique footwear to his advantage. You'd never see "Shoe Guy" tumble to the ice in a heap because he "lost an edge." Shoe Guys don't lose edges, because Doc Martens don't have edges. I'll admit it's a little out of the box, and it might take a little getting used to, but I really think this is where the game's heading in the next few years if it is truly devoted to pleasing its fans, specifically myself. Remember one thing as you let this revolutionary idea sink in. At its heart, a skate is just a big shoe...and a donut with no hole is a danish. Let's bring back the shoe...it just makes too much sense not to.
As always, feel free to share your own thoughts on today's article and the weekend in sports. Or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org