Monday, July 20, 2009

Breakdown Monday with the HSL

I know it's still early in the proceedings, but the fear many Tigers fans felt when the team traded away top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin is slowly fading away. While both guys are still young and it is far too early to declare either player a "bust," neither of the much ballyhooed bonus babies are up to much in the baseball world. Miller has been so-so, mixing in 6-7 innings of solid ball with other outings where he doesn't see the 3rd. His control is still too erratic, as evidenced Sunday when the Phillies smacked him around for 2 2/3 innings, taking four free passes in the process. Miller often skates by without too much criticism because opposing players and managers are always complimenting him in such bizarre fashion. The most popular phrase attributed to the 6'6 Miller is that when he winds up and delivers, it is "all arms and legs coming at you." I nod my head and move on even though I'm always a bit unsure as to how this makes him unique.

Maybin keeps being yo-yoed back and forth from the big club in Florida to the little club in New Orleans. He has struggled big time with command of the strike zone in the majors, leading to a startling 31 whiffs in just 84 at-bats this year before he was sent down. Inevitably, in AAA, he winds up finding his stroke and hitting in the .330's. Again, like Miller, Maybin is still learning and could someday be a top-tier major league player, but the guy was drafted four years ago and does not seem to have made that much progress towards being an everyday player at the highest level. The concern with Maybin has always been that he might be more "athlete" than "baseball player." As exciting as it is to see a player tabbed with the magical "5-tools" label, it is not uncommon for these guys to never quite find their footing in the game, toiling away for years in frustration while the respective franchises keep waiting for the moment when it all "starts to click." See the Chicago Cubs with Corey Patterson. Like Maybin, Patterson was a Top-10 pick as a centerfielder, and the Cubs thought they were going to have the next Willie Mays roaming the Friendly Confines for the next 10-15 years. But he just never managed to turn the corner. He would display little hints of greatness, either bashing a 400 foot homer with a flick of the wrist, or chasing down a long drive to the gap that few others could even sniff. But more common were the "0 for 4, 3 Ks" stat lines, and final batting average totals more representative of a backup catcher.

Clearly, the Miguel Cabrera trade was a home run regardless of how these boys turn out. Cabrera has taken hold of the middle of the Tigers batting order at a time where previous occupant Magglio Ordóñez has disappeared and begun his slow and unfortunate transformation into becoming the Hispanic Craig Paquette. Cabrera led the league in bombs last year and would have had a shot at the batting crown this season if not for Joe Mauer and Ichiro stubbornly staying put in the .360's. But when you look at the very real possibility that neither Miller or Maybin will end up being All-Star caliber players, this trade goes from being a home run to an all-out heist. Young pitchers with serious control issues do not tend to figure those out overnight. And supposed "5-tool" players can sometimes go their whole careers without ever fully embracing that elusive quintet of abilities. Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin might one day be taking their place in Cooperstown, making this trade a borderline disaster. But based on what we've seen, I'd sleep peacefully tonight. Real peacefully.

Another Chance...

I'm not saying it's the best...I'm not saying it's the worst. But I will say that like fine wine and your vocabulary, the movie Celtic Pride really seems to get better with a little age on it. When it first hit theaters like a storm back in '96, there was simply too much hype to live up to. At the time, Daniel Stern was the hottest thing since sliced bread, coming off the Home Alone-City Slickers blockbusters, while nicely mixing in an underrated, albeit irritating comedy in Bushwacked. Dan Aykroyd was still consistently trotting out high-quality work with My Girl and Coneheads, while also contributing terrific supporting performances in Tommy Boy and the often overlooked Sgt. Bilko. And if Damon Wayans ever had a "peak" to his career, it was at this point. He showed us the versatility in The Last Boy Scout, doubled down with Mo' Money, and even managed to grab a few laughs in semi-dreadful slapstick jobs Blankman and Major Payne. All three of these superstars (not a stretch at that time) essentially in their prime coming together to do a basketball related comedy with actual NBA teams and logos being could it miss?!?? Well, it did.

Anybody that saw Celtic Pride in theaters remembers the empty feeling they felt walking out of the exit that day. Here we were, expecting an epic sports comedy filled with career-defining performances, legitimate hoops action, and timeless lines of dialogue. Instead, we were treated to 91 minutes of overcooked Bah-ston accents, embarrassing b-ball choreography, and one of the most confusing/deflating endings to any flick, sports or otherwise.

Stern and Aykroyd meshed a little bit, but not quite at the level so many of us had come to expect. We anticipated an explosive "Payton to Kemp" type chemistry, but wound up getting the much less thrilling "Kenny Anderson to Derrick Coleman" connection. The characters were simply too annoying. Even when they were still loyal Celtics fans in the beginning, I was never really sold. Something just didn't sit right. While Stern's storyline with the ex-wife and son made for some entertaining theater, that interplay seemed to be underused. And Aykroyd's portrayal of "Jimmy Flaherty" was basically just a sad imitation of George Wendt and Co.'s brilliant work in the Superfans sketch from SNL. I found myself routinely fake-laughing throughout the picture, somehow trying to convince myself that the movie was better than it really was. It's like watching your not-so-gifted son at the plate in Little know in your heart of hearts that he's striking out, but you still hold out a speck of hope that he'll blindly connect aluminum-to-rawhide and drive one into the leftcenter field gap.

Wayans had a chance for this to be his real coming out party, but he fell flat on his face. His brutal attempt at looking like an NBA 2-guard made Wesley Snipes' butchering of Bobby Rayburn in The Fan seem Oscar-worthy. Wayans always had that innate ability to be funny even when the material wasn't there, but he just couldn't turn the corner here. His character, "Lewis Scott," was just too darn ornery. I understand you're upset about being kidnapped bro, but would it have killed you to bring just the slightest bit of levity to the situation? He took a semi-humorous hostage situation and depressingly turned it into, "Ransom 2: Bigger, Blacker, and Sadly, This Time, No Delroy Lindo." Wayans' movie career went in the tank soon after this performance, which in turn forced us to stomach more Mos' Def and Anthony Anderson than we were really equipped to handle.

The ending to Celtic Pride is simply hard to watch. The one saving grace throughout the whole movie, the one thing you could identify with as a die hard fan of any sports team, was the unrelenting loyalty Stern and Aykroyd gave to their Celtics. They went to every game, dressed in green from head to toe, and went so far as to kidnap an opposing player to help propel their squad to victory. And all of a sudden, they go oppo-zoppo for the last 10 minutes of the flick, donning matching Jazz gear and whooping it up for Lewis Scott and his crew. I understand they had their reasons, but when we're made to watch the two longtime Bostonians celebrating on the Garden floor with the triumphant visiting team after all they'd done to try and prevent such an outcome...well, I just kind of felt violated. Like my emotions had been toyed with for the last buck and a half, and all I had to show for it was a trio of former megastars all toasting at center court to the immediate and untimely conclusion of their once storied film careers.

But back to the present. It's 2009, and the utter shock and disappointment from that early spring day 13 years ago has started to wear off. I've caught Pride more than a few times on cable and VHS (yeah, you heard me) since, and each time it gets a little more endearing, and a little less nauseating. Maybe I was too hard on Danny Stern. Maybe Aykroyd was the perfect supporting player. Maybe Wayans didn't look as bad as I thought he did on the hardwood. Like any quality movie, I started noticing things I'd never picked up on before. Little pieces of trivia and dialogue that got lost in the shuffle during that fateful first viewing were now creeping into my cerebral cortex...and being greeted with applause.

I started entertaining serious thoughts like, "If only I'd been able to capture Mookie Blaylock during the '99 playoffs, maybe G-Hill and the boys would have taken the whole thing." It all began making sense. And maybe it had to end like that...after all, I would have been much more depressed if they'd been turned over to the police for their crimes and sentenced to a hard 25 in the rack.

Like I said, it wasn't the best, and it wasn't the worst. But if you're able to grind through that first showing and get past the instinctive feeling of hatred that will undoubtedly wash over you for being exposed to such mindless filth, you'll be in for a real treat.

You thought you would go your whole life without reading such a detailed analysis of Celtic Pride. But remember this. It might not resonate now, and you might feel like I just robbed you of 7-10 precious minutes of your life. But come back in a few weeks and read it again...and do the same a month later. Like the movie, this article will only appreciate with age. Either that, or there is also the distinct possibility that I've gone completely out of my mind. Only time will tell...

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