ESPN Radio today.

I’ll be on ESPN Radio (the national feed) at 11:40 am EST today with host Andy Gresh.

Also, one of the angry Royals fans from the board left a comment on that earlier thread, and I’ve responded to him in kind.

I weep for our language (part 5)…

CNN’s editing is so sloppy that in the link to an AP article on the problems posed by the apostrophe, they put the apostrophe in the wrong place:

Curse ‘o the Irish: Apostrophes (link goes to a screen cap of the screw-up)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film).

If you haven’t read the book, I can’t imagine how confusing the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie would be. Even ignoring the standard “they left my favorite bit out” complaints – I have one too – the movie left out so much of the why from the book that I would imagine a number of viewers reached the final sequence in the Ministry of Magic wondering, “Who are they, and why are they there?”

In that regard, HP5 was reminiscent of the the first film, which had a similar pacing and lack of tension problem. In trying to pack the movie with lots of interesting details from the books, the screenplays for the two films felt frantic, with short scenes and jarring transitions that rob the films of the tension that’s critical to understanding the importance of the final scenes. Without the book as a guide, an HP5 viewer won’t know what the Order of the Phoenix is or why it exists, or what the importance is of that glass bulb (it’s mentioned just once prior to the Ministry scenes), while building plot points like Voldemort’s intrusions into Harry’s mind are given short shrift. At the same time, some subplots were omitted or cut down to the point of irrelevance from the book. The students’ rebellion against Umbridge was dropped to a single scene, which meant that my favorite line from the entire series – “It unscrews the other way” – was dropped. The Harry-Cho storyline is absurdly compressed and would have been best omitted in its emasculated form.

While the screenplay gets the bulk of the blame for this mess, someone else, likely the studio, is to blame for the short running time of only 128 minutes prior to the credits. The two-disc DVD edition contains about 15 minutes of deleted scenes, most of which would have at least helped give some body to and slow the pacing of the main film had they been included. (There is also a hilariously weird scene of Emma Thompson, sadly wasted in a minimal role in the film proper, making a mess of her meal at the welcome feast. There’s also a cute behind-the-scenes look hosted by Natalie Tena (Tonks), who is rather fetching in her lavender wig.) There’s little question that the substantial audience of readers who go to see the films will tolerate a 150-minute movie if it’s good enough, and there’s no reason why the studio couldn’t flesh it out with a “director’s cut” that runs as long as three hours. What we may have here, however, is the manifestation of the old saw about the Chicago Cubs: If the revenues are going to be huge no matter how mediocre the product, why spend more on the product and cut into profits?

The film had some high points. The special effects continue to improve; the Floo network transitions are quick and realistic, and the scenes in the Ministry foyer were very impressive. Tena was also thoroughly underutilized as Nymphadora Tonks, both because she’s adorable but also because the character gives Harry another person in his orbit who clearly cares for him. The young ladies continue to get cuter, although Evanna Lynch is too cute to be playing Luna Lovegood and the space-cadet voice was a bit cloying. And the sequence in the Ministry of Magic worked reasonably well because it’s supposed to be frenetic, although again, it could have been longer. It’s a shame that the writers, the director, and the studio are wasting such rich, vivid material; I wonder if twenty or thirty years hence, someone else will decide to “update” the series with a more serious attempt to bring the books to life.

Angry Royals fans.

A piece of paper! Somebody threw a piece of paper on me!

I don’t know what’s funnier – the fact that they think I haven’t heard of Daniel Cortes (if nothing else, I read my buddy Rany Jazayerli’s blog, and he just wrote a piece on Cortes), the fact that they think I’m a communist, or the fact that they think I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t eat steak (I do, it’s just never my first choice) or get enough protein (sushi?). These things entertain me immensely.

Iron Chef America exposed?

Reader Matthew S. pointed out this Village Voice article called “Iron Chef Boyardee“, in which the writer, restaurant critic Robert Sietsema, details his experiences at a taping of Iron Chef America. The basic gist is that what you see on TV is not terribly reflective of how things actually work.

His next column will be titled, “Sun to Rise in East Tomorrow?”

Sietsema starts off on the wrong foot by claiming that the “chairman” in the U.S. episodes is an actor (true), while the “chairman” in the Japanese episodes was “the rich guy sponsoring the gladiatorial game show” (false, and easily disproven – the guy was an actor). But then he reveals several facts about ICA that should have been patently obvious to anyone who watched the show:

  • The chefs know the “secret” ingredient ahead of time. Food Network has acknowledged (on its behind-the-scenes show) that chefs are given a list of three ingredients that includes the secret one. I’m not a fan of the pretense, either, but let’s be realistic – for the chefs to come up with five complex dishes on the spot and then parcel out work to two sous-chefs doesn’t seem remotely realistic to me.
  • The challenger isn’t choosing the Iron Chef against whom he wishes to compete. Again, it’s a silly pretense, but it’s not a surprise, either.
  • The frenetic activity seen on the broadcast is a product of editing; the actual cooking on the show is far more methodical. Again, I’m not sure why this is news. If you’ve ever seen a real restaurant kitchen in action, you know no one’s running around like a maniac, because that’s a good way to screw up a dish, fall, or impale yourself on your chef’s knife.

Sietsema discusses one pretense that’s a real problem, which is that the dishes prepared in the hour of the contest are not the ones presented to the judges. I always wondered how they got around the issue of having one chef’s dishes wait around for a half-hour during the other chef’s tasting period, and the answer is that they don’t: Both sides prepare the dishes anew shortly before the tasting. That’s the one point Sietsema makes that does undermine the validity of the contest.

He also makes the very valid criticism that the “judging” is, at least when Jeffrey Steingarten’s not there, insipid. He mentions Ted Allen making two pointed criticisms during the taping, which floored me, because on the edited shows Allen is the biggest chef-apologist on the planet. The judges are charged with rating two sets of dishes against each other, so the onus is on them to identify the small differences that allow them to rate one set higher than the other, yet the commentary on the show (and apparently in the tapings) is almost uniformly positive. That’s an easier problem to solve, of course – find some judges who aren’t afraid to speak their minds and piss people off. I wonder where they might find someone like that…

Chat Thursday.

I’ll be doing a 1 pm EST chat on Thursday, 2/21.

Pittsburgh = Cleveland south?

So the Minor League Baseball site has this fluff piece up on the Pirates’ new scouting philosophy

Five people have been added to the amateur scouting side, and the areas for which each scout is responsible have been shuffled and restructured to ensure that no area goes uncharted. There has also been a complete revision in how scouts evaluate players.

“We’ve put a whole new structure and a whole new system in,” Huntington said. “We have established a Pittsburgh Pirate-type player and established what we’d like from a player at all different positions.”

With the caveat that I may be reading WAY too much into an eight-word quote, that sounds like 1) a recipe for bad drafting and 2) a lot like the problem Cleveland has had in its own drafts, where their criteria in early rounds are quite narrow and they’ve ended up with a lot of low-ceiling college guys who haven’t panned out.

Again, could be nothing, and my general belief on quotes from GMs is that they’re 90% bullshit (what incentive does a GM have to reveal details of his baseball strategy?), but this sounds a lot to me like they’re trying to re-create the Cleveland organization. If that means Huntington can flip Jason “Bartolo” Bay and Ronny “Einar” Paulino for some major building blocks, hey, great. But if it means they’re doing to adopt the same semi-closed drafting philosophy – not the best player available, but the best player available who fits into what we’ve already decided we’re looking for – then the draft is not going to be a major contributor to Pittsburgh’s future success.

Cookware question.

From regular ESPN reader JKGaucho comes this intriguing question about cookware:

Keith, I have a non baseball question that I thought would be right up your alley, and maybe a blog entry on the dish if you had the time. My financee and I are in the early stages of registering for gifts and after going around to Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma, I found the experience rather overwhelming. If someone knows about what are the best pots, pans, knives, etc., I figure you do. I should say that when it comes to everything, easy to clean is preferred. How did you find the registering process and is there something that you would certainly avoid? Any suggestions on brands like All Clad vs. Calphalon or whatever if more than greatly appreciated.

Well, at least someone understands what marriage is all about: The gifts. Anyway, what follows is my reply to JKG.

Sure, happy to help. But there are no straightforward answers:

Pots and pans: Brand doesn’t matter as much as material. I had anodized aluminum for a few years; it’s easy to clean because it’s mostly nonstick, but the pans/pots are very heavy and you won’t be able to brown meats as well as you can with other materials. Now I have a better mix of materials based on how I use each pot or pan.

My current setup includes two anodized aluminum skillets (9″ omelette pan and 10″ deep skillet), a 12″ cast-iron skillet (heavy, but the best cooking material on the planet and quite cheap), an enameled cast iron Dutch oven (about $200) an aluminum stockpot, a stainless steel saucier with a cover, and a stainless steel saute pan with a cover. I also have a pressure cooker, but don’t use it all that often. Calphalon and All-Clad are both excellent brands. Avoid Teflon or other “coated” non-stick cookware.

Knives: This depends entirely on your hands. Go to a Bed Bath & Beyond or a Wms & Sonoma and get a salesclerk to open the case so you can hold the knives and see which is comfortable. I have J.A. Henckels’ Four-Star line and am very happy with them. I have one of the Five-Star knives (a santoku), and the only difference is that the handle has a different shape. You should get a chef’s knife (link goes to 8″; I believe mine is 9″), a paring knife, a serrated bread knife (9″ at a minimum), and a “slicing” knife (7-9″, narrower blade than the chef’s knife). If you expect to any butchering you might consider a boning knife. Get a honing steel, but avoid home sharpeners, which will destroy your knives. I like my santoku, but it’s not quite as versatile as the chef’s knife.

FWIW, the America’s Test Kitchen people rated the Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife their best value at $23, and it’s $21 at amazon (see link). I haven’t tried it.

Registering – who knows, that was 13 years ago and I didn’t cook back then. But you named some expensive stores. I’d say register at Bed Bath & Beyond, which has most of the same stuff as W-S or C&B but way better prices on pots, pans, knives, and small appliances; and then use a higher-end store or a department store for flatware and silverware.

Also, if you intend to cook, register for a food processor and a 5-qt stand mixer. They are indispensable and expensive enough that you won’t want to buy them on your own. Other kitchen toys I use often: Stick blender (“boat motor”), blade grinder (for spices, not for coffee!), digital kitchen scale, roasting pans (get at least two different sizes), V-slicer (or a mandoline, if you have wealthy relatives), salad spinner, eight different colanders (and I use them all, often), electric carving knife, and a waffle iron with reversible grids that are flat on the other side for pancakes.

I don’t know the guy, but he needs a kidney and I have two, so…

Phil Sheridan: Phils should give Howard what he wants

Sheridan’s entire argument is as follows:

* The Phillies should lose their arbitration hearing with Ryan Howard on purpose, because…
* Fans will like it
* It will improve their relationship with Howard

I hate to trot out the old appeal to authority, but the truth is these are the words of someone who’s never worked in a baseball front office and doesn’t understand how the business works. Anyway, let’s get at the meat of his “argument:”

They win on public perception. You could do a master’s thesis in sociology on why so many sports fans get upset about the idea that a player like Howard – or Brian Westbrook, to cite another recent example – might be underpaid. Most fans, after all, could work a lifetime without earning what Howard will earn for playing baseball this year – even if he loses the hearing.

I have news for Mr. Sheridan: What fans think doesn’t matter. A GM who gives a shit what his fans think about a player’s salary is going to be out of work in fairly short order. What matters is winning. If the team wins, the fans don’t care how it came about. And paying a player more than you are required to pay him pushes you further from winning, not closer. So if you want to make the fans happy, beat Ryan Howard in arbitration and take the $3 million saved and try to put it towards the pitching problem.

Best of all, they can change the entire dynamic of their relationship with the best young power hitter they’ve ever had. Until now, for reasons ranging from the presence of Jim Thome to the Phillies’ own apparent inability to recognize Howard’s potential, they have paid very little for a lot of home runs, a rookie-of-the-year season, and an MVP season.

Yeah, again, this is what someone says when he doesn’t understand how the business works. He is correct that Howard’s pay did not match his performance during the last three years. So what? That’s the system. And there is absolutely ZERO evidence (not that Sheridan concerns himself with evidence here – the entire article is fluff) that overpaying a player at some point during his pre-arb or arb years buys you anything down the road. It doesn’t get the team a hometown discount on a long-term deal. It doesn’t make the player less likely to leave as a free agent. It just transfers money from the player budget to one player. The Cardinals gave Albert Pujols $900K in his last pre-arb year, and he still held their feet to the fire on a long-term deal twelve months later.

But here’s the worst part of all, the part that Sheridan doesn’t mention when he says, “Lose tomorrow and the Phillies make their fans happy, appease a superstar player, and set themselves up for a better relationship with him for years – all for $3 million.”

This just shows that he doesn’t get the system, because the cost is far more than $3 million.

You see, arbitration isn’t just about comparables, but it’s also about raises. If the Phillies lose their case against Howard – and they might lose anyway – then the baseline for his arbitration case next year becomes $10 million, rather than $7 million. This works against the Phillies simply because players always get raises in arbitration, even if they have awful years. (The only exceptions I know of are players who missed entire seasons and received the same salaries in the subsequent years.) Howard’s agent (Casey Close of CAA) will also be able to argue for a higher raise by looking at the raises comparable players received in percentage terms. For example, Alfonso Soriano received a 38% raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility. If Close argues for a 38% raise for Howard, then that’s $9.7 million if the Phillies win this year’s hearing but $13.8 million if the Phillies lose. The effect of a loss this year is cumulative.

No, losing an arbitration case on purpose is never a good idea, and I hope the Phillies put on a good show in a hearing where the cards are slightly stacked against them. Mr. Sheridan is going to have to show us at least one situation somewhere in baseball history where his idea didn’t come back to bite the team on the ass and leave it with a case of gangrene.

The Mailbag of Malcontent, Vol. 7.

Frank D is back!

(253) Frank D (REDACTED) 2008-02-18 11:17:00.0
Toronto misses you. The floors need sweeping. Eric Bedard is a stud. He’s proven that. Prospects are just that. When you can get a young lefty with his stuff, you move heaven and hell to get him. You wouldn’t know that being a total dumbass. laughing at you every time, Frank D. Btw, please go back to obscurity.

I love the fact that my work drives him up the wall. By the way, he still hasn’t realized that he has my email address – as always, this came through my ESPN mailbag.