Go Islanders.

Not that I’m any kind of hockey fan – the NHL ceased to exist for me when the owners lied about how much money they were making and the players bought it – but I have to give credit to the Islanders for making some attempt to bring bloggers into the arena on a wider scale without marginalizing the mainstream sports media. The sports blogosphere is a mixed bag; it’s full of bad writing and uninformed analysis, but at the same time, it’s capable of the sort of narrowcasting that the MSM can’t handle, it’s got a real-time no-bull ethos that the MSM definitely can’t handle, and it has the potential to be incredibly fun … and we know that the MSM looks down on fun.

But what I also find interesting is the strategic value of this move. Credentialing bloggers, even on a limited, separate-but-equal basis, is a way of co-opting them. Bloggers tend to revel in their excluded nature; they are not part of the mainstream, and often the teams/leagues won’t even acknowledge them (putting them in company with Al Jazeera!), et cetera, giving them a rebel’s cachet that I think is a huge part of their appeal. But access will almost certainly blunt some of that edge; when you meet a player, for example, it’s a lot harder to tear him to shreds for his on-field (-ice, -court) incompetence. It’ll be interesting to see if criticism of the Islanders from credentialed blogs starts to fade, or at least soften, or if we start to see a divide between credentialed and uncredentialed blogs. Does taking a credential mean you’ve sold out? And will this pay off for the Islanders in improved coverage, or at least reduced criticism? I’m betting this wasn’t as ad hoc a decision as the Isles’ PR guy would like us to believe – that it is, in fact, part of a strategy to bring bloggers into the fold.


My trip Albuquerque last week was my first visit to the fine state of New Mexico (43 down, seven to go), and one I was really looking forward to because of its reputation for outstanding chili pepper-based food. Calvin Trillin’s Feeding a Yen first turned me on to the existence of a whole new cuisine within the borders of the U.S., and I’ve been dying to get out there. Granted, Santa Fe was my first choice, but the game in question was in Albuquerque.

I only ended up hitting two places for four meals – more on that in a moment – but both places were hits. Frontier Restaurant is apparently something of a local icon; it’s open 24 hours and works from the not-always-successful strategy of giving large quantities of food for a low price. The food at Frontier really is outstanding, and it’s fast and cheap. I can’t see how any fast-food joint within five miles stays in business. For dinner – twice – I went with an enchilada plate with the “green chile stew” topping, which is apparently the mildest of the three offered (the others being red chile sauce and chopped green chiles). For $7, the dish includes two enchiladas, rice, and two fresh flour tortillas. It was enough food that on my second night there, I ate that full meal around 6:30 and still wasn’t hungry when I got on my redeye five hours later. I did try the guacamole on the first night, but it was kind of bland and was puréed smooth – not my favorite style.

Their breakfast is what really set them apart. I hadn’t originally intended to go to Frontier again for breakfast, but the place I’d picked out, Perea, was closed for three days that week, and when I stopped into the Flying Star nearby, the menu looked very … corporate. So I kept driving and ended up back at Frontier, which turned out to be a huge stroke of luck. I went with the #1 special – two eggs (scrambled), meat (carne adovada – hey, when in Rome), hash browns, and tortillas – plus a side of pancakes, which you can order by the flapjack. The pancakes were to die for – buttery, fluffy, and not at all like the leadcakes you get at most chain restaurants and even some mom-and-pops perpetrating breakfast fraud on unsuspecting diners. The hash browns were almost like a rösti, with a crunchy brown crust on the outside but soft and moist potatoes on the inside; they could have used more salt, but that was easily remedied. The only misses were the carne adovada, which was extremely acidic and wasn’t really hot in temperature – mind you, I’m no expert in that genre – and the coffee. I ordered tea and didn’t realize I had coffee until I took a sip, which tells you something about how weak it was.

The one other meal was Monday’s lunch, when I headed west to El Charrito at 4703 Central Ave NW. (Props to Dan McKay, a poster on McCovey Chronicles, for suggesting this place.) The menu is simple – seems to be a theme out there – and the service was excellent. They had no problem preparing one of their combo plates – a tamale, an enchilada, and a taco – without cheese for me, which is usually a great sign because it means everything’s made to order. Despite that substitution, the food still came out pretty quickly, with the tamale and enchilada served Christmas style (red and green sauces). The taco was good, straightforward, just served as ground beef in the shell so you can fix it as you’d like. The tamale was a little too spicy for my Northeastern (read: untrained) palate, but the pork inside was delicious. The enchilada wasn’t quite as good as Frontier’s, with the chicken tasting a little blander to me, but was otherwise fine. The green sauce was definitely the less spicy of the two. The dish was also served with fresh sopapillas and a big squeeze bottle of honey. I left full. The one negative on El Charrito came when I left – the counter was covered with political stickers and pamphlets, all left-leaning and mostly anti-Bush. I don’t care how these people vote or what their beliefs are, but I don’t want to be assaulted by it while I’m eating there. Food and politics don’t mix, because the politics invariably spoil the food.

Anyway, sorry for the long lag between posts, but with the draft over I should be writing a little more frequently.

Draft interview at River Ave Blues.

The good folks at River Ave Blues interviewed me about this year’s draft. Check it out.

Roger Goodell won’t like this.

Someone mocked up a fake Myspace page for NFL commish. Very clever, especially the comments from his “friends.”

Also, I don’t follow the NBA much, but watching Lebron James stuff those last two wins down his critics’ throats has me giddy in a Bonds-just-homered sort of way. I suppose it’s nice to see that the mainstream media aren’t just tearing down the best players in MLB, though.

Otto Pizzeria.

So last Monday, my wife and I headed into Manhattan – I had a scheduled TV appearance and she wanted to hit a fabric store in Soho. We decided to have lunch and headed to Mario Batali’s Otto Pizzeria, which promised authentic, Italian-style pizzas, an enormous wine list (wasted on me, but I thought I’d mention it), and – according to at least two things I read on line – the best gelato in Manhattan. The pizza could be Velveeta served on cardboard for all I care, as long as there’s real gelato on the premises.

Unfortunately, the experience ended up reinforcing for me why I tend to avoid celebrity-chef restaurants. The food was a disappointment, and the menu was too heavily influenced by the chef’s whims, not by the food itself. It surprised me to run into this at a Batali restaurant; one reason I like his shows and his books is that his agenda seems to be a noble one: to celebrate regional Italian cuisine using authentic recipes and ingredients.

We ordered a funghi misti appetizer – mixed wild mushrooms marinated in herbs and garlic, delicious, earthy, and reasonable at $4 for close to a cup’s worth of ‘shrooms. I went with the pizza of the day, a pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella. Pesto genovese is made with basil, which doesn’t take heat very well, so pizzas made with pesto typically are cooked partway before a thin layer of pesto is added. Instead, I got a pizza with a thin crust (not as thin as the ones I’ve had in Italy) and a thick layer of bitter pesto that tasted like it contained spinach rather than basil (I asked – the waitress said there was no spinach in it). There was also very little cheese, so I was eating a cracker with bad pesto on it.

My wife’s entrée was better, as she ordered spaghetti carbonara. The pasta was really al dente – I’m all for some tooth to the pasta, but even I would have left this in the water another sixty seconds – and the sauce was done right. The one problem was that the dish was extremely salty, probably the result of the huge amount of pancetta in it.

As for the gelato … we didn’t have any. The dessert menu came – it took forever, now that I mention it, and the service in general was inattentive at best – and the list of flavors read something like this: olive oil, vanilla, pistachio, coconut, ginger, hazelnut straciatella, mint chocolate chip. I might have forgotten one, but you get the idea. Notice anything missing? That’s right – nothing chocolate or coffee. Not even tiramisu-flavored gelato, which was in every gelateria I visited on my trips to Italy. At $7 for three scoops, those flavors weren’t enough to get me to stick around.

Blood Meridian.

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is one of the most brutally violent books I’ve ever read, but in spite of that, it’s also one of the most beautifully written.

McCarthy’s prose is often compared to Faulkner’s, and while some of that is because they’re both from the South (just like every right-handed pitcher from Stanford is automatically compared to Mike Mussina), there are definite similarities in their styles. There’s a lilting quality to many of McCarthy’s sentences, even when he defies conventional sentence structure. He can be sparse with details when it suits his purpose (the novel’s protagonist is never identified beyond “the kid”), but can also fire off a stream of seemingly minute details that in the end paint a rich picture of a scene, a character, a moment. He never descends into the sheer inscrutability that scares so many readers away from Faulkner, who was an original in many ways but who’ll always be loved and reviled most strongly for his prose.

The story revolves around the aforementioned kid, a fourteen-year-old who runs away from his father (his mother died giving birth to him) to head out west and falls in with a group of mercenaries who are hunting an outlaw named Gómez while also collecting scalps of Apaches, all under the auspices of the Mexican government. And that’s where it gets violent – ruthlessly, sociopathically so. The violence isn’t disturbing because it’s graphic – it is, somewhat – but because it’s so effortless and is achieved on so grand a scale. It is genocide writ small, and it’s made all the worse by the fact that McCarthy based it loosely on the real-life Glanton gang, using Glanton’s top lieutenant, Judge Holden, as the primary villain.

The plot didn’t pick up until I was about halfway through the book; the kid seems to take forever to fall in with Glanton/Holden’s gang, and it’s not until things start to go awry that the plot gets interesting, with the kid and Judge Holden gradually forming the central conflict that defines the last third of the book.

If you’ve got the stomach to get through several scenes of extreme – but, as TIME wrote in its summary of the book, never gratuitous – violence, then I would certainly recommend Blood Meridian to anyone who enjoys Faulkner, morality plays (even ones where the moral lines are blurred), or great American literature. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you when the scalps start flying.

The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball

I’m often asked for suggestions for good baseball books, and I struggle to come up with good suggestions. Many are leaden; a lot are full of the sort of cliché-ridden garbage that has so thoroughly turned me off of newspapers; and a lot are just poorly written, too. So I’m pleased to be able to offer a very strong recommendation for a new, unusual entry in the pantheon of baseball books: Derek Zumsteg’s The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball.

First, a disclaimer: I know Derek personally and have for something like seven years. We were both writers at BP around the same time, and while we definitely don’t agree on every topic, I have always enjoyed Derek’s writing. I still think if his book sucked, I’d say so, or at least I wouldn’t recommend it, but I thought the connection was something I should mention.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the book, ripping through it in two days despite the fact that I was coming down with a bad respiratory infection and read the last section while I had a fever of 102.5. Zumsteg splits his history of cheating into three sections, and unfortunately the first section – devoted to shady-but-not-really-cheating things, like groundskeepers’ tricks to help the home team – is the least interesting, although it’s certainly well-written, and does discuss John McGraw, one of my favorite historical baseball figures. But we want sordid details, like spitballs and gambling scandals, and sections two (the illegal) and three (the awful) deliver, which gave me the feeling that the book was accelerating as I read it. The section on Billy Martin, a manager I remember well from my Yankee-fan childhood, was a particular treat.

My one big criticism of the book is the lack of footnotes or endnotes, although Derek tells me that its omission was an editorial decision. It’s too bad, because the book clearly has a lot of research behind it, and I often find other interesting reads by checking out the notes or bibliography of a book I’ve enjoyed. My guess is that a lot of readers won’t mind the absence of the notes, certainly not if your primary interest is in a good, fast-moving baseball read.

The “other” chat questions…

So it looks like some other folks had questions for me.

Deadspin: 1 p.m. MLB Insider Keith Law: How come no firestorm when David Wells opens his big yap?

Because no one can understand a guy who always has two hot dogs in his mouth.

David Hume: Keith, do you resent being overshadowed by your omnipresent, nearly omnipotent brother Johnny Law?

No, but the way my cousin Acie Law IV was getting all the love the spring was really getting under my skin.

David Hume: Also, is “the long arm of the Law” really that long?

Depends on which arm we’re discussing…

Stev D: Are you just Keith if you enter international waters?

And most people just assume I’m afraid of the ocean.

Zlax45: Ask Keith what he thinks about College Baseball and how teams always screw up bunting. He says it happens every time he goes to a college game that someone hits a bunt back to the pitcher.

Bah, a serious question – no fun. But the big problem I have with college teams bunting is that it’s a high-scoring environment with horrendous relief pitching. What the hell are you doing having your #3 hitter bunt in the first inning? OK, enough seriousness.

Phony Gwynn: Keith, If I fought you, would you win?

No, you know how the song ends.

Spaceman Spiff: Keith, are you going to answer baseball related questions or is this chat only for pretentious assholes to discuss their favourite foreign language books and sushi?

PS. what’s your favourite Manuel Altolaguirre poem?

Hey, watch your mouth – there’s nothing pretentious about us. Fin de un amor.

Cortázar, Hammett, and a nonfiction book.

Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch is a bizarre novel; the first 56 chapters represent a complete work, a single story with a single protagonist and enough pseudo-intellectual pablum to make this Virginia Woolf hater want to light the book on fire. The last third of the book comprises interstitial chapters which may be added to the story proper if the reader wants to read the longer work. A few relate to the main narrative, a few more are of the newspaper-clipping style seen in a lot of other works, but most are just nonsense. The book is quite acclaimed – someone named C.D.B. Bryan is quoted as saying it’s his favorite novel, although why I’m supposed to take the opinion of a man with three initials in place of a first name seriously I have no idea – but it was a slog, and even slowed down towards the end. The core storyline is somewhat directionless, and doesn’t really conclude in any conventional sense; the main character needs a smack upside the head, both to get him to stop talking nonsense and to get him to do something with his life. The “freewheeling adventures” promised on the book’s jacket don’t even begin until the book is two-thirds finished, and they’re not freewheeling, not terribly adventurous, and are by and large extremely boring. (Exception: a bit of chapter 51, where the main character begins working at an asylum, a scene which sparks a few laughs.) So I wouldn’t exactly recommend this one.

Cleaning up a few books I read in March: Dashiel Hammett’s The Thin Man doesn’t exactly need my recommendation. Hammett’s one of my favorite authors, with a spare style that conveys so much more than Hemingway’s more-praised sparseness (which often struck me as a bit sing-song). That said, I’d probably send Hammett first-timers The Maltese Falcon, and for readers who want a lot of action I’d recommend Red Harvest. The Thin Man is best-known for the characters it introduced to the world, Nick and Nora Charles, but the book didn’t have quite the same tension as the other two I mentioned.

Ingrid Rowland’s The Scarith of Scornello was a fun, short read, telling the true story of a simple hoax orchestrated by a teenager in 16th-century Tuscany that turned into an elaborate academic fraud and ended up altering the course of the kid’s entire life. It’s billed as a bit of a mystery, which it isn’t, because the back cover of the book tells you that the whole thing was a hoax, and it turns out that some of the teenager’s contemporaries knew it was a hoax all along, while others were more than happy to believe in artifacts that appeared to increase the glory of their region in ancient times.

New Homestar Runner ‘toon.

Date Nite – the funniest thing they’ve posted in a year.