Bud Selig and “The Best Interests of Baseball” Part I

Last year, after a rather long, drawn-out feud, Bud Selig managed to wrest control of the Los Angeles Dodgers away from owner Frank McCourt using the “Best Interests of Baseball” clause of the powers granted to the Commissioner’s office. The reason McCourt was stripped of his ownership was, he and his wife had been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, using the team’s assets as their own personal slush fund/piggy bank. That’s a big no-no. Things got so bad that, for a while, there were questions about whether or not the team would be able to meet its payroll commitments.

Obviously, when fielding a sports team, about the worst thing that could happen is not being able to afford to put players on the field.  This led Bud Selig to invoke the little-used “Best Interests of Baseball” clause to strip Frank McCourt of ownership, putting the Office of the Commissioner in charge of the team. This action was taken to protect the integrity and reputation of one of the most storied franchises in the league. Los Angeles fans rejoiced. The egomaniac McCourt was going to be gone and magically, the Dodgers were going to be a perennial contender again. But therein was the rub. From 2004 through 2012 (the period during which McCourt owned the team), the Los Angeles Dodgers made the playoffs four times, winning the NL West three times and settling for the NL Wild Card once. Additionally, McCourt managed to find a way to clean up his financial mess by convincing Fox Communications to provide a lucrative $1 Billion television deal to put the Los Angeles Dodgers back on track.

However, Selig was unhappy with McCourt’s solution. By “settling” for $1 Billion, McCourt was devaluing the value of future lucrative television deals for other teams in other markets.(In fairness to the league, this was a deal light in cash – but it was a deal negotiated between one team and one broadcaster in a free market, and both sides were happy.)  So, despite fielding a team that was still winning (even if there were areas for significant improvement) and getting his financials in order, McCourt was stripped of the team. This set a precedent.

Shortly after the league kicked McCourt to the curb, the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold to a group that included NBA legend Magic Johnson. The new ownership, looking to redefine the team, and to make a bold media statement that a new era had begun then proceeded to make a historic trade of mind-boggling proportions with the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers received Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in the biggest waiver trade in league history. In return, the Red Sox received salary relief, James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan De Jesus, Allen Webster and Jerry Sands. In one fell swoop, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired a stable of star names, and a quarter of a billion dollars in salary commitments. On the other side, Boston shed their commitments, obtained some marginally decent talent, and the financial freedom to rebuild the storied franchise.

The trade took place after the non-waiver trading deadline. No one else was able to offer counter-proposals. And all it took was a phone call on a Saturday afternoon in August. Despite the enormity of the deal, and the dearth of comparable talent going to Boston, the Commissioner’s office signed off on the trade, and it was done. It seems that, in this case, the best interests of baseball were served by allowing the Dodgers to suddenly take the sort of debt and contracts that would render a smaller market team insolvent. This should have been a warning sign. This is where sane minds should have spoken up. But, they didn’t  Apparently, the deal was so mind-boggling that no one ever imagined anything like that might ever happen again.

Question: If an owner fielding a competitive team that finds a way to clean up his own financial messes can be stripped of a team, then how is it an owner repeatedly found to be in violation of the CBA, that fails to regularly field competitive teams, and may have defrauded an entire city still has his team?

What’s Happening to Baseball?

I started out composing a rather lengthy post about the recent trade between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins and how the many warning signs that this sort of thing was coming were ignored; beginning with Commissioner Bud Selig unceremoniously stripping horrible owner Frank McCourt  of ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, followed by the post-deadline trade between the Boston Red Sox. However, I found myself taking forever to get to the point. It’s not a simple subject to discuss by any means. So, instead of one long post about the situation, I’ll be spending the next few days putting up various sections about what happened and, my reaction to it all.

While Baseball may be experiencing unprecedented prosperity, if recent bullshit shenanigans continue, that could change in a heart-beat. If the game as a whole is unable to right the ship quickly, smaller market teams across the country are in a world of trouble.

Thank You

I would like to take this time to offer my heart-felt gratitude to all those that have taken the time to serve this beautiful nation. 

To those who have served, thank you.

To those who are still in harm’s way, thank you as well, and know my thoughts are with you. Stay safe.

 

 

Happy Veteran’s Day!

Upon This Rock of Ages

For my birthday this year, my father sent me and my best friend to see the Broadway production Rock of Ages. I went into the show with an open mind, but only moderate expectations. After all, as much as I love the music of the decade, the concept of a musical built around a smashing together of hits that one would expect to find on an 80’s Rock Gold CD seemed to me to be more than just a little of a stretch. So, it was more than just a pleasant surprise to find out how well the concept worked. In fact, it worked out so well that, although it will by no means go down as a stage classic, Rock of Ages turned out to be one of the four or five most fun and entertaining shows I have ever been to – and I’ve been to more than a few.

So, I was both a bit excited, and also a bit nervous when I saw previews for a movie version of the production, somehow starring Tom Cruise as a rock-god complete with a women’s Christian values group that had no part in the stage production. However, given how pleasantly surprised I was by the stage production, I figured I should really consider giving the movie a try.

Unfortunately, the movie only marginally resembled the rather spectacular stage production.  That isn’t to say that the film version was not entertaining, it was. But it left something to be desired, primarily the raw edginess of the stage show. The film was rated R, so there was really no reason to change things up so much, making the film a sugar-coated version of the rock musical that, quite frankly, exuded sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The story for the stage production was certainly not its selling point, so it was rather disappointing that the movie’s story, with all the various changes, was, if possible, even weaker.

But, despite all that, I think that perhaps the biggest drawback to the film can be summed up in one hyphenated word: auto-tune. This movie is a rock musical. One would think that the very first prerequisite for casting would be to have the voice to carry the part. Alas, a mere two minutes into the movie, artificial voice manipulation is already apparent. I find it hard to believe that with the number of people flocking to Hollywood to become stars (one of the main themes of the film actually) that the casting directors couldn’t find a young, sexy couple with the ability to belt out rock ballads without excessive use of post-production tune-up.

Now, before this post gets mistaken as a poor review of the film, or my criticisms are taken to mean that I disliked the film, let me be clear. Despite not living up to its inspiration, the film is fun and entertaining. The casting of Alec Baldwin as Denis Dupree and Mary J. Blige as Justice was absolutely inspired. Where the casting department missed with casting the romantic leads, they scored doubly by casting those two. And, for any of you ladies out there that are actually reading this blog, if you have not seen this movie, Tom Cruise alone is worth the price of a rental from Red Box. Just do yourself a favour, if you have a significant other, don’t hold it against them if they don’t measure up to Mr. Cruise. It’s quite possible he has not looked this good in 30 years. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that every other scene becomes an excuse for him to strip down and show off his svelte, muscled body while belting out iconic rock.

Despite the fact that the film was entertaining, it still fell short of living up to the musical. Now, come Christmas Day, we get a film adaptation of Les Miserables. Whereas Rock of Ages might have been able to get by with altering the story and relying on technology to clean up the vocals, I certainly hope that the producers don’t try anything similar with Les Miserables.

Where Have All the Good Authors Gone?

No offense to Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins or E.L. James, but I really wish someone would come along and create a literary phenomenon that was so big, it simply wiped them from the map of literary discussions. I am getting sick and tired of hearing about the repressed sexual anxieties of Bella Swan, the emotionally wishy-washy, child-slaughtering Katniss, and the sadistic woman-beater Christian Grey and his brain-dead punching bag of a wife Anastasia. Just listing the characters I feel like I need to scrub my brain with bleach. I feel dumber now than I did five minutes ago just for realizing that I’ve spent enough time with the material to actually know such details. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have read the Meyer books, the Collins books, and the first James book. I will not be reading the second and third – my brain can only handle so much abuse.)

I mean, Harry Potter may not be the most exquisitely written works of English literature, but at least they are infinitely more readable and enduring than 50 Shades of Hungry Eclipse Games. I considered using this entry to actually explain how far the world of literary excitement seems to have fallen, but a fellow blogger, Alice, has already spent many, many pages on demonstrating just how bad things have gotten. For those who love witty snark, you should really get over there and check it out. She does a much better job of deconstructing the insanity than I ever could.

Anyway, I’m off to go find some more vintage Bradbury or early King (whose novellas are incredible). Maybe reading enough well-written literature will help to sooth the scars inflicted upon my brain from all the scrubbing I had to do after reading E.L. James.

Word recognition

I had a different plan for today’s post but, I decided to finish setting up the voice recognition through Windows 7. So far, it seems to be working rather well. It will still take time for it to get used to my voice and for me to get used to how to speak to it. However, with a little practice and some patience this may save me a lot of time the semester. So, here it is, my spectacular dictated post. I probably could have typed this faster than I have dictated it, but as I use to this, I have a feeling it will be the other way around.

When Fairy Tales Go Wrong

It was bound to happen eventually. I was hoping that I was wrong when I called it about nine months ago, but, unfortunately, I was not. The guilty pleasure that was the surprise treat of television in 2011, Once Upon a Time, has fallen victim to its own success and the past successes of the people running the show. Now, that’s not to say that I have given up on the show, far from it actually. But what started out as a beautifully simple premise has now become so convoluted that it takes multiple viewings and teams of people picking apart and analyzing every muscle twitch of every character, every street sign, and every bird flying by in the background to keep up with what’s happening.

For those that are actually unfamiliar with the show, let me give a quick primer. OUAT is based (originally) on children’s fairy tales as reality. The versions of the fairy tales were the Disney versions (which makes sense as ABC is a Disney entity and the Disney versions, good or bad, are easily the most well-known). The premise is that the Evil Queen from Snow White obtains and unleashes a terrible curse upon all of Fairy Tale Land, depriving all the characters of the happily ever afters, and banishing them to real-world Maine. But wait! The intrepid adventurers of FTL, knowing the curse is coming, prepare for her and send the baby child of Snow and Prince Charming through a portal before the curse hits. That child grows up to become Emma Swan, a jaded orphan with a penchant for sniffing out the truth and finding things (mainly people) in this, the real world. In addition to being an orphan, she too has given up a child. So needless to say, she was a bit surprised when a 10-year-old boy named Henry shows up on her doorstep claiming to be her son. He drags her off to Storybrooke, home of the people cursed in FTL. In this town, the Mayor is a woman named Regina – and she has all the power. She also just so happens to be the Evil Queen, and, unlike everyone else in town, she remembers the time before Storybrooke. Oh, she also happens to be Henry’s adopted mother. You see, Henry has figured out Regina is the Evil Queen from fairy tales and he wants/expects Emma to break the curse. From there each episode plays out in a somewhat formulaic manner. Emma is presented with someone in need of help. The episode then splits between the current story of Emma helping and that person’s FTL story. As each episode is added to the chain, more and more background is provided until, as we reach the end, we have a full picture and Emma finally realizes that, yes, the fairy tales were indeed real and yes, she is to be the saviour.

The pacing and original takes on the various stories were spot-on for the most part in season one. With the show turning out to be a big hit, I feared that the writers and executives were going to find ways to artificially draw out many of the aspects and just keep the story perpetually developing, but not really going anywhere. The story was almost perfectly designed to fit inside of 22 episodes, and you know what? The writers stuck to that. The only thing that kept the first season from being perfect was that the show was coming back for a second season and so, it needed to end on a bit of a cliffhanger. But the writers even respected the audience and did an admirable job with the final episode of the season. If the show had not been picked up for a second season, only a few minor alterations to the season finale would have been necessary in order to bring the entire series to a satisfying conclusion.

Then we come to season two. Now, what started out as a beautifully simple concept has to be resuscitated. A new ultimate goal needs to be created, and, for the most part, the story no longer could support the villains the way it did in season one because of how season one played out. Now, not only do we have FTL and a new version of Storybrooke, but we also have FTL 2.0, the post apocalypse/curse FTL. We also have 2 new villains (though one was at least introduced as a character in season one), and two new heroes. We have the original crew being split up across alternate realities, seeking ways to reunite with each other and to right various wrongs. Previous villains, including Rumplestiltskin (played deliciously by Robert Carlyle) still exist and continue to do their own scheming as well

The show is brought to us by the minds behind another ABC hit show, Lost. That has, unfortunately, turned out to be both a blessing and a curse for the show. These are gifted, talented writers, capable of weaving wonderful tales using many threads. But they are also capable of having so much fun weaving complex plots within plots that the story loses its way. Two things really stood out about the first season of OUAT. First, the concept was simple without being dumbed down. The story was fully fleshed out and the world building was rich and exciting. The second thing that really made season one stand out was part of that world building and fleshing out of the story. It was the characters. Each week the audience learned more about each character and was given a chance to become invested in various characters and actually develop reasons to root for or against various outcomes. The first season was almost entirely about character.

The second season has moved away from that focus. Sure, we still learn about characters, but they are no longer the true focus. The backstory, plotting, and scheming is now the focus of the show. The story is no longer simple. Now, missing an episode can be a dangerous thing if a viewer wants to have any clue as to what is going on later. What’s more is, we have four more characters now added to an already large ensemble cast. Unfortunately, already a quarter of the way into the season, we are given essentially zero reason to care about any of these characters. Our two new heroines, have been so inconsequential as to make one wonder why they are even there, they have provided nothing to the story that could not have been achieved through some ingenuity on the part of the writers. But instead of exercising that ingenuity, we are given window dressing that pretty much just hangs out in the background doing nothing of substance. Even the character’s stories seem to lack any of the thoughtfulness applied to the various fairy tale characters in the first season. On one hand, we have Mulan, who apparently was never a Chinese warrior “princess’, but instead a warrior from some remote, unexplained, never given much thought part of FTL. She’s apparently an awesome fighter, but we know little else despite the fact that she travels constantly with our heroine Snow White. Then there is Princess Aurora. But this is not the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tales. No, that Sleeping Beauty has already been discussed as having defeated Maleficent. This is (apparently) her daughter, who, for some reason that the writers have chosen to not bother going into begins the season under the same curse, under the same circumstances, as her mother.

I am all over the place with this post. This post started out with a simple idea and was railroaded into getting far more complex than it needed to be. I guess that should, in some ways, be a warning how easily that can happen. Once Upon a Time was once beautifully simple. Now, it gets more and more convoluted with each passing episode, providing very little hope that the story can ever again become fully contained. I know there are plenty of people out there that appreciate a complex story, filled with all sorts of puzzles to figure out. However, OUAT started off as a show that entire families could sit and enjoy. Sure, there were some dark elements, but, for the most part, they were deftly handled in a fairy tale manner. The show started out being equally approachable by both the eight-to-ten-year-old group and the coveted 28-40 demographic. The new, wide-open and now-complex story and the substantial increase in situational darkness has made the show a much harder sell for young audiences. I appreciate a gritty story as much as the next person. I just wonder how many shows really exist that have the potential to remain fun for the whole family. OUAT could have continued in that vein. Adult audiences really wouldn’t have minded.

This post has rambled on enough. I should probably bring it to an end before I spin off on some other tangentially related rant.