Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Near No-Hitter

Ok, well, not 'mine,' per se. More like Dustin McGowan's. Entirely Dustin McGowan's, some (most) might argue. But still, I've seen well over 100 live baseball games in my life and countless more on TV, and I've never seen a no-hitter from start-to-finish. My experience with no-hitters has either been watching the highlights the next day on Sportscentre, or watching the last couple of innings if I catch wind of one in progress. Even in the case of the only Blue Jays no-no in history (Dave Stieb in 1990), I only saw the last few innings. I was at the London Art Gallery with my mom and brother watching the Sunday afternoon movie, and upon turning the game on on the radio and hearing the news, we high-tailed it home. From watching Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (or Oliver & Company, or some generic kiddie flick) to a no-hitter -- not a bad afternoon for an eight-year-old.

Not nearly as exciting as almost seeing one in person, however. It was a perfect tableau for a ball game. Beautiful sunny day, the nonstop comedy that was Dog Day at the Rogers Centre, front-row seats in the second deck out in right field and suntan lotion lathered onto me like plaudits lathered upon Helen Mirren. I was there with my pal Kyle (imagine a taller, lankier, Plastic Man-lookalike, smarter version of me with possibly even more esoteric pop culture knowledge) and his fiancee Carrie, who was making her first visit to the Rogers Centre. I had forgotten what a jaw-dropping effect the ol' Dome can still have on people who have never seen it before. The roof opened up just before game-time, which allowed both Kyle and I to explain the roof's dynamics to a clearly impressed Carrie. Ok, she may have been impressed with the roof itself, not our recitations of our grade-school science fair projects. That's right -- Kyle and I both did grade school projects about the SkyDome/Rogers Centre. We truly were separated at birth.

Here's why I love baseball. Dustin McGowan's last start was horrible. He gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings to Los Angeles. In the words of George Bluth, he was...he was just a turd out there, you know? There was no hint whatsoever that McGowan would turn around today and throw a gem against the Rockies, who are ahead of the Dodgers in virtually every major hitting category. But throw a gem he did. Now, when I attend a baseball game, I have a standing tradition where after, like, one batter is retired, I announce something like, "Ok, double perfect game today, here we go." The double perfecto was lost on the Colorado side when Gregg Zaun walked in the first, and then the Jays just started pounding out runs in the third. McGowan walked Kaz Matsui (yes! I get some fantasy points!) in the fourth, and that was the only blemish for a while. After the fifth, I said to Kyle, "Um, in all seriousness, he actually does have a no-no here." I repeated this every inning afterwards, for good luck.

In the sixth inning, though, I was stupid. I nearly angered the baseball fates. The shade had spread across our seats, so I momentarily removed my hat and give my chrome dome some air. Within five seconds, I had my hat back on and was feeling like an idiot. OF COURSE I had to keep my hat on. There was a frickin' no-hitter going! McGowan has given up exactly no hits with my hat on, so who was I to alter his course? I was terrified this would be the straw that broke the camel's back, but I breathed a sigh of relief when he got through the sixth unscathed.

The inning wasn't without its terrors, however. Howie Clark, the Toronto third baseman, made a hell of a play on a ground ball to steal a hit. Rockies hitter Willy Taveras threatened to bunt, which would've made me just about rush the field had he been successful. I'm usually of the mindset that a hitter should do what he has to do to get on base, and Taveras is a classic no-power speedy leadoff man who's probably had a hundred bunt singles in his career. But not during a damn no-hitter. I screamed 'BE A MAN, TAVERAS!' in response, which drew a few laughs from the fans in our section. Taveras responded by going into the Colorado clubhouse and re-attaching his testicles.

Going into the eighth, three things were still in line to happen. McGowan had his no-hitter, Frank Thomas had a shot at his 500th career homer (he hit #499 earlier in the game), and seven strikeouts by Jays' pitching, which would've gotten every fan in attendance a free slice of Pizza Pizza tomorrow with the presentation of a ticket stub from the game. Ok, two of these things are slightly more historically notable, but hey, I'm a starving journalist, I'll take all the free food I can get. McGowan did lock down the free pizza, so that was one down. Big Frank struck out in the eighth, so #500 will have to wait. This brought us to the top of the ninth....

...when leadoff man Jeff Baker took a strike, then lined a clean single into center field. Dammit. There are a few people responsible for this turn of events.

a) McGowan, for throwing the pitch.

b) Baker, for hitting it. What a douchebag. You're batting .240 this year Baker, why couldn't you have continued your mediocrity for one more at-bat?

c) Zaun, maybe, for calling the pitch.

d) Kyle. After Thomas struck out in the eighth, we were joking that Aaron Hill's next home run would also be a milestone -- namely, the 19th of his career. I said how that would've been a big milestone back in aught-eight, upon which Kyle remarked that Hill was a regular Home Run Baker. Now, one of the reasons Kyle and I are friends is that we're each one of the few people we know who would get and appreciate a Home Run Baker reference. Frank "Home Run" Baker was a Hall of Famer who played for the A's back in the era when hitting 10 jacks would make you an uber-slugger. So it was a fun little reference, except....the next Rockies batter up was Jeff Baker! What is the cosmic coincidence of that? Sure, (Jeff) Baker didn't homer, but even still. Why oh why couldn't Kyle have name-dropped Honus Wagner or Pie Traynor instead?

e) Carrie, for wanting to go to the bathroom during the ninth to beat the rush. God bless her, she's Irish -- she isn't big into baseball. For all she knew, a no-hitter happened every week. In fact, she heard Kyle celebrating Justin Verlander's recent no-no (he's a big Tigers fan), so for all Carrie knew, they did happen almost every week.

Whomever could've been at fault, it still brought a sad end to an overall exciting day. The odds of seeing a no-hitter live are astronomical. The Jays alone have only had one no-hitter in their 31 seasons, and even that came away from home. It would be like going to a Broadway show on the one night that one of the actors forgets his lines and just starts weeping on stage. If nothing else, it was a great confidence-building start for McGowan, a longtime prospect who was kind of on the verge of being a never-was before his solid job in the rotation this season. In fact, this start sort of reminded me of another Jays hurler who had a no-hitter lost in the ninth and a few rough years before blossoming into an ace -- Roy Halladay. All McGowan needs is an old-school nickname like 'Doc.' I propose Mutton Chop, in honor of his ridiculous-looking sideburns. Mutton Chop McGowan -- that's a great old-timey baseball nickname. Right up there with Home Run Baker....gah!!

So that ends the tale of probably the only no-hitter or near-no-no I'll ever see in person. It was perhaps for the best that history wasn't made on this day, however. It happened to be Dog Day, which meant that dog owners could bring their pooches to the game and sit with them in the right field bleachers. Had the no-hitter actually occurred, McGowan would've invited his hillbilly neighbours the Bumpuses and their 785 smelly hound dogs to every game. And with that many dogs around, Mike Vick wouldn't be far behind.

By the way, the Blue Jays' record over the last two years when I've been in attendance? 46-24. That's better than .600 baseball. J.P., hook me up with season tickets. Consider it an investment.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Pittsburgh Pirates Care More About Making Witty Videos To Show At PNC Park Than They Do About Winning Ballgames

That said, this is still pretty funny. If the parrot is Tony and the swashbuckler is Carmela, does that mean they got it on? That's.....gross.

Also, this may end up being A.J. Burnett's career highlight.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


The 40-book batch of reading material I signed out from the library last month is in its final renewal. 20 books to go, 21 days to finish them. Two days into the final renewal period, I have officially finished one, but with a caveat: the selection was a collection of Joe Orton plays, and I had read all but the final piece. So really, I have yet to actually start and finish an entire text so far. But still, I'm one down. Can I possibly finish them all off? Especially with at least 3-4 days out of commission when I'm in Ottawa? It remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the reviews can continue, and where better to start than with The Complete Plays Of Joe Orton. This was, as it so happens, the book I originally went to the library in search of two months ago, and thus the book responsible for my reading orgy. Being something of a free spirit himself, Orton would've appreciated any type of orgy that came from his plays. The text was a collection of seven long and short plays from the British scribe, each of which was at least okay. The clear class of the bunch was Orton's legendary farce "What The Butler Saw," which is the rare play that actually had me laughing throughout just from reading the script. I need to see this performed live before I die. Orton's full-length plays (WTBS, Loot and Entertaining Mr. Sloane) are all much better than his one-act plays, which seem more like a few good lines or a good idea for a scene that are stretched into a full act.

If you're at all a fan of British farce or satire, Orton is definitely your boy. It's intelligent farce, rather than something like Carry On -- What The Butler Saw, in fact, could be seen as a satire of farce, which is rather difficult to pull off. Imagine doing a spoof of, say, the Royal Canadian Air Farce. Apropos of nothing, I saw part of the Air Farce set during a tour of the CBC studios here in Toronto. Fun fact: the doughnuts used in the "A Canadian Moment" sketch (i.e. "You got that right, you betcha, tell me about it, oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah,") are actually real, and only replaced every two years. There's probably a joke in here about the only thing staler than the doughnuts on Air Farce is the comedy, but I'll leave that to the professionals.


From Orton to Elton. Their similarity of names aside, Joe Orton's theatrical satires are much more fully-developed than Ben Elton's Popcorn, a paint-by-numbers pastiche of a novel. I'm willing to accept that I may be reading it too late. When written in 1996, it could've appealed to me as a perfectly timely send-up of the media, violent filmmaking, the Oscars and the like given how it was the golden era of the O.J. trial, Tarantino and Natural Born Killers. Eleven years later, it lacks much bite. The novel hinges on one original idea -- a pair of killers hold a Tarantino-esque director hostage on live TV and threaten to kill him and his family unless he admits that his violent films were responsible for the duo's crime spree, which would thus probably get them off in a court of law. Once the killers' plan is revealed about two-thirds of the way through the book, the rest is anti-climax. Elton short-circuits the tension by revealing three of the main characters' fates at the start of the book, then tells the rest of the story in flashback. It's just not a terribly interesting read. Elton's career arc is interesting, as he began his career as an English comedian writing for shows like Blackadder, but today is hailed as something of a sellout for focusing of musical theatre. He actually wrote the book for the Queen musical currently taking Toronto by "storm." I have another of Elton's novels still to read, so perhaps he can pick things up next time around.


Bill James' The Politics of Glory
proclaims itself to be a study of the Baseball Hall of Fame and its history and voting procedures, not a manifesto on who should be in the Hall and who shouldn't. Then, James devotes several chapters to players that he feels should be in the Hall, and some who he feels shouldn't. Uh, huh? James probably broke down because it's just so much fun to debate. I'm one of those who thinks the Hall should be more exclusive, not less. If I had my druthers, the BBWAA would clamp down on who gets baseball's ultimate honor. No borderline guys, no "well, he had good numbers overall, so I guess he's Hall" guys, no guys who had 3-4 spectacular seasons, not the 9-10 I think are necessary to be in the Hall. James makes the good point that eras should be factored into stats, as a 30+ homer, 100+RBI season in the live-ball era of the 20's and 30's is far less impressive than a similar season in the pitching-dominated 1960's. Yet there are loads of players from the 20's and 30's in the Hall who have big numbers, but couldn't really be considered the elite of their time. A similar argument can be made of today's sluggers, whose numbers are pumped up by expansion, steroids and more steroids.

Off the top of my head, here's my list of current players who, if they retired today, would be in the Hall of Fame. Argue at your own risk.

Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Pudge Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Ken Griffey Jr., Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Jeff Kent, Roger Clemens (grrr.....), Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman and Barry Bonds

Also making it, but guys who I had to think a bit harder about, are Jim Thome, Todd Helton, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones. If I was a real hard-ass, I'd just leave these guys out, so maybe I'm not as super-exclusive as I thought. Also, this isn't to say that guys like Johan Santana, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, etc. won't or shouldn't be Hall, but they just need a few more years of great numbers to cement themselves.


I can't remember the last time I actually went into a comic book store and purchased a single issue of a single comic. It must be close to a decade. That's right, as much as I post about superhero-related stuff, my actual comic purchases are next to nothing. Once in a while, I drop by the ol' comic shop (or, if I'm in England, the comic shoppe) to pick up a trade paperback, a.k.a. an entire collection of a comic storyline or series. I got turned onto this in first year MIT, when The Dark Knight Returns was provided to us in one nice, easy-to-read single text. God bless a class that makes Batman assigned reading.

Another good outlet for comic book catchup is the novelization, such as Batman: No Man's Land. The "No Man's Land" storyline ran a few years ago across several Batman titles, and Greg Rucka (one of the comic series' writers) collected the whole thing together into a novel. The premise is that Gotham is hit with an earthquake, and the city is so devastated and overrun by crime in its aftermath that the U.S. government declares the city a proverbial no man's land and cuts it off from the United States. Thus, everyone still on the island of Gotham is on their own. Imagine New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, except with more supervillains and slightly less water. The novel is pretty sprawling, as it tries to condense several months' worth of comic books into a 400-page text, but it's overall a pretty good read. Batman fans will enjoy it, though since I didn't read the original series, I don't know how closely Rucka sticks to the original plot. My only quarrel: no Riddler! Dammit! That question mark-suited son of a bitch is one of the few Batman villains that doesn't make an appearance. I blame Jim Carrey.


Listening to one's bad beat poker stories gets really old really quickly, so James McManus' Positively Fifth Street dispenses with much of this and focuses on the more interesting stuff. Not that there are many bad beats to discuss. McManus showed up at the 2000 World Series of Poker to do a story on the rise of female poker players, a sidebar on an ongoing murder trial where the victim was the WSOP's founder's son, and to play in the main event tournament himself. Out of nowhere, he ended up in fifth, and won about 100 grand. Talk about living my dream for a few weeks in Vegas. A book with such liberal amounts of murder and poker is definitely going to grab my attention. McManus has a lot of really good stories and turns his own tale of tournament glory into a Coles Notes history of Vegas, the casinos, the World Series and its stars, and the Binion family. The 2007 WSOP is ongoing as I type this, so does anyone want to front me 20 grand? I promise to pay you back with my winnings. Scout's honor!

Voice of Reason: You weren't in scouts, you were in Cubs. And you spent most of that time thinking up ways to get out of camping trips.

Shut up, Voice of Reason!


From one kind of gaming freak to another. Word Freak is Stephan Fatsis' account of the world of professional Scrabble. Whereas the top poker players vie for seven-figure purses, Fatsis describes a number of people who devote their lives to tournaments that pay out maybe $1000 for first-place, if they're lucky. What this book illustrated was how money clouds perspective. You read this book and think some of these folks are losers for being so single-mindedly devoted to pro Scrabble, and yet people who devote their lives to other kinds of games (poker, sports, taping bum fights and posting them online) are considered acceptable because there is profit in their pursuits. Fatsis' novel is a bit too exhaustive, and could've been a good 50 pages shorter while still getting the point across. Word Freak will also kill any desire you've ever had to play Scrabble. When you read an account of a game that is played almost entirely of obscure two-letter words and even more obscure multi-letter words, the effect is like watching Amadeus and then sitting down to write a symphony. You feel as inadequate as a eunuch at a porn star convention.


It occurred to me while reading Donald E. Westlake's Thieves' Dozen short story collection that I've read nearly all of Westlake's series of novels about Dortmunder, the woebegotten thief. That's probably over a dozen Dortmunder novels I've powered through in my life. Yikes. In that time, my main criticism of the series is that only a few of the novels seem to have a premise that lends itself to a full-length treatment. Imagine Ocean's Eleven except with half as many men who are half as smart and half as lucky, but the film itself is two hours longer. That's the effect of some of the lesser Dortmunder novels.

Thieves' Dozen, however, is a collection of Dortmunder short stories. So the welcome-overstaying is minimal, and the result is a collection with no weak links. The cast is limited to Dortmunder himself and his positive-thinking pal Andy, which means that the extraneous, one-joke members of Dortmunder's gang are thankfully left at home.

So, with no criticism to speak of, I'll just write the word Dortmunder a few times. Dortmunder. Dortmunder Dortmunder Dortmunder. Dortmunder. Dortmunder Dortmunder.



Most mystery writers have one sleuth they use in their novels. Parnell Hall as three. He has anti-detective Stanley Hastings, Cora "Puzzle Lady" Felton, and lawyer Steve Winslow. Hall wrote only two Winslow stories, using the pen name J. P. Hailey for some reason, and The Anonymous Client is the superior of the two and one of the overall best novels Hall has ever written. While the Hastings books are in large part satirical deconstructions of the mystery genre, the Puzzle Lady and Winslow series are both more conventional mysteries. Winslow seems like a template for the later Puzzle Lady character -- a would-be sleuth who usually has mysteries fall into his lap and things get more complicated due to his unconventional tactics.

I think I like Winslow better than Felton or even Hastings, so attention Parnell Hall: resurrect the pen name and bring the character back. Create a different pen name for all I care. You can even take mine: Longfellow Noseworthy. I've used it to write a series of cookbooks and porn reviews for Poontang Monthly.



Friday, June 08, 2007

I'm With You, Rebecca Eckler

I too have felt the sting of Hollywood ripping off my ideas. I'm also suing a major Hollywood studio for what my attorneys and I consider to be a "shameful bastardization" of an original novel I wrote years ago. The novel, Spy Derman Three, is about a Canadian secret agent named Derman Three who lives on Baffin Island keeping a watchful eye on our Arctic fishing grounds.

Just look at how a certain major superhero movie 'borrowed' my ideas...

* He has a pet seal named Mary and a pet fish named Jane. Sometimes he put a red wig on Mary and kisses her. It's lonely up there in the Arctic.

* Derman Three's undercover day job is working as a photographer for a major newspaper. By the way, in case you're wondering how this jives with his position on Baffin Island, he works all day at the paper, then flies to Nunavut every night to Baffin to check the waters, then flies back. It costs a lot of taxpayer money.

* Derman's best friend, Ozzy Harborn, tries to kill him. Not over seeking vengeance for a dead father, though --- Derman forgot to take off his shoes before entering Ozzy's living room.

* Derman has horrific nightmares, and thus tries to stay awake for as long as he can. Ergo, one could say he's fighting the sandman. One of Derman's nightmares involved being chased by a giant grain of rice, and he was so traumatized that he threw out every bit of rice in his pantry. Ergo, one could say that the sandman was responsible for the death of Derman's Uncle Ben.

* Bruce Campbell has a cameo in my novel as a snooty French maitre'd. In case you're wondering how a person could have a cameo in a novel, Bruce Campbell can do anything he wants.

* Derman is covered in a black substance that makes him act irrationally. It isn't an alien substance, but rather polar bear dung. Derman believed that the feces acted as an aphrodisiac (spoiler alert: it didn't).

* My novel takes about 15 minutes too long to read, and feels a bit like too much stuff in crammed in there.

I'll see you in court, Sam Raimi

Monday, June 04, 2007

Basketball Jones

How in the name of God are the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals? Seriously. Their second-best player is nicknamed Boobie, for pity's sake.

I will be rooting for the Cavs in the NBA Finals in spite of their lack of overall talent. Cleveland needs a winner. The Browns haven't won since 1964. The Indians haven't won the World Series since 1948, which is the second-longest title drought in baseball. San Antonio has won enough times in the last decade, so let's give someone else a chance.

That said, the Spurs are almost certainly going to wipe the floor with the Cavaliers. I'm not one of these people who is suddenly anti-Spurs in the last month, and thinks their winning another title would be bad for the NBA because they're "boring." Come on. The Spurs play solid, fundamental team basketball. They aren't the New Jersey Devils of the NBA. Well, I guess you could make a case for a Tim Duncan-Martin Brodeur comparison -- two guys who just quietly go about doing their business and will end their careers among the all-time greats.

If the Cavs have a chance in the Finals, it will be because the refs will give Lebron literally every call. If you thought D-Wade got a lot of calls last year, that will seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the favours that LeBron is going to get. This is going to be interesting to watch. One of the more notorious hard fouling teams in the league against the uber-star that is already knee-deep in his own set of 'James Rules.'

Come on, Boobie!