Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 MLB Preview

Ok, so today isn't really opening day, but given that most MLB teams start their seasons on this day of days, it's OPENING DAY in my books. I'm not going to move from the couch from about 1 PM to late into the night. And I'm being literal --- I bought a catheter.


NL East
This will be a season-long dogfight between Philly and New York for the division title, and hopefully Johan Santana's arrival will mean that the Mets won't again suffer a historic late-season collapse. As much as I slag off the Yankees, I have a soft spot for the Mets. Maybe it's the Mr. Met-attempts-suicide skits on Conan O'Brien. I will say this about Philadelphia, if they think Brad Lidge is going to do anything positive for them this year, they're dreaming. Atlanta will hang around and basically be the NL East's answer to the Blue Jays --- one step behind the top dogs. Washington and Florida might both end up surprising a few teams by posting better-than-expected records, but they'll ultimately be held back by terrible pitching staffs. And, in Washington's case, a pretty poor lineup. Wait, why am I picking them for fourth again? Hell, Florida at least has Hanley Ramirez. The Nats are pinning their hopes on Nick Johnson being healthy? Jesus wept.

Division's best: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, 2B Chase Utley, 3B David Wright, SS Hanley Ramirez, OF Carlos Beltran, Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell, SP Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, Tim Hudson, John Smoltz (when healthy), John Maine, RP Billy Wagner, Chad Cordero

NL Central
Cubs vs. Brewers, all season long. It's like the Bears/Packers rivalry, except in this case, the Chicago team will actually end up winning. I expect Milwaukee to continue their development and may well end up challenging for the NL wild card as well. There really isn't much reason to continue with the rest of the division with the other four teams suck to varying degrees, but let's just slot it as Astros, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, in that order. Houston's lineup is pretty strong, though I question the pickup of Miguel Tejada now that he's apparently off the juice. The Astros' rotation apart from Roy Oswalt is trash, however, and that will limit them to third and may even a sub-.500 record. Some people have Cincinnati as a possible surprise team, but Dusty Baker is one of the worst managers in baseball. He will screw it up. Step one: not making Joey Votto the everyday first baseman and instead platooning him with Scott Hatteberg (seriously? Hatteberg?). Step two: sending Homer Bailey, the young future ace, back to the minors. Step three: sending Jay Bruce, arguably the top prospect in all of baseball, to the minors so Norris Hopper and Corey Patterson can instead patrol center field. Ye gods. Pittsburgh takes a baby step of escaping the basement, though their streak of losing seasons will continue. As for St. Louis, how the hell did this team win the World Series two years ago? Their roster stinks. Pujols is their only bright spot, and his elbow might fall apart at any moment this season. St. Louis will lose at least 95 games.

Division's best: C J.R. Towles (seriously, this division is brutal for catching), 1B Albert Pujols, 2B Brandon Phillips, 3B Ryan Braun, SS Miguel Tejada, OF Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn, SP Carlos Zambrano, Aaron Harang, Roy Oswalt, Rich Hill, RP Jason Isringhausen, Jose Valverde

NL West
The most competitive division in baseball, bar none. It wouldn't surprise me to see any of the five clubs walk away with the division crown...well, okay, the Giants winning would be a big surprise, but even still, their Ewing Theory potential is very high with Bonds finally off the team. But let's just pencil San Fran in for last place and get onto the real teams. Arizona inexplicably won the division last year in spite of the fact that NONE of the young players they were counting on really came through like they hoped. If any or all of these guys (Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds) breaks out, the D-Backs could be a legitimately scary team, especially given their Webb-Haren one-two rotation punch. The Rockies will look to prove that their massive winning streak to the NL pennant last year wasn't a fluke, but their rotation still has too many holes to keep up with the Snakes. Los Angeles gets Joe Torre as manager in place of Grady Little, which is like upgrading from a day-old grilled cheese sandwich to a steak dinner. James Loney and Matt Kemp are primed for big breakout seasons, and Andre Ethier might do the same if Torre is wise enough to finally let him play everyday and keep Juan Pierre's overpaid and useless carcass on the bench. But overall, I think the Dodgers are still a player away, not unlike the San Diego Padres. If SD had one more strong bat in their lineup or can get one at the deadline, they can make some noise, but until then I can't put them any higher than fourth place. Remember, fourth place in the NL West might mean the Pads are no more than six games out of first, so it's not as unimpressive as it sounds.

Division's best: C Russ Martin, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Orlando Hudson, 3B Garrett Atkins, SS Troy Tulowitzki, OF Matt Holliday, Eric Byrnes, Brad Hawpe, SP Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Dan Haren, Chris Young, Brad Penny, RP Trevor Hoffman, Takashi Saito

AL East
The Yankees/Red Sox rivalry will continue to garner 80% of the media's baseball coverage as well as continue to bore the shit out of 80% of baseball fans. Is this what being a fan of a non-Old Firm side in the Scottish Premier League feels like? The Red Sox will continue their success as their team is starting to eerily resemble the late 90's Yankees --- a mix of homegrown talent, key free agent signings and smart trade pickups. The injuries to Schilling and Beckett are somewhat of a concern for BoSox fans, but Beckett will miss barely any time and Schill's injury means that Clay Buchholz (who, y'know, just threw a no-hitter last year) might get more time in the rotation. Or, if not Buchholz, then former Cy Young Bartolo Colon. AS THE FIFTH STARTER. I hate the Red Sox. But not as much as I hate the Yankees, who enter the first season of the post-Torre era with some big holes to fill. Their offense will still score a ton of runs, but expecting the likes of Giambi, Damon or even Matsui to play full seasons is questionable, and New York's bench is thin at best. The rotation is expecting Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to both emerge, and hoping that Mussina's ability isn't as completely shot as Roger Clemens' credibility. All NY has to do is get a lead to the eighth, and then Joba and Rivera will more than likely close the door as the best 1-2 combo since Rivera and Wetteland. And now, for third in the East yet again, we come to the Blue Jays. This team will win its usual 81-86 games and continue to never seriously contend for any sort of postseason berth. I don't see how the Jays improved themselves at all over the off-season; if anything, they got worse. It's possible the Rays could even push the Jays for third, but Tampa is still a year or two away from being an actual good club. On the bright side for T-Bay, they'll escape the cellar thanks to the living joke that is the Baltimore franchise. Over/under on losses for the Orioles in 2008: 110. Bet the under at your own risk.

Division's best: C Jorge Posada, 1B Kevin Youkilis, 2B Brian Roberts (at least as long as he's still an Oriole), 3B Alex Rodriguez, SS Derek Jeter, OF Alex Rios, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, DH David Ortiz, SP Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett, Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Kazmir (if healthy), Dustin McGowan, RP Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera

AL Central
Two-team races are all the rage in baseball this year. Every division save the NL West has one, and in the Central it's going to be the Tigers and Indians battling in a battle not seen since Shere Khan battled Mowgli in the Jungle Book. The White Sox will play Baloo the Bear in this division, being lovable and cuddly (the Baloo-Jim Thome comparisons are truly scary) but never rising to beyond the level of a supporting player. Though in 20 years, the White Sox will inexplicably pop up in a cartoon playing a cargo jet pilot. The Twins are Kaa, trying to hypnotize people into thinking they're still a good team without Santana. The Royals are those vulture characters who were supposed to be the Beatles --- K.C. has some promising talent, so they're a copy of a good team, just like the vultures were copies of the legendary Fab Four. In fact, the Royals might rise as far as a fab (for them) fourth place. Man, this worked really well, maybe I should've tried to compare every division to an old Disney cartoon. I could've gotten two paragraphs alone from milking a Yankees-Cruella de Vil connection.

Division's best: C Victor Martinez, 1B Justin Morneau, 2B Placido Polanco, 3B Miguel Cabrera, SS Edgar Renteria (provided he doesn't crap the bed as badly as he did the last time he was in the AL), OF Grady Sizemore, Magglio Ordonez, Nick Swisher, DH Travis Hafner, SP Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, Gil Meche, Fausto Carmona, Mark Buehrle, RP Joe Nathan, Bobby Jenks

AL West
Am I nuts, or do the Angels sort of suck? Their offense will still be enough to carry them to the division title, in spite of their massive holes at short and catcher, but their pitching is suddenly in dire straits with both John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar suffering injuries. The Mariners will keep the Angels honest in (you guessed it) another two-horse race. This one might be the closest of the punch given that the M's finally have a good mix of pitching and hitting, plus a relief ace in J.J. Putz. The Athletics and Rangers will 'battle' it out for third in a showcase of mediocrity.

Division's best: C Kenji Johjima, 1B Casey Kotchman, 2B Howie Kendrick, 3B Chone Figgins in the first half, Adrian Beltre in the second half, SS Michael Young, OF Ichiro, Vladimir Guerrero, Raul Ibanez, DH Torii Hunter, SP Erik Bedard, John Lackey, Rich Harden (if healthy, which is a big if), Joe Blanton, Felix Hernandez, RP J.J. Putz, Francisco Rodriguez

Wild cards: Phillies and Indians

World Series: I'm trying to steer away from any crazy predictions this season, as I'm still smarting from my horrific pick of the Blue Jays in the ALCS two years ago. But I'm also a baseball history buff. It has been exactly 100 years since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, as they last took the crown when they beat the Detroit Tigers in 1908. The Cubs, in fact, haven't even won a pennant since 1945, when they lost the Series to, you guessed it, the Tigers. It only seems fitting that the Cubs and Tigers once again square off in the World Series with the championship going to....well, the Tigers. Hey, with the White Sox and Red Sox ending their championship droughts, we still need the Cubs to kick around.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Live Music Showcase III (a.k.a. 10 Cent Freeze Pops tribute)

The Clash, Train in Vain --- Somewhere in New Jersey, 1979

Does it sap my musical street cred if I admit that this is by far my favourite Clash song? I mean, I like most of their other work, but Train in Vain is probably in my top 20 all-time. It feels like I should like some Sandanista b-side that's been played live twice in order to keep my card on the Musical Snob Tour. You don't even want to know what qualifying school is like for that; it's six days of listening to nothing but Charlatans outtakes.

U2, PopMuzik/Mofo/I Will Follow --- Madison, Wisconsin

The cliche about never getting a second chance to make a first impression has never been truer with U2's Pop album. The band's first press event announcing the album was held at a K-Mart, which was an in-joke about commercialism that went over as well as an SNL skit in the Gilbert Gottfried season. The first video from the album (this was back in the era when videos were a big deal) was the legendarily horrible Discotheque video, which made people think U2 had turned into some weird electro-trance unit. The rest of the album's videos were some of the band's best --- If God Will Send His Angels had a particularly interesting video clip --- but nobody could get the image of U2 dressed as the Village People burned out of their minds. Then, the first few shows of the under-rehearsed PopMart Tour were shaky at best, thus causing fans to think U2 had lost their live touch as well, in spite of the fact that the rest of the tour went along smashingly. All in all, the album is looked upon as a valley by both the band and by fans in spite of the fact that it's actually a very solid piece of work. I'm biased since I became a U2 fan in 1997 and thus Pop was my 'first' U2 album, and since it was what got me hooked on the band, naturally I think it's better than advertised.

Anyway, this is a fantastic version of the heavily underrated song Mofo from PopMart. I've got to be honest, this is my second choice for a live version of the track. I was originally searching for an unbelievably sick rendition of Mofo from the European MTV Video Awards, but YouTube appears to have removed it. On the bright side, this video captures a bit of the concert experience, particularly the very cool opening featuring U2 walking in to the remixed version of M's "PopMuzik" like they're fighters approaching the ring or something. I should note, Bono isn't a Klansman --- the handicam's shaky colour makes his yellow robe look white.

Joel Plaskett, Nowhere With You --- Port Hawksbury, Nova Scotia

I saw Plaskett perform a show in Toronto last summer, and it was good stuff. This is probably his best-known song due to its inclusion in a series of Zellers ads. This is an anecdote that amuses only me, but to this day I can't walk past a Zellers without uttering "Hello, Zellers!" in the manner of pro wrestler Val Venis after a short-lived ad campaign featuring ol' Val in the late 90's. I like this entry because my non-Canadian readers (all four of them!) have no idea who or what the hell Plaskett, Zellers or maybe even Val Venis this is. I presume this will be the break that Plaskett needs to become the biggest Canadian star under the border since Lacey from Corner Gas guest-starred in that episode of Frasier. She's on-screen for a whole minute with Kelsey Grammer, it's magical.

Eddie Vedder, No Surrender --- East Rutherford, New Jersey

I was deciding between a Pearl Jam live cut or a Bruce Springsteen live cut, but then I came across this gem and figured hey, why not split the difference? Reason #843 why Eddie Vedder is fuckin' awesome: he's one of the best coverers of songs out there. He's taken a wide assortment of songs and made them uniquely his own. Rocking in the Free World, Leaving Here, Last Kiss, Soldier of Love, Baba O'Riley...the list goes on and on. I would be first in line to buy an all-cover album from Pearl Jam.

Talking Heads, Psycho Killer --- 1978, The Old Grey Whistle Test

No surprise: a Talking Heads song on one of my live music lists. Surprise: it's not from Stop Making Sense, but rather from one of the band's first TV appearances. There's actually a great version of Psycho Killer on Stop Making Sense as well (it's just David Byrne and a pre-recorded backing track), but this song benefits more from having the full band kicking it. They all look like members of the chess club and the performance is tight as hell. Arguably Tina Weymouth's best bassline. Is it just me, or does Byrne really look like Christian Bale in this clip?

Tragically Hip, Fireworks --- Vancouver, British Columbia

Fireworks is my favourite Hip song, and perhaps not coincidentially, is one of their most beloved live tracks. Wait, the coincidence isn't in my liking it --- it's not like Hip audiences have a hive mind like the Borg and said, "Oh, if Mark likes it, then it must be one of our favourites too!" I'm confused. Is there a better lyricist anywhere than Gord Downie? I would seriously consider him in the discussion of greatest lyricists ever.

Cheap Trick, The Flame --- Budokan, Japan

It was actually hard to find a decent live version of this track since Robin Zander's voice has altered over the years and thus decreased his range. One of the few 80's power ballads that has actually held up over the year. This is one of those 'official' live versions that over the years becomes the version that is always played on the radio, not unlike Cheap Trick's I Want You To Want Me or, oh, every hit Peter Frampton ever had.

Oasis, Acquiesce --- Gurten Festival, Switzerland

This version also has Liam changing the lyrics to 'when the women blow' and then making a blowjob motion with his hands. Move over Alec Guinness -- Liam Gallagher is genuine class. It is incomprehensible that Oasis never released this song on an official studio album.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weekend Update (on a Wednesday)

Don't worry, the blog hasn't ceased to be. I've taken a bit of a posting hiatus due to my life being beset by busy-ness over the last week. Busy-ness and stupidity, to be exact. I had this post written up two days ago but didn't post it because I literally forgot my password. I sat there for 20 minutes trying to remember it but it just didn't click until 10 minutes ago. Unbelievable.

So anyway, big things going on in the life o'Mark. If all goes to plan, I'll be moving to Toronto next week for another summer in the Big Smoke. This time, I'll hopefully be living in a place that doesn't have bedbugs or mice. It was somewhat unfortunate since my room was bug-free (it came unfurnished, so I brought a bed from home), and my poor roommates had to suffer through the lack of sleep and red bite marks on their arms every morning while I slept like a baby. I almost felt guilty. Though one time when I was taking out the trash, I slipped on the step and splashed some garbage-water on my pants. So, uh, that's something. And they were the very pants I was returning! [/Kramer]

Went to see the Bank Job last Saturday night, which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. I was underwhelmed by the previews and the critical reception was lukewarm, but I underestimated how much my Anglophile self would appreciate the film's Britishness. Setting a film in England automatically makes any it 30% better. Bank Job is pretty liberal with the facts and controversy surrounding an actual 1971 London bank robbery, but I'd be interested in knowing how accurate this detail about the sex photos of Princess Margaret are. Not because, like, I'm kinky or something, but that's a pretty large factoid to just throw into the plot. Is the Queen going to grit her teeth angrily when watching this movie? Since, obviously, her majesty will go see it based on my positive review --- she's a fan of the blog. She often posts comments under the name of 'k. wasko.'

It's also time to give a round of applause to the always dependable Jason Statham, who is arguably the best second-tier action/thriller star in movies today. Snatch, War, Crank, and other films that include more than one word in the title all benefit from having Statham on-board. Crank, in particular, takes a certain brand of machismo to make work before the film completely descends into absurdity, but Statham is just the man for the job. Two fun Crank facts: they're making a sequel (uh, it's got to be a prequel...right?), and according to Wikipedia, Statham is quoted in a Maxim article as saying his character in Crank is not unlike him in real life. So, presumably, Statham has actually had sex with his girlfriend in the middle of a crowded street while a bus of tourists watches in awe. I can believe it. Statham is the man.

Going back to my point about how any film is improved by being set in England, maybe I should expand that to any film set in Europe. The very enjoyable In Bruges, for example, makes you want to get on the next flight to Bruges, Belgium. Warning: this film contains large doses of Colin Farrell, but for a change he doesn't come off as a twat. Warning II: this film also contains a scene where a midget is knocked out via karate chop. This scene caused my buddy Trev's girlfriend to, in his words, "laugh for 10 minutes." If you have a loved one who could have a seizure at the merest hint of normal sized man-on-midget violence, stay away from In Bruges. I'd instead recommend the 1979 Best Picture winner Kramer vs. Kramer. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I don't think any midgets are assaulted. There is a smaller person on screen, but don't worry --- that's just Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep's son.

This particular weekend also contained copious amounts of turkey and basketball. Oh Easter --- you're easily the best holiday we have that notes a man's violent death. And Easter leftovers are even better, since we're continuing to celebrate the J-man by 'resurrecting' our dinner from the previous evening. Mel Gibson take note: the sight of me tearing into an Easter dinner is almost as bloody and violent as the Passion, so keep the cameras rolling.

As for March Madness, I've done reasonably well in my brackets thus far. Here's the thing: I have three of them. Two in Yahoo pools, one on Facebook. I have different picks in all of them. My three national champs are UCLA, Kansas and Wisconsin. Some upsets I predicted, some I didn't, but the fact that my three brackets differ wildly really splits my rooting interests when watching games. For example, Davidson's upset over Georgetown. I had them winning on one bracket, and the sports fan in me loved seeing the smaller school led by Stephen Curry (who you might remember from the Seinfeld episode where Elaine isn't sure if she's dating a black guy) take out the mighty Hoyas. Then again, in my other two brackets, I had Georgetown going to the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively. Next year I'm just going to do one bracket and stick to it for simplicity's sake. Basketball highlights included me correctly picking three-fourths of the upset-filled opening round games in Tampa, Duke losing (I had them going Elite Eight, but who cares, Duke lost!) and the ass-kickingly awesome Western Kentucky/Drake battle last Friday. Last-second buzzer beaters join the Muppets and root beer on the list of things that everyone loves.

The WK/Drake game interrupted a marathon session of Rock Band at my pal Andrew's place on Friday. After playing for a while, I can say I'm a respectable guitarist/bassist as anything below the hard setting. My drumming is...well, it's bad. Like, if the guy from Def Leppard lost his other arm, he'd still be better than me. My singing falls somewhere in between. My problems start when I try to sing a song like the original singer, not like myself. John Fogerty sounds like John Fogerty; I don't. So when I sing Fortunate Son, the results aren't pretty. If I sing it and just sound like myself, it's a bit better. One of the great Rock Band memes was started on the Conan O'Brien episode when Conan sings along with "Sabotage" in the voice of Edith Bunker. Since then, performing Sabotage has become total comedy since you can just rap it in whatever silly voice you want. My pal Dave busted out both Mayor Quimby and Arnold Schwarzenegger, even including Arnold-isms like "Day-nahhh!" during the fills.

Oh, another weekend highlight was reading this post. The problem about this secular commandments is that I've followed them so closely that I've made Ryan into my new messiah. Save me Jebus!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Top 13 Athletes Named Mark Of My Lifetime

Honourable mention I: guys named Marcus. The name on my birth certificate is actually just Mark --- no fancy version necessary, baby. This list is reserved just for those who are best-known by the shorter, cooler, harder, better, faster, stronger version of the name.

Honourable mention II: Mark Spitz, Mark Fidrych. These two were before my time, but get a nod due to their outstanding achievements in the field of excellence. Spitz, sadly, has been reduced to appearing in ads with Amanda Beard. Fidrych's awesomeness just continues on through the ages. For those unaware of the man known as the Bird, Fidrych had one amazing rookie season with the Detroit Tigers in 1976 and became a national sensation due to antics like talking to the ball on the mound. Fidrych had arm troubles that cut his career short, but he is fondly remembered to this day. Two Fidrych notes...

* There is a great anecdote about Graig Nettles, a character in his own right, coming up to the plate against Fidrych. As Fidrych was talking to the ball, Nettles told his bat to hit the ball over the wall. After striking out, Nettles complained, "Damn Japanese bat. It doesn't understand a word of English."

* Fidrych appeared on what is inarguably the greatest Sports Illustrated cover of all time. It's not even close. This image is now my laptop's background screen.

13. Mark Moseley
I have no earthly clue about anything Moseley has ever done on this earth except for this --- in 1982, he won the NFL's MVP award. And he was a kicker. A. Kicker. This is the league so prejudiced against this particular position that there aren't even any full-time kickers in its Hall of Fame. Now 1982 was a strike year, so there might've been some wackiness going on, but even still, that's just wacky.

12. Mark Tewksbury
I have no particular interest in Tewksbury other than general patriotism (gold medal! Whoo!), but I have to bow to public pressure on this one. I MSNed a few people asking them to name any sporting Marks they could immediately think of, just to see if there were any obvious names I was missing. To my surprise, all four of them immediately came up with Tewksbury. Hell, if he's stuck in the public mindset this long, he's earned himself a spot on the list. Besides Tewksbury and Spitz, I'm probably the third-best swimming Mark of all time. After all, I do have a PUC Lifesavers' badge. *dusts off hands triumphantly*

11. Mark Recchi
I'll be honest, I had a whole entry written up about how Mark Recchi was widely regarded as the ugliest player in the NHL before I realized that I was confusing Recchi with Mike Ricci. Recchi was just a boring ol' quality player with two Cup rings and over 500 career goals. Yawn. On the bright side, at least he got more puck bunny tail than Mike Ricci. Fuck, that guy was ugly. He looked like a leaking car battery that had somehow taken human form.

10. Mark Eichhorn
Being a member of the 1992-93 World Series champion Blue Jays teams is a great way to win oneself a place on this list. Eichhorn also had the mystique of being a sidearm pitcher. In my house league ballplaying days, I could never hit sidearmers. Well, I couldn't hit anyone, but I especially couldn't hit sidearmers. My career average against them was literally .000.

9. Mark Tauscher
Packers, baby! Aside from a couple of injury-plagued years, Tauscher has been a rock on the O-line for the decade. I wanted to get at least one Packer representative on this list, but my only other real option was Mark "Why yes, I am the oldest man in this hot tub" Chmura. Needless to say, the Tausch got the nod.

8. Mark Rypien
Remember, I didn't start really following football until 1992, so I came in just at the moment Rypien and the Redskins were kicking everyone's ass. If you had asked me who the greatest quarterback of all time was back then, I would've confidently stated Rypien, possibly while urinating on a picture of Joe Montana. I wonder if Rypien and Kurt Warner ever sit around and ask themselves what the hell happened to their careers.

7. Mark Calcavecchia
The man known as Calc (original nickname) has had a long and distinguished career on the PGA Tour, racking up double-digit wins and even a major. Yes, that's right, Calc won a major early in his career, the 1989 British Open. Winning a major early can either make a player crack under the pressure of being known as a major champion, or it can put them on easy street for the rest of their careers since they can be content with the fact that they've already achieved their career highlight. I think Calc can be put into the latter category. I've always believed that if you put every PGA Tour player into a steel cage and had them fight it out, Calcavecchia would be one of the last men standing. He just seems to have a subtle bad-ass quality to him. I think it would be Calc, Tiger (obviously, he's in by far the best shape of any golfer) and, for some reason, Shigeki Maruyama. His nickname is the Smiling Assassin, after all. He'd just stand in the corner, with bodies piled up around him, grinning like that little girl in Battle Royale. Fun fact: Calc's wife's maiden name is Nardecchia. I hope she didn't hyphenate.

6. Mark Prior
Sigh. The arm that sunk a thousand fantasy teams. Prior, in all honesty, shouldn't be this high on the list, but I see no reason to unfairly punish the man for Dusty Baker's stupidity in making him throw approximately 268 pitches per game. If you have any Cincinnati Red on your fantasy team this season, be afraid. There's no telling what this idiot may do. Drafted Joey Votto? Oh, well, Scott Hatteberg needs his at-bats, back to the minors with you, Joey! Thinking of picking up Jay Bruce? No need to play this minor league star! The Reds already have Corey Patterson and Norris Hopper! Dusty's satisfied! Did you pick up Aaron Harang? Wait...crap, I drafted Aaron Harang. Uh oh.

5. Mark O'Meara
A pretty similar to Calcavecchia's --- we Marks are nothing if not consistent --- except that O'Meara won one more major title. O'Meara is best known for his role as Tiger Woods' fishing buddy, which is somewhat insulting given MOM's status as a world-class golfer in his own right, yet somewhat apt given how everyone on Tour is caught up in Tiger's wake. I cannot believe that we are seriously discussing a pro golfer going unbeaten for an entire season. That would be probably the greatest feat in sports history. That would make the 72 Dolphins look like a pile of vomit. Man, have I spent two-thirds of O'Meara's entry talking about Tiger Woods? I told you he was unfairly diminished!

4. Mark Zupan
Zupan was a university college and soccer player whose life took a dark turn after he was rendered quadriplegic after a car accident at age 18. What did Zupan do? He forgave his drunk-driving friend who caused the accident, became a world-class wheelchair rugby player, starred in the wonderful documentary Murderball and, as seen in the film, got himself a super-hot girlfriend. Damn. Zupan is basically a real-life version of Joe Swanson from Family Guy, except without the police background. If you made fun of Zupan ("What are you gonna do, Chairy? Give me a knuckle sandwich? HAW HAW HAW!"), he would quietly smile to himself and then knock your mocking ass out. Then he'd deliver a line like "That knuckle sandwich was a meal on wheels." Then he's roll away to a personalized version of the Canyonero theme music. Mark Fuckin' Zupan, ladies and gentlemen.

3. Mark McGwire
A controversial choice due to performance-enhancing substances, but his distinguished body of work leaves me no choice but to give him a high ranking. This one was a real shame. I mean, we all sort of knew Big Mac was on steroids, but it was really disheartening to see him stammer his way through that congressional hearing. On the bright side, McGwire is still by far the most popular of the steroid-users. Barry Bonds? Roger Clemens? Rafael Palmeiro? Sammy Sosa? Jose Canseco? Pfft, I'd still high-five Big Mac over any of these guys. Being nicknamed after a hamburger goes a long way with me, which is why my current favourite ballplayer is Asdrubal "The Whopper" Cabrera.

2. Mark "The Undertaker" Callaway
A controversial choice due to performance-enhancing substances (his magical urn), but his distinguished body of work leaves me no choice but to give him a high ranking. You've got to love the Undertaker. Whether he's throwing Mick Foley off of a steel cage or locking the Ultimate Warrior in an airtight casket, he was always a barrel of laughs. I always thought that a big part of one's success in professional wrestling had to do with what gimmick you're handed, and this is definitely true in the Taker's case.

Vince McMahon: Ok Mark, I've got it narrowed down to two character options for you. One, you can be a monster who never shows pain, rarely loses, has a great gothic entrance and look that will make you popular no matter what, win several world titles, and get long paid vacations whenever we 'kill' your character for several months before bringing you back stronger than ever. Two, you can be Pants-Ripping Terry, a tailor-turned-wrestler who would dominate competition were it not for his achilles heel of freaking out whenever his opponent tears the hemline of his pants, which would happen in pretty much every match. Your catchphrase would be "Sew there!"

Mark Callaway: Would I be supplied with new pants every night?

Vince: No, you'd have to bring you own.

Mark: Aw man. In that case, I'll take the first gimmick. I only have so many pants to spare.

1. Mark Messier
As if there was any doubt. Not only does he share my first name, but he's also a bald Mark. Messier is also notable for being a master of unintentional comedy --- his bizarre commercials for Lays chips, his entire stint with the Vancouver Canucks and his increasingly hilarious reaction to being handed the Stanley Cup by Gary Bettman in 1994. Messier was almost hysterically happy, bordering on crazy. It was like when Sideshow Bob was elected mayor and he just broke into insane laughter during his victory speech. I half-expected Messier to press some secret button on the Cup and his henchmen would suddenly scale down on ropes from the ceiling of Madison Square Garden and take the whole building hostage. Messier would then put on a monocle and cape, and start stroking a cat (the cat played by Brian Leetch).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Watching The Golf Channel

So Vijay Singh stars in this commercial for a PGA Tour charity. He's surrounded by a bunch of kids who call him 'the big Fijian.' The problem is, with their young voices, it sounds like they're calling him the Big Vagine. Veh-ry nii-ce! I like you!

People talk about the void in Green Bay now that Brett Favre is gone. That will be the entire world of professional golf when Tiger Woods retires or moves on to the senior tour. That's the problem with having a singular entity who dominates the sport --- when he goes, the sport has a hard time catching up in terms of filling viewers' interests. You already see what happens to TV ratings in tournaments that Tiger isn't competing in. It's like what happened to cycling after Lance Armstrong stopped entering the Tour de France.

Billy Mayfair has looked like he's in his mid-fifties since he was 27. Now that he's in his forties, he looks 70. I can't decide which reference is more appropriate --- he either looks like the grail-defending knight in Last Crusade, or he looks like Walter Donovan after he drinks from the false grail except slowed down over the span of a decade.

Nick Faldo never finishes his sentences. He's like John Ritter's character in Noises Off.* He gets going on a point and he entertainingly rambles on until the next shot is hit, and then he just trails off. Faldo finishes his thoughts as well as Phil Mickelson finishes U.S. Opens.

* = this may be the most obscure reference I've ever made on this blog, and that's saying something. That movie kicked ass. Julie Hagerty and Christopher Reeve gave arguably career-best performances.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


You lads will have the toughest job of your life now that Bob Knight is part of the team. If this video is any indication, your finger had better be on the button like sanitation commissioner Ray "Old Man" Patterson.

Ok, seriously, she got bingoes on the first two words she played in the game. I was down something like 150-16 after two turns. DAMN YOU MEGAN. YOU ARE MY WHITE WHALE.

I've got no beef with Billy Crystal. He's a great Oscar host. He was fantastic on Saturday Night Live. Anyone whose credits include When Harry Met Sally, Spinal Tap and Princess Bride is good in my books. That being said, if one of the Pittsburgh pitchers intentionally hits him with a pitch, it will be one of the great moments in baseball history. Can't the Pirates counter with an old comedian of their own? Surely Joe Flaherty has always had a soft spot for the Bucs.

If Hillary wins every single delegate in every single primary left...she'll still be behind Obama in the delegate count. So what is she hoping for? That everyone else in America suddenly becomes as ignorant as Geraldine Ferraro? I have no real beef with Hillary per se (she and Obama are like 90% in agreement on most of the major issues), but Obama just brings more to the table at this point. If Obama runs, the Democrats will pick up Senate and House seats across the board on his coattails and he'll almost certainly beat John McCain. If Hillary runs, she'll probably still beat McCain since Americans are so disgusted by the last eight years of Republican rule, but it'll be a lot more up in the air. Plus, Dems running in southern states will suffer since their opponents can point to Hillary as the 'liberal demon' that will be running the party. So really, is there any upside to preferring Hillary at this point? Wouldn't it be kind of like voting for Tracy Flick from Election? BTW, this marks the first and only time that Barack Obama will be compared, even indirectly, to Chris Klein. I'm hoping Obama has never said "Suck me, beautiful" to a chick in the front seat of a car. He's not Eliot Spitzer.

Sigh. It begins. And of all the people to get hurt, it's the guy the Jays were looking at to be either the fifth starter or a quality set-up man. On the bright side, at least the injuries started in spring training and not actually during the season this year. that a bright side?

Housing Search '08 has concluded, though I have a lot fewer wacky stories than last year. There was only one that stood out as being particularly daft. It was an apartment that the guy had just moved into, and he said over the phone that there wasn't much furniture. I'll say. I get there and the only thing he has in his entire living room is a) a tiny, black-and-white TV, b) a single rug in the middle of the room (it really tied the room together) and c) a giant bong. At first glance I thought it was a lamp. Now, I'm no narc or anything (though Mark The Narc is a catchy nickname), but come on --- when you're showing a stranger an apartment, is it really a smart move to have the drug paraphenalia front and center? I could've been a cop, for all he knew. Plus, when your entire living room set consists of a TV, rug and a bong, it raises questions about how this guy is living while he "gets moved in." Like, is he spending his days sitting cross-legged on the rug, blowing smoke rings in the air while listening to Dark Side on his stereo? Wait, scratch that, there wasn't even a stereo.

Hey, speaking of Eliot Spitzer. I tried really hard to come up with a 'Spitzer Swallows' type of joke here, but couldn't quite properly figure it out. Any suggestions?

My god, the snow. It just keeps coming and coming. My snow shovels lie cracked and broken like Springfield's Main Street ("Sorry Mom, the mob has spoken") due to the ice build-up on our driveway. It's been above zero the last couple of days, so the ice is gone and things have quieted down, but I can't help but think that March has one last blizzard left in her. Fun fact: almost every time I've had to go to Toronto in the last few months (be it for work, for house-hunting, etc.) I've had to postpone due to a massive snowstorm that happens either the night before I go or the morning of. I finally just sucked it up last Wednesday and headed down the 401 in spite of the swirling winds that enveloped London that morning. Mark 1, Mother Nature 0.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Cupsets Revisited

With March Madness just around the corner, it seems an appropriate time to discuss upsets. Not basketball-related upsets, of course, since that would actually relate to my opening sentence in some way. I had this same problem in my university papers:

"Few people hated small theatres more than my Uncle Hank, who railed against movie houses for packing many screens into a single cinema rather than providing one singular viewing experience. Someone with the same idea was Bertolt Brecht, who was a proponent of Epic Theatre..." --- excerpt taken from Mark's seminal essay "I'll Have Fries With That Dialectical Theatre: The Character of Mack The Knife in Brecht's Threepenny Opera and Late-1980's McDonald's commercials." It received a D-minus from Professor Lockett. Talk about a biased grade. He's had it in for me ever since I kinda ran over his dog. Well, replace the word "kinda" with the word "repeatedly," and the word "dog" with "son."

Anyway, back to upsets. This post has proven to be one of the most prescient I've ever written. Even though Havant & Waterlooville came up short in their Cinderella run, this year's FA Cup ended up being the most topsy-turvy in recent memory. The final eight included four Premier League teams, three second division teams, and one third division team. Going into the semi-finals, the field is now down to the three second division sides and only one Premiership side --- and it's not even Chelsea or Man U, who both got shellacked by Barnsley and Portsmouth, respectively. In North American sports terms, this would be like a continent-wide open basketball tournament coming down to three D-League teams of varying quality and, say, the Nuggets.

It's great since, if you go back to that original post, this year's FA Cup ended up being basically a direct F-you to my friend Kyle's comment about how since first division sides almost always win, then nobody should care about the Cup. It's like the FA directed the EPL teams to throw the matches purely out of spite. I attribute this to the fact that Kyle is engaged to an Irish woman, and thus is now party to the long-standing tradition of the English screwing over the Irish.

Even if Portsmouth, the last Premiership club standing, wins the FA Cup, they haven't won anything in 60 years, so it'll be fresh. Basically as long as Liverpool, Man U, Chelsea or Arsenal don't win, I'm happy. I made a severe miscalculation when picking a favourite Premier League team two years ago --- it's way more fun to root against the Big Four than it is to root for any one of the Generally Mediocre Sixteen. This is more natural for me as a fan since I've already spent years rooting against the Big Two in the American League East. I may yet come up with a preferred EPL team that I love, but in the meantime, it's much easier to just hate.


So, March Madness. See, this part of the post should've come after the intro paragraph. Instead of writing up a massive preview of the tournament, I'll just lazily reprint last year's. It doesn't involve actual analysis in any way, so it doesn't really matter. Does anything I write matter? Man, that's a depressing thought. Time to drown my sorrows in apple sauce and cookies. Am I the only one in the world who dips the cookies into the apple sauce? Or am I just crazy?

Part One
Part Two

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Two Bits of Random Nonsense

Hey, good thing I have a 'random nonsense' tag!

The first is a hilarious website called Garfield Without Garfield. The premise is simply that Garfield is removed from Garfield comics, thus making Jon speak to himself and look like a lunatic. Here's a sample.

Ha ha, great link, Mark!

Thanks, Mark! The second is a YouTube video about the most unprofessional news broadcast since the days of Ted Baxter. Skip to the 50-second mark, since the opening is pretty dry. Riddle me this: who wins in a fight between these guys? I vote for the on-site reporter. He seems to have more rage.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Brett Favre

In the winter of 1993, I decided to become an 'official' NFL fan. Now, I was already a football fan, indulging in such glories as going to Western Mustangs games and being a six-month fan of the Toronto Argos in the era when Wayne Gretzky, Bruce McNall and John Candy owned the team, but still, it was time to turn my attention to the top football league in the world.

The obvious first team was to pick a favourite team. Unlike some of the tortured thinking that went into picking my favourite college team or favourite Premiership team last fall, my logic back in my younger years was a lot simpler. I decided to pick a team that 'seemed fun' and was a team I had heard of. I didn't pick the Cowboys or 49ers, since even at that young age, I hated front-runners. In fact, just a few months later, I would be witness to the single-greatest case of bandwagon-jumping in history when this guy in my grade school would show up with a brand-new Canadiens coat literally two days after they won the Cup, after NEVER ONCE having mentioned being a Habs fan beforehand. It was disgusting.

But anyway, I decided to pick the Packers. They had just come off a 9-7 non-playoff season, so they were good but certainly not great. Green Bay has an illustrious football history like none other, but back in 1992, the Packers had only two playoff appearances in the previous 25 years. The bandwagon was pretty empty, aside from my Uncle Glenn, a longtime Packer Backer. I guess I could've become a Browns fan like my dad, but the memory of his scream after Earnest Byner's AFC title game fumble still haunts me to this day. Besides, isn't it more fun to pick a different team than someone in your immediate family, if only for trash-talking purposes? Today my whole family is split --- I like Green Bay, my father likes Cleveland, my brother follows Baltimore and my mother even likes New England largely just because she thinks Tom Brady is hot. Oh, and my brother only likes the Ravens since he wants to bone Kyle Boller.

The final reason I picked Green Bay was because of their new quarterback, an exciting young player named Brett Favre. At age 11, I had no concept of managing an offense or running a two-minute drill or anything like that. All I knew was that Favre was really good at chucking deep touchdowns, which was good enough for me.

Little did I know that I was getting in on the ground floor of one of the great careers in NFL history. It has been a roller-coaster, to say the least. I spent much of the next three years cursing the Dallas Cowboys and (quietly) cursing Favre for making stupid plays. Then he became the toast of my sports fandom by leading the Packers to the Super Bowl. Then it was a myriad of up-and-down play that culminated in my writing a column for my student newspaper that Favre should hang it up. This column was written in, uh, September 2003, so clearly my timing was as good as ever. Though at least if Favre had retired then, Packer fans would've been spared the Byner-esque horror that was 4th And 26.

I've gotten to the age where it's probably a little silly to have a 'sports hero' any more. So I guess it's fitting that my last true sporting idol is hanging it up for good. It'll be weird putting on my Favre jersey for Packers games now with Aaron Rodgers on the field and not #4, but hey, nothing lasts forever. Maybe now I'll have to spend some cash to buy a brand-new Atari Bigby shir.....uh, no.