During the post-season, I was noticing all the good baseball managers for the teams still playing and began thinking about who I thought the best ones in baseball might be today. The one at the top of my personal list was Joe Maddon on the Tampa Bay Rays. It's sort of stunning to me that today Joe Maddon is now the manager of my beloved Chicago Cubs.
And so the Joe Maddon Era officially starts. And now we sit and watch what happens next. They should be some starting pitcher-signings coming. We'll see.
Of course the manager doesn’t win for the team. But it’s nice to put pieces together that a team needs. We’ll see what the Cubs do now. It should be an interesting "Hot Stove" off-season. Then again, it already is.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Rick Renteria who was just fired by the Cubs after only one season, but he’s got two more years of a contract he'll be paid on, and can always be hired by someone else. And ultimately, it’s hard to feel overly bad for anyone when your own team hasn’t won in 106 years…
On Pardon the Interruption today on ESPN, Michael Wilbon went on a tear slamming a couple of unattributed comments from unnamed baseball executives who were critical of Maddon. Among other things, he said that the Cubs have been so polite and gracious for 106 years, and have been losing. And the teams that are criticizing the Cubs are probably those who wanted them to keep Maddon so that they could keep beating them.
There was a particularly good perspective on it all in a piece today by Tim Brown on Yahoo Sports. He wrote --
Maybe the criticism is in part born of jealousy, because Maddon, again, is very good at what he does, and he is a wonderful, interesting, smart man whom nobody wouldn’t construct a franchise around. It’s a bottom-line game, everybody knows that, and better than most the Cubs understand what the bottom looks like. So, given the opening, they’d take their shot and undoubtedly would justify themselves as honoring the best interests of the franchise and their deserving fans.
That has generally been the reaction. But for all the criticism of how "cold" this maybe have been by the Cubs, what I appreciate is how the team went far beyond the norm to say good things about Rick Renteria and how he deserved to stay, but when given the opportunity to hire a Joe Maddon -- who's not only such a good manager, but especially good for helping build a team that has so many young, highly-touted prospects -- you almost have to do what you can to get him. The team didn't only say nice things about Rick Rick Renteria, but also offered him a job in the organization. And they had GM Jed Hoyer fly to San Diego last week to talk the situation over and kept providing him with regular updates.
Among other things, team president Theo Epstein admitted that Renteria, whose record last year was 73-89 record despite losing two starting pitchers in trades during the season and having to play with such a young, inexperienced team, deserved to return. And Epstein added --
"Rick’s sterling reputation should only be enhanced by his season as Cubs manager. We challenged Rick to create an environment in which our young players could develop and thrive at the big league level, and he succeeded. Working with the youngest team in the league and an imperfect roster, Rick had the club playing hard and improving throughout the season. His passion, character, optimism and work ethic showed up every single day."
So, under difficult conditions, I think the Cubs handled things as well as could be expected. And in the end, it's a business decision. They hired someone they felt was the best, and did something they felt would be best for the team -- and did so in as gracious a way as reasonable, however tough it was.
And in the end...the Chicago Cubs now have Joe Maddon as their manager. And a growing roster of hopefully up-and-coming young stars.
By the way, I still don't expect the team to compete for the post-season, even if they sign some great starting pitching. But with so many young players, they still need time to mature. I think they can be a respectable team next year, over .500, but still think they're a year, maybe even two from seriously competing for the post-season and World Series.
But at least they should be a whole lot more fun to watch...
Hey, it's only been 106 years.
A very entertaining article from London's The Guardian, sent to me by my long-time Camp Nebagamon friend John Kander (the nephew of...) about reminiscences by composer John Kander (the uncle of...) and Judi Dench about the original London production of Cabaret. The show was the first musical that Dench had starred in, and though by her own admission not much of a singer, she subsequently starred in several others, most notably A Little Night Music.
My favorite line in the piece is the very first, with John Kander commenting, "As I see it, I was part of the last generation that was allowed to fail." To anyone who doubts the importance of this in creating art -- or doing pretty much anything -- he goes on to tell a story about flopping with the first show he and lyricist Fred Ebb wrote, Flora the Red Menace, but even during rehearsals the director Hal Prince told them that whatever happens he wanted to start talking about their next show. And so they did. And that next show turned out to be Cabaret.
Judi Dench tells a very funny about how her dressing room was situated such that she should easily hear the public as they walked past. And one afternoon after a matinee she overheard a woman tell her husband, “Oh, you told me it was all about nuns and children.” To which Dench then adds, "I think she was rather disappointed."
You can read the whole thing here.
A long while back, I posted a video here of Judi Dench singing "Don't Tell Mama" in performance during that initial production. Here's a video of her rehearsing the number. (Side note: the main "talking head" here is a woman named Marti Webb. She not only starred with Dame Judi in one of those afore-mentioned musicals, The Good Companions, but she was the female lead in the original London production of Half a Sixpence, which made Tommy Steele a stage musical star.)
But enough about Marti Webb, here is Judi Dench.
In a bit of deft political analysis, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX/Canada) was on CNBC and channeled his inner-Ann Coulter, and said --
""We need to learn from history. If Republicans run another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole or a John McCain or a Mitt Romney... we will end up with the same result, which is millions of people will stay home on Election Day. If we run another candidate like that, Hillary Clinton will be the next president."
O what, o whatever-so could his point be? That perhaps unless Republicans run a far-right candidate (like, hmm, gee, I don't know...possibly someone from the Deep South, as well as Frozen North, covering all the bases and available countries), they would lose. Not that this isn't fully self-serving, of course, that's to be expected from most anyone who wants to be President of North America. But it's the logic of it all that's so whiz-bang.
I mean, it's a great debating point to say that if we pick candidates like candidates who have lost, we will lose. That's pretty unimpeachable logic. It's sort of like saying, "If the American League keeps sending teams to the World Series who score fewer runs than their opponents, they will continue to lose."
On the other hand, if what he's saying is that if Republicans pick a candidate who isn't radical far-right reactionary they'll lose yet again, it's a bit tougher bit of logic to accept, since that doesn't factor in the first George Bush, let alone Richard Nixon, or honestly even George W. Bush, who (while conservative) got elected running middle-of-the-roadish "compassionate conservative." For that matter, Ronald Reagan (the former Hollywood union president governor of hippy California) was significantly more moderate than the reactionary-right of today, and probably couldn't even get nominated in the current GOP landscape.
And it doesn't factor in the most far-right conservative who's run for president in the last 50 years, Barry Goldwater -- the Republican conservative patriarch who got pummeled by Lyndon Johnson in one of the biggest landslides in U.S. history.
But still, in the end, I don't know if Ted Cruz is someone we can trust for spot-on analysis of the United States political scene. But then, if he wants to discuss his views on Canada, he might be on to something.
As you may have noticed, I like the comedy of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie a great deal. There's a good deal of Python mixed with some Beyond the Fringe, and their own urban sensibility, erudition and absurdity. They had quite a few series on British television, not all successful, but eventually they clicked with the public, most notably their sketch comedy series, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and also Jeeves and Wooster, based on the short stories by P.G. Wodehouse.
Here's some more from their sketch show. A bit of absurdity tossed into a normal daily setting.
In a note the other day, I mentioned the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof that starred Alfred Molina. Here he is along with the company preforming at the opening of the Tony Awards that year. It's sort of a mashup between the song Tradition and the bottle-dancing during the wedding celebration of Tevye's daughter.
One oddity about the TV work here -- just as Alfred Molina, the star of the show, who plays Tevya, starts to throw himself into the role and begins to feverishly stomp down...the camera cuts away. (And then just as he begins to dance -- they cut away again.) Not the best artistic choice. I get the sense that the director's timing was just off, and a couple of cues might have been missed. Or not. But the number remains energetic...
This website is hosted by a service called Weeby. By and large, they do a very nice job, with a few slip-ups here and there. Last week, though, I noticed something strange on the Statistics page. A lot of this is long and convoluted -- and crammed with figures -- so I won't go into details, but just give you the reasonably short version.
It starts with seeing the number of "Unique Visits" to the site plummet. I mean like "Wile E. Coyote going over the cliff" plummet. But just as oddly, the number of "Page Views" skyrocketed. As in "Fourth of July is here early" skyrocketing.
(Unique visits are the number of individuals who come to a site during the day. If you come 50 times, you only counts as one. Page Views are simply the number of pages people read.)
I wrote to the Support Desk, and they said they'd discovered that Unique Views had been counted incorrectly for a long time, and corrected it. Page Views were unaffected, though. In a long series of exchanges -- all polite on both sides -- I basically expressed two things. 1) An executive from Weebly should have sent a note to subscribers explaining the problem, and 2) I thought that something was still screwed up, because not only were all the statistics acting bizarrely, but the law of averages weren't remotely working out in any rational way.
No, the guy insisted to me that things were fine. And I kept replying that that may be, but...man, it just looks screwy on my end. And in a long series of emails, I kept sending him samples of stats that just didn't add up. And I mean "didn't add up" almost literally.
(Just one example: their new statistics were telling me that -- on average -- every person coming to this site was looking at about 10 pages every day. That's just not how blogs work. People tend to read one page, see if there's a new post, and that's it, and go browse somewhere else. Sometimes, sure, there are people who don't come to a site every day, and check up on four days of material. But even that might only be two or three pages. And as the law of averages goes, for each person who only looks at one page a day, another person must look at 19 pages. Like most any writer, I think I do an okay writing here, but even I don't think there are people loony enough to read 19 pages of material. Every single day!)
I told my correspondent that I simply didn't believe that all was well and resolved. And he kept telling me, just as politely, that I was the only one commenting on this supposed anomaly. I said that it might be because the issue just happened and no one else had noticed it yet. Or no one wanted to write in about it, or everyone was figuring the numbers were right because that's what it showed. Or who knows what reason?
And that's where it was left. The Weebly Support Guy saying that they believed everything was right, and the Elisberg Industries Guy saying, geez, I don't know, this just looks all screwed up to me and I simply don't believe it.
Yesterday morning, I got the following note from my Weebly pal --
"Between yesterday and today, we've actually received reports from some other Weebly users who are reporting the exact same statistics issue. I've reached out to our developers to see if they can explain and/or fix the issue."
I wrote back to say: "I don’t know if I should be happy knowing that what I’ve been suggesting may be valid – or sorry to know that what I’ve been suggesting may be valid..."
(By the way, I was being very polite about this, rather than dancing around in circles shouting "Nyah, nyah, nyah, I told you so!!!" But I am certain that this is not a case of "may be valid" -- I am certain I'm right, The numbers are just too completely out of whack. And I didn't need other reports to confirm that to me. But other reports DO confirm that to me.)
Oh, and I also politely said that I can't believe that no executive from Weebly has still yet to write a note to subscribers explaining that there's a problem, which is borderline irresponsible. My use of the world "borderline" was being very polite, too. Because there is nothing remotely borderline about it.
I still have no idea what the resolution of all this will be, but I'm glad that they're now getting other reports, because it means they'll look into it and hopefully get things resolved.
For reasons inexplicable to the founders of Sofft stain repellent, Kickstarter allowed a late donation of $60 that came in after the campaign close to be accepted. So that means they actually passed the $75,000 mark. The final total is now -- $75,029!!! Well...final until Kickstarter accepts some other donation.
I mention as a public service for those keeping track in the home version of Kickstarter.
Thanks to my Apology Expert business partner Nell Minow for pointing me to this. It's from reporter Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel.com who has come up with a new game here called, "Self-Pitying Creep Non-Apologizing Bingo."
It came about after a Canadian radio host offered a "long, rambling, self-indulgent non-apology" to allegations of a sexual misconduct. Ms. Ryan got fed up with such things, and put together a bingo card for the public to play along the next time(s) something like this comes up. When you hear a specific non-apology excuse offered, you play a chit on its square of the bingo card.
I like two suggestions made by readers for excuses that don't appear on the guard: "I was misunderstood" and "God."
But here's what she came up with. It's a very good list, and the thing is it could fit most self-pitying non-apologies. But does fit creeps particularly well --
One game to go before the baseball season is over alas. And one more game to go before we don't have to listen to the maudlin, faux-patriotic Seventh Inning Stretch performances of "God Bless America."
This is something Major League Baseball started doing after 9/11, and while I understood for the time at that moment, I hate that it's still going on. For a while, a few ballclubs were doing it during the season, but most don't anymore, except maybe on special occasions. But MLB makes sure it's performed during every game in the post-season. Because the post-season is Special. And so we must be uber-patriotic.
Well...we are uber-patriotic. We stand and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before every game. It's the National Anthem, after all. Fair enough.
But "God Bless America" is a pop tune. It's a patriotic pop tune. It's a very good patriotic pop tune. And it's wonderful for stirring the patriotic heart. Well-done, Irviing Berlin. But it's still a pop tune, and singing it is one thing, but then to ask people to "Please rise and honor America" is ridiculous. It's faux-patriotic. Standing up to sing a pop song is not honoring America. It's making a mockery of patriotism. Even if it's accompanied by military guard.
If MLB wants to honor the military, great! Let that same officer sing the National Anthem before the game, rather than the pop star promoting their latest album. "The Star Spangled Banner" was written to honor a battle victory at war, after all. It's a perfect fit.
They don't sing "God Bless America" at the half-time of football games. Or after the third quarter of basketball games. Or following the second period of hockey games. Or halt tennis matches after the second set to rise and honor honor America. Or stop golf tournaments. Or after a NASCAR race, or the Kentucky Derby. But for some reason, Major League Baseball thinks that during the post-season, instead of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and celebrating the actual event everyone is at, we should "rise to honor America" (which everyone has already just done before the game) and sing a pop tune.
And ultimately, that's not what the Seventh Inning Stretch is for. It's...to stretch. Literally. It's a break from sitting for two hours, to "stretch" your legs, not to renew your patriotism, which you just declared only seven innings earlier. The Seventh Inning Stretch is a time for fun, for raising the roof and "root, root, root for the home team" as the game goes into its final turn -- because if they don't win it's a shame. In Chicago at Wrigley Field, the Cubs have made it a baseball celebration with guest conductors who lead the roaring crowd. And crowds, not just in Chicago but throughout the country actually look forward to singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," I believe. Because it's great fun. And a chance to root, root for their home team.
But almost worse is how they present "God Bless America" at ballgames. If they're going to insist on singing it, for goodness sake...then sing it right!!! When MLB drags out "God Bless America" in the middle of their Important Games, they bring onstage someone in military uniform to push the patriotic button and make sure they sing the song like a dirge, dragging out every...last...freaking...note like it was a heart-breaking aria in a death scene by Giuseppe Verdi, extending each...last...syllable so slowly that a turtle could beat it plodding around the bases, trying desperately to rip...at..our...heartstrings by over-emoting in a way so maudlin and bathetic it would bring tears pouring out a rock.
In fact, "God Bless America" is intended to be sung in a rousing way which is what stirs our souls -- and what makes it such a great, moving song. This is how it was intended to be sung. And subjective as that may sound, it's actually It's easy to know it because here is the very first public performance of it ever, by Kate Smith on Armistice Day, November 10, 1938.
This is how "God Bless America" is supposed to be sung. Far more stirring than any version you heard during the post-season.
Okay, so maybe Kate Smith singing God Bless America for the first time isn't proof enough for some of you. Fine. I get it. Here then is Irving Berlin himself on The Ed Sullivan Show singing the song, for which you may recall he gave all the royalties to the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.
Even at age 80 (this show was celebrating his birthday), he knew -- because he wrote the thing -- that you let the melody pull you on, not haltingly stop at every break to bare your soul. But he really knew was how to rouse every person listen, and get them to want to sing the song with him at the top of their lungs.
But wait, there's more! Here's a bonus for you.
In the 1970s, the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, competing in the Birthplace of Liberty, decided that every once in a while they would play an audio recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" before their games, rather than always the National Anthem. What the team noticed is that they seemed to do very well when they played that old recording of Kate Smith, so it became a good luck charm, and they kept playing it more and more often. Eventually, the Flyers had a won-loss (and tie) record of 36-3-1 in games when the games began with a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America."
And in 1974, the team was spurred on enough to make the Stanley Cup. The finals!
And then, without telling anyone, as a big secret before one of Philadelphia's home games during the Stanley Cup, they make a change. They decided not to play a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" -- no, instead they brought the 67-year-old singer herself to center ice in front of a shocked and mad-crazy roaring crowd to sing the song live, that she had introduced 36 years earlier.
Not only does she get the entire stadium singing along with her, once they stop cheering (because of the recording it's hard to hear the crowed, but if you listen closely around the 2:35 mark, you can tell) -- rather than just sedately sitting back to watch someone else perform, but when it's all over even opposing Boston players come over to shake her hand -- the hand, keep in mind, of Philadelphia's good luck charm
Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup.
And here's that moment. And here again is how the song is supposed to be sung. Just joy and enthusiasm flowing out of every pore. Even if you're only wearing your best house dress.
Wait, wait! No, there's more. Just because you're so special.
The Philadelphia Flyers kept winning with the song, so they kept playing Kate Smith's recording before the games. They won the Stanley Cup again in 1975, and kept winning in 1976 and continued to play the recording -- and made it to their third straight Stanley Cup. And once again brought out Kate Smith to sing it live, in another rousing and very enthusiastic and emotional performance with the crowd singing along in loud voice. (I won't embed that -- even I have my limits -- but for those who want to see it, you can find the video here.)
The team didn't win the championship that year, but by then the song because a Flyers' tradition. They kept playing Kate Smith's old recording of "God Bless America" -- but eventually moved on. Not from the song, no, they kept using that, but instead had other solo singers performing it live. And one of them, Lauren Hart, became a team standby.
And in 2009, Philadelphia was in the playoffs again. And Lauren Hart was there to sing it again. And so, too -- to the explosive joy of the totally unsuspecting fans -- with a bit of wondrous electronic magic was Kate Smith herself once more from that famous 1974 appearance singing along in a glorious duet.
It's beautifully done. (The best part is at the 53-second mark when Ms. Hart knows what's coming and knows the crowd doesn't, and can't help peeking a look up at the jumbo screen in giddy anticipation.) And this once more is how it's supposed to be done.
If you're going to sing "God Bless America," then you do it at the beginning of the game to get the crowed roaring. But whenever you decide to sing, you blast it out. Like it was intended.
And the Kickstarter campaign is now...over. So, you can rest easy that there won't be anymore posting about the Sofft stain repellent and fabric softener co-developed by my friend Greg Van Buskirk, who used to be a project manager at Clorox.
You may recall that recently I posted an update here that they just had an article written about the product in Popular Science magazine and had passed their $25,000 goal sitting at $36,424 with only six days to go in the 40 day campaign. Well...something kicked in. Whether it was the Popular Science article, or an appearance on the CBS television affiliate in San Francisco, KPIX, or a radio appearance on the CBS affliliate KOGO, or word of mouth, or what -- or all together -- I don't know.
But they just ended with...$74,969!. In other words, they more than doubled their donations in just the last six days. Not shabby when your goal was $25,000... And coming down to the finish line, they finally cracked the 1,000 plateau for backers, ending with 1,020.
Greg, though, was whining a bit, staring at that list of 1,000 people. "Now we have to fill all those gift bottles of Sofft that each of the donors get." I believe that my response was something along the lines of "The heart bleeds."
He understood. And believe me, he was thrilled.
So, for thems who were following your program for Sofft: The Musical, now you know. For all others, you may spill to your heart's delight.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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