Sunday, December 27, 2015

If you want to be uplifted, entertained, and inspired, go see 'Creed'!

Hope our readers are having a great holiday season so far. I will write my thoughts on the state of the Yankees soon (spoiler alert: they're not positive!) But in the meantime, I wanted to talk about a really great movie I saw last night. I went to see Creed. It was fantastic, and I say this as a longtime Rocky fan (click here to read my recent review of Rocky, when I watched it again to see if it still held up.) Anyhow, here are my thoughts on the movie. Warning: there are some mild spoilers, equivalent to what you might read in a typical movie review.

Basic story is this: Apollo Creed (who was killed in the ring in Rocky IV)  had an illegitimate son, Adonis, born after his death. The kid grows up in group homes and keeps on getting into trouble. When he's about 12 or so, Creed's widow, Mary Anne, gets him out of juvie hall and gets him into the lap of luxury. He then finds out for the first time who his father was. Adonis, nicknamed Donnie, grows up, gets a job in finance, and seems to have a great life. But he wants to box like his father. Long story short, he quits his job, goes to Philadelphia, and seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him. He also gets a girlfriend, who has problems of her own. Donnie ends up getting a big boxing challenge.

Anyhow, what I want to talk about is the real theme of the movie -- overcoming adversity, being the best person you can be, and getting support from others to do that. And to do it one step, one punch, one round at a time. The three main characters -- Donnie, Rocky, and Bianca -- all have problems that need to be resolved. They're flesh and blood characters who you can't help but root for.

Some of the best scenes in the movie involve Rocky training Donnie, which harkens back to Mickey and Rocky in the original movie.  Seeing Donnie running made me want to get out and do some training of my own after the film! (When I ran four miles this morning, I couldn't help but think of scenes from the movie.)

It's nice to see an inspiring film that has people with relatable problems. What's also cool about the movie is that it has its own twist to the Rocky tale without being a rote imitation. Anyhow, go see Creed.  It really motivated me this weekend!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What happens when this "Star Wars" non-fan finally watches the movie again? Read on!

I recently watched the original Star Wars movie for the first time since I saw it back in the day. This was a big deal for me, because I am one of the few people in America who has been very meh, as the kids say these days, about Star Wars. So what made me do this? Because of fantasy football. Let me explain.

I wrote this October on Facebook about how I didn't care about Star Wars: The Force Awakens:
"Shocker: I'm one of the few people who has zero interest in the new Star Wars movie. Does that make me un-American?"
Lots and lots of my Facebook friends were stunned and dismayed by my admission. It was as if I said, "I like to eat babies for breakfast. Deal with it!"

Now, I had seen the first three Star Wars movies when I was a kid (I think it was a requirement if you grew up in the 1970s and 80s, along with reading Dynamite magazine and knowing what the words are to "Conjunction Junction.")  I found the movies okay. Never felt the need to see them again, as I noted in that Facebook thread, and they were never like The Godfather or Goodfellas to me. Also, I argued that there was way too much hype about the Star Wars flicks, given that only two or three out of the six installments are considered good.

I didn't even get into how the Star Wars fanatics in the world kind of scare me. Wearing clothing of characters they like? Playing with toys related to the film? Indoctrinating their children into their creepy cult? Watching certain parts over and over? Lining up for tickets? Too weird. Oh, wait, aren't many sports fans guilty of all of those things?

Now, some FB friends did agree with my assessment of the movies, but most of the responses I received were negative. Very negative. My running club compadre and fellow blogger Josh Pesin was particularly peeved, and wrote this impassioned response to my negative comments:
"George Lucas based the whole Star Wars universe on Greek mythological archetypes using the writings of mythology expert Joseph Campbell. There are deep Oedipal and psychological meanings throughout the films that reflect the weaknesses of the human condition. Unrequited love, a thirst for power, innocence lost, and betrayal are just some of the themes of human frailties dealt with throughout the films. And Lucas created a distant future full of dystopian imagery where robots are banged up, dirtied and worn, aliens are tired of working their 9-5 jobs, and humans still have trouble making ends meet where their crops on farms of far-away planets are just not growing. While the cinematographic images, costumes, score, special effects, and fantastical aliens and creatures all add to an amazing visceral experience throughout all the films, critics who only judge Star Wars from this superficial level are missing the point. Star Wars deep down is a film series that focuses primarily on the nuances, challenges and realities of the human condition."
Then he delivered the kicker. "I would never say I had zero interest in any of your passions. There would be no point in me stating that." Ouch!

That particular comment made me feel extremely guilty. And I wondered how I could make amends.

Josh is able to leap tall buildings in
a single bound. But setting a fantasy
football lineup? Fuhgeddaboudit!
You see, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, I roped Josh into joining our running club's first-ever fantasy football league because we needed ten players, and only had nine. (His team's name? The 10th Guy.) I initially thought he would have football knowledge because he is a real badass, as you can see from this picture. Josh does Spartan Races and marathons (including running the NYC Marathon six times!) and adventure races and road races and polar bear plunges and mountain biking and all sorts of manly stuff.

But that's the thing. He is a sports participant, not a spectator. He likes to play football, not watch it. Let alone pay attention to the intricacies of fantasy football.

Even though I helped Josh every week with his team, fantasy football just wasn't his thing. As he put it to me a few weeks ago: "Me doing this 15-week fantasy football is like you following Star Wars for 15 weeks and being expected to maintain and know your Star Wars characters every week."

Here Josh exclusively re-enacts for Subway
Squawkers his facial expression
when hearing me explain

how NFL bye weeks work.
Ouch again! Josh was totally right in his comparison, and I felt terrible. Here he did me a solid in agreeing to be in my fantasy football league, something that was important to me, and how did I repay him? By dissing a movie that was important to him. What a heel I was. Why didn't I try to learn about his interests, given that he spent a whole season trying to learn about mine?

So I knew what I had to do. And that was watch the original Star Wars again. Maybe he and the many millions of people who love the franchise were right, and I was (gulp!) wrong. At the very least, I could sit through this for two hours, considering Josh sat through a whole season of fantasy football.

Last weekend, I took the plunge on watching Episode IV: A New Hope. The first 15 minutes were slow going; Carrie Fisher's weird accent, dumb hairstyle, and tacky makeup job grated on my last nerve. So did C3PO's manner of speaking. (Why in a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, do they speak in a plummy faux-British accent? Annoying!) I did like the way Tattooine looked, but that was about it.

I really wanted to quit watching at this point, but I decided to plow through it the way I plowed through the Staten Island Half-Marathon with a hip and leg injury. So I gritted my teeth and kept on watching.

And then a strange thing happened. I found myself entertained by the movie. Luke Skywalker doesn't show up until 17 minutes into the movie, but when he did, things started getting interesting, even if he was a little whiny. Alec Guinness was a great actor, so it was fun to see him as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I liked seeing the stormtroopers on the giant lizards. Then the road trip begins with Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids, and I'm always a sucker for a good road trip.

By the time the cantina scene started, I thought "Hey, this isn't so bad." And then the best part of the movie showed up: Harrison Ford as Han Solo! Oh, my. I thought he was so handsome and dashing in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I never thought of his Star Wars character that way; that could be because I was still four years away from puberty when Star Wars debuted. Anyhow, his appearance in the film, 47 minutes in, made the whole movie for me. Han Solo was just such a great character; one of the original lovable rogues, before that became a cliche.

I also liked the camaraderie with him, Chewbacca, Luke, and Leia. Especially the banter with Leia. And the way Han Solo decided to do something selfless to help the rebels. The ending awards scene reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, and when the movie was finished, I thought, "Hey, this was pretty good entertainment!"

Is Star Wars going to make my all-time favorite movies list? The answer is still no. But I did enjoy watching the movie, and I...was..wrong in my earlier assessment, as much as that pains me to say! I was initially going to just write my review of the film for Josh, but he talked me into writing a blog entry on this. Even thought it would mean I would have to publicly admit that I was wrong about something. "People like honesty and those who keep things real," he said. So even though Squawker Jon thinks this whole blog entry is an all-star effort in navel-gazing, I figured I had to write this up. Who knows? Maybe I'll even go to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But I'm not wearing a costume!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Remembering Frank Sinatra at 100, and why "New York, New York" doesn't make my Sinatra Top 5

So today is the 100th birthday of Francis Albert Sinatra, my favorite singer of all time. He was a great vocalist, and a pretty good actor, too (check out The Manchurian Candidate to see one example of what I'm talking about.)  Part of me wishes I were alive in the era of Sinatra's prime. You know, back when they called women "dames." Heck, I would have made a great sassy dame back in the day! (Squawker Jon just chimed in to say that I am a sassy dame right now! He wouldn't say "great," though. Heh.)

Anyhow, what I like about Sinatra, besides his voice, is that he hit rock bottom, and then had arguably the greatest comeback in show business history. Such an epic comeback, only a horse's head in a bed would seem to explain it. Although that Godfather story didn't really happen, we don't know how much Sinatra's, um, connections, played in him getting the Oscar-winning role as Maggio in From Here to Eternity. Heck of the movie, by the way – watching it will put what you thought your parents' or grandparents' generation was about in a whole new light! (For one thing, Donna Reed, George Bailey's wife Mary in It's a Wonderful Life, is a prostitute in this film. But I digress.)

Anyhow, Sinatra didn't live a golden life. He had emotional scars. He had lots of downs, and romantic misery, and the like. He spent sleepless nights longing over lost loves, most notably Ava Gardner. All of this gave an edge to his singing, and is much of the reason his legend endures.

The way Sinatra didn't just sing but live his songs is part of the reason I still listen to him so often. I dig Sinatra's musing amid misery. Sorry, but I just can't relate to people who have lived perfect, easy lives. Give me the Sinatras or A-Rods of the world over the Jeters of the world any day. I want to read and learn about the people who've made mistakes, and lived to tell the tale. Speaking of which, I just started reading Ben Bradlee Jr.'s biography of Ted Williams, a very flawed (well, he was a Boston Red Sox!) but interesting individual. Good book so far!

I also have to admit finding it amusing to read recently about how Sinatra detested "My Way," finding its egomaniacal lyrics way too much. As the Wall Street Journal explained his thinking, "It would have seemed like the tackiest thing imaginable to stand in the middle of Madison Square Garden and shout out to the world how great he was." Somebody ought to have reminded team player Jeter about that, when he had that infamous Nike "My Way" commercial as part of his endless retirement tour!

Anyhow, I am such a Sinatra fan, I even liked one of the songs Frank's kids did. His daughter Nancy's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" is my top go-to karaoke song, because her lack of vocal range matches mine. Plus she's good friends with Morrissey, one of my heroes.

So, in honor of Frank Sinatra's b-day, I'm going to list my five favorite Sinatra songs, in reverse order, from 5 to 1. And no, "New York, New York" does not make this current list. It's a little overplayed at this point for me! Sorry.

5. "The Lady Is a Tramp": I still don't know what the heck the lyrics in this song mean. Why is the lady a tramp because she doesn't show up late to the theater, and because she won't dish the dirt with the rest of the girls? Even if it's meant facetiously, it still doesn't make much sense to me. Nonetheless, I still love this song!

4. "It Had to Be You": One of my favorite movies of all time is When Harry Met Sally. And Sinatra's version of this song highlights the most pivotal scene in the film. One of the movie scenes where I can recite every word of dialogue, for whatever that's worth! Harry Connick, Jr. also sings the song in the film, which is an okay song. But Sinatra's version kills.

3. "Luck Be a Lady Tonight": Longtime Subway Squawkers readers may know that Guys and Dolls is one of my favorite musicals ever. I know all the songs by heart. I am also a big believer in "yeah, chemistry," as Marlon Brando's Sky Masterson puts it in the film. But as sexy as Brando was in that role, he couldn't sing a lick. Sinatra, who plays Nathan Detroit in the film, was peeved he didn't get the part, which has the best songs, with "Luck Be a Lady Tonight." Looking back on it, Sinatra sang the heck out that song on his own, years later. But Brando sold it with his looks and charisma. Click the links and see for yourself.

2. "The Way You Look Tonight": Some of the best lyrics of any Sinatra song. Phrases like "keep that breathless charm" and "that laugh that wrinkles your nose, it touches my foolish heart" are so memorable. What woman wouldn't want a man to sing this song about her? A classic. Even the instrumental part of this song is terrific.

1. "I've Got You Under My Skin":  Many people consider this Sinatra's greatest song. So do I. The great Nelson Riddle worked with Sinatra on the arrangement of this song, but the instrumental crescendo in the middle of "I've Got You Under My Skin" was Sinatra's idea.  Someday, I will dance with someone to that part of the song; it's just so perfect! I also loved this Vanity Fair description of Sinatra regarding this song, which talks about his "terrible impatience—with the incompetence and stupidity that were so rife in the world, with things he needed to happen instantaneously, and so rarely did. The realization that he was like nobody else, and therefore destined to be alone. His terrors: of aloneness itself; of sleep, the cousin to death. And always, always, the vast and ravening appetites." That sums up Sinatra in a nutshell.

* * *

Honorable mention: "That's Life," "Fly Me to the Moon," "Summer Wind," "I'll Be Seeing You," "All or Nothing at All," and "It Was a Very Good Year." In closing, check out Sinatra, with Count Basie, performing "Fly Me to the Moon" to some prisoners. Good stuff!

Do you have a favorite Frank Sinatra song? Tell us about it!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ben Zobrist, Michael Cuddyer and the phony big move

The Mets failed to get their top target, Ben Zobrist, and I'm almost relieved. Four years and $56 million seems a lot for a player who turns 35 next May whose days of double-digit homers and stolen bases are in the past. Getting Neil Walker for one year until Dilson Herrera is ready while shedding Jon Niese's salary is a better plan, since the Mets are now in better position to add the big bat they still need.

The big bat that nobody expects them to get.

I have to wonder if part of the Mets' interest in Zobrist was to attempt to refute the notion that they are unwilling to spend money to improve the team. Look, we signed a big free agent that lots of teams wanted! Zobrist is a good player, but he's more of a complementary piece than a game-changer. And $56 million is practically chump change in this free agent market - the top players available could end up getting four times as much.

Last year, the Mets raced to lock up free agent Michael Cuddyer. It looked like a dubious move at the time - Cuddyer was turning 36 and injuries had limited him to 49 games the previous year. After preaching prospects for several years, the Mets surrendered their top draft pick to sign Cuddyer.  But for $21 million, they could say they signed a free agent, even if his entire contract was less than a superstar makes in a year.

At best, Cuddyer could have been a starting point to a productive offseason, but the Mets' only other offseason signing was, wait for it, John Mayberry Jr.  I wish Sandy Alderson a speedy recovery and appreciate the fact that he delivered a pennant last year, but all of the praise he got for his midseason moves should not obscure the fact that the offense was in such bad shape last July because of the moves Alderson did not make the previous offseason.

So far, this offseason is going better than the last one. Adding Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera shores up the infield, while Niese was ticketed for the bullpen once Zack Wheeler returns. If the Mets re-sign Bartolo Colon, all that would be left to worry about would be another reliever and a big bat.

But until I see otherwise, it's hard not to wonder if this will be another wait-and-see-how-the-Mets are doing before opening the pursestrings at the trading deadline when you only have to pay for two months of the next Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard.

Cespedes has his issues, and I'm not saying he's worth any price. And the money being talked about for Jason Heyward is money you give a superstar, not a very good player who is not yet a superstar. But the Mets' offense was the worst in the league before they got Cespedes. Michael Conforto's first full season is unlikely to make up for the loss of Cespedes. A full year of David Wright at his peak would go a long way, but Wright is well past his peak and injury-prone. A full year of Travis d'Arnaud would be great, but d'Arnaud is very injury-prone as well. 

The Mets have been pushing 2016 season tickets since before last season ended. How would they feel if fans waited to spend money on the team until July 31 to see if they were in contention?


Update - just saw that the Cubs signed Heyward. So the Cubs have now added Zobrist, Heyward and John Lackey to a team that won 97 games last year and has young hitting talent to match the Mets' young pitching. It must be nice to root for a big-market team. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

About Brian Cashman's lack of regrets on his moronic decisions, including passing on David Price

Some more thoughts on the Yankees letting David Price go to the Red Sox. Yesterday I read a story about how Brian Cashman's injury after jumping out of an airplane was even worse than we knew at the time. Turns out he broke his foot and had to get multiple surgeries on it. What's more, his body still shows the evidence of the mishap. "I've got a plate with 8 screws in my right ankle," he told the Boston Globe. "Do I regret it? No, it was wild."

What is he, 14? It was wild? Good grief. There's Cashman's mindset in a nutshell. I don't understand that bravado, especially given his job.

I am sidelined right now from running due to bursitis in my right hip and tendinitis in my right hamstring. I got hurt during the Staten Island Half-Marathon on October 11, and the pain got worse and worse over the next few weeks until I saw a sports medicine physician in early November and got a diagnosis. I have multiple regrets about my first real running injury. I regret not going to a doctor earlier. I regret continuing to run with the pain. I regret not doing weight training -- I found out after the fact that this was a big factor in why I got hurt in the first place.

You know, having regrets isn't necessarily bad. Maybe, oh I don't know, sometimes people learn from their mistakes? But given that Cashman bragged this summer about riding a bicycle around New York City without a helmet, it doesn't seem like he ever does. Or he learns the wrong lessons, like passing on David Price because he made the mistake of giving CC Sabathia the ability to opt out and shake down the Yankees for more money. (An aside: I have running club friends who mountain bike and do triathlons and all sorts of badass things. And guess what? They all wear protective gear, including helmets, when doing so. Guess they're just not as tough as Cashman.)

At any rate, after seeing the Yankees pass on the best free agent in the market, I have to wonder, do Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner have a coherent plan? Or is it like Cashman recklessly jumping out of the airplane and breaking his ankle -- they just do whatever and hope for the best? This team is another year older. The chances that A-Rod and Tex have the seasons they did last year are slim. And if Tanaka is the closest this team will have to an ace, they're in real trouble.

I can understand not trading for Price. But not signing him as a free agent, especially when it wouldn't cost a draft pick, is lunacy. Sorry, fellow Yankee fans, but there's no way to spin this decision as a good day for the Bombers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

While the Yankees fiddle, the Bronx is boring. Or, why not signing David Price is a bad move for the Yankees.

So David Price is now a Boston Red Sox, with a seven-year, $217M contract. I think this is a great move for the Red Sox, because it 1) gets the team a true ace, and 2) keeps him away from the Yankees. Plus, Price is still just 30 years old. So while it's a crazy big amount of money, he will still only be 37 when the contract is over. Plus, the Sox don't have to give up a draft pick for him.

Dave Dombrowski is sure making his mark already! Because Hal Steinbrenner is shortsighted, the Yankees are surrendering their best advantage -- the ability to spend big bucks -- on such contracts.

I'm hearing all sorts of opinions in Yankeeland about the Price signing, the day after the Sox snapped up Chris Young. And a lot of the talk is, frankly, delusional. Like talk about how Price isn't very good. Really? He only went 9-1 down the stretch for the Toronto Blue Jays, helping them beat the Yankees. (And the pitcher who the Yanks could once beat up on was pretty dominant against them as a Blue Jay. getting two very dominant wins and one hard-luck loss.) Price was a huge factor in Toronto overcoming the Yankees' seven-run division lead and winning the AL East. He finished 2015 with a 18-5 record, with a league-leading 2.45 ERA and a 1.076 WHIP. There's a reason Price finished second in the AL Cy Young race, and in the top 10 for the AL MVP award.

Granted, his postseason numbers are putrid, but that's really the only flaw in his game. (And he could always end up better; look at how solidly Clayton Kershaw pitched this year in the postseason.)

At any rate, I don't know what the Yankees' plan is. As I said two years ago, if it's to rebuild, why did they sign Jacoby Ellsbury and Mashiro Tanaka? And why sign Andrew Miller? Why not trade all their tradeable assets now and do a real rebuild? No, they seem to want to partially rebuild, and partially compete. You know, it's kind of like the way they are handling Tanaka. He is not getting Tommy John surgery on his partially torn ligament. Which means he doesn't throw very hard anymore, and after all of a half-season as an ace, he's just a pretty good pitcher, for the same amount of money. It's all very, for lack of a better word, half-assed.

A tale of two teams: What will the Mets' success mean for the Yankees' attendance?

I've wondered a lot this fall about what the Mets' winning the 2015 NL Pennant is going to mean for their attendance -- and the Yankees' attendance next year. After all, the real jump in attendance that happens when a team gets good happens in the following year.

Look at what winning did for the Kansas City Royals' ticket sales, with their 2014 pennant-winning season:

2013: 1,750,754
2014: 1,956,482
2015: 2,708,549

Here's the Mets' home attendance for last year and this year:

2014: 2,148,808
2015: 2,569,753

And if history is any judge, the Mets should see a big jump in ticket attendance in 2016, especially if they have another good season. 

On the other hand, the Yankees' attendance is heading in the wrong direction:

2014: 3,401,624
2015: 3,193,795

That's the worst Yankee home attendance since 2000. And truth be told, a lot of the fans last year were dressed as empty seats.

The gap between the Yankees' and Mets' home ticket sales is 624,042, the closest it has been since 2009, the first year of the teams' new ballparks. And keep in mind that Yankee Stadium holds about 4,500 more seats than Citi FIeld does.

So what's going to happen next year? Well, look at how each team is marketing their 2016 ticket sales. I got an email the other day from the Yankees with this graphic:

How funny is it that A-Rod, the very guy the Yankees claimed last year was no longer marketable, is their marquee figure for marketing their tickets!

The Mets, on the other hand, are able to market their entire team's success for their ticket sales (what, you mean winning an AL Wild Card spot isn't exciting enough to put fannies in the seats for the Yankees?) Look at the email they recently sent out to their fans:

Yet the Yankees are supposedly going to keep on sticking to their budget, even though this is the best free agent class in years.

I am one of the Yankee fans who wants to see a successful Mets team. And it's not just because it's good for the Squawkers. It's because money is the only language that Hal Steinbrenner understands. So if more fans (and,more businesses buying and renting luxury boxes and purchasing fancy seats) spend money in Citi Field than Yankee Stadium, it will hurt the Yankees' bottom line. And it might ultimately force Prince Hal to shake up the team's manangement.

Most of the media hasn't really talked about this issue. But it's going to be interesting to see what happens next year, now that Mets fans are finally coming out of the closet again. (Let's face it -- until this year, you'd see more Red Sox gear in this town than Mets fan gear!) Get your popcorn ready.

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