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Clap Clap ClapClapClap / What Rick Ankiel Hath Wrought: The Era of the Two-Way Baseball Player h

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 22, 2008

Bisexuality puns forthcoming

In the Post-Game conferences after the All-Star Game this year, official NL manager Clint Hurdle joked about the possibilities that awaited his team if they had burned through their last pitcher, Phillies closer Brad Lidge, and still had more of the game to play. Hurdle claimed that if they in fact needed to go a couple more innings, he would’ve called on David Wright–the Mets 3B that Hurdle hand-picked as the NL’s last man in–to pitch from there. Later, AL manager Terry Francona admitted to have been contemplating similar desperation measures with one of his players (his own J.D. Drew, if I remember correctly). Both managers were joking–probably–but not only would something like that have had to happen had Justin Morneau not scored on that sac fly in the 15th (it was later made clear that MLB wasn’t going to permit the 2nd tie ASG of the decade under any circumstances), would it even have seemed that out of the ordinary?

Tonight, in the last inning of a 19-4 rout at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman decided to give shortstop Tony Pena Jr. a shot at closing out the meaningless top half of the 9th inning. This was met with bemused incredulity by the game’s home announcers (“He has a curveball, supposedly,” was about the best explanation they could come up with), since in a situation of such little consequence, anything less than a seven or eight-run inning would have to be seen as acceptable. But TJ was, incredibly enough, by far the most effective of the five pitchers for the Royals that night, working the game’s first 1-2-3 inning, getting his fastball in the low-90s, and even striking out future-Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez. The really remarkable thing about this, though, was that as a hitter, Pena has been utterly useless to the Royals this season, hitting .152 with a single HR. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but…” one of the KC announcers started as Pena was halfway through striking out Pudge. “Then don’t,” the other snapped back.

And this isn’t even unprecedented in baseball this season. A couple months back, back in the Long Ago when the Phillies could actually manage to score consecutively, the boys did dirt to the St. Louis Cardinals to the tune of 20-3. Mopping up at the end of the game, though, was 2B Aaron Miles, in his third career pitching appearance. Miles was and is having a significantly better hitting season than Pena, but his pitching did not suffer for it, providing a clean, three-up, three-down ninth for the Cardinals, the only St. Louis pitcher to do so. True, these are hardly representative sample sizes, and hitters might not be on their A games in the dwindling hours of a blowout, but they’ve met with enough success to come dangerously close to being a trend.

More notably, it goes the other way, too. Diamondbacks hurler Micah Owings caused a stir with a game-busting pinch-hit dinger earlier this year, at which point he briefly held one of the five highest career OPSs of any hitter in history (albeit with a minimum of 75 plate appearances). In addition to striking out 10 batters over the course of the game, newly added Brewers ace C.C. (err, CC) Sabathia also provided his team’s only offense for the first seven innings of his National League debut with a one-run blast in the third. And Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano currently has his team’s highest batting average (of players with at least 50 ABs, anyway), hitting .351 with a pair of HRs to go with it.

Friend of IITS Erick Bieritz recently referred to the fruition of this trend as the “Rick Ankiel Era,” after the Cardinal who saw his prodigious pitching career (11-7, 3.50 ERA in 2000, finishing 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting) slide away after a bizarre loss of pitching mechanics resulted in a stunning meltdown in the ’00 post-season (five wild pitches in one inning, yikes). Five years later, Ankiel decided to switch to being an outfielder, and the returns were staggering–especially this season, in which he’s hitting .278 with a tied-for-team-leadCentering 22 HRs. He’s even found decent use for his ex-pitching arm in Center, where he’s become a SportsCenter Top Plays fixture for his remarkable outfield assists. Basically, he showed that not only was it possible for an ex-pitcher to bounce back as a hitter, he showed that it was possible for an ex-pitcher to turn out as having been more natural as a hitter all along.

Ankiel’s example–which, to my mind, is significantly more impressive (or maybe just more interesting) than Josh Hamilton’s much-ballyhooed comeback–is now being used as a model for other pitchers unable to hack it on the hill anymore. Adam Loewen of the Baltimore Orioles recently blew out his arm for good, but rather than simply hang up his spurs, Loewen is going to attempt a return to the O’s as either a 1B or an outfielder. I mean, why not? He’s got nothing to lose, and Baltimore could always use a new bat, so what’s wrong with giving it a shot from one of the other eight positions on the field? Hell, back in the day, Bo and Deion could play two completely different sports successfully simultaneously–how hard could it possibly be to just work two sides of the same coin?

I’m not sure why this all excites me so much–and yes, I know, this is all far from unprecedented, Babe Ruth and all that. Maybe it’s just that the improbability of the whole thing is so damn novel, and once enough players actually prove themselves successful at being two-way threats (which certainly seems to be the way the league is going), it’ll no longer be particularly of interest. But now, I wonder who else would be wise to take a page from Ankiel, Pena, Owings and the rest. Barry Zito still has a couple hundred million on his contract left to justify; maybe San Fransisco should give him a few BP lessons and trot him out to their recently vacated position at 2B. Much-hyped Detroit newbie Dontrelle Willis was disastrous in his last few starts; give him a bat and see if he can work his way back up the Tiger farm system. Andruw Jones isn’t hitting anything but the concession stands as a Dodger; see if Jonathan Broxton can teach him the art of being a fat reliever in L.A.

Baseball is a sport full of possibilities, and to me, it seems like it’s only a matter of time that the sport’s schrewder tacticians start to take advantage of the possibilities here. At the very least, it’ll gear us up for the real era of the two-way threat–y’know, 10-20 years from now when we reach Gattaca time and ballplayers start to be genetically engineered from birth to be as proficient as possible in all positions. Might as well get a jump on the future now, huh?

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, What ____ Hath Wrought | 5 Comments »

For the Love of God: No More Using That Rogue Wave Song on TV / What Garden State Hath Wrought

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 11, 2007

Some matters require divine intervention

Just Friends, I think, is well on its way to becoming one of the great 00s cult comedies. Upon its release a few years ago, I, like I’m sure everyone else with a remote claim to intelligence did, dismissed the movie as one of a disturbingly increasing number of Guy/Girl in a Fat Suit comedies, and more or less swore that I would never see it. I retained this skepticism when my brother told me it was maybe the funniest movie he had ever seen, and though I didn’t find that to be anywhere close to the case with me, it was definitely a surprisingly hilarious (and occasionally touching) movie–broad, sure, but laugh-worthy nonetheless. More and more, I think, people are coming around to this movie–everyone I know who’s seen it shares my reaction–“yeah, the ads looked awful, but I was surprised with how funny it was.” So yeah, get ahead of the trend maybe and check it out.

Just Friends is also the first place that I heard Rogue Wave’s “Eyes” be used over an emotionally-wraught montage sequence. I think it was when one of the many scenes in which Ryan Reynolds is deliberating whether to go back to his life as a LA hotshot or go back home and try to win over ex-flame Amy Smart just one more time. It was a pretty effective soundtrack choice–the song definitely has a hometown-y, wistful feel to it, and the whole contemplatively romantic lyric thing going. It’s a song that seems like it was expressly invented for the purposes of soundtracking emotionally-wraught montage sequences. Maybe it was.

Apparently, though, at least a couple TV producers were big Just Friends fans too (or maybe they actually listened to Rogue Wave’s most excellent 2005 LP Descended Like Vultures, but I find that harder to believe), because “Eyes” has been popping up all over the place now. I recently heard it in an HBO upcoming movies ad, about a month ago it was used in an episode of Friday Night Lights, and earlier this season, it won the TV equivalent of the Martin Scorsese Award for Repetitive Soundtracking when it was used in two different episodes of Heroes (and I could swear that in one of those episodes, it was used twice). It’s a good song, mind you, perhaps even bordering on a great one, but enough already.

The market for wimpy, weepy indie-pop songs has never been higher, and the blame for this can be placed squarely on Garden State. This is the movie, of course, that unleashed possibly the two biggest wimpy, weepy indie-pop songs to ever be expressly invented for the purposes of soundtracking emotionally-wraught montage sequences–The Shins’ “New Slang” and Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights.” The O.C. definitely helped push it along, but honestly, who even remembers what kind of songs directors used to use for such scenes before Zach Braff came along? Now anything else would be almost unthinkable.

And that’s cool–wimpy, weepy indie-pop songs have as much of a right to our TV airspace as any other type of music, I suppose. But let’s give this particular one a rest for a while, huh? Give Devin Davis some love or something.

Posted in For the Love of God, What ____ Hath Wrought | 1 Comment »

What ______ Hath Wrought: Deal or No Deal

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 26, 2007

The Good Dr. is not an expert when it comes to analyzing social patterns and determining culturual cuase and effect, however, occasionally a phenomenon comes along whose power is so great, its influence is impossible to deny.

You wouldn’t think such a high-concept show could be so easily imitated, but sure enough, after about six months of being The Only Game Show That Matters, the surreally popular Deal or No Deal has proven to have the same galvanizing effect on the world of Game Shows as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire did seven years ago. NBC is clearly hoping that the “Wall of Models/Panelists meets Arrogant, Greedy Contestants and Endlessly Repeated Catchphrase” gimmick that made Deal or No Deal so unexpectdly huge is easily transmutable to other formats. Here are the examples noticed thusfar:

Show Me the Money: The first Deal knock-off to appear. Hosted by William Shatner, contestants had the same “pick a random, anonymous, vaguely hot chick to decide your monetary fate” tasks as Deal, but with a trivia aspect, in which contestants had to answer one of three questions, all of which started with the same word or phrase. If the contestant didn’t like the first question, they could pass to the next one, or to the third if they didn’t like that. The questions ranged from the ridiculously easy to the impossibly difficult (if I can’t name who the first actor to win the Best Actor Academy Award, chances are your average, non-Oscar obsessive doesn’t have a prayer at it). About as mind-numbing as Deal or No Deal, but at least with a trivia element to make you feel like the contestants are doing something for their money. But apparently even that’s too much, as SMTM was cancelled only a month in. Maybe they should’ve gotten Cuba Gooding Jr. to host (what, like he has anything better to do with his time these days?)

1 vs. 100: More trivia, more wall-of-panelists, but this time, the panelists do something to–the idea is, you wanna get the trivia questions right while as many of the panelists get it wrong as possible, since you get more money for each one who does. The non-steady set of panelists means that occasionally you get smart celebrity guest stars like Ken Jennings and first-time Millionaire winner John Carpenter to show up, and low-maintenance Game Show vet host Bob Saget is the MC. This is probably the most enjoyable of Deal and its progeny, with the right mix of non-intelligence insulting trivia and fun flashy lights and big scoreboards and such, making it perfect pre-going out Friday Night watching.

Gold Case: Possibly to prove that NBC had a sense of humor about their creativity and intelligence-barren set of game show spawn, thursday night comedy 30 Rock recently featured a fairly hilarious send-up of the craze in last week’s episode, “The Head and the Hair”. In it, NBC page Kenneth Potsdown options the John McEnroe-hosted game show Gold Case, described as “Deal or No Deal meets Millionaire,” in which contestants have to pick one of ten models, each of whom is holding a case, one of which is full of gold. However, the show is short-lived, as contestants have no trouble figuring out which case holds the gold when the model’s knees start to buckle from the weight (causing Kenneth to remark “Oh, that’s right, gold’s real heavy, isn’t it?”) Perhaps because NBC people should know better than anyone, Gold Case hits the mark perfectly on the ridiculously simple, monotonous nature of these shows (as well as their utterly thoughtless titles), and provides 30 Rock with one of it’s biggest laughs to date.

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