Monday, May 31, 2010

Seven Songs: Song 4 - "Watching the Wheels" by John Lennon

One of my favorite things about music is that it's open to interpretation. Sure, the songwriter has the final say when it comes to what he or she meant when writing it, but the listener can take whatever they want from the song and that meaning can even change over time.

(I suppose I just recapped why I'm writing this series of posts. Bear with me.)

John Lennon's “Watching the Wheels” has always been near and dear to my heart since the first time I heard it in high school. If you'll recall from the last post, I had just been dumped and was naturally feeling sorry for myself. Enter “Watching the Wheels.”

I listened to those lyrics obsessively and determined that Lennon had taken a break from something important – perhaps life itself – and that it was just fine with him, thank you very much.

I was on the right track, sort of. “Watching the Wheels” was John's response to his critics deriding him for taking five years off from music to raise his son: “No longer riding the merry-go-round / I just had to let it go.” When you really think about it, taking that time off was quite the admirable thing to do. He was John Lennon, after all, and instead of taking cues from his contemporary rock stars – penetrating groupies with seafood, being in the throes of heroin addiction – he chose to correct a mistake he made with his first child.

My connection to this song isn't so noble.

I wanted to take a step back from life not because I needed to get my head straight but because I was hurt and vulnerable and I didn't want to feel anymore.

Lennon came back from exile and wrote “(Just Like) Starting Over” and “Woman” along with “Watching the Wheels”; I started an exile of my own and wore black while listening to angry music. If “No Surprises” was my immediate reaction to the breakup, “Watching the Wheels” was the confirmation of those feelings. Maybe I didn't need her after all. Maybe I would be all right on my own.

Now I could just leave it at that – a childish reaction to a teenage relationship – but I did write above that the meaning of a song to me can change over time, and “Watching the Wheels” has done just that since my first experience with it in 1998.

John Lennon has always been my favorite Beatle – though George Harrison is running a close second – for as long as I've loved the Beatles. It started out as being that way because of his way with words and his sarcastic sense of humor, but as I learned more and more about him, it became apparent that he was a deeply flawed and conflicted human being. He lost his mother not once but twice: she abandoned him at an early age, then just when he was reconnecting with her as a teenager she was run over by a bus. He supposedly beat his first wife. But then he turns around and writes a song like “All You Need Is Love.” Lennon was a millionaire many times over, but he didn't forget his roots with his song “Working Class Hero.” It just goes on and on and on.

I admire the man for not being afraid of wearing those scars on his sleeve, and I've taken “Watching the Wheels” as a sort of philosophy. That, of course, is a conflict in and of itself. (I'm pretty sure I don't need to spell out for you why, so I won't.)

I've never been one to show much emotion. I might feel it inside, but it's rare that it would actually come out. This has led to being described at least twice on separate occasions as “cool” by coworkers. I just don't let the bullshit of a workaday lifestyle get to me. Sure, I get pissed off once in a while, but I'll always try my hardest not to let coworkers see me cursing to myself, ready to destroy something.

This isn't just about work, though. I am certainly a proponent of not getting caught up in your job – your profession does not define you completely. There's so much more to life that's not worth losing your shit over. (Note: I've lost my shit over stupid things. It happens to everyone. This is okay.) I started off by referencing my first relationship and I think the message of “Watching the Wheels” (how it speaks to me, anyway) carries over even into adulthood. I'm not saying that if a relationship ends – even with someone you love dearly – you should just go out and drink whiskey until you're so pissed up that you can't see then try to nail the nearest warm body with a pulse. But the world has not ended at that point. To let something like that cripple you, to let it affect your everyday life, is like letting them win. It's okay to take a few steps back and say “I will not let this ruin me.”

In the song Lennon wrote “Well I tell them there's no problems, only solutions.” I think that line about sums up what I'm trying to say here. I've had people do shitty things to me like everybody else. I get flustered and angry just like everybody else. But at the same time I don't think – I hope – I dwell on it as much as most other people do.

My philosophy courtesy of “Watching the Wheels” probably won't work for too many people. There is a level of disconnection involved here that probably would make a lot of people feel uncomfortable. But over the years it has held true that being on the fringes of whatever it is that I'm supposed to be involved in has been nothing short of a calming influence on me. It's not perfect, but what is?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nuggets of Comedy from the Fake Brewers

The Brewers have been playing well as of late, but during the free-fall of their nine game losing streak and beyond I discovered that a number of fake Brewers exist on Twitter. When the Crew wasn't very fun to watch. these guys were pretty amusing to read.

Craig Counsell (@craigcounsell)

Turns out with Adam Stern and Braun both here the Brewers lead the league in Jew. JJ Hardy left his phone in my car after dinner last night. Why does he have the CDC on speed-dial?
Jeff Suppan (@FakeJeffSuppan)

2 innings, just like when I start this bullpen stinks seriously Hoffman's been dropping ass all game

Gregg Zaun (@notgreggzaun)

#thingsblackpeopledo not play catcher.
From here on out, I'm going to shit in the glove of any pitcher who blows a late-game lead for us. If I can shit that much.
Todd Coffey (@faketoddcoffey)

@notkenmacha called a great game tonight. No blown saves or anything. Fml. #brewers

Doug Melvin (@fakedougmelvin)

Zach Braddock will not be joining the #Brewers this weekend -- we've maxed out our quota of pitchers who can throw above 96 MPH at one. @bobwait is my first follower! If you can throw less than 88 MPH and manage to keep your ERA over 5, you got yourself a 3-year deal!
And finally, the manager for your Milwaukee Brewers, Ken Macha (@notkenmacha)

Though we've got to say good-bye For the summer Darling I promise you this I'll send you all my love Everyday in a letter Sealed with a kiss It was an early morning yesterday I was up before the dawn. And I really have enjoyed my stay But I must be moving on. Goodbye Stranger! This is the end, Beautiful friend, This is the end. My only friend, the end. -- Jack Morris was a genius, too bad he died so young.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Corey Hart

And some people thought Jim Edmonds was the answer...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

View From the Brewers Bandwagon, Vol 2: The Last Days of Ken Macha

I go to about 20 Brewers games a year, and watch nearly all the rest of them. Though I'm a casual fan, I do care enough about the team enough to write about them. I don't think I could be a full-time Brewer blogger -- I don't care that much -- but at the same time I think it would be fun to check in on them periodically and give my (mostly worthless) opinions.

So it seemed merely 9 days ago that the Brewers had finally turned the corner in this young -- but quickly aging – season. After being completely shut down by a good Padres team, the Crew finished the road trip strong by going 5-1 against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Spirits were high. And they did indeed turn the corner… right into a brick wall.

How does a team blessed with a seemingly indefatigable offense manage to have the worst home record in baseball?

Do I really even need to spell it out?

It had been said that last year’s pitching staff was comprised of a #1 and a bunch of #5’s, and this year is looking no different. Yovani Gallardo, obviously, is the #1 here but it is only by default. To be an ace you have to be able to get past the 5th inning in less than 100 pitches. Yo has rarely done that this season. I wouldn’t go so far to say that he sucks, and I have confidence in him to one day be a true ace, but he’s just not there yet. He’s the best the Brewers have, but it’s not quite good enough.

Randy Wolf has been not quite shitty at best so far. His numbers are okay (3-3 4.66 ERA 6IP per start) and just in watching him (I’m no sabermetrician) he looks merely average. Perhaps most alarming of his numbers is this: his BAA against lefties is .291 this season; for his career that number is .225. If a LHP can’t get left-handed batters out, there is a problem.

I don’t feel comfortable trashing a guy who was just diagnosed with a heart ailment, so I will leave Doug Davis alone. But his foibles are well-documented. He was hired to eat innings and at the very least keep the team in the game, and thus far he has not done that.

Dave Bush has been mildly disappointing. He’s only averaging 5.76 IP per start and has an ERA of 4.27. It seems as though he’s been lit up only once: 9 ER in 3 2/3 IP against the Cubs, a game I had the displeasure of attending. Still, while he has kept the team in the game most of the time, he hasn’t gone deep into those games. It’s an epidemic, if you couldn’t already tell.

Chris Narveson isn’t the answer, even though he’s been decent enough. I think Davey Nelson said on Saturday’s radio broadcast that Narveson just isn’t a guy that’s going to go deep into games. With a battered bullpen, that just isn’t going to work.

All of this leads me to the obvious question: Who takes the fall? Certainly you can’t fire the entire pitching staff. You could fire the guy who assembled the staff, Doug Melvin, but what difference would it make this season?

No, the sword will fall – as always – on the manager, Ken Macha.

Maybe Macha isn’t the right guy for this team. I will agree that, at this point, the team needs a fire lit under their collective ass. (Personally, I’m not high on loud, fiery managers. I think that stuff is mostly for show, anyway. If a player is only motivated because a manager goes out to argue calls a bunch of times, perhaps professional sports isn’t for you. ) That has never been Macha’s game, and perhaps the team is suffering because of it. He’s always been a hands-off kind of guy, which might be another reason the team is underperforming.

Others will point to the fact that he appears to be asleep during the games, as evidenced by boneheaded moved he’s made over the past 39 games. This is normally where I would defend a manager by saying he’s not the one out there throwing meatballs or swinging at sliders in the dirt. I think this still holds true as a whole – every decision a manager makes has a 50/50 chance of working whether or not the stats say it’s the “right” call – but over the past two games it’s as if Macha is begging to be fired.

On Monday night, with the game on the line tied 1-1, Todd Coffey was summoned from the bullpen. He immediately gave up a triple, single (run scored), single, single (out made on basepaths). Runners now at 2nd and 3rd. At this point you might discern that Coffey doesn’t have it tonight. Scott Rolen was up next to be followed by lefty Jay Bruce. At the very least, you’d think an intentional walk was coming up next to set up a double play – hopefully with a lefty to face Bruce.


No one up in the pen. Rolen hits sac fly to score another run. Bruce is intentionally walked ONE BATTER TOO LATE and then Gomes comes up, hits a homer, and the game is out of reach. Points to Coffey for drilling the next guy.

I’d love to say “it just didn’t work out,” but that entire sequence was just baffling.

Tuesday afternoon, the Crew plays well and the two-headed starter Parrestrada held the Reds to two runs in eight innings. Trevor Time! And by Trevor Time I mean give up a single, homer, double, walk, single and the ballgame. For some, Macha bringing in Hoffman at all was a mistake; for myself, the guy pitched a scoreless inning the last time out – meaningless, yes, but still scoreless – and was perhaps on the road to rebounding.

But Macha left him in for the whole thing. Maybe he thinks by getting fired in such a glorious, shitty fashion it’ll somehow trick the team into thinking they are better than what they have been because, “hey, our manager was a bonehead and that’s why we suck.”

I was never a guy frothing at the mouth for the firing of Ned Yost, nor am I for firing Ken Macha. I, like a lot of fans (I hope) realize that firing a manager mid-season is nothing more than a PR move. It is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. Talent will always overcome a “bad” manager. If you have marginal talent, you get a marginal team, even with a baseball genius for a skipper.

So, what now? If the Brewers are going to compete this season it's going to take some ballsy moves, some common sense, and quite a bit of hope.

Step 1: Cut Jeff Suppan. This is a no-brainer. They kept him for depth, but with pretty much everyone on the pitching staff under-performing, I think an infusion of new blood is required.

Step 2: Ask Trevor Hoffman very politely to retire. If he refuses -- and as an all-time great closer he has that right -- keep him as far away from the closer's role as possible for as long as possible. Also, make Todd Coffey the closer.

Step 3: Move Doug Davis into long relief. I think he hurts the team the least here, and lately it seems as if he's good for a few innings before falling apart.

Step 4: Leave both Parra and Estrada in the rotation. It's true you can't tell too much from one start, but at this point you might as well give it a shot. Parra has been an enigma thus far but he has the stuff to be a major league starter. Time for him to start showing it.

Step 5: Give Dave Bush some better run support. In his last 5 starts -- which the Crew lost -- he was given 2-0-3-3-2 runs, while giving up 3 in 4 of those 5 games. Granted, he also needs to go deeper so the bullpen can pick up where he left off... but still.

Step 6 - and this is a big one - The remaining pitchers need to pitch to their career norms and go deeper into games. I know, it's a lot to ask. But Yo and Wolf are pretty much there as is. Bush is close. This offense is equipped to carry the team, but they will not do that if the pitcher takes them out of the game.

My adjusted staff looks like this:

SP Wolf
SP Estrada
SP Narveson
SP Parra

Mopup (Hoffman?)

LRP Davis

MRP Vargas
MRP Stetter
MRP Axford

SU Villanueva

CL Coffey

I know what this team really needs is some power arms. This junkballing finesse shit isn't exactly working out. But Doug Melvin or any other GM isn't going to get those arms through FA because the money just isn't there. You're also not going to get that kind of talent by trading Prince Fielder. I don't think any team is going to fill a hole by blowing out a hole somewhere else. You will get prospects for him at best, and for the future that would be prudent. But I don't think the Brewers are done just yet. The offense is too fucking talented, and a pitching staff comprised of Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson (I just picked five random all-time great awesome pitchers) isn't needed with this team.

Of course, much like Ken Macha's stint with the Brewers, time is running out and running out quickly.