Thursday, September 30, 2021

Frank Schwindel Update

Status: Still Raking

“If you rake, you rake, right?” — David Ross, Cubs Manager

I first wrote about Schwindel a few weeks ago, and he’s still killing it with his 23rd multi-hit game (out of 51) Tuesday since he joined the team 2 months ago (a waiver pickup from Oakland). 

Small sample size, yes, and career minor-leaguer, (mostly) yes ... but as his manager Ross says above, hitting this good for this long is pretty hard to ignore, especially because he’s hitting for contact and spraying the ball all over the field, with power.

His slash line thru Tuesday’s game:  .355/.403/.640 (51 games) with:

  • 13 HR
  • 16 2B
  • 38 RBI
  • 69 hits
  • 15 walks with only 33 strikeouts

That’s really solid offensive production in 2 months. Power plus a 200+ hits-per-season pace (and for context you can do the math on the rest of those numbers projected over a full season, but they’re very good). 

Entering Tuesday’s games, of all major league players with 200+ plate appearances, he’s:

  • 3rd in slugging percentage 
  • 4th in lowest strikeout rate among those with a .550+ slugging percentage

A nice blend of contact and power, and while we cannot really call him a contact hitter, per se, he’s in the neighborhood.

Watch his swing on this homer to right.



Balanced, in control, hands back, doesn’t open hips too far or too early. Hits an outside pitch hard to the opposite field for a homer. 



I hope he continues it next year in a Cubs uniform. And I hope their scouting and development guys are paying attention.

UPDATE (10/5/21) :  Schwindel named NL Rookie of the month for September. Same as August. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Yellowstone: One of the Best Shows on TV

Streaming or Otherwise, Does Not Matter

Trailer for season one:



Videos at IMDB.


The scenery ... Holy Moses. Unbelievable. It’s like taking a trip out west, which of course has always been part of the appeal of any story set in the West. 

Costner is very good as the Old West patriarch of a powerful ranching family but so are all three (remaining) kids, with wildly different personalities and capabilities. Several ranch hands play big roles, especially Rip, also very good. 

Plenty of storylines involving tensions with local Indian leaders, land developers, politics, and of course land and livestock. This story could easily be from 1933 (mostly). Timeless, in other words.

Worth watching a few episodes to get the flavor and see if you want to continue or not. 


Monday, September 27, 2021

Road Trips and Unexpected Finds, Part 1


On recent car trips through country and bluegrass music territory I have found some great music by scanning up and down the dial. 

That Scan button can be your friend if you let it. Abandon your smartphone as your sole source of listening pleasure and roll like it’s the 1950s ... or even 2006 I guess. It’ll be okay, I promise. 

Traveling used to be an adventure to new places, new people, new food, and yes, new music too. Much of that has dissipated with the ability — and hence shortly after, the need — to always control what we listen to. 

Count me out.


Maggie Rose, “Change the Whole Thing”




Traveling McCourys “Lonesome, Ornery and Mean” (Waylon Jennings cover)




Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, “Vertigo” (with Sam Bush) 






Thursday, September 23, 2021

Podcast Listening Update: The Plot Thickens


As a followup to a recent Turner Classic Movies binge I searched for a relevant podcast and found “The Plot Thickens”, just started by TCM and host Ben Mankewicz last year.

For season one they chose as their first subject the career of director Peter Bogdanovich. It’s pretty interesting, and so is he. Highly recommended.

It includes not just his life story but also his interviews with legends Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Jimmy Stewart from the 1970s. Pretty fascinating stuff.  

Bogdanovich was driven to document Hollywood history from a young age, and grew up in New York City where he saw something like 300 plays and countless movies before he was 18, and then proceeded to earn paying gigs to write movie reviews and articles and create museum exhibits as a teenager. 

His life’s work spans the entire era of Hollywood filmmaking, from his obsession with the history and famous directors from the 1930s - 60s and then his own directing career after that. 

Trailer on YouTube:



Podcast is available on all the usual outlets plus the TCM website and YouTube. 

Here is the Spotify link (I use Spotify for all my streaming of music and podcasts). 


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Re-listening 40+ Years Later: Countdown to Ecstasy


The replies to this recent @baddantakes tweet showed a lot of love for a Steely Dan album I had somehow never really taken to, “Countdown to Ecstasy”, so I decided I should re-listen to it on Spotify while out walking one day last week. 

Here’s the cover art. Somewhat unappealing visually, but let’s push past that. Contrast, guys, contrast!



Turns out, there are some killer tunes on it that I had dismissed back in 1978-9 when I bought it originally, on vinyl.

On my re-listen adventure the first song I chose — for what reason I do not know — was the last tune on the album, “King of the World”. It’s amazing, especially the guitar fills throughout and instrumental breaks at 2:00 and 3:45.



Just “wow”. That is some pretty sweet playing and arranging right there. 

This was just their second album, from 1973.

There always were two songs I did like — a lot — on this album: “My Old School” ... 



... again, the instrumental breaks at 2:30 and 4:45 are killer, plus the hot horn arrangments throughout, and a singalong chorus ... 

... and my other favorite is “Pearl of the Quarter”, a shuffle with beautiful lap steel guitar throughout and a melancholy melody but a chorus that just sticks in your head with a wonderful jazz chord walkdown, and of course a sweet instrumental break at 2:45.



More on Steely Dan and this album later.



Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Benedict Arnold Commits Treason 241 Years Ago Today

Dies on Flag Day and U.S. Army Birthday 21 Years Later 

September 21, 1780:

During the war, Benedict Arnold proved himself a brave and skillful leader, helping Ethan Allen’s troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then participating in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec later that year, which earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Arnold distinguished himself in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington. However, Arnold had enemies within the military and in 1777, five men of lesser rank were promoted over him. Over the course of the next few years, Arnold married for a second time and he and his new wife lived a lavish lifestyle in Philadelphia, accumulating substantial debt. The debt and the resentment Arnold felt over not being promoted faster were motivating factors in his choice to become a turncoat.

In 1780, Arnold was given command of West Point, an American fort on the Hudson River in New York (and future home of the U.S. military academy, established in 1802). Arnold contacted Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces, and proposed handing over West Point and his men. On September 21 of that year, Arnold met with Major John Andre and made his traitorous pact. However, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and executed. Arnold, the former American patriot, fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. He died in London on June 14, 1801.

June 14, in an unlikely coincidence, was by 1801 already an anniversary of two important days in U.S. history:  the original U.S. flag was adopted in 1777 and the first Continental Army was formed in 1775.

The stars formed in a circle on the first U.S. flag are intended to represent a new constellation, as declared in the Flag Resolution (see link above).


The "Betsy Ross" flag


By DevinCook / Created by jacobolus using Adobe Illustrator, and released into the public domain. - I created this image using historical descriptions (commonly known). Inkscape was used to create the SVG., Public Domain, Link

Monday, September 20, 2021

Norm Macdonald: Both Funny and Fearless

35 Minutes of Why Norm Macdonald Got Fired from Weekend Update



Relentless and well-deserved mocking of O. J. Simpson who was a good friend of one of the bigwigs on the show. Despite repeated warnings to stop with the O.J. jokes, Norm kept drilling him, week after week.

His revenge 18 months later ... when they asked him to host the show!



He was always one of my favorite comedians and he will be greatly missed. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Kiosk Voices from Hell


I don’t mind using those kiosks — where did that word come from?! — at grocery stores and pharmacies, especially when buying just a few things. 

It’s quick and easy: swipe, bag, swipe, bag, pay with credit card, out the door ... easy peezy.

But the voices on these things are the absolute worst.

“Welcome valued customer!” 

Who doesn’t love to hear that, especially from a robot voice? Nothing says “valued customer” like an impersonal interaction with a synthesized voice.

Too loud, too. Stop shouting at me, I’m right here. Did you think I was 20 feet away? How could I scan the merchandise from way over there? 

And the urgent lecturing tone:

“Please place scanned item in the bagging area!” ... 

“Scan your frequent buyer card or enter the number on the keypad!”

Is it Boot Camp? How did I end up at Boot Camp?

Let’s dial down the marching orders just a bit so I don’t feel like I’m at Boot Camp. Try something soothing and helpful. Since, you know, I’m a paying customer, and this is a robot we’re talking about. 

And why female voices, yelling and ordering us around? You know the geniuses behind these things did a bunch of research to determine the voice’s gender plus the right volume, bass vs. treble balance, and all manner of other attributes. 

My question: are female voices that issue orders in loud, urgent, lecturing tones preferred to male voices that issue orders in loud, urgent, lecturing tones? 

I’m thinking the loud, urgent, lecturing tone issue might be getting in the way, either way. 

How about using a voice modeled on, say, Marilyn Monroe? Breathless and a near whisper? 

Sexy as hell. Did anyone think of that? Sexy kiosk voices? 

Women would probably hate the Marilyn Monroe voice though, and prefer someone like Tom Selleck. I don’t know, figure it out, geniuses.

So allow it as a choice when you walk up to the thing. 

Replace the “Scan or swipe to begin” on-screen prompt with “Choose your sexy voice and let’s do this!”.

You’re welcome.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Rick Beato with Brian May on “Bohemian Rhapsody”


I can still remember being awestruck upon hearing this remarkable song on the radio the very first time... 



It still sounds as fresh and perfect today, 46 years later.

Brian May is of course the genius guitarist, songwriter, and arranger for “Queen” — but he’s also an Astrophsyics PhD and built his first guitar at 16 with his electronics engineer father. One of the more interesting musicians in rock history — more on him later. 


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Killer Squirrel? You Never Know


Late one afternoon while out walking I noticed a squirrel run across the grass and start to climb up a tree — and then he just stopped, four feet off the ground, frozen. 

It seemed maybe he was eyeing me carefully as I walked by. A defensive posture, probably. 

But maybe not. Maybe he was mentally running through his list of attack options. 

Maybe he was sick and tired of all these annoying two-legged intruders on his territory and finally ready to actually do something about it, for once.

Maybe he had claws like eagle talons, and teeth like a bear, and jaws like a python that unhinge to swallow prey. Maybe I narrowly escaped with my life and body parts intact.

Who knows? Maybe killer squirrels are actually a thing but they hide it well and are very, very patient, waiting for the right moment to unleash the mass coordinated attack.

It’s also possible, I guess, that he froze like that because he was fearing for his life, seeing me as a predator looking for a tasty meal like him, frozen in hopes I wouldn’t see him. 

Or maybe he noticed a different predator nearby, not me, and froze to avoid detection. 

But he might have been a killer squirrel. 

We’ll never really know for sure, will we?

Image via publicdomainpictures.net


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Tuesday Photos

If You Never Look Up, How Will You Ever See the Sun and Sky?


 

Pretty Close, I Guess



My Granddaughter’s Superheroes and Stuffed Animals Classroom






Monday, September 13, 2021

Unexpected Delights, Merle Haggard Style

One of the best things about streaming services like Pandora are the unexpected delights that really “hit the spot” for your current mood.

Friday morning last week felt like a ‘Crystal Gayle, “I’ll Get Over You”’ kind of morning, and as luck would have it, I have a Pandora channel named exactly that, and so I started it up. 

I was quickly rewarded with Merle Haggard’s classic “Ramblin’ Fever”.

His vocals on this song ... a master at work. 



My hat don't hang on the same nail too long
My ears can't stand to hear the same old song
An' I don't leave the highway long enough to bog down in the mud
'Cos I've got ramblin' fever in my blood

I caught this ramblin' fever long ago
When I first heard a lonesome whistle blow
If someone said I ever gave a damn, they damn sure told you wrong
I've had ramblin' fever all along

Ramblin' fever
The kind that can't be measured by degrees
Ramblin' fever
There ain't no kind of cure for my disease

There's times I'd like to bed down on a sofa
And let some pretty lady rub my back
And spend the early morning drinking coffee
And talkin' about when I'll be coming back

'Cos I don't let no no woman tie me down
And I'll never get too old to get around
I want to die along the highway and rot away like some old high-line pole
Rest this ramblin' fever in my soul

Ramblin' fever
The kind that can't be measured by degrees
Ramblin' fever
There ain't no kind of cure for my disease, yeah

Lyrics via azlyrics.com


Friday, September 10, 2021

U.S. Open Finals This Weekend ... History Being Made

Women’s Final 

Saturday 3pm Central 


UPDATE: Raducanu wins ... first major champion in history to come through qualifying rounds


For the first time in ... forever? ... both finalists were just 18 years of age when the tournament started: Emma Raducanu (Great Britain) and Leylah Fernandez (Canada).

Raducanu had to win three qualifying rounds to even make it to the main draw, so she has now won 9 matches in a row — without losing a single set — and is the first Grand Slam finalist in the Open era (starting 1968). That’s 53 years.

Fernandez meanwhile has swept through as an unseeded player, defeating three top 5 players including defending champion Osaka, often wearing down opponents in three sets. 

The matchup should be entertaining and will definitely be historic, but whoever wins, this U.S. Open will be known as the one where the young ladies just mowed down the competition with wanton abandon. 

It has been quite compelling as a result and I’ve watched as much as I could.

Men’s Final

Sunday 3pm Central

Novak Djokovic vs. Danill Medvedev, the top two seeds ... what are the odds?

By far the biggest story with this match is that Djokovic is going for two amazing career accomplishments in one match: a Grand Slam (winning all 4 majors in the same year) and the all time record for victories in majors (21). The last Grand Slam was by Rod Laver in 1969, 52 years ago.

Djokovic defeated Alexander Zverev in an epic five set match Friday night featuring incredibly long rallies:

The decisive game of the third set was the match in microcosm. In one of the most intriguing non-deuce games you'll ever see, Djokovic broke for the set after rallies of 18, 32, 12, 21, 53 and 16 balls.

53 shots in one game.

UPDATE: Medvedev wins in straight sets 6-4, 6-4, 6-4... his Grand Slam dream for this year is done and he's still at 20 major titles

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

47 Years Ago Today

September 8, 1974 ... Ford Pardons Nixon ... 

At noon on August 9, Nixon officially ended his term, departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn. Minutes later, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

The long national nightmare wasn't really over, but it was still the right move. Enough is enough.

The media had feasted on this carcass for years already and Woodward and Bernstein made their national reputations by doing the political dirty work for poor slob Mark Felt, the “Deep Throat” anonymous source that supplied most of the dirt on the big players.

It was a ridiculous scandal from beginning to end and every adminstration before and since has done worse and totally gotten away with it, but we got to watch this unfold on a daily basis and tell ourselves we were witness to something really bad here.

George Friedman (from the link above) gets it exactly right:

The Washington Post created a morality play about an out-of-control government brought to heel by two young, enterprising journalists and a courageous newspaper. That simply wasn't what happened. Instead, it was about the FBI using The Washington Post to leak information to destroy the president, and The Washington Post willingly serving as the conduit for that information while withholding an essential dimension of the story by concealing Deep Throat's identity.

Yes, that is exactly what happened, regardless of our opinions on Nixon as president. 

If the anonymous leaker has an axe to grind, maybe they’re just a pissed-off ankle-biter instead of a brave truth-teller. Keep that in mind, because this issue has gotten worse, not better.

And now every DC scandal gets the “-gate” suffix because of it. Clever.

Cat in the Box




If you have a cat you know how much they love boxes and bags. 

Leave any random box or bag lying around and they will be in that thing in seconds flat. 

This is Simba, our male orange tabby that we got about 18 months ago. He loves his box. 

Eventually we will throw that box in the trash and replace it with a new box, and he will love that box too. 

He loves all the boxes. 

And bags. Any paper or plastic bag that he can fit into becomes his new preferred hideout so he can keep a close watch on all of us.

Of course sometimes a cat can get himself into trouble trying to get into tight spaces.




 


Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Don’t Look Now But the Cubs Have Won 8 of 9


They unloaded nearly all their “best” players in late July — all were facing free agency at end of year anyway, and this is how it works when you lost 11 in a row with those players in June and early July — and since then have been playing lots of minor-leaguers.

Who knows what they really have here, I am sure not betting on anything one way or the other, but some of these guys have been playing really well. 

The Cubs have now won 7 in a row for the first time in over 2 years. 

First baseman Frank Schwindel has been especially clutch, a true hitting machine. 



From the game story link above:

This was the fourth game in a row, and the fifth out of six, in which Schwindel delivered the game’s decisive hit and RBI. [...] Entering Monday’s action, Schwindel was tied for third in the Majors with 44 hits since Aug. 1. In that span, he was one of only 14 players with at least 10 homers. He was tied for fourth with 29 RBIs. Only Bryce Harper (1.9), José Ramírez (1.8) and Aaron Judge (1.7) had more WAR (via FanGraphs) than Schwindel’s mark of 1.6 (tied with three other players). ... After his two-hit showing on Monday, Schwindel upped his slash line with the Cubs to .374/.421/.699. The first baseman had a 194 wRC+ since coming to Chicago, indicating that he has performed 94 percent above the Major League average offensively. It’s no wonder he took home the National League’s Rookie of the Month Award for August.

The dude is on fire. Time will tell, as always, but as fill-in manager Andy Green notes in the post-game press conference (while Ross recuperates), the way Schwindel manages to get the barrel of the bat on a pitch wherever it’s thrown, and stays balanced and keeps his hands back, has been impressive. 

Let me take this opportunity to note that this is exactly what I’ve been complaining about with this team — guys like Javy Baez, and others — for years now. So, YAY. 

Lineups need guys 1-8, whether power hitters or not, who can hit to all fields especially with two strikes, because the reality is that skill is the difference between contending for World Series and watching other teams contend for World Series on TV. 

Several other players who were denied playing time by the presence of the star players have shown they can hit like this too — Rafael Ortega, for one, and others have shown flashes here and there. 

Again, I’m not calling for scheduling any 2024 World Series parades at this point. It’s far too early to predict anything with this team, and I’ve seen this movie before. 

Baseball history is littered with guys who were great for a month, or a season. It’s not that meaningful, the vast majority of the time. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it while it’s here.


Monday, September 06, 2021

Your Youngest Son Only Turns 20 Once

Twenty years ago today our youngest son was born and right now I’m drinking coffee out of this mug he made for me in 2nd grade. 

Happy Birthday son! And you even got a national holiday! 

One of my favorite mugs for several reasons but the main one of course is that he made it for me. I am not big on physical possessions but I love using things every day that mean something to me.  

Twenty is the first milestone age that sounds “adult” after some lesser milestones at sixteen and eighteen that are purely legal in nature (driving, voting) but otherwise not that notable.

I very much remember when I turned 20 and how different it felt when that first digit on your age is a “2” now. 

Neil Young wrote a song about turning 20 called “Sugar Mountain” with a chorus that goes:

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that
You're leaving there too soon,
You're leaving there too soon.

A live version:





Friday, September 03, 2021

James Cagney — A True Force of Nature

This incredible scene is at the end of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, the biography of George M. Cohan.



The great ones make it look easy . . . imagine trying to dance on stairs . . . and look smooth and in control as if this is how you’ve always gone down the stairs. Easy peezy!

I had the opportunity to binge on James Cagney movies this week (on TCM) and instantly became a big fan. Let’s be honest, if you can find the time to binge some mediocre true crime series on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or whatever, you can find the time to binge 2 or 3 legendary James Cagney movies.

Start with “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to learn about the life of George M. Cohan who at the age of 26 in 1904 wrote, directed, starred in, and probably choreographed and sold tickets for his first musical “Little Johnny Jones” featuring both of these iconic songs ”Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy”, seen here.





Just for fun here’s Cagney with Bob Hope from 1955 doing a dance competition on a long table — did you know Hope could dance like that?!




More later . . . 



Thursday, September 02, 2021

Favorite Songs About Road Trips

My all-time favorite is of course “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — here’s a version I’ll bet you’ve never heard before, by Toots and the Maytalls, my favorite reggae band.



But I also love the John Denver version which is obviously done in more of a mainstream pop style. 



It’s all good. The song itself is great. That’s the beauty and strength of great songwriting — good lyrics, good melody, you are 90% of the way there. 

For me, this is one of those songs that sounds like it always existed and just popped up fully formed through the creativity of the songwriter.

Next on my list is “East Bound and Down” the classic theme song from “Smokey and the Bandit”, by Jerry Reed.



A genius on stringed instruments of all kinds, one of the best of all time. Here’s a live version.



Here’s a country truck driving classic by Dave Dudley, “Six Days on the Road”



I’m sure I’ll think of more right after I post this . . . 

How could I forget “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” by Kathy Mattea?




This one sticks in my brain every time I hear it — “Girl on the Billboard” by Del Reeves.