02 March 2006

Kinks, The List Post, Venezuela, '97 Braves

I've always liked the Kinks- it's hard not to. They're never immediately referred to among the "great" bands, but for someone who doesn't delve too deeply into their catalogue, it's probably due to the perception that they're a "singles" band, and should be viewed as such. In other words- they hit the nail on the head a handful of times, but no conclusive, cohesive "statement."

Anyway, as anyone who knows much about the Kinks is aware, that's total bullshit. I, for a long time, was guilty of that perception as anyone- as much as I loved their "singles", I never took them as seriously as I should have. Which is a shame.

The Kinks were a remarkable band. The idea especially that they were without a "great" album in their catalogue is also, of course, comepletely false. They have no fewer than four classics- Face to Face, Something Else by the Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, and Arthur, or: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire. After having put it off for ages, I finally actually bought my first Kinks records- Something Else and Village Green.

First off- for a major, heralded band, the Kinks' greatest works are a total bitch to find. In deciding to buy these, I went to the Virgin Megastore in Times Sq (where I struck out on the Davies Bros., but got Neil Young's On the Beach and Love's Forever Changes for $15), then Borders in the Time Warner Center, then Tower Records near Lincoln Center, which only had two of the four I was looking for. For some reason (and I'm guessing it's some contractual bullshit), their awful mid-80's work is plentiful; I waded through countless copies of Misfits and Give the People What They Want or State of Confusion. It's the equivalent of having Emotional Rescue, Black and Blue and Bridges to Babylon available at every record store, but no Beggar's Banquet, Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. It's depressing.

Not only that, but the sound quality of these CDs is abominable. Absolutely the worst transition to CD in sound I've ever heard, period, end of sentence. The sound quality of a Germs CD is better than these. It's completely embarassing. So between poor sound quality and availability of only their lesser works- it's no wonder the Kinks have slowly faded in prestige. Meanwhile, their British Invasion contemporaries have deluxe/ extended versions of their classic albums released (the Who), have premium level remastering done to their back catalogue (The Stones) or have a company entirely devoted to new, "tasteful", innovative repackaging of their work (the Beatles).

I got thinking about this listening to Village Green the other day- it's my favorite Kinks album. They had a few years of resurgence when all the Britpoppers sang their praises, but they've been altogether ignored, which is not fair. They're a notch behind the Who/ Stones/ Beatles "triumvirate," but most bands are, I think. So if you haven't already, you know... go buy their records. Don't get fed up looking for them, either. Someone will have them.




Back at Fordham, hanging out with Bill, talking about rock and roll and movies a lot, he used to make fun of me cos I loved making lists. Not sure where that particular "hobby" entered my "trasom" (reference?), but there it is.

Anyway, I figured I'd knock out the list here, for Bill's sake. Bill's birthday is coming up (March 9th), so you should wish him all a happy birthday. On that day though, not today. You should also hound him via the comments section to contribute some shit to the site, cos my man can write, and he likes cool music.

I actually listed out my 350 favorite albums and 250 favorite movies once, but I'll spare you of that.

MOVIES

  1. Dr. Strangelove (1964, Stanley Kubrick)

  2. Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese)

  3. Rushmore (1997, Wes Anderson)

  4. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

  5. The Grand Illusion (1939, Jean Renoir)

  6. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

  7. This Is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner)

  8. Amadeus (1985, Milos Forman)

  9. Hannah and Her Sisters (1985, Woody Allen)

  10. The Evil Dead (1988, Sam Raimi)

  11. Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

  12. L'Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo)

  13. Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)

  14. The Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)

  15. Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)


ALBUMS

  1. Nirvana- Nevermind

  2. The Beatles- The Beatles

  3. Velvet Underground- Loaded

  4. The Stooges- Fun House

  5. Wu-Tang Clan- Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)

  6. Pixies- Surfer Rosa
  7. Jimi Hendrix- Band of Gypsys

  8. John Lennon- Plastic Ono Band

  9. Rolling Stones- Exile on Main Street

  10. Prince and the Revolution- Purple Rain

  11. Replacements- Let It Be

  12. Patti Smith- Radio Ethiopia

  13. The Clash- London Calling

  14. Sonic Youth- Daydream Nation

  15. Neil Young & Crazy Horse- Rust Never Sleeps


TV SHOWS

  1. Seinfeld

  2. The Simpsons

  3. The Larry Sanders Show

  4. LOST

  5. Kids in the Hall

  6. Mr. Show with Bob and David

  7. Twin Peaks

  8. The Office

  9. Freaks & Geeks

  10. Beverly Hills: 90210


BOOKS

  1. Ulysses, by James Joyce

  2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce

  3. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, by Bill James

  4. Truman, by David McCullough

  5. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

  6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S Thompson

  7. Hitchcock/ Truffaut, by Francois Truffaut

  8. Our Band Could Be Your Life, by Michael Azzerad

  9. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

  10. The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri


Quick rundown of the "rules" I "set out":

For movies and albums, a director/ artist can only appear once.
For books, no "collections" or poems- just "books," in the strict sense of the term.
For TV shows- no talk shows/ news shows, etc. Just plain scripts and actors.




Last night was the first game of Spring Training- the Sox lost 6-3 to Minnesota, but ultimately, the result didn't matter as long as Papelbon ended up OK. In the 1st inning, Papelbon's heel collided with a screaming line drive, leading to his limping around the mound and new-kneed Terry Francona sprinting out to check him (against doctor's orders). It turns out he was OK- he actually stayed in the game- but it could have been a LOT worse.

"My initial reaction was, 'I'm going down.' I thought my whole ankle was shattered," said Papelbon. "You get the out, and you worry about it later, after the fact, because it was tingling pretty good. It started loosening up, and I was able to go back out there."

If ever there was an example of baseball being a game of inches, this was it for Papelbon. He's just glad that the inches were in his favor this time.

"If that ball is an inch higher on my ankle, I'm probably done for three to six months," said Papelbon. "It would have shattered my whole ankle. Hopefully, the big man above was looking after me."


If that's not the most frightening thought I've heard in a long time... Jesus. That would have set him back not only this year, but probably for years to come. Thank God.

Anyway, Coco had a tremendous first game as a Red Sox, going 3-3 with a 1B, a 2B and a 3B. Awesome to see him get off on the right foot. He's going to be judged against Damon's progress in New York inevitably as the season starts regardless, so if he can get going early, there shouldn't be much need for it as the season goes on. Glad to see him on the right track, at least, acknowledging however the near meaninglessness of Spring Training.

After the game, the following players left for their various posts in the WBC: David Ortiz, Julian Tavarez (Dominican Replublic), Jason Varitek, Mike Timlin (USA), Alex Cora (Puerto Rico), Alex Gonzalez (Venezuela), Lenny DiNardo (Italy), Adam Stern (Canada), Trent Durrington (Australia).

Meanwhile, the once fearsome Dominican Republic team has been de-fanged by a lot of dropouts. In the course of a week, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero all dropped out, for various reasons. They still have a really strong roster- but that's some heavy firepower off the bat. I think that makes either USA or Venezuela the favorite, but judging by the usage rules, I think it's all pretty much a wash anyway. Check out Venezuela's rotation-

Johan Santana
Carlos Zambrano
Felix Hernandez
Freddy Garcia
Gustavo Chacin

with Francisco Rodriguez, Juan Rincon, Jorge Julio and Kelvim Escobar out of the bullpen. Not to mention Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Victor Martinez and Melvin Mora in the heart of the lineup.

My predictions for the tournament:

POOL A WINNER: Japan
POOL B WINNER: USA
POOL C WINNER: Puerto Rico
POOL D WINNER: Venezuela

JAPAN v USA: USA
PUERTO RICO v VENEZUELA: Venezuela

USA v VENEZUELA: Venezuela





The 1997 Atlanta Braves were, ranked by Bill James, the greatest pitching staff in baseball history. Not just the starting rotation- the entire staff had an ERA 32% better than league average, leading the NL in wins, ERA, IP, WHIP, SHO, fewest HR allowed, and road RA/G (by a full run). They didn't have the best pitcher in the league (in '97, it was Pedro Martinez), but they did have the best collection- only two pitchers with more than 33 IP on the team had a below-league-average ERA (out of 12). Of the four main pitchers in the rotation, only one- John Smoltz, with a 3.02- had an ERA over 3. Smoltz, however, lead the team with 256 IP.

Justifiably overlooked in all this was the Braves offensive and defensive prowess- a team that spread production all over the field, and helped their pitching out with amazing defense. In fact, of the starting eight, they had only one offensive hole- and he was their most outstanding defensive player, having his career-best season defensively (Mark Lemke).

Here are the 1997 FRAA numbers for the Atlanta defense (adjusted for all time):

LOPEZ (C)__________6
MCGRIFF (1B)_____-15
LEMKE (2B)________20
BLAUSER (SS)_______2
JONES (3B)_______-14
KLESKO (RF)______-10
LOFTON (CF)________9
TUCKER (LF)_______-3


Now, admittedly, BP's fielding stats can be a bit out of whack but, they're the only ones I have extensive and easy access to. Here you can see that while the corner positions were nothing to scream about, up the middle, at the important defensive positions, the Braves were excellent. Tucker was capable in LF, and Lofton made up not just for his own ground, but for any left by Klesko. Ditto that on Lemke for McGriff. In fact, Lemke's brilliance may have compromised McGriff's ranking slightly, though Crime Dog was never much of a defensive player anyway. Consider too, Biggio (a great defensive 2B in his day) won the Gold Glove that year with an 11 FRAA. The Braves also had one of the great defensive pitchers of all time on their team in Greg Maddux, who also won the Gold Glove.

Before I get into detail on the pitching staff, let's look at the offense a bit. Below is the team's league rank in various offensive categories:

RUNS____3rd
HR______2nd
BA______3rd
OBP_____4th
SLG_____2nd


Considering as well that the Colorado Bombers were first in the NL in every one of these categories, this was a much better hitting team than given credit for. No player had over 24 HR, only one player had over 100 RBI, and only one player scored 100 runs. Yet, they were 2nd among non- Mile Highers in runs scored, and had the most adjusted power in the NL. This was a masterfully built team from top to bottom. Here are the top five offensive players in terms of EqA:

BLAUSER_______.306
LOPEZ_________.297
JONES_________.292
LOFTON________.289
MCGRIFF_______.277


In fact, Blauser, the team's 31 year old SS, was also their most valuable position player, second on the team in runs scored, OBP, BA and third in SLG. His OPS+ of 130 lead the team, and he was a sterling defensive player, as has been mentioned. In fact, his only superior in 1997 defensively was likely New York's Rey Ordonez, who couldn't hit the ground if he jumped out of bed.

One of the more interesting trades in GM John Schuerholz's Atlanta tenure was the one that send OFs Marquis Grissom and David Justice to Cleveland in exchange for CF Kenny Lofton and RP Alan Embree. Lofton was going into his FA season, and was coming off a great year for the Indians in which he had a 106 OPS+ with great defense and 75 SB in 92 tries. Grissom wasn't much to give up- despite flashes of power and decent speed, he was declining as a defender after a brilliant early career, and wasn't the hitter that Lofton was. So essentially, this trade broke down as being Grissom for Alan Embree and Lofton for David Justice.

Initially, in short term results, Schuerholz got the worst of the deal. Justice had his career year in 1997 for Cleveland, and helped them get to the World Series. Embree, though a very good reliever in 1997- does not, in 46.2 IP, represent the value of a starting CF, even if it's Marquis Grissom.

However, Schuerholz did have someone waiting in the wings- Andruw Jones. Jones, 20 years old in 1997, wasn't ready for a starting job just yet. In the trade, Schuerholz gave up a significant amount of offense in Justice for a big upgrade in the bullpen, a big upgrade in CF for one season, and then the ability to bring in a young, cost controlled player in that position, allowing Lofton to walk, and having money to replace Justice's bat (or otherwise). They used that money to sign Andres Gallaraga, Walt Weiss and Dennis Martinez. All contributed to the '98 team, especially the Big Cat. Jones made his way into 153 games in 1997, hitting 18 HR in 399 ABs. Jones was the roving OF backup, often giving Klesko days off against LHP and providing prodigious late inning defensive upgrades over Michael Tucker (as well as some nice pop). He got a number of late season starts, as well.

It's interesting that the more "role" players on the Braves roster and in their lineup nearly all were above average hitters in 1997. Only Lemke- an abominable 63 OPS+- were an offensive detriment to the club. Michael Tucker and Jeff Blauser, in fact, both had career years.

The Atlanta Braves pitching staff threw 1465 innings in 1997, at a team ERA of 3.18- good for an ERA+ of 132. As comparison, the 1931 Athletics had a 130 team ERA+, the 1966 LA Dodgers had an ERA+ of 125, the 1927 New York Yankees had an ERA+ of 120. The 1905 Cubs, however, had an ERA+ of 150.

Let's look at the lines for the Braves' 1997 starting four-

______________IP_______W______K______WHIP______ERA+
MADDUX_______232.2____19_____177_____0.95______191
SMOLTZ_______256.0____15_____241_____1.16______139
GLAVINE______240.0____14_____152_____1.15______142
NEAGLE_______233.1____20_____172_____1.08______142


The Braves also got starts from Paul Byrd, Kevin Millwood, Terrell Wade, and Chris Brock- only Millwood had any success. The floating 5th starter was ultimately the only weak point on the Braves' staff.

One of the more brilliant practices of the late-90's (and even to this day) Braves has been the usage of the bullpen, and the "closer" roster spot. In their run of AL East 1st place finishes, Atlanta has gotten startling production out of using the following pitchers as their closers, for varying amounts of time:

Juan Berenquer
Greg McMichael
Mark Wohlers
Kerry Ligtenberg
John Rocker

The best part? They've never overpaid for a closer (with the exception of John Smoltz, who was both dominating and placed there out of necessity). There were bad years- in 1992, Alejandro Pena was a total disaster, as was Danny Kolb last year, until Chris Reitsma did a decent job of taking over. Mike Stanton started the year there in 1993, and bombed before McMichael took over. Below are the salary numbers for the pitchers designated as the Braves' closer from 1991 through 2001 (Smoltz takes over in 2002). Excluded are the ones that were not good- ie, Pena and Stanton.

$900,000 (1991)
$109,000 (1993)
$245,000 (1994)
$202,500 (1995)
$1,425,000 (1996)
$3,000,000 (1997)
$175,000 (1998)
$217,500 (1999)
$290,000 (2000)
$1,900,000 (2001)

That is an average of $846,400 per season for a relief ace. For a little perspective, Keith Foulke made $7.5 million last year, Mariano Rivera $10.5 million, Joe Nathan $2.1 million, Billy Wagner $9 million, and BJ Ryan will make $9.4 million this coming season. These weren't "average" seasons either- Ligtenberg, for instance, had a 156 ERA+ in 1998. Rocker had a 174 in 1999.

Mark Wohlers, the Braves closer in 1997, was the centerpiece of this idea, was ironically the most expensive closer season in this run- the $3 million dollar 1997 guy. Wohlers was awarded these sums (the $1.4 mil in '96) in his arbitration eligible seasons for putting back to back dominant campaigns in 95 and 96. 1997 would be the weakest year in his three year run as closer (he was injured in 98 and 99, receiving 4 and 5 million in each injury year), and his last.

Wohlers was good for a 3.50 ERA and 92 K's in 69.3 IP- which is an astounding 13.6 K/9IP. The Braves starting staff was not a strikeout staff- with the possible exception of John Smoltz, of course. However- the Braves bullpen was every bit a strikeout bullpen. Here are the main bullpen components, ranked by K/9IP:

WOHLERS______13.64
BIELECKI______9.42
EMBREE________8.80
CLONTZ________7.88
CATHER________6.92


Among pitchers with more than 31 IP on the Braves, only Paul Byrd, Terrell Wade, Kevin Millwood (those pesky 5th starters) and Mike Bielecki had ERAs over 4. Millwood had a 4.03, and Bielecki and 4.08.

The Braves swept the Houston Astros in the Division Series that year, scoring 19 runs in three games and allowing only five. They then moved on to face the team they'd bested by nine games in the AL East that season- the Florida Marlins. The Braves lost the series in six games- another page in the frustrating series of failures for that dynastic 1990's club.

Glavine and Smoltz were both beat around pretty well in the NLCS, and Maddux gave up 5 runs in his first 3 innings of Game One, though they were all unearned. The two games the Braves did win- games Two and Four- were on brilliant pitching performances by Glavine (2) and Neagle (4). In Game Five, Maddux and Livan Hernandez hooked up in an epic pitcher's duel, with Atlanta getting it's only run on a HR from Michael Tucker in the second, and the Marlins scored on RBI singles from Bobby Bonilla and Jeff Conine. In the first inning, the Braves had runners on first and third, with no out... and got nothing. Game 6 was when Atlanta hitters finally got to Kevin Brown- but so did Marlin hitters get to Tom Glavine. Though the Braves scored 3 in the first two frames, the Marlins got a 4 run first and never looked back, to clinch the pennant.

The Braves have three inner-circle HoF on that 1997 team (Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine) one strong candidate (John Smoltz) and one that is on his way to a potential enshrinement (Andruw Jones). That they didn't survive the NLCS is partially blamed on poor big-time performances from their all-world pitching staff, and to another plague of the 1990's Braves- witnessing the right place, right time team storming through them. The Twins in 1991, the Blue Jays in 1992, the '93 Phillies, the '96 Yankees, the '97 Marlins, the '98 Padres, '99 Yankees. Everyone of those teams- though maybe some inferior on paper- all of them were teams red-hot going into and through the postseason.

1997 Atlanta Braves- excellent team. Seven All Stars (Blauser, C. Jones, Maddux, Glavine, Neagle, Lopez, Lofton). Chipper Jones was 9th in MVP voting, Maddux 12th, Blauser 21st and Lofton 26th. Gred Maddux was 2nd in the NL in Cy Young voting, Neagle was 3rd.

[If you enjoyed the Braves portion of the post, check out the "simulcast" at this site]

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