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It's springtime, which means it's fantasy baseball season. We had our live draft on Wednesday night, 11 managers including -- for the first time -- another law prof! I had the #9 pick, which was kind of a bummer since there were no obvious superstars likely to drop that far down.
I didn't do a whole lot of advance reading (too busy with other stuff), but I did go into the draft with my usual strategy of trying to draft power hitters early and holding off on pitchers -- especially closers -- until at least after the 5th round. I also decided that I was going to be extremely ageist and avoid any hitters who were 30 or over, if I could.
Here are my picks:
1. Ian Kinsler (Tex - 2b)
Other choices here were Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, or Chase Utley. All three Phillies players are over 30, so I went with Kinsler, who's likely to get better rather than slightly worse. My preference would have been to take a bigger hitter rather than a middle infielder, but what can you do?
2. Mark Teixeira (NYY - 1b)
I can only hope that putting Teixeria in the middle of the Yankees lineup will produce awesome stats . . . .
3. Nick Markakis (Balt. - of)
Shares my first son's name (sort of). Enough said.
4. Carlos Quentin (CWS - of)
Hopefully not just a flash in the pan. But another youngster with upside.
5. Joe Mauer (Minn. - c)
In retrospect, this was probably a mistake. Sure, he's got a nice batting average, but he hasn't been stealing bases, and he doesn't have much power. I could have taken Jake Peavy or Dan Haren, which would have been a round earlier than I would normally take pitching, but still would have been better.
6. Josh Beckett (Bos. - sp)
I was all set to take Chad Billingsley here, but then, while waiting for my turn, I was reading about his recent groin injury. Maybe it wasn't that serious a problem, but I decided not to risk it.
7. Felix Hernandez (Sea. - sp)
Most of the picks around this one went to other starting pitchers or older hitters. I drafted Hernandez a couple of years ago, too early as it turned out, but I like the strikeout potential and the home ballpark.
8. Francisco Rodriguez (NYM - rp)
I don't like to draft closers early, but K-Rod has amazing stuff and is going to a pitcher's park. I don't expect him to get 60+ saves again, but I do expect lots of Ks and great ERA and whip.
9. Rich Harden (ChC - sp)
Great results when he pitches. Roy Oswalt was the pick right before this one. I've always like Oswalt as a player, but last year (when I drafted him) was kind of scary, so it's just as well he was off the board for me. I do wonder if I should've taken Yovani Gallardo instead of Harden, though.
10. Conor Jackson (Ari. - of/1b)
My outfield was looking thin, and the available choices down the road were getting ugly.
11. B.J. Ryan (Tor. - rp)
Another closer with terrific peripherals. I had some other starting pitchers that I was keeping an eye on, but enough that I could afford to wait. The same thing was true for shortstops and third basemen; having missed out on the obvious choices, I was content to wait.
12. Zack Greinke (KC - sp)
I believe Greinke was the first KC Royal taken in our draft! Yeah, KC is a pretty bad team, and I've stayed away from Greinke in the past because of his unimpressive K rate. However, I was surprised to see that he had picked things up in that department last year, so I took a chance with him.
13. Johnny Cueto (Cin. - sp)
Cueto looked mighty good at times last year. Whether I was right to take him or Erik Bedard, who went a few picks later, will depend on Bedard's health, I suspect.
14. Frank Francisco (Tex. - rp)
He only had 5 saves last year, but it looks like the closer's job is his.
15. Felipe Lopez (Ari. - 2b/ss/3b)
This was a pick of faith. . . . I do like players who have multiple infield eligibility for their flexibility. Lopez stole 20+ bases in 2006 and 2007, and apparently Kirk Gibson is one of the bench coaches for Arizona, so hopefully that will inspire/goad Lopez into being more aggressive.
16. John Danks (CWS - sp)
The White Sox have two promising young pitchers, Gavin Floyd and Danks. Danks has better K numbers and a worse W-L record, both of which point to him as the better option this year.
17. Jim Thome (CWS - dh)
I need a DH. Thome can still crank the ball when he plays. Do you know, one year I accidentally drafted Jim Thome with the #1 pick in the draft? I think I won that year's league, too, notwithstanding the mistake.
18. Hank Blalock (Tex. - 3b)
Apparently, this was a mistake. I didn't realize that the Texas Rangers were moving Michael Young from shortstop to third base. . . .
19. Dan Wheeler (TB - rp)
Mostly here I was looking for a relief pitcher with good ERA and whip, and the chance at some wins and occasional saves. Besides, Tampa Bay's closer is Troy Percival, who's almost as old as I am. He could break down at any moment.
20. Dioner Navarro (TB - c)
Just a back up catcher for when Mauer takes a day off.
21. Ryan Theriot (ChC - ss)
I had signed off, so this was Yahoo!'s autopick for me.
Overall, I'm somewhat dissatisfied with my team's relative lack of power, which is the result of drafting a core of young players. I guess we'll see if my risk aversion pays off. In the meantime, I decided to rectify my Blalock mistake by cutting him and adding Scott Downs (Tor. - rp) as a backup to Ryan.
NBC's late night talk show host Jay Leno decided to put on a free comedy show for unemployed workers (or those just facing hard times) in Detroit, Michigan. That's pretty admirable; he's actually going out of his way to give something to the much less fortunate.
However, when he found out that some people who got tickets were auctioning them off on eBay, he complained:
On Monday night’s NBC program, Leno said, "Here is something that
annoys me. I look on eBay today and I see four tickets to my show for
sale. ... You're out of your mind to pay $800 to see me. ... I would
like to ask the people on eBay to take the tickets down. There is
nothing for sale here.”
Economist Greg Mankiw has covered the economic analysis of Leno's position:
If a person down on his luck prefers the cash to the opportunity to
watch Leno live, why would Leno object? Is it altruism that is really
motivating Leno here? Is he really sure that the unemployed person in
Detroit would be better off with an evening of laughs than $800 in his
pocket? Or does Leno want to play to a live audience of unemployed
workers so he will seemaltruistic to his television audience?
Meanwhile, I'm reminded of an episode of M*A*S*H, set around Christmas time, where Major Winchester -- pursuant to a family custom -- anonymously donates a nice big package of chocolate candy to a nearby South Korean orphanage. Later, when he finds an American GI eating one of the pieces of candy from the package, he learns that the GI bought the candy on the black market. Winchester confronts the director of the orphanage, who admits that he sold the candy. The orphanage director explains that, had he given the candy to the orphans, they would have had a nice treat that would have lasted for one night. By selling the candy instead, he got enough money to be able to feed the orphans for an entire month. Suitably chastened, Winchester says that he is the one who's learned something about the Christmas spirit.
Upshot: Winchester had something valuable to donate, and he did. The orphanage director greatly appreciated Winchester's gesture, but was able to turn the gift into something far more useful for the orphans. It seems to me that if you replace "chocolate candy" with "Jay Leno performance," and "orphans" with "unemployed workers," the stories sound the same. Too bad the outcome wasn't.
UPDATE: Something else that occurred to me . . . .
I haven't watched "The Tonight Show" lately, but I've usually enjoyed Jay Leno's shtick. Yeah, I know that David Letterman is considered more hip and all that, but what can I say? Indeed, before we left Los Angeles to come to Iowa, I thought about trying to get seats for "The Tonight Show." If we didn't have kids and we got free tickets to a Leno performance, I'm sure that my wife and I would go.
But we do have kids, so if we got free tickets today, what would we do with them? To go, we'd have to hire a babysitter, but if the point is to do something for the unemployed, how does it help them to make those kids have to find and pay for a babysitter just to go to a comedy show?
Last night, I fired up my TiVo and started watching the "American Idol" performance show. It was country music night, which was not a good thing for me. I'll admit, when it comes to country music, Shania Twain, some of Martina McBride, and current Taylor Swift are about as adventurous as I get. But geez, after one and a half performances, I abandoned "AI" and decided to watch "Castle" instead.
Yeah, there's nothing special about "Castle" -- it's another police procedural/mismatched "buddy" series -- but the interaction between Nathan Fillion as annoying crime writer Richard Castle and Stana Katic as exasperated police detective Kate Beckett is pretty entertaining. It looks like it's dropping a lot of its lead-in from "Dancing with the Stars," though, so it may not be long for this world.
Joss Whedon apparently has something of a cult following based on his past works, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly," which meant that his new show, "Dollhouse," started with a built-in fan base. Personally, I never got into "Buffy" or "Firefly" -- the former because it seemed too "teen" for me (in a way that "Veronica Mars" did not), and the latter because it got canceled almost overnight. But I decided to give "Dollhouse" a try, especially after the similarly-themed "My Own Worst Enemy" got yanked after 8 or so episodes.
The premise of "Dollhouse" is that a secret organization keeps a group of "actives" available for paying clients; each active can be downloaded with different personality composites, allowing them to be anything needed, from hostage negotiator to safecracker to whatever. (If you're thinking that this premise was done in NBC's mid-1990s thriller "The Pretender," you're right.) When the mission is over, the active is "wiped" and returned to an innocent state, waiting in the Dollhouse for the next mission.
You can see the appeal of such a show for an actor/actress: you get to play a different character every episode. (Reportedly, this is why Martin Landau turned down the role of Mr. Spock in the original "Star Trek" in favor of Rollin Hand on "Mission: Impossible"; Hand was the team's master of disguises.)
Unfortunately, Eliza Dushku, who plays "Echo," isn't gifted with the most acting range, so she ends up playing each mission more or less the same. Just compare her to Dichen Lachman, who plays Sierra (another active), and you can see the difference in acting range.
In addition, it's hard to build any emotional connection to a character who is the same physically but otherwise a chameleon in personality. The show is attempting to address this by suggesting that the "wipes" aren't working 100%. Maybe that will work.
But I think it would have been far more interesting if they had done essentially the reverse -- have the personality be downloaded into different "bodies." This is a pretty common theme in modern British sci-fi, particularly work by Richard K. Morgan and Peter F. Hamilton. Morgan's "Takeshi Kovacs" series posits a future where cortical stacks copy your mental processes and memories, and physical bodies are just "sleeves" to be grown as needed.
Of course, this would obviate the need for any "star," since every episode would be a different body (though you could return to favorite bodies from time to time, I suppose), but would allow the development of a long-term character. Indeed, it would be interesting to see how different actors approach the challenge of playing the same character! (For a pretty good example, see how Nicolas Cage and John Travolta played each other's characters in "Face Off.")
Last week's episode of "24" (day 7, 8:00-9:00 pm) was a pretty good microcosm of everything that's gone right with this season of the show. To be sure, looking better than the awful mess that was season 6 is not a very high bar to surmount. And I don't know if the show will ever be as good as it was in its heyday (season 5?). And of course, it's still full of the ridiculous things that have come to define "24," like the ability of computer nerds to access and control virtually any aspect of American life with a keyboard and T1 line.
Still, let's review what was so good about the episode. In case you've forgotten, the hour began with Sangalan General Juma holding President Allison Taylor, her daughter, Jack Bauer, Bill Buchanan, and dozens of White House staff hostage, while FBI agents waited outside for the go-ahead to storm the building. Only, the feckless -- or perhaps conspiratorial? -- Vice-President insisted on having a clear picture of where the President was before authorizing an attack. (But how are the FBI agents supposed to have a clear picture if they don't storm the White House? - Hey, I didn't say this season was perfect!)
1. Bill's sacrifice
At the beginning of this hour, Juma is going to force the President to admit to all kinds of war crimes, etc. on an Internet-streamed video. Jack decides the only way to stop this is to create a distraction. He notices a gas leak and figures that one gunshot in the right spot will ignite the gas, kill some terrorists, and allow the hostages to fight back. Of course, he is going to be the sacrificial lamb, but then Bill Buchanan tells Jack to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and sacrifices himself. The ruse works, and 15 minutes into the episode, Juma is dead and Jack has saved the President.
Don't get me wrong -- I like Bill Buchanan. He was a decent, level-headed guy, the kind you'd want running someplace like CTU. But "24" has always been pretty ruthless about killing off long-time characters. (At this point, Jack,Tony Almeida, and retired Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce are the only survivors from season 1, and even if you go back to season 3, you only add Chloe O'Brian to the list.) The question is whether beloved characters get to die in a meaningful way, or a stupid and pointless way.
Take CTU agent Curtis Manning, who for a while seemed like the only competent field agent other than Jack. The writers contrived a silly situation that forced Jack to kill Curtis, just for shock value. Only, it required that Curtis act totally out of character. I get the desire to "stain" Jack's soul with another killing of a friend/colleague. But it was done much better in season 3, when he was forced to assassinate Ryan Chappelle to stave off another biological virus attack.
So, having Bill sacrifice himself to save the President, while tragic, was a heroic, not pointless, death, and befitting of the honorable character.
2. Special Agent In Charge Larry Moss
Jack has always had issues with his superiors, and not surprisingly, because they are usually portrayed as simpering bureaucrats who get in his way, are wrong about the ground situation, and sometimes turn out to be allied with the bad guys. About the only competent superior he's had had been Bill Buchanan, and Bill was usually on his side.
What I like about SAIC Moss is that he's not portrayed as a buffoon (even though Jack is right), and I especially liked his first encounter with Jack, where after rejecting Jack's suggestion for some kind of action, faces Jack off when Jack stands up with that intense look and then said, "What, are you going to torture me now?"
3. Worth Adversaries
Juma didn't really hold his own as an adversary for Jack (which was probably a waste of fabulous actor Tony Todd), but the new sub-arc has brought Jon Voight's group into focus. As Jack interrogates a traitor in the hospital, the conspiracy's assassin -- a kind of anti-Jack Bauer -- does a nifty job of infiltration. Not only is he as skilled as Jack is, he even carries around an equipment bag, much like Jack did during seasons 4 and 5! And wow, you have to admire a bad guy who can come up with a plan that involves looping the video feed of the hospital room to conceal what happens next, then dosing Jack and the traitor with a paralyzing nerve gas, then getting Jack's fingerprints on a shard of glass from a broken vase, using the shard to cut the traitor's throat and stab him in the heart, and then escaping -- thus setting up Jack to look he murdered the traitor!
Jack deserves worth adversaries. It makes for more interesting TV when the writers create intelligent and resourceful adversaries.