How to save baseball

Forgive the melodramatic, clickbait-y headline. I don’t actually believe baseball is dying anytime soon, or even that it’s in significant decline. The powers-that-be, however, are clearly rethinking the game in an attempt to get more eyes on it more often. There’s discussion about improving pace of play and creating more offense, a mutually exclusive pair of goals that will probably just cancel each other out. Intentional walks are now just dumb signals from the manager instead of four wide ones. There’s evidence that the baseball has been juiced to create more dingers. Pitch clocks and some sort of adjustments to the extra innings rule are probably on the way (I’m pro home run derby, by the way, perhaps after playing a tenth inning to try to break the tie first).

Is any of that going to attract more casual fans? Fuck no. Are you gonna watch competitive chess just because it moves a little quicker? No way.

So how do we “save” the game? Let’s start by looking at what’s popular about the other major American sports. Football’s greatest assets are its short schedule and built-in violence, neither of which is going to fly with baseball. MLB’s postseason will never be the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs because playoff hockey is a unique gift from the gods that shall never be replicated. You’ll never steal all the weird European fans from soccer.

Which brings me to a league from which we can actually steal a helpful idea, and the entire inspiration for this post: the NBA. The association is always in the news. Shit, how many headlines has basketball stolen in the last week alone, without playing even a single game? News and rumors about player movement are the only stories outpacing reports about the big orange scumbag’s big orange scumbagginess. Why is that, and how can baseball replicate it?

Part of it’s the league’s unique player economy. A shortage of true superstars combined with a complex array of contract rules makes every deal important and nuanced. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never see anything similar in baseball without rules that seriously curb the spending of the bigger market teams.

There’s another facet to the NBA’s constant buzz, though, and it’s that the league is dripping with personality. The players, the coaches, the general managers, and the commentators are all extremely interesting, compelling characters. Yes, this is because most of them are giant assholes. But compare what you know about the Golden State Warriors with what you know about the Chicago Cubs. Steph and Clay are second generation superstars who shoot the lights out. Draymond’s a giant dick but the linchpin of the team. KD’s a generational talent who will forever be haunted by his decision to chase a ring. Anthony Rizzo…uh…plays first base and he’s good. I fucking love baseball and that’s all I can tell you about Anthony Rizzo.

When athletes have personalities and stories, everything they do becomes that much more compelling. I’d argue that baseball’s boring to so many people not just because of its slow pace and weird rules but primarily because its players are duller than your step mom’s Twitter account. All that crap about playing “the right way” by not being demonstrative after a big moment needs to fucking go. Encourage them to bedazzle their gloves, rock their hats backwards, and wear things that would give the NFL’s anti-fun police a coronary. Hand out cash prizes for the best home run celebration every month. Juice up the walk up music and give closers the sort of over-produced entrances that would make Bobby Roode jealous. Get everybody talking, and get them talking shit. Make the game compelling for people other than stat nerds and weird suburban housewives who fell in love with Dustin Pedroia.

And for the love of all that’s holy extend it into the god damn booth. Listen to Jeff Van Gundy do color for a basketball game and then try to listen to ESPN’s Aaron Boone. It’s like they’re not even the same species. Van Gundy’s brash, loud, and opinionated. Boone’s a tentative little fart in church. Watch Ernie, Shaq, Kenny, and Chuck do pregame, then compare their humor and enthusiasm to whatever gaggle of schmucks is sleepwalking through the lead-in to Orioles/Rays. You know why baseball puts people to sleep? Because the presentation’s got the tone of a bedtime story. Even when they’re presenting players who are actually compelling characters—guys like Bryce Harper or Madison Bumgarner—the walking Ambien overdoses running commentary just vomit up tropes like “oh, he’s a quirky character!”, unleash a polite chuckle, and ruin any chance they had of being remotely interesting.

You want to get more people watching and talking about baseball? Shove the pitch clock up your butt and focus on the people. It doesn’t matter how many dingers get hit or how fast the game goes if everyone involved comes off as some sort of focus group-approved robot.

Thanks, Eric Trump: I always knew I was a fucking god

In an interview with Fox “News” “personality” Sean Hannity, Eric Trump declared that Democrats fighting his father’s agenda are “not even people.”

As a Democrat myself, I have to say…he’s right. I always knew there was something different about me. From the day I was born I’ve felt this weird buzz in my cells, a sort of omnipresent static between my flesh and the world around me. No, that’s not all the caffeine, and it was there long before I started sucking down the sweet, sweet lead paint on my bedroom windowsill. It’s power, raw and frightening, straining against chains struggling to just barely containing it.

It took the words of someone who so obviously isn’t human himself to finally make me understand the truth. That servant-caste reptilian humanoid (you can tell from his shitty hair) would certainly know a fellow fake human if he saw one.



Jinder, Unhindered

Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton to become WWE Champion at Backlash last night. Up until a few weeks ago Jinder was a total joke, a jobber they’d trot out just to lose to someone better or get snow plowed by Rob Gronkowski. He’s not one of the golden children that came up through NXT. He was an afterthought, a guy we all sort of ironically pulled for but not really. He’s a retread, a guy that left the company and ostensibly only came back because they needed more workers following last year’s brand split. Now…he’s somehow won a main roster world title before more heralded guys like Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Samoa Joe.  That’s nuts.

Looking back, the signs were all there. Smackdown, the brand on which Jinder plies his trade, is being pushed as “The Land of Opportunity.” He was given a pair of lackeys in the Bollywood Boys and a brand new moniker as the Modern Day Maharaja. Orton, the man he defeated, has kind of sucked since he burned down Bray Wyatt’s cult shack. With Rusev’s injury, a recent face turn for AJ Styles, and Kevin Owens otherwise occupied with the United States Championship, Smackdown was without a main event villain. The evil foreigner who hates America is a tried-and-true wrestling trope that always gets a reaction. We should’ve seen this coming. Rumors persist that Jinder’s in this spot because of his new, totally natural physique and WWE’s desire to expand its Indian audience, but I think it more likely that they realized they had a hole to patch and decided to fill it creatively. The move’s certainly built a lot of buzz online.

So yeah. I should’ve predicted a Mahal victory. Now that it’s over with, I’m going to make a prediction about his future: this won’t be a short, one-and-done reign. Jinder Mahal will hold that championship into the fall, thanks in large part to assistance from the Bollywood Boys. Crowds already hate the guy, in part because many of them don’t believe he should be in this spot. Give him a run where he keeps that title through nefarious means and you’ve got a nuclear fucking heel on your hands. Assuming he and his disgusting veins don’t get popped for PEDs first, of course.

The power of emergent behavior in video games, courtesy of Persona 5

It’s no secret that I generally prefer video games to television. While you’re binge watching Netflix and getting all worked up about Game of Thrones I’m banging away on a control pad and not giving a shit. Golden age of television? Meh.

Lately, that means a shit ton of Persona 5. The latest entry in my favorite Japanese RPG series stars a ragtag group of high school students who, as Phantom Thieves, enter the cognitive worlds born from the twisted desires of evil adults to steal their hearts and make them confess their crimes to the world. It’s a tangled mess of psychobabble and heavy-handed symbolism, but somehow it really works. The game’s J-pop soundtrack and super hip design ooze style and sometimes make me think I’m not cool enough to even play it. Combat’s a turn-based mixture of physical attacks and magic abilities executed by summoning the titular personas, demons from myths around the world that represent the characters’ rebellion against the status quo. More important than combat, however, is spending time in the real world maximizing your character’s affinity with his various confidants. As your relationships with them improve, these confidants provide in game bonuses and allow you to create even more powerful personas. Hanging out with the other members of the Phantom Thieves gradually gives each of them the ability to randomly heal status effects, tack on extra attacks, or even step in front of a killing blow intended for the main character—important, giving that his death ends the game. Socializing, and raising your social stats via various activities so you can perform certain tasks for your friends—is a huge part of the game. The main character can even end up dating several of the female characters. My character’s dating Makoto, the smart, spunky student council president who serves as one of Phantom Thieves’ front line fighters and their chief strategist, because of course he is.

I’d guess I’m about 80% through the game. Last night, I spent a good half hour on an interesting battle against one of the game’s main antagonists. Throughout, dialog between the two sides framed the conflict as a fight between a selfish individual and a selfless team. My enemy was convinced he could beat my team because he’s naturally just better than them. My crew acknowledged that the only reason they stood a chance against the bastard was because they functioned together as a coherent unit. I wanted to beat the bastard. Teamwork! Let’s go!

I got him down to a sliver of health. The game indicated that he was about to target the main character with something powerful. That’s bad news; again, if the main character goes down, the game’s over. I weighed my options and went on the offensive. Each member of my four person team would get a crack at the guy before his turn came back up. I could’ve pushed the guard button to significantly reduce the incoming damage and ensure my survival, but screw defense. Let’s get this asshole.

He survived my onslaught, but just barely. I cringed and gritted my teeth when I recognized the name of the skill he was about to unleash. I knew I wouldn’t survive. Fuck. There goes half an hour. And it was my own stupid fault.

That’s when I heard it. “No! I won’t let you!” It was Makoto—my character’s main squeeze—randomly triggered to use the life saving protective ability I mentioned above. She stepped in front of the main character, pressed herself to his chest, and took the deadly shot intended for him. She survived with one hit point because that’s how the skill works.

My jaw dropped. I sat and stared at the screen. In a battle pitting the strength of an individual against the power of a team, the strongest relationship I’d forged in the game had just saved me from my own stupid mistake. How about that for storytelling? I could’ve been wiped out. One of my two other party members could’ve saved me instead. Neither of those things happened. The random number generator that first decided my main character would survive and then chose his girlfriend as the mechanism is a better storyteller than I am.

And now I get to the point that finally provides a bit of context for my opening paragraph. I realized as I stared slack-jawed at Makoto’s last remaining hit point that this is why I prefer video games to TV. That combination of interactivity and randomness just can’t be found in scripted entertainment. Anything that happens within the context of gameplay happens at the player’s behest, adding a sense of ownership and agency to the experience. Makoto saved me because I chose to put time into hanging out with her and getting her the necessary skill, and she only had to save my stupid ass in the first place because I fucked up. That’s amazing.

Let’s see Jon Snow do that.

Same old stupid NFL

I’ve got a confession to make: even though I’ve divorced the NFL, I still check up on it from time to time, mostly by reading about it. Yeah, I’m basically Facebook stalking my ex-wife. And appropriately, everything I’m seeing is a total reminder that I made the correct decision when I ditched that loser.

The NFL Draft was Thursday night. For the first time in years I didn’t watch a single pick. I kind of regret missing the annual Booing of the Commissioner. That shit always warms the cockles of my dead heart and it’s the closest real life thing we have to a Vince McMahon entrance, but I think I’ll live.

It’s no secret that I think quarterback is the most overrated position in professional sports and that the obnoxious focus on the QB is one of the main reasons I gave up on the NFL. Teams win championships, not quarterbacks. What’s Andrew Luck done with himself? How’s Drew Brees doing down in New Orleans? Fuck, if you’ve got a good football team a mouth-breathing scrub like Joe Flacco can complete a couple deep balls to a washed up bum like Anquan Boldin and steal a championship. You think Dak Prescott would’ve stolen Tony Romo’s job without a running game, an offensive line, and a defense? No fucking way. Matt Forte, Devin Hester, and a stout D dragged Jay Cutler’s useless ass to the playoffs how many times? Come on. Even the Patriots only win when Tom Brady’s got a defense and an offensive line.

Enter the draft. The Chicago Bears, after paying retread Mike Glennon a bazillion fucking dollars, gave up a first round pick next year plus a pile of lower selections to move up one spot and take a quarterback in a draft that’s been loudly panned as deficient when it comes to passers. Dumb. The Houston Texans also traded up to grab a project QB. Stupid. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns, the only club actively trying to build a team via the draft by stockpiling picks, is getting slammed for not wasting one of their three first rounders on a quarterback. If I still cared, the Browns would’ve become my new second favorite team…for an entire night. They later grabbed DeShone Kizer, who went 12-11 at Notre fucking Dame, in the second round.

Yup. Same old stupid fucking NFL. This is why the Patriots win so often. They’re only the best organization in the league because all the rest are so, so, so stupid.

Shit I loathe more than mouthy self checkouts

A few weeks ago I posted the following status update on Facebook:

There’s nothing I loathe more than a mouthy self-checkout. I will put my onions in the bag when I’m good and fucking ready, asshole.

Subsequent research has proven that’s not true. There are in fact several things I hate more than those infernal machines, including but not limited to…

  • People who are taller than me who walk really slow. Come on, Stretch. Move your ass. You got no excuse.
  • Shitty bar service. There’s an epidemic of this in Davis Square right now. Stop talking to your fucking friends and pay attention to your customers. If I have to flag you down to order food ten minutes after getting a menu, you’re doing it wrong.
  • All the bullshit about how baseball needs more scoring. Remember all those 8-7 Red Sox games from early last season? Those fucking sucked. Meanwhile, the powers-that-be are also rambling on about pace of play. You can have more scoring or you can have a shorter game. These two goals are mutually exclusive. Pick one, ya dinks
  • Old farts in big matches at Wrestlemania. I get that the idea is to use stars from the 90s to help get eyes on the new generation, but I still hate it. Goldberg’s going to need oxygen by the time he reaches the end of the ramp. Roman Reigns is only good against dudes he can run at as hard as he can, so yeah, let’s put him in the ring with the ancient fucking Undertaker. And AJ Styles gets the privilege of trying to carry Shane McMahon to something resembling a wrestling match. And they wonder why none of the current wrestlers are household names.
  • The idea that we need to protect outdated jobs naturally being fazed out by the market. I’m looking at you, manufacturing and coal mining. The former’s dying due to automation, the latter because natural gas is kicking its ass. It’s like trying to stimulate the ice delivery industry after everybody got a refrigerator. It’s a waste of time, and instead we should be spending that effort on training the people losing these jobs so they can find work in different vocations.
  • President Queef Walrus’s stupid face.

Power Rangers is a dud

My inner twelve-year-old and a slew of positive reviews convinced me to spend two hours of my life on the new Power Rangers movie. I didn’t expect much. I got even less.

Spoilers ahead.

Normally with these sorts of movies I expect the main event—the fighting robots, the giant monsters—to make sitting through all the dumb people parts excusable. It’s a trade off. With Power Rangers, however, the payout was so slim as to be basically nonexistent. The Rangers didn’t get into their armor until there was maybe 25 minutes left, and after a dull fight with a bunch of poorly-designed putties they fired up their ugly ass zords for a flat out boring battle with Rita and the giant Goldar. Like Rachel Maddow with supposedly important tax returns, it was a lot of build with no big climax.

And it was ugly. Like, bowling shoe ugly. That sort of organic-ish alien technology hasn’t looked good since Obama’s first term and even then it was pretty hit-or-miss. The Megazord in particular is embarrassingly 2010s.

The movie’s main problem, really, is the number of origin stories it needs to tell. Each of the five Rangers gets a turn, plus Zordon and Rita. These mostly work (especially the Black Ranger’s), except for the one that gets the most screen time. Jason, the Red Ranger, is a successful high school quarterback and a great dude with a bright future who inexplicably decides to pull a prank which gets him booted from the team and strapped with a transponder bracelet. When given the chance to explain, he drops a cliche “YOU’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND ME, DAD!” So yeah. I don’t know. I don’t think the writers did either.

Power Rangers also suffers from that epidemic of uber-seriousness infecting modern Hollywood blockbusters. Like most things I enjoy, the source material is campy, silly, and usually kind of stupid. This iteration is none of those things, and its few attempts to insert levity mostly feel out of place amidst all the emo doom and gloom.

Now, that said, there’s potential here for future episodes in the series to be much better. The origin stories are all told and the world is set. Elizabeth Banks’s turn as Rita Repulsa takes her work as Effie Trinket to a whole new level of insane. And, in spite of the movie’s issues, I did find myself starting to root for the Rangers as people as they slowly gelled into a team. Could be the next few movies invert my usual trade off formula and make the science fiction action the price of keeping up with the story.

So although I can’t recommend Power Rangers, I’m looking forward to the inevitable sequels. I think those will be pretty good.

Fools go Russian in

By now you’ve certainly heard all the salacious details about the phone call with a Russian ambassador that led to the resignation of national security advisor Michael Flynn. If you haven’t…bro, read up, you’re seriously missing out.

You know what really fascinates me about this whole debacle, other than the fact that we’d be so much obviously better off if everyone had just cut the shit and voted for Harambe? In 2017, given everything we know about the interception of telecommunications, a member of the President’s staff thought it was alright to conduct shady business over the god damn phone. Think about that for a second. Let it sink it. Let it swirl around in your brain like an extra test tube of tequila in a steakhouse chain’s tackiest frozen margarita. Unbelievable, right? How in the fuck does that happen?

Maybe Flynn and anyone else involved are just stupid. But they’d have to be amazingly stupid. How many “the government’s listening to this call!” jokes have you heard in the last month? Probably a few dozen. Those jokes are so prevalent because everybody knows telecommunications are no longer secure. Hell, I bet your grandmother’s joked about it at fucking bingo. Which, given that the supposed goal of Russia’s recent activity is to destabilize the west, makes me wonder if the ambassador on the other end of the line was setting a trap.

Or maybe the people involved are just arrogant. The administration seems to think itself above the law. Someone intercepts this call? Who cares! Nobody’s going to do jack shit because we’re the best and there aren’t enough Democrats in DC to do anything about it!

Or—and this seems very likely—Flynn and his pals are just a bunch of luddites and this is only the first such breach we’re going to see. Reports indicate President Shitgibbon tweets from an older Android phone that’s inherently insecure and that White House staff members are using private email addresses. That’s not just hypocritical; it’s inherently dangerous, and it’s likely they’ve already been compromised.

And this is why it’s important not just to follow the news, but to think about it and discuss it. The actions of the administration say a lot about the strengths, weaknesses, priorities, and mindsets of those serving the executive branch. Sure, what they’re saying is basically “Jesus tap dancing Christ on a god damn jet ski we are a yuuuuuuuge gaggle of shitgeese,” but like everything else in life there’s a lot more to it than that.

On Boston’s dating scene

It’s rare that an esteemed blogger like yours truly deigns it necessary to lower himself to the level of the Boston Herald, but in this case I couldn’t resist. This article about dating in Boston and why it kind of sucks caught my attention. If you’re too good for that rag, I’ll give you the tl;dr: the local dating scene is a source of much frustration due to unfriendly people, insular locals, the cold, high living expenses, and—of course—those gosh darn social media sites and dating apps.

As an active participant and self-proclaimed expert on Boston dating, I’m calling bullshit on pretty much all of that.

If you aren’t going out to meet people because it’s too chilly for your delicate widdle piggy toes, well—obviously you don’t want to meet people that badly, now do ya? The people around here are plenty friendly as long as you’ve actually got something to say. And blaming technology is just flat fucking lazy.

The living expense thing, however, is definitely a big part of the problem. Pretty much every Boston resident of dating age is paying off a buttload of student loans. Dinner anywhere even remotely hip ain’t cheap. And I think it’s a lot worse for older singles—for whom the dating pool is already more limited—because so many of them have chosen to pay the exorbitant rents that come with living alone. Many of them can only do so because they’re getting assistance from relatives or working multiple jobs, and I often hear them say things like “I had cereal for dinner three nights this week.” That particular demographic, I think, is about to be the subject of a lot of supposedly intelligent reporting about health, finance, and social standing that’s going to make me shrug and say “yeah, no shit.”

While the article cites Boston’s wide variety of nightlife options as one of the scene’s strengths, anyone who’s been out and about lately knows that’s total horseshit. It’s something I’ve been harping on for years. Yeah, there’s a lot of restaurants and bars in the area, but for the most part you’ve really only got two options: shithole or boring overpriced garbage. Having a large number of something absolutely does not mean you have variety. I can count maybe half a dozen legitimately fun places with actual things to do that also happen to be within walking distance of the subway. Your bars and restaurants are boring as fuck, Boston, and it’s keeping us all from getting smooches.

Which brings me to the people. Bostonians themselves are a problem here, but not in the way the Herald suggests. You know who’s typically kind of dry? College-educated liberal Millennials. Seriously. When all you’ve got to talk about on a first date is that last thing you marathoned on Netflix, I mean…why wouldn’t your prospective paramour move on to the next option? And I’m not just ragging on the ladies here; I love snooping on obvious first dates, and holy shit dudes, you’re frickin’ dull. My god. The goal is to interest the other party, not put them to sleep. Sometimes when I’m out and about in Cambridge or Somerville on a weekend night, and I look around at the room, and I find myself surrounded by people who dress the same, talk the same, try to intelligently expound on simple concepts they obviously don’t understand the same, constantly screw up irony even though they rely on it so heavily for their humor the same…I can kind of understand why certain parts of the country shit on the coasts, and I can totally see why it’s so hard to find someone to date. Very few local Millennials immediately stand out, which is a huge detriment in an activity where a first impression is likely your only impression. There’s a reason I generally prefer to hide among the “insular” townies. They’re fun from the get go.

“But Scott Colby!” you shriek. “Now that you’ve crapped on most of your neighbors, what, exactly, do you suggest we do about this?” If I knew, I’d already have turned the answer into a dating app, made a bazillion dollars, and moved somewhere warmer with better nightlife. I think it comes down to time. Checking boxes next to mutual interests does not build a rapport. Going out on a zillion first dates eats up hours we don’t have and leads to frustration. There’s a balancing act here somewhere, and when it comes to dating apps and websites I think it’s more an issue of how we use them than of the construction of the sites themselves. Use your head? Show some restraint? Be picky about where and when you meet people? Give the people you choose to meet more time to become interesting?

I don’t know. But I do know it’s the day after Valentine’s Day and CVS might have a shit ton of cheap candy unless it’s already been picked through. Get your Extra Care Cards out and get to it, losers.

Ugh, don’t fucking riot

I absolutely understand the desire to break shit at the mere sight of Milo. Just typing his name kind of made me want to throw my bowl of oatmeal through a nearby window. But he’s just a shock jock attention whore, a Kardashian with worse fashion sense and a bigger mouth, and the proper response to that sort of troll is to shrug your shoulders and go on with your day. Leaving him to be a precious snowflake in his disgusting safe space is much more effective than running up the street to hurl bricks at a bank. Don’t feed the trolls.

You know how the wall’s a stupid, short-sighted waste that doesn’t accomplish anything? Like the immigration ban? Or the reverse buy-one-get-one-free sale on regulation? Same logic here. Fuck with people’s shit and you turn them against you and you will never, ever get what you want.

Democratic leaders at all levels need to come out and condemn this behavior and promise to prosecute the perpetrators. Grab control of the messaging for once.

And the rest of us need to keep the “see, all protests are bullshit!” and “I knew those academic wussies couldn’t be trusted!” narratives from taking hold. Protesting peacefully is a very powerful, positive thing. Reports suggest that the Berkeley protest, about 1500 strong, was peaceful until a few dozen black bloc rioters (similar to those that attacked DC after the inauguration) showed up. That’s right, kids: all it takes to make a thousand people look bad is a couple of assholes. Think of any party you’ve been to, or of your local gym in January. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been reminding people to look out for paid agitators (although I’m not claiming that’s what happened here).

Remember: government is a social contract. It’s an exchange of freedom for rights and protection. When that contract erodes, people get pissed—and rightfully so. Expecting them not to stand up for themselves would be silly, but I think we can absolutely expect them to behave better than this.