Tuesday, December 21
1. There are a lot of things Jose is excited about with the arrival of Carl Crawford: his speed, his defense, and his emerging power. But Jose is even more excited that this harkens back to a glorious age in Red Sox history. Did you know that Carl Crawford is the first Carl on the Red Sox since Carl Yasztremski?
Okay, technically that’s not true, but he is the first Carl who believes in dinosaurs and isn’t universally referred to as Tuffy since Yaz.
This leads one to ask a rather obvious question: How does a belief in the past existence of dinosaurs impact Not Crazy Carl’s game? (Note: Jose is seriously considering “Not Crazy Carl” for the official KEYS nickname for the left fielder.)
Jose has identified two obvious effects. First, it implies that Crawford believes in evolution. This is good. Evolution means that Crawford does not imagine that he was just created 6,000 years ago as the player he is and that nothing can ever change. He can become a better player and gain critical advantages, such as the ability to breath air or the growth of a prehensile tail, that will make him a more effective player.
Second, a belief in dinosaurs suggests an understanding of the concept of extinction, a knowledge of the fact that nothing—least of all baseball prowess—is forever. Ergo, win now.
2. Still Crawford’s game doesn’t remind Jose much of Captain Carl, based on the one time Jose saw number 8 play in the second to last game of 1983. In fact, Crawford’s game, particularly his defense in left, doesn’t remind Jose of damn near anyone in Red Sox history. For generations now, left has been a place to hide defensive liabilities rather than showcase defensive strengths. So Jose had to look outside of the Red Sox organization for comparisons. But Jose isn’t sure there’s a major league baseball player who has a game quite like Crawford’s.
Rather, the best comparison Jose could come up with is to a super hero. You know the one. The really fast guy. He’s so fast he can run on water. It’s like… Ummm.. Something with an F? Fuh… Fluh… Fla….
Yeah, that’s the guy. Crawford is so fast that he can probably walk on water just like Jesus Christ.
Of course, there are a lot of other similarities. Both are regarded as saviors, both are black, and the only way opponents of either man could hope to stop him from doing what he was born to do is by nailing his feet down. (Note: Yes, in the spirit of the season, Jose went there, but before you get all offended, watch, he’s going to redeem himself, which, from what he has heard, is what Jesus is all about.) Of course, nails didn’t really stop Jesus from doing his job—the whole salvation thing. We can only hope Crawford is as resilient.
Yes, the two men are similar in an awful lot of ways. And that’s how Jose likes it. If Crawford continues to follow Christ’s career projections, he should peek in just about five years—when he turns 33. Of course, given that Crawford is signed through 2017, Jose hopes we get more production from him at age 34 and 35 than we got out of Jesus.
3. Since Jose has analyzed Crawford’s first name and comparables to death (note: wow, is that another Jesus joke?) it seems only appropriate that Jose take a look at his last name too. There have only been two other Crawfords in Red Sox history, reliever Steve Crawford, who served competently, if blandly, in the 80s, and Tampaxton Crawford the pitcher in the early 2000s who has, perhaps, Jose’s favorite KEYS nickname of all time. Of course, Jose expects much more from Carl than from Tampaxton. Tampaxton, as you may recall, was a roider, had a bizarre injury from a glass and flamed out quickly. In other words, as his nickname suggests, he was a bloody mess.
Carl, one would hope, will be more together. Certainly the fact that the most disgusting consumer product one can link to his first name is Carl’s Jr. hamburgers is a positive sign. It would suggest that, at absolute worst, his play will be unappetizing and cause severe intestinal distress.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.
Tuesday, December 14
1. It is almost universally regarded as humiliating when a man in pursuit of a woman is defeated in his quest for her favor, and perhaps her bed, by a richer man who swoops in at the last moment in his fancy, jewel-encrusted car. The reason this is seen as a humiliation is obvious; the woman’s choice has revealed that the rich man is, at least in her eyes, superior to the poor man. This is not a surprise. It reaffirms what we all already know, what the poor man himself knows, that everything being equal a rich man is more desirable than a poor man.
Of course, all things are rarely equal. The rich man may be nicer, smarter, funnier or more charming than the poor man, but as casual observers, we can’t tell, so we make the most obvious assumption—she likes the rich man more because he is rich. In other words, the interaction tells us nothing that we didn’t already know. We jump to our conclusions and we are on our merry way.
What raises far more questions, however, is when the woman in the story is being courted by a rich man and yet leaves him when the poor man rolls up in his AMC Gremlin. An observer watching this transpire still knows that the rich man is wealthier than the poor man, however in this case, he also knows something else, that in some critical characteristic the poor man is the rich man’s superior. Either there is something very good about the poor man, very bad about the rich man, or both.
So what then, is the massive deficiency of baseball’s richest man, the New York Yankees? Why did Cliff Lee choose the certainly not poor, but far less wealthy Philadelphia Phillies over them? Sure, we could imagine that the Phillies have some tremendous advantage, but let’s be serious; we’re talking about Philadelphia. Unless Cliff Lee is a fan of cheesesteak, revolutionary history or being a dick, it’s hard to figure out what the draw would be.
So again, what is the massive deficiency of the Yankees?
If we were to go back to the example of the woman and the man, we might assume that the rich man is cruel, stupid, obnoxious, foul-smelling or sexually inadequate, and while we can safely assume all of these about the New York Yankees, it still fails to explain Lee’s choice because, let’s be honest, the Phillies aren’t great shakes in any of these categories either (note: except for Chase Utley, who, as any fan of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” knows, is dreamy). Thus, the only thing Jose can come up with is that the Yankees have some deficiency so vile, so perverse that it makes even the Phillies seem like a preferable partner for Lee.
Here’s what Jose’s come up with—the Yankees are in the mafia. Think about it. It makes so much sense. They act with impunity, they reside in the Bronx, they wear athletic garb to work, they cheat on their wives, they associate with a “Boss” who while clearly evil is treated as though he were a good man after his death, it all adds up.
Of course, the sexual inadequacy thing seems pretty plausible too.
2. When the Clifford Lee signing was announced yesterday and they started showing highlights on TV, was Jose the only one who as surprised to learn that he was neither a big red dog nor a Chinese man?
3. Now that the Yankees have failed horrifically in the marketplace, Jose keeps wondering if they will get a government bailout. Oh, that’s right they already got one, its called Yankee Stadium.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE HOT STOVE.
Saturday, November 20
As fall begins to easy into frigid winter, Jose ought to take a break from his busy schedule of sitting on the stoop and watching the world go buy to give thanks to the San Francisco Giants.
“But why, thank the Giants?” you may be asking. “You’re not a fan, supporter or even a well-wisher Jose.”
True enough. Nevertheless, Jose owes the Giants a heartfelt thanks, a big hug that includes backrubbing that goes on long enough that it gets a bit awkward. For you see, the Giants have reminded Jose of the greatest lesson of all—that God loves us.
Wait, that doesn’t sound like Jose.
Ah, here it is, the Giants have reminded Jose of the greatest lesson of all—the lesson of 2004.
Yeah, that’s the ticket.
You’d think the lesson of 2004 would have stuck with Jose this long, that such a profound and valuable educational experience would have lasted far more than the six years it took to escape from Jose’s mind like so many facts about the periodic table of elements. And yet there, it went. All off to naught.
Some of you may be in the same predicament as Jose, struggling to remember exactly what was the lesson of that magical October. There are so many profound insights, that it is hard to remember what was the overriding lesson. Was it not to let us win tonight? Was it not to slap the ball out of a first baseman’s mitt? Or was it to never use Javier Vasquez in a seventh game? These are all good lessons, but none of them is THE lesson.
The lesson of 2004 is that the only way to break the cold chains of history is with focused will and brutal force. The Red Sox did it in 2004, and the Giants did it again in 2010. History repeats itself the first time as comedy, the second time also as comedy.
When the Red Sox won in 2004, Dan Shaughnessy, among others, suggested that at long last Lucy had let Charlie Brown kick the football, that finally, instead of yanking the football away and leaving old Chuck angry, distrustful and flat on his back, the bitch in the blue dress had left her finger on the ball, and let Charlie kick it swift and strong.
It’s a nice metaphor is some ways. The idea of the cycle being broken is appealing. Bruce Banner has stopped becoming the Hulk forever. Gilligan gets off the island. The sins of the father are not visited upon the son. But that’s not what happened.
Lucy did not let Charlie Brown kick the football. She wouldn’t. She can’t. Such an act of kindness would render her utterly un-Lucy. History is not made when the villains suddenly discover their kinder side.
No, what the Red Sox did it 2004 was seize their destiny by force. Charlie Brown ran to kick the football, and when Lucy yanked it back, instead of following through to the predictable, tragic confusion, Charlie floored her with a roundhouse kick. Then Charlie picked up the ball, as Lucy lay stunned, and drop kicked it through the uprights straight and true. 2004 was an act of defiance, not a concession.
The Giants in 2010 were a bit different. There was no clear Lucy, no Yankees to knock to the turf. But there is always a nemesis, whether tangible or implicit, and the Giants conquered theirs.
The lesson, to Jose, to all of us, is not to be a passive player in history, to allow one’s fate to be written by the Lucys of this world. Rather, we must realize that we have agency. The future is not written. The die is not cast.
Like the Red Sox, like the Giants, we can break the cycle if only we have the will, the strength and the flexibility to deliver that roundhouse kick.
I’m Jose Melendez, and that is my KEY TO THE GAME.
Saturday, November 13
Some months ago Jose started a new job, a job he shall henceforth refer to as…
He’s never going to refer to it.
Anyway, Jose was at an event in his new home city of Washington, DC where there was an icebreaker. You know, it was one of those events where either a) boring people offer the one interesting detail in their pathetic little lives or b) interesting people try to one up each other. In this case the instruction was “Tell us something interesting about yourself that we don’t already know.”
Jose had precious few options, either he could reveal he was a Red Sox blogger, declare that he once did pushups and sit ups every day for four years without a single missed day, or he could talk about that time with the Olympic swimmer on top of Mt. Washington, and that’s neither appropriate nor true. So, Jose being Jose, he went with the blogging.
“Jose is a Red Sox blogger,” Jose pointed out. “His blog was named Boston’s best by the Boston Phoenix in 2005.”
And then the baton passed to the guy who went to Space Camp, to the woman who wrote the score to The King and I, and so on. But Jose felt no relief. Taking his turn had not proven to be the Alka Seltzer of self-revelation to the burning indigestion of his anxiety at revealing something interesting. No the anxiety had only increased as acid and base combined to a bubbling froth. But Jose had revealed something about himself, hadn’t he?
He had revealed that he is a liar.
Where does Jose get off saying that he is a Red Sox blogger?
Jose could say he WAS a Red Sox blogger. That would be true. But IS? Jose hasn’t blogged seriously about the Red Sox since 2007. Sure he’s written the occasional piece, but he’s written far more about Africa in the last three years than he has about baseball, and he doesn’t even do that much anymore.
Jose doesn’t want to think of himself as a liar. It’s not a nice thing to be. A liar is someone like Rick Pitino, which would implies that lying is only a step or two away from having 35 seconds of sex with a woman at a seedy Louisville restaurant after closing time, and while calling Pitino “Quick Rick” is hysterical, Jose has no interest in being called “No Foreplay Jose.” Thus, Jose got quickly down to the business of self-delusion and rationalization, which, as Jose has pointed out before, are the Shinotism and Buddhism to his Japan. He would also point out that they are Objectivism and Aqua Buddhism to Jose’s Rand Paul.
So let’s wade into Jose’s case that he is a Red Sox blogger. First, Red Sox blogging is not something one does, it’s something one is. For example, if someone asked Jason Varitek if he is a major league catcher, he would answer yes, even though he clearly hasn’t done the work of a major league catcher for years. It doesn’t matter—it’s just part of his being. By contrast, if you asked Alex Rodriguez if he is a Yankee, if he were being honest, he’d have to answer no, because, as we all know, Yankees are not centaurs—they are more like pigdogs.
Second… Actually, that’s all Jose’s got.
But it’s something he can work with. For four years Jose wrote on damn near every game occurring on a weekday and not when he was tired, bored, antsy or otherwise uninterested in writing. That makes him something—a basement dwelling dork with way too much time on his hands. But it also makes him a Red Sox blogger, and nothing can take that away, not even never writing about the Red Sox, living far away from Boston, and having no idea prior to their Red Sox debut who Daniel Nava or Darnell McDonald were prior to their Red Sox debuts.
Now Jose is not going to make some Bill Simmons style declaration that he is back. Jose is categorically not back. 2004 is not walking through that door; 2005 is not walking through that door 2007 is not walking through that door. (Note: Jose is not even going to talk about 2006. Never.) And if they do… well, it would be awesome. But it’s not going to happen so who cares?
All Jose is going to say is that he needs this and he will try to do this from time to time. It’s who he is and he refuses to change. Jose needs a place where he can write flabby prose, where he can occasionally use the passive voice, and yes, where he can make completely unsupported statements without fear of consequence, and Jose thinks that maybe, just a little bit, you need it too.
I’m Jose Melendez, and that is my KEY TO THE GAME.
Thursday, July 15
My friend and fellow BU alumnus Jina Moore, who unlike me, is an actual Africa reporter rather than a dilettante who writes on Africa with an almost excruciating self awareness wrote a thoughtful piece in response to the recent exchange between the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and Africa blogger texasinafrica.
For those of you who come to this space for my infrequent baseball posts rather than commentary on Africa, here’s the background.
Texasinafrica submitted the following question to Kristof “Your columns about Africa almost always feature black Africans as victims, and white foreigners as their saviors.” Yes, that is a statement and not a question, but forgive me, it’s a paraphrase of Texasinafrica’s paraphrase of the original question.
Kristof, to his credit, took the questions and the nut of his answer, as transcribed by NYTpick was
The problem that I face -- my challenge as a writer -- in trying to get readers to care about something like Eastern Congo, is that frankly, the moment a reader sees that I'm writing about Central Africa, for an awful lot of them, that's the moment to turn the page. It's very hard to get people to care about distant crises like that.
One way of getting people to read at least a few grafs in is to have some kind of a foreign protagonist, some American who they can identify with as a bridge character.
And so if this is a way I can get people to care about foreign countries, to read about them, ideally, to get a little bit more involved, then I plead guilty.
It’s also clear to any journalist that it’s very difficult to engage readers and viewers in distant crises. That’s why television has pretty much stopped covering public health and global poverty. Some years ago, Anderson Cooper went out to eastern Congo to report on the crisis there. It was expensive and risky for CNN — and his ratings for those shows fell. The lesson for any television executive producer is not to cover such crises, but to throw a Democrat and a Republican in a room together and have them yell at each other. It will be less expensive, more entertaining and will get ratings up.
Caught up? Good.
It’s at this point in our story that Moore comes in with a 2X4, albeit a thoughtful 2X4, and proceeds to beat Kristof about the head with it. That 2X4 is the implication that Kristof’s primary interest is either getting Americans to read his columns or, more generously, getting Americans to act in support of poverty alleviation and conflict reduction rather than reporting “The Truth” about various places and people in Africa.
Moore articulates three specific criticisms of Kristof’s response. First, she attacks his focus on eyeballs arguing that doing solid reporting on a place like DRC, even if few people read, watch or hear it is “a kind of journalistic corporate social responsibility.” In other words, she argues that good Africa reporting is the moral price a media outlet must pay for throwing talking heads into a room to scream talking points at each other the rest of the time.
While Moore does add that “we used to just call it journalism, but times have changed,” this old PR flack couldn’t help but be horrified at the invocation of corporate social responsibility. Corporate social responsibility is slight of hand. It is the conjurer drawing your eye to his waving left hand while palming a coin with his right. In the context of journalism, it evokes newspapers that run “serious” stories about Africa so they don’t have to write valuable stories about Africa. History does not require American reporters to scribble the first draft of African history. African journalists can and do perform that function far better than any American. What the American journalist can do that his African partners often cannot is get some elements of this newly minted history into the homes of other Americans. Kristof does this with a success that is unequaled among American journalists.
Moore’s second critique is to challenge Kristof’s assertion that he engages more Americans in African issues by focusing on white interlopers. He has no idea how engaged his readers are, Moore points out, a truism if ever there was one. Measuring eyeballs, clicks or impressions is easy, measuring psychological impact is hard and measuring how an impact translates into action is harder still. But the fact that her statement about engagement is true does not mean that it is useful.
I like action. I think driving action is the point of reporting on ignored tragedies. Expanding the universe of knowledge is the realm of academics. The role of reporters is to diffuse knowledge, to give people the accurate information required to undertake (or decline to undertake) action in the world. For those who want facts analyzed with academic rigor there are the journals. For those who want constant updates or detailed narrative there are books and blogs. For people who are prepared to take action, there are endless resources to enable them. They will not be relying on Nicholas Kristof to tell them what Africa is “really like.” The Americans who care a lot about Africa have arrived there through different paths based on personal experience, academic interest or perhaps even plain circumstance. Surely none of them came to their deep commitment through reading Kristof columns. Rather, Kristof’s power is to get good people who don’t care at all about Africa to care a little, and in a nation of 300 million, that is a valuable service. (Though perhaps this is self-defeating. If Kristof got more Americans highly interested in Africa, wouldn’t it give him more American saviors to write about?)
Finally, Moore argues that the measure of a journalist should not be the number of eyeballs he draws to the word, but the “kinds of stories we see and whether they reflect the place that some of us have dedicated not only our professional but our personal lives to getting to know.” Her subtext appears to be that Kristof is a bit of a dilettante, that he has not spent both his professional and personal life getting to know Africa and that this constraint is reflected in his work. But it is far from certain that experience leads to accuracy. After all, Henry Morton Stanley was more deeply immersed in Africa than perhaps any white man of his generation (and most since), and yet he consistently produced fabulism. Of course, it does not necessarily follow from the fact that lifers can write schlock that short timers can write Truth. But the logic does not exclude the possibility either. For example, Tocquville spent less than two years in the U.S. before writing Democracy in America, which makes less of a dilettante than I, but more than the average Peace Corps volunteer
This rebuttal is not intended as a defense of Kristof’s reporting. Its value and its flaws are evident and widely discussed. Rather it is intended as a defense of his intentions. While it is reasonable to question whether Kristof’s writing overemphasizes the importance of foreigners in fighting Africa’s problems, it is unreasonable to condemn him for attempting to make his stories more accessible to the average American. The record of American media on Africa is poor. They bought into a false narrative that the Rwandan Genocide was caused by state failure. They perpetuated the myth that drought, rather than war/politics was the cause of the Ethiopian famine. They told us next to nothing, right or wrong, about the Congo War. Against this track record, I will gladly settle for accurately reported, widely read columns about Africa in a major newspaper regardless of whether they too often regard the white man as the white knight.
Tuesday, July 13
It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE ALL-STAR GAME.
1. Jose is not sorry that George Steinbrenner is dead.
Of course, he’s not happy either.
For the most part, Jose feels what he does whenever any moderately below average human being whom he does not know personally dies—not much.
Sure it would be fun to rant and rave about how loathsome Jose finds the departed, how he was bad for baseball, a convicted felon and even, Jose has heard, a lousy shipbuilder. But that would give the man too much credit.
Instead, Jose prefers to reflect on the comments of an African man in a class for which Jose is a teaching assistant. As Jose mentioned to a friend that George Steinbrenner had died, the African interjected “He was a real guy? I only knew him from Seinfeld.”
To Jose that captures Steinbrenner perfectly. When one takes the measure of the man, sums up a lifetime of debits and credits, the sum, in this case doesn’t matter. The essence of Steinbrenner was neither philanthropist nor felon, industrialist nor instigator. He was a joke. He was a punch line ranting about eating a soup in a bread bowl for lunch every day on Seinfeld. He was the word David Letterman put before “sucks” to get a cheap laugh in the days before Joey Buttafuoco. He was someone who could be played by the tremendously unserious Oliver Platt.
Yes, Steinbrenner was bad for baseball. Yes, he did give a lot of money to the Jimmy Fund. But no, he is not deserving of much celebration or scorn as he returns to the dust. He was just a man, and today he is just a man who died. But the joke, the joke lives on.
I’m Jose Melendez, and that is my KEY TO THE ALL-STAR GAME.
Wednesday, June 30
For the next month, Jose is working as a teaching assistant in a class designed to teach international development officials how to do cost-benefit analysis (CBA). The idea behind CBA is that in analyzing a project, one should calculate the total benefit and costs derived from the project over time, and then use a discount rate to account for the time value of money, how one values 10 dollars in a year versus 10 dollars today.
At first it seems quite simple, like all one has to do is project the revenues and expenditures calculate the net present value and rejoice.
But it’s not that easy. In order to do an economic analysis, not just a financial analysis, one must calculate all of the costs and benefits, not just those that are obvious. For example, in the case of a project that causes some pollution, one has to include the cost of pollution in the equation. One must also include the opportunity cost of the project. What is not getting done because this project is going forward? As Professor Robert Conrad put it, “Never let anyone tell you that sitting on a milk crate on your front porch drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, is not a socially productive activity.”
This endeavor has made Jose wonder if we are really valuing our baseball players correctly. Sure, the Sabermetrics crowd has developed lots of new statistics that measure what players are doing, but is that enough? What about what players aren’t doing? There are some statistics that have captured assess some of the things players don’t do, such as making outs, but Jose knows that isn’t enough.
For example, with Jacoby Ellsbury replaced by Daniel Nava, we know what we’re missing in terms of actions—we’re losing so many hits, so many stolen bases and so on, but what are the inactions we’re missing? What is the added value of the time in front of the mirror that is opened up because Ellsbury isn’t standing in front of it working on his puppy dog eyes?
We know that with Josh Beckett’s injury we have lost so many strikeouts, innings pitched and so on, but we have also gained valuable hours of our lives that are no longer being squandered watching Beckett wait 20 seconds between each pitch. From the perspective of the total economy, it is possible that Josh Beckett’s injury is a net positive.
CBA can be at its most useful in measuring projects where benefits are relatively clear, such as the construction of a bridge. Thus, Jose hopes that it might be useful in assessing what Jose regards as the Red Sox’s most urgent project need, constructing a bridge to the closer.
Given that Jonathan Papelbon is under contract for two years, Jose regards this as a two-year project. That is not enough. If we have to expend $X in talent and salaries this year and next to build and sustain the bridge, then we must derive enough benefit from that bridge this year and next year (note: at a discount rate of let’s say. 03 because that is the standard in health projects, and health is clearly the biggest issue here) if the project is worth doing. Jose doesn’t see this having a positive net present value. We’re going to have to invest a lot up front to get a benefit that will last a maximum of two years, and even that is speculative. Since the bridge is built to a shaky terminus (note: Papelbon) it seems completely possible that we may not even be able to enjoy the full life of the project. Therefore, if the Red Sox are to invest in a project, investing in the terminus, a closer, seems to be a wiser choice than investing in a bridge to the closer. And that’s if one doesn’t calculate a shadow price that accounts for externalities like pollution. If one includes the noise pollution from the nonsense coming out of Papelbon’s mouth, there’s absolutely no doubt that this bridge project is a dog.
I’m Jose Melendez, and that is my KEY TO THE GAME.
Tuesday, June 29
1. With Victor Martinez joining Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, St. Josh Beckett, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Cameron, DJ Dru, Daisuke Matsuzaka and others among the sick and wounded, more and more people are suggesting that an epidemic comparable to the Black Plague has broken out in the Red Sox clubhouse. Jose thinks that this analogy is false, or worse, inapt. The Black Death wiped out about a third of the population of Europe and Jose is fairly confident that this particular epidemic will ultimately strike well over a third of the Red Sox clubhouse.
Jose suspects that the better analogy is the Spanish flu of 1918. There are three reasons that Jose draws this analogy. First, since a significant chunk of the injuries are caused by Hispanophone third baseman Adrian Beltre, comparing it to a Spanish germ seems appropriate. Second, in 1918, the Red Sox won the World Series, as they will this year. Finally, as Jose has sadly learned from associating with women in their 30s who are a little too in to abstinent vampires, the Spanish Flu marks the origin of America’s sexiest vampire. This current Red Sox epidemic has given us Daniel Nava who is definitely sexy and, thanks to his fixation on the unattainable Erin Andrews, possibly abstinent. Moreover, while Nava is not over 100 years old, he is, like the high school vampire, far too old to be doing what he’s doing. On the other hand, it is not at all clear that he is a vampire, as thus far he has shown no evidence of sucking.
2. Jose is really tired of economics, of the dismal science of dollars and cents, ruining sports. Jose tried to forgive Manny Ramirez. He really did. Actually, he succeeded. Jose wasn’t there for Manny’s return, but had he been, he would have stood and cheered until a mild fatigue set in and he decided to sit down and/or get another beer.
But no more.
Jose learned last night while watching ESPN News that Takeru Kobayashi has opted out of this year’s Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest due to a stall in contract negotiations. Do you remember where you were when you lost your innocence? Jose does. The Federal on Main Street in Durham, NC sucking down an Iron City Beer. It was one thing when money ruined baseball, basketball, football, hockey, billiards, bowling and scrabble. But competitive eating? It’s supposed to be about the love, man.
Kobayashi being Manny?
3. Whenever Jose’s brother Sam sees Darnell McDonald, he thinks about Darnell from My Name is Earl, aka the Crab Man. Ergo, Jose wants to call McDonald “the Crab Man.” This is not to be confused with the promiscuous Wade Boggs who was, of course, known as “The Crabs Man.”
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.
Thursday, June 17
1. It is typically the purview of prophets and sages to unwind the tangled skein of destiny (note: for metaphor see Piers Anthony) and see where each thread leads. But there are times, there are moments in the endless chain of history, where mere mortals can find an unknotted thread, where mere men can rise in the morning and perceive their thread extending into the distance. Today is one of those days.
Today, men clad in green and white have risen from their beds with the knowledge, with the certainty, that the events that transpire today will be a turning point in their lives. When next close their eyes, they will be Perseus, forever immortalized in the stars themselves, or they will be Sisyphus, endlessly reaching for a glory just out of reach. Those are the only options: death or glory, mice or men, pride or prejudice, sense or sensibility, paper or plastic, T or A, rock or roll, strut or stroll, Hall or Oates, Sanford or Son. This is not a dialectic. There is a thesis and an antithesis, but there ain’t gonna be no synthesis.
Let’s put it this way. When an irresistible force meets and immovable object, F- the Lakers.
2. It should come as no surprise that the key to Game 7 is going to be rebounding. The team that has won the battle on the boards has claimed each of the first six games in the series and tonight should be no different. However, with Red Sox draftee/Celtics center Kendrick Perkins out and Lakers center Andrew Bynum hobbled, it is increasingly difficult to project which team will collect the most rebounds.
Jose’s analysis suggests that the edge lies with the Celtics. Paul Pierce rebounded from 11 stab wounds to return to NBA dominance. Kevin Garnett rebounded from a career trapped in the basketball purgatory of the twin cities to win an NBA championship. Tony Allen rebounded from near terminal stupidity to become a defensive force. Rajon Rondo rebounded from not being 100% sure how his own name is pronounced. Ray Allen, played a character named Jesus, which Jose is pretty sure means he can rebound from his own death. Big Baby Davis rebounded from a brutal time growing up and, if the latest Shrek movie can be believed, a reality in which he was never even born. Nate Robinson rebounded from playing with the New York Knicks. And last but not least, Rasheed Wallace, based on his personal grooming, rebounded from a period of homelessness.
The Lakers by contrast have Kobe Bryant, who rebounded from being accused of a horrible crime. Ron Artest, who rebounded… kind of… from one of the NBA’s most celebrated psychotic breaks, and Pau Gasol, who even now must rebound from watching his beloved Spanish floppers fall 1-0 in World Cup competition to the Swiss, a country that is literally based on the idea of having no offense.
3. Jose does not like sports the way he used to. Sure he still enjoys going to the games, he gets a kick out of watching his teams on television, and sports continues to play a major role in his life. Still, it’s not the same as it used to be. Jose has seen damn near everything he wanted to see in sports at a time in his life when he could a) experience it while drinking beer and b) could go out on the town to celebrate without asking for permission, and that takes the edge off of being a sports fan.
The existential angst is gone too. Without the fear of “never seeing them win it all,” the terror is gone. But when the terror departs, so does the joy at having overcome terror. In 2002, Jose would have spent all winter ruminating about Paplebon’s Game 3 collapse. This year he spent a day, maybe two. The games, all games, simply don’t mean as much as they used to.
But that changes tonight. Tonight, for the first time since at least the Patriots’ last Super Bowl, Jose feels the terror. Tonight, the game means every bit as much as it used to. If the Celtics lose, Jose fully expects to wake up tomorrow with that old familiar pain, as if someone had died and the world is now a darker, more sinister place. If the Celtics win, Jose expects to rise in the morning committed to the absurd proposition that the world is a better place thanks to a basketball game.
Jose knows why too. This is not only about the Celtics winning; it is about the Lakers losing. Jose hates the Lakers. They, like the Yankees, fill the yearning for nationalist hatred that Jose’s liberalism and compassion prevent him from expressing in his politics. They are the other, the barbarians. If one follows Clausewitz’s famous axiom and “War is politics by other means” then surely basketball is war by other means, in the sense that it is an effort to impose one’s will on the other through sheer physical and psychological domination.
Jose is not so trite as to suggest that, in this time of real war, that basketball is anything more than metaphor for war. All he is saying is that he wants to burn Los Angeles to the ground, and sow their fields with salt.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO GAME 7.
Monday, May 3
Jose is a little bored.
He’s done with school, hasn’t started with work and his car has a problem stopping which makes going on a long pointless drive to some place like Metropolis, Kentucky a less than great idea. He raised the issue of his ennui with Granny Melendez the other day, and she suggested that he take up a hobby. Jose wanted to respond that baseball is his hobby, but a hobby is supposed to bring some level of enjoyment and make the time pass more quickly, so baseball isn’t much of a hobby these days—it’s more of a burden really. So she suggested, that Jose go to Michael’s and take up some sort of crafts hobby.
This doesn’t seem terribly likely. First, Jose is not that crafty. He’s not Jamie Moyer. Second what exactly would Jose do? Could he make images of DJ Dru out of macaroni? Perhaps he could needlepoint inspirational messages like “Catch the bleeping ball.” Maybe he could make a scrapbook commemorating Adrian Beltre’s walks? Of course, that one isn’t going to kill much time.
Ultimately, it just doesn’t feel like the right kind of hobby for Jose. Still, Jose needed some kind of distraction, so he thought he’d return to the sort of thing he enjoyed back before his days as a scholar. Jose picked up some history books and began scanning them for historical events that he could compare inappropriately to the Red Sox. Given the current state of the club, he went directly to the tragic, and lo and behold, he found it, and fast.
Trust Jose, there is no better place to find analogies to the current state of the Red Sox than in the colonial history of Tanganyika. Immediately, the similarities were clear. Pre-colonial Tanganyika lacked broad central organization, so do the Red Sox. Colonial Tanganyikans had no idea how to play baseball, neither do the Red Sox. But the specific analogy Jose would like to draw is between the Maji Maji Rebellion and the 2010 Red Sox.
For those of you who are victims of our public schools’ tragic under-emphasis of early 20th Century East African history, the Maji Maji Rebellion was a revolt of various Tanganyikan tribes against German rule that lasted from 1905 to 1907. The maji, for which the rebellion is named, was a tribal medicine that, many believed, would turn German bullets to water. Armed with the confidence that they were impervious to the Germans’ terrifying machine guns, warriors treated with maji put up the last great resistance of the German colonial era. The problem, of course, was that the maji didn’t work. By one estimate, the final tally was 250,000-300,000 rebels dead compared with 15 Europeans, 73 askari (locals fighting for the Germans) and 316 auxiliaries (note: from John Illife’s excellent, if dense, A History of Modern Tanganyika p.200).
As miserably inappropriate as it is to compare slaughter on this scale to something as trivial as baseball, (note: not trivial), there is an analogy to be drawn.
The leaders of the Maji Maji Rebellion repeated often and loudly that the maji would work. The repeated it so often that many people, though far from all, began to believe it, despite all evidence. The Red Sox did the same thing. All summer, they told us about a charm called run prevention and how it would neutralize the maxim guns running up and down the Yankees and Rays lineups. And armed with this confidence in the magic, we the soldiers of Red Sox nation charged into the breech, and guess what? Yeah. Our stats look only marginally better than the Maji Maji.
Hillaire Beloc once wrote in his poem The Modern Traveler.
Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not
Jose would suggest that when the line and verse is written for this season the most memorable line will be:
Whatever happens, they have got
Offensive teams, and we have not.
Perhaps, we don’t really need an offensive team. Perhaps if the pitchers had thrown as advertised and the fielders had picked the horsehide clean and crisp, the offensive struggles would not have been a problem. Of course, if the maji had worked, the rebels’ lack of machine guns wouldn’t have been a problem either. And so we are stuck outgunned relying on magicks both ancient and really ineffective.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.
Wednesday, April 28
1. When Jose switched on sports radio this morning, the primary topic of discussion was whether it had been appropriate for Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland to ask Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, eventually drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, whether his mother was or had been a prostitute. Now, this particular host, maybe it was Colin Cowherd, was arguing Ireland had every right to ask the question, as there was huge money at stake, but Jose thinks that’s utter nonsense. Jose doesn’t want to live in a country where someone can be denied a job just because his mother is a whore. That’s like saying Debbie Clemens shouldn’t be able to sell weird sequined pillows on the Internet just because her husband is a statutory rapist.
But now that the proverbial can of cats had been opened out of the bag of worms, it seems like perhaps it’s fair game to ask anyone affiliated with professional sports anything. Here are the questions Jose would really like to ask.
To Derek Jeter: Who did you get herpes from? Who did you give it to? (Note: This is not to stigmatize those with herpes, which is really not big a deal, according to an infectious disease specialist who yelled at Jose the last time he made fun of Jeter’s herpes. Jose just thinks that if Jeter was spreading herpes simplex around, it may be indicative of bad judgment that could harm his play as he ages.)
To Manny Ramirez: What city to the Los Angeles Dodgers play in?
To Pedro Martinez: Now that Sandra Bullock is single, will you pursue your life’s ambition of
To Mike Lowell: When Adrian Beltre took a liner in the groin and had one testicle swell up to the size of a grapefruit, did you consider asking him for half?
To Adrian Beltre: You really don’t wear a cup? Are you out of your mind?
To Kevin Youkilis: Why is this night different from all other nights?
To DJ Dru: When you think about your swing, does it excite you sexually?
To Theo Epstein: Does DJ Dru’s swing excite you sexually?
To Allan Embree: Are you aware of data linking chewing tobacco to mouth cancer?
To C.C. Sabathia: Would you like another doughnut?
To Bill Hall: You suck.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.
Tuesday, April 27
1. As we contemplate last night’s miserable failure by should be ace Josh Beckett, it is, perhaps, compassionate to offer him a few words of somber advice from his namesake, playwright Samuel Beckett.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
That’s right a this point Jose is just hoping that Josh Beckett will fail better. He has failed quite a few times this year, and, in general, he has not failed better.
In his previous outing, Beckett yielded 7 earned runs in 7 innings. That is failing. In last night’s outing he yielded 8 earned runs in 3 innings. That is failing worse, not failing better. To make matters worse his ERA+ this season is 61, which based on Bill Simmons’ explanation of the statistic, means that if Beckett introduced Equal Rights Amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives, he would only get a pathetic 61 votes for it, plus a few extras if he threw in a subsidy for struggling congressmen. Not good. Not good at all.
Now Jose is not at the point where he is prepared to say that the Beckett deal was a bad one. Bringing Beckett and Lowell to the Sox for Hanley Ramirez, a deal done while Theo was in a gorilla suit (note: Jose wonders whether it was a lowland gorilla or the rarer highland gorilla. He will have to check with his primatologist friend), probably won the Sox the 2007 World Series. That alone makes it worthwhile. Still, Jose can’t help but feel like we should have gotten more out of Beckett. His ERA+ in 2006 was 95, not abysmal, but below average. Then there was that spectacular 2007 season where it soared to 145, before settling into a good but not great 115 and 122 in 2008 and 2009 respectively. He’s certainly been a good pitcher, but a great pitcher year in year out? Well, think of a pitcher as a…well… pitcher… if it leaks iced tea on you six or seven times a year, are you going to keep it for another four? (Note: Yes?)
If the Red Sox are going to succeed this year, Josh Beckett, may need to take more than just a verbal instruction from Samuel Beckett, he may need to take a life lesson. While living in France, Beckett is said to have often driven a young Andre Roussimoff to school, an enormous lad who would later become known as the Eighth Wonder of the World Andre the Giant. Beckett didn’t give this enormous passenger a lift because he had to, he did it because he could, because this man, this soon to be giant, had greatness in him. That is what Josh Beckett must do, because these Red Sox are like Andre, awkward, lumbering, with at best, a mediocre grasp of English and bad teeth. Beckett must slow down the old Renault of his body, allow the Red Sox to hop aboard and then take them to school. Only then, might they know the greatness foretold.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.
Monday, April 26
1. Yeah, that’s not a typo. From now on Jose is only going to do a KEY TO THE GAME. Why? Well has this edition of the Red Sox shown any ability to handle three things at once? Certainly not hitting, pitching and defense. So Jose is just going to simplify it. Think of it as a not writing prevention strategy.
Every day, if Jose is going to post KEYS. He has to do three things:
1. Produce KEY 1.
2. Produce KEY 2.
3. Produce KEY 3.
That’s a lot. Too much really. Every day Jose would look at the burden, sigh and shake his head mournfully, saying “Not today, maybe tomorrow.” So from now on Jose is going to use himself as a short reliever. He’s going to try to be available most days, but only available for a little bit of the game. He will be kind of like Manny Delcarmen, but without the frequent bouts of sucking. Or maybe with them. Who knows? We’ll have to see how Jose adjusts to his new role.
But that’s not today’s KEY. Nope. Coming in with an explanation of what one is going to do and then declaring that the action is done makes no sense. Doing that would be like having to count each time Tito visits the mound as him having faced a batter.
So here is what Jose is going to talk about—John Edwards.
You see John Edwards, former Senator and Vice Presidential nominee and current subject of national scorn crashed the semi-formal function of Jose’s public policy school on Saturday night. We were just sitting around, a group o exceptionally good looking 23-40 year olds (note: Really. There are just terrific looking people in this program) and up comes Senator “I don’t need fidelity, fidelity needs me.” The next thing we know, he and two other middle-aged friends are hanging around at our private party. Now, this in and of itself is not such a big deal. It’s funny, which is why Jose got a snappy photo with Edwards. If Edwards had been walking down the street, no big deal, but when he shows up and your party? Well, it’s so pathetic as to be hysterical. What did bother Jose is that Edwards appears to have drank, albeit it in moderation, on our tab. The guy is worth millions of dollars and yet he goes off of a grad student groups bar tab. Not cool.
He stuck around for about two hours, drinking white wine (note: yes, probably Chablis) and watching people dance until finally he was on his way. All in all, it was among the most pathetic things Jose had ever seen.
But it bothered Jose. There is something sad about seeing someone fall so far, and trust Jose, running with a policy crowd is pretty damn far. You know how exhilarating it was watching Darnell McDonald win the game the other night, how thrilling it was to know you were seeing the highlight of someone’s life? Well, this was the opposite of that. This was watching a man in the throws of wretched defeat, absurdly tanned, perfectly coiffed, extremely wealthy defeat, but defeat nevertheless.
It is Jose’s worst fear.
Oh, it’s not Jose’s worst fear for himself. You have to get awfully high to fall such a spectacular distance, and thus far at least, Jose’s life trajectory is afraid of heights. It’s Jose’s worst fear for David Ortiz. You watch Papi night after night swinging that slow, heavy bat, pile on the positive drug test that we learned about last August, and it is impossible not to feel like you are watching a man fall off a cliff.
But it’s not the same for Ortiz and Edwards. It isn’t. It can’t be. First there is no way Papi would ever show up at a grad student function and go home alone as Edwards did, Jose supposes to his credit. Papi has way too much duende. Second, Papi, as low as he may fall, as far back as his glory days may recede into history, still accomplished great things. What happened has happened. What was, at the very least, used to be. For Edwards what was was that he snookered a lot of people who not only believed what he said, but thought he was a man who could address the evils he described. He wasn’t. Papi, whatever he is now, will also be the man who was as responsible as any other, for bringing a title to Boston.
So weep not for David Ortiz. He can drink white wine to moderation on Jose’s tab any time. On the other hand, if Roger Clemens shows up at Jose’s graduation party, Jose, for one, is not getting a picture.
I’m Jose Melendez and that is my KEY TO THE GAME.
Sunday, April 4
1. For the past two seasons Jose has been… relaxed? No, negligent in writing his daily musings. Ostensibly this has been because he has spent the better part of the last two seasons in some of the world’s most remote and isolated places, Malawi, Uganda… Durham. This year, however, things have changed. Africa is not calling and North Carolina is not confining, and Jose is once again free to try to chronicle, if not the entire season, at least some portion thereof.
But travel is not the whole story of Jose’s two years of negligence. While his world was expanding, in many ways his worldview was contracting. As some of you know, Jose returned to school last year. Jose had assumed that the experience would be broadening, that it would refresh the intellectual capital that had been spent over four years of writing.
Jose was wrong.
As much as his undergraduate studies broadened Jose’s cultural horizon, graduated studies narrowed it. Whereas old Jose could comfortable discuss the implications of Durkheim’s Suicide on the squeeze play and the role of Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox on the batting stance of Jimmy Foxx, new Jose is focused on the endless tedium of public policy. For two years, he has been able to think of nothing save how to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the Julio Lugo contract (note: the costs outweigh the benefits), how to do a risk analysis of signing Jason Bay to a big deal (note: very risky) and how to use a stakeholder matrix to evaluate the ideal batting order (note: people killing vampires are not necessarily stakeholders). See. Narrow, boring stuff.
The other problem is that Jose has come to realize that his four years of writing here at KEYS lack intellectual rigor. Jose is eloquent, sure. But eloquence is not evidence. For four long years, Jose reveled in making assertions rather than argument, backing up his points with nothing more than an elegant tangle of verbiage. You can’t do that in the academic world. Claims must be supported and documented. This mindset infiltrated Jose’s blogging, leading to more structured, less frequent and far less fun posts. No longer could Jose make a simple assertion like “Jeter is the worst fucking defensive shortstop in baseball.” Instead, he would have to drag up the 30 or so defensive metrics that prove it. That takes time, and time, suddenly, was something Jose did not have.
But graduation is coming, and with it the sacred time that Jose has sacrificed like so much paschal lamb. And it comes, thank God on this Easter Sunday, just in time for baseball…
So let’s get to the unsubstantiated assertions.
2. Jose’s unsubstantiated assertions to start the new season.
• Jose has heard that the Red Sox signed Marco Scutaro because he has the sound “scooter” in his name. Apparently, Theo and company though this mean he would play like former Yankees short stop Phil “Scooter” Rizutto. Also, they were planning on hitting up the money store to pay salary. While this is profoundly stupid, it is far less stupid than the alternative, that the Red Sox thought they were getting Scooter the baseball from the Fox telecasts.
• David Ortiz is going to have a great season. (Note: Assertions are so great. See how Jose offered no evidence. He just said it and now is going to act like it’s true).
• It is not fair to call Dice K’s time in Boston a failure. He is only a failure in the sense that there were tremendous expectations of him, he failed to meet them in any way and the process has left fans feeling like management thought we were stupid. If you used this repressive standard for failure, you would have to call Cop Rock a failure, and as we all know now, Cop Rock was simply paving the way for Glee 20 years later. Look for the Red Sox to get some really solid work out of a Japanese starter in 2030.
• Watching Ronan Tynan sing while wearing a Sox jersey at the St. Patty’s day brunch was like watching video of Sadaam Hussein’s Bar Mitzvah. You know, except more anti-Semitic.
• Now that Mike Lowell will be sitting on the bench, Jose hopes his teammates taunt him with the phrase “no play for Mr. Gray” from that commercial for hair coloring with Keith Hernandez. Don’t take this the wrong way Mike but your beard is weird.
3. With the unsupported part of today’s program out of the way, let’s move on to the supported part. In this off-season, the Red Sox have paid a great deal of attention to improving their defense. Nay sayers in the media (note: or is the horse faced Shaughnessy a “neigh sayer?”) have attacked the emphasis on defense as nothing more than a propaganda campaign intended to cover up insufficient emphasis on offense.
This is asinine, though nothing one wouldn’t expect from the historically ignorant Boston media. Defense has proven absolutely critical throughout baseball and throughout history.
Consider Prague 1419, when radical Hussites, lacking sufficient offense used defenestration, which sounds enough like defense that Jose will assume they mean the same thing, to overcome opposition by the town’s Burgermeister.
Same city in 1618, more angry Protestants defenestrate regents who land on a pile of excrement. YES shows the clip for the next 380 years and comments on the selfless way the regents sacrificed their body, in contras to the brooding Nomar Garciaparra who sat silently watching.
Same city 1948, Prime Minister Jan Masaryk, is found dead, presumably defenestrated outside of a bathroom window at his office, giving new meaning to the phrase “dropping a deuce.”
Belgrade 1903, military rebels supporting the Karadjordjevic (George the Black) dynasty defenestrate King Alexander and Queen Draga, thereby ending the Obrenovic dynasty and bringing George Steinbrenner to power.
China 1968, Deng Pufang, son of Deng Xiaoping is defenestrated by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. To this day, no one knows what made the security force for the Cincinnati ball club so angry.
So after all of these successful applications of defenestration, local scribes still want to claim that defen(estration) doesn’t win championships?
Of course, the Protestants lost in Bohemia, the Czech Republic is no longer communist, the Karadjordjevic’s have no more control over Serbia than the Obrenovic’s and Deng Xiaoping remade China in his image. So maybe defen(estration) really doesn’t win championships.
That’s it. This entire theory of building a team around the ability to throw opponents out of windows is bunk. Jose insists that the Red Sox immediately acquire some players who are skilled with the poison tipped umbrella. Adrian Gonzales is good at that right?
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.
Wednesday, January 20
Here are Jose's questions. Imagine for a moment that Jose does not have MA residency:
1. Let's say something horrible happens to Jose, like cancer or signing Julio Lugo to a mutliyear deal, between now and graduation. If Jose weren't a MA resident, would Jose still be able to purchase insurance from someone? Anyone? Would my only option be to COBRA my Duke plan until COBRA ran out? And would Jose be fucked once COBRA ended?
2. Jose can get insurance through an employer. Yay! But can the employer's insurance refuses to cover me knowing that Jose is sick?
Jose is not being glib. Thankfully Jose is healthy, but these are situations that are realistic to me, and that Jose doesn't worry about because Jose is, at least theoretically, covered under the MA deal. Jose has been uninsured, not even for a day. Would Jose be certain that if something happened to me, Jose could maintain coverage?
This is NOT intended to be a debate about broader health care reform issues. Rather, this is intended to be a discussion of whether the current system allows, what Jose regards as the absolute minimum consensus. That if you've purchased insurance you're whole life, you should be guaranteed that you can keep it if you get sick.
Jose imagines that right or left, we would agree that if you have maintained coverage at all times, you should not be fucked because you are leaving school or changing jobs around when you get sick. Jose want to know if the current system protects against that.
Aside from COBRA, it is not clear to Jose that it does.