Wednesday, August 8

Tuck(ered) Out

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Thanks to the new warrantless wiretapping law, Jose, with his Bush Administration connections, was able to tap the bullpen phone two nights ago and listen to the conversation between Manager Terry Eurona and bullpen coach Gary Tuck. See if you can spot the terror threat in the following exchange.

Tuck: (In a falsetto) Hello, bullpen, how may I direct your call.

Tito: God damn it Tuck, I know it’s you, will you stop doing that.

Tuck: Mr. Tuck has stepped away from his desk for a moment. If it is I can try to find him.

Tito: We need to get a pitcher warming.

Tuck: One moment, let me put you on hold while I look (starts humming The Girl from Ipanema.) Thank you for your patience I’ll transfer you now.


Voice Mail: Hi you’ve reached Kyle Snyder’s line, I’ve stepped away for a moment but if you leave a message, I’ll return your call as soon as possible.

(Tito slams the phone down in aggravation, then picks it up again)

Tuck: (In a falsetto) Hello, bullpen, how may I direct your call.

Tito: TUCK!

Tuck: One moment please… (then in a normal voice) Hello, Tuck here.

Tito: What the hell are you doing Tuck?

Tuck: Sorry about the new girl, she’s just figuring out the phones. We shouldn’t have sent down Lopez, he could really work a switchboard. Great phone voice too.

Tito: Curt’s hurting here, we need to get someone up.

Tuck: Sure. We’re a little backed up this inning. So let’s look at the schedule. Can you be available between the 8th and 9th? I should be able to send a reliever out somewhere in that window.

Tito: You’re the bullpen coach. Get someone up NOW!

Tuck: Sir, yelling isn’t going to help. I have a lot of other customers ahead of you in line.


Tuck: I see… Okay, what’s your order.

Tito: We’re only down one, get up Gagne.

Tuck: I’m sorry, Gagne’s not available right now. I could get him to you tomorrow.

Tito: Then Okajima.

Tuck: You could do that, but let me tell you from experience, that’s not what you want to do here. Yeah, he’s high quality, but it’s not the right fit.

Tito: Papelbon then?

Tuck: I can put Papelbon on back order and have him to you by the ninth. Would that work, maybe the eighth if we really push it. But the 7th? No way, can’t be done.

Tito: (sighs) I can’t leave Curt in. If I do, the lead is going to blow up in a hurry. What can you get me now?

Tuck: I can get you Julian Tavarez. He’s not fancy, but solid, workmanlike, should do the job, and I can get him to you fast. Either that or Kyle Snyder.

Tito: Snyder’s not there, I got his voicemail.

Tuck: Then let’s go with Tavarez, I’ll get him loose, and you’ll have him in no time.

Tito: Great.

Tuck: Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Tito: Uh no… I guess I’m good.

Tuck: Then thank you for using Bullpen Express for all of your relief needs.

Tito: You’re fired.

Did you spot the terror threat? It’s subtle, but Tito threatened to “blow up” things if he did not get his way. Thank God we have a transcript

2. In all of the hullabaloo about whether Barry Bonds did or did not use steroids on his march to 756 (note: he did), there are equally important issues that have gone completely unaddressed. Not he least of these is the critical question of why Barry Bonds hates America.

This is the nation of his birth, the nation that gave him opportunity and made him a wealthy man, and how does he repay us? His spits on us (note: metaphorically).

For much of his march towards Aaron’s record and last night when he left it splintered like so many slivers of ash after a Papelbon fastball, Bonds was using… get ready… a Canadian bat.

That’s right. Rather than supporting the U.S. economy and creating American jobs, he exports and outsources, bat construction to foreigners, who care not for us and our way of life, foreigners whose customs and tongue, who’s creed and dress are perplexing to the average American who has cheered Bonds through his career.

Rather than taking his pick from the white ash forests of Maine, he betrays us, selecting harder wood from the Canadian Maple or as Jose calls it “the treachery tree.”

And do you know what they are doing to the north? They are laughing at us! They are laughing! Jose has not done any checking, but he has no doubt that the Canadians are jubilantly talking about how “American slugger Barry Bonds with his Canadian made bat broke the home run record.” This is what they do, these Canadians. David Rakoff, a Canadian writer, win an appearance on This American Life claimed that the space shuttle, our space shuttle, is referred to in Canada as the American Space Shuttle with its Canadian arm,” as its mechanical arm is of Canadian stock.

This is no different. Like NASA, Bonds has allowed himself to be a tool of the pernicious, pervasive and unrelenting Canadian cultural imperialism that is slowly, slowly eating away at the fabric of American life like so many beetles chomping on the white ash of New York state.

For shame.

3. In a final note on the Bonds saga, his 756th home run came off Washington’s Mike Bacsik, whose father once faced Hank Aaron when Aaron was looking, unsuccessfully for his 756th home run. Whatever you think of him, you’ve got to give Bonds credit. Hitting a home run off of a giant snake who’s look can kill you has got to be tricky.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Tuesday, August 7


It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Errors are a lousy metric. Everybody knows it. You know it. Jose knows it. In the entire world, every single man, woman and child and possibly dolphin, save those who vote on Gold Gloves, knows that simply counting up the number of errors does not provide an accurate reflection of a player’s defensive performance.

Using errors as a defensive metric rewards the sure-handed yet slow-footed. The Kids in the Hall sketch comedy group used to have a character called M. Piedlourde (note: Mr. Heavyfoot in English) who had, get this, incredibly heavy feet, thus when he tried to do things like kick a ball or run a marathon, hilarity ensued. If errors are your primary defensive metric and Mr. Heavyfoot is sure-handed, there could easily have been a sketch called “Mr. Heavyfoot Wins a Gold Glove.”

But Jose is not writing anything new or particularly interesting here. Rather, than making a detailed dissertation on defense, he is offering a bit of self-defense. If errors are a bad way to measure defensive competency, then surely they must be a bad way to measure writing competency as well.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that someone made a blog entry on August 2 teasing the Red Sox about poor sentence structure in a Bobby Doerr tribute ad. And let us suppose further that in what claimed to be a grammatically sound counter to said add, the author made at least three major spelling and grammar errors. Could you rightly conclude that he is incompetent? No, of course not. Judging a writer by his errors is every bit as foolish as judging an infielder by them.

As you may have guessed by now, the writer in question is Jose. Jose makes errors. He makes a lot of errors. He misuses apostrophes, he misspells words and he appears to have what one clinician has diagnosed as “homonym dyslexia.” Jose knows all the rules; he never used to make these mistakes when he was a “hunt and peck” typist, but as he learned to touch type, the errors came in sheets. At full, major league speed, doing the little things got a lot harder.

But don’t judge Jose on his errors alone. Jose will concede he makes a lot of errors, but he also shows tremendous range in his use of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation. That’s a better measure of competence isn’t it? Would you rather have a writer who can describe Pedro Martinez’s pitching motion as smooth every time and spell it perfectly or one who can describe it as mellifluous? Would you rather see Barry Bonds called arrogant in eight flawless letters over and over again, or would you prefer to see him called supercilious? Newspaper writers almost never make errors, but they are required to write at a sixth grade level. And Jose? Well, you are reading Jose right now aren’t you?

So the question is how to measure writing competency beyond errors. Jose has come up with two metrics that he thinks could help. The first is called range factor. This statistic measures the range of a writer’s vocabulary. The average English word has 4.5 letters. Range factor assumes that words with more letters are more complex and words with fewer are less complex. Word length is not a perfect measure of complexity or obscurity, as any Scrabble player ever to use “xu” or “aa” knows. However, it is a reasonable representation. What range factor does is look at how far each word a writer uses is from 4.5 letters and adds one point for each letter over 4.5 and subtracts one point for each letter under 4.5. For instance, strike is five letters and is thus +1. Ball, which has four letters, is -1. Proper nouns and names are not counted, so writers can’t up their numbers by writing about Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Jose’s other innovative metric is called zone rating. Zone rating is a punctuation metric that evaluates the complexity of punctuation and by extension sentence structure. Different punctuation marks have different complexities. Everyone knows how to use a period or a question mark. Many know how to use a comma. Few know how to properly use a semicolon. Zone rating assigns a complexity rating to each punctuation mark. Proper use of the mark results in the addition of a number of points equal to that mark’s complexity rating to one’s zone rating. Improper use results in the subtraction of a number equal to ten minus the complexity rating from one’s zone rating. For instance proper use of a period is one point, whereas proper use of an em dash is eight points. Thus, the statistical reward for using a period properly is one and using an em dash properly is eight. Conversely, the punishment for using a period incorrectly is a deduction of nine points (10-1) whereas misuse of an em dash is only a two point deduction (10-8).

By combining these two metrics, one gets a much better picture of whether a writer is competent and effective than one does simply by counting up errors. Thus, Jose reminds those who point out his numerous errors in spelling and grammar that they should stop hassling him and go back to writing about how Derek Jeter is a great defensive shortstop.

2. Speaking of errors, Jose would like to make a correction. In yesterday’s KEYS, Jose compared Curt Euro’s return to the French film The Return of Martin Guerre. This was an error. While the comparison was not wholly inaccurate, Jose used the wrong film. Instead of comparing Curt’s return to the Depardieu vehicle, he should have compared in to the American version of the film, Somersby, starring Richard Gere and Jody Foster.

Just as Somerbsy was a twisted reflection of Martin Guerre, Curt Euro’s performance last night was familiar yet disappointing. If the Curt Euro of old was a dark and passionate film about the nature of identity and modernity, Curt Euro’s effort last night was Hollywood fluff centered around Richard Gere taking his shirt off. It probably looked really good to some people, but Jose just found it uninspiring.

3. Congratulations to outfielder Brandon Moss on getting his first major league at bats. Jose is glad Moss has been able to fulfill the second of his life’s ambitions. Sadly, the first was to play with the Rolling Stones, which will never happen, as “A Rolling Stone gathers no Moss.” Thankfully, for Brandon there is no saying that a rolling baseball team gathers no Moss.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Monday, August 6

Condemned to Repeat It

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Bam. That one little sentence, that casual string of symbols and scratches flowing from George Santayana’s quill explains why we study history. We wouldn’t want to repeat the miseries of the past would we? Certainly not. Indeed, William Shirer made that line the epigraph for “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” an account of some history we definitely don’t want to repeat. The sentiment is right. Repeating the past is best avoided. In too many cases the past is simply awful, but even when the past is beautiful is it really something we wish to repeat, or is progress the goal of eternity?

There is, however, a problem with Santayana’s little cliché. It is wrong. That is not to say that it is an incomplete model, that it, like how the Newtonian laws, explains some things very well, while at the same time being verifiably untrue. It is not merely flawed; it stands in direct opposition to truth. Those who do remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

What has an excessive devotion to history ever brought us? Hubris, anger, vengeance. Would we not be better off if no Serb had heard of the Field of Blackbirds, or knew the tragic story of Tsar Lazar? Would social progress in India not proceed more smoothly if no one remembered his caste?

History is not a teacher. It is not some kindly scholar eager to impart wisdom to the generations. History is a propagandist, eager to demand moral clarity where none exists

History is not a lover, gently letting us know that we are part of something bigger. History is a bitch, offering any flattery to get the drama she craves, spreading disease and decay across generations.

History is not a friend. It offers no counsel, no compassion, no support. History is traitor, leading us to disaster with promises of insight.

History is the problem in two way ways. First, history is an illusionist, a master of misdirection. Much as the conjurer distracts us from his manipulations with movements of the hand, history distracts us from the issue of the day by focusing our attention on the movements of the past. The Maginot line, that monument to the ineffectiveness of backward thinking, is nothing if not an indictment of close attention to history. Baseball has its Maginot lines, and one guards the Bronx. The Yankees are fixated on the past. For them, the solution to any problem, it seems, is a closer study of that which has gone before. First base is a problem? Bring back Tino Martinez. The starting pitching is lacking? Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens used to be good, so they must be good now. The Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens of today are nothing more than a machine gun bunker on the Franco-German border, threatening, but ultimately irrelevant.

The second curse of history is that one’s very fixation on it is the greatest guarantor of its recurrence. So much conflict in the world, so much despair, is driven by fear of what has happened before, of past conquest, of past slavery, of past pain. And much like Oedipus, desperately trying to avoid a perceived fate, people around the world, over and over, have charged recklessly into the arms of their damnable past thereby guaranteeing a damnable future.

Remember 1978? Forget it. Only because we know that the Red Sox blew a huge lead in 1978 do we think it possible that it could happen again. Yet, only by acting fearfully, could it happen this year. This is not 1978. The Yankees have no Ron Guidry, save the graying pitching coach. We are better than them. And yet, fear persists. What if it happens again? But it will not. It cannot. It cannot, unless fear moves us to irrationality.

The genius of the 2004 Red Sox was their utter mindlessness. Their lack of attention to tradition, to history, allowed them to avoid letting fear direct their actions. Conversely, the 2004 Yankees’ fixation on history led to hubris, and, invariably, nemesis. The 2004 lesson, the silliness, the shallowness, the disregard for the norms of the game, that is what must be emulated if we are to have success in 2007.

Of course, that would be taking a lesson from history. Best to avoid it.

2. Curt Euro returns tonight after more than a month on the disabled list, but what kind of return will it be?

The first possibility is that it will be like Return of the Jedi. In other words, Curt Euro returns, deals with some emotional problems and family issues, but at the end he kicks *ss and everything turns out great. Under this scenario, the season ends with Ewoks banging out melodies on a marimba made from the helmets of decapitated Yankees.

The second, far grimmer, possibility is that the Return of Curt Euro is more like the Return of Martin Guerre. Under this scenario, Curt Euro returns and is better than we’ve ever seen him before. But something is different. He’s nicer. His teammates like him more. He doesn’t talk as much and blogs a lot less. It’s almost like he’s a different guy.

Then the trouble starts. One day, another man, shows up claiming to be Curt Euro, a man who is missing his leg. Chaos ensues, and after a lengthy process it is concluded that the one-legged Curt is the true Curt, after all, we all saw the guy’s ankle bleed. Why wouldn’t his leg have been amputated? The fake Curt, the two-legged, strong throwing Curt, is hanged and the Red Sox are stuck with a one-legged blogger/video game developer as their third starter.

On the plus side, the Curt who got hanged turns out to be Gerard Depardieu

3. Yesterday, center fielder Rococo Crisp was almost seriously injured by a moose, Mariner Moose, driving an All-Terrain Vehicle. Even putting aside the question of why a moose is the mascot for a nautically-themed team, this is big news.

In fact, it is the biggest news involving an athlete, a vehicle and a moose since July 4, 1988, when wrestler “Adorable” Adrian Adonis swerved to avoid a moose in Newfoundland and was killed.

The lesson is clear. Don’t give driver’s licenses to moose… or to pro wrestlers.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.