Stat of the Week: Milton Bradley 2, MB’s Revenge

Here’s a Rhorshack test for you: What does this image make you think of? Sosa? Marquis? Bradley? Jay Johnstone? Right now I see only the first number, because Milton Bradley belongs in the 2 slot of the batting order. Since Lou made Milton 2nd in command, here’s what his stats look like:

.476 BA; .542 OBP; .619 SLG; 1.161 OPS; 5 G, 3 R, 3 RBI
This is a small statistical sampling, I know. But Milton’s OBP is .400 for the year. His SLG is .402. He belongs near the top of the lineup, $10 million be damned. And statistics aside, the #2 hole just may be the lowest-pressure spot in baseball. It’s perfect for him.
Coincidentally, Kosuke Fukudome is making a killing as a leadoff platoon man. Here are his numbers as the Cubs offensive front man:
.325 BA; .439 OBP; .550 SLG; .989 OPS; 22 G (1 as a replacement); 15 R; 2 HR; 12 RBI
If you want a reason to be optimistic about the Cubs playoff hopes, these guys provide lots. Milton and Fukudome have each produced an average of more than 1 run per game in their new homes in the lineup. They’re on base all the time. If they keep this up (or anything close to this) it is highly probable that their run production will increase.
I know this season has been a roller coaster, but there are plenty of signs that the rest of the ride could be a lot of fun (with a lot less puking on ourselves).

Beach + Blizzard = Pure Summer Joy

The night didn’t start off particularly well. Neither of the boys ate their dinner. They wouldn’t sit still. They wouldn’t stay quiet. They didn’t show any signs of wanting to make good on our plans to go to the beach after dinner, scampering around the back yard, cranky, tired.

We corralled them. Swimsuits were donned. Beach stuff was packed. The van was loaded. Off we went to Kimmel Beach. Wait, we missed the turn. Okay, now we’re on our way to Kimmel Beach. Just have to find the parking lot. No, this ain’t it. Aaaand, here we are. Suddenly it all turned. Everything from then on was pure magic.
Kimmel Beach is just secluded enough. Not a ton of people go hunting for it, especially in the evening. But there are enough people that you don’t have to be entirely paranoid about sharks. The big benefit, though, was the feeling that the four of us had about an acre of beach to ourselves. Easy to let them have fun. Easy for them to splash without collateral stranger damage. Easy to keep an eye on them at all times.
And the keeping an eye on them part was the best. Colin tried to jump over waves (funny). Addison rode the waves in his life-jacket (a little fun, but scary). We all got to watch a bunch of guys doing some kind of boarding . . . not wake boarding or paddle boarding or boogie boarding . . . I want to say water boarding, but I know that’s not right. Anyway, we saw guys riding small surfboard type things right along the shore, and it was fun.
Then we ran up and down the face of a mini-dune a dozen or so times, taking breaks to watch the sun think about setting as we caught our collective breath. So much fun. So much sand trapped in places it had no business hiding. So much relief not even carrying around a camera.
After dusting off as much sand would agree to dislodge and changing into slightly drier clothes, we got into the van and Colin laid these pearls of wisdom on Heather’s ears: “Thanks for going to the beach, Mommy.” For a two-year-old kid, that’s like a 500-word essay on how much he loves you.
We were so going to Dairy Queen.
So we got ice cream. The boys sat still, but not in a boring way. Just in a “Heck, yeah, I want ice cream” way. Maybe there was a hint of, “We’re so content, why in the world would we cause trouble?” in there as well. Addison danced to a smooth jazz version of “You Wanna Be Starting Something,” but never left his seat. Both boys were quiet. It was pure magic.
The only real tension of the night was between my sensible side and the side of me that makes decisions. The conversation went like this:
Sensible: Just get a cone.
Insatiable: (Dirty look)
Sensible: Fine, get a small Tagalong Blizzard. Those are really good.
Insatiable: Medium. Final offer.
Sensible: Come on, look at your stomach! You’re lucky I’m letting you have a small.
So while my Sensible side curled up in a bruised, broken ball of shame, I enjoyed the medium Tagalong Blizzard and the most enjoyable evening of the year. (Don’t get me wrong, the Blizzard wasn’t the highlight, but like I said, I didn’t bring a camera. {Okay, forgive me . . . I really like the Tagalong Blizzard. [Alright, Sensible and Insatiable are back at it again, so I should just stop typing.]})
Thank God for simple pleasures.

Milton Bradley’s Fate (and Swing) in His Hands

Yesterday looked like a resurrection game for Milton Bradley. He went 4-5 with an RBI (3-4 from the left) and is 7-11 in the series against the Rockies. So why would I pick today to critique his hitting? Why would I come down hard on a guy who is currently enjoying his best offensive (and, in some ways, least offensive) surge of the season?

Because Milton’s one out in yesterday’s games epitomized the secret of his struggles. Cue the video.

The movie is old, but the story stays the same. In the critically acclaimed film, Milton Bradley Breaks Bat Over Knee, Milton Bradley plays himself as a Padre. At the 0:52 mark, you can see a moving scene in which the oft misunderstood slugger strikes out as a left-handed batter and then shows the audience that the film is not at all ironically titled.
I bring up this clip to help, not to embarrass. Pay close attention to Milton’s hands as the pitch approaches the plate. He’s moving his hands up and back, which is what he did in his one failed at-bat of yesterday’s game. He also strikes out in this video, which is what he did in that at-bat yesterday. He then breaks his bat in frustration, which . . . you get the idea.

I’ve noticed it a lot lately. When Milton whiffs from the left side, his hands are invariably moving backward (and usually a tad upward) before he starts his swing. I’m no batting coach, but that can’t help. Normally when you swing the bat, forward hand movement is advantageous.
Still, I wondered if I was only noticing this backward technique on bad LH at-bats and forgiving it the other 23% of the time. But as this video clip from shows, Milton doesn’t always move his hands backward when he swings . . . just when he misses or gets freakishly jammed (and usually in high-pressure RBI situations like yesterday’s K).
When Milton is most successful, he drops his hands slightly before swinging, sometimes a little backward, but never as pronounced as the epic-fail swings at crunch time. Actually, from the right he hardly moves his hands at all before swinging.
So there it is, Milton. I advise you to adopt some kind of trigger/timing mechanism involving dropping your hands so that you avoid these counterproductive activities before (and after . . . dear Lord, someone stop the maple carnage) your swings. Other than that, keep up the good work against the Rockies.

Pujols Impressions

When I saw the situation, I knew and everybody in the world knew what was going to happen. Bases loaded. Two outs. Albert Pujols at the plate in the 10th. Cardinals leading 8-7. 0-2 count. . . . Against the Mets.

The grand slam came as a shock to absolutely no one. It wasn’t the game winner, but it was assurance to Cub fans everywhere that A) the Cubs would have to share 1st place with the Cardinals for one more day and B) Albert Pujols is ridiculous.
Now some people claim there’s no way Albert Pujols is on steroids. To me, that’s the cry of hope drowning out the voice of reason. But it doesn’t matter. Pujols is playing on a level playing field against other men who all want to win, to succeed, to put up gaudy numbers, and to be the best. And right now, those other men look like boys. In their eyes, Albert Pujols is in another league of manhood.
In the eyes of my son, however, Albert Pujols is just a funny name. At the Cubs game last week in which Randy Wells seemed to be coating his pitches with fly-ball repellent, I was trying to teach my almost-six-year-old son one of the finer points of the game. Koyie Hill was up with two outs, and even on their way to a 12-0 win, the Cubs would really like to see him reach base so that Randy Wells could bat this inning and turn the lineup over for the next. Randy Wells, I said, isn’t the best hitter in the world.
“So who is the best hitter in the world?” my son asked.
Here I faced the first of several moral dilemmas: Do I tell my son the truth, or do I let my disdain for all things Cardinal cloud my answer? Reluctantly, I blurted out the truth: “Well, I hate to say it, but he plays for the Cardinals. It’s Albert Pujols.”
Instantly, my son burst into irrepressible belly laughter. Between loud giggles and desperate gasps for air, he managed to repeat with inquisitive hilarity, “Poo holes? Poo holes?!!?”
And then came the next moral dilemma: Do I laugh with him at Albert’s unfortunate given name, or do I tell him to A) not make fun of people for their names and B) avoid the scatological humor (a lesson at which I’m a horrible example)? I did my best. After all, my wife was watching.
“Son,” I said, trying to suppress my own giggle-snorts, “I know it’s a funny sounding name, but it’s not nice to make fun of people’s names like that. Be nice, and use nice words.”
He laughed. A lot. He’s a restless little boy, and that joke kept him in his seat for three innings. (When he needs to make someone laugh, he’ll ask, “Hey, do you know who plays for the St. Louis Cardinals?” I can’t stop him.) But he did soon ask me if . . . that guy, was really the best hitter in the world.
Next dilemma: Do I tell him about steroids? Do I take advantage of my son’s impressionable mind by filling him with more anti-Cardinal prejudice? Or do I gloss over what I believe to be reasonable suspicions to protect that part of his innocence left untouched by Pujols jokes? I tried to be honest:

“Yeah, he’s the best. Some people think he cheats, but it’s pretty hard to prove either way.”
“How could he cheat?”
“Taking special medicine. Kind of like if Harry Potter took Felix Felicis before a Quidditch match.”
“Oh.” Then he paused and reflected for a moment, thoughtfully, deeply. “Poo holes! Bwah!”
That Pujols grand slam brought back this story, because I realized so much of baseball is our perspective. What are we watching? What do we hope to see? What do we fear? Our expectations and biases and viewpoints can drastically alter what we see and how we experience the game.
There are still two full months of baseball left, but Cub fans are scoreboard watching as if 101 years hang on every game. It’s probably not the best approach. It’s exacerbated by the virtual tie with our nemesis.
Even the rivalry brings out some of the worst in us: the urge to demean and deride the other team and their fans (guilty); the temptation to stick pins into our Matt Holliday voodoo dolls (I’m waiting); the tendency to equate the Cubs with good and the Cardinals with evil. Even the steroids issue often hinges on the damage a new revelation would inflict: I’d get some satisfaction seeing a using Cardinal outed, but I would instinctively defend any Cub who got named.
I guess it just helps to remember that these are people. Not gods, not devils. It’s best not to worship them or hate them. Sit back, enjoy the game for what it is, and turn your attention and passion to things that truly matter.
Like teaching your kid to stop shouting, “Poo Holes!!!” in mixed company.

The Key to Resisting Temptation: Admit You Have a Problem

This is a news story for the smokers, the cheaters, and the overeaters. It’s also a lesson to those people who look down their noses at anyone who ever succumbs to life’s primal urges. A scientific study by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University showed that judgmental people who think they’re impervious to temptation are more likely to give in than those who lack the confidence to resist.

I generally give scientists a hard time, but I have to applaud them for this study. Using science to expose hypocrisy and false pride is well worthwhile. Granted, Proverbs 16:18 told us as much a long time ago, but it’s still good to get some practical evidence to back it up.
By the way: the photo (and the chocolate) comes from here:

Sean Marshall: The New Closer?

I’m just going to list some facts. Not even stats. Just facts. You draw your own conclusions.

  • Kevin Gregg has struggled lately. He struggled earlier, too. In between all that struggling, he was pretty good.
  • Carlos Marmol is somewhat undependable. He has great stuff. Sometimes that stuff makes it into the strike zone. The Carlos situation seems to get worse in the 9th inning.
  • John Grabow looks like the Cubs’ new lefty specialist/jam remover.
  • Sean Marshall used to be the Cubs’ only lefty specialist/jam remover, and he’s been great in that situation all year.
  • Sean Marshall has looked very good in high-pressure situations.
  • The Cubs might want to try somebody else at closer.
  • I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs winning in the 9th inning with a guy named Sean Marshall on the mound with the potential to earn himself a save and the Cubs a win.
That’s all I’m saying.

Miley Cyrus Genius

I don’t know if Miley Cyrus is a genius in real life, but for this morning she’s a genius on my iTunes.

As the title of the post would immediately suggest, you can dispense with any artistic pretense right away (and, believe me, there is nothing more fun and freeing than dispensing with artistic pretense). Yes, I have Miley Cyrus on my iTunes.
I made a birthday mix for my fourteen-year-old niece, and she loves Miley Cyrus. So I gave her a shot of the world’s perkiest mega-starlet and her cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” This morning I was doing a bit of iTunes housekeeping and arranged all my tracks by Date Added. Then a thought struck me: why not create a Genius mix out of Miley?
Fortunately, it wasn’t the bulkiest thought in the room, so it struck me with the weight of a gliding feather. But I still pursued it, and I have to say, the results pleased me. It’s a fun list, and it’s making for a delightful, carefree Monday morning.
That’s all. Thank you, Miley. Thank you, too, Mackenzie. Happy Monday. Oh, and here’s the playlist:
“Footloose” Kenny Loggins
“Feelings Show” Colbie Caillat
“Only The Good Die Young” Billy Joel
“Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” John Mayer
“Details In the Fabric (feat. James Morrison)” Jason Mraz
“Change Your Mind” All American Rejects
“Real Gone” Sheryl Crow
“Bennie and the Jets (Live)” Elton John
“The Way You Make Me Feel” Michael Jackson
“Big Yellow Taxi” Counting Crows
“Dare You to Move” Switchfoot
“Like A Star” Corinne Bailey Rae
“Hope” Jack Johnson
“Samson” Regina Spektor
“Bicycle Race” Queen
“Tied Down” Colbie Caillat
“It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” Billy Joel
“If It Kills Me” Jason Mraz
“No Such Thing” John Mayer
“Pinch Me” Barenaked Ladies
“Black Or White” Michael Jackson
“Last Kiss” Pearl Jam
“All Shook Up” Elvis Presley
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” Elton John & Kiki Dee
“Take a Chance on Me” ABBA
“Stab My Back” All American Rejects
“One Thing” Finger Eleven
Angel” Jack Johnson
“Somebody To Love” Queen
“Belief” John Mayer
“Battle” Colbie Caillat
“Make It Mine” Jason Mraz
“Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” Billy Joel
“Take It On The Run” REO Speedwagon
“Crocodile Rock” Elton John
“The Luckiest” Ben Folds
“On the Radio” Regina Spektor
“Man In The Mirror” Michael Jackson
“Why Georgia” John Mayer
“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” James Taylor
“Top Of The World” All American Regects
“Oxygen” Colbie Caillat
“Thunder Road” Bruce Springsteen
“Uptown Girl” Billy Joel
Note to self: make default length for Genius playlists much shorter. Whew!