Page Ten

Page Ten

Page Ten


I generally hate Inside the Actors Studio, the interview show with actors on Bravo. I don’t dislike the host, the guests or the concept, and maybe it’s the edited version that fails rather than the in-person experience, but the end result on television is more often than not a series of questions that overwhelmingly eschews any actual insight into the craft itself or the life of a working professionals in place of celebrity chit-chat. Fair enough, but I don’t care what working alongside Brad Pitt was like. I’m sure he’s delightful. What does that have to do with the work? With the life? Who would actually go on screen and say that working with Brad Pitt was a gut-wrenching experience barely preferable to that of a good old-fashioned leeching?

Anyway, I’m interviewing screenwriters in Page Ten, the Hollins University Screenwriting Podcast. Take a listen with the link below. I don’t know, maybe it’d be better if I asked more questions about movie stars. Previous episodes can be found on iTunes and over at the Hollins Screenwriting site.

https://publisher.podtrac.com/player/ODQ4NDY1/NA2

iTunes

Hollins University Screenwriting Blog

This Is Not Normal

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What can I say? I’m sick to my stomach over this racist buffoon becoming president. I can’t spend four to eight years venting on twitter and facebook every day, and it’s clear by now how I feel to the handful of people online who read what I write, so endlessly repeating on a loop how awful and dangerous Trump is will accomplish nothing save to take precious time away from napping.

So let me just write this and then I’ll (mostly) let things be.

Do not normalize this. This is not a Republican winning an election. There is no comparable event in U.S. history. As such, we must not treat it as if it were any other regular transfer of power in any other election year. We do not owe this man a clean slate, an open mind, a chance to lead, or any of the other numbingly idiotic suggestions given to us since the results came in.

We know who Trump is. He has told us again and again.

Trump is a bigot. He hates and demeans women. He despises Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, the disabled and anyone who he considers weak or has the temerity to oppose him. He is a bully. Incapable of empathy. Completely amoral. He is stupid yet convinced of his own superiority in all things. He is willfully ignorant and lacking in curiosity about the ways of the world and the people in it.

Informed of the facts, Trump will repeatedly double down on whatever asinine assertion he has spouted off the top of his head, despite the obviousness of the truth. The light is yellow, Mr. Trump. No, it’s green. Here’s a photo and twenty eyewitness statements verifying the yellowness of the light. Nope, it’s green, I was there, I saw it, it’s green.

What can you say to someone such as this? He is a fourth grade intellect with the temperament to match. An entitled, privileged egotist who has never once been denied anything, nor forced to pay a price for his behavior. Trump is the ultimate proof that a rich, white man can literally say anything and not only will he not be punished, he will often be praised and elevated.

He is unfit to lead a third grade field trip to a museum. That he has been elected is a national disgrace. I am ashamed to live in a country that would inflict his callous disregard for others upon those groups already marginalized within the United States, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

Nothing that happens from this point forward with Trump is normal. Acting as such legitimizes the words and actions of a man who would be booted from an Andrew Jackson kegger for being too much of a boor. It’s not a matter of political affiliation or disagreeing with policy, it’s a question of our fundamental values as a nation. Every time he speaks, remember he is openly and proudly racist. We elected a bigot.

That’s the part that cuts the deepest in all of this. A huge percentage of the United States is either racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and amoral or they simply aren’t bothered by any of those characteristics in an elected official. I live here. These people are my neighbors. Of course I saw the crazies in the dark corners, I’m not blind, but to think that there were enough to elect a president is shocking. How is it possible that I could be surrounded by such pervasive ugliness and not realize it? What fucking country am I living in?

We owe Trump nothing. He deserves no grace period, no clean slate, no chance to lead. He has not been ‘humbled’ by winning the presidency, as Oprah Winfrey so bizarrely wrote. The horrendous things he has said time and time again do not vanish because he has been elected – if anything they are magnified. We cannot make the mistake of thinking otherwise. Trump is who he has always been – the enemy of those who believe in the fundamental humanity of all people.

The End of All Things

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Look, endings are always rough. If it were otherwise, nothing would ever end. And so here we are, at the end of all things, minus Sam to help us through the dark patches.


The above clip would be the perfect expression of a Donald Trump America, except there won’t be any eagles in a few years to save us after they’ve been wiped out by the Chinese hoax of climate change.

But this isn’t about how Donald Trump is a disgusting piece of shit. Anybody with an internet connect knows he ran a white supremacist, xenophobic, misogynistic campaign that spewed an endless mix of lies and hate. It wasn’t subtle, either. He didn’t allude to these things as candidates had before, with wink-wink asides and heavy-handed language. His entire candidacy was predicated on racism and sexism – they were the issues he chose to argue before the public. You can argue about whether Trump is actually racist, xenophobic and misogynist, or whether he was playing to the crowd in an effort to win votes, and for my money, it’s pretty obvious where to land, but what you cannot argue is that his campaign was built upon such sentiment. His pitch was predicated on the idea that a dog whistle was too subtle. And who am I to argue? He won the presidency, after all.

We’ve got 4-8-12 soul crushingly brutalizing years to lament Trump’s presence in the political landscape, if the world survives that long. Lots of time to write about it while drinking heavily.

His opponent is headed out for the curb on heavy trash day. What do we make of such a remarkable public figure? What’s the epitaph? Well, first, and to be clear, Hillary Clinton is not a particularly good person. She is unethical. A warmonger. A money grubber. Yes, she was undone in this election by forces out of her control, by an assault of sexism that was painful to watch, but it does not alter the record of her time in the public sphere. She was – always – a terrible candidate for public office.

She is also a calculating politician and deeply ambitious, the two often going hand in hand. I don’t much mind these last two, after all, I’m not looking for a buddy to have a drink with, I’m looking for government service. Who in politics isn’t calculating or ambitious? My guess is it’s a pretty small number, and most of them are about to take their pension.

Still, it’s this last part that stands out to me. Ambition. Had she not run, Trump would not be in the White House. Does anyone doubt it? We come to the end of Hillary Clinton’s intensely driven political ambition at the moment it forced Donald Trump upon us.

This is somewhat unfair, of course. It’s massively unfair, actually. She did not operate in a vacuum. The DNC is as much to blame as Hillary, force feeding her to the electorate. Still, the culpability rests ultimately on her shoulders. It must. She chose to run, blind to her own faults. She could never see what was so obvious to everyone outside the Democratic party machine – she was a terrible candidate.

She had other options. Other paths to take. After 2008, she could have been a kingmaker. She wanted the crown for herself. And now she’ll live with the knowledge that she must shoulder the blame, partially or fully, for Donald Trump winning the white house. It’s sad, really. Part of me hopes that she’s immune to self reflection, that she’ll choose to blame her enemies (of which there are plenty to choose from) and the agents of chance rather than look inward.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, too. Our candidates, our elections, our public servants are all a reflection of who we are as a people, as a country. I should have done more. I should have shouted from the rooftops. Given more money. Volunteered more time. Convinced more people. We all should have done more to keep Trump from power. Collectively we will pay the price.

In the most cynical version of apportioning blame, it was her naked ambition that blinded her to the reality that her candidacy was always an uphill battle, that she risked the betterment of the country/world in her own mad quest for power, but this seems unduly harsh, an overreach. In the charitable version, which is the one I subscribe to, it was Hillary’s unwavering belief that she was the best person for the job. A genuine belief borne from a lifetime of struggle, persecution, hard work and passion for a better world. That she was never able to look at herself objectively and make the supreme personal sacrifice is hardly the worst thing to say about someone, and if anything, it makes her incredibly human.

I like to think that. It cuts a sympathetic figure. Someone who wanted something good and decent for this world. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all. We’re here. At the end of all things. And she did everything in her power to make it so.

Tilting at Windmills

This is a lie. Your vote does not matter.

This is a lie. Your vote does not matter.


Like the caption says, your vote in this year’s presidential election does not matter. Please don’t get mad at me.

This is indisputable. It carries with it no inherent bias or room to maneuver. It is simply a factual statement beyond reproach. Your vote does not matter. Again, please don’t get mad at me. It’s not my fault.

Presidential elections do not hinge on a single vote. The reality, of course, is that virtually no election at any level will be decided by a single vote, now or in the future, and certainly not for a presidential election, and for your vote to matter, this is precisely what must occur. So this November 8th, feel free to stay home, secure in the knowledge that your failure to contribute to the total number of ballots cast had zero impact on deciding the winner.

People get very upset by this, as if pointing out the blatantly obvious is somehow an assault on all that is good and decent in the world. I bring this up most every election, and most every election I’m subjected to people who argue vociferously on the importance of an individual’s vote. Al Gore did it recently with his, “Your vote, really, really, really matters.” No, Al, it really doesn’t. We all feel cruddy about the W years, but it doesn’t change the pointlessness of a single vote.

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain!” “People suffered and died for the right to vote!” “Nothing will ever change if you don’t vote!” I added the exclamation points, but it seemed appropriate to sum up the typical arguments I hear expressed. This clip captures the prevailing attitude really well.


Could you make it through all of that? Holy shit, what a painful mixture of self-righteous smugness and preening knowitallness. It’s like watching California: The Guy.

He also makes the classic mistake of confusing the importance of elections with an individual’s vote. They’re not the same thing. One person staying home in Florida in 2000 would not have swung the election in any way, shape or form. Yes, elections matter. A lot. Large numbers of votes matter. A lot. Individual votes mean absolutely nothing. This is because what is true for the whole pie is not necessarily true for the individual slices, aka the fallacy of division. That people willfully argue against unassailable logic is just the most perfectly human/American response. Now, to be fair, the sort of crass appeal below makes a measure of sense:


An ad designed to encourage large numbers of people to vote against a particular candidate. Good for you, various celebrities, for using the same tired argument of ‘your vote matters’ in order to encourage lots of people to vote the way you want. That’s not sarcasm, either, this is likely a genuinely effective method of swinging elections because it aims to manufacture large numbers of votes through the use of Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But wouldn’t the world be a better place if people could be prodded to go the polls minus illogical and factually untrue arguments?

So this coming election, with all this in mind, understanding reality, seriously, feel no compulsion to vote. Don’t bother. Go see a movie instead. Or visit a museum. Lots of museums have discounts on Tuesdays. Your individual vote has as much value as Shawshank’s fart in the wind.


Now, for purposes of full disclosure, I’m going to vote this year. For the first time since 2000, I will step into a voting booth and pull a lever, or punch a ballot, or touch a screen or whatever the hell it is people do nowadays in the 21st century, not just aware of the meaninglessness of the act but rather precisely because my vote is meaningless.

Look, there’s nothing left to say about the 2016 presidential election that hasn’t been screamed in print, on television or in some dark corner of the internet. It’s all true, none of it’s true, but no minds are getting changed. I could write about it, I suppose, but who has the energy to explain to ‘undecideds’ why Donald Trump is a disgusting piece of shit and totally unqualified for public office or that Hillary Clinton is monstrously unethical and totally unqualified for public office. If ya can’t see it by now, there ain’t no help on the horizon, buddy.

So, yeah, stepping into a voting booth is nothing more than tilting at windmills. But screw it, I’m a romantic. Why not lash out in vain against my enemies? After all, I am helpless before raging insanity. A defendant in a Kafka court. Powerless. Impotent. Useless. There is literally nothing to do on November 8th but watch someone who was alive in the 1980’s and thinks Nancy Reagan started a national conversation on AIDS ascend to the presidency.

Nothing save for standing atop the hill and screaming into the storm. A pointless act of no consequence to protest the inexcusable, unpalatable and unforgivable. To rage against the dying of the light.

But you should stay home. No reason both of us should waste our Tuesday.

History in the Making

Ichiro

Ichiro


Ichiro Suzuki, a surefire first ballot hall of famer, is closing in on 3,000 MLB hits. This is a momentous achievement for any player, all the more so since Ichiro played in Japan for 9 seasons before making the trek to Seattle in 2001. Adding up his numbers from both leagues and you get the all time hit king of baseball. And even with all of this, as one of the greatest baseball players ever, he has found a way to astonish here in his age 42 season.

His walk rate this season is 11.3%.

Is your mouth agog? No? Really? It’s 11.3%. Still nothing? No reaction? This is not a player who walks much. It would easily be a career high if he maintains it for the season. Moreover, it is virtually unprecedented for a player of Ichiro’s stature to increase his level of production in any capacity so deep into his career.

Frankly it’s shocking for any player to produce at a high level at such an age. How shocking you ask? If we compare to the best age 42 seasons in the history of baseball, excluding the dead ball era, Ichiro, is on pace to have the best batting average, third best on-base percentage, seventh best slugging percentage and second most stolen bases to name just a few standard batting stats. The reality is, if we toss out the dead ball era and Barry Bonds, there have only been a handful of players at this age who were any good at all as regular or even part-time players.

Now, of course not too many guys played into their 40’s, so it’s a small sample size to look at his level of production in the proper context. But what if we look at every player in the 3,000 hit club during his final two seasons? This is with the exception of Alex Rodriguez, given his playing career continues despite the Yankees best efforts to the contrary.

Anyway, here’s a list of how many posted a career best in any major statistical category, which includes home runs, walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated power, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, WAR and wRC+ (according to fangraphs and with 150 minimum plate appearances).

Pete Rose (walk rate)
Tris Speaker (strikeout rate)
Lou Brock (strikeout rate)
Paul Molitor (strikeout rate)

And that’s it. Ichiro is on pace to do it in two categories (strikeout rate along with the walk rate) and he’s also knocking on the door of accomplishing it in OBP and wRC+. It’s not quite the all star break, so there’s plenty of time still to tank and/or start acting his age, but he’s positioning himself to have one of the greatest age 42 seasons in the history of baseball and one of the most impressive late-career seasons of his peers in the hall of fame. He’s always been a unique player, and now, in the twilight of his career, he’s adding value to his game we’ve never seen before. Incredible.

What makes the walk rate all so much more bizarre is that Ichiro has always had a pathological obsession with base hits at the expense of power and walks. In fairness, the latter is partly a result of his preternatural ability to make contact and put the ball in play, limiting the number of swings and misses and foul balls, and thus, limiting the number of pitches he would see in his at bats, a crucial component in drawing free passes. This is not necessarily a bad thing, given how exceptional he has been in reaching base safely through singles.

As to the former, much like Wade Boggs, another hit machine who eschewed (attempting) knocking pitches out of the ballpark for a few extra percentage points on the batting average at the end of the season, there isn’t as good a defense for choosing singles over (potential) extra-base hits. Brass tacks – both players likely hurt their teams by refusing to swing for the fences more often. A few more strikeouts, sure, fewer singles, definitely, but more home runs, doubles and triples (and the likely result of more walks with the threat of power) would almost certainly have increased their value.

More valuable, maybe. And yet, it would have made Ichiro less fun to watch. He’s a singular phenomenon, there really is nothing else like him in baseball. Watching him at the plate, slapping at the ball and beating out grounders to the shortstop, is one of those indelible images of the game for the last fifteen years.

Plus, I can’t complain now that the kid is walking at a healthy rate and getting on base at a rate 70 points above the league average. Now I get it all, the singles machine and an advanced metrics analyst’s dream come true. Good lord, at this rate of production, he might not need to retire until he hits 50.

Minor Adjustment

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My novel Minor Adjustment is now out in paperback. Here’s a bunch of helpful links to various esteemed booksellers where you can read reviews and purchase many copies for yourself and loved ones.

Amazon

Mediander

Tower

Want to buy it but only wish to do so from a Korean language website? No problem! Just follow the link below.

Aladin

What’s the book about, you ask? Perhaps you’ve perused this site and you’re thinking it’s about baseball. Maybe traveling? Politics? Any of the stuff I write about here? Nope. It’s a story about a suspended homicide detective and her chiropractor fending off a bunch of mid-level mobsters running amok in Los Angeles.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

It wasn’t Susan’s fault. Not really. Yes, she accidentally shot a robbery suspect while he was in handcuffs, and yes, she subsequently managed to make the 11 o’clock news splattered in blood wearing only her bra, but that was just a series of unfortunate misunderstandings. Now she was suspended, quite unfairly in her opinion, her future as a LAPD homicide detective up in the air, her parents were driving her crazy about, well, everything really, and to make matters even worse, she’d thrown her back out during a night of heavy drinking and unnecessary violence. Also not her fault, Susan would be the first to point out.

Truth be told, Bob wasn’t faring much better with his life. Sure he was a successful chiropractor, but he was absolutely miserable. He just couldn’t shake the feeling he was stealing money from people who didn’t understand what a giant scam his entire industry was perpetrating on the world. A mid-life crisis in his 30’s seemed absurd on the surface, but Bob was certain there was something more to life than overbilling insurance companies for unnecessary x-ray exams.

When his father, a retired jewel thief, is shot and murdered by a rampaging mid-level mobster with delusions of grandeur, Bob is shaken from his malaise and inspired to not only find the culprit but change his life in the process. He does not, sadly, have the first clue of how to do this, but fortunately for him, one of his patients is a suspended homicide detective who despite her best efforts can’t seem to figure out a way to say no to Bob’s repeated pleas to take on an unauthorized investigation into a murder everyone else is convinced was just a simple mugging gone bad.

Amidst the ensuing romantic complications, Bob and Susan must navigate their way through the labyrinth of the Los Angeles underworld and a motley assortment of incompetents and reprobates with an assortment of personal problems of their own that would make a therapist of twenty years shake his head in disbelief, all in an effort to find the killer and bring him to justice.

The Greatest Lines in B-Movie History

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The line of dialogue almost pales in comparison when brought to light against the backdrop of the absurd fight sequence between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David, as the former tries to force the latter to put on a pair of sunglasses in a last-ditch effort to save the world from evil aliens. This is the simplest, clearest description I could provide of the scene and is a fairly accurate summary of the movie as a whole. So yes, to answer the obvious question, They Live is an absolute must-see.

The joys of the film have everything to do with dark humor, satire and piles of genre fun. Directed by John Carpenter, whose exceptional body of work rivals the greatest American film directors without all the pesky corresponding critical acclaim, They Live is nowhere near his best effort (The Thing, Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13) but it practically defines the term ‘cult favorite’, which is praise enough. Aside from the forthcoming line, the highlight of the film is the aforementioned six-minute long battle royale in the alley that defies description. Here it is in its entirety.

Frankly, and I’m not saying Mr. David was right or wrong in his decision making during this scene, but for me, I probably would have put the glasses on.

Anyway, once the two men have settled their differences as scholars are wont to do, the story kicks into high gear, as we learn the aliens have slowly taken control of the Earth through subliminal messages delivered through a powerful signal broadcast from high atop the city. A plucky band of freedom fighters will try and disrupt it, which leads to a pretty cool ending. Before that, however, Rowdy Roddy Piper stumbles into a bank, for some reason that escapes my memory or perhaps because it simply happens for no good reason, and there he delivers one of those perfectly awful lines of dialogue that make movies so damn great.

The Remnants of an Empire

The Reception in Old Town

The Reception in Old Town


Venice was quite the operation back in the day. They had ships and everything. Here’s a brief history to get you up to speed if you’re not up to snuff on your Medieval powerhouses. The Venetians started out as a profitable little part of the Byzantine Empire, then the alpha dog in the region, but thanks to maritime operations and prime real estate (location, location, location) grew in strength and influence and only a few centuries in they sacked Constantinople, decimating their former masters, a blow from which the Byzantines would never really recover. The Venetians also stole these fine fellows four from the future Istanbul and put them on display in the finest drawing room in Europe, as Napoleon was wont to say.

The Venetian Empire lasted approximately a millennium. It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a good run. Lots of highs, plenty of lows. They fought in the Crusades. They ruled the seas. They battled the Ottomans for centuries, slowly declining in military influence as the years wore on, ultimately succumbing to the advances of Napoleon just before the dawn of the 19th century. And now it’s reduced to an irresistible tourist trap with great gelato that slowly sinks into the lagoon from whence it came. This feels like a metaphor for something, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Anyway, part of the empire’s conquests included the Dalmatian City-States, which includes the Bay of Kotor in modern Montenegro. The impressive fortifications the Venetians established are a sight to behold, but they don’t deserve all the credit. There were previous versions of the defensive line high above the bay stretching all the way back to the Illyrians in classical antiquity. The walls, which stretch about 3 miles in length, are still in visible if not quite working order high upon the cliffs gazing down upon the old walled city, which bears a striking resemblance to the old walled fortress of Dubrovnik, which is no big surprise, but with notably better food inside.

The ruins rising up to the sky

The ruins rising up to the sky


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Kotor is gorgeous. If you get away from Old Town it starts to become more the sort of small city you might expect to find in Montenegro, but still, just stepping off the plane it was a panorama of mountains and mist as far as the eye can see.
The view from the tarmac

The view from the tarmac


We stayed in Old Town, which made for a fun/easy trip since the walled city is the tourist highlight. The narrow passages, open courtyards, impressive architecture and historical sites all make for excellent wandering. It’s super touristy, yes, no question at all about that, but like Venice, it’s so good even the visitors can’t screw it up.
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The San Giovanni castel is at the very top of the upper town walls, way up high, and it would have been cool to set foot in it and take in the view. We gave it a go, despite the steep climb and intermittent but heavy rain that day. There is a long, winding path up to the top. We hiked up to the Church of our Lady of Health, which marks the halfway point, but made it no further. There was an intense downpour, and all us tourists on the way up and down huddled together in what little shelter the exterior of the church offered. The English speaking portion of the group exchanged a few stories and Ferda spent the time playing with a stray dog, which made me very nervous and the puppy very happy. The stone/rock/dirt/imaginary path leading to the very top was literally flooded and it was borderline impassable. We might have been able to make it, but this way there’s an easy excuse to come back and visit again. Ferda took a couple photos when the rain momentarily abated before we hiked back down.
I did twenty goofy poses and this was the best one.

I did twenty goofy poses and this was the best one.


We had a few days to roam around before catching a bus to Podgorica. Kotor is the perfect place for idle tourism, virtually everything is interesting and/or beautiful to look at. Stunning views and a great meal here, impressive architecture and a cappuccino there.

Ferda had recently finished a couple new designs, so we went out to take some photos on our last night with Kotor as the backdrop before heading out of town.
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Handmade by Ferda Emecen

Handmade by Ferda Emecen

To Live and Die in Eternal Hope

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Even casual observers are aware of the Chicago Cubs’ failure over the last one hundred plus years to win a championship, a level of accomplishment that has built up an aura of inevitability that welcomes suckers, gamblers, statisticians and romantics in equal measure. Writers far more tortured and elegant than I have written about the agony of cheering for the Chicago Cubs.

This legacy of ineptitude is somewhat misleading. The club was actually pretty good, all things considered, from 1903-1945. Since WWII? Only 5 seasons of 90 or more wins. Tampa Bay alone has equaled that mark, and not just from the franchise’s inception in 1998, which would be cringe inducing enough, but since the name change in 2008 from Devil Rays to Rays. Yeesh.

What can you do? Love is love. Trying to explain the why of it is as pointless as telling Don Mattingly why on-base percentage is important.
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Don Mattingly and the Tyranny of Math

Here stands a great hitter.

Here stands a great hitter.


I understand people who are resistant to placing their faith in numbers. It must be especially threatening to those who have built a professional identity through a lifetime of success either without the use of, or more likely, in direct opposition to analytics. To be told your entire life you are great, knowledgeable, or both, and to then have those core values, really your entire sense of self, challenged must be difficult. To value what you see, what you have done, everything you have been taught, well, this is a difficult thing to toss away, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
I was taught this was a rock. It's still a rock, right? It sure looks like a rock. I'll bat it leadoff just in case.

I was taught this was a rock. It’s still a rock, right? It sure looks like a rock. I’ll bat it leadoff just in case.


So when I write that Don Mattingly is an idiot, please understand it’s done with affection, understanding and compassion. He was a great, great player. He’s from Indiana. But idiot he is.
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