Thursday, May 31, 2007

This is why we love to hate A-Rod

One common theme mentioned during his record-breaking April (and conveniently forgotten during his putrid May) is that Alex Rodriguez was finally "just letting Alex be Alex" by putting aside petty controversies and perceived slights and just concentrating on playing the game.

Last night in Toronto, A-Rod gave us another reminder of why many baseball fans love to hate him. It's not his talent, his dashing good looks, his gargantuan paycheck, or even his success with Canadian strippers.

No, it's because despite all of those advantages over the mere mortals against whom he plays, he still doesn't know the difference between big league and bush league.

To wit: in the ninth inning of a one-run game, A-Rod screamed at Toronto's rookie third baseman, Howie Clark, as Clark was settling under a pop fly for what would have been the third out. Clark backed off the ball, thinking he'd heard shortstop John McDonald call him off. The ball fell in, the Yankees tacked on four more runs, and they won the game 10-5, keeping them out of the AL East cellar for the time being.

George King of the New York Post summarized the incident and postgame reactions in both clubhouses. My favorite quote came from crusty Toronto left fielder Matt Stairs, who's played in more leagues than Crash Davis throughout the years. An excerpt from King's fine article:

"It was a [horsespit] play; I hope you use that," Stairs said. "Ask his teammates about it and if they say, 'No comment,' that will tell you."

Derek Jeter did exactly that.

"I don't know; you will have to ask him," Jeter said. "I wasn't out there."

I've heard a few people weighing in on the incident today on various talk shows and blogs, and I think I can summarize the opinions thusly: Anybody who's played the game and has respect for the game knows what A-Rod did was wrong. Maybe not illegal, but certainly not "the right way" to play the game. Anybody who's backing A-Rod either never played the game, is a Yankee apologist, or is a superstar suckup who'd never criticize a bigshot he idolizes or a fellow member of the exclusive fraternity of MLB superstars (see Morgan, Joe).

First A-Rod got nailed for slapping Bronson Arroyo with his purse in the 2004 ALCS, and now this. I think a pattern is developing. Here's a guy who's so insecure that he has to rely on borderline illegal tricks that clearly shatter every unwritten rule known to man in order to maximize his chances to win. This isn't remotely like a shortstop putting on a decoy at second base to trick a runner on a fly ball (think Greg Gagne and Lonnie Smith in the 1991 World Series). This is a player acting like a weasel on the field, not just trying to break an opponent's concentration but trying to make him think his teammate is calling him off the ball. That might fly in Little League, when you might expect the kids don't know any better, but not in the bigs, and certainly not with the Yankees, whose fans are quick to remind you that they invented the game.

Bush league baseball is kind of like pornography -- hard to define, but you know it when you see it. And this, my friends, is bush league.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Since moving to Nevada, my career has taken a rather strange turn. In Minnesota, I found myself covering mostly sporting events -- Twins, Vikings, Gophers, Wild, Timberwolves, high school state tournaments -- and writing sports stories for some national magazines. In my first six months here, I reviewed Celine Dion's show at Caesar's and covered my first NASCAR race.

But rarely have I had a more schizophrenic week. To wit: Yesterday, I interviewed actress Shannon Elizabeth (left) for a story on the upcoming World Series of Poker.

Today, I interviewed Iowa State defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt (right) for a story on the Cyclones in the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook.

I mean, I've had weeks where the variety of my work can be overwhelming. I remember one in particular, shortly before we moved here, when I interviewed Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, golf legend Ben Crenshaw, and wrestler-turned-Viking-wannabe Brock Lesnar. But I think this week takes the cake.

Elizabeth and Bolt were both great interviews, by the way. Very nice people with interesting things to say about their professions.

All I can say when reflecting on my job is, what a long, strange trip it is.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Thanks, A.J.

Haven't talked about the Twins at all yet, but with my MLB Extra Innings package on the dish keeping me in touch with the boys, I still pay very close attention to the goings-on at 34 Puckett Place. Today's game finally inspired me to write.

In my time covering the Twins for the AP and, I had occasion to interview A.J. Pierzynski. Not a bad fellow, as far as athletes go -- willing, and able, to offer more than just cliches to reporters looking for some trenchant postgame analysis.

Since the Twins traded him (in the one-sided deal of the century), A.J. has been greeted with nothing but boos in the Dome. Seems he's the kind of guy you love on your team and hate on any other team, especially when that team is the White Sox. Or, as his own manager, Ozzie Guillen, has said, A.J.'s the kind of guy you hate when he's on the other team, and when he's on your team, you hate him a little less.

So today, A.J. gets the Twins riled up because he decides to get into Justin Morneau's head by stepping on the inside of first base (i.e., right at Morneau's ankle/heel) when running out a ground ball. As a former first baseman, I can totally understand why Morneau might be upset. The only time I really came close to throwing a punch on the baseball field was when some dude did the same thing to me in Owatonna.

Almost on cue, the Twins responded in the next half inning, batting around and scoring five runs to take an 8-4 lead, en route to a 10-4 victory. A.J. tried to apologize to Morneau (see above) but the big Canuck wasn't biting. StarTribune baseball reporter Joe Christensen has a solid wrapup of the events in his blog today, and my favorite baseball writer ever, Patrick Reusse, finds a way to compare A.J. to Bart Simpson (never had Patrick pegged as a fellow Simpsons fan).

Anyway, Pierzynski says he didn't mean to clip Morneau's heel, and he didn't even know he had until the Twins dugout was all over him the next inning. Which is typical A.J. He never intends to do anything controversial, yet trouble always seems to find him.

Regardless, Twins fans owe him a debt of gratitude. That game was slipping out of their fingers before he reminded them why Twins-White Sox has become such a great rivalry.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Harpy's Bizarre

Let's get to Part II of "CNN Headline News: In the Cross-Hairs" (see below for a Glenn Beck dissertation). Today's discussion centers on Nancy Grace, the inexplicably employed host of an hour-long festival of schadenfreude and bad hair that airs nightly on CNN Headline News.

Grace likes to come off as a populist victim's-rights advocate -- unless, of course, the victim is one who's been wrongly accused of a crime. In her smugness, she often mistakes certainty for accuracy -- but of course, she's not alone in that camp. She's the perfect example, in fact, of the old saw that certainty is where you arrive when you're tired of thinking. And a look back at her track record reveals a number of wildly inaccurate accusations.

For example, she was certain that the handyman kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. (He didn't.) She was certain that the Duke lacrosse players were guilty. (They weren't.) She was certain that creepy John Mark Karr guy had killed JonBenet. (He hadn't.) She once grilled the mother of an abducted child, even though she wasn't officially a suspect. The woman subsequently committed suicide, and an episode of "Law & Order: SVU" was based on the incident. In fact, Grace has been parodied on a number of TV shows in the last year, my favorite being the "Gracie Jane" character on "Boston Legal," who shows up on TV discussing the cases being tried by the Crane, Poole and Schmidt lawyers and likes to scream "Gulity! Guilty! Guilty!" at the top of her lungs.

Anyway, I'm stuck watching Nancy Grace last night when I was on the treadmill, and she's hyperventilating about some story about a father who put his baby daughter in the microwave, and the wife who blames the devil for his actions. The kid survived, though with serious burns, and the dad is making a brief stop in prison on his way to eternal damnation. So, is this story demented and sad? Certainly. Worth more than a passing mention on a legitimate news program? Hardly.

Grace treated the story as though it were some kind of trend, or another example of "what's wrong with society today" that sensationalist pundits love to harp on ad nauseum. She even brought on an expert to talk about the case. You know, like when the President or a member of his administration uses the Constitution as toilet paper, a reputable news program might bring on a Constitutional scholar to discuss the issue. Or when a plane crashes, you might hear from a former FAA employee or a pilot or air traffic controller.

So who was the relevant "expert" in the baby-in-the-microwave case? Alas, the sound was turned down and I missed the graphic introducing this vital contributor to the conversation. Perhaps she was a Satanic blame-game scholar, or Lucifer's concierge, discussing the man's future accommodations at the Hell Hilton. Or maybe she was the author of a microwave cookbook. (Sorry -- but knowing Nancy ....)

The point is, here's Nancy Grace, once again appealing to the lowest common denominator by shooting more fish in a barrel. Nancy, baby -- we all detest people who put any living creature into a microwave. You're not breaking new ground here. It's not a new trend. Crazy people have done inexplicable things for centuries. All the self-righteous blather in the world, all the sensationalizing punditry masquerading as victim's-rights advocacy won't change that.

And please, do something about the hair.

UPDATE: According to the show's web site, I'll get another chance to find out who that "expert" was, because they're re-airing Thursday's show on Saturday night. Too bad I'm working out tomorrow morning. But it's nice to see CNN once again covering itself in glory in its noble quest to uncover the truth and spike its ratings.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cynically Nebulous Network

When I'm on the treadmill at the local health club, I'm often stuck in front of a TV screen showing CNN's Headline News. Younger readers might not recall that Headline News used to be a nonpartisan affair that actually aired news -- kinda like how MTV used to air music videos. Of course, all that's changed now, with Headline News tossing its hat into the political gabfest ring with the likes of Nancy Grace and Glenn Beck, each of whom hosts a one-hour "news" program that I'll catch when I'm working out.

Beck, of course, is a right-wing troglodyte who gained national notoriety (or infamy) when he asked newly elected U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to prove that he wasn't a terrorist, because, you see, Ellison is a Muslim. Grace is a shrill harpy who screeched her way into the public consciousness through her obsession with the Natalie Holloway disappearance and other such tabloid crime stories.

So tonight, I'm keeping one eye on Beck's show and one eye on the equally unwatchable Cavs-Pistons game, when I noticed a commercial on Headline News for something called CNN Heroes, a promotion through which the cable channel is asking its viewers to nominate their friends and neighbors who've taken extraordinary action or performed heroic deeds in their everyday lives to improve the world.

CNN has decided the heroism they care to honor can be classified in six categories: Medical Marvel, Fighting for Justice, Young Wonder, Championing Children, Community Crusader, and Defending the Planet. That last one caught my eye. On its web site, CNN describes "Defending the Planet" as "Innovative efforts to preserve and protect the environment."

The difference between that sentiment and Beck's beliefs could not be more stark. CNN Headline News' star pundit is traveling the country this summer on something he calls "An Inconvenient Tour." He recently hosted a one-hour special, "Exposed: A Climate of Fear," in which he set out to present the "other side of the climate debate that you don't hear anywhere." In the world in which right-wing pundits reside, Al Gore is the anti-Christ, environmental activists are tree-hugging hippies bent on destroying the U.S. economy, and anybody who wonders if human actions have had a negative effect on the planet are Chicken Little alarmists.

And yet, the company that employs Mr. Beck apparently thinks that "efforts to preserve and protect the environment" are heroic. So, CNN, which is it? Should we honor citizens who work to improve the planet, or listen to the guy who represents your pathetic attempt to earn your right-wing stripes and give the proverbial finger to the environmental movement?

Look, I don't expect any cable channel's hosts to be in ideological lockstep (except for Fox News, of course), but I also don't expect those same cable channels to be so cynical as to pat themselves on the back for honoring one movement during the very show hosted by a guy who'd happily undo the works of those same people. Breathtaking. Absolutely breathtaking.

As for Nancy Grace ... well, it's late. We'll get to her tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New links

The sidenav bar includes a couple of new categories. "Blog Buddies" features links to the blogs of some of my friends -- please send me your link if you're blogging and I'll add it to the list (unless you're a crazy stalker type).

And "Donnelly Family Photos" is a link to our Shutterfly site. As you can see from the link, the password to our site is "lasvegas" so be sure to plug that in to get a glimpse at life in Southern Nevada these days.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Farewell to Falwell

I was reminded last week, in the aftermath of the death of polarizing televangelist Jerry Falwell, that his craziest moment had to be when he pointed a crooked finger of shame at the purple Teletubby, Tinky Winky. posted an exclusive interview with the controversial PBS character, who neither celebrated nor mourned the death of his tormentor.

A gay Teletubby? Really? A somebody who was forced to endure countless hours of that mind-numbing psychedelia, I had to chuckle at Falwell's character judgments. Tinky Winky was a scoundrel, to be sure. A ringleader. An inciter. A self-involved navel-gazer, a pouty prima donna, who wanted his tummy to be the center of attention again, again, again! And again!

But gay? Come on. That's a bit of a stretch, especially with so many other more obvious targets -- Velma, Peppermint Patty, Daffy Duck and Jeffy from The Family Circus.

By the way, my theory on Falwell's cause of death? Massive stroke after viewing his first Ace and Gary cartoon.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Two for one

This week, you get two reviews for the same low-low price. The staff at the Weekly decided to run a collection of reviews for albums we missed the first time around. It's something they do every six months or so, just to cover our tracks and ensure proper indie cred in the archives. Anyway, I chipped in my thoughts on The Cat Empire, an Australian band I saw on Letterman back in February. They blew me away with their energy and style and the cool Latin beat. Come to find out they recorded at the same studio in Cuba that housed the Buena Vista Social Club. I picked up the CD and loved it. It's a hit with the whole family, in fact. Nora requested "Sly" just today.

Also, I sink my teeth into the latest effort by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Don't let the name scare you off -- their last release, Howl, was a sleek collection of rootsy chestnuts that had hootenanny written all over it. They rock harder on Baby 81 (which took its name from a baby that was found after the 2005 tsunami and claimed by 81 families), but retain some of the shimmer of Howl.

Both of these CDs carry the official Donnelly Seal of Approval.

Oh, and in case you're wondering if I'm focusing solely on becoming the next Robert Christgau, I do have plenty of irons in the sports fire. I'm writing previews of four Big 12 teams for the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, I've got a couple of stories going for Viking Update, and am working on a World Series of Poker piece for LVM. Unfortunately, I don't think any of these will be available online. If I can find links, of course I'll post them.

Rock on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remember nostalgia?

Why do I always do this?

Every time I get a new album by a favorite group, I instantly find myself feeling nostalgic for the band's most recent effort. Even if I didn't really like it much in the first place.

To wit: This week, Wilco released Sky Blue Sky, a perfectly fine collection of songs that I'm sure I'll come to embrace further with each listen. Right now, only one song really pops my ears -- "What Light" -- but I'm sure I'll find more highlights as I get further acclimated to the music.

But right on schedule, here I am feeling wistful about A Ghost is Born. Suddenly, my ears are craving an album that I didn't much like when it first came out. Way back in 2004, "The Late Greats" was the only cut that really captured my fancy. But three years later, I'm celebrating previously undiscovered subtleties from "Hell is Chrome," "Muzzle of Bees," and especially "Company in My Back."

The thing is, I distinctly remember going through the same process three years ago, puzzling over my lukewarm reception to Ghost while devouring Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And when YHF came out, I rediscovered my love for Summerteeth as I tried to make sense of this new Wilco sound. I felt the same way about Being There when Boss Tweedy took me on that sonic joyride of Summerteeth.

And so it goes. This is nothing new. When my brother brought home his brand spankin' new vinyl copy of The Cars' Heartbeat City circa 1984, I ran to his record collection and broke out Shake it Up. Pop brought me back to Zooropa. Smile sent me scrambling for Sound of Lies. And so on.

OK, it's not a comprehensive rule in my life. Some bands have enthralled me more with each new release -- The New Pornographers, The Hold Steady and Tift Merritt spring to mind, and had I discovered their work in chronological order, I think The Decemberists would fit into that category as well.

But still, it's more than just a one-shot deal. Anybody have a similar experience, or care to diagnose this particular neurosis?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Let's get it started ...

I guess I should get this show on the road. It's high time I entered the world of blogging (though I refuse to proclaim my arrival to the "blogosphere" -- please, we have plenty of words, no need to make up new, lamer ones). I plan on using this site to update my Minnesota peeps on life in Nevada; provide links to some of my recent work; ramble on about sports, music, politics, religion, education, the media, and whatever else enters my cluttered mind; and, of course, post photos of my two adorable daughters and their rockin' cool mother. Please feel free to pass along comments, concerns, and humorous asides if you wish.