With the Division Series wrapping up so quickly we’re on our second day of no baseball. So, not surprisingly, things are rather slow. Which makes it a wonderful time to answer your questions. Some of them are even about baseball. Though, really, most of which are about “Empire Records.”
Q: Why are we still celebrating Rex Manning Day every year?
A: This question, if you are unaware, refers to the 1995 movie “Empire Records,” which I tweeted about watching last night. Rex Manning is the fictional aging pop star — think of a cross between David Cassidy and Michael Bolton — who makes an unwelcome visit to the eponymous record store in the movie. It’s simultaneously simpler than that and more complicated, but the point of this is that I watched “Empire Records” last night and a lot of people have asked me questions about it. For the record, it was only my second time seeing it. The first was only a year or two ago, prompted by my wife who was shocked I had not seen it before. She has seen it approximately 800 times and knows every word.
Herein I am reminded that I am seven years older than her and that, while that does not matter much now that we’re 45 and 38, in 1995 I had just been married for the first time and was starting law school while my current wife was still in high school. “Empire Records” was pitched at her, not at me, especially considering that I was something of a prematurely old man at 22. So: I totally missed it and it doesn’t really speak to me at all, but she loves it and always will. I presume there are some late 1980s movies I feel this way about and which people only a few years older than me totally don’t get, so don’t take this as elitism or anything on my part.
Anyway: my read on it now: not a good movie at all — really, it’s an objective mess in countless ways — but it has its charms and I totally get why someone who was 15 at the time would’ve loved it. My much larger takeaway was how odd it is to be reminded that at one time giant record stores that employed a ton of people and took up the kind of real estate Empire Records did once existed. In this it’s sort of like seeing a big travel agency in “The Americans” or any pre-2000s entertainment in which the entire plot or multiple episodes would be mooted if the characters had cell phones. If you haven’t done so already, look back at the period between, say, 1993 and 2003 and appreciate just how radically the world changed in those ten years. It’s easy to overlook if you lived through it, but it was a massive tectonic shift the consequences of which we likely still don’t fully appreciate.
Q: Empire Records went out of business for good eight months after the end of the movie, right?
A: Given how chaotic the place was, what with employees screaming at each other, the abrupt departure of highly-promoted celebrity guests, drug-taking by employees — which they TOTALLY underplayed, I presume; no way others besides Corey in that store weren’t on a lot of stuff — and the fact that massive, brazen theft from the day’s proceeds went completely unpunished and barely commented upon, I’m shocked it stayed in business at all.
Q: Does the remake of Empire Records end in a GoFundMe campaign?
A: The remake of Empire Records involves the one guy who owns and runs his independent vinyl shop in an intense drama over who stole his lunch from the mini-fridge he keeps under the counter. Said drama is resolved when he realizes that he works alone because that’s the entire payroll his business can afford and that he simply forgot to bring his lunch that day.
Q: Best examples of internet killing 1990s businesses?
A: Record stores obviously, as mentioned above. Don’t sleep on print journalism, though. My god is the media different now than it was then. As I’ve argued many times in this space, a lot of that change is for the better as far as what gets published, the increase in perspectives and the decrease in power of traditional media gatekeepers, but from a business perspective and from the perspective of the employment of journalists it’s an utter flaming hole in the ground. Also: there used to be print encyclopedias. It was wild. If I were guessing on what specific industry was changed the most, though: pornography. But I’ll leave the details of that for others to elaborate on.
Q: What are the realistic odds/chances the Braves ditch the Chop, post-Wahoo? Coming from a Braves fan.
A: On their own: zero. What I do not understand, however, is why Major League Baseball does not pressure the Braves to get them to stop doing it. And they could. It’s not just a “fans like it” thing. The team’s in-game entertainment folks encourage them with the music and the video board and stuff and that could totally be stopped by MLB if they wanted to. And they should want to because it’s ugly and racist and all of the things MLB said in its press release about Chief Wahoo and the desire to move beyond it and embrace a more inclusive fan culture go for the Chop too. Yes, fans would take up the chant on their own for a good while, but it would not have the team’s imprimatur and would eventually die out.
Q: The A’s have a lot of arbitration guys to consider. One being Khris Davis. I’ve seen his estimated arb number for 2019 around $18 mil. Why not offer him a 3/60 or 4/80. It’s beyond their usual budgetary level of comfort. Do you see Davis staying in Oakland long-term?
A: Davis is such a good fit in Oakland and it’d be a shame if he were to go. From a fan’s perspective I hope they do lock him up on a 3-4 year deal, but I suspect front office thinking is that they’ll ride him through arbitration and assume that they’re happy to see what he does in his age-31 season and go from there. Hope I’m wrong, because I really do think clubs undersell just how important it is to have some level of roster continuity when it comes to stars. They’re the ones who attract new, young fans.
Q: When did your kids get cell phones? My 7 year old has friends that already have them. In my head I want to wait until mine are driving, but feel like that may socially handicap them.
A: I think my kids were around 10 and 11 when they got them. There were some kids who had them younger, some who didn’t have them yet. I think they were in the middle range. As far as our decision, it wasn’t so much about keeping up with their peers — I don’t once remember having a “well, CAITLIN has one already!” conversation — as much as it was about parent communication with them. We live in a walkable town and they were out and about a bit earlier than kids who live in areas where they never leave their neighborhood. Also, as divorced parents, it was nice for their mother and I to be able to text with them or call them when they were at the other parent’s house. For us, socially handicapping them never entered into it, but by the time they were 12 and 13 it is the case that almost all of their friends hand them and it’d be difficult for them to communicate with their friends without them.
Q: If making money was no concern, how would you organize/structure the MLB postseason and why?
A: If money and broadcast rights and schedules all of that were out the window and if it were simply about baseball, I’d do away with divisions, keep the leagues, go to a balanced schedule so everyone plays the same amount of games against competition as the teams in their league and construct the postseason as a seeded tournament in which the top four records from each league are entered. I’d also make series longer, turning the Division Series into a best of seven and the World Series into a best of nine, but I’m guessing weather becomes a problem at some point. In other news: nothing like this will ever happen.
Q: What do you think will be the big issues during the next CBA negotiation?
A: Service time manipulation and the luxury tax had better be near the top. In the past couple of CBAs the players unwittingly granted the owners a salary cap and the tools with which to push off free agency and got nothing in return. It was, like, a 75% repudiation of everything the union fought for from the 1970s through the early 2000s and they had best try to claw it back. Whether the players have the stomach to fight for it is another matter. I really have no idea.
Q: OK what did you think of “The Rookie” w/ Dennis Quaid?
A: It was fine but forgettable. I know Jim Morris’ story generally and I’m always skeptical of Disney treatments of real people’s lives. Real lives are messy. They do not have set endings until the person dies and even after they die, they do not have tidy and singular through-narratives like so many biopics will have you believe. While I’m often a sucker for a movie over a book — I’m lazy that way! — I’d rather read a well-researched and objective biography of a real person than a movie about a real person 100 out of 100 times.
Q: In-N-Out is the California experience that the cool kids have labeled “overrated”. (Even though locals know that honor is bestowed upon Rubio’s fish tacos.) Anywho, what’s the Ohio/Midwest “overrated” equivalent?
A: The answer to any question like this has two parts: (a) “cool kids'” decisions about something being overrated or underrated are always filled with cultural baggage that has little to do with the substance; and (b) regional obsessions are almost always fueled by the often erroneous assumption that something which is rare or hard to get is, by definition, good. People in the 1970s thought Coors beer was special because it could not be purchased east of the Mississippi. People in the 90s and early 2000s thought Yeungling was special because it was hard to find in certain states. Exposure, well, exposed both of those things for the pedestrian products that they actually are.
I am not pretending I am immune to this, by the way. I love In-N-Out. I’m covering the World Series this year and if it’s in Los Angeles you can bet your bippy I’ll make a point to get some. My brother, however, has lived in California for almost 25 years and even worked at an In-N-Out for like eight years. It’s just not a thing to him. It happens to everyone, everywhere.
As for the Midwest: people like Steak ‘n Shake and Culver’s a lot. They’re . . . fine. “Overrated” sounds mean and I don’t think anyone lionizes them like some people do In-N-Out, but they’re just places. White Castle for some people which, again, um, what? In Ohio specifically it has to be Skyline Chili. I do not understand why people here like it and I do not understand why people not from here seek it out when they come here, but my god, they do. All the baseball writers talk about it when they go to Cincinnati and I just wanna tell them to . . . not do that.
Q: How would a candidate’s feelings about Skyline chili factor into hiring for the Reds managerial job?
A: If they like it, they should be eliminated from consideration.
Q: Who wins the Ohio governor’s race? I like that Cordray fellow – he’s got moxie.
A: Politics are politics and people are gonna tend to vote for their party, but I can say that I worked for and with Rich Cordray, the Democratic nominee, in the Ohio Attorney General’s office for a time and, objectively, he was an extraordinarily smart, humble and hard-working guy who I hope wins. I haven’t paid close attention to the polls but my sense is that it’s going to be very tight. If I had to bet — and I wouldn’t bet a ton — I’d bet on him to win, but who knows.
Q: Has college (pre)panic set in at your house?
A: My daughter is in the ninth grade, my son is in the eighth, both are on track to get into good colleges, I suspect, and as it is right now I have to watch every penny I make and spend, so yeah, “panic” is a good word. I have no idea how I’m gonna manage it, but I’m hoping things just break right. That’s pretty naive and irresponsible of me I guess, but life does not unfold the way a financial planner tells you your life should unfold.
Q: Do you remember exactly how many disks you received from AOL Internet between 1995 and 2004? Thanks in advance.
A: No, but the first time I purchased an actual coaster was probably 2006 or something.
Q: Do people in Columbus care in general about the Crew debacle or just the hardcore soccer fans?
A: For those who don’t know, Columbus’ MLS team, Crew SC, is likely moving to Austin, Texas next year thanks to an owner who does not give a crap about this town and a league who thinks there’s far more money to be made in Austin. And maybe the league is right, but it doesn’t make it less crappy. As for the reaction: the outrage and sadness is mostly the hardcore fans. The city in general thinks it’s regrettable but, even though the team has done pretty well over the years, the city in general does not think too much or often about the Crew. Nothing here except the Ohio State Buckeyes matter. It has always been that way and will always be.
Q: Nine Cleveland Indians are free agents in 2019: Andrew Miller, Josh Donaldson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Melky Cabrera, Oliver Perez, Rajai Davis, Josh Tomlin, Michael Brantley, and Cody Allen. Which of these should the Indians try to keep, and will they be able to?
A: I haven’t really dug into the offseason stuff yet but I can make a case for letting every single one of those guys go. I suspect they’ll make an effort to keep Brantley and that one or two of them will want to come back on team-friendly deals, but there is not a player in that bunch essential to the team’s winning going forward.
Q: What song do you like better — “A Girl Like You” by Edwyn Collins from the Empire Records soundtrack, “A Girl Like You” by The Smithereens or “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5?
A: Holy crap this is hard. Between the first too, anyway. Screw Maroon 5. Of the good ones, though, the former is an objectively great jam and, probably, the best thing to come out of that movie. The latter is a song I have a lot of personal affection for. When I was a D.J. at a top-40 radio station from 1989-92, it was one of the few songs that, at least arguably, was in our format that I did not despise. It was only in our programming for a bit in late 89-early 90, with occasional returns as a recurrent, but the CD stayed in the control room. We were forced to adhere to a pretty strict playlist and it was rarely on it but I made a point to start every shift by playing it. Got me jacked for seven hours of Rex Manning, er, I mean Michael Bolton music.
Q: Who’s on your list to take over the helm of the Angels?
A: Someone floated Eric Chavez, but man, I do not know why everyone is so hyped on giving guys with no experience these sorts of jobs. Dino Ebel is a longtime minor league manager and coach in that system and he knows every single guy on that roster. Why not give him a chance? I say this with the knowledge that the biggest problem with the Angels is not their manager to begin with, it’s one of roster construction and their pretty barren minor league system. As such, they do not need some new general to change clubhouse culture and attitudes and stuff. They need better players. Ebel, assuming Mike Trout and the other Angels veterans like him, would be fine as far as culture goes and would have the added benefit of, you know, knowing how to manage a game.
Q: How do you personally form an opinion on the performance of a manager?
A: It’s hard because a lot of what makes a good manager a good manager is invisible to us. It’s easier to tell a bad one based on blatantly bad decision making and when clubhouse dissent comes out into the public. Personally, I prefer guys who seem to have a sense of humor about themselves and their job and don’t take themselves too seriously. One of the things that always got me about Brad Ausmus, for example, is that even when he had good teams, he was wound up comically tight and I just can’t have a lot of confidence in someone like that. Clint Hurdle and Bruce Bochy, on the other hand, generally seem to be pretty comfortable with who they are and where they are, don’t get too jazzed by the ups, don’t get too fazed by the downs and tend to laugh off most of the stuff that should be laughed off. That’s what everyone should want in a boss.
Q: Instead of spending $400 Mil on Bryce Harper, what should the Cubs do to improve their batting lineup?
A: Spend $200 million on Harper with a bunch of opt-outs and incentives and bells and whistles which is where I think he actually ends up? OK, not counting Harper, how about getting Manny Machado? I know he’s a liability at shortstop and that Kris Bryant is at third, but the Cubs, if anything, are masters of moving parts.
Q: With your kids encroaching the time where they flee from you, what are you going to do when they’re gone? Escape from the burbs? Hoard more cats? Convert their rooms to shrines to collectivism?
A: I have four cats. That’s plenty. I am lucky that I have a job that I can do from anywhere so moving comes up sometimes, as there won’t be a big need for me to be in a property-tax-heavy suburban school district. If I stay in the Columbus area — and I might — I can see myself moving 10-15 miles out into the country from where I am. Two reasons for that: (1) my wife rides horses and we’re out there a lot for that anyway; and (2) The older I get the less I find myself really needing to be in a city. That said, see the above question about college costs. If things don’t break right I’m, at best, not moving anyplace and, at worst, moving into a refrigerator box near you.
Q: I know your lane is the Most Handsome Managers ranking, but in five years, you should considering diving into the Most Handsome HOF Ballot rankings. Utley, Wright, and Mauer on the same ballot, that’s a lot of handsome.
A: Every year may be too much for that but that may be a great one-off post. Most Handsome Induction Class. Of course, given how quickly so many of these guys get out of playing shape after they retire I’m guessing that we’ll be scraping for a truly hunky class.
Q: Suppose you had a budget of $1,000 for baseball tickets for a season, would you go to more games in cheaper seats or fewer games in really good seats. or some combination of the 2 (what would be your preferred mix)?
A: I’d probably go for fewer games in expensive seats. I’ve lived my entire life in non-MLB cities so I don’t go to as many games as a lot of people do and baseball, for me, has always been more of a TV experience than an in-person one. When I go to a game I get what I can afford, but there have been a lot of times when I’ve splurged because it’s a relatively uncommon luxury.
Q: What your thoughts on the upcoming Dylan BOTT Bootleg Series release and the series as a whole?
A: I got the first Dylan Bootleg series (volumes 1-3, in a box set) back in the early 90s when it came out. Probably bought it at a record store not unlike Empire Records, in fact! It was and remains amazing. It’s like a complete alternate career for Dylan that, on its own — just outtakes and rarities — is better than most 60s-70s singer-songwriters’ actual careers. The 80s stuff — almost all outtakes — stand better than Dylan’s own 80s released output. The dude just lost his ability to tell what was good and what was not for a time. Anyway: it was fantastic. As was the Albert Hall one. Most of the rest of them seem pretty inessential to me. Dylan, like a lot of artists, has long since gotten over the idea of selling out, which is totally fine, but it also means a lot of what he does constitute pretty transparent cash grabs. Indeed, the one referenced in the question — a “Blood on the Tracks” bootleg — likely contains a bunch of the scrapped Minneapolis sessions . . . that appeared on Bootleg 1-3. When the bootlegs start with reruns, I’m out.
Q: Put yourself in shoes of Joe Torre, the alleged supervisor of umpires. What do you do about the pervasive criticism of umpire Angel Hernandez, rated as one of the worst umps? Pedro Martinez said MLB “needs to do something about Angel.” 3 of his calls were reversed in the playoffs
A: Given that Joe Torre has been named personally in the discrimination complaint Hernandez filed, if I’m Joe Torre I do absolutely nothing out of self-preservation. If I’m Rob Manfred, though, I step in and stop scheduling Hernandez for postseason games for cause and be prepared to defend my actions in the lawsuit should the complaint be amended to include it. As we have said many times around here, the merits of Hernandez’s discrimination claims stand separate and apart from his abilities as an ump. He could very well have been discriminated against even if he is a bad umpire. He can likewise not be given plumb postseason assignments because he’s a bad umpire, not because of discrimination. If MLB has acted properly with respect to him in the past and has its umpire evaluation house in order, this should not be that difficult of a process.
Q: Kid Rock and Kayne are at the White House today. Does that constitute as a trivial matter?
A: I’m guessing the people who thought it was horrible for Taylor Swift to endorse a political candidate have no problem with this.
Q: Have you ever considered giving up sportswriting and becoming a political analyst instead?
A: No. Sports are fun. Politics is generally not fun and, recently, extraordinarily frustrating. While I am interested in political analysis, I like keeping my political analysis as a side hobby on my personal blog because when it depresses me I can simply . . . stop doing it. I can take a day or a weekend off of the news. If it were my job I could not. Never, once, have I felt the need to do that with baseball and that’s why I still love my job after all these years.
Q: In 50 years, assuming we haven’t been fried by the sun, do you think there will still be people watching pro baseball?
A: Yes. Baseball has its demographic challenges, but it’s not going away. It may change. It may become an increasingly niche sport or something people follow differently then than they do now, but I don’t think it’s going anyplace.
Q: How many games for Dodgers/Brewers series?
A: Um, six. Dodgers take it. I reserve the right to change this prediction. I have no clue about the AL. My gut tells me Houston but I’m not sure why.
Q: Was yesterday the worst sports day of the year?
A: As a guy who doesn’t follow the NBA that closely and thus does not have too much of a vested interest, I have to say that the Jimmy Butler thing was quite entertaining and at least partially made up for the lack of baseball. The most entertaining part of it was that ESPN’s Rachel Nichols just happened to be in Minnesota on the day of his outburst. That wasn’t stage-managed and pre-planned AT ALL, no siree. Haha.
Q: Do you think any MLB or team execs will end up in prison for FCPA violations? And is this Andrew Friedman’s last chance to win a World Series before he takes a long vacation from baseball?
A: That’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if you did not know and it has to do with the feds’ investigation into MLB’s activities in Latin America. There are suggestions of human trafficking and all manner of ugly things circulating and, yes, someone could end up in jail over all of this. My guess, though, is that high-ranking or well-known MLB figures will not. Rather, it will be scouts or coordinators and people you haven’t heard of. Major League Baseball is very, very good at insulating itself politically and insulating itself from the bad things done to further its interests. Always has been.
Q: If someone were new to baseball and didn’t want to default to the “home” team, how would you recommend they choose a team to follow? Feel free to substitute “baseball” with “Musical band or artist”.
A: It’s almost inevitable that they’d default to a non-home team given that MLB.tv does not let you watch your local teams. That said: I’d pick a team with announcers they like because TV is gonna form the basis of their primary interaction with the club and a team that has a couple of good up-and-coming stars they can watch mature so they can bond with them while they go from green to seasoned pros. I’d also make sure the team is not the sort which is going to ship them off the second they get expensive.
Q: My wife and I are debating: Cake, or cake and ice cream at a birthday party?
A: Why would you not want ice cream too? Ice cream owns.
Q: You get home at 3:30am. Neighbor’s garage door has been left up. Do you ring their bell and tell them, or just hope for the best and let it be? City vs Suburb?
A: In the suburbs let it be. If it’s the city, you know the neighbor and the garage isn’t on an automatic opener — or if it has a button that you can press and bolt out of before it closes — do them a solid and close it for them. Only wake them if you REALLY know them well, if they have something obviously expensive and stealable in plain view and if the crime rate in the area is such that it’s likely to get swiped.
Q: Your short list of favorite albums?
A: Changes all the time, but going with some tried-and-true classics, in no particular order: Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”; Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street”; Beatles’ “Revolver”; The soundtrack to the movie “Until the End of the World”; A Tribe Called Quest’s “Low End Theory”; The Pixies’ “Doolittle”; The Nationals’ “Boxer”; and the James playlist I made on Spotify because, while their albums can be hit and miss, two hours of their selected songs is something that gives me life. There are countless others I’m leaving off. Just way too many to name.
Q: First album you bought on Matador Records?
A: What, you think I’m some sort of 90s hipster? Make some stereotypical assumptions much? Jesus.
“Slanted and Enchanted.” The answer is Pavement’s “Slanted and Enchanted.” And yes, I bought it at an indie music store that had a lot of young employees who no doubt were experiencing a lot of interpersonal drama, not all of which was resolved by a rooftop concert and/or going to art school near the college their new girlfriend is going to.
Baseball is back tomorrow, folks.