The Chosen

Harpthrob is clearly inspired by LeBron.

Bryce is back to being The Chosen One. Harpthrob, clearly inspired by LeBron James’ heroics, has bounced back from a cold spell with Harpthrobesque numbers over his last 5 contests. Bryce is 6 for his last 11, and 7 for his last 17 with 2 homers, a double, 4 walks, only 2 k’s, and 4 steals. His season line is now up to .333/.421/.602. And he should be in high school.

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Many actors steal their featured sections of Bridesmaids, but it’s hard not to walk away from the film marvelling at the virtuosity that is Kristin Wiig. I’ve long considered Wiig the best female cast member in the history of SNL, and feel she may be the best all-time cast member male or female. She’s an alien. No one can do what she does. She belongs on the Mount Rushmore of performers who’ve been on sketch comedy shows along with Will Farrell and Jim Carrey. The fourth face would either be Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, or Amy Poehler. Sid Caesar’s a little before my time.

In Bridesmaids, Wiig not only displays her comedic chops, but also carries the film with a grounded sweetness few chameleons possess. It wouldn’t surprise me to see her become the first big, modern, female, comedian, movie star. My wife tells me people consider Sandra Bullock a comedienne. Well, then the first big, modern, female, comedian, movie star who isn’t also a sex symbol.

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Life Imitating Art

Lehrer's book does the impossible, it makes neuroscience accessible.

Around the time I put the finishing touches on my blog post about LeBron James and what I perceive to be a double standard in how African-American athletes are viewed, I started reading Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full. For those of you who don’t the book, that’s majorly coincidental. It’s not ironic.

Which reminds me, Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist deals with discoveries in neuroscience imitating the work of 8 artists. Especially thrilling is the chapter about Chef Auguste Escoffier, and the relationship between our brain and why and how we taste foods.

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LeBron, The Decision, and The Race Card

In the minds of many, an asterisk will accompany championships won after The Decision.

I’ve always loved LeBron, and thought it was preposterous how people demonized him for exercising his rights as a free agent (I admit The Decision was poorly executed). I especially think it’s ridiculous how sports writers talked about how he lacked a killer instinct because he signed up to play with two other great players. All they can write about is how greedy athletes are, and how they don’t care about winning, and then an athlete leaves millions of dollars on the table in order to give himself the best chance to win, and they say he’s not playing by the rules. That it only counts if he’s the only great player on the team. It’s totally revisionist history, and I think it’s racist.

Let the uncomfortable murmuring commence!

The Decision was a huge miscalculation. But what did people truly find so objectionable? What most of America saw was an African-Amercian holding all the cards, having all the power, controlling a situation in a way people found too flashy, too self-interested. If he were white, his behavior might have been described as eccentric. Since he’s black, he’s a threat. He’s gotten too big for his britches. I think that’s underneath the general reaction to The Decision.

I also think that Cavs owner should be institutionalized.

The Decision was a P.R. debacle, but LeBron’s been accused of all sorts of things including not being loyal because he decided he didn’t want to play and live in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s like the punchline of a joke. Who would want to play for Cleveland?

LeBron wanted to play with his friends in Miami, and be on a great team and win championships. For this, he’s a bad dude. Not only bad, he’s a cheater.

One of the things I objected to most was the talk of how Michael Jordan would never have teamed up with Magic Johnson the way LeBron teamed up with Dwyane Wade. How LeBron was supposed to want to be the only good player on his team. If he was going to stay loyal, that’s what he’d have been signing up for. If you look at the Cavs roster last year, it’s pretty incredible that they had the best record in basketball – that Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison were considered good enough for LeBron to just take care of the rest.

When I tuned in to The Decision, I was half hoping he’d return to the Cavs even more than hoping he’d be a Knick, although it was pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen, because I know what a dying city Cleveland is. A close friend is a die hard Cleveland fan, and having spent some time there I have a sense of how cursed that city is, and how much it needed LeBron. But the rest of the country was not thinking about the economic repercussions to the city of Cleveland LeBron’s decision was going to have. The general public isn’t that concerned with Cleveland’s well being. People didn’t like the TV special. And they didn’t like that press conference thing where the big three danced with a fog machine. And maybe they felt it was stupid of him to want to play with a great perimeter player and a big man without a post-up game, and not with Derrick Rose or in New York where he could’ve “owned the town.” I don’t think people really care about the city of Cleveland. They talk about this amorphous thing called loyalty, but it’s not actual loyalty.

My history with LeBron harkens back to my initial inclination to root for greatness (when he played the Knicks I would root for Michael Jordan’s shots to go in, and of course for the Knicks to come out on top), and then was nurtured by needing a team to follow after the Knicks stopped playing basketball, and was finally cemented by desperately wanting him to come out on top when people compared the game’s two best players. My buddy Sameer is a big Lakers fan, and the understatement of the century is that I am not. Because I’ve been pulling for him for so long, the last few weeks have been especially redemptive.

After The Decision analysts kept saying, “Now he’s in a lose-lose situation. If the Heat don’t win it all, he’s underachieved, and if they do it doesn’t really count because they’re so good.” Watching them struggle early in the season and watching him recently shed the “he can’t close” label, I can’t help but think if they win the championship, he’ll be shoving it down a lot of people’s throats. And it’s going to count just as much as any other championship.

And, oh by the way, watching him play alongside one of the three or four greatest players in the game in Wade makes LeBron’s star burn brighter, not the other way around.

I’ve always found LeBron extremely likeable, and I have a hard time believing The Decision is really on people’s minds when they watch the Heat play the Bulls. Could the way that was handled really outweigh what has been an entire adult life spent in the limelight? I mean he didn’t rape anyone. He realized he could market himself free of charge so he put on a long commercial. It was stupid, but it wasn’t malicious.

I guess part of the reason people are so anti-Heat is that they feel young stars will continue to team up and create imbalance, create Super Teams.

Maybe it’s the bleeding-heart in me, but I like it when young, African-American men have all the power. It’s rare, and it’s hard to miss when one sees it. And I don’t think the Cavs owner’s reaction is completely besides the point because he’s a nut job. LeBron made tens of millions of dollars for that team and that city and then everyone called him a bastard.

I’m not saying it’s all about race, but some of it is about race. It’s not about race when he’s dazzling his mostly white audience and jumping over cars. It’s about race when the venom starts spitting. We’re far too racist for it to be a non-factor. Maybe what LeBron should have said was whenever people hate on a black man it’s about race, instead of whatever he said. Maybe because there’s nothing the least bit unique about it, it goes without saying.

LeBron probably did cry racism in order to deflect more substantive criticism, but he also spoke an undeniable truth. We are racist. Those two nuggets aren’t mutually exclusive.

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Today’s Prospect You’ve Never Heard Of

The 770th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Bour's own mother has never heard of him.

After a solid if unspectacular season in the Midwest League, Justin Bour has been eating his spinach this year in the Florida State League. With homers in his last two contests, Bour’s line of .335/.396/.631 is hard to comprehend. Who needs Albert Pujols when you’ve got Justin Bour in the pipeline?

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Nudes and Goats

Jonathan Lucroy has flown under the radar.

I’d imagine the Brewers are pleasantly surprised with Jonathan Lucroy. 24 year old catchers don’t usually hit .333/.385/.528.

Uber-prospect Dustin Ackley is looking more and more like a bust. The guy once described as the most polished college bat in the history of the draft has superior walk totals, but the rest of his ledger isn’t impressive. Questions remain about how much power he’ll hit for, and where he’ll land defensively. Ackley is an extremely safe bet to be at least an adequate big leaguer, but that’s hardly what they had in mind when the Mariners drafted Ackley a pick after Stephen Strasburg.

Matt Joyce started his 2011 campaign 1 for 20. I wonder how much the Manny debacle took pressure off of Joyce. In his last 127 abs, Joyce has produced to the tune of   .417/.462/.724.

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Brett Lawrie

Don't call me Laurie.

A couple of months back, I saw Fox’s Ken Rosenthal on a New York City subway. As is my custom with minor celebrities, I decided to engage the little guy. “You like Laurie, huh?” He looked at me like I was crazy.

By Laurie I meant Brett Lawrie, whose last name is pronounced like the common female first name, the stud prospect for the Blue Jays Rosenthal had recently, and quite unconventionally, predicted on MLB Network would win the Rookie of the Year. I clarified, “Brett Lawrie. You’re high on him, right?” Rosenthal smiled, nodded, and seemed generally contented to be sandwiched between two enormous individuals on the 7th avenue express. He asked if I was a Jays fan, and rather than explain about my fantasy league and how I’ve been following Lawrie for two and a half years, I replied that I just liked him. An avalanche of Yankees fans then opened up all around Rosenthal, berating him with stupid questions. You’re welcome, Ken.

When Milwaukee acquired Shaun Marcum over the offseason baseball analysts were quick to applaud the move. The Brewers were in win-now mode, and desperately in need of pitching. Marcum, an above-average starter, would slot in quite nicely as the Brewers new #2, and, after the Greinke deal, even more nicely as their #3. Although he tops out at about 90, Marcum has terrific command, which leads to surprisingly impressive strikeout totals. Casey Blake is a nice player, too. I wouldn’t want to be the guy that traded Carlos Santana to get him, but he’s a nice player.

The guy the Brewers traded to get Marcum was Brett Lawrie, a top prospect with defensive deficiencies and a perceived attitude problem. Lawrie is built like a Mack Truck. He looks like the dude playing high school baseball who might hit a line drive through an infielder. Lawrie is an explosive athlete with an explosive bat. I don’t know whether I’m higher on Lawrie than I am on Santana, but it’s close. They’re both absolute beasts.

The reasons why the Brewers soured on Lawrie remain a mystery. The highest drafted Canadian ever at #16 overall, Lawrie has always been a good stick without a defensive home. After moving to 2nd base from catcher, Jeff Kent comps started circulating for the 6 foot Lawrie. Now playing third for the Las Vegas 51s, I see a lot of Jeff Kent’s thunder coupled with David Wright’s athleticism. My best guess is that expectations were tamped down because his plus raw power hadn’t translated to big home run totals before this year. Maybe evaluators forgot that he skipped high-A and then had 36 doubles, 16 triples, 8 homers and 30 steals as a 20 year old in double-A. He’s been consistently one of the youngest players in pitcher-friendly leagues, until this year, in hitter-ridiculous Las Vegas, when the gloves came off. Lawrie’s line of .349/.408/.651 in triple-A ain’t half bad for someone born in 1990!!!

Last month, the Jays brass asked Lawrie to be more selective and see more pitches. After drawing only 6 walks in his first 33 games, Lawrie took the note and has responded by walking 10 times in his last 11 games. What a jerk.

Again, the Brewers had a real need and Lawrie was blocked by guys like Weeks, Braun, Hart, and McGehee. They felt pressured by what may be a one year window with Prince and the rest of their cast of characters in the fold. I get it. I just think they’re going to regret it. Like big time.

I’ve felt Lawrie was underrated for some time considering his age and his resume. His numbers have improved every year. His stolen base percentage has improved every year. He may not play much defense, and may ultimately be destined for a corner outfield spot, but there’s thunder in that bat. With Edwin Encarnacion homerless, Brett Lawrie will be making a name for himself very shortly.

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