Documentary Review: The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Music by: Brocker Wa

Netflix, 73 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a Netflix exclusive that just dropped this past weekend. It is the story of the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league baseball franchise that was started and ran by Bing Russell, actor and father of Kurt Russell.

The Mavericks were pretty big in the ’70s. In fact, they were getting more press coverage than a lot of the major league teams. They also set some minor league attendance records during their existence. They were scruffy, tough and not your typical clean cut all-American team. They brought a hardened edge to baseball and a level of competition that not only surprised the City of Portland but also surprised the team.

This was a thoroughly entertaining, informative and enjoyable documentary. As a baseball fan that was born in the late ’70s, I’ve heard the stories of the Portland Mavericks but I wasn’t alive to witness it. This gave a lot of the stories I’ve heard, more insight and depth. It also added in a bunch of stuff I would’ve never known otherwise.

It was great seeing Kurt Russell and his mother adding their two cents to the documentary, as well as the interviews with all the old Mavericks and key people. The movie was well edited, well put together and seemed to fly by with ease. The short 73 minute running time may have something to do with that.

This is one of the better baseball documentaries that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. If you’re a fan of the sport, check it out. If you’ve got Netflix streaming, it’s free.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: No No: A Dockumentary and Ken Burns’ Baseball.

Book Review: ‘The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution’ by Tom Acitelli

History is awesome. Beer is awesomer. America is awesomest.

Put all three of those together and you get this: a triple awesome badass epic that goes through the history of craft brewing in the United States of America.

Tom Acitelli has put together a great book for craft beer lovers. It doesn’t matter if you are in America or not, this book tells the interesting tales of some of the most interesting breweries there are. It examines how the craft brewing industry came to be such a juggernaut in the U.S. and how it has fought against the bigger corporate megabreweries (still a much, much bigger juggernaut).

The book helped to solidify and enrich my love of beer, its creation process and just about everything else surrounding it.

Acitelli’s words are well-written, the tales he tells are well presented and there is a lot of new knowledge to walk away with even for the most hardcore beer aficionado.

I cannot recommend this book to beer lovers and/or history buffs enough.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The books Tasting BeerBeyond the Pale and Asheville Beer.

Talking Pulp: Mad Men and the Nanny State

*Written in 2010 when I was running a blog about politics and economics.

*This article is pretty much spoiler free. It is also a rebuttal and a different take on the show than the Mises Institute VP Jeffrey A. Tucker’s article “Mad Men and Government Regulations”.

Mad Men is a show I just recently got into. Like most shows, I just didn’t want to start watching it because I didn’t want to find out I really liked it and then be stuck watching it like an obedient and perfectly timed zombie every week. That’s not a knock against the show; in actuality it is a compliment. I hate having to be pulled in at a specific time, on a specific day, week after week because it disrupts my life and other things I could be doing, like writing an article such as this one.

You see, shows I fear that will be too good, I typically avoid until they are over and then I sit down and have a marathon. Why? Well it is because of those damn cliffhangers! This way I avoid a week long, or god forbid a year long wait of tension and suspense dying for answers to what just happened. I have been a regular watcher of Dexter since the beginning and the end of season 4 (I won’t spoil it for you) left me fucking breathless, confused, saddened, puzzled and starving for answers! I had to wait nine damn months! Situations like this are why I waited until Lost was completely over before delving into it. I am glad I did. That show was incredible and there was no way in hell I could’ve gone through that madness weekly and then for months during a prolonged break between seasons and writers’ strikes.

In regards to Mad Men, I had heard so much good stuff about it from a lot of my libertarian leaning friends. Knowing that a new season starts every summer, I decided to finally sit down and watch the first four seasons to prep for the upcoming fifth season. It wasn’t until I finished Season 4 and then went to Wikipedia to see when Season 5 was set to air that I discovered that there were contract disputes and that it would be delayed until March of 2012, a year away! Damn it television demons! It figures that the moment I watched it, some bullshit would happen and the show would be delayed so the broadcasting gods above could laugh at me and my torment! Damn those gods, I defy the crap out of them!

Anyway, this article isn’t about my personal issues with television deities and my inability to be patient from episode to episode, it is actually about the rise of the nanny state, which is very well present in the world of Mad Men. Being that it takes place in the 1960s, we are shown a world that is going through a major metamorphosis. From the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race, through the assassination of JFK, the LBJ-Goldwater race and the Civil Rights movement, we are shown bits and pieces of a state that is slowly slipping into nannyism. Government regulation and intrusion into our lives really took a major turn for the worse in the ’60s and Mad Men does a good job at painting a picture of a world before the nanny state took control and how the world had to adapt as the state’s grip slowly tightened.

Jeffrey A. Tucker, the Vice President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute wrote an article titled Mad Men and Government Regulations. In his article, he claims that the show glorifies the rapid expansion of government regulation and intrusion into our daily lives. I don’t feel that this is the case at all actually. I don’t find that the show glorifies it; I feel that they just display it and the audience is able to make up their own mind.

In my case, I see the regulation and it irritates me and I view the actions of the characters on the show and their distaste for it, as their show of utter resistance. I find it to be more of a heroic critique against the state’s control. Granted no one goes into an uproar over it on the show but that isn’t what the show is about. Many of these references are subtle and much of the defiance against it is wittily wedged into a single lines of dialogue sprinkled into lengthy conversations about old fashioneds, bear claws, Lucky Strikes and titties.

One example Mr. Tucker gave in his article about the glorification of regulation in Mad Men was the incredible overabundance of smoking on the show. He cites that the chain smoking, which is done mostly indoors, is done to creep out the viewer and give them a sense of discomfort. He uses that example to say that it convinces the viewer into feeling a sense of relief over the government’s regulation of the tobacco industry, whether through labels and warnings on the packaging itself to endless laws limiting an American citizen’s right to smoke.

Well, I never took it that way. In fact, I took it just the opposite. While I don’t feel that everyone should just chain smoke an office space into a wood-burning barbecue smoker, I also don’t feel that it is the government’s job to force an office to comply. That should come down to company policy and if people are offended by a smoky workplace, don’t fucking apply.

The actions of the characters on Mad Men are just doing whatever the hell they want to do and no one is saying a damn thing about it because in that day and age, they could grin it and bear it or they could leave. It is their choice to work in that environment. Maybe I am biased however, considering that my day job is being the Senior Creative Director for a major cigar manufacturer and sitting in smoke just comes with the territory. Whenever Don Draper lights up in his office, I see it as a big “fuck you” to the rising nanny state within the confines of the show, as well as a message from the producers to the bureaucrats of our real world.

The issue of daytime office drinking is also used as an example that should raise eyebrows. Sure, pounding down scotches and vodka gimlets before noon while discussing that day’s sales pitch is a bit over the top but many executives in high profile companies have their little display of bottles and rocks glasses in the corner. A sip of some Laphroaig to ease the tension while going over the quarterly numbers isn’t unheard of in the real world today. Hell, it is commonplace.

I guess the issue with Mad Men though is the amount that they drink. Sure, they do push the boundaries further than they should in their office space and in their own livers. However, I don’t take this as a glorification for regulation by the show’s producers; I take it as a glorification of the characters’ self-serving attitudes and their overwhelming desire to ignore the risks and to be the old school badass ad agency execs the show pimps them out as. It’s their bodies, they can do what they want and no one is going to tell them otherwise. I think that they are all freedom loving Americans at heart.

Well, we all know that Bertram Cooper is pretty much a libertarian and/or an Objectivist after he insisted that Don Draper use part of his bonus check to buy Atlas Shrugged.

Tucker also talks about the treatment of women on the show. Granted, as the show begins and then for quite some time, the attitudes of men towards women can be shocking in contrast to the way the world is today: fifty years later. However, as the show progresses, some of these attitudes change and some of the main woman on the show go from being just pretty objects to gaining the respect from the men who initially treated them that way. Once again, this is a sign of the times and a display of how well the show is able to evolve with the quickly changing times of the day.

For an example of this, one has to look no further than the character of Peggy Olson. In the beginning, Peggy is just starting out at Sterling Cooper and is a very timid and shy girl, who is seemingly easily flustered and pushed around by the men in the office. Pete Campbell, who is the meanest to her, also ends up having an affair with her right off the bat, which causes much more turmoil and confusion than she obviously needs. She is a second class citizen in the office but she never gives up in this sexist man factory with impossible odds to succeed apart from putting out and doing “favors”. No, Peggy is the antithesis to what you think she is going to be when you first meet her.

Peggy goes through hell early on in the series but it doesn’t deter her, she nearly gives up but her boss, Don Draper sees something special in her that the other token chauvinists have overlooked. Peggy has talent, she has desire and she has the ability to be one of the biggest assets in the company. Don, being the only one with the foresight to see this, gives her that little shove she needs. By the third season, Peggy has an office next to Don’s, the guy she was the secretary for only a few years prior. In the fourth season, she is literally the creative glue that keeps the company afloat during hard times. Peggy hustles; she hustles better than most of the men on the show and is properly recognized and rewarded for it as time goes on. Peggy shatters the mold.

Joan Holloway also takes a similar path as Peggy Olson. Joan starts out as the token office bitch and mother figure to all the women at Sterling Cooper. She is virtually the madame at the corporate playhouse. When Joan first meets Peggy, she coaches her on how to succeed. She tells her to basically stay out of the way, do what is asked, look pretty and don’t be shy if asked to go that extra mile.

Joan is also Roger Sterling’s mistress at the beginning of the series. Roger is one of the partners of Sterling Cooper.

Joan is pretty much a cookie cutter character in the beginning. There are signs that someone is in there that deserves to be more than Roger’s doormat. By the end of the third season, she gets married to a decent guy, leaves that “do anything to please” shtick behind and her badass work ethic is also greatly recognized. She officially becomes the office manager of the company and oversees the fall of one company and then is an instrumental part in forming and growing a new company. By the end of Season 4, Joan literally runs shit. No she isn’t a partner but she is nearly at that level. Where Peggy owns the creative side, Joan owns the day-to-day and gets mad respect for it.

Does the development of these two characters make me want to thank the heavens for sexual harassment laws and women’s rights? No, not really. Granted I have no real problem with those things. It just makes me appreciate that two women were able to beat the odds and to truly make something great out of themselves. One played the game and one defied the game but in the end, they both persevered on their own, not because some laws helped them and made it more “fair”. These women fucking rock. I’d marry them both.

Also, who can forget Rachel Menken, who in Season 1 took over her father’s huge Manhattan department store? I wouldn’t consider her a victim of male chauvinism. In fact, she held her ground against Don in their first meeting. Eventually her and Don became each other’s side item but in the end, she stood firm and had an incredible impact on Don. Her words steered the course of his character in a new direction. Rachel was able to make Don look inside of himself and question things he otherwise wouldn’t have if she were a pushover and just some sex toy.

Another thing Mr. Tucker made mention of in his article, while describing the theme of “patriarchal domination and savagery” is that housewives were so aloof and stupid that without government labels and regulations, they allowed their kids to do dumb and dangerous things. Well, kids just do that shit anyway, even today. There were times I did real dumb stuff with fireworks and they were covered in warning labels. All the flashy and colorful “DANGER” logos plastering the packaging didn’t stop me from launching multiple bottle rockets from my mouth.

One specific incident Tucker cited in the article is of a scene where one of the kids is wearing a plastic bag over their head. He mentions that because the Consumer Products Safety Commission didn’t yet exist. Betty Draper was too stupid to warn her kids of the possible suffocation that could occur playing their friendly game of “bag head” because a warning label didn’t spell it out for her.

Well, watching the show and knowing the characters so well, when I saw that scene I felt it was meant to show how aloof Betty is. Not housewives in general and definitely not because warning labels weren’t on the bag. You see, over the course of the entire show, Betty is shown to have severe mental issues that make her act and think like a child. Something in her never properly developed and she is a grown woman living a grown woman’s life but with the mind of a child. This is an issue they hint at in the beginning of the series and it continues to grow and expand throughout all four seasons.

Tucker concludes, in his article, that he sees a constant theme that Mad Men is glorifying, that being “the inability of society to improve itself without the helping hand of the master.” The theme I see in Mad Men is that before government regulation was as widespread as it is today in our Diet Orwellian society, the people of the 1960s didn’t need the help of the state. Instead, they lived without that helping hand and did just fine. The social issues would’ve worked themselves out and competent mothers would know what was too dangerous for their children without the labels. I’m sorry, I just don’t see Mad Men as Hollywood’s attempt at force feeding us the paranoid idea that government regulation and control is cool and necessary. I actually see it as the polar opposite of that.

Now I am not knocking Tucker. I love Tucker; he is one of my favorite writers/bloggers out there. I love his book Bourbon for Breakfast and I repost a lot of his articles and lectures on this site. He has given me sound advice on fashion (although I can’t afford a pair of Alden Genuine Shell Cordovans… yet), as well as how to properly utilize my water heater and how to combat “Generation Sloth”. That is why I found it odd to disagree on the subject of Mad Men.

It’s all good though; great minds often times disagree and I actually really appreciate and respect his interpretation of the show, as we all have our own viewpoints. That is what makes us special. Besides, it’s a television show; we’re both probably over thinking it way more than we should. It is a story and it is fiction; I doubt the writers were really tinkering around with anything other than just trying to tell an awesome story.

Book Review: ‘The Game’ by Ken Dryden

*Written in 2015.

This book is considered by most hockey purists to be the greatest hockey book ever written.

Now while I am a Chicago Blackhawks fan, I have always had a respect and love for the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, in my lifetime, I’d love to see a Chicago v. Montreal scenario in the Stanley Cup Finals – especially with the two current teams.

Anyway, this book is an autobiographical tale by legendary Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden. It follows him during the 1978-1979 NHL season, which ended up being one of the years that the then dominant Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. In fact, that season was their fourth straight Cup win and their tenth in fifteen years. The Canadiens would win two more (one in the ’80s and one in the ’90s) but they have never had that sort of success since the days of Dryden and that is what makes this an interesting book because it is told from the perspective of greatness, albeit very humble greatness.

The Game is an entertaining read and it is well-written by a man that evolved to be something much more than just a great hockey goalie. Dryden has gone on to be a well-respected lawyer and a prominent Canadian politician. He didn’t just go home with a bunch of championship rings when his playing career was over. These things about Dryden’s character are what make him unique and make his words more than worthwhile to read. You can’t write his words off as just some shoddy life advice through the experiences of some dirty goon.

This book is definitely in the upper echelon of hockey books out there. There are so many that I have read and still many that I should read. The Game is at the top of that heap however.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen, Tough Guy: My Life On the Edge by Bob Probert and Kirstie McLellan Day, Made In America by Chris Chelios and Kevin Allen, Keith Magnuson: The Inspiring Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk by Doug Feldman, Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams by Mike Babcock and Rick Larsen.

Book Review: ‘So You Think You Know Baseball?’ by Peter E. Meltzer

So You Think You Know Baseball? is pretty interesting if you are at all a hardcore baseball fan or even a casual fan that wants to understand the game’s rules at a much deeper level.

This book goes through every single rule in the official rulebook. In fact, it doesn’t just reiterate or try to explain the rule, it gives actual real examples, often times multiple examples, of the rule in play and how it effected the cited game.

The book also provides examples and asks multiple choice questions to the reader, to try and determine the right answer. This allows the reader to better understand even the most complicated or seemingly useless rules. It also makes the reader respect some of the more obscure rules.

This book is a must own for any baseball fan just because of the lengths the author goes in trying to make each and every single rule clear. It will challenge purists and aficionados and bring some enlightenment to those on the eternal quest for ultimate baseball knowledge.

It is well written, well organized and just damn interesting.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca, The Hidden Language of Baseball by Paul Dickson

Book Review: ‘When The Game Was Ours’ by Larry Bird & Earvin Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan

*Written in 2015.

I grew up in a pretty lucky time for a basketball fan. My introduction to the game was seeing the constant rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson unfold nearly each and every postseason. It set the stage for what was the best era in professional basketball history, as next came Jordan, Pippen, Malone, Stockton, Barkley, Ewing, Robinson, Drexler and so many others. Bird and “Magic” gave us what was the start of the amazing era that took over the 1980s and culminated at the 1992 Olympic Games with the assembly of the first and greatest Dream Team.

These two guys changed the game and enhanced its spirit. They forced the game to get better and their competition to work harder. They were generals on the court but they were also model citizens and guys worthy of pointing to and saying, “Hey son, be like that guy.”

Anyway, this is a pretty awesome book. Whether you like one of these guys, both of these guys, none of these guys, or just the game.. or not.. it is still a pretty awesome book.

It tells the tales of both men from their point-of-view as they came up through high school, through college and into the NBA. It gives insight as to what each man thought about the other, every step of the way. In many ways, them opening up about their feelings and thoughts is pretty cool, especially since much of what they share with the reader, they hadn’t yet shared with each other.

There are great stories in here, legendary stories in fact.

The only downside is that I felt like the book suffered from being written by a third party. Not to say the writing wasn’t good, it was great. However, it would’ve been a much more intimate and better experience had Bird and Magic penned their own words for the majority of the book.

Regardless, this book, at least to me, was a stark reminder of how much class the National Basketball Association and its stars had. Something that has been missing league-wide since the end of that Dream Team era. This book also reminded me why basketball was my favorite sport as a young kid.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: My Life by Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Drive by Larry Bird.

Book Review: ‘Senna Versus Prost’ by Malcolm Folley

Senna Versus Prost is one of my favorite books on Formula 1. It covers the rivalry between two F1 legends, the late great Ayrton Senna and superstar Alain Prost. For those who don’t know, they had one of the most bitter rivalries in the history of not just motorsports but all of sports.

Many people are now familiar with the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda due to the film Rush but even that epic feud wasn’t as big as the one between teammates Senna and Prost.

Malcolm Folley wrote a damned good book and from cover-to-cover this thing wasn’t just compelling it was eye-opening and emotional. The events surrounding Senna’s death were tragic and the words of Prost within this book offer up a level of respect and admiration for the man he seemingly hated.

This book lets you into Prost’s mind and shows you how despite the differences and anger that these two amazing drivers had with one another, they never doubted the greatness of their biggest rival or themselves.

Senna Versus Prost is well-written and thorough, giving the reader stark insight into the history between these two super talented and passionate men. It also shows Alain Prost in a better and more fair light than the documentary film Senna, which painted a negative picture. That wasn’t a bad documentary but it had an agenda in the way that it was told. This book gives a more balanced view and lets the reader form their own opinion.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The Death of Ayrton Senna by Richard Williams, The Mechanic’s Tale by Steve Matchett and Winning Is Not Enough by Jackie Stewart.