Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gutter: Blue is nonplussed

This is my dog. His name is Blue.

Since I work at home, he pretty much does what I do. If I sit around all day, he sits around all day. If I go to the park, he goes to the park. If I spend all day playing synthesizers…well, Blue can’t do that because his paws are too big for anything more precise than block chords, and while I have a certain appreciation for experimental approaches to music, I tend to prefer something a little more melodic. So when I play a synthesizer at home, Blue usually just lays around and listens.

A similar occurrence takes place when I watch TV. Blue rarely shows interest in the programs and movies I choose to watch, so he just lays there and soaks it in. Such was the case earlier today when I watched the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack H. Obama.

I watched the inauguration, and Blue laid around and listened to it. Occasionally I noticed him glancing up, but for the most part, he was nonplussed.

Overall, I wasn’t really surprised that Blue was nonplussed with the whole thing. He reacted the same way to the speech Obama gave on Election Night in that park in Chicago. Blue’s a young lad - the end of January will be his first birthday - but he’s wise beyond his years.

For Blue, words like “hope” and “progress” and “unity” sure have a nice ring to them, but that ring is hollow. Words like that are empty starters, sparks to ignite some sense of national pride or collective passion that are best served in the campaign process. Or at ceremonial procedures like an inauguration.

Blue heard the call to action:

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America.”

That sure does sound nice, but the words barely registered with Blue this afternoon as they echoed from my TV. I was fairly caught up in the historical significance and intensity of the moment, but as I said before, Blue was nonplussed.

Now, I’ve done my best to educate Blue how significant it is that Obama won the election. But even on that fateful night back in November, after I returned from a friend’s house where celebratory spirits were in full bloom, Blue’s demeanor could best be defined as “nonplussed.”

As is our normal routine, I immediately let Blue out the back door for an evening release after coming back from my friend’s house on Election Night. As I stood in the doorway while Blue relieved the pressure that had built over the previous three or four hours, I reflected on my drive from the friend’s house in Mt. Washington back to my place in Lawrenceville. I thought about how a chorus of car horns punctuated the drive. I thought about how there seemed to be an electricity, a natural energy that enveloped the city.

I thought about these things while Blue performed his evening ritual that night in November. And then, just before he came back in the house, he looked up at me with an expression that seemed to completely encompass the lingering thought in my mind.

With one look, Blue asked the most important question of all:

Now what?

After all the promises and talk of hope and progress and unity and Yes We Can and everything that so captivated Americans over the past two years…

Now what?

After a history-making election that will forever change the face of the American political process…

Now what?

After finally undoing the God-awful administration that held the White House for the past eight years…

Now what?

And so it was on Tuesday afternoon, as I watched the inauguration of our 44th President…

Now what?

Hope, progress, unity, and all of those happy words will mean very little if real solutions, real ideas, and real, tangible effectiveness does not come out of this presidency.

And so Blue asks…

Now what?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gutter: Cheapskate final standings

Since it’s been two and a half months since the World Series, I figured maybe I should wrap up the Cheapskate standings sometime before spring practice starts.

To refresh: the Cheapskate recognizes the Major League Baseball team that did the most with the least in the 2008 season. To arrive at that conclusion, we took the four franchises with the lowest team salaries to start the season. At the end of the season, the total salary was divided by the number of wins to determine the money spent per win. The team that spends the least per victory is named winner of the inaugural Cheapskate Award.

A couple caveats:

1. The Cheapskate only deals with the salaries at the start of the season. Salary dumps and All-Star break pickups and other such transactions are not included, mostly because the Cheapskate selection committee is too lazy to do that much research.

2. The Cheapskate selection committee is also too lazy to come up with any sort of equation that determines which team actually won the most games while spending the least. Those calculations would undoubtedly require far more effort than the current equation demands, so we’re sticking with the one we’ve got.

Here are the numbers we’re working with.

Total salaries (according to this list published by the Associated Press):

Pittsburgh $49,365,283
Oakland $47,967,126
Tampa Bay $43,820,598
Florida $21,836,500

Cost per game:

Pittsburgh $304,723.97
Oakland $296,093.37
Tamp Bay $270,497.52
Florida $134,793.21

Now then, it’s time to present the first-ever Cheapskate Award. After a long season of sliding by with a blue-light special payroll of $21 million and an average cost per game of just under $260,000, the inaugural Cheapskate goes to…

The Florida Marlins

Congratulations to the Marlins. Nobody knows how to build up and then tear down a franchise like the Marlins. Fact is, Florida was in the race for the NL East for most of the season before falling off behind the far-more financially-endowed Mets and Phillies.

By far the best performer in the Cheapskate running this season were the Tampa Bay Rays. TB beat out the ridiculous spending of New York and Boston to win the AL East and then made it all the way to the World Series before falling to the Phillies. And that was all accomplished with a preseason payroll of $43 million.

Of course, the hook with the Rays was that they were full of very talented young players who were still early in their contracts, thus not costing the franchise an arm and a leg. It’s amazing: if you draft well and develop well, you can have a window of at least a few seasons where your payroll is low and your talent is high.

Pittsburgh, we’re looking at you here. Let’s try to emulate that over the next couple years, eh?

The Marlins and the Rays were the only Cheapskate teams to finish with winning records, as Oakland and Pittsburgh just flat-out sucked. The Athletics won 75 games and finished 24.5 games out of first place in the AL West despite competing for the better part of the first half of the season. The Pirates were never in competition for the NL, and their God-awful trades in 2008 led to a piss-poor 67 wins.

Great job Pirates. Way to show up this year. And for each of those 67 wins, you spent over $700,000. Money well spent, to be sure.

That’s all for us here at the Cheapskate Awards. It’s been an awful season, and now that the Yankees have spent $400 million on three players in the offseason, 2009 looks to be even worse. Maybe the Cheapskate will be back next season. Maybe not. Really, it all depends on whether or not the AP publishes the preseason salaries again.

Record: 84-77
Standing: 3rd in NL East
Games back: 7.5
Money spent per win: $259,958.33

Record: 97-65
Standing: 1st in AL East
Games back: 0
Money spent per win: $451,758.74

Record: 75-86
Standing: 3rd in AL West
Games back: 24.5
Money spent per win: $639, 561.68

Record: 67-95
Standing: 6th in NL Central
Games back: 30.5
Money spent per win: $736,795. 27