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Manny Ramirez Traded

Today the Red Sox traded Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. It’s actually a 3-way trade, also involving the Pirates, which works out like this:

  1. The Red Sox trade Manny Ramirez (LF, age 36) to the Dodgers.
  2. The Pirates trade Jason Bay (LF, age 29) to the Red Sox.
  3. The Dodgers trade Andy LaRoche (3B, age 24) and Bryan Morris (SP, age 21) to the Pirates.
  4. The Red Sox also trade Craig Hansen (RP, age 24) and Brandon Moss (OF, age 24) to the Pirates.
  5. Plus the Red Sox send $7M in cash to the Dodgers to cover the rest of Manny’s 2008 salary.

Overall I think this is a good trade for the Dodgers and Pirates. For the Red Sox, I think it’s not a good trade, but I think it’s not a bad one either given their stocked farm system, financial means, and the strange circumstances of the trade itself.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Dodgers and Pirates ends of the trade: The Dodgers traded a prospect they clearly had little confidence in plus a low-level pitcher for one of the best available hitters, and they don’t even have to pay him! Assuming the Diamondbacks don’t counter with their own trade, the Dodgers could be the favorites to win the NL West now. The Pirates had a pretty barren farm system and anything their new GM can inject into it is going to help. The Pirates are a long way from contending, and while it’s fun to wonder whether they could have gotten more for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte (and they probably could have), in their position I think that’s splitting hairs. Until they acquire some impact players – probably through the draft – they’re just trying to rebuild the organization.

The deal is a very interesting one from the Red Sox’ end. Reportedly Manny has been agitating to get out of Boston, saying he’d waive his no-trade clause if the Sox would decline their options to pick up his contract for 2009 and 2010 (at $20M per year). Why has he been agitating to get out? I have no idea, and I can’t tell whether anyone else does, either. Is he fed up with Boston? With Red Sox management? Is he feuding with other players? Did he just decide he’s done what he can do in Boston and he’d feel more comfortable playing for another team? Or did he just want to have his options declined so he can try to sign one more long-term deal, which might possibly net him even more money over the length of the deal? Beats me.

But Boston has apparently been very good to Manny, both in fan support for him and in management bending over backwards to accommodate his foibles. In other towns, on other teams, Manny could have ended up as Barry Bonds of the American League, a moody, private player who runs his team the way he wants to. Instead Manny was a star on a team of stars, which won two World Series during his tenure. If he caught some flak for “Manny being Manny” from time to time, I know the memories I have of him tend to involve him hitting home runs, or running on the field with a big smile on his face. Manny’s antics – such as they were – don’t come close to stacking up against those of Bill Lee, or Wade Boggs, or Ted Williams.

Assuming Manny was the driving force behind the trade, I think it’s to the Red Sox’ credit that they worked to accommodate his departure as well as they did his presence, trading him to a contending team in a deal which isn’t truly to their benefit, as they traded two prospects and cash along with him in order to get a player who’s younger, and maybe as good, but that’s hardly guaranteed.

Jason Bay is a good player, he hits a ton and seems to have a decent defensive reputation (Manny was not a good fielder). He’s also a lot cheaper, being signed for $7.5M next year, and of course he’s 7 years younger. In 2008, he might be as valuable as Manny. We’ll see. In 2009, he could provide similar value for a lot less money, which means the Sox will be players in the free agent market this off-season, not to mention having some money to throw around to help acquire players in trade.

And who did the Sox give up? Hansen is starting to look more suspect than prospect, and relief pitchers tend to be fungible anyway. Moss is a bit more of a loss, although he’s not looking like a star in the making.

Overall, I think this deal is a lose for the Red Sox, but not a large one. It’s too bad to see Manny head out this way, but in a way it seems fitting given his sometimes-baffling tenure with the team. Bay should be a solid addition for the next year-plus, and ought to help us win this year. The big win for the Sox is that Manny’s intermittent injuries are now the Dodgers’ problem, and they don’t have to figure out what to do when he gets hurt, since they don’t have a DH slot to place him in. Bay isn’t an iron man, but he’s also not 36 years old; I expect Manny to get more fragile over the next couple of years.

I’d have been happy to have kept Manny for this year, though. He’s still an asset, and one more run at the brass ring with this Red Sox team would have been fun to watch. Ah, well. I hope playing for the Dodgers gives him what he’s looking for, whatever that is.

Things That Go ‘Boop’ in the Night

So last night I’m up late surfing the web, and I realize for the last few minutes I’ve been hearing something in the room go “boop”. It sounds a little like a low-pitched “beep”, but more like some old steam pipe venting a small amount of air. It’s only making the sound every 30-40 seconds.

I get up and see Newton sitting on the floor staring at Debbi’s backpack, which is propped up in the corner.

Boop.

I wonder whether one of the cats has somehow gotten trapped in the cupboard behind the bag, but there’s no one in there. And I also realize that I’ve seen all the cats in the last hour, so that’s not very likely. I’m hoping that it’s not some pipe in our walls getting ready to burst or something.

Boop.

It’s really annoying to track down what’s making a sound when it only makes that sound every 30-40 seconds! I’d hear the sound, try to locate where it’s coming from, then look at my watch and try to figure out when it should make the sound again. Meanwhile Roulette has gotten interested, too. So I move Debbi’s bag away from the wall and put my head between it and the cupboard.

Boop.

Right, the sound’s coming from the bag. I take her purse out of the bag and put it on the counter and wait.

Boop.

No, the sound’s coming from inside the bag. Well, her iPod’s in there, but is that it? I rummage around in the bag for a bit.

Boop.

Turns out it’s her cell phone, which is displaying a “Low battery” message on its screen and is helpfully making a noise every 40 seconds to make the battery discharge that much sooner. How nice. I take the phone out and plug it in to its charger, and the sound is gone. So I guess its plaintive cries did get me to give it what it needed.

Debbi tells me she remembered she needed to plug in her phone this morning when she was in the shower, and thought she was losing it when she came down and saw it sitting there plugged in with a green light. Then she saw the note I’d left her and realized I’d plugged it in.

That’s me, Mr. Helpful.

At least I’m helpful when beeped at.

Sandman 20th Anniversary Poster

Nifty! I may have to get one. (via The Beat)

Wow, has it really been 20 years since Sandman launched?

Film Trailers

When we saw The Dark Knight the other day, we also saw trailers for some upcoming films based on comic books.

First up was The Spirit, written and directed by Frank Miller, based on Will Eisner’s characters. The trailer looks downright awful, all noirish and with a cutesy sort of sex appeal combined with menace which seems utterly unlike the comics. I’m not a big fan of the source material, but it seems like Frank Miller is exactly the wrong person to adapt Eisner’s characters, which sprang from the tradition of newspaper adventure strips of the 30s and 40s. Miller over the last decade or so tends to take things to the extreme, which is entertaining when he’s working with his own characters (Sin City), but a disaster when working with others’ characters (The Dark Knight Strikes Again).

Anyway, based on this trailer, I can’t see myself going to see this film. (This trailer is slightly better, but extremely generic.)

By contrast, the trailer for Watchmen has been all the buzz on teh intarwebs this week, and it looks really good; many shots look like they were lifted directly from the graphic novel. My enthusiasm is somewhat tempered because adapting this story to a 2-3 hour film is extremely ambitious and I imaging they’ll either leave a lot out, or shorten many scenes, so I don’t expect it to have the same impact.

Still, based on this trailer, I can’t imagine myself not going to see this film.

(My copy of the graphic novel has been on loan to my friend Lee for a while. He reports that his cow-orkers have been coming into his office and thumbing through it since the trailer came out. So people are definitely interested in this film.)

By the way, it looks like grumpy old Alan Moore – the book’s author – has asked to not be associated with the Watchmen film, as the trailer site says the film is “based on the graphic novel illustrated by Dave Gibbons”. Whatever, dude.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #15, by Mark Waid & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #44, by Jim Shooter, Sanford Greene & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #2, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Sparks #2 of 6, by Christopher Folino & J.M. Ringuet (Catastrophic)
  • Invincible #51, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Legion of Super-Heroes #44 I haven’t been much of a fan of Francis Manapul’s artwork on Legion of Super-Heroes: The faces all look the same, the stylings are too Image-like for my tastes. It’s readable, but pretty blah.

This month’s issue features art by Sanford Greene & Nathan Massengill, and they’re a step down from Manapul’s art: Hardly any detail, sketchy renderings, generic faces which somehow also manage to be inconsistent from panel to panel – it’s not good, and not appropriate for the Legion, which ought to have a high-tech look, not a sketchy, rough look. What was the editor (Mike Marts) thinking? I hope they’re just a one-issue fill-in (maybe because the Dreaded Deadline Doom was creeping up and Marts just needed someone to get the job done) and not the new regular art team.

Meanwhile, Jim Shooter’s story continues to teeter between moments of embarrassing dialogue and sitcom-like scenarios, and decent action with decent characterization. It feels like if he just tried to be less hip and instead focused on making likable characters then it would be a fun adventure book. You know, like the Legion he wrote 30 and 40 years ago. Sure, the book’s moved on since then, but writing heroes doing heroic things isn’t really a dated idea.

Madame Xanadu #2 I was unimpressed by the first issue of Madame Xanadu, and the second issue is – surprise! – 100% better! The first issue was pure set-up, instilling in me a fear that we’d be in for several more issues of languid set-up with an uncertain payoff. Fortunately, writer Matt Wagner sets things moving in the second issue, with the fall of Camelot, Neume’s betrayal of Merlin, and her own downfall as a result, which makes me considerably more interested in seeing what happens next issue.

Why the heck can’t comics writers these days just jump right into the good stuff and fill in the set-up later? Isn’t that part of Storytelling 101? Wagner could have basically left out issue #1, or compressed the first two issues down to one. We’re still just covering the backstory of the character here, so the loss of dramatic impact would have been minimal, since the key point is to keep things moving.

Anyway, despite the misfire of a beginning, I’m not curious to see how it will play out. I hope it won’t turn out to be a “Madame Xanadu through the ages” sort of story, but that it will fairly quickly get us up to the present day and move the character forward rather than playing around in the past. But we’ll see.

Bugs Bug Me

No, not computer bugs. Okay, those bug me too, especially the ones I wrote myself and have to fix. (But at least they pay me for that.) No, I mean actual insects, which were the sources of some annoyance over the weekend.

First of all, we got the results of the termite inspection for our complex, and the inspector says he found signs of infestation in my unit, and recommends we tent and fumigate the building. This is weird because I was home when he came by, and he didn’t say anything to me about it. I’d have expected that he’d at least have called me over to see what he found and be able to recognize the infestation from first-hand experience. He apparently noted some issues with other buildings, too. However, in one case we think it was an infestation which was killed off years ago, but the damage (which was cosmetic) was never patched up. So now we’re not sure whether we’ve got an active infestation or not. So we’ll likely ask for clarification and/or get a second opinion.

Getting our place tented would be a big pain in the ass, mainly because of the cats, since we’d have to figure out where to put them while it’s going on, and how much cleaning up we’d have to do afterwards. The problem with cats is that you can’t really give them to your friends who already have cats, since cats and other cats often don’t mix. And friends without cats often don’t have cats for a good reason. So we might have to board them, which we’d like to avoid.

Still, termites are rampant in the valley, and as annoying as this would be, I’m sure there will be several house-tentings in my future while I live here. So I shouldn’t kvetch too much.

The other bugs vexing me this week is a colony of wasps which has taken up residence inside my redwood bench which also houses my vegetable planter. I see them crawling in and out through a single spot in the planter. Yesterday, one of them landed on my shoulder, rode me into the house, and stung me through my shirt. Ouchie! I killed it, and fortunately it didn’t leave its stinger in my arm, but it hurt like heck for an hour or so. Today I can barely tell I got stung, which I guess means I’m not allergic to wasp stings – good to know.

Anyway, the wasps are getting pretty annoying, so I want to find a way to take care of them – preferably without tearing the bench apart. So I’ll go to OSH after work and see what I can find.

These wasps have been lurking around the area for a couple of years, and their nests seem to move each year. I guess they die off over the winter and then come back and reestablish themselves. I don’t intrinsically object to their presence, since they do some useful things, but I don’t really want them taking up residence where they see me as a threat which needs to get stung. So I’ll see if I can encourage them to take up residence elsewhere.

Sigh. It’s always something.

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is the sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Remember when Batman came out in 1989 and everyone was wondering whether it would be a campy film like the 60s TV series which had influenced 1978’s Superman to its detriment? Fans lauded Tim Burton’s take on the caped crusader for being dark and serious.

Well, Burton ain’t got nuthin’ on Christopher Nolan, director of the current franchise.

Here, Batman (Christian Bale) and squeaky-clean district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are on the verge of shutting down Gotham’s crime families, especially after Batman manages to haul in the crime lords’ “accountant” from Hong Kong. The crime lords get into bed with the maniacal Joker (Heath Ledger) to take out Batman, and the Joker sets out to do in all the big names who are maintaining law and order in Gotham, showing himself capable of intricate, seemingly-impossible crimes of murder and mass destruction.

Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, has high hopes that Dent can be the hero Gotham need and that he can put aside his double identity and marry his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). But, unable to wait for Bruce forever, Rachel is not only working with Harvey in his office, but dating his publicly. Which, of course, also puts her in the line of fire of the mob and the Joker.

The Dark Knight is a very dark film indeed, even though much of it takes place in the daytime: Harvey, Rachel, Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman), the commissioner, the mayor, all the good guys are constantly under siege by people who vanish in the shadows after striking. The Gotham police department is deeply corrupt, which bothers Dent to no end even though he knows that dirty cops are better than the only alternative, which is no cops at all. It makes the film feel constantly suspenseful, even in the daylight scenes, even in places we expect will be safe for the heroes. Only his secret identity gives Batman himself any safety. (Although one does wonder why Bruce Wayne isn’t a high-profile target for the criminals of Gotham.)

Ledger is quite good as the Joker. Jack Nicholson’s performance in the 1989 film also drew kudos, but I always thought he was just playing ‘nutty old Jack Nicholson’, and I thought his performance was a low point of that film. Ledger is dark and menacing and convincing in being “crazy like a fox”, the sort of crazy where he’s willing to do anything to get what he wants, and where his appearance makes others underestimate him, often for the last time. Is his performance worthy of an Oscar, as has been suggested? I didn’t think so, but he did do a good job.

The film is a fine suspense and action-adventure piece. What makes it really work is that there’s some real characterization behind the cape: Bruce isn’t as meaty a character here as he was in Batman Begins, but Harvey, Rachel and Lt. Gordon all pick up the slack and contribute to giving the film more heft than just a lot of chasing and fighting and lunacy, it gives the characters something to fight for.

Despite that, the film does have its flaws. First, it’s overlong, with perhaps one too many clever plans of the Joker’s that Batman has to stop, and one too many nifty gimmicks that Batman can employ – his little trick with Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) latest technological innovation was cool, but implausible and unnecessary. Second, while the resolution of the Bruce-Harvey-Rachel triangle works for the film (though it’s not a happy ending), the Batman-Harvey-Joker triangle ends rather anticlimactically, separating the Joker and Harvey into two separate threads when it would have been far more satisfying to have them all merge together in the final fight against the Joker. While the Joker’s character is rife with meaning, I thought Nolan missed a chance to imbue Harvey Dent’s fate with the same degree of meaning – or at least a demonstration that even the Joker should sometimes be careful what he wishes for.

Still, The Dark Knight is quite a good film, stylish and intense. Definitely not a kids’ film, as there are some pretty brutal scenes. But maybe the most serious superhero film ever made. Which shows how far we’ve come in 40 years.

A few more, spoiler-laden comments after the cut:

Read on, Macduff! »

T.G.I.F. Dammit

All things considered, this has been a pretty crappy week:

  • A couple of last-minute, difficult projects landed on my shoulders this week, resulting in a great deal of stress for me at work. I managed to finish one today and make progress on the other one, but man, it was a rough week. And of course the things I’d planned to work on got deferred in the meantime. Sigh.
  • Debbi has her own job stress, since the majority shareholder of the company she works for has made an offer to buy the rest of the company. I’ve never been part of a corporate buyout, never mind one of this magnitude, but I’m sure this makes everyone who works there uneasy, since who knows how things might change if the buyout takes place?
  • We’re painting our townhouse complex soon, and I realized that my vegetable garden runs right along one of the exterior walls, so now I’m stressed out that I might need to pull out the vegetables just as they’re ripening in order to allow the painters access. Gah! Maybe I can cover them with tarps for the days they’ll be painting there, or maybe I can offer to paint that section myself after the growing season is over. Sigh.

So I’m really glad it’s Friday, because I’m exhausted and frazzled.

On the bright side:

  • I upgraded my journal to WordPress 2.6 and started having a couple of problems with it. But I eventually discovered that one problem was due to having the wrong bookmark to access the admin pages of my journal (I’d bookmarked the login page rather than the admin page), and the other was because I’d been editing some old entries recently which explained why Akismet‘s “automatically discard spam comments on posts older than a month” feature seemed to be broken – editing the entries apparently re-set their age counter, so I’m getting a little more spam in my spam trap than I used to. But, it looks like it’s all good in the end.

    (All that said, I am really looking forward to using the “live preview” feature of WordPress 2.6, as I’ve wanted to switch to a new journal template for FP for months now.)
  • I got to play poker last night with friends, and finished up a few bucks in our low-stakes game. All of my profits came from a single hand when my set of Jacks beat pocket Aces. I also managed to get away with losing the minimum when my A-Q hit top pair on the flop, and I folded to two bets – correctly, as it turned out as I was up against Aces again. I’m far from a great player, but I seem to be holding my own in this group.
  • And Debbi and I went to my favorite Italian restaurant for dinner tonight. Yay!

I think we’re going to have a low-key weekend. We have a few chores to do, but otherwise we need to empty our brains and de-stress.

This Week’s Haul

The smallest week in recent memory:

  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #5 of 12, by Dan Jurgen, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs, and Ron Marz, Fernando Pasarin & Matt Banning (DC)
  • Astro City: The Dark Age book 1 HC, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Perhapanauts #3, by Todd Dezago & Craig Rousseau (Image)
Astro City: The Dark Age book 1 HC On the bright side, the week did deliver the hardcover collection of Astro City: The Dark Age book 1, collecting the first half of this longest of Astro City stories.

I won’t go into detail about what Astro City is about (after all, you can read about it yourself), but as for this volume: The story covers the 1970s, a period of Astro City largely skipped over by earlier stories, except for the hint of the hero the Silver Agent, a sort of Captain America figure who is featured on a monument in the city dedicated to “our eternal shame”. This story fills in some of the blanks in the Agent’s story, while raising new questions.

The prologue takes place in 1959, when the brothers Charles and Royal Williams witness a fight between the Honor Guard (Astro City’s equivalent of the Justice League or Avengers) and a crop of villains. We later learn that disaster befell the Williams family that evening. Jumping forward to 1972, Charles has become a cop who’s suspicious of the heroes, while Royal has become a small-time crook, and the two have a strained relationship. The book is nominally their story, although there’s so much more going on that they simply get more pages than any other set of characters, plus they narrate the tale, but it’s not entirely their story. They follow the tragedy which befalls the Silver Agent, and Charles gets wrapped up in a police corruption ring while Royal hooks up with one of the city’s crime lords. The second half of the volume grows increasingly complex with threats to the city and the world, mysterious figures pursuing strange agendas, and the big mystery of the Agent. This volume ends in 1977, and the second volume will likely cover the next 5 years.

Astro City has long been a favorite of mine, and it’s fair to say I think it’s the best superhero comic of the last 15 years. But The Dark Age isn’t the book at its best. There’s too much going on, and with tantalizing glimpses of neat stuff going on, but not a feel of a whole lot of progress. A big part of the problem is that neither of the Williams brothers are very compelling as characters, certainly nowhere near the protagonists of the two earlier long-form stories, Confession (my favorite volume in the series) or The Tarnished Angel. They’re realistic and sympathetic, but the story goes for scale and intricacy rather than depth and character, and that doesn’t play to the series’ strength. Indeed, the series has often used the feeling of scale and depth of “real” superhero stories as a mere springboard for a moving character piece, so turning the series’ formula on its head just makes it feel a little less special. And the intricacy probably makes it a lot less accessible to new readers.

All that said, there’s still a lot here to delight the regular readers of Astro City, as mysteries of the city’s past are brought to light. And the book reads much better in a single shot than as a serial, especially given how slowly the series has come out in recent years. Brent Anderson’s art is stylish and dynamic as always, chock-full of fun character designs and settings (by Anderson and Alex Ross) and a terrific coloring job.

I guess The Dark Age is only disappointing by comparison with earlier Astro City volumes, which frankly were often just plain amazing. It’s still pretty good and rewards re-reading. And as this is only the first half of the story, I have to allow for the chance that there will be a great payoff to all this set-up in the end. Meanwhile, this is all we’ve got, and with the series’ erratic schedule we can’t know when we’ll see the next set of issues in the series.

Hopefully it won’t be too long.

Mass Transit

Yesterday we did something rather eccentric: We rode VTA light rail from downtown Mountain View to Downtown Campbell, just ’cause.

I’ve actually wanted to ride the light rail for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it because, well, light rail in the valley doesn’t really go places I want to go, and it’s a lot slower than driving (3-4 times slower). The big problem is that downtown San Jose just isn’t a destination for me; I go there maybe 3 times a year, usually for fairly random things. Otherwise light rail mostly goes through residential and office neighborhoods.

However, I do enjoy riding the train just for the experience, and also to see where it goes and what the neighborhoods are like. It goes through a lot of back-avenue areas in Mountain View before running down the middle of streets in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose, so there was a lot to see that I hadn’t seen before, not to mention watching people getting on and off. A lot off teenagers ride the train and switch at the Tasman station, probably to go to the Great Mall in Milpitas (another non-destination for me).

Downtown Campbell has changed a lot since I lived there in 1999-2001: Aside from the light rail, they’ve built several new commercial buildings and a parking garage, so there are more stores and restaurants worth visiting. It’s no longer a depressing little avenue of antique stores with minimal foot traffic. We had lunch at Stacks and poked our heads into several stores and enjoyed the lovely weather. Then we headed back to the train and reversed our commute.

This probably sounds like a pretty weird day out, but I enjoyed it. Why did I enjoy it? That’s a good question. I think I’ve always enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of the city, seeing how things have been built up and torn down and looking for old things among the newer things. There’s a lot to see in this way when riding the T in Boston, and while there’s less out here there are still some interesting tidbits: The closed-and-abandoned building and parking lot that looks like it used to be an activity center, with basketball and volleyball nets in the parking lot. The older rail lines on which the light rail was built, whose remnants are still lying around. The vacant storefronts in downtown San Jose, just a block away from a fairly-busy dining district. And, just sitting on the train being taken somewhere is a lot more relaxing than driving. Slower, but more relaxing.

I think Debbi finds my interest in taking the light rail for no particular reason to be pretty odd, although she was the one to suggest indulging my weird desire a couple of days ago (though I’d talked about it a few times in the past). But I enjoy doing things with no particular aim in mind from time to time. And at least this one got us out of the house!