Monday, January 21, 2008

Rap (or Hip-Hop) Review

For the past few days, I have been on a rap binge. My sister came home from college with a few rap albums she said I need to hear. Then we went to the library the next day and we left with a few more rap albums. I listened to all of these (a total of seven, less than I thought) in two days. I came out with a whole new viewpoint on rap (or hip-hop or whatever).

As with most young people, I had that requisite rap stage in fifth grade and into middle school. For some reason, Like Mike really captivated me. I don't know why, nor do I want to know why. I listened to that soundtrack a million times. I thought I was pretty cool for listening to that. After a while, I moved into the whole "Rap is crap" phase of my life. I wasn't really interested in 50 Cent, Nelly, Young Buck, G-Unit, or any of those people really. I hated rap, rappers, and all the people that listened to it. In eighth grade it was really bad. I was a blues snob and hated everything. However, like all things, I grew out of that stage (thank God). Now, thanks to a sister who is a music major, I have been exposed to many different types of music, including rap (again). This time around, I made sure not to abandon my roots (experimental rock). And this is what I came up with:

In the past week, I have listened to:
The Black Album – Jay-Z
Graduation – Kanye West
The Cool – Lupe Fiasco
Kala – M.I.A.
Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A
Hip Hop Is Dead – Nas
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – Public Enemy
The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest

After listening to all of these, I feel a little "rapped" out, but not so enough that I can't write about these.

The Black Album – Jay-Z
This was my least favorite album of all that I listened to. Jay-Z's voice just doesn't have it for me. Also, I just don't feel that Jay-Z can really rap about his subject matter. It's confusing, but let me explain. I think of Jay-Z more as Shawn Carter now than Jay-Z. I see him as a millionaire mogul. And then I hear him rapping in "Justify My Thug," and I just don't get it. Why does a multi-millionaire mogul need to rap about his "thug"? I'm probably not in touch with the whole street thing (Esco or J. Hova, want to clue me it?), but this song seems a little unnecessary. I'd probably be more accepting of this if it was in his older stuff, but in 2003? I don't think so.
Anyway, I would have to say that my favorite song off of this album is "99 Problems." That's probably everybody's favorite Jay-Z song, but it is a great song. It has a "Fuck Tha Police" feel in it. That's the only song I really like off of The Black Album.
Guess I'll have to get some more Jay-Z.

Graduation – Kanye West
Compared to The College Dropout, Graduation is great. I did not like The College Dropout at all. There were too many skits in it and I didn't really feel the flow in it. Graduation is a different story. I really like the feel to it and I like Kanye better than Jay-Z, so that might have something to do with it as well. I don't really have any qualms about this album.


My favorite song off this album is "Stronger." I really like the song, partly because of the Daft Punk sample, but West does a good job of rapping over it and not totally destroying it.

The Cool – Lupe Fiasco
Now, if there's one thing I hate, it is super long rap albums. However, The Cool doesn't do that to me. Despite weighing in at 19 tracks, Lupe Fiasco can keep my attention span for the period of time needed to listen to the entire album. This album is full of great tracks. "Go Go Gadget Flow" is my favorite song off of this album. "Paris, Tokyo" and "Hi-Definition" keep this album interesting. I'll admit my interest fell off near the end while I was listening because of the length, but nonetheless, a great sophomore release. No sophomore slump for Lupe Fiasco.

Kala – M.I.A.
M.I.A. has been taking the British underground scene by storm and for good reason. She is a rising star in the world. Kala is a great album. She's got great beats and everything. My favorite tracks are "Paper Planes" and "Come Around." "Come Around" is fine until Timbaland comes in and starts rapping. The songs on this album have almost tribal beats to them, making them extremely catchy.
Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A
I liked this album but I just had one problem with it: the songs are too damn long. I guess when you have X number of members you have to let each of them have a shout-out, but it gets ridiculous. I barely made it through this album just because of the length of it. Still a great one. Not as good as some of the other ones, but I still really liked it.

Hip Hop Is Dead – Nas
This is the best album out of all the ones I listened to. I really liked Nas's delivery and the album had the whole epic delivery to it. I'm going braindead right now, but the album is just good top to bottom. My favorite song off of this one is the title track, which seems cliché, but I always find it in my head. This is probably my favorite album out of all of these.

It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back – Public Enemy
This album is a showcase of Chuck D's genius. Most of today's generation would just recognize Flavor Flav from this and just talk about him. However, I feel that Flavor makes it hard to take Public Enemy seriously, because whenever I hear his voice I just start thinking about Flavor of Love and just start laughing. Chuck D steals the show though. I have read about how this album is all him and if it is, it is a work of art. I would have to say that my favorite song off of this album though is "Cold Lampin' With Flavor." No other songs really stick out even though it is a great album.


The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest
I really, really like this group and album. I love the bass and drum beats in all the songs, and I like how the lyrics seem to lack the pretentiousness found in the lyrics of other artists. I find the fact that there is an Arsenio Hall reference in almost every song quite amusing. This album has a laid-back feel, but you can feel the beat being pushed by the drums and bass and the occasional horn solo. Great album. My favorite song is "What?" credited to the fact that it was the line "What is a compound without a element?"

Rank of the Albums
Hip Hop Is Dead – Nas
The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest
The Cool – Lupe Fiasco
It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back – Public Enemy
Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A
Graduation – Kanye West
Kala – M.I.A.
The Black Album – Jay-Z

Your thoughts on my opinions?

Or your opinions on my thoughts?

I'm no hip-hop/rap expert by the way.

Thanks.

Lawrence Tynes: Zero to Hero

Ah, Mr. Tynes. You're a lucky man don't you know. If your Giants had lost last night, there would be a thousand angry New Yorkers outside of your home with pitchforks, torches, and broken bottles. There would also be a basket of cheese from yours truly in the mail. But no. Instead you become yet another athlete to redeem himself on the big stage. If I were you I would have a fruit basket in the mail to Corey Webster right now, by the way. I think he would deeply appreciate it.

Tynes is the new poster boy for America's short term memory loss. In a period of ten minutes he goes from the top of every hit list in New York City to the hero of the NFC Championship Game. However, like all athletes, he still has even more pressure on him. If he messes up again in Super Bowl XLII, should he just pack his bags and head back to Scotland? Or will he be allowed to stick around? Remember Jay Feely after his disastrous game in Seattle?

That is the matchup I will be watching on Super Sunday. Will Lawrence Tynes remain the hero? Or will he become the zero?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Action-Reaction: January 20, 2008

Ah, so Axn-Rxn is back after a one week hiatus. Stupid exams. Anyway, it's 10:47 AM ET and I'm sitting in my room (complete disaster area) thinking about a lot of stuff. I cannot get The Mars Volta show out of my head (I'll try to post a review soon). I'm trying to get my plans together for today (Lots of football involved). I'm trying to figure out what I got on my exams (84 on AP Euro is all I know). I'm listening to In Defense of the Genre by Say Anything (totally sucky album, …Is a Real Boy absolutely pwns it). I'm gonna listen to something else now (Hold up). Minus The Bear will work for now. I'm also dreading having to finish taking the Christmas tree down today before my friend comes over to watch the New England-San Diego game, and then I'm skipping a track party to go over to my friend's house (his dad is the biggest Packer fan I have ever met) to watch the Green Bay-New York game. And on top of this, there really is not any news out there. So I'll make a compromise with you guys. I'll just put the one newsworthy bit I have, then talk a bit about the two games today and the significance of the weekend. So deal.

Action: Unranked Maryland Terrapins upset #1 North Carolina IN Chapel Hill.
Reaction: I don't know if they burned any cars in College Park or not. Anyway, I am not a Terps fan at all. My parents initially told me that I was not allowed to go there for college (stupid party schools), but of course, they have pulled a John Kerry (flip-flop) and said I could go there because it has one of the top journalism programs in the mid-Atlantic. Forget that, I am getting out the Baltimore Metropolitan Area. ANYWAY, I watched the last 1:22 of this game and it was quite exciting. Now, I said I wasn't a Terps fan, but that does not mean I won't root for them, especially when they are playing North Carolina or Duke (GOAT, the basketball gods are going to strike you down for liking both). I'm like all people that grew up in Maryland. I have that tiny connection to UMD, because it represents my state (which I hate), right? So when I turned it on and Maryland was down 78-76 with 1:22 left, I was praying for a victory. Bambale Osby looks like a kid at my school. Anyway (again), I have no clue why Hansbrough took that three at the end. I know he had a great look, but couldn't they have at least gotten it to Ellington? He's probably a better shooter with a bad look than Hansbrough is with a good look. Well, we'll never know.

I was talking to my friend last night afterwards, and he said that was Maryland's defining win for the year and that win could put them into the tournament. We'll have to wait and see. In my opinion, the Maryland program has been on the downhill after their National Championship. Williams is a great coach and all, but the recruiting is not there. The only good recruit I know they're getting next year is Sean Mosely of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. I don't know his rank or anything (GOAT, want to give me some help?), but I saw him play against my school and he was great. He's got great size and a great shot for a guard. He was being guarded by our forwards and just owned up on them. He did dog it occasionally, but once the ball came to him, he lit it up. He could be up for a bit of a wakeup call in college, but he still looked great.

Anyway, that's the only viable news tidbit for the day, so I decided I'd do just a bit of writing about this weekend.

The following section will be re-posted in PackerNation, so by the way, so I ain't plagiarizing.

The air is electric today. I don't think I have been this pumped up for a game in a long, long time. Why? Well, in case you live under a rock, my Packers are in the NFC Championship Game. I'm not going to go too in-depth into the game because of superstition, but yeah, I'll just talk. I have been waiting a long time for this. I was merely four years old when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. My family was living in a one-floor rancher, a half-hour from everywhere in Southern Maryland. My grandparents were visiting from Oregon, and we were having a great family time watching the Super Bowl. Now, I had developed a love-affair with the Packers earlier that year. I was an impressionable young child. Something about watching that Favor dude in the #4 jersey just captivated me. There was something about those green jerseys and yellow helmets and the cheeseheads and the frozen tundra and the name Lambeau just had me. I remember making fun of my aunt two weeks before the Super Bowl after the Packers had just finished off the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game because she had a Kerry Collins, Carolina Panthers travel bag. I mocked her endlessly, but she put up with me. I was just that kind of child. So the game rolled around and I was the only one in the household rooting for the Packers. I barely remember anything about the game except for Desmond Howard sprinting past Adam Viniateri into the endzone. That play still gets me to this day. The image that stays with me to this day is Favre running around on the field, helmet held high, after throwing the touchdown pass to Andre Rison in the first quarter. The Packers went on to win, and I was a Packers fan for life.

Now, the summer of 1997 was a summer of change for me. My family moved from Southern Maryland up to a little town (now a huge-a** area ripe with urban sprawl) because my dad had taken a job at a little Catholic high school. My sister went through there and now I am currently going through there. In the fall of 1997, I started kindergarten and became more aware of my surroundings. I started clipping box scores out of newspapers (WTF?) and saving them. I cut anything out of the paper that remotely had to do with the Pack Attack. I watched all their games. My mood was devastated if they lost. My life started to depend on them. I got my first Brett Favre jersey from my godfather (sadly, we gave it away later, not realizing the significance of it), and I just started to watch the Packers. Then Super Bowl XXXII came. I had watched the Packers defeat Steve Young and the 49ers the week before in that mud bowl. My sister, three years older than me, much to my horror, was becoming a Broncos fan. We fought many times over this. Anyway, I sat through Super Bowl XXXII. The game just didn't feel right to me. The Packers weren't in their reliable home jerseys (I used to abhor the white road jerseys, but they have grown on me as I now possess one) and the Broncos just looked too good. The game ended. I sat down in our dining room (I was watching it on a little ten-inch TV) and cried. It was painful. I felt like my world was ending.

The 1998 Packers season was another I would like to forget. I myself take full responsibility for their loss in the Wild-Card game to San Francisco, because my benevolent godfather had given me a Steve Young jersey for Christmas (it still remains one of my most prized possessions, because, hey, it's Steve Young). I cried again when Terrell Owens caught that pass in front of Darren Sharper after the blow fumble call on Jerry Rice. I still haven't forgiven you Mr. Rice. As for you Mr. Owens, well, ha, that's another blog for another time. I almost lost one of my good friends, Craig, because of that game. Craig was the first Packer fan I met at my new school and his dad is the biggest Packer fan I know. I'm going to their house tonight to watch the game. Whenever I went over to Craig's house to chill, his dad would pull out some Packers DVD or VHS and we'd just sit and watch it. Sadly, Craig has become a Titans fan. That's another story.

Anyway, 1999-2004 are dark years for me. My interest and obsession with the Packers waned, and I became, gulp, a Ravens fan. Got that out of my system thankfully. I still had my Packers moments. In fourth and fifth grade, when I won back-to-back Geography Bee titles, I was wearing my new Brett Favre jersey. Remarkably, I have had the same Brett Favre road jersey since fourth or fifth grade. It still fits thankfully. In sixth grade, again at a new school, I immediately solidified myself as the number one Packer fan. The summer before and the summer before that (I get years mixed up too much), I had gone to Green Bay and the Packers training camp. Great experiences for me. Anyway, people knew I was a Packers fan, and I liked that they knew. In seventh grade, the Packers started off 0-4, and sadly, I gave up on them. They rallied back to finish 8-8 or 9-7 or something like that. I forget whether or not that was the year that Irv Favre died (might have been my sixth grade year), but I still have a tape of the Raiders game. This summer they showed it on NFL Network when I was out at my grandparents (converted fans now) and I made my cousins sit down and watch it and explained the significance to them.

Now, 2005 is the worst year in recent memory for Packers fans. The 4-12 season. The injuries. Javon Walker, my new second favorite player getting hurt and demanding a trade. Black Monday in Baltimore. I was there, but that's ANOTHER blog for another time. The sad part was I was a diehard that year. That hurt so bad. (It's now 11:47 AM ET. I'm writing a lot.) But I didn't lost faith. I applauded the McCarthy hire and the A.J. Hawk and Greg Jennings selections in the draft. But in 2006, because of the new workload of high school mostly, I was indifferent to their 8-8 season. But then I discovered a little thing called FanNation, and that rekindled my fire. This year has been one of the best ever for me. This is the closest I have followed the Packers EVER and it has paid off. People don't get why I'm skipping a party tonight. They don't get that I am now mentally insane, thanks to #4 of the Green Bay Packers. So now I sit in my yellow room, staring at my Packers pennant, my Lambeau Field panoramic, my Packers sheets (crap, gotta make my bed), my Super Bowl XXXI poster, and my Brett Favre poster.

And I think to myself, "What a wonderful world."

*Brief interruption while I help my mom take the Christmas tree down*

*And we're back*

So I've basically lost my train of thought. It's now 1:04 PM EST. The Packers game starts in five hours and thirty-eight minutes while the Patriots-Chargers game starts in two-and-a-half hours. Minus The Bear is still sustaining me, so I guess that's good. Anyway, I would like to talk a little bit about the significance of this weekend. Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (THREE DAY WEEKEND!). But I just have a little bone to pick about this. I really hate when people call it MLK Day. Say the man's name for God's sake. Show him the respect he deserves. So while all you are out enjoying your day off, show some respect to the man. Use his full name. Don't take a shortcut in a society full of shortcuts.

Ah yes, one last nugget of news:

Action: John Harbaugh has been hired as coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
Reaction: Good luck. You're going to need it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Album Review: In Utero

I recently bought Nirvana's third and final album, In Utero. Upon listening to it, I decided to write a review.

Album: In Utero
Artist:
Nirvana
Released:
September 21, 1993
Recorded:
February 12, 1993-February 26, 1993
Genre:
Grunge
Length:
41:11
Label:
DGC Records (Division of Geffen Records)
Producer:
Steve Albini & Scott Litt


Reviews
All Music Guide:
5/5 stars
Robert Christgau:
A
Entertainment Weekly:
B+
NME:
8/10
Q:
4/5 stars
Rolling Stone:
4.5/5 stars


Other Accolades
Billboard Top 100: 1
Spin Best Albums of 1993: 3
Rolling Stone Album of the Year (Critics Pick): 1
Entertainment Weekly Top Albums of the Year: 5
Mojo Top 100 Albums of 1993: 13
Kerrang! 100 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (Editors): 1
Kerrang! 100 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (Readers): 2
Q Best 50 Albums of Q's Lifetime: 20
Spin 50 Most Essential Punk Records: 13
Spin 90 Greatest Albums of the '90s: 18
Magnet Top 60 Albums, 1933-1993: 2
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time: 439
Pitchfork Media Top 100 Albums of the 1990s: 13
Spin 100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005: 51
Q Best 100 Albums Ever: 22


Backstory: I was possessed to buy In Utero after reading an article by Jim DeRogatis in his book Milk It! About Nirvana and the recording process of In Utero. DeRogatis expressed how he thought that Nirvana's third and final studio album might be there best, even better than mega-hit Nevermind. Nirvana, after all, had it all going for them. They were going into recording with one of the biggest names in the alternative scene, Steve Albini, of Big Black and Shellac fame. Albini had worked on such hits as the Pixies' Surfer Rosa, which happened to be Kurt Cobain's favorite album. However, Albini is notorious for mixing the vocal tracks lower in the songs, making them harder to hear over the guitars. The members of Nirvana were happy with how In Utero sounded in the studio, but once they took it home the realized that the vocals were harder to hear than they wanted them to be. Albini, also being notoriously strict, would not allow Nirvana back into his studio to remix their work, so they were forced to remix it with a Geffen Records technician, fueling speculation that Geffen considered the album to be "unreleaseable" and that they were making Nirvana make it more radio-friendly. Geffen denied all of this. So what does this album sound like? Let's take a look (the reviews consist of my initial reaction in first hearing the song mixed with later listening. Also, this album has a lot of famous lines, so bear with me.):


1. "Serve the Servants"
The album opens with the resounding line "Teenage angst has paid off well." Despite a great opening line, the album does not open with the same raw power approach of Nevermind with "Smells Like Teen Spirit." If any of you are familiar with recent music and artists, this song sounds like a song from The Vines. Cobain's voice nearly mirrors frontman Craig Nicholls'. This song has a more calm air than I was expecting when I put this in and cranked up the volume. Even the disjointed guitar solo sounds laidback along with Cobain's vocals. The vocals remain "normal" until the last note of the song when Cobain lets out a small scream. The chorus of this song, "Serve the servants, oh no," intrigues me, as it seems that Cobain is implying (with the "oh no") that serving the servants would be taboo in today's society. My little opinion there. This is not quite the opener I was expecting, but after listening to it a few times, it is a great song.
Rating: 3.5/5


2. "Scentless Apprentice"
"Scentless Apprentice" opens with pounding drums from Dave Grohl and disjointed guitar until it settles into a constant riff. For each line Cobain backs off into feedback, restoring the riff between lines. The chorus is essentially a scream. This song could be classified as a headbanger, as I find myself subconsciously moving along with the beat. The bass, everpresent in Nirvana songs, is right along with the drums. Looking at the lyrics, it is unclear exactly who Kurt is referring to, and none of the lines really stick out except for the last one, "Throw me in the fire and I won't throw a fit." This song is a trademark of Albini recording, as Albini frequently used vocal effects. On the chorus, Cobain's scream appears as if it is covered by a film. The song is reminiscent of the Big Black (Albini's band) song "Kerosine." In listening to both, I have found that the words are essentially interchangeable.
Rating: 4/5


3. "Heart-Shaped Box"
One of the most famous songs off of In Utero, it opens with arpeggiated guitar chords, while drums and bass go along with it. This continues until the chorus when Cobain is unleashed and shouts "Hey / Wait / I've got a new complaint / Forever in debt to your priceless advice." The second verse follows the suit of the first verse and then after the second verse is a guitar solo, in which the bass line appears to be mixed very high in the song, almost above the guitar. After the third verse, the song ends with an extended chorus. This is one of Nirvana's greatest hits, and I agree. There isn't as much to write about it, but listening to it is enough explanation.
Rating: 5/5


4. "Rape Me"
Following one of Nirvana's most famous songs is its most controversial (I'm looking at you, Wal-Mart). "Rape Me" opens with the quiet lines, "Rape me / Rape me my friend / Rape me / Rape me again" before exploding into the chorus of "I'm not the only one." After the second verse and second chorus is the bridge with some of the most famous lines of the song, "My favorite inside source / I'll kiss your open sores." Despite all the controversy, this song follows the typical Nirvana formula of quiet verse, loud chorus, quiet verse. This is often considered an overrated Nirvana song, but I see no reason for that classification.
Rating: 4/5


5. "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle"
Frances Farmer, for those of you who don't know, was an actress during the 1930's who fell into the pitfalls of drugs derailing her career. Cobain and his wife Courtney Love were infatuated with Farmer, who became the namesake for their daughter, Frances Bean, according to Jim DeRogatis' book Milk It!. According to Wikipedia, Frances Bean was named after Frances McKee of The Vaselines. This song has probably the least famous of Cobain's famous lines. The said line is the chorus of "I miss the comfort in being sad." The song opens with palm muted chords that explode before settling back into palm mutation. The pattern continues in the verse until the famous chorus and some typical Cobain groaning until the great breakdown of the song. The song ends after a final chorus after the breakdown.
Rating: 4.5/5


6. "Dumb"
The guitar is extremely active at the beginning of "Dumb." The best line of the song is "I'm not like them / But I can pretend." The eeriest part of the song is the wailing cello on the second verse. The cello is present throughout the entire song, but it is at its apex during the second verse.
Rating: 4/5


7. "Very Ape"
The disjointed chords have another guitar track dubbed over them which Cobain sings along with. I have trouble finding the bass in this song. The lyrics have very little meaning to me and there isn't anything particular grabbing about the song. That was my initial review. After listening to it a few times, I have found the song to be pretty good actually. I initially liked the next song, "Milk It" better, but after listening to both multiple times, my love for "Milk It" has waned. "Very Ape" is actually a very good song.
Rating: 3.5/5


8. "Milk It"
The song opens with drums and incessant noodling on the guitar before jumping into the riff which pauses every so often before going into the verse where Cobain starts moaning the lyrics. The song, about a parasite, has a chorus of only four words: "Doll steak / Test meat." The song is somewhat similar to "Very Ape" except it has more of an edge. Cobain's voice earns most of the credit for providing the edge. As I said before, I initially liked "Milk It" better than "Very Ape," but that has since changed.
Rating: 3/5


9. "Pennyroyal Tea"
The song starts with acoustic guitar and Cobain clearing his voice and acoustic guitar. The lyrics on the famous chorus of "I'm anemic royalty" sound as if they are being drowned out by the guitar, as Albini dubbed it low. It is a good song even though there is very little to write about it. I'm getting tired…
Rating: 3.5/5


10. "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"
This song is a direct jab at Geffen Records, who wanted Nirvana's music to be more radio friendly. The song starts with high feedback and Cobain talking while a dominant bass riff takes over. The guitar spastically plays before going into a riff. The final line offers one plea: "Speak, speak the truth." The song then goes into a guitar and drums breakdown where the song essentially starts over again with another breakdown of pure noise and feedback.
Rating: 3/5


11. "Tourette's"
The only coherent words in the song are the spoken "Moderate rock" at the beginning of the song and "Hey." No lyrics are listed in the album insert. This song does have an insane riff which is the most attractive part of it. It's only 1:35 long, but it packs quite the punch.
Rating: 4/5


12. "All Apologies"
I'm just going to say it now: this version SUCKS. Horribly. The MTV Unplugged in New York version absolutely owns this. The guitar sounds out of the tune, the vocals are WAY too low, and the bass is mixed too high. Horrible engineering on a great song. I can see why the Unplugged version is more famous. Still, "All Apologies" is a great closer for the album, especially for the mantra "All in all is all we are" to end it. My favorite part of the song is one of the first lines: "What else can I say / Everyone is gay." It's a good closer and a good song, but this version just plain SUCKS. Sorry Kurt and Steve.
Rating: 2/5


Final rating: 4/5


Final Analysis: Nirvana should definitely have worked with someone else besides Steve Albini on this. This could have been a masterpiece, but instead the listener spends the whole time straining for the vocals which are buried under guitar and bass. I still think Albini is somewhat of a genius (seriously, listen to some of his Big Black stuff), but he and Nirvana were not meant to be together. The album is still good, but Bitch Vig did a much better job on Nevermind, which would get the nod in a head to head matchup.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Team Payroll vs. Team Performance in Baseball

The following is a research paper I wrote for my English class this year on team payroll's relationship to team performance in baseball. I received a 94 on the paper. Please give it a read and tell me what you think. Later, I'll type up a more in-depth blog about my preface. Thanks, and enjoy.

Preface

While I was researching my paper, I realized that I wanted to find a way to represent the success of a team related to their payroll in numerical form. So I started the quest to perfect a formula to figure out a team's "payroll performance score" or "PPS." My original formula for PPS was very basic: take the rank of the team's payroll and subtract it from the rank of their record. So let's use the 2003 World Series-winning Florida Marlins as an example. In 2003, the Marlins went 91-71, the seventh-best record in the Majors that year. The Marlins' payroll was $49,050,000, the twenty-fifth highest in the game. In my initial formula, seven would be subtracted from twenty-five, giving them a PPS of eighteen. I realized, however, that I would run into issues with my formula after I figured out each team's PPS for 2003. The Oakland Athletics had the highest score of nineteen, with the fourth-best record and twenty-third highest payroll. But the A's did nothing in the playoffs, getting ousted by Boston in the first round, while the Marlins won it all. How could I get the PPS formula to reflect accurately?

I came to my next idea: add points to the difference between record rank and payroll rank. The difference between payroll rank and record rank, my initial PPS formula, became the "raw payroll performance score" (RPPS). I then took the teams' RPPS and added points to it based on the following criteria: winning their respective division or wild-card, success in the playoffs, and wins. I added five points to a team's score for winning their division and three points for winning their wild-card. Five points were added for making it past the first round of the playoffs, seven points for two rounds, and nine points for winning the World Series. Finally, five points were added if a team won more than 110 games, four points if the team won 100-109 games, three points if the team won 90-99 games, two points if a team won 80-89 games, and one point if a team won 76-79 games. I subtracted a point if a team won 70-75 games, two points if a team won 60-69 games, three points if a team won 50-59 games, and four points if a team only won 40-49 games. This final total became known to me as "adjusted payroll performance score" or APPS.

So let's take another look at the 2003 Florida Marlins. After subtracting record rank from payroll rank, I had a score of eighteen for the Marlins. The Marlins won the National League wild-card that year, allowing three more points to be added, giving them a score of twenty-one. The Marlins won the World Series, so I added nine more points, giving them a score of thirty. Finally, Florida was 91-71, so three points were added, giving them a final APPS of thirty-three, tops in the Majors, ahead of Oakland who had a score of twenty-seven and Minnesota who had a score of eighteen.

My final dilemma with my formula was how it was to be viewed. If the scores were listed in order and the viewer viewed them from top to bottom, I realized that larger market teams would be shut out entirely of being viewed as "successful." The 2003 New York Yankees had an RPPS of zero. They had the best record and highest payroll, a season that could be viewed as successful. However, a score of zero would not be viewed as successful by a casual viewer. This led me to view the scores on a spectrum. I have not been able to perfect a graphic for this yet, but I have an idea in my mind. First, with RPPS, teams in the middle of the spectrum (scores of five to negative five) would be viewed as having successful seasons, as they would have finished in the general area they were supposed to. Teams in the positives to the right in the six to ten range would be viewed as having good seasons be considered slightly overachieving. Teams with an RPPS of above ten would be considered to have had a sensational season. Teams with an RPPS between negative six and negative ten would be considered underachievers, while teams with an RPPS of under negative ten had a horrendous season. The 2003 New York Mets had the worst season of the last five years, having the second-highest payroll, but finishing with the twenty-seventh best record to finish with an RPPS of negative twenty-five.

The ranking of the teams based on APPS can still be put on the spectrum, but because of the addition of points for success, the center of the spectrum must be at five. So an APPS of between zero and ten is considered successful, ten to fifteen is considered a good season, and above fifteen is a sensational season. Zero to negative five is considered underachieving, while anything under that is just horrible. So using this data, I was able to find the most successful teams over the past five years.

According to RPPS, the most successful team over the past five years has been the Cleveland Indians, with an average RPPS of 12.0, while the least successful team has been the New York Mets with an RPPS of -10.6. The most successful team according to APPS has been the Oakland Athletics with an average APPS of 16.0. The least successful team has been the Baltimore Orioles with a score -9.4.

I did not feel this data was concrete enough to be used in the following paper, as it is still being perfected, but I did use some form of RPPS to represent success. Hopefully this provided a new way to look at team payroll and team performance.

Team Payroll vs. Team Performance

In baseball, there is a direct link between team payroll and team performance. It is conventional baseball wisdom that a large market team, one that plays in a large city with high revenues, such as the New York Yankees, should perform better than a small market team, one that plays in a smaller city with low revenues such as the Kansas City Royals. Steve Marantz wrote in the article "If You Don't Pay, You Lose" in The Sporting News, "In baseball, as in no other professional sport, championships are purchased, lock, stock, and barrel." However, there are prominent exceptions to this alarming trend.

Baseball is a game rooted in money which is evident after a quick glance at the game itself. Out of the four major sports organizations, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball is the only one that does not have a salary cap. Because of this, richer teams in larger markets can outbid poorer teams for top talent in free agency ("Sports"). Many feel that the poorer teams are automatically placed at a disadvantage when the season starts. "When spring training starts, half the teams have no chance. The players know it, the managers know it, and most importantly, the fans know it," Peter Magowan, owner of the San Francisco Giants said ("Baseball's"). When asked how he feels about the relationship between team payroll and team performance, The Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck stated:

I believe there is a direct relationship between high payroll and success in Major League Baseball, and the best evidence is the New York Yankees. They have spent the most money on salaries over the past decade or so and have appeared in the playoffs every year since 1995. That's not a coincidence. (Schmuck Interview)

Schmuck echoes the sentiment Magowan presents that at the beginning of the season, it is clear-cut who the favorites are just based on payroll.

Some baseball analysts and owners have argued that some of the smaller teams, such as the Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins, should be disbanded. However, the success of the Athletics and Twins in recent years has made it hard for this proposed action to be justified. One way that the gap between the large and small market teams has been closed slightly is through revenue sharing. The point of revenue sharing is to have the richer teams share a portion of their profits with the poorer teams. Many rich teams, such as the New York Yankees, feel that this Robin Hood-like policy is unfair to them because they are basically penalized for making money. Outspoken Yankees owner George Steinbrenner likened revenue sharing to communism by saying, "You can't say, 'Well let's share everything equal,' or else we would be over in Russia. And it didn't work over there" ("Baseball's"). As Steinbrenner's comments show, more significant revenue sharing will not come easily.

The past history offers a distinct look into the impact of the payroll differential in Major League Baseball. In 1996, the eight teams in the playoffs were all in the top half of the payroll rankings and the team with the higher payroll won each series, ending with the New York Yankees defeating the Atlanta Braves in the World Series (Schmuck, "Money"). Contrast 2002 to 1996. The four teams in 2002 that advanced to their respective League Championship Series ranked no higher than ninth in payroll. The playoffs ended with the Anaheim Angels, with a lower payroll, defeating the San Francisco Giants in a seven-game series. This victory for small revenue teams went so far as to somewhat dispel the notion that "only the teams with the highest payrolls such as the New York Yankees had a shot at winning the World Series" ("Angels"). From the year 2002 to 2007, a team with a payroll regarded as "high" won the World Series only twice.

Even though all the evidence makes it seem virtually impossible to compete year-in and year-out with a low payroll, there is a glaring exception to the rule: the Oakland Athletics. The success of this particular baseball franchise was so shocking; it led the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, to call it "an aberration" (Lewis 123). In his book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis followed Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane throughout an entire season to get an inside look into the art of running a small market franchise. The Athletics practice "moneyball," a system implemented by Beane which breaks from the baseball tradition of spend, spend, spend. Dealing with a low budget and payroll, this is essentially the only way Beane can keep the Athletics competitive. Agent Scott Boras, who has some of the highest paid clients in baseball, when talking about Oakland's success, remarked, "What happened to these franchises is a product of management's decisions. Teams like Oakland have used intellect to overcome imbalance" ("Baseball's"). The "imbalance" Boras speaks of is simply money, not a skill advantage, as Oakland's success has shown.

The Oakland Athletics are a perfect example of a small market team competing on the big stage. In looking for players, Beane follows the philosophy of baseball sabermetrician Bill James. James is the author of the Baseball Abstract, which was published throughout the late 1970's and into the 1980's, and created a whole new way of looking at the game of baseball. James is the inventor of statistics such as range factor, runs created, and on-base plus slugging (OPS). James was an advocate of on-base percentage (OBP), which Beane took to heart (Lewis 69). On pages 128 and 129, Lewis writes:

A player's ability to get on base – especially when he got on base in unspectacular ways – tended to be dramatically underpriced in relation to other abilities. Never mind fielding skills and foot speed. The ability to get on base – to avoid making outs – was under priced compared to the ability to hit with power. The one attribute most critical to the success of a baseball team was an attribute they could afford to buy. At that moment, what had been a far more than ordinary interest in a player's ability to get on base became, for the Oakland A's front office, an obsession.

Not being able to afford to pursue high-profile free agents on the free agent market, Beane had to resort to looking to unusual sources for value. After the 2001 season, first basemen Jason Giambi left the Athletics for the New York Yankees and a seven-year, $120 million contract. In displaying the payroll gap between the large and small markets, Lewis wrote, "And that some fraction of the $120 million the Yankees had paid Jason Giambi after the 2001 playoffs to lure him away from the Oakland A's was to prevent him from ever again playing for the Oakland A's" (Lewis 123). The Athletics faced the dilemma of how to replace Giambi at first base. Beane called on Scott Hatteberg, whom he converted from catcher to first base, as he saw immense value in Hatteberg's ability to get on base. The cheap investment in Hatteberg paid off, as Hatteberg finished thirteenth in Major League Baseball in on-base percentage, third in pitches seen per plate appearance, and fourth in strikeout-to-walk ratio, a feat nearly unequaled by any other player (Lewis 170). Along with "treating rich teams as petty cash dispensers" by extracting cash from teams by selling them players, the Athletics also would use players in the last year of their contracts as "rentals," acquiring them for next to nothing near the trade deadline and only keeping them for the stretch drive (Lewis 197).

As the payrolls rise, the realization is made that teams are not paying for more people; the teams are still paying for the same twenty-five players, giving talent a higher price. In 1998, pitcher Kevin Brown signed a then-astronomical seven-year, $105-million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, making him the highest paid player in baseball history. However, this did not equate to instant success for the Dodgers. In the five seasons from 1999 to 2003 Brown played in Los Angeles, the Dodgers went 426-384 (a .526 winning percentage) and did not make the playoffs in any of those years ("Professional"). Brown's addition boosted their payroll and added hope for success, but the money spent on Brown did not translate into success for the Dodgers.

In the same offseason, former Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza signed a contract worth $91-million over seven years with the New York Mets ("Do"). Piazza played out all seven years of his contract with the Mets from 1999 to 2005. In Piazza's seven years in New York, the Mets had two playoff appearances and made the 2000 World Series, losing to the New York Yankees. The Mets finished the seven years with a record of 568-565, a .501 winning percentage (Forman). Evaluation of Piazza's tour of duty with the Mets is difficult, as the Mets had success early in Piazza's Mets career, but in the last few years of Piazza's contract, the Mets were horrible, including a 66-95 season in 2003.

Alex Rodriguez is one of the most popular examples of equating team performance to team payroll. In December 2000, Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. This record-breaking contract did not turn into winning ways for the Rangers, as Texas went 216-270 in Rodriguez's three years (2001-2003) in Texas. Before the 2004 season, Rodriguez was traded to the New York Yankees for second basemen Alfonso Soriano. In Rodriguez's four years in New York, the Yankees are 387-261 and have made the playoffs each year, but have yet to win a World Series (Forman). In 2003, before the Yankees added Rodriguez to their payroll, their payroll was $152,749,814 while they won 101 games. In 2004, with the addition of Rodriguez, the Yankees' payroll ballooned to $182,835,513, and they still won 101 games (Holtz). Despite the team's lack of success, Rodriguez has won two American League Most Valuable Player Awards while with the Yankees. He recently was re-signed by the Yankees to a record 10-year, $275 million contract, reportedly worth up to $300 million with incentives, after he opted out of his former contract ("Alex Rodriguez").

The past five years show many different trends in terms of team performance and team payroll. In 2003, the Florida Marlins won the World Series with the twenty-fifth (out of thirty) highest payroll, defeating the New York Yankees, who had the highest payroll and best record that year. Also in 2003, the Oakland Athletics outperformed their payroll the most out of any team in Major League Baseball, finishing 96-66, the fourth best record in the game, with the twenty-third highest payroll. The New York Mets turned in one of the worst performances in Major League Baseball history from a payroll standpoint, finishing 66-95, good for the twenty-seventh best record. This is not much of a shock until one realizes the astronomical amount of money the Mets were paying: $117,176,620, the second highest payroll in the game. To put this into starker terms, the Mets essentially paid $1,775,403.33 per win in 2003 (Holtz).

The 2004 baseball season followed closer to the plan conventional wisdom set for it, as the Boston Red Sox won the World Series with the second-highest payroll in baseball, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals, who had the twelfth-highest payroll, in a four-game sweep. The Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series with the thirteenth-highest payroll, defeating the Houston Astros, who had the twelfth-highest payroll. Also in 2005, the Cleveland Indians put in the best payroll-related performance, finishing with the sixth-best record in baseball, while putting together the twenty-sixth highest payroll (Fry).

In payroll-related performances, 2006 was a year to remember. First off, the Florida Marlins started the season with a payroll of $14,998,500, the lowest in baseball by over $20 million, and thirteen times less than the New York Yankees, who had the highest payroll. They outperformed all expectations, finishing 78-84, or basically paying $192,288.46 per win. The Oakland Athletics again put in a great performance, finishing with the fifth-best record while having the twenty-first highest payroll (Forman). Another small market team, the Minnesota Twins, finished with the third-best record in baseball while having the nineteenth-highest payroll. The World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals had the eleventh-best payroll, but the thirteenth-best record, actually underperforming based on their payroll. They beat the Detroit Tigers, who had the fourth-best record of the year and the fourteenth-highest payroll (Fry).

With the second-highest payroll in 2007, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the second time in four years. They swept the surprising Colorado Rockies who finished the year with the sixth-best record on the twenty-fifth highest payroll. Also surprising the experts in 2007 were the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Diego Padres, who had the best, fifth-best, and eighth-best records in baseball while having the twenty-third, twenty-sixth, and twenty-fourth highest payrolls. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the perfect example of team performance relative to team payroll, having the lowest payroll and worst record in the majors (Fry).

The answer is obvious that team payroll influences team performance, but there is still hope for small market franchises as the Oakland Athletics have proven. The advent of the "moneyball" strategy has given the most hope to the small market teams, and with the recent success of small-market, low-payroll teams in general is a great sign for baseball. With teams outside of the top ten in payroll winning the World Series in three of the past five years, it appears that the landscape of Major League Baseball is changing. However, conventional wisdom still continues to rule a game unwilling to change its unwritten rules.

Works Cited

"Alex Rodriguez signs new Yankee deal." UPI NewsTrack. (Dec 13, 2007): NA. Student Resource Center - Gold. Thomson Gale. John Carrol School. 15 Dec. 2007.

"Angels, Giants Win Baseball Pennants; First All-Wild Card World Series Set; Other Developments." Facts On File World News Digest 24 Oct. 2002. Facts On File World News Digest @ FACTS.com. Facts On File News Services. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.2facts.com>.

"Baseball's Future." Issues & Controversies On File 23 June 2006. Issues & Controversies @
FACTS.com. Facts On File News Services. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.2facts.com>.

"DO HIGH PAYROLLS GUARANTEE PENNANTS?" USA Today Mar. 1999: 7. Student
Research Center Gold. InfoTrac. John Carroll School. 10 Nov. 2007. Keyword: Baseball Payrolls.

Forman, Sean L. Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Statistics and Information. http://www.baseball-reference.com/. 13 November 2007.

Fry, Ben. Salary Vs. Performance. 2007. Ben Fry. 9 Nov. 2007 <www.benfry.com>.

Holtz, Sean. Baseball Almanac. 2 Nov. 2007 <www.baseball-almanac.com>.

Lewis, Michael. Moneyball. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003.

Marantz, Steve. "If You Don't Pay, You Lose." The Sporting News 10 Nov. 1997: 8. Student
Research Center Gold. InfoTrac. John Carroll School. 7 Nov. 2007.

Schmuck, Peter. E-Mail interview. 19 Nov. 2007.

Schmuck, Peter. "Money Doesn't Always Buy Happiness." The Sporting News 19 May 1997: 37. Student Resource Center Gold. InfoTrac. John Carroll School. 6 Nov. 2007.

"Sports Salary Caps." Issues & Controversies On File 26 Nov. 2004. Issues & Controversies @
FACTS.com. Facts On File News Services. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.2facts.com>.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Action-Reaction: January 6, 2008

Well it's the first Action-Reaction segment of 2008, so I hope you all enjoy. Sorry I skipped out last week. Just wasn't that much news going on. However, this week is different:

Action: Brian Billick was fired as coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
Reaction: All I have to say (and I've said it many times) is "It took them long enough." I have never seen anyone ride the Super Bowl gravy train for so long. How can an "offensive genius" get by for so long on his defense? All I heard during Billick's term was about how much of an offensive genius he was. Where was the offense? Nowhere. I have to think that Billick benefits more from the people around him than the people benefit from Billick. The Ravens haven't won in the playoffs since 2001, yet people talk about how much of a winner he is. Sure, they were 13-3 last year, but they didn't win in the playoffs. Isn't that where it counts? Sorry for the rant-yness. Even when I was a Ravens fan, I never liked Billick. Just comes off arrogant to me. Not my type of person.

Action: Cam Cameron was fired as coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Reaction: One way to look at this is the fact that he went 1-15 this year. The other way to look at this is to look at the fact that the team was horrible. The offense was bad, the defense was bad, and the special teams were bad. I don't think anyone could have done much with the personnel he had down there. Not to mention the fact we all knew he was doomed as soon as Bill Parcells took over. It'll be interesting to see how Parcells does after taking over.

Action: The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Washington Redskins 35-14 in the Wild-Card round of the NFL Playoffs yesterday.
Reaction: Well first of all, my heart goes out to the Redskins and all they've gone through this year. Everyone said they were the team you didn't want to face in the playoffs, and for a while it looked as if that was true after they took a 14-13 lead in the fourth cover and recovered the botched kickoff. However, the missed field goal by Shaun Suisham really turned the momentum in Seattle's favor as they returned Todd Collins' first two interceptions of the season back for touchdowns, blowing the game wide open. The Seahawks travel to Green Bay for the divisional playoffs next weekend.

Action: The Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-29 last night.
Reaction: The Steelers blew it. Weren't they 9-2 at one point? I know the loss of Parker hurt down the stretch, but the defense looked bad, getting beat twice, at home, in bad weather, in conditions they are supposed to thrive in by a team from Florida. That's just pathetic. Props to the Jags.

Action: The Tennessee Titans travel to San Diego to play the Chargers in the Wild-Card round. This is a rematch of a Week 14 showdown where San Diego came back from a 17-3 deficit to win the game in overtime. Vince Young is a game-time decision.
Reaction: If Young's legs are rendered useless it will be interesting to see how the Titans fair on his arm or the arm of Kerry Collins. Probably not that good as they are missing their top two wide receivers and their top tight end. The defense has been playing well as of late, but the key to the defense, Albert Haynesworth has been nagged by injuries recently. All in all, things are not looking up for the Titans. Maybe they should have thrown the Indy game after Young went down to let Cleveland in. Then on the other hand, we've got all the drama queens in San Diego, and I won't even get into them.

Action: The New York Giants travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers.
Reaction: With the Redskins out, the Giants are now the team you do not want to face in the playoffs. I can't think of that much to write about this game, other than it will be a good one.

Action: Bill Belichick wins Coach of the Year.
Reaction: I agree, this is a great choice, while Packers coach Mike McCarthy is a close second. No one expected McCarthy and the Packers to do what they did, but no one thought a team could go undefeated either. Belichick wins, SpyGate aside, because, he won. Period.

Action: Tom Brady wins NFL MVP Award.
Reaction: Brady ran away with the award, earning 49 of the 50 votes. He deserves it. Fifty (50) touchdown passes really does that for you. And he performed rather consistently throughout the whole season while leading his team through the controversy of SpyGate. Second-place, in my world, would be a tie between Brett Favre and Tony Romo (even though I can't stand him). We have seen three great performances from great quarterbacks this year.

Action: JP Losman has demanded a trade out of Buffalo.
Reaction: Well if I were him I'd stick around. They didn't stick with him. What makes you think they'll stick with Trent Edwards?

Action: Hawaii coach June Jones as flown to Texas to meet with SMU.
Reaction: Hahahahahaha. If Jones takes that job, no matter how much money he gets, he's no longer an offensive genius. He's an idiot. June, do yourself a favor: stay at Hawaii where you can win consistently. Don't throw it away at a has-been powerhouse. Thanks.

I appreciate your readership deeply.